The rise of the use of social media in the last decade has given people a platform to voice their thoughts and opinions. Whether you have just a few followers or millions, just about everyone in the world can view posts, so you never know which post might land you in hot water or go viral. Such is the case for a Finland parliament member whose use of Bible scripture on Twitter has her facing a trial for using hate speech.
First Hate Speech Trial
The official, Päivi Räsänen, a member of the Finnish Parliament, says that she is ready to defend her freedom of speech. This trial is the second time she faces these charges, with her first trial unanimously dismissed over a year ago. In 2019, she tweeted in response to her church's event sponsoring those in the LGBTQ community.
In her tweet, she quoted Romans 1:24-27: "Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. They exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen. Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones. In the same way, the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed shameful acts with other men and received in themselves the due penalty for their error."
The investigation lasted for four years, and in a press release, she stated that the allegations were untrue and that she faced police interrogations and court hearings that were lengthy. Despite the long trial, they unanimously acquitted her. However, the prosecutor appealed the not-guilty verdict, and she finds herself on trial once again.
Outrage Over Charges
Sixteen members of the U.S. House of Representatives signed a letter addressed to Douglas Hickey, the U.S. Ambassador to Finland, and Rashad Hussain, the U.S.Ambassador-At-Large for International Religious Freedom, expressing their outrage at the charging against the parliament member for expressing her religious beliefs.
The House of Representative members believe that the point of this trial is to use Räsänen as an example to discourage others from expressing their religious thoughts, not only because of the threat of being charged legally but also because of the social stigma that would now come with it.
Finland's Prosecutor General brought about three charges on Räsänen for her comments on Twitter regarding her church's LGBTQ support in 2019, her participation in a debate in a talk show in 2019, and for a pamphlet she wrote in 2004.
Freedom of Speech
While many see freedom of speech as a fundamental human right, some fail to see that it has limitations and doesn't give people the right to speak hatefully about others. Since hate speech can cause harm to other people, it can fall outside the umbrella of freedom of speech. In Finland, hate speech laws aim to prevent discrimination or hatred toward a group of people, mainly based on race, nationality, religion, sexual orientation, or disability.
It really comes down to whether Räsänen's tweet was hateful to the LGBTQ community. The legal process will determine whether this is the case by examining the evidence, conducting interviews, and questioning the individual. She could face tens of thousands of dollars in fines if found guilty.
This ruling could be a landmark decision on how they will handle situations like this in the future. Whether what she said is determined as hateful or not may have an impact on Twitter's terms of service and Finland's laws on hate speech.