The constitution declares the ELC as the Established Church, which shall receive state support and to which the reigning monarch must belong. The constitution also states individuals shall be free to form congregations to worship according to their beliefs, providing nothing “at variance with good morals or public order shall be taught or done.” It specifies that “rules for religious bodies dissenting from the Established Church shall be laid down by statute.” It stipulates that no person may be deprived of access to the full enjoyment of civil and political rights because of religious beliefs, and that these beliefs shall not be used to evade compliance with civic duty. It prohibits requiring individuals to make personal financial contributions to religious denominations to which they do not adhere.
The criminal code prohibits blasphemy, defined as public mockery of or insult to the doctrine or worship of a legally recognized religion, with a maximum penalty of up to four months in prison and a fine. The law prohibits making a public statement in which persons are threatened, scorned, or degraded on the basis of their religion or belief. The maximum penalty is up to two years in prison and a fine. The law also prohibits hate speech, including religious hate speech; the maximum penalty for hate speech is a fine or two years’ imprisonment.
The ELC is the only religious group that receives funding through state grants and voluntary taxes paid via payroll deduction of congregation members. The voluntary taxes account for an estimated 86 percent of the ELC’s operating budget; the remaining 14 percent is provided through a combination of voluntary donations by congregants and grants from the government. Members of other recognized religious communities may donate to their own community voluntarily and receive a credit towards their personal income tax liability. The ELC and other state-sanctioned religious communities carry out registration of civil unions, births, and deaths for their members.
In 2015 the Ministry of Ecclesiastical Affairs assumed responsibility for granting official status to other religious groups in addition to the ELC through recognition by historic royal decree or through official registration; on November 28, the government announced the planned merger of the Ministry of Culture and the Ministry of Ecclesiastic Affairs into a new Ministry of Cultural and Ecclesiastic Affairs. According to the Ministry of Ecclesiastical Affairs, there are a total of 176 registered religious groups: 113 Christian groups and congregations, 30 Muslim groups, 8 Hindu organizations, 15 Buddhist groups, three Jewish communities, the Bahai Faith, the Alevi Muslim community, and five other religious groups, including followers of the indigenous Norse belief system, Forn Sidr.
Registered religious groups have the right to perform legal marriage ceremonies, name and baptize children with legal effect, issue legal death certificates, obtain residence permits for foreign clergy, establish cemeteries, and receive tax deductible financial donations and various valued added tax exemptions. For religious communities that do not perform baptisms, paper forms provided on the citizen services website are filled out and delivered to the pastor or office of the religious community who in turn registers the child in the Population Register. Individuals unaffiliated with a registered religious group may opt to have birth and death certificates issued by the Danish Health Authority.
Religious groups not recognized by either royal decree or by a government registration process, such as the Church of Scientology, are entitled to engage in religious practices without any kind of public registration, but members of those groups must marry in a civil ceremony in addition to any religious ceremony. Unrecognized religious groups are not granted fully tax-exempt status, but do have some tax benefits; for example, contributions by members are tax deductible.
In order for a religious community to be registered, it must have at least 150 members, while a congregation, which the Ministry of Ecclesiastical Affairs considers as a group within one of the major world religions (Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism and Islam), must consist of at least 50 adult members to be approved. For congregations located in sparsely populated regions, such as Greenland, a lower population threshold is used. The threshold number varies, depending on the total population of a given area. The guidelines for approval of religious organizations require religious groups seeking registration to submit 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; information about the group’s leadership; and a statement on the number of adult members permanently residing in the country.
The law bans judges from wearing religious symbols such as headscarves, turbans, skullcaps, and large crucifixes while in court.
All public and private schools, including religious schools, receive government financial support. Public schools must teach Evangelical Lutheran theology; the instructors are public school teachers rather than provided by the ELC. The religion classes are compulsory in grades 1–9, although students may be exempted if a parent presents a request in writing. No alternative classes are offered. The curriculum from grades 1-6 focuses on life philosophies and ethics, biblical stories, and the history of Christianity. In grade 7-9 the curriculum adds a module on world religions. The course is optional in grade 10. If the student is 15 years old or older, the student and parent must jointly request the student’s exemption. Private schools are also required to teach religion classes in grades 1-9, including world religion in grades 7-9. The religion classes taught in grades 1-6 need not be about ELC theology. Noncompulsory collective prayer in schools is allowed if it does not include proselytizing. Prayers are optional at the discretion of each school. They may consist of ELC, or other Christian, Muslim, or Jewish prayers, and students may opt out of participating.
Military service is compulsory, but there is an exemption for conscientious objectors, including for religious reasons. Those who do not want to serve in the military may apply for either alternative civilian service or not to serve at all. The period of alternative service for a conscientious objector is the same as the period required for military service. An individual must apply to perform service as a conscientious objector within eight weeks of receiving notice of military service. The application must go to the Conscientious Objector Administration and must show that military service of any kind is incompatible with one’s conscience. The alternative service may take place in various social and cultural institutions, peace movements, organizations related to the United Nations, churches and ecumenical organizations, and environmental organizations throughout the country.
A new law, which entered into force in January, prohibits ritual slaughter of animals without prior stunning, including kosher and halal slaughter. The law allows for slaughter according to religious rites with prior stunning and limits such slaughter to cattle, sheep, goats, and chickens. All slaughter must take place at a slaughterhouse. Slaughterhouses practicing ritual slaughter are obliged to register with the Veterinary and Food Administration. Violations of this law are punishable by fines or up to four months in prison. Halal and kosher meat may be imported.
On December 15, parliament passed legislation to be enacted on May 1, 2017 requiring clergy members with legal authorization to officiate at marriages to complete a two-day course on family law and civil rights, administered by the Ministry of Ecclesiastic Affairs. The law also includes a requirement that religious workers “must not behave or act in a way that makes them unworthy to exercise public authority.” Religious workers perceived to not comply with the new provisions could be stripped of their ability to conduct marriage ceremonies.
The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.