COURT OUT: Closing arguments presented in Finnish Bible-tweet trial
Finnish Parliamentarian Päivi Räsänen and Bishop Pohjola appear in court in last day of free speech trial
The former Finnish Minister of the Interior, faces three criminal charges for sharing her deeply held beliefs, including on Twitter
HELSINKI (14 February 2022) – Today, Finnish parliamentarian Päivi Räsänen and Bishop Juhana Pohjola faced their second day on trial in Helsinki. The longstanding parliamentarian and former Minister of the Interior, together with the Bishop, are being accused of engaging in “hate speech” for publicly voicing their faith-based beliefs on marriage and sexual ethics, including in a tweet. A ruling on their case is expected in March.
“This prosecution for hate speech has turned into a theological trial of what Christian beliefs can and cannot be expressed in Finland. It is incredible this trial is happening in a modern European Country and not in a religious theocracy,” said Lorcán Price, Legal Counsel for ADF International, who attended the trial to support Räsänen’s and the Bishop’s defence.
Christian teachings on trial
In their closing statement, the prosecution alleged that the use of the word “sin” can be “harmful”. Later they remarked that “The Bible isn’t on trial here, but Räsänen’s words are…”, “The apostle Paul isn’t on trial here, but Räsänen is.” The prosecutor called for heavy fines which the defence has argued are unreasonable in the event of a guilty verdict.
Räsänen’s defence, supported by ADF International, argued that finding Räsänen guilty, would significantly damage free speech in Finland. What Räsänen said, they argued, was an expression of Christian teaching. They quoted the Handyside v UK decision from the European Court of Human Rights, which allows the right to share opinions and beliefs that can even shock and offend, as this is the cornerstone of a free democracy. In sum, the defence submitted that the trial had become a theological debate on the topic, “what is sin?”. They maintain that this is not an appropriate question for the court to decide.
For more details see ADF International’s live tweet coverage.
“A modern-day inquisition”
In April 2021, Finland’s Prosecutor General brought three criminal charges against Räsänen over the contents of a pamphlet Räsänen wrote on these topics in 2004, for engaging in a debate on a 2019 radio show and for a tweet containing a picture of Bible verses Räsänen directed at her church leadership. Bishop Pohjola faces trial alongside Räsänen for publishing the pamphlet she wrote over 17 years ago for his congregation.
“The majority of the trial so far has been about the role of the Bible in society. The prosecutor began the first day by trying to explain that this case was not about beliefs or the Bible. She then, however, proceeded to quote Old Testament Bible verses and ended the day by cross-examining the bishop about details of Christian theology. All this in a secular court. Finnish trial lawyers who have been in and out of court every day for years, said they didn’t think the Bible had ever been read out like that in a prosecution. I would characterize the day as a modern-day Inquisition or heresy trial and the heresy was that Päivi and Bishop Juhana were on trial against the new sexual orthodoxy of the day,” said Paul Coleman, Executive Director of ADF International, who attended the first day of the trial on January 24th.
Support for the defendants grows internationally
Crowds gathered outside of the courthouse to show their support for the politician and the Bishop.
Pastor Andrew Brunson, who faced prison for his faith in Turkey, flew to Finland to greet Räsänen before she entered her trial. He brought with him a prayer pledge of support signed by Christians from around the world, organised by the Family Research Council.
Over the weekend, several high-profile members of the US Congress including Texas Republican Rep. Chip Roy wrote an open letter of encouragement to Räsänen and Pohjola: “Ms. Räsänen and Bishop Pohjola, we have kept you in our prayers over the past months as we watched your cases from the United States — knowing that this challenge you face is not merely legal, but spiritual,” read the letter.
And last month, UK MPs filed an Early Day Motion in parliament, highlighting the controversial prosecution and raising concerns about “the potential implications of that case for other countries”.
“Every day, I receive letters from people who tell me that they are encouraged by this case. So, I’m grateful. I think that God is working,” said Päivi Räsänen to The Federalist ahead of the trial.
Trial for a Tweet
Police investigations against Räsänen started in June 2019. As an active member of the Finnish Lutheran church, she had addressed the leadership of her church on Twitter and questioned its official sponsorship of the LGBT event ‘Pride 2019’, accompanied by an image of Bible verses from the New Testament book of Romans. Following this tweet, further investigations against Räsänen were launched, going back to a church pamphlet Räsänen wrote almost 20 years ago. In the last two years, Räsänen has attended several lengthy police interrogations about her Christian beliefs – including being frequently asked by the police to explain her understanding of the Bible.
Two of the three charges Räsänen faces come after the police made strong recommendations not to continue the prosecution. Räsänen’s statements also did not violate the policies of Twitter or the national broadcaster, which is why they are still freely available on their platforms.
Räsänen has served as a Finnish Member of Parliament since 1995, was chair of the Christian Democrats from 2004-2015, and from 2011-2015 she was the Minister of the Interior, during which she held responsibility for church affairs in Finland.
To support Päivi Räsänen’s case, visit www.ADFinternational.org/FreeSpeechOnTrial
Follow for case updates live from the court at @ADFIntl on Twitter.
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