Defence filed in Bible Tweet “hate speech” case headed to Finland’s Supreme Court 

  • Long-serving Parliamentarian and grandmother Päivi Räsänen to stand trial a third time for expressing Christian beliefs on marriage and sexuality on “X” (formerly Twitter) 
       
  • Prosecution calls for tens of thousands in fines and censorship of MP’s Bible-Tweet; ADF International supports Räsänen’s legal defence  

HELSINKI (21 May 2024) – Former government minister and sitting Finnish parliamentarian Päivi Räsänen has submitted her defence to the Finnish Supreme Court ahead standing trial a third time for her Bible-verse tweet. 

The State prosecutor appealed the case despite the Christian grandmother of 12 being acquitted unanimously of “hate speech” charges before both the Helsinki District Court, and the Court of Appeal. The charges are found under the “war crimes and crimes against humanity” section of the Finnish Criminal Code. 

Commenting on the submission of her defence, Räsänen said: 

“The heart of the trial is the question of whether teachings linked to the Bible can be displayed and agreed with. I consider it a privilege and an honour to defend freedom of expression, which is a core right in a democratic state. 

An acquittal by the Supreme Court would serve as a stronger precedent than lower court rulings for subsequent similar charges. It would provide a clearer and stronger safeguard for the freedom of Christians to present the teachings of the Bible – and it would strengthen the principle of freedom of expression in general.” 

The Bible on Trial 

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/X 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 20 years ago, based on the text “male and female he created them.” 

“This was not just about my opinions, but about everyone's freedom of expression. I hope that with the ruling of the Supreme Court, others would not have to undergo the same ordeal."

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/X 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 20 years ago, based on the text “male and female he created them.” 

Over several months, Räsänen endured a total of thirteen hours of police interrogations about her Christian beliefs – including being frequently asked by the police to explain her understanding of the Bible.    

A “chilling effect” on religious freedom 

Her legal team, backed by ADF International, have submitted to the court that the case should be dismissed and costs to be awarded to Räsänen. 

The defence argue that Räsänen has the right to freedom of expression in international law, and that so-called hate speech laws do not extinguish that right. 

The defence have further highlighted the fact that Räsänen has consistently underlined that all people have dignity and should not be discriminated against – inconsistent with the behaviour of somebody guilty of spreading “hate”. 

The submission from the defence reads: 

Vague or far-reaching laws against advocacy of hatred, or blasphemy, offence to religious feelings and similar offences are not only arbitrary; they can also lead to the direct and structural marginalization of religious or belief communities.”  

The parliamentarian’s case will again be heard alongside Bishop Juhana Pohjola, who faces charges for publishing Räsänen’s pamphlet two decades ago.   

Their cases have garnered global media attention, as human rights experts voiced concern over the threat posed to free speech in Finland.   

To find out more about the case, and to contribute to Päivi’s legal defence, click here 

Lorcan Price, Irish Barrister and Legal Counsel for ADF International, supporting Räsänen’s legal defence said:  

“This is a watershed case in the story of Europe’s creeping censorship. In a democratic Western nation in 2024, nobody should be on trial for their faith – yet throughout the prosecution of  Päivi Räsänen and Bishop Pohjola, we have seen something akin to a ‘heresy’ trial, where Christians are dragged through court for holding beliefs that differ from the approved orthodoxy of the day.  

The state’s insistence on continuing this prosecution after almost five long years, despite such clear and unanimous rulings from the lower courts is alarming. The process is the punishment in such instances, resulting in a chill on free speech for all citizens observing. ADF International will continue to stand alongside Räsänen and Pohjola every step of the way as they face their next day in court. Their right to speak freely is everyone’s right to speak freely.”  

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US Government agency condemns UK silent prayer arrest 

  • In its latest report, the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) highlights that the European governments have “targeted individuals for their peaceful religious expression”  
  • Arrest of Isabel Vaughan-Spruce for silently praying in an abortion “buffer zone” listed as primary example  
  • UK Home Office to release guidance on “buffer zone” policing imminently – abortion advocates lobby for silent prayer to be punished 

LONDON (14th May 2024) – A U.S. federal government commission has called out the unjust arrest of a silently praying Christian in Birmingham, Isabel Vaughan-Spruce, in its annual international report. 

The US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) was established as part of the International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA), which mandates that U.S. policy includes condemning violations of religious freedom abroad and assisting foreign governments to protect this fundamental human right. Commissioners are appointed by the President and the leadership of both political parties in the Senate and the House of Representatives. 

The 2024 annual report highlighted the high-profile arrest of Vaughan-Spruce as an example of European governments “targeting individuals for their peaceful religious expression”.  

Responding to the news, Isabel Vaughan-Spruce said: 

Arresting individuals for silent prayer has put Britain in a position of global embarrassment. Nobody should be criminalised for their mere thoughts – this is a basic principle of a liberal democracy. If we can’t get that right at home, how are we meant to uphold human rights on the world stage? 

I was searched, arrested, put in a police van, charged and placed on trial for a “thoughtcrime” – for peacefully and imperceptibly praying outside an abortion facility. With support from ADF UK, I was fully vindicated in court – but my case isn’t a one-off. The Home Office can prevent my arrest from recurring by clarifying in their upcoming guidance that, while we all condemn harassment, freedom of thought and consensual conversation must remain free.” 

"Arresting individuals for silent prayer has put Britain in a position of global embarrassment. Nobody should be criminalised for their mere thoughts – this is a basic principle of a liberal democracy."

Arrested for a “Thoughtcrime”

Isabel Vaughan-Spruce was arrested twice in 2023 for silently praying in a “buffer zone” in Birmingham. A Public Spaces Protection Order had been installed by local authorities to ban all expressions of “approval or disapproval” of abortion on the streets near an abortion facility. In what is widely thought to be the first “thoughtcrime” case in 21st Century Britain, Vaughan-Spruce was charged even though she had prayed imperceptibly and not expressed any opinion outside of her own mind. 

A Catholic priest, Father Sean Gough, was also charged for holding a sign within a buffer zone reading “praying for free speech”. Both were tried at Birmingham Magistrates Court and fully acquitted of all charges with legal support from ADF UK, after the prosecution were able to offer “no evidence”. 

Two further individuals – Adam Smith-Connor and Livia Tossici-Bolt – will face trial later this year after both being charged with breaching “buffer zones” on separate occasions in Bournemouth.  

Adam Smith-Connor, like Isabel Vaughan-Spruce, prayed silently in his head. Livia Tossici-Bolt, a long-term crisis pregnancy support volunteer, held a sign reading “Here to talk, if you want”. 

Watch Isabel’s second arrest, sparking the condemnation of the US Commission, below:

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Home Office guidance expected to be published imminently

Draft guidance issued by the Home Office in December clarified that national “buffer zones” would not prohibit silent prayer, nor consensual conversations between adults within the zone. International law requires the UK government to protect freedom of thought as an absolute right. The right to engage freely and consensually in conversations is protected by the fundamental right to freedom of speech.  Labour’s Rupa Huq and Conservative Sir Bernard Jenkin reportedly met with the Home Office recently to demand a stronger crackdown on silent prayer occurring within 150m of abortion facilities.   Yet several other members of parliament have spoken up for maintaining protections on silent prayer and consensual conversation in the guidance.  

Yet several other members of parliament have spoken up for maintaining protections on silent prayer and consensual conversation in the guidance.  

Andrew Lewer MP said: 

“The Home Office guidance on buffer zones should at least protect these in order to uphold international standards on freedom of speech and of thought.  

 “While police crack down on these peaceful activities, they expose a double standard where protesters on different ideological issues are allowed much wider scope to express their beliefs.” 

READ FURTHER REFLECTIONS FROM CROSS-PARTY MPS HERE 

The final guidance is expected to be published imminently. 

Speaking about the “thoughtcrime” trials seen in Britain, Jeremiah Igunnubole, legal counsel for ADF UK said: 

The principle of freedom of thought and speech must be defended both within and outside ‘buffer zones’. To his credit, the Home Secretary has, thus far, sought to keep our country in line with international law by underlining the importance of protecting freedom of thought as an absolute right, and protecting the right to freely engage in consensual conversations, which is the lifeblood of any genuinely thriving democracy.  

That said, it is crucially important that he holds firm in the face of concerted pressure from a vocal minority of backbench MPs who, unsatisfied with introducing arguably the most censorial legislation in modern British history, are now seeking to criminalise the innermost thoughts of law abiding citizens and even consensual discussions. These efforts of a handful of Labour and Conservative backbenchers are nothing short of Orwellian and are undoubtedly the first step to the normalization of state-endorsed content-based censorship,” commented Jeremiah Igunnubole, legal counsel for ADF UK. 

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11 Nicaraguan pastors and ministry leaders convicted in sham trial; ADF International takes case to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights

Pastors and ministry leaders in Nicaragua facing persecution.

11 pastors, ministry leaders with Puerta de la Montaña, plant of U.S.-based ministry Mountain Gateway, convicted on sham charges of money laundering, sentenced to 15 years in prison & over 80 million dollars in fines per person.

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