Dragging an individual through a grueling criminal trial simply for expressing their religious beliefs is the opposite of what characterizes a free society.
Like many languages, Finnish contains a word that is so complex that it is almost impossible to translate into other languages. That word is sisu, which roughly translates into English as “inner fortitude”, “courage”, and, according to Wikipedia, “extraordinary determination in the face of extreme adversity”.
No word better describes Päivi Räsänen, the Finnish grandmother of ten who has served in parliament for 25 years and is currently at the forefront of the fight to protect the right to free speech in Europe.
Last week, Päivi Räsänen, the former Finnish Minister of the Interior faced the judges of the Helsinki Court of Appeal on charges of “hate speech”.
It all started in 2019 when Räsänen sent a tweet directed at the leadership of her church – The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland – questioning their official sponsorship of the Helsinki Pride Parade. She also attached a picture of Bible verses from the book of Romans.
What followed were a total of 13 hours of police interrogations over several months where Räsänen was repeatedly asked to explain her understanding of the apostle Paul’s writings and concepts like “sin” and “marriage”.
Then, in April 2021 the Finnish Prosecutor General formally charged Räsänen with three counts of “agitation against a minority group” for publicly voicing her opinion on marriage and human sexuality in a 2004 church pamphlet – which she wrote before the law she was charged under was even enforced -, for statements she made, during an hour-long radio discussion in 2019, and the tweet that sparked the investigations.
[destacate]The prosecutor was incessantly asking Räsänen whether she would recant her beliefs. Yet, she stood strong [/destacate]Unbelievably, the charges fall under the war crimes and crimes against humanity section of the Finnish criminal code. The Lutheran bishop Juhana Pohjola was charged alongside Räsänen for publishing her 2004 church booklet for his congregation.
Both stood trial and were fully acquitted by the Helsinki District Court in 2022 as it ruled that “it is not for the district court to interpret biblical concepts”.
But the prosecution continued seeking to censor Räsänen’s writings to limit the exposure of others to her Christian convictions.
In her opening statements at the appeal trial, the prosecutor commented: “You can cite the Bible, but it is Räsänen’s interpretation and opinion about the Bible verses that are criminal.”
Throughout her cross-examination she repeatedly asked Räsänen if she would update or remove what she had said about marriage and sexuality in her 2004 church pamphlet, titled “Male & Female He Created Them”.
In essence, the prosecutor was incessantly asking Räsänen whether she would recant her beliefs. Yet, Räsänen stood strong, answering that she would not deny the teachings of her faith.
While the prosecutor believes she is on the side of democracy and progress, it should be clear that dragging an individual through a grueling criminal trial simply for expressing their religious beliefs is the opposite of what characterizes a free society.
Yet, state authorities continue accusing her of “hatred” and weaponizing the full force of the law to censor her.
Whether they are successful in their endeavor will be decided by the Court of Appeal, which will hand down its decision by 30th November.
Räsänen, the picture of “extraordinary determination in the face of extreme adversity”, said she is ready to defend the right to free speech to the very end, if need be, even up to the European Court of Human Rights.
Everyone, whether they share Räsänen’s beliefs or not, should agree that she has the right to voice them. And everyone should realize the significance of this case, which will set a new bar for tolerance for free speech in Finland, Europe and beyond.