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Helsinki court dismisses Christian Democrat MP's incitement case

The court found that MP Päivi Räsänen's negative statements about homosexuality were offensive but did not amount to hate speech

Päivi Räsänen Helsingin käräjäoikeudessa.
Image: Petteri Sopanen / Yle
Yle News

Helsinki District Court on Wednesday dismissed all charges against Christian Democrat MP, Päivi Räsänen, in a case considered to be the first of its kind in Finnish legal history.

The court found Räsänen not guilty on all three charges of incitement against a minority group, which had been filed in relation to written and spoken statements she had made about homosexuality.

The veteran politician has been very open about her opinions about homosexuality over the years, repeatedly saying that she did not blame homosexual people themselves, but rather their actions.

The trial marked the first time a Finnish court heard a case about whether quoting the Bible could be considered a criminal act.

MP Räsänen, who also served as Minister of the Interior between 2011-2015, denied all of the charges, with her defence team arguing that the case centred around the freedom of speech and opinion.

In its decision, the court said that freedom of speech and religious rights were not unlimited.

"However, limiting them requires a compelling societal reason. Ensuring the dignity and equality of people belonging to sexual minority groups can be one such reason," the court's decision said.

The charges

The first charge in the case was related to a pamphlet she wrote in 2004, entitled "He created them as a man and a woman. Homosexuality challenges the Christian conception of man."

The second charge was about a tweet Räsänen posted in 2019 about an upcoming Pride parade in Helsinki, in which she asked how "the church's founding doctrine the Bible fits with shame and sin being celebrated as pride". The tweet included a photograph of verses from a version of the Bible that had been translated into Finnish in the 1930s.

The third charge was related to spoken statements Räsänen made in late 2019, on an Yle radio discussion show, which was hosted by journalist Ruben Stiller.

In the interview, Räsänen claimed that research had shown that "the potential genetic inheritance in homosexuality is quite small," then claimed that human genetics have "eroded" over millennia and throughout the course of human history, so "it's not necessarily what it was when we were created".

In its ruling on Wednesday, the court said that these statements were offensive to homosexual people but could not be considered hate speech.

Yle rejected a demand from the prosecutor that her comments be removed from the radio programme, citing that its duty as a broadcaster also involves reporting on controversial matters. The programme featuring Räsänen is still available on Yle Areena.

The two-day trial began on 24 January and closing statements were made on 14 February.

Provoke discussion

Before the trial, Räsänen told police that she wanted to provoke discussion with her opinion — not offend gay people — because she believed these were important issues related to freedom of speech and religion.

The charges filed about Räsänen's opinions about homosexuality garnered attention and empathy from Christian and conservative individuals and groups abroad.

In mid-February, she told Fox News (siirryt toiseen palveluun) that she found it "unbelievable" that the case against her was continuing because Finland is a "democracy."

Last summer, Yle reported that a conservative Lutheran pastor from the US state of Virginia was planning to hold a demonstration outside the Finnish Embassy in Washington in support of Räsänen.

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