WASHINGTON – Sixteen members of the House of Representatives issued a letter Tuesday to U.S. Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom Rashad Hussain and U.S. Ambassador to Finland Douglas Hickey in response to Finnish state authorities’ “egregious and harassing” prosecution of a long-standing Christian public servant for expressing her deeply held beliefs on Twitter.
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, a member of Parliament who previously served as Finland’s minister of the interior.
“Freedom of religion or belief—and the freedom to express that belief—is a fundamental human right,” said Sean Nelson, legal counsel for global religious freedom at ADF International, which is supporting Räsänen’s legal defense. “We welcome this letter of support from members of the House and invite individuals worldwide to speak out as well. Nobody should fear criminal charges for expressing a peaceful opinion on social media.”
In the letter, the House members explain that the prosecutor in Räsänen’s case “is dead set on weaponizing the power of Finland’s legal system to silence not just a member of parliament…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 letter continues, explaining that the selective targeting of high-profile individuals “is designed to systematically chill others’ speech under the threat of legal harassment and social stigmatism…. No American, no Finn, and no human should face legal harassment for simply living out their religious beliefs.”
Räsänen faced criminal trial in early 2022 after being accused of engaging in “hate speech” for voicing her beliefs about marriage and sexual ethics in a 2019 tweet.
Finland’s prosecutor general brought three criminal charges against her for expressing those views in a pamphlet she wrote in 2004, in a 2019 debate on a radio show, and in the tweet, which contained Bible verses and questioned her church’s sponsorship of the 2019 Helsinki Pride Parade.
Officially, Räsänen is being prosecuted for the crime of “ethnic 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.
The letter from members of Congress also asks Hussain to voice support for Bishop Juhana Pohjola, who faced trial alongside Räsänen for publishing the church pamphlet Räsänen wrote nearly 20 years ago.
After a full acquittal of both Räsänen and Pohjola, the prosecution appealed the case to the Helsinki Court of Appeal, and the two now face another trial beginning Aug. 22 in Prosecutor v Räsänen. ADF International is continuing to support Räsänen’s legal defense and advocate for the fundamental human right to freely share one’s beliefs.
“The state is attempting to criminalize the peaceful expression of my Christian faith,” said Räsänen. “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.”
In a recent statement, the International Lutheran Council reaffirmed their support for Räsänen and Pohjola by “call[ing] 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 warned that “when we compromise on freedom for just one or two, we ultimately place freedom at risk for all.”
“Although a guilty verdict wouldn’t set an immediate legal precedent across Europe, it would set a new low bar for European free speech standards,” said ADF International Executive Director Paul Coleman, who serves on Räsänen’s legal defense team. “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.”
- Pronunciation guide: Päivi Räsänen (PI’-vee RAHZ’-uh-nen)
ADF International is a faith-based legal advocacy organization that protects fundamental freedoms and promotes the inherent dignity of all people.
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