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.
In September Copenhagen City Court acquitted four citizens accused of aiding and abetting in terrorism by assisting Omar El-Hussein, the gunman who carried out deadly attacks at a free speech forum and a synagogue in Copenhagen in 2015. The Jewish community expressed regret at the acquittal. Two of the men were additionally charged and convicted of assisting in the disposal of the rifle used by El-Hussein and sentenced to three years and two-and-a-half years in prison, respectively. A third man was sentenced to 60 days in prison for drug possession and possessing ammunition similar to that used in the terrorist attack.
Jewish community leaders stated that the current and previous governments had provided state-funded security improvements which greatly increased the perceived safety of the Jewish community following the February 2015 Copenhagen attacks.
In May the publicly funded Center for Adult Education in Lyngby prohibited six Muslim women from wearing the niqab in school and referred them to the center’s e-learning service. School officials stated the niqab limited the interaction between teacher and student. Minister of Education Ellen Trane Noerby supported the school’s decision, stating to the Danish Broadcasting Corporation that she fully supported the management’s right to enforce the prohibition so that training could take place “in an orderly manner.” She added that the education center was an independent entity and agreed with its argument that interaction between student and teacher was an important part of the learning experience, with which the niqab interfered.
Schools had the option to ban prayer during school hours. In June a Muslim student and teaching assistants at a publicly funded school for healthcare in Hilleroed were informed by the school director that prayer would no longer be possible during school hours. In a Facebook post, a student protested the decision, prompting hundreds of responses approving or denouncing the ban. The school’s director stated that he was unable to grant religion-specific requests or accommodations. Member of Parliament (MP) Alex Ahrendtsen of the Danish People’s Party gave his full support to the ban. A similar ban was put in place in an Aarhus region high school in September, where the majority of the students were Muslim.
Schools offered foods that satisfied different religious requirements. The options varied by school. Some schools offered halal meals while others did not serve pork. In January the Randers city council voted that traditional meals, including pork-based meals, would be mandatory in the municipality’s public institutions, including schools and day care centers. The text of the bill stated that “nobody must be forced to eat anything that is against their attitude or religion,” and alternative meal options continued to be provided. Martin Henriksen, a spokesman for the Danish People’s Party that backed the measure, explained on his Facebook page that the bill would help uphold Danish culture, stating that his party was: “…fighting against Islamic rules and misguided considerations dictating what Danish children should eat.” Some members of the Muslim community and migration advocates objected to the bill as stigmatizing Muslims.
In discussions in March with then-United Nations Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief Heiner Bielefeldt, members of the Jewish community expressed concerns over the ban on slaughter of animals without prior stunning, which they said was enacted without prior consultation with the community.
In February national television network TV2, a publicly owned broadcaster with an independent editorial board, aired a four-part investigative documentary that depicted Islam in an unflattering light. The program used undercover videography that depicted imams at eight well known Sunni mosques encouraging members to carry out domestic abuse, including bigamy and rape.
Using hidden cameras, reporters posed as a married couple and secretly recorded conversations with imams and others at eight Sunni mosques in Aarhus, Odense, and Copenhagen. The imams were taped telling the undercover couple not to report spousal abuse to authorities, and stating that under Islam husbands were permitted to engage in domestic violence.
The series also depicted alleged abuses of welfare benefits and tax fraud by local Muslims. An imam in Odense was shown advising the couple on how to “trick” the municipality into paying for their apartment by misrepresenting their income; he was later reported to be under investigation by the National Police for potential tax and welfare fraud. The series also questioned whether public funds were truly being used for their intended purpose of better integrating Muslim communities into society. In several examples featured in the documentary, mosques founded an association to apply for a municipal grant, but never created any community organization.
Aarhus Mayor Jacob Bundsgaard cited his loss of confidence in the local Muslim community after broadcast of the negative TV2 television documentary series and withdrew a municipal commitment to provide land for a “grand mosque” project that had been under consideration for the previous 17 years.
In February a district court ruled that hate speech posted on Facebook may be prosecuted under hate speech laws and fined a citizen 1,600 kroner ($227) for anti-Islamic postings from 2013. In February Danish People’s Party councilman Mogens Camre was fined 8,000 kroner ($1,130) for tweeting anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim remarks. Also in February the state prosecutor said that Hajj Saeed, who gave a sermon inciting violence against Jews in the Masjid Al-Faru mosque in Copenhagen during 2015, would not be prosecuted for his statements. In response to those rulings, parliament reexamined the hate speech provisions within the penal code to assess whether the laws were working as intended. In response to a formal question asked by parliament, on March 9, the minister of justice read a statement prepared by his ministry that the current provisions in the penal code were adequate and working as intended.
In November Sheikh Muhammad Al-Khaled Samha, an imam at a mosque run by the Islamic Society in Denmark in the Odense suburb of Vollsmose, was criminally indicted for a sermon he gave in September 2014 where he called Jews “the offspring of apes and pigs” and added “Oh Muslims, oh Servant of Allah, there is a Jew behind me, come and kill him.” Media reported that prosecutors indicted him for violating the penal code prohibition against threatening or scorning people on the basis of their religion, and he could face up to two years in prison or a fine. Samha was found guilty by the Odense city court on December 20 and received a 14-day suspended jail sentence.
On November 8, the municipality of Copenhagen and the Jewish community inaugurated an information center to educate teachers who would then visit schools, other educational institutions, and youth clubs to inform the general population about the Jewish minority. The municipality funded the Jewish community-run center. Copenhagen Mayor of Employment and Integration Anna Mee Allerslev told the media in February that “we have too many instances of anti-Semitism or hatred of Jews and we want to help break down prejudices and…eliminate discrimination and hate crimes.”
Prime Minister Rasmussen invited all political party leaders to a March 30 closed meeting on countering religious extremism, where he called for legislative action to counter religious hate speech that was contrary to the constitution and to bar entry to designated hate preachers before the summer parliamentary recess. Following the passage in December of legislation requiring additional coursework on family law and civil rights for clergy eligible to perform marriage ceremonies, non-Islamic religious minorities expressed concern about changes in legislation which could have a negative impact on their communities and threaten religious freedom.
The government observed International Holocaust Remembrance Day on January 27 with ceremonies, public speaking events, and educational events. Prime Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen released a statement on his social media page and the Copenhagen mayor of culture and leisure provided the opening speech on the year’s theme of inclusive citizenship. The speech cited the stripping of civil rights of European Jews during World War II and decried any government actions that could erode civil rights for minorities. Many observers interpreted the speech as alluding to the rights of recently arrived refugees, many of whom were Muslim. Other locations throughout the country held talks and discussions throughout the year in remembrance of victims of the Holocaust. Under the auspices of the Ministry of Education, the private think tank Danish Institute for International Studies (DIIS) offered lectures on the Holocaust from national and international experts for students in lower and upper secondary schools and provided teachers with materials on the Holocaust to use in their classes.
The government is a member of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance. Throughout the year, several municipalities held events in coordination with the alliance, locally cosponsored by DIIS, including providing speakers and hosting local conferences.