- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 7, 2022

Attorneys for Finnish lawmaker Päivi Räsänen, cleared last month of hate-speech charges in connection with her comments on the Bible and homosexuality, were told Wednesday that prosecutors will appeal the ruling.

Attorneys for ADF International, the global branch of Alliance Defending Freedom, a public-interest law firm, said Prosecutor General Raija Toiviainen’s office informed a local attorney on the case of the plan to file an appeal. Finnish law allows for such appeals, something not permitted under the Constitution of the United States, for example.

On March 30, a three-judge panel of the Helsinki District Court dropped all charges against Ms. Räsänen, a physician and 26-year member of the Finnish parliament who also served as Finland’s interior minister.

Judges ordered state prosecutors to pay nearly $67,000 (U.S.) in legal fees. The three-judge panel declared, “it is not for the district court to interpret biblical concepts.”

Prosecutor Toiviainen’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment. However, in a statement released the day after the verdict, she said, “The district court’s view on how Räsänen’s statements must be interpreted differs from the prosecutor’s interpretation. … This does not mean that the prosecutor provided false information. There is nothing false about the charges.”

Ms. Räsänen was charged with a hate speech crime after a 2019 Twitter post chiding the state-affiliated Lutheran Church over its reported participation in a gay pride event. The tweet included a Bible verse calling homosexual activity “shameful,” which prosecutors said was harmful to gay people.

The member of parliament asserted she was sending a message to church leadership, not to homosexuals.

She was also charged over comments made on a radio talk show in 2019, which a defense attorney described as the prosecutor “cherry-picking” from a lengthy, adversarial on-air conversation.

Also acquitted on March 30 was the Rev. Juhana Pohjola, bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Mission Diocese. He was charged over publishing — in 2004 — a pamphlet Ms. Räsänen wrote called “Male and Female He Created Them: Homosexual Relationships Challenge the Christian Concept of Humanity,” which asserted “traditional” biblical views of sexuality and marriage. His verdict also will apparently be appealed, defense attorneys indicated.

In a statement late Wednesday, Ms. Räsänen said, “This case has been hanging over me and my family for almost three years. After my full exoneration in court, I am dismayed that the prosecutor will not let this campaign against me drop. Once again, I am prepared to defend freedom of speech and religion not just for me, but for everyone.”

Paul Coleman, ADF International executive director and an attorney on the defense team, called the appeal an “alarming” move by authorities.

“Dragging people through the courts for years, subjecting them to hour-long police interrogations, and wasting taxpayer money in order to police people’s deeply held beliefs has no place in a democratic society,” Mr. Coleman said. “As is so often the case in “hate speech” trials, the process has become part of the punishment,” he added.

In an email to The Washington Times, former U.S. Ambassador for International Religious Freedom Sam Brownback decried the prosecutor’s move.

“It was wrong to prosecute free speech in the first place and it is even worse to appeal a unanimous decision,” said Mr. Brownback, a former Kansas governor and U.S. senator. “Religious speech is free speech and free speech is a myth if religious speech isn’t included. The state prosecutor does not understand the meaning of freedom.”

Mr. Brownback is not the only American politician to criticize the prosecutions. In January, Republican Senators Marco Rubio of Florida, Josh Hawley of Missouri, James Lankford and James Inhofe of Oklahoma, and Mike Braun of Indiana asked Ambassador Rashad Hussain, who followed Mr. Brownback in the religious freedom post, to “condemn these unjust prosecutions.”

• Mark A. Kellner can be reached at mkellner@washingtontimes.com.

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