A landmark 'hate speech' trial in Finland could banish Christianity from the public square

Hate speech is a Thing. People do incite others to violence and they do vilify their enemies. In India, hate speech by prominent Hindu figures against Muslims is vicious and unrelenting, notwithstanding laws that ban it.

This week a militant Hindu priest, Yati Narsinghanand Saraswati, was arrested over speeches he gave at an event the city of Haridwar. “We have no trust in the Supreme Court and constitution,” he said. “This constitution is book for the murder of 100 crore [ten million] Hindus. Those who believe in it will be killed. Those who believe in this system, police, politicians and Army, they will die like dogs.”

Narsinghanand was temperate compared to his colleagues. Other speakers openly called for violence against Muslims. Pooja Shakun Pandey, a woman who is the leader of Hindu Mahasabha, a radical Hindu party, told the crowd: “If you want to eliminate their population then kill them. Be ready to kill and be ready to go to jail.”

That is what any sane person would call “hate speech”.  

Now let’s move to consider a very different woman and a very different country and culture, Finland. A long-serving member of Parliament and former a Minister of the Interior, Päivi Räsänen, will stand trial on Monday, accused of hate speech against homosexuals.

Her offence? A tweet that she posted in 2019 which was directed at her church leadership for supporting an event organised by Helsinki Pride, a LGBTQI+ organisation.

After a lengthy investigation Finland’s Prosecutor General brought three criminal charges against Räsänen -- over the contents of a pamphlet she wrote in 2004, over remarks on a 2019 radio show, and over her tweet quoting Romans 1: 24-27, in which the Apostle Paul condemns homosexual actions.  

Bishop Juhana Pohjola faces trial alongside her for publishing a pamphlet for his congregation that Räsänen wrote on the topic over 17 years ago.

In the video below, Räsänen, a medical doctor married to an Evangelical pastor, mother of five children, and a grandmother speaks about her dedication to free speech ahead of her criminal trial.

“If I win the case, I think that it is a very important step for freedom of speech and religion. I think it’s not only important for Finland but also in Europe and other countries … If I’m convicted, I think that the worst consequence would not be the fine against me, or even the prison sentence, it would be the censorship.”

Hate speech? There is simply no comparison to be made with the Hindu leaders’ vitriolic summons to slaughter and genocide -- although the Finnish Prosecutor General has compared the Bible to Hitler's Mein Kampf. This show trial is simply an attempt to banish Christian commentary on LGBTQI+ practices from public life in Finland. Even if the prosecution is not successful, from now on critics are bound to keep their opinions to themselves rather than risk investigation and prosecution.

Finland’s constitution clearly guarantees its citizens freedom of religion (section 11) and freedom of expression (section 12). But the prosecution alleges that Räsänen is guilty of “ethnic agitation” and is promoting the notion that homosexuals are inferior to heterosexuals. She denies this and states on her website:

“These statements are completely contrary to my convictions. I consider this to be an unfounded statement and also highly offensive to homosexual people. I have stressed many times that all human beings are created in the image of God and have equal dignity and human rights. All human beings are sinners and are forgiven of their sins by recourse to the atoning work of Jesus.”

Räsänen said that her questioning by police was reminiscent of the Soviet era. "I could never have imagined when I worked as the Minister of the Interior and was in charge of the police that I would be interrogated and asked that kind of questions in a police station," she said.

But, she added with a smile, it was also a privilege to conduct what amounted to a Bible study with her interrogators.

“So, now it is time to speak,” says Räsänen. “Because the more we are silent, the narrower the space for freedom of speech and religion grows.”


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