Objectives and Strategy of the Union of Freethinkers of Finland 2020-2023
Accepted by the Union Assembly in Jyväskylä 26.-27.9.2020
The Union of Freethinkers of Finland is a politically non-aligned advocacy, human rights and cultural organisation for the non-religious, which bases its activities on science-based, rational thinking and humanistic values. The Union and its member associations work collectively and interactively as part of the international secular humanist movement.
• The Union promotes freedom of thought, religion and philosophy of life; equal, non-discriminatory treatment of all persons, regardless of religion or conviction; and the neutrality of public authorities in matters of religion or conviction.
• The Union promotes a secular society as well as secular customs and civil ceremony services.
• The Union promotes a science-based understanding of reality, rational and critical thinking, a secular worldview and humanistic ethics.
The Union of Freethinkers of Finland seeks a secular state and society in which:
• The state and the municipalities are neutral in terms of religion or conviction and are committed to upholding the human rights of people as defined in the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights.
• Education is based on science, rationality, sustainable development and secular humanistic values.
• The rights of children and young people, and the formation of their individual identity are especially respected.
• The role of civic action and organisations is vital in the free, interactive and democratic development of society.
• The activities of Freethinkers and other secular organisations play an important part in promoting and providing service structures for a secular culture.
• Finland as a state works internationally for human rights, including acting to end human rights violations against the non-religious.
The socio-political and cultural goals of the Union of Freethinkers of Finland are based on human rights. The Union respects fundamental and human rights and their universal values such as freedom of the individual and freedom of thought, non-discrimination, equality, freedom of speech and responsibility for other people and the environment.
Acceptance of differences between people and respect within the Union’s activities are core values.
The member associations bring together a wide range of people with various aims and focus areas, both in terms of Freethinker activities and politics in general, to achieve mutually agreed objectives. Freedom of speech belongs to everyone, also to those who think differently.
All Freethinkers as members of their respective associations have an equal opportunity to participate in and contribute to the work.
4. Basic strategic goals
4.1 Separation of church and state
The special status under public law of the Evangelical Lutheran Church and the Orthodox Church shall be dismantled and the special solutions under the Church Act and section 76 of the Finnish Constitution ended. The churches will decide their own rules in the manner of other organisations. The church tax system and the church’s monopoly on burials will be abolished. The recording of religious affiliation or lack thereof in the Population Information System will be ended. A church and state committee will be established to prepare the separation of church and state.
The state and the municipalities will respect the principle of neutrality of public authorities and the equal treatment of people regardless of religion or conviction. No religious or conviction-based community will be discriminated against or favoured.
Public authorities will ensure people’s freedom of thought, religion and opinion. People will have the right to practise or not practise a religion, the right to be a member of or decline to be a member of a religious community, the right to disclose or decline to disclose their religion or conviction. People will have the right to keep their views private and the privacy of personal opinions and convictions will be the assumption of public authorities.
4.2 Religion as a subject will be discontinued and commitment to religion in schools will be ended
Early childhood education, basic education and upper secondary education will respect existing laws and curricula according to which teaching must be “impartial in terms of religion, conviction or politics” and secular. Religious practice should not be incorporated into day care or educational institutions. The annual plans and daily routines of day care centres and schools will not include prayers, worship or religious services.
Religious education will be discontinued in early childhood education and in comprehensive and upper secondary schools. Religion and other beliefs do not need to be taught as a separate subject. These topics can be addressed as part of the teaching of history, social studies, philosophy and ethics, and mother tongue. There are sound reasons to start teaching philosophy and the related subject ethics already in comprehensive school.
In the current division of subjects, Freethinkers seek to strengthen the status of ethics (so-called Life Stance Education), which is an alternative to religious education, and to make it available to all pupils regardless of whether they belong to a religion or not. The method of exploring issues without adherence to religions or beliefs developed in in ethics should be made more widely available.
4.3 Secular customs will spread and diversify
A secular culture will evolve at the turning points in human life and during seasonal holidays. Services for secular ceremonies, naming ceremonies, weddings and funerals will be provided and developed both in collaboration with secular organisations and as a Freethinker pursuit.
The performance of marriage ceremonies will be made equal. If the right of religious communities to officiate marriages is continued, the same right should also be granted to organisations promoting secular culture who are interested in civil marriage ceremonies. The relevant authority must ensure the adequacy of marriage services outside the office and office hours.
Seasonal festivals and related leave from work and studies will be officially secular, devoid of religious status. In a diverse society, everyone will spend these holidays in the way they choose.
4.4 Burials and internment will become a service provided by the public sphere
The monopolistic, special position of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in the matter of burials, which enables discrimination against the non-religious, must be ended. The Act on Burials should be reformed on the basis of equality and transferred from ecclesiastical matters to the sphere of social services and health care. The establishment and maintenance of crematoriums and secular ceremony facilities must be included in services provided by public authorities. Freethinkers will contribute to the renewal of the internment culture, the spread of cremation, and the diversification of urn internment as well as the depositing and sprinkling of ashes. Public authorities will begin to assist the cemetery services of Freethinkers associations.
4.5 Adequacy of psychological and emotional support will be ensured
Within healthcare, especially in municipal and joint municipal authority hospitals, the adequacy of services provided by psychosocial support professionals must be ensured. This requires psychologists, psychiatric nurses and social workers. The minimum staffing level for nurses and practical nurses must also be increased so they have time to perform their work ethically and deal with patients and their families. The municipalities should also organise voluntary activities in cooperation with non-governmental organisations, with a view to providing support in particular to people living alone who are chronically ill and to patients on the path to end-of-life care. Cooperation with non-governmental organisations is also important in municipality-led crisis work.
Secular psychosocial, psychological and emotional support should also be provided in closed settings such as the armed forces and prisons. It is time to give up reliance on military and prison chaplains. In addition to medical and psychological assistance, the military must start recruiting secular emotional and psychological support professionals.
4.6 Status of scientific worldview will be strengthened
Teaching and studying in educational institutions must be science-based, rational and guide towards critical thinking, and neutral in terms of religion, also in practise. Finland has no need for religious schools supported by public authorities. There is no place for fundamentalist “creation doctrines” or other belief-based doctrines in schools or adult education centres.
Universities and research institutes will promote critical and rational thinking in public. The activities of scientific societies will receive funding. The media will refrain from giving free space to complementary and alternative therapies, among others.
Securing sustainable development, combating climate change, controlling air pollution and protecting water, land, minerals and forests as well as ensuring their sustainable use must be based on scientific research.
The channels of communication used by Freethinkers will provide a forum for critical and rational discussion, including critique of the basic doctrines and practices of religions from the perspectives of science and human rights.
4.7 Status of humanistic ethics will strengthen
The great majority of people will understand that the notion of religion as a source and basis of morality is wrong. Human rights treaties, fundamental rights and a society based on democratically enacted laws are the result of secular thinking and culture. Behavioural control based on old religious dogmas, which has caused significant harm to people and a gap in wellbeing, will become increasingly irrelevant. Religion-based prohibitions related to sexuality and reproductive health, such as the ban on contraception and contraceptive education, will be considered harmful worldwide.
Work in the Humanists International and the European Humanist Federation (EHF) as well as cooperation between Nordic organisations powerfully highlight the need to develop freedom of thought, religion and conviction globally. Determined action is still required to defend and promote humanism and secularism in the world.
5. Basic polices for activities
5.1 Influencing society
The advocacy work of Freethinkers is based on fundamental and human rights and promotes their full realisation. We work alongside and in cooperation with other human rights organisations. The Union takes position on issues and gives opinions proactively and when requested; the member associations take position on issues in the municipalities and regions proactively and when requested.
Freethinkers will continuously develop their respective expertise, seeking to exert influence in a proactive and diverse manner. If necessary, they will react quickly. Representatives of the Union will cultivate direct interaction with public administration and political decision makers. We will support Citizens’ Initiatives in line with our goals.
5.2 Advocacy for interests and rights
According to its by-laws, the Union of Freethinkers of Finland is an organisation for the advocacy, human rights and culture of the non-religious. We do not pursue privileges, but rather equal and non-discriminatory treatment also for non-religious people. Religious communities should not have privileges over non-religious advocacy groups.
Particular attention will be paid to children and young people. Violations of equality and freedom of religion in day care centres and schools will be addressed in the case of non-compliance with mandatory neutrality regarding religion and views or opinions.
The Union and member associations will provide advice and assistance in judicial protection in cases of discrimination. This and proactive advice will promote, among other things, the realisation of the rights of children and young people as well as those of older people. Advice will be aimed at families, individuals and the relevant authorities.
We will address discriminatory practices on a more general level. We will file complaints and, where necessary, we may also take matters to international courts and other human rights bodies. Support in judicial protection and advisory support is also provided by the kantelupukki.fi service, which includes the Freethinkers associations in Helsinki and Tampere.
5.3 Provision of services
We support the expansion of secular customs and provide secular ceremony services ourselves and in cooperation with other service providers. We are a co-owner of Prometheus-seremoniat Oy (‘Prometheus Ceremonies Ltd’, Pro-Seremoniat) and aim to expand its operations. The Union grants financial assistance to members of its member associations or their families for the costs of secular ceremony services upon request. Many associations and their activists also provide non-religious speaker services for both funerals and happy family celebrations.
Cemeteries maintained by a number of Freethinkers associations play an important role for non-religious people in their area in securing non-discriminatory cemetery services. The voluntary activities of Freethinkers and other non-religious groups play a valuable and significant role in the maintenance of cemeteries.
As a member, we support the activities of the Prometheus Camp Association (Prometheus-leirin tuki ry) in organising ‘Protu camps’.
5.4 Publicity and communication
Outreach and a culture of interactive communication will continue to play a key role in achieving and promoting the goals of Freethinkers. We will increase the use of many different channels in raising awareness. The communication plans of the Union and associations will focus on themes and campaigns in anticipation of current seasonal topics.
We publish the magazine Vapaa Ajattelija (‘the Free Thinker’), which highlights Union’s goals and encourages members and other non-religious people to express their thoughts and opinions. Articles are also distributed online. We aim to expand the magazine’s readership. The Union’s topical pamphlets in printed form and on online for various target groups are also important.
The Union will support the member associations’ magazines and other regional publishing activities. We will publish and develop the websites of the Union and associations, which are channels for both information and the exchange of opinions. Facebook and other similar forums offer opportunities for lively interactive discussion and marketing. The use of video and audio in communication will be increased.
Pamphlets and information on fundamental rights, secular customs and freethinking targeted at immigrants, such as the main content of the religious freedom website uskonnonvapaus.fi, are needed also in languages other than Finnish.
The Union’a media information supports work to influence society and the development of a secular culture. The media service will be developed and diversified. There is a need for a variety of spokespersons, for example, different interviewees in various types of media on the different issues that we are promoting.
The digitalisation of communication and social media have opened up entirely new possibilities for us, and especially for interactive and conversational communication. At the same time, there are many problems and challenges associated with social media, such as the “bubble” effect of Facebook and Google. Communication other than genuine discussion also occurs online, and Freethinkers, atheists and the non-religious too are the targets of constant online campaigning based on lies and half-truths. Lies and half-truths can be responded to, but the most important thing is to clearly present the real goals and activities of Freethinkers.
A wide range of collaboration is needed to advance and achieve the goals of Freethinkers. This includes cooperation with public authorities and interaction with political decision makers and those responsible for preparing legislation. We will increase cooperation with political parties, parliamentary groups and MPs, as well as with municipal and regional officials and political decision makers. At the same time, we will collaborate at civil society level with other secular and human rights organisations. The elimination of discrimination will require mutual solidarity with groups suffering from the prohibited grounds of discrimination mentioned in the Non-discrimination Act and that we learn from each other.
5.6 Organisational activities
The evaluation, reform, diversification and flexibility of Freethinker activities is necessary at both Union and association level.
The organisation of activities will require various work groups and projects. New nationwide projects will also be needed to prepare and implement goals and objectives. Those interested will be able to participate at least online throughout Finland regardless of whether they are members or not. The meetings of the Union’s working groups and the continuity and development of mainly online projects will be supported.
There is a need for interaction between the associations and for them to learn from each other. Face-to-face encounters and discussions in action seminars are also needed. The activities of the associations will develop mainly on a regional basis.
The aim is to make organisational activities for Freethinkers not only effective but also enjoyable and stimulating. They enable those involved to meet different people with whom it not necessary to agree on everything, but with whom they can promote freethinking and our core goals. Interaction between Freethinkers is friendly and respectful of people’s diversity and opinions.
Every new member is important and a great opportunity. Each member is free to decide on how active they want to be. A particular focus will be on attracting young people to become members. When the situation arises, it should also be possible for young members to start their own youth activities.
5.7 Recruitment of members
New members bring new enthusiasm and strength to the activities of associations and the Union. From the perspective of the social impact and influence of Freethinkers, it is also necessary to increase the number of personal members. To achieve this goal, we will keep this issue at the forefront of communications. In personal interactions, we will bring up the subject of membership in a bold but polite manner.
5.8 Strengthening of finances
The Union of Freethinkers’ funding and fundraising will be improved. Funding through donations and wills is a key part of the activities of human rights organisations in Finland and internationally. Small-scale money collections enabled by the new Money Collection Act could be utilised here. In addition to one-time donations, monthly donation agreements can also be brought up.
The nature and type of our work for human rights and secular culture is such that we have reason to base on core activities on projects and thus obtain project funding that would allow staff to be hired. Only that work that we should do with existing resources anyway can and should be done with project funding.
5.9 International collaboration
The Union will continue to be a member organisation of the Humanists International (HI) and the European Humanist Federation (EHF). Nordic cooperation will continue in the spirit of the Nordic Humanist Manifesto adopted in 2016 and in preparation for the World Humanist Congress in Copenhagen in 2023.
We will leverage international projects such as the Freedom of Thought reports (http://freethoughtreport.com/) and the campaign to end the criminalisation of blasphemy (http://end-blasphemy-laws.org/), among others. At the same time, we will make our own contribution to supporting human rights actors and the fight against serious human rights violations around the world. We will stimulate debate on human rights issues in the world. We will submit petitions and demands to Finland’s representatives in international bodies and the European Union.