Päivi Räsänen, chairwoman of the Christian Democrats party from 2004 to 2015, questioned her Church’s sponsorship of an LGBT pride event in 2019.

Newsroom (31/03/2022 7:15 PM Gaudium Press) A court in Helsinki dismissed all charges against Päivi Räsänen, a physician and mother of five, and Juhana Pohjola, a bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Mission Diocese of Finland, after a free speech trial that drew international attention.

The court said in a unanimous 28-page ruling on March 30 that “it is not for the district court to interpret biblical concepts.”

It said that Räsänen had sought to “defend the concept of family and marriage between a man and a woman.” If some people found the statements offensive, it said, “there must be an overriding social reason for interfering with and restricting freedom of expression.”

It ordered the state to pay legal costs to the defence of more than 60,000 euros (over $66,000).

Räsänen said: “I am so grateful the court recognized the threat to free speech and ruled in our favor. I feel a weight has been lifted off my shoulders after being acquitted.”

“Although I am grateful for having had this chance to stand up for freedom of speech, I hope that this ruling will help prevent others from having to go through the same ordeal.”

The charges against the 62-year-old Räsänen related to her comments in a 2004 pamphlet, her appearance in a 2018 radio debate, and a Twitter post in 2019.

The Prosecutor General charged Räsänen, who served as Finland’s interior minister from 2011 to 2015, incitement against a minority group, arguing that her statements were “likely to cause intolerance, contempt, and hatred towards homosexuals.”

More by Gaudium Press  For Cardinal Wilton Gregory there is a 'Lack of Parish Priests' at October Synod

The charge against Pohjola concerned his decision to publish Räsänen’s pamphlet, “Male

and Female He Created Them.”

Räsänen, chairwoman of the Christian Democrats party from 2004 to 2015, is an active member of the Finnish Lutheran Church. But she questioned her Church’s sponsorship of an LGBT pride event in 2019.

On June 17, 2019, she asked in a Twitter post how the sponsorship was compatible with the Bible, linking to a photograph of a biblical passage, Romans 1:24-27, on Instagram. She also posted the text and image on Facebook.

“The purpose [of] my tweet was in no way to insult sexual minorities. My criticism was aimed at the leadership of the Church,” she told the journal First Things.

Discussing the tweet in court, she underlined that it was directed at Church leaders and concerned an important topic facing the Church.

Police began investigating Räsänen in 2019. She faced several police interviews and had to wait more than a year for the Prosecutor General’s decision.

The International Lutheran Council described the decision to prosecute Räsänen and Pohjola as “egregious.”

The physician and mother of five noted that the state prosecutor had seven days to decide whether to appeal the ruling.

She said: “I had hoped the prosecutor would have settled for this ruling, but today afternoon, I heard that the prosecutor will likely appeal to the court of appeal. We don’t yet know it surely.”

“But 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.”

More by Gaudium Press  Cardinal Sarah: Priests Renounce Marriage, Family and Material Gains for Christ

“I want today to encourage other people also to use these basic rights. The ruling of the court is important for Bible-believing Christians but also more widely for freedom of speech.”

Juhana Pohjola said at the press conference that he was also willing to keep up the legal battle if necessary. “Although it seems that it will continue, this case, maybe for a few more years, the battle is won today,” he said. “The war might continue, but today we rejoice about the victory received in the court.” He added: “I’m very thankful that this freedom of speech and religion, the basic rights, are maintained in our country. Although like Päivi Räsänen said, we would have continued anyway because as a guardian of faith and a teacher of faith, it’s our holy duty and vocation to teach all what Christ has given in His Word.”

Paul Coleman, executive director of ADF International, which supported Räsänen and Pohjola, said that the Christian legal group was delighted by the court’s ruling.

“We consider it to be an extremely important decision, which upholds the fundamental right to freedom of speech in Finland, but also more broadly,” he said.

“We believe that in a free society, everyone should be allowed to share their beliefs without fear of censorship. And we see the great threat that can come through these hate speech laws, which often end up shutting down important public debates and often can pose a great threat not only to freedom of expression and freedom of religion, but also to democracy itself.”

More by Gaudium Press  Cameroon Archbishop: 'Africa Must be the Author of its Destiny'

He added: “While we celebrate this victory, we also lament the fact that this case was brought in the first place. This has been an ordeal that has lasted for almost three years. It has involved hours of police interrogations, countless hours of time of Bishop Juhana and Päivi having to defend themselves, explain themselves, explain their beliefs to police officers and prosecutors.”

“We lament the fact that in the court hearing itself, the state prosecutor was engaging in critique of the Bible and raising theological questions to an ordained bishop.”

“And so while we celebrate the victory, the real victories that we will see in Europe is when cases like this don’t exist in the first place. Because as long as these cases continue to exist, and so much time, effort, and energy are required to defend innocent people from these charges, then we can never truly say that it is a victory for freedom of expression.”

(Via CNA)

Compiled by Raju Hasmukh