HELSINKI, Finland (ChurchMilitant.com) - In a major victory for free speech, the Helsinki district court has cleared a Finnish lawmaker three years after she was charged with "hate speech" crimes for tweeting biblical verses proscribing homosexual acts.
"It is not for the district court to interpret biblical concepts," the court concluded in a unanimous ruling Wednesday, ordering the prosecution to pay over 60,000 euros in legal costs to the defendants and 496 euros in costs to the Luther Foundation of Finland.
Evangelical Lutheran and medical doctor Dr. Päivi Räsänen was charged with three counts of "incitement" against homosexuals, including tweeting a quote from St. Paul's letter to the Romans in response to the Helsinki LGBTQ+ Pride March in June 2019.
In Romans 1:24–27, the apostle Paul describes men and women exchanging "natural relations for those that are contrary to nature" and "receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error."
"Although the tweet may have offended the participants in the Pride event, it has not claimed that the participants in the event, for example, are inferior to others," the court ruled. Räsänen's tweet criticized the Lutheran Church for co-sponsoring the Pride parade.
The high-profile trial received international attention, particularly after the prosecutor general Ms. Raija Toiviainen attacked core Christian teachings and cross-examined Räsänen on her theology in court.
Attacking the phrase "love the sinner; hate the sin," Toiviainen quoted Old Testament Bible verses, alleging that the use of the word "sin" can be "harmful." The prosecution also argued that Räsänen's claim on radio that "God did not originally create man as a homosexual but as a heterosexual," was offensive.
The court, however, ruled that Räsänen did not exceed the limits of free speech or insult homosexuals as a group based on sexual orientation and that her words were not capable of arousing contempt, intolerance or hatred towards homosexuals; nor were they intended to degrade or insult.
"The ruling was what I expected. Not for a second did I believe that I had committed anything illegal in my writings and statements," Räsänen told Church Militant in a statement. "I have been criminally charged for voicing my deeply held beliefs that are based on classical Christianity."
The lawmaker emphasized the historic nature of the judgment, explaining that "the court has had to, for the first time, take a stand on whether it is legal or not to cite the Bible."
"I have felt joy about being able to speak about the gospel and the atonement of Jesus during these couple of years," she added, telling the press that she wouldn't hesitate to cite scriptural texts on homosexuality in the same way she had previously.
"What has worried me is that this process, which has lasted almost three years, has tended to narrow religious freedom and cause self-censorship," she lamented.
The prosecutor has warned she will appeal against the ruling, but Räsänen told media she is "prepared to defend freedom of speech and religion in all courts, even before the European Court of Human Rights."
"One may disagree with Christian teaching. Some may even find it shocking. However, a criminal prosecution of high-profile Christians for sharing their beliefs shows that Europe's hate-speech laws have become a serious problem," barrister Lorcán Price, legal counsel for the Alliance Defending Freedom International, commented.
"And this is impacting people whose views were once acceptable but are now deemed to be potentially 'hateful,'" Price, a member of the team defending Räsänen, lamented.
The lawmaker was also charged with "hate speech" for comments on a talk show on the Finnish Broadcasting System in December 2019. The show was titled "What Would Jesus Think About Homosexuals?"
The prosecutor general's third charge involved a booklet written by the doctor in 2004 titled: Male and Female He Created Them — Homosexual Relationships Challenge the Christian Concept of Humanity.
The three charges against the lawmaker carry a total prison sentence of six years.
Charges were also dropped against the booklet's editor-in-chief, Rev. Dr. Juhana Pohjola, dean of the Evangelical Lutheran Mission diocese of Finland, who authorized the publication of the tract. Police interrogated Pohjola for five hours in February 2020.
Kerttu Tarjamo, secretary general for Finnish LGBT+ organization Seta, said it was important that "hate speech directed at LGBTIQA+ people" is dealt with in the legal system "even when it is displayed in a religious context or is motivated by religion."
"It is obvious that Räsänen's public opinions regarding gay people are deeply offensive to many persons belonging to sexual minorities," Tarjamo noted. "We hope that the matter will still be dealt with by the highest courts."
Räsänen has served as a Finnish member of Parliament since 1995. From 2004 to 2015, she was chair of the Christian Democrats; and from 2011 to 2015, she was the minister of the interior. During this time, she held responsibility for church affairs in Finland.