Päivi Räsänen (Photo by Roni Rekomaa,Roni Rekomaa/AFP via Getty Images)

On trial for a question

The hunting of a Finnish heretic

Artillery Row

When I became a member of the Finnish parliament in 1995, I expected that politics might throw some controversies my way. Nothing could have prepared me for facing a criminal trial for asking a simple question.

In 2019, I asked my church, on Twitter, where in the Bible it had found justification to sponsor the Helsinki Pride Parade. I attached a picture of a Bible verse.

As a result, I faced lengthy police interrogations over my religious views — from officers whom I used to have the responsibility of leading. I was the Minister of the Interior in Finland for over four years.

I was then charged for my “crime” under a section of the Finnish criminal code titled “War Crimes and Crimes Against Humanity”. The charge brought against me carried a potential maximum sentence of two years in prison.

My alleged sins weren’t limited to the tweet. Following a lengthy investigation, the prosecutor added two more to my tally. In 2004, I had written a pamphlet for my church group entitled “Male and Female, He Created Them”. A short clip of an hour-long radio discussion on theology, sexual ethics and politics that I participated in was pulled and used as the basis of charges, too.

How much more endangered is the free speech of everyday citizens?

Under oath, the prosecutor grilled me in court on my religious beliefs and basic theology. A core focus for her was whether I believed in “hate the sin, love the sinner” — a mantra that she concluded needed to be banished from Finnish society. It didn’t matter to her that I had written in my pamphlet “everyone, regardless of sexual orientation, is equal and of equal value”. She had an axe to grind about what I defined as “sin” — no matter that I treat all people with dignity and respect.

The second date of my original trial was on Valentine’s Day. I imagine it was lost on the prosecutor that St. Valentine was reputedly martyred in 270 AD for falling afoul of the dictatorial Roman state’s position on marriage.

With ADF International backing my legal defence, I was fully acquitted of all charges following my trial. Free speech and democracy won the day. Yet the state has dragged me back to court on appeal — forcing me to undergo this ordeal all over again.

We’ll soon find out if the expression of my Christian, Biblically-based beliefs are criminal acts in modern day Finland. If so, we might have a problem with anyone quoting or preaching from the Bible in my country. Even those who merely dare to challenge the established teaching of the most dominant ideological “church” of our day are in for trouble.

Western society is not, as it seems, finished with “heretics” yet.

It’s not just Finland that has reinvigorated the witch-hunts against those who hold different views to the approved state orthodoxy. Across the West, “hate speech” laws are cropping up time and again. In Scotland, the establishment of this kind of “blasphemy” ban overwhelmed Scottish police with more reports of social media spats than they were able to cope with. In Ireland, new legislation currently being considered could imprison citizens for up to five years if their speech, or questions, were interpreted as “incitement to hatred”. Over in Mexico, two other elected representatives have recently been convicted of “gender-based political violence” for voicing the truth about the biological identity of a “trans” activist politician.

If they can put politicians with public profiles through the ringer for holding firm to what they believe, then how much more endangered is the free speech of everyday citizens without the platform to fight back? You might not agree with my Christian beliefs on marriage and sexuality. If free speech is not for everybody, though, then it’s for nobody. It might be those who hold my beliefs under fire today, but if I can be put in prison for a simple question, there is no telling which questions may be banned tomorrow.

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