U.S. Department of State Annual Report on International Religious Freedom for 2002 - Finland

The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the Government generally respects this right in practice. According to law, the Evangelical Lutheran Church and the Orthodox Church are the established state churches.

There was no change in the status of respect for religious freedom during the period covered by this report, and government policy continued to contribute to the generally free practice of religion. However, the court has denied registration to the Finnish Association of Scientologists.

The generally amicable relationship among religions in society contributed to religious freedom.

The U.S. Government discusses religious freedom issues with the Government in the context of its overall dialog and policy of promoting human rights.

Section I. Religious Demography

The country has a total area of 130,127 square miles, and its population is approximately 5.2 million. The majority of the population belongs to one of the two state churches. Approximately 86 percent are members of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, and 1 percent belong to the Orthodox Church. An additional 1 percent belong to a wide variety of nonstate religions, and approximately 12 percent do not profess any religious affiliation.

Active members of the state Lutheran Church attend services regularly, participate in small church group activities, and vote in parish elections. However, the majority of church members are only nominal members of the state church and do not participate actively. Their participation occurs mainly during occasions such as holidays, weddings, and funerals. The Lutheran Church estimates that approximately 2 percent of its members attend church services weekly, and 10 percent monthly. The average number of visits to church by church members per year is approximately two.

Nontraditional religious groups freely profess and propagate their beliefs. Such groups as members of Jehovah's Witnesses and members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Mormons) have been active in the country for decades. Other groups include the Catholic, Muslim, and Jewish communities.

There is an extremely small but growing immigrant population, whose members tend to practice different faiths than those of most citizens. Many immigrants are Muslims from Somalia.

Section II. Status of Religious Freedom

Legal/Policy Framework

The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the Government generally respects this right in practice. There are two state churches: the Evangelical Lutheran Church and the Orthodox Church. All citizens who belong to one of these state churches pay a church tax as part of their income tax. Those who do not want to pay the tax must inform the applicable state church that they are leaving that church. These church taxes are used to defray the costs of running the state churches. State churches also handle services such as recording births, deaths, and marriages, which for citizens outside these churches are handled by official state registrars. Nontraditional religious groups are eligible for some tax relief (for example, they may receive tax-free donations), provided that they are registered with, and recognized by, the Government as religious communities.

The Ministry of Education has outlined requirements for recognition of religious communities. Religious groups should have at least 20 members. The purpose of the group should be the public practice of religion, and the activities of the group should be guided by a set of rules. The Government recognizes 45 of these communities as churches.

The Government's procedures for recognizing religious communities are still under review. The Law on Freedom of Religion, which has been described as technically unclear, dates from 1923; draft amendments proposed by a government commission in 1999 aim to clarify the requirements for recognizing and registering religious communities, and to increase opportunities to practice one's faith and to belong to several religious groups simultaneously. The Government still was considering the commission's proposals and planned to introduce the bill to Parliament by the end of June 2002. The amended law would no longer ban simultaneous membership in several religious groups but would allow religious organizations themselves to regulate membership. In addition, minors over 12 years of age would have the option to change their religious affiliation from that of their parents. The proposed legislation also would reduce restrictions on the organization and operations of religious communities, facilitate the registration as churches of religious groups, and enhance their independence. The amendments also call for a separate law on funerals. Under present practices, persons not belonging to an established church often are subject to excessive burial expenses.

Instruction in the tenets of the state religions is incorporated into the curriculum of all public schools. However, students who are not members of the state churches may substitute general classes on religion and philosophy. The new amendments would allow parents or guardians belonging to other faiths or denominations to decide in what religion their children should be instructed.

The Constitution prohibits discrimination based on religion. Various government programs available through the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Labor focus on ongoing discrimination, including discrimination based on religion. Studies and research, integration programs, and recommendations for further incorporation of immigrants into society have been the focal points of these programs. Religion has not been highlighted in particular, but remains a part of the Government's overall attempts to combat discrimination.

Restrictions on Religious Freedom

In 1998 the Education Ministry turned down the application of the Finnish Association of Scientologists to be registered as a religious community. This was the first time in the country's history that an applicant had been denied church status. The Scientologists' application had been pending for nearly 3 years while the Government awaited additional information that it had requested from the Association. In 1999 the Scientologists appealed the decision to the Parliamentary Ombudsman, who ruled that although the Education Ministry had made minor procedural errors, its actions had been substantively correct under the law. The Education Ministry's decision may be appealed to the Supreme Administrative Court. The Scientologists have not yet done so but have indicated that they intend to begin the process to appeal to the Supreme Administrative Court.

There were no reports of religious prisoners or detainees.

Forced Religious Conversion

There were no reports of forced religious conversion, including of minor U.S. citizens who had been abducted or illegally removed from the United States, or of the refusal to allow such citizens to be returned to the United States.

Section III. Societal Attitudes

The generally amicable relationship among religions in society contributed to religious freedom.

Some citizens are not very receptive to proselytizing by adherents of nontraditional faiths, in part due to the tendency to regard religion as a private matter.

Nontraditional religious groups practice their religions freely. They generally are free from discrimination despite intolerant attitudes from some members of society.

Immigrants do not encounter difficulties in practicing their faiths; however, they sometimes encounter random discrimination and xenophobia.

The state churches often speak out in support of the Finnish/Nordic welfare state model, couching social welfare state values in religious or moral terms.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy

The U.S. Embassy discusses religious freedom issues with the Government in the context of its overall dialog and policy promoting human rights. Embassy representatives periodically meet with representatives of the various religious communities (both mainstream and nontraditional) to discuss religious freedom issues.

This report is submitted to the Congress by the Department of State in compliance with Section 102(b) of the International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA) of 1998. The law provides that the Secretary of State, with the assistance of the Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom, shall transmit to Congress "an Annual Report on International Religious Freedom supplementing the most recent Human Rights Reports by providing additional detailed information with respect to matters involving international religious freedom." This Annual Report includes 195 reports on countries worldwide. The 2002 Report covers the period from July 1, 2001, to June 30, 2002.

This is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.