The constitution and other laws and policies protect religious freedom. The government, however, continues to differentiate between recognized and unrecognized religious groups, and registration and recognition requirements continue to pose obstacles to minority religious groups.
Under the law, the government implements a three-tier system of recognition: grupari religioase (religious groups that are not legal entities), religious associations, and religions.
Grupari religioase, as defined by the law, are groups of persons who share the same beliefs but do not receive tax exemptions or support from the state. Since the implementation of the 2006 religion law, 18 religious groups have received approval from the State Secretariat for Religious Affairs to register as religious associations, one of which was approved during the year.
Religious associations are legal entities that do not receive government funding, must be registered as such in a religious association registry, and receive only limited tax exemptions. The section of the religion law on tax exemptions has engendered some confusion, since it confers tax exemptions “according to the fiscal code.” However, the fiscal code does not address the issue of tax exemptions for religious associations.
The government does not permit unrecognized groups to engage in profit-making activities. To register, religious associations must have 300 citizen members and must submit members’ personal data. In contrast, the membership requirement for registration of any other type of association is only three members. Religious associations are able to receive religion status only if they have 12 years of continuous activity and a minimum membership of 0.1 percent of the population (approximately 20,000 persons).
The law recognizes 18 religions: the Romanian Orthodox Church, Orthodox Serb Bishopric of Timisoara, Roman Catholic Church, Greek Catholic Church, Old Rite Russian Christian (Orthodox) Church, Reformed (Protestant) Church, Christian Evangelical Church, Romanian Evangelical Church, Evangelical Augustinian Church, Lutheran Evangelical Church, Unitarian Church, Baptist Church, Pentecostal Church, Seventh-day Adventist Church, Armenian Church, Judaism, Islam, and Jehovah’s Witnesses. Groups recognized as religions under the law are eligible for state support based on their proportional representation in the census. They have the right to establish schools, teach religion classes in public schools where they have a sufficient number of adherents, receive government funds to build places of worship, partially pay clergy salaries with state funds, broadcast religious programming on radio and television, apply for broadcasting licenses for denominational frequencies, have cemeteries, and enjoy tax-exempt status.
Under the religion law, the state-provided budget is determined by the number of adherents of each recognized religious community reported in the most recent census and “the religion’s actual needs.” The majority of the funds go to the Romanian Orthodox Church. Some minority religious groups, such as Greek Catholics, claim the census significantly undercounted members of their community, lowering the amount of state funding.
The law entitles religious communities to bury, without restriction, their deceased in cemeteries belonging to other religious groups in localities where some religious groups do not have cemeteries of their own and there is no public cemetery. Local permits are required to build places of worship, as is the case with secular buildings.
Ministry of Justice regulations provide for unrestricted access by recognized religions and religious associations to any type of detention facilities, even if their assistance is not requested specifically. The regulations also forbid any interference by the management of penitentiaries with religious programs and forbid the presence of officials at meetings between representatives of religious groups and prisoners. The government does not restrict distribution of religious publications by recognized religions and religious associations. By statute, prison representatives in charge of religious assistance may not be priests or representatives of any religious community.
The law allows clergy from recognized religious groups to minister to military personnel.
A 2006 law to combat anti-Semitism bans fascist, racist, and xenophobic organizations and includes the persecution of Roma in addition to Jews in its definition of the Holocaust.
The government permits, but does not require, religious instruction in public schools. Attendance in religion classes is optional. To be excused from religion classes, students must submit requests in writing. The 18 recognized religions are entitled to hold religion classes in public schools. According to a new education law adopted in January, students are entitled to receive religion classes in their faith irrespective of their number. The law permits instruction according to the religious affiliation of the students’ parents. The constitution and the 2006 religion law allow the establishment of state subsidized confessional schools.
The law provides for long-stay visas for persons conducting religious activities. Visa requirements include approval by the State Secretariat for Religious Affairs, submission of evidence that applicants represent legally established religious organizations, certification of medical insurance, and a criminal record review. The law provides for up to five years of visa extensions. Penalties for foreigners who stay without a visa do not appear to be linked to religious activities.
The law provides for the restitution of all buildings belonging to ethnic communities that the government confiscated between 1940 and 1989 (including the period between 1940 and 1944, when the pro-Nazi government seized a large number of Jewish properties). The law, however, does not address the return of Greek Catholic churches that the Communist government confiscated and transferred to the Orthodox Church in 1948. A separate law permits the Greek Catholic Church to pursue court action when its attempts to obtain restitution of its properties from the Orthodox Church are unsuccessful, but effective implementation of resulting court decisions has been problematic.
The government observes the following religious holidays as national holidays: Christmas (December 25), Orthodox Easter, Pentecost Monday, and the Assumption of Mary (August 15). Members of other recognized Christian religious groups that celebrate Easter on a different date are entitled to have an additional holiday.