U.S. Department of State Annual Report on International Religious Freedom for 2004 - Finland

Released by the U.S. Department of State Bureau for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor on September 15, 2004, covers the period from July 1, 2003, to June 30, 2004.

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.

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

The U.S. Government discusses religious freedom issues with the Government as part of its overall policy to promote 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. Approximately 84.1 percent are members of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, and one percent belongs to the Orthodox Church. The new Religious Freedom Act that took effect on August 1, 2003, which facilitated procedures for leaving the Lutheran Church, may account for the increase in number of persons leaving the Church during the reporting period. It was reported in February that 26,857 persons left the Lutheran Church, which is nearly 11,000 more than in 2002. Adding to the loss, the number of new members was a few hundred below the previous corresponding figure.

An additional 1 percent belongs to the Pentecostal Church. Various other nonstate religions have approximately 44,000 members. In the past decade, the number of Muslims has grown from 1,000 to approximately 20,000; many of them are immigrants. The largest single group is Somalis, but the community also includes North Africans, Bosnians, peninsula Arabs, Tartars, Turks, Iraqis, and others. Today, there are close to 20 registered Muslim mosques or religious communities. Approximately 10 percent of the population does not belong to any religious group.

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 church visits per year by church members is approximately two. In March the Lutheran Church conducted a study among its employees regarding their religious commitment, which showed that 10 percent of the interviewed were either weakly or not at all committed to the church doctrines. Nonetheless, as many as 70 percent of the rest were strongly committed. The Lutheran Archbishop was satisfied with the results.

Nontraditional religious groups freely profess and propagate. Mormons have been active in the country for decades. Other groups include the Catholic, Muslim, and Jewish communities.

A Gallup poll conducted in October showed that citizens hold more positive views of Christian churches and religious groups than in the past. Over one half of the interviewed citizens believed that one is accountable for one's deeds in the afterlife. Seventy-seven percent hold a positive view of the Lutheran Church, 65 percent of the Salvation Army, and 62 percent of the Orthodox Church. However, over 60 percent of citizens hold negative views about Jehovah's Witnesses and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons). Only 10 percent of citizens hold a favorable opinion of Islam, although this percentage increased since past polls. The same poll also found that opinions toward Judaism had intensified. Many respondents previously had selected the 'no opinion' option in previous polls when asked about Judaism; however, this most recent poll indicated that both positive and negative attitudes toward Judaism had grown.

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. The 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. Official state registrars handle these services for citizens outside these churches. 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.

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 55 communities as religious groups.

The new Religious Freedom Act, which was passed in February 2003 and took effect on August 1, 2003, also includes regulations on registered religious communities. Their autonomy was increased, and the law on associations is applied to them extensively. As in the old law, a minimum of 20 members is required to form a religious organization. Furthermore, the new law no longer prevents a person from being a member of several religious communities simultaneously. The religious communities will decide independently whether or not their members can belong to other religious communities as well. The 1-month reconsideration period and the personal notice of resignation have been abandoned. Resignation can be submitted by mail, and it will take effect immediately upon receipt.

The law also replaced the concept of confessional religious instruction in primary and secondary schools is replaced by instruction in an individual's personal faith. A pupil has the right to obtain instruction in his or her personal faith and is responsible for attending classes in it. Teachers in Evangelical Lutheran Orthodox schools no longer must be members of a particular church.

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

Restrictions on Religious Freedom

Government policy and practice contributed to the generally free practice of religion. An application by Wicca practitioners to become an officially recognized religious community was denied during the reporting period; the Wiccans have appealed this decision.

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.

Abuses by Terrorist Organizations

There were no reported abuses targeted at specific religions by terrorist organizations during the period covered by this report.

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 are generally free from discrimination despite the negative views some citizens hold about their faiths.

Immigrants do not encounter difficulties in practicing their faiths; however, they sometimes encounter random incidents of racism or xenophobia in civil society. An issue raising a fair amount of discussion among the clergy is whether registered couples of the same sex should be given the blessings of the Church. The annual meeting of the Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in 2003 decided to table two opposite proposals: one banning access to Church offices for those living in a same-sex relationship registered with civil authorities, and the other supporting Church blessings for such couples. No decision had been made because of the controversy involved.

The state churches often speak out in support of the national/Nordic welfare state model, couching social welfare state values in religious or moral terms. Speaking at the opening of the Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in May, the Bishop of Espoo expressed his position on the Kyoto Climate agreement, encouraging the Government not to withdraw from it because of short-term national interests. A senior politician of the Green Party, one of the country's major political parties, concentrating on environmental and human rights related issues, immediately commended the Church for taking a stance on an issue that was not directly related to religion, but to the general welfare of people.

The country has a small, assimilated Jewish community. It is the policy of the Jewish Community to document incidents of anti-Semitism and ask prosecuting authorities to prosecute them. During the first half of the year, according to the Jewish community, a case involving the publication and distribution of anti-Semitic material resulted in a conviction. Many citizens are critical of Israeli policy in the Occupied Territories, and support for the Palestinians is strong; this sometimes leads to rhetoric that some observers believe skirts the line between legitimate criticism and anti-Semitism. There is also concern about offensive political caricatures or cartoons in some media.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy

The U.S. Government discusses religious freedom issues with the Government as part of its overall policy to promote human rights.

In the spring, the Embassy hosted two roundtables on the assimilation and integration into society of Muslim immigrants and refugees. The roundtables attracted a diverse group of immigrants to the country, including participants from Iraq, Iran, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Afghanistan, Ghana, Turkey, and Bangladesh. Participants discussed the challenges of maintaining their unique cultural and religious identities while simultaneously becoming full and active members of their new homeland. Because of the success of these roundtable discussions, the Embassy plans to continue to host periodically meetings of leaders and activists in the country's Muslim community.

In June, the Embassy partnered with the Government and STETE, a local nongovernmental organization (NGO), to cosponsor a conference on anti-Semitism in Europe at the Parliament. The Embassy facilitated the participation of Deidre Berger of the American-Jewish Committee of Berlin. The conference featured remarks by the country's Minister for Justice, Johannes Koskinen, as well as presentations by European diplomats, the country's Jewish community, NGOs, and the media. The Embassy also hosted earlier in 2004 a visit by the State Department's Deputy Director in the Office of Holocaust Issues. He met with governmental officials at the Ministry for Foreign Affairs, Ministry for Social Affairs, and Ministry for Education, and secured the government's participation for the first time in the Holocaust Task Force's annual plenary session in June.

In May, the Embassy organized a voluntary visitor program to the United States for officials to discuss ways to combat trafficking-in-persons; a representative from the Lutheran Church participated in the program. The Embassy is working with the Lutheran Church to develop proactive measures in areas such as victim assistance as part of a coordinated approach to stopping regional trafficking of women and girls.


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