The interests of churches and congregations are sufficiently protected in Estonia. The largest association dealing with this issue is the Estonian Council of Churches (ECC), which promotes theological dialogue between the member churches and organises ecumenical services. Estonian Radio and Estonian Television broadcast important church services. The ECC is represented in the Estonian Press Council. Ecumenicalism seems to be an important resource of the prevailing Christianity, which guarantees the principles of the freedom of religion, since in addition to Christianity ecumenicalism involves all the most important religions. The ECC’s platform of religious teaching (last revised in 2006) is based on the idea that religious teaching proceeds from the principle of the freedom of religion as worded in the UN Universal Declaration on Human Rights (possessing knowledge about religions is compulsory not religion itself). The issues that developed in society primarily in 2006 regarding religious teaching in the schools were resolved in 2007. Today, a working version of the new concept for religious teaching exists.

Forums and portals are operating that introduce various religions and beliefs (for instance, that introduces Islamic values).

The opening of the Tallinn synagogue is considered an important symbol of the guarantee of religious freedom.[1]

This area of activity was only affected by one judgement of the Supreme Court, in which the Härjapea Taara and Earth Believers Society challenged the resolution of the Kunda Town Council,[2] which restricted the access of the appellants to the hill with a sacred forest, where a wind park was planned. The Härjapea Taara and Earth Believers Society’s appeal in cassation was satisfied because the representatives of the appellants were not involved in the public discussions related to the detailed planning by the local government.[3]

There was also only one lower court decision.[4] The Tartu County Court made a ruling in regard to the application for provisional legal protection in R.K.’s complaint to have a Tartu Prison directive declared partially unlawful and the activities of the Tartu Prison declared unlawful. R.K. submitted the appeal against the court ruling that asked for the annulment of the part of the Tartu Administrative Court ruling whereby the court did not provide provisional legal protection to allow the continued use of incense candles in the cell.

According to the appeal against the court ruling:

  • Tartu Prison violated §40 of the Constitution (freedom of religion) by prohibiting the use of incense sticks for the execution of religious ceremonies;
  • The appellant has never been prohibited from using incense candles to carry out his religious ceremonies. The fragrance emitted by the incense candles is minimal and disappears in about 10-15 minutes and, therefore, does not disturb the work of the prison officers;
  • The subsequent fulfilment of the court judgement would restore the rights of the appellant, but would not compensate for moral damages.

The Circuit Court found:

“From the materials of the matter, it has not been proven that prohibition on burning incense candles in the prisoner’s cell would be a circumstance that would provide grounds to claim that the prison has not guaranteed the satisfaction of the prisoner’s religious needs and degraded his human dignity. The burning of candles is among the rituals of Buddhism (to care for altars candles are lit among other things, candles are lit in temples, etc.) but Buddhism does not assume that the prisoner should definitely be able to burn incense candles in his cell and if he is not allowed to do so that this would have damaging consequences and that subsequent compensation would not be possible in case of a decision in his favour.”[5]

[1] See “Usuvabaduse sümbol” 19.05.2007: “Kas ei ole juudi sünagoog selge märk, et eri usku inimesed on vabad siin maal oma veendumusi järgima?”

[2] Administrative Law Chamber of the Supreme Court 17 October 2007 decision 3-3-1-39-07.

[3] Ibid, cl. 26.

[4] Ruling of the Tartu Circuit Court in administrative matter 3-07-701 (2.05.2007).

[5] Ibid, pg. 3.