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Ex-Interior Minister's incitement trial begins in Helsinki

The case marks the first time in Finland that a court will rule on whether quoting the Bible can be considered a crime.

Christian Democrats MP Päivi Räsänen in Helsinki District Court on Monday. Image: Lehtikuva

The trial of Christian Democrat MP and former Interior Minister Päivi Räsänen on three charges of incitement against a minority group began in Helsinki District Court on Monday.

One of the charges relates to a tweet sent by Räsänen in 2019 about that year's Pride parade, 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 the Bible, translated into Finnish between 1933 and 1938.

During a police interview ahead of the trial, Räsänen said that she had wanted to provoke discussion with her opinion, and not to offend gay people, because she believed these were important issues related to freedom of speech and religion.

"My main concern was that the preliminary investigation, which was already starting or started, could lead to Christians shying away from quoting the Bible and presenting the teachings of the Bible, such as the practicing of homosexuality, about which there are clear teachings in the Bible. And also, that Christians would not start practicing self-censorship. That is why I wanted to tweet about these issues and I consider it important to take a stand on such issues and raise them up," Räsänen said.

The issue of Pride parades became a topic of debate in 2019 in Räsänen's own parish of Riihimäki, where she serves on the church council. At that time, the pastor of Riihimäki decided that the parish would participate in the local Pride event, a decision that Räsänen was strongly opposed to.

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Päivi Räsänen speaking to the media after arriving in Helsinki District Court on Monday. Image: Petteri Sopanen / Yle

In addition, the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland had been one of the official sponsors of the Pride parade in Helsinki in 2019.

Räsänen said that she had wanted to provoke discussion and reach the widest possible audience with her tweet.

"I was distressed when I noticed that the church was fully involved as a Pride supporter. I thought then about even resigning from the church. This is a very important issue about freedom of religion for me. The church's policy was strongly at odds with the teaching of the Bible, as Pride celebrates things that are declared shameful and sinful in the Bible. However, I then decided to stay in the church and try to influence the church's sleeping members," she said.

Räsänen added that her concerns and criticisms were directed specifically at the church and the church leadership, which she felt had forgotten the "clear teachings" of the Bible.

"I do not feel that there is hatred for a minority group here or for the marchers in Pride," she said.

The other charges in the case concern Räsänen's writings on the websites of the Luther Foundation Finland, a conservative reform movement, and the Evangelical Lutheran Mission Diocese of Finland as well as her publications and statements on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and on an Yle Puhe radio programme.

The case marks the first time in Finland that a court will rule on whether quoting the Bible can be considered a crime.

Räsänen spoke about "genetic degeneration" during Yle radio interview

One charge relates to statements made by Räsänen during an interview on an Yle Puhe radio programme, hosted by journalist Ruben Stiller.

The title of the 20 December 2019 episode was "What Did Jesus Think About Homosexuals?"

Räsänen said in the program that research had shown that "the potential genetic inheritance in homosexuality is quite small". Räsänen added 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".

During her police interviews, Räsänen said that she had referred in her statement to the latest research into the topic.

"At that time, in 2019, the Finnish Medical Journal published a study by Ganna et al, which had more than half a million participants. The research clearly shows that there is no genetic variable that has a significant effect on sexual orientation. The study found that the effect of genetics on this is less than 1 percent. Ruben challenged the issue of genetic inheritance, so my answer was that if there was a genetic inheritance, it would not change the fact that God created people as man and woman and meant marriage and sexual relations to be between them," Räsänen explained.

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The Association for Freedom of Speech and Religion protesting in support of Christian Democrat MP Päivi Räsänen outside Helsinki District Court on 24 January. Image: Antti Aimo-Koivisto / Lehtikuva

The police interviewer pointed out to Räsänen that it would be possible to get the impression from her statement during the radio programme that homosexuality is a genetic degeneration, and asked Räsänen how the statement should be understood.

"I didn't say that explicitly," Räsänen replied. "On the contrary, based on these studies, the relevance of genetic inheritance in homosexuality is small. All of the rest of the speculation associated with this degradation was essentially a response to challenges by Stiller during the interview. That is, "if it turns out that ...". He had a style, in that he threw out, for example, that 'if there were any new contemporary texts about Jesus, it would change my beliefs'. So this is related to Stiller’s interview style during this discussion of genetics," Räsänen replied.

She added that the subject and content of the programme were in line with her expectations, and further emphasised that she considers Ruben Stiller to be a very fair and trustworthy interviewer. In addition, Räsänen said that she was very satisfied with the outcome of the programme and would not have wanted to change anything.

Her intention on the programme had been to present her personal faith in Jesus and "how man can be saved for eternal life".

"That was my main goal on this programme," she said.

Pamphlet criticises "normalisation of homosexuality"

Räsänen's third charge relates 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 text was originally published in the Aamutähti (Morning Star) pamphlet and was later published on the websites of the Luther Foundation Finland and the Evangelical Lutheran Mission Diocese of Finland.

Räsänen wrote that the "normalisation of homosexuality" meant that even a small child would realise that as an adult it is possible to marry people of different or the same gender.

The text stated that "the earlier a young person has homosexual experiences, the more difficult it is, according to research, to get rid of this tendency later on". She also used the term "psychosexual disorder" (psykoseksuaalinen häiriö in Finnish).

Räsänen denied during her police interview that she was guilty of slandering or insulting homosexuals, adding that her main goal was to defend biblical teaching and the church's perspective on marriage, the lives of a man and woman, and the practicing of homosexuality.

"This was related to the debate within the church that wanted to break away or dispute some of the teachings of the Bible on a liberal theological basis. In addition, this was due to the fact that the Relationship Act had entered into force in 2002. At the time of writing, projects were already underway concerning infertility treatment for same-sex couples, adoption within the family, and changes to the Marriage Act. So this was a topical issue," she said.

Räsänen said her writings were inspired by concerns that there were changes in Christian values and perceptions within society. This could be observed within the church too, she said.

"The essential thing I wanted to pursue with this pamphlet was confidence in the Bible's teachings on marriage and sexuality. I have written this pamphlet very clearly based on my own religious beliefs," she said.

In the text, she argued that "the most common model among the homosexual community seems to be loose and promiscuous relationships", telling police that these allegations were based on a variety of research studies.

"Do you think homosexual people are broken somehow?" the police interviewer asked.

"We are all broken in one way or another in relation to God's original purpose of creation. Homosexuality is a splinter in the sense that it is not the purpose for which God originally created man," Räsänen replied.