Finns speak an incomprehensible and unspellable language but they are, according to the UN’s 2021 World Happiness Report, the happiest people in the world. In a year when Covid-19 was sweeping through Finland, as well as everywhere else, that is no mean feat.
It is also the Number 1 country in the world for quality of life, according to CEOWORLD magazine.
Religious freedom, though, not so much.
An astonishing case is beginning to make its way through the Finnish court system which the rest of the world should observe carefully. It could be a template for bullying LGBTQI+ activists to exclude Christian perspectives from the public square everywhere in the West.
Here is the background.
Three criminal charges have been made against a member of Finland’s parliament, Päivi Räsänen, by the country’s Prosecutor-General for publicly voicing her opinion on marriage and human sexuality in a 2004 pamphlet, for comments made on a 2019 radio show, and for a 2019 tweet directed at the leadership in the Lutheran Church.
A Lutheran Bishop, Juhana Pohjola, who published the pamphlet 17 years ago has also been charged with hate speech.
How is this possible? Both Räsänen and Pohjola are prominent public figures who deny that they are homophobic. She is particularly prominent – an MP since 1995, chair of the Christian Democrats from 2004 to 2015, and Minister of the Interior from 2011 to 2015. Part of her portfolio as Minister was responsibility for church affairs in Finland.
But they are committed Christians who believe that homosexual acts are morally wrong. The booklet, “Male and Female He Created Them: Homosexual Relationships Challenge the Christian Concept of Humanity,” was published in 2004, long before Finland legalised same-sex marriage in 2017.
The booklet contended that Scripture shows that homosexual activity is sinful and that a failure to recognize sin as sin is deeply unchristian because it undermines the need for a Saviour.
There’s something very strange about the prosecution case. Helsinki police investigated it thoroughly and concluded that no laws had been broken. But the Prosecutor-General, Raja Toiviainen, insisted. And so the pair will appear in court on January 24.
Toiviainen has stubbornly claimed that citing Biblical passages can be hate speech. “Scriptures must not be used to offend the dignity of another,” she told the newspaper Helsingen Sanomat a couple years ago when the news of the prosecution broke. “These scriptures we know say that it is right to kill entire nations. If we beat others with such Bible or Quranic phrases, then I think we are misusing the word of the scriptures.”
The weird thing is that the pamphlet was published in 2004 – almost 20 years ago. But according to Finland’s hate speech laws, Toiviainen says, that makes no difference, if the pamphlet – or a tweet — is still available. To eliminate the possibility of offending homosexuals, will half of the books in public libraries be burned and the internet closed down? No doubt Finland’s judiciary will be more sensible than the Public Prosecutor, but Räsänen has already been punished by the process – three years of legal battles, hours of interrogation by the police.
The case has attracted international attention.
The Rev. Timothy Quill, of the International Lutheran Council, stressed how important this case is for Christianity in Finland: “The implications of the decision to charge Juhana Pohjola and Päivi Räsänen are clear: if the authorities are willing to do this to a respected pastor, reverend doctor, and Bishop Elect, as well as a Member of Parliament and former Minister of the Interior, then that sends a message of fear and intimidation to everyone in Finland who follows the Scripture’s teaching on human sexuality.”
Several leading public intellectuals in the United States, including Robert P. George, of Princeton, and Jacqueline Rivers, of Harvard, have published an open letter to the US Commission on International Religious Freedom. They claimed that “the prosecutions are straightforward acts of oppression”. They even called upon Congress to treat Raija Toiviainen as a notorious human right abuser, just as several Chinese officials in Xinjiang have been sanctioned for their part in the detention of Uyghur Muslims. “Prosecutor General Toiviainen’s status as a European official must not shield her from sanctions for her abuse of traditionalist Christians in Finland,” said the letter.
Although the legal battle is far from over for Päivi Räsänen and Bishop Juhana Pohjola, this case teaches two clear lessons.
First, hate speech legislation is going to be exploited relentlessly by LGBTQI+ activists and their sympathisers in bureaucracies. Even if they don’t succeed, the threat of wasted time, fines and jail will intimidate most Christians.
Second, the activists’ real target is not expressing “hateful” ideas, but the ideas themselves. Nothing but complete capitulation, legal, moral, and intellectual, will satisfy them.
Päivi Räsänen remains resolute. She says on her website: “The early Christians did not renounce their faith in lions’ caves, why should I then renounce my faith in a court room? I will not step back from my conviction nor from my writings. I do not apologize for the writings of the Apostle Paul either. I am ready to defend freedom of speech and religion as far as is necessary.”