On March 30, a Finnish court decision brought good news to everyone who loves freedom of speech and religion. Finnish MP Päivi Räsänen, who was on trial for hate speech for expressing convictions that arise out of her Christian faith, was acquitted on all counts. Her views cut to the heart of the prevailing view of sexuality today in the West. On Twitter and Facebook, she posted content calling homosexuality “dishonorable,” “contrary to nature,” and “shameless.”
This trial garnered international attention largely because Räsänen was charged with hate speech not just because she expressed her views in her own words, but because she quoted the Bible. In protest against her church’s sponsorship of an LGBT pride event in 2019, she posted a link to Romans 1:24-27, which condemns homosexuality in no uncertain terms:
Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen. For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error. (English Standard Version)
To understand this case, it is helpful to read this passage carefully. It shows how counter-cultural the Bible can be for twenty-first-century Westerners. Even many traditional Christians, who hold the Bible to be the infallible and inerrant Word of God, cannot help but cringe a bit at the harsh, unadulterated condemnation of homosexual practice in this passage. After all, virtually every authoritative voice in our culture, and everything we see and hear in everyday life, tell us that one’s sexual orientation is natural and not subject to morality, and that the free expression of almost every sexual preference is a positive good. As many people would put it, how could a person be condemned for loving someone, no matter what their sexual orientation or chosen gender?
So we should not be surprised that someone was finally prosecuted for referring to the Bible’s message on homosexuality. It could have happened anywhere in the West. The Räsänen prosecution did nothing more than draw a logical conclusion from the ideological shift that has occurred in the course of recent decades, not just in Finland but also in the United States, Canada, and the rest of Western Europe. In today’s West, our cultural and social sensibilities are shaped by the idea of the complete moral autonomy of every individual, the absolute “right to choose” for oneself what is right and what is wrong. We ground human dignity itself in every person’s right to have their sexual and gender choices not only tolerated, but celebrated in law and society. Now that this type of instinctive secularist progressivism has become the cultural norm, Romans 1:24-27 is hate speech.
For the moment, the Finnish court has ruled that “it is not for the district court to interpret biblical concepts.” That is worth celebrating. But this case will not be the end of progressive secularism’s attack on any forms of religion that uphold the moral orthodoxy of traditional marriage, consisting of the exclusive, monogamous, and permanent union of husband and wife. That goes above all for Christianity which, as the most formative religion of the West, is held responsible for what secularist progressives see as its oppressive denial of choice: of all the possibilities for human fulfillment that progressives believe are opened up by today’s rainbow diversity of sexual choices and possibilities. Human fulfillment is having free access to a rainbow of choice—the “right to choose” is justice.
From this perspective, it makes sense that freedom of speech and religion would tend to be secondary considerations. Secularist progressives are wedded to the idea that choice is justice, and that justice trumps every other consideration. Freedom of religion and freedom of speech are important, but they are not absolute. These and any other freedoms are inviolable only in so far as they promote justice. If the views of traditional religious people violate justice, then those views must be suppressed. And if traditional religious people insist on expressing their justice-violating views, they must be punished.
How do we overcome this problem? Is it possible to preserve religious freedom and freedom of speech in the long term if secularist progressivism remains the cultural norm? I don’t know. But perhaps we can start by locating the nature of the problem. The reigning progressivism of Western culture elevates an ideal—the ideal of a perfectly just society—above people. Those of us who believe in religious freedom must call our society to recover its commitment to people, in all their individual, ideological, and religious diversity, above abstract ideals.
Christians are particularly well-equipped for this task. They know that all persons possess equal dignity because all persons are created in God’s image. Christians also believe that all persons, including themselves, are flawed—sinful—and limited in knowledge and experience. Thus, all persons are called to respect the dignity and rights of others as fellow image-bearers of God, while guarding humility in their attitude toward themselves, constantly calling to mind their own imperfections and limitations. This is a perspective that can attract all people of good will, Christian or not, in that it values the freedom of every person, and militates against the idea of sacrificing freedom—or the wisdom of the ages—to abstract ideals of justice.
The same Bible that was charged in Finland with being a source of hate speech also supplies the surest foundation for human freedom, dignity, and equality the world has ever known.
Todd Huizinga is Senior Fellow, Europe for the Religious Freedom Institute. He is the author of The New Totalitarian Temptation: Global Governance and the Crisis of Democracy in Europe (New York: Encounter Books).