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1862-2000 : the separation process between state and church

From the early nineteenth century, the total unity between state and church was increasingly criticised by those holding naturalistic ideas and by emergent popular movements. The question of separating Church and state was raised in parliament for the first time as early as 1850. A first major change in Church-state relationships took place in 1862 when the local authority administration was split into two; a Church administration and a civil administration. Compulsory communion attendance was abolished in 1863 ,and the automatic right of the clergy to be represented in the Swedish Parliament came to an end in 1864. Since then a number of reforms have taken place which have gradually contributed to the separation of Church and state, which can theoretically be interpreted as part of the functional differentiation process of society. A major change took place 1951 through a new law guaranteeing freedom of religion, giving the citizens of the country the right to freely practise a religion of their own choice, or to abstain from being a member of any religious body (SFS 1951:680).
Discussion concerning the disestablishment of the Church intensified during the 20th century when different groups demanded the abolition of ties between Church and state. A government inquiry on the question of altering the relationship was launched in 1958, and was subsequently followed by a number of official reports. Altogether more than forty books and reports, pronouncements and government bills were produced. During the inquiries a series of changes in Church-state relationships were gradually introduced such as the abolition of the obligatory role as an arbiter in family disputes in 1973 (SFS 1973:650).
In 1979, the government presented a proposal for a separation between Church and state which was financially generous from the point of view of the Church since the Church was promised financial state subsidies and the parishes would receive financial compensation from local municipalities for the management of graveyards. The proposal was based on the result of negotiations and agreements between representatives of the Church and the state. But the Church of Sweden General Synod turned it down with a majority of 54 votes to 42, and instead promoted a series of reforms of the Church organisation within an ongoing Church-state relationship. In the decade that followed the political focus changed from the separation issue towards making the Church more independent through reforms in line with the decision of the General Synod.
During the 1980s and 1990s, the ground was lain for the subsequent change in the relationship between Church and state. From being regulated within the framework of public law, the internal organisation of the Church was developed along the lines of a non-governmental organisation, and many internal church issues and decisions which were previously handled by the state were now taken over by the Church itself.
As part of the specialisation of the Church as a religious agent, the responsibility for civil registration was transferred from the Church to the Swedish tax authorities. The Church had managed this state function since it was founded in the 16th century, and regulated in the Church Law of 1686. This law was replaced with new Church Law in 1992 since it was in many ways obsolete and at the time it was the oldest Swedish law still in force.
In 1994 a proposal for reform was put forward which aimed at a more or less complete disestablishment of the Church. In 1995 a principal decision on separating Church and state was adopted by a large majority of the Church General Synod, without the counting of votes, as well as by a large majority of the Swedish parliament with 282 votes for and 19 against a separation.
From 1 January 1996, a change was introduced in the conditions for membership of the Church of Sweden. Before this date, all infants automatically became members of the Church of Sweden by birth if one of their parents was a member. But from 1996, baptism became the determinant of membership. The new rules clearly demand a more active desire to belong to the Church than was previously the case.
The final decisions on the road towards an almost religiously neutral and secular state were taken in 1997 and 1998 when the parliament changed the Swedish constitutional law, separating Church and state and increasing the recognition of other faith communities. A new Act on Faith Communities (SFS 1998:1593) as well as a special Church of Sweden Act (SFS 1998:1591) was introduced. This legislation aimed at placing the various faith communities in Sweden on a more equal footing, while simultaneously preserving continuity with respect to the position of the Church of Sweden as the national church. As part of the process and a consequence of these juridical changes, the Church of Sweden General Synod adopted a new Church ordinance in 1999 replacing major parts of earlier legislation with internal regulations (Kyrkoordningen 1999, 2020). These parallel and coordinated reforms undertaken both by the state and internally by the Church were implemented from 1 January 2000.
A major element of the reforms consisted of moving decision-making in Church affairs from the state to the Church itself and its own internal democratic organisation. The Church has thereby been given responsibility for its decision-making structures, the ordination of bishops, clergy and deacons as well as its financial administration. For example, since 1 January 2000, the bishops are no longer appointed by the government, but rather elected in a democratic manner by representatives of the Church members, of the clergy and of the deacons.
As part of the reform, the former Church tax was replaced on 1 January 2000 by a Church fee. This fee continues, however, to be levied by the state via the tax system, which means that there is in practice no change for the individual Church member. The same opportunity to use this service has, from the year 2000, been rendered available to all officially registered faith communities.

D 9 March 2023    APer Pettersson

CNRS Unistra Dres Gsrl

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