International Religious Freedom Report
Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor

The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the Government generally respects this right in practice.  The Church of Sweden, formerly the state church, effectively became separated from the State in 1999; however, it still receives some state support.

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 in the context of its overall dialog and policy of promoting human rights.

Section I.  Religious Demography

The country has a total area of 173,732 square miles and its population is an estimated 8.8 million.

Approximately 84 percent of the population belong to the Church of Sweden.  It is possible to leave the state church, and an increasing number of persons do.  In 1998 13,233 persons left the state church.  In 1999 when the state church and the Government separated, a record 33,299 persons left and an estimated 16,000 persons departed in 2000.

There are about 165,000 Roman Catholics.  The Orthodox Church has approximately 100,000 members, and the main national Orthodox churches are Greek, Serbian, Syrian, Romanian, Estonian, and Finnish.  There also is 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.  About 78 percent of children are baptized, 50 percent of all those eligible are confirmed, and 90 percent of funeral services are performed under the auspices of the state church.  Approximately 62 percent of couples marrying choose a Church of Sweden ceremony.

There is a relatively large number of smaller church bodies.

Several are offshoots of 19th century revival movements in the Church of Sweden.  Others, such as the Baptist Union of Sweden and the Methodist Church of Sweden, trace their roots to British and North American revival movements. 

There are approximately 17,000 Jews, of whom 8,500 are active members of a congregation.  There are Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform Jewish synagogues.  Large numbers of Jews attend high holiday services but attendance at weekly services is low.  The number of Muslims has increased rapidly in recent years to between 250,000 and 300,000 followers.  Mosques are being built in many parts of the country.  The Shi'a and Sunni branches of Islam are represented among immigrant groups.  Around 100,000 of the Muslims in the country are active religiously.  Buddhists and Hindus number around 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 atheist.

The major religious communities and the state church are spread across the country.  Large numbers of immigrants in recent decades have led to the introduction of nontraditional religions in those communities populated by immigrants.

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

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 generally protects 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 freedom of worship, protection from compulsion to make known one's religious views, and protection from compulsion to belong to a religious community.

The country has maintained a state (Lutheran) church for several hundred years, supported by a general "church tax," although the Government routinely grants any request by a taxpayer for exemption from the tax.  All churches receive state financial support.

In 1995 after decades of discussion, the state church and the Government agreed to a formal separation.  This reform came into effect in 2000; however, the Church still is to receive some state support.

Foreign missionary groups do not face special requirements.

The Office of the Ombudsman Against Ethnic Discrimination investigates claims by individuals or groups of discrimination "due to race, skin color, national or ethnic origin, or religion."  For many years the Government has supported the activities of groups working to combat anti-Semitism.

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.  It cooperates with the Swedish Free Church Council.  SST members are selected by religious bodies, which are entitled to some forms of state financial assistance.

Religious education is part of an overall time schedule for compulsory course work in public schools, but is not limited to instruction in the state religion.

The law permits official institutions, such as government ministries and Parliament, to provide copies of documents that are filed with them to the public, although such documents may be unpublished and protected by copyright law.  This is due to a contradiction between the Constitution's freedom of information provisions and the country's international obligations to protect unpublished copyrighted works.  This contradiction has affected copyrighted, unpublished documents belonging to the Church of Scientology that have been made available to the public by the Parliament in accordance with domestic legislation.  The Government is in the process of drafting new legislation designed to eliminate the contradiction and protect copyrights.

In January 1998, the Government began a national Holocaust education project after a public opinion poll found that a low percentage of school children had basic knowledge about the Holocaust.  Approximately 1 million copies of the education project's core textbook (available at no cost to every household with children, including in the most prevalent immigrant languages) are in circulation.  The Government initiated an intergovernmental multinational Task Force for International Cooperation on Holocaust Education, Remembrance, and Research, to combat anti-Semitism, racism, and intolerance by placing international political support behind efforts to teach about the Holocaust.  Eight other countries, including the United States, are members of the Task Force.  In January 2000, the Government established January 27, the anniversary of Auschwitz's liberation, as a national day of remembrance.

In 1998 the Government published a report by a commission of experts entitled "In Good Faith - Society and New Religious Movements."  The report sought to gauge the needs of persons leaving new religious movements for support from the national  community.  It paid special attention to the needs of children.  According to the commission, each year approximately 100 persons seek assistance for various medical, legal, social, economic, or spiritual difficulties arising from their departure from new religious movements.  The commission recommended passage of legislation making "improper influence" (such as forcing an individual to renounce his or her faith, or other such "manipulation") a punishable offense.  The commission's proposal for legislation required further investigation by the Government.  The commission also proposed the establishment of a foundation for the study of questions of belief and to help build bridges between new religious movements and mainstream society. 

Restrictions on Religious Freedom

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

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 Government's refusal to allow such citizens to be returned to the United States.

Section III.  Societal Attitudes

Citizens are tolerant of diverse religions practiced in the country, including the Mormon faith and Scientology; however, there is limited anti-Semitism, which occasionally manifests itself in the vandalization of synagogues with graffiti and in threatening letters.  There were no cases of anti-Semitic vandalism reported in 1999 or 2000.  Some immigrant groups have experienced discrimination or violence due to their ethnic background or race.  The Government criticizes such practices and prosecutes offenders.

Section IV.  U.S. Government Policy

The U.S. Government discusses religious freedom issues with the Government in the context of its overall dialog and policy of promoting human rights.  The U.S. Government is a member of the Task Force for International Cooperation on Holocaust Education, Remembrance, and Research.  In January 2000, former Deputy Treasury Secretary Stuart Eizenstat led the U.S. delegation to the Stockholm International Forum on the Holocaust, and former President Clinton addressed the forum in a videotaped message.