A four-year legal battle in Finland, dubbed “the Bible trial,” has ended with a second acquittal of a member of Finland’s Parliament who faced charges of “hate speech” for sharing her Christian beliefs about marriage and sexuality in a 2019 social media post.
Paul Coleman, executive director of Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) International, announced Tuesday via email that Päivi Räsänen, who has served in Parliament since 1995, and co-defendant Bishop Juhana Pohjola, have been exonerated of all charges under the Finnish Criminal Code’s “War Crimes and Crimes Against Humanity,” including “agitation against a minority.”
The Helsinki Court of Appeal stated in its ruling: “The Court of Appeal accepts the reasoning and conclusions of the district court’s judgment. The Court of Appeal has no reason, on the basis of the evidence received at the main hearing, to assess the case in any respect differently from the District Court. There is therefore no reason to alter the final result of the district court’s judgment.”
“I am deeply relieved,” Räsänen stated in a press release issued by ADF International, who represented her in the court proceedings. “The court has fully endorsed and upheld the decision of the district court, which recognized everyone’s right to free speech. It isn’t a crime to tweet a Bible verse, or to engage in public discourse with a Christian perspective. The attempts made to prosecute me for expressing my beliefs have resulted in an immensely trying four years, but my hope is that the result will stand as a key precedent to protect the human right to free speech. I sincerely hope other innocent people will be spared the same ordeal for simply voicing their convictions.”
Räsänen and Pohjola were first cleared of all charges March 30, 2022, in Helsinki District Court. The defendants faced three counts of “ethnic agitation” stemming from a 2019 tweet that Räsänen posted in which she questioned the Evangelical Lutheran Church’s support of the Helsinki LGBT Pride event, while including a photo of Romans 1:24-27; a 2019 radio interview in which she discussed what Jesus would think about homosexuality; and a 2004 pamphlet she wrote titled, “Male and Female He Created Them—Homosexual Relationships Challenge the Christian Concept of Humanity,” explaining that God designed marriage for one man and one woman. Pohjola was the publisher of the 2004 pamphlet.
Despite the district court’s unanimous ruling in favor of Räsänen—a medical doctor, mother of five and grandmother of 11—the prosecution appealed the verdict on April 30, 2022. The prosecution’s 26-page complaint submitted to the Helsinki Court of Appeal had demanded tens of thousands of euros in fines and insisted that Räsänen’s publications be censored. The Helsinki Court of Appeals reopened the case against Räsänen and Pohjola on May 31, 2022.
“Today, we celebrate the necessary and commonsense decision of the Helsinki Court of Appeal to unanimously acquit Päivi and Bishop Pohjola,” Coleman stated in his email. “The fact that their free speech case dragged on for over four years and came to trial twice is an outrageous abuse of process and weaponization of the law to punish peaceful expression.”
Räsänen told Decision earlier this month that while her faith has been stretched, she considers her involvement in politics as a God-ordained calling. “I would say that the prosecutor general has targeted the core message of the Bible,” she said. “The law and Gospel and the concept of sin have been in the center of this judicial process.”
Photo: Courtesy of Alliance Defending Freedom International