The constitution and other laws and policies protect religious freedom.
The constitution stipulates that the ELC 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 receives state subsidies or funds directly through the tax system. Approximately 14 percent of the church’s budget is paid by all taxpayers; the balance of the budget comes from the church tax that is paid only by members. The ELC performs nonreligious activities, such as management of nonsectarian cemeteries and registration of civil unions, births, deaths, and other vital statistics.
The criminal code prohibits blasphemy, defined as 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 cases under the blasphemy provision; prosecutors have routinely dismissed alleged blasphemy as protected free speech. The law also prohibits hate speech and penalizes public statements that threaten, insult, or degrade individuals on the basis of their religion or belief.
The country mandates compulsory military service, but provides an exemption for conscientious objectors. In lieu of military service, conscientious objectors may be required to serve outside of the military.
Religious symbols, such as headscarves, turbans, Jewish skull caps, and crucifixes, as well as political symbols, are banned from judicial attire.
In addition to the ELC, the government, through the Ministry of Justice, 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 registered 116 religious groups 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. Registered religious groups enjoy certain special rights, including the right to perform marriage ceremonies with legal effect, baptize children, obtain residence permits for foreign preachers, establish cemeteries, and receive tax exemptions.
Religious communities not recognized by either royal decree or registered by the Ecclesiastic Ministry are entitled to practice their religion without any licensing requirement. Members of non-recognized religious groups often have a ceremonial wedding service at their church or temple but legally marry at a city hall. Unrecognized religious communities are not granted tax-exempt status.
The current Guidelines for Approval of Religious Organizations require religious groups seeking registration to submit the following items: a document on 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.
All public and private schools, including religious schools, receive government financial support. The Evangelical Lutheran religion is taught in public schools in accordance with the Public School Act; 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 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. According to the Ministry of Education, on average only 1.3 percent of students in the greater Copenhagen sample area, which has the highest concentration of non-Christians, opted out of the Christian studies course, taking another class of their choice, not necessarily on religion.
The law allows Muslim, Jewish, and Christian prayers to be substituted for collective prayer in such venues as school assemblies, as long as the prayer is invoked without preaching.
Legislation requires most foreign religious workers (citizens of Turkey excepted) to pass a Danish language test within six months of entering the country to be able to obtain an extension of their residence permits as religious workers. Critics claimed that the measure violates the European Convention on Human Rights and is aimed at restricting the entry of Muslim clerics.
The government is a member of the 25-country Task Force for International Cooperation on Holocaust Education, Remembrance, and Research.
The government observes the following religious holidays as national holidays: Holy Thursday, Good Friday, Easter Sunday, Easter Monday, Common Prayer Day, Ascension Day, Pentecost, Second Pentecost, Whit Monday, Christmas Eve, Christmas, and the day after Christmas.