The constitution and other laws and policies generally protect religious freedom.
Under a concordat with the Catholic Church, the state is secular but provides financial support for religious groups, which it can extend to non-Catholic religious groups if they request it. An accord is required between the government and the religious group.
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 then negotiate a draft agreement. The Council of Ministers must approve it, after which the prime minister signs it, and it is submitted to parliament for final approval. Once the parliament approves the implementing legislation, the accord governs the relationship between the government and the religious group, including 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 0.8 percent set-aside on taxpayer returns.
The law also provides religious groups, regardless of whether they have an accord, with tax-exempt status and the right of recognition as legal entities as long as they have completed a registration process similar to that of an NGO. In November 2012, the government introduced property taxes on commercial buildings attached to parishes and other church properties with some exceptions regarding activities of assistance and health care centers.
The absence of an accord does not affect a religious group’s ability to worship freely.
A limited agreement between the Italian government and the Islamic Cultural Center (CCI) of the Great Mosque of Rome, the largest mosque in Italy, allows the CCI to receive the support of foreign governments for its activities. The current secretary general of the CCI is a member of the Moroccan Ministry of Religious Affairs.
Non-Catholic groups with an accord include the Confederation of Methodist and Waldensian Churches, Seventh-day Adventists, Assemblies of God, Jews, Baptists, Lutherans, Mormons, Orthodox Church of the Constantinople Patriarchate, and the Apostolic Church. In December 2012, the parliament approved accords with the Buddhist Union and with Hindus. The government is continuing to negotiate an accord with the Jehovah’s Witnesses, and negotiations remain suspended with the Soka Gakkai, a Japanese Buddhist group.
By law, insults against any divinity are considered blasphemy, a crime punishable by a fine ranging from 51 euros ($70) to 309 euros ($426), although the law is not generally enforced.
Holocaust denial is a crime punishable by up to four years in prison.
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. A 2005 antiterrorism decree penalizing those who attempt to hide their identity could, if enforced, affect those who choose to wear 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.
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 are either lay or religious, and the instruction includes material relevant to non-Catholic religious groups. 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. Some local laws provide scholarship funding for students to attend private religiously-affiliated schools meeting government educational standards.
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 is a member of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, formerly the Task Force for International Cooperation on Holocaust Education, Remembrance, and Research.