The constitution and other laws and policies protect religious freedom, including 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. The law criminalizes the breach of the sanctity of religion, prevention of worship, and breach of the sanctity of the grave.
The ELC and Orthodox Church are autonomous. The government has no legal authority to alter the content of proposals from their governing bodies and the president does not appoint bishops. Local parishes have economic independence as the current taxation system guarantees financial autonomy to the church. Members, civic organizations, and corporations are required to pay church taxes, with some exceptions. The ELC has the right to levy taxes from church members to fund youth programs, church staffing, and building maintenance. It also maintains the country’s cemeteries.
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 church owns and manages its own property and labor arrangements. The church can register births, marriages, and deaths in collaboration with the Population Register Center, the national registry under ministry of finance purview. State registrars do this for other persons. 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. Church and municipal taxes help defray the cost of running the churches.
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.
The law 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 80 recognized religious groups, most of which have multiple congregations. The act allows persons to belong to more than one religious group.
All public schools provide religious teaching in accordance with the religion of the majority, as well as broader philosophical instruction; adult students (18 years of age) may choose to study either subject. Students who do not belong to any religion may choose either religious education or philosophical instruction. If a student belongs to more than one religious community, the parent decides in which religious education the student participates.
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 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 in proportion to the religious group’s percent of the population.
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.
The government is a member of the Task Force for International Cooperation on Holocaust Education, Remembrance, and Research.
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.