The constitution and other laws and policies protect religious freedom. The law includes the right to profess and practice religion and to express personal belief. Everyone has the right to belong, or to decline to belong, to a religious community. The constitution prohibits discrimination based on religion. There are two state churches: the ELC and the Orthodox Church.
Parents may determine the religious affiliation of their children under 12 years old, through baptism, for example. A child between the age of 12 and 17 years old must express in writing his or her desire to change or terminate religious affiliation.
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. The ELC receives some income from municipal taxes as well. The church owns and manages its own property and labor arrangements. The church can officially register births, marriages, and deaths. Those who do not want to pay the tax must terminate their membership. Membership can be terminated by contacting the official congregation or the local government registration office.
Church and municipal taxes help defray the cost of running the churches. The state churches record births, deaths, and marriages for members; state registrars do this for other persons.
The 2003 Religious Freedom Act includes regulations on registered religious communities. To be recognized, a religious group 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 50 recognized religious groups, most of which have multiple congregations. The act allows persons to belong to more than one denomination; however, most religious communities do not allow their members to do so.
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 the community to form a legal entity that may employ people, purchase property, and make legal claims. The law provides that 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. During the year 200,000 euros ($268,000) were allocated to 18 communities, amounting to 4.57 euros ($6.12) per member.
The government does not have a general policy for conscientious objection; only Jehovah’s Witnesses are specifically exempt from performing both military and alternative civilian service.
The government observes the following religious holidays as national holidays: Epiphany, Good Friday, Easter Monday, Ascension Day, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and the Second Day of Christmas.