16 members of the US House of Representatives have sent a letter addressed to Rashad Hussain, US Ambassador-At-Large for International Religious Freedom and Douglas Hickey, the US Ambassador to Finland, in response to Finnish state authorities’ “egregious and harassing” prosecution of a long-standing Christian politician for expressing her deeply-held beliefs on Twitter.
In the letter, the US legislators state that, “This prosecutor is dead set on weaponizing the power of Finland’s legal system to silence not just a member of parliament and Lutheran bishop but millions of Finnish Christians who dare to exercise their natural rights to freedom of expression and freedom of religion in the public square.”
“It is abundantly clear – the process is the punishment. The selective targeting of these high-profile individuals is designed to systematically chill others’ speech under the threat of legal harassment and social stigmatism,” reads the letter. “No American, no Finn, and no human should face legal harassment for simply living out their religious beliefs.”
“Freedom of religion or belief, and the freedom to express that belief, is a fundamental human right. ADF International welcomes this letter of support for MP Päivi Räsänen and Bishop Juhana Pohjola. In a democracy, nobody should fear criminal charges for expressing a peaceful opinion on social media,” said Sean Nelson, Legal Counsel for Global Religious Freedom at ADF International, which is supporting Räsänen’s legal defense.
Criminally charged for voicing peaceful beliefs on Twitter
The letter, signed by 16 legislators, including Representatives Chip Roy, Michael Cloud, Mike Johnson, Andrew S. Clyde, Jim Banks, Jeff Duncan, Mary Miller, Doug Lamborn, Debbie Lesko, Michael Guest, Andy Ogles, Ralph Norman, Anna Paulina Luna, Randy K. Weber, Keith Self and Alex X. Mooney, highlights the case of Finnish parliamentarian, and former Minister of the Interior, Päivi Räsänen. Räsänen faced criminal trial in early 2022 after being accused of engaging in “hate speech” for publicly voicing her deeply-held beliefs on marriage and sexual ethics in a 2019 Tweet.
Finland’s Prosecutor General brought three criminal charges against her for the tweet, which contained Bible verses and questioned her church’s sponsorship of the 2019 Helsinki pride parade, in addition to a pamphlet she wrote in 2004, and for engaging in a debate on a 2019 radio show.
Räsänen officially is being prosecuted for the crime of “agitation against a minority group,” which serves as the umbrella for “hate speech” charges under the section of “war crimes and crimes against humanity” in the Finnish criminal code.
Bishop Juhana Pohjola also faced trial alongside her for publishing the church pamphlet that Räsänen wrote nearly 20 years ago. After a full acquittal, the prosecution appealed the case, and Räsänen and Pohjola face the appeals trial beginning August 31st. ADF International supports Räsänen’s legal defense, advocating for the fundamental human right to freely share one’s beliefs.
“The state is attempting to criminalize the peaceful expression of my Christian faith. By continuing its campaign to censor these beliefs, the prosecution is setting a dangerous precedent of intolerance. I hope for another acquittal at the Court of Appeal. The state of free speech in Finland hangs in the balance,” said Päivi Räsänen ahead of the trial.
“Freedom at risk for all”
The letter joins other initiatives that point to the significance of the case not only for Finnish citizens, but also for citizens across the West.
In a recent statement, the International Lutheran Council (ILC), reaffirmed their support for Räsänen and Pohjola. They “call on all people of good will to condemn this unconscionable prosecution, to take a stand for freedom of speech and freedom of religion for all”. The ILC warns that, “when we compromise on freedom for just one or two, we ultimately place freedom at risk for all”.
“Although a guilty verdict would not set an immediate legal precedent across Europe, it would set a new European low bar for free speech standards. People in Finland have found the case shocking, but it really could happen anywhere else, because, unfortunately, we see similar hate speech laws in place across Europe,” said Paul Coleman, Executive Director of ADF International, serving on Räsänen’s legal defense team.
The members of Congress state in their letter that, “Freedom of expression and freedom of religion are engrained in what it means to be an American. As members of Congress, we stand shoulder to shoulder with all people of good faith in condemning the legal assault on MP Räsänen and Bishop Pohjola for merely being Christians”. They go on to urge Ambassador Hussain, who was appointed to his role in December 2021 to serve as the principal adviser to President Biden and the Secretary of State regarding matters affecting religious freedom outside the U.S, to raise concerns and publicly speak out on MP Räsänen and Bishop Pohjola’s behalf.
To support Päivi Räsänen’s case, visit www.ADFinternational.org/FreeSpeechOnTrial