En flaggstång med Svenska kyrkans flagga mot blå himmel.
Foto: Gustaf Hellsing /Ikon

Church and state

Until the 19th century, the Church of Sweden was the only church recognised by the state and its affairs were regulated by the parliament (riksdag).

Meetings for other kinds of worship were strictly prohibited except for certain immigrant communities who, during the 17th century won the right to worship according to their beliefs as long as they did so in private buildings. 

The 19th century also saw the first questioning of the propriety of having the church's affairs decided only by king and parliament but it was only in the second half of the century that a Church Assembly was established. It was to consist of 30 clergy, including the bishops, and 30 laypeople and was chaired by the archbishop.

Separation from the state in 2000

In 1949 this was increased to 43 clergy and 53 laypeople. It was given the right to decide, advise or give its consent in church matters, at a time when power to a large extent still rested with parliament. Much further debate has taken place during this century and various adjustments have been made loosening the close connection with the state.

The present situation is controlled by a radical set of laws, which came into force on 1st of January 2000. The Church of Sweden was then declared a ”faith-community” which, along with others, like the free churches, Roman Catholics, Jews, Muslims etc, could register themselves as such with the state and can have their church dues collected by the state along with income tax.

Bishops position still strong

All of them except the Church of Sweden look after their own affairs as private, voluntary societies but church affairs are still to some extent regulated by state law. Only elected persons can sit and vote in the Church Assembly, so the bishops are present but have no vote and the clergy are now employed by the parish, no longer by the diocese.

As majority members of the Doctrinal Commission of the Church Assembly, the position of the bishops as custodians of the tradition and teachings of the church is still strong.