The difference between “hate speech” and free speech is who makes the rules. Per the rulebook as interpreted by the Public Prosecutor in Finland, The Holy Bible qualifies as “hate speech”.
Päivi is a medical doctor who has had a long and distinguished career in Finnish politics, serving in Parliament and as Interior Minister. Her problem is that her views on LGBTQ issues are shaped by her Christian faith, which teaches that same-gender relations are contrary to the will of God.
The Bible passage in question is in the New Testament Book of Romans 1:24-27. These verses state that God deems same-gender acts as “shameful” and “unnatural”. Räsänen’s mistake was that in 2019 she posted a photo of these verses on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook when objecting to her church’s support of LGBTQ Pride events.
As a result, she was subjected to 13 hours of police interrogation and charged with crimes. Her offense in quoting scripture according to the Finnish government was “war crimes and crimes against humanity.”
This charge was rejected unanimously by the District Court of Helsinki, who remarked that judges were not in the business of interpreting scripture. The Helsinki Court of Appeal concurred, and now the Public Prosecutor is appealing the case to the Finnish Supreme Court.
The prosecutor in Räsänen’s trial has stated in court that what matters is “not whether it is true or not but that it’s insulting.” The conclusion one would draw is that any “insult” could be an offense—if it were committed against a group the prosecutor saw fit to defend.
Europe has shown an alarming anti-free-speech tendency in recent years. Furthermore, enforcement and interpretation of “hate speech” laws has been highly selective. While the Christian Bible itself can apparently be deemed as “hate speech”, criticism of Islam or the Koran also qualifies. Dutch politician Geert Wilders has faced relentless hate speech prosecution for his criticism of Islam and his characterization of the Koran as inciting violence.
Additionally, it is relevant that Räsänen is a member of a political party called the “Christian Democrats”, so her views could be considered both political and religious. The disturbing aspect here is the ability of the party in power to selectively weaponize “hate speech” laws to silence opposition.
It has been noted that even if Räsänen is eventually acquitted by the Supreme Court, the episode will have a chilling effect on free speech, as individuals will self-censor for fear of long and costly trials.
The European Union in December 2021 voted to include hate speech alongside terrorism and human trafficking as “EU Crimes”. This designation is reserved for “particularly serious” offenses with a “cross-border dimension.” This means that individuals could be pursued across borders for offenses such as quoting the Bible.