Finnish lawmaker Päivi Räsänen (right) and Lutheran Bishop Juhana Pohjola are both on trial for violating Finland’s “hate speech” laws. / Credit: Alliance Defending Freedom International

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Jan 16, 2024 / 17:00 pm (CNA).

Finnish prosecutors are asking the country’s Supreme Court to hear a “hate speech” case against a member of Parliament and Lutheran bishop for comments made about Christian teachings related to marriage and homosexuality.

The charges brought against member of Finnish Parliament Päivi Räsänen and Bishop Juhana Pohjola for their speech were already dismissed twice — once by a lower district court and again by an appellate court. Yet, prosecutors are advancing their case to Finland’s highest court in an effort to fine both Christians hundreds of thousands of euros and censor their speech.

“After my full exoneration in two courts, I’m not afraid of a hearing before the Supreme Court,” Räsänen said in a statement through her attorneys at the Christian nonprofit Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF).

“Even though I am fully aware that every trial carries risks, an acquittal from the Supreme Court would set an even stronger positive precedent for everyone’s right to free speech and religion,” Räsänen added. “And if the court decided to overturn the lower courts’ acquittals, I am ready to defend freedom of speech and religion as far as the European Court of Human Rights, if necessary.”

Räsänen’s alleged crime, according to prosecutors, stems from a 2004 pamphlet she wrote about the Lutheran teaching on sexuality, including the prohibition on homosexual activities. She then defended that teaching in a radio debate in 2019 and later posted a Tweet that criticized Lutheran participation in a gay pride parade and cited a Bible verse. Pohjola’s alleged crime is publishing the original pamphlet in 2004.

The prosecutors allege in their charges that the speech is “likely to cause intolerance, contempt, and hatred toward homosexuals.”

A district court dismissed the charges in March 2022, finding that it is not the judges’ job “to interpret biblical concepts.” In November 2023, an appellate court ruled it “has no reason … to assess the case in any respect differently from the District Court.” Both decisions were unanimous.

According to ADF, Räsänen has been subjected to 13 hours of police interrogation about her religious views and her understanding of the Bible. Paul Coleman, the executive director of ADF International, referred to the prosecutors’ insistence on prosecuting the case despite the prior dismissals as “alarming.” 

“Dragging people through the courts for years, subjecting them to hourlong police interrogations, and wasting taxpayer money to police people’s deeply held beliefs has no place in a democratic society,” Coleman said. “As is so often the case in ‘hate speech’ trials, the process has become the punishment.”

A 2023 Religious Freedom in the World report published by the Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need cited the Finnish case as one example of the threats to religious freedom growing in Western countries. The report found that intolerance toward faith-based views in the West is manifesting itself in compelled speech, hate speech laws, censorship, and the rise of cancel culture.

Pope Francis has referred to such threats to religious freedom as “polite persecution,” which he said in 2016 is “disguised as culture, disguised as modernity, disguised as progress.” Polite persecution, the pope explained, is “when someone is persecuted not for confessing Christ’s name but for wanting to demonstrate the values of the Son of God.”

“If you don’t do this, you will be punished: You’ll lose your job and many things or you’ll be set aside,” Pope Francis said. “This is the persecution of the world.”

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