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Church can not require an IT expert to be one of its members

Deputy-Ombudsman Jussi Pajuoja has urged the Parish of Ylivieska to take account of the Ecclesiastical Act and fundamental rights when it is drafting job advertisements.

In December 2009 an information technology expert had been sought for an employment contract-based position with the Keski-Pohjanmaa Parishes' IT Regional Centre.  A requirement stated in the advertisement inviting applications was that the person selected must be a member of the Evangelical-Lutheran Church of Finland. The expert's tasks included taking care of, inter alia, maintenances of servers, planning information systems, installing hardware, technical support and developing data security. The administrative host of the IT centre is the Parish of Ylivieska.

The Ecclesiastical Act requires that only members of the Evangelical-Lutheran Church may hold posts in the church or its parishes. In employment contract-based relationships, membership is a prerequisite in jobs that involve ecclesiastical functions, diaconal work or teaching.

Two earlier stances

The Ombudsman has on two earlier occasions adopted a stance on complaints relating to job advertisements in which micro-support personnel were required to be members of the church.

It was pointed out in 1999 that the requirement of church membership for persons in an employment contract-based relationship must be examined on a case-by-case basis. What must also be assessed then is to what extent the employee is responsible for the content of functions. In addition, the examination must be made in advance so that it can be taken into consideration in the job advertisement.

The Ecclesiastical Board pointed out in 2008 that job tasks did not require church membership, but that a job advertisement contained an error, which was corrected. A Deputy-Ombudsman called for carefulness.

Demand for membership not justified

In the replies received by the Deputy-Ombudsman, both the Keski-Pohjanmaa IT Regional Centre and the Oulu Diocesan Chapter stated that they considered the requirement of church membership to be justified.

However, Deputy-Ombudsman Jussi Pajuoja found in his decision that the job advertisement indicated that what was involved was technical work with no connection to spiritual functions in the meaning of the Ecclesiastical Act. The requirement of church membership does not, therefore, implement an interpretation of the Ecclesiastical Act that is amenable to fundamental and human rights.

The Deputy-Ombudsman also took the view that the explanation provided by the Parish of Ylivieska did not reveal that the application procedure had been assessed in advance in accordance with the earlier decisions by Deputy-Ombudsmen.

In the same conjunction, the Deputy-Ombudsman has taken a position on six different complaints in which job advertisements by parishes have been criticised. The parishes required in them that the person selected be a member of the Evangelical-Lutheran Church. The complainants regarded the demand as unlawful and discriminatory.

Different laws in state churches

The laws relating to Finland's two state churches differ from each other in their points of departure. In the Orthodox Church, the character of a task determines whether the person discharging it must be a member of the church. Official posts were abolished in the Orthodox Church in 2006.

By contrast, a person chosen for an official post in the Evangelical-Lutheran Church is required by law to be a member of the church. In an employment contract-based relationship, it is the nature of the task that determines whether church membership is required or not.