The constitution and other laws and policies protect religious freedom. There is no state religion, but the law gives eight religious groups a number of rights and privileges not given to other religious groups. Lutherans, Catholics, Orthodox Christians, Old Believers, Baptists, Methodists, Seventh-day Adventists, and Jews are the only religious groups represented on the government’s Ecclesiastical Council. Other distinctions relate to the teaching of religion courses in public schools. Religion-specific laws define relations between the state and each of these eight groups. Other religious groups are covered by a general law dealing with religious organizations.
The law distinguishes between religious groups registered for at least 10 years and those registered for fewer than 10 years, which are subject to annual registration requirements.
The prime minister chairs the Ecclesiastical Council, an advisory body that meets irregularly to comment on and issue recommendations on religious issues. The council’s recommendations do not carry the force of law, but typically warrant government attention because of the prime minister’s participation.
Although the government does not require religious groups to register, the law accords registered religious groups a number of rights and privileges, including legal entity status for owning property or for conducting financial transactions, as well as tax benefits for donors. Registration also allows religious groups to hold services in public places such as parks or public squares. Non-registered groups may not worship in public places.
By law, any 20 citizens or other persons over the age of 18 who have been recorded in the population register may apply to register a religious group. Those with temporary residency status, such as asylum seekers and foreign diplomatic staff, may register religious groups only during the authorized period of their residency permit. Ten or more congregations of the same faith or denomination, with permanent registration status, may form a religious association. Congregations not belonging to a registered religious association must reregister each year for 10 years. Only groups with religious association status may establish theological schools or monasteries. The Justice Ministry determines whether to register a religious group. The ministry may deny an application if registration would threaten human rights, the democratic structure of the state, public safety, welfare, or morals.
The law does not permit simultaneous registration of more than one religious association in a single faith or denomination. For example, the law prevents any church other than the Latvian Orthodox Church from registering with the word “Orthodox” in its name.
Visa regulations require foreign religious workers to present letters of invitation and either an ordination certificate or evidence of religious education that corresponds to a local bachelor’s degree in theology.
The law stipulates that foreign missionaries may hold meetings and proselytize only if invited by domestic religious groups to conduct such activities.
The law stipulates that representatives of certain Christian churches (Catholic, Evangelical Lutheran, Orthodox Christian, Old Believer, Baptist, Methodist, and Adventist) and Jewish groups may teach religion in public schools to students who elect to take such classes. The government provides funds for these classes. Students at state-supported national minority schools also may attend classes on a voluntary basis on the religion “characteristic of the national minority.” Other religious groups without their own state-supported minority schools may provide religious education only in private schools. Depending on the grade level, courses range from doctrinal instruction by church-approved instructors to nondenominational Christian teachings to overviews of major world religions. Parents can also register their children for voluntary nonreligious ethics classes.
The law criminalizes incitement to hatred on the basis of religious affiliation.
The government is a member of the Task Force for International Cooperation on Holocaust Education, Remembrance, and Research.
The government observes the following religious holidays as national holidays: Good Friday, Easter Monday, and Christmas.