Freethought in Finland, by Esa Ylikoski, General Secretary
in Rationalist International Conference 23-24 April 2016 Tallinn.
Next year 2017 we have anniversaries in Finland: The Union of Freethinkers 80 years, first Freedom of Religion Law enacted 95 years ago and Independence of Finland 100 years, said Esa Ylikoski, General Secretary of Union of Freethinkers, in his presentation at Rationalist International Conference 23-24 April 2016 Tallinn.
Freethinkers of Finland defend and promote human rights, equality as to religion or belief (new Law of Equality) and freedom of expression, religion and belief. Also we work for secular culture and ceremonies and we promote science based, rational and critical worldview and humanistic ethics.
There are still two state churches in Finland: Evangelical Lutheran with population over 70% and orthodox with about 1 % of Finns. About 25% of population have no formal religious membership. In reality most Finnish people are quite secular and few people attend church services.
Our internet service LeaveChurch (www.eroakirkosta.fi) was used by 45 000 persons in the year 2015, and during the last ten years 528 403 persons have used it when leaving church membership. Membership rate of Church in Finland 31.12.2015 was 72,9 % (-0,9%). Rate of christening ceremony for babies was 69.9 % (-3,3 %). More than 50 % of new weddings were held without religious ceremony (church services fall -1,9 %).
After citizen initiative (166851 names) and discussion the Parliament of Finland decided to approve new equal and gender neutral law of marriage in 2015, although the state churches and other churches opposed the proposal of the new law. Evangelical Lutheran Church is divided and quarreling in the question about marriage between male couples and female couples.
The religious oath for witness was rescinded in courts of Finland this year, and now there is only a non-religious, neutral oath or vow or affirmation for witnesses. There is a religious oath still for state officials and ministers and in army. We try to change it, because because having to choose publicly between religious and non-religious oath is not ok, if we think about right of personal privacy concerning religion or belief.
At the beginning of this Year religious education is no longer mentioned in the Law of early childhood education. Same challenges we have in schools. Now we try to get this to the practice in everywhere in Finland.
We try to get religious ceremonies out off the annual program of schools. If there still is those ceremonies during school day program, we also try to get better alternative program during them. The main line is not a nice alternative program during religious ceremony, but to stop the old tradition to arrange religious services during school day. European Court of Human Right has decided, that there is the right of personal privacy concerning religion or belief, but this is not yet in practice and truth in Finland, because in this unofficial curriculum.
Religions have each separate subject in school and we have also secular life stance knowledge education (or secular ethics) (ET) for non-religious. We demand to strengthen ET in schools, and we also demand to open it for all pupils so that all families and students can choose between religion or ET in school. Basic demand is to get religion out off schools as a subject (first off maybe first 4 years).
Unfortunately there still exist in Finnish Crime Law the punishment of blasphemy. It’s a shame, also because it gives weapons to defend punishments also to rulers of countries which have much harder punishments for blasphemy than there are in Finland. We have made initiatives to change the law.
Separate changes are in general difficult to achieve, but connected to larger changes it could be realistic, I hope. That has been our tactic in some small reforms dealing with the equality and rights of non-religious people or stop certain privileges of Church. We have plans for Parliament opening ceremony.
As to the work of our organization, co-operation between Humanist Union and Union of Freethinkers in Finland has been developed successfully, and we gave together some initiatives to parliament and government. Unfortunately our proposals for the program of new government could not be seen after election in the program of the new Conservative cabinet.
We have started again to work together with Nordic humanist organizations in year 2015, and we had a nice meeting and seminar in Stockholm in February 2016 (Denmark, Finland, Island, Norway, Sweden). Now we are writing together Nordic Humanist Manifest. Next Year meeting is planned to take place in Finland, 4-5 February 2017
Young participants from Prometheus-camp youth organization (www.protu.fi) took part on Nordic youth seminar last summer. Protu arranges protu-camps for about 900 young people this year in Finland.
The number of non-religious ceremonies arranged by Pro-Ceremonies (www.pro-seremoniat.fi) increased 6 % in the year 2015. Additionally some of our local organizations also help families to get program to their non-religious ceremonies. Families arrange non-religious ceremonies of fests mostly on their own way.
Ten local organizations of Freethinkers maintain their own graveyard.
Freethinkers of Finland have 23 local/areal organizations and about 1600 members.
Our Magazine, Vapaa Ajattelija (Free Thinker) promotes rationalism, humanism, secularism, atheism, free and critical thinking and science based worldview. Our website helps us all in the same work. We have activities, discussions, media service.
Last year in May we had an activity seminar in Kotka for activists of 20 local or areal organizations of Freethinkers in Finland. Next May we have activity seminar in Helsinki. We have started to support atheist and ex-muslim refugees and immigrants in Finland and started discussion against radicalism in suburbs.
We work together with International Humanist and Ethic Union (IHEU) and European Humanist Federation (EHF). They have General Assembly meetings in Malta in May 2016. We work also together with Rationalist International and other secular organization and persons – with You.