There were no reports of abuses of religious freedom. The government sometimes enforced legal and policy restrictions on religious freedom. These restrictions generally stemmed from the religion law’s special treatment of the seven “traditional” churches. There were also cases of building restrictions and problems in the restitution of properties seized by previous governments. Protestant churches called on the government to amend the law by abrogating parts of the law that categorize religions as either “traditional” or “nontraditional” and, specifically, to amend the registration requirements for “nontraditional” churches.
The Ministry of Religion continued to deny registration to the League of Baptists, Hare Krishna Movement, Pentecostal Church, and Protestant Evangelical Church of Subotica. At the end of the year, according to Supreme Court data, there were cases filed by three religious communities--the Union of Baptist Churches, Church of Christian Oath, and the Montenegrin Orthodox Church--pending before the Supreme Court appealing the ministry’s decision to deny them registration.
Although the Greek and Russian Orthodox Churches were not registered, they were recognized by the government and allowed to operate freely. However, the government has not registered other Orthodox churches, despite attempts by the Macedonian and Montenegrin Orthodox Churches to gain recognition. Ministry officials state that the attempts of the Macedonian and Montenegrin Orthodox Churches to register separately from the Serbian Orthodox Church, which does not recognize either church, were the result of an internal schism with which the state could not become involved. The Romanian Orthodox Church faced a similar situation outside of its recognized diocese in Vojvodina. Religion ministry officials stated in the past that the groups could not be registered because “Orthodox” is included in the name of a previously registered church and the Serbian Orthodox Church would have grounds to sue if the ministry registered them.
Protestant leaders and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) continued to object to the teaching of religion in public schools, while leaders of religious groups excluded from the program continued to express dissatisfaction with the government’s narrow definition of religion. The government Committee for Religious Education in Elementary and Secondary Schools was comprised of civil servants from the religion ministry and representatives of the seven “traditional” religious communities.
Students and the dean of the Faculty of Islamic Studies in Novi Pazar continued to protest the fact that the religion ministry excluded their university from its yearly competition for student stipends. They claimed that the terms of the competition were discriminatory because they provided preferential treatment to ethnic Serb students from the country, from Republika Srpska in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and from other neighboring countries.
Some religious groups--particularly the Jewish and Muslim communities, which lost land as a result of confiscations prior to 1945--opposed using the 1945 benchmark of the Law on Restitution to Churches and Religious Communities to determine the eligibility of claims. Partially as a result of that opposition, the new private property restitution law permits individual claims for properties lost by Holocaust victims during World War II. Representatives of several religious communities lamented the slow pace of restitution and advocated for status equal to that of the Serbian Orthodox Church. Under the 2006 Law on Restitution to Churches and Religious Communities, unregistered religious communities could not seek restitution of property. Under the law passed during the year, individuals can now seek restitution of private property, but the law still does not allow for the restitution of properties that previously belonged to unregistered religious communities.
Progress slowed but continued on the restitution of religious properties seized in 1945 or later. The Directorate for Restitution of Communal and Religious Property continued to process 3,049 restitution requests filed from 2006 to 2008 by the Serbian Orthodox Church, Catholic Church, Jewish community, Romanian Orthodox Church, Reformation Church, Islamic Community, Evangelical Church, and Association of Christian Baptist Churches. According to the directorate, it has returned 283,160 square kilometers of land, which is 40 percent of the 821,974 square kilometers that have been claimed. The Serbian Orthodox Church accounts for the vast majority of claims, and has received 44 percent of its claimed property. The Catholic Church has received 11 percent of its claimed property, while the Jewish community has received 0.5 percent of its claimed property, and the Islamic Community has received none of the property that it claimed.