//CORE Forum: The Government Must Ensure Religious Freedom and Combat Religion-Based Hate Speech and Discrimination

CORE Forum: The Government Must Ensure Religious Freedom and Combat Religion-Based Hate Speech and Discrimination

The CORE Forum participated in a hearing on August 10, 2023, organized by the Finnish government’s preparatory working group for a statement on measures to promote equality, gender equality and non-discrimination in Finnish society. The CORE Forum commented on the Equal Finland Action Program and proposed that the Finnish government must secure religious freedom, ensuring everyone’s right to practice and acknowledge their religion without discrimination. Additionally, the Forum suggested the establishment of an Advisory Board for Religious Affairs and the broader utilization of opportunities for interfaith cooperation.

Throughout the summer of 2023, Finland has been engaged in a vigorous societal debate about racism. The Islamophobic writings and affiliations of ministers from the True Finns party in Prime Minister Petteri Orpo‘s government have been highlighted in civil society and the media. On July 11, 2023, the leaders of the governing parties issued a joint declaration emphasizing their commitment to promoting equality, gender equality, and non-discrimination in society. However, the Government Programme does not mention racism at all. Identifying and condemning racism and hate speech is not enough; proactive measures and anti-racist policies are required to combat them effectively.

The religious landscape in Finland is undergoing significant change. The CORE Forum, an interfaith expert organization, has observed a significant increase in religion-based hate speech and discrimination. Particularly, Muslims and Jews experience acts of violence, discrimination, racist hate speech, and structural racism in their daily lives. The number of hate crime reports related to religion increased by over 20% from 2020 to 2021 (Police University College, 2022).

In July, the government appointed a working group to prepare a statement on measures to promote equality, gender equality and non-discrimination in Finnish society. The CORE Forum was invited to a verbal hearing by the working group on August 10, 2023. The statement includes proposals on how to advance anti-racist efforts both in Finland and internationally.

During the hearing, the CORE Forum emphasized that securing religious freedom and combating religion-based hate speech and discrimination are crucial steps towards a genuinely democratic and equitable society. “We emphasized that the diversity of religions should become a natural part of public life and included in all equality and anti-racism work”, says Katri Kuusikallio, the Executive Director of the CORE Forum.

Furthermore, the Forum proposed the establishment of a new Advisory Board for Religious Affairs. This advisory board would bring together representatives of various religions, non-religious individuals, authorities, experts, and politicians to address current issues such as preventing radicalization and addressing common challenges faced by minority religions. Internal issues within communities should be addressed through appropriate processes to increase inclusivity. For example, Muslims should not be seen as passive targets but as active participants and agents of societal change.

The CORE Forum conducts religious literacy training for various sectors of society. Religious literacy is the ability to understand different religions and look beyond their surface. Religions contribute positively to societal challenges alongside other actors. They build resilience during crises and pandemics, promote good population relations and integration, and mitigate climate change. The positive resources and cooperation opportunities of religions should be better utilized to combat religion-based racism.

The Forum calls on the government to take the action proposals from the invited parties seriously and implement the necessary measures to promote equality and non-discrimination in Finland.

Representatives of the CORE Forum at the event included Executive Director Katri Kuusikallio, Chair Father Heikki Huttunen, and Vice-Chair Gölten Bedretdin.