U.S. Department of State Annual Report on International Religious Freedom for 2004 - Sweden

Released by the U.S. Department of State Bureau for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor on September 15, 2004, covers the period from July 1, 2003, to June 30, 2004.

The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the Government generally respects this right in practice.

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 religions 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 173,732 square miles, and its population is an estimated 9.0 million. Approximately 79.6 percent of the population belongs to the Church of Sweden. Since the Church and the State separated in 2000, a number of people have left the Church each year. In 2003, 58,746 people left the Church. According to studies carried out by the Church of Sweden, the main reason for people leaving appears to be economic; membership means a tax of 1.19 percent of members' incomes. In 2003, the Church of Sweden baptized 67.6 percent of children, a figure that has declined steadily over the past 2 decades. Confirmations have declined even more sharply; 37.6 of Swedish children were confirmed in 2003, as opposed to 80 percent in 1970.

There are an estimated 140,000 Roman Catholics, of whom 82,000 are registered with the Church. Approximately 80 percent of Catholics in the country are foreign born, the largest groups coming from Southern Europe, Latin America, and Poland. The Orthodox Church has approximately 100,000 practicing members, and the main national Orthodox churches are Syrian, Serbian, Greek, Romanian, and Macedonian. There is also a large Finnish-speaking Lutheran denomination. While weekly services in Christian houses of worship generally are poorly attended, a large number of persons observe major festivals of the ecclesiastical year and prefer a religious ceremony to mark the turning points of life.

Those who attend Protestant churches, other than the Church of Sweden, total more than 400,000. The Pentecostal movement (Pingströrelsen) and the Missionary (or Missions) Church (Missionskyrkan) are the largest Protestant groups. In 2003, the Pentecostal movement had approximately 127,000 members.

The total number of Jewish persons living in the country is estimated to be approximately 18,500-20,000; however, the Jewish community estimates 10,000 active, or practicing, members. There are Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform Jewish synagogues. Large numbers of Jewish people attend High Holy Day services but attendance at weekly services is low.

The exact number of Muslims is difficult to estimate; however, it has increased rapidly in the past several years through immigration. The number provided by the Muslim community is approximately 300,000 to 350,000 members, of whom around 100,000 are said to be active. Muslim affiliations represented among immigrant groups are predominantly with the Shi'a and Sunni branches of Islam. There are mosques in many parts of the country. Buddhists and Hindus number approximately 3,000 to 4,000 persons each. Although no reliable statistics are available, it is estimated that 15 to 20 percent of the adult population are atheists.

The major religious communities and the Church of Sweden are spread across the country. Large numbers of immigrants in recent decades have led to the introduction of various world religions to Sweden, such as Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, and a number of Christian Churches other than the Church of Sweden in those communities populated by immigrants. These communities tend to be concentrated in the larger cities.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons) and other foreign missionary groups are also active in the country.

A large number of smaller, internationally active religions groups have established themselves in the country but are viewed by the general public as lying outside of the mainstream. Such groups include the Church of Scientology (claiming to have approximately 3,500 members), Landmark-Forum, Hare Krishna, Word of Faith (Livets Ord), members of Jehovah's witnesses, Opus Dei, and the Unification Church.

Section II. Status of Religious Freedom

Legal/Policy Framework

The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the Government generally respects this right in practice. The Government at all levels strives to protect this right in full and does not tolerate its abuse, either by governmental or private actors. The rights and freedoms enumerated in the Constitution include the right to practice one's religion and protection of religious freedom. The laws concerning religious freedoms are observed and enforced at all government levels and by the courts in a nondiscriminatory fashion. Legal protections cover discrimination or persecution by private actors.

Since the separation of Church and the Government, all recognized religious denominations now receive state financial support, and those paying "church tax" may now choose to divert that to the religious organization of their choice or receive a tax reduction. The State does not favor the Church of Sweden at the expense of other religious groups in any noticeable way. Since the population is predominantly Christian, certain Christian religious holidays are considered national holidays, but this does not appear to affect other religious group negatively. School students from minority religious backgrounds are entitled to take relevant religious holidays.

No recognition or registration is required to carry out religious activity. Registration is voluntary and entitles groups to receive government aid, so long as they have a sufficient number of followers and have been established in the country for a number of years.

Religious education covering all major world religions is compulsory in public schools. Parents may send their children to independent religious schools, all of which receive government subsidies and are obliged to follow certain government guidelines.

The Office of the Ombudsman Against Ethnic Discrimination investigates individuals' or groups' claims of discrimination "due to race, skin color, national or ethnic origin, or religion." Discrimination on religious grounds is illegal, and specific legislation concerning the work place was introduced in 1999. In 2003, legislation concerning the provision of public and private services was enacted.

Following a 1998 public opinion poll that showed a low percentage of Swedish school children had even basic knowledge about the Holocaust, the Government launched nationwide Holocaust education projects. Approximately one million copies of the education project's core textbook are in circulation and available in many languages at no cost to every household with children.

The Government promotes interfaith understanding and meets annually with representatives from various religious groups. The Commission for State Grants to Religious Communities (SST) is a government body that cooperates with the Swedish Free Church Council. Religious bodies entitled to some form of state financial assistance select SST members.

Many religious communities in the country are involved in interfaith dialogue. However, in May, the Jewish central council decided that the Jewish community should withdraw from all cooperation with the Church of Sweden after the launch of the Church's "HOPP (HOPE) campaign for a just peace in the Middle East." The campaign is endorsed by Archbishop KG Hammar and includes a recommendation to boycott Israeli goods originating from "occupied territory." The campaign will continue into 2005.

Restrictions on Religious Freedom

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

A law is in place requiring animal slaughter to be preceded by the administration of anesthetics to minimize undue suffering of the animal. The Jewish community has protested that this prevents the practice of kosher slaughter, requiring kosher meat to be imported. The Muslim community appears to be split between those who feel certain anesthetic methods do not conflict with halal requirements, and those who feel that it does. Since the 1930s, a law banning kosher slaughter has been in place, meaning that the Jewish community needs to import kosher meat from abroad. The justification of the ban is that the kosher method of slaughter causes undue suffering to the animal. Jewish community leaders have openly criticized the legislation.

In October 2001, a new law became effective that regulates the circumcision of boys. The law stipulates that the circumcision may be performed only by a licensed doctor or, in the case of boys under the age of 2 months, in the presence of a person certified by the National Board of Health. Approximately 3,000 Muslim boys and 40 to 50 Jewish boys are circumcised each year. The National Board of Health has certified the Jewish mohels (persons ordained to carry out circumcision according the Jewish faith) to carry out the operations, but a medical doctor or an anesthesia nurse must accompany them. Some members of the Jewish and Muslim communities have protested against the law on the grounds that it interferes with their religious traditions. The new law is scheduled to be evaluated in 2005, 4 years after its introduction.

Individuals serving in the military are given the time and opportunity to fulfill religious requirements. The military makes available food options fulfilling religious dietary requirements and allows time for appropriate mourning periods. Some regiments have an imam attached to them to facilitate religious observance by Muslim soldiers. Jehovah's Witnesses are exempt from national military service.

There were no reports of religious prisoners or detainees.

Forced Religious Conversion

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

Abuses by Terrorist Organizations

There were no reported abuses targeted at specific religions by terrorist organizations during the period covered by this report.

Section III. Societal Attitudes

Citizens are tolerant of diverse religious practitioners. However, some anti-Semitism exists, which occasionally takes the form of vandalism or assault. It also appears that Muslims are sometimes subject to societal discrimination. Law enforcement maintains statistics on hate crimes but does not break the figures down by categories relating to the targeting of specific religious groups, with the exception of anti-Semitic attacks. Therefore, there are no specific figures on incidents or crimes motivated by religious prejudice or intolerance toward members of the Muslim community.

The number of reported anti-Semitic crimes has increased since the end of the nineties, and has averaged around 130 annually during the period 2000-2003, with 128 crimes reported in 2003. The two largest categories of anti-Semitic crime in 2003 were agitation against ethnic group with 52 reported incidents, and unlawful threat/molestation second with 35 reported incidents. There were three reported cases of assault during the same period. Some members of the Jewish community believe that increases in attacks are directly linked to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and increased tensions in the Middle East at large. Since the beginning of the second intifada in 2000, the Jewish community no longer sees its primary threats coming from neo-nazis but from Islamic and leftist extremists. In March, four young people of Arabic origin broke into a Jewish owned shop in Malmö, shouting anti-Semitic epithets and threats, after which they attacked the shop owner and another Jewish person. The shop owner was sent to hospital for treatment. Two weeks earlier, Muslims had thrown stones at employees of the Jewish Burial Society at the Jewish cemetery in Malmö. In June a football match ended with Jewish players being attacked by Muslim Somali players.

Since 2001 there have been two instances of Islamic schools being subjected to arson attacks and mosques receiving bomb threats. Representatives of the Muslim community report that during the period covered by this report a veiled woman was assaulted by a hysterical woman.

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

The Embassy maintains regular contacts with local religious leaders and Embassy officials have participated in events promoting interfaith understanding and religious tolerance. The Embassy has also nominated individuals to participate in International Visitor programs on religious diversity.


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