The constitution provides for the freedom to practice the rites of one’s religion in accordance with the customs observed in the country, unless the government deems they violate morality or public order. The constitution stipulates there shall be no discrimination in the rights and duties of citizens on grounds of religion, but also notes the state religion is Islam and the king must be a Muslim.
The constitution mandates that matters concerning personal status, including religion, marriage, divorce, child custody, and inheritance, are under the exclusive jurisdiction of religious courts. Muslims are subject to the jurisdiction of sharia courts except in cases explicitly addressed by civil status legislation. Personal or family status cases in which one party is Muslim and the other is non-Muslim are heard by sharia courts and decided according to sharia.
Matters of personal status of non-Muslims whose religion the government officially recognizes are under the jurisdiction of denomination-specific courts of religious communities. There are six such courts: Greek Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Melkite Catholic, Armenian Orthodox, Coptic, Syrian Orthodox, and Anglican. According to the law, members of recognized denominations that lack their own courts take their cases to civil courts which, in principle, should follow the rules and beliefs of the litigants’ denomination in deciding the case. There are no tribunals for atheists or adherents of unrecognized religious groups, such as the Bahai Faith. Such individuals must request that a civil court hear their case. There is no legal provision for civil marriage or divorce for members of unrecognized religious groups.
The constitution and law do not explicitly ban Muslims from converting to another faith, and there are no penalties under civil law for doing so. Nonetheless, by according primacy to sharia, which prohibits Muslims from converting to another religion, the government effectively prohibits both conversion from Islam and proselytization of Muslims. Individuals who proselytize Muslims can be prosecuted by the State Security Court under the penal code’s provisions against “inciting sectarian conflict” or “harming the national unity.”
The sharia courts do not recognize converts from Islam as falling under the jurisdiction of their new religious community’s laws in matters of personal status. Under sharia, these converts are considered Muslims and regarded as apostates. Any member of society may file an apostasy complaint against such individuals. In cases decided by a sharia court, judges can annul converts’ marriages, transfer child custody to a nonparent Muslim family member or declare the children “wards of the state,” and convey an individual’s property rights to Muslim family members.
Marriages between a Muslim woman and a non-Muslim man are not permitted, and the man must convert to Islam for the marriage to be considered legal under sharia. If a Christian woman converts to Islam while married to a Christian man, her husband must also convert for their marriage to remain legal. If a Muslim husband and non-Muslim wife are divorced, the wife loses custody of the children when they reach seven years of age.
Sharia governs all matters relating to family law involving Muslims or the children of a Muslim father. Minor children of male citizens who convert to Islam are considered Muslims and are not legally allowed to reconvert to their father’s prior religion or convert to any other religion. In accordance with sharia, adult children of a man who has converted to Islam become ineligible to inherit from their father if they do not also convert to Islam. All citizens, including non-Muslims, are subject to Islamic legal provisions regarding inheritance if no equivalent inheritance guidelines are codified in their religion or if the state does not recognize their religion.
Non-Muslims may convert to Islam or from one recognized non-Islamic faith to another.
The law prohibits the publication of media items that slander or insult “founders of religion or prophets” or that are deemed contemptuous of “any of the religions whose freedom is protected by the constitution,” and imposes a fine on violators of up to 20,000 dinars ($28,250).
The law lists 11 officially recognized Christian denominations: Greek Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Armenian Orthodox, Melkite Catholic, Anglican, Maronite Catholic, Lutheran, Syrian Orthodox, Seventh-day Adventist, United Pentecostal, and Coptic. Five Christian denominations are not recognized by the government as denominations but are registered as societies: the Free Evangelical Church, Nazarene Church, Assemblies of God, Christian and Missionary Alliance, and Baptists. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons) and the Jehovah’s Witnesses are unrecognized and not registered as societies.
In determining whether to register or recognize Christian groups, the prime minister confers with the Council of Church Leaders (CCL), a government advisory body, and the minister of interior. The government also refers to the following criteria when considering recognition of Christian groups: the group must not contradict the nature of the constitution, public ethics, customs, or traditions; the Middle East Council of Churches must recognize it; the faith must not oppose the national religion; and the group must include some citizens of the country.
Religious institutions must be accorded official recognition to own land and administer rites such as marriage. Recognized non-Islamic religious institutions do not receive subsidies but are tax exempt. Members of unregistered Christian denominations are issued marriage certificates by the Anglican Church, which they then take to the Civil Status Bureau to receive their government marriage certificates.
Religious institutions registered as societies may own property. Groups registered as societies must obtain government approval of their budgets and any foreign funding and notify the government of their bylaws and board members. Groups such as the Jehovah’s Witnesses that are not registered as societies lack legal judicial status and cannot undertake basic administrative tasks such as opening bank accounts, purchasing real estate, or hiring staff. These groups often designate an individual to exercise these functions.
The government has not required registration of religious groups among refugees.
Public schools provide Islamic religious instruction as part of the basic national curriculum, although non-Muslim students are allowed to opt out. The constitution provides congregations the right to establish schools “provided that they comply with the general provisions of the law and are subject to the control of government in matters relating to their curricula and orientation.” In order to operate a school, religious institutions must also receive permission through the Ministry of Education, which ensures the curriculum meets national standards, but the Ministry of Education does not oversee religious courses at religious institutions. In several cities, Christian denominations – including Baptist, Orthodox, Anglican, and Roman Catholic – operate private schools, and are able to conduct classes on Christianity. The schools are open to adherents of all religions.
The Sharia Judicial Council appoints sharia judges, while each recognized non-Muslim religious community selects the structure and members of its own tribunal. The law stipulates that the cabinet must ratify each Christian ecclesiastical court’s procedures. All judicial nominations must be approved by a royal decree.
The CCL consists of the heads of the country’s 11 officially recognized Christian churches and serves as an administrative body to facilitate official matters for Christian organizations, such as issuing work and land permits in coordination with government agencies. Unrecognized Christian denominations, despite not having representatives in the CCL, must also conduct business with the government through the council.
The law requires religious affiliation be stated on national identification cards and legal documentation, including on marriage and birth certificates, but not on travel documents such as passports. National identification cards and legal documentation identify individuals as either Christian or Muslim but do not specify their denominational affiliation. Atheists and agnostics are often registered under the religious affiliation of their families. Converts from Islam to Christianity are not allowed to change their religion on their identification card because conversion away from Islam is not allowed in sharia. Converts from Christianity to Islam can change their religion on their identification documents.
According to the law, Christians are allotted nine seats out of 150 seats in parliament. They are also eligible to compete for the 27 seats reserved for national list candidates. Christians may not run for the remaining 114 seats. No seats are reserved for adherents of other minority religious groups. The government classification of Druze as Muslims permits them to hold office.