The constitution and other laws and policies protect religious freedom.
Under a concordat with the Catholic Church, the state is secular but provides support for religion, which it can extend to non-Catholic religious groups if requested. In such cases, legislation implementing the provisions of an accord between the government and the religious group governs state support. An accord grants clergy automatic access to state hospitals, prisons, and military barracks; allows for civil registry of religious marriages; facilitates special religious practices regarding funerals; and exempts students from school attendance on religious holidays. An accord also allows a religious group to receive funds collected by the state through a voluntary check-off on taxpayer returns. The absence of an accord does not affect a religious group’s ability to worship freely.
The government does not automatically grant accord privileges. Representatives of a particular faith have the right to submit a request for recognition as a legal religious entity to the Office of the Prime Minister. The government and the group’s representatives negotiate a draft agreement. The Council of Ministers must approve it, after which the prime minister signs it and it passes to parliament for final approval. Religious groups without elected official representatives able to engage in dialogue with the government, such as the Muslim community, are unable to begin the accord process.
Non-Catholic groups with an accord include the Confederation of Methodist and Waldensian Churches, Seventh-day Adventists, Assemblies of God, Jews, Baptists, Lutherans, Mormons, the Orthodox Church of the Constantinople Patriarchate, and the Apostolic Church. The government has draft accords with the Buddhist Union, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and Hindus. Negotiations remain suspended with the Soka Gakkai, a Japanese Buddhist group.
The law provides all religious groups with tax-exempt status and the right of recognition as legal entities. The Catholic Church has traditionally been exempt from property taxes on commercial buildings attached to parishes and other church properties, but the government announced its intention during the year to end the exemption.
By law, insults against any divinity are considered blasphemy, a crime punishable by a fine ranging from 51 euros ($68) to 309 euros ($413), although the law is not enforced.
Holocaust denial is a crime punishable by up to four years in prison.
A 2005 antiterrorism decree penalizing those who attempt to hide their identity could, if enforced, affect those who choose to wear face-concealing attire such as the niqab (a face veil) or burqa (a loose robe covering the entire body, including the face and head). There are no restrictions on wearing the hijab (headscarf) in public. A seldom-cited 1931 law forbids individuals from hiding their identities, and a 1975 antiterrorism law requires persons to show their faces in public for security reasons.
Missionaries and other religious workers must apply for special religious activity visas before arriving in the country.
The government allows the Catholic Church to select teachers, paid by the state, to provide instruction in “hour of religion” courses taught in the public schools. The courses are optional, and students who do not wish to attend can study other subjects or, in certain cases, leave school early with parental consent. Church-selected instructors may be either lay or religious, and the instruction includes material relevant to non-Catholic religious groups. The law provides funding for all private religiously affiliated schools meeting government educational standards.
Government funding is available only for Catholic religion teachers. If a student requests a religion teacher from a non-Catholic religious group, that group must cover the cost of instruction.
The government provides permits and public land for constructing places of worship. Government funding also helps preserve and maintain historic places of worship that shelter much of the country’s artistic and cultural heritage.
The government observes the following religious holidays as national holidays: Epiphany, Easter Monday, Assumption of the Virgin Mary, All Saints Day, Immaculate Conception, and Christmas.