At some point in the future, will it become illegal in our country simply to quote the Bible? That might sound like a paranoid question, but recent events suggest that it’s one that we ought to take seriously.
Take the case of Päivi Räsänen. Räsänen is a former Member of Parliament in Finland, who served as the Minister of the Interior. She is also a doctor, a mother of five children, and a grandmother of seven. A few days ago, she appeared in court to face three criminal charges of “hate speech.”
Those charges stem from three different occasions when Räsänen defended Biblical teaching on sexuality and marriage. In one case, in 2019, Räsänen, who is a member of the Finnish Lutheran church, had sent out a tweet challenging her church’s decision to be an official sponsor of the 2019 “Pride” events. The tweet was a photo of Biblical passages about marriage.
After she posted that photo, authorities opened an investigation, summoning her to a four-hour police interview to respond to allegations that she had committed the crime of “ethnic agitation,” which carries a maximum penalty of two years imprisonment.
A few days later, on Nov. 4, 2019, the Prosecutor General announced that Räsänen would face an investigation into a pamphlet she was asked to write in 2004 on her church’s teaching on human sexuality. On another occasion, she appeared in a TV debate defending traditional Christian ethics.
In April 2021, the Finnish Prosecutor General brought three criminal charges against Räsänen regarding the 2004 pamphlet, the comments she made on the radio show, and the tweet. The Rev. Dr. Juhana Pohjola, Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Mission Diocese of Finland, also faces criminal prosecution for publishing the pamphlet.
Finland’s Prosecutor General accused Räsänen of making statements that are “derogatory and discriminatory against homosexuals” that “violate their equality and dignity.”
Last Monday, Räsänen pleaded not guilty. She has vowed to fight the charges. “I will defend my right to confess my faith, so that no one else would be deprived of their right to freedom of religion and speech,” she said, according to the Alliance Defending Freedom, the Christian legal organization that is defending her. “The more Christians keep silent on controversial themes, the narrower the space for freedom of speech gets.”
The International Lutheran Council has called the decision to prosecute Räsänen “egregious.” “The vast majority of Christians in all nations, including Catholics and the Eastern Orthodox, share these convictions,” they said in a statement. “Would the Finnish Prosecutor General condemn us all?”
Given the decision to push forward with prosecution, it seems that the answer to that question is “yes.” The Finnish Prosecutor General is willing to condemn all Christians who hold to Biblical teaching on sexuality and marriage as being de facto criminals.
Canada’s Disturbing Bill C-4
The attack on free speech and freedom of religion happening in Finland is spreading to other countries.
Canadian Christians are deeply worried that a bill that recently passed their country’s Parliament will be used to crush expressions of Biblical teaching on sexuality and marriage in much the same way.
The bill, C-4, is ostensibly a bill designed to ban so-called “conversion therapy.” However, critics have warned that the definition of conversion therapy in the legislation is so broad, that it effectively criminalizes expressions of traditional Biblical ethics. Among the things that the bill bans are any form of treatment to “repress or reduce non-heterosexual attraction or sexual behavior.” In other words, even if someone simply wants help to leave the active homosexual lifestyle, but not necessarily to change their homosexual attractions, this is now banned in Canadian law!
As Canadian Christian activist Jojo Ruba notes, whereas a heterosexual Canadian can now get treatment to help stop unwanted sexual behaviors, a homosexual Canadian cannot. “How can that not be a violation of the equality clause in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms?” he asked.
Legal experts have noted that another of the bitter ironies in the legislation is that it protects therapies to help an individual “transition” to become the opposite gender. This means that helping someone “convert” to become transgender is perfectly acceptable. However, therapy to help someone to become “cisgender” (i.e., to help someone suffering from gender dysphoria to accept and be at peace with their biological sex) is banned.
This is truly mad and disturbing. It is also deeply tragic for those increasing numbers of transgender individuals who regret their transitions and are choosing to “de-transition.” Sadly, it seems they can no longer legally obtain psychological help in Canada.
The bill also instantiates in Canadian law radical ideas about sexuality and gender. The law condemns conversion therapy for allegedly propagating “myths and stereotypes about sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression, including the myth that heterosexuality, cisgender gender identity, and gender expression that conforms to the sex assigned to a person at birth are to be preferred over other sexual orientations, gender identities and gender expressions.”
Pastors and legal experts are particularly worried that the law is so expansive that it bans even private conversations in which a parent, pastor, or someone else, expresses their belief that someone living a certain sexual lifestyle should change.
In a letter, a group of Evangelical pastors called the Liberty Coalition Canada warned, “This bill’s wording is sufficiently broad to allow for the criminal prosecution of Christians who would speak biblical truth into the lives of those in bondage to sexual sins like homosexuality and transgenderism… [E]ven a mother or father who offers their children freedom from sexual sin through repentance and faith in the Gospel of Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 6:9-11) could be threatened with five years in jail.”
Marty Moore, a lawyer for the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms (JCCF), told LifeSiteNews that “Bill C-4 is riddled with constitutional concerns. The fact that it criminalizes conversations between consenting adults seems to be entirely ignored.” Moore added that Bill C-4 not only “interferes severely with the teaching and practice of religious beliefs regarding sexuality and gender identity,” but it also “prevents religious LGBTQ persons from receiving support in accordance with their own religious faith.”
Canadian Christians worry that it is only a matter of time before Canadian authorities find some test subject, like Räsänen, to prosecute simply for expressing Biblical teaching on sexuality.
Pray for a Positive Outcome
Although it is troubling that the court case was ever brought against Räsänen, there is still hope that she will come out victorious. In which case, her case could possibly set an important precedent defending freedom of speech and religion for Christians.
Räsänen herself has expressed hope, telling the Catholic News Agency ahead of the case that she had a “calm mind.”
“I trust that we still live in a democracy, and we have our constitution and international agreements that guarantee our freedom of speech and religion,” she said. “If I win the case, I think that it is a very important step for freedom of speech and religion. I think it’s not only important for Finland but also in Europe and other countries.”
“If I’m convicted, I think that the worst consequence would not be the fine against me, or even the prison sentence, it would be the censorship.”
Indeed, there is reason to be worried that even if she wins, her case will have had a chilling effect on free speech in Finland and throughout Europe. After all, who wants to be dragged into the international limelight to answer for charges of “hate speech”? The risk is that many Christians or people of other faiths will – perhaps even unconsciously – modify their speech in order to avoid getting into trouble.
This is a normal and understandable human response. But as Christians we must resist this temptation towards complacency and comfort. We must be willing to defend Biblical sexual ethics openly and confidently, with the conviction that the moral truths we profess represent the authentic path towards happiness and salvation for all.
We must not hide our light under a bushel. As Räsänen told CNA, “So, now it is time to speak. Because the more we are silent, the narrower the space for freedom of speech and religion grows.”
Let us pray for the success of Räsänen’s case and pray that Canadian Christians will succeed in overturning this new law that so threatens their freedom.