International Religious Freedom Report 2003
Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor

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 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 8.9 million. Approximately 81 percent of the population belong to the Church of Sweden. It is possible to leave the Church of Sweden, and an increasing number of persons do. In 1999 when the Church and the State separated, 33,299 persons left the Church of Sweden, more than twice as many as in the previous years. The number decreased somewhat in 2000, and increased to a record high 53,702 in 2001. In 2002 44,760 persons left the Church of Sweden.

There are approximately 150,000 Roman Catholics. The Orthodox Church has approximately 100,000 members, and the main national Orthodox churches are Greek, Serbian, Syrian, Romanian, and Macedonian. 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.

Approximately 70 percent of children are baptized, 40 percent of all those eligible are confirmed, and 90 percent of funeral services are performed under the auspices of the Church of Sweden. Approximately 60 percent of couples marrying choose a Church of Sweden ceremony.

There are 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.

The Jewish community has 10,000 active, practicing members; however, the total number of Jews living in the country is estimated to be approximately 20,000. There are Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform Jewish synagogues. Large numbers of Jews attend high holiday 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. The number provided by the Muslim community is approximately 350,000 members, of whom around 100,000 are active. Muslim affiliations are 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 atheist.

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 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 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 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 maintained a state (Lutheran) church for several hundred years, supported by a general "church tax," although the Government routinely granted any request by a taxpayer for exemption from the tax. In 1995 after decades of discussion, the Church of Sweden and the Government agreed to a formal separation. The separation came into effect in 2000. All churches of all faiths now receive state financial support.

Foreign missionary groups do not face special requirements.

Religious education is part of an overall schedule of compulsory course work in public schools.

The law permitted official institutions, such as government ministries and Parliament, to provide the public with copies of documents that are filed with the institutions, although such documents may be unpublished and protected by copyright law. For example, unpublished documents belonging to the Church of Scientology had been made available to the public. In February 2000, a new law was enacted that eliminated the former contradiction between the Constitution's freedom of information provisions and the Government's international obligations to protect unpublished copyrighted works. The new legislation states that the freedom of information does not apply when it can be assumed that the copyright holder does not wish his/her work to be made public.

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. In 1998 the Government began a national Holocaust education project after a public opinion poll found that a low percentage of school children had even basic knowledge about the Holocaust. Approximately one 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 reinforcing efforts to educate about the Holocaust with international political support. Eight other countries, including the United States, are members of the Task Force.

The Living History Forum, commissioned by the Government to promote work with democracy, tolerance and human rights, was inaugurated on June 1.

In June the Ombudsman Against Ethnic Discrimination brought a case to court on behalf of a woman who was denied work because she wanted to cover her head. A sentence was pending at the end of the period covered by this report.

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, on boys under the age of 2 months, 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 to carry out the operations, but they must be accompanied by a medical doctor or a nurse for anesthesia. The Jewish community has protested against the law on the grounds that it interferes with their religious traditions. The new law is scheduled to be evaluated in 3 years.

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 select SST members, who are entitled to some form of state financial assistance.

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 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.

Section III. Societal Attitudes

Citizens are tolerant of diverse religious practitioners, including Mormons and Scientologists. However, some anti-Semitism exists, which occasionally takes the form of vandalism or assault. The numbers of reported anti-Semitic crimes and tendencies have increased over the past several years, reportedly due in part to the growing tension in the Middle East. In April 2002, Jewish leaders sent an open letter to the largest national daily, Dagens Nyheter, accusing the press of bias against Israel and of encouraging anti-Semitism. Specific anti-Semitic incidents include the throwing of feces at the window of a synagogue in Malmo in October 2002, and an attempted arson at the purification room of the Jewish cemetery in Malmo in April. Hours before this incident, the Malmo mosque was burnt to the ground; a Star of David was painted on a mosque wall. Police found no evidence of a connection between the attacks.

Since 2001 threats against the Muslim community have increased. In April the Islamic school and large parts of the Islamic center in Malmo were destroyed by arson. The firemen were able to save the Mosque. Several mosques received bomb threats, and a Muslim school in the western suburbs was firebombed in September 2001. By the end of the reporting period, the investigation of this crime was ongoing.

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. The U.S. Government had criticized the law that made unpublished Scientology documents public.