“It is not for the district court to interpret biblical concepts.”
Such was the judgment of the Finnish court tasked with ruling on the case of Päivi Räsänen, a 28-year member of the Finnish parliament, former minister of the interior, medical doctor, grandmother, and Christian prosecuted for “hate speech.”
Her “crime”? Publicly sharing her faith-based views of human sexuality.
In the spring of 2022, Räsänen was unanimously acquitted by the court. The court even ordered the prosecution to pay more than 60,000 euros in legal costs.
That was a tremendous victory for free speech with reverberations heard around the world.
Unfortunately, the decision did not satisfy the Finnish state prosecutors, who appealed the “not guilty” verdict on the basis that the court reached the wrong conclusion.
For simply sharing her faith-based convictions, Räsänen, 64, went back on trial on Aug. 31 and Sept. 1, with the support of the Christian legal organization ADF International. A verdict in her case is expected in the coming months.
The case dates back to 2019, when Räsänen posted on Twitter, questioning her church’s official sponsorship of the Helsinki “Pride 2019” event. Her tweet included a snapshot of a Bible verse.
Following the tweet, authorities dug into her past, investigating a pamphlet that she authored for her church in 2004 on sexuality and marriage.
She subsequently faced three criminal charges—for the tweet, the pamphlet, and for comments she had made on a 2019 radio show. At that point, it was becoming clear that the basic human right to free speech was not alive and well in Finland.
Following a criminal trial and countless lies spread by the media, Räsänen has become a global champion in the fight for free speech and religious freedom.
It is a scandal worthy of international attention that this case has been prosecuted not just once, but twice. The first, unanimous ruling affirmed what we all know; namely, Räsänen committed no crime in exercising her fundamental freedoms.
Free speech is a myth if religious speech is not protected. The restriction of peaceful speech has no place in a free society.
This case demonstrates how censorship starts to tear apart democracies like their dictatorial counterparts. After all, Finland regularly receives high marks for its fidelity to the rule of law, but how free is a country where the full force of the law can be weaponized to silence peaceful speech?
Finland is far from alone in seeing a mounting global trend to silence and sanction speech. Just weeks ago, in Pakistan, extremist Muslim mobs torched homes and at least 19 churches, injuring several in a Christian community in Jaranwala. The mob formed in response to unconfirmed blasphemy accusations directed at a handful of Christian men who allegedly tore pages out of a Quran and blasphemed the Prophet Muhammad in the process.
In Nigeria, a young Sufi Muslim named Yahaya Sharif-Aminu had his family home burned down and was sentenced to death by hanging for alleged blasphemy in song lyrics he shared on WhatsApp. Sharif-Aminu remains in prison without bail while awaiting his appeal at the Supreme Court of Nigeria, where he still faces a potential death penalty.
Over in the U.K., Isabel Vaughan-Spruce was searched and arrested by police officers after saying that she “might be” praying inside of her head near an abortion facility. She was acquitted of all charges before being arrested a second time for the same “thought crime” of praying silently and imperceptibly in her head.
Räsänen, Sharif-Aminu and Vaughan-Spruce—and countless others around the world simply living out their lives in climates of intolerance—are not provoking hate. They were expressing their faith.
We see before us a clear trend of silencing voices deemed unpopular by the state, and often these expressions are rooted in religion. Censorship of this kind blatantly violates the right to religious freedom, inherent to every one of us.
Ahead of her retrial, Räsänen exhorted all of us to do something:
Now, it is time to speak. Because the more we are silent, the narrower the space for freedom of speech and religion grows. If I’m convicted, I think that the worst consequence would not be the fine against me, it would be the censorship.
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