HELSINKI (30 March 2022) – A Finnish court has upheld the right to free speech by dismissing all charges against Finnish MP Päivi Räsänen and Bishop Juhana Pohjola. In a unanimous ruling the court concluded that “it is not for the district court to interpret biblical concepts”. The prosecution was ordered to pay more than 60,000 EUR in legal costs and has seven days to appeal the ruling.
The former Minister of the Interior had been charged with “hate speech” for sharing her faith-based views on marriage and sexual ethics, in a 2019 tweet, a 2019 radio debate, and a 2004 pamphlet. The bishop faced charges for publishing Räsänen’s pamphlet for his congregation over 17 years ago. Their case has garnered global media attention this year, as human rights experts voiced concern over the threat this case posed to free speech in Finland.
“I am so grateful the court recognized the threat to free speech and ruled in our favour. 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,” said Päivi Räsänen after her victory.
Christian teachings on trial
The high-profile trial received significant attention, particularly after the prosecution attacked core Christian teachings and cross-examined the bishop and Räsänen on their theology in court. The prosecutor began the first day of the trial by arguing that the case was not about beliefs or the Bible.
She then proceeded to quote Old Testament Bible verses and criticize the phrase “love the sinner, hate the sin”. In their closing statement, the prosecution alleged that the use of the word “sin” can be “harmful” and called for heavy fines in the event of a guilty verdict.
Free speech prevails
Räsänen’s defence, supported by the legal advocacy organization ADF International, argued that finding Räsänen guilty would significantly damage free speech in Finland. What Räsänen said, they argued, was an expression of Christian teaching.
The Court recognized that while some may object to Räsänen’s statements, “there must be an overriding social reason for interfering with and restricting freedom of expression.” The Court concluded there was no such justification.
“We welcome the Helsinki District Court’s ruling. This is an important decision, which upholds the fundamental right to freedom of speech in Finland. In a free society, everyone should be allowed to share their beliefs without fear of censorship. This is the foundation of every free and democratic society. Criminalizing speech through so-called ‘hate-speech’ laws shuts down important public debates and poses a grave threat to our democracies,” continued Coleman, author of ‘Censored: How European Hate Speech Laws are Threatening Freedom of Speech’.