Päivi Räsänen—a member of the Finnish Parliament and a physician, mother and grandmother—has been acquitted of three charges of incitement against a minority group for quoting the Bible’s stance on marriage and sexual ethics.
This brings the first chapter of Räsänen’s legal journey to a close, along with that of her co-defendant, Juhana Pohjola.
In the unanimous court ruling, the three judges concluded that “it is not for the district court to interpret biblical concepts.” Prosecutors have been ordered to pay 60,000 euros (around $66,000) in legal fees.
The judgment was a free speech victory and would have settled years of legal wrangling and hours of police interrogations for Räsänen and Pohjola. The prosecutor, however, has announced plans to continue her campaign against Räsänen.
In a press statement following her March 30th acquittal, Räsänen said, “I am relieved, happy and grateful to God and to all the people that have supported me. The ruling was what I expected—not for a second did I believe that I had committed anything illegal in my writings or statements.”
Räsänen’s legal case began in 2019, after she voiced her concerns over the decision by the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland—the country’s national church—to support Helsinki’s gay pride parade. She also shared a picture of the words in Romans 1:24-27, which speaks of mankind’s rebellion and idolatry, resulting in a multitude of sins, including homosexuality.
An investigation was launched after a criminal complaint was made by a theologian whose identity has not been made public, resulting in authorities combing through Räsänen’s writings, interviews and other materials that could be used against her. A politically ambitious prosecutor soon found a radio program featuring Räsänen debating homosexuality, and a pamphlet she wrote in 2004, which Pohjola published, explaining Biblical ethics on sexuality, marriage and other issues.
These three instances made up the charges against Räsänen, which Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Florida, has described as “tantamount to a secular blasphemy law.”
Rubio’s statement highlights the precarious nature of free speech and religious freedom both in Europe and the United States.
Andrew Brunson, a missionary to Turkey, who was imprisoned for two years under false charges of terrorism, said, “There’s a churning, dark wave of hostility that’s about to hit the church, and this isn’t something that we can vote our way out of.
“Pressure can come from government, but there are so many other institutions in our society that are going to apply it. Increasingly, Christians are going to be put in situations where if they do not celebrate things that are against Biblical teaching, they will come under tremendous financial and social pressure.”
In February, Brunson was able to travel and meet with Räsänen and present her with a prayer pledge of 14,300 signatures, at the behest of the Family Research Council.
“Päivi seemed very encouraged that American Christians are praying for her,” Brunson said. “A Christian leader told us, ‘We know she’s fighting for all of us.’
“I’m sure that many strong believers in Finland are also praying for her, but she’s had very little support from the Lutheran church. Obviously, many of them are nominal believers, but the church hasn’t really spoken up for her and neither has her own party. So, she’s been kind of left on her own, which is surprising.”
There are concerns that the level of scrutiny Räsänen received will result in others self-censoring when it comes to issues of faith.
“I have gotten many messages, especially from young Christians, who have said that they are afraid to express their beliefs because they might be labeled or because their career would be hindered if they were known to be Bible-believing Christians,” Räsänen said in a press conference after the decision. “We have this kind of cancel culture in Finland, and this process … has provoked some type of self-censorship.
“But I want to encourage Christians in Finland and in other countries to be open about their faith and express their beliefs. The more we are quiet and silenced, the narrower there will be space for these freedoms. Whatever consequences of the courts will be, I shall be open about my faith and be open about how I have understood the teachings of the Bible, and I want to encourage all other people to use these freedoms.”
Reacting to the news that the case will now go to the Finnish Court of Appeals, Räsänen said: “This case has been hanging over me and my family for almost three years. After my full exoneration in court, I am dismayed that the prosecutor will not let this campaign against me drop. Once again, I am prepared to defend freedom of speech and religion not just for me, but for everyone. I am grateful for all those who have stood by me during this ordeal and ask for their continued support.”
Regardless of what happens, Räsänen will continue to boldly express her beliefs and convictions.
“I stand behind these teachings of the Bible, whatever the consequences,” Räsänen said. “I will not renounce my faith.”
Photo: Ilkka Kontturi