I. Historical Background
Because of the incorporation of most parts of Finland into Sweden during the 12th and 13th century, these parts were influenced by Western Christianity. Only a part of Karelia remained in the Orthodox Church. During the Middle Ages, the Church had enormous political as well as economical power and was independent of the secular powers. It was even supreme over them. But in the course of Reformation from 1530 to 1593, the Protestant Church displaced the Roman Catholic Church and the King became head of the Church instead of the Pope. In the 17th century, when Sweden was a major power, the Church became a state church and the relationship between Church and State held up until Sweden finally lost its position as major political power in the 18th century. The Church Code, which was adopted in 1686 and applied to all the subjects of the kingdom, was maintained when Finland became part of Russia in 1809. Only the liberalism and new theological movements contributed to a loosening of the extreme close connection between church and society in the 19th century. The 1869 Church Code concerned solely the members of the Lutheran denomination by then. But it was not yet possible to make the proposed freedom of religion a reality. The situation regarding religious politics in the Russian Grand Duchy refused Orthodox Christians the right to renounce the church. Church law continued to be passed by the Russian Grand Duke on the proposal of Parliament. The law on Dissenters of 1889 legalised the first Protestant minority churches. The denominational neutrality of the State and the freedom of religion were enshrined in the Constitution Act of independent Finland in 1919. The principles of religious freedom were set out more precisely in the Law on Religious Freedom which was passed in 1922. Because of the fact that the majority of the population belonged to the national churches, that means the Lutheran and the Orthodox Churches, these churches were awarded a particular status in public law, in contrast to the other religious communities. In 1963 an adjustment of the church administrative structure was executed, to make it compatible with the principles of a democratic society. In the field of politics as well as in the church there is now greater independence of the Church on the one hand and the State in the other. For this reason the Lutheran Church law was divided in two parts in 1993. While a Church Code passed by the State authority regulates the relations between Church and State, a Church Ordinance passed by the Church regulates the Church itself – its doctrines as well as its life. During the years of 1997 to 2000 the relationship between the State and the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland changed. The status of bishops has been transformed from state official to church servant. The Church and not longer the State takes responsibility for the stipends of bishops and the funding of cathedral chapters. The new Constitution of Finland, which was passed in 1999, emphasizes the freedom of the individual and in consequence the law on religious freedom has been updated. In 2003 a new law on religious freedom was passed. The dominant status of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland has decreased. In addition you find many more signs of establishing a form of equality of all Christian churches and other religious communities in this law, e.g. that the seceding from a church or religious community has been made easier.
II. Religious affiliation today
Today the total Finnish population represents 5.18 million inhabitants. 85 % of the Finnish population belongs to the Evangelical Lutheran Church and only about 1 % of the population belongs to the Greek Orthodox Church of Finland. Another 1 % belongs to other churches, for example the Roman Catholic Church, Jewish and Islamic congregations or other Lutheran Churches. There are also 15 % of Finnish inhabitants which do not belong to any religious community.
III. Basic Categories of the System
The Finnish State is neither nondenominational nor denominational because there are close institutional and legislative links between the State and the Lutheran Church. In addition, the Orthodox Church has a special institutional status, while the Constitution and secular laws secure the freedom of religion and the rights of religious and non-religious minorities. The Church Act of the Lutheran Church and the confession and structure of the Orthodox Church is regulated through an Act of Parliament. Therefore one may conclude that there still are two state churches in Finland despite a gradual process towards fewer constitutional or other official links between the State and the two churches.
IV. Cultural and social exercise of functions
Ecclesiastical activity consists of the religious assistance in public institutions like supporting the armed forces or spiritual work carried out in prisons. All these activities are financed by the State, even most hospital counsellors are supported by congregations or parish unions.
V. Legal foundations
Different legal sources are building the legal basis of the Finnish System of Church law. In 2000 the new Finnish Constitution was completed and freedom of religion is now enshrined in Section 11 of the new Constitution of Finland. In Section 6 the general clause on equality and non-discrimination, the prohibition against discrimination on account of religion, conviction or opinion is codified. The traditional special status and the constitutionally protected autonomy of the Lutheran Church are still reflected in Section 76 of the new constitution. Especially the fact that the new Constitution no longer prescribes that the President of the Republic appoints the bishops of the Lutheran Church reflects a general trend towards gradually dissociating State and Church from each other. Legal sources of the Finnish System of Church law are also entering in other acts of Parliament. The Church Act is the “Constitution” of the Lutheran Church. There is also a separate Act of Parliament dealing with the Orthodox Church. The new Freedom of Religion Act gives further protection for the freedom of religion and establishes a legal framework for the foundation and operation of religious communities other than the Lutheran Church and the Orthodox Church. Furthermore Finland signed several international human rights treaties, also having the protection of religious freedom in mind, notably the European Convention of Human Rights, the International Convenant on Civil and Political Rights, the International Convenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the Convention for the Elimination of Discrimination against Women.