The constitution stipulates freedom of religion and conscience, including the right to profess and practice a religion, to express one’s convictions, and to be a member or decline to be a member of a religious community. It states no one is under the obligation to participate in the practice of a religion and prohibits discrimination based on religion. A law criminalizes the “breach of the sanctity of religion,” including blasphemy against God, publicly defaming or desecrating for the purpose of offending something a church or religious community holds sacred, and disturbing worship or 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. According to the Ministry of Education, there are currently 100 recognized religious communities, most of which have multiple congregations. Persons may 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. Membership can be terminated by contacting the official congregation or the local government registration office, which can now be done electronically or in person. Local parishes have fiscal autonomy to decide how to use funding received from taxes levied on their members.
Registered religious communities other than the ELC and the Orthodox Church are also eligible to apply for state funds. The law states registered religious communities that 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.
The ELC and the Orthodox Church are required to maintain cemeteries and account for the spending of public funds. All religious communities may own and manage property and hire staff, including appointing clergy. The law authorizes the ELC and the Orthodox Church to register births, marriages, and deaths for their members in collaboration with the government’s Population Register Center. State registrars do this for other persons.
Parents may determine the religious affiliation of their children under 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. Students 18 or older 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 parents decide in which religious education course the student participates.
Religious education focuses on familiarizing students with their own religion, other religions, and general instruction in ethics; it does not include religious worship. Although teachers of religion must have the required state-legislated and regulated training for religious instruction, they are not required to belong to any religious community. The National Board of Education provides a series of textbooks about Orthodox and Lutheran Christianity, Catholicism, Judaism, and Islam, as well as a textbook on secular ethics.
The government allows conscientious objectors to choose alternative civilian service instead of compulsory military 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 prison terms of up to 173 days, which is equal to one-half of the 347 days of alternative civilian service. Regular military service varies between 165 and 347 days.
A new Nondiscrimination Act, which explicitly prohibits religious discrimination, and a related law establishing a Nondiscrimination Ombudsman responsible for supervising compliance with the act, became effective on January 1.
The law bans certain types of animal slaughter, requiring that animals be stunned prior to slaughter. The law provides allowances for religious slaughter, stating that the animals must be killed and stunned simultaneously.