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Ongoing debate on stricter rules for grants to religious communities

In Sweden, minority religious communities have received regular financial support from the government since 1974 (SFS 1974:404), the same year freedom of religion became a constitutionally protected and absolute right of the individual in the Constitution of Sweden. The prime aim of the support was to provide more equal opportunities between minority religious communities and the majority state church - the Church of Sweden. At the time, the government grant was given with a strictly hands-off approach, meaning that the state should not interfere with the internal affairs of minority religious communities. However, this changed in 2000 when the state and church separated and a new condition was added to the support, namely that minority religious communities should contribute to maintaining and strengthening the fundamental values of Swedish society (SFS 1999: 932). Although the new condition clearly indicated a tougher rhetoric, it did not lead to stricter regulations, given that the principle of freedom of religion hindered the government from questioning the teachings or confessions of religious communities.

Since then, there has been an ongoing and at times heated public debate about whether or not minority religious communities should receive government subsidies and whether stricter regulations should be adopted. Opponents have argued that taxpayers’ money should not go to organisations that, for example, discriminate women and the LGBTQ community. As a result of the debate, the Swedish government appointed a new government commission in 2016 (Dir 2016:62) with the aim of putting forth new motives, objectives and conditions for the government grant to minority religious communities. In 2018 the final report was published and among other things a new democracy criterion was presented, including five new grounds for the exclusion of government support (SOU 2018:18). It essentially says that religious communities which do not respect certain fundamental values and which, for example, call for violence, violate children’s rights, restrict the rights of individual members, or express disrespect towards specific groups and individuals (for example based on gender, sexual orientation, ethnic orientation, etc.), should be excluded from governmental support (and be forced to repay previous support).

Following the commission proposal, many organisations, religious communities, agencies and institutions took part in the referral process (Ku2018/00653/D). Yet, despite a large support for the commission’s proposal of stricter regulation, at present the outcome of the commission is still unclear and the current government has not proposed new policies regarding the grant to minority religious communities.

D 16 February 2022    ALinnea Lundgren

CNRS Unistra Dres Gsrl

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