Last week the European Human Rights Court (ECHR) ruled that Italy was to remove all crucifixes from state school classroom walls.
The decision sparked immediate response from Finland’s institutions, which defended traditions found in culture and history. “Traditions are also part of the Finnish culture. In our view, for example, the Suvivirsi hymn associated with the end of the spring semester and the start of the summer holiday, or nativity plays at school Christmas parties cannot be regarded as practicing religion, but rather as relating to a tradition,” according to Marjo Kyllonen, the head the City of Helsinki Education Department.
According to Helsingin Sanomat the message for Finland’s schoolchildren is clear. “Sing hymns, build nativity crèches, invite representatives of other religions to come and join your festivities, and respect those with differing views!”
Kyllonen stated that modern Helsinki is a multicultural city where differences are celebrated as part of everyday life. “We Finns are fairly liberal. When a nativity play was presented in East Helsinki, a Muslim girl, with her parents’ consent, was chosen to portray Mary,” said Kyllonen.
In Jyvaskyla, Education Director Leena Landen said there were no disputes over religious symbols, adding that each situation called for a different tradition with regards to their use.
The crucifix has become the defining symbol of the debate, which many religious authorities feel has become an extension of growing intolerance and nihilism across Europe. The only symbol on display in all Finnish classrooms is the President’s photograph.
Groups such as the Freethinkers of Helsinki have meanwhile welcomed the European Court’s ruling with regard to Italy.