The constitution and other laws and policies protect religious freedom.
The government recognizes the Holy See as a sovereign authority. Under the concordat with the Catholic Church, the state is secular but maintains the practice of state support for religion, which can also be extended to non-Catholic religious groups if requested. In such cases, state support is governed by legislation implementing the provisions of an intesa (accord) between the government and the religious group. An intesa grants clergy 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. The absence of an intesa does not affect a religious group’s ability to worship freely; however, the government does not always grant the intesa privileges automatically, and a religious community without an intesa does not benefit financially from the voluntary check-off on taxpayer returns.
The state pays Catholic religion teachers, but this financial support is not available to other religious communities. If a student requests a religion teacher of a non-Catholic religious group, that group could select a representative but has to cover the cost.
Non-Catholic groups with an intesa include the Confederation of Methodist and Waldensian Churches, Adventists, Assemblies of God, Jews, Baptists, and Lutherans. The government has also signed draft accords with the Buddhist Union, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormons, the Apostolic Church, the Orthodox Church of the Constantinople Patriarchate, Hindus, the Confederation of Methodist and Waldensian Churches, and the Adventists. Negotiations remained suspended with the Soka Gakkai, a Japanese Buddhist group.
The law provides all religious groups the right of recognition as legal entities and the right to be granted tax-exempt status. Insults against any divinity are considered blasphemy, a crime punishable by a fine ranging from 51 euros ($68) to 309 euros ($413). There were no reports regarding enforcement of this law during the year.
Holocaust denial is a crime punishable by up to four years in prison.
A 2005 antiterrorism decree, which penalized those who attempted to hide their identity could, if enforced, affect those who choose to wear face-concealing attire such as the niqab (a face veil) or burqa (a loose robe covering the entire body, including the face and head); there were no restrictions on wearing the hijab (headscarf) in public. A seldom-cited 1931 law forbids individuals from hiding their identities, and a 1975 antiterror law requires persons to show their faces in public for security reasons.
Missionaries and other religious workers must apply for special religious activity visas prior to arriving in the country.
The Catholic Church has certain privileges regarding instruction in public schools. For example, the government allows the church to select Catholic teachers, paid by the state, to provide instruction in “hour of religion” courses taught in the public schools. Such courses are 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 may now be either lay or religious, and their instruction is intended to include material relevant to non-Catholic religious groups. The law provides funding for all private schools that meet government educational standards.
The government observes the following religious holidays as national holidays: Epiphany, Easter Monday, Assumption of the Virgin Mary, All Saints Day, Immaculate Conception, and Christmas.