European Evangelical Alliance demands Finland respect MP’s religious freedom rights

Finnish Member of Parliament, Päivi Räsäne.
Finnish Member of Parliament, Päivi Räsäne. | ADF International

The European Evangelical Alliance has written to the Finnish government, urging it to respect the religious freedom of its parliamentarians, one of whom is facing six years imprisonment for sharing her opinion on marriage and human sexuality.

EEA General Secretary Thomas Bucher said in a letter that he's “dismayed” to hear of the charges filed against Finnish Member of Parliament and former Minister of the Interior, Päivi Räsänen, who is facing two years in prison for three of her each alleged crimes.

“The police were asked to investigate three incidents of supposed ‘hate speech,’ or more precisely in Finnish law 'ethnic agitation,'” Bucher wrote.

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“On each occasion, they concluded that there was no case to answer. In the case of a brochure published in 2004, the police added that, if it was decided that biblical views were considered per se to count as agitation, then it would have to become a crime to make the Bible available,” he insisted.

Räsänen was charged with hate speech for publicly voicing her opinion on marriage and human sexuality in a 2004 pamphlet, comments made on a TV show in 2018, and a tweet directed at her church leadership.

The Public Prosecutor’s office told Christian Today last week that Räsänen’s statements on marriage and sexuality could be described as “discriminatory hate speech” and are “punishable” under Finnish law.

Anu Mantila, a lawyer with Finland's National Prosecution Authority, was quoted as saying: “We emphasize that charges against Mrs. Räsänen concern hate speech, which is insulting, degrading and violates (the) dignity of homosexuals.”

She further said: “The Prosecutor General doesn’t charge Mrs. Räsänen for her traditional opinion on marriage between homosexuals nor for quoting the Bible or explaining its texts. Quoting biblical texts in itself is not a crime in Finland. Mrs. Räsänen has freedom of religion like anyone else. She has the freedom to express her religious opinions and views as well as other opinions. However, this freedom does not justify speech that can arouse intolerance, contempt and even hatred toward homosexuals or any other minority.”

However, Bucher wrote in the letter that “in all three situations for which she stands trial, Päivi Räsänen’s actions do not cross the (United Nation’s) Rabat (Plan of Action) threshold for hate speech. The context, content and form of her words were fine. There is no hint of intent, likelihood or imminence of acts of hatred happening.”

The head of the alliance, which represents 23 million evangelicals across Europe, added, “The only thing one could say is that, as a public figure, Mrs Räsänen’s words have reach. But there is obviously no problem in having reach when the content, form and context were all fine.”

Bucher asked if the Public Prosecutor is “attempting to redefine human rights law?”

He stressed, “Freedom of expression gives the right for anyone to share their opinion. The right to freedom of expression exists to legally protect those that express views which may offend, shock or disturb others.”

The politician, who is a member of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland and former chair of the Christian Democrats, has been under police investigation since June 2019.

A member of Parliament since 1995, Räsänen recently said she would “defend my right to confess my faith so that no one else would be deprived of their right to freedom of religion and speech.” 

She said she holds on to “the view that my expressions are legal and they should not be censored.”

“I will not back down from my views. I will not be intimidated into hiding my faith. The more Christians keep silent on controversial themes, the narrower the space for freedom of speech gets,” she added.

The Austria-based Christian legal group ADF International is representing Räsänen, a medical doctor, mother of five and grandmother of six.

“The Finnish Prosecutor General’s decision to bring these charges against Dr. Räsänen creates a culture of fear and censorship,” ADF International Executive Director Paul Coleman said in a recent statement. “It is sobering that such cases are becoming all too common throughout Europe. If committed civil servants like Päivi Räsänen are criminally charged for voicing their deeply held beliefs, it creates a chilling effect for everyone’s right to speak freely.”

In 2019, Räsänen wrote a tweet questioning the leadership of her church for sponsoring the LGBT event “Pride 2019,” it was accompanied by an image of a Bible verse. As a result, she was accused of hate speech and interrogated by the police.

The investigations include her comments on a TV show in 2018 in which the presenter came to her home and stayed overnight. In the program, they discussed religious matters, including Räsänen’s personal beliefs.

In a radio interview in 2019, Räsänen commented on the show’s topic of discussion, “What would Jesus think about homosexuals?”

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