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Financing of religions

Finance of Church of Sweden

The Church of Sweden has a relatively sound financial footing, which is linked to its historical role as a national church with a majority of the population as members. Its work is, however, (...)

The Church of Sweden has a relatively sound financial footing, which is linked to its historical role as a national church with a majority of the population as members. Its work is, however, mainly financed by a Church fee paid by its members based on a percentage of the individual’s total income which all church members pay via their tax return. This means that the Church finances are highly dependent on the number of members and their income level. Since there is a yearly decline in membership of around one per cent, the Church is continuously under some economic pressure to reduce its costs. The size of the Church fee is determined locally at parish level, and is on average around one per cent of the individual’s total income.

Added to the membership fees, the Church also has significant income from property in the form of forests and agricultural land. The only state support to the Church of Sweden’s basic finances is the tax authority’s costs for collecting the membership fees. As part of the agreement of separation between Church and state, it was decided that the Church of Sweden would receive this service for free.

The Church of Sweden owns a large part of Sweden’s national cultural heritage in the form of medieval buildings that are particularly valuable. Like other cultural institutions, the Church receives subsidies from the state for their administration and preservation (SFS 1988:950). These grants are distributed by the Swedish National Heritage Board (Riksantikvarieämbetet). In the year 2021, in total 46 million Euro are allocated to the Church for this purpose, distributed mainly at the local and regional level of the Church.

D 4 March 2021    APer Pettersson

State Support of Minority Faith Communities

Faith communities other than the Church of Sweden which are seen as contributing to the building of society and the maintenance of fundamental common values are supported financially by the (...)

Faith communities other than the Church of Sweden which are seen as contributing to the building of society and the maintenance of fundamental common values are supported financially by the Swedish state. This national state support is regulated by two acts and one regulation; the Act on Faith Communities (SFS 1998:1593), the Act on support to Faith Communities (SFS 1999:932) and the Regulation on State Subsidies to Faith Communities (SFS 1999:974).

The overarching aim of financial state support to faith communities is to create opportunities for them to maintain long-term religious activity in the form of religious services, counselling, teaching and care. The support in the form of grants is handled by the Swedish Commission for Government Support to Faith Communities (SST) which is a state authority under the Ministry of Culture. It has a board of nine members and an advisory group made up of 24 representatives of different faith communities. The board is appointed by the government and consists of faith community representatives nominated by the advisory group. This means that the decision-making body of SST is a state authority, gathering representatives of the receiving organisations of the state grants which it distributes.

In order for an organisation to receive support, a number of specified criteria have to be fulfilled (SFS 1999:932; SFS 1999:974; SST Tillämpningsföreskrifter 2018). The faith community has to a) contribute to maintaining and strengthening the fundamental values of society; b) be organisationally stable and have a life force of its own; c) serve at least 3,000 people in Sweden and manage activities in several locations in the country (if it serves fewer people, it must then be part of an internationally active faith community of substantial importance in order to qualify for support); d) be organised as a registered faith community or a registered non-profit association with leadership in Sweden; e) be financed mainly by members living in Sweden; f) own or rent premises for its activities.

The meaning of the fundamental values of society is elaborated in the government’s bill to parliament on state support to faith communities (Regeringens proposition 1998/99:124). This bill states that these standards concern democratic values and the equal worth of all humans, including equality between women and men. This means working against discrimination of people based on sex, skin colour, national or ethnic origin, language or religious belonging, handicap, sexual orientation or age. It also means encouraging ethnic, language and religious minorities to maintain and develop a cultural and religious life of their own. It also states that in order to be eligible for grants, a faith community should encourage its members to take part in the life of society and clearly distance itself from antidemocratic social currents.

There are currently 47 faith communities receiving state grants, which are of three different kinds: 1) Organisational grants enabling provision of religious services, pastoral care and education, 2) Project grants of three kinds; a) for the building of new premises or to adapt premises for handicapped people, b) for the cost of education abroad of pastors, imams, etc. aimed to serve a faith community in Sweden, c) for the initial work to establish a faith community of recently arrived immigrants, 3) Grants directed to support specific activities that the state wishes to subsidise, e.g. hospital chaplaincy and theological training at certain theological colleges.

Figures from the year 2019 show that 8 million Euro were distributed in state support to minority faith communities. The major part consists of the organisational grants which are distributed according to an estimate of the number of people that the respective faith community serves; a figure which may include more people than the actual members. In 2019, organisational and project grants were distributed (in thousand euros) to the Pentecostal parishes in cooperation (1000), Equmenia Church (900), the Roman Catholic Church (900), Inter Act (Evangeliska Frikyrkan) (370), seven Muslim organisations (1300), National Evangelical Missionary Society (EFS) (250), eighteen Orthodox and Eastern Orthodox Churches (1150), Swedish Alliance Mission (163), Mandaean Community (80), Buddhist Cooperative Council of Sweden (76), eight minor Christian denominations (176), Official Council of Swedish Jewish Communities (55), Salvation Army (55), Alevi association (28), The Adventist Church (23) (Nämnden för statligt stöd till trossamfund, SST. Utbetalda statsbidrag 2019).

D 4 March 2021    APer Pettersson

State Service to Collect Membership Fees via the Tax System

Since 1 January 2000, it is possible for all officially registered and acknowledged faith communities to have their membership fees levied by the state via the tax system. This service is free (...)

Since 1 January 2000, it is possible for all officially registered and acknowledged faith communities to have their membership fees levied by the state via the tax system. This service is free for the Church of Sweden as part of the disestablishment agreement between state and church. Other faith communities have to pay for it, but receive, on the other hand, a general financial state support which is not offered to the Church of Sweden (see section above).
In 2019, the following 14 faith communities collected their membership fees through the tax system: Bosnian Islamic community, Equmenia Church, Hungarian Protestant Community in Sweden, Inter Act (Evangeliska Frikyrkan), Islamic Culture Center Union, Islamic Shia Denominations, Pentecostal parishes in cooperation, Representative of Syrian-Orthodox Patriarch in Sweden, Roman Catholic Church, Salvation Army, Swedish Alliance Mission, Swedish Muslim Covenant, Syrian Orthodox Archdiocese of Sweden and Scandinavia, United Islamic Associations in Sweden.

D 4 March 2021    APer Pettersson

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