“All in all, the marketing attempts to discredit the Church of Sweden by giving a very distorted and negative image of the church’s activities, which is obviously meant to directly influence church members to buy the company’s service,” said Maria Lundqvist-Norling, head of the church’s legal department, in a statement.
According to Lundqvist-Norling, the company’s marketing of its kyrkoavgift website exaggerates the difficulties for members to withdraw from the church, arguing that anyone who wants to leave can do so easily.
The firm offers its service for a fee of 100 kronor ($13) whereby interested parties can simply send an SMS and receive a withdrawal form in return with which they can cancel their membership.
Lundkvist-Norling argues however that this withdrawal form is not necessary and those wishing to leave can simply notify their pastor personally or by submitting a personally signed document.
The church argues that the service in practice means that kyrkoavgift.se only has to find out which church a person belongs to, and can then write the address on an envelope and send it in themselves.
The information on the website is also criticized for allegedly containing a number of factual errors and inaccuracies about the services and entitlements associated with church membership.
For example, the church argues that the website wrongly conveys the impression that non-members are entitled to hold a funeral service at one of its parishes.
The most serious objection the church raises against the compilation of “material information” on the website is that it omits a large part of the church’s activities that a church member may want to support through membership.
The site argues in return that it is cheaper to cancel church membership and pay directly for the complimentary services available to members, including weddings, baptisms and funerals.
The company comes in for more criticism for allegedly using a logo similar to the church’s own and argues that the site is thus trying to convey the impression that it is linked to the Church of Sweden.
The church has stated that it is considering legal action against kyrkoavgift.se and has called on the Consumer Ombudsman (Konsumentombudsmannen – KO) to review whether the marketing is consistent with good marketing practices and what is improper under the Marketing Act.
Information about parish membership is freely available in Sweden. The church’s own website offers an individual search function, and national registration is still filed according to parish.
The Church of Sweden was the official state church until 2000 and as of 2008, 72.9 percent of Sweden’s population belonged to the church. However, only about 5 percent of church members regularly attend services.
Membership dues are collected by the tax agency through a levy based on income tax declarations.