It was a great honor for us to host the President of Hungary, Katalin Novák, Thursday evening (27.10.2022). Madam President spoke about the importance of and the many ways in which Hungary promotes traditional family values, a very appropriate topic to our University which was founded with an emphasis on marriage and the family. Students had a chance to ask questions and greet our guest in person at the agape that followed.
- All charges against Finnish Parliamentarian Päivi Räsänen and Bishop Pohjola are unanimously dismissed following high-profile free speech trial
- The former Finnish Minister of the Interior, faced three criminal charges for sharing her faith-based beliefs, including on Twitter
HELSINKI (30 March 2022) – A Finnish court has upheld the right to free speech by dismissing all charges against Finnish MP Päivi Räsänen and Bishop Juhana Pohjola. In a unanimous ruling the court concluded that “it is not for the district court to interpret biblical concepts”. The prosecution was ordered to pay more than 60,000 EUR in legal costs and has seven days to appeal the ruling.
The former Minister of the Interior had been charged with “hate speech” for sharing her faith-based views on marriage and sexual ethics, in a 2019 tweet, a 2019 radio debate, and a 2004 pamphlet. The bishop faced charges for publishing Räsänen’s pamphlet for his congregation over 17 years ago. Their case has garnered global media attention this year, as human rights experts voiced concern over the threat this case posed to free speech in Finland.
“I am so grateful the court recognized the threat to free speech and ruled in our favour. I feel a weight has been lifted off my shoulders after being acquitted. Although I am grateful for having had this chance to stand up for freedom of speech, I hope that this ruling will help prevent others from having to go through the same ordeal,” said Päivi Räsänen after her victory.
Christian teachings on trial
The high-profile trial received significant attention, particularly after the prosecution attacked core Christian teachings and cross-examined the bishop and Räsänen on their theology in court. The prosecutor began the first day of the trial by arguing that the case was not about beliefs or the Bible.
She then proceeded to quote Old Testament Bible verses and criticize the phrase “love the sinner, hate the sin”. In their closing statement, the prosecution alleged that the use of the word “sin” can be “harmful” and called for heavy fines in the event of a guilty verdict.
Free speech prevails
Räsänen’s defence, supported by the legal advocacy organization ADF International, argued that finding Räsänen guilty would significantly damage free speech in Finland. What Räsänen said, they argued, was an expression of Christian teaching.
The Court recognized that while some may object to Räsänen’s statements, “there must be an overriding social reason for interfering with and restricting freedom of expression.” The Court concluded there was no such justification.
“We welcome the Helsinki District Court’s ruling. This is an important decision, which upholds the fundamental right to freedom of speech in Finland. In a free society, everyone should be allowed to share their beliefs without fear of censorship. This is the foundation of every free and democratic society. Criminalizing speech through so-called ‘hate-speech’ laws shuts down important public debates and poses a grave threat to our democracies,” continued Coleman, author of ‘Censored: How European Hate Speech Laws are Threatening Freedom of Speech’.
Press conference at 16:00 CEST
ADF International will host a press conference on 30th March at 16:00 CEST. Dr. Päivi Räsänen MP, Bishop Juhana Pohjola, and Paul Coleman, Executive Director of ADF International will be available for questions after their statements. Please register here to access the Zoom link: https://adfinternational.org/paivi-press-conference-invitation/
International support for free speech
On both days of the trial (24 January and 14 February) crowds gathered outside the Helsinki courthouse to express their support for the politician and the bishop. In Hungary, over 3000 people gathered in front of the Finnish Embassy in Budapest to demonstrate against the charges before the closing arguments were heard.
Räsänen has also received letters of support from many denominations including the International Lutheran Council with Bishops and presidents of Synods from all over the world, the European Evangelical Alliance, Catholic and Pentecostal churches in Lithuania, representatives of the Evangelical, Catholic, Baptist, Pentacostal, Reformed and Unitarian churches in Romania, as well as the Evangelical Church of Macedonia, Christian NGOs in Latvia and other individuals.
Several US Senators penned a letter addressed to Rashad Hussain, US Ambassador-At-Large for International Religious Freedom, expressing their concern over the “alarming” prosecution of Räsänen: “We are greatly concerned that the use of Finnish hate speech law is tantamount to a secular blasphemy law. It could open the door for prosecution of other devout Christians, Muslims, Jews and adherents of other faiths for publicly stating their religious beliefs,” read the letter.
In January, UK MPs filed an Early Day Motion in parliament, highlighting the controversial prosecution and raising concerns about “the potential implications of that case for other countries”.
Trial for a Tweet
Police investigations against Räsänen started in June 2019. As an active member of the Finnish Lutheran church, she had addressed the leadership of her church on Twitter and questioned its official sponsorship of the LGBT event ‘Pride 2019’, accompanied by an image of Bible verses from the New Testament book of Romans. Following this tweet, further investigations against Räsänen were launched, going back to a church pamphlet Räsänen wrote almost 20 years ago.
In the last two years, Räsänen attended several lengthy police interrogations about her Christian beliefs – including being frequently asked by the police to explain her understanding of the Bible.
In April 2021, Finland’s Prosecutor General had brought three criminal charges against Räsänen. Two of the three charges Räsänen faced had come after the police made strong recommendations not to continue the prosecution. Räsänen’s statements also did not violate the policies of Twitter or the national broadcaster, which is why they remained freely available on their platforms. The Helsinki District Court has now acquitted Räsänen of all charges.
Räsänen has served as a Finnish Member of Parliament since 1995. From 2004-2015 she was chair of the Christian Democrats and from 2011-2015 she was the Minister of the Interior. During this time, she held responsibility for church affairs in Finland.
OSCAR DEL POZO | AFP
Benito Rodríguez – published on 03/30/22 – updated on 03/30/22
Christian Parliamentarians and leaders have re-committed to tackling the “huge” problem of persecution around the world.
Fiona Bruce MP, the Prime Minister’s Special Envoy on Freedom of Religion or Belief (FoRB), told a fringe event at the Conservative Party Conference that an estimated 83% of people around the world are living in countries where there is some kind of restriction on beliefs.
“And the extent of this in the 21st century is not only largely unrecognised but simply staggering,” she said.
The Conservative MP for Congleton said that while it was “wonderful” to see a growing awareness of the problem among Parliamentarians, there was still more to be done.
She spoke of a need to improve religious literacy levels among Foreign Office workers, and for the UK to be “bolder and braver” in both holding governments across the world to account and calling out specific cases of abuse.
“It is insufficient to talk in general terms, to say for example, repetitively, that FoRB is a key human rights priority,” she said.
“It’s insufficient to have perhaps a quiet diplomatic word when there’s an issue, without necessarily highlighting it publicly.”
She gave as an example Pakistani Christian woman Asia Bibi, who was acquitted of blasphemy and freed from death row in Pakistan after years of advocacy.
“It took campaigning. These campaigns can make a difference; engage with them. But governments need to do more as well – we underestimate the soft power of the UK even today,” she said.
Fiona is involved in preparations for an FoRB ministerial to be hosted by the UK in July 2022 that will focus on best practice and support for victims.
Turning her attention to the role of UK churches, she encouraged them to invite speakers involved in anti-persecution work as a way of helping to raise awareness.
“There is still a limited appreciation amongst churches across this country of how massive this issue is worldwide,” she said.
Christians can also ask their MP to join the APPG FoRB, she suggested: “Encourage your MP and then very courteously hold them to account to actually act.”
Fiona was one of several speakers at the FoRB event organised by the Conservative Christian Fellowship and SAT-7.
The meeting heard about the plight of persecuted Christians like Pakistani teenager Maria Shahbaz, who is in hiding with her family after escaping from a Muslim man who forced her to convert to Islam and marry him; and Leah Sharibu, another Christian teenager who was abducted from her school in Nigeria by Boko Haram and enslaved for refusing to renounce her faith.
Concerns were also raised about the estimated 2,700 Yazidi women kidnapped by ISIS who remain missing, and Uighur Muslims imprisoned in “modern day concentration camps” in China.
Christian Solidarity Worldwide founder Mervyn Thomas said Christians had a duty to speak up for all people suffering for their faith.
“The problem is huge but of course it’s not confined to Christians,” he said.
“It is so important that Christians speak up for all faiths and none around the world.
“Apart from anything else, it is what Jesus would do … and it’s also missional when we do this. We do this because we are Christian. We speak up for other faiths because that’s what Christ told us to do.
“It doesn’t dilute our Christian faith, it doesn’t make us some kind of syncretist. It makes us a true Christian actually because we are all made in the image of God and God gave us the right to choose – God gave us a free will.”
Coptic Archbishop of London, Archbishop Angaelos, said it was important to support the thriving of persecuted communities, not just their survival.
“When we look to the needs of others, our benchmark must be what we expect for ourselves. We cannot expect others to just ‘survive’ with a basic level of existence,” he said.
“This is not about mere provision or charity; it is about prosperity. It is not about protecting those we perceive to be weaker; it is about their safety. It is not just about their survival, as survival is not a privilege; it is a right.
“It is about their human dignity and their God-given image and likeness that they, and we, all share in common, and which we must stand to protect and defend.”
Life peer Lord Farmer expressed his concern about the UK, where he said “Christians can increasingly expect a soft persecution”.
He cited the controversy surrounding Worcester College, part of the University of Oxford, after it apologised for hosting a Christian training event.
“Christians in the UK have been privileged historically to live in a tolerant society where a whole range of views are acceptable but now we are operating in an increasingly illiberal public square,” he said.
“There is a form of secularism just as zealous as the Christian faith which will squash religion whenever it sees it, and wherever it sees it, while masquerading as liberty and neutrality.”
He added, “Christians must fight for the rights of both their own faith and the faith of others, else a far less tolerant society quickly takes its place.”