Last Updated: Thursday, 18 September 2014, 07:51 GMT

U.S. Department of State Annual Report on International Religious Freedom for 2006 - Denmark

Publisher United States Department of State
Publication Date 15 September 2006
Cite as United States Department of State, U.S. Department of State Annual Report on International Religious Freedom for 2006 - Denmark , 15 September 2006, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/450fb0b316.html [accessed 18 September 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

International Religious Freedom Report 2006

Released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, September 15, 2006. Covers the period from July 1, 2005, to June 30, 2006.

The constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the Government generally respected this right in practice. The Evangelical Lutheran Church is the state church and enjoys some privileges not available to other faiths.

There was no change in the status of respect for religious freedom during the period covered by this report, and government policy continued to contribute to the generally free practice of religion.

The generally amicable relationship among religious groups in society contributed to religious freedom.

The U.S. government discusses religious freedom issues with the Government as part of its overall policy to promote human rights.

Section I. Religious Demography

The country has a total area of 16,639 square miles, and its population was approximately 5.4 million. As of January 2006, 83 percent of the population belonged to the official Evangelical Lutheran Church. Although only approximately 3 percent of church members attended services regularly, most members utilized the church for weddings, funerals, baptisms, confirmations, and religious holidays.

The second largest religious community was Muslim, constituting approximately 3.7 percent of the population (an estimated 210,000 persons), followed by communities of Catholics (35,000), Jehovah's Witnesses (15,000), Jews (7,000), Baptists (5,500), Pentecostals (5,000), and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons) (4,500). There were also many communities with fewer than 3,000 members, including Seventh-day Adventists, the Catholic Apostolic Church, the Salvation Army, Methodists, Anglicans, and Russian Orthodox. The German minority in southern Jutland and other non-Danish communities (particularly Scandinavian groups) had their own religious groups. Approximately 5.4 percent of the population described themselves as not religious, and an estimated 1.5 percent described themselves as atheist.

Missionaries operated within the country, including representatives of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons) and Jehovah's Witnesses. The European headquarters of the Church of Scientology was located in Copenhagen, although it is not officially approved as a religion.

Section II. Status of Religious Freedom

Legal/Policy Framework

The constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the Government generally respected this right in practice. The Government at all levels sought to protect this right in full and did not tolerate its abuse, either by governmental or private actors.

The constitution stipulates that the Evangelical Lutheran Church is the national church, the reigning monarch shall be a member of the church, and the state shall support it. The Evangelical Lutheran Church is the only religious organization that can receive state subsidies or funds directly through the tax system. Approximately 12 percent of the Church's revenue comes from state subsidies; most of the rest comes from the church tax that is paid only by members. No individual may be compelled to pay church tax or provide direct financial support to the national church or any other religious organization. Members of other faiths, notably Catholics, have argued that the system is unfair, and that the Government does not provide religious equality, despite providing religious freedom. Allowing other religious organizations to be given the same status and privileges as the Evangelical Lutheran Church would require changes to the constitution.

Eleven Christian holy days are considered national holidays: Holy Thursday, Good Friday, Easter, Easter Monday, Common Prayer Day, Ascension, Pentecost, Whit Monday, Christmas Eve, Christmas, and Christmas Day 2 (December 26). The holidays do not have a negative impact on any religious groups.

Aside from the Evangelical Lutheran Church, the Government gives official status to religions in two ways: it recognizes religions by royal decree, and it approves religions under the 1969 Marriage Act. As of April 2005, 12 religious organizations were recognized by royal decree, including the Roman Catholic, Methodist, Baptist, and Russian Orthodox churches as well as Judaism; and 115 were approved, including several Islamic groups, Jehovah's Witnesses, Mormons, Seventh-day Adventists, Sikhs, Buddhists, Christian Orthodox, Hindu, Baha'is, and Hare Krishnas, and the indigenous Norse belief system known as Forn Sidr. By approving religions under the 1969 Marriage Act, the Government allows individually named priests to conduct officially recognized marriage ceremonies, and thereby legally approves the religion.

Both recognized and approved religions enjoy certain tax exemptions. Other religious communities are entitled to practice their faith without any sort of licensing, but their marriage ceremonies are not recognized by the state and they are not granted tax-exempt status.

The 1999 Guidelines for approval of religious organizations established the following requirements for religious groups: a written text of the religion's central traditions, descriptions of its most important rituals, an organizational structure accessible to public control and approval, and constitutionally elected representatives who may be held responsible by the authorities. Additionally, the organization must "not teach or perform actions inconsistent with public morality or order." Scientologists did not seek official approval as a religious organization during the period covered by this report. Their first application for approval was made in the early 1970s and rejected; the second and third applications were made in 1976 and 1982, and both were denied. In mid-1997, the Scientologists filed a fourth application, which was suspended at their request in 2000. In suspending their application, the Scientologists asked the Ministry of Ecclesiastical Affairs to clarify the approval procedure; however, the ministry told them they must first submit an application before the ministry could provide any feedback. Despite the Scientologists' unofficial status, the Church maintained its European headquarters in Copenhagen.

There are no restrictions on proselytizing or missionary work as long as practitioners obey the law and do not act inconsistently with public morality or order. All schools, including religious schools, receive government financial support. While the Evangelical Lutheran faith is taught in the public schools, a student may withdraw from religious classes with parental consent. Section 76 of the constitution protects the rights of parents to home school or educate their children in private schools.

During the period covered by the report, the Government continued to consider legislative and administrative proposals to promote further social integration of refugees and immigrants. The proposals emerged out of widespread political and social attitudes favoring the integration of immigrants and refugees. In June 2004, Parliament enacted a law directed at foreign religious leaders seeking residence visas. The "Imam Law," which is applied by immigration authorities to all foreign religious leaders, requires that the number of religious residence visas be reasonably proportioned to the size of the corresponding religious community. Additionally, the visa applicant must prove association with a recognized or approved religious community and possess a relevant background or education as a religious preacher, missionary or member of a religious community.

The law provides that "Christian studies" be taught in public schools. The course covers world religions and philosophy and promotes tolerance and respect for all religious beliefs; however, the course devotes the most time to Christianity. The course is compulsory, although students may be exempted from the course if a parent presents a request in writing. If the student is aged fifteen or older, the student and parent must jointly request the student's exemption from the course. According to the Ministry of Education, less than 2 percent of students in the greater Copenhagen area, the area with the highest concentration of other religious populations, "opt out" of the Christian studies course.

Restrictions on Religious Freedom

Government policy and practice contributed to the generally free practice of religion.

In April 2006, the Ministry of Ecclesiastical Affairs officially approved the plans for the first cemetery completely dedicated to the Muslim community in the country. The Dansk Islamisk Begravelsefond (Danish Islamic Cemetery Fund) purchased property in the greater Copenhagen area to use for a Muslim cemetery in December 2004. The purchase was the culmination of a several-year effort by members of the Muslim community to establish the first Muslim cemetery in the country. The Danish Islamic Cemetery Fund overcame a publicized dispute with municipal authorities over the value of the land, which prolonged the purchase efforts. The cemetery was expected to open in 2007.

There were no reports of religious prisoners or detainees in the country.

Forced Religious Conversion

There were no reports of forced religious conversion, including of minor U.S. citizens who had been abducted or illegally removed from the United States, or of the refusal to allow such citizens to be returned to the United States.

Anti-Semitism

There were isolated incidents of anti-Semitism, primarily by immigrants. Both the members of the Jewish community and police sources attested to the fact that the greatest friction was between the Jewish and Muslim communities. Ethnic Danes and non-Muslims had not been cited for anti-Semitic acts during the reporting period. Most acts involved vandalism, such as graffiti, or verbal assaults. Data were difficult to determine because such reports were generally entered via a police hotline, or came from the Jewish community, and were rarely followed by an arrest.

Section III. Societal Abuses and Discrimination

The generally amicable relationship among religious groups in society contributed to religious freedom. The country has a long history of welcoming religious minorities and affording them equal treatment. There are generally amicable relations between religious groups, although the influx of a substantial Muslim population over the last several years resulted in some tension between Muslims and the rest of the population. In May 2006, the International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights (IHF) and the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) published reports stating that the overall political climate for Muslims in the country had deteriorated. Both the IHF and ECRI noted that portions of the Danish media contributed to the general misperceptions of Islam and the negative sentiment toward the Muslim community.

In September 2005, Jyllands-Posten, a widely read daily newspaper, published a series of twelve cartoons controversially depicting satirical images of the prophet Mohammed. While the editors, citing constitutional protections of freedom of expression, maintained the cartoons represented a national tradition of robust public discourse, many observers, especially in the minority Muslim community, interpreted them as a direct attack on the Islamic faith. In early 2006, as the cartoons were republished in other European countries, a widespread international backlash erupted, turning violent in several Islamic countries. Protests within the country were peaceful. Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen and his center-right coalition Government were criticized for failing to heed concerns expressed by representatives of the country's Muslim community and refusing to meet with ambassadors of Islamic countries before the cartoon crisis escalated. The prime minister expressed regret that the cartoons had offended the Muslim community but declined to reprimand the publisher or issue an official apology on behalf of the Government. The Government stated that the newspaper's publication of the drawings was a protected exercise of its constitutional right, even if the Government did not like or support the content of that expression. A broad majority of the public agreed with this position. The Government, seeking to improve dialogue with its Muslim communities and to repair its relations with the Islamic world, subsequently sponsored and participated in a number of Muslim events in and outside of the country aimed at fostering tolerance and mutual understanding.

Minority group unemployment figures, crime rates (especially among young adults), and education dropout rates tended to be higher, and allegations sometimes were raised of discrimination on the basis of religion. However, it was difficult to separate religious differences from differences in language and ethnicity, and the latter may be equally important in explaining unequal access to well-paying jobs and social advancement. The integration of immigrant groups from Islamic countries was an important political and social topic of discussion.

There were isolated incidents of anti-immigrant graffiti and low-level assaults as well as some denial of service and hiring on racial grounds. The Government criticized the incidents, investigated several, and brought some cases to trial.

The international Muslim organization Hizb ut-Tahrir continued to operate in the country despite periodic calls by the various political parties to ban the group. In March 2006, the Copenhagen public prosecutor brought charges against Fadi Abdullatif, the Hizb-ut-Tahrir spokesman, for making threats against Prime Minister Rasmussen and other members of the government administration. The case was ongoing at the end of the reporting period. Abdullatif served sixty days probation in 2002 for distributing pamphlets calling for the murder of all Jews.

In March 2006, the Ministry for Ecclesiastical Affairs published a report regarding grave desecrations in the country. The report confirmed damage to 32 cemeteries and a total of 817 grave markers in 2005, with an additional 83 graves in 4 churches during the first quarter of 2006. There was no sectarian breakdown of the numbers. In February 2006, more than twenty Muslim graves were desecrated in Esbjerg. Authorities believed the graves were damaged in retaliation to the cartoon controversy. The police identified three juvenile suspects who were interrogated and then released to the social authorities for reprimand.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy

The U.S. government discusses religious freedom issues with the Government as part of its overall policy to promote human rights. The embassy regularly engages in dialogue with religious leaders and community groups from the country's diverse religious backgrounds. Embassy officers engaged in an active Muslim outreach program, which included numerous meetings with religious and community leaders of leading Muslim organizations in the country. Embassy officers had wide-ranging discussions with the Muslim leaders on topics such as religious and cultural diversity, democracy and freedom, and Muslim life in the United States. The U.S. Department of State sponsored Danish Muslim leaders to participate in established International Visitors Programs focusing on diversity and multiculturalism, and developed a special summer 2006 program for nine young leaders active in Danish Muslim community building. The Department also launched, in conjunction with the Ministry for Refugee, Immigration and Integration Affairs, an initiative to reach out to young people in diverse communities through sports and a summer internship program with American companies in the country.

In April 2006, the ambassador visited a mosque in Ishoj, an ethnically diverse suburb of Copenhagen, to discuss the political climate and economic outlook for Muslims in the country with the imam, the mayor of Ishoj, local council members and other community activists.

In January 2005, the embassy participated in targeted Global Anti-Semitism Report outreach by placing an article in the national daily Kristelig Dagblad (circulation 25,000), the country's largest-circulation religious affairs newspaper. The article stressed the need for governments to take uncompromising steps to address the issue of increased anti-Semitic abuses in Europe and Russia. By reporting numerous instances of abuse targeted at the Jewish community, and by describing the nature of both Muslim-inspired and right-wing hostility to the worldwide Jewish community, the article clearly illustrated the contemporary nature of the problem and caused the newspaper's readership to reconsider their views on the issue.

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