Fact check: Is a European politician being persecuted for tweeting from the Bible?
Case of Finnish lawmaker has become cause célèbre in U.S. religious-right media
U.S. right-wing Christian media thrive on stories about alleged persecution of Christians or anyone who promotes “family values,” and an abundance of articles about Päivi Räsänen, a member of the Finnish Parliament, is a case in point. Articles since 2022 have followed two trials in which she and a Lutheran bishop were accused of a hate crime for promoting the traditional Christian view denouncing homosexuality. Last week, in a story that hasn’t been covered by mainstream media,1 the headlines focused on an apparent decision by prosecutors to appeal the most recent acquittal to the Finnish Supreme Court.
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Claim: Here is a sampling of recent headlines:
World: Bible tweet case appealed to Finnish Supreme Court
The Christian Post: Finnish MP, bishop may be dragged before Supreme Court despite acquittals over ‘hate speech’ against LGBT pride
International Christian Concern: Update: Päivi Räsänen’s Battle for Religious Freedom and Free Speech
Christian Today: Fight continues for Finnish MP who tweeted about marriage and sexuality
At least one member of the U.S. Congress has also spoken out recently on the case. Before the latest appeal was made, U.S. Rep. Chip Roy, one of the most conservative House members, wrote in a press release that the second acquittal was “a victory for the unalienable rights safeguarded by our Constitution and written on every human heart. A guilty verdict would have criminalized Christianity, silenced Christians, stifled religious freedom across Europe, and catalyzed further attacks on the foundations of Western Civilization.”
Truth verdict: ✅ The articles are generally accurate. The Parliament member and the bishop were prosecuted for actions that wouldn’t have raised legal concerns in the United States.
What is true: In 2019, Räsänen was accused by Finnish authorities for “agitation against a minority group” for a tweet (it remains visible) in which she objected to church connections with a Pride celebration. The post included an image of Romans 1:24-27, verses that are often quoted by those who claim that homosexual behavior is contrary to Biblical teaching. She also conveyed her views in a radio interview, and she had written a church pamphlet on the matter in 2004. She was charged in 2021; a Lutheran bishop, Juhana Pohjola, was also charged in connection with publication of the pamphlet.
The case went to trial in early 2022, and the two were acquitted. Prosecutors appealed, and the two were acquitted a second time in November. According to a legal advocacy organization that has worked with the two, ADF International, prosecutors plan to appeal to Finland’s Supreme Court.
According to ADF, Räsänen has been a member of Parliament since since 1995. From 2004 until 2015 she was chair of the Christian Democrats, and in 2011-15 she was the minister of the Interior. During this time, she held responsibility for church affairs in Finland.
What might be misleading: Placement of the articles in the conservative U.S. media and conversation in social media have suggested that prosecution of Räsänen and Pohjola is part of a pattern of persecution, and that the same thing could happen in the United States. But there are key differences between Finnish and U.S. law, and under U.S. law it would likely be impossible to successfully charge someone with a crime for similar actions.
One reason is that promotion of religious views is protected by the free-exercise clause of the First Amendment. Obviously, this includes Bible verses.
A second reason is because in the United States “hate speech” by itself is protected by the First Amendment, as the U.S. Supreme Court made clear in 1977 in National Socialist Party of America v. Village of Skokie. In that case, the Supreme Court allowed a Nazi group to hold a march in Skokie, Ill., contrary to an ordinance that would have prohibited it.
It isn’t that there are no potential legal consequences in the U.S. for those who engage in hate speech; speech of any kind can be used as evidence of motives in committing a crime and can make the punishment for hate crimes more severe. It can also be unlawful to use speech in a way that constitutes harassment, incites a crime or is part of a criminal act. But by itself, a hateful tweet much less one quoting from the Bible simply isn’t going to lead to a criminal case.
A search through the archives of The New York Times and the Washington Post indicate that neither of them have ever had an article about Räsänen’s case.