The constitution states individuals shall be free to form congregations to worship according to their beliefs, providing nothing “at variance with good morals or public order shall be taught or done.” It also states no person can be deprived of access to the full enjoyment of civil and political rights because of religious beliefs, and these beliefs shall not be used to evade compliance with civic duty.
The constitution states the ELC is the national church, the state supports it, and the reigning monarch must be a member of the church. The ELC is the only religious group receiving state subsidies or funds directly through the tax system. General revenues fund approximately 14 percent of the church’s budget; the balance comes from a church tax which only members pay. Among the activities the ELC carries out are registration of civil unions, births, and deaths.
The criminal code prohibits blasphemy, defined as public mockery of or insult to the doctrine or worship of a legally recognized religion. The maximum penalty for a violation of this provision is a fine and up to four months in prison. The law also prohibits hate speech and penalizes public statements threatening, insulting, or degrading individuals on the basis of their religion or belief.
The government, through the Ministry of Justice, grants official status to other religious groups in addition to the ELC. Before 1970, 11 religious groups received approval in the form of recognition by royal decree, including the Catholic, Methodist, Baptist, Russian Orthodox, and Jewish communities. In 1970, the law was changed to refer to recognition as registration, rather than as decree, with no change made to the functionality of official recognition. The Ministry of Social Affairs, Children, Integration, and Equality, responsible for the administrative work of registering religious groups, has registered a total of 170 religious groups. In addition to 109 Christian groups, there are 27 Muslim, 15 Buddhist, 10 Hindu, four Jewish, and five other groups, including Bahais and followers of the indigenous Norse belief system Forn Sidr. Registered religious groups have certain special rights, including the right to perform marriage ceremonies with legal effect, baptize children, obtain residence permits for foreign clergy, establish cemeteries, and receive tax exemptions.
Religious groups not recognized by either royal decree or registered by the Ministry of Ecclesiastical Affairs, such as the Church of Scientology, are entitled to engage in religious practices, but members of non-recognized religious groups must marry in a civil ceremony in addition to any religious ceremony. Unrecognized religious groups are not granted tax-exempt status.
The guidelines for approval of religious organizations require religious groups seeking registration to submit: a document on the group’s central traditions; descriptions of its most important rituals; a copy of its rules, regulations, and organizational structure; an audited financial statement; and information about the group’s leadership and each member with a permanent address in the country. Additionally, the religious group must “not teach or perform actions inconsistent with public morality or order.”
All public and private schools, including religious schools, receive government financial support. Evangelical Lutheran theology is taught in public schools in accordance with the law; however, a student may withdraw from religion classes with parental consent. Additionally, the law requires a Christian studies course, also covering world religions, to be taught in public schools. The course is compulsory, although students may be exempted if a parent presents a request in writing. If the student is 15 years old or older, the student and parent must jointly request the student’s exemption. All schools offer foods which satisfy different religious requirements.
The law allows Muslim, Jewish, and other denominations of Christian prayers to be substituted for the ELC prayers. Collective prayer is noncompulsory and rarely practiced in such venues as school assemblies but remains legal as long as proselytizing is not also included.
Religious symbols such as headscarves, turbans, skullcaps, and large crucifixes, are banned from judicial attire.
The country mandates compulsory military service, but provides an exemption for conscientious objectors, which includes conscientious objection for religious or ethical reasons. In lieu of military service, alternative civilian service may be required. The period of service for a conscientious objector is the same as the period required for military service with the Armed Forces or Emergency Management Agency. An individual should apply to perform service as a conscientious objector within eight weeks of receiving notice of military service from the Armed Forces or Emergency Management Agency. The application must be sent to the Conscientious Objector Administration and must show that military service of any kind is incompatible with one’s conscience. The period of service may take place in various social and cultural institutions, peace movements, organizations related to the United Nations, churches and ecumenical organizations, and environmental organizations spread across the country.
Ritual slaughter of animals without prior stunning, including kosher and halal slaughter, was banned in February. The law allows for slaughter according to religious rites with prior stunning and limits slaughter to cattle, sheep, goats, and chickens. All slaughter must take place at a slaughterhouse. Slaughterhouses practicing ritual slaughter are obliged to register with the Danish Veterinary and Food Administration. Violations of this law are punished with fines or up to four months in prison.
The law requires foreign religious workers (except citizens of Turkey, who are considered exempt because of Turkey’s Association Agreement with the EU) to pass a Danish language test within six months of entering the country to be able to obtain an extension of their residence permits as religious workers.