The constitution protects religious freedom; however, some laws and policies restrict religious freedom by providing special privileges only to the Armenian Apostolic Church and limiting certain rights of minority religious groups, including their ability to obtain building permits for the construction of churches and other religious centers.
The law governing religious groups does not explicitly mandate registration of religious groups, but only registered groups have legal status. Unregistered groups may not publish more than 1,000 copies of newspapers or magazines, rent meeting places, broadcast programs on television or radio, or officially sponsor visitors’ visas, although individual members may do so. To qualify for registration, religious groups must “be free from materialism and of a purely spiritual nature,” have at least 200 adult members, and subscribe to a doctrine based on “historically recognized holy scriptures.” The registration requirements do not apply to the religious groups associated with national ethnic minorities, although most have chosen to register. The Office of the State Registrar registers religious groups, and the Department of Religious Affairs and National Minorities oversees religious affairs and consults in the registration process.
The constitution and the law establish separation of church and state but recognize “the exclusive mission of the Armenian Apostolic Church as a national church in the spiritual life, development of the national culture, and preservation of the national identity of the people of Armenia.”
The law grants privileges to the Armenian Apostolic Church not available to other religious groups. For example, the church may have permanent representatives in hospitals, orphanages, boarding schools, military units, and places of detention, while other religious groups may have representatives in these places only upon request.
The law prohibits but does not define “soul hunting,” a term describing both proselytism and forced conversion. The prohibition applies to all religious groups, including the Armenian Apostolic Church.
The law mandates that public education be secular. Courses in the history of the Armenian Apostolic Church, however, are part of the public school curriculum and are taught by public school teachers. The church has the right to participate in the development of the syllabus and textbooks for this course and to define the qualifications of its teachers. The church may also nominate candidates to teach the course. The class is mandatory; students are not permitted to opt out of the course, and no alternatives are available to students of other religious groups. In addition, the law grants the Armenian Apostolic Church the right to organize voluntary extracurricular religious classes in state educational institutions. Other religious groups may provide religious instruction to members in their own facilities.
In May the government approved changes to the alternative service law that institute civilian control over the alternative labor service, one of the two available types of alternatives to military service. The amendments reduce the duration of alternative (non-combat) military service from 36 to 30 months, and the alternative labor service from 42 to 36 months. Evasion of alternative service remains a criminal offense.
The criminal code prohibits incitement of religious hatred.
The law prohibits foreign funding of foreign-based denominations. The government does not enforce this prohibition.