Concerns related to the security of the facilities of religious communities have emerged internationally in recent years.

The sun is shinging behind the gates of the Saint Prophet Elias Orthodox Church in Lapinlahti, Helsinki. Photograph: Tony Öhberg/Finland Today

The Ministry of the Interior has published a report on the perceived security threats raised by different religious communities in Finland concerning their religious premises. The report also lists proposals for improving the safety and security of such properties.

Concerns related to the security of the facilities of religious communities have emerged internationally in recent years as a result of terrorist attacks against them. As for Finland, the threat has been made public in the annual report of the Finnish Security and Intelligence Service.

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In July 2020, the Ministry of the Interior set up a working group tasked with identifying security threats to the premises of religious communities. The survey was carried out as an online survey sent to all religious communities operating in Finland. A total of 309 responses were received.

The responses show that roughly three in four respondents (74%) feel that their religious premises are safe.

“Yet there are noteworthy differences between different religious groups. Almost 93 percent of Christian respondents felt safe in the vicinity of their church and other religious premises. However, only 69 percent of Muslim respondents and only one-third of Jewish respondents felt safe near their respective religious premises, Tarja Mankkinen, the chairman of the working group and the head of development at the Ministry of the Interior, said in a statement.

Only 69 percent of Muslim respondents and only one-third of Jewish respondents felt safe near their respective religious premises

The respondents indicate that their lost sense of security was due to factors such as troublemakers or other disturbing behavior in the vicinity of the religious premises, inadequate transport arrangements, poor lighting or lack of lighting outside such premises, and vandalism, including the defacement of walls or other property damage.

Some members of religious communities noted that their sense of security is undermined because of the prejudices, fears, threats and different kinds of hate speech they have experienced.

“Almost half of the respondents felt that hate speech on the internet affects their sense of security. Half of the respondents also pointed out that because of online hate speech they no longer visit their own religious premises as often as they used to,” Mankkinen said.

The survey also revealed that one in five respondents have encountered violence or a threat of violence inside or in the vicinity of their religious premises. In particular, violence has been experienced by members of Finland’s Jewish communities, representing 40 percent of the respondents.

The survey also mapped out ways to improve the safety and security of the premises of religious communities.

“The users of religious premises wished that their communities would have in place clear safety plans, crisis plans and rescue plans. They also want to have training on security issues,” said Mankkinen.

The respondents moreover felt that the security of the premises could be improved for example by installing video surveillance or door entry alarm systems or hiring security guards; keeping the doors locked, avoiding being alone, drawing up clear safety guidelines and escape routes; and by reporting and intervening on unsafe situations,” Mankkinen noted.

The results of the survey were analyzed by Jana Turk, a doctoral student at the University of Helsinki. The analysis is statistically representative for the Christian and Islamic communities, but not for the Jewish community because of its inadequate response rate.