AFTER an investigation which began in 2019, Finland’s prosecutor general has charged Dr Päivi Räsänen, a Member of Parliament and former Minister of the Interior, with three counts of ‘ethnic agitation’ for peacefully expressing her Christian views on marriage and sexuality. Each charge carries a two-year sentence.
The first charge arises from Dr Räsänen’s 2004 authorship of a booklet entitled Male and Female He Created Them: Homosexual Relationships Challenge the Christian Concept of Humanity, published by the Luther Foundation. In the booklet, Dr Räsänen argues that homosexual activity should be recognised by the church as sinful, based on the teachings of the Bible. She further argues that a failure to recognise sin as sin undermines the very need for a Saviour.
As well as being prosecuted for writing the pamphlet, Dr Räsänen has been charged with two other ‘hate crimes’: tweeting a Bible verse in 2019, and supposedly derogatory comments she made on a 2018 TV programme entitled What would Jesus think about homosexuals?
In 2019, Räsänen shared a picture of her Bible open at Romans 1:24-27 (‘Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another’) in response to the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Finland’s decision to sponsor an LGBT pride event. Below the picture she asked: ‘How can the church’s doctrinal foundation, the Bible, be compatible with the lifting up of shame and sin as a subject of pride?’
The grandmother of six has vowed to fight all the charges to protect freedom of speech for other Christians in Finland. She argues that she had the right to make such comments. ‘The decision of the prosecutor general is surprising, even shocking,’ she said. ‘I do not think I have made threatening, defaming or insulting comments. Ultimately, the three charges brought against me have to do with whether it is allowed in Finland to express your conviction. I do not see I would have in any way defamed homosexuals whose human dignity and human rights I have constantly said to respect and defend.’
At the same time, she continued, ‘this does not remove the fact that, according to the Bible and the Christian conception of man, homosexual relations are against the will of God, and marriage is intended only between a man and a woman. This is what the Christian church has always taught and will always teach.’
The prosecutor general has also charged the Bishop-Elect of the Evangelical Lutheran Mission Diocese of Finland, Rev Dr Juhana Pohjola, with a count of ethnic agitation for publishing Dr Räsänen’s booklet. ‘As a Christian, I do not want to and cannot discriminate against or despise anyone created by God,’ Dean Pohjola said in reaction to being charged. ‘Every human being, created by God and redeemed by Christ, is equally precious.
‘This decision of the prosecutor general says a lot about our time. While I am concerned about the state of religious freedom in our country, I trust that the judiciary will make the right decision.’
In pursuing these charges against a prominent legislator and Bishop Elect the Prosecutor General is sending a clear message to Finns whoever they are or whatever position they occupy. Rev Dr Timothy Quill, general secretary of the International Lutheran Council, said: ‘The implications of the decision to charge Juhana Pohjola and Päivi Räsänen are clear: if the authorities are willing to do this to a respected pastor, reverend doctor, and Bishop Elect, as well as a Member of Parliament and former Minister of the Interior, that sends a message of fear and intimidation to everyone in Finland who follows the Scripture’s teaching on human sexuality.’
The Finnish constitution guarantees the freedom of religion as well as freedom of speech. However, the prosecutor general claims that the freedoms of religion and speech protections do not apply in this case because Dr Räsänen’s comments violate the equality and dignity of those about whom she is speaking.
These prosecutions cannot be understood as an everyday application of ‘hate speech’ law. The comments were made in a reasonable tone, defamed no one and did not incite hatred; they merely stood out against the prevailing zeitgeist, something faithful Christians have done for two thousand years. Public order and civil equality are goods which any state should uphold. They should not, however, be used to support such a suppression of the right to believe and express one’s beliefs in a calm and reasonable manner.
The prosecutor general’s action in pursuing Räsänen and Pohjola constitutes a serious human rights abuse. It violates Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and Article 10 of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, all of which affirm the right of every human ‘to manifest religion or belief, in worship, teaching, practice and observance’. It further violates the right of anyone ‘to write, issue and disseminate relevant publications’ expressing one’s religious beliefs as outlined in the United Nation’s Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and of Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief.
These prosecutions are acts of oppression against Christians and any who dares to think differently.