Finland - Religion
Most Finns belong formally to the Evangelical-Lutheran Church, but people in general are fairly secular in their views. Despite this, the Church and its ministers are held in high esteem, and personal religious views are respected. It is difficult to observe differences between believers and everyone else in everyday life, except perhaps that the former lead more abstemious lives. The number of immigrants in Finland is growing, and increasing contacts with other religions in recent years have increased the Finns’ knowledge of them, although there is still much to be desired in their tolerance for people with different religions and cultures.
The U.S. government estimates the total population at 5.5 million (July 2018 estimate). The government statistics office estimates that, as of December 2017, approximately 71 percent of the population belongs to the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland (ELC) and 1.1 percent to the Finnish Orthodox Church, while 0.3 percent identifies as Muslim, and 26.3 percent does not identify as belonging to any religious group. Census results combine the other minority religious communities, including Jehovah’s Witnesses, Roman Catholics, Pentecostals, Seventh-day Adventists, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Jews, and the Free Church of Finland, which together account for 1.3 percent of the population.
The constitution bars discrimination based on religion “without an acceptable reason.” It stipulates freedom of religion and conscience, including the right to profess and practice a religion, to express one’s convictions, and to be a member or decline to be a member of a religious community. It states no one is under the obligation to participate in the practice of a religion. The law criminalizes the “breach of the sanctity of religion,” which includes blaspheming against God, publicly defaming or desecrating to offend something a religious community holds sacred, and disturbing worship or funeral ceremonies. Violators are subject to fines or imprisonment for up to six months. Authorities have rarely applied the law, most recently in 2009.
All citizens who belong to either the ELC or Orthodox Church pay a church tax, collected together with their income tax payments. Congregations collectively decide the church tax amount, now set at between 1 to 2 percent of member income. Those who do not want to pay the tax must terminate their ELC or Orthodox congregation membership. Members may terminate their membership by contacting the official congregation or the local government registration office, either electronically or in person. Local parishes have fiscal autonomy to decide how to use funding received from taxes levied on their members.
All public schools provide religious teaching in accordance with students’ religion. All students must take courses either in ethics or in religious studies, with the choice left up to the student. 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 religious community in question is registered, and the students’ families belong to the religious community. Students who do not belong to a religious group or belong to a religious group for which special instruction is not available may study ethics. Students age 18 or older may choose to study either the religious courses pertaining to their religion or ethics. If a student belongs to more than one religious community, the parents decide in which religious education course the student participates. The government does not prohibit or restrict private religiously based schools.
Religious education focuses on familiarizing students with their own religion, other religions, and general instruction in ethics. Teachers of religion must have the required state-mandated training for religious instruction. The state appoints them, and they are not required to belong to any religious community. The National Board of Education provides a series of textbooks about Orthodox and Lutheran Christianity, Catholicism, Judaism, and Islam, as well as a textbook on secular ethics.
According to a survey from the Ministry of Education and Culture (MEC), the Muslim population was approximately 65,000 in 2016; Muslim religious leaders estimate the number rose to 100,000 in 2018, of which approximately 80 percent are Sunni and 20 percent Shia. With the exception of Tatars, most Muslims are immigrants or descendants of immigrants who arrived in recent decades from Somalia and North Africa, Iraq, Afghanistan, the Balkans, Syria, Turkey, and Iran. The Muslim population has been growing rapidly in recent years because of a significant inflow of immigrants.
In September 2018 an appeals court upheld a 2017 lower court ban of the Nordic Resistance Movement (NRM), the largest neo-Nazi group in the country. After its banning, the NRM continued to publish anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim language online, as did other groups. On 28 September 2018, the Court of Appeals in Turku upheld a 2017 Pirkanmaa District Court ban on the NRM, its regional chapters, and the NRM-linked Nordic Tradition group, which had distributed anti-Semitic and anti-Islamic material and spoken out against what the group called “the criminal capitalist world order and Zionism.” The NRM criticized the decision and stated the prohibition would lead to greater popular support, citing an October announcement of solidarity from the Soldiers of Odin, an anti-immigrant group.
Kansallismielisten Liittouma (Nationalist Alliance), established in 2017, mobilized hundreds of demonstrators to an August rally in Turku commemorating the one-year anniversary of a terrorist attack by a Moroccan migrant to whom authorities had denied asylum. The alliance described itself as a network for associated far-right groups in the country and contained members of established groups such as NRM, Soldiers of Odin, Finnish Defense League, and Suomen Sisu. Member of Parliament Ritva Elomaa of the Finns Party participated in the demonstration and gave a public statement of support. The demonstration sparked an anti-Neo-Nazi demonstration of approximately 1,000 marchers who condemned the presence of what they called Neo-Nazis in the city.
The website Magneettimedia, known for its anti-Semitic content, continued to post defamatory statements online. In September it published an article entitled “The Concentration of Power in the Jewish Elite” stating that the “global Jewish or Zionist conspiracy” is behind “the collapse of modern society.” The former owner of Magneettimedia, Juha Karkkainen, continued to publish anti-Semitic editorials in the newspaper KauppaSuomi, a periodical available through his large chain of department stores with what it said was a circulation of 270,000. In addition to these two outlets, online Finnish media outlets critical of Islam and Judaism increased in popularity, notably Oikea Media and Kansalainen.fi. Major Finnish consumer brands continued to boycott the Karkkainen chain of department stores, citing anti-Semitic public statements by Karkkainen.
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