The constitution states “everyone has the freedom of religion and conscience.” According to the constitution, freedom of religion entails the right to profess and practice a religion, the right to express one’s convictions and the right to be a member of or decline to be a member of a religious community. It also states no one is under the obligation to participate in the practice of a religion. The law includes regulations on registered religious communities and religious education and ethics in public schools. The constitution and other laws prohibit discrimination based on religion. The law criminalizes the “breach of the sanctity of religion,” including prevention of worship, and disturbances of funeral ceremonies.
The law requires religious communities to register to be eligible to apply for government funds. To register, a religious community must have at least 20 members, have as its purpose the public practice of religion, and be guided in its activities by a set of rules. There are currently 100 recognized religious communities, most of which have multiple congregations. The law allows persons to belong to more than one religious community. Registration as a nonprofit religious community allows a community to form a legal entity that may employ persons, purchase property, and make legal claims.
All citizens who belong to either the ELC or the Orthodox Church pay a church tax set at 1 to 2 percent of income, varying by congregation, as part of their income tax. These taxes are not levied on any other religious groups. Those who do not want to pay the tax must terminate their ELC or Orthodox congregation membership. Local parishes have fiscal autonomy to decide how to use funding received from taxes levied on their members. Membership can be terminated by contacting the official congregation or the local government registration office, which can now be done electronically as well as in person.
Registered religious communities other than the ELC and the Orthodox Church are also eligible to apply for state funds. Registration as a nonprofit religious community allows a community to form a legal entity that may employ persons, purchase property, and make legal claims. The law states registered religious communities which meet the statutory requirements (number of members and other income through donations) may receive an annual subsidy from the government budget in proportion to the religious community’s percentage of the population. During the year, 200,000 euros ($243,000) were allocated to 24 registered communities, amounting on average to 4-5 euros ($5-6) per member. The government also granted separate funding for refurbishment projects for registered community premises.
The ELC and the Orthodox Church are required to maintain cemetery property and account for the spending of public funds on their employment of staff. Other religious communities may own and manage property and make their own labor arrangements, including appointing clergy. The law provides the ELC and the Orthodox Church the ability to register births, marriages, and deaths for their members in collaboration with the Population Register Center, the national registry under Ministry of Finance purview. State registrars do this for other persons.
Parents may determine the religious affiliation of their children less than 12 years of age. A child between the ages of 12 and 17 must express in writing his or her desire to change or terminate religious affiliation.
All public schools provide religious teaching in accordance with the religion of the students. Students who do not belong to a religion study ethics. Adult students (18 years of age) may choose to study either subject. Schools must provide religious instruction in religions other than the Lutheran faith if there is a minimum of three pupils representing that faith in the municipal region, the religious community in question is registered, and the students’ families belong to the religious community. If a student belongs to more than one religious community, the parent decides in which religious education course the student participates. Religious education focuses on familiarizing students with their own religion, other religions, and Finnish traditions of belief; it does not include religious worship. Although the teacher must have the required state-legislated and regulated training for religious instruction, the teacher does not have to belong to any religious community. The National Board of Education provides a series of textbooks about Orthodoxy, Catholicism, Judaism, and Islam, as well as a textbook on secular ethics.
The government allows conscientious objectors to choose alternative civilian service; only Jehovah’s Witnesses are specifically exempt from performing both military and alternative civilian service. Other conscientious objectors who refuse both military and alternative civilian service may be sentenced to imprisonment. Conscientious objectors serve prison terms of 173 days – the maximum legal sentence – which is equal to one-half of the 347 days of alternative civilian service. Regular military service varies between 165 and 347 days.
The law bans certain types of animal slaughter, requiring that animals be stunned prior to slaughter. The law does provide allowances for religious slaughter, but stipulates that these animals must be killed and stunned simultaneously.