Last Updated 7 August 2020

The Republic of Finland is a Nordic country with a population of just less than 5.5 million people.  Finland was once part of Sweden and then the Russian Empire until it declared independence in 1917 in the aftermath of the Bolshevik Revolution. The country is a constitutional republic with a largely non-executive president acting as head of state.

Severe Discrimination
Systemic Discrimination
Mostly Satisfactory

Constitution and government

There are strong protections in the Constitution of for the non-religious with Section 11 stating:

“Freedom of religion and conscience entails the right to profess and practice a religion, the right to express one’s convictions and the right to be a member of or decline to be a member of a religious community. No one is under the obligation, against his or her conscience, to participate in the practice of a religion”.

Section 6, on the subject of equality, guarantees that No one shall, without an acceptable reason, be treated differently” on the ground, among other things, “religion” and “conviction”.

However, Section 76 of the constitution, “The Church Act”, formalises the establishment of the state church (see below).

Belief Demographics

According to the most recent Finnish government statistics, the largest belief group in Finland belongs to the Evangelical-Lutheran State Church, with 68.6% of the population as members.2 1.1% of the population identify with the second state religion, the Christian Orthodox Church. By far the second largest bloc are those who don’t identify with any religion, at 27%.

Notwithstanding these data, and despite the majority of people identifying as a being members of the two State Churches, there are some polls that suggest that Finland is one of the least religious countries in the world with as many as 60% describing themselves as atheist, agnostic or non-religious, suggesting that a significant portion of the church membership is nominal or cultural.3;

State Churches

The majority Evangelical-Lutheran Church and the much smaller Orthodox Church have a “special relationship” with the Finnish state and could be considered de facto state religions.  However, unlike other state churches, they have a high level of autonomy from the government.  Everyone has the right to belong, or to decline to belong, to a religion, and the constitution prohibits discrimination based on religion or belief.  All citizens who belong to either of these churches pay a church tax set at 1 to 2 percent of income. Those who do not want to pay the church tax must terminate their congregation membership. Membership can be terminated by contacting the official congregation, the local government registration office or using the internet service (, which was created by a secular organization. Church and municipal taxes help defray the cost of running the churches. Parents may determine, by their common decision, the religious affiliation of their children under 12 years of age. Parents may determine the religious affiliation of children between the ages of 12 and 14, with the approval of the child. While children between the ages of 15 and 17 have the right to change or terminate religious affiliation, though the approval of both parents is needed.

The Church plays a central ceremonial role within government with the Opening and Closing of parliament being marked by an act of worship in Helsingin Cathedral.

The special relationship of the Evangelical-Lutheran Church with the state is codified in “the Church Act” and which is itself protected by the Constitution.  Disestablishment would require the support of the synod of the Evangelical-Lutheran Church, ratification by the Parliament of Finland and a change in the Constitution.  The close relationship of church and state is of great concern to those who do not share either of the state religions.

The Evangelical-Lutheran Church and the Orthodox Church may use direct income taxation for its members through the tax authorities. Other religious organizations and secular groups may not. The Evangelical-Lutheran State Church has a monopoly on services of undertaking for funerals, maintained by a national tax.

Additionally, Finnish legislation contains copious minor ties between the State and religious communities. For example, the Archbishop of the vangelical-Lutheran Church has the right to use a diplomatic passport, or the exemption of registered religious communities from real estate transfer tax. Developments related to these matters has in recent years been slow yet positive; for example, alcohol tax exemption for communion wine ended in 2018.

Education and children’s rights

The majority of schools in Finland are state-run schools with a comprehensive education. The education system is often praised for being inclusive and, although the country has a standardized national curriculum, teachers are given a great deal of autonomy when it comes to teaching.  There are a small number of private schools the majority of which are religious or Steiner schools, but these schools still receive state funding based on the per pupil funding received by state run schools.

Religious Education (RE) is compulsory in Finland. Under the 2003 Freedom of Religion act, each pupil is given the right to “instruction in one’s own religion”.  This was a compromise between those wishing to remove RE as a subject altogether and those who wished for it to remain dominated by the Evangelical-Lutheran Church. The “instruction in one’s own religion” is available if the religion is registered with the government and there are at least three pupils sharing the same belief.  Non-religious pupils are taught a subject called Life Perspective Studies (Ethics) which includes ethics and comparative religion. According to 2018 statistics, in an average class, 93% of the pupils receive instruction in the Lutheran religion, 8% study life perspectives (Ethics), whilst the rest study other minority religions such as Islam and Orthodox Christianity. Though under this system the non-religious have the same rights as the religious, there are concerns that this causes divisions in schools as pupils are separated during these lessons. This is of particular concern when some pupils are part of a small minority.

Those children who are registered with either the Evangelical Lutheran or the Orthodox church are obliged to attend the subject teaching of their assumed religion. There is in Finnish schools also a religiously neutral Life Perspective Studies subject, but its availability is not symmetric with the religious courses: Life Perspective Studies is not available to children who are classed as members of the two churches, and parents cannot choose this subject for their children, nor can children opt in in accordance with their developing capacities. Parents of children who are not church members, can choose between the Evangelical Lutheran religion and the Life Perspective Studies as a subject.

The school legislation and curricula have developed in Finland such that church services and religious morning assemblies are no longer the task of schools, and education in schools should not be religiously instructional, however many schools still hold some confessional church services and religious morning assemblies during the school year. The National Body of Education gives permission and instructions to arrange these religious ceremonies and even grace before lunch. Schools can also decide not to arrange any religious ceremonies. 

Freedom of expression, advocacy of humanist values


Chapter 10 Section 17 of the Criminal Code of Finland calls for imprisonment or a fine for any person who would “breach of the sanctity of religion”. The section criminalizes anyone who:

“(1) publicly blasphemes against God or, for the purpose of offending, publicly defames or desecrates what is otherwise held to be sacred by a church or religious community, as referred to in the Act on the Freedom of Religion (267/1922)…”

The last successful prosecution under this section was in 2009, when right-wing politician Jussi Kristian Halla-aho was ordered to pay a fine of €330 under Section 10 of the Criminal Code of Disturbing Worship” for posting remarks on his blog linking the Prophet Mohammed and Islam with paedophillia.

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