The constitution and other laws and policies largely provide for religious freedom. The preamble of the 1959 constitution, which remains in force while the NCA drafts a new constitution, stipulates that the official religion is Islam and the state seeks to “remain faithful to the teachings of Islam.” Only a Muslim can serve as president. The constitution provides for freedom of conscience and free practice of religion when it “does not disturb public order.” It is illegal for non-Muslims to proselytize Muslims, as the government views such efforts as “disturbing the public order.” Citizens have the right to sue the government for violations of religious freedom.
The penal code criminalizes speech likely “to cause harm to the public order or public morals.” Another provision of the penal code criminalizes undermining public morals by “intentionally disturbing other persons in a way that offends the sense of public decency.” The telecommunications code criminalizes “harming others or disrupting their lives through public communication networks.” Speech that is deemed offensive to traditional religious values, including speech deemed blasphemous, is prosecuted under these provisions.
The government subsidizes mosques and pays the salaries of imams (clerics). The Grand Mufti of the Republic, whom the president appoints, remains in place after the 2011 revolution and the departure of the previous president. The Grand Mufti is charged with declaring religious holidays, issuing certificates of conversion to Islam, attending to citizens’ inquiries, representing the country at international religious conferences, providing opinions on school curriculum, and studying and writing about Islam. The law stipulates that only personnel the government appoints may lead activities in mosques. However, local committees increasingly manage the daily affairs of mosques, including opening hours and the outside visitor policy, a departure from the past practice of government-mandated closure of mosques except during prayer times and authorized religious ceremonies. The government initiates administrative and legal procedures to remove imams who authorities claim are preaching “divisive” theology. New mosques may be constructed provided they are built in accordance with national urban planning regulations. Mosques become government property upon completion, after which the government must maintain them.
Codified civil law is based on the Napoleonic code, although judges often use Sharia (Islamic law) as a basis for customary law in family and inheritance disputes. For example, codified laws provide women with custody of their minor children; however, when fathers contest cases, judges generally refuse to grant women permission to leave the country with their children, maintaining that Islamic law appoints the father as the head of the family and the father must grant permission for the children’s travel.
The government allows the Jewish community to worship freely and pays the salary of the grand rabbi. It also provides some security for all synagogues and partially subsidizes some restoration and maintenance costs. Government employees, the majority of whom are Muslims, maintain the Jewish cemetery in Tunis.
The government recognizes all Christian and Jewish religious organizations established before independence in 1956. The government permits Christian churches to operate freely, and formally recognizes the Roman Catholic Church through a 1964 concordat with the Holy See. In addition to authorizing 14 churches “serving all sects” in the country, the government also recognizes land grants the Bey of Tunis signed in the 18th and 19th centuries. Occasionally, Roman Catholic and Protestant religious groups hold services in private residences or other locations after receiving formal government approval.
Islamic religious education is mandatory in public schools. The religious curriculum for secondary school students also includes the history of Judaism and Christianity.
The government permits the Jewish community to operate private religious schools and allows Jewish children on the island of Djerba and in Tunis to split their academic day between public schools and private religious schools. The government-run Essouani School and the Houmt Souk Secondary School are the only schools where Jewish and Muslim students study together. To accommodate the Jewish Sabbath, Muslim students attend Islamic education lessons on Saturdays while their Jewish classmates attend classes on religion at a Jewish school in Djerba. There is also a small, private Jewish school in Tunis.
The government observes the following religious holidays as national holidays: the Islamic New Year, the birth of the Prophet Muhammad, Eid al-Fitr, and Eid al-Adha.