A Finnish court has ruled in favour of Christian speech, saying expressions of biblical beliefs are not to be deemed “hate speech.”
Following a nearly three-year-long investigation, a three-judge panel for the Helsinki District Court last week unanimously dismissed four charges against Finnish politician and former interior minister Päivi Räsänen and bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Mission Diocese of Juhana Pohjola.
Räsänen and Pohjola underwent 10-hours of police interrogation and a two-day trial after being accused of incitement against sexual and gender minorities for expressing biblical beliefs about sexuality publicly in writings and on social media.
In 2019, Räsänen, leader of the Christian Democrats, was investigated by police after posting a photo of a Bible opened to Romans 1:24-27 on social media and criticizing the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland for endorsing the Helsinki LGBT Pride event, and for comments made on a nationally syndicated radio program.
Five years later, in 2004, Räsänen authored a book, published by Bishop Pohjola, editor-in-chief of Luther Foundation Finland Publishing, entitled Male and Female He Created Them, in which Räsänen defended the biblical concept of family and marriage between a man and a woman.
The criminal charges against Räsänen and Pohjola employed Finland’s “ethnic agitation” law, which has been amended numerous times to include people with disabilities and those who identify as LGBT.
Prosecutor General Raija Toiviainen argued that Räsänen’s expressed Christian beliefs overstepped freedom of speech and religious boundaries because it was “likely to fuel intolerance, contempt, and even hatred towards homosexuals.”
The Court, however, threw out all of the charges, saying while Räsänen’s comments may be considered offensive, they did not constitute hate speech, adding: “It is not for the district court to interpret biblical concepts.”
The state prosecutor was also ordered to pay more than 60,000 euros in legal fees.
Following the ruling, Räsänen said in a statement that free speech is an essential right in a democratic country, and she’s grateful for the chance to stand up for that cause.
“I greatly appreciate that the court recognized in its ruling the importance of free speech,” she said. “I hope that this ruling will help prevent others from having to go through the same ordeal.
“This court process and the decision are historical with regard to free speech and religion. The court has had to for the first time take a stand on whether it is legal or not to cite the Bible and to agree with it.”
Räsänen said it is “very likely” that the prosecutors will appeal the ruling.