The constitution and other laws and policies protect religious freedom. The 2007 Anti-Discrimination Act outlaws discrimination based on religion or philosophical orientation, among other grounds. However, conditions were not optimal for Muslims or groups listed as potential “sects.”
The government funds the Center for Information and Advice on Harmful Sectarian Organizations (CIAOSN), which collects publicly available information on a wide range of religious and philosophical groups, provides information to the public, and, upon request, gives advice to authorities on “sectarian” organizations. CIAOSN published no reports during the year. CIAOSN continues to maintain on its website a document that contains a list of 189 groups that could be considered “sects,” including the Church of Scientology, the Mormons, and Jehovah’s Witnesses. This document was used as a justification for founding the center. The list does not officially designate such groups as “sects,” nor does it provide a definition for what constitutes a sect. Some organizations on the list, however, claim that it creates a presumption that they are “sects.” According to officials at the center, the largest number of public inquiries concern new, therapeutic organizations focusing on mental or physical well-being. The government likewise maintains an Interagency Coordination Group on “harmful sects” that deals primarily with confidential material, and works with legal and security institutions of the government to coordinate government policy.
By the end of the year, parliament had not amended the criminal code to include a special section on “offenses committed by sectarian organizations.” Currently “sectarian organizations” can be investigated under existing laws on such grounds as embezzlement, money laundering, abuse of confidence, misappropriation of wills, illegal medical practices, and fraud.
The country belongs to the Task Force for International Cooperation on Holocaust Education, Remembrance, and Research, and spent much of the year preparing to assume the presidency of the task force in 2012. Federal law prohibits public statements that incite national, racial, or religious hatred, including denial of the Holocaust. The maximum sentence for Holocaust denial is one year imprisonment.
The government accords “recognized” status to Catholicism, Protestantism (including evangelicals and Pentecostals), Judaism, Anglicanism (separately from other Protestant groups), Islam, and Orthodox (Greek and Russian) Christianity. Representative bodies for these religious groups receive subsidies from the federal, regional, and local governments, including payment of wages and pensions for their clergy. The federal government and parliament have responsibility for recognizing religious groups. The government also supports the freedom to participate in secular organizations to an equal extent and thus funds activities related to secular humanism.
The government applies five criteria in deciding whether to grant recognition to a religious group: the religion must have a structure or hierarchy; the group must have a sufficient number of members; the religion must have existed in the country for a long period of time; it must offer social value to the public; and it must abide by the laws of the state and respect public order. These criteria are not listed in decrees or laws, and the government does not formally define “sufficient,” “long period of time,” or “social value.” A religious group seeking official recognition applies to the Ministry of Justice, which then conducts a thorough review before recommending approval or rejection. Final approval of recognized status is the sole responsibility of parliament; however, parliament generally accepts the recommendation of the Ministry of Justice. There have been no instances in which a group has applied for official recognition and been denied. However, the Church of Scientology claims it has not bothered to apply since its assumption is it would be denied recognition.
The lack of recognized status does not prevent a religious group from practicing freely and openly. While unrecognized groups do not qualify for government subsidies, they may qualify for tax-exempt status as nonprofit organizations.
In 1993 the government established the Center for Equal Opportunity and Opposition to Racism (CEOOR), an independent agency responsible for litigating discrimination cases, including those of a religious nature. It is formally part of the Office of the Prime Minister and operates under control of the Ministry of Interior. The board of directors and managing director are appointed by the government for renewable six-year terms.
The minister of justice appoints a magistrate in each judicial district to monitor racism and discrimination cases, thus making it easier to prosecute discrimination as a criminal act.
The public education system, from kindergarten to university, requires strict neutrality with regard to the presentation of religious views except from teachers of religion. Religious or “moral” instruction is mandatory in public schools and is provided according to the student’s religious or nonreligious preference. All public schools provide teachers for each of the six recognized religious groups if a sufficient number of pupils wish to attend. Public school religion teachers are nominated by a committee from their religious group and appointed by the minister of education of the concerned community government. Private authorized religious schools that follow the same curriculum as public schools are known as “free” schools. They receive community government subsidies for operating expenses, including building maintenance and utilities. Teachers, like other civil servants, are paid by their respective community governments.
The government observes the following religious holidays as national holidays: Easter, Ascension, Pentecost, Assumption, All Saints Day, and Christmas.