Finnish website has helped 150,000 resign from the Church

NSS Newsline - May 2009
Thursday 11 June 2009
popularity : 13%

The Freethinkers of Finland have enabled more than 150,000 people to officially resign from the Lutheran Church in a campaign that has gone from strength to strength.

The Freethinkers set up a website "Eroakirkosta" which roughly translates as "leave-the-church".

A Freedom of Religion law passed in 2003 made it possible to resign from the church by sending in a letter to the local registration office. Before that, it could only be done by a personal visit.

The Freethinkers of Finland made available a pro forma letter on their website which could be easily downloaded – and they even paid the postage. Within two years the letter had been downloaded and mailed by 15,000 people – at a cost of 10,000 euros to the group. "Not much for 15,000 people and all that free publicity," said Jori Mäntysalo, who created the site with Petri Karisma in 2003.

The law has now been extended so that resignations are possible by email, and you can do it directly from the Eroakirkosta site with just a few mouse clicks.

The population of Finland is about 5,000,000. The country has two state churches, Lutheran and Orthodox. A little more than 80% of population are members of the Lutheran church, about 1% are members of the smaller state church. But the Church Monitor 2007 survey found that only 30% of Finns consider themselves as religious.

Jori Mäntysalo commented: "The most common statement of faith in Finland is probably ’I guess that there exists some kind of higher power or spirit.’ Most members of state churches do not go to mass, do not read bible etc. There are several ties between the state and the churches. Most important is the right to tax, and then parliament opens with a mass, public TV shows some religious programmes etc."

The website has a tax calculator to help Finns see how much they are paying to the churches, which is probably a very good motivator for the next step of resigning. At present the church tax is 1.3% of income.

The Finnish Freethinkers have been very active in promoting their resignation service and in 2004 complained to the Supreme Administrative Court when local buses refused to take advertising for the website. The resulting publicity brought more attention to the site than the bus advertising would have done.

Then they tried advertisements to young people just turning 18 – as some political parties do. Once again, permission was refused and another complaint to the Administrative Court brought a fresh wave of free publicity. Now Sweden and Iceland have similar website services available.

Jori says: "I think that every freethinkers’ organization should open a special website for resigning from the church. If it is not possible to help resigners directly, at least the site should tell people how to resign. I am willing to help any country that wants to start this service."


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