The MOC did not register any religious groups during the year. Registration applications by Theravada Buddhists in May and the Priestly Fraternity of St. Pius X in 2016 remained pending at year’s end. In January the ministry rejected PGJ’s registration application on grounds of what it characterized as abuse of personal information, incitement of hate, and the primarily for-profit character of the group’s activities. In February the group appealed the decision to the MOC. In September Minister of Culture Daniel Herman upheld the rejection. Following that decision, PGJ appealed to the municipal court in Prague. PGJ said it expected the court to begin hearing the case in early 2018.
In February the Lions of the Round Table – Order of the Lands of the Czech Crown – appealed in court against the MOC’s rejection of its first-tier registration application in May 2016. The case was pending at year’s end. In June the Community of Buddhism in the Czech Republic appealed to the MOC, asking it to reconsider its decision in May to halt the group’s 2016 registration application. The MOC rejected the appeal in December. In December 2016, the Cannabis Church appealed in court the MOC’s halting of its registration procedure. The case remained pending at year’s end. The MOC said it had halted the applications of both these groups because they had not provided sufficient information in their registration applications as required by law.
The government provided 17 second-tier religious groups with approximately 3.4 billion koruna ($162.8 million), with approximately 1.3 billion koruna ($62.25 million) given as a subsidy and 2.1 billion koruna ($100.6 million) as compensation for communal property in private and state hands that would not be returned to churches. Five of the 22 second-tier groups declined all state funding. While accepting the state subsidy, the Baptist Union opted not to accept the compensation for unreturned property. The MOC provided 4.0 million koruna ($192,000) in grants for religiously oriented cultural activities in response to applications from a variety of religious groups.
PGJ leader Jaroslav Dobes and PGJ member Barbora Plaskova remained in immigration detention in the Philippines, where they had been seeking asylum since 2015. International arrest warrants issued by Czech authorities for Dobes and Plaskova remained outstanding, as criminal proceeding against Dobes and Plaskova for alleged sexual abuse remained pending in the Zlin Regional Court.
In January the Prague 10 District Court ruled in favor of a state nursing school which a former Muslim student had sued in 2013 for discrimination because the school barred her from wearing a hijab during classes. The court ruled there was no evidence of discrimination. In September the appellate senate of the Prague Municipal Court upheld the ruling. The appellate court found the school’s prohibition did not constitute discrimination because it applied to all head coverings and not just to hijabs.
The government addressed hundreds of religious communal property restitution cases, restituting property to 17 religious groups during the year. These included claims of the Roman Catholic authorities and other religious groups concerning property seized during the communist era. Although the government returned most Catholic churches, parishes, and monasteries in the 1990s, much of the land and forests the Church had previously owned remained in state possession and were being returned in the framework of 2012 restitution legislation. Between January and March the government settled 735 claims with religious groups for agricultural property and 106 claims for nonagricultural property. As of March 31, there were 65 agricultural and 120 nonagricultural property claims that had not been adjudicated. At that time, there were also 1,203 pending lawsuits religious groups had filed in the courts to appeal government restitution decisions.
In August the South Moravian Regional Court in Brno overturned a decision by the municipal court that had ruled in February in favor of the Brno Jewish Community (BJC), holding that it had legal title to a property in possession of the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs. The ministry had appealed the municipal court’s decision to the regional court. In reaction to the revocation by the regional court, the BJC appealed to the Supreme Court. The appeal was pending at year’s end. The BJC filed its claim in 2013 based on church restitution legislation, and the ministry rejected the claim in 2014.
The MOI continued to cooperate with the Jewish community on protection of Jewish sites in Prague and across the country.
In January the MOC designated as items of cultural heritage 12 tombstones and tombstone fragments originally from a former Jewish cemetery in Prostejov that the MOC designated as a cultural monument in 2016. The Prostejov local mayor supported a local petition against privately funded efforts to restore the Prostejov cemetery, which the Nazis had destroyed, and which the city later converted into a public park. In November 2016, 10 percent of the city’s voters signed the petition. According to the petition and the mayor, the park provided needed access to a nearby school and residential parking; according to the national media, planners said the reconstruction would not restrict access or impede parking. Soon thereafter, anti-Semitic statements appeared in social media, and a local tabloid, Prostejovsky vecernik, characterized the dispute as an Orthodox Jewish attack on the city. In February Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka appointed his chief advisor, Vladimir Spidla, to mediate the dispute, which was continuing at year’s end.
President Milos Zeman and Prime Minister Sobotka continued to make public statements against Muslim immigration. For example, in September President Zeman stated at a press conference after meeting with his German counterpart that Muslim culture was not compatible with European culture. He stated integration of Muslims into national society was “practically impossible.” In August Prime Minister Sobotka told the Austrian newspaper Die Presse, “We do not want any more Muslims in the Czech Republic.” In June citing “the aggravated security situation and the dysfunctionality of the whole [relocation] system,” Interior Minister Milan Chovanec announced the government had approved a decision to halt acceptance of refugees under the EU’s refugee relocation program. At the time, the country had accepted 12 of approximately 2,700 refugees, whom the EU had allotted to the country and many of whom came from Muslim-majority countries.
In September Tomio Okamura, the leader of the opposition FDD, and other members of the party leadership issued a public statement calling for a ban on Islam as “an ideology incompatible with freedom and democracy.” The party ran on an anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant platform, posting billboards reading, “No to Islam” before October parliamentary elections. The party won more than 10 percent of the vote.
In May the government approved the annual Strategy to Combat Extremism, which outlined tasks for various ministries, such as the MOI, Ministry of Justice, Ministry of Education, and MOC, in fighting extremism, including religiously motivated extremism. The document outlined primary strategic goals, including better communication with the public regarding extremist activities and MOI countermeasures, education programs at schools, crime prevention, specialized training for law enforcement to counter extremism, and assistance to victims of crimes, especially victims from minority groups. The MOI continued to monitor the activities of groups and political parties espousing anti-Semitic views, including National Democracy, National Revival, and the Workers’ Party of Social Justice.
In April Deputy Chairman of the Senate Jaroslav Kubera and Minister of Culture Herman sponsored and participated in an annual march and concert against anti-Semitism, which opened the 14th Culture against Anti-Semitism Festival. Approximately 750 people attended the event.
At year’s end the government was continuing to review the 2016 applications of 92 Chinese Christians on grounds of religious persecution in China.
The government funded religiously oriented cultural activities, including the 2017 Night of Churches in several cities, the annual National Pilgrimage of St. Wenceslaus, the Culture against Anti-Semitism Festival, the 2017 Hussite Festival, and the 13th International Festival of Sacral Music, as well as a series of ecumenical services that included Romani religious music.
The country is a member of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance.