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Religious Tolerance in Sweden
Today the Swedish constitution provides religious freedom and the Government and citizens generally respect this right. The rights and freedoms are enumerated in the constitution and generally observed and enforced at all government levels and by the courts in a non-discriminatory fashion. This, however, has not always been the case. Freedom of religion has evolved over the years.
Before the 11th Century, Sweden adhered to Norse paganism. Christianity gradually gained a foothold in Sweden and by 1060 Christianity (Roman Catholicism) was firmly established throughout most of Sweden. When the Protestant Reformation came to Sweden, it became a political tool used by the king to secure control over the church and its assets. The King, Gustav Vasa, proclaimed a state church with him as the head. Since the 1530’s Sweden has been Lutheran with the Church of Sweden (Svenska Kyrkan) being allowed the status of state church until the year 2000.
When missionaries for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, first came to Sweden in the 1850’s, some laws were in place that hindered the work. From 1726 it was forbidden that laymen gather and preach anything that differed from the pure evangelical teaching (Lutheranism). Only authorized clergymen from the State Church of Sweden could perform baptisms and administer the Sacrament. It was illegal until 1860 for Lutheran Swedes to convert to another religion.
The laws of the country in the 1850’s prescribed penalties for any religious movement which the Lutheran priests regarded as hostile to the Lutheran creed. The Lutheran Priesthood, with the civil authorities on their side, were strict in enforcing the laws prohibiting religious liberty in Sweden although many of the middle and lower classes were desiring freedom.
Also the Swedish laws and customs prevented travelers (native and foreign) from going to place to place without a passport. A traveler who was found without a passport in Sweden was looked upon and treated almost as an escaped convict. Civil authorities would retain missionaries’ passports thus preventing them from going into any other town.
Missionaries were arrested, transported in chains, fed coarse bread and water, suffered exposure and insult and often banished from Sweden and had neither been tried nor condemned by any judicial court. All this for having baptized citizens at their own request.
Local civil leaders issued proclamations prohibiting individuals from holding religious meetings in their houses under a penalty of a fine of fifty “riksdaler. Individuals were arrested and fines given also for lodging missionaries and not reporting missionary baptisms and activities. Mobs formed causing disturbances at meetings of the saints and persecuting the believers.
Missionaries, who traveled without purse or script, were charged as being vagrants and were deported. The traveling Elders could not move from place to place without passports and the authorities who were acquainted with them and their business often refused to give them passports unless they had a specific place of destination where they would stop and labor for their support . If they were found without passports or without employment they were taken up as loafers and idlers and transported to their respective homes. To counteract this problem, native Swedes were called as missionaries and were sent to Stockholm and other places to secure their residence by taking labor or hiring out to some kind of business as circumstances allowed. The written word would be spread and as well as teaching of individuals and small groups.
Andrew Jenson writes in his book about this time (1855). “The persecutions in Sweden were severe at that time. The brethren were continually hunted by the police, and the citizens who gladly and willing would have treated the brethren with hospitality and kindness, dared not do so in many instances, owing to the stringent laws which existed and the determination on the part of some of the officials to enforce them. The Lutheran clergy had the laws of Sweden practically at their command, and in order to bring trouble upon the brethren, some of the statutes which had been laid dormant for ages were brought to bear upon the case of the missionaries. Thus many of the brethren were arrested and transported from one place to another, while some were fined and imprisoned. Others beaten unmercifully. Some arrested and imprisoned on a bread and water diet. In Malmö it happened frequently that some of the brethren were knocked down in the streets, while others were stoned and had their clothing torn to pieces by mobs who understood that the Mormons had no rights”. (see page 104.)
The President of the Scandinavian mission in 1856, President Hector C. Haight reported, “In Sweden the State Church and the clergy have so great an influence, supported by the old intolerant laws, and the strict and rigid executors of the same, that the people are living under fear and bondage, and have no religious liberty, which makes it very difficult to spread the gospel. The Elders in that land have indeed a hard mission; nevertheless it seems as if the Lord, having mercy on scattered Israel in that country, has operated upon the minds of the people, so that a desire for religious liberty is awakened with full force, and different parties and sects have arisen, especially in Stockholm, and the members thereof petition the government for free religious worship.
The Lutheran clergy would stir up the people to mob violence by misrepresentation and false accusations of the Saints and their religion. One Swedish bishop composed a prayer which was read in the churches in behalf of those who had left the state church to join the “Mormons”. The names were mentioned under the hypocritical pretense that all in the parish should pray for them, but the real object was to advertise to the public the names of those who had been baptized, in order that they might be generally shunned and hated by their fellow-men.
The church was not recognized as a Christian religion. As early as 1855 the mission president wrote the king petitioning for this recognition. Again in 1902 a petition was made for this recognition but both petitions were refused.
As early as 1857 a proposition for religious liberty, to a certain degree was presented before the Diet assembled in Stockholm. It did not pass but led the way for changes which followed. In 1860 the Dissenter Law was passed which made leaving the Church of Sweden legal but only under the provision of entering another denomination. The passport law was repealed in 1861 allowing the missionaries more liberty than at any previous period.
The general atmosphere in Sweden gradually became more and more liberal although in some areas there was strong opposition. In Eskilstuna in the year 1883 people were fined 50 crowns if they rented a room or allowed the Mormons to use a room for a meeting. In Uppsala those who rented a room to Mormon missionaries were fined 20 crowns. Missionaries and Saints continued to suffer but felt and expressed that they “rejoiced in being counted worthy to suffer for the gospel’s sake. This continued until the beginning of the 1900’s. Persecution still continued at this point but to a lesser degree.
Over 8,000 Swedish members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints emigrated during the time period of 1850 to 1930. Rumors about the emigration brought about further persecution and misunderstanding. It was circulated that the missionaries were soliciting young women to come to Utah where they were kept in the Salt Lake Temple, used, and then cast down from the temple into the Great Salt Lake. This was completely ridiculous as the Temple and the Great Salt Lake are quite a distance from one another. Still rumors like this were spread and caused more misunderstanding and persecution.
During the years 1912-1914 the Swedish parliament allocated funds to counter Mormon missionary activities by printing anti-Mormon publications. This caused some problems but it also aroused the people to further investigate. By 1915 the Swedish parliament was convinced that this was not a good use of their funds and refused to fund further anti-Mormon campaigns.
Finally in 1951 The Law on Freedom of Religion was passed which allowed complete religious freedom, even the right to stand outside any religious denomination.
Höglund, Inger & Johansson, Caj-Aage. Steg I Tro. Jesu Kristi Kyrka av Sista Dagars Heliga, Italien, 2000.
Jenson, Andrew. History of the Scandinavian Mission. The Deseret News Press, Salt Lake City, Utah 1927.
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