In Finland, two people were tried simply for quoting the Bible
In 17th Century Europe, you’d have swung for blaspheming against the dominant church of the day. In 2022, you can now be criminalised for professing the scripture of that same faith.
A Bishop and a parliamentarian have been tried for ‘hate speech’ in Finland, in this case for merely quoting and affirming biblical views. In 2019 MP Päivi Räsänen, grandmother of seven, had sent a tweet, accompanied by a Bible verse, criticising her church for co-sponsoring the Helsinki Pride parade.
Less than 280 characters triggered a life-changing police investigation. Räsänen was charged for the tweet, and also for backing biblical teaching on marriage and sexuality in a radio interview. Her third strike was a pamphlet she had written for her church in 2004 titled, tellingly, ‘Male and Female He Created Them’. Bishop Juhana Pohjola was tried for having published the pamphlet.
Thankfully, the Court in Helsinki struck down the case on Wednesday in a thundering victory for free speech. But for voicing opinions contrary to the orthodoxies of the day, the pair were prosecuted for ‘ethnic agitation’, a charge under the section of ‘war crimes and crimes against humanity’ in the Finnish criminal code. Brought in under a 2011 amendment, the charge bans the ‘[public] expression of opinion or another message where a certain group is threatened, defamed or insulted’. Maximum penalty — two years imprisonment.
The trial did not just put Christians in the dock, but Christianity itself. The prosecutor quoted heavily from the Bible and grilled both parties on the theology of ‘love the sinner, hate the sin’. The word “sin”, she claimed — used over 400 times in scripture and central to the Christian concept of forgiveness — could itself be “harmful”. It didn’t matter that Päivi had said publicly that all were sinners, including herself. This was against the principle of “equality”, by the prosecutor’s own measure.
Thankfully, common sense won the day. The pair were acquitted of all charges. In a triumph for religious freedom, the court confirmed unanimously that it wasn’t for them “to interpret biblical concepts”. Recognising that while some may object to Räsänen’s statements, it concluded “there must be an overriding social reason for interfering with and restricting freedom of expression”, and that there had been no such justification.
After all, not one citizen actually spoke at the trial to say that they were offended by the tweet or other material. Even Twitter didn’t take it down. This was simply a matter of the state policing belief. Indeed, current cases on legal dockets across the continent show that the Overton window for Christian beliefs is narrowing across Europe. In Bulgaria, two pastors are embroiled in a case against their government after local authorities circulated a slanderous letter, asking school administrators to warn children against listening to their message.
In Germany, Christian pro-life volunteers were forbidden from carrying out their prayer vigil in their chosen public space. And in the UK, street preachers have faced arrest and detention for sharing their beliefs in the street, including 71-year-old John Sherwood, who was physically pulled from his platform by police for preaching “male and female, he created them”.
Not everybody likes the Bible. But freedom to speak openly means that we will sometimes hear what we disagree with. A free society isn’t always comfortable. But history shows that it’s worth it.