Blessed is the man who perseveres in the trial,” declares the Epistle of James. Finnish Member of Parliament Päivi Räsänen should count herself doubly blessed this week. She has now persevered through two trials over more than four years of legal troubles brought on merely for expressing her Christian faith. Following both trials, she has not only been acquitted, but also has been a shining example of a modern Christian life fearlessly lived.
On Tuesday, a Finnish Court of Appeal unanimously found MP Räsänen not guilty under Finland’s “hate speech” laws. If the decision stands—there is still a possibility of appeal to Finland’s Supreme Court—it will represent a bulwark for Christians and all people of good will wishing to live out their faith and contribute to social conversations over contentious issues.
Räsänen’s legal saga began on June 17, 2019. On that day, she tweeted a criticism of her church’s participation in a Helsinki Pride parade. She also included a picture of verses from her home Bible. Her case has come to be known as the “Bible Trial.”
Because she is a long-serving member of Parliament and a former Minister of the Interior, her tweet drew the ire of Finnish officials. While an initial police investigation found nothing criminal in her tweet—even writing that sounds absurd—the prosecutor’s office re-opened the matter to comb through her entire history of public utterances. The Helsinki prosecutor came back with an allegedly offensive pamphlet published in 2004 and a live radio interview from 2019. Räsänen was then charged with three counts of “hate speech” under a criminal code provision originally related to war crimes.
During her first trial in January 2022, the Helsinki prosecutor probed Räsänen with theological questions. Was it really possible to separate sin from the sinner, and condemn the former while loving the latter? Basic Christian belief rests on the distinction, as Räsänen explained, but the prosecutor was not convinced. Räsänen reflected at the time, “I couldn’t believe I was sitting in a court room where the prosecution discussed the interpretation of Bible verses.”
In March 2022, the trial court delivered a resounding victory for Räsänen, unanimously finding her not guilty. “It is not for the district court to interpret biblical concepts,” it said.
Thanks to a quirk of the Finnish legal system, the prosecution was able to appeal the not guilty ruling, essentially obtaining a retrial. At the second trial in August of this year, the prosecution doubled-down on its charge that Räsänen’s widely-shared views on marriage and human sexuality were criminal: “You can cite the Bible, but it is Räsänen’s interpretation and opinion about the Bible verses that are criminal.”
Now, six judges and two trials later, Räsänen again has been acquitted, with the Court of Appeal upholding the ruling and reasoning of the lower court. The new judgment clarified that for a “hate speech” claim to stand under the Finnish statute, there needs to be evidence of intent to insult in the utterances themselves. Here, the Court of Appeal agreed with the trial court that Räsänen’s opinions were not insulting in the first place.
Throughout her life, Räsänen has always firmly believed that every person has inherent human dignity and should be loved, and that one must nonetheless speak the truth about the reality of sin. It is precisely Räsänen’s warm compassion, coupled with her uncompromising commitment to speaking the truth of her faith, that has made this grandmother of eleven an international symbol for the defense of the freedoms of expression and religion.
Against the clarity of Räsänen’s views lies the ambiguities of the “hate speech” legal regimes that have been installed throughout the West. These laws are inherently vague and subjective, relying on fallible humans to determine whose views are too offensive. They are dangerous for any society, since they offer an easy means for governments or over-zealous prosecutors to silence one side of a debate. In the U.K., the concept has been used to ban silent prayers. In Nigeria, alleged blasphemy can land you in prison or on death row. But regardless of the ultimate outcome, the legal and social harassment is meant to dissuade others from expressing views a regime disfavors.
It is some comfort to know that now two full panels of judges have rejected the arguments to punish Räsänen for witnessing to her faith. But the greater comfort is to see what real spiritual grace under trial looks like in the modern world. Räsänen has remained humble and plain-spoken as she defended both her own beliefs and the fundamental right of everyone else to share theirs. For that, millions worldwide should be inspired to take a greater stand for their freedoms.
Sean Nelson is Legal Counsel for Global Religious Freedom with ADF International, which supported the defense of Päivi Räsänen.
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