Päivi Räsänen trial pending sentence
Judges to give a verdict by November 30th. Prosecutors asked a 120-day fine for Räsänen and argued her interpretation and post of Bible verses was “criminal”.
HELSINKI · 02 SEPTEMBER 2023 · 16:15 CET
The trial of Finnish Christian politician Päivi Räsänen and Lutheran Bishop Juhana Pohjola at the Helsinki Court of Appeal finished after 2 tense days of arguments.
Räsänen previously faced charges of "hate speech" for three expressions of her Christian faith: in a tweet, in a 2004 church pamphlet and in a 2019 radio interview.
Right after leaving the court, Räsänen said she was “hopeful that all these charges will be acquitted. It’s a very important verdict for freedom of speech and of religion and Finland, and also has consequences across Europe, I’m hopeful for a good result”.
Although judges usually have 30 days for the verdict, they said this time they needed more time, and promised to deliver a verdict by November 30th.
“Räsänen’s interpretation is criminal”
In the first day of the trial, the prosecutors stressed that the case was not about faith and theology, that “the authors of the Bible are not indicted”, and anyone “can cite the Bible”, but “it is Räsänen’s interpretation and opinion about the Bible verses that are criminal”.
“If you put all the statements together, it is clear that they are derogatory towards homosexuals. Condemning homosexual acts condemns homosexuals as human beings”, added the prosecutor.
Räsänen’s lawyer, Matti Sankamo, responded that his client “never said that homosexuals are inferior to heterosexuals. This is going in the direction of lying. She said none of this”.
According to Paul Coleman, director of the organisation ADF, working which defends Räsänen, that is “an empty claim", because “throughout, the prosecutors engaged in discussions about God, the Bible and sin”.
“Systematically, they rejected that a person's being can differ from his actions. Clearly, there is a lot of theology and anthropology behind that”, he added.
“What she had written is insulting”
The cross-examinations took place in the second day, when the prosecutor asked Räsänen multiple times by if she would update or remove what she wrote about marriage and sexuality in her 2004 church pamphlet “Male & Female He Created Them”.
For the state prosecution the intention behind the expression of faith was irrelevant, because Räsänen should have known that her words could be offensive to some people and refrained from saying it.
“The point isn’t whether what she had written is true or not, but that it’s insulting”, she pointed out.
Räsänen’s ADF International defence team reminded the court that freedom of speech is an integral part of Finnish democracy, strongly protected by international law.
They also stressed that she quoted the word “sin” in her tweet directly from the Bible, and “any judgement condemning its usage would directly condemn the Bible itself”.
Pohjola: “Prosecutor is propagating an understanding that is against the Christian understanding”
Bishop Juhana Pohjola was charged with hate speech for publishing the 2004 pamphlet which Räsänen had written.
He said to the court that “condemning sinful deeds does not mean questioning a person’s worth and dignity. These are completely different things. The prosecutor is propagating an understanding that is fully against the Christian understanding. Condemning sin does not question a person’s dignity”.
“The very idea of religious freedom is that you are free to teach the Christian message, even if someone finds it offensive, but then you can exercise your right not to listen”, added the bishop.
What is next?
The prosecutors demand a sentence and a 120-day fine for Räsänen and a 60-day fine for Pohjola, as well as a collective fine of 0.6% of the Luther Foundation's capital.
Regarding the verdict, Sankamo underlined in the press conference that he had “high trust” in a good decision, because Finnish courts “deliberately don't talk about theology. I will, therefore, be surprised if they do now”.
Pohjola warned that if they lose, “our church would then be seen as criminal. Our teaching would come under suspicion. Many people would turn away from the church to avoid getting guilty by association”.
That is why Räsänen “pray that the Court of Appeal comes to the same conclusion as the District Court last year and acquits us".
According to Coleman, this case “is a barometer of the legal climate. Judges in other countries also read each other's rulings for other cases. That's why Räsänen's acquittal is also important for Christians in other countries”.
A long journey
She was acquitted in the Helsinki District Court in March 2022, with an unanimous verdict that ruled she acted within the limits of the law in her expression of her religious convictions about homosexuality. Päivi Räsänen was using her freedom of expression and religion when she referred to her biblical beliefs regarding LGBT issues, the judges said.
But on 31 May 2022, the Helsinki Court of Appeals announced it would reopen the case after a 26-page appeal of the prosecutor.
In a column published on Evangelical Focus, Päivi Räsänen expressed in February that “Christians must have the possibility to agree with the Bible”. After winning the case in the first court, she said she was “grateful for having had this chance to stand up for freedom of speech”, despite that it could take “many years”.