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U.S. Department of State
Annual Report on International Religious Freedom for 1999

Released by the Bureau for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor
Washington, DC, September 9, 1999


Section I. Freedom of Religion

The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the Government respects this right in practice. The rights and freedoms enumerated in the Constitution include freedom of worship, protection from compulsion to make known one's religious views, and protection from compulsion to belong to a religious community.

The country has maintained a state (Lutheran) church for several hundred years, supported by a general "church tax" (although the Government routinely grants any request by a taxpayer for exemption from that tax). The Church of Sweden receives state financial support not offered to other religions.

As of 1996, citizens were no longer automatically members of the state church at birth. It is possible to leave the state church, but very few persons do. Eighty-seven percent belong to the Church of Sweden.

In 1995 after decades of discussion, the state church and the Government agreed to a formal separation. This reform is scheduled to become effective in 2000. However, the Church still is to receive some state support.

There are about 155,000 Catholics; the Orthodox Church has around 100,000 members, the main national groups being Greek, Serbian, Syrian, Romanian, Estonian and Finnish. There is a large Finnish-speaking Lutheran denomination in Sweden. The number of Muslims has increased rapidly in recent years to between 250,000 and 300,000. Mosques are being built in many parts of the country. There are around 17,000 Jews, of whom 8,500 are members of a congregation. Buddhists and Hindus number around 3,000 to 4,000 each. Although no reliable statistics are available, it is estimated that 15 to 20 percent of the adult population are atheist.

The major religious communities and the state church are spread across the country. Large numbers of immigrants in recent decades have led to the introduction of nontraditional religions in those communities populated by immigrants.

In October 1998, the Government published a report by a commission of experts entitled "In Good Faith - Society and New Religious Movements." The report sought to gauge the needs of persons leaving new religious movements for support from the larger Swedish community. It paid special attention to the needs of children. According to the commission, each year approximately 100 persons seek assistance for various medical, legal, social, economic, or spiritual difficulties arising from their departure from new religious movements. The commission recommended passage of legislation making "improper influence" (such as forcing an individual to renounce his or her faith, or other such "manipulation") a punishable offense. The commission's proposal for legislation requires further investigation by the Government. The commission also proposed the establishment of a foundation for the study of questions of belief and to help build bridges between new religious movements and mainstream society.

While weekly services in Christian houses of worship generally are poorly attended, a great many persons observe major festivals of the ecclesiastical year and prefer a ceremony with a religious stamp to mark the turning points of life. About 78 percent of children are baptized, 50 percent of all those eligible are confirmed, and 90 percent of funeral services are performed under the auspices of the state church. Approximately 62 percent of couples marrying choose a Church of Sweden ceremony. Around 100,000 of the 250,000 to 300,000 Muslims in the country are active religiously. Large numbers of Jews attend high holiday services but attendance at weekly services is low.

There is a relatively large number of smaller church bodies. Several are offshoots of 19th century revival movements in the Church of Sweden. Others, such as the Baptist Union of Sweden and the Methodist Church of Sweden, trace their roots to British and North American revival movements. There are both Orthodox and Conservative/Reform synagogues. Muslim affiliations are represented among immigrant groups predominantly from the Shi'a and Sunni branches of Islam.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints and other foreign missionary groups are active in the country. They do not face special requirements.

In 1986 Parliament established the Office of the Ombudsman against Ethnic Discrimination, whose task is to ensure that individuals and groups do not suffer discrimination "due to race, skin color, national or ethnic origin, or religion." For many years the Government has supported the activities of groups working to combat anti-Semitism.

The Government promotes interfaith understanding and meets annually with representatives from various religious groups. The Commission for State Grants to Religious Communities (SST) is a government body. It cooperates with the Swedish Free Church Council. SST members are selected by religious bodies, which are entitled to some forms of state financial assistance.

In 1985 the Parliament resolved that public education should adopt an intercultural approach. There is an overall time schedule for compulsory course work in public school. Religious education is part of this schedule. Religious education is not limited to instruction in the state religion.

The law permits official institutions, such as government ministries and Parliament, to provide copies to the public of documents that are filed with them, even though such documents may be unpublished and protected by copyright law. This is due to a contradiction between the Constitution's freedom of information provisions and the country's international obligations to protect unpublished copyrighted works. This contradiction has affected copyrighted, unpublished documents belonging to the Church of Scientology which have been made available to the public by the Parliament in accordance with domestic legislation. The Government is now in the process of drafting new legislation designed to eliminate the contradiction and protect the copyright.

In January 1998, the Government began a national Holocaust education project after a public opinion poll found that only a low percentage of school children had basic knowledge about the Holocaust. Approximately 1 million copies of the education project's core textbook (available at no cost to every household with children, including in the most prevalent immigrant languages) are in circulation among the population of 9 million. Also in May 1998, the Prime Minister initiated the Task Force for International Cooperation on Holocaust Education, Remembrance, and Research, to combat anti-Semitism, racism, and intolerance by placing international political support behind efforts to teach about the Holocaust. Six other countries, including the U.S., are members of the Task Force.

There was no change in the status of respect for religious freedom during the period covered by this report.

There were no reports of religious detainees or prisoners.

There were no reports of the forced religious conversion of minor U.S. citizens who have been abducted or illegally removed from the United States or of the Government's refusal to allow such citizens to be returned to the United States.

Section II. Societal Attitudes

Citizens are tolerant of diverse religions practiced in the country, including the Mormon faith and Scientology. However, there is limited anti-Semitism, which occasionally manifests itself in the vandalization of synagogues with graffiti and in threatening letters. In 1997 there were two cases of synagogues being vandalized with graffiti. In 1998 there was one case. No cases have been reported in the first half of 1999. Some immigrant groups have experienced discrimination or violence due to their ethnic background or race. The Government criticizes such practices and prosecutes offenders.

Section III. U.S. Government Policy

The U.S. Embassy discusses religious freedom issues with the Government in the overall context of the promotion of human rights. The U.S. Government is a member of the Task Force for International Cooperation on Holocaust Education, Remembrance, and Research. The Task Force is an intergovernmental multinational Government initiative to combat anti-Semitism, racism, and intolerance.

[End of Document]

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Revised last: 10-09-1999