A member of Finland’s Parliament is facing two years in prison for tweeting a message questioning the alignment of her church with a gay pride parade and for other statements expressing what she said is the Bible’s view on homosexuality.
Dr. Päivi Räsänen, a physician and the country’s former interior minister, faces a potential November trial for “incitement against [an] ethnic group,” as Finnish Prosecutor General Raija Toiviainen stated in an April announcement.
Ms. Toiviainen said Dr. Räsänen “violate[d] homosexuals’ equality and human dignity” by posting verses online from the New Testament book of Romans; publishing a 2004 pamphlet calling homosexuality “a scientifically proven psychosexual developmental disorder”; and speaking about homosexuality on a Finnish radio program.
“I am ready to defend free speech and freedom of religion as far as needed,” Dr. Räsänen said via email.
“The purpose for my tweet was in no way to insult sexual minorities,” she said. “My criticism was aimed at the leadership of the church and their decision regarding Helsinki Pride. A citizen made a criminal complaint against me and the police started a criminal investigation about the tweet.”
In May, a group of 10 American academics and human rights advocates published an open letter calling on the Biden administration to sanction the Finnish prosecutor under the Global Magnitsky Act, a law allowing the U.S. to punish “serious” human rights abuses.
Dr. Räsänen said additional criminal complaints were brought against her, the Finnish Luther Foundation and the Rev. Juhana Pohjola, who is now bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Mission Diocese.
The prosecutor has said her “mission … is to fight against hate speech,” Dr. Räsänen noted, “and I suppose I am now used as a precedent when she is testing the boundaries of the freedom of speech and especially freedom of religion. The impact of LGBT advocates is also strong in Finnish society.
“I have been a member of the parliament for 26 years and all that time I have been open about my faith and Christian values,” she said.
Dr. Räsänen said Finnish law requires the national church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland, to “confess its faith and actions” in public. “I am a member of the local church council, so I think I have not only permission but also a duty to evaluate the actions of my church in light of the Bible.”
More than imprisonment, Dr. Räsänen said she feared an order to remove her social media postings or a ban on publishing her pamphlet about homosexuality. “This might open up an avenue leading to further publication bans and modern book burnings,” she said.
Arielle del Turco, assistant director of the Family Research Council’s Center for Religious Liberty, told The Washington Times the prosecution of Dr. Räsänen “is extremely concerning.”
Ms. del Turco expressed dismay “that a Finnish member of Parliament can be charged for simply expressing a religious belief. The world is going to watch this case; they’re watching what’s going to happen and unfold in Finland. … Instead of policing religious expression, the Finnish government should be much more concerned with protecting basic freedoms.”
She said the Family Research Council believes “it’s important” that Ms. Toiviainen drop the charges.
The Rev. Dennis Di Mauro, pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church in Warrenton, Virginia, is another supporter of the Finnish lawmaker. He organized a protest in front of the Finnish Embassy in Washington on July 31 and said he plans to hold another protest before the expected trial in November if the charges aren’t dropped.
Mr. Di Mauro said Dr. Räsänen “sent me a very nice email and she told me how meaningful it was that we did this [protest] for her.”
While she obviously hopes to win, Dr. Räsänen said she’s prepared for a negative outcome.
“I think this whole chain of events is part of my calling as a Christian influencer,” Dr. Räsänen said. “A conviction based on the Christian faith is more than a [surface] opinion. The early Christians did not renounce their faith in the lion’s dens. Why should I renounce my faith in the courtrooms?”