Finnish MP Facing Jail After Tweeting Bible Verse Pleads Not Guilty as Trial Begins
The charges against Päivi Räsänen, a 62-year-old physician and mother of five, relate to her comments in a 2004 pamphlet, her appearance on a 2018 television program, and a Twitter post in 2019.
HELSINKI — A former government minister facing jail in Finland after tweeting a Bible verse pleaded not guilty to three criminal charges on Monday.
Päivi Räsänen appeared at Helsinki District Court on Jan. 24, the first day of her trial, alongside Juhana Pohjola, bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Mission Diocese of Finland, who is facing one criminal charge.
Finland’s Prosecutor General filed criminal charges against the pair on April 29, 2020, formally charging them with the crime of “ethnic agitation,” which falls under the section of “war crimes and crimes against humanity” in the country’s criminal code.
The state prosecutor asserted that the statements made by Räsänen, who served as Finland’s interior minister from 2011 to 2015, were “likely to cause intolerance, contempt, and hatred towards homosexuals.”
The charges against Räsänen, a 62-year-old physician and mother of five, relate to her comments in a 2004 pamphlet, her appearance on a 2018 television program, and a Twitter post in 2019.
The charge against Pohjola concerns his decision to publish Räsänen’s pamphlet, “Male and Female He Created Them.”
When the defendants arrived at the court, they were greeted by supporters holding banners.
ADF International, a Christian legal group supporting the Christian Democrat MP, said that as the trial began, the prosecution argued that the views shared by Räsänen and Pohjola were discriminatory towards minorities.
The defense appealed to the court not to impose its own theological interpretation of scripture on Finland’s 5.5 million citizens, by criminalizing traditional Christian views on marriage and sexuality.
The defense said that a guilty verdict would amount to the de facto criminalization of the Bible verses tweeted by Räsänen.
Around two-thirds of the population of Finland — a country bordering Norway, Russia, and Sweden — belong to the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland, one of the country’s two national churches, alongside the Finnish Orthodox Church.
The MP, who was 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.
Discussing the tweet in court on Monday, she underlined that the post 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 has described the decision to prosecute Räsänen and Pohjola as “egregious.”
It said: “The vast majority of Christians in all nations, including Catholics and Eastern Orthodox, share these convictions. Would the Finnish Prosecutor General condemn us all? Moreover, shall the Finnish state risk governmental sanctions from other states based on the abuse of foundational human rights?”
Addressing the pamphlet, which described homosexuality as “a disorder of psycho-sexual development,” Räsänen told the court that she was asked to write a text outlining Lutheran teaching on sexuality for members of her church, from her viewpoint as a politician, doctor, and Christian.
She said that the pamphlet was outdated given changes in research and legislation since 2004. But she argued that it should still exist as a document testifying to the discussions taking place at that time.
Paul Coleman, executive director of ADF International, noted that a guilty verdict would not set an instant legal precedent for other European countries. But he suggested that it would “set a new European low bar for free speech standards.”
He added that similar cases “really could happen anywhere else” because of hate speech laws across the continent.
Closing arguments will take place on Feb. 14.