The constitution prohibits religious discrimination and protects the right to choose and practice or change one’s religion. A hate crime law punishes some expressions of disrespect for religious beliefs. The government continued to implement an action plan against anti-Semitism, which included funding for training and education and programs to safeguard Jewish culture, and called for more comprehensive statistics on hate crimes. Police provided security at Jewish facilities in Oslo. The government ended the status of the Church of Norway as the state church, but continued to provide exclusive benefits to the Church. The government also provided financial support to other religious and nonreligious (humanist) communities to promote dialogue and tolerance among these groups. The government withdrew its longstanding financial support to the Islamic Council Norway (IRN) due, it said, to a loss of confidence in the organization to support dialogue efforts, the main purpose for which it had received funding. For the first time, the military hired humanist and Muslim chaplains.
In 2016, the most recent year for which data were available, police reported 97 hate crimes nationwide categorized as religiously motivated, up from 79 in 2015. As in the previous year, Oslo police reported most of the religiously motivated hate crime incidents in their district consisted of assault and hate speech targeting Muslims. In 2016, the equality and antidiscrimination ombudsman (LDO) reported receiving nine complaints that it concluded involved religious discrimination and responding to 85 inquiries pertaining to religious discrimination. A government survey of anti-Semitism found prejudicial views about Jews still prevailed but had declined since 2011, while negative stereotypes of Muslims were widespread. The Jewish Community in Oslo (DMT) voiced concerns about continued anti-Semitism online and a march in Kristiansand in July by the self-styled neo-Nazi Nordic Resistance Movement that police allowed to take place despite denial of a march permit by local authorities.
U.S. embassy staff met with officials from the Ministry of Culture (MOC) for updates on the separation of the Church of Norway from the government and to discuss the ministry’s role in supporting religious umbrella organizations and activities to promote interreligious dialogue. Embassy staff also talked with MOC staff about discussions on circumcision in the country and a proposed new law to govern religious life that was undergoing public comment. Embassy representatives met regularly with individuals from nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and faith groups such as the Ahmadiyya Muslim community, Islamic Cultural Center (ICC), and DMT to discuss religious freedom, integration of minority groups, and life as a religious person.
Section I. Religious Demography
The U.S. government estimates the total population at 5.3 million (July 2017 estimate). The National Statistics Bureau estimates 71.0 percent of the population belongs to the Church of Norway, an evangelical Lutheran church.
The National Statistics Bureau reports membership of religious and life-stance communities outside the Church of Norway number is approximately 619,000, 11.7 percent of the population. This includes 339,000 registered members of Christian denominations, 6.4 percent of the population, of which the Roman Catholic Church is the largest, with 152,000 registered members, and 2.9 percent of the population. There are 153,000 members of Muslim congregations, 2.9 percent of the population. Pentecostal congregations have approximately 39,000 registered members. Buddhists, Sikhs, and Hindus together account for nearly 30,000 registered members. Jewish congregations have approximately 770 registered members.
The Norwegian Humanist Association, with a registered membership of approximately 93,000, accounts for nearly all those registered with life-stance organizations (nonreligious or philosophical communities with organizational ethics based on humanist values).
Immigrants comprise the majority of members of religious groups outside the Church of Norway. Immigrants from Poland and the Philippines have increased the number of Catholics, while those from such countries as Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Somalia have increased the size of the Muslim community. Catholics and Muslims generally have greater representation in cities than in rural areas. Muslims are located throughout the country, but the population is concentrated in the Oslo region. Many recent immigrants from Muslim majority countries still reside in asylum reception centers. According to Norwegian Directorate of Immigration statistics, approximately 5,600 of the 6,300 persons residing in reception centers as of October come from Muslim majority countries.
The government reported a 0.5 percent decline in the number of members of religious or life-stance communities outside the Church of Norway during the year.
Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom
The constitution states all individuals shall have the right to free exercise of their religion, and all religious and philosophical communities shall be supported on equal terms. The constitution also states, “the King shall at all times profess the Evangelical-Lutheran religion,” and that national values shall remain anchored in the country’s Christian and humanistic heritage. The law further specifies the right of individuals to choose or change their religion. Any person over the age of 15 has the right to join or leave a religious community. Parents have the right to decide their child’s religion before age 15, but they must take into consideration the views of children once they reach the age of seven and give their views priority once they reach the age of 12.
A constitutional amendment, effective January 1, separates the Church of Norway from the state, but the constitution stipulates the Church of Norway shall remain the national church and as such shall be supported by the state. The government continues to provide direct financial support to the Church as a block grant in the national budget and covers the cost of salaries, benefits, and pension plans of Church employees. Municipal governments also provide direct support to individual congregations.
The penal code specifies penalties, including a fine or imprisonment for up to six months, for discrimination based on religion and for expressions of disrespect for religious beliefs or members of religious groups. In practice, the government applies penalties for disrespect for religious beliefs only in cases of incitement to violence.
All registered religious and life-stance organizations are eligible to apply for financial support from the government. Nearly 800 such organizations receive state support, based on the number of each group’s members. In order to register, a faith or life-stance organization must notify the county governor and provide its creed and doctrine, activities, names of board members, names and responsibilities of group leaders, operating rules – including who may become a member – voting rights, the process for amending statutes, and the process for dissolution. A group registers only once in one county but reports its national tally of members. If a religious group does not register, it will not receive financial support from the government, but there are no restrictions on its activities. By law, life-stance communities, but not religious groups, must have a minimum of 500 members to qualify for government funding.
Public schools continue to include a mandatory course on Christian Knowledge and Religious and Ethical Information (CKREE) for grades one through 10. State-employed instructors teach the CKREE, which covers world religions and philosophies while promoting tolerance and respect for all religious beliefs, as well as for atheism. Up to 50 percent of the CKREE course content is devoted to Christianity. Students may not opt out of this course. Schools do not permit religious ceremonies, but schools may organize religious outings, such as attending Christmas services at a local Lutheran church. Children may be exempted at their parents’ request from participating in or performing specific religious acts, such as a class trip to a church. The parents need not give a reason for requesting an exemption. Students may apply to be absent in order to celebrate certain religious holidays, such as an Eid or Passover, but there is no celebration or observance of these holidays in public schools.
The LDO reviews cases of religious discrimination. Anyone may file a complaint with the ombudsman. The ombudsman publishes nonbinding findings, which provide the basis for legal investigations and follow-up, in response to complaints that a person or organization has violated a law or regulation within the ombudsman’s mandate. The ombudsman also provides advice and guidance on antidiscrimination law.
In June parliament approved a revision of the Equality and Anti-Discrimination Act, effective January 1, 2018, which prohibits discrimination based on religion, among other factors. The law consolidates several previous statutes.
Individuals may apply for a full exemption for religious reasons from the required registration for a year of military service and are not required to perform alternative service.
According to the law, an animal must first be stunned or administered anesthetics before slaughter, making most traditional kosher and halal slaughter practices illegal. Halal and kosher meat may be imported. The IRN certifies some locally produced meat as halal upon review of applications and procedures submitted by producers or distributors that demonstrate that the stunned animal’s heart is still beating when slaughtered.
Foreign religious workers are subject to the same visa and work permit requirements as other foreign workers.
The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
During the year, the Ministry of Local Government and Modernization provided 3.3 million Norwegian kroner (NOK) ($403,000) for security at the DMT facility and synagogue in Oslo. This was similar to the total amount provided in 2016, which was a significant increase from 2015. The greater amounts since 2015, according to the ministry, were due to the overall threat assessment in the country and Europe. The DMT continued to maintain a dialogue with the Ministry of Justice and Public Security (MOJ) and the police to ensure proper safeguarding of the DMT’s facilities.
The national police unit for combating organized and other serious crimes continued to maintain a web page for the public to contact police regarding hate crimes and hate speech, including religiously motivated incidents. The government continued to emphasize its national strategy against hate speech, including religiously motivated hate speech, which focused on improving national statistics on hate speech and associated incidents, improving awareness of hate crimes in police training, and promoting education and research on such crimes and speech on the internet.
After engagement with religious and life-stance communities, the armed forces hired humanist and Muslim chaplains for the first time. The Norwegian Humanist Association reported some hospitals also employed humanist chaplains.
The government continued to ban the wearing of religious symbols, including headgear, with police uniforms.
The government continued to permit individual schools to decide whether to implement bans on certain types of face-covering religious clothing, such as burqas or niqabs.
Many non-Christian religious and life-stance organizations, such as the Norwegian Humanist Association, continued their objections to the specific reference to “Christian Knowledge” in the title of the mandatory school course on religion, stating it promoted Christianity over other beliefs.
The Ministry of Education continued grants for school programs that raised awareness about anti-Semitism and hate speech, including religiously motivated hate speech. Schools nationwide observed Holocaust Memorial Day on January 27. High school curricula included material on the deportation and killing of Jewish citizens from 1942 to 1945. The government continued to fund a DMT program where young Jews talked to high school students about Judaism and being a Jew in the country. The government stated it would continue to fund the program through the national action plan to counter anti-Semitism.
Schools continued to support an extracurricular program that took some secondary school students to the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp in Poland and to other Nazi concentration camps to educate them about the Holocaust. According to the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA), approximately 15-20,000 students participated each year.
The Church of Norway received more than two billion NOK ($244 million) in funding from the government. The government and the Church continued to review the status of pension and other benefits for Church employees who no longer worked for the state. The MOC stated the grant to the Church would continue at a high level after the removal of its employees from the state payroll. The government provided other registered religious and life-stance organizations approximately 344 million NOK ($42 million). Some representatives from these groups, including the Norwegian Humanist Association, said the size of the grant to the Church of Norway was not based solely on the size of membership and that the Church’s privileged relationship with the state continued after the January 1 legal separation.
The Catholic Church’s civil suit alleging the government underpaid the subsidy it owed the Church based on its membership remained pending. The District Court in Oslo ruled against the Church in January, but the Church appealed the decision to the Borgarting Court of Appeal. In December the district court also found the Catholic Archdiocese of Oslo liable for financial fraud, stemming from a government investigation in 2016 that stated the Church had inflated its membership numbers, and fined it NOK 2 million ($244,000).
Consistent with previous years, the MOC provided 12 million NOK ($1.5 million) to religious umbrella organizations, such as the Christian Council of Norway and the Council for Religious and Life Stance Communities (STL), among others, to promote dialogue and tolerance among religious and life-stance organizations. Groups outside these umbrella organizations also applied to the ministry for funding for specific events and programs to support interreligious dialogue.
In October the government withdrew its longstanding support to the IRN, due, it said, largely to a loss of confidence in the organization. Minister of Culture Linda Helleland said in a press release that the ministry had “serious doubt that the IRN is capable of fulfilling its role as a bridge-builder and contributing to cooperation and a strengthening of dialogue, for which there is a great need.” The withdrawal of funding followed a series of media reports citing dysfunction in the organization, including the 2016 resignation of the entire IRN board in a leadership dispute; the controversial hiring in March of an outspoken advocate for the full-face veil as a communications officer; and criticism from dialogue partners that the IRN was not fully engaged in interfaith dialogue efforts.
The government proposed a new law governing religious life in the country, which was open for public comment until the end of the year and was scheduled for debate in parliament in 2018. For the first time, the law would require all religious as well as life-stance groups to have at least 500 members to be eligible for government funding. The existing law applied the requirement only to life-stance groups. The MOC said the law could potentially affect approximately one quarter of religious groups in the country. The proposed law would codify the legal status and funding support structures for the Church of Norway and other religious groups, following the formal separation of the Church of Norway from the government at the beginning of the year. The Church of Norway would retain financial support from the government under the proposed law, including for maintaining historic church buildings and certain administrative expenses. Religious communities and those who worked on interreligious dialogue complained the proposed law was developed without a preceding white paper on religion and life-stance policies. A white paper would normally present the policy goals behind new legislation. Some religious and life-stance communities, such as the Norwegian Humanist Association, said the new law provided preferential financial treatment for the Church of Norway.
The government continued to implement its action plan to counter anti-Semitism in society. The plan emphasized data collection, training and education programs in schools, research on anti-Semitism and Jewish life in the country, and efforts to safeguard Jewish culture. Under the plan, police must work toward including anti-Semitism as a separate category of hate crime in police statistics. The Center for Studies of the Holocaust and Religious Minorities (HC), an independent research and educational center, and the DMT leadership said the plan could have gone further, but they were generally positive about it, since it allocated resources to education about anti-Semitism in society and focused attention on efforts to counter it.
The LDO stated the amended antidiscrimination law should make identifying discrimination easier by consolidating several antidiscrimination statutes.
In May the Progress Party, the junior member in the governing coalition, expressed its support at a party convention for a law banning ritual circumcision of children under the age of 16. Domestic and international Jewish leaders spoke out against it, and the government stated it would not pursue the issue.
In response to the effective ban on the production of most kosher and halal meat in the country by the law on animal slaughter, the Ministry of Agriculture continued to waive import duties and provide guidance on import procedures to both the Jewish and Muslim communities.
The government continued to conduct workshops and other intervention programs targeting practitioners working with groups at risk for radicalization, including religious minority groups. The MOJ hosted an annual national conference against radicalization, which included high-level political participation.
The government is a member of the IHRA.
Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom
According to police and NGO reports and observations, religiously motivated hate speech, particularly online, remained prevalent. In 2016, the latest year for which data were available, police reported 97 religiously motivated hate crimes throughout the country, up from 79 the previous year. Police in Oslo reported 88 percent of the 24 religiously motivated hate crimes in 2016 in that district targeted Muslims, a similar percentage to the previous year. The overall number of recorded religiously motivated hate crimes in 2016 in Oslo was down 40 percent from the 40 incidents the previous year. Assault and legally impermissible hate speech constituted the bulk of what the government characterized as religiously motivated crimes. Police statistics did not cite specific examples of these crimes.
The LDO, as well as NGOs such as FRI – Association for Gender and Sexual Diversity, encouraged the government to improve consistency of data collection and reporting of hate crimes, including religiously motivated hate crimes, for police districts outside of Oslo. Police training continued, and the MOJ said it expected all police districts to have competency in investigating hate crimes by the end of the year. Beginning with hate crimes committed in 2017, statistics were to include information on cases prosecuted and final convictions.
As part of its action plan to combat anti-Semitism, the government conducted a national survey, which it said it would repeat every five years, of attitudes in the population towards Jews and other minorities. The survey results were published in December and found that while “stereotypical [prejudicial] views about Jews still prevail in Norwegian society in 2017…they are less prevalent than in 2011.” The survey concluded that the proportion of the country’s population with marked prejudices against Jews and Muslims was 8.3 percent and 34.1 percent, respectively. It concluded that attitudes toward Jews in the country were influenced by attitudes towards Israel. The survey also found that negative stereotypes of Muslims were widespread in society. It stated that 14 percent of Muslims and 11 percent of Jews had been directly subjected to harassment.
In 2016, the most recent year for which data were available, the LDO received nine complaints in which it concluded discrimination based on religion had taken place, compared with three cases in the previous year. The LDO did not indicate if these cases resulted in legal action. The LDO offered guidance on rights and the legal framework regarding religious discrimination in response to 85 additional inquiries.
The NGOs Antiracist Center and Organization Against Public Discrimination again stated members of ethnic minorities (many of whom were Muslim) experienced discrimination and that levels of anti-Islamic sentiment continued to increase, especially on social media platforms. Neither NGO cited examples.
In July media reported widespread ridicule of members of the nationalist group Fatherland First, after it posted numerous critical comments, such as “Islam is and always will be a curse,” over a photo on the group’s Facebook page. Self-described “troll” Johan Slattavik posted the photo, which members thought showed Muslims in burqas but was actually of empty bus seats, with the comment, “What do you think of this?” He said he did it “as a joke” and to “highlight the difference between legitimate criticism of immigration and blind racism.” The head of the Antiracist Center commented that people “see what they want to see – and what these people want to see are dangerous Muslims.”
The DMT again expressed concern about what it viewed as continued tolerance for anti-Semitic expression, primarily online, but provided no examples. Members of the Jewish community also reported experiencing discrimination but preferred not to cite specific cases. The DMT expressed concern over a march in Kristiansand in July of 50 self-proclaimed neo-Nazis from the group The Nordic Resistance Movement. Authorities had denied a permit for a march by the group in Fredrikstad, but police in Kristiansand allowed it to proceed without a permit when the group marched there without first informing the police. Individuals held a countermarch in Trondheim on the same day.
Dagbladet, a national daily newspaper, published in May a satirical cartoon equating Jewish and Muslim supporters of nonmedical circumcision with mentally unstable pedophiles. President of the Conference of European Rabbis Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt urged authorities to take action against Dagbladet, calling the cartoon offensive and “a blatant attack on religious freedom.” The cartoon was part of the newspaper’s coverage of the Progress Party’s support for a ban on ritual circumcision, a ban Dagbladet did not support. The President of the DMT, Ervin Kohn, said the cartoon was offensive and not a positive contribution to the circumcision debate, but that it was not out of line or anti-Semitic.
The HC continued to conduct programs against anti-Semitism with financial support from the government. For example, the HC provided instructional materials it developed on tolerance of religious diversity to high schools nationwide. It also screened materials used in public schools for anti-Semitic content.
In March Muslim organizations condemned the IRN’s appointment of a communications officer who wore a full-face veil, and several groups issued a joint press release saying they lacked confidence in the organization. Minister of Culture Helleland and Muslim Member of Parliament Abid Raja also criticized the appointment. Several mosques formally pulled out of IRN in September and October, citing a lack of trust and management issues as the main reasons for their withdrawal. Until the mosque withdrawals, IRN, the only Muslim umbrella organization in the country, represented approximately 42 congregations with 70,000 members, almost half of the total Muslim population. In late October newspapers reported that five of the mosques that had pulled out of IRN had established a new organization called the Muslim Dialogue Network Norway. In addition, in October IRN suspended its membership in the STL for a period of six months; some media outlets speculated STL would have otherwise suspended the group.
In October Nortura, one of the country’s largest meat producers, announced it would not renew the halal agreement with IRN (under which IRN certified some Nortura meat as halal) when it expired at the end of 2018. In its announcement, Nortura cited a lack of trust in IRN from the government, the Muslim community, and society as the determining factor for its decision not to renew the contract.
The constitution protects “the freedom to practice one’s religion alone or in the company of others” and prohibits discrimination based on religion. The government facilitated revenue collection for 17 religious groups through the taxation system and distributed publicly funded grants to 42 applicant religious groups in proportion to their membership. The government also provided grants to religious groups for religious education, spiritual work in the healthcare sector, refugee reception and integration, and security measures. The government continued to implement a plan to combat hate crimes, including religiously motivated ones. The plan resulted in additional funding and training for police and funding for civil society to combat anti-Semitism and anti-Muslim sentiments. The Living History Forum, a government-funded agency, trained 2,500 teachers and other school personnel on preventing and combating intolerance, including anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim sentiments. Leading national and local politicians, including the prime minister, condemned anti-Semitic incidents in December. After a television broadcaster aired footage of a government-funded Muslim school seemingly segregating its pupils by gender on a school bus, the prime minister called the separation of the students “despicable.” Jewish groups criticized the police for approving an application by the Nordic Resistance Movement (NRM), widely characterized as a neo-Nazi group, for a protest march that would have passed near a Gothenburg synagogue on Yom Kippur. A court later changed the routing of the march. Several representatives of the Sweden Democrats (SD) political party made anti-Muslim and anti-Semitic remarks. The prime minister and other national and local officials stated their public support for religious freedom and the protection of religious groups.
According to the government, there were 1,177 suspected religiously motivated hate crimes reported to the police in 2016, a 24 percent decline from 2015. As in previous years, Muslims were the most frequently targeted group and Jews the most targeted relative to the size of the community. Incidents included acts of violence, illegal threats, discrimination, defamation, hate speech, vandalism, and graffiti. The government’s National Council for Crime Prevention (NCCP) stated it was likely all hate crimes continued to be significantly underreported, and a suspect was charged in just 4 percent of cases reported in 2015. The nongovernmental organization (NGO) Open Doors reported 123 Christian immigrant interviewees, the majority from Muslim-majority countries, had been the victims of at least 512 anti-Christian incidents, including violence, sexual assault, death threats, social exclusion, insults, and other threats between 2012 and 2017. Assailants threw flaming objects at the synagogue in Gothenburg and at the Jewish cemetery in Malmo in December, and protesters in Malmo yelled “shoot all the Jews.” Government officials, including the prime minister, condemned the Gothenburg and Malmo incidents. A Jewish association in Umea closed in April after repeated harassment, which it tied, at least in part, to the NRM. Jewish, Christian, and Muslim groups expressed concern about the increase in NRM activities. In what police suspected were cases of arson, the country’s largest Shia mosque, in Jarfalla, was severely damaged in a fire in April, and another mosque in Orebro was destroyed by fire in September. In September, 10 Muslim groups called for action to guarantee the safety of the country’s mosques and their visitors.
The Charge d’Affaires and other embassy officials continued to engage regularly with the Ministry of Justice, the Ministry of Culture, members of parliament, the Swedish Agency for Support to Faith Communities (SST), the office of the national coordinator to combat violent extremism, and national and local police on issues related to religious freedom, including reports of tensions between religious groups, reports of antireligious acts against immigrants and other minorities, and the increased activity of neo-Nazi groups. Embassy officials spoke to Christian, Jewish, and Muslim representatives in Gothenburg, Malmo, Stockholm, Umea, and Uppsala about their ability to practice their faiths freely and safely, and raised the concerns of specific religious groups with political leaders.
Section I. Religious Demography
The U.S. government estimates the population at 10.0 million (July 2017 estimate). According to the Church of Sweden (Lutheran), approximately 61 percent of citizens are members. According to government statistics and estimates by religious groups, other Christian groups – including the Roman Catholic Church, the Pentecostal movement, the Missionary (or Missions) Church, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons) – together total less than 7 percent of the population. The Pew Research Center estimated in 2016 that 8.1 percent of the population is Muslim. According to the Official Council of Swedish Jewish Communities, Jews number approximately 20,000-30,000, concentrated mainly in larger cities such as Stockholm, Gothenburg, and Malmo.
Smaller religious communities include Buddhists, Hindus, Sikhs, Zoroastrians, and members of the Church of Scientology, Word of Faith, the International Society for Krishna Consciousness, the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification (Unification Church), and Mandaeism.
Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom
The constitution provides “the freedom to practice one’s religion alone or in the company of others.” The law mandates there be no limitation of rights or freedoms on the grounds of religious opinion.
The constitution instructs public institutions to combat discrimination based on religious affiliation. According to law, complaints about discrimination for religious reasons in the private sector, in the government, or by a government agency or authority must be filed with the Discrimination Ombudsman. The ombudsman represents an individual in the event of legal proceedings.
The constitution states that “the opportunities of religious minorities to preserve and develop a cultural and social life of their own shall be promoted.” No one is obliged to belong to a religious community or “divulge religious beliefs in relations with public institutions.”
There is no requirement in the law to register or recognize religious groups. Faith communities registering with the SST, however, receive tax exemptions similar to those of nonprofit organizations and are eligible to receive government funding. In order to register with the SST, a religious group must submit an application to the Ministry of Culture demonstrating the group fulfills certain requirements, including that it be stable and have operated in the country for at least five years, have a clear and stable structure, be able to function on its own, serve at least 3,000 persons (with exceptions), and be present in different locations in the country.
According to the law, animal slaughter must be preceded by stunning and/or the administration of anesthetics to minimize the animal’s suffering.
The law stipulates that male circumcision may be performed only by a licensed doctor or, for boys under the age of two months, by a person certified by the National Board of Health and Welfare. The board certifies mohels (individuals who conduct ritual Jewish circumcisions) to perform the operations on boys younger than two months but requires the presence of a medical doctor, who must administer anesthesia to the infant.
The government facilitates fundraising by religious groups by offering them the option of collecting contributions through the internal revenue service in exchange for a one-time fee of 75,000 Swedish kronor (SEK) ($9,200) and an annual fee of SEK 21 ($2.60) per member per year. The Church of Sweden is exempted from the annual fee as it, unlike the other religious groups participating in the scheme, does not receive financial support from the SST. Only religious groups registered with the SST may participate in the scheme. Religious groups freely choose what percentage of members’ annual taxable income to collect, with a median collection rate of 1 percent. When an individual joins a registered religious organization, the organization informs the Tax Agency that the new member wants to participate in the scheme. The Tax Agency subsequently begins to subtract a percentage of the member’s gross income and distributes it to the religious organization. The contribution is then noted on the member’s annual tax record. The member’s contribution is not deductible from income tax. Seventeen religious organizations participate in the scheme, including the Church of Sweden, the Roman Catholic Church, four Muslim congregations, and two Syriac Orthodox churches.
The government provides publicly funded grants to registered religious groups through the SST, which is under the authority of the Ministry of Culture. The grants are proportional to the size of a group’s membership. Registered religious groups may also apply for separate grants for specific purposes, such as security expenses.
The military offers food options compliant with religious dietary restrictions. Each military district has a chaplain who holds the position regardless of his or her religious affiliation. According to the law, chaplains may be of any religious affiliation, but all chaplains seconded to the armed forces belong to the Church of Sweden. Regardless of religious denomination, chaplains are required to perform religious duties for other faiths or refer service members to spiritual leaders of other faiths if requested. Jehovah’s Witnesses are exempt from national military service. Armed forces guidelines allow religious headwear. Individuals serving in the military may observe their particular religious holidays in exchange for not taking leave on public holidays.
Religious education to include all world religions is compulsory in public and private schools. Teachers use a curriculum that encompasses lessons about the major world religions without preference for any particular religious group. Parents may send their children to independent religious schools, which are supported by the government through a voucher system and which must adhere to government guidelines on core academic curricula, including religious education. Such schools may host voluntary religious activities outside the classroom, but these activities may not interfere with government guidelines on core academic curricula.
Hate speech laws prohibit threats or expressions of contempt for persons based on several factors, including religious belief. Penalties for hate speech range from fines to a sentence of up to four years in prison, depending on the severity of the crime.
Law enforcement authorities maintain statistics on hate crimes, including religiously motivated hate crimes. Authorities may add a hate crime classification to an initial crime report or to existing charges during an investigation, as well as at the trial and sentencing phase of a crime. In such cases, the penalties would increase.
The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
The Swedish Police Authority (SPA) continued to strengthen efforts to combat hate crimes, including antireligious hate crimes, in response to government directives from 2014. The police expanded its designated hate crime investigation units in Stockholm, Gothenburg, and Malmo and conducted training for police across the country throughout the year. The National Police Commissioner announced in September that an additional SEK 10 million ($1.22 million) would be spent over the following year to prevent and investigate hate crimes. A follow-up report the SPA issued in February assessed “that it is still too early to comment on the effect with regard to the increased ability to investigate hate crimes.”
The SST offered security training to all 42 religious communities in its network and carried out such training for 75 religious representatives throughout the year. The training sessions taught the community leaders to evaluate and respond to threats, deal with hate crimes, and improve physical security.
The Jewish congregation in Malmo welcomed security grants from the SST that, for the first time, could be spent on hiring security personnel. The share of the congregation’s budget spent on security decreased significantly during the year as a result. The congregation also commended the Malmo police for providing increased protection during religious services and the municipal government for funding public tours of the synagogue. The Stockholm Jewish congregation similarly welcomed the new security grants but nevertheless reported that it spent 20-25 percent of its budget on security.
Several Christian churches and organizations criticized the Swedish Migration Agency for its treatment of asylum seekers who risked religious persecution in their home countries. According to a representative of an ecumenical organization, Migration Agency staff routinely evaluated asylum seekers’ claims to be Christian using questions that cast undue doubt on the asylum seekers’ faith and required an unreasonable level of knowledge about scripture, denominations, and other aspects of Christianity. The Christian newspaper Dagen reported in July and August that the Migration Agency had denied asylum requests of nine self-professed Christians who risked religious persecution in Iran and Pakistan. The representative of the ecumenical organization estimated that the actual number of Christians who risked religious persecution in their home countries after being denied asylum was “much higher.” The Migration Agency announced in July that it would review its procedures, investigate alleged wrongful denials of asylum, and increase religious training for its staff.
In April the Swedish Labor Court ruled against a midwife who had sued the regional administration of Jonkoping for discrimination on religious grounds. Hospitals in the region did not hire the midwife because she refused to participate in abortions, citing her Christian faith. The court ruled the regional administration’s decision to employ other candidates willing to carry out all the duties of a midwife and participate in abortions did not constitute a violation of her religious rights.
The government continued to implement its “national plan to combat racism, similar forms of hostility, and hate crimes,” launched in late 2016, including a focus on Holocaust remembrance. In accordance with the plan, the government gave the Living History Forum an additional SEK 14.1 million ($1.72 million) to promote tolerance, including religious tolerance. Throughout the year, the forum and the National Agency for Education carried out college-accredited training for 1,200 teachers and other school personnel to prevent and combat intolerance, including anti-Semitism and anti-Muslim sentiment. The forum also arranged five conferences across the country attended by 1,500 school personnel on the same topics and conducted regular training for police, social workers, and other civil servants. In October the forum launched an online training platform to assist teachers in classes about anti-Semitism and anti-Muslim sentiment.
After the Jewish Association in Umea closed in April following threats and harassment, the Governor of Vasterbotten, Magdalena Andersson, and leading municipal politicians joined a “kippah (yarmulke) walk” in support of the city’s Jewish community. Minister for Home Affairs Anders Ygeman commented, “It is of course completely unacceptable that any person is subjected to threats based on his or her religion. We must therefore ensure that the association has all the support it needs.”
The SST regularly educated municipalities about how to support and communicate with religious minorities and promote religious tolerance on the local level, for example, in conjunction with the planned construction of a mosque in Karlstad.
The SST held courses throughout the year for foreign-educated religious leaders and religious youth leaders to inform them about their rights and responsibilities in accordance with national laws and norms and strengthen their ability to safeguard religious freedom in their communities.
An imam and a Christian leader separately expressed concern about calls from leading politicians for increased government control over government-supported independent schools run by religious groups, as well as calls by some politicians to ban such schools outright. The governing Social Democratic Party decided at a party congress in April to support a prohibition on all religious activities at schools receiving government funds, including independent schools. “I want all children to attend schools free of religious aspects,” stated Prime Minister Stefan Lofven. In April the leader of the Left Party, Jonas Sjostedt, called for a ban on all independent religious schools, adding that “it is completely wrong that schools exist in Sweden that indoctrinate children into a specific religion. To learn about religion is one thing – you should learn about all faiths. But to practice religion in school is another thing; it does not belong there.” The Liberal Party and the SD decided at their respective party congresses in November to support a prohibition on establishing new independent religious schools. Three SD Members of Parliament (MPs) – Jeff Ahl, Johan Nissinen, and Marcus Wiechel – introduced a bill in parliament in September to ban all such schools outright. By year’s end, the government had not taken any action to propose such a prohibition.
In April television broadcaster TV4 aired secretly recorded footage showing a government-funded independent school with a self-identified “Muslim profile” in Stockholm seemingly segregating its pupils by gender on a school bus. Some students and teachers said the school had separated the boys from the girls because the former were being disruptive. Reacting to the broadcast, Prime Minister Lofven said, “I think this is despicable. This doesn’t belong in Sweden,” adding, “We take the bus together here, regardless if you’re a girl or a boy, woman or a man.” The school’s vice principal said it had no intention of separating the children by gender and said, “This is not something that has been known or sanctioned by school management.”
According to a survey conducted by the newspaper Svenska Dagbladet in April, there were 71 independent schools that self-identified as religious, of which 59 were Christian, 11 Muslim, and one Jewish.
Schools continued to sponsor visits to Holocaust sites such as Auschwitz as educational tools. Students participated in such trips regardless of religious background.
The SST distributed grants totaling SEK 88.8 million ($10.84 million) to 42 religious groups in 2016, the latest year for which figures were available, consisting of SEK 53.5 million ($53.5 million) for operating expenses, SEK 10.6 million ($1.29 million) for theological training and spiritual care in hospitals, SEK 15 million ($1.83 million) for building renovations and refugee assistance, and SEK 9.7 million ($1.18 million) to install physical security measures and hire security personnel. Other than for operating expenses, the SST allocated funds based on grant applications for specific projects, which several religious groups often carried out jointly.
Financed in part by a grant of SEK 1.2 million ($147,000) from the Agency for Youth and Civil Society (MUCF) and supported by the City of Malmo, the city’s Jewish congregation and NGO Xenofilia carried out training to combat anti-Semitism and other forms of religious intolerance in schools. A total of 256 teachers, librarians, student counselors, and youth leaders in Malmo and the broader Skane region participated in the project during the fall of 2016 and spring of 2017; 87 percent of participants stated the course had improved their ability to counteract anti-Semitism.
The MUCF distributed SEK 1.4 million ($171,000) to civil society to combat anti-Muslim sentiment in 2016, the most recent year for which figures were available. For example, the MUCF awarded the NGO Fritidsforum SEK 811,000 ($99,000) to counter anti-Muslim attitudes at youth recreation centers.
Some Muslim groups and the Official Council of Swedish Jewish Communities continued to state they considered the law requiring stunning of and/or administration of anesthetics to animals prior to slaughter to be in conflict with their respective religious rituals. The Muslim community remained divided over whether the requirement conformed to halal procedures. The Jewish community reported the law effectively prevented the production of kosher meat. Most halal and all kosher meat was imported.
The Official Council of Swedish Jewish Communities, the U.S. NGO Anti-Defamation League (ADL), media, politicians, and others criticized the Gothenburg police for approving an application by the NRM for a protest march that would have passed within 500 yards of the Gothenburg synagogue on Yom Kippur (September 30). The Administrative Court of Gothenburg subsequently ruled to move the NRM’s protest further from the synagogue.
There were multiple reports that representatives of the SD, the country’s third largest political party, made denigrating comments about religious minorities. The newspaper Expressen and other media outlets reported in April that Susanne Larsen, the SD’s party chairperson in Halland and a member of the Halmstad municipal council, had made denigrating comments about Muslims on social media and shared articles from anti-Muslim online sources. Larsen denied allegations that in 2014, she wrote, “Muslims are evil and dangerous. What the Swedish government is doing today with the construction of mosques is to recognize Islam as a religion, and then the Muslims have received what they need to continue their mission … War is being imported to all of Europe in the form of Muslims.” Larsen resigned in August, citing personal reasons, and the SD expelled her from the party in September.
In Fargelanda, the SD expelled a local politician and party member after public broadcaster Radio Sweden reported in February that he had made anti-Muslim comments on social media in December 2016: “We should begin by placing pig’s blood and pig’s offal in places where Muslims congregate. When they subsequently get angry and attack us, we can take the next step and claim self-defense as permitted by the law.”
In January the SD forced a local politician to resign from the party after she told a newspaper she “hated all Muslims” and posted other derogatory comments about them online. The local SD leadership condemned her statements.
The SD expelled a local politician in Borlange in February after he referred to a party colleague as a “[expletive] Jew whore” in an audio clip that was circulated in the media.
In September Mattias Karlsson, an SD MP and the party’s former interim leader, called the Church of Sweden’s practice of occasionally inviting imams to read from the Quran in its churches “absurd, directly deplorable, and sickening.” He added, “Reading from the Quran in a Christian church – when the Quran states that Christians should be killed – is almost comparable to reading aloud from Mein Kampfin a synagogue.”
Speaking at the SD’s party congress in November, Martin Strid, a local party representative from Borlange stated, “There is a scale from one to 100. At one end of the scale, you are 100 percent a human, humane. At the other end of the scale, you are 100 percent ‘Mohammedan.’ All Muslims are somewhere along that scale. If you are ISIS, you are pretty close to 100 percent ‘Mohammedan.’ If you are an ex-Muslim, you have come pretty far toward being fully human.” He added, “[Islam] is a religion based on hatred, lies, and bondage … The punishment for leaving Islam is death, the punishment for criticizing Islam is death, and the punishment for making jokes about Islam is death.” SD leader Jimmie Akesson threatened to expel Strid from the party and called his statements “completely unacceptable” and “the worst thing I have ever heard in such a context.” Strid left the SD shortly after the party congress, and members of the public reported him for hate speech to the police and the discrimination ombudsman.
An SD-owned online newspaper, Samtiden, featured authors who made denigrating comments about Islam and Muslims. For example, on May 29, columnist Olof Hedengren called Islam an “existential threat,” and on April 25, he stated, “Islam is nondemocratic, homophobic, segregationist (us versus ‘the infidels’), and demeaning to women.”
In conjunction with International Holocaust Remembrance Day on January 27, Minister for Home Affairs Ygeman and Minister for Culture and Democracy Kuhnke spoke at separate events to commemorate victims of the Holocaust and call for religious tolerance. Prime Minister Lofven condemned the Holocaust during a visit to Auschwitz in June accompanied by a survivor.
The government is a member of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance.
Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom
According to an annual report by the NCCP, the number of hate crimes, which the NCCP classified as having a religious motivation, reported to the police declined by 24 percent in 2016, (the latest year for which figures were available) to 1,177, compared with 1,558 in 2015. According to the NCCP, “The statistics in the report can indicate how hate crimes are labeled as such in police reports and indicate structures among reported cases. However, the statistics say very little about the prevalence of hate crimes in society because most acts of crime are not reported to the police.”
Reported hate crimes with suspected anti-Muslim motives declined by 21 percent (to 439), those with suspected anti-Christian motives declined by 26 percent (to 289), and those with suspected anti-Semitic motives declined by 34 percent (to 182). As in previous years, Muslims were the most frequently targeted group among reported cases, and Jews were the most targeted relative to the size of the community. The number of reported incidents in the category “other antireligious hate crimes” declined by 19 percent (to 267). The NCCP categorized this group of incidents as those directed at religions other than Islam, Christianity, or Judaism; those between denominations of the same religion; and those related to conversions from one faith to another.
For each group in the NCCP report, the most common type of reported incident was making of illegal threats. The NCCP identified 38 anti-Muslim acts of violence (a decline of 17 percent), 32 reported anti-Christian acts of violence (no change from 2015), 10 reports of anti-Semitic violence (an increase of 25 percent), and 56 acts of violence in the category “other antireligious hate crimes” (an increase of 47 percent). Other types of reported incidents included discrimination, defamation, hate speech, and vandalism and graffiti.
According to the NCCP, the share of total reported hate crimes committed at housing facilities for asylum seekers increased from 1 percent in 2015 to 6 percent in 2016. The increase was particularly pronounced for reported anti-Christian incidents and those in the category “other antireligious hate crimes,” which increased from 7 percent to 13 percent and from 10 percent to 16 percent, respectively.
An NCCP poll released during the year illustrated the issue of underreported hate crimes. Of 11,600 Swedish residents who participated in the poll, 0.6 percent stated they were victims of religiously motivated hate crimes in 2015 – equivalent to approximately 47,000 individuals as a proportion of the country’s population. Only 26 percent of respondents who said they had been victims of such crime, however, had reported the incident to the police, according to the poll. Of those incidents that were reported, the NCCP stated authorities charged suspects in only 4 percent of cases.
The NGO Open Doors released a report describing the results of a survey, conducted between February and May, on religious persecution of Christian migrants in the country. The report consisted of a survey among 123 individuals who arrived in the country after July 1, 2012, and had “experienced religiously motivated persecution in Sweden due to their Christian faith.” The study questioned victims about the types of religious harassment they had experienced; it was not a survey of the prevalence of religiously motivated incidents experienced by all migrants. Respondents reported they had been the victims of at least 512 acts of religious persecution because of their Christian faith since arriving in the country. Fifty-three percent of respondents had reportedly been victims of at least one act of religiously motivated violence, 45 percent had received at least one religiously motivated death threat, and 6 percent were reportedly victims of religiously motivated sexual assault. Other incidents of religious persecution included social exclusion (30 percent), insults (28 percent), and threats (26 percent).
The respondents identified the perpetrators as other refugees and migrants (in 415 incidents), interpreters (in 52 incidents), and others (in 45 incidents). Eighty-one percent of respondents reported the anti-Christian incidents taking place in housing operated by the Swedish Migration Agency. Of the 123 participants in the study, 75 percent were male and 85 percent were citizens of Iran, Afghanistan, or Syria. Converts were overrepresented in the study, constituting 77 percent of participants. According to the report, only 33 respondents reported at least one of the incidents to the police, and only 49 out of 512 incidents were reported to the police. The authors of the report consequently concluded the actual prevalence of religious persecution of Christian migrants was significantly more widespread than suggested by the number of incidents reported to the police.
On December 9, a group of 10-20 masked men threw flaming objects at the synagogue in Gothenburg. No one was injured in the attack, and the building did not catch fire. Members of a Jewish youth group hosting a party in a connecting building hid and alerted police. Police arrested three men for suspected arson, one of whom remained detained by the end of the year, and the other two remained suspects. The prosecutor in charge of the case said she believed the incident was a response to unrest in the Middle East following the recognition of Jerusalem by the United States as the capital of Israel. The community group Together for West Gothenburg arranged a demonstration on December 10, during which they “love bombed” the synagogue by decorating it with flowers and paper hearts.
On December 11, an unknown perpetrator threw two Molotov cocktails at a chapel in a Jewish cemetery in Malmo. There were no injuries, and the chapel did not sustain any damage.
On December 12, two young men issued a bomb threat to a security guard working at the offices of the Malmo Jewish congregation.
At a protest in Malmo on December 8 and 9 in response to the U.S. recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, protesters shouted “shoot all the Jews” and “the Jews should remember that Mohammed’s army will return,” according to public broadcaster Radio Sweden. The Jewish community in Malmo reported the statements to the police as hate speech.
Prime Minister Lofven condemned the incidents in Gothenburg and Malmo in a statement issued on December 10, which read in part, “I am outraged at the attack on the Gothenburg synagogue yesterday and at incitements of violence against Jews at a demonstration in Malmo. Anti-Semitism has no place in our Swedish society. The perpetrators will be brought to justice.” Prime Minister Lofven and other ministers also spoke at a demonstration of approximately 150 persons in support of religious rights and tolerance outside the Great Synagogue of Stockholm on December 20. Mayors Ann-Sofie Hermansson of Gothenburg and Kent Andersson of Malmo condemned the incidents and issued their support for the Jewish communities in their respective cities. Minister for Culture and Democracy Alice Bah Kuhnke attended a “kippah (yarmulke) walk” in Malmo on December 16 in support of the city’s Jewish community. Minister for Coordination and Energy Ibrahim Baylan and Minister for the Environment Karolina Skog both visited the Gothenburg synagogue to show the government’s support. Other members of the government, including Minister for Foreign Affairs Margot Wallstrom and Minister for Justice Morgan Johansson, also condemned the incidents in Gothenburg and Malmo, as well as anti-Semitism more broadly.
The country’s largest newspapers condemned the attacks on the Jewish congregations in Gothenburg and Malmo. The country’s largest broadsheet Dagens Nyheter stated in an editorial on December 10, “Anti-Semitism is a specific type of disease that must be strongly attacked wherever it spreads.” The country’s largest tabloid Aftonbladet stated in an editorial on December 11, “It is important that the perpetrators in Gothenburg and Malmo are brought to justice. It must be clear to all that Sweden does not accept any form of anti-Semitism.”
The Jewish association in Umea closed its office in April and was looking for a new location in response to repeated neo-Nazi threats and harassment, which it tied, at least in part, to the NRM. For example, one member received Nazi literature in her home mailbox every year on January 27, International Holocaust Remembrance Day; individuals repeatedly placed stickers featuring Nazi imagery and links to the website of the NRM and painted swastikas and the phrase, “We know where you live,” on the association’s building. Association members received online threats, and neo-Nazis interrupted at least one of the association’s events. In addition, a board member’s car was vandalized in an incident that the police suspect may have been tied to his involvement with the association. Victims reported a number of the incidents, but police had made no arrests by year’s end. Speaking about the closure of the Jewish association’s office, a representative of the ADL said, “This situation simply cannot be acceptable in today’s Sweden.” The ADL wrote to Prime Minister Lofven, urging the government to do more ensure the protection of Jewish institutions in the country.
An imam in Malmo reported that members of his congregation were frequently victims of harassment on religious grounds, mainly in the form of hate speech. According to the imam, most victims did not report the incidents to the police due to a belief that the perpetrators would neither be identified nor brought to justice.
The newspaper Dagens Nyheter reported in May that suspected supporters of ISIS and other extremist groups had threatened and harassed Shia Muslims, including by making death threats.
The country’s largest Shia mosque, the Imam Ali Islamic Center in Jarfalla, was severely damaged on April 30 in what police labeled a suspected act of arson. A representative of the congregation stated, “There is hatred and threats against us because Islamic State considers us their greatest enemy, whereas rightwing extremists view Muslims as a homogenous group.” Police arrested and quickly released a suspect shortly after the incident and had made no subsequent arrests by year’s end. No one was injured in the fire.
A mosque in Orebro was destroyed in a fire on September 26. Police labeled the incident as suspected arson and arrested a suspect on the same day. The suspect admitted to the crime, but police stated they did not believe there was a political or religious motive, citing the suspect’s possible mental illness.
In response to the arson attack on the mosque in Orebro and to “a series of attacks on mosques since 2014 that are becoming more frequent and vicious,” 10 Muslim groups issued a joint statement in September. They “demanded that necessary action is taken to guarantee the safety of the country’s mosques and their visitors,” and added that Muslim groups “have repeatedly pointed out the threat and security risks the country’s mosques. The government agencies in question have responded with an unwillingness to take action.” A leader of a signatory group added in an interview with news service TT, “We think this is so serious that the authorities must act quickly and forcefully to stop similar attacks against mosques and other religious places of worship, such as synagogues and churches.”
The NRM was involved in a number of antireligious incidents during the year, and Jewish, Christian, and Muslim leaders described the increased activity of the group as a significant concern for members of their faiths. In September a court in Eskilstuna charged an NRM member with hate speech for raising a Nazi flag outside the Eskilstuna city hall to commemorate Adolf Hitler’s birthday on April 20. On September 30, Yom Kippur, approximately 500 supporters of the NRM marched through Gothenburg, clashing with police and approximately 10,000 counterdemonstrators. Jewish community members said their Yom Kippur observance was not disrupted. Police arrested 22 NRM supporters and on December 18, charged NRM leader Simon Lindberg with hate speech for raising his fist and yelling “Hell seger (Hail victory)” during the September 30 march.
On December 18, a court in Gothenburg convicted 11 counterdemonstrators, sentencing eight to prison, for throwing rocks and firecrackers at police during the NRM’s September 30 march in Gothenburg.
A group of self-professed NRM members disrupted the December 20 demonstration supporting religious rights in front of the Great Synagogue of Stockholm, which included the participation of Prime Minister Lofven and other political leaders, by yelling during a speech by Minister of Culture Alice Bah Kuhnke. Police arrested one man for hate speech.
On September 20, the Hudiksvall District Court convicted a man of hate speech for posting on social media a picture of himself wearing a T-shirt with the text “Death to ZOG [Zionist Occupation Government].” According to the magazine Expo, the man “had been involved in the white power movement for several years.”
An imam at a mosque in Helsingborg called Jews “the offspring of monkeys and swine” during a speech at a protest in July against Israeli policies in Jerusalem. A local Jewish group reported the imam to the police for hate speech.
In March the World Jewish Congress released a report analyzing anti-Semitism on social media in the country in 2016. According to the report, there were approximately 2,350 anti-Semitic posts on social media in 2016, a decline from previous years. The report stated the government had been actively working to prevent such occurrences. It reported most of the anti-Semitic discourse consisted of expressions of hatred against Jews and the use of anti-Semitic symbols.
Citing a lack of evidence, a court in Malmo acquitted a man with stated ISIS sympathies of terrorist charges in conjunction with a fire at a Shia mosque in the city in 2016.
In July NRM members vandalized an art installation in Visby commemorating victims of the Holocaust. The perpetrators posted pictures of the incident on their own online Twitter feed.
Individuals posted NRM leaflets on the Malmo synagogue on two separate occasions.