Do you post Bible verses on social media?
Although it seems harmless enough, in Finland writing such a message could mean a prison sentence or a heavy fine for making “hate speech”.
Finnish MP Päivi Räsänen will face a criminal trial next Monday. All because she voiced her biblical beliefs on marriage and sexuality in a 2019 tweet, on a radio show, and in a 17-year-old church pamphlet. Bishop Juhana Pohjola, who published her pamphlet for her congregation, faces a trial on her side.
Incredibly, Räsänen is officially prosecuted for the crime of “ethnic agitation”, under the “war crimes and crimes against humanity” section of the Finnish penal code. A total of three criminal charges of “hate speech” were brought against Räsänen in April 2021 by the Attorney General of Finland. This committed civil servant, doctor and grandmother of seven children could be sentenced to two years in prison.
How can Finland, a country that often tops the rankings when it comes to upholding the rule of law, so blatantly ignore the fundamental right to freedom of expression?
Some might think this is another example of “cancellation culture,” but it goes beyond people walking away from someone. This is the government threatening with jail because of the beliefs of a large group of people.
As an active member of the Finnish Lutheran Church, Räsänen had approached her church leadership and questioned her official sponsorship of the LGBT event ‘Pride 2019’, along with an image of text biblical book of Romans.
Once investigations into the tweet began, police went looking for other things Räsänen has said and written over the years. They even go back as far as 2004 – to a church pamphlet written before the law under which she is being sued even came into effect.
Yes, some people might be offended by Räsänen’s opinions. Some may disagree with his choice of words. Some might believe that policing “hate speech” promotes tolerance and diversity. But it’s not about whether or not you agree with Räsänen’s statements. Censorship and criminal sanctions are in no one’s interest. Even those who oppose his opinions have joined in the defense of his freedom to express them. However, Räsänen relies mainly on the support of her family, her parliamentary assistant and the many Christians around the world who have prayed for her.
Our faith-based legal rights organization ADF International supports Päivi’s defense because no one wants the government to monitor our beliefs and opinions. Could any of us survive with almost two decades of things we said combed through by a top prosecutor and be sure that every sentence was harmless? If the statements of our top leaders are taken out of context and the beliefs they espouse are suddenly criminalized, the average person will surely be intimidated into withdrawing from public discourse altogether.
as George Orwell once said, “If freedom means anything, it means the right to tell people what they don’t want to hear”
It’s not tolerance, it’s not conducive to diversity, and it’s certainly not conducive to democracy. Restrictions on our fundamental freedoms must be extremely limited and well defined. For example, when it comes to freedom of expression, everyone agrees that incitement to violence is inadmissible. But as George Orwell once said, “If freedom means anything, it means the right to tell people what they don’t want to hear”. No one wants an Orwellian future of just repeating state-sanctioned speech.
It is clear that the Finnish Attorney General wants to make an example of Räsänen. Even though it seems unfathomable that she or Bishop Pohjola could be incarcerated; the mere launch of the police investigations into Räsänen and the impending trial show viewers that their right to free speech cannot be taken for granted. This inevitably leads to self-censorship and the weakening of democracy.
Räsänen’s case may or may not be the canary in the Twittersphere, but it clearly underscores the importance of properly protecting basic freedoms.
If we are not free to also tweet unpopular opinions – or even unpopular Bible verses – not only Räsänen, but we all will soon suffer the consequences of having our speech controlled.