Denmark

RELIGIOUS AND BELIEF MINORITIES RESOURCES INTERACTIVE INFOGRAPHICS

HISTORICAL BACKGROUND

Massive carved runestones near Jelling in Jutland from the second half of the 10th century give testimony to the Christianisation of Denmark. Raised by King Harold Bluetooth, the larger of the two stones carries inscriptions celebrating his conquests of both Denmark and Norway, as well as his conversion of the Danes to Christianity. Demonstrating this to those who could not read, the larger stone carries a figure of the crucified Christ. 

Missionaries had come to Denmark as early as the 8th Century. In the 9th Century, as regional king Harald Klak sought favours with Holy Roman Emperor Louis the Pious, son and successor of Charlemagne, he converted to Christianity and missionaries followed his reinforced troops back to Denmark. Amongst them was St Ansgar (801-865), the Apostle of the North. Historians have argued that major political factors and alliances with German Emperors were much more significant drivers of Christianisation than were the pious ambitions of individual missionaries, despite the flavour of the stories told.

From the turn of the first millennium, Denmark became strongly influenced by English church life due to the rule of Cnut the Great (1016–1035) in the Anglo-Scandinavian Empire. After the brutal conquests of England, Cnut would, with the blessing of the Pope, levy tolls on pilgrims travelling to Rome and secure fees from English archbishops after their investiture. Churches were built in most of Scandinavia under his rule and Denmark grew into a Christian country towards the end of the 11th century. Denmark would remain part of the Roman Catholic Church until the Reformation of 1536, which was the culmination of reformist trends in Denmark itself, the influence of Martin Luther and the ambitions of Duke Christian, who had adopted many of Luther’s ideas after the Diet of Worms in 1521. After the death of his father, King Frederik I, in 1533, the rural nobility in Jutland elected Christian king in 1534 and he would set in motion a Protestant reformation in Denmark. However, the Council of the Realm with its Catholic bishops opposed reform, and two years of bloody civil war raged between Protestant and Catholic armies. Duke Christian, his rural nobility and German allies were victorious and in 1536, he was crowned as Lutheran king. Christian III (1536-1559) ended Catholicism in Denmark, imprisoned the bishops, seized their properties and estates and reconstituted the Council of the Realm and applied to the whole of Denmark the principles of the Lutheran Reformation. Johannes Bugenhagen (1485-1558), reformer and confessor of Martin Luther, travelled to Denmark for the coronation of Christian III. In 1537, he was the author of the new Church Ordinance, Ordinatio Ecclesiastica Regnorum Dania et Norwegice et Ducatuum Sleswicensis Holtsatia etc., which was endorsed by Martin Luther, and inducted new Lutheran superintendents.

These did not have any temporal powers and served Christian III as prince and first member of the church and defensor fidei. The Danish bishops, as they would soon be called, did not gain the apostolic succession. Bugenhagen’s church order echoes Luther’s doctrine of two governments of the earthly kingdom as an interrelation of God’s two complementary modes of rule. The church therefore became a state church over which King in Council had the power to legislate in all matters. The Lex Regia, the constitution of the absolutist rule from 1665 to 1849, obliged the king to follow the Augsburg Confession of 1530, and required all subjects to follow the same creed, which of course echoes the cuius regio, ejus religio principle. In this absolutist constitution, the king committed himself to protect the realm against heretics, fanatics and blasphemers and article 6 gave the king all legislative and executive power in relation to the entire church, ecclesial administration and clergy. The church at the time was not a ‘People’s Church’ as the literal name is in the current constitution, but was at the time the King’s Church. 

Already before the reformation, in the years 1515-1521, King Christian II had invited Dutch farmers to settle and cultivate the lands around Copenhagen. While they reformed to Lutherdom in the years later, the relationship with the Netherlands persisted. Since 1585, a German Lutheran congregation have had their church in Copenhagen, the St Petri Church. In 1689, Queen Charlotte Amalie who was from Calvinist Hessen, organised the Reformed Congregation to service her court and merchants. In the centuries before the constitution, there were a few places in the Danish realm and the duchy of Schleswig, such as Fredericia and Frederiksstad, where Reformed, Catholic and Jewish dissidents were given royal concessions, so that they could organise their own churches and cemeteries and celebrate baptisms and marriages. This also granted them the rights to peruse livelihoods with the limits of these free cities. The Jewish community, for example, was recognised  by Royal Decree as early as 1685. However, after significant turmoil, the Jewish community was granted a Royal Charter of Freedom, on 29 March 1814. With this royal decree, the affairs of Danish Jews were regulated by Danish law. All Jews, who either were born in Denmark or had acquired a royal residency permit, were granted equal access to work and to citizenship. In return, the government demanded that the Jews submit to the Danish legislation regarding inheritance, civil law and schooling, and more. This Jewish Charter of Freedom is often compared to a kind of social contract or concord, and is perceived to be the defining act that fully integrated the Jewish community into the Danish civic order. 

With the new, democratic Constitution of 1849, such rules of compulsory church membership were replaced by the freedom in article 67 to join religious communities according to one's own conscience and conviction, as long as nothing is taught that violates morality and public order. No one could be forced to belong to a certain religious community with the exception of the monarch, who according to article 6, “must belong to the Evangelical Lutheran Church.” Today, the Church of Denmark in Denmark is made up of 10 dioceses, with four female bishops. In 1993, the Church of Greenland was given the status of independent diocese in the Church of Denmark. Since 2009, however, it was legally and financially placed under Greenland’s Home Rule government. The Church of Greenland is considered semi-independent from the Church of Denmark, yet still considered a diocese in the Church of Denmark. The Church of the Faroe Islands was previously a diocese in the Church of Denmark, but in 2007 the Church of the Faroe Islands was established. As such, the Faroese bishop continues to attend the episcopal meetings of the Church of Denmark.

                                                                                                          Niels Valdemar Vinding

Adapted from Vinding N.V. (2019), State and Church in Denmark. In: G. Robbers (Ed.), State and Church in the European Union, Baden-Baden: Nomos, pp. 87-108. 

 

RELIGIOUS AND BELIEF MINORITIES IN DENMARK

Legal status From a legal point of view, the current Danish Constitutional Act of 1953 (Danmarks Riges Grundlov) governs the framework for regulating religious communities in Denmark. Specifically, it governs the relationship between the state, the Church of Denmark and “the religious communities other than the Evangelical-Lutheran Church of Denmark”, as they are designated in Article 69 of the Constitution. With some reservation, it is fair to argue that religion in Denmark is embedded in two different regulatory regimes. The Church of Denmark is regulated as an administrative body in public law, whereas all other religious communities are regulated as associations, charities or private institutions. These may apply for ministerial recognition. Denmark has a history of regulating religion that on the one hand represents a particular understanding of Lutheranism in a majority context, and on the other hand regulates religion in accordance with the international conventions, especially regarding human rights. 

The constitution of Denmark has a number of specific articles relevant to religious minorities. Article 67 defines the principle of religious freedom and religious association, under which “members of the public are entitled to associate in communities to worship God according to their convictions, but nothing may be taught or done that contravenes decency or public order”. With Article 68, “no-one shall be liable to make personal contributions to any denomination other than the one to which he adheres”. Presently, more than 25% of the population are not members of the Church of Denmark and are not obliged to pay church taxes. However, through the general tax, they indirectly support to the Church. Article 69 states that “the affairs of religious communities other than the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Denmark are regulated by an Act”. In December 2017, a bill was passed in the Danish Parliament that collected and clarified rights and privileges concerning the affairs of religious communities outside the Evangelical-Lutheran Church of Denmark. In many ways, this bill restated many of the existing executive practices in Denmark and gave clear and explicit language to the expectations and privileges of religious communities. Taking effect on 1 January 2018, this new Act on the Religious Communities outside the Church of Denmark sets the frame for state and religion relations in Denmark, and it does so by making the executive instruments that conferred recognition upon dissenting religious communities part of statutory law. Article 70 is a non-discrimination rule. “No person shall by reason of his creed or descent be deprived of access to the full enjoyment of civic and political rights, nor shall he escape compliance with any common civic duty for such reasons”. 

Representation Several national foreign Protestant churches are well-represented in Denmark due to geographical proximity, low language barriers, freedom of labor movement and strong commercial relations. The Swedish Gustafskyrkan in Copenhagen was built in 1908 and serves the Swedish congregation in Copenhagen. King Haakon's Church from 1958 belongs to the Norwegian Seamen's Church. The English St. Alban's Church is located in Churchill Park in Copenhagen, with a significant congregation and worship in English. The Roman Catholic Church seeks to address both the interested ethnic Danes and try to adapt language, form and traditions more to Danish conditions. At the same time, they address ethnic minorities and therefore maintain the language and traditions of these minorities. The Aleksander Nevsky Church in Copenhagen is the Russian church, and is explicitly Russian national. Traditionally it has not been particularly open to Orthodox believers of other nationalities, e.g. Greeks or Romanians, let alone to Danish converts who might wish to celebrate Orthodox services in Danish. In recent years, the Eastern European Orthodox community has been growing. A total of 11 churches and communities are considered traditionally recognized, from before 1970, and these are three Reformed Churches, the Baptist Church, the Methodist Church, the Swedish Gustaf's Church, the Norwegian King Haakon Church, St. Alban's English Church, the Russian Orthodox Church and the[GFT1]  Catholic Church, as well as the Mosaic Faith Community. 

With early globalization, Buddhism was first introduced in Denmark with romanticism in the 1840s. At the end of the 19th century it appeared together with other Eastern religions as a component of new forms of religion, which consisted of a mixture of Eastern and Western religious elements. Buddhism has often been considered more of a philosophy than a religion and is frequently associated with meditation. Hinduism has had a harder time finding acceptance in the West, but its meditative practices and yoga have been combined with various Western mental health movements

A recent addition was the Indian so-called yoga and guru movement, which was represented by ISKCON, the Hare Krishna movement that came to Denmark in 1980; the movement is small, but the monks are sometimes seen dancing and chanting their mantra in the Danish cities. Also, there is a small Bahá’í community in Denmark, and in recent year the Forn Sidr religious community have begun practice based on old Nordic mythology.

Demography With increasing immigration in the second half of the twentieth century and the first decades of the twenty-first, Denmark has a growing number of different religious denominations and faith communities. It is illegal to keep public registries on information about religious conviction or affiliation, except for members of the Church of Denmark. At Statistics Denmark, they have church statistics with information on the number of members of Church of Denmark, registrations and de-registrations as well as church actions such as baptisms, funerals, confirmations, weddings from 2006, and onwards. This is also the reason United Nations Statistics Division have no data on Danish religions.

The act of counting, categorizing and labelling is often criticized as an expression of a power relation between those who count and those who are being counted. It may involve nationality, ethnicity, religious practice, membership of organizations, or something else entirely. Considering that people may also have a religious belonging without formally being associated with a specific community, the numbers are rather difficult. Similarly, religious identity may be self-defined and unrelated to expectations and conventional assumptions about religious practice. Generally, however, the way of counting religious belonging is to calculate followers based on estimates reflecting the religious composition of immigrants’ countries of origin. 

Based on such calculations, demographers of religion estimate about 256,000 in total numbers and 4.4% of the Danish population are Muslims. They constitute the largest religious minority group in Denmark. Most are immigrants or descendants of immigrants, and the largest groups have their origins in Turkey, Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Pakistan, Somalia, Afghanistan, Bosnia, Iran and Morocco. According to numbers from 2017, there are 47,673 members of the Catholic Church in Denmark, up more than 25% since 2008. This is mainly due to immigration, most significantly from Poland and other European countries. Buddhists are estimated at 33.000, with approximately 90% with an immigrant background. Hindus are about 20.000, and they mainly have a background in Sri Lanka and India. There are an estimated 8.000-10.000 Jews in Denmark, most of whom live in Copenhagen. About half of the Danish Jews are members of the Danish Jewish community.

Controversies In Denmark, there are a number of ongoing controversies and challenges that raises human rights concerns about freedoms and state limitations of minority religions and beliefs. Roughly considered since 11 September 2001, researchers in religion, law and human rights have spoken of a rising pressure to limit specific religious manifestations, particularly those of religious minorities. Central to this concern is the National Report on Denmark by the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion and Belief, Heiner Bielefledt (2017). Arguably, there is a growing “juridification” of freedom of religion, by which the international standards on freedom of religion may potentially be at odds with the Danish developments, or at least, are not always fully reflected in Denmark. 

The examples are abundant. In 2014, a prohibition of religious slaughter without prior stunning was introduced by an administrative order. This has called on international criticism, and the Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief in his report on Denmark recommended that the Danish government ‘reconsider the ban on ritual slaughter.’ In June 2017, the Danish Parliament abolished the ban on blasphemy, which has caused concern to many religious minority communities, and has been used by extreme right wing agitators to burn the Quran. In 2018, Danish Parliament passed a general ban on face covering, which is seen as directly regulating the very few Muslim women wearing niqab or burka. In light of recent debates, which are ongoing in Denmark and most of Europe, the Jewish community has expressed serious concern that a prohibition of male circumcision will threaten the very existence of Jewish life in Denmark. 

A considerable legislative agenda “aimed at religious preachers who seek to undermine Danish laws and values and who support parallel conceptions of law”, including rules on decorum, immigration, freedom of speech and criminalizing different aspects of perceived Islamic practice. This carries with it significant risk of discrimination, and some ambiguities on the lawfulness of certain religious practice, and questions about the necessity and proportionality of the legislation. Additionally, Muslims are increasingly marginalized against and a public political will to discriminate Muslims or even ban Islam altogether is growing. 

Niels Valdemar Vinding

 

 

 

RESOURCES

Data and information concerning religious demography are provided by

Johnson, T. M., Grim, B. J. (eds.)(2024). World Religion Database Leiden-Boston: Brill

General information on minority issues (including some references to religious or belief ones) can be found at the page devoted to Denmark in

Minority Rights Group International, World Directory of Minorities and Indigenous Peoples

A report on the Danish legal system and government policies about freedom of religion (with some references to religious or belief minorities) is provided in

U.S. Department of State: Office of International Religious Freedom. 2022 Report on International Religious Freedom: Denmark 

See also

UN Human Rights Council (HRC)(2016, December 28). Report of the Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion and belief on his mission to Denmark, A/HRC/34/50/Add.1

Information on religious communities, places of worship, religious marriage, and other topics concerning State and religions relations are provided by the Ministry for Ecclesiastical Affairs at 

https://eng.andretrossamfund.dk/

 

The text (in Danish) of the Act on the Religious Communities outside the Church of Denmark can be found at 

https://www.retsinformation.dk/eli/lta/2017/1533 

 

and the list of the recognized and authorised religious communities in Denmark at 

https://eng.andretrossamfund.dk/religious-freedom-and-authorization/recognised-and-authorised-religious-communities-in-denmark 

 

For an overview of the law and religion system, see

Vinding, N. V. (2019). State and Church in Denmark, in G. Robbers (ed.), State and Church in the European Union. Baden-Baden: Nomos, pp. 87-108

Christoffersen, L. (2015). Denmark, in Robbers, G., & Durham, C. W. (eds.), Encyclopedia of Law and Religion. Leiden: Brill Academic Publishers

Lassen, E. M. (2020). Limitations to Freedom of Religion or Belief in Denmark Religion & Human Rights, 15(1-2), pp. 134-152 

On the issue of Islam, see

Jacobsen, B. A., & Vinding, N. V. (2019). Denmark,  in S. Müssig, E. Račius, et al. (eds.), Yearbook on Muslims in Europe. Leiden: Brill, Vol. 12

Vinding, N. V. (2020). Annotated Legal Documents on Islam in Europe: Denmark. Leiden: Brill

Vinding, N. V. (2020). Discrimination of Muslims in Denmark, in M. Saral, & Ş. Onur Bahçecik (eds.), State, Religion and Muslims: Between Discrimination and Protection at the Legislative, Executive and Judicial Levels. Leiden: Brill - Muslim Minorities Series, No. 33, pp. 144-196

 
 

 

INTERACTIVE INFOGRAPHICS

1 promotion of rights
0 respect of international standards
-1 restriction of rights
1 low equality
0 equal treatment of RBMs
0 no gap between religious majority and minorities
-1 high gap between religious majority and minorities
TORNA SU

RELIGION DEMOGRAPHY

(source: World Religion Database, 2021)