The constitution and other laws and policies generally protect religious freedom. The constitution provides that a person’s freedom to profess and spread religious beliefs may be limited only when necessary to protect health, safety, public order, or the fundamental rights and freedoms of others.
The criminal code contains three provisions to protect religious freedom. It prohibits discrimination based on religion and provides for up to two years in prison for violations. The code penalizes interference with religious ceremonies of “traditional” religious groups by imprisonment or community service, and penalizes inciting religious hatred by imprisonment of up to three years.
It is unlawful to make use of the religious teachings of churches and other religious groups, their religious activities, and their houses of prayer for purposes that contradict the constitution or the law. The government may temporarily restrict freedom of expression of religious belief during a period of martial law or a state of emergency, although it has never invoked this right.
Several government agencies handle religious issues. A department in the Ministry of Justice (MOJ) adjudicates registration requests by religious groups, and the prime minister’s staff includes an adviser for religious issues. The prime minister also has several unpaid advisors on such matters as Jewish community and Holocaust issues. The Office of the Equal Opportunities (OEO) Ombudsperson adjudicates complaints of discrimination based on religion directed toward state institutions, educational institutions, employers, and product and service sellers and producers.
The parliamentary ombudsperson examines whether state authorities properly perform their duty to serve the population. The law on the parliament ombudsperson specifically notes religious beliefs as within the purview of the office. The OEO and parliamentary ombudspersons may investigate complaints, recommend changes to parliamentary committees and ministries regarding legislation, and recommend cases to the prosecutor general’s office for pretrial investigation.
While there is some overlap between the OEO and parliamentary ombudspersons, the OEO ombudsperson has greater authority to hear complaints about individual acts of religious discrimination.
The Journalist Ethics Inspectorate investigates complaints under a law that bars publishing material that “instigates war, national, racial, religious, social, and gender hatred.” The inspectorate may levy administrative fines on newspapers under administrative law or refer cases for criminal prosecution.
There is no state religion. The law divides registered religious groups into state-recognized traditional religious groups, other state-recognized religious groups, and all other registered communities and associations.
By law the government recognizes as “traditional” those religious groups able to trace their presence in the country back at least 300 years. The law lists nine “traditional” religious groups: Latin Rite Catholics (Roman Catholics), Greek Rite Catholics, Evangelical Lutherans, Evangelical Reformed Churchgoers, Orthodox Christians (Moscow Patriarchate), Old Believers, Jews, “Sunni Muslims”, and Karaites.
Traditional religious groups may perform marriages that are state-recognized, establish joint private/public schools, provide religious instruction in public schools, and receive annual government subsidies from the government’s budget. Their highest ranking leaders are eligible to apply for diplomatic passports, their clergy and theological students are exempt from military service, and they may provide military chaplains. The law does not require traditional religious groups to register their bylaws. Traditional religious groups are not required to pay social and health insurance taxes for clergy and members of monastic orders who work at monasteries. The state provides minimal social security and health care insurance contributions to religious leaders and members of monastic orders of the traditional and other state-recognized religious groups. Other religious groups by law must pay for these benefits on behalf of their leaders.
Other state-recognized religious groups include those granted this status by parliament in accordance with the law’s stipulation that they have been officially registered in the country for at least 25 years, they have societal support from at least 15 adult Lithuanian citizens, and their instruction and rites are not contrary to laws and morality. Upon receiving an application requesting this status, the MOJ must review the documentation within six months and make a recommendation to parliament.
The Evangelical Baptist Union of Lithuania and the Seventh-day Adventist Church are the only state-recognized nontraditional religious groups. Recognition entitles them to perform marriages and exempts them from paying social security and healthcare taxes for clergy. Unlike traditional groups, however, they are not eligible for annual subsidies from the state budget, and their clergy and theological students are not exempt from military service.
While only traditional religious groups are entitled to receive annual state subsidies, nontraditional groups are eligible for support from public funds for cultural and social projects. Registered nontraditional religious groups have legal entity status, but do not receive tax exemptions, and do not qualify for certain social security and health care contributions, social benefits. Municipalities or other government entities may, however, provide funding for cultural and social projects for other religious groups. The law allows all registered religious groups to own property for prayer houses, homes, and other uses and permits construction of facilities necessary for their activities.
The MOJ handles official registration of religious communities and associations. While registration of traditional religious communities and associations only involves establishment of their ties to their traditional religious group, nontraditional groups must submit an application providing a statement describing their religious teachings and a founding statement signed by no fewer than 15 adult citizen members. The MOJ has six months to review the application. The MOJ’s Division of Legal Persons and Religious Affairs processes initial registration applications. Upon approval of its application, a religious community is registered as a legal entity with the State Enterprise Center of Registers. Traditional religious communities and associations are registered free of charge, while nontraditional communities pay a fee of 107 Lithuanian litas (LTL) ($43). As of November 1, there were 1,093 traditional and 185 nontraditional religious associations, centers, and communities officially registered with the Register of Legal Entities.
Official registration is a prerequisite for opening a bank account, owning property, and acting in a legal or official capacity as a community. Unregistered communities have no legal status or state privileges; however, the constitution allows them to worship and seek new members.
The constitution establishes public educational institutions as secular. The law permits and funds religious instruction in public schools for traditional and other state-recognized religious groups. Parents may choose either religious instruction or secular ethics classes for their children. Schools decide which of the traditional religious groups will be represented in their curricula on the basis of requests from parents for children up to age 14, after which students present the requests themselves.
The number of wholly private religious schools is relatively small. There are 30 schools with ties to Catholic or Jewish groups, although students of different religious groups often attend these schools. All accredited private schools (religious and nonreligious) receive funding from the Ministry of Education and Science through a voucher system based on the number of pupils. This system covers only the program costs of school operation. Founders generally bear responsibility for covering capital outlays; however, the Ministry of Education and Science funds capital costs of traditional religious private schools where there is an international agreement to do so. To date, the Roman Catholic Church is the only religious group with such an international agreement. Under this accord, the government funds both the capital and operating costs of private Roman Catholic schools.
The interministerial Commission to Coordinate Activities of Governmental Institutions that Deal with Issues of Religious, Esoteric, and Spiritual Groups, established following parliamentary calls for increased control of “sects,” coordinates investigations of religious groups if there is a concern a group’s actions may be inconsistent with the principles of a democratic society, human rights, and fundamental freedoms. The MOJ appoints the chairperson of the commission, which includes representatives of the ministries of justice, interior, education, health, foreign affairs, culture, Vytautas Magnus University, the prosecutor general’s office, and the state security department. The commission decides which problems to examine based on concerns expressed in general public discussions, concerns raised by government or parliamentary officials, or on its own initiative. The commission, which to date has not found that any group is a “sect,” reports annually to the parliament and government.
A religious group may apply to reclaim property nationalized during the Soviet occupation via a mechanism adopted by the government in May 2012. Under this system, a religious group submits an application to the MOJ with a claim to a property it had owned before June 19, 1948. The ministry then investigates the claim, and if the ministry finds it legitimate, drafts a resolution returning that property to its rightful owner.
A compensation fund for Jewish-owned property, nationalized under totalitarian regimes, is designed to support Jewish education and religious, scientific, cultural, healthcare, and other projects with public benefits. Pursuant to a law adopted in April 2012, the government will disburse LTL 128 million ($51 million) over the course of a decade to the Foundation for the Disposal of Good Will Compensation for the Immovable Property of Jewish Religious Communities.
The Ministry of Defense (MOD) provides places of worship for members of the military. Fifteen Roman Catholic chaplains offer religious services. There are no chaplains from other religious groups. The chaplaincy is authorized to ask the MOD to support religious services for other religious groups based on need or requests from service members.
Religious slaughter, as required by Muslim and Jewish dietary laws, is permitted under certain conditions.
The government is a member of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, formerly the Task Force for International Cooperation on Holocaust Education, Remembrance, and Research.