As Räsänen points out herself, one does not need to agree with her beliefs to agree that everyone should have the right to speak freely. As Räsänen waits for the ruling of the Court of Appeal, expected before November 30, a lot lies at stake. The verdict will reflect the state of regard for free speech in Europe. This is one to watch as a cautionary tale – not only for Europe, but for the rest of the world as well.
It’s been called by many different names: the Finnish free speech trial, the Bible-tweet trial, and even “the trial of the century for the West.”
As the Finnish politician Päivi Räsänen faced the judges of the Helsinki Court of Appeal last week, the right to free speech for many is still at stake. Her case might become the litmus test for the robustness of free speech protections worldwide. Although Finland often tops the charts when it comes to regard for free expression, it has put one of its members of parliament on trial for publicly sharing her deeply held beliefs about marriage and sexuality.
It all began nearly four years ago when Räsänen shared a social media post directed at the leadership of her church – The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland – questioning their official sponsorship of the Helsinki Pride Parade in 2019 with an accompanying picture of Bible verses from the book of Romans.
After this, police dug into Räsänen’s past statements, and she endured a total of 13 hours of police interrogations. Then, in April 2021, the Finnish Prosecutor General formally charged Räsänen with three counts of “agitation against a minority group” for publicly voicing her opinion on marriage and human sexuality in a 2004 church pamphlet, which she wrote before the law she was charged under was even enforced; for comments she made on a 2019 radio show; and for the tweet directed at her church leadership. The Lutheran bishop Juhana Pohjola was also charged for publishing Räsänen’s 2004 church booklet for his congregation.
Incredibly, the charges fall under the war crimes and crimes against humanity section of the Finnish criminal code.