There were no reports of abuses of religious freedom. The government initiated discussions regarding changes in the funding of churches and religious groups.
Human rights organizations reported that the requirement that religious groups have at least 20,000 adult adherents to be eligible to register with the government disadvantaged smaller groups. Although smaller groups were able to function, they stated they were in legal limbo which at times could create difficulty gaining access to their clergy and other resources. For example, clergy from unregistered religious groups could not minister to their members in prisons or government hospitals, and religious weddings by these groups needed to be accompanied by a civil ceremony to be legally valid. Occasionally, members of these groups were prevented from burying their relatives in municipal cemeteries; however, limitations on burial practices also affected registered groups at times. Unregistered groups were not represented in official educational materials for religion classes. However, other small groups who managed to register prior to the new regulations also lacked representation in these classes. Unregistered groups could not establish religious schools but were able to circumvent this limitation by setting up private schools. The government required public broadcasters to allocate airtime for registered religious groups, but not for unregistered groups.
In February the Ministry of Culture launched a series of working group meetings with religious representatives and created an “Expert Commission” to produce a new model of funding for registered religious groups. The change was seen as moving toward greater separation between church and state in terms of funding, which if adopted would give taxpayers the choice of dedicating a portion of their taxes to a religious group instead of the ministry allocating funding directly, as is currently the case.
The Department of Church Affairs at the Ministry of Culture oversees relations between religious groups and the state and manages the distribution of state subsidies to religious groups and associations. The ministry cannot intervene in the internal affairs of religious groups and does not direct their activities. The ministry administers a cultural grant program that allocates money for the upkeep of cultural and religious monuments.
In February the Church of Faith applied for registration, fulfilling the new rules by submitting 21,500 signed declarations. Following an extensive investigation, the ministry concluded that the vast majority of the declarations were forged, and that the Church of Faith was likely a front for the Christian Fellowship. The ministry rejected the application in October and launched a criminal investigation. The Church of Faith has appealed the decision at the Supreme Court. The ministry stated that a religious group with 20,000 adherents should be well known in the community, which it stated the Church of Faith was not.
Some property restitution cases remained unresolved. Religious organizations applied for the return of their property confiscated by the former communist government under the 1993 law on the restitution of communal property, which specified a filing deadline of December 31, 1994. The government, municipalities, state legal entities, and under certain conditions private persons, returned property in its existing condition. Some of the churches, synagogues, and cemeteries that were returned were in poor condition. The law did not provide compensation for the damage done to these properties under the communists, and religious groups often lacked the funds to restore these properties to a usable state.
Some restitution cases remained pending with various courts, but the Ministry of Culture stated it was difficult even for the Roman Catholic Church to estimate the exact number of confiscated properties because the cases involved a large number of legal entities, including, for example, thousands of parishes or religious orders. The Slovak Bishops’ Conference estimated the state had returned approximately 35 percent of Catholic Church property. The Catholic Church is not eligible to reacquire lands originally registered to church foundations that no longer exist or operate in the country, including groups such as the Benedictines.