In March the National Police Board filed a suit against the PVL with the Pirkanmaa District Court. According to national broadcaster Yle, the police accused the PVL of being “violent and racist” and aimed to outlaw the group and ban it from demonstrating, recruiting, or disseminating material. Court proceedings began on August 29. On November 30, the court ruled in favor of the police. It was the first such court-ordered ban on an organization since the 1970s. The PVL appealed the ruling, and the appeal remained pending at year’s end.
The Helsinki police created a 10-person unit with a mandate specifically to address crimes that involved infringements of the right of individuals to practice their religion. Nationwide, municipal police departments designated and trained 42 officers to become anti-hate crime instructors, and the National Bureau of Investigation created five new positions to investigate hate speech online.
According to the Ministry of Defense, there were 38 objectors to both military and alternative civilian service during 2016, the most recent year for which complete statistics were available. The ministry did not indicate how many of these individuals objected to service for religious reasons.
Leaders of the Jewish and Muslim communities continued to raise concern about the long-standing ban against certain types of animal slaughter, which they said prevented them from killing the animals in a religiously prescribed manner. Because the animals could not be slaughtered in a religiously approved manner domestically, members of these communities imported meat at higher prices. Government officials stated a provision in the law allowing simultaneous stunning and slaughter of animals was meant to accommodate religious slaughter.
Ministry of Social Affairs and Health guidelines discouraged circumcision of males, including through dialogue with religious communities, and continued to withhold public healthcare funding for such procedures. In its guidelines, the ministry stated that nonmedical circumcision of boys should only be performed by licensed physicians, a child’s guardians should be informed of the risks and irreversibility of the procedure, and it should not be carried out on boys old enough to understand the procedure without their consent. There was no formal legislation prohibiting circumcision of boys and no criminal liability for individuals who did not follow the ministry’s guidelines. Religious communities, including members of Muslim and Jewish communities, expressed disagreement with the guidelines; however, the ministry stated it had not received any protest from religious representatives regarding the requirement that only a licensed doctor perform circumcision.
There were at least two incidents in which politicians made discriminatory remarks aimed at Muslims on social media. In January a district court in Jyvaskyla found Member of Parliament Teuvo Hakkarainen (from the opposition Finns Party) guilty of incitement of racial hatred for a post he wrote on Facebook in 2016 that stated, “All Muslims are not terrorists but all terrorists are Muslims.” The court ordered Hakkarainen to pay a 1,160 euro ($1,400) fine and required him to remove the Facebook post. On multiple occasions, Juusi Halla-aho, Chair of the Finns Party, posted public comments on his Facebook profile criticizing Muslims in the country.
According to a September reporting by Yle, more than 400 (mostly Lutheran) priests signed a petition requesting the immigration service consult with them during the asylum application process regarding applicants who had converted to Christianity (Yle estimated in July that several hundred Muslim asylum seekers had converted to Christianity in “recent years”). The priests stated they feared asylum applicants who converted to Christianity while in the country could face persecution if returned to some majority-Muslim countries of origin. Additionally, media reports and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) raised concerns that some officials at the immigration service who conducted asylum interviews lacked adequate knowledge about the converts’ religions. The Finnish Ecumenical Council, an organization that described itself as aiming to promote unity among Christian denominations, established a dialogue with the Finnish Immigration Service on this issue, which it characterized as “constructive.”
News reporting and NGOs also stated there was a need for improved interpreting services for asylum seekers, particularly during interviews that included religious terminology. In response, the immigration service published press releases in June and July titled “How does converting to Christianity affect asylum applications?” and “Converting to Christianity will not automatically result in the granting of asylum.” The press releases highlighted the country’s commitment to freedom of religion and stated officials examined each asylum application individually.
The government again allocated 114 million euros ($136.85 million) to the ELC and 2.5 million euros ($3 million) to the Orthodox Church. The Ministry of Education and Culture allotted 524,000 euros ($630,000) to 28 religious organizations for various projects.
In May the Ministry of Education and Culture awarded a total of 80,000 euros ($96,000) to promote interfaith dialogue. Four organizations received funding for their projects: The National Forum for Cooperation of Religions in Finland (CORE); Filoksenia, an organization promoting cultural tolerance; Fokus, an interfaith and intercultural organization; and Ad Astra, a multicultural organization for youth.
Prime Minister Juha Sipila and all of the parliamentary party chairs signed a joint statement on September 6 that condemned terrorism, hate speech, including speech motivated by discrimination against religion, and violence.
The government is a member of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance.