The constitution guarantees the right of individuals to worship according to their beliefs. It establishes the Evangelical Lutheran Church (ELC) as the national church, which has privileges not available to other religious groups. Other religious groups must register with the government to receive tax and other benefits. Muslim and Jewish leaders expressed concerns over the reintroduction of a resolution, with significant public and political support, to ban ritual circumcision of boys. Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen and the leader of the largest opposition party both opposed the resolution, which was scheduled for a parliamentary debate and vote in early 2021. Residents in select communities throughout the country filed discrimination lawsuits after they faced evictions under the government’s “ghetto” law regulations, which critics said targeted Muslim-majority areas. The same regulations required parents in the “ghettos” to send their young children to government day care and receive instruction in “Danish values,” including in Easter and Christmas traditions, in order to be eligible to receive social welfare payments. Parliament was considering a bill, reportedly with widespread support, that would require religious sermons to be translated into Danish to prevent the development of “parallel societies.” At year’s end, there were 14 foreign preachers on a government lists banning them from entering the country. The Pew Research Center categorized the country as having “high government restrictions on religion,” a ranking the Pew Center attributed in part to the government’s ban on face coverings.
Police reported 180 religiously motivated crimes in 2019, the most recent year for which data were available, 61 percent more than in 2018. There were 109 crimes against Muslims, 51 against Jews, eight against Christians, and 12 against members of other religions or belief groups. Most incidents involved harassment, hate speech, and vandalism, including desecration of cemeteries. In separate incidents, anti-Muslim protestors set a Quran on fire in a predominantly Muslim neighborhood, a man repeatedly kicked and punched a teenaged Muslim girl and tried to remove her headscarf, another man forcibly removed a Muslim woman’s face covering, and a Jehovah’s Witness was slapped while he was proselytizing. In January, unidentified persons vandalized a mosque in Copenhagen, and in September, on Yom Kippur, members of the Nordic Resistance Movement put up posters in 16 cities accusing the Jewish community of pedophilia in connection with circumcision.
The U.S. Ambassador and other embassy officials met with government representatives, including members of parliament and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ Office of the Special Representative for Freedom of Religion of Belief, to discuss the importance of religious freedom. Embassy officials engaged with religious leaders from the Muslim, Jewish, and Christian communities throughout the year to discuss issues, including the debate on the proposed circumcision ban, the ban on ritual slaughter, the proposed bill requiring the translation of sermons into Danish, and the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on their faith practices. They also met with media to discuss the proposed circumcision ban. In their discussions, embassy officials stressed the importance of religious freedom and tolerance.
Section I. Religious Demography
The U.S. government estimates the total population at 5.9 million (midyear 2020 estimate). According to an October estimate by the government’s Statistics Denmark, 74.1 percent of all residents are ELC members. The Danish government does not collect data on religious affiliation outside of the ELC, but estimates that there are between 280,000 and 310,000 Muslims living in the country, accounting for 4.7 to 5.3 percent of the population. According to a January estimate by the University of Copenhagen’s Department of Cross-Cultural and Regional Studies, there are 320,000 Muslims. Muslims are concentrated in the largest cities, particularly Copenhagen, Odense, and Aarhus. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs estimates other religious groups, each constituting less than 1 percent of the population, include, in descending order of size, Roman Catholics, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Serbian Orthodox Christians, Jews, Baptists, Buddhists, members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Pentecostals, members of the Baha’i Faith, and nondenominational Christians. According to a survey released in October by the Ministry of Immigration and Integration, approximately 11 percent of the population does not identify as belonging to a religious group or identifies as atheist. Although estimates vary, the Jewish Community in Denmark states there are approximately 7,000 Jews in the country, most of whom live in the Copenhagen metropolitan area.
Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom
The constitution declares the ELC as the country’s 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 specifies that “rules for religious bodies dissenting from the established Church shall be laid down by statute.” The constitution stipulates 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 law prohibits hate speech, including religious hate speech, and specifies as penalties a fine (amount unspecified) or a maximum of one year’s imprisonment. If a religious leader disseminates the hate speech, the penalties increase to a fine or a maximum of three years’ imprisonment.
The ELC is the only religious group that receives funding through state grants and voluntary, tax-deductible contributions paid through payroll deduction by its members. Voluntary taxes account for an estimated 86 percent of the ELC’s operating budget; the remaining 14 percent is provided through a combination of voluntary donations by congregants and government grants. Members of other recognized religious communities cannot contribute via payroll deduction but may donate to their own community voluntarily and receive a tax deduction. The ELC and other state-recognized religious communities carry out registration of civil unions, births, and deaths for their members.
The Ministry of Ecclesiastical Affairs is responsible for granting official status to religious groups other than the ELC through recognition by royal decree (for groups recognized prior to 1970) or through official registration. The law requires individual congregations within a religious community to formally register with the government to receive tax benefits. Religious communities must comply with annual reporting requirements in order to maintain their government recognition. According to the Ministry of Ecclesiastical Affairs, there are 448 religious groups and congregations the government officially recognizes or that are affiliated with recognized groups: 338 Christian groups, 66 Muslim (including the Alevi community, which the government does not categorize as Muslim), 16 Buddhist, seven Hindu, three Jewish, and 18 other groups and congregations, including the Baha’i Faith and followers of the indigenous Norse belief system Forn Sidr.
Recognized religious groups have the right to perform legal marriage ceremonies, name and baptize children with legal effect, issue legal death certificates, obtain residence permits for foreign clergy, establish cemeteries, and receive various value added tax exemptions. The law allows only religious communities recognized before 1970 to issue birth, baptismal, and marriage certificates. This privilege will expire for all religious communities except the ELC in 2023. Members of other religious communities or individuals unaffiliated with a recognized religious group may have birth and death certificates issued only by the health authority.
Groups not recognized by either royal decree or the government registration process, such as the Church of Scientology, are entitled to engage in religious practices without any kind of public registration. Members of those groups, however, must marry in a civil ceremony in addition to any religious ceremony. Unrecognized religious groups are not granted full tax-exempt status, but members may deduct contributions to these groups from their taxes.
The law codifies the registration process for religious communities other than the ELC and treats equally those recognized by royal decree and those approved through registration. A religious community must have at least 150 adult members, while a congregation, which the Ministry of Ecclesiastical Affairs considers a group within one of the major world religions (Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Islam), must have at least 50 adult members to be eligible for approval. For congregations located in sparsely populated regions, such as Greenland, the government applies a lower population threshold, which varies according to the total population of the region.
Religious groups seeking registration must submit to the Faith Registry in the Ministry of Ecclesiastical Affairs a document on the group’s central traditions; a description of its most important rituals; a copy of its rules, regulations, and organizational structure; an audited financial statement (which it must submit annually); information about the group’s leadership; and a statement on the number of adult members permanently residing in the country. Groups also must have formal procedures for membership and make their teachings available to all members. The Ministry of Justice makes the final decision on registration applications after receiving recommendations from a group consisting of a lawyer, religious historian, sociologist of religion, and nonordained theologian. Religious groups that do not submit the annual financial statement or other required information may lose their registration status.
The law prohibits masks and face coverings, including burqas and niqabs, in public spaces. Violators face fines ranging from 1,000 to 10,000 Danish kroner ($160-$1,600). Fines are 1,000 kroner ($160) for the first offense, 2,000 kroner ($330) for the second, 5,000 kroner ($820) for the third, and 10,000 kroner ($1,600) for the fourth and subsequent offenses.
The law bans judges from wearing religious symbols such as headscarves, turbans, skullcaps, and large crucifixes while in court proceedings.
The law requires persons to shake hands during their naturalization ceremonies to obtain Danish citizenship.
All public and private schools, including religious schools, receive government financial support. The Ministry of Education has oversight authority of private schools, which includes supervision of teaching standards, regulatory compliance, and financial screening. The Board of Education and Quality conducts systematic monitoring and has authority to issue directives to individual institutions, withhold grants, and terminate financial support. Public schools must teach ELC theology. The instructors are public school teachers rather than persons provided by the ELC. Religion classes are compulsory in grades 1-9, although students may be exempted if a parent presents a request in writing. No alternative classes are offered. The ELC course curriculum in grades 1-6 focuses on life philosophies and ethics, biblical stories, and the history of Christianity. In grades 7-9, the curriculum adds a module on world religions. The course is optional in grade 10. If the student is 15 or older, the student and parent must jointly request the student’s exemption. Private schools are also required to teach religion classes in grades 1-9, including world religions in grades 7-9. The religion classes taught in grades 1-9 need not include ELC theology. Collective prayer in schools is allowed, but each school must regulate prayer in a neutral, nondiscriminatory manner, and students must be allowed to opt out of participating.
Military service, typically for four months, is mandatory for all physically fit men older than 18. There is an exemption for conscientious objectors, including on religious grounds, allowing for alternative civilian service. An individual wishing to perform alternative service as a conscientious objector must apply within eight weeks of receiving notice of military service. The application is adjudicated by the Conscientious Objector Administration and must demonstrate that military service of any kind is incompatible with the individual’s conscience. 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.
The law prohibits ritual slaughter of animals, including kosher and halal slaughter, without prior stunning and limits ritual slaughter with prior stunning 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 a fine or up to four months in prison. Halal and kosher meat may be imported.
The law requires clergy members with legal authorization to officiate marriages to have an adequate mastery of the Danish language and to complete a two-day course on family law and civil rights administered by the Ministry of Ecclesiastical Affairs. The law also requires that religious workers “must not behave or act in a way that makes them unworthy to exercise public authority.” Religious workers the government perceives as not complying with these provisions may be stripped of their right to perform marriages.
By law, the Ministry of Immigration and Integration may prevent foreign religious figures who do not already have a residence permit from entering the country if it determines their presence poses a threat to public order. In such cases, the ministry places the individuals on a national sanctions list and bars them from entry into the country for two years, a period which it may extend.
The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
In September, 11 members of parliament (MPs) representing 11 minority political parties generally regarded as both left and right of center, and including a member from the ruling Social Democratic Party, reintroduced, for the third year in a row, a citizen proposal to ban ritual circumcision of boys under the age of 18. Parliamentarian Simon Emil Ammitzboll-Bille introduced a second proposal to ban circumcision of minors, with a substantively identical text. If adopted, the resolutions, which call for a criminal penalty of up to six years in prison for violators, would require the government to introduce legislation banning circumcision of minors. The Danish Society of Anesthesiology and Intensive Care Medicine presented its case to parliament in support of the ban. According to an opinion poll conducted by Danish research consultancy Megafon, approximately 86 percent of the public supported the ban.
Prime Minister Frederiksen of the Social Democratic Party opposed the circumcision ban in a press conference on September 11. She stated that, while she personally disagreed with ritual male circumcision, the country should not limit the religious rites of the Jewish community and that the circumcision debate could not be separated from Europe’s history of Jewish persecution. Following the Prime Minister’s statement, Jakob Ellemann-Jensen, the leader of the Liberal Party, the largest opposition party, publicly supported the Prime Minister’s statement, agreeing that Denmark should not be the first European country to ban the practice. Following Frederiksen’s and Ellemann-Jensen’s statements, national daily Kristeligt Dagblad reported that a parliamentary majority opposed the ban and that the legislation would likely fail.
Henri Goldstein, the chairman of the Jewish Community in Denmark and a physician, said in an interview with the Jerusalem Post that the Jewish Community continued to see the proposed ban as “the worst threat since World War II.” Naveed Baig, an imam and theologian, expressed shock at the wide public support for the ban in an interview with Kristeligt Dagblad. Other national dailies, including Politiken and Jyllands–Posten, reported on the absence of the Muslim community in the public responses to the legislation. Muslim leaders said that many Muslims remained intentionally quiet, as they felt their voices would hurt the case for ritual circumcision due to strong anti-Muslim sentiments in society. Jarun Demirtas, a nurse who supported the proposed ban and an opinion writer for newspaper Jyllands-Posten, told the paper, “If it was only the Muslims [who were affected], we would have a majority for a ban on circumcision in one day.” Representatives from the Muslim and Jewish communities said that even if the proposed ban failed again due to the Prime Minister’s intervention, they remained concerned about the proposal and its annual reemergence in parliamentary debates. The proposed legislation was scheduled for a parliamentary debate and vote in early 2021.
Representatives of the Muslim and Jewish communities continued to express frustration at the country’s limitation on religious slaughter of livestock but stated that halal and kosher meat could be imported from within the EU.
In April, the independent, state-funded Danish Institute for Human Rights (DIHR) published a report by senior researcher Eva Maria Lassen, Limitations to Freedom of Religion or Belief in Denmark, that cited an upward trend of legislative constraints on religious expression. According to Lassen’s research, recent legislation, such as the handshake requirement for new citizens, had limited non-Christian religious practices, particularly those of Muslim and Jewish minorities. In addition to the bans on ritual slaughter and face coverings, Lassen cited five acts passed in 2016 and 2017 targeting “religious preachers who seek to undermine Danish Law and Values” as examples of increasing governmental limitations on religious freedom. One such act introduced a mandatory course in Danish family law, freedom, and democracy for non-EU religious preachers. Lassen stated that these legislative amendments disproportionately targeted religious preachers, and not “other leaders with comparable authority.”
In November, the Pew Research Center categorized the country as having “high government restrictions on religion,” the middle level in the report’s three-tiered system (low, high, and very high government restrictions). According to Pew, the country owed its ranking in part to the government’s ban on facial coverings.
The government fined two women for violating the ban on face coverings. In one case, in January, a local court fined a woman 1,000 kroner ($160) for wearing a niqab in a shopping center in Odense in October 2019. In response to the coronavirus pandemic, the Ministry of Justice issued guidance stating the law did not apply to face coverings that served specific health purposes, such as masks worn to prevent the spread of coronavirus.
Leaders of the opposition Danish People’s Party (DPP), generally described as right of center, called repeatedly for a ban on the Islamic call to prayer throughout the country. A 2019 parliamentary bill to ban the call to prayer lapsed without a vote. Martin Henriksen, a DPP board member, wrote in an opinion article for the newspaper Dit Overblik that Islamic calls to prayer should lead to deportation. ELC priest Niels Hviid defended Muslims’ right to religious expression; journalist Paula Larrain stated that if the Islamic prayer call was “noise,” then so was the sound of church bells.
The Ministry of Transport, Building, and Housing continued to implement the government’s parallel society program, which included the elimination by 2030 of “ghettos” (a term referring to neighborhoods of majority non-Western immigrants, which media widely interpreted to mean Muslim-majority communities). Authorities withheld quarterly benefits of up to 4,557 kroner ($750) from parents in “ghetto” communities who refused to send toddlers over the age of one to government-funded day care to be taught “Danish values,” including Christmas and Easter traditions.
Asif Mehmood, a Muslim immigrant from Pakistan, and 11 of his neighbors filed a lawsuit challenging the parallel societies program with support from the Open Society Justice initiative. The government declared Mehmood’s four-block Copenhagen housing complex, Mjolnerparken, a “ghetto.” According to reports by U.S. broadcaster National Public Radio (NPR) and UK newspaper The Guardian, the government wanted to sell Mjolnerparken to developers and told residents they would be offered equivalent housing nearby. NPR reported Mehmood and some political opposition parties, however, were skeptical of the offer, given the relatively low cost of their rent-controlled housing compared with market prices in surrounding areas. According to The Guardian, residents who refused to leave could be evicted.
Samiah Qasim, a social worker and Muslim resident of Mjolnerparken, told al-Jazeera television in January that she had received “a letter saying that since I’m from a ‘ghetto’ area, I have to sign up to send my child to this institution for 25 hours a week to learn ‘Danish values’.… If we refuse, we don’t get any benefits or child support.” Samiah added, “This has nothing to do with me as a mother. It is based simply on my address. If I moved over to the other side of the road, I would not be having any of these problems.” Al-Jazeera cited another Mjolnerparken resident as stating, “I felt Danish until recently. Now I feel I’m not a part of this society. The politicians created their ‘parallel society’ with the bad reputation they’ve given Mjolnerparken so that ethnic Danes don’t want to live here.”
Residents of a public housing complex in Helsingor accused housing authorities of illegal discrimination after they told 96 families they had to relocate from the majority-Muslim neighborhood due to building renovations. The residents challenged their removal in court, but in November, the Helsingor City Court ruled that no discrimination had taken place and those evicted must vacate the property by April 2021. In October, the UN Office of the Human Rights Commissioner issued a statement urging the country to stop the sale of residences classified as “ghettos” until the government determined whether the subsequent evictions violated citizens’ human rights. A similar case occurred in Vollsmose, a suburban town on the island of Fyn, where 118 residents of a majority-Muslim residential community were also contesting eviction notices.
In October, the ruling Social Democratic Party announced plans to introduce a bill, with strong parliamentary support, in 2021 that would require the translation of all religious sermons into Danish. The government stated that this legislation would stop the development of parallel societies. Minority religious leaders from the Muslim, Jewish, and Catholic faiths said the legislation would create challenges for their large immigrant communities, who often preferred to worship in their native languages. ELC bishops for the dioceses of Copenhagen, Ribe, and Haderslev publicly opposed the proposal. The legislation would also affect ELC services given in the Greenlandic or Faroese languages.
In February, authorities denied a man citizenship after he refused to shake hands with the government representative during his naturalization ceremony. Badar Shah, the government representative and a politician in the Alternative Party, said that, while the refusal to shake hands was not connected to gender, it was “a silent protest” against the handshake requirement, which religious leaders said unfairly targeted Islamic religious practices. Some municipalities, including Syddjurs and Hedensted in Jutland, subsequently staged the ceremony with both a male and female government representative present so that new citizens could choose to shake hands with an official of the same gender. In April, the government suspended the handshake requirement due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
In July, the Islamic Faith Community sent an official complaint to parliament’s Standing Orders Committee in connection with remarks made by MPs Morten Messerschmidt and Pernille Vermund during legislative debate on public Islamic calls to prayer. Vermund described Islam as a “weed,” and Messerschmidt stated that increased Muslim populations in the country had “worsened problems.”
The immigration service listed 14 persons, including four U.S. citizens, on the national sanctions list of religious preachers barred from entering the country. The Ministry of Immigration and Integration stated the individuals threatened the nation’s public order but did not provide additional details. Entry bans remain in force for two years from the date of issuance and may be extended. Foreign nationals holding a residence permit, along with European Union (EU) nationals and residents, could not be placed on the sanctions list.
Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, some politicians and media commented on outbreaks among Muslim communities. In an August opinion article for online news site Altinget, Johanne Thorup Dalgaard wrote that the country was scapegoating Muslims for virus transmission when most Danes, including the author herself, were guilty of attending graduation parties and flouting social distancing guidelines throughout the summer months. Members of the Muslim community said politicians had “weaponized” cases of COVID-19 among Muslims early in the year to suggest that Muslims did not follow or respect public health guidelines. After reports of high infection rates among majority Muslim communities in the spring, New Right MP Pernille Vermund wrote on Facebook, “They should not destroy our freedom,” referring to an outbreak in the Aarhus Muslim community following a funeral attended by 300 to 400 persons and the potential for additional COVID-19 restrictions. MP and former Immigration Minister Inger Stojberg criticized the Muslim community’s participation in the funeral, and her supporters agreed, writing on Facebook, “Use water cannons against [Muslims],” and “shoot them [with water cannons].”
The government continued to provide armed security, consisting of police and military personnel, for Jewish sites it considered to be at high risk of terrorist attack, including Copenhagen’s synagogue, community center, and schools, along with the Israeli embassy and ambassador’s residence.
Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom
According to police statistics in a report released in late October, there were 180 religiously motivated crimes in 2019, the most recent year for which statistics were available, a 61 percent increase over the 112 crimes reported in 2018. Police officials stated that, while they could not be sure of the causes of the sharp increase in hate crimes, it might be tied to the terrorist attacks at mosques in New Zealand, as well as to increased reporting resulting from the “Stop Hate” campaign by police. National Police Chief Thorkild Fogde described the increase in hate crimes (among which religiously motivated crimes increased the most) as “remarkable, and something we must take very seriously.”
Of the 180 religiously motivated crimes, 109 were against Muslims (63 in 2018), 51 against Jews (26), 8 against Christians (14) and 12 against other religions (nine). Police did not provide a precise breakdown of religiously motivated crimes by type of incident. According to an official in the police National Prevention Center, religiously motivated crimes in 2019 increased in November on and around the anniversary of Kristallnacht (Night of Broken Glass) in Nazi Germany. There were at least two reports in that year of Muslim women who were physically assaulted, as well as verbally harassed. In one case, a man repeatedly kicked and punched a teenage girl while he yelled anti-Muslim insults and tried to remove her headscarf. Police opened an investigation into the case but did not publish further information on its outcome. In another case, a man pulled off a woman’s face covering and directed anti-Muslim insults at her. According to police reports, anti-Muslim protestors set a Quran on fire in a predominately Muslim neighborhood. In other incidents, a male Jehovah’s Witness was slapped and had a car door slammed on him while “engaging in religious activities in the street,” according to the police report, which added, without more details, that the perpetrator was sentenced for committing a hate crime. In another case, an individual vandalized more than 80 gravestones in a church cemetery with anti-Christian graffiti. The perpetrator had previously been convicted of a similar offense. Other examples of religiously motivated hate crimes in 2019 highlighted in the police report included vandalism against Jewish cemeteries and the posting of Stars of David on mailboxes and houses.
Representatives of Copenhagen’s Jewish Society said they received 37 reports of anti-Semitic incidents in 2019, 8 percent fewer than in 2018 (45). The Jewish Society noted that while there were fewer cases reported to them, the number of cases reported to police increased. The incidents, in descending order of frequency, included anti-Semitic speech, vandalism, threats, and discrimination. Two incidents were related to the topic of circumcision. Seven cases occurred on the anniversary of Kristallnacht and included the placement of Stars of David and the word “Jew” on Jewish families’ and Jewish-affiliated organizations’ mailboxes or houses throughout the country. In one case, a Jewish family in the greater Copenhagen area found papers outside their house and in their mailbox that included a drawing of Hitler’s face, swastikas, and derogatory statements such as “stingy pigs.” In another case, three sixth-grade students in northern Jutland repeatedly harassed a Jewish girl in their class by, for example, etching swastikas into the girl’s desk and chair, drawing swastikas on the classroom blackboard, and posting “Out with the Jewish girl” in a group WhatsApp chat. The girl’s parents reported the case to the school, which suspended the perpetrators.
Rasmus Paludan, a lawyer and founder of the Stram Kurs (Hard Line) political party, which was not represented in parliament and cited in its platform “the unacceptable behavior exhibited by Muslims” and what it described as the need to deport all non-Western residents, continued to hold anti-Muslim rallies, though fewer than in 2019, in Muslim-majority immigrant neighborhoods across the country. At one demonstration in Aarhus in June in which press reports estimated 50 to 100 persons participated, demonstrators threw stones and fireworks at police, which was followed by further violence. One man broke down a police barrier and threatened police with a knife. Also in June, a court found Paludan guilty of 14 counts of racism, defamation, and reckless driving. The court disbarred Paludan for three years, suspended his driver’s license, and sentenced him to one month in prison. Paludan was appealing the verdict at year’s end.
On September 28, Yom Kippur, members of the Nordic Resistance Movement (NRM) put up posters in 16 cities, including Copenhagen, accusing the Jewish community of pedophilia in connection with circumcision. Affected municipalities removed the posters.
In August, the public transportation company DSB received complaints after it ran a political advertisement for the DPP that read, “No to Islam.” The advertisement appeared in the company’s magazine Ud & Se, which was available on public trains. DSB removed the ad after receiving a complaint from a train customer.
In January, unknown persons vandalized the exterior of the Rovsingsgade Mosque in northwest Copenhagen, spray-painting anti-Islamic epithets such as, “Islam = cancer,” and “[a derogatory slur for Muslim immigrants] are garbage.” A spokesperson for the mosque, Somaia Hamdi, said the vandalism sparked fear in the Muslim community.
On October 16, the Randers City Court convicted two men connected with the NRM of a religiously motivated hate crime for desecrating a Jewish graveyard in Randers in 2019, on the anniversary of Kristallnacht, covering more than 80 tombstones in green paint, turning over six tombstones, and painting “Jew” on one grave. The court sentenced one man to one year in prison. At year’s end, the second man still awaited sentencing, pending a psychological evaluation. In 2019, police had arrested the men and charged them with vandalism and, preliminarily, a hate crime under the “racism clause” for “abusing a certain population group based on their religion.”
Following the killing of a teacher in France in October after he showed his class cartoons of the prophet Muhammad, a Danish primary school teacher expressed solidarity with the French teacher on social media, stating she would use cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad in her classroom to teach about freedom of speech and encouraged other teachers to do the same. The post sparked a renewal of the debate about whether the cartoons should form a part of the national curriculum, and the author received multiple threats of violence. MPs from across the political spectrum, including the Social Democratic, Liberal, Danish People’s, and New Right Parties, generally described, respectively, as left-of-center, right-of-center, right-wing, and right-wing, supported the idea of using the cartoons in classes, while Claus Hjortdal, the head of the school principals’ union, cited safety concerns and warned against showing the cartoons in school. In an opinion piece in the newspaper Information, graduate student Negin Mohammadzadeh al Majidi wrote, “As a normal Muslim Dane, I get upset every time I see the Muhammad cartoons.” He added that “society misses the nuance” when it debates the issue, alienating average Muslims and not just radicalized ones.
The constitution prohibits religious discrimination “without an acceptable reason” and provides for the right to profess and practice a religion and to decline to be a member of a religious community. The law prohibits breaching the sanctity of religion, which includes blasphemy, offending that which a religious community holds sacred, and disturbing worship or funeral ceremonies. In September, the Supreme Court affirmed the ban on the Nordic Resistance Movement (NRM), the largest neo-Nazi group in the country. Authorities continued to investigate NRM members for engaging in banned activities as part of the successor group Towards Freedom, including public demonstrations. According to representatives of their respective groups, immigration authorities denied most asylum applications from Jehovah’s Witnesses from Russia and Ahmadi Muslims from Pakistan. More than 50 cases of Jehovah’s Witness asylum applicants were pending before the Supreme Administrative Court at year’s end. In July, a court upheld an ethnic agitation fine for a Finns Party Member of Parliament (MP), while parliament declined to remove the immunity from prosecution of another Finns Party MP who was being investigated for ethnic agitation concerning comments he made during a parliamentary session that equated Muslim asylum seekers with invasive species. In August, police completed their investigation into anti-Semitic comments made by an MP from the Social Democratic Party (SDP). In August, the Ministry of Interior created a working group dedicated to improving security at religious sites, including synagogues and mosques. In January, a municipal councilor in Polvijarvi from the SDP resigned after posting comments to Facebook questioning whether the Holocaust occurred. In February, the Oulu District Court fined an Oulu city councilor for two counts of ethnic agitation for posting videos online depicting Muslims and other immigrants as being inferior to other human beings.
Police reported 133 hate crimes involving members of religious groups in 2019, the most recent statistics available, compared with 155 such incidents in 2018, but did not specify how many were motivated solely by religion. The nondiscrimination ombudsman’s office received 37 complaints of religious discrimination in 2019, compared with 35 in 2018. The NRM continued to post anti-Muslim and anti-Semitic statements online and acted to circumvent the ban of the organization by continuing activities as part of Towards Freedom. There were several demonstrations by neo-Nazi or nativist groups. Towards Freedom burned an Israeli flag during a rally in Tampere on January 27, which coincided with International Holocaust Remembrance Day. Also in late January, vandals targeted the Israeli embassy and Jewish property, including the Helsinki and Turku synagogues. Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) working with migrants, including the Finnish Refugee Advice Centre, continued to raise concerns about the ability of religious minorities housed in migrant reception centers to worship without harassment from other migrants housed within the same center. Muslim groups reported a shortage of funds needed to establish houses of worship to match their growing population.
U.S. embassy staff engaged with government ministries to discuss government support for religious freedom and interfaith dialogue, the government’s response to anti-Semitic incidents, and the treatment of Jehovah’s Witnesses and Ahmadis seeking asylum. Embassy staff met with the Jewish and Muslim communities to discuss their shared concerns about the impact of government guidelines discouraging male circumcision, and addressed religiously motivated crimes and continuing problems involved in establishing a sufficient number of mosques for the Muslim population. Embassy staff also discussed the state of religious freedom with these communities, other religious minority groups, and interfaith networks.
Section I. Religious Demography
The U.S. government estimates the total population at 5.6 million (midyear 2020 estimate). According to Finnish government statistics from December 2019, which count only registered members of registered congregations, 68.7 percent of the population belongs to the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland (ELC) and 1.1 percent to the Finnish Orthodox Church, while 0.3 percent (approximately 17,000 individuals) have official membership in Islamic congregations, and 28.5 percent do not identify as belonging to any religious group. The census combines other minority religious communities, including Jehovah’s Witnesses, Roman Catholics, Pentecostals, Seventh-day Adventists, members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Jews, and members of the Free Church of Finland, which together account for 1.4 percent of the population.
Multiple sources indicate the Muslim population has grown rapidly in recent years because of a significant inflow of immigrants. Muslim religious leaders estimate the number of Muslims rose to 100,000 in 2018 (most recent data available), of which approximately 80 percent is Sunni and 20 percent Shia. In 2017, the Pew Research Center estimated 2.7 percent of the population, or approximately 150,000 persons, were Muslim. According to a survey by the Ministry of Education and Culture (MEC), the Muslim population numbered approximately 65,000 in 2016. According to the Islamic Society of Finland, discrepancies among these sources and between them and official government statistics may occur because only a minority of Muslims register with registered Islamic societies. Apart from Tatars, who emigrated in the late 19th and early 20th centuries as well as during the Soviet Union period, most Muslims are immigrants or descendants of immigrants who arrived in recent decades from Somalia, North Africa, Iraq, Afghanistan, the Balkans, Syria, Turkey, and Iran.
In a report released in October, the Institute of Jewish Policy Research estimated the Jewish population at 1,300.
Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom
The constitution bars discrimination based on religion “without an acceptable reason.” It stipulates freedom of religion and conscience, including the right to profess and practice a religion, to express one’s convictions, and to be a member or decline to be a member of a religious community. It states no one is under the obligation to participate in the practice of a religion. The law criminalizes the “breach of the sanctity of religion,” which includes “blaspheming against God,” publicly defaming or desecrating to offend something a religious community holds sacred, and disturbing worship or funeral ceremonies. Violators are subject to fines or imprisonment of up to six months. Authorities have occasionally applied the law, most recently in 2019. The constitution cites the ELC, the only religious group it mentions, stating that “provisions on the organization and administration [of the ELC] are laid down in the Church Act.”
The law prohibits religious discrimination and establishes the position of a nondiscrimination ombudsman responsible for supervising compliance with the law, investigating individual cases of discrimination, and having the power to issue fines in noncriminal cases. The ombudsman advocates on behalf of victims, offers counseling, promotes conciliation, and lobbies for legislation, among other duties and authorities. The ombudsman may also refer cases to the National Non-Discrimination and Equality Tribunal (NDET), which also enforces fines issued by the ombudsman and assists plaintiffs seeking compensation in court. Individuals alleging discrimination may alternatively pursue legal action through the NDET, which may issue binding decisions that may be appealed to the courts or through the district court system. Litigants may appeal the decisions of the NDET and the district courts to the higher Administrative Court. Neither the ombudsman nor the NDET has the authority to investigate individual cases of religious discrimination involving employment. Such cases fall under the purview of the Occupational Safety and Health Authority.
Individuals and groups may exist, associate, and practice their religion without registering with the government. To be eligible to apply for government funds, however, religious groups must register with the Patent and Registration Office as a religious community. To register as a religious community, a group must have at least 20 members, the public practice of religion as its purpose, and a set of rules to guide its activities. A registered religious community is a legal entity that may employ persons, purchase property, and make legal claims. A religious group may also acquire legal status by registering as an association with a nonprofit purpose that is not contrary to law or proper behavior. Registered religious groups and nonprofit associations are generally exempt from taxes. According to the MEC, as of 2019 there were approximately 142 registered religious communities, most of which had multiple congregations. Persons may belong to more than one religious community.
All citizens who belong to either the ELC or Finnish Orthodox Church pay a church tax, collected together with their income tax payments. Congregations collectively decide the church tax amount, currently set at between 1 to 2 percent of a member’s income. Those who do not want to pay the tax must terminate their ELC or Orthodox congregation membership. Members may terminate their membership by contacting the official congregation or the local government registration office, either electronically or in person. Local parishes have fiscal autonomy to decide how to use funding received from taxes levied on their members.
Registered religious communities other than the ELC and Finnish Orthodox Church are eligible to apply for state funds in lieu of the church tax. In addition to receiving the church tax, the ELC and Finnish Orthodox Church may also apply for state funds. The law states registered religious communities that meet the statutory requirements, including ELC and Orthodox congregations, may apply to receive an annual subsidy from the government budget in proportion to the religious community’s percentage of the population.
The law requires the ELC to maintain public cemeteries using its general allocation from state funds and church taxes and to account for monies used for this purpose. Other religious communities and nonreligious foundations may maintain their own cemeteries. All registered religious communities may own and manage property and hire staff, including appointing clergy. The law authorizes the ELC and Finnish Orthodox Church to register births, marriages, and deaths for their members in collaboration with the government Digital and Population Data Services Agency. State registrars do this for other persons.
Parents may determine their child’s religious affiliation if the child is younger than 12. The religious affiliation of children between the ages of 12 and 17 may only be changed by a joint decision of the child and his or her parents or guardian, and the family must pursue specific administrative procedures with their religious community and the local population registration officials to change or terminate the religious affiliation.
All public schools provide religious teaching in accordance with students’ religion. All students must take courses either in religious studies or ethics, with the choice left up to the student. Schools must provide religious instruction in religions other than the Lutheran faith if there is a minimum of three pupils representing that faith in the municipal region, the religious community in question is registered, and the students’ families belong to the religious community. Municipalities may arrange for students from different schools to take a combined course to meet this requirement. Students who do not belong to a religious group or belong to a religious group for which special instruction is not available may study ethics. Students aged 18 or older may choose to study either the religious courses pertaining to their religion or the ethics courses. If a student belongs to more than one religious community, the parents decide in which religious education course the student participates. The national and municipal governments fund private, including religiously based, schools. Despite the name, private schools are in fact completely financially dependent on government funding, in order to ensure equitable education nationwide. With the exception of international and foreign-language schools, by law private schools may not charge tuition. They do not practice selective admission based on students’ religion.
Religious education focuses on familiarizing students with their own religion, other religions, and on general instruction in ethics. Teachers of religion must have state-mandated training for religious instruction. The state appoints them, and they are not required to belong to any religious community. The National Board of Education provides a series of textbooks about Orthodox and Lutheran Christianity, Catholicism, Judaism, and Islam, as well as a textbook on secular ethics.
By law, conscientious objectors, including those who object on religious grounds, may choose alternative civilian service instead of compulsory military service. Conscientious objectors who refuse both military and alternative civilian service may be sentenced to prison terms of up to 173 days, one-half of the 347 days of alternative civilian service. Regular military service ranges between 165 and 347 days.
The law requires that animals be stunned prior to slaughter or be stunned and killed simultaneously if done pursuant to religious practice. On December 17, the European Union Court of Justice ruled EU member states may impose a requirement that animals be stunned prior to slaughter and that such a requirement does not infringe on the rights of religious groups.
The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
On September 22, the Supreme Court upheld a ban on the neo-Nazi Nordic Resistance Movement (NRM). The organization was originally banned in 2017 by the Pirkenmaa District Court, but the Supreme Court, while keeping the ban in place, granted the organization the right to appeal the decision in 2019. According to the September ruling, NRM’s activities violated or sought to violate fundamental and human rights protected by the constitution and international human rights treaties. In addition, the Supreme Court found that some of the group’s activities violated the criminal code. Police continued to implement the 2017 ban of the NRM, but the organization continued to demonstrate in public and maintain a website, despite the Supreme Court’s order that it refrain from all activities. The National Bureau of Investigation concluded an investigation in April that found that nine members of the NRM continued to operate the group under the name Towards Freedom. On its website, Towards Freedom publicized events it held in multiple cities. At these events, individuals gave out flyers and stickers advertising the organization, and recruited new members.
As of December, parliament had not voted on an amendment to the Church Act, which governs the practices of the ELC. Parliament took up the bill in 2018 after the General Synod of the ELC approved it but did not enact the bill that year. The amended Church Act has the stated intent of clarifying and facilitating administration, enhancing church autonomy, and facilitating internal decision-making in the ELC. The amended act would clarify the ELC’s decision-making procedures. The Constitutional Law Committee argued that these details should not be addressed in the Church Act but rather in the Church Order, which is enacted by the ELC alone without parliament’s approval.
According to a representative of the National Forum for Cooperation of Religions (CORE Forum), an interfaith group, the Ministry of Interior created a working group in August dedicated to improving security at religious sites. According to the ministry’s website, the goal of the working group was to gather information on security threats directed at religious communities, especially Jewish synagogues and Muslim prayer rooms or mosques, and to propose suggestions for how safety could be enhanced through training and other measures.
According to the Secretary General of the Finnish Association of Museums, Kimmo Leva, the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted plans to prepare a formal study of the state of research on the provenance of Holocaust-era art in museum collections, as recommended by the MEC in June, 2019. According to the MEC, the study was intended to address the lack of such research in order to better meet the requirements for the implementation of the Terezin Declaration on restitution of assets seized during the Holocaust. Leva said a national project to research all insufficient provenance information would be too large scale to conduct under restrictions caused by the coronavirus pandemic. He suggested the Finnish Association of Museums might crowdsource the research, following the example of the Finnish National Gallery, which, prior to the pandemic, had published a list online of all its art lacking sufficient provenance from the period 1933-1945. Leva said the MEC supported the strategy.
According to Yle News, in July, the Ministry of the Interior postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic an investigation into whether religious symbols, including headscarves, could be worn as part of police uniforms. The ministry was considering how the regulation on police uniforms could be amended. Minister of the Interior Maria Ohisalo said she would consider the results of the investigation when completed, then decide whether to launch a legislative reform proposal. The nondiscrimination ombudsman said current police uniform regulations ran counter to religious freedom and equality. According to the Yle News article, police were reluctant to alter the uniform. Ohisalo said the Ministry of Interior considered permitting religious symbols on police uniforms to be a means of integrating immigrants into society and giving them an equal chance to become police officers.
Ministry of Social Affairs and Health (MSAH) guidelines discouraged circumcision of males and continued to withhold public healthcare funding for such procedures. In its guidelines, which were recommendations rather than requirements per prior Supreme Court rulings, the ministry stated only licensed physicians should perform nonmedical circumcision of boys, a child’s guardians should be informed of the risks and irreversibility of the procedure, and it should not be carried out on boys old enough to understand the procedure without their consent. Members of the Muslim and Jewish communities continued to express disagreement with the guidelines. The ombudsman for children in the Ministry of Justice did not renew her 2018 request to the MSAH asking it to establish legally binding regulations on nonmedical circumcision.
Members of the opposition National Coalition Party (NCP) serving on parliament’s Legal Affairs Committee called on the government to enact laws regarding nonmedical male circumcision. Parliamentarian Pihla Keto-Huovinen said that the nonmedical circumcision of boys could be problematic in terms of other existing domestic laws and international agreements, including the International Convention on the Rights of the Child, and that the fundamental rights of a child must not be violated by invoking the freedom of religion and conscience of another person. The call to revisit the legal status of nonmedical male circumcision was prompted by a separate citizen’s initiative in 2019 calling for legislation banning female genital mutilation, though the citizen’s initiative did not include the nonmedical circumcision of boys.
According to representatives from the Jehovah’s Witnesses, the number of Russian-origin members of Jehovah’s Witnesses applying for asylum based on stated religious persecution declined significantly compared to previous years. The Finnish Immigration Service (FIS) rejected most of the claims by members of Jehovah’s Witnesses, and confirmed that asylum adjudicators did not consider membership in the Church alone to be sufficient basis for an asylum claim. More than 50 cases of Jehovah’s Witnesses asylum applicants were pending before the Supreme Administrative Court at year’s end. Authorities stated the government planned to deport applicants whose appeals were denied, and some Russian Jehovah’s Witnesses whose asylum claims were rejected returned to Russia voluntarily.
According to representatives of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Jamaat Finland, the FIS continued to deny most asylum applications for Ahmadi Muslims from Pakistan. The representatives said the FIS only considered “prominent persons” in the Ahmadi community to be in danger, while other Ahmadis should be able to move to safer areas of Pakistan instead of seeking asylum. The representatives said that when deportation orders were appealed, authorities requested proof that the individuals in question were in danger instead of considering the systematic persecution Ahmadis faced in Pakistan. The representatives said the group had requested to meet with the Ministry of Interior to discuss the challenges the community faced, but the ministry declined.
According to a senior military officer, the military continued to maintain a zero-tolerance policy regarding hate speech and hate crimes, including religiously motivated incidents. Unit commanders initiated investigations of reported incidents. If a commander judged the infraction to be minor, he or she administered a formal reprimand or other punishment. For more serious offenses, the commander reported the investigation up the chain of command, and military authorities might refer the case to civilian courts. The officer also said the military accommodated, per regulation, religious dietary needs and fasting requirements, and granted religious leave and prayer time to all personnel. The officer said that these procedures were maintained during the COVID-19 pandemic and that recruits still had access to military chaplains while pandemic protocols were in place.
According to the newspaper Helsingin Sanomat, in July, the Rovaniemi Court of Appeal upheld Finns Party MP Sebastian Tynkkynen’s fine for ethnic agitation in connection with his 2016 Facebook post on Islam and terrorism. In the post, Tynkkynen had said immigrants moved to the same areas where people were being radicalized. He blamed terrorist attacks in Europe on multiculturalism. He wrote, “The fewer Islamic envoys in Finland, the better. The fewer Muslims we have, the safer.” Tynkkynen denied having committed a crime and said his trial was politically motivated. The prosecutor in the case stated that Tynkkynen must have known his Facebook post was racist in nature and constituted defamatory hate speech directed at Muslims. In 2017, Tynkkynen was additionally convicted of ethnic agitation and the separate crime of breaching the sanctity of religion for other Facebook comments he posted in 2016. A third case for ethnic agitation was also pending at year’s end that involved anti-Muslim Facebook posts Tynkkynen wrote in 2017. Oulu police referred that case to the district prosecutor for consideration of charges.
According to the Helsinki Times, in July, 121 members of parliament voted in favor of and 54 members voted against lifting immunity from prosecution for Finns Party MP Juha Maenpaa. This was short of the five-sixths majority (167 votes) required to revoke immunity and thereby made it impossible for the prosecutor general to bring charges against Maenpaa for ethnic agitation or disturbance of religious peace. During a June 2019 session of parliament, Maenpaa had equated asylum seekers from Muslim majority countries with alien or invasive species. Prosecutor Raija Toiviainen said she was disappointed with the result. “It gives the impression that a minority voted to express its acceptance of racist hate speech.” Centre Party MP Mikko Karna, who voted against lifting Maenpaa’s immunity, wrote on Twitter, “Maenpaa used reprehensible and repulsive language in the Chamber, but in democracy, MPs cannot be brought to justice for speeches in the Chamber. The reprimands of the Speakers’ Council must suffice.”
According to Yle News, in February, the Oulu District Court fined Oulu city councilor Junes Lokka for two counts of ethnic agitation. The court found that Lokka had posted online videos in 2016 depicting Muslims and other immigrants as being inferior to other human beings. According to the prosecutor, the speaker in one of the videos called immigrants and Muslims “worthless” and “sick” and stated that they should not even exist. One video showed a demonstration in Helsinki featuring anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim speech. The court ruled the videos violated laws on human dignity and religious freedom.
According to Yle News, in August, Helsinki police completed their investigation of SDP MP Hussein al-Taee for alleged anti-Semitic Facebook posts from 2011-2012, before he was elected to parliament, and referred the case to the prosecutor. The investigation began in August 2019, when existence of the posts was reported in media and police determined the prosecutor’s ability to act had not expired because the posts were still in circulation. At a press conference in September, 2019, al-Taee apologized to Jewish and Sunni Muslim communities for the posts and did not contest the police findings that his posts promoted ethnic agitation. Al-Taee had also in 2014, and possibly as late as 2016, made anti-Semitic comments online, including comparing Israel to ISIS. During that time, he was a private citizen. By the end of 2020, neither the Social Democratic Party nor parliament had taken any disciplinary action against al-Taee in light of the police findings.
According to the newspaper Iltalehti, in January, Pauliina Kuhlmann (SDP), a municipal councilor of Polvijarvi in North Karelia, questioned in a Facebook post whether the Holocaust had occurred. Kuhlmann posted that the estimate of six million deaths was “about 25 times the upper limit” of actual deaths, and referred to the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp website as “false propaganda” and Israel’s Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum as a “propaganda museum.” Other members of the municipal council denounced Kuhlmann’s post and in January she was expelled from the council. Kuhlmann resigned from the SDP in January and formally tendered her resignation from the council on January 31, which was accepted at the council’s next meeting on June 15. As of year’s end, there was no pending police investigation.
On February 20, the Helsinki Times reported Helsinki police questioned Christian Democrat MP Paivi Rasenen, a former Minister of Interior, for possible incitement to hatred on the basis of sexuality in connection with a booklet she published in 2004. According to the Helsinki Times article, the booklet, titled “Male and Female He Created Them – Homosexual Relationships Challenge the Christian Concept of Humanity,” argued that LGBTI relationships were incompatible with the Christian faith. Incitement to hatred on the basis of sexuality was outlawed in 1995. In June, 2019, Rasenen responded to news that the ELC was partnering with the Helsinki Pride Festival by posting a Bible passage coupled with the caption, “How can the church’s doctrinal foundation, the Bible, be compatible with the lifting up of shame and sin as a subject of pride?” At year’s end, the prosecutor was considering whether to bring charges in both cases.
The government allocated 115.6 million euros ($141.84 million) to the ELC, compared with 114 million euros ($139.88 million) in 2019, and 2.58 million euros ($3.17 million) to the Finnish Orthodox Church, compared with 2.54 million euros ($3.12 million) in 2019. The MEC allotted a total of 824,000 euros ($1.01 million) to all other registered religious organizations, an increase of 300,000 euros ($368,000) over 2019. The entire increase went to the Helsinki Jewish Congregation to continue its investments in security at facilities and events following anti-Semitic incidents. This was the second consecutive year the government provided this level of funding to this congregation for improving security; similar funding levels were included in the government’s fiscal plan for the next three years. According to the parliament’s Finance Committee, “The threats have not diminished, but increased anti-Semitism in many countries is also affecting the Finnish Jewish community.” In June, the government allocated an additional 4.5 million euros ($5.52 million) to the ELC and the Finnish Orthodox Church to support their work in helping local communities during the pandemic.
The MEC awarded a total of 110,000 euros ($135,000) to promote interfaith dialogue, an increase of 30,000 euros ($36,800) over 2019. Three organizations split the funding: the CORE Forum, composed of representatives from the largest religious denominations; Fokus, an interfaith and intercultural organization; and Ad Astra, an organization promoting dialogue, interfaith projects, and inclusivity for children in schools, preschools, and daycare facilities.
The government is a member of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance.
Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom
Despite the ban against it, the self-described neo-Nazi NRM continued to operate a website, made statements promoting discrimination or violence against Jews and Muslims, and participated in demonstrations, according to press reports. According to authorities, members of the NRM began operating as part of the Towards Freedom group, considered to be the NRM’s successor by the National Bureau of Investigation.
Media reported Towards Freedom burned an Israeli flag during a rally in Tampere on January 27, meant to coincide with International Holocaust Remembrance Day, and said on its website that it carried out the burning. Officers of the Central Finland Police Department were present at the rally and spoke to those burning the flag, but they made no arrests. A spokesperson for the department said only the burning of the national flag (and not another nation’s flag) is a criminal offense. Police subsequently announced they were investigating the flag burning as a case of illegal ethnic agitation. Media reported that on the same day, the front door, steps, and walls of Turku Synagogue were defaced with red paint. Police were investigating the incident as a property damage case but had made no arrests as of year’s end. President Sauli Niinisto and other government officials denounced both incidents in official statements.
According to the newspaper Ilta Sanomat, on January 31, vandals defaced the building housing the Embassy of Israel with NRM stickers. The same night, unknown individuals placed similar stickers on Helsinki Synagogue. Israeli Ambassador Dov Segev-Steinberg told media that similar incidents had occurred numerous times in the last two years and that stickers were just one example of the vandalism and intimidation the embassy and Jews living in the country faced. Following the two incidents of vandalism, representatives of the Jewish community reported feeling threatened and specifically targeted due to their beliefs.
According to Yle News, in April, unknown individuals vandalized a Jewish cemetery in Hamina by knocking over a tombstone and painting a white swastika on another. The more than 200-year-old cemetery was no longer in use. The mayor of Hamina, Hannu Muhonen, denounced the vandalism, and the Helsinki Jewish Congregation filed a criminal report concerning the incident. The police confirmed the matter was under investigation but said no perpetrators had been identified. Yaron Nadbornik, head of the Central Council of Jewish Communities in Finland, stated vandalism of Jewish cemeteries was uncommon, but said neo-Nazi leaflets had been distributed to mailboxes of nearby Hamina residents at the time of the incident. A pastor of the Hamina Orthodox Parish also reported seeing a leaflet advertising the neo-Nazi group Towards Freedom.
According to media reports, on August 16, the anti-immigrant National Alliance again organized a memorial march in Turku to commemorate the victims of a 2017 stabbing by a Moroccan asylum speaker. Approximately 300 persons joined the demonstration, holding banners that read, “White lives matter.” On the same day, the group Turku Without Nazis held a counterdemonstration. The website Freigner.fi showed a picture of one counter protester holding a sign reading, “No Nazis on our streets.”
NGOs working with migrants, including the Finnish Refugee Advice Centre, continued to raise concerns about the ability of religious minorities housed in migrant reception centers to worship without harassment from other migrants housed within the same center. A representative of the center said converts to Christianity in migrant reception facilities often experienced harassment, including social exclusion, threats, and blackmail.
A representative of the Core Forum said that in June or July, a mosque in Jarvenpaa was defaced with stickers promoting the NRM.
A representative of the Core Forum said that Muslim groups, including the Islamic Congregation of Finland, continued to seek adequate houses of worship that could accommodate their growing population, but that they were hindered by insufficient funds from purchasing property, given that most Muslims did not belong to congregations registered with the government and did not choose to register. Except for a handful of purpose-built mosques, most mosques were located in converted commercial spaces. A representative of the Core Forum said on September 15 that this problem was driven by many Muslim congregations being too small to be able to raise the resources necessary to fund property purchases or construction.
Representatives of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Jamaat Finland said other Muslim congregations continued to block the group’s formal membership in interfaith organizations. A representative of the Core Forum said this was possibly because many Muslim groups did not consider Ahmadis to be “true Muslims.” Representatives of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Jamaat Finland said the group planned to create a mosque and cultural center in the future and that although the mosque would be built solely with funds from the Ahmadi community, it would be open to all religious and nonreligious individuals.
The nondiscrimination ombudsman’s office reported receiving 37 complaints of religious discrimination in 2019 – 4 percent of total discrimination complaints – compared with 35 complaints in 2018. In one example the report cited, a swimming hall prevented women and girls dressed in burkinis from swimming. The ombudsman recommended that swimming halls allow the wearing of burkinis.
Research by theologian Esko Kahkonen published in January by the Diakonia University of Applied Sciences indicated most religiously motivated hate crimes targeting Muslims were committed by Muslims from groups he said were more extreme. Individuals he termed “liberal Muslims,” or Muslims from minority schools of Islam, were the most common victims, as well as individuals who had converted from Islam to Christianity. According to Kahkonen’s research, which covered the period 2015-2016, only 8 percent of cases during that time were incidents in which non-Muslims targeted Muslims. Jenita Rauta, a researcher from the National Police Academy, said that the 2015-2016 data included many instances of hate crimes between Sunni and Shia Muslims and that an increase in the number of asylum seekers who were placed in reception centers without extensive background checks – intended to identify individuals with a history violent or illegal behavior – drove the phenomenon. Rauta said that more recent National Police Academy data from 2017-2018 showed a larger proportion of hate crimes targeting individuals who converted from Islam to Christianity.
The website Magneettimedia continued to post anti-Semitic content. In September, it published an article stating, “Harmful immigration to Europe is not the fault of the Islamic religion or Muslims, but is the fault of international Zionists and their global henchmen,” and, “Israel and the related Khazar-mafia have taken as their objective causing confrontation between the Christian world and the Islamic world.” Major companies and consumer brands continued to boycott the department store chain owned by the former owner of Magneettimedia, Juha Karkkainen, due to his anti-Semitic views.
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, representatives of religious groups participated in virtual events hosted by other religious groups. Finn Church Aid (FCA), associated with the ELC, again hosted an interfaith iftar, bringing together virtually representatives from the major religious groups, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and municipal governments.
The constitution prohibits religious discrimination and protects the right to choose, practice, or change one’s faith or life stance (belief in a nonreligious philosophy). It declares the Church of Norway is the country’s established church. The government continued to provide the Church of Norway with exclusive benefits, including funds for salaries and benefits of clergy and staff. The government enacted a new law governing religious life in April that outlines how faith and life stance organizations with at least 50 registered members may apply for state subsidies, which are to be prorated as a percentage of the subsidy received by the Church of Norway based on group membership. A hate crime law punishes some expressions of disrespect for religious beliefs. On June 11, the Oslo District Court sentenced Philip Manshaus to 21 years’ imprisonment for the attack on an Islamic cultural center and the killing of his stepsister in 2019. In March, the Director of Public Prosecutions declined to bring a case to the Supreme Court after a court of appeals acquitted three men of hate speech charges arising from a 2018 incident when they raised a Nazi flag outside the site of a World War II Gestapo headquarters. The government continued to implement an action plan to combat anti-Semitism, particularly hate speech, and released a similar plan to combat anti-Muslim sentiment. The government continued to provide financial support for interreligious dialogue.
A total of 807 hate-motivated crimes were reported during the year, of which 16.7 percent were religiously motivated. This was the first decline following a period of strong increase. Several groups reported that anti-Semitic and anti-Islamic sentiment remained prevalent among extremist groups and that internet hate speech against Jews and Muslims increased during the year. On September 27, Yom Kippur, three members of the Nordic Resistance Movement handed out hate propaganda outside an Oslo synagogue. Stop the Islamization of Norway (SIAN) held a number of rallies during the year in different cities that received widespread media attention.
U.S. embassy officials met with officials from the Ministry of Children and Families to discuss the draft law on faith and life stance communities and public financing for faith and life stance organizations. In addition, embassy officials discussed with officials from the Ministry of Justice and Public Security and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs the government’s efforts to prosecute religiously based hate crimes as well as to promote religious freedom. The Charge d’Affaires hosted religious leaders from the Church of Norway, Roman Catholic Church, Jewish community, and Muslim Dialogue Network (MDN) at an event to promote interfaith dialogue. Embassy representatives continued to meet with individuals from nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and numerous faith and religious minority groups, including Christians, Muslims, Sikhs, Hindus, Jews, Uighur Muslims, and humanists, to discuss issues such as religious freedom and tolerance and the integration of minority groups. The embassy routinely used social media to share messages of religious tolerance and to highlight religious holidays and events.
Section I. Religious Demography
The U.S. government estimates the total population at 5.5 million (midyear 2020 estimate). According to Statistics Norway, the official government statistics office, 69 percent of the population (December 2019 figure) belongs to the Church of Norway, an evangelical Lutheran denomination, a decline of 2.8 percentage points over the previous three years.
Statistics Norway, which assesses membership in religious groups using criteria based on registration, age, and attendance, reports registered membership in religious and life stance communities other than the Church of Norway is approximately 12.6 percent of the population (December 2019 estimate); 6.7 percent belongs to other Christian denominations, of which the Roman Catholic Church is the largest, at 3 percent, and 3.2 percent is Muslim. There are approximately 21,000 Buddhists, 11,400 Hindus, 4,000 Sikhs, and 1,500 Jews registered in the country. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Church of Jesus Christ) has approximately 4,600 members.
According to Statistics Norway, approximately 1.8 percent of the population participates in life stance organizations. The Norwegian Humanist Association reports approximately 100,000 registered members, making it the largest life stance organization in the country.
Immigrants, whom Statistics Norway defines as those born outside the country and their children, even if born in Norway, comprise the majority of members of religious groups outside the Church of Norway. Immigrants from Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, and the Philippines have increased the number of Catholics in the country, while those from countries including Syria, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Pakistan, 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 are mainly concentrated in the Oslo region. Most of the Jewish community resides in or near the cities of Oslo and Trondheim.
Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom
The constitution states all individuals shall have the right to free exercise of 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,” national values “will remain our Christian and humanistic heritage,” and “The Church of Norway shall remain the country’s established church and be supported by the state.” The law further specifies the right of individuals to choose or change their faith or life stance. Any person older than age 15 has the right to join or leave a religious or life stance community. Parents have the right to decide their child’s faith or life stance community before age 15, but they must take into consideration the views of the children once they reach the age of seven and give those views priority once they reach age 12.
The penal code specifies penalties, including a fine or imprisonment for up to six months, for discrimination based on faith or life stance, or for expressions of disrespect for religious beliefs or members of religious groups.
By law, the national government and local municipalities provide direct financial support to the Church of Norway. The national government provides an annual block grant that covers the cost of salaries, benefits, and pension plans of Church employees. The national government may provide additional support for other projects. By law, municipal governments provide financial support to the Church’s local activities, including maintenance and operation of Church buildings, as well as to public but Church-related properties, such as cemeteries and parks.
All registered faith and life stance organizations are eligible to apply for financial support from the government. The government pays prorated subsidies to nearly 800 such organizations based on their membership numbers, as compared to membership numbers of the Church of Norway.
In April, parliament enacted a new law governing religious life that included suggestions from the Church of Norway and other religious and life stance communities. The law was scheduled to go into effect on January 1, 2021. According to its provisions, faith and life stance organizations with at least 50 registered members may apply for state subsidies. The government shall pay prorated subsidies to organizations based on their membership numbers, as compared to membership numbers of the Church of Norway. Faith and life stance organizations must provide annual reports detailing activities, opportunities for children and youth, the use of the state subsidies, marital law administration, and gender equality, as well as any funds received from abroad. The government shall continue to provide the Church of Norway with an annual block grant that pays the full cost of salaries, benefits, and pension plans of Church employees. The government must provide additional funding to the Church of Norway for maintenance of cemeteries and religious buildings.
To register, a faith or life stance organization must notify the government 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, and the processes for amending statutes and dissolution. According to a 2020 amendment to the Law on the Faith and Life Stance Communities, faith and life stance organizations no longer need to register with local municipalities. Per a new law adopted during the year, faith and life stance organizations no longer register with the county (state equivalent) governor. A group must report its national tally of members annually. If a religious group does not register, it does not receive financial support from the government, but there are no restrictions on its activities except that faith and life stance communities that practice or give support to violent activities or receive funding from abroad may lose financial support following an assessment by the state. Most religious organizations and life stance communities register and receive government funding. By law, a faith or life stance organization must have a minimum of 500 members to qualify for government funding.
Public schools include a mandatory course on Christian Knowledge and Religious and Ethical Information (CKREE) for grades one through 10. State-employed instructors teach the CKREE course, which covers world religions and philosophies and promotes tolerance and respect for all religious beliefs, as well as for atheism. 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 Church of Norway church. At their parents’ request, children may opt out of participating in or performing specific acts related to religion, such as a class trip to a church. Parents need not give a reason for requesting an exemption. Students may apply to be absent to celebrate certain religious holidays, such as an Eid or Passover, but there is no celebration or observance of such holidays in public schools.
Members of minority religious groups must apply for annual leave from work in order to celebrate religious holidays; many Christian religious holidays are official holidays.
The law bans clothing at educational institutions that mostly or fully covers the face. The prohibition applies to students and teachers wearing burqas or niqabs in schools and day-care centers.
Police are responsible for investigating criminal cases of discrimination, including those involving religion, such as hate crimes. The government-funded but independent Equality and Antidiscrimination Ombudsman reviews noncriminal discrimination and harassment cases, including those involving religion.
Individuals may apply for a full exemption from the required registration for a year of military service for religious reasons and are not required to perform alternative service.
According to the law, an animal must be stunned or administered anesthetics before slaughter, making most traditional kosher and halal slaughter practices illegal. Halal and kosher meat may be imported. The Ministry of Agriculture and Food routinely waives import duties on halal and kosher meat and provides guidance on import procedures to the Jewish and Muslim communities.
The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
On June 11, in a combined case, the Oslo District Court sentenced Philip Manshaus to 21 years in prison for the attack on the al-Noor Islamic Cultural Center and the killing of his stepsister in 2019. Manshaus must serve a minimum of 14 years before he can apply for parole, the strictest sentence ever given by a Norwegian court and the maximum allowed under the penal code. According to law, he may be required to serve more than 21 years if on review of his case it is determined that he remains a threat to society. Manshaus was also ordered to pay restitution to his stepmother for the death of his stepsister and to three al-Noor members who were present on the day of the attack.
Antiterror police extradited a man to France who had lived in the country since 1991 for links to a Palestinian group that carried out a 1982 attack on a restaurant in Paris’ predominantly Jewish Marais quarter that killed six and injured 20 individuals. Norway had rejected a 2015 extradition request by France.
The government continued to implement its 2016-20 action plan to counter anti-Semitism, funding projects carried out by government, academic institutions, and the Mosaic Community (DMT), the country’s principal Jewish organization. The plan emphasizes data collection, training and education programs in schools, research on anti-Semitism and Jewish life in the country, and efforts to safeguard Jewish culture and space. For example, the government provided 400,000 kroner ($46,900) to the Dembra program of the Holocaust Center, an independent research and educational center associated with the University of Oslo, for a 2020-21 program to collaborate with teacher training institutions to counter prejudice and internal discrimination. Under the plan, police authorities continued to revise their training curriculum to improve the reporting, processing, and investigation of religiously based hate crimes and to collect statistics on hate crimes, including anti-Semitic incidents.
On September 23, the government released a multiyear plan to combat discrimination and hate toward Muslims. The plan responded to recent studies showing an increase in negative attitudes and actions toward Muslims in the country, including the 2019 attack against the al-Noor Islamic Center, and the increasing threat from right-wing extremists, as reported by the Police Security Service in its annual threat assessment. The plan contained 18 measures that focused on research and education, dialogue across religious communities, and police initiatives, such as registration of hate crimes towards Muslims as a separate category in crime statistics. The plan also outlined a new grant scheme outlining security measures for religious and life stance communities and steps to raise awareness about discrimination and racism in the business community.
During the year, the Department of Justice received proposals for a five-million-kroner ($586,000) annual fund to enhance physical security for religious and life stance communities considered potential targets by the Police Security Service’s annual national threat assessment. The fund will be administered by the Norwegian Police Directorate. The Islamic Council criticized the funding amount as too little.
The government’s 2021 budget set aside 10 million kroner ($1.17 million) to build awareness of, and support research on, hate crimes as a part of its 2020-2023 Action Plan Against Racism and Discrimination on the Basis of Ethnicity and Religion.
In June, the Director of Public Prosecutions declined to bring a case to the Supreme Court after a court of appeals acquitted three men of hate speech charges arising from a 2018 incident in which they raised a Nazi flag outside the site of a World War II Gestapo headquarters.
The police continued to prohibit officers from wearing religious symbols, including religious headwear, with police uniforms. Other uniformed organizations allowed the use of religious headwear. The military provided some religious headwear that conformed to military dress regulations.
In October, the government eliminated a requirement introduced in 2014 that citizens must show their ears in official passport and national identity photographs, thereby allowing turbans and hijabs to be worn in such photographs.
Christian, Muslim, and humanist chaplains served as officers in the military. Religious and humanist groups provided chaplains at their own expense to hospitals, universities, and prisons.
Funded by the Ministry of Local Government and Modernization, the Oslo Synagogue, in coordination with the DMT, worked with the Oslo police to coordinate security for the synagogue and Jewish heritage sites in Oslo, and acted as an intermediary between the Jewish community and police to facilitate timely reporting and monitoring of hate crimes.
The Center Against Racism continued to provide training and advisory services to police on detecting, investigating, and prosecuting racial and religiously motivated hate crimes. Police continued to assign personnel to support and coordinate these efforts, including providing resources to maintain hate crime investigators in each of the country’s 12 police districts.
The National Criminal Investigation Service continued to maintain a website for the public to contact police to report hate crimes and hate speech, including religiously motivated incidents.
The national CKREE curriculum continued to include components on Judaism and the Holocaust. In addition, the Ministry of Education and Research continued grants for school programs that raised awareness about anti-Semitism and hate speech, including religiously motivated hate speech. The government also continued to fund the Jewish Pathfinders, a life module through which young Jews engaged with high school students about Judaism and being Jewish in the country. In many instances, these grants were provided as part of the government’s action plan against anti-Semitism.
The government introduced a new curriculum beginning in the fall 2020 semester. According to the Norwegian Humanist Association, the new CKREE curriculum, introduced in September, better reflects the breadth of religions and philosophies, although it continues to prioritize Christianity.
Schools nationwide observed Holocaust Memorial Day on January 27. The government allocated 15.5 million kroner ($1.82 million) to support extracurricular programs that took secondary school students to Nazi concentration camps and other sites on three-day tours to educate them about the Holocaust, but it did not conduct these tours during the year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The two NGOs with primary responsibility for these programs, Hvite Busser (White Buses) and Aktive Fredsreiser (Travel For Peace), continued providing teaching materials, entrance fees, guided tours, and tour guide expenses for students who took day trips. Schools facilitated fundraising activities among the students as well.
State support to religious and life stance organizations from both the national and municipal governments totaled approximately six billion kroner ($703.4 million) during the year. The government provided approximately 2.215 billion kroner ($259.7 million), or 587 kroner ($69) per registered member, to the Church of Norway for salaries and operating expenses during the year, including for pensions and benefits of Church employees and clergy. The government provided other registered religious and life stance organizations approximately 414.9 million kroner ($48.64 million) in total. The Church of Jesus Christ continued to be the only major religious community choosing to decline government funding. The Norwegian Humanist Association continued to criticize state and municipal funding for the maintenance of Church of Norway property, such as Church buildings and cemeteries, which other religious communities had to fund on their own.
Consistent with previous years, the government budget provided 5.1 million kroner ($598,000) in subsidies for Church of Norway buildings and 14.9 million kroner ($1.75 million) to religious dialogue and umbrella organizations, such as the Council for Religious and Life Stance Communities (STL) and the Norwegian Humanist Association, to promote dialogue and tolerance among religious and life stance organizations.
The government continued to fund workshops and other intervention programs that featured practitioners who worked with religious minorities to promote their economic and social integration into society. Efforts focused on youth education and engaging local community stakeholders. For example, the government provided financial support to Minotenk, an organization that provided opportunities for young members of minority groups to publish books that were distributed to schools to raise awareness on issues related to minority communities, including minority religious communities.
Culture Minister Abid Raja spoke out against the anti-Muslim group SIAN prior to an August 29 rally in front of the parliament building, calling on counterdemonstrators not to give SIAN the attention it sought by appearing at the rally. The Vestland Police District initiated criminal investigations against SIAN leader Lars Thorsen, his deputy Ellen Due Brynjulfsen, and secretary Fanny Braten under the hate speech law following a SIAN rally in Bergen in August, but it dropped almost all charges after determining that the remarks did not rise to the level of hate speech under the law. At year’s end, one person remained under investigation for hate speech and awaited a final determination by the public prosecutor on whether the case would move forward.
The government is a member of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance.
Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom
A total of 807 hate-motivated crimes were reported nationwide during the year, of which 16.7 percent were religiously motivated. The number showed the first decline following a period of strong increase.
The Kristiansand Superintendent of Police, who also serves as Violent Extremism Coordinator, reported two main religious freedom concerns: the anti-Semitic Nordic Resistance Movement and increased anti-Muslim activity by individuals.
Representatives of the MDN, which represents 30,000 Muslims in the country, said that since the shooting at the al-Noor Islamic Center in 2019, fear of violence was a greater contributor to low attendance at mosques than COVID-19.
A Muslim woman working at the national hospital in Oslo told the newspaper Aftenposten in June that one patient screamed at her that “all Muslims were terrorists” and grabbed her hijab. The elderly patient reportedly stated that he “hated hijabs” and that the woman should “go home.”
In June, the Institute for Social Research, on behalf of the Immigration and Diversity Department, released its Study on the Attitudes to Immigration and Integration in Norway – Integration Barometer 2020. In this national survey, 63 percent of the 2,968 residents polled responded that the reason for problems with integration were that “many immigrations have a religion or culture that does not fit in Norway.” Almost the same number, 60 percent, believed discrimination hindered integration. Almost two-thirds believed there would be more conflict between religious groups in the country in the future. Fifty-two percent responded that Islam is not compatible with fundamental values in Norwegian society. The number that responded that Islam is not compatible with Norwegian society has hovered between 40 and 50 percent over the last 15 years in the same survey. Forty-five percent said they were skeptical of persons who practice Islam, while 53 percent said they were not skeptical of such persons. Seven of 10 respondents were skeptical of individuals with a strong Muslim faith.
The Holocaust Center, DMT, the Center against Racism, University of Oslo, and Institute for Social Research reported religiously motivated hate speech, particularly online, remained persistent. A leader in both the DMT and the Center against Racism said that anti-Semitism was trivialized in society; the leader criticized a lack of media reporting after three members of the Nordic Resistance Movement (NRM) handed out hate propaganda outside a synagogue on Yom Kippur in September. Media reported that the NRM conducted a series of anti-Semitic actions on Yom Kippur in coordination with NRM groups in Denmark and Iceland. As in previous years, the DMT expressed concern about what it viewed as a continued tolerance of anti-Semitic expression in national media, and it stated online anti-Semitism had increased again during the year. It said there were websites operated by SIAN, NRM, Human Rights Service, and Document.no that tended to espouse an extreme, far-right ideology, including anti-Semitic and racist positions associated with the Nazis. They said that the NRM, with an estimated 100-200 members in the country, continued to maintain a strong online presence. The NRM, Document.no, SIAN (with 2,500-3,000 members), Resett.no, and Vigrid were among the most active, according to the DMT.
Police and NGOs also stated that a small but active minority continued to participate in online chat rooms, message boards, and forums such as 4chan, 8chan, and EndChan, which regularly featured anti-Semitic and/or anti-Muslim content. Police maintained mechanisms to receive tips on online hate movements, said the Kristiansand Police Superintendent.
The Holocaust Center stated anti-Muslim organizations such as SIAN, Human Rights Service, and Document.no again increased their activity during the year, including by writing articles online or in print media. The Holocaust Center stated the groups were relatively small but maintained a strong and well-organized presence on the internet. In many instances, anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant views were closely linked. SIAN held a number of rallies in different cities that received widespread media attention and that also included larger groups of counterprotesters. Oslo police arrested SIAN secretary Fanny Braten and approximately 20 counterdemonstrators who broke through police barriers after Braten tore pages out of the Quran and spat on them in front of the parliament building on August 29. A number of religious groups raised concerns regarding the difficulty in enforcing provisions of the hate speech law that target religion.
In a June conference hosted by the Foundation Dialogue for Peace, an organization that described itself as working for peace, reconciliation, and the promotion of respect in areas of conflict, Imam Nemat Ali Shah, leader of the Imam Council of Norway, representing approximately 200,000 Norwegian-Muslims, presented a letter to Prime Minister Erna Solberg, who was attending the conference. The letter stated, in part, “On behalf of the Norwegian Imam Council, we are very concerned that the development of hatred and discrimination against Muslims in Norway is increasing sharply. We see that groups that increasingly spread hatred and xenophobia against Muslims in Norway are increasingly being formed by burning the Qur’an and spreading misinformation.”
In October and November, the Norwegian branch of the U.K.-based charitable organization Islamic Relief Worldwide accepted the resignations of two of its three trustees following media reports of their anti-Semitic and pro-Hamas postings on social media.
The Holocaust Center continued to conduct programs on the Holocaust and to combat anti-Semitism, with financial support from the government. The center developed instructional materials on the tolerance of religious diversity and distributed them to high schools nationwide. It published numerous articles and books documenting anti-Semitism and the persecution of religious minorities throughout the world. The center operated a website that provided a comprehensive overview of anti-Semitism and served as a foundation for the center’s educational efforts. It also screened materials used in public schools for anti-Semitic content. In addition, the center continued to operate a museum and library supported by its research organization and to offer a wide range of educational materials, programs, exhibitions, and publications. The center also organized a memorial ceremony at the Oslo monument to the victims of the Holocaust, in collaboration with the DMT.
The Holocaust Center continued to play a significant role in supporting the government’s action plan against anti-Semitism by developing educational materials and online platforms for the Ministry of Education and Research and monitoring anti-Semitic (and anti-Muslim) attitudes throughout society. It conducted research on Jewish life in the country, anti-Semitism in Scandinavia, religious extremism and radicalization, and hate crimes, both on its own initiative and on behalf of parliament and government ministries. It also advised the STL. Media frequently cited the center’s staff as legal, policy, or historical experts on the Holocaust, anti-Semitism, anti-Muslim sentiment, and religious issues, as well as on ethnic/religious oppression and genocide internationally.
The STL continued to foster interfaith dialogue by holding joint meetings with all its member communities, including virtual events when COVID-19 restrictions barred most public gatherings. Its mandate was to promote the equal treatment of religious and life stance communities and respect and understanding among all individuals and faith and life stance communities through dialogue. It received support from the government, as well as financial and in-kind contributions from its member organizations.
Minotenk said it believed that more research and knowledge about how Muslims live their lives in different parts of the country was important in developing a broader picture of the challenges faced by the Muslim community. Minotenk criticized the fact that only 10 of 428 communes in 2019 had action plans against discrimination against minorities. In the wake of the al-Noor attack in 2019, Minotenk highlighted the importance for mosques of local police contacts, since there were several large mosques in the greater Oslo area. Minotenk also requested that all police districts publish a report on hate crime statistics that was similar to the Oslo Police District’s annual report.
In September, the Church of Norway’s Bishop of Oslo expressed support for the country’s move toward equality for all faiths and life stances under the law following the government’s transfer of the Church Council and the Bishop’s Offices from government supervision to a newly independent and separate Church of Norway in 2017.
The constitution protects “the freedom to practice one’s religion alone or in the company of others” and prohibits discrimination based on religion. In March, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) declined to hear the case of two midwives who said the regional hospitals, and by extension the state, had infringed on their religious beliefs and freedom of choice by denying them employment due to their opposition to abortion, which is legal in the country. In September, the Malmo Administrative Court overturned the Bromolla Municipality’s ban on prayer during working hours. In November, the Malmo Administrative Court overturned the ban on hijabs, burqas, niqabs, and other face- and hair-covering garments for students and employees in preschools and elementary schools introduced by Skurup and Staffanstorp Municipalities. In January, a government inquiry proposed a ban on the establishment of new independent religious schools, beginning in 2023, and increased oversight on existing schools having a religious orientation. The Migration Agency’s annual report, released in February, reported large regional variations in the assessment of asylum cases of Christian converts from the Middle East and elsewhere. Some politicians from the Sweden Democrats, the country’s third largest political party, made denigrating comments about Jews and Muslims. Prime Minister Stefan Lofven and other politicians condemned anti-Semitism and religious intolerance. The Prime Minister announced his country’s endorsement of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of anti-Semitism, including its list of examples of anti-Semitism. The government continued funding programs aimed at combating racism and anti-Semitism and reducing hate crimes, including those motivated by religion. On September 20, the government allocated 10 million kronor ($1.22 million) to start preparations connected to the establishment of the country’s first Holocaust museum.
Deputy Secretary General of the Swedish Evangelical Alliance Jacob Rudenstrand said cases of threats and violence due to the public display of religious symbols had increased during the year. In July, media reported unidentified individuals assaulted an 11-year-old boy, mocking him for his Christian beliefs and taking the cross he was wearing. In February, media reported three men assaulted a Jewish woman, taking her Star of David pendant and mocking her for being Jewish. In January, the Equality Ombudsman (DO) concluded the first of three inquiries into a Jewish doctor’s allegations of anti-Semitism at New Karolinska Hospital (NKS) and found NKS had not complied with its duty under the Discrimination Act to investigate alleged harassment. In November, the DO concluded the second inquiry and found that the doctor’s union had been in breach of the Discrimination Act when it advised the doctor on remedies to pursue. In a related incident in December, the Health and Social Care Inspectorate rejected a 2019 claim by NKS that the same doctor posed a risk to patient safety and rebuked NKS for identifying the doctor’s religion in its complaint. According to media, on August 28, supporters of the Danish right-wing political party Hard Line burned one Quran and kicked another Quran in Malmo. The individuals involved filmed and posted their actions online, leading to violent protests against the defilement of the Qurans. On the day his supporters defiled the Qurans, authorities issued a two-year entry ban on Hard Line’s leader, but in October, they rescinded the ban after confirming he held Swedish citizenship. In September, individuals burned two Qurans, one each in Stockholm and Malmo, and posted videos of the burnings on social media. Christian and Jewish leaders condemned the actions and expressed solidarity with the Muslim population. In October, the Official Council of Swedish Jewish Communities and the country’s chapter of the European Jewish Congress protested the Arab Book Fair in Malmo for making a book promoting anti-Semitism available online. Media reported that in September, the Nordic Resistance Movement (NRM) held a series of anti-Semitic demonstrations on Yom Kippur that the World Jewish Congress said were done in coordination with NRM in Norway, Denmark, and Iceland. NRM members stood outside a synagogue in Norrkoping holding anti-Semitic banners and spread anti-Semitic messages in several cities. In response, Justice Minister Morgan Johansson said the government condemned “all acts of anti-Semitism and any other expression of racism,” and he joined the IHRA’s condemnation of NRM’s actions. In October, the Defense Research Agency published a study that found approximately 35 percent of online posts about Jews contained anti-Semitic stereotypes, and an additional 10 percent did not explicitly include a stereotype but still expressed hostility towards Jews. During the year, courts convicted several leading NRM members for hate speech and for death threats on social media directed against Jews. In February, producers of the television reality show Big Brother removed two contestants for making anti-Semitic remarks.
The Ambassador, Charge d’Affaires, and other U.S. embassy representatives continued to meet with the Ministries of Justice, Culture, and Foreign Affairs, the Swedish Agency for Support to Faith Communities (SST), parliament, police, and local government officials on religious freedom issues, supporting government efforts to improve security for religious groups, and highlighting threats to members of some religious minorities, including Muslim immigrants. The Ambassador hosted an event for four Swedish Holocaust survivors in February with leading members of the Jewish, Catholic, and Muslim communities, and civil society representatives. Embassy officials underscored the importance of religious tolerance with Christian, Jewish, and Muslim representatives in Malmo, Gothenburg, and Stockholm. The Charge spoke to a leader of the Jewish community to express concern following the NRM’s anti-Semitic activities on Yom Kippur.
Section I. Religious Demography
The U.S. government estimates the population at 10.2 million (midyear 2020 estimate). According to the Church of Sweden (Lutheran), approximately 56 percent of citizens are members. According to government statistics and estimates by religious groups, other Christian groups – including the Roman Catholic Church, Pentecostal Movement, Missionary (or Missions) Church, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Church of Jesus Christ) – together total less than 6 percent of the population. The Finnish Orthodox Church and Georgian Orthodox Church are also present in the country. According to a 2016 Pew Research Center estimate (the most recent available), 8.1 percent of the population is Muslim. According to the Official Council of Swedish Jewish Communities, Jews number approximately 20,000, concentrated mainly in larger cities including Stockholm, Gothenburg, and Malmo.
Smaller religious communities include Buddhists, Hindus, Sikhs, Zoroastrians, Mandaeans, and members of the Church of Scientology, Word of Faith, International Society for Krishna Consciousness, and Family Federation for World Peace and Unification (Unification Church).
Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom
The constitution provides for “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 DO. The ombudsman investigates each case and issues a decision that is not legally binding. The decision includes recommendations to prevent future discrimination. The ombudsman takes some cases to court each year, in part to create legal precedent. The DO may represent the individual making a complaint in the event of legal proceedings if he or she requests it.
The constitution states, “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.”
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 incident.
Law enforcement authorities maintain statistics on hate crimes, including religiously motivated hate crimes, issuing them every two years. Law enforcement authorities may add a hate crime classification to an initial crime report or to existing charges during an investigation. Prosecutors determine whether to bring hate crime charges as part of the prosecution, and the defense has an opportunity to rebut the classification. In cases where the criminal act involves a hate crime, the penalties increase.
There is no requirement in the law for religious groups to register or otherwise seek recognition. Only those faith communities registering with the SST, however, are eligible to receive government funding and tax exemptions similar to those of nonprofit organizations. 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 has operated in the country for at least five years, has a clear and stable structure, is able to function independently, serves at least 3,000 persons, and has several 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 circumcisers, including mohels (individuals who conduct ritual Jewish circumcisions), to perform the operations on boys younger than two months but also 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 Tax Agency in exchange for a one-time fee of 75,000 Swedish kronor ($9,200) and an annual fee of 21 kronor ($3) per member per year. The Church of Sweden is exempted from the annual fee because it, unlike the other religious groups participating in the program, does not receive financial support from the SST. Only religious groups registered with the SST may participate in the program. Religious groups choose what percentage of members’ annual taxable income to collect, with a median collection rate of 1 percent. The Tax Agency subtracts a percentage of the member’s gross income and distributes it to the religious organization. The member’s contribution is not deductible from income tax. Seventeen religious organizations participate in the plan: the Church of Sweden, Swedish Alliance Mission, Roman Catholic Church, Baptist Union of Sweden, Evangelic Free Church in Sweden, The Salvation Army, United Methodist Church of Sweden, Pentecostal Movement, Syrian-Orthodox Church, Bosniak Islamic Association, Syrian Orthodox Archdiocese, Hungarian Protestant Church, Uniting Church in Sweden, Union of Islamic Cultural Centers, United Islamic Associations of Sweden, Swedish Muslim Federation, and Islamic Shi’ite Association of Sweden.
The government provides publicly funded grants to registered religious groups through the SST. 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 that are compliant with religious dietary restrictions. Each military district has a chaplain. 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. The law specifically exempts Jehovah’s Witnesses from national military service. Other conscientious objectors may apply for unarmed military service but are in practice not inducted into the military. 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 is compulsory in public and private schools. Teachers use a curriculum designed by the National Agency for Education 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 the government supports 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 adherence to government guidelines on core academic curricula.
The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
On March 12, the ECHR declined to hear the case of two midwives who said regional hospitals, and by extension the state, infringed on their rights to freedom of religion and conscience by rejecting them for employment as midwives due to their conscientious objection to abortion. Abortion is legal in the country. The ECHR found that authorities acted lawfully and declined to consider the case, stating, “While the Convention on Human Rights gives the right to freedom of conscience, it is not a human right to get a job in the health care sector.” There was no procedure for appealing the decision. On March 13, 77 Christian leaders wrote an opinion piece criticizing the ECHR’s decision.
In September, the administrative court in Malmo, the country’s third-largest city, overturned the Bromolla Municipality’s ban on prayer during working hours. The court stated the ban contravened rights of religious freedom granted by the constitution and the European Convention on Human Rights. The ban, which applied to all municipal employees, was passed by the local council in 2019 and was criticized by Christian and Muslim representatives.
The Sweden Democrats continued to advocate local and national bans on the Islamic call to prayer. On March 1, Tomas Tobe, a European Parliament Member for the Moderate Party, stated in an opinion piece that the Islamic call to prayer should be banned in residential areas because individuals have the right not to be exposed to a religious message. Tobe wrote the ringing of church bells should be continued due to the country’s historical ties to Christianity. In a response published in the Aftonbladet newspaper on March 5, the Liberal Party’s Youth Association wrote, “A secular state must have a neutral attitude to the role of religion in society. The state should not dictate which religion is more right than another.”
On November 17, the Malmo Administrative Court found Skurup and Staffanstorp Municipalities’ ban on hijabs, burqas, niqabs, and other head- and face-covering garments for students and employees in preschool and elementary school was contrary to the constitutional provision on religious freedom and to the European Convention on Human Rights. The court thereby revoked the ban. Chief Councilor Peter Kristiansson stated, “A restriction of religious freedom requires legal support, something that is lacking in these cases.” He added that neither the Education Act nor any other law accorded a municipality the right to decide on such restrictions. The administrative court determined that parliament had rejected proposals to ban headscarves; therefore, there was no legal support for deciding on such bans at the municipal level. On November 13, the DO concluded its investigation of the ban and found it breached the Discrimination Act on religious grounds. On December 8, Skurup and Staffanstorp Municipalities appealed the verdict to the Gothenburg Court of Appeals. The appeal was pending at year’s end. Christian, Jewish, and Muslim leaders continued to state that the ban constituted an infringement on religious freedom.
All six healthcare regions continued to offer circumcision, although the National Board of Health and Welfare had no statistics on how many children were circumcised during the year.
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 in conflict with their religious practices. The Muslim community remained divided over whether the requirement conformed to halal procedures. The Jewish community reported the law effectively prevented the domestic production of kosher meat. Most halal meat and all kosher meat continued to be imported. On December 17, the European Union Court of Justice ruled EU member states may impose a requirement that animals be stunned prior to slaughter and that such a requirement does not infringe on the rights of religious groups.
On January 8, a government inquiry committee presented its findings on how a ban on the creation of new independent schools with a religious orientation could be introduced. In June 2019, Minister of Education Anna Ekstrom said, “In recent years, we have seen examples of schools that in the name of religion, separate girls and boys, hardly teach about sexuality and coexistence, and equate evolution with religious creation myths. This is totally unacceptable.” The committee proposed a ban on establishing such schools, starting in 2023. The committee recommended that no approvals be granted to private entities that wished to operate a faith-based preschool class, compulsory school, compulsory special school, upper secondary school, upper secondary special school, or after-school center. The independent National Agency for Education estimated 9,400 students, approximately 1 percent of all elementary and preschool students, were enrolled in the 72 registered schools having a religious orientation. Judicial experts commented on the inquiry committee’s recommendations, stating to media that according to the European Convention on Human Rights, it could be discriminatory to restrict families’ right to choose schools based on religious beliefs, and that the ban could interfere with the law of freedom of trade. Ekstrom said implementing the committee’s proposal would be “tricky” but would work, if handled correctly. The committee recommended existing schools with a religious orientation be allowed to remain, but it recommended there be greater oversight by the School Inspectorate and the municipalities. Existing schools would be required to report religious orientation and ensure that student participation in education with religious elements was voluntary.
During the year, seven of eight political parties represented in parliament, except for the Christian Democrats, supported banning the establishment of new religious independent schools. Representatives of several religious groups, including the Church of Sweden, the Official Council of Swedish Jewish Communities, the Christian Council of Sweden, and Sweden’s Young Catholics, opposed the proposed ban. The groups stated that schools with a religious orientation helped ground the students in their minority culture and that a ban could be contrary to legislation regarding minority rights. The Swedish Association of Local Authorities and Regions, the Swedish Teachers’ Association, and the municipalities of Stockholm, Malmo, Uppsala, and Gavle supported the proposed ban.
The Migration Agency’s annual report, released in February, indicated large regional variations in the assessment of asylum cases of Christian converts from the Middle East and elsewhere, with approval rates ranging between 18 and 33 percent. The report also stated that on average, 25 percent of converts received a residence permit. In 2019, the nongovernmental organization (NGO) Scandinavian Human Rights Lawyers, in partnership with five Christian organizations, issued a report criticizing the Migration Agency for rejecting asylum applications from Christians – primarily those who converted to Christianity while in the country – who said they risked religious persecution in their home countries. The authors of the 2019 report concluded the Migration Agency had a poor understanding of religious conversion and its decisions on converts were arbitrary. Following the critique, the government requested the agency report how it handled converts’ cases and how it met legal standards in matters where religion was stated as a factor in consideration for asylum.
In September, Deputy Secretary General of the Swedish Evangelical Alliance Rudenstrand again said Christian refugees, including but not limited to converts, faced persecution, particularly from Muslim refugees who were new to the country. Christian refugees said they were not safe in the country and the government should take measures to protect them.
There were reports that representatives of the Sweden Democrats – the country’s third largest political party – made denigrating comments about Jews and Muslims.
On September 9, Expo, a nonpartisan NGO, reported in its magazine that Mari Herrey, a local Sweden Democrat politician in Molndal and lay judge on the Gothenburg District Court, posted anti-Semitic conspiracy theories and white supremacy symbols on Twitter. Herrey remained on the local Molndal council, and, following an investigation by the Gothenburg District Court, was allowed to remain as a lay judge (a politically appointed, nonprofessional individual serving at the local level who helps presiding judges, similar to a juror in the U.S. legal system). The court’s chief judge, Johan Kvart, stated to media that Herrey’s posts were “disgraceful” but that she had acted out of naivety and ignorance, without ill intention.
On September 15, media reported that Dennis Askling, leader of the Sweden Democrats in Haninge, expressed Nazi sympathies and white supremacy theories in an online message to a fellow party member in 2017. Media reported that, among other things, he wrote Nazi phrases such as “Hell Seger” (Swedish for “Sieg Heil”) and derogatory comments about synagogues and people of African descent. Askling also worked for the party’s secretariat in parliament and was the Sweden Democrat’s juror on the panel of political party representatives that gives out the Stockholm Region’s annual award honoring antiracism and anti-xenophobic service. Askling stepped down from both the secretariat and panel positions shortly after the media reports were published. The Sweden Democrats’ press officer stated the opinions expressed were “reprehensible” and did not comport with the party’s politics and values.
In a January 22 opinion piece published in the Israeli media outlet Yedioth Ahronoth, Prime Minister Lofven called on the world to fight for the memory of the Holocaust and said he was concerned about anti-Semitism in “many parts of society in many countries, including in my home country.” Prime Minister Lofven endorsed the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism, including its list of examples of anti-Semitism. The World Jewish Congress and the Official Council of Swedish Jewish Communities welcomed the endorsement.
On January 27, Holocaust Remembrance Day, Prime Minister Lofven, Crown Princess Victoria, and Speaker of Parliament Andreas Norlen attended a memorial ceremony at Auschwitz-Birkenau in Poland to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the camps. At the event, World Jewish Congress President Robert S. Lauder welcomed Prime Minister Lofven’s public pledge to combat anti-Semitism and his endorsement of the IHRA definition, with its list of illustrative examples of anti-Semitism.
The Media Council, a government agency whose primary task is to promote the empowerment of minors as conscious media users and to protect them from harmful media influences, continued its “No Hate Speech Movement,” which included efforts to stop the propagation of anti-Semitic conspiracy theories. The council offered classroom and online material for students and suggestions on how to address these issues with children.
The high-level Malmo International Forum on Holocaust Remembrance and Combating Antisemitism was postponed until October 13-14, 2021, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The government allocated five million kronor ($612,000) annually for 2018-20 to the Swedish Committee against Anti-Semitism and the Living History Forum (LHF) (a public agency “commissioned to work with issues related to tolerance, democracy, and human rights, using the Holocaust and other crimes against humanity as its starting point”) to increase opportunities for student and teacher study visits to Holocaust memorial sites and signaled its intention to allocate six million kronor ($734,000) for 2021-22.
As part of its continuing National Plan to Combat Racism, Similar Forms of Hostility, and Hate Crimes, the government provided 15 million kronor ($1.84 million) to religious organizations and civil society to improve their security, compared with 22 million kronor ($2.69 million) in 2019. A wide range of civil society organizations, including religiously oriented NGOs, remained eligible for funding from the Legal, Financial, and Administrative Services Agency to improve their security by, for example, purchasing security cameras and hiring security guards.
The government provided 10 million kronor ($1.22 million) during the year to fund educational efforts to combat racism and support tolerance, including religious tolerance, in schools, and increased support to civil society. It allocated an additional 10 million kronor ($1.22 million) to the Police Authority to prevent and investigate hate crimes, including those related to religion. Part of the funding was earmarked for the Police National Operations Department, which assisted the country’s regional authorities with investigations of hate crimes.
The SST continued to collaborate with other government agencies and civil society to promote dialogue between the government and faith communities as well as to contribute to the public’s knowledge about religion. During the year, the SST continued to cooperate with several municipalities and regions to set up interreligious dialogues with a focus on democracy promotion, countering violent extremism, and educating municipal employees on issues of religion and religious freedom. As part of the government’s implementation of the National Plan to Combat Racism, Similar Forms of Hostility, and Hate Crimes, SST cooperated with Muslim congregations to increase knowledge of safety measures for mosques.
The SST continued to partner with government entities such as law enforcement authorities, the Civil Contingencies Agency, Defense Research Agency, Public Health Agency, National Agency for Education, Government Offices (comprising the Prime Minister’s Office, government ministries, and the Office for Administrative Affairs), Crime Prevention Agency, Migration Agency, and others in supporting ongoing government inquiries, coordinating COVID-19 responses, and facilitating meetings with different faith communities, including groups not registered with the SST. The SST cooperated with 15 religious leaders to make informational videos about COVID-19 for distribution on social media. The SST continued offering courses in family law and movements within Islam and started an interfaith mentorship course for female leaders. The agency continued to fund, publish, and promote publications aimed at educating the public about religious minorities, such as the report, A multi-religious Sweden in Change, published in September.
The Swedish Agency for Youth and Civil Society provided grants to civil society organizations working to combat religious intolerance. Grants included 320,000 kronor ($39,200) to the Swedish Committee Against Anti-Semitism to educate members of political youth associations about anti-Semitism.
The government continued to fund the LHF. The government allocated 49.3 million kronor ($6.03 million) to the LHF (compared with 46.5 million kronor [$5.69 million] in 2019), which provided lesson plans, books, and other resources for teachers. Topics included anti-Semitism, Holocaust remembrance, ethnic and religious conflicts in the Balkans, and critical reading of history. On September 22, the LHF opened the public exhibition “Sweden and the Holocaust” at its showroom in Stockholm. At the opening, Minister for Education Ekstrom said, “By learning about our history we can strengthen and defend our open and democratic Swedish society today and in the future.”
On March 27, Prime Minister Lofven and Minister for Culture and Democracy Amanda Lind discussed the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic with leaders from the Pentecostal Movement, Stockholm Catholic Diocese, Syrian Orthodox Church, Church of Sweden, Christian Council of Sweden, Swedish Buddhist Community, United Islamic Associations of Sweden, and the Official Council of Swedish Jewish Communities. On September 10, the government announced an additional 50 million kronor ($6.12 million) to faith communities for 2020 and 2021. The government said the additional funds were intended to mitigate the financial impact on faith communities, including declining revenues and increasing expenditures for funerals, during the COVID-19 pandemic. The funds were distributed to the state-subsidized faith communities and the Church of Sweden.
On February 27, the government allocated 10 million kronor ($1.22 million) for a national initiative to strengthen Holocaust education. Of this amount, six million kronor ($734,000) went to the LHF to implement an educational program that included the Holocaust and anti-Semitism. The National Historical Museums received 2.3 million kronor ($281,000) to translate the English-language educational exhibition “Dimensions in Testimony” into Swedish and to add testimony from Swedish Holocaust survivors. The government provided 1.2 million kronor ($147,000) to the University of Gothenburg to produce a research overview of the role of education within the school system in countering anti-Semitism and other forms of racism.
On September 20, the government allocated 10 million kronor ($1.22 million) to the LHF to start preparations for the establishment of the country’s first Holocaust museum, including collecting documents and recording the stories of Swedish Holocaust survivors. In making the announcement, the Ministry of Culture said in a statement, “The Holocaust is a crime against humanity that is unparalleled in our history. Its memory and lessons must continue to be preserved and communicated about. Never again must something similar to this happen.”
Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom
In 2018 (the most recent year for which statistics were available), 7,090 hate crimes were reported, according to a report released in October 2019 by the Swedish National Council for Crime Prevention. Of those, 8 percent were anti-Muslim. Anti-Semitic, anti-Christian, and other antireligious hate crimes accounted for 4 percent each. Authorities said most victims of hate crimes did not report them to police.
In July, media reported that unidentified individuals assaulted an 11-year-old boy, mocking him for his Christian beliefs and taking the cross he was wearing. At year’s end, police were investigating the incident as a robbery with a hate crime motive. In February, media reported three men assaulted a Jewish woman, taking her Star of David pendant and mocking her for being Jewish. According to media, at year’s end, police were investigating the incident as a robbery with a hate crime motive. In September, Deputy Secretary General of the Swedish Evangelical Alliance Rudenstrand said cases of threats and violence against individuals wearing religious symbols, such as crosses or Star of David pendants, had increased during the year.
During the year, a Jewish neurosurgeon at NKS reported continuing reprisals stemming from his 2017 report that the hospital’s chief of neurosurgery subjected him and two other Jewish colleagues to anti-Semitic harassment and discrimination. In January, the DO concluded the first of three inquiries into the doctor’s allegations. The DO found NKS had not complied with its duty under the Discrimination Act to investigate alleged harassment. In November, the DO concluded the second inquiry and found the doctor’s union, the Swedish Medical Association, had violated the Discrimination Act. The union had advised the doctor to file a criminal case because it assessed a union complaint would be unsuccessful and risked harming the relationship between the union and the employer. The DO found that the union would not have advised a member in this way if the grounds for the complaint had been disability or gender and therefore had discriminated against the doctor on the basis of ethnicity. The third inquiry was underway at year’s end. In a related incident, in December, the Health and Social Care Inspectorate rejected a 2019 formal complaint by NKS that the doctor posed a risk to patient safety and rebuked NKS for identifying the doctor’s religion in its complaint.
According to media, in Malmo on August 28, supporters of the Danish right-wing party Hard Line (Stram Kurs) at an illegal demonstration burned a Quran and later in the day at another illegal demonstration kicked a second Quran. The group filmed and uploaded the incident to the internet. Subsequently, a group of Malmo teenagers and young men protested the actions of Hard Line supporters by burning tires and throwing rocks at police, resulting in minor injuries. Media reported several of the rioters chanted anti-Semitic slogans, including “Kill the Jews.” Police arrested 10-20 persons on suspicion of inciting a violent riot and three of Hard Line’s supporters on suspicion of inciting religious hatred. Police in Malmo had denied Hard Line party leader Rasmus Paludan’s request to hold the anti-Muslim demonstration at which supporters burned the Quran, and on August 28, authorities banned him from entering the country for two years. In October, however, the Migration Agency confirmed Paludan was a Swedish citizen and therefore was not subject to the ban because the Swedish constitution states that no citizen may be denied entry. The Council of Swedish Jewish Communities wrote in a statement, “We view with disgust the burning of the Quran and other holy scriptures.” The Malmo Muslim Network, an organization promoting the interests of Muslims in the city, sent a letter to Ann Katina, a leader of the Jewish community of Malmo, thanking the community for its support and saying, “[We] condemn the anti-Semitic words of hatred that some chanted during the riot.”
On August 27, the Islamic Association in Malmo organized an interfaith assembly with leaders from the Christian and Jewish communities and local politicians to counter the anticipated Quran burning, which Hard Line had announced on social media it would carry out despite not having a demonstration permit. Rabbi Moshe David HaCohen of Malmo compared the Quran burning to the Nazi book bonfires in 1930s Germany.
On November 16, the prosecutor closed the preliminary investigation of hate crimes with regard to the Quran burning in Malmo, concluding the burning itself could not be judged as incitement against an ethnic group. The investigation into possible hate crimes with regard to the demonstration held later in the day, when a Quran was kicked and there were statements that could be perceived as threats or expressions of disrespect, including suspected incitement against ethnic group, was also closed. The prosecutor said in that instance it was not possible to identify any specific perpetrator. In December, the Malmo District Court sentenced seven persons, six of whom were 16 and 17 years old, for inciting violent rioting in connection with the protest following the Quran burning incident.
The Hard Line party also claimed responsibility for two Quran burnings in Stockholm and Malmo in early September that were registered by police as hate crimes. On September 9, Stockholm Mayor Anna Konig Jerlmyr and her governing alliance party leaders published a statement condemning the planned Quran burnings in Stockholm. On September 12, the Swedish Christian Council called the acts “barbaric,” and the Jewish Community in Stockholm expressed support and solidarity with the Muslim population. Media reported on efforts by local politicians and Muslim community leaders to prevent the burnings from sparking violent responses in their communities. Tensta Mosque operations manager Abdulla Ali Abdi told mosque members to channel their anger into “chang[ing] politics instead of rioting.” Fifteen Muslim congregations submitted a petition to regional politicians on September 12, stating a desire to amend the constitution to prohibit the burning of sacred texts and mocking religions. As of year’s end, no action had been taken on the petition.
According to media, on January 27, International Holocaust Remembrance Day, a bag marked with a Star of David and containing soap and anti-Semitic literature was found outside the Norrkoping City Museum, where an exhibit entitled “Nazism and Norrkoping Now and Then” was on display. No suspects were detained.
Media reported that in October, the Official Council of Swedish Jewish Communities and the country’s chapter of the European Jewish Congress protested the Arab Book Fair in Malmo for making available online a book called The Synagogue of Satan: The Secret History of Jewish World Domination. Following the complaint, the fair organizers removed the book, which was published by a Syrian publisher, from the website. The fair organizers released a statement that selling the book “violates our principles of rejecting antisemitism and respecting all religions and beliefs. It was a mistake that should not have happened.” Media reported the Malmo city government suspended its partnership with the Arab Book Fair and was considering seeking reimbursement for the 150,000 kronor ($18,400) it had contributed to it. In a statement, Malmo’s Cultural Director Pernilla Conde Hellman condemned the selling of the book, saying, “It goes against everything we stand for and we therefore choose to immediately terminate the cooperation.” The Official Council of Swedish Jewish Communities issued a statement welcoming the swift action taken by Malmo City government and the fair organizers’ condemnation of the sale.
In December 2019, the Church of Sweden released a document entitled “The Church of Sweden’s View on Male Circumcision” that stated, “Male circumcision in Judaism, Islam, and certain Christian traditions is a significant identity-creating act from a religious, ethnic, and cultural perspective. It falls under the right to religious freedom and the parents’ right to, on the basis of wanting the best interests of their child, incorporate the child into their own religious tradition and community. In the Church of Sweden’s view, circumcision of boys does not in itself contravene the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.” Media reported that on February 4, Rabbi HaCohen in a post on Facebook said the Church’s position paper was “an extremely important statement” and it was “very good to see that they [the Church] understand how beyond religious freedom, not allowing this would be subtracting from a child’s identity both in Judaism and Islam.”
According to an article published in Israeli newspaper Haartez on March 23, an 18-year-old man who joined the NRM when he was 15 decided to leave the neo-Nazi group and help a woman who directed a local Jewish cultural center in the town of Umea to combat anti-Semitism.
In September, the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights published an overview of anti-Semitic incidents in the European Union between 2009 and 2019 that showed a rise of reported anti-Semitic cases in the country. On a scale of 1 to 7, with 7 being the most comfortable, the 1,000 respondents replied with a median 6.8 when asked if they would be comfortable having a Jewish neighbor, and 5.8 when asked if they would be comfortable with having a close family member marry a Jew. Both Muslim and Jewish groups in the country stated there had been an increase of anti-Semitism and anti-Muslim sentiments online during the COVID-19 outbreak.
The Swedish Defense Research Agency received 500,000 kronor ($61,200) to produce a report on anti-Semitism in social media and other digital environments. The report, published on October 6, studied 2.5 million social media posts on Jewishness or Jews and found approximately 25 percent contained anti-Semitic stereotypes, and an additional 10 percent did not explicitly include a stereotype but nevertheless expressed hostility towards Jewish people. The study found that most prevalent were references to “Jewish power” and the role of Jews as a secret driving force behind many major political events. A large proportion of the stereotypes portrayed Jews as threatening and dangerous, therefore justifying violence against Jews. The study was based on English-language data obtained from Twitter, Reddit, Gab, and 4chan during a six-month period in 2019.
In February, the Pew Research Center published findings on attitudes toward democratic principles, such as regular elections, free speech, and free civil society, as well as religious freedom, in 34 countries, based on interviews it conducted in its Spring 2019 Global Attitudes Survey. According to the findings, 53 percent of Swedish respondents considered religious freedom to be “very important,” ranking it among the lowest of their priorities for democratic principles of the nine tested.
In September, the University of Gavle’s annual report and poll on the population’s attitudes toward ethnic diversity showed a deteriorating positive view of religious diversity over the last 15 years. According to the findings, 65 percent of the 1,035 respondents believed Muslim women to be more oppressed than other Swedish women. In addition, 73 percent of respondents said schools with an Islamic affiliation made integration of Muslims more difficult, an increase from 71 percent in 2018. A majority of the of the respondents expressed support for a ban on the use of burqas or niqabs, with 76 percent of respondents supporting a ban on these coverings in schools, and 73 percent supporting such a ban in workplaces.
In February, the Christian Council of Sweden presented a report, Young Believers in Society. The report was based on a survey of almost 400 respondents in Christian youth organizations. Nearly half of the respondents stated they had felt discriminated against or offended because of their religious beliefs. Twenty-two percent of respondents said teachers or youth-center leaders had insulted them because of their Christian faith. Minister of Education Ekstrom commented on the report, stating, “No student in Sweden should be questioned or challenged because of their Christian faith or religious beliefs.”
In November, five mosques in Malmo, Eskilstuna, Stockholm, and Gothenburg received envelopes containing threats and a white powder, which police determined was nontoxic. Local police initiated investigations and the Swedish Security Police was informed. Media reported that the Eskilstuna Grand Mosque had also previously received several threats via letters, text messages, and telephone calls. According to the mosque, messages stated mosque members should leave the country, did not “fit in,” and were murderers and terrorists.
In August, unidentified individuals vandalized the Christian church in Vastra Skravlinge in Malmo over the course of seven consecutive days. The Sweden Democrats in Malmo consequently asked the Church of Sweden to conduct a local survey on anti-Christian attitudes. The priest of the vandalized church, Mikael Goth, expressed hesitation about the survey, stating “it would risk further increasing the already existing polarization between different groups.”
During the year, courts convicted several leading members of the neo-Nazi group NRM of hate speech and death threats on social media directed at Jews. In the largest hate speech trial in the country’s history, measured by the number of charges, the Solna District Court sentenced NRM member Anders Jonsson to 10 months in prison and fined him 10,000 kronor ($1,200) for making 122 social media posts between January and April that were deemed hate speech. The posts included pictures of Nazi leaders, Nazi slogans, and incitements to violence against Jews. In a separate case in January, the Solna District Court convicted Jonsson of hate speech on social media and for sending hundreds of text messages with Nazi content to two journalists and a lawyer. On May 25, the Stockholm District Court convicted three NRM members for hate speech expressed during an annual conference of political leaders in Visby in 2017, when the three individuals chanted Nazi and white supremacy slogans.
Media reported that the NRM conducted a series of anti-Semitic actions on Yom Kippur (September 27-28) in coordination with NRM groups in Denmark, Norway, and Iceland. Approximately 10 NRM members demonstrated outside the synagogue in Norrkoping. According to media, one poster at the demonstration described in graphic detail an unfounded theory as to why Jewish male circumcision takes place and stated the Talmud sanctioned rabbis having sex with children. The NRM also distributed flyers with anti-Semitic messages and plastered posters with anti-Semitic messages in several cities. The Official Council of Swedish Jewish Communities expressed disgust over the actions and called for the government to ban the organization. On October 1, in an opinion piece in Dagens Nyheter, the Swedish Committee against Anti-Semitism requested increased action and awareness from police and judicial agencies regarding anti-Semitic crimes. On October 5, Ambassador-at-Large for Human Rights, Democracy, and the Rule of Law Annika Ben David wrote on Twitter, “When antisemitism and incitement to hatred or violence occur, all of society is affected. This is unacceptable.” She joined the IHRA in condemning the demonstrations. In an interview with The Jerusalem Post on October 5, Justice Minister Morgan Johansson stated, “The Swedish government condemns all acts of anti-Semitism and any other expression of racism. Such acts are threats not only to individuals but to us all and to our open and democratic societies.” In 2019, the government appointed a nonpartisan 25-member committee to consider the introduction of specific criminal liability for participation in a racist organization and a ban on racist organizations, such as the NRM. The committee’s activities were ongoing at year’s end.
On February 13, producers of the television reality show Big Brother removed two contestants after one of them, complaining of his boss, said, “She was a Jew, so I get it.” The other contestant responded, “I hate Jews.” The incident received wide media coverage in the country and internationally. A third contestant had previously expressed support for neo-Nazi ideas on social media, although he said he no longer held those views. Producers did not remove him from the show. According to media, Jewish community leaders said, “When a person on such a popular show among youth as Big Brother said something like this, it legitimized anti-Semitism.”
In November, the Jewish Community in Malmo and the Jewish Cultural Association 1945 held a virtual event in remembrance of Kristallnacht (“The Night of Broken Glass,” when in 1938 Nazi Germany destroyed Jewish synagogues, schools, and businesses). Imam Salahuddin Barakat of the Islamakademin participated and stated, “We as a Muslim congregation in Malmo are determined and dedicated to bear this pain with you and fight anti-Semitism no matter where it takes place.” The organization Holocaust Survivors in Sweden organized a virtual lecture with Holocaust survivor Livia Frankel in remembrance of Kristallnacht. The lecture was also broadcast at the town square of Umea, accompanied by a light show.
As part of the Jewish-Muslim Amanah project in Malmo, Imam Salahuddin Barakat and Rabbi Moshe David HaCohen continued to speak to students during the year about religious tolerance and conducted interfaith workshops to discuss religious texts and spiritual queries. The Malmo municipality and the SST provided partial funding for the project.
In January, Archbishop of the Church of Sweden Antje Jackelen organized an interfaith conference in Malmo on migration and integration of refugees and asylum seekers with 72 participants from 15 European countries. The conference inaugurated a European interfaith network called A World of Neighbors. On October 22, the Malmo NGO Diversity Index awarded the network a Diversity Index Award in the category “Faith and Religion” for its interfaith and intercultural efforts to increase knowledge on integration of refugees and migration.
Interfaith groups continued to operate in the country, including the National Interfaith Council of Sweden, established as a meeting place for national religious leaders in Uppsala in 2010 with a mandate to address issues related to religion and religious freedom. Member groups included the Christian Council of Sweden, Muslim Council of Sweden, Official Council of Swedish Jewish Communities, and Swedish Buddhist Cooperation Council. Representatives from the Alevite, Baha’i, Church of Jesus Christ, Hindu, Mandaean, and Sikh communities also participated in the group. The Interreligious Council of Stockholm, established in 2017, included the Baha’i Congregation, Bosnian Islamic Congregation, Church of Sweden, Evangelical Congregation, Finnish-Orthodox Church, Georgian-Orthodox Church, Hindu Mandir, International Society for Krishna Consciousness, Islamic Ahmadiyya Congregation, Islamic Shia Congregation, Jewish Community in Stockholm, Pentecostal Movement, Roman Catholic Church, Sikh Gurdwara Sangat Sahib, Stockholm Mosque, Swedish Buddhist Cooperation Council, and Uniting Church of Sweden. The interreligious council’s efforts included promoting respect for religious diversity and addressing violence associated with religion. Together for Sweden, an interfaith group working with youth, included the Church of Sweden, Sofia Congregation (Christian), Jewish Community in Stockholm, Islamic Association, Ibn Rushd (Muslim), and Young Dharabdmis och Ashavans (Zoroastrian).