A court in Finland has announced the date of a hearing to determine whether a former government minister should be jailed after tweeting a Bible verse.
The Helsinki District Court said that the case involving Päivi Räsänen, a physician and mother of five, will be heard on Jan. 24, 2022.
According to ADF International, a Christian legal group that is supporting her, Räsänen could be given a two-year prison sentence or a fine for the tweet, after the Finnish Prosecutor General filed criminal charges against her on April 29.
The MP could also face additional jail time if convicted of two other alleged offenses relating to her comments in a 2004 pamphlet and on a 2018 television program, the group said.
Räsänen said: “I await the court proceedings with a calm mind, confident that Finland will respect the freedom of expression and religion enshrined in fundamental rights and international conventions.”
“I will not back down from my conviction based on the Bible and I am ready to defend freedom of expression and religion in all necessary courts.”
“I cannot accept that voicing religious beliefs could mean imprisonment. I will defend my right to confess my faith, so that no one else would be deprived of their right to freedom of religion and speech.”
The Prosecutor General charged Räsänen, 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.”
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.
The 61-year-old MP, 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 last year.
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.
Paul Coleman, ADF International’s executive director, said: “In a free society, everyone should be allowed to share their beliefs without fear of censorship. The Finnish Prosecutor General’s decision to bring these charges against Dr. Räsänen creates a culture of fear and censorship.”
“It is sobering that such cases are becoming all too common throughout Europe. If committed civil servants like Päivi Räsänen are criminally charged for voicing their deeply held beliefs, it creates a chilling effect for everyone’s right to speak freely.”
The International Lutheran Council issued a statement in July describing the decision to prosecute Räsänen and Pohjola as “egregious.”
It said: “The vast majority of Christians in all nations, including Catholics and Eastern Orthodox, share these convictions. Would the Finnish Prosecutor General condemn us all? Moreover, shall the Finnish state risk governmental sanctions from other states based on the abuse of foundational human rights?”