The constitution and other laws and policies generally protect religious freedom. The constitution establishes the country as a secular state and provides for freedom of belief, worship, and the private dissemination of religious ideas. The constitution prohibits discrimination on religious grounds.
The penal code prohibits imams, priests, rabbis, and other religious leaders from “reproaching or vilifying” the government or the laws of the state while performing their duties. Violations were punishable by prison terms of one month to one year, or three months to two years if the crime involved inciting others to disobey the law.
There are legal restrictions against insulting a recognized religion, interfering with such a religious group’s services, or defacing its property.
The law requires eight years of compulsory secular education, after which students may pursue studies at general state schools or vocational high schools, which include imam hatip (Muslim preacher) vocational high schools. Students are permitted to enroll in summer Qur’an classes provided by the Directorate of Religious Affairs (Diyanet) after completing the fifth grade (typically at the age of 11), which is the only legal form of Qur’an instruction in the country. Individuals who complete the eighth grade or reach 16 years of age can attend year-long Qur’an courses provided by the Diyanet. Nonetheless, during the year non-state organizations taught unofficial and illegal Qur’an courses outside the Diyanet’s control. The state did not take action against these unofficial courses.
The government interprets the 1923 Lausanne Treaty as granting special legal minority status exclusively to three recognized groups--Armenian Orthodox Christians, Jews, and Greek Orthodox Christians--although the treaty referred broadly to “non-Muslim minorities” without listing specific groups. Since this recognition does not extend to religious leadership organs, the administrations of these religious communities do not have legal personality.
The state provides training for Sunni Muslim clerics; religious communities outside the Sunni Muslim mainstream do not have a system to train leadership inside the country within the current legal framework, as they are not allowed to operate their own clerical training institutions. Coreligionists from outside the country assume informal leadership positions in some cases, but the leaders of the Armenian Apostolic, Greek Orthodox, and Jewish communities must be Turkish citizens according to a mandate by the Istanbul Governorate (where these leaders reside), in an arrangement dating to Ottoman times. The government has granted citizenship to 20 of the 26 Greek Orthodox metropolitans who have applied for citizenship, which widened the pool from which Patriarchs are selected. This process is discretionary and not enshrined in law.
The government considered Alevism a heterodox Muslim sect and did not financially support religious worship in this belief system.
The government does not recognize conscientious objection to military service, and those who opposed mandatory military service on religious grounds faced charges in military and civilian courts, as well as prison sentences.
Registration with the government was not mandatory for religious groups; however, unregistered religious groups have no legal standing and can face greater harassment than registered groups. All organizations, including religious groups, have the opportunity to register as an association or a foundation. Religious groups must associate themselves with a charitable or cultural cause in order to register.
The General Directorate of Foundations (GDF) regulates all charitable foundations with a religious affiliation and assesses whether the foundations are operating within the stated objectives of their organizational statute.
While both foundations and associations receive equal protection by law, associations must be nonprofit by definition and may receive financial support only in the form of donations. A foundation has greater fiscal freedom and may earn income through companies and rent-earning properties. However, the process for establishing a foundation is substantially lengthier and more expensive than that for establishing an association. Parliament determines on an annual basis the minimum capital requirement for creating a foundation. During the year the minimum was set at approximately 50,000 lira ($33,300).
There were several categories of foundations, including religious community foundations, education foundations, and aid foundations. At the beginning of the year there were 161 religious community foundations, the vast majority of which existed during the Ottoman Empire and were grandfathered into the country’s foundation system. From 1936 until August 2011, religious groups were not able to register as new religious community foundations and gain the legal rights held by such foundations.
On August 27, Prime Minister Erdogan announced a decree that communities whose properties had been expropriated by the state could apply for them to be returned, or to receive compensation for properties that had been sold to a third party. The decree also permitted the formation of new religious community foundations to account for oversights in the 1936 law and the reopening of foundations that had previously been closed and administered by the GDF.
Other religious groups that were not recognized in the Ottoman Empire nor applicable under the August decree may apply to register as a “new foundation” promoting charitable works but not for a religious purpose. For example, the foundation may not focus its activities on a particular religious or ethnic community. To begin the process, applicants must pay a sum, determined by the GDF, according to the extent of their intended activities. Religious community foundations are the only religious groups that may own real estate. A foundation of any category may be closed only by a court judgment, which provides some protection for religious community foundations.
The process for a religious community to become an association can take as little as three months, with no capital requirement. A group must submit a registration application to the provincial governor’s office and may immediately begin operating while awaiting confirmation from the governor’s office that its bylaws are constitutional. Associations can be closed by court orders, and they have fewer legal rights and protections at the local level. Associations are bound by the civil code not to discriminate on the grounds of religion, ethnicity, or race. As a result, associations focused on support for one religious group were not permitted.
The GDF regulated activities of all religious community foundations and their affiliated property, including 75 Greek Orthodox foundations; 42 Armenian Orthodox foundations; and 19 Jewish foundations; as well as Armenian Catholic, Armenian Protestant, Syriac Orthodox, Syriac Catholic, Chaldean, Bulgarian Orthodox, and Georgian Catholic foundations. An August decree allowed for new religious community foundations to be formed, and in December the GDF approved a new Jewish Foundation in Izmir.
The government oversees Muslim religious facilities and extracurricular Qur’anic courses through the Diyanet, which is under the authority of the prime ministry. The Diyanet is responsible for regulating the operation of more than 81,900 registered mosques and employing more than 75,700 local imams, Qur’an instructors, muezzins, and other religious workers, who are all civil servants. Municipalities pay for the utility bills for those mosques located within their boundaries.
The constitution establishes compulsory religious and moral instruction in public primary and secondary schools, with content determined by the Ministry of National Education’s Department of Religious Instruction. Only Greek Orthodox, Armenian Orthodox, and Jewish religious foundations may operate schools under the supervision of the Education Ministry. The curricula of these schools included information unique to the cultures of the three groups. Previously the ministry verified if the child’s father or mother was a Turkish citizen from that minority community before the child could enroll. In September the government gave non-Turkish citizens of these three groups, including children of Armenian migrants, permission to enroll in these community schools. Other religious communities may not operate schools of their own.
Under the law, religious services may take place only in designated places of worship. Municipal codes mandate that only the government can designate a place of worship, and if a religion has no legal standing in the country, it cannot register a site.
The constitution provides that no one shall be compelled to reveal his or her religious beliefs. Although there is a space in which to list one’s religious affiliation on national identity cards, citizens may choose not to include a religion on their cards. Many religious groups complained that by not including an identity or listing something other than Muslim, individuals were precluded from jobs in the state bureaucracy or government and discriminated against in the private sector.
A few religious groups, such as the Baha’i, Alevi, and Yezidi, were unable to state their religious identity on their national identity cards because their religions were not included among the available options. Despite a 2006 regulation allowing persons to leave the religious identity section of their identity cards blank or change the religious identity section by written application, the government continued to restrict applicants’ choice of religion. Applicants must either leave the religious identity section blank or choose from the following: Muslim, Greek Orthodox, Christian, Jew, Hindu, Zoroastrian, Confucian, Taoist, Buddhist, no religion, or other.
The 2011 European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruling that suggested (but did not mandate) omitting any reference to religion on national identity cards was not implemented by the end of the year. The ruling was in response to a case brought by an Alevi man who wished to list “Alevi” as his religion. There were reports that local officials harassed persons who converted from Islam to another religion when they sought to amend their identity cards. Some non-Muslims maintained that listing their religious affiliation on the cards exposed them to discrimination and harassment.
The government observes the following religious holidays as national holidays: three days at the end of Ramadan (Ramazan Bayrami) and four days for the feast of the sacrifice (Kurban Bayrami).