A Finish court has dismissed all hate speech charges filed against Member of Parliament Paivi Rasanen and Bishop Juhana Pohjola of the Evangelical Lutheran Mission Diocese of Finland over their religious beliefs that marriage is a union between one man and one woman.
A three-judge panel on the Helsinki District Court determined in a unanimous ruling Wednesday that the government should not be interpreting “biblical concepts.”
The court reasoned that statements made by the former interior minister and Christian Democratic Party leader didn’t constitute hate speech even though they may have offended members of the LGBT community.
The court ordered the prosecution to pay the legal costs associated with the trial.
Rasanen said she felt a weight lifted off her shoulders after being acquitted. She hopes the ruling will “prevent others from having to go through the same ordeal.”
“I’m relieved. I’m happy and grateful to God and to all the people that have supported me,” Rasanen proclaimed at a press conference Wednesday.
Alliance Defending Freedom International, which is representing Pohjola and Rasanen, said in a statement Wednesday that the district court upheld the right to free speech.
Rasanen and Pohjola faced prosecution for their roles in creating and publishing a 2004 pamphlet titled Male and Female He Created Them: Homosexual relationships challenge the Christian concept of humanity.
The indictment accused Rasanen and Pohjola of incitement to hatred against a group. The bishop explained at a press conference last year that the charges fall under the section of “war crimes and crimes against humanity.” He said they were accused of sharing “opinions and allegations defaming and insulting homosexuals as a group based on their sexual orientation.”
In addition to the pamphlet, Rasanen faced criminal charges for a 2019 tweet criticizing the leadership of the Finnish Lutheran Church for supporting LGBT pride month and sharing her beliefs about homosexuality in a radio show appearance that same year.
Rasanen could have faced two years in prison and a fine if convicted.
Paul Coleman, the executive director of ADF International, praised the court’s ruling as “an important decision, which upholds the fundamental right to freedom of speech in Finland.”
He described the ability for people to “share their beliefs without fear of censorship” as “the foundation of every free and democratic society.”
“Criminalizing speech through so-called ‘hate-speech’ laws shuts down important public debates and poses a grave threat to our democracies,” Coleman said.
Rasanen said that the ruling was not what she expected.
“Not for a second did I believe that I had committed anything illegal in my writings and statements,” she said.
She believes that “the prosecutors will likely appeal” the ruling.
“If it happens, I’m ready to defend freedom of speech and religion in all necessary courts, also in [the] European Court of Human Rights if needed,” Rasanen said.
The lawmaker praised the international outcry she received after being charged last year.
“I have received thousands of supporting messages through different channels, letters,” she said. “Still, every day, I get messages from many countries about how people are praying for me and praying for Finland and several churches, congregations and Christian communities have expressed their concern for the situation.”
She said the international interest in her case comes from the surprise to many that the “questioning of free speech is possible in a country like Finland,” which has a “good reputation” internationally. She believes many worldwide believe that if such a prosecution could happen in Finland, the “same is possible anywhere.”
While she lamented the ordeal she has had to go through for nearly three years, she acknowledged that she felt “great joy about being able to speak about the Gospel and the atonement of Jesus during these couple of years.”
“My writings and statements under investigation are all linked to the Bible’s teaching on marriage, living as a man and a woman, as well as the Apostle Paul’s teaching on sin,” she said. “The points of view over which I stood accused do not deviate from so-called classical Christianity and nor does my view on marriage deviate from the official policy of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland.”
She believes her prosecution has made some people afraid of the “consequences of expressing their faith and convictions in public.”
Coleman quoted from the Helsinki District Court’s 28-page decision, where the three-judge panel ruled that “the district court considers that the purpose of Rasanen’s writing was not to insult or offend homosexuals but to defend the concept of family and marriage between a man and a woman according to Rasanen’s religious beliefs.”
Coleman said the judges also ruled that all Rasanen did during her radio appearance was “answered questions that were posed and tried to justify her opinions as part of the debate.”
“Rasanen’s answers have represented the view of the faith,” Coleman said, translating the ruling written in Finnish. “There must be an overriding social reason for interfering with and restricting freedom of expression.”
Sam Brownback, who formerly served as the U.S. Ambassador for International Religious Freedom, stressed in a tweet that the case "should never have gone this far."
"It is a scandal that this case was prosecuted in the first place," Brownback tweeted.
Correction:Wednesday, March 30, 2022
This article has been corrected to state that Bishop Juhana Pohjola is affiliated with the Evangelical Lutheran Mission Diocese of Finland, not the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland.
Ryan Foley is a reporter for The Christian Post. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org