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2022

Jehovah’s Witnesses obtain one million Euro of state funding and compensation

January 2022
After years of debate Jehovah’s Witnesses have for the first time received Swedish state grants as a religious community, according to the principle that grants are distributed to (...)

  • January 2022

After years of debate Jehovah’s Witnesses have for the first time received Swedish state grants as a religious community, according to the principle that grants are distributed to minority religious communities in Sweden (the majority church, the Church of Sweden is not included in the system for state grants).
Jehovah’s witnesses have applied for state grants several times since 2007, but the government has always rejected the applications. According to the law on state support to religious communities, the community must, among other things, "Contribute to maintaining and strengthening the basic values on which society is based" in order to receive funding for its activities. Whether Jehovah’s Witnesses do so or not has been disputed for twelve years. The government argued that their members are not encouraged to participate in political elections, or to take on political roles and duties. Thereby, Jehovah’s witnesses were regarded as not encouraging their members to take part in the life of society. Added to this, their attitude to general principles concerning health and medical care was also mentioned, as members of the Witnesses refuse blood transfusions. Another argument was the difficult situation for ex-members, who in some cases are isolated from the members.
Jehovah’s Witnesses have twice appealed the decision to the Supreme Administrative Court, which after a long process decided that the government’s justifications were not sufficient to prevent Jehovah’s Witnesses from qualifying for government grants. The community received the first grant of 200 000 Euro for the year 2021. Additionally the Chancellor of Justice has granted 850 000 Euro damages for the years when their applications for grants were rejected. So they have received altogether just over 1 million Euro. "This is an acknowledgment and a victory in principle," said Raymond Beaini, elder brother and spokesman for Jehovah’s Witnesses.
There is consequently a conflict between the government and the Supreme Administrative Court regarding the view of Jehovah’s Witnesses. The court’s decision to approve financial support has been questioned by previous members of the Jehovah’s Witnesses who have left the movementand denounce its lack of democratic values. Therefore, the debate on state grants to Jehovah’s witnesses will probably continue ("Efter tolvåriga tvisten: Jehovas får miljonbelopp i skadestånd", SVT Nyheter, 9 January 2022).

D 26 January 2022    APer Pettersson

Ongoing debate on stricter rules for grants to religious communities

In Sweden, minority religious communities have received regular financial support from the government since 1974 (SFS 1974:404), the same year freedom of religion became a constitutionally (...)

In Sweden, minority religious communities have received regular financial support from the government since 1974 (SFS 1974:404), the same year freedom of religion became a constitutionally protected and absolute right of the individual in the Constitution of Sweden. The prime aim of the support was to provide more equal opportunities between minority religious communities and the majority state church - the Church of Sweden. At the time, the government grant was given with a strictly hands-off approach, meaning that the state should not interfere with the internal affairs of minority religious communities. However, this changed in 2000 when the state and church separated and a new condition was added to the support, namely that minority religious communities should contribute to maintaining and strengthening the fundamental values of Swedish society (SFS 1999: 932). Although the new condition clearly indicated a tougher rhetoric, it did not lead to stricter regulations, given that the principle of freedom of religion hindered the government from questioning the teachings or confessions of religious communities.

Since then, there has been an ongoing and at times heated public debate about whether or not minority religious communities should receive government subsidies and whether stricter regulations should be adopted. Opponents have argued that taxpayers’ money should not go to organisations that, for example, discriminate women and the LGBTQ community. As a result of the debate, the Swedish government appointed a new government commission in 2016 (Dir 2016:62) with the aim of putting forth new motives, objectives and conditions for the government grant to minority religious communities. In 2018 the final report was published and among other things a new democracy criterion was presented, including five new grounds for the exclusion of government support (SOU 2018:18). It essentially says that religious communities which do not respect certain fundamental values and which, for example, call for violence, violate children’s rights, restrict the rights of individual members, or express disrespect towards specific groups and individuals (for example based on gender, sexual orientation, ethnic orientation, etc.), should be excluded from governmental support (and be forced to repay previous support).

Following the commission proposal, many organisations, religious communities, agencies and institutions took part in the referral process (Ku2018/00653/D). Yet, despite a large support for the commission’s proposal of stricter regulation, at present the outcome of the commission is still unclear and the current government has not proposed new policies regarding the grant to minority religious communities.

D 16 February 2022    ALinnea Lundgren

CNRS Unistra Dres Gsrl

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