Prayers from around the world were answered joyfully today when a Finnish court ruled unanimously in favor of two Christians the government prosecuted for publicly stating the Bible’s teachings about sex.
“If this kind of questioning of free speech is possible in a country like Finland, which has a reputation regarding free speech internationally, the same is possible anywhere,” said Member of Parliament Paivi Rasanen during a livestreamed press conference this morning U.S. time.
Rasanen and Lutheran Bishop Juhana Pohjola were acquitted of all four “hate crimes” charges against them for speaking the Bible’s teachings that sex is rightly reserved for lifelong marriage between one man and one woman. The three-judge court not only cleared the two Christians but ordered the prosecution to pay their legal costs, ruling that in a free country courts have no place deciding permissible religious views.
“I am grateful for having had this chance to stand up for freedom of speech, which is an essential right in a democratic country,” Rasanen said. “This has been my honor. … I hope that this ruling will prevent others from having to go through the same ordeal.”
Rasanen, Pohjola, and their legal team also expressed concern that the prosecutor who pursued these charges against the police’s recommendation might appeal the case. The prosecutor has seven days to appeal or let the decision stand.
“If we had lost the case, there would be no way that we could publicly proclaim the law of God and the forgiving gospel of Jesus Christ,” Pohjola emphasized in the press conference. “That would have radically changed the whole atmosphere in our church body as Christians in Finland.”
The Prosecution Is the Punishment
Pohjola said of course he and Rasanen would have continued to proclaim their faith if the court had agreed to effectively criminalize free speech and Christianity in Finland. The possibility of an appeal means Christianity and free speech are still at risk in the Western country ranked No. 3 for its commitment to the rule of law.
“Everyone should be free to share their beliefs without censorship, and we see the great threat that can come from these hate speech laws, which often shut down public debates and constitute not only a threat to freedom of speech and religion but also to democracy itself,” said Paul Coleman, the executive director of Alliance Defending Freedom International, a legal nonprofit assisting with this case.
Most European countries and many U.S. cities and states have “hate crimes” laws similar to the one used in this case. This case went the farthest such laws have been used in the world to date, although many lawsuits have made it difficult for Christians to live according to their faith in public, such as the Masterpiece Cakeshop case in the United States.
“Already, this three-year process with all the investigations and court sessions has in practice narrowed the freedom of speech by creating self-censorship,” Rasanen said. “People are afraid of the possible consequences when expressing their faith and their conviction in public.”
Free speech and freedom of religion are fundamental human rights that benefit all citizens equally. That makes them more crucial to protect and more beneficial for more people than legal privileges distributed unequally according to differing sexual preferences, Coleman noted.
“Everyone’s free speech benefits by this ruling, including the speech by those in the LGBT community. It’s a good decision, and a good ruling for everyone who wants to live in a free and democratic society where ideas are debated and we have the freedom to share our deeply held beliefs without fear of censorship,” Coleman said.
The prosecutor argued that Christians could believe whatever they want but must keep politically incorrect ideas to themselves. Rasanen noted that when she was Finland’s interior minister, Communist Chinese officials expressed to her this same stance toward religious freedom and free speech.
“The real victory that we will see in Europe is when cases like this don’t exist in the first place,” Coleman said. “As long as so much time, energy, and effort is required to defend people in these cases we can never say it is a true victory for freedom of expression.”
Is Talking about Christianity a Hate Crime? Court Says No
This case arose in 2019. That June, a pastor filed a “hate speech” complaint against Rasanen after she posted Bible verses on Twitter to criticize the Finnish state church’s decision to sponsor a Helsinki LGBT parade.
Police investigated, ultimately interrogating Rasanen more than 13 hours across three interviews about her religious beliefs. The police determined no crime had been committed, but a state prosecutor overrode their decision and began her own investigation of Rasanen’s long public history. As a pastor’s wife, longtime member of Finland’s parliament, and former interior minister, Rasanen has been involved in public debates in Finland for decades.
The prosecutor’s investigation unearthed a theological booklet, “Male and Female He Created Them,” that Rasanen wrote and Pohjola published in 2004, long before Finland’s “hate crimes” law was passed. This booklet became one of the three criminal counts the prosecutor filed against Rasanen and the single count filed against Pohjola. The other two charges against Rasanen were the Bible verses she posted on Twitter and her discussion of state-recognized homosexual relationships in a radio interview.
“Not for a second did I believe that I had committed anything illegal in my writings and statements,” Rasanen said on Wednesday, thanking Christians around the world for sending her “thousands” of notes of encouragement and her legal team for their support.
Jesus Loves Gay People So Much He Died to Give Them Eternal Life
Rasanen and Pohjola emphasized that their historic Christian beliefs about sexual morality extend directly from God’s extreme love for all people, who are infinitely precious to Him and made in His sacred image. While the Bible clearly reserves sex for marriage between one man and one woman, it also states the equality of all human beings both in transgressing against God’s commands and in being welcomed to His forgiveness.
“The prosecutor tries to deny the core message the Bible, the teaching of law and gospel: God has created all human beings in his own image and we all have equal value, but we also are all sinners,” Rasanen said on Wednesday. “God is the one who decides what thing is wrong. And God so loved all people that He gave His only Son to die on the cross to suffer the punishment that we all deserved because of our sins.”
Rasanen and Pohjola emphasized their love for those struggling with God’s difficult sexual commands and God’s desire to welcome such people, and all people, to the forgiveness of sins provided in Christian worship, which offers to all abiding peace and joy.
Ready to Keep Preaching the Gospel to the World
If the prosecutor does appeal this case to a higher court, Rasanen said, “I am ready to defend freedom of speech and religion in all necessary courts, also in the European Court of Human Rights if needed.”
Pohjola said that if the pair are called to continue preaching the Christian message across the world due to further prosecution in Finnish or even European courts, he and Rasanen will do so in confidence that God will strengthen and guide them.
“We know as we approach the Easter time that victory has been won on the cross and Jesus Christ stands among His people. And He has promised that He will never depart from us. So no matter what comes, we are in His hands,” Pohjola said.