The constitution and other laws and policies protect religious freedom.
The constitution provides that “all inhabitants are free to have and express religion.” The law on religious freedom and affiliation further specifies the right of individuals to choose, change, and practice their religion. Any person over the age of 15 years has the right to join or leave a religious community. While parents have the right to decide their child’s religion before age 15, the views of children over seven years must be taken into consideration and, when over 12 years, the child’s opinion must be given emphasis.
The constitution provides the right to practice religion, but some laws conflict with practical lifestyle aspects of certain religious groups. For example, by law the slaughter of an animal must be preceded by stunning or administering anesthetics, which conflicts with kosher slaughter requirements and some interpretations of halal meat preparation requirements. The law effectively bans the production of kosher meat in the country, thus requiring the Jewish community to import kosher meat. In particular, the ability to import kosher chicken is regularly an issue of concern.
The penal code covers violations of the right to religious freedom. It specifies penalties for expressions of disrespect for religious standpoints or followers and for public discrimination on the basis of religion. As of July 1 the Ministry of Defense allows employees to wear religious symbols, including headgear, with military uniforms. A ban remains on wearing religious symbols, including headgear, with police uniforms.
The equality and anti-discrimination ombudsman is charged with enforcing legislation prohibiting discrimination on the basis of religion and other personal characteristics. The ombudsman publishes non-binding findings in response to complaints that a person or organization has violated a law or regulation within the ombudsman’s mandate. The ombudsman also provides advice and guidance on anti-discrimination law.
In May parliament passed a constitutional amendment separating the state from the ELC. The government no longer appoints bishops, priests, and church clerks, although church staff are still considered public employees. Government ministers are no longer required to be members of the ELC, nor must the king be a member of the church. Although no longer under full state control, the ELC receives some benefits not available to other religious groups. The state supports the church financially and the law regulates clerical salaries and pensions.
Other religious groups may register with the government to receive state financial support. The government provides financial support to all registered denominations in proportion to their formally registered membership.
Individuals citing conscientious or other objection to military service may apply to serve in a civilian capacity.
Foreign religious workers are subject to the same visa and work permit requirements as other foreign workers.
The Christian Knowledge and Religious and Ethical Information (CKREE) course is offered in grades one through 10 (generally ages six to 16). CKREE reviews world religions and philosophies while promoting tolerance and respect for all religious beliefs. Citing the country’s Christian history, the CKREE course devotes extensive time to studying Christianity, but includes discussion of other religious groups. This course is mandatory; there are no exceptions for children from other religious or non-religious groups. However, students may be exempted from participating in or performing specific religious acts during the course, such as attending Christmas church services.
Legislation in effect does not permit religious organizations to inquire about an applicant’s sexual orientation or discriminate on the basis of gender, unless differential treatment is shown to have a legitimate purpose. Religious organizations retain the right to use discretion in their hiring processes, however, as “legitimate purpose” is broadly defined.
The government is a member of the Task Force for International Cooperation on Holocaust Education, Remembrance, and Research. Schools nationwide observe Holocaust Memorial Day on January 27 as part of a National Plan of Action to Combat Racism and Discrimination. High school curricula include material on the deportation and extermination of Jewish citizens from 1942 to 1945.
The government observes the following religious holidays as national holidays: Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Easter Sunday, Easter Monday, Ascension Day, Pentecost, Whit Monday, Christmas Day, and Saint Stephen’s Day.