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Summer hymn singing in schools may be forbidden

As the traditional Finnish "suvivirsi" ("Summer Hymn") has religious overtones, the National Board of Education has been asked to consider whether it runs counter to guidelines for religious freedom, equality and neutrality.

To sing or not to sing? Image: Päivi Leppänen / Yle

The National Board of Education is reconsidering whether the suvivirsi, or summer hymn, can be sung at end of school ceremonies in Finland.

Deputy Chancellor of Justice Mikko Puumalainen has called on the Board of Education to look into the matter as the song has religious overtones, and runs counter to the guidelines for religious freedom, equality and neutrality in Finland.

The Board says that it will act on the recommendation to look into the matter but points out that it also has the right to practice religion.

Says Education Chancellor Pekka Iivonen: "It's curious that the minority can so strongly influence the activities of the majority. Laws concerning religious freedom work both ways: in addition to having the right not practice religion, we also have the right to practice religion in Finland, where the majority of people belong to the Lutheran church."

According to Iivonen, the practice by law has long been that elementary school students who do not wish to participate in religious education activities can opt out so long as they have note from their parent or guardian. Secondary school students have been able to make the decision themselves.

About three quarters of Finland's population are registered as Evangelical Lutherans.

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