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International Religious Freedom Report 2005
Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor
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The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the Government generally respects this right in practice.

There was no change in the status of respect for religious freedom during the period covered by this report, and government policy continued to contribute to the generally free practice of religion. There is no state religion; however, the RomanCatholic Church enjoys some privileges, stemming from its sovereign status and its historical political authority, not available to other faiths.

The generally amicable relationship among religions in society contributed to religious freedom. The Catholic Church's influential role in society has led to controversy when church teachings have appeared to influence Catholic legislators on matters of public policy. Increasing immigration has led to some anti-immigrant sentiment; for the country's many Muslim immigrants, religion has served as an additional factor differentiating them from native-born citizens.

The U.S. Government discusses religious freedom issues with the Government as part of its overall policy to promote human rights.

Section I. Religious Demography

The country has an area of 116,347 square miles, and its population is approximately 57.8 million. An estimated 87 percent of native-born citizens are nominally Roman Catholic, but only 20 percent regularly participate in worship services. According to numbers reported by the communities, members of Jehovah's Witnesses form the second largest Christian denomination among native-born citizens, numbering approximately 231,000 adherents, followed by members of the Assembly of God (78,000), Methodists and Waldesians (27,000), and Mormons (22,000).

However, immigration--both legal and illegal--continues to add large groups of non-Christian residents, mainly Muslims, from North Africa, South Asia, Albania, and the Middle East. Of 2.9 million legal immigrants, an estimated 1 million are Muslim, primarily Sunnis. There are approximately 75,000 Hindus. Buddhists include approximately 40,000 adherents of European origin and 20,000 of Asian origin. A Jewish community of approximately 30,000 maintains synagogues in 21 cities. Other significant religious communities include Orthodox churches, small Protestant groups, the Baha'i Faith, and South Asian Hindus. Polls conducted in 2003 showed that approximately 14 percent of the population consider themselves to be either atheists or agnostics.

Section II. Status of Religious Freedom

Legal/Policy Framework

The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the Government generally respects this right in practice. The Government at all levels strives to protect this right in full and does not tolerate its abuse, either by governmental or private actors.

Prior to the Constitution's adoption in 1947, the country's relations with the Catholic Church were governed by a 1929 Concordat, which resolved longstanding disputes stemming from the dissolution of the Papal States and established Catholicism as the country's state religion. A 1984 revision of the Concordat formalized the principle of a secular state but maintained the practice of state support for religion--support that also could be extended, if requested, to non-Catholic confessions. In such cases, state support is to be governed by legislation implementing the provisions of an accord ("intesa") between the Government and the religious confession. An intesa grants ministers of religion automatic access to state hospitals, prisons, and military barracks, allows for civil registry of religious marriages, facilitates special religious practices regarding funerals, and exempts students from school attendance on religious holidays. If a religious community so requests, an intesa may provide for state routing of funds, through a voluntary check-off on taxpayer returns, to that community, a privilege that some communities initially declined but later requested. The absence of an intesa does not affect a religious group's ability to worship freely; however, the privileges granted by an intesa are not always granted automatically, and a religious community without an intesa does not benefit financially from the voluntary check-off on taxpayer returns.

In 1984, the first such accord granted specific benefits to the Waldesian Church. Similar accords, which are negotiated by the Prime Minister's Office and require parliamentary approval, extended similar benefits to the Adventists and Assembly of God (1988), Jews (1989), and Baptists and Lutherans (1995). In 2000, the Government signed accords with the Buddhist Union and Jehovah's Witnesses; however, these intese did not receive parliamentary ratification before that Government left office in 2001. The Government initiated negotiations with the Mormons (2000), the Orthodox Church of the Constantinople Patriarchate (2000), the Apostolic Church (2001), Hindus (2001), and Soka Gakkai (Japanese Buddhists -2001). The Government chose to complete work on pending requests and submit all such accords--including those previously signed with the Buddhist Union and Jehovah's Witnesses--to Parliament as a single package. Before seeking approval of the accords, the Government wants to complete pending omnibus religious freedom legislation, which incorporates provisions contained in other laws. It plans to complete this legislation before its term expires. Consequently, the accords awaited parliamentary approval at the end of the period covered by this report. Divisions among the country's Muslim organizations, as well as its multiple Muslim immigrant groups, have hindered that community's efforts to seek an intesa.

The revised Concordat of 1984 accorded the Catholic Church certain privileges. For example, the Church is allowed to select Catholic teachers, paid by the State, to provide instruction in "hour of religion" courses taught in the public schools. This class is optional, and students who do not wish to attend are free to study other subjects or, in certain cases, to leave school early. While in the past this instruction involved Catholic priests teaching catechism, church-selected instructors now may be either lay or religious, and their instruction is intended to include material relevant to non-Catholic faiths. Problems may arise in small communities where information about other faiths and numbers of non-Catholic communicants is limited. The Constitution prohibits state support for private schools; however, declining enrollment in Catholic schools has led Catholic Church officials, as operators of the country's most extensive network of private schools, to seek government aid.

While Roman Catholicism is no longer the state religion, its role as the dominant religion occasionally gives rise to problems. In 2004, Parliament passed legislation favored by the Vatican that equates an embryo with a human life, prohibits the use of donated sperm for artificial insemination, restricts the production of embryos, and limits scientific research on embryos. The legislation drew support from Catholic legislators across the political spectrum, while secular conservatives and Communists joined to oppose it. In January 2005, Camillo Ruini, President of the Italian Bishops' Council, urged Catholics to abstain from voting for four referenda to abolish parts of the new fertility law; this sparked strong reactions from some leftist leaders who accused the Catholic Church of inappropriate interference in the political process. The June 2005 referenda failed when only 26 of the required 50-plus percent of the population voted. The low turnout reflected a variety of factors, including Church opposition, the ambivalence of most secular politicians, and voter apathy on a summer weekend. During the period covered by this report, prominent Catholic politicians joined Pope John Paul II and other church officials (including Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who has now been elected Pope Benedict XVI) in asserting that the draft European Constitution should include language recognizing Europe's Christian heritage.

The continuing presence of Catholic symbols, such as crucifixes, in courtrooms, schools, and other public buildings has drawn criticism and has led to a number of lawsuits. In April 2005, a court ruled that crucifixes do not have to be removed from polling stations, as requested by the president of a small Islamic association. In December 2004, the Constitutional Court ruled that, based on a technicality, a 1928 regulation that provides for the display of crucifixes in public classrooms is constitutional. A mother in Venice, who asked that the crucifixes be removed, brought the case. In March, Interior Minister Pisanu argued publicly that the crucifix was a symbol of great value that represented 2,000 years of civilization and culture. In 2003, President Ciampi argued that the crucifix was a symbol of national identity and not only a religious emblem and was praised by several politicians and intellectuals for his position.

Muslim women are free to wear the veil in public offices and schools; however, there were occasional reports of objections to women wearing a burqah (a garment that completely covers the face and body). In August 2004, a woman in Drezzo was fined for wearing a burqah under a seldom-used 1931 law that forbids persons from hiding their identity.

In view of the negative aspects of the country's fascist past, government leaders routinely acknowledge and pay tribute to Jews victimized by the country's 1938 racial laws.

In January 2004, PM Berlusconi created a new "Inter-Ministerial Commission to Combat Anti-Semitism" to ensure strong, uniform responses to any anti-Semitic acts by the police and local/federal government officials. In December 2004, the Government hosted, with the Anti-Defamation League, an international conference on anti-Semitism.

National, regional, and local authorities organize annual educational initiatives and other events to support National Holocaust Remembrance Day on January 27. In 2004, the country acted as Chair of the International Task Force on Holocaust Education, the Ministry of Education organized an international conference to train teachers on the Shoah, and PM Berlusconi attended ceremonies to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. In 2004, the mayor of Rome announced the establishment of a museum dedicated to the Shoah, while in 2003, the Parliament approved the creation of a National Holocaust Memorial Museum in Ferrara; planning was s in process, but construction had not begun at the end of the period covered by this report.

Missionaries or religious workers do not encounter problems but must apply for appropriate visas prior to arriving in the country.

Restrictions on Religious Freedom

Government policy and practice contributed to the generally free practice of religion.

There were no reports of religious prisoners or detainees.

Forced Religious Conversion

There were no reports of forced religious conversion, including of minor U.S. citizens who had been abducted or illegally removed from the United States, or of the refusal to allow such citizens to be returned to the United States.

Abuses by Terrorist Organizations

There were no reported abuses targeted at specific religions by terrorist organizations during the period covered by this report.

Section III. Societal Attitudes

The generally amicable relationship among religions in society contributed to religious freedom. Religious and government officials continued to encourage mutual respect for religious differences.

Increasing immigration, from Eastern Europe, Africa, China, and the Middle East, is altering demographic and cultural patterns in communities across the country and has led to some anti-immigrant sentiment. For the country's Muslim immigrants, religion serves as an additional factor differentiating them from native-born citizens. Some Catholic politicians and community leaders have contributed to popular reaction by emphasizing the perceived threat posed by immigrants to the country's "national identity," whereas others, including Interior Minister Pisanu and Chamber of Deputies President Casini, underlined the need in speeches and statements during the period covered by this report to integrate different ethnic groups present in the country. Interior Minister Pisanu ordered his Prefects to reach out to moderate Muslim communities to enhance their integration into society. In December 2004, the Minister of Equal Opportunity created a new national Office to Combat Racial and Ethnic Discrimination to monitor and prevent discrimination and assist victims with legal assistance. The office established a hot line to receive complaints and began a public relations effort to discourage ethnic, racial and religious discrimination.

The arrest and prosecution of Islamic extremists in 2002 for using prayer centers to plan, coordinate, and support terrorism and the replacement of the imam of Rome's Grand Mosque for preaching violence against "infidels" prompted some commentators and politicians to generalize about Islam's incompatibility with societies organized around Judeo-Christian values and beliefs. Other prominent politicians, including Interior Minister Pisanu and Senate President Marcello Pera, rejected such generalizations and urged increased interfaith dialogue. Pisanu proposed a European Charter of Interfaith Dialogue to the European Council of Ministers in 2003 during the country's tenure in the rotating European Union (EU) Presidency (June-December 2003); the EU Council of Ministries of Interior approved the Charter in November. Pera advocated rapid conclusion of an intesa with leaders of the Islamic faith as an additional means to isolate extremists.

Some members of the Northern League political party, a minority member of the governing coalition, asserted that practices present in many Islamic societies, notably polygamy, Islamic family law, the role of women, and the lack of separation between religion and state, rendered many Muslim immigrants incompatible for integration into society.

There were no violent anti-Semitic attacks, but recent public opinion surveys indicated that anti-Semitism is growing in the country, as it is across Europe. According to pollsters, this trend was tied to, and in some cases fed by, widespread opposition to the Sharon government and popular support for the Palestinian cause. Small scale graffiti (swastikas) were found in major cities. There have been some incidents of Israeli diplomats being heckled at public events.

Government units provide funds for the construction of places of worship as well as public land for their construction, and they help preserve and maintain historic places of worship that shelter much of the country's artistic and cultural heritage. In 2001, the Campania regional administration approved the request for approximately $3.1 million (2.6 million euros) to build a mosque in Naples despite the absence of a formal intesa between the State and the Muslim confession. Construction had not yet begun at the end of the period covered by this report.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy

The U.S. Government discusses religious freedom issues with the Government as part of its overall policy to promote human rights.



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