The constitution establishes the Eastern Orthodox Church of Christ as the prevailing religion, but also provides for the right of all citizens to practice the religion of their choice. However, while the Government generally respected this right, non-Orthodox groups sometimes faced administrative obstacles or encountered legal restrictions on religious practice. The constitution and law prohibit proselytizing and stipulate that no rite of worship may disturb public order or offend moral principles.
There were some improvements in the status of respect for religious freedom during the period covered by this report; the Government passed a law allowing cremation and amended a law abolishing the requirement to consult local Greek Orthodox bishops before granting house of prayer permits.
The generally amicable relationship among religious groups in society contributed to religious freedom. Some non-Orthodox citizens complained of being treated with suspicion by fellow citizens or told that they were not truly Greek when they revealed their religious affiliation.
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 81,935 square miles and a population of approximately 10.9 million. An estimated 97 percent of Greek citizens identified themselves as Greek Orthodox. There were approximately 500,000 to 800,000 Old Calendarist Orthodox who used the Julian calendar and adhered to traditional Greek Orthodox practice throughout the country. The Government did not keep statistics on religious groups; the census did not ask for religious affiliation. Officials estimated the size of the Thrace Muslim community at 98,000, although unofficial estimates ranged up to 140,000. The Jehovah's Witnesses reported having approximately 30,000 active members and 50,000 people affiliated with the faith; members of the Roman Catholic faith were estimated at 50,000; Protestants, including evangelicals, at 30,000; and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons) at 420. Scientologists reported 500 active registered members. The longstanding Jewish community, which prior to the World War II occupation of Greece and deportation of thousands of Jews to Nazi death camps had numbered some 76,000, was estimated at approximately 5,500. There were approximately 300 members of the Baha'i Faith. Followers of the ancient polytheistic Hellenic religions reported 2,000 members. There was no official or unofficial estimate of atheists.
The majority of non-citizen residents and immigrants were not Greek Orthodox. The largest group was Albanian (approximately 700,000, including legal and illegal residents); most Albanians were secular in orientation. Despite such secularism, Albanians traditionally associated themselves with the Muslim, Orthodox, or Roman Catholic faiths. Aside from the indigenous Muslim minority in Thrace, the Muslim immigrant population in the rest of the country was estimated at 200,000 to 300,000.
Roman Catholics resided primarily in Athens and on the islands of Syros, Tinos, Naxos, and Corfu, as well as in the cities of Thessaloniki and Patras. Immigrants from the Philippines, Poland, and Iraq also practiced Roman Catholicism. The Roman Catholic immigrant population was estimated to be 200,000. The bishop of Athens headed the Roman Catholic Holy Synod.
Some religious groups, such as evangelicals and Jehovah's Witnesses, consisted almost entirely of ethnic Greeks and some immigrants from former Soviet republics and Albania. Other groups, such as Mormons and Anglicans, consisted of an approximately equal number of ethnic Greeks and non-Greeks.
The indigenous Muslim minority, concentrated in Thrace with small communities in Rhodes, Kos, and Athens, was composed mainly of Turcophones but also included Roma and Pomaks, a Slav-origin linguistic minority. A growing number of Muslim immigrants lived in Athens and in rural areas.
Scientologists and followers of the ancient polytheistic Hellenic religions practiced their faith through registered nonprofit civil law organizations.
Foreign missionary groups in the country, including Protestants and Mormons, were active; Mormons reported that there were approximately sixty missionaries in the country during the year.
Section II. Status of Religious Freedom
The constitution establishes the Eastern Orthodox Church of Christ (Greek Orthodoxy) as the prevailing religion and provides for freedom of religion. However, while the Government generally respected this right in practice, non-Orthodox groups sometimes faced administrative obstacles or encounter legal restrictions on religious practice. The constitution and law prohibit proselytizing and stipulate that no rite of worship may disturb public order or offend moral principles. The Orthodox Church exercises significant political and economic influence. The Government financially supports the Greek Orthodox Church; for example, the Government pays for the salaries and religious training of clergy and finances the maintenance of Orthodox Church buildings. The Government also pays the salaries and some expenses of the two official Muslim religious leaders (muftis) in Thrace, and provides a small monthly allowance to imams in Thrace. In May 2006, representatives of the Central Board of the Jewish Communities of Greece formally objected in public statements, press releases, and in appeals to the Government to the fact that the Government pays the salaries of religious officials from the Greek Orthodox and Muslim faiths, but not to Jewish rabbis. The Jewish Community reported it has requested equal treatment on this issue from the Government. Government officials stated they have received no formal request on the issue.
The Orthodox Church, Judaism, and Islam are the only religious groups considered to be "legal persons of public law." Other religions are considered "legal persons of private law." In practice, the primary distinction is that the Civil Code's provisions pertaining to corporations regulate the establishment of "houses of prayer" for religions other than the Orthodox Church, Judaism, or Islam. For example, other religions cannot own property as religious entities; the property must belong to a specifically created legal entity rather than to the religious body itself. Other religious communities also face additional legal and administrative burdens because they cannot function as legal entities. The Baha'i and other faiths have expressed their desire to operate within a legal framework as legally recognized religions, rather than as "associations." Members of religious groups that are classified as private entities cannot be represented in court as religious entities and cannot bequeath or inherit property as a religious entity. The law extended legal recognition as a private entity to Roman Catholic churches and related entities established prior to 1946. By virtue of the Orthodox Church's status as the prevailing religion, the Government recognizes the Orthodox Church's canon law, both within the Church and in such areas of civil law as marriage. The Catholic Church unsuccessfully has sought government recognition of its canon law since 1999. In April 2006, the Ministry of Education and Religion established a committee to study the issue and propose a legislative arrangement.
No formal mechanism exists to gain recognition as a "known religion." Recognition is granted indirectly by applying for and receiving a "house of prayer" permit to open houses of worship from the Ministry of Education and Religion.
Scientologists have not been able to register or build a house of prayer. Groups that follow the ancient polytheistic Hellenic tradition also applied for house of prayer permits, which the ministry announced in May 2006 were not approved despite advice from the ombudsman to the ministry to respond positively to the requests. The Jehovah's Witnesses have several pending house-of-prayer permit requests, but they have not taken the cases to the ombudsman because they received a verbal commitment from the Ministry of Education and Religion that it would approve their applications.
Leaders of some non-Orthodox religious groups claimed that all taxes on religious organizations are discriminatory because the Government subsidizes the Orthodox Church, while other groups are self-supporting. In 2004, the Government passed taxation legislation that gradually abolishes, by 2007, tax on property revenues received by Greek Orthodox churches and institutions. While such laws can be applied to all religions upon judicial examination, this practice presents administrative obstacles for non-Orthodox religions.
Muslim religious leaders stated there were approximately 375 mosques in Thrace. The 1923 Treaty of Lausanne gives Muslims in Thrace the right to maintain social and charitable organizations called wakfs and allows muftis to render religious judicial services (under Shari'a) in the area of family law.
The Lausanne Treaty provides the Muslim minority in Thrace the right to Turkish-language education and provides a reciprocal entitlement for the Greek minority in Istanbul (estimated at fewer than 2,500 persons). Western Thrace has secular Turkish-language bilingual schools and two Qur'anic schools funded by the state. In 2005, approximately 6,800 Muslim students were enrolled in Turkish bilingual grammar schools, and 1,290 attended minority high schools. Another 350 students attended the Islamic schools. The majority of Muslim minority students, approximately 4,110, attended public Greek-language secondary schools, which were deemed better preparation for Greek-language universities.
Special consideration is given to Muslim minority students from Thrace for admission to technical institutes and universities that set aside 0.5 percent of the total number of places for them annually. Approximately 900 Muslim minority students took advantage of this affirmative action program; a small number chose to attend university in Turkey. In April 2005, the minister of education announced that ten full scholarships for the academic year 2005-2006 would be offered to Muslim minority students for postgraduate studies at universities. Only two students eventually benefited from the program; the other eight who were nominated did not qualify to receive the scholarships. Two students who did not qualify for the scholarships, because they had already exceeded the time permitted by the program for the conclusion of their postgraduate studies, filed complaints with the ombudsman's office. The Government planned to offer the scholarships again for the next school year.
The Government maintains that Muslims outside Thrace are not covered by the Treaty of Lausanne and therefore do not enjoy those rights provided by the Treaty. Muslim parents complained that hundreds of Turkish speaking children in the Athens area did not receive remedial Greek instruction other than in one multicultural elementary education "pilot school."
Restrictions on Religious Freedom
In 2000, the Ministry of Education and Religion rejected the application of the Scientologists for recognition and a house of prayer permit on the grounds that Scientology "is not a religion." The Church of Scientology appealed the decision to the Council of State, and then withdrew the appeal in 2003. The Scientologists were registered as a nonprofit organization because the group's legal counsel advised that the Government would not recognize Scientology as a religion.
Minority religious groups have requested that the Government abolish laws regulating house of prayer permits, which are required to open houses of worship. Local police have the authority to bring to court minority churches that operate or build places of worship without a permit. In practice, this happens rarely.
In May 2004, Nikodim Tsarknias, a former Greek Orthodox priest who is now a priest of the Macedonian Orthodox Church, was sentenced to three months in prison, a sentence which was suspended by the Aridea Criminal Court of First Instance, on charges of establishing and operating a church without authorization after he held Macedonian language religious services without a house of prayer permit. Tsarknias's sentence could not be appealed in the country; he intended to appeal to the European Court of Human Rights.
Several religious denominations reported difficulties in dealing with the authorities on a variety of administrative matters. Privileges and legal prerogatives granted to the Greek Orthodox Church are not extended routinely to other recognized religions. Non-Orthodox religious organizations must provide separate and lengthy applications to government authorities on such matters as gaining permission to move places of worship to larger facilities. In contrast, Greek Orthodox officials have an institutionalized link between the church hierarchy and the Ministry of Education and Religion to handle administrative matters.
Although Jehovah's Witnesses are recognized as a "known" religion, members continued to face some harassment and administrative problems during the period covered by this report. This usually took the form of arbitrary identity checks (although this problem has abated) and local officials' resistance to construction of places of worship. A decision on an appeal by the Jehovah's Witnesses regarding a property dispute over taxation rates involving their officially recognized headquarters was scheduled to be heard at the Supreme Administrative Court in September 2006.
New legislation providing for religious worker visas was passed in 2005, remedying the difficulty reported in the past by some religious denominations in renewing the visas of non-EU citizen religious officials.
Non-Orthodox citizens have claimed that they face career limits within the military, police, fire-fighting forces, and the civil service because of their religions. In the military, generally only members of the Orthodox faith become officers, leading some members of other faiths to declare themselves Orthodox. Few Muslim military personnel have advanced to the rank of reserve officer. There were reports of pressure exerted on Greek Orthodox military personnel, such as being passed over for promotion if they chose to marry in the religious ceremony of non-Orthodox partners.
Muslim citizens in Thrace were underrepresented in public sector employment and in state-owned industries and corporations. While the under-representation was partly due to lower education level and Greek language ability of the available applicant pool, minority activists blamed lack of transparency in the civil service hiring process and endemic discrimination. Muslims claimed they were generally hired for lower level positions. One Muslim minority member from Thrace held a seat in Parliament. In Xanthi and Komotini, Muslims held seats on the prefectural and town councils and served as local mayors. Thrace municipalities hired Muslims as public liaisons in citizen service centers and provided Turkish lessons for other civil servants.
Unlike in Thrace, the growing Muslim community in Athens (estimated by local press and experts to be between 200,000 and 300,000 mainly economic migrants from South Asia, the Middle East, and a small percentage of Muslims from Thrace) did not have an official mosque or any official cleric to officiate at religious functions, including funerals. Press reports in 2006 stated that the number of unofficial prayer rooms in Athens ranged from twenty-five to seventy. Members of the Muslim community used the official Muslim clerics in Thrace for official religious rites. Muslims in Athens and other cities traveled to Thrace or abroad for wedding ceremonies and some transported their deceased to Thrace or abroad for religious burials; those who could afford to travel to Thrace had unrecognized religious rites performed. Remains buried in Greek cemeteries were subject to exhumation after three years, a practice overseen by municipalities because of limited space in Greek cemeteries, especially in Attika. This practice has presented a problem for Muslims, as Islamic law does not permit exhumation of remains.
Although Parliament approved a bill in 2000 allowing construction of the first Islamic cultural center and mosque in an Athens suburb, construction had not started by the end of the period covered by this report. In April 2006, the Government decided to fund a mosque in central Athens rather than an outlying suburb, but no decisions on location were made.
Greek Orthodox Church leaders have publicly supported the building of a mosque in Athens, although they have stated their opposition to the cultural center. The Orthodox Church reportedly offered the Muslim community in Athens a piece of land for the creation of a Muslim cemetery.
Differences remained within the Muslim minority community and between segments of the community and the Government regarding the means of selecting muftis. Under existing law, the Government appoints two muftis and one assistant mufti, all resident in Thrace. The Government maintained that it must appoint the muftis, as is the practice in Muslim countries, because, in addition to religious duties, they perform judicial functions under Muslim religious law for which the state pays them. The Government consults a committee of Muslim minority notables, which recommends candidates for the ten-year terms of office. Members of the Muslim minority objected to the fact that the Government was not legally obligated to follow the recommendation of the committee on the selection of the muftis.
Additionally, while some Muslims have accepted the authority of the two government-appointed muftis, other Muslims have "elected" two muftis to serve their communities since they maintain that the government of a non-Muslim country cannot appoint muftis. There was no established procedure or practice for these nongovernmental elections, and the Government did not recognize the "elected" muftis. A portion of the Muslim minority continued to lobby the Government to allow for the direct election of muftis. In May 2006, the appointed Mufti of Komotini expressed his view that "nowhere in the history of Islam has there been an elected mufti."
The Government recognizes Shari'a (the Muslim religious law) as the law regulating family and civic issues of the Muslim minority in Thrace. The First Instance Courts in Thrace routinely ratify decisions of the muftis who have judicial powers on civic and domestic matters. The National Human Rights Committee, an autonomous human rights body that is the Government's advisory organ on protection of human rights, has stated that the Government should limit the powers of the muftis to religious duties and should stop recognizing Shari'a, because it can restrict the civic rights of citizens it is applied to. There are arranged marriages among underage Roma and Muslims, although Greek civil law forbids marriages of children under age eighteen. A parent or legal guardian, however, may apply for a judicial permit for the marriage of an underage person from a First Instance Court in cases of "extraordinary circumstances," such as pregnancy.
In November 2005, the appointed mufti of Komotini instructed all imams under his jurisdiction not to conduct underage marriages. In November 2005, the mufti refused permission for two minors (a twelve-year-old girl and a fourteen-year-old boy) to marry. In January 2006, he advised the guardians of a thirteen-year-old girl, who insisted on marrying despite his prohibition, to turn to the First Instance Court. The court granted her permission to marry.
Controversy between the Muslim community and the Government also continued over the management and self-government of the wakfs. This involved the Government's appointment of officials to serve on administrative boards that govern each wakf and the degree and type of administrative control, which prior to the 1960s was exercised by the Muslim community. In response to objections from some Muslims that the Government's appointment of these officials weakened the financial autonomy of the wakfs and violated the terms of the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne, a 1996 presidential decree placed the wakfs under the administration of an oversight committee appointed by the Government for three years as an interim measure pending resolution of outstanding problems. The interim period has been extended every two years by presidential decree.
In the past, Muslim activists have complained that the Government regularly lodges tax liens against the wakfs, although they were tax-free foundations in theory. Under a national land and property registry law that entered into full effect in 1999, the wakfs, along with all property holders, must register all of their property with the Government. The law permits the Government to seize any property that the owners are not able to document; there are built-in reporting and appeals procedures. The wakfs were established in 1560; however, because of the destruction of files during the two world wars, the wakfs are unable to document ownership of much of their property. Because they have not registered the property, they cannot pay assessed taxes. The Government had not sought to enforce either the assessments or the registration requirement by the end of the period covered by this report.
Members of missionary faiths reported having difficulties with harassment and police detention because of anti-proselytizing laws, but continued to note an improvement during the reporting period because of increased training and instruction given to police officers. Church officials from missionary faiths expressed concern that anti-proselytizing laws remained on the books, although such laws did not seriously hinder their activities.
A law on alternative forms of mandatory national service for religious and ideological conscientious objectors was enacted in 1998 and amended in 2004. In 2001, the Government added a conscientious objector provision in the constitution. The law provides that conscientious objectors may, in lieu of mandatory military service, work in state hospitals, or municipal and public services for two times the length of military service minus one month, typically twenty-three months. Conscientious objector groups and Amnesty International generally characterized the legislation as a positive step, but criticized the longer service term as punitive. They also reported that uneven administration of the civilian service in some cases led to poor working conditions and noted that it would be preferable for the civilian service to be under civilian administration rather than under the Ministry of Defense. Parents of three or more children are exempt from military service.
Mandatory military service is three months for "repatriated" citizens, those who emigrated from the former Eastern bloc and are of Greek origin, and five months for repatriated conscientious objectors. Repatriated conscientious objectors who have in the past completed military service in their country of origin and became conscientious objectors later in their life are ineligible for alternative service and have taken their cases to the courts. For example, on August 26, 2005, a military court in Xanthi sentenced Boris Sotiriadis, a Georgian national of Greek origin, to three and a half years in prison for refusing military service because of his religious beliefs. Sotiriadis had served previously in the Soviet army before becoming a Jehovah's Witness and immigrating to Greece.
Problems also existed for those who became conscientious objectors after they performed their military service and were placed on reservist lists. These conscientious objectors are not recognized, as there is no legal provision covering those who change their status after having completed military service. Several cases involving such conscientious objectors were pending before the Council of State.
Orthodox religious instruction in public, primary, and secondary schools is mandatory for all Orthodox students. Non-Orthodox students are exempt from this requirement. However, schools offer no alternative supervision for these children during the period of religious instruction; they sometimes attended Orthodox religious instruction. Members of the Muslim community in Athens were lobbying for Islamic religious instruction for their children.
Some schoolbooks continued to carry negative references to Roman Catholicism, Judaism, Jehovah's Witnesses, and the ancient polytheistic Hellenic tradition.
The intra-Orthodox doctrinal dispute between Esphigmenou monastery on Mt. Athos and the Ecumenical Patriarchate that administers the region under the 1924 Charter of Mt. Athos continued. Esphigmenou is an Old Calendarist monastery that does not recognize the authority of the Patriarchate. In March 2005, the Council of State declined to rule on the appeal of a 2002 eviction request by the Ecumenical Patriarchate against the abbot of Esphigmenou on the grounds that it was not competent, under the constitution, to judge the ecclesiastic and administrative jurisdiction of the Patriarchate over Mt. Athos, but the Government had not enforced the expulsion order. Approximately ninety similar appeals by other Esphigmenou monks were pending. In late 2005, the Holy Community governing Mt. Athos appointed a new Esphigmenou monastic order, recognized by the Patriarchate, to replace the existing order. An open dispute between the two monastic orders ensued in December. The Esphigmenou monastery complained about restrictions on access to supplies and medical care that it claimed threatened the survival of the monastery. Government and ecclesiastic representatives claimed they preferred to settle this dispute without eviction.
The leader of the Greek Rumi faith, which teaches the theology of the thirteenth- century Persian poet Rumi, founder of the Mevlevi order or "Whirling Dervishes," was sentenced on July 1, 2005, to twenty-five months' imprisonment for defamatory actions related to his "controlling the consciousness" of his followers. The Orthodox Church considers the Greek Rumi community a "sect" whose heresies "threaten to corrupt Greece's religious and national identity." Local and international NGOs condemned the conviction, and the Greek Rumi leader was acquitted on appeal in March 2006.
There were no reports of religious prisoners or detainees, apart from the problems of temporary police detention experienced by Mormons.
Abuses of Religious Freedom
Most non-Orthodox religious leaders reported that their members (non-missionaries) did not encounter discriminatory treatment. However, police regularly detained Mormon missionaries (primarily from outside the EU who were undergoing the protracted residence permit process), on average once every three months, usually after receiving complaints that the individuals engaged in proselytizing. In most cases, these individuals were held for several hours at a police station and then released with no charges filed. Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses reported that their interaction with the police improved during the reporting period because of increased training and instruction given to police officers. Two Jehovah's Witnesses were tried and acquitted in 2004 on proselytism charges.
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.
There were no reports of anti-Semitic articles or cartoons in the media, contrary to previous years. The European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI), the Wiesenthal Center, the Anti-Defamation League, and the Greek Helsinki Monitor had denounced the Greek press for anti-Semitic articles and cartoons on several occasions in 2004.
There were no reports of vandalism of Jewish monuments or cemeteries during the reporting period, which had been a problem in previous years. Police remained unable to find perpetrators in the 2004 cases of desecrations of Jewish memorials and plaques in Drama and Komotini.
Anti-Semitic graffiti were repeatedly spray-painted at several spots along the busy Athens-Corinth and Athens-Tripoli highway during 2005 and 2006. Anti-Semitic slogans also reportedly appeared close to the Athens Court complex in November 2005 and on the island of Keffalonia in September 2005. The Wiesenthal Center and a local NGO protested anti-Semitic graffiti on the country's highways and on other public buildings. The extreme right-wing group "Golden Dawn" regularly spray-painted anti-Semitic graffiti on bridges and other structures. In February 2006, the prosecutor filed a lawsuit against "Golden Dawn" for defacing public property and painting anti-Semitic graffiti the last several years on the basis of allegations submitted by a local NGO, the Greek Helsinki Monitor. The Central Board of Jewish Communities of Greece and the Greek Helsinki Monitor submitted testimony. The preliminary investigation was underway.
In April 2006, the Central Board of the Jewish Communities of Greece continued to protest the Easter tradition of the burning of a life-size effigy of Judas, sometimes referred to as the "burning of the Jew," which they maintained propagated hatred and fanaticism against Jews. One Greek Orthodox bishop, a local NGO, and the Wiesenthal Center wrote formal objections to this tradition. The Jewish Community also protested anti-Semitic passages in the Holy Week liturgy. The Jewish community reported that it remained in dialogue with the Orthodox Church about the removal of these passages.
The June 2004 ECRI report recommended that the Greek authorities closely monitor the situation regarding anti-Semitic acts and statements and take all necessary awareness-raising and punitive measures to put a stop to these acts. The report pointed out that Greek public opinion sometimes reflected the prejudices and stereotypes expressed against the Jewish Communities of Greece by the media or public figures. The report continued that, while in some cases judicial authorities took measures to counter expressions of anti-Semitism, in other cases the criminal law provisions against hate speech were not applied.
There was no progress on negotiations between the Jewish community of Thessaloniki and the Government to find acceptable restitution for the community's cemetery, expropriated after its destruction during the Holocaust in 1944. Aristotle University, a public institution, was built on top of the expropriated cemetery.
The Government co-sponsored commemorative events in Athens and Thessaloniki in January 2006 for Holocaust Remembrance Day, followed two weeks later by the visit of Israel's President Moshe Katsav, the first official visit of an Israeli head of state to Greece. The Ministry of Education distributed materials to schools on the history of the Holocaust to be read in all schools on Holocaust Remembrance Day, and teacher training seminars on the Holocaust were held in 2005. In 2005, the country became a full member of the Task Force for International Cooperation on Holocaust Education.
Improvements and Positive Developments in Respect for Religious Freedom
On March 1, 2006, the Government passed a law allowing cremation. The Greek Orthodox Church forbids cremation of the Greek Orthodox believers (the vast majority of the population), and cremation facilities had not been established in the country by the end of the period covered by this report. Remains of those who wish to be cremated must be shipped at significant cost to countries where cremation is available. Buddhist citizens have claimed that the lack of cremation as an available means of burial infringes on their religious rights.
In June 2006, an amendment to an existing law was accepted by Parliament abolishing the practice by which the ministry sought the opinion of the local Greek Orthodox bishop on whether to grant house of prayer permits for faiths other than Greek Orthodox. Non-Orthodox faiths had objected to this practice.
Section III. Societal Abuses and Discrimination
Religious affiliation was very closely linked to ethnicity. Many attributed the preservation of national identity to the actions of the Greek Orthodox Church during approximately 400 years of Ottoman rule and the subsequent nation-building period. The Church exercised significant social, political, and economic influence, and it owned a considerable, although undetermined, amount of property.
Many Greeks assumed that any ethnic Greek was also an Orthodox Christian. Some non-Orthodox citizens complained of being treated with suspicion or told that they were not truly Greek when they revealed their religious affiliation.
Members of minority faiths reported incidents of societal discrimination, such as local Orthodox bishops warning parishioners not to visit clergy or members of minority faiths and requesting that the police arrest missionaries for proselytizing. However, with the exception of the burgeoning Muslim population, most members of minority faiths considered themselves satisfactorily integrated into society. Organized official interaction between religious communities was infrequent.
Some non-Orthodox religious communities encountered difficulty in communicating with officials of the Orthodox Church and claimed that the attitude of the Orthodox Church toward their faiths increased social intolerance toward their religions. The Orthodox Church maintained a list of practices and religious groups, including the Jehovah's Witnesses, evangelical Protestants, Scientologists, Mormons, Baha'is, and others, which it believed to be sacrilegious. Officials of the Orthodox Church have acknowledged that they refused to enter into dialogue with religious groups considered harmful to Orthodox worshipers; church leaders instructed Orthodox Greeks to shun members of these faiths.
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. Embassy officers meet with working-level officials responsible for religious affairs in the Ministries of Foreign Affairs and Education and Religion. The ambassador and other mission representatives discussed religious freedom with senior government officials and religious leaders. The U.S. Mission also regularly discusses religious freedom issues in contacts with other government officials, including mayors, regional leaders, and members of Parliament. Officers from the embassy and the consulate general in Thessaloniki meet regularly with representatives of various religious groups and solicit their participation in embassy social events. Embassy and consulate general officials investigated complaints of religious discrimination brought to their attention.
The ambassador attended Holocaust commemorations in Athens and the consul general represented him at Thessaloniki events. He and other mission officers participated along with the Ministry of Education and the Jewish Museum of Greece in teacher-training conferences on the Holocaust in 2004 and 2005. Mission officers continued to monitor the issue of restitution of Jewish properties in Thessaloniki.
The consular section actively followed issues relating to religious workers' visas and property taxes.
The embassy and consulate general promoted and supported initiatives related to religious freedom. The embassy and consulate general used the International Visitor program to introduce Muslim community leaders to the United States and American counterparts.
The ambassador and mission officials regularly visited religious sites and conducted outreach throughout the country.