The constitution and other laws and policies generally protect religious freedom. The constitution requires the state to respect all religious groups and denominations and declares respect for the personal status and religious interests of persons of every religious group. The constitution declares equality of rights and duties for all citizens without discrimination or preference but stipulates that there be a balance of political power among the major religious groups. A constitutional provision apportions political offices according to religious affiliation.
The constitution provides that Christians and Muslims be represented equally in parliament, the cabinet, and high-level civil service positions, which include the ministry ranks of secretary general and director general. It also provides that these posts be distributed proportionally among the recognized religious groups. The constitutional provision for the distribution of political power and positions according to the principle of religious representation is designed to prevent a single group from gaining a dominant position. The 1943 “National Pact,” which is not an official component of the constitution, stipulates that the president, speaker of parliament, and prime minister be Maronite Christian, Shia Muslim, and Sunni Muslim, respectively. This distribution of political power operates at both the national and local levels of government.
The 1989 Taif Agreement, which ratified the end of the country’s 15-year civil war, reaffirms this arrangement while mandating equal Muslim and Christian representation in parliament and reducing the power of the Maronite Christian presidency. In addition, the agreement endorses the constitutional provision of appointing most senior government officials according to religious affiliation. This practice exists in all three branches of government. The Taif Agreement also stipulates a cabinet with seats allocated equally between Muslims and Christians. Against this backdrop, Lebanese citizens who remove their religion from their national registration seriously limit their ability to hold government positions or run for political office.
The penal code stipulates a maximum prison term of one year for anyone convicted of “blaspheming God publicly.”
Although not required by law, religion is generally encoded on national identity cards and noted on ikhraaj qaid (official registry) documents. Citizens have the right to remove their religion or change the religion on their identity cards and official registry documents. The government does not require religious affiliation on passports.
Formal recognition is a legal requirement for religious groups to conduct most religious activities. A group seeking official recognition must submit a statement of its doctrine and moral principles to the government, which evaluates whether the group’s principles are in accord with the government’s perception of popular values and the constitution. Alternatively, unrecognized religious groups may apply for recognition through recognized religious groups. In doing so, however, they are not recognized as separate groups, but as part of the group through which they applied. This process has the same requirements as registering through the government. Official recognition conveys certain benefits, such as tax-exempt status and the right to apply the religion’s codes to personal status matters.
The government does not officially recognize some religious groups such as Bahais, Buddhists, Hindus, and unregistered Protestant groups. Members of these groups do not qualify for certain government positions, but they are permitted to perform their religious rites freely. Government records list some members of unregistered religious groups as belonging to recognized religious groups.
In most cases the government permits recognized religious groups to administer their own family and personal status laws, in areas such as marriage, divorce, child custody, and inheritance. The “Twelver” Shia, Sunni, Christian, and Druze groups have state-appointed, government-subsidized clerical courts to administer family and personal status law.
There are no formalized procedures for civil marriage. However, the government recognizes civil marriage ceremonies performed outside the country, irrespective of the religious affiliation of each individual. On April 25, the government registered for the first time a civil marriage conducted in Lebanon.
Unrecognized religious groups may own property and assemble for worship without government interference. However, they may not perform legally recognized marriage or divorce proceedings, and they have no standing to determine inheritance issues. An individual may change religions if the change is approved by the head of the religious group the person wishes to join.
The government permits the publication of religious materials of every religious group in different languages. The law, however, allows for censorship under a number of premises, including material that may incite sectarian discord or be deemed a threat to national security.
Religious workers not working under the auspices of a government-registered religious group and found to be working while on tourist visas may be deemed to have violated their visa status and be deported. The government issues religious workers a one-month visa; if they plan to stay longer, they must complete their residency permits during that one month. Religious workers also are obliged to sign a “commitment of responsibility” form before being issued their visa, which commits them to legal prosecution and immediate deportation if they carry out any activity that might prompt community, confessional, or religious instigation and criticism against the Lebanese state or any other country except Israel.
The government requires Protestant evangelical churches to register with the Evangelical Synod, a nongovernmental advisory group that represents those churches with the government. It is self-governing and oversees religious matters for Protestant congregations.