International Religious Freedom Report 2002
Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor

The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the Government generally respects 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 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 16,640 square miles, and its population is approximately 5.4 million. More than 86 percent of the population adheres to the Evangelical Lutheran Church. Other religious organizations represent approximately 5 percent of the population, with Muslims, the next largest group, accounting for approximately 2 percent of the population. The remaining approximately 9 percent of the citizens are without a religion.

Missionaries operate within the country, including representatives of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Mormons) and members of Jehovah's Witnesses; however, there is no detailed information available on missionary activity.

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.

There is an official state religion. The Constitution stipulates that the Evangelical Lutheran Church is the national church, and it is the only Church that is subsidized directly by the Government. However, no individual may be compelled to pay church tax or provide direct financial support to the national church or any other religious organization. The Government does not require that religious groups be licensed; however, the State's permission is required for religious ceremonies, such as weddings, if they are to have civil validity. Although there is no civil or criminal penalty for not registering, non-registered religious organizations do not qualify for tax exempt status. By 1969 11 other religious organizations had official recognition by royal decree (essentially the State's permission for a religious organization to perform religious ceremonies that have civil validity).

Since the implementation of the 1969 Marriage Act, the Ministry of Ecclesiastical Affairs has granted permission to clergy of 60 additional, non-recognized religious organizations to perform marriages. The Marriage Act permits weddings to be performed "within other religious organizations," provided that one of the parties to the marriage belongs to the organization, and the organization has clergy that have been granted permission to perform marriage by the Ministry of Ecclesiastical Affairs. Thus, religious organizations no longer need to obtain "recognition" since "approval" is given when the Ministry grants permission to perform weddings to specific religious organizations. Both recognized and approved religions enjoy certain tax exemptions. The approval process is not complicated or protracted.

Guidelines for future approval of religious organizations, linked to the 1969 Marriage Act and published in 1999, established clear requirements that religious organizations must fulfill. These include providing the following: a written text of the religion's central traditions; descriptions of its most important rituals; an organizational structure accessible for 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 continue to seek official approval as a religious organization. Their first application for approval was made in the early 1970's 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, according to the Ministry, the Scientologists first must submit an application before the Ministry can provide any feedback. The Scientologists did not resubmit an application by the end of the period covered by this report.

There are no restrictions on proselytizing so long as proselytizers 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.

Restrictions on Religious Freedom

Government policy and practice contributed to the generally free 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 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.

Improvements and Positive Developments in Respect for Religious Freedom

After several years of searching for an appropriate site, the Muslim community identified a piece of land in Broendbyoester on which they would like to build the country's first Muslim cemetery; more than 20 major cemeteries already agreed to provide reserved sections for Muslim burials. Negotiations were ongoing with local governmental authorities at the end of the period covered by this report. The Muslim community also was attempting to identify a site and funding for the construction of a full-scale mosque in the country at the end of the period covered by this report.

Section III. Societal Attitudes

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 recent influx of a substantial Muslim population has resulted in some tension with the majority population of adherents of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. Minority group unemployment tends to be higher, and allegations of discrimination on the basis of religion sometimes are raised. However, it is difficult to separate religious differences from differences in language and ethnicity, and the latter may be at least as important in explaining unequal access to well-paying jobs and social advancement. There are no significant ecumenical movements that promote greater mutual understanding and religious tolerance.

There were isolated incidents of anti-Semitic and anti-immigrant vandalism, primarily graffiti, during the period covered by this report. The Government criticized the incidents and investigated several of them.

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.