The constitution and other laws and policies generally 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 (e.g., disturbances of funeral ceremonies).
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. For these two groups, church and municipal taxes help to fund youth programs, church staffing, and maintenance of religious building and cemeteries. Both the ELC and the Orthodox Church own and manage their property and make their own labor arrangements. Both can register births, marriages, and deaths for its members 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.
The ELC and Orthodox Church are autonomous. The government has no legal authority to alter the content of proposals from the churches’ governing bodies or to appoint clergy. Local parishes have fiscal autonomy to decide how to use funding received from taxes levied on their members.
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 96 recognized religious groups, most of which have multiple congregations. The law allows persons to belong to more than one religious group.
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 percentage of the population.
All public schools provide religious teaching in accordance with the religion of the students, or broader philosophical instruction for students who do not belong to a religion. 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 religion in question must be registered in Finland and the students’ families must belong to the religion. If a student belongs to more than one religious community, the parent decides in which religious education course the student participates. Religious education in Finland is non-confessional, does not include religious worship, and although the teacher must have the required training for religious instruction, the teacher does not have to belong to any religious community. The Finnish 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 imprisoned. A working group established in 2012 by the defense minister continues to review the exemption granted to Jehovah’s Witnesses in comparison to the lack of exemption for other groups. 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 government is a member of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, formerly the Task Force for International Cooperation on Holocaust Education, Remembrance, and Research.