Religious freedom is a universal principle and every individual’s human right. It is a right that is included in both the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Art. 18) and in the Finnish Constitution.
Religious freedom gives everyone the right to express his/her faith in private and in public; the freedom to believe, pray, take part in religious services, celebrate religious holidays, and to proclaim their faith. It gives parents and children the right to an education that is consistent with their faith. At the same time, freedom of religion gives everybody the right to abstain from believing in or having to express belief in any religion.
It is the state’s responsibility to guarantee every citizen the right to his/her own religion and world view. Freedom of religion and the other human rights are of key importance both for the individual and for society. Any religion connected to political power may lose its credibility. The secularization of society does not necessarily constitute a threat to religion. Rather, it can create an opportunity for religions, either separately or together, to bring up and provide a basis for people to face life’s key questions.
When any country restricts the freedom of religion, this is often accompanied by other human rights violations, which also pose a threat to the development of society. It is therefore important that Finland in its development cooperation takes into account, along with other human rights, the situation of the recipient countries regarding freedom of religion.
Religious bodies are also responsible for freedom of religion, because the concept of freedom of religion contains within it every individual’s right to change his/her religion or belief. Nobody must be put under pressure either before or after making such a choice.
Religion offers the individual a community, a sense of belonging, comfort, and a frame of reference within which to deal with vital issues of life. However, in modern culture, it is not self-evident that people understand the content and meaning of religion. It is therefore important that those who make decisions in society have a sufficient understanding of the value of all religious convictions so that the laws and practices of the country will also in the future guarantee the respect of the principle of freedom of religion as a cornerstone of peace in society.
Finland is well placed to pioneer encounters between different religions and cultures deeply embedded within society. The bi-annual gatherings of the leaders of the three monotheistic faiths, initiated by the President of Finland in 2001, and the founding in 2011 of the National Forum for Cooperation of Religions in Finland – CORE (Uskontojen yhteistyö Suomessa - USKOT-foorumi in Finnish; Religionernas samarbete i Finland - RESA-forumet in Swedish), are encouraging steps in the right direction. These platforms for co-operation and debate help to break down prejudices and provide opportunities for increasing our knowledge about the different religions and cultures present in today’s Finnish society.
Signed on 15 April 2011:
Archbishop Kari Mäkinen, Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland
Bishop Teemu Sippo, Catholic Church in Finland
Gideon Bolotowsky, Chairman, Central Council of Jewish Communities in Finland
Archbishop Leo, Finnish Orthodox Church
Chairman Okan Daher, Finnish Islamic Congregation
Chairman Abdi-Hakim Yasin Ararse, Islamic Society of Finland
Secretary General Heikki Huttunen, Finnish Ecumenical Council