AN ATTACK ON FREE SPEECH IN FINLAND
Finland continues to persecute parliamentarian Päivi Räsänen for publicly defending the biblical view of homosexuality. On March 2, police interrogated the Finnish MP about a booklet she wrote in 2004 detailing and defending the Lutheran church’s position on sexual ethics. It was titled “Male and Female He Created Them: Homosexual relations challenge the Christian concept of humanity.” Räsänen, a physician and member of the Finnish Christian Democrats, had written the booklet to explain the Christian position.
Her interrogation lasted five and a half hours. “The booklet is not simply about the defense of marriage between a man and a woman,” she told the police, “but about how and on what basis we are eternally saved through belief in the Bible, the Word of God.” Räsänen’s husband, Niilo, is a Lutheran pastor and doctor of theology.
Räsänen’s booklet was already investigated last autumn, at which time the police concluded that the contents were not criminal. Despite that, the Prosecutor General has reopened the case and directed the police to conduct another preliminary investigation of the booklet—along with fresh criminal investigations. Räsänen told me she will be subject to “at least two further interrogations” by the Helsinki Central Police, which could lead to formal prosecution. These investigations involve a TV appearance in which Räsänen discussed the Bible, Christ, and the concepts of sin and grace, and a talk show radio interview on the subject “What would Jesus think about homosexuals?” Both cases have been reopened despite the police previously concluding that “there was no reason to initiate a preliminary investigation as no crime has been committed.”
Räsänen has had a successful political career. She served as chair of the Christian Democrats from 2004 to 2015, and from June 2011 to May 2015 she was Minister of the Interior of Finland, responsible for migration and internal security as well as church affairs at the Ministry of Education and Culture. In 2011, however, Section 10 of Finland’s Criminal Code, which prohibits “an expression of opinion or another message where a certain group is threatened, defamed or insulted,” was amended to include “sexual orientation.” If convicted, offenders could be subject to “a fine or to imprisonment for at most two years.”
Rasanen’s March interrogation was merely the latest in a series of police investigations into her views on homosexuality. In 2019, she was subjected to four separate criminal “hate speech” interrogations. It began with a tweet. Last June, she noticed that the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland (Räsänen’s church body) had announced it was an official sponsor of the 2019 Helsinki LGBT Pride event. “I posted my tweet alongside a picture of a Bible passage, Romans 1:24-27, [which] describes same-sex relationships as shameful and sinful,” she told me, “and asked how the church’s doctrinal foundation, the Bible, can be compatible.” Räsänen said she was arguing that we should trust God’s holy word on marriage and sexual ethics. “The purpose [of] my tweet was in no way to insult sexual minorities. My criticism was aimed at the leadership of the church.”
In response to her tweet, a Finnish citizen lodged a criminal complaint against Räsänen. On November 1, 2019, the Helsinki Central Police interrogated the parliamentarian for nearly four hours about her view of the Christian faith. “I was asked about the contents of the Letter to the Romans and what I meant by saying that practicing homosexuality is a sin,” she told me. “I answered that all of us are sinners, but the sinfulness of practicing homosexuality is nowadays denied. It did not even occur to me that this tweet might be considered illegal.”
Räsänen believes that the repeated demands for criminal investigations into her public statements “are attempts to restrict free speech and freedom of religion,” a trend she sees throughout Europe. While her case has attracted the attention of Christians around the world and resulted in much international support, Räsänen noted that “many of the conservative-minded people are silent about these issues,” making it difficult to gauge her level of public support in Finland. If she is formally prosecuted and convicted, she told me, it will be the beginning of sweeping, state-enforced censorship. “The mere fact that there is a police interrogation of this endangers the freedoms of speech and religion by acting as a deterrent.”
Freedom of religion is strongly guaranteed and protected both in Finland’s Constitution and in the International Human Rights Treaties, Räsänen told me. But “in practice, a major threat for the freedom of religion is that we don’t use this right. . . . The more we keep silent about controversial topics, the narrower the space for freedom of speech and religion gets.” She said it is a surreal experience to be investigated about the teachings of the Bible in a country with “such deep roots in the freedom of speech and of religion.” “It is a grave violation of the freedom of religion if the right to agree with biblical teaching is contravened,” she said.
Räsänen has become, for many, a canary in a coal mine. If a prominent parliamentarian with a distinguished career in medicine and politics can be persecuted for her views on marriage and sexuality, who will be next?
Jonathon Van Maren is a public speaker, writer, and pro-life activist.