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Päivi Räsänen, a former interior minister in the Finnish Parliament, faced prosecution over public statements she made on homosexuality based on Scripture. Her comments sparked international debate over the balance between freedom of expression and hate speech laws.
The charges against Räsänen resulted from a 2019 social media post in which she questioned the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland's participation in an LGBT pride event, comments she made on a public radio show in Finland and a 2004 pamphlet titled "Male and Female He Created Them: Homosexual Relations Challenge the Christian Concept of Humanity."
Her statements were deemed actionable under Finland's criminal code sections related to "war crimes and crimes against humanity."
Finnish state prosecutor Anu Mantila, who is leading the case, indicated that her office is "seriously considering" appealing the acquittal to the Supreme Court of Finland.
Mantila had argued that Räsänen's comments were "derogatory towards homosexuals" and thus fell under the purview of hate speech.
"Citing the Bible is not forbidden. But insulting vulnerable groups is," Mantila stated during the trial.
In her defense, Räsänen consistently maintained her statements were a reflection of her religious beliefs and not intended as derogatory or hateful.
Reflecting on the extensive legal battle, Räsänen said, "It is like a warning sign to other people [of] what can happen if you use your freedoms — if you speak freely and express your convictions."
This recent acquittal follows a 2022 district court ruling that also dismissed the charges unanimously. Notably, Finnish law does not protect an accused person against double jeopardy — being prosecuted for the same charges after an acquittal.
The case has significant implications beyond Finland.
Evert van Vlastuin, journalist and managing editor of Christian Network Europe News, noted, "The legal logic of such a conviction, or an acquittal... will have influence on other lawyers in other countries."
He further emphasized the potential impact of this verdict on similar cases across Europe.
In support of Räsänen and Bp. Juhana Pohjola, also implicated in the case, 16 U.S. lawmakers expressed their concerns in a letter to U.S. ambassadors.
"No American, no Finn, and no human should face legal harassment for simply living out their religious beliefs," they wrote.
The trial raised critical questions about the extent to which religious expressions, especially those potentially at odds with contemporary societal views, can be considered criminal.
Lorcán Price, legal counsel of Alliance Defending Freedom International, which supported Räsänen, highlighted the core issue:
This case … raises a very key issue about can [sic] Christians be salt and light in the world without suffering the penalty of the criminal law? Can we share the gospel which contains messages in it that can be upsetting to people? Can we share that without finding ourselves at the receiving end of a criminal prosecution?
Räsänen, expressing confidence after her acquittal, underscored the broader implications of her case for religious freedom and free expression.
"This has also been a big chance and even a privilege for me to have so many chances in media, in Finnish society, to speak openly about Christian values," she remarked.
Räsänen emphasized the trial's scope extended beyond issues of marriage or sexual relations to include "attacks on the Bible and about salvation."
Throughout the legal ordeal, Räsänen received widespread support, with thousands reportedly praying for her and some individuals professing faith while following the trial.
"As a Christian, I am happy I can testify about Jesus," Räsänen reacted, viewing the trial as an opportunity to witness her faith.
Räsänen's case could set a precedent in Europe, influencing future legal interpretations of freedom of speech and religious expression. Other European nations with similar laws will likely scrutinize this verdict closely, as it may inform their legal approaches to comparable situations.
The Helsinki Court of Appeal is slated to confirm by Nov. 30 whether it will uphold this verdict.
As this legal saga unfolds, Räsänen's case stands as a pivotal moment in the global discourse on the boundaries between freedom of expression and religious liberty.