There were no reports of abuses of religious freedom; however, the government imposed some restrictions affecting members of minority religious groups. The Serbian Orthodox Church generally received preferential consideration. The government rejected applications for registration from several “nontraditional” religious groups. Police responses to vandalism and other acts of societal intolerance against religious groups rarely resulted in arrests or indictments. Restitution of properties seized by previous governments continued. Orthodox clergy at times received special treatment from authorities.
Protestant churches called on the government to abrogate parts of the law that categorize religions as either “traditional” or “nontraditional.” They also advocated removal of the prohibition on registering religious groups whose names include parts of names of already registered groups. Despite this prohibition, the former religion ministry in the past registered several “nontraditional” churches and religious communities bearing the words “Protestant” and “evangelical” in their names. Ministry officials explained that this was the result of efforts to “creatively interpret” the law to permit registration of “noncontroversial” groups as long as similarities between the names would not cause public confusion or provoke legal challenges. However, other religious groups continued to be unable to register due to the name prohibition.
At year’s end there were 17 “nontraditional” religious groups registered: the Seventh-day Adventist Church, the Evangelical Methodist Church, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons), the Evangelical Church in Serbia, the Church of Christ’s Love, the Spiritual Church of Christ, the Union of Christian Baptist Churches in Serbia, the Nazarene Christian Religious Community, the Church of God in Serbia, the Protestant Christian Community in Serbia, the Church of Christ Brethren in Serbia, the Free Belgrade Church, the Jehovah’s Witnesses Christian Religious Community, the Zion Sacrament Church, the Union Reform Movement Seventh-day Adventist Church, the Protestant Evangelical Church Spiritual Center, and the Evangelical Church of Christ.
The Ministry of Justice rejected new applications for registration on procedural grounds for the New Apostolic Church, the Protestant evangelical “Community of Roma Under the Tent,” and the Church of Golgotha.
The Macedonian and Montenegrin Orthodox churches, whose autocephaly the Serbian Orthodox Church does not recognize, also remained unregistered. Officials of the former religion ministry previously stated they would not become involved in an “internal schism” within the Serbian Orthodox Church by registering the two groups. The government also continued to recognize the Romanian Orthodox Church solely in Vojvodina; members of the church elsewhere in the country were able to hold public services only at the discretion of individual bishops of the Serbian Orthodox Church. Government officials have stated these Orthodox groups could not be registered because the word “Orthodox” had already been used in the name of a previously registered church.
Although the Greek and Russian Orthodox churches were not registered, they operated freely.
Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) criticized the authorities for slow or inadequate response to incidents of vandalism and other societal acts against religious groups; arrests, indictments, or other resolutions of incidents were rare. Leaders of minority religious groups stated they often declined to report incidents because they did not expect an adequate official response. When the authorities made arrests, they usually charged offenders with destruction of property rather than incitement of religious hatred, which carries much higher penalties.
Protestant leaders and NGOs continued to object to the teaching of religion in public schools, and some leaders of “nontraditional” religious groups expressed dissatisfaction at not being permitted to offer religious classes in public schools. Children belonging to “nontraditional” religious groups generally opted to attend civic education classes. Islamic religious leaders from Sandzak (ethnic Bosniak) and South Serbia (ethnic Albanian) contested the appointments of some religious teachers for schools in their regions. Religious education for students from smaller religious groups was often unavailable due to their low density in public schools. For that reason, the Roman Catholic Church offered religious education in churches instead of schools.
Students and the dean of the Faculty of Islamic Studies in Novi Pazar continued to protest the former religion ministry’s exclusion of the university from its yearly competition for student stipends. They stated that the terms of the competition provided preferential treatment to ethnic Serb students from Serbia, from Republika Srpska in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and from other neighboring countries.
The government continued restitution of religious properties seized in 1945 or later. The Directorate for Restitution of Communal and Religious Property received 3,049 restitution requests filed by the Serbian Orthodox Church, Roman Catholic Church, Jewish community, Romanian Orthodox Church, Reformed Christian Church, Islamic Community, Evangelical Christian Church, and Union of Christian Baptist Churches in Serbia. By year’s end, the Directorate for Restitution had completed 36 percent of the requested property restitutions, restoring land and other real estate (buildings, businesses, apartments) primarily to the Serbian Orthodox Church, Roman Catholic Church, Evangelical Christian Church, and Jewish community, among others. Some religious groups, particularly the Jewish and Muslim communities whose land was confiscated before 1945, opposed the 1945 benchmark to determine the eligibility of restitution claims by religious groups.
Following a 2011 government decision to establish a chaplaincy service in the military, in September the Ministry of Defense called for applications to fill 15 chaplain positions. Of these, 13 were designated for Orthodox Christian priests, one for a Roman Catholic priest, and one for an imam. Military members belonging to “nontraditional” religious groups did not have their own chaplains.
Orthodox clergy at times received special treatment from authorities. In August a Greek Orthodox priest caused a traffic accident that killed two people. Serbian Patriarch Irinej appealed to the Basic Court and Basic Prosecutor’s Office in Nis to allow the priest to stay in a nearby monastery during the investigation instead of being held in detention. The patriarch gave his and Bishop of Nis Jovan’s guarantees that the Greek Orthodox priest would remain in the monastery. Both the court and prosecution accepted the patriarch’s offer.
In August authorities charged Serbian Orthodox priest Branislav Peranovic with killing a patient at a drug abuse rehabilitation center near Loznica. Peranovic had been charged in 2009 with beating a patient to death at another drug rehabilitation center. His aides, who were charged with sexual abuse, received sentences below the minimum prescribed for the offense. The 2009 case against Peranovic for abuse and torture was still underway at the time he allegedly committed the second murder. Throughout this period, Peranovic continued to treat patients without objections from the Serbian Orthodox Church or the authorities.
The Roman Catholic Church continued to call for “Western Christmas” to be observed as a national holiday on December 25.