Last Updated: Wednesday, 17 December 2014, 20:05 GMT

2010 Report on International Religious Freedom - Sweden

Publisher United States Department of State
Publication Date 17 November 2010
Cite as United States Department of State, 2010 Report on International Religious Freedom - Sweden, 17 November 2010, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4cf2d06364.html [accessed 17 December 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, 2009, to June 30, 2010]

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.

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 9.4 million.

There are numerous religious groups. The government does not register the religion of citizens; rather 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 71.3 percent (6,664,000 persons) of citizens are members; other Protestant groups total approximately 4.4 percent (400,000) of the population. Membership in the Church of Sweden has decreased steadily since it separated from the state in 2000. During 2009, 73,396 members left the Church (1.6 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).

Researchers estimate that approximately 5 percent (450,000 to 500,000) of the population is Muslim, although the officially sanctioned Muslim Council of Sweden, for government funding purposes, reported only 110,000 active participants.

Religious communities representing less 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, according to the Council for State Grants to Religious Communities. The Jewish community estimated there are 9,472 practicing members. There are Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform synagogues found mostly in large cities.

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 illegal for the government to register the faith of individuals; therefore, there are no statistics on correlation between religious groups and socioeconomic status.

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 celebrated 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 and the Horn of Africa are Muslim and attend services in Arabic. Members of the more common religious communities tended to be concentrated in the three largest cities, Stockholm, Gothenburg, and Malmo. While services in Christian churches generally are poorly attended, many persons observed major church festivals and preferred 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 generally free practice of religion.

Since the official separation of church and state in 2000, 22 recognized religious denominations, in addition to the Church of Sweden, raised revenues through member contributions made through the national tax system. Among these were the Swedish Missionary Church, Roman Catholic Church, Swedish Alliance Mission, Baptist Union of Sweden, Salvation Army, Methodist Church in Sweden, Pentecostal Church, the Jewish Central Council, the Islamic Cooperation Council, and the Evangelist Church. All recognized denominations were entitled to direct government financial support, contributions made through the national tax system, or both. The state does not favor the Church of Sweden over other religious groups.

If a person believes that he or she has been discriminated against for any reason in the private sector, in the government, or by a government agency or authority, a complaint can be filed with the Discrimination Ombudsman (DO). The DO will then represent the individual in the event of legal proceedings.

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

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 was 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 considered the number of members in the group and its length of establishment but applied no other criteria.

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 (40 including subgroups) are entitled to government aid. In 2009 approximately $4.9 million (39 million kronor) was distributed to religious communities.

Religious education covering all world 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 curricula.

In 2009 the DO received 64 complaints related to religion and religious beliefs; 33 of the cases were based on discrimination that occurred in the individuals' workplaces.

The governmental Living History Forum promoted national educational programs on the Holocaust, anti-Semitism, and racism. Its educational exhibition, "Sweden and the Holocaust," continued to tour nationwide. The forum started an educational campaign, "Anne Frank & I," in 2006 to target high school students. This campaign continued during the reporting period. 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. On an annual basis, the Living History Forum prepared a memorial project for teachers to use in schools to recognize International Holocaust Remembrance Day.

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

The Stockholm County police have a hate crime unit to train police officers to detect, raise awareness of, and inform the public of hate crimes. A hate crime unit was also established in Malmo, where religious hate crimes doubled during 2009. Several local police authorities also provided training and carried out projects aimed at detecting hate crimes when complaints were filed. Detecting and investigating hate crimes were also part of the curriculum in police academy training. Representatives from the unit visit high schools to raise awareness of hate crimes, how to report them, and by their presence encouraged more victims to report abuse. Information for victims of hate crimes is available in several languages, and interpreters are provided to facilitate reporting. However, the unit noted that many victims, especially of anti-Semitic crimes, chose 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 conflicted with halal requirements.

The law stipulates that male circumcision may be performed only by a licensed doctor or, for boys under the age of two 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 required that an anesthesiologist or other medical doctor accompany them. Some Jews and Muslims claimed the law interfered with their religious traditions.

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

Improvements and Positive Developments in Respect for Religious Freedom

In March 2010 local politicians agreed that a mosque should be built in Rinkeby, an immigrant-dense suburb of Stockholm. Representatives from six out of seven political parties in parliament published a joint editorial in a newspaper supporting the new mosque.

On March 1, 2010, the Skane police announced and it would appoint a special investigator for hate crimes in each of the five subregions within the Skane police district.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

There were some reports of societal abuses and discrimination based on religious affiliation, belief, or practice. Citizens were generally tolerant of diverse religious practices. Law enforcement authorities maintained statistics on hate crimes. Anti-Semitic views among resident Muslims existed. The total number of hate crimes in 2009 remained near the same level as 2008 (600).

In June 2010 the National Council for Crime Prevention presented its annual study on hate crimes, including anti-Semitic, anti-Islamic, and "other religion-related" hate crimes. During 2009, there were approximately 590 total reported cases, of which 42 percent were anti-Semitic, 33 percent anti-Islamic, and 25 percent related to other religions. Reported anti-Islamic crimes totaled 194 cases, compared to 272 in 2008. Since 2000, approximately 130 anti-Semitic crimes had been reported annually, but in 2009 anti-Semitic crimes rose from 91 to 250. According to the report, the increase in anti-Semitic hate crimes had multiple causes, the main one being the early 2009 conflict in Gaza. The report cited increased public awareness from wider media reporting of hate crimes, including a number of incidents in Skane, prompting a surge in filed complaints. A majority of the anti-Semitic hate crimes were reported in the three largest cities: Stockholm, Gothenburg, and Malmo. From 2008 to 2009, cases around Stockholm increased from 67 to 89; cases around Gothenburg from 14 to 39; and cases around Malmo from 39 to 72. Reportedly 15 percent of all religion-related hate crimes in 2009 had white-supremacist connections. 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 in 2009 were: "unlawful threat or molestation" with 130 reported cases, and "agitation against an ethnic group" with 75 reported cases. Anti-Islamic crimes of "unlawful threat or molestation" totaled 129 cases. During the reporting period, antireligious hate crimes performed from a distance, without physical contact, remained the most common form--only 10 percent of all religious hate crimes included physical violence. Religious centers such as churches, mosques, synagogues, community faith centers, and cemeteries were the crime scenes in 20 percent of hate crimes. For anti-Semitic hate crimes, there was an increase in crimes committed using the Internet, regular mail, text messages, and also in public environments, including athletic facilities and cafes. Only half of the investigations into antireligious hate crimes reported from 2008 to March 2010 were concluded by June 2010, due to the lack of an identifiable suspect in many of the "distant crimes," such as property damage or graffiti. In some cases the suspects were younger than 15 years old, by law making them ineligible to be sentenced for a crime.

In June 2010 a medical doctor was reported to the DO after forcing a Muslim female patient to shake hands after a doctor's visit. When the woman indicated she did not want to shake hands the doctor allegedly started screaming and forced the woman to do so. The woman claims she did not want to shake hands based on her religious beliefs. The case was ongoing at the end of the reporting period.

In conjunction with the Gaza flotilla incident on May 31, 2010, the Jewish community reported that several of its members received threats via e-mail, text messages, and telephone calls. Anti-Semitic statements increased on blogs and Internet forums.

In May 2010 the media reported that police in Skane, after receiving several complaints, handed over a case concerning a "Muhammad poster" to the chancellor of justice, who served as the prosecutor in freedom of the press cases. The poster reportedly portrayed the Prophet Muhammad naked with a nine-year-old wife and included text stating, "He is 53, she is nine," and "Is that the type of weddings we want to see in Skane?" Carl Herslow, who allegedly created the poster, was being prosecuted for violation of freedom of the press and agitation against an ethnic and religious group. Herslow is the chairman of the Skane Party, a local political party with an outspoken right-wing and anti-immigration position. The case was ongoing at the end of the reporting period.

In April 2010 two opposing groups held simultaneous demonstrations at the building site for a new mosque in Gothenburg. Participants of both groups tried to break through the barriers, but police pushed them back. According to media reports, the the ultra right-wing group Nordic Youth organized the antimosque demonstration, which an estimated 100 participants attended. Approximately 300 persons took part in the counterdemonstration.

In March 2010 a Muslim woman wearing a head scarf applied for a position as a hotel cleaner. A discussion regarding the work dress code ensued, and the hotel did not hire the woman. The case was reported to the DO, and the company agreed to compensate the woman $5,000 (40,000 kronor).

In February 2010 the Swedish Civil Contingencies Agency became involved with a situation in Malmo that involved allegations of societal abuse surrounding the publication of newspaper articles in January on anti-Semitism in Skanska Dagbladet and the international press. The agency works with external groups on a national level to promote dialogue and to prevent conflict leading to anti-Islamic and anti-Semitic behavior.

In February 2010 the Stockholm district court ruled that an employment agency was discriminatory when it declined to hire a man on the basis of his refusal to shake hands with the female supervisors of the agency. The court ruled that the man should receive $7,500 (60,000 kronor) in compensation.

In February 2010 a woman allegedly was harassed during an employment interview and later denied the job because she was married to a man born in a Muslim country. The DO sued the company for religiously motivated harassment. The case was pending at the end of the reporting period.

In January 2010 the regional newspaper Skanska Dagbladet published a series of articles on anti-Semitism in Malmo. In response Mayor Reepalu reportedly said that Malmo's Jews bore part of the responsibility for the attacks against the community as they failed to criticize Israel's action in Gaza in 2009 and added, "We neither accept anti-Semitism nor Zionism." The comments received attention from the international press, and Reepalu subsequently claimed he was deliberately misquoted. However, on February 21, 2010, the British Sunday Telegraph wrote on the situation, quoting Reepalu saying "there have been no attacks on Jews and if Jews here (in Malmo) want to move to Israel they are free to do so." Mayor Reepalu faced heavy criticism and quickly convened the first meeting of the "Dialogue Forum," which he earlier established to start a dialogue with religious communities. After meeting with the Jewish community, Reepalu said he realized the seriousness of hate crimes against Jews in Malmo. The Dialogue Forum sent letters to everyone employed by the Malmo Municipality, urging them to take action if they see or hear of hate crimes.

In December 2009 the "Arbeit Macht Frei" sign from the front gate of the Auschwitz, Poland concentration camp was stolen. Police suspected Anders Hogstrom, a former Swedish neo-Nazi, of ordering five Polish men to steal the sign, reportedly acting as an agent for a British Nazi sympathizer. Hogstrom was extradited to Poland in April 2010, where he was awaiting court proceedings at the end of the reporting period.

In December 2009 neo-Nazis again commemorated the 2000 slaying of neo-Nazi Daniel Wrestrom by carrying out their annual march in Salem.

In October 2009 the Interreligious Forum for Cooperation was founded in Malmo to serve as a forum where persons of different religious beliefs can meet and discuss issues. Representatives from the Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, Baha'i, and Jewish communities attended. In May 2010 a similar forum was established in Uppsala under the archbishop of Uppsala's initiative.

In October 2009 Aftonbladet, the country's largest tabloid, published an opinion article by Jimmie Akesson, the leader of the far-right Sweden Democrats Party, in which he asserted that the spread of Islam represented the country's "greatest external threat since World War II." The Center against Racism reported the article to the chancellor of justice. On October 23 the chancellor decided not to start a preinvestigation against the Sweden Democrats and Akesson.

In September 2009 a woman who was in a work training program at a cafe was refused entry when she arrived for work wearing a head scarf. The DO came to an agreement with the municipality that was responsible for the woman's program, and she was compensated with $5,000 (40,000 kronor).

In September 2009 a woman who was attending an adult education program allegedly was called into the principal's office and told she could not wear her niqab (face veil). The principal allegedly argued it was due to pedagogic reasons, as the woman was enrolled in a child development program. The woman felt discriminated against and reported the case to the DO, which opened an investigation.

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. In September 2009 the embassy hosted an iftar (evening meal during Ramadan) for the local Muslim community to celebrate Ramadan. In March 2010 U.S. Special Representative for Muslim Communities, Farah Pandith, visited the country and met with representatives of the Muslim community in the Stockholm area. In April 2010 embassy officials met with the Jewish community in Malmo to discuss the situation for Jews in light of recent tensions.

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