Explainer: “Räsänen” is a textbook example of religious liberty versus equal treatment


Northern Europe

Evert van Vlastuin, CNE.news

Päivi Räsänen (right) speaking to the media after the court session in February 2022. Photo CNE, Danielle Miettinen

The Court of Appeal in Helsinki is considering the Räsänen case on Thursday and Friday. What is it about?

The prosecutors have filed three charges against the Finnish MP.

  • The first is about the post on Twitter and Facebook in 2019, which included a picture of a Bible text calling the homosexual practice “shameful”.

  • The second charge concerns statements in a satirical radio programme in late 2019, in which Päivi Räsänen (pronounced Paivi Rássanen) said that God intended heterosexuality in creation. The prosecution explains this to mean that Räsänen meant that God did not create homosexuals the same as others.

  • The third charge concerns a 2004 brochure on marriage and sexuality. The Evangelical Lutheran Mission Diocese published it. Therefore, its director, Bishop Juhana Pohjola, has also been indicted for this charge.

In summary, the charge reads discrimination and group insult of homosexuals.

But Räsänen and Pohjola were acquitted, right?

Yes. In March 2022, the three judges of the Helsinki District Court ruled that none of the charges were founded and, therefore, unanimously acquitted the two defendants.

The prosecutors, however, felt the judges had misinterpreted the case and filed an appeal. Its public hearing is on Thursday and Friday (August 31st and September 1st). The verdict may follow sometime in October.

Why is there so much interest in the case?

The case concerns how the classical interpretation of the Bible around sexual ethics relates to the modern rule of law, including the equal treatment of homosexuals. This is where important fundamental rights collide: freedom of religion and freedom of expression on the one hand, and the right to equal treatment regardless of sexual identity on the other.

This question plays out almost identically in all countries of the Western world. Lawyers from many countries will study the work that is done in Helsinki now. The ruling in this case may have implications for rulings in other countries. Certainly, the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) in Strasbourg will orient itself towards such a judgment.

Another critical point is that Päivi Räsänen has always acted purely according to the principle “love the sinner, hate the sin.” In speaking about people with different sexual lifestyles, she has always been respectful. She has never spoken bitterly about the gay movement. Since 2019, none of the numerous interviews has gone by without her pointing to Jesus as the Saviour of all sins, including her own.

Against this, however, the prosecutors have repeatedly claimed that it is already degrading for people to be referred to as sinners. In their view, this alone should already be labelled discriminatory.

All in all, this makes the Räsänen case something of a textbook example.

How much support do Räsänen and Pohjola receive?

There is a lot of international support from abroad. Expressions of support have come from the United States on several occasions, such as just this summer from members of Congress.

At the previous court hearing in January 2022 (shortly before the invasion of Ukraine), the Russian Orthodox Church also expressed its support. Earlier, there was support from other churches in Russia.

The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland does not support the pair. Although Räsänen is a member of this people’s church, her original tweet in 2019 was precisely against the church’s support for Pride. From the international churches, there is explicit support from the conservative International Lutheran Council (ILC) for the two Lutheran Finns.

From the Netherlands, the Christian Council International (CCI) launched an internet-based campaign supporting the parliamentarian and the bishop.



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