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Legal action for a tweet quoting scripture

Published: 17.11.2023

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The Finnish Court of Appeal acquitted former Interior Minister Päivi Räsänen, who was accused of hate speech. The charge concerned a post on the 'X' platform (formerly Twitter) containing a passage from Scripture criticising homosexual practices and quotes from a publication issued in 2004 on marriage and sexuality. The criminalisation of speech through legislation on an undefined concept such as 'hate speech' has the potential to restrict the right to freedom of expression and thus poses a serious threat to democracy.

Quotes from the Bible as war crimes

On 14 November 2023, after a four-year court battle, the Finnish Court of Appeal acquitted Päivi Räsänen, a parliamentarian who had posted on social media a passage from the Letter to the Romans describing homosexual practices as 'shameless'. The post was a comment on the decision of the board of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland to officially endorse the LGBT and the 'Equality Parade' organised by the movement in 2019.

The charges brought focused on Räsänen's 2019 Twitter post, her statements during a 2019 radio debate and information contained in a 2004 church booklet in which the parliamentarian included a Christian vision of marriage and family. An indictment has also been brought against Bishop Juhan Pohjol for publishing the said booklet. It is noteworthy that the publication in question was published almost 20 years before the law under which the parliamentarian and the bishop were tried came into force.  

Three criminal charges were brought against the defendants, including the offences of 'hate speech' and 'ethnic agitation' (agitation against a minority group), which are listed in the Finnish Criminal Code under the category of 'war crimes and crimes against humanity'.

Interpreting biblical concepts is not within the court's remit   

2022. Helsinki District Court unanimously acquitted the defendants, stating that 'it is not the court's job to interpret biblical concepts'. The prosecution appealed, arguing that it is possible to quote the Bible, but that Räsänen's interpretation of the disputed verses bears the hallmarks of an offence. According to the prosecutor, Räsänen should have known that her words could be offensive to some people and should therefore refrain from expressing her beliefs. 

By judgment of 14 November 2023. The Helsinki Court of Appeal dismissed the prosecution's arguments, upholding the lower court's ruling. In its reasoning, the Court of Appeal held that, on the basis of the evidence gathered, there were no grounds to judge the case differently from the District Court in any aspect. At the same time, the Court of Appeal agreed with the lower court's reasoning that "even if some people object to Räsänen's views there must be an overriding social reason to interfere and restrict freedom of expression". 

The judgment is not final. The prosecution may appeal to the Supreme Court until 15 January 2024.

The Finnish case is not an isolated one

Recently, there has been a growing trend of restricting freedom of speech under the guise of misguided political correctness. One such example is the trial of Adam Smith - Connor. This British Army veteran is on trial for silently praying near an abortion clinic in Bournemouth. The first trial took place on 16 November 2023 and, according to observers, is an example of a 'thought crime trial', a 'thought crime' familiar from dystopian literature. 

Two Mexican politicians also faced hate speech charges in 2022. The first, Congressman Rodrigo Iván Cortés, in a series of tweets, expressed his opposition to a transgender MP's proposed bill to criminalise 'the promotion of Christian teaching on sexuality as a form of hate speech'. On social media, Cortés argued that the aforementioned bill was a serious violation of the right to freedom of expression and religious freedom in Mexico. The court of first instance found that "criticising a transgender woman constitutes an undermining of women's political and electoral rights and the free exercise of their public functions". Cortes' defenders have filed an appeal - the case is pending.

The second politician in question is Gabriel Quadri, a former Mexican presidential candidate who tweeted his opposition to transgender men occupying seats in Congress reserved for women. Quadri's defenders argued that the posts did not refer to anyone directly but only discussed issues related to 'trans ideology', did not contain foul language and were in no way an incitement to violence. In the end, Gabriel Quadri was found guilty. The congressman's defenders filed an appeal with the American Commission for Human Rights on 19 December 2022. 

This infamous group also includes the Polish case of Janusz Komenda, an IKEA employee wrongly accused of 'hate speech' for quoting the Bible. The case was handled by lawyers from our Institute.


In a democratic society, everyone should be able to share their beliefs without fear of censorship. The criminalisation of speech through legislation on a vague concept such as 'hate speech' can hold back important public debates. In June 2021, this thread was also taken up at the European Union in connection with plans to include 'hate speech' in the catalogue of 'European crimes'. Representatives of the Commission of the Conference of Bishops of the European Union (COMECE) took their position on this issue. In justification of their position, they stated that by criminalising 'hate speech', criminal sanctions may strike at the very expression of an idea or action taken by the church in the exercise of its magisterium and this regardless of the speaker's intention or context. Consequently, such conduct can lead to self-censorship in democratic debates. Representatives of the organisation in question also noted that when attempting to define the disputed term, specific exclusion clauses should be defined in order to protect fundamental rights, in particular the right to freedom of expression and freedom of thought, conscience and religion.

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