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 law prohibits hate speech, including religious hate speech that is directed at individuals or groups; the maximum penalty for hate speech is a fine or two years’ imprisonment. On June 2, parliament repealed, effective June 9, a blasphemy law, which had prescribed a maximum of four months in prison and a fine for those who mocked or insulted a legally recognized religion.
The law permits the government to prevent religious figures who are foreign nationals and do not already have a residence permit from entering the country if the Ministry of Immigration determines their presence poses a threat to the public order. In such cases the ministry places the individuals on a national sanctions list and bars them from entry into the country for a two-year period, which may be renewed.
The ELC is the only religious group that receives funding through state grants and voluntary taxes paid via payroll deduction of its members. Members receive a tax credit for their donations to the ELC. 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.
The Ministry of Culture and Ecclesiastic Affairs has responsibility for granting official status to other religious groups in addition to the ELC through recognition by historic royal decree or through official registration. According to the Ministry of Culture and Ecclesiastic Affairs, there are a total of 314 religious groups and congregations: 205 Christian groups, 66 Muslim groups, 15 Buddhist groups, nine Hindu groups, three Jewish groups, and 16 miscellaneous groups and congregations including the Bahai Faith, the Alevi Muslim community, and followers of the indigenous Norse belief system, Forn Sidr. Of this number, some groups are officially recognized while others are affiliated with recognized groups.
Recognized 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 clergy member 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 health authority.
Groups not recognized by either royal decree or 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 they 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 Culture and Ecclesiastic 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. Groups must also have formal procedures for membership and make its teachings available to all members. The Ministry of Justice makes the final decision on registration applications after receiving recommendations from a group consisting of a lawyer, a religious historian, a sociologist of religion, and a nonordained theologian.
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 in grades 1-6 focuses on life philosophies and ethics, biblical stories, and the history of Christianity. In grades 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 1-9 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, 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 the individual’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.
The law 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.
A law that came into force on May 1 requires 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 Culture and 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 as not complying with the new provisions may be stripped of their right to conduct marriage ceremonies.
According to European Union legislation, companies are allowed to fire employees for wearing religious symbols if their conditions of employment preclude employees from wearing such symbols.
The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.