Finnish Politician Fights Against Government For Religious Freedom

Finnish Parliament Member Päivi Räsänen has been hailed into the Helsinki Court of Appeal, forced to defend her freedom of expression and religious beliefs against charges of “hate speech.”

The controversy revolves around a 2019 post on the X platform, formerly known as Twitter, where Räsänen cited Bible verses and expressed her Christian views on marriage and relationships. Prosecutors claim her actions were criminal, not because she cited the Bible, but because of her “interpretation and opinion about the Bible verses.”

This isn’t Räsänen’s first run-in with the law over her beliefs. The District Court of Helsinki unanimously acquitted her in March 2022 for similar charges. Alongside her, Bishop Juhana Pohjola is also facing prosecution for publishing a pamphlet Räsänen wrote back in 2004. The pamphlet likewise shares her Christian perspective on marriage.

The case has garnered attention beyond Finland’s borders. In the United States, Republicans have called on State Department officials to intervene on Räsänen’s behalf, emphasizing the significance of religious freedom.

The case raises critical questions about the intersection of freedom of speech and religion with so-called “hate speech” laws. Paul Coleman, executive director of the Alliance Defending Freedom International (ADF), warns, “Criminalizing speech through so-called ‘hate-speech’ laws shuts down important public debates and endangers democracy.” ADF lawyers are representing both Räsänen and Pohjola.

Räsänen herself has been unwavering. “Everyone should be able to share their beliefs without fearing censorship by state authorities,” she declared, emphasizing that this prosecution aims to “scare others into silence.” Räsänen has noted that the case “attacks the core teachings of the Christian faith” and is willing to take her fight to “all necessary courts, even the European Court of Human Rights if necessary.”

Prosecutors argue they can limit freedom of expression in outward displays of religion. But is this really where democratic societies want to go? Do we want to set the precedent that the state can police the interpretation of religious texts?

The Finnish case could have international repercussions. Räsänen aptly noted, “If something like that could happen in Finland, it can happen in any country.” Indeed, democratic societies worldwide should be closely watching this case, for what is decided in Finland could influence international dialogues on religious freedom and free speech.

While Räsänen’s views may not resonate with everyone, the essence of democracy is at stake. Are we ready to relinquish the freedom to express long-held religious beliefs simply because they don’t align with evolving societal norms? This case is not merely about Räsänen and Pohjola, but, as Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, noted, “the Bible and the ability to live by the word is on trial.”

At its core, this trial encapsulates an unsettling trend toward censoring opinions based on religious beliefs. As concerned global citizens valuing democratic principles, one should hope that the Helsinki Court of Appeal upholds the inalienable human right to freedom of speech and religion.

Freedom of speech and religion should not be casualties in the move to a more politically correct society. Like Räsänen, we should all be ready to defend these fundamental rights in “all necessary courts,” for the essence of our democratic freedoms may well depend on it.

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