Two Finnish Christians have been acquitted for a second time of charges accusing them of hate speech. The court delivered a verdict determining that the comments they made were protected by their right to free speech.
High Profile ChristiansPäivi Räsänen is a member of parliament and previously served as the Minister of the Interior and Chairwoman of the Christian Democrats political party. Juhana Pohjola, on the other hand, is the second bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Mission Diocese of Finland following his previous role as a priest of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland.
The ChargesBoth individuals were accused of hate speech for expressing anti-homosexuality sentiments, citing their religious beliefs as justification. They were brought to trial by a state prosecutor.
Freedom of SpeechThe acquittals have been celebrated as a victory for freedom of speech advocates, with international organizations sharing their support online. Alliance Defending Freedom posted to X: “Free speech victory in Finland. Tweeting Bible verses is NOT a crime. The Helsinki Court of Appeal has dismissed all “hate speech” charges against MP Päivi Räsänen & Bishop Juhana Pohjola.”
A Human RightThey concluded, “Congrats to our team @ADLFlntl! Free speech is a fundamental right that belongs to all.” Free speech rights generally ensure that people can speak their minds without fear of censorship or prosecution. However, this is still subjected to restrictions, with libel, slander, hate speech, obscenity, and incitement being just some concepts that place boundaries on free speech.
Räsänen ReactsRäsänen shared her response to the verdict, stating: “I am deeply relieved. The court has fully endorsed and upheld the decision of the district court, which recognized everyone’s right to free speech.”
Christian PerspectiveShe added, “It isn’t a crime to tweet a Bible verse or to engage in public discourse with a Christian perspective. The attempts made to prosecute me for expressing my beliefs have resulted in an immensely trying four years, but my hope is that the result will stand as a key precedent to protect the human right to free speech.”
A Criminal InterpretationExplaining her case, prosecutor Anu Mantila declared: “You can cite the Bible, but it is Räsänen’s interpretation and opinion about the Bible verses that are criminal.”
International ResponseThe outcome has attracted the attention of public figures worldwide. House Rep. Chip Roy (R-TX) proclaimed that: “A guilty verdict would have criminalized Christianity, silenced Christians, stifled religious freedom across Europe, and catalyzed further attacks on the foundations of Western Civilization.”
A House Rep Speaks OutHe continued, “I thank God for this verdict, for Päivi Räsänen and Bishop Pohjola’s courage in the defense of the Gospel, and for the efforts of Alliance Defending Freedom International and other groups like Family Research Council for their hard work and advocacy on this case.”
Potential ConsequencesThe verdict may be appealed by prosecutors and sent to the Supreme Court of Finland seeking another decision. Räsänen has pointed out how these obstacles might present as a possible deterrent to those wishing to utilize their freedom of speech to express their religious beliefs.
Freedom of ReligionRäsänen emphasized that “if writings based on biblical teachings were to be condemned, that would mean a serious restriction of freedom of religion. It is natural that this would raise concerns among Christians both in Finland and internationally.” Both freedom of religion and freedom of speech are recognized as essential human rights by the UN.
Preaching HateMany people online felt that Räsänen was simply preaching hateful ideas and that she shouldn’t be praised, regardless of the verdict. One online forum commenter wrote: “By all means believe in whichever God you please, but don’t use your beliefs as reasoning to make hateful speech towards people,” in response to some declaring that they “strongly support Päivi Räsänen and her love for God.”
Missing the PointOne person agreed that Räsänen shouldn’t have been convicted, but still saw the harm in what she said: “The point isn’t the Bible quotes but rather what she is saying as a whole and some parts where she is claiming things as facts. As an example, she said that science has shown homosexuality to be a developmental disorder.”
Makings ExcusesThey went on to say “I think the key point is that even if she said something directly from the Bible, that isn’t an excuse. She is the person saying these things.”
Not Extreme EnoughAnother poster on a Christian forum agreed, “There’s a pretty big difference between “my religion doesn’t agree with homosexuality” and “homosexuality is a genetic disease.” Someone else contradicted that “That part is pretty hatey — but enough to be illegal? Granted, we’re non-Finns talking about Finnish law, but I still think a legal ban should be reserved for really extreme cases.”
Deserving of PunishmentThe original poster retaliated, “Yes, I think speech which denigrates groups based on innate characteristics should be legally punished. Obviously, I think prison should be reserved for the worst cases of hate speech, and the idea that she could be facing 6 years in prison for it seems far too extreme. But yeah, I think it should be legally actionable.”
Free Speech vs Hate SpeechWhen some people defended Räsänen’s comments as free speech, others chimed in to say that “free speech doesn’t cover hate speech” and “hate speech is not free speech.” One contributor elaborated that “not all speech I disagree with is hate speech. But speech that denigrates and directs hate at groups and people for innate characteristics absolutely is hate speech.”
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