The Danish Constitution protects religious freedom. The Evangelical Lutheran Church is, by the Constitution, the State Church. Religious instruction in the state religion is given in schools, though pupils of another religion may be excused.
Until recently, the Evangelical Church advised the Church Ministry in the government which groups are to receive formal recognition and the right to marry. That the state church made this determination became a matter of controversy, owing to the likelihood of bias in a system where one religion decides whether another is ‘legitimate.’ As a result, the government announced in February 1998 that applications for religious recognition would henceforth be reviewed by a panel of religious and judicial experts independent of the state church.
The potential for discrimination in the former system was illustrated in November 1996, when the Church Ministry denied a marriage application license – acceptance of which would have counted as religious recognition in Denmark – from the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON), which traces its roots to a 15th century reform movement within the Hindu tradition. Despite ISKCON being widely acknowledged as a religion, the Church Ministry rejected the application with the extraordinary reasoning that ISKCON does not comprise “an actual religious community in the ordinary meaning of the word.”
This decision violated the European Convention on Human Rights and ICCPR, which Denmark has ratified. It was severely criticized not only by Danish religious scholars, but by Danish media. The following July, the Church Ministry unexpectedly reversed its decision and ISKCON now enjoys official recognition as a religion in Denmark.
The Danish Government has established that the following requirements must be fulfilled for religious recognition to be granted:
a. There must be a religious community and not just a philosophical association.
b. Its primary purpose must be the worship of God and the religion must have its own teachings.
Part VII, Section 67 of the Constitution states:
“The citizens shall be entitled to form congregations for the worship of God in a manner consistent with their convictions, provided that nothing at variance with good morals or public order shall be taught or done.”
“No person shall for reasons of his creed or descent be deprived of access to complete enjoyment of his civic and political rights, nor shall he for such reasons evade compliance with any common civic duty.”
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