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Current legal position on religion

The Freedom of Religion Act that came into effect in August 2003 replaced the previous Act of 1922. Freedom of religion is a constitutional right. It entails the right to profess and practise a religion, the right to express a conviction and the right to belong or not to belong to a religious community.

The rationale behind the new Act is the notion of positive freedom of religion. Religion is considered not only as the individual’s own choice but also as part of community tradition. The function of the State is to ensure freedom of religion and create the conditions for its implementation.

A minimum of 20 individuals is required to found a religious community. Religious groups can organise themselves in several ways. They can officially register either as a religious community organisation under the Freedom of Religion Act or they can organise a registered association under the Associations Act (1989). The criteria for the former are stricter, but such official recognition brings various benefits, such as the right to school religious education and the right to perform marriages. It is, furthermore, legal to conduct religious activities with no formally recognized organisation at all.

The parents/guardians determine the denomination of a child together. A child aged 15 or older may, with the parents’/guardians’ written permission, join or leave a religious community. The religious affiliation of a child who has turned 12 may be changed only with his/her consent.

Under the 1923 Act, an individual could belong to only one religious community at a time. After the new law of 2003 this provision was in effect for a three-year transitional period, i.e. until 31 July 2006. After that, the Freedom of Religion Act in no way prevents a person from simultaneously belonging to several religious communities. It will be for the religious communities to decide whether or not their members can also belong to other religious communities.

Updated by Tommi Heino

D 25 May 2017    AKimmo Kääriäinen

CNRS Unistra Dres Gsrl

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