US members of congress have signed a letter of support to uphold the right to freedom of expression, following the “hate speech” prosecution of a Christian Finnish MP who tweeted Bible verses.
Christian Democrat Päivi Räsänen is being prosecuted for “hate speech” after tweeting a Bible verse in 2019, believed to condemn homosexuality in response to the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland announcing their participation in LGBT+ Pride celebrations.
The former minister to the interior for Finland officially faces prosecution for “ethical agitation”, which serves as the umbrella for “hate speech” charges under the section of “war crimes and crimes against humanity” in the Finnish criminal code.
16 members of the US House of Representatives have issued a powerful statement condemning the "egregious and harassing" prosecution, arguing that it is an attack on the right to freedom of religious expression as Räsänen was sharing her deeply held Christian beliefs.
The letter urges Hussain, whom President Joe Biden appointed in 2021 to serve as his and the secretary of state’s principal adviser on religious freedom matters outside the U.S, to raise concerns and publicly speak out on behalf of Päivi Räsänen.
House members state that the 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.”
Räsänen’s four-year legal battle began with an initial investigation into charges of incitement against a minority group and possible hate crime. She faced criminal trial in early 2022 and despite her being found not guilty of all charges with the support of the Christian legal organisation Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), prosecutors have now raised the matter to the Court of Appeal.
The US legislators argue the public and lengthy legal process is being used to discourage others from speaking up for fear of “legal harassment and social stigmatism… No American, no Finn, and no human should face legal harassment for simply living out their religious beliefs,” the letter reads.
The letter also calls on Hussain to support Bishop Juhana Pohjola, who faced trial alongside Räsänen for publishing a church leaflet Räsänen wrote nearly 20 years ago. After a full acquittal, Pohjola’s case was also appealed. The pair face a further trial on the 22nd August. Räsänen will continue to be supported by ADF.
Sean Nelson, Legal Counsel for ADF International says: “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,”
In a recent interview with Premier Christian News, Räsänen, who is married to a Lutheran pastor expressed that she is willing to elevate the matter to the European Court of Human Rights if she is not successful in this upcoming trial.
In a recent statement, the International Lutheran Council reaffirmed their support for Räsänen and Pohjola, calling on “people of good will” to condemn this “unconscionable prosecution” and take a stand for freedom of speech and freedom of religion for all.”