Copenhagen Police have admitted that targeting a worship service at a church frequented by African migrants was inappropriate, Kristeligt Dagblad reports.
Five plainclothes police officers entered The Redeemed Christian Church of God in Amager on December 30 shortly before the start of services and checked churchgoers for their identification papers. Several members of the church reported that the officers were extremely aggressive, and that they blocked off exits to the church as they checked every attendees ID papers.
The church is frequented by African immigrants and police said that the location often comes up during investigations of illegal residents. Despite the establishment's rather explicit name, vice police commissioner Kjeld Farcinsen claimed to BT tabloid that police did not know it was a place of worship.
"There wasn't a prayer service going on when our people entered the location," he told BT. "Clearly, if there had been a service going on we would have never carried out the action. We would have waited patiently. We don't carry out actions during church activities."
He added that the action turned up three individuals that the police will now "take a closer look at".
But according to Hans Henrik Lund of the religious pro-integration organisation Kirkernes Integrations Tjeneste, what the police did was unacceptable.
"It is a case of clear discrimination that police come in and carry out a raid in an African church, when they never do that in folkekirke [the Church of Denmark] or a mosque," Lund told Kristeligt Dagblad.
His criticism was backed up by religious consultant Mogens Mogensen.
"If it is a routine check where you are looking for illegal individuals, it is completely out of proportion to interrupt a church service," Mogensen told Kristeligt Dagblad. "When you consider that many of the churchgoers are refugees, it could have been a very traumatic experience for them. It signifies a lack of respect for our new Danish residents."
Police apparently took the criticism to heart, and today apologised for the action.
"We apologise that we carried out an action against a church," Jan Bjørn, a Copenhagen Police inspector, told Kristeligt Dagblad. "A church is a special place and it is not a place for carrying out routine controls."
Bjørn said that the police would look into the matter and again stated that they were unaware that The Redeemed Christian Church of God was a church.
"We must simply do our research better," he said.
After the apology, Lund said that he would not submit a formal complaint, saying that there was now "a gentlemen's agreement" in place that would ensure that police do not disrupt worship services in the future.