The blurry line between freedom of religion and discrimination
The trial against Finnish MP Päivi Räsänen has attracted worldwide attention. It addresses the blurry line between freedom of religion and discrimination.
The trial against Päivi Räsänen, Evangelical Christian and Finnish MP who cited the Bible and claimed homosexuality as sin, has attracted attention and mobilised people worldwide. The Prosecutor General demands fines from Räsänen for three incitements against minority groups. However, Räsänen denies the charges by applying her freedom of religion and speech. The trial is historic, as it will define the hitherto blurry line between freedom of religion and discrimination in Finland. Both conservative Christians and sexual minorities are following the case across the world and holding their breath.
“God did not originally create man to be gay”
According to the Prosecutor General, MP Päivi Räsänen has discriminated, despised, and insulted homosexuals in her 3 outputs between 2004 and 2019: in her writing, tweets, and speech in a radio interview. According to the Prosecutor, Räsänen wrote that homosexuality is related to “general immorality” in a pamphlet titled ‘Created them as a man and a woman. Homosexual relationships challenge the Christian conception of man’. This pamphlet was published by the conservative Christian organisation ‘The Luther Foundation Finland’.  In her tweets, Räsänen cited the same pamphlet and criticised the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Finland for co-operating with the ‘Pride’ LGBTQ+ event. She also cited the Bible and wrote that “shame and sin have been raised as a matter of pride.” Finally, in a radio program, Räsänen stated that “God did not originally create man to be gay.” Based on these public opinions seen as incitement against the minority group, the Prosecutor General demands fines from Räsänen, who denies the charges and applies her freedom of religion, thought, and speech.
Support for Räsänen
During the prosecution, Räsänen has had plenty of support from Christians in Finland and abroad. In Finland, the Christian Human Rights Group under the Finnish Evangelical Alliance representing 200,000 Christians appealed to the Prosecutor General, the Minister of Justice, the Minister of the Interior, and the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of the Interior not to reduce freedom of religion and speech in Finland.  An international NGO ’Citizen Go’ collected more than 200,000 names in a petition on behalf of Räsänen, and 33 priests and leaders from churches of the International Lutheran Council (ILC) signed a petition for their part to support Räsänen. ILC’s petition stated that Räsänen’s opinions about marriage and sex are shared with many Christians around the world, including Catholics and Orthodoxies. The petition underlined that Räsänen’s statements are based on the teachings of the Bible and Jesus himself.
In many countries, including Norway, Hungary, Estonia, and the United States, people have gathered to express their support for Räsänen in public demonstrations. In Finland, a massive demonstration for Räsänen occurred outside the Helsinki Courthouse before the trial began on January 24th 2022. The Prosecutor General has also received a surprising amount of mail for Räsänen’s support, written in English, Slovak, German, and Italian, among others.
Critics from Christians
However, not all Christians have been clear-cut supporters of Räsänen or her opinions. For instance, Teemu Laajasalo, Bishop of the Helsinki diocese of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Finland, commented that he finds Räsänen’s views on homosexuality “false, harmful, and contrary to Christian love of neighbour.” Nevertheless, Bishop Laajasalo continued that from the perspective of freedom of religion, it is alarming if Räsänen’s views are being suspected as ‘criminal’. Further, Jaana Hallamaa, a Lutheran priest and professor of Social Ethics (Theology) from the University of Helsinki, wrote a critical essay in which she stated that it is “difficult to see how making offensive claims against one group of people is a religious practice.” According to Professor Hallamaa, in history, horrible acts and oppression of minority groups have been justified by appealing to the Bible.
Worldwide media attention
In conservative media, the charges against Räsänen have been interpreted as an attack by the government on freedom of religion and speech. After the trial on January 24, 2022, The Daily Wire (US) wrote that ‘Christian politician in Finland, grandmother of six, on trial after posting Bible tweet.’ The Washington Times (US) approached the case with a more neutral tone by posting that Finnish MP is “accused of ‘hate speech’ … for citing Biblical passages defining homosexual acts as sin.” In the UK, the Independent and online magazine PinkNews reported that Räsänen is on trial for hate speech after calling members of the LGBTQ+ community ‘sinful people’ who have a ‘developmental disorder’. According to the BBC, the Prosecutor General argued that the case should be ‘based on secular legal system, not the writings of the Bible’.
Freedom of religion or discrimination against a minority group?
In the trial on January 24th, Räsänen’s defence applied freedom of religion. It was stressed that Räsänen has publicly expressed that she respects all people under Christian dignity, and thus she finds the charges insulting to both herself and homosexuals. The defence also argued that Räsänen has been an opposition politician throughout the prosecution, and noted that the European Court of Human Rights warns about using the law on inciting speech to ‘silence the opposition’.
The Prosecutor General in her turn applied that insulting human dignity should not be diminished by the reference to ‘Christian dignity’. The Prosecutor – rather surprisingly – also referred to the Bible by saying that “the left hand does not know what the right hand is doing,” implying the illogicality she found in Räsänen’s arguments. The Prosecutor commented on the freedom of religion by saying that although the respondent has freedom of religion and speech, it does not justify overriding the “right of homosexuals to non-discrimination.”
From criminalisation of homosexuality to criminalisation of discrimination?
Until 1971, homosexuality was criminalised in Finland, and until 1981, it was officially classified as a disease. Moreover, it was criminal to publicly incite homosexuality until 1999. In 2022, we have come a long way from previous years. Räsänen’s trial culminates in two rights: the right to practice one’s religion, and the right not to be discriminated against. Until March 30, we must anxiously wait for the court decision.
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