(K.V. Turley, National Catholic Register – december 15, 2020) On Aug. 25, Finnish Member of Parliament Päivi Räsänen was summoned to a police station in Pasila, Helsinki, at 10am. Thereafter, she was interrogated by police officers on suspicion of “agitation against a minority group,” a crime for which, if found guilty, she could receive up to two years’ imprisonment.
This fall, Räsänen told the Register, “This is the third time I am being interrogated on suspicion of agitation against a minority group. Although the interrogations and the statements related to them take up my time, I will not back down from my views.”
And what are these views that have warranted four ongoing criminal investigations? “They have to do with whether it is legal to publicly confess and teach Bible-based views on man’s relationship with God,” said Räsänen. “I will defend my right to confess my faith, so that no one else would be deprived of their right to freedom of religion and speech. I hold to the view that my expressions are legal, and they should not be censored. I will not back down from my views. I will not be intimidated into hiding my faith.”
Räsänen’s alleged criminal statements were made during a Finnish television talk show, YlePuhe, broadcast on Dec. 20, 2019. The show’s topic was: “What would Jesus think about homosexuals?” During the show, Räsänen discussed the Bible’s teaching on the Incarnation, creation, sin, the Last Judgment and salvation. As she explained to the Register, “I emphasized that all men, regardless of their sexual orientation, are on the same line before God, all valuable, but all also sinful and in need of Jesus’ redemptive work in order to inherit eternal life. It is inconceivable for me that [what was said in] the program is suspected of being defamatory in any part.”
As to the police investigations, Räsänen said, “These have to do with whether it is legal to publicly confess and teach Bible-based views on man’s relationship with God. From the viewpoint of freedom of religion and freedom of speech, these cases are precedents. I defend my right to confess my faith, so that no one else would be deprived of freedom of religion. Freedom of religion has to do with having a conviction, which has a deeper dimension than simply holding a certain view.”
Räsänen’s defense is being supported by ADF International, a faith-based legal advocacy organization that protects fundamental freedoms and promotes the inherent dignity of all people. Speaking to the Register, Paul Coleman, executive director of ADF International and author of Censored: How European Hate Speech Laws Are Threatening Freedom of Speech, commented: “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.”
“Prior to this case, Finland was not seen as being particularly bad on religious liberty or freedom of speech. However, free speech is under attack in Europe and other Western countries, and the case of Mrs. Räsänen shows how quickly the state can turn its criminal laws against citizens for the sort of speech that should exist within any healthy democracy,” he continued. Seeing a wider European dimension, Coleman added, “These sorts of cases create a culture of fear and censorship and are becoming all too common throughout Europe.”
As well as being a medical doctor, Päivi Räsänen has been a member of the Finnish Parliament since 1995. She is the chair of the Christian Democratic Parliamentary Group. From 2004 to 2015, she was the chairwoman of the Finnish Christian Democrats. From June 2011 to May 2015, she was the minister of the interior of Finland. Currently, she is a member of the Audit Committee, a member of the Intelligence Supervision Committee, deputy member of the Administration Committee and deputy member of the Agriculture and Forestry Committee. She has also written several books from a Christian perspective on marriage, abortion and euthanasia. Married to a pastor, the couple has five adult children and six grandchildren.
The ongoing legal harassment of Räsänen by the Finnish state started in June 2019. Then she tweeted about the leadership of her Lutheran church and its official sponsorship of a homosexual event called “Pride 2019.” Her tweet was accompanied by an image of a Bible text.
Police investigated the initial complaint about Räsänen’s tweet and decided no charges should follow. Subsequently, the official communiqué read: “As the investigator in charge, I cannot agree with the view of X that Räsänen would have defamed (or insulted) homosexuals and thereby committed agitation against an ethnic group. According to Räsänen, all are sinful and in need of salvation, homosexuals and heterosexuals alike. As the investigator in charge, I see this matter as a certain theological outlook and a value positioning that at least for the time being has been protected by freedom of religion and freedom of speech.”
In Räsänen’s case, Finland’s highest prosecuting authority, the Office of Prosecutor General and its current head, Prosecutor General Raija Toiviainen, viewed matters differently than the police. Overturning the police finding, Toiviainen demanded a pretrial investigation. As Räsänen pointed out to the Register, this was now a criminal investigation into an incident where the initial police inquiry had found no evidence of any crime having been committed.
Similarly, the prosecutor general has ordered a police investigation into Räsänen’s 2004 pamphlet entitled, “Male and Female He Created Them: Homosexual Relations Challenge the Christian Concept of Humanity.” In it, Räsänen details and defends the traditional Lutheran church’s position on sexual ethics. “The booklet is not simply about the defense of marriage between a man and a woman, but about how and on what basis we are eternally saved through belief in the Bible, the word of God,” she explained to the Register. In relation to that booklet alone, her interrogation by police lasted five and a half hours.
In addition, the politician has been told she will be subject to “at least two further interrogations” by the Helsinki police, all of which could lead to formal prosecutions in court. These investigations include comments she made on a television show, Yökylässä Maria Veitola, in 2018, when Räsänen discussed her religious beliefs. Again, these comments are now deemed worthy of police investigation by the prosecutor general, despite initial police findings that no crime had been committed. “The prosecutor general ordered the criminal investigation — on March 5, 2020 — without even examining the episode,” explained Räsänen. On that television show, she discussed the Bible, Christ and the concepts of sin and grace. As she pointed out to the Register: “Both cases — television show and pamphlet — have been reopened, despite the police previously concluding that there was no reason to initiate a preliminary investigation, as no crime was committed.”
In all these cases, Räsänen feels that the prosecutor general was obliged to present evidence to support her order for police to start an investigation. “According to [Finland’s] Criminal Investigation Act,” she explained, “there needs to be concrete evidence of a crime in order for a criminal investigation to be commenced. Simply the subjective opinion of one person is not enough to commence a pretrial investigation.”
Coleman sees the plethora of investigations targeted against Räsänen as part of a wider tactic, however. He explained, “Most of these police investigations do not result in lengthy court proceedings and criminal convictions. Instead, they are often used by state officials to create a ‘chilling effect’ for everyone else looking on; they serve as a warning to others that they may also face police investigation for the words that they say. That’s why we don’t claim a victory for freedom of speech when these sorts of investigations are dropped: The victory will be when they do not arise in the first place.”
On Sept. 16, the office of Finland’s prosecutor general was contacted by the Register for comment on the cases outstanding against Räsänen. Finnish State Prosecutor Anu Mantila explained the rationale for the four criminal investigations underway against the Finnish parliamentarian, as “the prosecutor general has reason to suspect that Mrs. Päivi Räsänen has insulted homosexuals by using expressions which are labeling and against human dignity.”
Coleman views these latest prosecutions instigated by Finland’s prosecutor general as deeply sinister. He said: “I have worked full time on the issue of free speech for over a decade; and with that experience, I can say that the case of Mrs. Räsänen is really shocking. To face numerous police investigations for simply expressing her deeply held Christian beliefs on issues such as marriage and human sexuality is deeply concerning. It is particularly shocking that one police investigation involves a tweet of a Bible passage and the other investigation involves a booklet that was written 16 years ago — long before the law she is being accused of breaking was even passed.
“The case of Päivi Räsänen should serve as a big warning to everyone else in Europe. If she — an experienced politician, medical doctor, soft-spoken grandmother — can face numerous police interrogations stretching well over a year for simply expressing her convictions, then what do we think will happen to the rest of us?”