Last Updated: Friday, 24 October 2014, 15:39 GMT

2009 Report on International Religious Freedom - Sweden

Publisher United States Department of State
Author Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor
Publication Date 26 October 2009
Cite as United States Department of State, 2009 Report on International Religious Freedom - Sweden, 26 October 2009, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4ae861046e.html [accessed 26 October 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.

[Covers the period from July 1, 2008, to June 30, 2009]

The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and other laws and policies contributed to the generally free practice of religion.

The Government generally respected religious freedom in practice. There was no change in the status of respect for religious freedom by the Government during the reporting period.

There were some reports of societal abuses or discrimination based on religious affiliation, belief, or practice. Prominent social leaders took positive steps to promote religious freedom.

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

Section I. Religious Demography

The country has an area of 173,732 square miles and a population of 9.3 million.

There are numerous religious groups. The Government does not register the religion of citizens – it relies on statistics submitted by religious organizations when they apply for annual state funds.

Religious membership or affiliation is concentrated in a few major denominations. According to the Church of Sweden (Lutheran), an estimated 72.9 percent of citizens are members; other Protestant groups total approximately 4.4 percent (400,000 persons) of the population. Membership in the Church of Sweden has decreased steadily since it separated from the state in 2000. During 2008, 49,757 members left the Church (0.8 percent of registered members). Church-led studies found that individuals left primarily for economic reasons: membership carries a tax on income, normally less than 1 percent (separated members can still attend services.) In 2008 the Church baptized 59 percent of all children born in the country, a figure that has steadily declined over the past two decades. Fewer than 34 percent of 15-year-olds were confirmed in 2008; 80 percent were in 1970. The Church married 44 percent of all couples, compared to 61.1 percent in 2000.

Approximately 5 percent (450,000-500,000) of the population is Muslim, although the officially sanctioned Muslim Council of Sweden, for government funding purposes, reported only 106,327 active participants.

Religious communities representing fewer than 5 percent of the population include the Pentecostal movement, the Missionary (or Missions) Church, Jehovah's Witnesses, and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons).

The number of Jews is approximately 20,000. The Jewish community estimates that there are 8,000 practicing members. There are Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform synagogues, found mostly in the cities. Large numbers of Jews attend High Holy Day services, and the synagogues normally also fill up for weekly services.

Smaller communities are concentrated in larger cities and include Buddhists, Hindus, Sikhs, Zoroastrians, Hare Krishna, Church of Scientology, Word of Faith, and the Unification Church.

It is against the law for the Government to register the faith of individuals; therefore, there are no statistics on correlation between religious groups and socioeconomic status. However, large numbers of immigrants are found at the bottom of the socioeconomic scale.

Certain religions are closely tied to immigrant groups, including the large Finnish-speaking Lutheran denomination and the Orthodox Christian churches attended by Syrians, Serbs, Greeks, Romanians, and Macedonians. Nearly all Roman Catholics are first or second-generation immigrants, from southern Europe, Latin America, and Poland. Within the Stockholm Catholic Diocese, the Armenian, Chaldean, Maronite, Melchite, and Syrian churches celebrate Mass in their respective languages, as do the Polish, Croatian, Spanish, Italian, Eritrean, Vietnamese, Korean, and Ukrainian communities. The majority of immigrants from the Middle East are Muslim and attend services in Arabic. Members of the more common religious communities tend to be concentrated in the three largest cities. While services in Christian churches generally are poorly attended, many persons observe major church festivals and prefer religious ceremonies to mark turning points in life such as weddings and funerals.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal/Policy Framework

The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and other laws and policies contributed to the free practice of religion. The law at all levels protects this right in full against abuse, either by governmental or private actors.

Hate-speech laws prohibit threats or expressions of contempt for persons based on several factors, including religious belief.

Since the official separation of church and state in 2000, eight recognized religious denominations, in addition to the Church of Sweden, raise revenues through member contributions made through the national tax system. These include the Swedish Missionary Church, Roman Catholic Church, Swedish Alliance Mission, Baptist Union of Sweden, Salvation Army, Methodist Church in Sweden, Pentecostal Church, and the Evangelist Church. All recognized denominations are entitled to direct government financial support, contributions made through the national tax system, or a combination of both. The state does not favor the Church of Sweden over other religious groups.

The Government observes the following religious holidays as national holidays: Epiphany, Good Friday, Easter Sunday, Easter Monday, Ascension Day, Whit Sunday, All Saints' Day, Christmas, and Boxing Day. Students from minority religious backgrounds may observe their respective religious holidays.

Recognition or registration is not required to carry out religious activity. Religious groups that want to receive government aid may apply for it. In reviewing such applications, the Government considers the number of members in the group and its length of establishment but applies no other criteria. The Government promotes interfaith understanding and meets annually with representatives from various religious groups. The Commission for State Grants to Religious Communities is a government body under the authority of the Ministry of Culture. Twenty-two registered religious groups (39 including subgroups) are entitled to government aid. In 2008 approximately $6,059,500 (48,476,000 SEK) was distributed to religious communities in the country.

Religious education covering all major religions is compulsory in public schools. Parents may send their children to independent religious schools (all of which receive government subsidies through the school voucher system), which must adhere to government guidelines on core academic curriculum.

The Ombudsman on Discrimination (DO) is an independent government authority. On January 1, 2009, a reorganization was carried out and four Ombudsmen, working on different types of discrimination, were gathered in a new agency. The mandate of the new DO is to ensure that discrimination relating to, among other things, ethnic origin, religion, or other belief, does not occur. To that end, it has three principal duties: to educate against discrimination; assist individuals who have suffered discrimination; and supervise employers, institutes of higher education, and other schools to ensure that they fulfill relevant requirements of the law and combat discrimination through targeted and proactive measures.

The Living History Forum – a government authority established in 2003 to promote tolerance, democracy, and human rights using the Holocaust as a starting point – promotes national educational programs on the Holocaust, anti-Semitism, and racism. In 2006 the forum initiated an ongoing educational exhibition, "Sweden and the Holocaust," which continued to tour nationwide. The educational campaign, Anne Frank & I, that the forum started in 2006 and which targets high school students, continued. From November 2008 to May 2009 the exhibit was displayed at Varmland's Museum. The exhibit was scheduled to tour countrywide during 2009-10. Additionally, the Living History Forum together with the Association for the Survivors of the Holocaust continued their "Tell the Future" project, which aimed to carry on the memory of the Holocaust by having survivors tell their stories to 17-to-35-year-olds.

The Government is a member of the Task Force for International Cooperation on Holocaust Education, Remembrance, and Research.

The Stockholm County police has a hate crime unit to train police officers to detect, raise awareness of, and inform the public of hate crimes. The unit began on a trial basis in June 2007; in April 2009 it became permanent and expanded to the entire county. Representatives from the unit visit high schools to raise awareness of hate crimes and how to report them, and by their presence to encourage more victims to report abuse. Information for victims of hate crimes has been made available in several languages, and interpreters are provided to facilitate reporting. However, the unit noted that victims, especially of anti-Semitic crimes, choose not to report incidents due to privacy concerns.

Restrictions on Religious Freedom

The Government generally respected religious freedom in practice. There was no change in the status of respect for religious freedom by the Government during the reporting period.

According to law, the slaughter of an animal must be preceded by stunning and/or the administration of anesthetics to minimize its suffering. The Muslim community was split over whether certain anesthetic methods conflict with halal requirements. In April 2006 the Animal Protection Authority issued a report on animal slaughter that recommended the current law be maintained.

The law stipulates that male circumcision may be performed only by a licensed doctor or, for boys under the age of 2 months, in the presence of a person certified by the National Board of Health and Welfare (NBHW). The NBHW has certified mohels (persons ordained to carry out circumcision according to the Jewish faith) to perform the operations but requires that an anesthesiologist or other medical doctor accompany them. Some Jews and Muslims claimed the law interferes with their religious traditions. In April 2009 the Swedish Association of Local Authorities recommended that all county clinics offer circumcision, even if not medically indicated, to prevent botched "home" circumcisions. Approximately 3,000 boys annually are circumcised in the country, but only 1,000 such operations were performed in hospitals.

Individuals serving in the military are given the opportunity to fulfill religious requirements. The military offers food options complying with religious dietary restrictions and allows time off for appropriate mourning periods. Some regiments have an imam to facilitate religious observance by Muslim soldiers. Jehovah's Witnesses are exempt from national military service. Armed forces guidelines allow religious headwear.

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 who had not been allowed to be returned to the United States.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

There were some reports of societal abuses or discrimination based on religious affiliation, belief, or practice. Citizens were generally tolerant of diverse religious practices. However, anti-Semitism existed, and Muslims were subject to Islamophobic crimes and societal discrimination. Law enforcement authorities maintained statistics on hate crimes. Strong anti-Semitic views among resident Muslims existed.

In June 2009 the Swedish National Council for Crime Prevention presented its annual study on hate crimes, including anti-Semitic, Islamophobic, and a new section on other religion-related hate crimes. During 2008 there were approximately 600 reported cases, 45 percent Islamophobic, 26 percent anti-Semitic, and 28 percent related to other religions. Since 2000 approximately 130 anti-Semitic crimes have been reported annually. In 2008 there were 159 reported cases, an increase of 41. Islamophobic crimes increased to 272 cases, compared to 206 in 2007. Reportedly 12 percent of all the religion-related hate crimes in 2008 had a white-supremacy motive. The report also stated that among hate crimes with a religion-related motive, offences aimed at individuals such as illegal threats and "agitation against an ethnic group" were the most common.

The most frequent anti-Semitic crimes were "agitation against an ethnic group," with 37 reported incidents in 2008, and 80 reported cases of "unlawful threat or molestation." Half of the Islamophobic crimes, 138 cases, included "molestation or unlawful threat." Nazi symbols, such as Hitler salutes and swastikas, were associated with 32 percent of reported anti-Semitic cases. According to the report, one-third of anti-Semitic crimes were ideologically motivated, while only 7 percent of Islamophobic crimes were. Religious hate crimes more frequently took place in school or at work. The perpetrator was rarely known to the victim, and men were more often both the suspect and the victim. Sixty-one percent of Islamophobic cases and 75 percent of anti-Semitic cases from 2007 had been concluded by March 2009.

In December 2008 when the situation in Gaza escalated, numerous demonstrations occurred in the country. The majority of protesters expressed anti-Israel sentiments. The Jewish community reported an increase in anti-Semitism, and the police raised its security preparedness level. Debates regarding what constitutes expression of anti-Israel sentiment vs. anti-Semitism created headlines domestically. One of the incidents was in March 2009 in Malmo city, the location of a Davis Cup tennis match between the country and Israel. Local politicians decided to hold the matches without spectators for security reasons. The decision sparked a public debate in which some argued the event should be canceled. A nonviolent demonstration was organized, but hooliganism and some neo-Nazi disturbances occurred.

On January 2 and January 5, 2009, attempts were made to set a synagogue on fire in Helsingborg; the building was severely damaged. On January 5, vandals attempted to set on fire the funeral chapel at the Jewish cemetery in Malmo.

In January 2009 at the Israeli Embassy in Stockholm, in addition to spray-painted graffiti condemning the Gaza incursion, graffiti on the wall equated the Star of David with the swastika. Police increased security measures outside the embassy.

The Jewish community in Stockholm reported that several of its members received threats via e-mail, text messages, and phone calls. Anti-Semitic statements increased on Swedish blogs and internet forums.

In December 2008 neo-Nazis again commemorated the 2000 slaying of neo-Nazi Daniel Wrestrom by carrying out their annual march in Salem.

In December 2008 Muslim youths in a suburb of Malmo clashed with police over a three-week period. The youths threw Molotov cocktails and rocks at police and started fires in garbage bins. The disturbances were related to a dispute over a Malmo city official's decision not to renew the lease on a property that had been used for many years as an Islamic cultural center and that also housed a mosque. The Islamic Association claimed the decision was discriminatory. Seventeen persons were detained, one police officer was injured, and two persons were prosecuted; however, no convictions resulted.

In August 2008 a mosque in Strömsund in the north was set on fire. The incident took place on the opening day of the facility. No one was injured and the fire was extinguished.

In July 2008 a campaign against the building of a mosque in Karlskrona in the south was initiated by the neo-Nazi group "Friendship Karlskrona." The campaign was initiated after local officials voted in favor of allowing construction of the mosque. The officials' decision remained unchanged.

In May 2009 the Discrimination Ombudsman (DO), on behalf of a Muslim resident, sued a school in Vasteras for religious harassment and claimed $12,500 (100,000 SEK) in damages for him. The man was attending a bus driver education course when his teacher stated that practicing Muslims should leave the country and equated terrorism and suicide-bombers with Islam. The teacher stopped working at the school, and the Muslim man was employed as a bus driver. The case was not concluded at the end of the reporting period.

In April 2009 a building supply store complied with the DO and paid a Muslim man $3,750 (30,000 SEK) after denying the man practical training for employment. The man had attended an interview, and as he was leaving it was time for prayer, which he performed by the cash register. The man was refused a position; he claimed it was because of his religion.

In December 2008 a Muslim high school student was awarded $11,250 (90,000 SEK) from her high school after she experienced discrimination when she performed her practical training at a hotel. First she was not allowed to work in areas where guests could see her, and then teachers at her school questioned her veil and asked her to point out where in the Qur'an it is prescribed.

In September 2008 the DO sued the gym "Friskis och Svettis" in Malmo after two Muslim female employees were discriminated against and harassed by their supervisor. The supervisor repeatedly insulted the women's religion and, among other things, stated they would not receive permanent positions as long as they were wearing veils. The DO claimed damages of $12,500 (100,000 SEK) for each woman. The case was not concluded at the end of the reporting period.

In August 2008 the DO sued a cleaning company and claimed damages of $15,000 (120,000 SEK) after it fired a Muslim woman because of her clothing. The company claimed its employees had to wear pants, not a long skirt, which the woman did for religious reasons. The DO asserted the company's dress code was unjustified and stated the woman had been disadvantaged by the rules. The case was not concluded at the end of the reporting period.

In April 2008 the DO sued a sports center for denying a woman access to its aerobic facilities because she was wearing a head cloth and veil. The sports center asserted that she presented a health risk to herself. However, by the end of the reporting period the sport center allowed women with veils to access the facilities.

In February 2008 the Appeals Court upheld the verdict in the 2005 case against the city of Gothenburg concerning two Muslim women who were turned away at a municipal swimming pool due to their clothing. Plaintiffs appealed to the Supreme Court, which decided not to try the case, and the city of Gothenburg was compelled to pay $ 2,500 (20,000 SEK) to each of the women.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy

The U.S. Government discusses religious freedom with the Government as part of its overall policy to promote human rights. The U.S. Government is a member of the Task Force for International Cooperation on Holocaust Education, Remembrance, and Research.

The U.S. Embassy maintained regular contact with local religious leaders, and embassy officials participated in events promoting interfaith understanding and religious tolerance.

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