CESNUR - center for studies on new religions
Department Seal 2000 Annual Report on International Religious Freedom:

Released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor
U.S. Department of State, September 5, 2000


The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the Government generally respects this right in practice.

There was no change in the status of respect for religious freedom during the period covered by this report.

Both government policy and the generally amicable relationship among religions in society contribute to the free practice of religion.

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. Government Policies on Freedom of Religion

Legal/Policy Framework

The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the Government 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. 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 normally would be handled by municipalities and counties. Those who do not want to pay the tax must inform the applicable state church that they are leaving that church. All religions are eligible for some tax relief (e.g., they may receive tax-free donations), provided they are registered with 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 community should be guided by a set of rules. Forty-five of these communities currently are recognized as churches.

The Government's procedures for recognizing religious communities are still under review. The current Law on Freedom of Religion, which has been described as technically unclear, dates from 1923, and proposed amendments 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 commission working on the amendments submitted an interim report to the Ministry of Education in October 1999. The amended law would--for the first time--define what it means to "profess" and "practice" a religion. The registration, as churches, of religious groups would be facilitated and their independence would be enhanced. The interim law also proposes that a separate law on funerals be passed. Under present practices, those not belonging to an established church often are subject to excessive burial expenses.

The proposed amendments also could benefit Scientology, which has failed to gain recognition as a religion. In December 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. (The Association acknowledged that it had not followed up on the Government's request.) The Education Ministry's decision can be appealed to the Supreme Administrative Court. The Scientologists have not yet done so but have indicated that they intend to begin the process anew and reapply for recognition as a church.

Religious Demography

The majority of the population belongs to one of the two state churches. Eighty-six percent are members of the Evangelical Lutheran Church and 1 percent belong to the Orthodox Church. Twelve percent of the population do not belong to any religious denomination.

Nontraditional religious groups freely profess and propagate their beliefs. Such groups as Jehovah's Witnesses and 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. However, the number of persons belonging to non-state religions totals only 1 percent of the population.

The proposed amendments to the Law on Religion also could change religious instruction in public schools. Currently, 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/denominations to decide in what religion their children should be instructed.

There was no change in the status of respect for religious freedom during the period covered by this report.

There were no reports of religious detainees or prisoners.

Forced Conversion of Minor U.S. Citizens

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

Section II. Societal Attitudes

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's Information Center reports that in 1998 2 percent of members attended church services weekly, and 10 percent attended monthly. The average number of visits to church by church members was 1.7 during 1998.

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 intolerant attitudes from some members of society.

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

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.

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 III. U.S. Government Policy

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

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