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U.S. Department of State

Diplomacy in Action

Denmark


Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor
Report
October 26, 2009

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The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and other laws and policies contributed to the generally free practice of religion. The Evangelical Lutheran Church is the state church and enjoys some privileges not available to other religious groups.

The Government generally respected religious freedom in practice. There was no change in the status of respect for religious freedom by the Government during the reporting period.

There were some reports of societal abuses or discrimination based on religious affiliation, belief, or practice, such as occasional reports of anti-Semitic and anti-Islamic insults, harassment, and vandalism, reflecting tensions between young Muslims and other young Danes.

The U.S. Government discusses religious freedom with the Government as part of its overall policy to promote human rights. The Embassy promotes religious dialogue, particularly with the Muslim community. The Embassy sponsored Muslim leaders and young persons to participate in activities that promote diversity, multiculturalism, integration, and tolerance for ethnic and religious minorities as one foundation of religious freedom.

Section I. Religious Demography

The country has an area of 16,639 square miles and a population of 5.4 million. Based on official statistics from January 2009, 82 percent of the population belongs to the official Evangelical Lutheran Church (ELC). Although only 3 percent of church members attend services regularly, most members utilize the church for baptisms, confirmations, weddings, funerals, and religious holidays.

As a result of immigration trends, the second largest religious community is Muslim, constituting 3.7 percent of the population (210,000). Muslim communities tend to concentrate in public housing in the largest cities, particularly in Copenhagen, Odense, and Aarhus. Groups that constitute less than 1 percent of the population include Catholics (37,000), Jehovah's Witnesses (14,500), Jews (7,000), Serbian Orthodox Christians (7,000), Baptists (5,100), Pentecostals (5,100), Buddhists (4,400), and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons) (4,500). There are also many communities with fewer than 3,000 members, including Seventh-day Adventists, the Catholic Apostolic Church, the Salvation Army, Methodists, Anglicans, and Russian Orthodox. The German minority in southern Jutland and other nonethnic-Danish communities (particularly Scandinavian groups) have their own religious groups.

Official attendance figures indicate a shift from the Evangelical Lutheran Church to other denominations, with ELC membership falling from more than 90 percent of the population in the 1980s to a record-low level of 82 percent in 2009. A March 2009 Gallup Poll, however, indicated an increase in church attendance among young people and the elderly--but with a continued drop among middle-aged members.

The European headquarters of the Church of Scientology is located in Copenhagen, although it did not officially apply to the Government for recognition as a religious group during the reporting period.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal/Policy Framework

The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and other laws and policies contributed to the generally free practice of religion. The law at all levels protects this right in full against abuse, either by governmental or private actors.

The Constitution stipulates that the Evangelical Lutheran Church is the state church, the reigning monarch shall be a member of the Church, and the state shall support it. The ELC is the only religious organization that can receive state subsidies or funds directly through the tax system. Approximately 12 percent of the Church's revenue comes from state subsidies; most of the rest comes from the church tax that is paid only by members. No individual is compelled to pay church tax or provide direct financial support to the national church or any other religious organization. However, members of other religious groups, notably Catholics, have argued that the system is unfair and that the Government does not provide religious equality, despite providing religious freedom. A November 2007 ruling by the Supreme Court denied a request by nonmembers of the ELC for reimbursement of subsidies to the Church from general tax payments. The Supreme Court held that indirect financing of the ELC does not constitute religious discrimination because the Church also engages in nonreligious activities such as civil registration and management of nonsectarian cemeteries. The ruling also upheld the Church's official role in registering births and deaths. Allowing other religious organizations to be given the same status and privileges as the ELC would require changes to the Constitution.

The Criminal Code prohibits public mockery of or insult to the doctrine or worship of a legally recognized religion. The maximum penalty for a violation of this provision is a fine and up to four months in prison. Since 1938 the Government has not prosecuted any case under the blasphemy provision; prosecutors have dismissed accusations of blasphemy as protected free speech.

The Government observes the following religious holidays as national holidays: Holy Thursday, Good Friday, Easter Sunday, Easter Monday, Common Prayer Day, Ascension, Pentecost, Whit Monday, Christmas Eve, Christmas, and the day after Christmas.

The country mandates compulsory military service but provides a conscientious objection exemption. In lieu of military service, conscientious objectors may be required to serve in a civilian capacity.

On May 29, 2009, Parliament voted to amend the Administration of Justice Act to ban religious or political symbols, such as headscarves, turbans, Jewish skull caps, and crucifixes, from judicial attire, effective July 1, 2009.

Aside from the Evangelical Lutheran Church, the Government grants official status to other religious groups. Prior to 1970, a total of 11 religious communities received approval in the form of recognition by royal decree, including the Roman Catholic, Methodist, Baptist, Russian Orthodox, and Jewish communities. Since then, the Ministry of Ecclesiastical Affairs has approved more than 100 religious communities and churches under the Marriage Act, including several Muslim groups, Jehovah's Witnesses, Mormons, Seventh-day Adventists, Sikhs, Buddhists, Orthodox Christians, Hindus, Baha'is, Hare Krishnas, and followers of the indigenous Norse belief system Forn Sidr. These officially approved religious groups enjoy certain special rights, including the right to perform marriage ceremonies with legal effect, residence permits for foreign preachers, the right to establish cemeteries, and certain tax exemptions. Only ministers of religious groups approved under the Marriage Act may name and baptize children with legal effect, keep church registers, and transcribe certificates on the basis of such registers. In November 2007 the Justice Ministry assumed responsibility for administering the Marriage Act and the recognition of religious communities.

Religious communities not recognized by either royal decree or the Marriage Act are entitled to practice their faith without any licensing requirement, but their marriage ceremonies are not recognized by the state. Unrecognized religious communities, of which there were more than one hundred at the end of the reporting period, are not granted tax-exempt status.

The 2002 Guidelines for Approval of Religious Organizations require religious groups to submit the following items: a written text of the group's central traditions, descriptions of its most important rituals, a copy of its rules, regulations, and organizational structure, an audited financial statement, and information about the group's leadership and each member with a permanent address in the country. Additionally, the organization must "not teach or perform actions inconsistent with public morality or order."

There are no restrictions on proselytizing or missionary work as long as practitioners obey the law and do not act inconsistently with public morality or order.

All schools, including religious schools, receive government financial support. The Evangelical Lutheran faith is taught in public schools; however, a student may withdraw from religious classes with parental consent. Additionally, the law requires that a "Christian studies" course covering world religions and philosophy and promoting tolerance and respect for all religious beliefs be taught in public school. The course is compulsory, although students may be exempted from the course if a parent presents a request in writing. If the student is 15 years old or older, the student and parent must jointly request the student's exemption from the course. According to the Ministry of Education, less than 2 percent of students in the greater Copenhagen area, the area with the highest concentration of non-Christians, "opt out" of the Christian studies course. Section 76 of the Constitution protects the right of parents to educate their children in private schools or home schools.

On February 20, 2009, the Education Minister clarified in answer to a question by the Social Democrat's education spokesperson that Muslim, Jewish, and Christian prayers may be substituted for collective prayer in such venues as school assemblies, as long as the prayer is invoked without preaching.

During the period covered by the report, the Government continued to expand efforts to promote social and economic integration of refugees and immigrants. These efforts received additional attention following the 2006 Muhammad cartoon crisis and republication of the cartoons in February 2008.

In 2007 the Government passed legislation that would require all foreign religious workers to pass a Danish language test within six months of entering the country or risk losing their residency permits, although it had not yet been determined when that requirement would be implemented. Critics claimed that the measure violates the European Convention on Human Rights and is aimed at restricting the entry of Muslim clerics, whose number is already restricted under a 2004 "Imam Law" that requires that the number of religious residence visas be reasonably proportioned to the size of the corresponding religious community. Additionally, the visa applicant must prove association with a recognized or approved religious community and possess a relevant background or education as a religious preacher, missionary, or member of a religious community.

Restrictions on Religious Freedom

Although government policy contributed to the free practice of religion for most religious groups, the Government restricts the issuance of religious worker visas (see Legal/Policy Framework section). That restriction disproportionately affects groups that depend on missionaries from abroad, such as Muslims.

The Church of Scientology did not seek official approval as a religious organization during the reporting period. Scientologists are free to meet and practice. The Church of Scientology's application for legal recognition was turned down three times, and it claimed it was unable to obtain clarification of the requirements without submitting the registration application for a fourth time. Despite its unofficial status, the Church of Scientology maintained its European headquarters in Copenhagen.

There were no reports of religious detainees or prisoners in the country.

Forced Religious Conversion

There were no reports of forced religious conversion, including of minor U.S. citizens who had been abducted or illegally removed from the United States or who had not been allowed to be returned to the United States.

Improvements and Positive Developments in Respect for Religious Freedom

In October 2008 the Government hosted the Rabat follow-up Conference of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), which was seen as a constructive step to promote better relations between the European Union and the states of the OIC in the aftermath of the republishing of the Danish Muhammad cartoons in January 2008.

Additionally, the Government allocated money in the November budget for a fall 2009 international conference on freedom of speech and anti-radicalization.

As of April 2009, the Brøndby cemetery was serving the Muslim community's needs with 215 persons buried. The cemetery opened in 2006 after a 15-year effort by members of the Muslim community. Plans for additional Islamic cemeteries in Odense and Herning were underway.

During the reporting period, plans progressed for the construction of a grand mosque and cultural center in Aarhus, the country's second largest city.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

There were some reports of societal abuses or discrimination based on religious affiliation, belief, or practice, such as occasional reports of anti-Semitic and anti-Islamic insults, harassment, and vandalism, reflecting tensions between increasing numbers of young Muslims and other young Danes. The country, nevertheless, has a long history of welcoming religious minorities and affording them equal treatment.

Both members of the Jewish community and police sources attested to occasional friction between the Jewish and Muslim communities. Anti-Semitic incidents, such as hate speech occurring at pro-Israeli and pro-Palestinian rallies in Copenhagen protesting the violence in Gaza, increased in January 2009 but decreased in February. In January a 29-year old man of Palestinian origin shot and injured two Israelis. Police indicated that the motive was a desire to protest the violence in Gaza. Most anti-Semitic acts involved vandalism, graffiti, or verbal insults.

At the end of the reporting period, cartoonist Kurt Westergaard continued to receive security protection. On February 13, 2008, all 17 major newspapers republished Westergaard’s caricatures of the Islamic prophet Mohammad that first appeared in 2006. The newspapers sought to protest a foiled plot by three Muslims to kill the cartoonist. Some Muslims saw the republication as offensive and provocative. The head of the largest Muslim association in the country, however, condemned the assassination plot. Press reports suggested that the majority of citizens saw the issue as one of freedom of speech being more important than objections by members of a particular religious community. The republication was followed by youth riots in immigrant neighborhoods and demonstrations and embassy closings in several other Muslim-majority countries.

Unemployment figures, crime rates (especially among young adults), and school dropout rates tended to be significantly higher among minority groups and were sometimes alleged to be indicative of discrimination on the basis of religion. It was difficult, however, to separate religious differences from differences in language and ethnicity, and the latter may be equally important in explaining unequal outcomes in access to well-paying jobs and social advancement. The integration of immigrant groups from Islamic countries was an important political and social topic of discussion.

There were isolated incidents of anti-immigrant sentiment, including graffiti, low-level assaults, denial of service, and employment discrimination on racial grounds. Societal discrimination against religious minorities was difficult to distinguish from discrimination against ethnic minorities. The Government criticized the incidents and investigated several, but it brought few cases to trial specifically on charges of racial discrimination or hate crimes. Reports continued of incidents of desecration of ethnic and religious minority gravesites.

In January 2009 the press reported that hospital workers in Odense unsuccessfully attempted to prevent Muslim women from wearing headscarves while on the job. The hospital's uniform policy committee indicated that hygiene was its primary focus, not religious symbols.

A poll by Statistics Denmark released in March 2009 indicated that 91 percent of those born outside the country thought their lives were better overall than they would have been in the lands of their births, except for the area of religious freedom, where 40 percent thought their lives would have been better in their countries of origin.

The international Muslim organization Hizb ut-Tahrir continued to operate in the country despite periodic calls by several political parties to ban the group.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy

The U.S. Government discusses religious freedom with the Government as part of its overall policy to promote human rights. The Embassy regularly engages in dialogue with religious leaders and groups from the country's diverse religious community. Embassy officers engaged in an active Muslim outreach program, which included numerous meetings with religious and community leaders of leading Islamic organizations. Embassy officers had wide-ranging discussions with Muslim leaders on topics including religious and cultural diversity, democracy and civil liberties, the importance of interfaith dialogue and its role in supporting religious freedom, and Muslim life in the United States. The U.S. Government sponsored Muslim leaders identified by the Embassy to participate in International Visitor Leadership Programs focusing on diversity and multiculturalism, and which included introducing American Muslims to Muslims in the country. The Embassy continued sports and summer internship programs targeting young persons in religious and ethnic minority communities and worked with local nongovernmental organizations to support arts and educational exchange programs for minority youths in programs aimed at promoting integration and tolerance for ethnic and religious minorities.



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