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Jehovah's Witnesses lose exemption from military service

The law allowing Jehovah's Witnesses to avoid conscription or alternative civilian service was ruled discriminatory.

Armeijan uusien valmiusyksiköiden koulutukseen osallistuvia varusmiehiä.
Image: Juha Metso / AOP

Parliament on Wednesday turned over a law that has allowed male members of Jehovah’s Witnesses to skip military or alternative civilian service without facing a prison term. The exemption dating from 1987 has long been considered problematic from a constitutional standpoint.

Last year, the Helsinki Court of Appeal ruled that the Finnish practice of allowing male Jehovah's Witnesses to avoid conscription is discriminatory. The ruling related to a discrimination case brought by a man who was imprisoned in 2016 for refusing conscripted service.

Under current legislation Jehovah's Witnesses may postpone their entry into service for three years at a time (starting at age 18), until their obligation officially ceases at age 29.

Proponents of the religious faction say their objection is rooted in their pacifist reading of the Bible. With the exception of women, who have never been legally bound to enter conscription, no other groups in Finland have had the same right.

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