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Hate Speech Trial in Finland Evaluates Expressions of Christian Faith

The Story: A member of Finland’s parliament faces a second “hate speech” trial over a Twitter post quoting the Bible.

The Background: A trial in Finland recently concluded before the Helsinki Court of Appeal where Päivi Räsänen, a long-standing parliamentarian and former government minister, stood accused of “hate speech” on account of three expressions of her Christian faith. The charges were based on a tweet, a 2004 church pamphlet, and a 2019 radio interview. The state prosecutor made the final case to criminalize “insulting” Christian speech.

The trial began on August 31, 2023, with the state prosecutor arguing that Räsänen’s interpretation and publication of Bible verses is “criminal.” In 2019, Räsänen criticized Finland’s largest church body’s announcement about becoming an official partner of Helsinki Pride 2019. She asked, “How can the church’s doctrinal foundation, the Bible, be compatible with the lifting up of shame and sin as a subject of pride?” In the tweet, she included an image of Romans 1:24–27, which states,

Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen. For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error.

This tweet led to a lengthy police investigation and to Räsänen being charged for “agitation against a minority group,” a provision that falls under the section of the Finnish Criminal Code titled “War Crimes and Crimes Against Humanity.” The prosecutor commented in her opening statement that “the authors of the Bible are not indicted” today. She continued, “You 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,” the prosecutor added.

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.”

The trial concluded on September 1, and the court is expected to deliver a verdict by November 30.

This is the second time Räsänen has faced trial for these same actions. She was investigated by the police for her pamphlet titled “Male and Female He Created Them,” published 15 years earlier, and for remarks she made on a radio show in 2019. She was originally acquitted in the Helsinki District Court in March 2022, with a unanimous verdict that ruled she acted within the limits of the law in her expression of her religious convictions about homosexuality. However, that ruling wasn’t final and was appealed to the Court of Appeal.

Why It Matters: Räsänen’s case—known as the Finnish Bible Trial—is a test of the limits of free speech and religious freedom in Finland. The outcome of the trial could have implications for Christians and other religious minorities in Finland and beyond. The trial is also a reminder of the importance of protecting free speech and religious freedom within international law.

But as Christian ethicist Andrew Walker pointed out, there’s something else to be considered.

“What else is worthy of your attention about this case?” asks Walker. “That this harassment of a Christian is happening in a country that has an established church.”

The church Räsänen criticized in her tweet for supporting the Pride event is the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland (ELCF). The ELCF, along with the Orthodox Church of Finland, has a legal position as a national church in the country.

Officially, the ELCF’s Church Order, ratified by the Finnish parliament, states that it “confesses that Christian faith which is based on the Holy Word of God, the prophetic and apostolic books of the Old and the New Testament” and the Lutheran confessional writings of the 16th century. In reality, the church and its leadership support numerous positions that are incompatible with orthodox Christianity, such as support for abortion, homosexuality, and transgenderism.

The ELCF has seen a decline in membership over the past few decades. As of 2022, just 65.2 percent of Finns belonged to the church, a decline of 13 percentage points from 2010. Some of that decline has come from members’ deliberate rejection of orthodoxy. Samuli Siikavirta points out that in 2010, about 80,000 Finns quit the church, most blaming Räsänen’s participation and expression of traditional views in a television debate on same-sex marriage.

This trial in Finland should provide a lesson to Christian nationalists in other countries who believe we can and should impose blasphemy laws against heresy. As Europe has shown, you can certainly create a nominally Christian state church or government in the West. But establishing a “Christian nation” doesn’t mean much when expressive individualism remains the national religion. As we see in Finland, the established church will inevitably go apostate, and people will leave an established church when any attempt is made to hold the line on orthodoxy.

Expressive individualism describes a sociocultural worldview that places a high value on individual freedom, self-expression, and personal authenticity. Within the cult of expressive individualism, nothing is more sacred than self-expression of sexuality. That’s why the prosecutor in the Finnish Bible Trial all but admitted the real crime is blasphemy against homosexuality. As she said, “The point isn’t whether what she had written is true or not, but that it’s insulting [to homosexuals].”

Whether Räsänen wins or loses this case, the result is the same: we need to focus more on robust religious liberty protections rather than attempting to create nominal state churches. After all, as Walker asks, “What good is a ‘Christian Nation’ that persecutes and punishes Christians?”

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