Alliance Defending Freedom International is celebrating a massive win for free speech in the recent unanimous acquittal of Päivi Räsänen, a Finnish medical doctor, active parliamentarian, former Minister of the Interior, mother, grandmother, and Christian, in a high-profile ‘hate speech’ case that spanned nearly four years.
Räsänen was charged for tweeting Bible verses in 2019 criticizing her church’s participation in an LGBT Pride event, for participating in a live radio debate in 2019 on sexuality, and for publishing a pamphlet discussing Christian teachings on sexuality in 2004. The initial charges were under a section of the criminal code on “war crimes and crimes against humanity.”
What is Alliance Defending Freedom?
Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) is an alliance-building, non-profit legal organization committed to protecting religious freedom, free speech, parental rights, marriage and family, and the sanctity of life. Over the past decade, ADF has achieved 15 victories at the U.S. Supreme Court related to freedom of religion, conscience, and speech. They work both domestically and internationally to advocate for broad protections for fundamental freedoms.
Alliance Defending Freedom International is the global division of Alliance Defending Freedom, working to protect the fundamental rights of people around the world. With team members and thousands of allied lawyers in over 75 countries, ADF International provides legal advocacy by intervening in cases and helping equip local attorneys to defend freedom of conscience and expression. ADF International argues that truly inclusive, diverse, and free societies depend on robust protections for freedom of speech and religion.
Alliance Defending Freedom International Defense of Päivi Räsänen
The case against Päivi Räsänen dates back to June 2019, when Räsänen faced interrogation by the Finnish police for tweeting a picture of a Bible verse and questioning her church’s official sponsorship of the Helsinki LGBTQ’ Pride 2019 event. The charges of ‘agitation against a minority group’ were based on expressing basic Biblical truths about human sexuality online, in a pamphlet, and during a radio debate.
Despite a unanimous acquittal at the District Court of Helsinki in March 2022, Päivi Räsänen found herself facing a second trial at the Finnish Court of Appeal in August 2023. The charges stemmed from the prosecutor general’s invocation of ‘hate speech’ laws, which, as highlighted by Räsänen’s defense team from ADF International, create a culture of fear and censorship by criminalizing speech based on subjective criteria.
As part of the legal battle, Räsänen endured 13 hours of interrogation, months of waiting for court procedures, and two onerous trials. The prosecution alleged that her beliefs, rooted in the Bible and Christian tradition, were hateful and criminal, sending a chilling message to those who dared to express their convictions publicly. Räsänen was repeatedly asked if she would “update or remove what she had said about marriage and sexuality in her 2004 church pamphlet titled ‘Male & Female He Created Them.'”
Räsänen’s defense, coordinated by Alliance Defending Freedom International, argued that “Räsänen’s use of the word “sin” in her tweet was quoted directly from the Bible, and any judgment condemning its usage would directly condemn the Bible itself.”
Paul Coleman, Executive Director of ADF International, serving on Räsänen’s legal team, explained it this way: “At the heart of the prosecutor’s examination of Räsänen was this: would she recant her beliefs? The answer was no – she would not deny the teachings of her faith. The cross-examination bore all the resemblance of a “heresy” trial of the Middle Ages; it was implied that Räsänen had “blasphemed” against the dominant orthodoxies of the day.”
In November 2023, the former Finnish Minister was found not guilty of “hate speech. “
The Court of Appeal’s unanimous ruling concluded that “it is not for the District Court to interpret biblical concepts” and reaffirmed the fundamental right to free speech. The court dismissed the arguments of the state prosecutor, stating that there was no reason to alter the final result of the District Court’s judgment.
The court further ordered the prosecution to pay the legal fees of the defendant.
Coleman, who is the author of ‘Censored: How European Hate Speech Laws are Threatening Freedom of Speech,’ celebrated the ruling as a monumental victory.
“In a free and democratic society, all should be allowed to share their beliefs without fear of censorship. Criminalizing speech through so-called ‘hate-speech’ laws shuts down important public debates and poses a grave threat to our democracies. We are relieved to see courts enforce the rule of law when state authorities overstep by seeking to penalize and censor statements that they dislike,” Coleman said.