Last Updated 24 February 2022

Since independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, Estonia has developed a stable, functioning democracy. Political rights and civil liberties are widely respected as the country scores well on international measures of fundamental freedoms.1Estonia: Freedom in the World 2021 Country Report | Freedom House

The population is estimated to be 1.2 million, only 29% expressed religious affiliation in the most recent census in 2011 (19% of ethnic Estonians and 51% of ethnic Russians). According to the data, the majority of Estonians are mainly Lutherans or Russians – Orthodox.2 A recent survey from 2018 shows that 6% of Estonians say religion is very important in their lives.3How do European countries differ in religious commitment? | Pew Research Center

Severe Discrimination
Systemic Discrimination
Mostly Satisfactory
Free and Equal

Constitution and government

Freedom of religion and non-discrimination for religious beliefs is provided for in the Constitution,4Estonia 1992 (rev. 2015) Constitution – Constitute ( in the Churches and Congregations Act 20025 and in the Equal Treatment Act 2008.6 Non-religious ‘belief’ is not specifically referenced, though freedom of religion or belief is upheld in practice, and Estonia has one of Europe’s, if not the world’s, highest proportions of non-religious citizens.

Article 40 of the Constitution establishes the State as secular, and that “Everyone has freedom of conscience, religion and thought.”

Article 41 states that “beliefs shall not excuse a violation of the law” and that “No one shall bear legal liability because of his or her beliefs.”

Article 42 of the Constitution declares that “state agencies, local governments, and their officials shall not gather or store information about the beliefs of an Estonian citizen against the citizen’s free will.”

The country’s Penal Code7 also contains several protections to freedom of religion or belief and the right to non-discrimination8

  • Article 151 of the Penal Code criminalizes public incitement of hatred, violence, or discrimination on the basis of nationality, race, colour, sex, language, origin, religion, sexual orientation, political opinion, or financial or social status if this results in danger to the life, health or property of a person.
  • Article 152 of the Penal Code criminalizes “Unlawful restriction of the rights of a person or granting of unlawful preferences to a person on the basis of his or her nationality, race, colour, sex, language, origin, religion, sexual orientation, political opinion, financial or social status.“
  • Article 154 of the Penal Code “Any activity which knowingly interferes, without legal grounds, with acknowledgement or declaration of religious beliefs or the absence thereof, or exercise of religion or religious rites.”

The activities of religious organizations are regulated by the Churches and Congregations Act. Churches and congregations are treated as non-profit associations, and receive corresponding tax benefits. The law does not prohibit activities by unregistered associations. However, atheistic, humanist and secular organizations are registered directly as non-profits and therefore enjoy the same tax benefits.9Estonia – United States Department of State

The law specifies that individuals are never required to disclose their participation in a religious group, which may offer non-believers some further protection from discrimination.

Government funding of religious activities

The government in 2020 allocated 646,000 euros ($793,000) to the Estonian Council of Churches. The council has 10 churches, including the Lutheran and Orthodox churches. The government continues to fund Christian activities, including Christian programs by the Estonian Broadcasting Company, youth work by churches, activities promoting interreligious dialogue, and religious publishing.10

In April 2020, the government pledged two million euros ($2.45 million) of support for religious associations struggling as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.11

The state funds police and border guard, military, and prison chaplains, who may belong to any registered religious denomination, and must guarantee religious services for individuals of all faiths.12

Education and children’s rights

The government funds religious instruction, however it is optional in public and private schools. All schools must provide religious studies at the primary and secondary levels if requested by at least 12 students. The courses offer a general introduction to different faiths and do not promote any particular religion. A non-religious alternative is not offered.13

Private religious schools enrol all students, regardless of the belief of the student. Attendance at religious services in religious schools is voluntary.14

Family, community and society

Estonia has been described as one of the the “least religious countries in the world”. The most prominent church in Estonia is the Lutheran Church. However, it only accounts for 13% of the population. Fewer than one in five Estonians say any religion plays a pivotal part in their lives. The low level of religiosity in Estonia has been linked to relative difficulty of transmitting Christianity across the language barrier; Estonian is a Finnic language that was not spoken by invading Germans and Danish. Many Estonians however do associate with a form of pagan traditional

According to many religious and other civil society leaders, there is societal support for religious freedom and tolerance.16Estonia – United States Department of State

Discrimination against LGBTI+ people

The state does not yet fully recognise the rights of same-sex families. The Registered Partnership Act,17Registered Partnership Act–Riigi Teataja which allows same-sex couples to register, was passed without amending other laws, such as the Family Law Act, the Vital Statistics Registration Act and the Population Register Act. Some notaries refuse to notarise partnership agreements, the agreements are not reflected in the population register and there have been obstacles to adoptions.18

Although the law prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, discrimination against the LGBTI+ community remains widespread.19Estonia – United States Department of State A 2019 Eurobarometer survey showed that 53% of Estonians supported gay, lesbian, and bisexual people having equal rights, while 37% respondents were opposed.20 In 2019 police registered two cases that included hatred against LGBTI+ persons. Advocacy groups reported that societal harassment and discrimination against LGBTI+ persons remains common but noted improving public attitudes.21Estonia – United States Department of State

Conservative People’s Party of Estonia’s (Eesti Konservatiivne Rahvaerakond – EKRE) entry into a coalition government in 2019 raised concerns due to the party’s history of racist, sexist, anti-LGBTI+, and white nationalist sentiments. EKRE cabinet ministers have advocated anti-LGBT+ policy goals and expressed a variety of extremist views, including conspiracy theories, discriminatory falsehoods about immigration and refugees, and antisemitic sentiments. The rhetoric and ideological beliefs of many active EKRE members have raised the prominence of hostile and extremist views toward minorities and marginalized groups.22Estonia: Freedom in the World 2021 Country Report | Freedom House

Discrimination against women

Hostile attitudes towards women and women’s rights activists have been displayed at the highest level of Government in recent years.23 Examples of this include the minister of Foreign Affairs, Urmas Reinsalu, who used derogatory words to criticize feminist activists and regretted having condemned violence against women in his op-ed piece dated 16 January 2018;24 in addition, the minister of Finance, Martin Helme, reportedly criticized the Istanbul Convention and called childless young women “harmful elements in society.”25

In July 2020, the Minister of Trade, a post held by the EKRE, reportedly attempted to halt grants to three human rights organizations working on gender and equality issues: the Estonian Women’s Associations Roundtable, the Estonian Women’s Studies and Resource Centre, and the Estonian Human Rights Centre.26

Freedom of expression advocacy of humanist values

The Constitution provides for freedom of expression and the press. The government usually respects these rights. Independent media is active and expresses a wide variety of views without restriction. The government does not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content.27Estonia – United States Department of State

However, members of the government are reported to verbally attack journalists, and on several occasions, government ministers refused to provide information to journalists at press conferences, without giving any valid reason.28Estonia | RSF Observers have noted a trend toward media ownership concentration in recent years, which may cause editorial interference. Economic challenges exacerbate the media’s vulnerability to editorial pressure.29Estonia: Freedom in the World 2021 Country Report | Freedom House

Judges have increasingly used the criminal procedure code to restrict media coverage in various cases of public interest, particularly those concerning corruption.30Estonia: Freedom in the World 2021 Country Report | Freedom House The supreme court set a positive precedent for press freedom and the public interest in December 2020 by overturning a decision by the state auditing court, preventing a newspaper from reporting the testimony of witnesses and part of a trial involving corruption at the port of Tallinn.31Estonia | RSF


1 Estonia: Freedom in the World 2021 Country Report | Freedom House
3 How do European countries differ in religious commitment? | Pew Research Center
4 Estonia 1992 (rev. 2015) Constitution – Constitute (
9, 16 Estonia – United States Department of State
10, 11, 12, 13, 14
17 Registered Partnership Act–Riigi Teataja
19, 21, 27 Estonia – United States Department of State
22, 29, 30 Estonia: Freedom in the World 2021 Country Report | Freedom House
23, 26
28, 31 Estonia | RSF

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