How does Sweden subsidize churches?


Ralph Ghadban

To person

Masters Degree in Philosophy from Lebanese University (1972). Study of Islamic Studies at the Free University (1988) in Berlin. Doctorate in political science at the Free University (2000). Long-term work with Arab refugees and young people of foreign origin (1976-1992). Teaches Islam and social work at the Protestant and Catholic University of Applied Sciences in Berlin and is active in migration research with a focus on Muslims in Europe.

Great Britain, France and the Netherlands

The relationship between state and religion is not the same everywhere in Europe. Ralph Ghadban describes the historical development and today's relationship between the state and the churches or religious communities in Great Britain, France and the Netherlands.


Before I go into the individual countries - Great Britain, France and the Netherlands - I will describe the relationship between state and religion in Europe in general. From a formal point of view, three types of relationships can be identified:

  1. The separatist system in which state and religion are strictly separated. These include countries such as France, Ireland, Belgium and the Netherlands.
  2. The Concordat and the treaty system in which the relationship between the Churches and the State are contractually regulated. These are the Concordats for the Catholic Church and the Church Treaties for the Protestants. These include Germany, Italy and Spain
  3. The system of unity, embodied in the state church, in which the head of state is also the head of the church. The system is widespread in the northern countries: Norway, Denmark, England and up to 2000 in Sweden
This classification is misleading because it suggests a preference or disadvantage of the religions, which does not apply in this case. In Belgium and Ireland, where there are no concordats, the position of the Catholic Church is better than elsewhere. The Church of England is a state church, but receives much less support from the state than the churches in Germany. Ireland and France have the separatist system; the Irish nevertheless mention the Trinity in the constitution, whereas the French emphasize secularism in their constitution. In the treaty system and in the separatist system, religions enjoy doctrinal and organizational freedom. The state church, on the other hand, only has doctrinal freedom; its organization is determined by the state, such as the appointment of bishops. The separatist model differs from the other systems in that it has no church treaties and is not associated with any religion. Otherwise his relationship to religion is subject to the same criteria that apply to the other systems.

The mentioned classification has more of a historical value. A state church has emerged in the Protestant countries, the form of the Concordat has been found in the Catholic countries, and the secular states have opted for separation. Over time, however, this has lost its importance and standardization has gradually established itself. Secularism spread more and more in Europe. The Council of Vatican II relaxed the relationship between the Catholic Church and the state, and the anti-church secularism of the French has lost much of its sharpness. One can therefore speak of a European model that regulates the relationship between state and religion everywhere in Europe. It contains three points: freedom of religion, state neutrality and the cooperation between state and religion.

1. Freedom of religion: It is based primarily on international and European law and then on national constitutional law, whereby European law is binding for constitutional law. The national parliaments are not allowed to pass laws that contradict European law and every citizen can refer to the European Court of Justice in certain cases. Not all European states have a codified constitution, for example Great Britain, but all countries are committed to human rights and the separation between church and state. This includes freedom of religion. It is mentioned in Article 18 of the "International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights" of December 19, 1966: Article 18
  1. Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. This right includes the freedom to have or to adopt a religion or belief of one's own choosing and the freedom to manifest one's religion or belief alone or in community with others, publicly or privately, through worship, observance of religious customs, practice and teaching.
  2. Nobody should be subjected to coercion that would impair their freedom to have or to accept a religion or belief of their choice.
  3. The freedom to express one's religion or belief may only be subject to the statutory restrictions that are necessary to protect public security, order, health, morality or the fundamental rights and freedoms of others.
And in Article 9 of the "Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms" of November 4, 1950, agreed by the members of the Council of Europe: Article 9
  1. Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; This right includes the freedom of the individual to change religion or worldview as well as the freedom to practice his religion or worldview individually or in community with others, publicly or privately, through worship, teaching, through the practice and observance of religious customs.
  2. Freedom of religion and belief must not be the subject of restrictions other than those provided for by law, which in a democratic society are necessary measures in the interests of public security, public order, health and morality or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.
Religious freedom is not unrestricted. It stops where public order, health, morality and the rights of others are affected. Religious freedom includes unrestricted freedom of individual conscience. Believe what you want. Only the manifestation of this content is restricted. It is not forbidden to advocate polygamy, but if I practice it, then I am punishable.

2. State neutrality: It means that the state is unqualified for dealing with religious questions and should hold back, i.e. remain neutral, and must recognize this competence among religious groups and grant them autonomy in these questions.

In this sense, religious groups enjoy more rights than normal associations. They decide not only about questions of faith, but also about their form of organization. Unlike the clubs, they are not obliged to adhere to democratic conditions. Even in national church states, the reluctance of the state has prevailed and led some to the abolition of the national church, such as in Sweden from 1.1.2000. The autonomy of religious groups means that they cannot be persecuted and banned because of their teachings. A religious community can campaign for the establishment of an Islamic state, it will not be prosecuted for it. And if one of its members commits a criminal offense, here the example of the polygamous, then he will be held accountable as an individual and not his community.

3. The cooperation: Cooperation between the state and religious groups is the rule in all European countries. It is characterized by its selective character. Government funding, access to the state media, religious education in official schools are all issues from which religious groups benefit to varying degrees. One can accept as a general rule: the closer the goals of the religious groups are to those of the secular state, the greater the cooperation and vice versa.

In summary, one can say in a simplified way: basic rights for everyone, cooperation with those who respect them.