The following text is taken by permission from Frank Cranmer’s “Notes on Church and State . . .” – see this introductory note.
Article 40 of the Constitution provides for freedom of thought, conscience and religion, decrees that there shall be no state church and declares that people are free to exercise their religions both alone and in community with others, in public or in private, unless that exercise is detrimental to public order, health or morals. There is no church tax, but religious organisations are exempt from property tax. (Kiviorg 2005: 109)
The Churches and Religious Organisations Act 1993 required that all religious organisations should have at least twelve members and register with the Religious Affairs Department under the Ministry of Interior Affairs. Religious organisations were required to submit their constitutions for scrutiny and their leaders had to be citizens with at least 5 years‘ residence. However, the Churches and Congregations Act 2002, as amended has repealed the 1993 Act. The 2002 Act provides in section 2 for the existence of ‗churches, congregations, associations of congregations, and monasteries‘ as ‗religious associations‘, while section 4(1) makes provision for ‗religious societies‘ – voluntary associations of natural or legal persons whose main activities include
… confessional or ecumenical activities relating to morals, ethics, education, culture and.., diaconal and social rehabilitation activities outside the traditional forms of religious rites of a church or congregation and which need not be connected with a specific church, association of congregations or congregation.
Section 8 of the Act guarantees the right freely to exercise one‘s religion.
Sections 11 to 13 of the 2002 Act continue to require that a religious organisation should have a memorandum and statutes and should register. Since 2001 clergy of registered religious organisations have been able to apply to have marriage ceremonies conducted by them recognised in civil law.
Traditionally, because the Estonian Evangelical Lutheran Church has attracted the largest following among ethnic Estonians it has tended to function in some respects as the ‗National Church‘. But Estonia also has a large ethnic Russian population and the US State Department estimated that in 2008 there were probably more Orthodox in Estonia than Lutherans: about 200,000 members of the Estonian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate and about 27,000 members of the Orthodox Church of Estonia under the jurisdiction of the Ecumenical Patriarch, whereas the Evangelical Lutheran Church, by comparison, had about 180,000 members. (IRFR 2009: Estonia). It is suggested, however, that Lutherans are currently have a slight majority: 13.6 per cent as against 12.8 per cent Orthodox. (IRFR 2010: Estonia).