The constitution declares the ELC as the country’s 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, and specifies as penalties a fine (amount unspecified) or a maximum of one year’s imprisonment. If a religious leader disseminates the hate speech, the penalties increase to a fine or a maximum of three years’ imprisonment.
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 and Integration 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 through payroll deduction from 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 government grants. Members of other recognized religious communities cannot contribute via payroll deduction but may donate to their own community voluntarily and receive an income tax credit. The ELC and other state-recognized religious communities carry out registration of civil unions, births, and deaths for their members.
On May 31, the government enacted a law prohibiting masks and face coverings, including burqas and niqabs, in public spaces. Violators may be fined 1,000-10,000 kroner ($150-$1,500). The maximum fine is for those who violate the law four or more times.
The Ministry of Culture and Ecclesiastic Affairs has responsibility for granting official status to religious groups besides the ELC through recognition by royal decree (for groups recognized prior to 1970) or through official registration. According to the Ministry of Culture and Ecclesiastic Affairs, there are (as of November) 315 religious groups and congregations the government officially recognizes or that are affiliated with recognized groups: 208 Christian groups, 62 Muslim, 17 Buddhist, nine Hindu, three Jewish, and 16 other groups and congregations, including the Baha’i Faith, the Alevi Muslim community, and followers of the indigenous Norse belief system Forn Sidr.
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. A religious community law enacted in December 2017 effective on January 1 allows only religious communities recognized before 1970 to issue name, baptismal, and marriage certificates. According to the law, this privilege will expire for all religious communities except the ELC in 2023. Members of other religious communities or individuals unaffiliated with a recognized 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.
The religious community law that came into force in January codifies for the first time the registration process for religious communities other than the ELC and eliminates the previous distinction between those recognized by royal decree and those approved through registration. For a religious community to be recognized, 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, the government applies a lower population threshold, varying according to the total population of the region. 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 their 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, religious historian, sociologist of religion, and 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 ELC theology; the instructors are public school teachers rather than persons provided by the ELC. Religious 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 ELC course 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 include ELC theology. 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 conscription is mandatory for all physically fit men older than 18. Women may participate but are not obligated to do so. Military service is typically four months. There is an exemption for conscientious objectors, including on religious grounds, allowing conscientious objectors to perform alternative civilian service, which also has a period of four months, instead. An individual wishing to perform alternative service as a conscientious objector must apply within eight weeks of receiving notice of military service. The application is adjudicated by 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 have an adequate mastery of the Danish language and 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 perform marriages.
The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
During the year, the government added seven new individuals, including two Americans, to a “hate preachers” list that barred those individuals from entering the country. The Ministry of Immigration and Integration stated these individuals threatened the nation’s values and public security.
In April Minister of Justice Soren Pape Poulsen stated the government enacted the law banning face coverings because concealing the face was antithetical to the social interaction and coexistence that was crucial in a society. According to a 2010 survey by the University of Copenhagen, an estimated 150 to 200 women in the country wore a niqab and three wore a burqa. Widespread media reporting portrayed the ban as targeting Muslim women. Poulsen called the niqab “incompatible with the values in Danish society,” while Martin Henriksen, the immigration spokesperson for the Danish People’s Party, one of the country’s largest political parties, called the vote a “statement from parliament that the burqa and niqab do not belong in Denmark.” Religious groups and several human rights groups protested the ban. Amnesty International said the law “essentially criminalizes women for their choice of clothing, making a mockery of the freedoms Denmark purports to uphold.”
In August an estimated 1,300 Muslims and non-Muslims wearing veils marched from Norrebro, a neighborhood in Copenhagen with a high concentration of immigrants, to a local police station to protest the law banning face coverings. Ministry of Justice officials declined to prosecute protesters, stating wearing a burqa or niqab in this instance was an act of protest and protected as freedom of expression.
In the first six months of the ban, 109 violations were filed with the National Police, resulting in 22 charges and 13 fines; 31 other cases resulted in a warning, with the person either removing the face covering or leaving the public space. Eight other inquiries were dismissed because the violation was in connection with a demonstration. Media reports stated the first fine involved a woman who wore a niqab in a shopping complex. She received a 1,000 kroner ($150) fine, and authorities asked her to remove the veil or leave the public space; she chose to leave. The Muslim community reported one family emigrated because of the law.
According to the a November 15 executive order from the minister of church affairs, the religious community law that entered into force in January incentivized individual congregations within a religious community to formally register with the government in order to receive tax benefits. Some religious groups also anticipated that under the new law, individuals would be able to make tax-deductible donations to specific congregations rather than to the broader religious community to which the congregation belonged. As such, the total number of registered religious communities and congregations was expected to increase.
In June parliament debated a citizen-driven petition to ban circumcision of individuals younger than 18. Although the petition proposed banning circumcision of minors of both sexes, the law already prohibited female circumcision. The petition acquired the necessary signatures pursuant to a new law requiring petitions with more than 50,000 signatures to be debated in parliament. According to a January poll by research firm Megafon, 83 percent of persons expressed public support for the ban. Advocates of the ban led by NGO INTACT Denmark stressed their concern for the rights of children, but Muslim and Jewish communities opposed it and formed an interreligious working group to lobby the government against it. The debate on banning circumcision also played out on social media. For example, individuals posted anti-Semitic comments – such as “bloody child abuse is part of Jewish rituals” – on INTACT Denmark’s Facebook page. On July 11, Rabbi Melchior of the Jewish Society said, “The opponents of circumcision are not anti-Semites, but if they succeed in convincing the politicians into banning it, it will be an anti-Semitic act.” Finn Rudaizky, a former leader of the Jewish Society of Denmark, stated in June that, “In addition to children’s welfare activists, many others use the situation to show that they are against Jews, Muslims, and they can express anti-Semitism and xenophobia without admitting to it.”
In October Prime Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen linked the country’s historical rescue of the Jews in 1943 to the debate on circumcision, vowing to protect the Jews once again. A majority of parliamentarians came out against the ban on its first reading in November, and at year’s end, the bill sat with the Health and Elderly Committee for further study before a final parliamentary vote scheduled for the spring of 2019.
In January the government announced a new action plan to eliminate “parallel societies” emerging from what it called “ghetto” communities. Part of the government’s definition of “ghetto” community was a non-Western majority population, which media widely interpreted to mean Muslims. Initiatives parliament enacted during the year included doubling of penalties for crimes committed in ghetto-designated communities and mandatory enrollment of children in day care or loss of child benefits. The Muslim community expressed concerns about the compulsory day care, which had a component of 25 hours per week of instruction, including religious teaching about Christmas and Easter.
In February Minister of Immigration and Integration Inger Stojberg wrote an article titled “The Sad Truth about Islam” for the BT newspaper and also posted on social media. Stojberg stated Danes had “lost” and “become scared by a religion [Islam] whose fanatics have threatened us to silence.” She said, “[I]t is primarily the followers of the so-called religion of peace, Islam, which actually engages [sic] with weapons, violence, and terror.” Citing the play The Book of Mormon, which had recently opened in Copenhagen, in the article, Stojberg said performing a similar play in the country about Islam was “unthinkable.” Stojberg has had round-the-clock police protection since 2015 due to numerous threats against her.
In May Stojberg called for Muslims fasting during Ramadan to take time off from work because she believed they were unable to perform their jobs safely. Colleagues from her own Liberal (Venstre) Party called for Stojberg to provide evidence to support her statement; she did not respond.
On December 20, parliament enacted into law a proposal introduced by the Conservative and Danish People’s Parties requiring persons obtaining Danish citizenship to shake hands during naturalization ceremonies. Critics said the law, scheduled to take effect on January 1, 2019, targeted Muslims, who declined on religious grounds to shake hands with members of the opposite sex. Media reported some of the mayors who conducted naturalization ceremonies objected to the law, which they called awkward and irrelevant to an applicant’s qualifications. Mayor of Sonderborg Erik Lauritzen announced he would overlook the handshake requirement if applicants showed respect for authorities another way; Mayor of Aabenraa Thomas Andresen stated he would not feel comfortable reporting a noncompliant applicant and urged the national government to administer the ceremony rather than the municipality. Imam Falah Malik from Nusrat Djahan Mosque called on applicants to show respect another way but, if a handshake was required between members of the opposite sex, to skip the ceremony. Parliamentarian and spokesperson on immigration for the Danish People’s Party Henriksen said of the law, “If one can’t do something that simple and straightforward [shake hands], there’s no reason to become a Danish citizen.”
In September TV2 Ostjylland reported the municipality of Horsens would offer citizens a chance to specifically opt out of halal or kosher meat at municipal institutions starting in January 2019. Horsens city councilor from the Danish People’s Party Michael Nedersoe said, “This is an offer for those people who don’t want a Muslim prayer over their food or think halal slaughter is on the edge of animal abuse.” The Danish People’s Party had called on municipal authorities to try to ban halal meat from municipal institutions during local elections in November 2017. Henriksen, the party’s immigration spokesperson, said at the time, “It’s wrong when the food in public institutions is blessed by an imam.” Opponents in Horsens to the originally proposed ban on halal meat, such as Horsens city councilor Saliem Bader from the Social Democratic Party, stated the new proposal did not ban halal meat but rather offered people a chance to opt out of eating it.
The government continued to provide armed security, consisting of police and military, for Jewish sites it considered to be at high risk of terrorist attack, including Copenhagen’s synagogue and community center and schools. Officials from the Jewish Society reported continued good relations with police and the ability to communicate their concerns to authorities, including the minister of justice.