A verdict in the closely watched trial of a Christian MP in Finland is expected in March.
The trial of Päivi Räsänen, a physician and mother of five, ended on Feb. 14 at Helsinki District Court.
Also standing trial was Juhana Pohjola, a bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Mission Diocese of Finland.
The charges against Räsänen relate to her comments in a 2004 pamphlet, her appearance on a 2018 television program, and a Twitter post in 2019.
The Prosecutor General charged the 62-year-old, who served as Finland’s interior minister from 2011 to 2015, with incitement against a minority group, arguing that her statements were “likely to cause intolerance, contempt, and hatred towards homosexuals.”
The charge against Pohjola concerns his decision to publish Räsänen’s pamphlet, “Male and Female He Created Them.”
Lorcán Price, legal counsel for the Christian legal group ADF International, who was present at the trial, said: “This prosecution for hate speech has turned into a theological trial of what Christian beliefs can and cannot be expressed in Finland.”
“It is incredible this trial is happening in a modern European country and not in a religious theocracy.”
Finland is a country with a population of 5.5 million people, bordering Norway, Russia, and Sweden. Around two-thirds of the population belong to the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland, one of the country’s two national churches, alongside the Finnish Orthodox Church.
Räsänen, who was chairwoman of the Christian Democrats party from 2004 to 2015, is an active member of the Finnish Lutheran Church. But she questioned her church’s sponsorship of an LGBT pride event in 2019.
On June 17, 2019, she asked in a Twitter post how the sponsorship was compatible with the Bible, linking to a photograph of a biblical passage, Romans 1:24-27, on Instagram. She also posted the text and image on Facebook.
“The purpose [of] my tweet was in no way to insult sexual minorities. My criticism was aimed at the leadership of the church,” she told the journal First Things in 2020.
Discussing the tweet in court, she underlined that it was directed at Church leaders and concerned an important topic facing the Church.
Police began investigating Räsänen in 2019. She faced several police interviews and had to wait more than a year for the Prosecutor General’s decision.
The International Lutheran Council described the decision to prosecute Räsänen and Pohjola as “egregious.”
Addressing the pamphlet, which described homosexuality as “a disorder of psycho-sexual development,” Räsänen told the court that she was asked to write a text outlining Lutheran teaching on sexuality for members of her church, from her viewpoint as a politician, doctor, and Christian.
She said that the pamphlet was outdated given changes in research and legislation since 2004. But she said that it should still exist as a document testifying to the discussions taking place at that time.
Crowds of supporters gathered outside the court during the trial. The American pastor Andrew Brunson, who spent two years in detention in Turkey, flew to Finland to give Räsänen a prayer pledge of support signed by Christians worldwide, organized by the Family Research Council.
ADF International said that the prosecution argued in its closing statement that the word “sin” can be harmful.
“The Apostle Paul isn’t on trial here, but Räsänen is,” the prosecution reportedly said, calling for the defendants to be fined.
Räsänen’s defense said that a guilty verdict would damage free speech in Finland and argued that the court was an inappropriate venue for a theological debate on the question “what is sin?”
The defense cited the 1976 Handyside v United Kingdom case decided by the European Court of Human Rights, which underlined that freedom of expression extended to ideas that “offend, shock or disturb the state or any sector of the population.”
Paul Coleman, ADF International’s executive director, who was present on the trial’s first day, commented: “I would characterize the day as a modern-day Inquisition or heresy trial and the heresy was that Päivi and Bishop Juhana were on trial against the new sexual orthodoxy of the day.”