”Clarify the limits of religious freedom”


Freedom of religion is, according to the Swedish constitution (regeringsformen), an absolute right that cannot be limited. But in reality religious freedom is often limited by various considerations. That concludes jurist and Impact researcher Victoria Enkvist. In her doctoral thesis, Enkvist recommends Swedish lawmakers to be honest, and to clarify the limits of religious freedom.

Victoria Enkvists avhandling Religionsfrihetens rättsliga ramar.

In her thesis, Victoria Enkvist has studied how religious freedom, which is granted in both the constitution and the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), is applied by Swedish lawmakers. She focuses on three different religious practices: religious slaughter like halal or kosher, religiously motivated circumcision of boys and the wearing of religious symbols like veils and crosses.

In the constitution (regeringsformen), the right to freedom of religion is absolute and cannot be limited. In that way, freedom of religion differs from many other rights. In ECHR, on the other hand, there is no difference between freedom of religion and other rights – they can all be limited when that is necessary in order to protect important values like state security and public health.

In practice, religious freedom is often limited, according to Victoria Enkvist. For instance, Swedish animal protection legislation limits the way Muslims and Jews can perform their religious duties. Freedom of religion is, in Enkvist’s words “secondary to values like democracy and gender equality”. As a consequence, there is uncertainty about the scope of the freedom, and which the limits are.

From these observations, Enkvist draws an unexpected conclusion. She recommends that freedom of religion is limited in the constitution. This would make in much more clear what is meant by religious freedom, and when that freedom can be limited. “A real protection of rights that can be limited is to be preferred instead of a formal protection that means nothing in practice” Victoria Enkvist states.

Victoria Enkvist defends her doctoral thesis Religionsfrihetens rättsliga ramar, which is written in the field of constitutional law at the Faculty of law, in Uppsala on November 29th.

News from 2013