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Religions and schooling

Public schools

Folkeskoleloven (The Public-School Act) states that all children living in Denmark are subjected to compulsory education (but not compulsory school attendance) between the age of 7 and 16 (article 34). The objective of the public school system is among other things to ‘make the students familiar with Danish culture and history, ensure knowledge and understanding of other countries and cultures and ensure the development of the individual’ (article 1). Parents can choose to either enrol their children in the public school system or in one of a variety of free schools. Free schools are required to deliver education corresponding to the demands in the public school system and to prepare students to ‘live in a society based on freedom and democracy’ (article 1, subsection 2 of the Free and Private Schools Act). The free schools are generally built on a common idea based in either a broadly Protestant (Grundtvigian*), Catholic, Jewish, or Muslim outlook on life. In addition to this, there are free schools with a socialist outlook, free schools for the German minority and a few traditionally private schools with enhanced focus on discipline (Christoffersen 2011).

The state completely funds the public schools and is the main funder of the free schools. In 2021 the state covered around 76% of the expenses of the free schools (Dansk friskoleforening 2021). After a public debate concerning especially the funding of Muslim free schools by Islamic organisations, the then government of Denmark adopted amendments to the Free and Private Schools Act in January 2019. The amendments rendered illegal anonymous donations, along with donations of more than 20.000 DKK (approximately 2.700 EUR) from persons or foundations outside the EU (Jensen & Bjørnager 2017a; Jensen & Bjørnager 2017b; The Ministry of Education 2019).

* i.e., build on the Danish pastor and hymn writer N. F. S. Grundtvig, whos has to a large degree influenced the Danish understanding of Christianity. Important features are a greater focus on the worldly life and a sense of communio, expressed in the Grundtvigian quote “human first, then Christian”. The Grundtvigian Protestantism is sometimes referred to as a ‘merry’ Christianity, since the focus is placed on the good life on earth and not on who attains salvation or damnation (Gads Religionsleksikon n.y.).

Religion as a course of instruction

‘Christendom’ (or ‘knowledge of Christianity’) as a religious education programme in the public school system is compulsory at all levels (from 1st to 9th grade) in Denmark, except for the year in which students are preparing for their confirmation (7th or 8th grade). The preparation for confirmation is carried out by the local church pastor within school hours but at the parsonage.
Students can be exempt from both the religious education programme and the preparation for confirmation on religious grounds, if the parents take responsibility for their child’s religious education (article 6, subsection 2 of The Public-School Act). The school must offer ‘voluntary educational courses’ for the students who are not preparing for confirmation (article 16d, subsection 2 of The Public-School Act).
The primary objective of the subject of Christendom is knowledge of the religious dimensions of human existence, what it means to be human and what constitutes a good life in addition to knowledge of Christianity (historically and current) and the Biblical narratives (Ministry of Education 2018). In later school years, the religious education programme must also include ‘foreign religions and other outlooks on life’ (article 6 of the Public-School Act) including ethical questions to ‘ensure students a foundation for personal decision-making and responsibility in a democratic society’ (Christoffersen 2011).
The subject is taught in a none-confessional manner and with the students’ beliefs and curiosities as starting points (Christoffersen 2011; The Ministry of Education 2018).

Religious symbols in schools

There are no religious symbols apart from the cross in the Danish flag in public schools. Many schools have traditions related to Christmas and some have a Christmas service usually to mark the Christmas break in December (Kühle et al 2018). A few schools still start the morning with community singing of a hymn or a Danish song related to history or nature, with possibly minor religious connotations and even fewer schools include prayer (usually the Lord’s Prayer) during the school day (Christoffersen 2011).

Upper secondary education (STX, HF)

The upper secondary education is divided in multiple educational strands, where religion is only mandatory for one year at the two general upper secondary educational strands: the General Student’s Examination (STX) and the Higher Preparatory Examination (HF). Along with the Higher Commerce Examination and the Higher Technical Examination these prepare students for enrolment in higher education.
Religious education at the upper secondary level is none-confessional and concerns itself with religion in a scientific manner including central phenomena of different (world) religions regarding individuals, groups, societies, cultures, and nature (The Ministry of Education 2017). The main religions examined are Christianity, followed by Islam. Both religions should be examined from a global perspective but with special emphasis on the European and Danish context (ibid.).

 Christoffersen, Lisbet (2011), “Religion in public education – Denmark” in Gerhard Robbers (ed.), Religion in Public Education – La religion dans l’éducation publique, the European Consortium for Church and State Research, Trier, 113-116.
 Dansk friskoleforening (2021), ”Fakta og myter om friskoler”, accessed 14th of January 2022.
 The Free and Private Schools Act, LBK no. 816, 14th of August 2019, accessed 14th of January 2022.
 Gads Religionsleksikon (n.y.), “grundtvigianisme”, accessed 11th of May 2022.
 Jensen, Henrik & Jens Anton Bjørnager (2017a), ”Islamiske pengemænd overtager københavnsk friskole”, Berlingske 17th of June 2017, accessed 14th of January 2022.
 Jensen, Henrik & Jens Anton Bjørnager (2017b), ”Saudisk bank støtter muslimske friskoler i Danmark: ”Bekymrende at friskoler modtager penge fra et land med den slags værdier””, Berlingske 11th of September 2017, accessed 14th of January 2022.
 Kühle, Lene, Schmidt, Ulla, Jacobsen, Brian A., & Per Pettersson (2018), Religion and state: Complexity in change. In Religious Complexity in the Public Sphere (pp. 81-135), Palgrave Macmillan, Cham.
 The Ministry of Education (2017), “Læreplan Religion C – stx 2017”.
 The Ministry of Education (2018), ”Vejledning for faget kristendomskundskab”.
 The Ministry of Education (2019), “Ny politisk aftale skaber tydeligere og bedre rammer for frie skoler”, 25th of January 2019, accessed 14th of January 2022
 The Public-School Act, LBK no. 823 15th of August 2019, accessed 14th of January 2022.

D 12 May 2022    AKaroline Dige

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