The constitution and other laws and policies protect religious freedom. There is no state religion; however, legislation recognizes religious communities, which according to the constitution are separate from the state and are equal and free in the exercise of religious affairs. This law provides the basic legal framework for religious relations between the state and religious communities. Religious communities were concerned that the law is outdated and does not adequately regulate relations.
There are four principal religious communities: the SPC, the Montenegrin Orthodox Church (CPC), the Roman Catholic Church, and the Islamic community. Other registered religious communities include the Seventh-day Adventist Church, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Evangelical Church, Biblical Christian Community, and others. The Government Commission for Political Systems and Internal and Foreign Policy, chaired by the deputy prime minister, is responsible for regulating relations between the state and religious communities.
The Criminal Code prescribes a fine or sentence of imprisonment, not exceeding two years, for preventing or restricting an individual’s freedom of belief or confession, or for preventing or obstructing the performance of one’s religious rites. A fine or maximum one-year imprisonment is the penalty for coercing another to declare his or her religious beliefs. Any official committing these crimes may receive a sentence of up to three years.
It is also a crime to cause and spread religious hatred, which includes the mockery of religious symbols or the desecration of monuments, memorial tablets, or tombs. The crime is punishable by a prison sentence ranging from six months to 10 years if the crime is the result of an abuse of position or authority, if it leads to violence, or if the consequences are detrimental to the coexistence of people, national minorities, or ethnic groups.
Government funds are available to support religious communities. These funds are allocated to religious communities after they submit an official request and receive approval from the government’s Secretariat General. Those funds are used mainly for paying pensions, providing disability insurance for clergy, and restoring shrines and holy sites. Thus far, only principal religious communities have received funding, and most were uninformed about the criteria established for requesting the funds. During the year, the SPC, which is by far the largest religious community, received 62,000 euros ($81,570) while the CPC received 142,000 euros ($186,800). The Muslim community received 41,000 euros ($53,940), and the Catholic Church received 27,000 euros ($35,520).
Religious communities receive limited tax exemptions. If they provide services to meet the needs of their members, they are exempt from paying value-added tax (VAT) and reporting their income. However, if they provide or produce market-oriented services or products exceeding 18,000 euros ($23,680) per fiscal year, they are subject to the 17 percent VAT.
When a religious community is founded, it must register with the local police within 15 days. Religious communities are then given the status of a legal entity.
By law, religious studies are not included in primary or secondary school curricula. The SPC Orthodox theological school in Cetinje and the Islamic religious secondary school in Tuzi are fully autonomous and are not included in the national educational system.
The Law on the Execution of Penal Sanctions provides that the fundamental rights of convicts serving their sentences in prisons must be upheld. This includes the ability of convicts to lead a religious life and have contact with their respective clergy. Convicts and persons serving misdemeanor sentences are allowed to request food that conforms to their religious customs.
On June 24 the government and the Vatican signed a Fundamental Agreement that regulates and defines the relationship between the Catholic Church and the government.
The government observes Orthodox Christmas and Easter as national holidays. Orthodox believers may celebrate their family’s patron saint’s day at their discretion: Catholics--Christmas, Easter, and All Saints’ Day; Muslims--Greater Bayram and Ramadan; and Jews--Passover and Yom Kippur. In practice no state institutions function during Orthodox holidays, while Muslim, Catholic, and Jewish employees receive time off during their respective holidays.