The constitution declares the ELC is the established church, which shall receive state support and to which the reigning monarch must belong. The constitution also 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 stipulates that no person may be deprived of access to the full enjoyment of civil and political rights because of religious beliefs, and that these beliefs shall not be used to evade compliance with civic duty. It prohibits requiring individuals to make personal financial contributions to religious denominations to which they do not adhere.
The criminal code prohibits blasphemy, defined as public mockery of or insult to the doctrine or worship of a legally recognized religion, with a maximum penalty of up to four months in prison and a fine. The law also prohibits making a public statement in which persons are threatened, scorned, or degraded on the basis of their religion or belief. The maximum penalty is up to two years in prison and a fine. The law also prohibits hate speech, including religious hate speech.
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 that only members pay. The ELC and other state-sanctioned religious communities carry out registration of civil unions, births, and deaths for their members.
The Ministry of Justice grants official status to other religious groups in addition to the ELC through recognition by royal decrees, known as registration. The Ministry of Ecclesiastical Affairs has registered a total of 170 religious groups: 110 Christian groups and congregations, 31 Muslim groups, 10 Hindu organizations, 15 Buddhist groups, four Jewish communities, the Bahai Faith, and five other religious groups, including followers of the indigenous Norse belief system, Forn Sidr. Registered religious groups have certain 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 by a government registration process, such as the Church of Scientology, are entitled to engage in religious practices without any kind of public registration, but members of those groups must marry in a civil ceremony in addition to any religious ceremony. Unrecognized religious groups are not granted fully tax-exempt status, but do have some tax benefits; for example, contributions by members are tax deductible.
Religious groups seeking registration must 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, citizens exercising their right to worship must conform to the constitutional requirement that they behave in a manner consistent with “good morals and public order.”
The law bans judges from wearing religious symbols such as headscarves, turbans, skullcaps, and large crucifixes while in court.
All public and private schools, including religious schools, receive government financial support. Public schools must teach Evangelical Lutheran theology; however, a student may withdraw from religion classes with parental consent by making a request in writing. Additionally, the law requires public schools to teach a world religions course. The course is compulsory in grades 7–9, although students may be exempted if a parent presents a request in writing. The course is optional in grade 10. If the student is 15 years old or older, the student and parent must jointly request the student’s exemption. Noncompulsory collective prayer in schools is allowed if it does not include proselytizing. Prayers are optional at the discretion of each school. They may consist of ELC, other Christian, Muslim, or Jewish prayers, and students may opt out of participating in them.
Military service is compulsory, but there is an exemption for conscientious objectors, including for religious reasons. Those who do not want to serve in the military may apply for either alternative civilian service or not to serve at all. The period of alternative service for a conscientious objector is the same as the period required for military service. An individual must apply to perform service as a conscientious objector within eight weeks of receiving notice of military service from the armed forces or the Emergency Management Agency. The application must go to the Conscientious Objector Administration and must show that military service of any kind is incompatible with one’s conscience. The alternative 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 throughout the country.
The law prohibits ritual slaughter of animals without prior stunning, including kosher and halal slaughter. The law allows for slaughter according to religious rites with prior stunning and limits such 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 Veterinary and Food Administration. Violations of this law are punishable by fines or up to four months in prison. Halal and kosher meat may be imported.