Since gaining independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, Estonia has developed a stable, functioning democracy and performs well across international measures of fundamental freedoms. Eurobarometer polls consistently place Estonia as one of Europe’s least religious countries.

Constitution and government

Freedom of religion and non-discrimination for religious beliefs is provided for in the constitution, in the Churches and Congregations Act 2002 and in the Equal Treatment Act 2008.  Non-religious ‘belief’ is not specifically referenced, though freedom of religion or belief is upheld in practice, and Estonia has one of Europe’s, if not the world’s, highest proportions of non-religious citizens.

The activities of religious organizations are regulated by the Churches and Congregations Act. Churches and congregations are treated as non-profit associations, and receive corresponding tax benefits. However, atheistic, humanist and secular organizations are registered directly as non-profits and therefore enjoy the same tax benefits.

The law specifies that individuals are never required to disclose their participation in a religious group, which may offer non-believers some further protection from discrimination.

Education and children’s rights

At school level, religious tuition is optional. Upon the request of at least 12 students, religious instruction must be made available, but state schools must adhere to a national syllabus which requires discussion of world religions with an emphasis on fostering tolerance and does not promote any particular church. A non-religious alternative is not offered.

Family, community and society

Estonia has been described as one of the the “least religious countries in the world”. The most prominent church in Estonia is the Lutheran Church. However, it only accounts for 13 percent of the population. Fewer than one in five Estonians say any religion plays a pivotal part in their lives. The low level of religiosity in Estonia has been linked to relative difficulty of transmitting Christianity across the language barrier; Estonian is a Finnic language that was not spoken by invading Germans and Danish. Many Estonians however do associate with a form of pagan traditional spirituality.
<bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-14635021>

Discrimination against ethnic minorities

Non-Estonian citizens, Russians in particular, allege occupational, salary, and housing discrimination due to Estonian language requirements. The Council of Europe assessment of Estonia’s compliance with the Framework Convention on the Protection of National Minorities observed that there was a relative absence of members of national minorities from high-level public sector employment, and disproportionately high unemployment among minorities, in particular among the Russian minority.
<minorityrights.org/minorities/russians-3/>

In February 2016 the Conservative People’s Part of Estonia participated in the far-right ‘Fortress Europe’ protest against immigration and the ‘Islamization of Europe’ alongside other anti-immigration and nationalist organisations (such as PEGIDA).

Discrimination against LGBTI+ people

Discrimination against the LGBTI+ community is still widespread. A 2015 Eurobarometer survey showed that 44 percent of Estonians supported gay, lesbian, and bisexual people having the same rights as heterosexuals, while 45 percent respondents were opposed.

A recent case of discrimination against the LGBT community saw a lesbian couple in Viimsi County being denied support for transportation and school dinners. Families were entitled to the support if they were raising three or more children, and being married was not a requirement to receive the support. However, the couple’s request was turned down on the spurious basis that in Estonia a marriage is only legally possible between a man and a woman and therefore their family were not eligible. After the incident, the authorities changed the regulation in order to ensure that only heterosexual couple could apply for the support. However, when the case was brought to court, the couple prevailed.
<globalgayz.com/gay-life-in-estonia/>

Between 2004 and 2007, the Pride events that took place in Tallinn resulted in clashes with activists from conservative groups. Following anti-gay attacks during the 2007 event, no Tallinn Pride parade took place in the Estonian capital until 2017, when 1,800 people attended.
<news.err.ee/243931/tallinn-pride-to-be-held-again-following-decade-long-break>

Freedom of expression advocacy of humanist values

The constitution provides for freedom of expression and the press. The government usually respects these rights. Libel is not a criminal offense, but journalists can be sued for civil defamation.
<freedomhouse.org/report/freedom-press/2015/estonia>

Article 12 of the Constitution declares: “Incitement to ethnic, racial, religious or political hatred, violence or discrimination is prohibited and punishable by law.” However, prosecutions for such off offenses are rare.
<president.ee/en/republic-of-estonia/the-constitution/>

Freedom of peaceful assembly is generally respected. Regarding the freedom of association, only citizens are allowed to join political parties. However, there is no restriction on the ability of non-citizens to become part of other civil groups.
<state.gov/documents/organization/277405.pdf>