Historical and modern constitutional documents provide for freedom of religious belief and affiliation and prohibit religious discrimination. The law bans public incitement to hostile acts against religious groups and classifies registered religious groups into one of three categories: religious societies, religious confessional communities, and associations. The 16 groups recognized as religious societies receive the most benefits. Unrecognized groups may practice their religion privately if the practice is lawful and does not offend “common decency.” In May parliament banned head coverings for children in elementary schools. Authorities arrested a Christian couple for murder after they refused, for religious reasons, medical treatment for their sick child, who subsequently died. Scientologists and the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification (Unification Church) said government-funded organizations continued to advise the public against associating with them. Muslim and Jewish groups and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) expressed concerns over what they said were the frequent and growing number of anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim acts by members of the Freedom Party (FPOe), the junior partner in the coalition government until May.
According to the interior ministry, there were 49 anti-Semitic and 22 anti-Muslim incidents reported to police in 2018, the most recent year for which data were available, compared with 39 and 36 incidents, respectively, in 2017. Most incidents involved hate speech. The Islamic Faith Community (IGGIO) and the Jewish Community (IKG) have in the past reported a much higher number of incidents against their members than the interior ministry, but neither group had updated figures beyond the 540 anti-Muslim incidents the IGGIO cited in 2018 and the 503 anti-Semitic incidents the IKG reported in 2017. In October a man insulted and assaulted a Jewish family, breaking the father’s nose. In April a woman insulted and spit on a Muslim woman wearing a veil. A University of Salzburg poll found 70 percent of respondents felt Islam did not fit into Western societies, and 79 percent supported more surveillance of Muslims. A Eurobarometer poll of residents reported 47 percent considered anti-Semitism to be a problem in the country. Another poll of Austrians by the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany found two-thirds of respondents believed there was anti-Semitism in the country; 56 percent did not know six million Jews were killed in the Holocaust.
U.S. embassy representatives met with officials from the Federal Chancellery and the Ministries of Foreign Affairs and Interior on religious freedom, the protection of religious minorities, and measures to combat anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim sentiment. The Ambassador met with leaders from the IGGIO, IKG, Roman Catholic Church, Lutheran Church, and various Orthodox churches to discuss their relations with the government, instances of discrimination, and interreligious dialogue. The Ambassador also met regularly with youth branches of religious organizations, including the Muslim Youth Organization of Austria (MJO). Embassy officials served on the advisory board of the Mauthausen Memorial Agency, an NGO that promotes Holocaust remembrance. Embassy representatives spoke on religious freedom at public ceremonies, and supported programs to combat anti-Semitism, promote religious dialogue, including hosting a speaker series in Vienna and sponsoring visits of Muslim civil society leaders to the United States on exchange programs focused on religious freedom.
Section I. Religious Demography
The U.S. government estimates the total population at 8.8 million (midyear 2019 estimate). According to religious groups and December 2018 figures from the government Austrian Integration Fund, Roman Catholics constitute 57 percent of the population and Muslims – predominantly Sunni – 8 percent, while approximately 25 percent is unaffiliated with any religion. Other religious groups include Protestant churches (Augsburg and Helvetic confessions); Eastern Orthodox churches (Russian, Greek, Serbian, Romanian, Antiochian, and Bulgarian); Jehovah’s Witnesses; other Christian churches; and Jews and other non-Christian religious groups.
Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom
A combination of historical and modern constitutional documents guarantees freedom of “conscience and creed.” The law provides for freedom of religious belief and the rights of all residents to join, participate in, leave, or abstain from association with any religious community. It stipulates, “Duties incumbent on nationals may not be impeded by religious affiliation.”
Several constitutional provisions protect religious freedom. The main pillars are historical laws on fundamental rights and freedoms, including religious freedom, and treaties and conventions such as the European Convention on Human Rights, which form part of the constitution. Antidiscrimination legislation prohibits discrimination on religious grounds. Citizens have the right to sue the government for constitutional violations of religious freedom.
The law prohibits public incitement to hostile acts against a church group, religious society, or other religious group if the incitement is perceivable by “many people,” which an official government commentary on the law and the courts interpret as 30 or more individuals. The prohibition also applies specifically in the case of incitement in print, electronic, or other media available to a broad public. The law also prohibits incitement, insult, or contempt against religious groups, if such action violates human dignity.
The law divides registered religious groups into three officially recognized legal categories (listed in descending order of rights and privileges): religious societies, religious confessional communities, and associations. Each category possesses specific rights, privileges, and legal responsibilities. Members of religious groups not legally recognized may practice their religion at home “insofar as this practice is neither unlawful nor offends common decency.”
There are 16 recognized religious societies: the Roman Catholic Church; Protestant churches (Augsburg and Helvetic confessions); the IGGIO; Old Catholic Church; IKG; Eastern Orthodox Church (Bulgarian, Greek, Romanian, Russian, Serbian, and, since January, Antiochian); The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints; New Apostolic Church; Syrian Orthodox Church; Coptic Orthodox Church; Armenian Apostolic Church; Methodist Church of Austria; the Buddhist Community; Jehovah’s Witnesses; Alevi Community in Austria; and Free Christian Churches.
The law grants registered religious societies the right to public practice and independent administration of their internal affairs, to participate in the program requiring mandatory church contributions by church members, to bring religious workers into the country to act as ministers, missionaries, or teachers, and to provide pastoral services in prisons and hospitals. Under the law, religious societies have “public corporation” status, permitting them to engage in a number of public or quasi-public activities such as government-funded religious instruction in both public and private schools, which the government denies to confessional communities and associations. The government grants all recognized religious societies tax relief in two main ways: donations are not taxable, and the societies receive exemption from property tax for all buildings dedicated to the active practice of religion or administration of such. Additionally, religious societies are exempt from the surveillance charge, payable when state security is required, and the administrative fee levied at the municipal level. Responsibilities of religious societies include a commitment to sponsor social and cultural activities that serve the common good and – like all religious groups – to ensure their teachings do not violate the law or ethical standards.
Religious groups seeking to achieve religious society status for the first time must apply for recognition with the Office for Religious Affairs in the Federal Chancellery. Religious groups recognized as societies prior to 1998 retained their status. The government grandfathered in 14 of the 16 recognized religious societies under this provision of the law. To gain recognition as a religious society, religious groups not recognized prior to 1998 must have membership equaling 0.2 percent of the country’s population (approximately 17,400 persons) and have existed for 20 years, at least 10 of which must have been as an association and five as a confessional community. The government recognizes Jehovah’s Witnesses and Alevi Muslims as religious societies under these post-1998 criteria. Groups that do not meet these criteria may still apply for religious society status under an exception for groups that have been active internationally for at least 100 years and active as an association in the country for 10 years. Groups sharing a broad faith with an existing society or confessional community, for example Christianity, may register separately as long as they can demonstrate that they have a different theology.
The law allows religious groups not recognized as societies to seek official status as confessional communities with the Office for Religious Affairs in the Federal Chancellery. The government recognizes nine confessional communities: the Baha’i Faith; Movement for Religious Renewal-Community of Christians; Pentecostal Community of God; Seventh-day Adventists; Hindu Community; Islamic-Shiite Community; Old-Alevi Community in Austria; Unification Church; and United Pentecostal Community of Austria.
A recognized confessional community has the juridical standing needed to engage in such activities as purchasing real estate in its own name and contracting for goods and services, but it is not eligible for the financial and educational benefits available to recognized religious societies. Contributions to confessional communities’ charitable activities are tax deductible for those who make them, but the communities are not exempt from property taxes. Confessional communities may provide pastoral care in prisons and hospitals.
To gain government recognition as a confessional community, a group must have at least 300 members and submit to the Office for Religious Affairs its statutes describing the goals, rights, and obligations of members, as well as membership regulations, a list of officials, and financing information. A group must also submit a written description of its religious doctrine, which must differ from that of any previously recognized religious society or religious confessional community. The Office for Religious Affairs determines whether the group’s basic beliefs are consistent with public security, order, health, and morals, and with the rights and freedoms of citizens. A religious group seeking to obtain confessional community status is subject to a six-month waiting period from the time of application to the chancellery. After this period, groups that have applied automatically receive the status unless the government issues a decree rejecting the application.
Religious groups not qualifying for either religious society or confessional community status may apply to become legal associations, a status applicable to a broad range of civil groups. Some groups organize as associations while waiting for the government to recognize them as confessional communities.
The Church of Scientology and a number of smaller religious groups, such as Sahaja Yoga and the International Society for Krishna Consciousness, have association status.
According to the law, any group of more than two persons pursuing a nonprofit goal qualifies to organize as an association. Groups may apply to the Ministry of Interior to gain such status. To become an association, a group must submit a written statement citing its common, nonprofit goal and commitment to function as a nonprofit organization. Associations have juridical standing, the right to function in public, and many of the same rights as confessional communities, including the right to own real estate and to contract for goods and services. Associations may not offer pastoral care in hospitals or prisons or receive tax-deductible contributions.
Pursuant to the law governing relations between the government and the Roman Catholic Church, the Church is the only religious group to receive government funding for pastoral care it provides in prisons. The law also makes various Catholic holidays official national holidays.
The law governing relations between the government and the IGGIO and Alevi Muslim groups stipulates that funding for the day-to-day operations of mosques must be derived from domestic sources, Islamic teachings and practices must not violate federal law (the Office for Religious Affairs in the Federal Chancellery makes this determination), and Islamic institutions should “take a positive stance” toward the state and society. According to the Office for Religious Affairs, there are similar restrictions on foreign funding for other religious groups, and religious groups generally are obliged to finance themselves from domestic sources. The law provides an explicit legal definition of, and legal protection for, Islamic practices, such as circumcision and preparation of food in conformity with religious rules, and states Muslims may raise children and youth in accordance with Islamic traditions. Muslim groups with at least 300 members and a theology not distinct from a pre-existing Islamic religious society or confessional community are considered cultural communities and fall under the umbrella of the pre-existing, legally recognized Islamic religious society or confessional community. This includes the IGGIO and the Alevi Community in Austria, which are both religious societies, or the Islamic-Shiite Community and the Old-Alevi Faith Community in Austria, both of which have confessional community status. The law allows for Islamic theological university studies, which the University of Vienna offers.
Separate laws govern relations between the government and each of the other 14 state-recognized religious societies. The laws have similar intent but vary in some details, given they were enacted at different times over a span of approximately 140 years.
The law bans full-face coverings in public places as a “violation of Austrian values,” with exceptions made only for artistic, cultural, or traditional events, in sports, or for health or professional reasons. Failure to comply with the law is an administrative violation. The law prescribes a 150-euro ($170) fine but does not entitle police to remove the face covering.
In May parliament enacted a ban on headscarves and other head coverings for children in elementary schools. The ban exempts kippas and Sikh patkas. According to annexes explaining the law, some federal states impose fines of up to 440 euros ($490) on the parents of those that violate the ban.
The government funds, on a proportional basis, religious instruction for any of the 16 officially recognized religious societies by clergy or instructors provided by those groups for children in public schools and government-accredited private schools. The government does not offer such funding to other religious groups. A minimum of three children is required to form a class. Attendance in religion classes is mandatory for all students unless they formally withdraw at the beginning of the school year; students under the age of 14 require parental permission to withdraw from religion classes. Religious instruction takes place either in the school or at sites organized by religious groups. Some schools offer ethics classes for students not attending religious instruction. Religious education and ethics classes include the tenets of different religious groups as comparative religious education.
The curriculum for both public and private schools includes compulsory antibias and tolerance education, including religious tolerance, as part of civics education across various subjects, including history and German-language instruction.
Holocaust education is part of history instruction and appears in other subjects such as civics.
The Equal Rights Agency, an independent agency falling under the jurisdiction of the women’s ministry, oversees discrimination cases, including those based on religion. The agency provides legal counseling and mediation services, and it assists with bringing cases before the Equal Treatment Commission, another independent government agency. In cases where it finds discrimination, the commission makes a recommendation for corrective action. In a case of noncompliance with the recommendation, the case goes to court. The commission may issue expert reports for plaintiffs to present before the court. Only a court may order corrective action and compensation.
The law bans neo-Nazi activity and prohibits public denial, belittlement, approval, or justification “of the National Socialist genocide” or other Nazi crimes against humanity in print, broadcast, or other media.
In March an amendment expanding a ban on certain symbols the government considered extremist entered into force. Among the newly banned symbols are those pertaining to the Muslim Brotherhood and the PKK.
Foreign religious workers of groups recognized as confessional communities or associations must apply for a general immigrant visa that is not employment or family based and is subject to a quota. The government requires a visa for visitors from non-visa waiver countries or individuals who would stay beyond 90 days, including religious workers of confessional communities or associations. Foreign religious workers belonging to religious societies also require immigrant visas but are exempt from the quota system. Religious workers from Schengen or European Union member countries are exempt from all visa requirements.
The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
Members of the then-ruling People’s Party (OeVP)-FPOe government coalition defended the ban on religious headscarves in elementary schools. OeVP Member of Parliament (MP) Rudolf Taschner stated the measure was needed to protect girls from subjugation. FPOe education spokesperson Wendelin Moelzer said the law “was a signal against political Islam.” NGOs criticized the ban, which exempts kippas and Sikh patkas, as singling out the Islamic community. The IGGIO, calling the law “shameless” and a “direct assault on the religious freedom of Austrian Muslims,” announced in May it would file a complaint with the Constitutional Court. By year’s end, it had not done so. In September during the campaign for parliamentary elections, the OeVP called for expanding the ban to middle school students and teachers. At year’s end, parliament had not taken up the proposal to expand the ban.
Scientologists and representatives of the Unification Church continued to state the Federal Office of Sect Issues and other government-associated entities fostered discrimination against religious groups not registered as religious societies or confessional communities. The office offered advice to persons with questions about groups that it considered “sects” and “cults,” including the Scientologists and members of the Unification Church. The office was nominally independent but government-funded, and the minister for women, family, and youth appointed and oversaw its head.
A counseling center in Vienna managed by the Society Against Sect and Cult Dangers, an NGO that described itself as an organization working against harm caused by “destructive cults” such as Scientology, continued to distribute information to schools and the general public and provide counseling for former members of such groups. According to the website of the society’s founder, Friedrich Griess, the society received funding from the government of Lower Austria. The city of Vienna government ceased to provide funding to the society. All provinces funded family and youth counseling offices that provided information on “sects and cults,” which members of some minority religious groups, such as Scientologists or the Unification Church, stated were biased against them.
Prior to its collapse in May, the OeVP-FPOe government did not draft a law making “political Islam” an illegal activity as FPOe Deputy Leader Johan Gudenus announced in 2018 that it would do.
In September parliament passed a nonbinding resolution calling for review and, if necessary, dissolution of “Islamist” organizations that violated criminal law.
The interior ministry did not release statistics on violations of the face covering ban. In response to a parliamentary inquiry, the ministry stated there were 96 cases in 2018. Authorities only filed charges when persons failed to pay fines immediately, making the total number of cases more than the 96 reported. According to press reports, police issued fines for violations of the ban in 364 cases in the town of Zell am See between January and September 2019, almost all of which involved tourists. Vienna police said they considered violations of the ban a minor offense and had not kept statistics on the number of fines it issued since 2017.
According to the press, at year’s end, school boards had reported eight cases of girls violating the headscarf ban. In all eight cases, authorities waived the penalties after parents agreed to remove the headscarf while their child was in school. The Ministry of Education said the number of cases may have exceeded eight as it had received additional reports of cases reported to the ministry’s ombudsman for values and cultural conflict.
The government continued to allow headwear for religious purposes in official identification documents, provided the face remained sufficiently visible to allow for identification of the wearer.
In December a former intern of the Linz Regional Court filed a lawsuit with the Federal Administrative Court because the Linz court barred her from wearing a headscarf during official proceedings at the court during her internship there in 2018. The president of the Linz Regional Court issued an instruction prohibiting the intern from sitting at the judge’s bench while wearing a headscarf, stating the clothing did not meet the requirements of a representative of the state and the judicial system. The intern refused to remove her headscarf and the court mandated that she remain in the public gallery during proceedings. The Federal Administrative Court dismissed the lawsuit without ruling on whether the Linz court’s instruction was discriminatory, as the plaintiff had already completed her internship when she filed her suit.
In June parliament approved a nonbinding resolution calling for the government to close the Saudi-Arabian-funded King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz International Center for Interreligious and Intercultural Dialogue after frequent criticism of Saudi Arabia’s human rights record. According to the Austrian edition of the online English-language newspaper The Local, the foreign ministry said it would implement parliament’s decision to close the center, but at year’s end the center remained open.
In September the Vienna Administrative Court ruled the Iranian embassy could not operate a mosque in an area in Vienna’s 21st district which, according to zoning laws, is an industrial zone. The Iranian embassy did not appeal the ruling.
In October police arrested a German couple in Lower Austria on murder charges after their 13-year-old daughter died in September of a pancreatic inflammation. The parents, members of the Church of God, had rejected, for religious reasons, any medical treatment that would have kept their daughter alive. There was no further information on the case at year’s end.
According to media, the Federal Office for Foreigner Affairs and Asylum (BFA) continued to refuse to issue or renew residence permits for foreign imams financed by foreign sources. The BFA rejected the permits or the renewals on the grounds that since the law forbids foreign funding of religious groups, it considered that imams receiving foreign funding had no income and were therefore ineligible for a residence permit. According to the Turkish Islamic Union for Cultural and Social Cooperation (ATIB), an association of mosques under the authority of the Turkish Ministry of Religious Affairs, as of late 2018, there were 38 cases of foreign imams whose immigration status was pending with the BFA.
In March the Constitutional Court dismissed a suit by two Turkish imams employed by ATIB, whom the government expelled in April 2018, under the 2015 Islam law that bars Muslim religious groups from receiving foreign funding. The Administrative Court had already dismissed the imams’ complaint against the initial deportation ruling in 2018. The Constitutional Court suit was filed with the assistance of ATIB and alleged the ban infringed on religious freedom and was discriminatory, stating the government only applied it to Islam. The court ruled that protecting the independence of religious groups from foreign states was a matter of public interest. The court also ruled, however, that the ban applied to funding from foreign states, not to foreign private donors. The Constitutional Court referred the case back to the Administrative Court to determine if any other rights of the imams were infringed and a decision remained pending. Then-chancellor Sebastian Kurz said he felt “vindicated” by the court’s decision and called the law a model for other European countries.
In February parliament voted to eliminate Good Friday as a public holiday. The change followed a ruling by the European Court of Justice that granting employees belonging to certain religious groups paid leave for religious holidays constituted religious discrimination and the country should amend the law. According to press reports, parliament’s revocation of the holiday generated protests among Protestant groups in the country. Then-bishop Michael Buenker of the Protestant Churches (Augsburg and Helvetic Confessions) reportedly called the change an “intervention in Protestants’ freedom of religious practice.”
The IGGIO protested against a January change in the title of courses on Islam in school report cards to “IGGIO” instead of “Islam.” In June the education ministry changed the title back to “Islam,” with an addition referring to the IGGIO, Shia, or Alevi orientation.
The international NGO Anti-Defamation League (ADL) continued to conduct teacher-training seminars on Holocaust awareness with schools in the country, reaching approximately 100 teachers. In addition, provincial school councils and the education ministry invited Holocaust survivors to talk to school classes about National Socialism and the Holocaust.
In October the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled the government failed to protect Holocaust survivor Aba Lewit against defamation. Lewit had appealed to the ECHR after national courts failed to convict the magazine Aula for publishing an article in 2015 stating that prisoners at the Nazi Mauthausen concentration camp had been a plague for the region around the camp after its liberation in 1945. In December 2018, according to the Mauthausen Committee, the NGO SOS Mitmensch filed a complaint of 300 pages against Martin Pfeiffer, FPOe Deputy District Chairman in Graz-St. Leonhard, for his role as editor-in-chief of Aula, which the complaint said “had been systematically used for National Socialist reactivation” for 10 years. The magazine had already ceased publication in June 2018, and FPOe Chair Norbert Hofer stated party members involved in the magazine risked expulsion from the party. Pfeiffer left the FPOe and relaunched the magazine under a new name, Neue Aula, in October, but discontinued publication after one issue because of what he said were financial reasons.
Following the collapse of the OeVP-FPOe government in May, Jewish community members advocated against participation of the FPOe in another coalition government. Vice President of the European Jewish Congress and former IKG Vienna President Ariel Muzicant continued to state – for example, during a television interview in May and in a newspaper opinion piece in September – the FPOe was involved in anti-Semitic incidents. IKG President Oskar Deutsch also criticized what he called the FPOe’s failure to deal with anti-Semitism in the party in a television interview in November.
Prior to the collapse of the OeVP-FPOe government, Jewish community leaders stated there had been 51 anti-Semitic incidents attributable to FPOe members or at FPOe-affiliated events since the FPOe had entered the government and said they would not have any contacts with FPOe ministers until those incidents ceased.
In August the Mauthausen Committee published another report citing what it classified as rightwing incidents involving FPOe politicians, many of which it said were religiously motivated, primarily anti-Semitic. According to the report, these activities had increased significantly; it cited 63 incidents in the 13 months ending in July, compared with 106 between the start of 2013 and May 2018. It said the incidents involved persons at all levels of the FPOe and that anti-Semitism by its members, which the party had denied, manifested itself regularly. It stated, “… The FPO[e] shows a close proximity to Nazi ideology” and the worst offenders were party officials in Upper Austria, who accounted for one-third of the 63 most recent incidents.
The committee reported that in February SOS Mitmensch stated FPOe Secretary General Harald Vilimsky had used taxpayers’ money to pay for five full-page advertisements in Info-Direkt, a magazine that it said published anti-Semitic content and that The Documentation Center of Austrian Resistance, a government-supported foundation that documents Nazi crimes, described as “extreme rightwing with a neo-Nazi background.”
The committee also cited a report in May by the news magazine Profil that FPOe ministers in the previous government and party politicians from Upper Austria, led by then-transport minister and later national FPOe Chair Norbert Hofer, had channeled 116,000 euros ($130,000) of taxpayer money for advertisements that included anti-Semitic content in extremist rightwing media such as Info-Direkt and Zur Zeit. Profil said the total payments could be higher, since the FPOe-led city government of Wels had refused to provide any information on the issue.
The committee reported that in April FPOe then-vice chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache and FPOe MP Peter Gerstner had separately reposted on Facebook an anti-Muslim message (it did not describe the message) by neo-Nazi website “Zaronews.” According to the committee, “Zaronews” has called Hitler a “savior” and described the Holocaust as the “biggest lie in the world.”
In March the IGGIO filed incitement charges against then-FPOe vice chancellor Strache. At a book presentation in March, Strache had warned, “In Viennese kindergartens, children are raised to be martyrs with hate sermons.” The Vienna prosecutor’s office dismissed the charges.
Authorities were investigating links between the Identitarian movement, widely described by NGOs as far-right and white nationalist, and the FPOe. The Mauthausen Committee reported the connections between the two were significant, and the press published articles stating there were links between FPOe members and the movement. In August the OeVP said a ban of the movement was a condition for a future coalition, a condition the FPOe rejected. FPOe head Hofer denied any association with the Identitarians, and in August said that banning it would set a precedent of a “moral dictatorship.” Justice Minister Clemens Jabloner told the press in August, “One should not restrict fundamental rights even where it is about deeply unsympathetic groups as the Identitarians.”
The police continued to provide extra protection to the Vienna Jewish community’s offices and other Jewish community institutions such as schools and museums. Following an assault at a synagogue in Halle, Germany in October, IKG President Deutsch issued a statement in which he said that security forces protected synagogues in Austria, and he thanked the government for that protection. President Alexander Van der Bellen visited the Vienna synagogue in October after the Halle assault and said that a hard core of anti-Semites also existed in Austria. Deutsch, who received Van der Bellen in the synagogue, commented that rightwing, leftwing, and Islamist groups were causing anti-Semitism, not only in the country, but in Europe generally.
At year’s end, the government had not provided financial support for the restoration of the historic Waehring Jewish cemetery in Vienna. Then-chancellor Kurz had announced his government’s intention to provide the support during a visit to the cemetery in 2018.
In October FPOe Chairman Norbert Hofer announced the completion of a report prepared by a commission of historians the party commissioned in 2017 to examine the party’s past connection to National Socialism. In December the party released the final report, which included chapters on allegations of anti-Semitism, the party’s relationship with Israel and Islam, and efforts to overcome its Nazi past, among others. A chapter authored by a history professor from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem concluded that, despite the party’s deep historical association with National Socialism, it had made efforts to distance itself from that past. The summary at the end of the report noted active supporters and sympathizers of national socialism “could be found in great numbers in the other parties,” and, “The history of the FPOe should be remembered as a democratic party and important contributor to the success” of the postwar republic. The report drew criticism from independent historians such as Oliver Rathkolb, who challenged its academic substance and denied that the party’s true aim had been a substantive self-critical analysis.
In May Vienna Mayor Michael Ludwig and other political representatives, as well as the papal nuncio, attended an IGGIO-hosted iftar. Ludwig also hosted a separate iftar. Ludwig condemned racism and discrimination and said such acts against persons because of their religion worried him. He called on citizens and the Muslim community to make mutual efforts to live together peacefully. IGGIO President Umit Vural thanked the mayor for hosting the iftar and said Muslims were experiencing difficult times in the country and thus needed political support when the number of incidents against them was increasing. Speaking about the parliamentary debate then taking place on banning headscarves for primary school students, Vural said politics should not decide people’s apparel.
The government is a member of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance.
Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom
According to the interior ministry, there were 49 anti-Semitic and 22 anti-Muslim incidents reported to police in 2018, the most recent year for which statistics were available, compared with 39 and 36 incidents, respectively, in 2017. Although the ministry did not provide details of the incidents, it stated the majority of cases involved hate speech on the internet by neo-Nazis, as well as instances of persons giving the “Hitler salute” or shouting Nazi slogans.
The IGGIO’s Documentation Center on Islamophobia and Anti-Muslim Racism had not yet issued statistics on anti-Muslim incidents occurring in 2019. The center reported receiving reports of 540 anti-Muslim incidents in 2018.
The IKG had no updated figures on the number of anti-Semitic incidents beyond the 503 it reported as occurring in 2017. As was the case with the IGGIO, in past years the IKG reported many more religiously motivated incidents than the interior ministry. For example, in 2017, the ministry said there 39 anti-Semitic incidents reported to police.
The IKG expressed concern over what it described as anti-Semitism on the part of Muslims in the country and entered into dialogue on the issue with the IGGIO.
In October following a dispute with a Jewish family of pedestrians on Yom Kippur, a car driver insulted and assaulted the family, breaking the father’s nose. The IKG said it raised the matter with the interior ministry, but there was no further information on the case by year’s end.
In April an elderly female assaulted a Muslim woman wearing a headscarf at a Vienna tram stop. The aggressor spit on the Muslim woman and called her a “dog” and a “pig.” Then-chancellor Kurz shared a video of the incident and condemned the “sickening attack” on Twitter, saying, “In Austria we stand for a respectful and peaceful coexistence of all religions.”
A report from the NGO Initiative for Discrimination-Free Education listed a total of 260 cases of discrimination in schools in 2018 and, as in previous years, attributed approximately 50 percent of these cases to religion, with 122 of 126 (97 percent) of those cases connected to what the NGO termed as Islamophobia. According to the report, many incidents involved disparaging comments or other unfair treatment from educators against female students for their use of a headscarf. For example, the report cited one case in which a teacher told a girl wearing a headscarf she had herself to blame if she could not find a job and was excluded from society. In another case, according to the report, an accounting teacher repeatedly called one of her students a “jihadist” and “ISIS terrorist” and pulled at the student’s headscarf. The school director promised the parents and student that the insults would stop, and the parents reported that the situation improved, according to the report.
In 2018, the government recorded 1,003 cases of incitement to hatred based on national origin, race, or religion, and 72 convictions, compared to 867 cases and 108 convictions in 2017. The government did not provide any information on how many of the cases involved religion.
In May Croats and Bosniaks gathered in Bleiburg for an annual commemoration of Nazi-allied Croatian troops and civilians killed in 1945. Some 10,000 participants attended the event. Unlike in previous years, there were no reports of displays of Ustasha (a World War II-era fascist organization) symbols, which the government banned effective in March. As in 2018, authorities arrested a man for performing the “Hitler salute,” charging him with neo-Nazi activity. In August the Klagenfurt State Court sentenced him to an 18-month prison sentence. The Worker’s Front Party of Croatia and a former parliamentarian from the Austrian Green Party organized a small counterdemonstration against the Bleiburg commemoration.
In September the University of Salzburg issued the results of a survey of 1,200 residents it conducted in 2018. The survey found 70 percent of respondents felt Islam did not fit into Western societies; 45 percent said Muslims should not have the same rights as other citizens, and 48 percent believed the construction of mosques should be banned. Fifty-nine percent feared there were terrorists among Muslims, and 79 percent supported more surveillance of Muslim communities. In response, IGGIO President Vural warned politicians not to exploit fears and resentments, but rather pursue solutions and visions for the future.
In November the ADL released the results of a survey on anti-Semitic views of the country’s residents. The survey cited stereotypical statements about Jews and asked respondents whether they believed such statements were “probably true” or “probably false.” The proportion agreeing that various statements were “probably true” was: 49 percent that Jews are more loyal to Israel than to Austria; 33 percent that Jews have too much power in the business world; and 44 percent that Jews talk too much about the Holocaust.
In January the European Commission (EC) issued a Special Eurobarometer survey of perceptions of anti-Semitism based on interviews it conducted in December 2018 in each EU-member state. According to the survey, 47 percent of residents believed anti-Semitism was a problem in the country, while 46 percent did not; 33 percent believed it had increased over the previous five years, while 44 percent thought it had stayed the same. The percentage who believed that anti-Semitism was a problem in nine different categories was as follows: Holocaust denial, 49 percent; on the internet, 51 percent; anti-Semitic graffiti or vandalism, 44 percent; expression of hostility or threats against Jews in public places, 43 percent; desecration of Jewish cemeteries, 46 percent; physical attacks against Jews, 38 percent; anti-Semitism in schools and universities, 38 percent; anti-Semitism in political life, 46 percent; and anti-Semitism in the media, 44 percent.
In May the EC carried out a study in each EU-member state on perceptions of discrimination and published the results in September. According to the findings, 47 percent of respondents believed discrimination on the basis of religion or belief was widespread in Austria, while 50 percent said it was rare; 75 percent would be comfortable with having a person of different religion than the majority of the population occupy the highest elected political position in the country. In addition, 87 percent said they would be comfortable working closely with a Christian, 76 percent said they would be with an atheist, 78 percent with a Jew, 76 percent with a Buddhist, and 69 percent with a Muslim. Asked how they would feel if a child were in a “love relationship” with an individual belonging to various groups, 83 percent said they would be comfortable if the partner were Christian, 72 percent if atheist, 70 percent if Jewish, 70 percent if Buddhist, and 52 percent if Muslim.
According to preliminary results of an anti-Semitism study commissioned by parliament, anti-Israeli positions were dominant among the Turkish and Arab communities in the country. Approximately 70 percent of the Arab community and 50 percent of the Turkish community surveyed agreed with the sentence, “If the state of Israel no longer exists, there will be peace in the Middle East,” compared with an average of 10 percent that agreed among other persons polled. The study also stated that 10 percent of the population had anti-Semitic views, a decrease from previous surveys. Parliamentary President Wolfgang Sobotka expressed concern over the results of the study and said they reflected a major challenge.
According to a survey of Austrians commissioned by the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany conducted February 22-March 1, 56 percent of respondents did not know six million Jews were killed in the Holocaust, and 12 percent believed 100,000 or fewer Jews had been killed. Nine percent – and 13 percent of those born since the early 1980s – believed the number of Jews killed in the Holocaust was exaggerated. Thirty-six percent agreed there were many neo-Nazis in the country, while 51 percent disagreed. Two-thirds believed there was anti-Semitism in the country.
In September the Linz State Court in Upper Austria handed down a 16-month sentence to a man after convicting him on charges of the glorification of Nazi ideology and disturbance of religious practices. He gave a Nazi salute at an ecumenical service during a Linz fair in October 2018.
In May in the space of fewer than three weeks, unknown perpetrators defaced larger-than-life portraits of Holocaust survivors that were part of an exhibition at a downtown boulevard in Vienna on three separate occasions. Perpetrators cut across the faces of the portraits or defaced them with swastikas and other graffiti. In reaction, several groups, including the Muslim Youth organization and a youth group of the Catholic charity Caritas, organized around-the-clock vigils to protect the portraits. President Van der Bellen and then-chancellor Kurz expressed concern over the vandalism.
In April unknown perpetrators defaced the construction site of a Buddhist stupa in Lower Austria with swastikas.
In February a Vorarlberg court handed down a 20-month prison sentence to a man and a 10-month suspended prison sentence to his wife for playing rightwing songs at parties between 2014 and 2016, and for encouraging their daughters to perform a Nazi salute in front of a swastika flag for a photo.
In January a Vorarlberg court convicted a man to a two-year prison sentence on charges of yelling Nazi phrases, including “Heil Hitler!” and “Work sets you free,” the slogan over the entrance of the Auschwitz concentration camp, – and physically assaulting a young man. He was ordered to pay 2,000 euros ($2,200) in compensation to the victim and was admitted to a drug treatment program.
Authorities investigated links between the terrorist attacker of a mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand in March and the Austrian Identitarian movement. Identitarian leader Martin Sellner received a donation from the terrorist attacker in the spring of 2018. Sellner stressed he had had no knowledge of the terrorist’s plans and denied speculation the two men had met in Austria during the attacker’s trip to Europe later in 2018.
Fourteen Christian groups, among them the Roman Catholic Church, various Protestant denominations, and eight Orthodox and Old Oriental Churches, continued to meet within the Ecumenical Council of Churches in Austria. Baptists and the Salvation Army had observer status on the council. The council met twice a year. There were two permanent working groups on “Religion and Society” and “Media.” Activities included joint religious services, for example on the “Day of Jewry” in January, and joint charitable activities.
Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement
The Ambassador and other embassy representatives met regularly with government officials, including from the Federal Chancellery’s Office of Religious Affairs, the Department for Integration and Division of Dialogue of Cultures at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the Ministry of Interior, to discuss religious freedom and the protection of religious minorities. Topics discussed included the concerns of religious groups, integration of Muslim refugees, cooperation with religious groups in combating terrorism, and measures to combat anti-Semitism and anti-Muslim sentiment.
The Ambassador met with religious group representatives, such as the leadership of the IGGIO, IKG, Roman Catholic Church, Protestant churches (Augsburg and Helvetic Confessions) , and various Orthodox churches, to discuss their relations with the government, instances of discrimination, and interreligious dialogue. Embassy officers also met with youth groups of religious organizations to discuss issues such as anti-Semitism and anti-Muslim sentiment.
The embassy continued to engage with and support the Jewish community to discuss ways of promoting religious tolerance and combating anti-Semitism. Embassy representatives continued to serve on the International Advisory Board of the Mauthausen Memorial Agency to promote remembrance of the Holocaust and Holocaust education. The embassy advocated increased agency outreach to combat anti-Semitism among youth, such as by encouraging more school groups to visit the Mauthausen site.
The embassy provided a grant to the first ever Muslim-led initiative to counter anti-Semitism in the country. The MJO-led initiative was headed by three former participants of Department of State-sponsored exchange programs in the United States. It included a series of events, roundtables, and visits to Auschwitz for MJO members. The MJO worked closely with the Jewish community and the Jewish museum to foster dialogue and promote awareness among Muslim youth. The project received third place in the EU’s Charlemagne Youth Prize and won the Austrian Youth Prize. The Ambassador and other prominent officials attended an event in May concluding the project, at which the Ambassador gave remarks condemning anti-Semitism and anti-Muslim sentiment and supporting religious freedom.
In August the embassy funded the travel of a Muslim educator to the United States to attend training and workshops on religious freedom.
In August the embassy sponsored the participation of three young Muslim women at the Women2Women leadership program in Boston, Massachusetts, where they engaged with young women leaders from around the world on issues including religious freedom.
In February a Muslim-American disabilities rights activist engaged with members of the Muslim Youth on the topic of religion in the United States and advocacy for religious freedom. The visit was an opportunity to share experiences on advocacy for religious freedom and provide a U.S. perspective to local activists. In December the embassy sponsored the visit of a former white supremacist who, in workshops with authorities and NGOs, highlighted the threat of extremism to religious freedom and the role of faith communities in creating resilient societies.
The Ambassador and the Charge of the U.S. Mission to the United Nations in Vienna attended the commemoration of the liberation of the Mauthausen concentration camp in May. In his remarks, the Ambassador stressed the importance of religious freedom, and the fact that the liberators of Mauthausen helped end the notion that one person is better than another because of his or her religion.
The Charter of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms, a supplement to the constitution, guarantees freedom of religious conviction and states everyone has the right to change, abstain from, and freely practice religion. The Ministry of Culture (MOC) registered one religious group and rejected the registration applications of two groups. The registration application of one group remained pending at year’s end. The Constitutional Court rejected an appeal of a lower court conviction of Path of Guru Jara (PGJ) leader Jaroslav Dobes and another PGJ member whom the lower court sentenced to prison in absentia for rape; a lower court reopened proceedings against the two PGJ officials on seven other counts of rape. The Supreme Administrative Court and several regional courts ruled the Ministry of Interior (MOI) should review 18 asylum applications by Chinese Christians whose applications the MOI rejected in 2018. Appeals of an additional 52 asylum applications the MOI rejected in 2018 were pending with courts at year’s end. The government stated that in 2018 it returned 1,797 properties confiscated from religious groups during the communist period. In October the Constitutional Court struck down a law parliament had approved in May, which was scheduled to come into effect in 2020, taxing compensation the government paid to religious groups for unreturned confiscated properties. The Freedom and Direct Democracy (SPD) Party continued to speak out against Islam and Muslim migrants.
In IUSTITIA, a local nongovernmental organization (NGO), reported 14 religiously motivated incidents – 12 against Muslims and two against Jews – compared with 17 in 2018. The government reported 15 anti-Semitic and three anti-Muslim incidents in 2018, compared with 27 and three, respectively, in the previous year. The Federation of Jewish Communities (FJC) reported 347 anti-Semitic incidents in 2018 – including two physical attacks – an increase of 175 percent over 2015. Most incidents involved internet hate speech. According to a European Commission (EC) survey, 28 percent of respondents believed anti-Semitism was a problem in the country. Another EC survey found that 48 percent of respondents said they would be comfortable working with a Muslim, and 31 percent said they would feel comfortable if their child were in a “love relationship” with a Muslim. In March the Czech Muslim Communities Center ousted the lay chairman who headed the Prague Muslim community for posting a video urging Muslims to arm themselves following mosque mass shootings in New Zealand. The MOI reported 11 “white power” concerts where participants expressed anti-Semitic views.
U.S. embassy representatives discussed religious freedom issues, including property restitution for religious groups and religious tolerance, with MOC officials and the envoy for Holocaust issues at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA). Embassy officials met with Jewish, Roman Catholic, and Protestant religious leaders and members of the Muslim community to reaffirm U.S. government support for religious freedom and tolerance.
Section I. Religious Demography
The U.S. government estimates the total population at 10.7 million (midyear 2019 estimate). According to the 2011 census, of the 56 percent of citizens who responded to the question about their religious beliefs, approximately 62 percent held none, 18 percent were Roman Catholic, 12 percent listed no specific religion, and 7 percent identified with a variety of religious faiths, including the Evangelical Church of Czech Brethren, the Czechoslovak Hussite Church, other Christian churches, Judaism, Islam, and Buddhism. Academics estimate there are 10,000 Jews, while the FJC estimates there are 15,000 to 20,000. Leaders of the Muslim community estimate there are 10,000 Muslims, most of whom are immigrants.
Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom
The constitution does not explicitly address religious freedom, but the Charter of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms, a supplementary constitutional document, provides for freedom of religious conviction and the fundamental rights of all, regardless of their faith or religion. It states every individual has the right to change religion or faith; to abstain from religious belief; and to freely practice religion, alone or in community, in private or public, “through worship, teaching, practice, or observance.” The charter defines religious societies, recognizing their freedom to profess their faith publicly or privately and to govern their own affairs, independent of the state. It stipulates conscientious objectors may not be compelled to perform military service and that conditions for religious instruction at state schools shall be set by law. The charter states religious freedom may be limited by law in the event of threats to “public safety and order, health and morals, or the rights and freedoms of others.”
The law states the Department of Churches within the MOC is responsible for religious affairs. Religious groups are not required by law to register with the government and are free to perform religious activities without registering. The law establishes a two-tiered system for religious groups which choose to register with the ministry. The ministry reviews applications for first- and second-tier registration with input from other government bodies, such as the Office for Protection of Private Data, and outside experts on religious affairs. The law does not establish a deadline for the ministry to decide on a registration application. Applicants denied registration may appeal to the MOC to reconsider its decision and, if denied again, to the courts.
To qualify for the first (lower) tier, a religious group must present at least 300 signatures of adult members permanently residing in the country, a founding document listing the basic tenets of the faith, and a clearly defined structure of fiduciary responsibilities to the Department of Churches. First-tier registration confers limited tax benefits, including exemptions from taxes on interest earned on current account deposits, donations, and members’ contributions. It also establishes annual reporting requirements on activities, balance sheets, and the use of funds.
For second (higher) tier registration, a group must have been registered with the Department of Churches for 10 years, have published annual financial reports throughout the time of its registration, and have membership equal to at least 0.1 percent of the population, or approximately 10,700 persons. The group must provide this number of signatures as proof. Second-tier registration entitles religious groups to government subsidies, as well as the tax benefits granted to first-tier groups. Additionally, only clergy of registered second-tier religious groups may perform legally recognized marriage ceremonies and serve as chaplains in the military and at prisons. Prisoners who belong to unregistered religious groups or groups with first-tier status may receive visits from their own clergy.
Religious groups registered prior to 2002 received automatic second-tier status without having to fulfill the requirements for second-tier registration. These groups, like other registered groups, must publish financial reports annually.
There are 41 state-registered religious groups, 18 first- and 23 second-tier.
Unregistered religious groups are free to assemble and worship but may not legally own property. Unregistered groups may form civic associations to own and manage their property.
The law authorizes the government to return land or other property that was confiscated during the communist era and is still in the government’s possession to 17 religious groups (the largest of which are the Roman Catholic Church, FJC, Evangelical Church of Czech Brethren, and Hussite Church). The government estimates the total value of property in its possession eligible to be returned at 75 billion crowns ($3.4 billion). The law also sets aside 59 billion crowns ($2.7 billion) in compensation for property – mostly in possession of private persons or entities or local or regional governments – that cannot be returned, payable over a 30-year period ending in 2043. Based on an agreement among the affected religious groups, the law allocates approximately 79 percent of these funds to the Catholic Church and 21 percent to the other 16 groups. The law prescribed a one-year deadline ending in 2013 for religious groups to file restitution claims for confiscated property. The government agency in possession of a property for which a group has filed a restitution claim adjudicates that claim. If the government agency rejects a property claim, the claimant may appeal the decision in court.
The law phases out direct state subsidies to second-tier religious groups over a 17-year period ending in 2029.
The law permits second-tier religious groups to apply through the MOC to teach religion in state schools if there is a demand for such classes. Eleven of the 23 second-tier groups, all of them Christian, received permission. The teachers are supplied by the religious groups and paid by the state. If a state school does not have enough funds to pay for its religious education teachers, religious groups pay for them. Student attendance at religious classes is optional. According to law, if seven or more students register for a particular religious class at the beginning of the school year, a school must offer that class to those who registered.
The government does not regulate religious instruction in private schools.
The law prohibits speech that incites hatred based on religion. It also limits the denial of communist-era crimes and the Holocaust. Violators may be sentenced to up to three years in prison.
Religious workers who are not from European Economic Area countries or Switzerland must obtain long-term residence and work permits to remain in the country for more than 90 days. There is no special visa category for religious workers. Foreign missionaries and clergy are required to meet the conditions for a standard work permit.
The law designates January 27 as Holocaust Remembrance Day.
The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
In March the MOC registered the Community of Baptist Congregations, which applied in January 2018. In August the ministry rejected Ecclesia Risorum’s March 2018 registration application on the grounds the group failed to meet the legal definition of a first- or second-tier religious group. The group filed an administrative appeal with the MOC, which remained pending at year’s end. The Association of Buddhism in the Czech Republic applied for registration in April; in July the ministry suspended the registration process because it said the group did not respond to a request for completed registration documents. The MOC restarted the registration process in November, and the application was pending at year’s end.
In January the MOC denied the Cannabis Church’s registration. The group filed an administrative appeal with the MOC, which the ministry rejected in June. The Cannabis Church did not appeal the decision in court. The Cannabis Church had renewed its registration application in 2018 after the Prague Municipal Court overturned a 2016 decision by the MOC to halt the Church’s application and ordered the ministry to reopen the registration procedure. A 2017 appeal by the Lions of the Round Table – Order of the Lands of the Czech Crown regarding an MOC registration rejection remained pending with the Prague Municipal Court.
PGJ leader Jaroslav Dobes and member Barbora Plaskova reportedly remained in immigration detention in the Philippines, where they had been seeking asylum since 2015. International arrest warrants issued by Czech authorities for the pair remained outstanding. In April the Supreme Court rejected the pair’s appeal to overturn a 2018 guilty verdict on one count of rape by the Zlin Regional Court and upheld later that year by the Olomouc High Court. On September 11, the Constitutional Court rejected Dobes’ appeal of the verdict, and on October 16, it rejected Plaskova’s appeal. On September 16, the Zlin Regional Court renewed court proceedings against Dobes and Plaskova on seven other counts of rape. The Olomouc High Court had voided the Zlin court’s earlier convictions on those seven counts in 2018 and remanded the cases back to the lower court. After the high court’s decision, the Zlin court had dismissed the case at the end of 2018 but reversed that decision after an appeal by Dobes and Plaskova requesting a court verdict on the seven counts of rape. The trial continued at year’s end.
PGJ’s 2017 lawsuit against the government’s Office for Personal Data Protection alleging abusive investigation of the group’s registration application and against the MOC’s rejection of its registration application remained pending in the Prague Municipal Court at year’s end.
In letters to Czech authorities in May, PGJ called the criminal prosecutions against Dobes and Plaskova “violations of human rights” that contributed to discrimination and persecution of the group. In September a lawyer who worked with PGJ submitted a report to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s Human Dimension Implementation Meetings criticizing the criminal proceedings against the group’s members and the Prague Municipal Court’s delay in issuing a ruling on PGJ’s appeal of the rejection of its registration application.
According to PGJ members, media coverage of the group was unfair and contributed to intolerance of it. A PGJ report stated media continued to misinform the public about the group and Plaskova’s case, citing 33 articles published during the year. Supporters of what PGJ members described as the anticult movement reportedly wrote three of these articles, issued in Dingir, an interreligious journal. According to PGJ, Jitka Schlichtsova, the author of a piece published in February, alleged the group was created as a “reaction” to the arrest of their two leaders in 2015. PGJ members also stated they “encountered several refusals” when attempting to hire architects, advisors, or consultants because the individuals feared “persecution for cooperating with the PGJ.” When seeking a venue for a nationwide spiritual meeting in the fall, PGJ members said they were rejected because of their faith; however, the group did not provide additional information.
In October the Supreme Administrative Court (SAC) heard appeals by two Chinese Christians regarding the decision of the Hradec Kralove Regional Court and, previously, the MOI to reject their asylum applications filed in 2016 on the grounds of religious persecution in China. The SAC returned the cases to the MOI for review. In August the SAC had returned to the MOI for further review three other cases the ministry had previously rejected. During the year, regional courts in Ostrava, Hradec Kralove, and Pardubice issued similar verdicts returning 13 other cases to the MOI for review. All 18 applicants were part of a group of 70 Chinese Christians whose asylum applications the MOI had rejected in 2018. All of them appealed the MOI ruling; the other 52 cases were under review in the courts. At year’s end, the MOI had not ruled on any of the applications the courts had remanded to it for further review, and the government had not deported any of the 70 asylum applicants.
In April parliament approved a law, which President Milos Zeman signed in May and was scheduled to become effective on January 1, 2020, taxing the compensation the government paid religious groups for unreturned property confiscated prior to 1989. A group of 44 senators filed a legal challenge to the law, and on October 15, the Constitutional Court struck the law down as unconstitutional. The court ruled that although the state had the right to levy a tax to raise revenue, in this case the objective was to decrease compensation paid to religious groups.
The government was still processing restitution claims made between 2012 and 2013 for confiscated land and other real and personal property. It reported that in 2018 it returned 1,441 agricultural properties and 356 nonagricultural properties confiscated from religious groups during the communist period. The government had returned a total of 99,001 agricultural and nonagricultural properties between 2013, when the law on religious property restitution came into effect, and the end of 2018.
In August the Supreme Court upheld a 2017 ruling by the South Moravian Regional Court in Brno that the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs and not the Brno Jewish Community (BJC) was the legal owner of a building in Brno. The BJC filed its claim in 2013, and the ministry rejected the claim in 2014. The BJC said it would appeal the Supreme Court decision to the Constitutional Court, which exercised final authority in such cases.
During the year, the government provided 17 second-tier religious groups with approximately 3.3 billion crowns ($148.9 million): 1.2 billion crowns ($54.1 million) in government subsidies and 2.1 billion crowns ($94.8 million) as compensation for communal property in private and state hands that would not be returned. Five of the 22 second-tier groups declined all state funding. While accepting the state subsidy, the Baptist Union opted not to accept compensation for unreturned property. In addition, the MOC provided three million crowns ($135,000) in grants for religiously oriented cultural activities in response to applications from various religious groups.
In September the government approved a 100 million crown ($4.5 million) contribution to the Endowment Fund for Holocaust Victims for projects focused on Holocaust remembrance and education, welfare for Holocaust victims, and care for Jewish monuments.
In November the Kolel Damesek Eliezer Foundation, a U.S. charity, the FJC, and the Hanacky Jerusalem Association signed a memorandum with the municipal government of Prostejov on restoration of a former Jewish cemetery in that city. The cemetery, along with its remaining tombstones found in other locations, was destroyed by the Nazis and later converted into a park. The MOC designated it a cultural monument in 2016 and 2017. In November a stone replica of Rabbi Zvi Horowitz’ original tombstone, which vandals destroyed in 2017, was installed in the area of the former cemetery.
In June press reported the municipal council in Prague was withholding issuance of a building permit for the Association for the Renewal of the Marian Column, a group trying to re-erect a Baroque-era column with a statue of the Virgin Mary in the city’s Old Town Square. A crowd tore down the original statue in 1918 shortly after Czechoslovakia gained its independence. Critics of the project said the statue was a symbol of Habsburg Empire-enforced Catholicism on the country. The association had already built a replica of the statue and was awaiting a decision from the municipal council at year’s end.
The SPD and its leader, Tomio Okamura, continued to speak out against Islam and Muslim migrants. In one post on social media, Okamura stated the idea of having Islamic schools in the country was unacceptable, and he did not want Islam to be practiced in the country. His posts, as well as the SPD party platform, included the slogan, “No to Islam, No to Terrorists.” In April the SPD held a rally in Prague attended by Okamura, France’s National Rally Party leader Marine Le Pen, and founder of the Dutch Party for Freedom Geert Wilders. Mateo Salvini, head of Italy’s League party, sent a video message. All the political leaders spoke out against immigration and Islam. According to press reports, Wilders said, “Islam is a medieval cult that denies freedom to others,” and the crowd repeatedly chanted, “We don’t want Islam here!” The Against the Hate platform, a Facebook group, organized an event at the same time protesting the SPD rally in a nearby location attracting approximately 100 participants. Dozens of persons also protested at the SPD rally itself.
In September the Prague Municipal Court upheld the Prague 1 District Court’s decision in 2018 to issue a suspended one-year sentence and 70,000 crown ($3,200) fine levied on former SPD secretary Jaroslav Stanik for hate speech after he publicly stated in 2017 that Jews, Roma, and homosexuals should be shot right after birth.
In May the government approved the annual Strategy to Combat Extremism that outlined specific tasks for various ministries, such as the MOI, Ministry of Justice, Ministry of Education, MOC, and Ministry of Finance in fighting extremism and hate crimes, including hate crimes against religious groups. Steps the document outlined to reduce incidents included raising public awareness about extremist activities, campaigns to reduce hate speech on the internet, education and prevention programs at schools, specialized training for law enforcement, and assistance to victims.
In January in a session commemorating Holocaust Remembrance Day, the Chamber of Deputies officially adopted the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) working definition of anti-Semitism.
On January 25, the senate, in cooperation with the FJC, organized an official ceremony to honor victims of the Holocaust as part of Holocaust Remembrance Day. Speakers from both houses of parliament delivered remarks and called for religious tolerance.
In October the Chamber of Deputies enacted a nonbinding resolution denouncing all manifestations of anti-Semitism against individuals, institutions, organizations, and the State of Israel. The resolution condemned actions and statements calling for the boycott of Israel and its products, services, or citizens. It also called for increased protection for persons or institutions that could be the target of anti-Semitic attacks.
In April President of the Senate Jaroslav Kubera again sponsored and participated in an annual march and the Culture Against Anti-Semitism Festival. The march, from the city center to the senate gardens, opened the festival, consisting of speeches, video messages, documentaries, and live readings and musical performances against anti-Semitism. Approximately 700 persons attended the event.
The government funded religiously oriented cultural activities, including the Night of Churches held in several cities; the annual National Pilgrimage of St. Wenceslaus (consisting of a march through Prague and masses celebrated in that city and Brandys nad Labem); KRISTFEST (a festival of seminars, workshops, and musical performances on religious themes); the annual Concert in Memory of Holocaust Victims; the annual Hussite Festival (commemorating the religious teaching of reformation leader Jan Hus); Litomysl Days of Baroque Tradition (a festival consisting of liturgical music, masses, and readings); and the festival of Orthodox music, Archaion Kallos.
According to the FJC, the MOI continued to provide security to the Jewish community and Jewish sites based on a memorandum of cooperation signed in 2016.
The country is a member of the IHRA.
Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom
In IUSTITIA reported 14 religiously motivated hate crimes during the year, 12 against Muslims and two against Jews, compared with 17 cases in 2018. In IUSTITIA did not provide details of the incidents.
In 2018, the most recent year data were available, the MOI reported 15 criminal offenses with anti-Semitic motives and eight with anti-Muslim motives, compared with 27 and three crimes, respectively, in 2017.
The FJC reported 347 anti-Semitic incidents in 2018, compared with 126 in 2015 (the most recent previous year in which the FJC had collected incident reports), including 14 directed against specific persons or institutions – two physical attacks, three cases of property damage, and nine cases of harassment. The other 333 incidents included graffiti, videos, articles, and online comments. According to the FJC, the largest increase was in anti-Semitic hate speech on the internet, which accounted for 93 percent of the incidents in 2018. It stated 64 percent of incidents involved stereotypical statements about Jews, such as allegations Jews controlled the economy and government. In 29 percent of the cases, the writers blamed Jews collectively for Israeli actions.
In one of the two attacks the FJC reported in 2018, the new employer of a hotel in Prague assaulted an employee and shouted anti-Semitic insults at him. In the other attack, in Prague, a taxi driver assaulted a Jewish man wearing a yarmulke, swearing at him and calling him “Jew.” In another incident the FJC cited, a person accosted a Jewish man at a bar in Liberec, calling for the destruction of Israel and yelling, “Heil Hitler!” In a fourth incident, a guard asked a Jewish woman to remove her Star of David before entering a club in Prague.
In January the EC published a Special Eurobarometer survey of perceptions of anti-Semitism based on interviews it conducted in December 2018 in each EU member. According to the survey, 65 percent of residents believed anti-Semitism was not a problem in the Czech Republic, and 57 percent believed anti-Semitism had stayed the same over the previous five years. The percentage who believed that anti-Semitism was a problem in nine different categories was as follows: Holocaust denial, 38 percent; on the internet, 33 percent; anti-Semitic graffiti or vandalism, 36 percent; expression of hostility or threats against Jews in public places, 33 percent; desecration of Jewish cemeteries, 44 percent; physical attacks against Jews, 32 percent; anti-Semitism in schools and universities, 30 percent; anti-Semitism in political life, 30 percent; and anti-Semitism in the media, 28 percent.
In May the EC carried out a study in each EU member state on perceptions of discrimination and published the results in September. According to the findings, 24 percent of respondents believed discrimination on the basis of religion or belief was widespread in the Czech Republic, while 69 percent said it was rare; 78 percent would be comfortable with having a person of different religion than the majority of the population occupy the highest elected political position in the country. In addition, 97 percent said they would be comfortable working closely with a Christian, 95 percent said they would be with an atheist, 90 percent with a Jew, 77 percent with a Buddhist, and 48 percent with a Muslim. Asked how they would feel if their child were in a “love relationship” with an individual belonging to various groups, 95 percent said they would be comfortable if the partner were Christian, 87 percent if atheist, 81 percent if Jewish, 67 percent if Buddhist, and 31 percent if Muslim.
According to the Pew Research Global Attitudes Survey released in October, 64 percent of respondents in the country expressed unfavorable opinions of Muslims, while 17 percent expressed unfavorable opinions of Jews.
In March, following the mass shootings at two mosques in New Zealand, press reported Leonid Kushnarenko, then-lay chairman of the Prague Muslim community, posted a video on Facebook urging community members to arm themselves to protect their health and property and offered to assist them in doing so. Kushnarenko reportedly told the newspaper Denik N that he made his appeal because of “Islamophobic sentiments” in the country. On March 24, the Czech Muslim Communities Center announced on Facebook it had revoked Kushnarenko’s membership in the organization because of his statement and acts, which it said harmed the interests of the Muslim community in the country.
The MOI reported there were 11 private “white power” concerts during the year, where participants expressed anti-Semitic and neo-Nazi views. The ministry estimated approximately 50 to 100 persons attended each concert.
Supreme State Prosecutor Pavel Zeman stated at a conference on Hate Crime on the Internet in October that internet hate speech against Muslims and Jews had increased. He added that online hate speech against these and other groups must be addressed before it grew into physical attacks.
In January the Prague Regional Court convicted 71-year-old Jaromir Balda of terrorism and sentenced him to four years in prison for causing two trains to derail near Mlada Boleslav in 2017. In April the Prague Higher Court rejected his appeal of the verdict. The man had felled trees to block the railway line and said he tried to make it appear Islamists were responsible in order to raise the public’s concerns about Muslim immigration.
In August the Supreme Court upheld the guilty verdict of well-known anti-Semitic blogger Adam Bartos on charges of incitement to hatred and denying the Holocaust on the internet, in public speeches, and books. He was sentenced to a two-year suspended sentence in 2018.
According to the Anti-Defamation League, in June vandals damaged the Valediction Memorial to Jewish children. The memorial commemorates those who escaped the Holocaust at Prague’s mail railway station.
The Times of Israel reported a Jewish cemetery was vandalized in the northeast district of Osoblaha in July, where unidentified individuals smashed at least one headstone and etched “obscene” drawings on several others.
According to press reports in November, the mayor’s office in Prague and the Jewish community reached agreement on the return of Jewish gravestones the Communist government had taken from a 19th century Jewish cemetery in the 1980s and converted into cobblestones it laid down in various areas of the capital, notably in Wenceslas Square and Na Prikope Street. The Jewish community said it would place the gravestone fragments in the Old Jewish Cemetery in the city’s Zizkov District.
The government-funded Endowment Fund for Holocaust Victims, established by the FJC, contributed four million crowns ($180,000) to 14 institutions providing health and social care to approximately 500 Holocaust survivors.
Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement
Embassy representatives continued to engage government officials from the MOC’s Department of Churches on issues including property restitution to religious groups, religious tolerance, and the Prostejov Jewish cemetery. Embassy officials also met with the MFA’s special envoy for Holocaust issues, Antonin Hradilek, regarding property restitution.
The Ambassador and other embassy officials continued to meet with representatives from the Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, and Muslim communities to reaffirm U.S. commitment to religious tolerance and to hear their views on interfaith relations.
The constitution prohibits religious discrimination “without an acceptable reason” and provides for the right to profess and practice a religion and to decline to be a member of a religious community. The law prohibits breaching the sanctity of religion, which includes blasphemy, offending that which a religious community holds sacred, and disturbing worship or funeral ceremonies. In March the Supreme Court allowed the Nordic Resistance Movement (NRM), the largest neo-Nazi group in the country, to appeal its countrywide ban. The group remained banned while it made its appeal. The Ministry of Education and Culture (MEC) instructed the Finnish Association of Museums to prepare a formal study of the state of Holocaust-era art provenance research in its collections. Parliament repealed the military service exemption which had applied only to Jehovah’s Witnesses. A Finns Party politician publicly compared Muslim asylum seekers to invasive species. Jehovah’s Witnesses said the government continued to refuse most applications from Russian Jehovah’s Witnesses seeking asylum for religious persecution.
Police reported 155 hate crimes involving members of religious groups in 2018, compared with 235 such incidents in the previous year, but did not specify how many were motivated solely by religion. The nondiscrimination ombudsman’s office received 35 complaints of religious discrimination in 2018, compared with 55 in the previous year. The NRM continued to post anti-Muslim and anti-Semitic statements online and demonstrated with the anti-immigrant group Soldiers of Odin. There were several demonstrations by neo-Nazi or nativist groups. In November, on the anniversary of Kristallnacht (the 1938 pogrom against Jews in Germany), a group handed out flyers and waved flags bearing symbols resembling the Nazi swastika at a demonstration in Helsinki, and anti-Semitic stickers were posted around the city. Muslim groups reported a shortage of funds needed to establish houses of worship to match their growing population. A report by the European Commission Against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) said hate crimes and intolerant speech in public discourse, principally against Muslims and asylum seekers (many of whom belong to religious minorities), had increased in recent years. The report also cited frequent use of anti-Semitic rhetoric on the internet and hate speech by extremist groups, especially neo-Nazis. Vandals targeted Jewish property, including the Israeli embassy and a Shia mosque in Helsinki.
U.S. embassy staff met with government ministries to discuss government support for religious freedom and interfaith dialogue, the provenance of Holocaust-era art, and the treatment of Jehovah’s Witnesses seeking asylum. Embassy staff discussed with the Jewish and Muslim communities their concerns about the law restricting animal slaughter, government discouragement of male circumcision, and a rise in religiously motivated harassment. They also discussed the state of religious freedom with these communities, other religious minorities, and interfaith networks.
Section I. Religious Demography
The U.S. government estimates the total population at 5.7 million (midyear 2019 estimate). According to Finnish government statistics from December 2018, which count only registered members of registered congregations, approximately 69.8 percent of the population belongs to the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland (ELC) and 1.1 percent to the Finnish Orthodox Church, while 0.3 percent (approximately 16,000 individuals) officially belong to Islamic congregations, and 26.3 percent do not identify as belonging to any religious group. The census combines the other minority religious communities, including Jehovah’s Witnesses, Roman Catholics, Pentecostals, Seventh-day Adventists, members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Jews, and members of the Free Church of Finland, which together account for 1.7 percent of the population.
Multiple sources indicate the Muslim population has grown rapidly in recent years because of a significant inflow of immigrants. Muslim religious leaders estimate the number of Muslims rose to 100,000 in 2018, of which approximately 80 percent is Sunni and 20 percent Shia. In 2017, the Pew Research Center estimated 2.7 percent of the population, or approximately 150,000 persons, were Muslim. According to a survey by the MEC, the Muslim population numbered approximately 65,000 in 2016. According to the Islamic Society of Finland, discrepancies among these sources and between them and official government statistics may occur because only a minority of Muslims register with registered Islamic societies. Apart from Tatars, most Muslims are immigrants or descendants of immigrants who arrived in recent decades from Somalia, North Africa, Iraq, Afghanistan, the Balkans, Syria, Turkey, and Iran.
Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom
The constitution bars discrimination based on religion “without an acceptable reason.” It stipulates freedom of religion and conscience, including the right to profess and practice a religion, to express one’s convictions, and to be a member or decline to be a member of a religious community. It states no one is under the obligation to participate in the practice of a religion. The law criminalizes the “breach of the sanctity of religion,” which includes “blaspheming against God,” publicly defaming or desecrating to offend something a religious community holds sacred, and disturbing worship or funeral ceremonies. Violators are subject to fines or imprisonment of up to six months. Authorities have rarely applied the law, most recently in 2009. The constitution cites the ELC, the only religious group it mentions, stating that “provisions on the organization and administration [of the ELC] are laid down in the Church Act.”
The law prohibits religious discrimination and prescribes a nondiscrimination ombudsman responsible for supervising compliance with the law and investigating individual cases of discrimination and having the power to issue fines in noncriminal cases. The ombudsman advocates on behalf of victims, offers counseling and promotes conciliation, and lobbies for legislation, among other duties and authorities. The ombudsman may also refer cases to the National Non-Discrimination and Equality Tribunal (NDET), which also enforces fines issued by the ombudsman, or assist plaintiffs seeking compensation in court. Individuals alleging discrimination may alternatively pursue legal action through the NDET, which may issue binding decisions that may be appealed to the courts, or through the district court system. Litigants may appeal the decisions of the NDET and the district courts to the higher Administrative Court. Neither the ombudsman nor the NDET has the authority to investigate individual cases of religious discrimination involving employment. Such cases fall under the purview of the Occupational Safety and Health Authority.
Individuals and groups may exist, associate, and practice their religion without registering with the government. To be eligible to apply for government funds, however, religious groups must register with the Patent and Registration Office as a religious community. To register as a religious community, a group must have at least 20 members, the public practice of religion as its purpose, and a set of rules to guide its activities. A registered religious community is a legal entity that may employ persons, purchase property, and make legal claims. A religious group may also acquire legal status by registering as an association with a nonprofit purpose that is not contrary to law or proper behavior. Registered religious groups and nonprofit associations are generally exempt from taxes. According to the MEC, there are approximately 130 registered religious communities, most of which have multiple congregations. Persons may belong to more than one religious community.
All citizens who belong to either the ELC or Finnish Orthodox Church pay a church tax, collected together with their income tax payments. Congregations collectively decide the church tax amount, now set at between 1 to 2 percent of a member’s income. Those who do not want to pay the tax must terminate their ELC or Orthodox congregation membership. Members may terminate their membership by contacting the official congregation or the local government registration office, either electronically or in person. Local parishes have fiscal autonomy to decide how to use funding received from taxes levied on their members.
Registered religious communities other than the ELC and Finnish Orthodox Church are eligible to apply for state funds in lieu of the church tax. In addition to receiving the church tax, the ELC and Finnish Orthodox Church may also apply for state funds. The law states registered religious communities that meet the statutory requirements, including ELC and Orthodox congregations, may apply to receive an annual subsidy from the government budget in proportion to the religious community’s percentage of the population.
The law requires the ELC to maintain public cemeteries using its general allocation from state funds and church tax and to account for monies used for this purpose. Other religious communities and nonreligious foundations may maintain their own cemeteries. All registered religious communities may own and manage property and hire staff, including appointing clergy. The law authorizes the ELC and Finnish Orthodox Church to register births, marriages, and deaths for their members in collaboration with the government Population Register Center. State registrars do this for other persons.
Parents may determine their child’s religious affiliation if the child is younger than 12 years of age. The parents of a child between the ages of 12 and 17 must pursue specific administrative procedures with their religious community and the local population registration officials to change or terminate religious affiliation.
All public schools provide religious teaching in accordance with students’ religion. All students must take courses either in ethics or in religious studies, with the choice left up to the student. Schools must provide religious instruction in religions other than the Lutheran faith if there is a minimum of three pupils representing that faith in the municipal region, the religious community in question is registered, and the students’ families belong to the religious community. Students who do not belong to a religious group or belong to a religious group for which special instruction is not available may study ethics. Students aged 18 or older may choose to study either the religious courses pertaining to their religion or ethics. If a student belongs to more than one religious community, the parents decide in which religious education course the student participates. The national and municipal governments fund private, including religiously based, schools. These schools do not charge tuition and do not practice selective admission based on students’ religion.
Religious education focuses on familiarizing students with their own religion, other religions, and general instruction in ethics. Teachers of religion must have state-mandated training for religious instruction. The state appoints them, and they are not required to belong to any religious community. The National Board of Education provides a series of textbooks about Orthodox and Lutheran Christianity, Catholicism, Judaism, and Islam, as well as a textbook on secular ethics.
The government allows conscientious objectors to choose alternative civilian service instead of compulsory military service. In February parliament repealed the exemption from conscription for Jehovah’s Witnesses, meaning that members of the organization need to perform military or alternative civilian service or face imprisonment. Conscientious objectors who refuse both military and alternative civilian service may be sentenced to prison terms of up to 173 days, one-half of the 347 days of alternative civilian service. Regular military service ranges between 165 and 347 days.
The law requires that animals be stunned prior to slaughter or be stunned and killed simultaneously in cases of religious practice.
The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
In March the Supreme Court granted the NRM the right to appeal to the Supreme Court the 2018 Turku Court of Appeals ruling which upheld the 2017 nationwide ban of the organization for distributing anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim materials and engaging in hate speech. The NRM continued to demonstrate in public despite the Supreme Court’s order that it refrain from all activities while the appeal remained pending. In May the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) opened a criminal investigation into NRM members for allegedly violating the ban on activities by publishing anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim articles on their website.
In August the National Police Board, which supervises police operations across the country, stated it had received multiple questions from members of parliament (MPs) suggesting the redirection of resources from the investigation of hate speech and hate crimes would be beneficial. Among the critics was Finns Party leader Jussi Halla-aho, who said during the Finns Party’s summer summit in August that police personnel were needed for “real criminal investigations” and not to “stalk people on social media.”
At year’s end, parliament had not voted on an amendment to the Church Act, which governs the practices of the ELC. Parliament took up the bill in September 2018 after the General Synod of the ELC approved it but did not enact the bill during that year. The amended Church Act has the stated intent of clarifying and facilitating administration, enhancing church autonomy, and facilitating internal decision making in the ELC. The amended act would devolve back to the Church certain responsibilities that previously required parliamentary approval.
In June the MEC instructed the Finnish Association of Museums to prepare a formal study of the state of Holocaust-era art provenance research in their collections. According to the MEC, the move was intended to address the lack of Holocaust-era art provenance research in order to better meet the requirements for the implementation of the Terezin Declaration. At year’s end, the study was ongoing, and only the Finnish National Gallery had publicly listed works of art with significant provenance gaps acquired during 1939-1945. Holocaust-era art provenance research is also scheduled as a topic at the country’s National Art Museum Conference to be held in 2020.
In February an independent investigation by the National Archives concluded “it was very likely” Finnish volunteers in the Waffen SS participated in killing Jews, other civilians, and prisoners of war during World War II. State Secretary in the Prime Minister’s Office Paula Lehtomaki said it was necessary “to investigate the questions that emerge and conduct complementary research on difficult historical events…. We share the responsibility for ensuring that such atrocities will never be repeated.” The prime minister’s office funded the investigation in 2018 in response to a request from the Simon Wiesenthal Center.
In September Mikko Karna, a Center Party MP, advocated legislation prohibiting nonmedical male circumcision during parliamentary talks on the criminalization of female circumcision. Karna cited guidelines published by the Finnish Medical Association, which discouraged the procedure. He argued that all cases of cosmetic or religious male circumcision should be criminalized, citing medical research showing the percentage of routine procedures that unintentionally inflict serious harm on patients.
Ministry of Social Affairs and Health (MSAH) guidelines discouraged circumcision of males and continued to withhold public health-care funding for such procedures. In its guidelines, which were recommendations rather than requirements per prior Supreme Court rulings, the ministry stated only licensed physicians should perform nonmedical circumcision of boys, a child’s guardians should be informed of the risks and irreversibility of the procedure, and it should not be carried out on boys old enough to understand the procedure without their consent. Members of the Muslim and Jewish communities continued to express disagreement with the guidelines. The ombudsman for children in the Ministry of Justice did not renew her 2018 request to the MSAH asking it to establish legally binding regulations on nonmedical circumcision.
After the government of Prime Minister Juha Sipila resigned in March, parliament dismissed without a vote a proposed animal welfare law it had been debating since 2018. The bill would have required prior stunning of animals before slaughter in all cases, eliminating the existing exemption allowing simultaneous stunning and killing in cases of religious slaughter. By year’s end, the new parliament had not taken the bill up again. Jewish community leaders also criticized the restrictions in the existing law, which they said hindered their community’s ability to slaughter animals in a religiously approved manner and caused them to import kosher meat at higher prices.
NGOs working with migrants, including the Finnish Refugee Advice Centre and Amnesty, continued to raise concerns about the ability of religious minorities housed in migrant reception centers to worship without harassment by other migrants held within the same center.
While the government did not release detailed reports on asylum applicants categorized by religion, immigration officials and representatives of the Jehovah’s Witnesses stated the number of Jehovah’s Witnesses from Russia applying for asylum on the grounds of religious persecution remained high. Jehovah’s Witness representatives said the government denied most of the asylum claims, stating that only Church officials and not regular members were under threat of persecution in Russia. Immigration officials said membership in the Church did not in and of itself guarantee asylum.
According to a senior military officer, the military maintained a zero-tolerance policy regarding hate speech and hate crimes, including religiously motivated incidents. Unit commanders initiated investigations of reported incidents. If the commander judged the infraction to be minor, he or she administered a formal reprimand or other punishment. For more serious offenses, the commander reported the investigation up the chain of command, and military authorities might refer the case to civilian courts. The officer also said that the military accommodated, per regulation, religious dietary needs and fasting requirements, and afforded religious leave and prayer time to all personnel.
Police reported 63 cases of refusal to perform compulsory military or civilian service, but very few of these cases involved Jehovah’s Witnesses according to representatives of the Jehovah’s Witness organization. Police did not indicate how many refusals were religiously motivated.
In September Ombudsman for Nondiscrimination Kirsi Pimia recommended public swimming pools permit Muslim women to wear burkinis. Pimia said there were cases of burkini-wearing women being turned away from public swimming pools. She added that banning burkinis could amount to discrimination based on religion and gender.
In August Finns Party leader Halla-aho stated during a parliamentary group meeting the party did not intend to let authorities press charges against Finns Party MP Juha Maenpaa for ethnic agitation or disturbance of religious peace. During a June session of parliament, Maenpaa equated asylum seekers from Muslim majority countries with alien or invasive species. In August police started a preliminary investigation into Maenpaa’s remarks. In September Center Party Speaker of Parliament Matti Vanhanen stated it was inappropriate for an MP to comment on a legal case in advance if there were a possibility parliament would judge the case. According to the constitution, if the prosecutor sought to prosecute Maenpaa, a five-sixths majority of parliament would have to agree to revoke his parliamentary immunity.
In August media reported a recently elected MP, Hussein al-Taee of the Social Democratic Party, had in 2014 and possibly as late as 2016, made anti-Semitic comments online, including comparing Israel to ISIS. According to The Jerusalem Post newspaper, parliament reversed its decision to suspend al-Taee after he apologized for his remarks. The newspaper quoted an official with the Simon Wiesenthal Center as stating al-Taee was “obviously an anti-Semite” and wondering how he could be a member in good standing of any social democratic party. By year’s end, neither the Social Democratic Party nor parliament had taken any disciplinary action against al-Taee.
The government allocated 114 million euros ($128.09 million) to the ELC and 2.54 million euros ($2.85 million) to the Finnish Orthodox Church. The MEC allotted a total of 524,000 euros ($589,000) to all other registered religious organizations. All the allocations were unchanged from 2018. The MEC additionally made a one-time grant to the Jewish Community of Helsinki of 300,000 euros ($337,000) for security of the Helsinki Synagogue and community center.
The MEC awarded a total of 80,000 euros ($89,900) to promote interfaith dialogue, the same amount as in 2018. The same two organizations as in the previous year split the funding: the National Forum for Cooperation of Religions (CORE Forum), which is composed of representatives from the largest religious denominations, and Fokus, an interfaith and intercultural organization.
The government is a member of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance.
Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom
A CORE Forum survey published in March of hate crimes between 2014 and 2018 reported 18 percent of incidents were religiously motivated. The most common targets of these crimes were members of the Jewish and Muslim communities.
Because religion and ethnicity are often closely linked, it was difficult to categorize many incidents as being solely based on religious identity.
Despite the ban against it, the NRM continued to operate a website and make statements promoting discrimination or violence against Jews and Muslims and participated in demonstrations, according to press reports. The website contained articles denying the Holocaust, stating that Jewish leaders treat “white people as Muslim terrorists,” and labeling Muslim women and children of ISIS fighters as even more dangerous than their husbands and fathers. According to authorities, the NRM also established a closer relationship with the nativist Soldiers of Odin, and members of both groups often participated in each other’s demonstrations. Superintendent of the National Police Board Timo Kilpelainen told the media the increased cooperation could be due to the ongoing judicial process surrounding NRM’s ban. At the start of the judicial process, the Soldiers of Odin had offered their support to the NRM. According to media reports, the NRM also created two additional associations, Finnish Aid and Unity of the People, so its members could become integrated with those groups should the ban become permanent.
On November 9, a self-styled national socialist group called Towards Freedom! organized a demonstration in Helsinki. According to Tommi Kotonen, a Jyvaskyla University researcher, NRM activists were likely behind the group. The demonstration coincided with the anniversary of the Kristallnacht pogrom against Jews in Nazi Germany in 1938. Protesters at the demonstration handed out fliers and waved flags bearing symbols resembling the Nazi swastika. According to a report on the website of national broadcaster Yle, police were investigating whether NRM had violated its ban by operating under the Towards Freedom! name. During the evening, according to the same report, unknown individuals placed yellow Star of David stickers with the word “Jude” (“Jew”) at sites around the city, including near a synagogue and the Israeli embassy.
According to media reports, in August the anti-immigrant Nationalist Alliance organized a memorial march in Turku, which included participation by the NRM, to commemorate the victims of a 2017 stabbing by a Moroccan asylum seeker. Approximately 250 persons joined the march. Finns Party MP Vilhelm Junnila spoke at the event, calling on the city to commemorate the victims by illuminating the Kirjastosilta Bridge in the colors of the national flag every August 18. Approximately 500 persons participated in a counterdemonstration titled “Turku Without Nazis.”
Muslim groups, such as the Islamic Congregation of Finland, continued to seek adequate houses of worship to match their growing population, but said they were hindered by insufficient funds to purchase property, given that most Muslims did not belong to congregations registered with the government. Except for a handful of purpose-built mosques, most mosques were in converted commercial spaces. In August Yle reported the Mikkeli Islamic Cultural Association, an unregistered group with approximately 30 members, was in the process of establishing a mosque in the town of Mikkeli, but authorities prohibited it from using the building it selected until the town issued a different building permit and the group had made required fire safety improvements. The building was under renovation at year’s end.
The nondiscrimination ombudsman’s office reported receiving 35 complaints of religious discrimination in 2018 – 4 percent of total discrimination complaints – compared with 55 complaints in 2017. In one instance the report cited, a district court fined a shop owner, ruling the owner had discriminated against woman wearing a niqab by refusing her service.
In September ECRI published a report on racism and intolerance in the country that stated hate crimes had increased in recent years, especially against Muslims and refugees (many of whom are Muslim). It added that intolerant speech in public discourse was increasing and principally directed against the Muslim community and asylum seekers (many of whom belong to religious minorities). It stated some members of the Finns Party made anti-Muslim statements in public. According to the report, anti-Semitic rhetoric on the internet was “commonplace” and certain extremist groups, especially neo-Nazis such as the national branch of the NRM, “engage[d] in the systematic use of hate speech.” It also stated Nazi swastikas had become more visible in public spaces. The report called on the government to set up a comprehensive data collection system for hate crimes and hate speech.
In May the European Commission carried out a study in each EU member state on perceptions of discrimination and published the results in September. According to the findings, 29 percent of respondents believed discrimination on the basis of religion or belief was widespread in Finland, while 67 percent said it was rare; 75 percent would be comfortable with having a person of a different religion than the majority of the population occupy the highest elected political position in the country. In addition, 86 percent said they would be comfortable working closely with a Christian, and 81 percent said they would be with an atheist, 82 percent with a Jew, 80 percent with a Buddhist, and 76 percent with a Muslim. Asked how they would feel if their child were in a “love relationship” with an individual belonging to various groups, 90 percent said they would be comfortable if the partner were Christian, 83 percent if atheist, 81 percent if Jewish, 77 percent if Buddhist, and 66 percent if Muslim.
In January the European Commission published a Special Eurobarometer survey of perceptions of anti-Semitism in December 2018 in each EU member state. According to the survey, 76 percent of residents believed anti-Semitism was not a problem in Finland, and 49 percent believed it had stayed the same over the previous five years. The percentage who believed that anti-Semitism was a problem in nine different categories was as follows: Holocaust denial, 19 percent; on the internet, 25 percent; anti-Semitic graffiti or vandalism, 12 percent; expression of hostility or threats against Jews in public places, 15 percent; desecration of Jewish cemeteries, 13 percent; physical attacks against Jews, 12 percent; anti-Semitism in schools and universities, 9 percent; anti-Semitism in political life, 12 percent; and anti-Semitism in the media, 14 percent.
The website Magneettimedia continued to post anti-Semitic content. In August it published an article stating that “not Islamic but Zionist terrorism” was behind the 2017 Turku “terrorist attack,” and that, “Israel and its associated Zionists have set their sights on the confrontation between the Christian world and the Islamic world.” Major companies and consumer brands in the country continued to boycott the chain of department stores owned by the former owner of Magneettimedia, Juha Karkkainen, due to his anti-Semitic views; no new companies or brands announced they would join the boycott.
Yle and other media reported that in March unknown persons spray-painted anti-Islamic and anti-Muslim expletives on the outside wall of a Shia mosque, one of the largest in the country, in the eastern Helsinki district of Mellunmaki on two consecutive mornings. The chair of the Resalat Islamic Society said such vandalism occurred sporadically and that the websites of the society were sometimes hacked. He added that staff at the society had received death threats. Helsinki police were investigating the case at year’s end.
According to the Israeli embassy, in July security camera footage showed an individual kicking in the embassy’s reinforced glass front door and gesturing at the Israeli flag in a derogatory manner, including with Nazi salutes. The entrance of the building housing the embassy also was defaced with stickers glorifying Adolf Hitler. The Israeli Ambassador characterized the incident as part of an escalation of acts of vandalism targeting Jewish property over a period of more than one year. Prior incidents included anti-Semitic graffiti targeting both the embassy and the Jewish community center in Helsinki. The Israeli Ambassador expressed frustration over the lack of an effective police or government response to the attacks.
In May a man approached Petri Sarvamaa, a European Parliament MP campaigning for reelection, on the street, called him a derogatory slur for a Jewish person, and threatened him.
Representatives of religious groups attended ceremonies hosted in their counterparts’ houses of worship. Finn Church Aid (FCA), associated with the ELC, again hosted an interreligious iftar, bringing together representatives from the major religious denominations in the capital region, the Ministry for Foreign Affairs, and municipal governments.
Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement
Embassy staff met with officials from the Ministries of Justice, Interior, and Foreign Affairs to discuss religious intolerance, the promotion of interfaith dialogue, the treatment of Jehovah’s Witnesses in asylum adjudication, and regulations covering kosher slaughter of animals. The embassy encouraged government officials to take steps to ensure that, pursuant to the Terezin Declaration, Holocaust survivors and their heirs received just compensation for assets seized by Nazi Germany, including by improving art provenance research in museums in the country.
Embassy staff met with Christian, Jewish, and Muslim clergy and lay activists from these communities, the Finnish Ecumenical Council, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and other minority religious groups to discuss the state of religious freedom in the country. Embassy staff and members of the Jewish and Muslim communities discussed these communities’ shared concerns about the impact of the government guidelines discouraging male circumcision, religiously motivated crimes, proposed legislation that would prohibit forms of religious animal slaughter, and continued issues with establishing a sufficient number of mosques for the Muslim population. Embassy staff also discussed anti-Muslim discrimination with representatives from different Muslim congregations and met regularly with NGOs such as Core Forum and FCA. Embassy staff discussed with Jehovah’s Witness community representatives changes to the military service exemption and the high rate of denial of asylum applications for religious persecution by Jehovah’s Witnesses from Russia.
The embassy observed the International Day Commemorating the Victims of Violence Based on Religion or Belief through a Twitter message, and retweeting the Secretary of State’s press statement, “International Commitment to Protect Victims of Acts of Violence Based on Religion or Belief.” The embassy also recognized the work of interfaith organizations in promoting religious tolerance by hosting an iftar and hosting a CORE Forum board meeting at the embassy. A senior embassy official delivered remarks promoting interfaith cooperation at both events.
Embassy staff met with prominent activists in the country’s Uighur community to discuss, among other topics, China’s harassment of Uighur activists within Finland and elsewhere.
The constitution and the law protect the right of individuals to choose, change, and practice religion. Interior Minister Christophe Castaner announced that since 2018 authorities had closed 159 institutions open to the public, including 13 places of worship, to combat Islamism and secluded communities. President Emmanuel Macron and other government officials again condemned anti-Semitic, anti-Muslim, and anti-Christian acts, and the government augmented from 7,000 to 10,000 the number of security forces it deployed to protect religious and other sensitive sites. President Macron publicly stated anti-Semitism had grown and reached its worst level since World War II. He called anti-Zionism a modern form of anti-Semitism and said it was why the government would implement the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) definition of anti-Semitism. The National Assembly separately passed a resolution adopting the IHRA definition. Interior Minister Castaner and Justice Minister Nicole Belloubet announced additional measures to combat anti-Semitism, including enhanced security for religious sites and improved guidance for prosecutors evaluating hate crimes. As part of the 2018-2020 national plan to combat racism and anti-Semitism, the government awarded the first annual national anti-racism prize and dedicated 2.3 million euros ($2.58 million) for local projects on the issue. The government continued to enforce a ban on full-face coverings in public and the wearing of “conspicuous” religious symbols in public schools and by officials offering public services. Police in Grenoble fined female Muslim protesters for bathing in burkinis in a public swimming pool. An assemblyman in Dijon turned away a Muslim woman accompanying her son to the regional legislature for refusing to remove her hijab. Interior Minister Castaner included “rigid religious practice, particularly exacerbated in Ramadan,” and “regular and ostentatious practice of ritual prayer” in a list of possible indicators of Islamist radicalization. The minister of the armed forces acknowledged government responsibility for the 1942 roundup of 13,000 French Jews deported to extermination camps.
Religiously motivated crimes included attempted murder, assault, threats, hate speech, discrimination, and vandalism. The government reported 1,052 anti-Christian incidents, most of which involved vandalism or arson of churches and cemeteries, compared with 1,063 in 2018; 154 incidents targeting Muslims, including attempted murder, compared with 100 in 2018; and 687 anti-Semitic incidents, including a violent assault against a Jewish taxi driver, death threats against a mayor, harassment of a prominent Jewish philosopher, and desecration of Jewish cemeteries, an increase of 27 percent compared with the 541 incidents recorded in 2018. The rise in anti-Semitic incidents stemmed from a 50 percent increase in threats; other incidents, including attacks on persons – which fell by 44 percent – declined by 15 percent. Authorities charged a man with attempted murder for shooting outside a mosque two persons who caught him as he tried to set fire to the mosque. A court ruled the confessed killer of a Jewish woman in 2017 could not be held criminally responsible because he was in a delusional state from smoking marijuana before the killing. Lawyers for the family announced their intention to appeal the ruling. A Paris court of appeals convicted Abdelkader Merah of complicity in the 2012 killings by his brother of seven persons outside a Jewish school. A study found 42 percent of Muslims reported experiencing religious discrimination at least once in the previous five years. A European Commission (EC) survey found 72 percent of respondents thought anti-Semitism was a problem in the country and another EC survey found 69 percent believed religious discrimination was widespread. A sports retailer cancelled plans to sell a hijab for runners after widespread criticism of the measure.
The U.S. embassy, consulates general, and American Presence Posts (APPs) discussed religious tolerance, anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim acts, the role of religious freedom in combating violent extremism, and cooperation on these issues with officials at the Ministries of Interior and Foreign Affairs and the Interministerial Delegation to Fight Against Racism, Anti-Semitism and Anti-LGBT Hate (DILCRAH). The Ambassador and embassy, consulate, and APP officials met regularly with religious communities and their leaders throughout the country to discuss religious freedom concerns and encourage interfaith cooperation and tolerance. The embassy sponsored projects and events to combat religious discrimination and religiously-motivated hate crimes. The embassy sponsored the participation of interfaith representatives in a U.S. program with themes of religious cooperation and pluralism. It also funded religious tolerance workshops for youths led jointly by Jewish and Muslim organizations in Bordeaux.
Section I. Religious Demography
The U.S. government estimates the total population at 67.6 million (midyear 2019 estimate). The law prohibits government collection of data based on race, ethnicity, or religion. However, a wide range of unofficial statistics and studies circulate.
A report released in July by the Observatory for Secularism, a government-appointed commission, in cooperation with polling company Viavoice, presented estimated figures of those who identified as part of a religion or felt tied to a religion. According to the report, whose figures are consistent with other estimates, 48 percent of respondents identify as Catholic, 3 percent Muslim, 3 percent Protestant, 2 percent Buddhist, 0.7 percent Jewish, 0.6 percent, and 1 percent other religion; 34 percent said they have no religious affiliation and 7 percent preferred not to respond. The same report estimates “other” religions’ numbers as follows: Jehovah’s Witnesses, 140,000-250,000, and Hindus, 150,000-300,000. In addition, the observatory’s report stated 31 percent consider themselves nonbelievers or atheists.
The report stated the number of residents linked to Islam in the poll was likely underestimated, as some Muslim and Muslim-affiliated residents may have declined to state their religion. According to the report, the “most precise” estimate of the Muslim population, based on multiple polls and demographic extrapolation, is likely between 3.3 and 5.0 million residents. The report stated the Muslim population corresponds with the arrival of immigrant populations, particularly from the Mediterranean and West Africa. The report also tied Hindu and Buddhist populations to immigrant communities.
The report attributes the growth in the Protestant community, from 2.5 percent of the population in 2010 to 3.1 percent during the year, to the growing number of Evangelical Christians, who number approximately one million.
Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom
The constitution defines the country as a secular republic and states it “shall ensure the equality of all citizens before the law,” regardless of religion, and shall respect all beliefs. The law provides for the separation of religion and state and guarantees the free exercise of religious worship except to maintain public order.
The law, as well as international and European covenants to which the country adheres, protects the freedom of individuals to choose, change, and practice their religion. Interference with freedom of religion is subject to criminal penalties, including a fine of 1,500 euros ($1,700) and imprisonment of one month. Individuals who are defendants in a trial may challenge the constitutionality of any law they say impedes their freedom of religion.
Laws increase the penalties for acts of violence or defamation when they are committed because of the victim’s actual or perceived membership or nonmembership in a given religious group. Additional penalties beyond those for the underlying crime for acts of violence that courts determine are religiously motivated are three to five years’ imprisonment and fines of 45,000 to 75,000 euros ($50,600-$84,300), depending on the severity of the victims’ injuries. For religiously motivated acts of public defamation, defined as an allegation of fact that affects the honor of a person or body, the penalties are one year’s imprisonment and/or a fine of 45,000 euros ($50,600). The government may expel noncitizens for inciting discrimination, hatred, or violence against a specific person or group of persons based on religion.
Although the law does not require it, religious groups may apply for official recognition and tax-exempt status. Religious groups may register under two categories: associations of worship, which are exempt from taxes; and cultural associations, which normally are not exempt. Associations in either category are subject to fiscal oversight by the state. An association of worship may organize only religious activities. Although not tax-exempt, a cultural association may engage in for-profit as well as nonprofit activity and receive government subsidies for its cultural and educational operations. Religious groups normally register under both of these categories. For example, Catholics perform religious activities through their associations of worship and operate schools through their cultural associations.
Religious groups must apply at the local prefecture (the administrative body representing the central government in each department) for recognition as an association of worship and tax-exempt status. In order to qualify as an association of worship, the group’s sole purpose must be the practice of religion, which may include liturgical services and practices, religious training, and the construction of buildings serving the religious group. The association must also engage in public worship and respect public order. Among excluded activities are those that are purely cultural, social, or humanitarian in nature. To apply for this tax-exempt status, the association must provide to the prefecture its estimated budget for the year, annual accounts for the previous three years or since the association’s creation, whichever is shorter, a written justification of eligibility for the status, and the number of members of the association. In Paris, the association must have a minimum of 25 members. Once granted, the association may use the tax-exempt status nationwide. The government does not tax associations of worship on donations they receive. If the prefecture determines an association is not in conformity with its tax-exempt status, however, the government may change that status and require the association to pay taxes at a rate of 60 percent on past, as well as future, donations until it regains tax-exempt status. According to the Ministry of Interior (MOI), 109 Protestant, 100 Catholic, 50 Jehovah’s Witness, 30 Muslim, and 15 Jewish associations have tax-exempt status. The number of cultural associations, many of which are not associated with religious groups, is in the thousands and changes frequently. Cultural associations may be declared using an online form through the government’s public administration website. Cultural associations, even if associated with religious groups, may operate without applying for government recognition.
The law states, “Detained persons have the right to freedom of opinion, conscience, and religion. They may practice the religion of their choice…without other limits than those imposed by the security needs and good order of the institution.”
Counterterrorism legislation grants prefects in each department the authority to close a place of worship for a maximum of six months if they find comments, writings, or activities in the place of worship “provoke violence, hatred or discrimination or the commission of acts of terrorism or praise such acts of terrorism.” The management of the place of worship has 48 hours to appeal the closure decision to an administrative court. Noncompliance with a closure decision carries a six-month prison sentence and a fine of 7,500 euros ($8,400). The core provisions of the legislation will expire at the end of 2020 unless renewed by parliament.
The law prohibits covering one’s face in public places, including public transportation, government buildings, and other public spaces, such as restaurants and movie theaters. If police encounter a person in a public space wearing a face covering such as a mask or burqa, they are legally required to ask the individual to remove it to verify the individual’s identity. According to the law, police officials may not remove it themselves. If an individual refuses to remove the garment, police may take the person to the local police station to verify his or her identity. Police may not question or hold an individual for more than four hours. Refusing a police instruction to remove a face-covering garment carries a maximum fine of 150 euros ($170) or attendance at a citizenship course. Individuals who coerce another person to cover his or her face on account of gender by threat, violence, force, or abuse of power or authority are subject to a fine of up to 30,000 euros ($33,700) and may receive a sentence of up to one year in prison. The fine and sentence are doubled if the person coerced is a minor.
The law prohibits agents of the administration, public services, and companies or associations carrying out public services from demonstrating their religion through visible signs of religious affiliation, such as the Muslim headscarf, Jewish skullcap, Sikh turban, or Christian cross. The prohibition applies during working hours and at the place of employment.
By law, the government may not directly finance religious groups to build new places of worship. The government may, however, provide loan guarantees or lease property to groups at advantageous rates. The law also exempts places of worship from property taxes. The state owns and is responsible for the upkeep of most places of worship, primarily Catholic, built before 1905. The government may fund cultural associations with a religious connection.
The law separating religion and state does not apply in three classes of territories. Because Alsace-Lorraine (currently comprising the departments of Haut-Rhin, Bas-Rhin, and la Moselle and known as Alsace-Moselle) was part of Germany when the law was enacted, Catholics, Lutherans, Calvinists, and Jews there may choose to allocate a portion of their income tax to their religious group. Pastors, priests, and rabbis of these four recognized faiths in Alsace-Moselle receive a salary from the interior ministry, and the country’s president, with the agreement of the Holy See, appoints the Catholic bishops of Metz and Strasbourg. The prime minister appoints the chief rabbi and the presidents of the Jewish and Protestant consistories in Alsace-Moselle, and the interior minister appoints ministers of the three Christian churches in the region. Local governments in the region may also provide financial support for constructing religious buildings. The overseas department of French Guiana, which is governed under 19th century colonial laws, may provide subsidies to the Catholic Church. Other overseas departments and overseas territories, which include island territories in the Caribbean and the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian Oceans, and several sub-Antarctic islands, may also provide funding for religious groups. This provision also applies to the portion of Antarctica the government claims as an overseas territory.
Public schools are secular. The law prohibits public school employees from wearing visible signs of religious affiliation and students from wearing “conspicuous religious symbols,” including the Muslim headscarf, Jewish skullcap, Sikh turban, and large Christian crosses. Public schools do not provide religious instruction except in Alsace-Moselle and overseas departments and territories. In Alsace-Moselle, religious education regarding one of the four recognized faiths is compulsory in public primary and secondary schools, although students may opt for a secular equivalent with a written request from their parents. Religious education classes are taught by laypersons who are trained and nominated by the respective religious groups but are paid by the state. Elsewhere in the country, public schools teach information about religious groups as part of the history curriculum. Parents who wish their children to wear conspicuous religious symbols or to receive religious instruction may homeschool or send their children to a private school. Homeschooling and private schools must conform to the educational standards established for public schools.
By law, the government subsidizes private schools, including those affiliated with religious organizations. In 98 percent of private schools, in accordance with the law, the government pays the teachers’ salaries, provided the school accepts all children regardless of their religious affiliation. The law does not address the issue of religious instruction in government-subsidized private schools or whether students must be allowed to opt out of such instruction.
Missionaries from countries not exempt from entry visa requirements must obtain a three-month tourist visa before traveling to the country. All missionaries from non-exempt countries wishing to remain longer than 90 days must obtain long-duration visas before entering the country. Upon arrival, missionaries must provide a letter from their sponsoring religious group to apply to the local prefecture for a temporary residence card.
The law criminalizes the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel, treating it as “a provocation to discrimination or hatred or violence towards a person or a group of persons because of their origin or belonging to an ethnic group, a nation, a race, or a determined religion.”
The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
On November 28, at a conference of the country’s prefects, Interior Minister Castaner announced the nationwide expansion of an initial program authorities had implemented since February 2018 to counter “Islamism and communitarianism,” the latter term referencing, according to the Observatory for Secularism, a trend for community withdrawal and separation from the rest of society, up to and including enforcement of rules specific to that community. The initial project targeted 15 communities “particularly touched by the phenomenon of political Islam,” according to Secretary of State to the Minister of the Interior Laurent Nunez in a November 15 interview. In these communities, the MOI had conducted 1,030 inspections of establishments open to the public, including pubs, cafes, and liquor stores; cultural and sports establishments; private schools; and places of worship. As a result of the inspections, during that period the MOI closed 133 drinking establishments, 13 places of worship, four schools, and nine cultural establishments because, according to Nunez in his interview, those establishments employed a “communitarian” or “political Islam” discourse that put “the laws of God before the laws of the Republic.” The government did not identify the specific sites it closed under the initial program.
The prefect of Isere, who is subordinate to the minister of interior, closed the Al-Kawthar Mosque in Grenoble for six months starting February 7. The MOI stated it closed the mosque because it posted videos on its YouTube channel that incited hatred and violence towards Christians and Jews; its imam’s sermons justified armed jihad; and the mosque was frequented by known extremists. There were no reports the mosque reopened after the six-month period. The government said it closed one other mosque and monitored 63 mosques during the year but did not identify them or provide other details. On June 13, the association Action Muslim Rights (ADM) released a report criticizing the MOI’s closures of mosques. ADM stated that while the mosques were shut down, the government did not investigate them for terrorist ties. According to the report, none of the mosques had reopened, although the law limits the closures to a period not to exceed six months.
Between January 1 and July 18, the interior ministry expelled 44 foreigners it considered radicalized, a new record, Le Point magazine reported. While the article did not cite 2018 deportations, it reported that in 2017 the country deported a total of 20 radicalized foreigners. (A 2018 report the country had expelled 300 radical imams since 2017 was incorrect.)
On October 8, as President Macron paid tribute to four victims of an insider knife attack at the Paris police headquarters, he stated the country must develop a “society of vigilance” in which citizens look out for signs of individuals being influenced by Islamist extremist networks in the fight against the “hydra” of Islamist militancy. The attacker, a police employee who had converted to Islam, had contacts with individuals believed to be linked to an Islamist Salafist movement, according to prosecutors, who also said they believed the attacker harbored work-related grievances linked to his disabilities.
In response to the same knife attack, Interior Minister Castaner spoke before the National Assembly October 8 and articulated several signs that might indicate a person’s radicalization through changes in behavior, including “rigorous religious practice, particularly exacerbated during the period of Ramadan,” “wearing a beard,” whether or not he greets a woman with a traditional kiss on the cheek, if the person “has a regular and ostentatious practice of ritual prayer,” and the presence of hyperpigmentation on the forehead, widely interpreted as a reference to the zabiba, a mark often resulting from repeated contact of the forehead with a prayer rug.
The government maintained the deployment of security forces throughout the country to protect sensitive sites, including vulnerable Catholic, Jewish, and Muslim sites and other places of worship, and increased their number from 7,000 to 10,000. After the March terrorist attacks against mosques in New Zealand, the MOI increased patrols around religious sites.
At year’s end, the Paris Appeals Court had not issued a ruling in the case of Lebanese-Canadian academic Hassan Diab, who was charged with bombing a synagogue in Paris during Sabbath prayers in 1980, killing four and injuring 40. In 2018 investigating magistrates dismissed the court case against Diab and ordered his release. Prosecutors appealed the case’s dismissal, and the Paris Appeals Court requested additional expert testimony before ruling. Upon his release in 2018, Diab returned to Canada where he remained at year’s end.
In June police fined a group of Muslim women 35 euros ($39) each for bathing in burkinis at a municipal swimming pool in Grenoble in protest of local regulations banning the garment. Women from the same association reported the Citizen Alliance of Grenoble had carried out a similar protest “Operation Burkini” in May, which they called an “act of civil disobedience.” One of the women told the BBC they were being deprived of their civil rights and that “We must fight against discriminatory policies and prejudice in France….” Prime Minister Edouard Philippe expressed support for the mayor of Grenoble and the regulations, saying, “No citizen can be released from the respect of the law or the common regulation on the basis of his religious convictions.” Marlene Schiappa, Junior Minister of State for Gender Equality and the Fight against Discrimination, said, “There is a political message” behind the burkini, which is: “cover up.” She added, however, “Women, whatever their religion or their way of life, must be able to access municipal swimming pools.” In 2016 the Council of State, the country’s highest court on administrative matters, overturned several burkini bans on the basis that local authorities could only restrict individual liberties if there was a “proven risk” to public order. The court ruling did not overturn other anti-burkini regulations nor did it make them illegal; other anti-burkini regulations thus remained in force unless mayors or prefectures suspended them. The ruling did, however, set a legal precedent upon which persons could contest those regulations.
Jehovah’s Witnesses officials reported three cases in which authorities had interfered with proselytizing during the year. They did not provide additional details on the incidents.
According to the Ministry of Justice, as of August 2017, the latest year for which statistics were available, the penitentiary system employed the following number of chaplains: 695 Catholic, 347 Protestant, 224 Muslim, 76 Jewish, 54 Orthodox Christian, 170 Jehovah’s Witness, and 19 Buddhist. In detainee visiting areas, visitors could bring religious objects to an inmate or speak with the prisoner about religious issues but could not pray. Prisoners could pray in their cells individually, with a chaplain in designated prayer rooms, or, in some institutions, in special apartments where they could receive family for up to 48 hours.
At year’s end, the government did not respond to the UN Human Rights Committee (UNHRC) following the latter’s October 2018 finding that French authorities violated the human rights of two women by fining them for wearing niqabs in two separate cases in 2012. The UNHRC gave the government a deadline of 180 days to report to it action taken to respond to the violation and prevent other such violations. According to a statement the government issued on the same day as the UNHRC ruling, the law prohibiting concealment of the face in public spaces was legitimate and did not infringe upon freedom of religion. The government added it would convey its views to the UNHRC in a follow-on report.
During an October 11 meeting of the Burgundy-Franche-Comte Regional Assembly in the central-eastern part of the country, Julien Odoul, an elected official representing the National Rally (RN) Party, told a woman who was accompanying her son on a school outing to the legislature to remove her hijab or leave. The law does not prohibit women from wearing hijabs while attending an assembly session. In response, Junior Minister Schiappa said that “it is by publicly humiliating mothers in front of their children that we create divisions” in society. Education Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer, however, said, “The law does not prohibit veiled women from accompanying children, but we do not wish to encourage the phenomenon,” which is “not in agreement with our values.” Economy and Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire stated the veil “is legal, but not necessarily desirable.” The woman filed one legal complaint against Odoul with the Dijon public prosecutor’s office for violence of a racial nature by persons of authority, and a separate legal complaint with the Paris prosecutor’s office for “incitement of racial hatred by elected officials.” The complaints were pending at year’s end.
In April the Ministry of Culture created a five-person Mission for Research and Restitution of Spoliated Cultural Property in April to seek out the rightful owners or heirs of artworks, including those in museums and galleries, stolen or sold under duress during the country’s occupation. In the spring the government transferred authority for final decisions on art restitution claims from the Ministry of Culture to the Commission for the Compensation for Victims of Spoliation, a separate administrative body reporting directly to the prime minister, in order to address criticism that museum officials would be reluctant to hand over valuable artwork. On April 1, Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian attended a ceremony returning artwork to its pre-WWII owners at the French consulate in New York.
The government continued to implement a 2018-2020 national plan to combat racism and anti-Semitism in the country, with a strong focus on countering online hate content. As part of the plan, Prime Minister Philippe awarded the first annual national anti-racism prize, named for Ilan Halimi, a young Jewish man tortured and killed in 2006. In October DILCRAH dedicated 2.3 million euros ($2.58 million) and announced a call for local projects addressing education, prevention, training, and aid for victims of racism and anti-Semitism. The government also continued with an initiative for European Union legislation to require faster removal of illegal content online; created a national reaction team to improve education countering racist and anti-Semitic behavior; funded two thesis grants annually to finance work on racism and anti-Semitism; and established an online precomplaint system for victims of discrimination or racist or anti-Semitic acts.
Prime Minister Philippe advocated for a bill requiring websites to remove “obviously hateful” content, specifically racist or anti-Semitic content, within 24 hours. Deputy Laetitia Avia introduced the draft bill at the direction of Prime Minister Philippe and as part of the 2018-2020 national plan to combat racism and anti-Semitism. The National Assembly passed the bill in July, but the senate did not vote on it by year’s end. Among other critiques on freedom of expression grounds, the European Commission published a letter November 22 raising concerns about the bill’s impact on freedom of expression and its potential conflict with European Union free speech directives. Facebook and others questioned the 24-hour window to remove content, citing the legal analysis needed to evaluate posts.
On April 2, Minister of Justice Nicole Belloubet introduced a circular, which she said was part of the effort to combat anti-Semitism, urging prosecutors to use simplified, faster procedures (such as civil referrals to block access to “hate sites”) and criminal orders (trial without a hearing) to prosecute and convict authors of “racist, anti-Semitic, and homophobic” writings.
In a September 12 speech before the Representative Council of Jewish Institutions in France (CRIF) in Bordeaux, Interior Minister Castaner detailed several government measures to fight what he called “the poison of anti-Semitism,” including enhanced surveillance of 800 places of worship, the dissolution by decree of the Council of Ministers of several neo-Nazi groups, including Bastion Social and six affiliated associations, Combat 18, and Blood and Honor Hexagon, and an increase in the government contribution for the Shoah Memorial. He repeated President Macron’s February statement that the National Assembly would take up a proposal to adopt the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism, and said, “Anti-Zionism often has nothing to do with criticism of the foreign policy of the State of Israel; it is too often aimed at people of Jewish faith. It has become a disguised anti-Semitism.”
On July 10, the Observatory for Secularism, a body composed of 15 senior civil servants, parliamentarians, legal experts, and intellectuals who advise the government on the implementation of the “principle of secularism,” released its sixth annual report evaluating secularism in schools, public spaces, and hospitals. According to the report, the subject of secularism remained a sensitive one, although “direct attacks on secularism” appeared better contained, for the third year in a row. The report credited a proliferation of training on secularism and treatment of religious subjects, as well as improved targeting of implementing partners for the training. Since 2013, the Observatory for Secularism said it had directly or indirectly contributed to training more than 250,000 persons to respond to questions of secularism in the workplace.
On April 14, a fire broke out at the Catholic Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, destroying the roof and spire and causing extensive damage to the windows and vaulted ceilings. President Macron, Prime Minister Philippe, and Secretary of State to the Minister of the Interior Nunez visited the cathedral, which is government-owned, while the fire still burned. Paris prosecutor Remy Heitz said in a statement June 26 that a preliminary investigation found no signs the blaze was started deliberately, and that it was likely due to negligence. Macron vowed in a televised address on April 16 that the country would rebuild the cathedral in five years.
Interior Minister Castaner did not attend the iftar hosted by the French Council of the Muslim Faith (CFCM), but attended an iftar in Strasbourg hosted by the Alsace Regional Council of Muslim Faith (Alsace CRCM) on May 29. At that event, Castaner, whose ministry oversees government relations with religious communities, expressed his disappointment with CFCM for its “reluctant” approach to implementing reforms. He praised the Alsace CRCM, however, as a “laboratory of ideas for the future of Islam in France.” He lauded the “peaceful and constructive approach” of the Alsace CRCM, specifically its work on prevention of radicalization, creation of a council of imams and religious leaders, and interreligious dialogue. Attendees at the event included regional Muslim community leaders, interfaith leaders, other government officials, and the mayor of Strasbourg.
Interior Minister Castaner continued a nationwide consultation process with the Muslim community to reform the structure and the funding of Islam in the country. In his New Year’s address to CFCM at the Grand Mosque of Paris on January 23, he called for “powerful representatives” of Islam in the country, and stated, referencing the recurring “Yellow Vest” cost of living protests in the country, that he counted on Muslim leaders “to influence public debates including on nonreligious issues such as the protests”. “Islam,” he said, “like every organized religion, has its place in France. There is no incompatibility between praying to Allah and loving the Republic.” In December prefects in each department held a second round of listening sessions with local representatives from the Muslim community on issues related to institutional representation, financing of Islamic places of worship, and training of imams.
On October 28, President Macron met with Muslim leaders of the CFCM and called on them to fight Islamism and “communitarianism,” which he called a form of “separatism” in the country. He urged the CFCM to adopt clear position on issues including public wearing of the veil, women’s roles, and education in the Muslim community.
On August 29, President Macron met with the newly elected President of the Conference of Catholic Bishops of France, Archbishop Eric de Moulins-Beaufort, to discuss reconstruction of Notre Dame Cathedral, migration, relations between religions and the state, and proposed legislation on access to medically-assisted reproduction treatments. Archbishop Moulins-Beaufort expressed his concern about the proposed legislation, but said it was not the role of the bishops to prescribe political actions to Catholics. In September the archbishop stated those who were concerned about the law should protest it, but did not call on Catholics to do so. At year’s end, the national assembly passed the legislation, but the senate did not vote on it.
On September 19, Interior Minister Castaner attended the inauguration of the French Institute of Muslim Civilization (IFCM), a new national Islamic cultural center in Lyon. At the opening ceremony, Castaner spoke out against anti-Semitism, anti-Muslim sentiment, and all types of hate, and called the organization an essential initiative to fight prejudice and make Islam better understood in the country. Secretary General of the Muslim World League Mohammed al-Issa and Lyon Mayor Gerard Collomb also delivered remarks at the event. Collomb expressed his expectation that the IFCM would be “an instrument of peace.” The project was funded by one million-euro ($1.12 million) grants each from the central government, the city of Lyon, and the greater metropolitan region of Lyon, in addition to 1.5 million euros ($1.69 million) from the Muslim World League.
On January 9, Interior Minister Castaner, Justice Minister Belloubet, then-government spokesperson Benjamin Griveaux, and Junior Minister for the Disabled Sophie Cluzel attended a CRIF-organized memorial ceremony outside a Paris kosher supermarket, where four years earlier a gunman had killed four Jews and held 15 other persons hostage.
On February 20, President Macron delivered a televised speech at the annual CRIF dinner. Among the guests in attendance – who all wore badges reading “All united against Anti-Semitism” – were First Lady Brigitte Macron, former president Francois Hollande, former prime ministers Manuel Valls and Bernard Cazeneuve, 10 current cabinet members, the U.S. Ambassador, and the Israeli Ambassador. Macron stated anti-Semitism had grown and reached its worst level since World War II in the country and Europe and had gotten “worse in recent weeks.” He said he was drawing “new red lines” in the fight against hatred of Jews and announced a package of measures – some previously announced, some new – to combat the rise of anti-Semitism. Among these were that the country would define “anti-Zionism as a modern-day form of anti-Semitism,” putting it in line with the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism. The government adopted the IHRA definition based on this direction, and the National Assembly passed a nonbinding resolution adopting the definition on December 3. Macron also announced the Ministry of Education would investigate the phenomenon of parents pulling their Jewish children out of public school over fears of anti-Semitism, and the government would dissolve several far-right extremist groups.
In response to a May 13 written request from Parliamentarian Meyer Habib of the Union of Democrats and Independents Party, Interior Minister Castaner declined to prohibit regular protests in favor of BDS in Paris. The minister cited as justification the right of assembly and protest enshrined in the constitution and the European Convention on Human Rights.
Before the July 25 Europa League match between Strasbourg Racing and Haifa Maccabi (professional soccer teams from France and Israel, respectively), the local police subprefecture announced a ban on any display that could serve to identify someone as a supporter of Haifa Maccabi in key areas of Strasbourg – including in all areas in and around the stadium. The ban included not only team logos, clothing, and paraphernalia, but any “national flag” associated with the team, widely accepted as a reference to the Israeli flag. The police notice specifically stated the risk for violence, referencing that contact had been established between “violent supporters of both teams, some of whom are politicized or identified as being at the origin of manifestations of anti-Semitism.” The notice, which stated identifying as a Haifa supporter “implicated risk” to that person, was followed by an outcry on social media in both France and Israel. Critics said the ban limited freedom of expression of the potential victims of anti-Semitism rather than demanding and enforcing law-abiding behavior from all fans. Following outreach to the interior ministry by leaders of the Jewish community and to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs by the Israeli Embassy in Paris, the subprefecture issued a new notice on July 25 – just before the match – rescinding the rules.
On July 21, Minister of the Armed Forces Florence Parly held a ceremony in Paris honoring the victims of the 1942 Velodrome d’Hiver roundup in which 13,000 Jews, including 4,000 children, were deported to extermination camps. “France betrayed its own children,” Parly said in her statements, adding, “The roundup … was the work of the French government, accomplished by the French.” She also promised to take up the late 19th century Dreyfus Affair, where authorities wrongly convicted Jewish army officer Alfred Dreyfus of treason before eventually pardoning and reinstating him in the army. Parly said it was time to posthumously recognize the honor and years taken from Dreyfus and said she would take up the case “personally.”
President Macron and government ministers condemned anti-Semitism and declared support for Holocaust education on several occasions, including a February 19 visit to the Shoah Memorial, the same day thousands marched in Paris and elsewhere in protest of anti-Semitic acts; the February 20 annual CRIF dinner; the March 19 commemoration of the seventh anniversary of the killings of three Jewish children and their teacher by Mohammed Merah in Toulouse; the April 30 Holocaust Remembrance Day commemoration; and the June 1 Judaism Day observance. On October 29, President Macron, along with several government officials, attended the inauguration of the European Center of Judaism in Paris. “Judaism has played a key role across the continent to build all that is thought and all that is European civilization, to fundamentally forge who we are,” said President Macron in his speech.
As part of an established exchange program, the government continued to host the visit of 30 Moroccan, 120 Algerian, and 151 Turkish imams to promote religious tolerance and combat violent extremism within Muslim communities. The imams’ countries of origin paid their salaries. During Ramadan, when there was an increased number of worshippers, between 250 and 300 imams came to the country temporarily, including 164 from Morocco.
The government is a member of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance.
Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom
The MOI reported 154 registered incidents targeting Muslims, compared with 100 in 2018. Of the 154, 91 were threats and 63 were other acts, two of which involved shootings in front of a mosque in Brest in June and in front of a mosque in Bayonne in October. The government had not yet released figures on the number of acts of vandalism against Muslim places of worship (there were 45 in 2018) and of desecration against Muslim cemeteries (six in 2018) that occurred during the year. Reported anti-Semitic incidents (threats or acts) totaled 687, of which 536 were threats and 151 other acts, compared with 541 total incidents in the previous year. The rise in anti-Semitic incidents came entirely from an increase (of 50 percent) in anti-Semitic threats, whereas other acts – including attacks against persons, which fell by 44 percent – declined by 15 percent from 2018. The government also reported 1,052 anti-Christian incidents, most of which involved vandalism or other acts against property, compared with 1,063 in 2018. Of the anti-Christian incidents, 56 were threats and 996 other acts, primarily of vandalism or arson against churches and cemeteries.
On October 28, police arrested an 84-year-old man, Claude Sinke, suspected of shooting and seriously injuring two elderly Muslim men as they approached after spotting him trying to set fire to the door of the mosque in the southwestern city of Bayonne. Sinke ran in 2015 as a local candidate in Seignanx for the National Rally Party, the party confirmed in a statement. President Macron condemned the “odious attack” in a tweet and vowed to “do everything” to punish attackers “and protect our Muslim compatriots.” The country “will never tolerate hate,” he said. Interior Minister Castaner called for “solidarity and support for the Muslim community.” National Rally leader Marine Le Pen tweeted, “These crimes must be treated with the most total severity.” At year’s end, police placed Sinke in custody for attempted murder, and judicial police opened an investigation, but the national anti-terrorism prosecutor declined to investigate the case as a terrorist incident.
On May 22, perpetrators mugged and beat a Jewish driver working for a ride-sharing company in a Paris suburb because of his Jewish-sounding name, according to authorities. The victim reported a man in his 20s was waiting for him at the appointed place and asked to sit in the front seat. Then a group of approximately 10 young men surrounded the car. One of the perpetrators told him, “You must have money, we’re going to need to frisk you.” The men then beat the driver, causing him to lose consciousness. He sustained injuries and a concussion. In July authorities charged four persons with the attack and placed one teenager in pretrial detention, stating they considered the anti-Semitic nature of the attack to be an aggravating circumstance. The others were not held in pretrial detention, either because they were minors or because of the level of charges against them. There was no further information on the case at year’s end.
On September 21, a man crashed a car into a mosque in Colmar, in the eastern part of the country, breaking down the gate and doorway of the mosque before hitting a wall. Police subdued the man, who was shouting “Allahu akbar” (“God is great”), in the prayer hall. No one was injured in the attack, although the former president of the Grand Mosque of Colmar stated approximately 60 persons were about to arrive for prayer. At year’s end, the attacker was in pretrial detention, and his motive was still under investigation. The public prosecutor of Colmar stated he charged him with attempted murder, degrading a place of worship, and willful violence with a weapon.
Authorities continued to investigate the 2018 killing of Holocaust survivor Mireille Knoll, which they were treating as a hate crime, but had not set a trial date by year’s end. The two individuals arrested in connection with the killing remained in pretrial detention.
On December 19, the investigative chamber of the Paris Court of Appeals determined that Kobili Traore, charged with the 2017 killing of his 65-year-old Jewish neighbor, Sarah Halimi, was “criminally irresponsible” for her killing. In a reversal of a 2018 ruling, the court ruled Traore could not be held criminally responsible because he was in a delusional state from smoking marijuana heavily in the hours before the killing. The court maintained anti-Semitism as an aggravating circumstance. Traore, who confessed to killing Halimi, was reportedly heard yelling in Arabic, “Allahu Akbar” and “Shaitan” (“Satan”) as he beat Halimi. Psychiatric evaluations of Traore differed in their assessment of his mental state. The third evaluation, released March 18, judged he acted during a “delusional state” caused by cannabis use. Sammy Ghozlan, president of the National Bureau for Vigilance Against anti-Semitism (BNVCA), said, “There has been a series of failures” in police and judiciary handling of the case. He added, “Today I no longer have full confidence that anti-Semitic hate crimes in France are handled properly.” CRIF President Francis Kalifat called the decision “unsurprising but difficult to justify.” He criticized a system that “renders a murderer, who is voluntarily under the influence of drugs, unfit for trial, while condemning with greater severity a motorist who has committed an accident under the influence of the same drug.” In April 39 intellectuals wrote an opinion piece in Le Figaro newspaper expressing outrage over the possibility Traore would not stand trial. On December 20, lawyers for the family said they would appeal the ruling. At year’s end, Traore was held in a psychiatric hospital.
On April 18, the Paris Special Criminal Court convicted Abdelkader Merah of complicity in the killing by his brother, Mohammed Merah (who was killed by police), of seven persons outside a Jewish school in Toulouse in 2012, and sentenced him to 30 years in prison. The court overturned the 2017 acquittal of Abdelkader Merah on the complicity charge by a Paris criminal court, which convicted him on the lesser charge of criminal terrorist conspiracy. The Special Criminal Court ordered Abdelkader Merah to serve his existing 20-year prison sentence on that lesser conspiracy charge concurrently with the 30-year sentence for complicity.
On July 16, the BNVCA reported the judge in charge of investigating the September 2017 attack on a Jewish family in Livry Gargan did not order anti-Semitism be added to the case as an aggravating circumstance. The suspects are accused of breaking into the home of Roger Pinto, the president of Siona, a group that represents Sephardic Jews, and beating Pinto’s son and wife. One of the burglars said, “You Jews have money,” according to family members.
Jehovah’s Witnesses officials reported four incidents of physical assault against their members and two cases of vandalism during the year. In one case, Church officials reported a man punched a Jehovah’s Witness in the chest and stated he “did not want to see” Jehovah’s Witnesses. In another, a man apparently under the influence of alcohol interrupted two Jehovah’s Witnesses while they were evangelizing and asked what they were doing. Church officials said the man then held a knife to the throat of one of the Jehovah’s Witnesses and threated to kill him if he returned. In both cases, the individuals filed complaints with the police. As of year’s end, law enforcement did not file charges in either case.
On February 2, police arrested 19 persons in Strasbourg when approximately 50 Yellow Vest protesters threw rocks at police and tried to damage local property, including the main synagogue. Some protesters shouted anti-Semitic insults and launched firecrackers toward the synagogue entrance.
On June 21, authorities found death threats and racist and anti-Semitic graffiti targeting Thal-Marmoutier Mayor Jean-Claude Distel on the walls of the city hall of the nearby town of Schirrhoffen in the Bas-Rhin Department. Schirrhoffen has a large Jewish population, and Distel is a supporter of refugees and migrants. The graffiti included swastikas and anti-Semitic slurs, and the threats included, “A stabbing is coming quickly,” and “Distel you are going to die.” Another threat, “Distel-Lubcke,” referred to a pro-immigrant German leader who was assassinated in early June.
On March 21, Education Minister Blanquer announced that among 130 racist and anti-Semitic acts teachers reported occurring in schools during the first three months of the year, 16 percent were anti-Semitic. The figures were the result of the online platform the government established in late 2018 to enable teachers to report these cases. The ministry did not release figures of anti-Semitic acts in schools that occurred later in the year.
In a joint study released November 6, the French Institute of Public Opinion and the Jean Jaures Foundation found that 42 percent of Muslims in the country reported being targets of discrimination due to their religion at some point during their life, and 32 percent said they had been targeted in the previous five years. The study reported the most common contexts for discrimination were in interactions with police (28 percent), while searching for employment (24 percent), and while seeking housing (22 percent). The study, commissioned by the DILCRAH, was the first time the government publicly researched the experiences of the Muslim community. According to the survey, 45 percent of women – and 60 percent of those who regularly wore a veil – reported experiencing discrimination, compared with 35 percent of men.
The annual report of the National Consultative Commission on Human Rights, an advisory body to the prime minister, released in April, included the results of an Ipsos poll conducted in November 2018 and involving face-to-face interviews with a representative sample of 1,007 residents over the age of 18. The results were almost identical to a poll Ipsos conducted a year earlier. According to the poll, 36 percent of the respondents (2 percentage points fewer than in 2017) believed Jews “have a particular relationship with money,” and 20 percent thought Jews had too much power in the country. The poll found 29 percent of respondents had a negative image of Islam and 44 percent of them considered it a threat to national identity. The commission’s report again cited what it said was persistent societal rejection of Islamic religious practices, such as women wearing a veil. It also stated there was an increase in anti-Semitic acts, which numbered 541, up 74 percent from 311 acts in 2017.
In November the Anti-Defamation League released the results of a survey on anti-Semitic views of the country’s residents. The survey cited stereotypical statements about Jews and asked respondents whether they believed such statements were “probably true” or “probably false.” The proportion agreeing that various statements were “probably true” was: 32 percent that Jews are more loyal to Israel than to France; 29 percent that Jews have too much power in the business world; and 31 percent that Jews talk too much about the Holocaust.
In January the EC issued a Special Eurobarometer survey of perceptions of anti-Semitism based on interviews it conducted in December 2018 in each EU member state. According to the survey, 72 percent of residents believed anti-Semitism was a problem in France, and 51 percent believed it had increased over the previous five years. The percentage who believed that anti-Semitism was a problem in nine different categories was as follows: Holocaust denial, 78 percent; on the internet, 74 percent; anti-Semitic graffiti or vandalism, 80 percent; expression of hostility or threats against Jews in public places, 80 percent; desecration of Jewish cemeteries, 84 percent; physical attacks against Jews, 83 percent; anti-Semitism in schools and universities, 73 percent; anti-Semitism in political life, 59 percent; and anti-Semitism in the media, 63 percent.
In May the EC carried out a study in each EU member state on perceptions of discrimination and published the results in September. According to the findings, 69 percent of respondents believed discrimination on the basis of religion or belief was widespread in the country, while 27 percent said it was rare; 83 percent would be comfortable with having a person of different religion than the majority of the population occupy the highest elected political position in the country. In addition, 95 percent said they would be comfortable working closely with a Christian, 95 percent said they would be with an atheist, 94 percent with a Jew, 93 percent with a Buddhist, and 92 percent with a Muslim. Asked how they would feel if a child were in a “love relationship” with an individual belonging to various groups , 94 percent said they would be comfortable if the partner were Christian, 93 percent if atheist, 90 percent if Jewish, 87 percent if Buddhist, and 81 percent if Muslim.
A Pew Research Center survey released in October found 22 percent of residents had an unfavorable opinion of Muslims, down 7 percentage points from 29 percent in 2016. Individuals aged 60 and older were much more likely to hold an unfavorable opinion of Muslims, at 38 percent, than those aged 18 to 34 (11 percent). The same survey found that 6 percent of persons had an unfavorable opinion of Jews.
On October 2, a Paris criminal court convicted Alain Bonnet, known as Alain Soral, of public anti-Semitic insults and “provocation to discrimination, hatred, or violence against Jews” and sentenced him to one year in prison for referring to the Pantheon, a national mausoleum of French notables, as a “kosher wasteland” in a video posted on his website. The court stated his language evoked the dehumanization and suffering Jews faced in concentration and death camps. The court also ordered Soral to take down the video and pay 1,000 euros ($1,100) in damages to the League Against Racism and Anti-Semitism, as well as one euro ($1) in symbolic damages to three other civil society organizations. It was Soral’s fourth conviction of the year, following previous violations for Holocaust denial, anti-Semitic insults, and publishing an anti-Semitic video, for which he was sentenced to one year, one year, and 18 months, respectively, in addition to multiple earlier convictions on similar charges. Soral remained free while he appealed all four convictions.
In February a Muslim convert, Benjamin Weller, shouted anti-Semitic epithets, such as “Go back to Tel Aviv,” and “We are the French people, France is ours,” at Jewish philosopher Alain Finkielkraut during a Yellow Vest protest. Finkielkraut is a member of the Academie Francaise, the country’s preeminent intellectual institution, and the son of a survivor of Auschwitz. In response, President Macron tweeted, “The anti-Semitic insults he was subjected to are the absolute negation of what we are and what makes us a great nation. We will not tolerate them.” Interior Minister Castaner and then-government Spokesperson Griveaux, among others, also condemned the incident. On July 12, the Paris Criminal Court convicted Weller of making public insults based on “origins, ethnic origin, country, race, or religion” and sentenced him to a suspended two-month prison sentence.
On February 10, unknown persons wrote the word “Juden” (German for “Jew”) on the window of a bagel shop in central Paris. Minister of Interior Castaner and then-government spokesperson Griveaux both condemned the act. The Paris prosecutor’s office opened an investigation for “aggravated voluntary damage” and “provocation to racial hatred.” At year’s end, authorities did not identify any suspects.
On February 11, unknown persons chopped down a tree planted in a Paris suburb in memory Ilan Halimi, the Jewish man killed in 2006. Police opened an investigation, and DILCRAH Head Prefect Frederic Potier described the incident as “ignominious.” Interior Minister Castaner said anti-Semitism was spreading like poison, and the attack on Halimi’s memory was an attack on the republic.
In February in Quatzenheim, near Strasbourg, vandals defaced more than 90 graves at a Jewish cemetery. President Macron and Interior Minister Castaner visited the site on February 19, and prefecture and local politicians condemned the attack. On December 2, vandals desecrated more than 100 graves in the Jewish cemetery of Westhoffen, a town near Strasbourg. Spray-painted swastikas and the number “14,” associated with white supremacy, covered headstones. On the same day, residents found similar graffiti scrawled on the synagogue and the mayor’s office in the town of Schaffhouse-sur-Zorn, approximately 12 miles from Westhoffen. Both President Macron and Interior Minister Castaner condemned the acts, and Castaner visited the Westhoffen cemetery with community leaders on December 4. The gendarmerie in Westhoffen opened an investigation into the incident there, led by a special investigative unit.
Following a series of anti-Semitic incidents in the eastern part of the country, in April the Departmental Council in the Lower Rhine Department approved a list of 10 initiatives, mostly aimed at youth, to counter anti-Semitism and foster a culture of mutual understanding and respect. Citizen volunteers, Jewish and non-Jewish, also organized a Jewish cemetery watch in the Upper Rhine Department.
In March workers building a mosque in the southwestern town of Bergerac found a pig’s head and animal blood at the entrance to the site. The Bergerac police commissioner condemned the act.
In April two persons filmed themselves urinating on the property of UEJF at Dauphine University in Paris and streamed it live on social media. The UEJF called the act anti-Semitic and filed a police complaint against the men.
In late December 2018, according to press reports, a car belonging to a Jewish family in the Paris suburb of Sarcelles was broken into, filled up with trash, and had a mezuzah glued to its windshield. The mezuzah had been stolen from the family’s home months earlier. The family filed a complaint with police for a hate crime.
On May 13, police opened an investigation into the vandalism of a commemorative plaque in Paris devoted to Jewish children arrested by the Vichy government in the 1942 Velodrome d’Hiver roundup and deported to Nazi death camps. The graffiti included the number 4,115, representing the number of Jewish children arrested by the Vichy police and the word “extermination.” Paris 15th District Mayor Philippe Goujon denounced the act, and Paris City Hall and BNVCA filed a complaint with the Paris prosecutor’s office. At year’s end, authorities did not identify any suspects.
In February there were reports of at least 10 incidents of vandalism and desecration of Catholic churches. Incidents included smashing statues, knocking down tabernacles, scattering or destroying the Eucharist host, burning altar cloths, and tearing down crosses. Individuals vandalized five churches in separate incidents over the span of a week in Dijon, Nimes, Lavaur (Tarn Department), Maisons-Laffitte, and Houilles (Yvelines Department). At the Notre-Dame-Des-Enfants Church in the southern city of Nimes, vandals broke the tabernacle, damaged religious objects, and smeared excrement in the shape of a cross on the interior walls. In May police arrested a 21-year-old local resident, who admitted involvement in the Nimes incident. His trial was scheduled for March 2020. In response to the acts, Prime Minister Philippe said, “In our secular republic, we respect places of worship. Such acts shock me and must be unanimously condemned.” He also discussed the incidents with the Conference of Bishops. In June unknown persons toppled more than 100 tombstones in the main Catholic cemetery in Toulouse, The Catholic Herald reported.
A Jewish school in southern Paris received a letter in February with anti-Semitic messages, including “France is the base for Zionism in Europe” and “If Adolf Hitler had exterminated all the Jews, the Arab countries would live in peace.” The school filed a complaint with the police, who opened an investigation. At year’s end, they did not identify any suspects.
After reports that an administrator at an Orthodox Jewish high school leaked national exam materials to students in an effort to boost the school’s results, users posted hundreds of anti-Semitic posts on Twitter. The tweets included accusations that the students would avoid punishment because of their “protected community” status and that Jews “control everything” in the country.
On October 27, nearly 100 graves in a Christian cemetery in Cognac were vandalized and Christian symbols, including crosses, crucifixes, and angels, were damaged. Police arrested an 18-year-old man in connection with the incident. In online postings, the suspect had written about being a “Satanist” and “hating religion,” and also stated that “voices tell [him] to do certain things.” Prosecutors said he would undergo psychiatric evaluation before facing trial. Authorities placed him under a curfew and judicial control (similar to parole), pending trial.
On November 4, three burglars gained access to the Oloron-Sainte-Marie Cathedral, a UNESCO World Heritage Site in the Pyrenees-Atlantiques Region, by ramming and destroying its medieval wooden door with their car. They then stole art and artifacts from the cathedral’s treasury, including gold and silver works, a chalice, and a monstrance. Local police launched an investigation.
In December France 24 reported the country’s Uighur Association said the Chinese government was threatening members of the Muslim Uighur community in France to induce it to spy on fellow Uighurs. The report cited a spokesperson for the association, who said a French Uighur provided personal information to Chinese police on her Uighur work colleagues out of fear of reprisals against her family in Xinjiang. Another Uighur testified his family in Xinjiang was arrested because he refused to return to China. The spokesperson added the Chinese government had successfully sowed distrust within the local Uighur community.
In November CRIF held its tenth annual convention in Paris, titling it, “Fractured France: Can We Unite Against Anti-Semitism?” CRIF President Francis Kalifat cited the challenges of growing anti-Semitism and stated 12 Jews had been killed in the country in the previous 20 years because they were Jewish. Education Minister Blanquer outlined the government’s strategy to combat anti-Semitism in schools and Interior Minister Castaner said, “I want zero tolerance towards anti-Semitism,” adding that the government was committed to combating online hate speech.
On June 16, Strasbourg celebrated the 12th anniversary of its interfaith dialogue initiative, which continued to bring together religious leaders from Protestant, Jewish, Catholic, Muslim, Hindu, and Buddhist faiths.
In August for the third consecutive year, young Christians and Muslims from across the country, Europe, North Africa, sub-Saharan Africa, and the Middle East participated in a three-day “weekend of friendship” event at the Taize Ecumenical Community in the Department of Saone-et-Loire. The approximately 200 participants attended panels and shared religious experiences. The conference focused on two themes: hospitality; and the “Document on Human Fraternity for World Peace and Living Together,” a joint statement signed in February by Pope Francis and Egypt’s Sheikh Ahmed el-Tayeb, Grand Imam of al-Azhar.
The Council of Christian Churches in France, composed of 10 representatives from the Protestant, Catholic, Orthodox, and Armenian Apostolic Churches, continued to serve as a forum for dialogue. One observer represented the Anglican Communion on the council. The council met twice in plenary session and twice at the working level.
Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement
The Ambassador and other staff from the embassy, consulates general, and APPs discussed issues pertaining to religious freedom and tolerance with relevant government officials, including at the religious affairs offices of the Ministries of the Interior and Foreign Affairs. The Ambassador met with Interior Minister Castaner and DILCRAH Head Prefect Potier. Topics discussed included religious tolerance, anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim acts, the role of religious freedom in lessening violent extremism, the BDS movement, Holocaust-related compensation, and bilateral cooperation on these issues.
In November embassy personnel and the U.S. Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism met with Ministry of Foreign Affairs Counselor for Religious Affairs Ambassador Jean-Christophe Peaucelle, Ambassador at Large for Human Rights and Holocaust Issues Francois Croquette, and other government, religious, and civil society leaders to discuss means of countering anti-Semitism. The Ambassador met in Paris with Rector of Notre Dame Cathedral of Paris Patrick Chauvet to exchange views on religious freedom and tolerance and to express support for the reconstruction of the cathedral.
On November 26, the Ambassador hosted a roundtable dinner of civil society, business, and government leaders, and the Israeli Ambassador to solicit recommendations and share best practices on combating anti-Semitism. On November 23, the Ambassador spoke at the 75th anniversary of the discovery of the Natzweiler-Struthof Concentration Camp on the issue of religious freedom and combatting religiously based hate crimes.
Staff from the embassy, consulates general, and APPs met regularly with religious community leaders, activists, and private citizens throughout the country to discuss issues of discrimination and to advocate tolerance for diversity. Embassy officials discussed religious freedom, anti-Semitism, anti-Muslim sentiment, and interfaith dialogue and tolerance with senior Christian, Muslim, and Jewish representatives and NGOs such as Coexister and AJC Europe. They also hosted meetings with representatives from CRIF, the Israelite Central Consistory of France (the main Jewish administrative governance body), the CFCM, and the Paris Great Mosque, Catholic priests, and Protestant representatives working on interfaith dialogue.
The Ambassador and mission personnel engaged regularly with senior Israeli embassy representatives on efforts and best practices to counter anti-Semitism in the country. Embassy officials closely monitored and reported on the official government position on the BDS movement and anti-Semitic incidents. The embassy highlighted such incidents on embassy social media platforms to bring more visibility to the issue and to publicly express U.S. concern.
The embassy continued to support Coexister, a local association promoting interfaith dialogue and social cohesion, with funding assistance for the association’s Interfaith World Tour. With some embassy funding, four young interfaith representatives began an eight-month world tour in August to meet and conduct interviews with interfaith leaders in 25 countries, including the United States. The team will produce a documentary film from the tour to be used for presentations at French public schools and conferences with the aim of deepening awareness of, and interest in, international initiatives on interfaith dialogue.
The embassy also funded the participation of a representative from the Hozes Institute – which, among other activities, provides civic and French language classes for imams – in an exchange program in the United States to examine the role and impact of religion in society and bridge gaps among faith groups.
Through a grant, the embassy and the APP in Bordeaux supported a film shown in November and December on national television channel ARTE. The film, the story of an imam in Mont-de-Marsan, was shown to youth audiences and associations in and around Bordeaux to encourage dialogue and religious tolerance.
Through a grant for past participants in U.S. government-funded exchange programs, one Jewish organization and one Muslim organization in Bordeaux began a series of workshops in September to promote religious tolerance among youth.
In September the Consulate General in Marseille hosted an interfaith lunch with Catholic, Jewish, Muslim, Protestant, and Greek Orthodox clergy, where participants discussed religious tolerance, anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim acts, the role of religious freedom in lessening violent extremism, and local, private efforts to increase communication and interfaith social engagement.
Also in September the Consulate General in Strasbourg hosted an interfaith lunch with key local government, civil society, and religious authorities to present key points from the Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom held in Washington in July and to solicit recommendations for actions the United States could take to combat the rise in anti-Semitic acts in eastern France.
On October 25, the embassy hosted a ceremony commemorating the one-year anniversary of the Tree of Life Synagogue attack in Pittsburgh. Addressing an audience that included France’s Grand Rabbi Haim Korsia, government officials, and Jewish, Muslim, and Christian community representatives, the Ambassador noted the rise of anti-Semitic attacks around the world, including locally. She used the event to condemn acts of intolerance and call for unity and action against hate.
The embassy regularly amplified messages from the Secretary of State and Department of State on religious freedom via embassy social media platforms in French and in English. The embassy also complemented Washington messaging with original content in French, for example in marking the International Day Commemorating the Victims of Acts of Violence Based on Religion or Belief and the International Day of Religious Freedom. Embassy social media outreach highlighted the importance of religious freedom as a core American value and demonstrated how France and the United States worked together on the issue.
The constitution prohibits religious discrimination and provides for freedom of faith and conscience and the practice of one’s religion. The country’s 16 states exercise considerable autonomy on registration of religious groups and other matters. Unrecognized religious groups are ineligible for tax benefits. The federal and some state offices of the domestic intelligence service continued to monitor the activities of certain Muslim groups and mosques. Authorities also monitored the Church of Scientology (COS), which reported continued government discrimination against its members. Certain states continued to ban or restrict the use of religious clothing or symbols, including headscarves, for some state employees. In May federal anti-Semitism commissioner Felix Klein, responding to what he stated was the rising number of anti-Semitic incidents in the country, said he could “no longer recommend Jews wear a kippah at every time and place in Germany.” Many Jewish leaders in the community were supportive of Klein, but some prominent politicians, Jewish leaders, and national media responded negatively. Senior government leaders continued to condemn anti-Semitism and anti-Muslim sentiment. Seven additional state governments appointed anti-Semitism commissioners for the first time, bringing the total number of states with such commissioners to 13 (out of 16), in addition to the federal Jewish life and anti-Semitism commissioner. In July the government announced it would increase social welfare funding for Holocaust survivors by 44 million euros ($49.4 million) in 2020, including for the first time pension payments to Holocaust survivors’ widowed spouses.
There were numerous reports of anti-Semitic, anti-Muslim, and anti-Christian incidents. These included assaults, verbal harassment, threats, discrimination, and vandalism. Jews expressed security concerns after several widely publicized anti-Semitic acts, including a gunman’s attack in Halle on Yom Kippur that killed two individuals outside a synagogue. Federal crime statistics for 2018 cited 1,799 anti-Semitic crimes during the year, an overall increase of 20 percent from 2017. Sixty-nine of those crimes involved violence. The federal crime statistics attributed 89 percent of anti-Semitic crimes in 2018 to the far right; however, the federal anti-Semitism commissioner expressed concern over methodology that attributed to the far right all incidents in which the perpetrator was not identified. He stated that the country’s Jewish community experienced more open hostility from Muslims than from other groups. Demonstrations occurred expressing anti-Muslim and anti-Semitic sentiment. The Roman Catholic Church and the Protestant Church in Germany (EKD) continued to make public statements opposing the COS.
The U.S. embassy and five consulates general assessed the government’s responses to incidents of religious intolerance; expressed concerns about anti-Semitic, anti-Christian, and anti-Muslim acts; and advocated for more law enforcement and other resources to prevent violent attacks on religious communities. In November the Secretary of State visited the synagogue in Halle to pay his respects and the Neue Synagogue in Berlin to commemorate the 81st anniversary of the Reichs Pogromnacht (previously known as Kristallnacht/Night of Broken Glass). Embassy representatives met with the federal anti-Semitism commissioner at the Ministry of Interior and the federal commissioner for global freedom of religion at the Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development; consuls general met with state-level government representatives and anti-Semitism commissioners. The embassy and consulates general maintained a dialogue with a broad spectrum of religious communities and human rights nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) on their concerns about religious freedom and on ways to promote tolerance and communication among religious groups.
Section I. Religious Demography
The U.S. government estimates the total population at 80.3 million (midyear 2019 estimate). Unofficial estimates based on the census and figures provided by religious groups indicate approximately 28 percent of the population is Catholic, and 26 percent belongs to the EKD – a confederation of Lutheran, Reformed (Calvinist), and United (Prussian Union) Protestant regional churches. Other Protestant denominations, including the New Apostolic Church, Baptist communities, and nondenominational Christians, account for approximately 1 percent of the population. Orthodox Christians represent 1.9 percent of the population.
According to government estimates, approximately 5.3 percent of the population is Muslim, of which 75 percent is Sunni, 13 percent Alevi, and 7 percent Shia; the remainder includes Alawites (70,000), Ahmadis (35,000), and Sufis (10,000). Intelligence officials estimate there are approximately 11,300 Salafi Muslims in the country. According to the Ministry of Interior, approximately 25 percent of Muslims are recent immigrants; between 2011 and 2015, an estimated 1.2 million Muslim immigrants entered the country. Estimates of the Jewish population vary widely; the Central Council of Jews estimates it at 100,000, while other estimates place the number at approximately 200,000 when including Jews who do not belong to a specific Jewish community. According to the secular NGO Religious Studies Media and Information Service (REMID), Buddhists (270,000); Jehovah’s Witnesses (169,000); Hindus (100,000); Yezidis (100,000); The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Church of Jesus Christ) (40,000); Sikhs (10,000-15,000); and Church of Scientology (COS) (3,400) together constitute less than 1 percent of the population. All of REMID’s estimates are based on members who have registered with a religious group. According to the nonprofit Research Group Worldviews Germany, approximately 39 percent of the population either has no religious affiliation or belongs to religious groups not counted in government statistics.
Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom
The constitution prohibits discrimination based on religious opinion and provides for freedom of faith and conscience, freedom to profess a religious or philosophical creed, and freedom to practice one’s religion. It also prohibits an official state church. It stipulates no one shall be required to disclose his or her religious convictions, nor be compelled to participate in religious acts. The constitution states religious instruction shall be part of the curriculum in public schools, and parents have the right to decide whether their children receive religious instruction. It recognizes the right to establish private denominational schools. The constitution guarantees the freedom to form religious societies and permits groups to organize themselves for private religious purposes without constraint. It allows registered religious groups with Public Law Corporation (PLC) status to receive public subsidies from the states and to provide religious services in the military, at hospitals, and in prisons.
The federal criminal code prohibits calling for violence, inciting hatred or taking arbitrary measures against religious groups or their members. Violations are punishable by up to five years in prison. It also prohibits “assaulting the human dignity of religious groups or their members by insulting, maliciously maligning, or defaming them,” specifying a maximum penalty of five years in prison, although prison sentences are rare. The prohibition and penalties apply equally to online speech. The federal criminal code prohibits disturbing religious services or acts of worship, with violators subject to a fine or imprisonment for up to three years. The law bans Nazi propaganda, Holocaust denial, and fomenting racial hatred, specifying a penalty of up to five years’ imprisonment.
By law, social media companies with more than two million registered users in the country must implement procedures to review complaints and remove or block access to illegal speech within seven days of receiving a complaint and within 24 hours for cases considered “manifestly unlawful.” Noncompliance may result in fines of up to 50 million euros ($56.2 million). Unlawful content includes actions illegal under existing criminal code, such as defamation of religions and denial of historic atrocities.
The law permits the federal government to characterize “nontraditional” religious groups – such as the Church of Scientology – as “sects,” “youth religions,” and “youth sects,” and allows the government to provide “accurate information” or warnings about them to the public. The law does not permit the government to use terms, such as “destructive,” “pseudo-religious,” or “manipulative” when referring to these groups. Several court decisions have ruled the government must remain neutral toward a religion and may provide a warning to the public only if an “offer” by a religious group would endanger the basic rights of an individual or place the individual in a state of physical or financial dependence.
Religious groups wishing to qualify as nonprofit associations with tax-exempt status must register. State-level authorities review registration submissions and routinely grant tax-exempt status; if challenged, their decisions are subject to judicial review. Those applying for tax-exempt status must provide evidence they are a religious group through their statutes, history, and activities.
A special partnership exists between the states and religious groups with PLC status, as outlined in the constitution. Any religious group may request PLC status, which, if granted, entitles the group to levy tithes (8 percent of income tax in Bavaria and Baden-Wuerttemberg, 9 percent in the other states) on members, who must register their religious affiliation with federal tax authorities. Each state collects the tithes on behalf of the religious community through the state’s tax collection process, separately from and in addition to income taxes. PLCs pay fees to the government for the tithing service, but not all groups with PLC status utilize the service. PLC status also allows for benefits, including tax exemptions (larger than those given to groups with nonprofit status), representation on supervisory boards of public television and radio stations, and the right to special labor regulations. State governments subsidize institutions with PLC status, which provide public services, such as religious schools and hospitals. Additionally, due to historic “state-church contracts” dating back to pre-1919 Germany, all state governments except for Bremen and Hamburg subsidize the Catholic Church and the EKD with different yearly amounts.
According to the constitution, the decision to grant PLC status is made at the state level. Individual states base PLC status decisions on a number of varying qualifications, including an assurance of the group’s permanence, size, and respect for the constitutional order and fundamental rights of individuals. An estimated 180 religious groups have PLC status, including Catholics, the EKD, Baha’is, Baptists, Christian Scientists, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Jews, Mennonites, Methodists, the Church of Jesus Christ, the Salvation Army, and Seventh-day Adventists. Ahmadi Muslim groups have PLC status in the states of Hesse and Hamburg; no other Muslim communities have PLC status. The COS does not have PLC or nonprofit status in any state.
Federal animal protection laws prohibit the killing of animals without anesthesia, including as part of halal and kosher slaughter practices. Pursuant to a Federal Administrative Court decision, however, trained personnel may kill animals without anesthesia in a registered slaughterhouse under observation of the local veterinary inspection office if the meat is for consumption only by members of religious communities whose beliefs require slaughtering animals without anesthesia.
According to a ruling by the Federal Constitutional Court, general headscarf bans for teachers at public schools are a violation of religious freedom, but implementation is left to the states, which may determine if special circumstances apply. Bavaria, North-Rhine Westphalia (NRW), and Saarland States render decisions on a case-by-case basis. Schleswig-Holstein, Hamburg, Bremen, and Lower Saxony do not prohibit headscarves for teachers. Hesse permits teachers to wear headscarves as long as doing so does not impair “school peace” or threaten perceptions of state neutrality. A law in Berlin bans visible signs of religious affiliation for police, lawyers, judges, law enforcement staff, and primary and secondary public school teachers. The Berlin law permits teachers at some categories of institutions, such as vocational schools, to wear headscarves. Other states have laws that restrict religious attire in certain circumstances.
Citing safety reasons and the need for traffic law enforcement, federal law prohibits the concealment of faces while driving, including by a niqab. Infractions are punishable by a 60 euro ($67) fine.
According to federal law, religious groups may appoint individuals with special training to carry out circumcision of males under the age of six months. After six months, the law states circumcisions must be performed in a “medically professional manner” and without unnecessary pain.
All states offer religious instruction and ethics courses in public schools. Religious communities with PLC status (or those without such status that have concluded a special agreement with the state granting them this right) appoint religion teachers and work with the states to ensure the curriculum is in line with the constitution; the states pay the teachers’ salaries. Most public schools offer the option of Protestant and Catholic religious instruction in cooperation with those Churches, as well as instruction in Judaism if enough students (usually 12, although regulations vary by state) express an interest. Bavaria, Baden-Wuerttemberg, Berlin, Hesse, Lower Saxony, NRW, Rhineland-Palatinate, Saarland, and Schleswig-Holstein States also offer some religious instruction in Islam. In most of the federal states, Muslim communities or associations provide this instruction, while in Bavaria and Schleswig-Holstein, the state does. In March the Bavarian cabinet decided to expand its program, which at the time reached 16,500 pupils at 350 schools. In Hamburg and Bremen, nondenominational religious instruction is offered for all students by the Protestant Church and the state, respectively.
Students who do not wish to participate in religious instruction may opt out; in some states, those who opt out may substitute ethics courses. State authorities generally permit religious groups to establish private schools as long as they meet basic curriculum requirements. Schooling is constitutionally mandated, and homeschooling, including for religious reasons, is prohibited in all states.
The government provides annual payments to Holocaust victims and their descendants, and regularly expands the scope of these programs to broaden the eligibility requirements.
In February Federal Commissioner for Jewish Life in Germany and the Fight Against Anti-Semitism Felix Klein launched a nationwide online platform for reporting anti-Semitic incidents, including those that do not rise to the level of a crime. The Research and Information Center for Anti-Semitism (RIAS), a nonprofit organization that receives some federal and state funding and that had already been managing a similar service in Berlin, is responsible for running the program.
In September, in response to several anti-Semitic attacks in Berlin, Klein called for harsher penalties for such attacks. He also recommended additional training for police and prosecutors to help them recognize and appropriately deal with anti-Semitic incidents. Klein criticized the police procedure of automatically classifying anti-Semitic incidents in which the perpetrator is unknown as right-wing extremism, a practice that resulted in 89 percent of anti-Semitic incidents being classified as right-wing. Klein said the country’s Jewish community experienced more open hostility from Muslims than from right-wing extremists.
In July the federal Interior Ministry announced the creation of a new advisory committee to combat anti-Semitism. The eight-member committee has the mandate to support Klein’s work by formulating strategies to identify fields of action against anti-Semitism and to increase the visibility of Jewish life in the country.
During the year, Berlin, Brandenburg, Thuringia, Saarland, Saxony, Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, and Lower Saxony States established state-level anti-Semitism commissioners, bringing the total number of states with such commissioners to 13 (out of 16). The responsibilities and functions of the position vary by state but generally include developing contacts with the Jewish community, collecting statistics on anti-Semitic incidents, and designing education and prevention programs. Klein urged all states to establish anti-Semitism commissioners because the distribution of powers in the country’s federal system provides the states with greater authority to combat anti-Semitism.
All 16 state interior ministers and Federal Interior Minister Horst Seehofer presented a new plan in October to combat anti-Semitism and right-wing extremism that included a stricter weapons law, an obligation to report hate speech online, increased protection for Jewish institutions, fast-tracking anti-Semitism cases, and hundreds of new personnel positions for the federal criminal police (BKA) and the federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (OPC – domestic intelligence agency) for such cases. Seehofer had previously advocated similar measures without success, but the attack in Halle provided new urgency and led to additional support for his plan.
On November 29 the Bundesrat (upper house of parliament) approved a motion to amend a section in the country’s penal code that includes anti-Semitism in the list of aggravating criteria, along with “racist, xenophobic, and inhumane motives,” for judges to consider in determining the severity of sentences. The previous day, Federal Justice Minister Christine Lambrecht separately said she would support such legislation. At year’s end, the Bundestag had not yet voted on the proposed change.
In May the federal parliament passed a nonbinding resolution designating the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel as anti-Semitic. The resolution stated the government would not fund organizations that question Israel’s right to exist or actively support BDS. This resolution replaced the parliament’s January 2018 resolution to “counter” BDS.
In January Schleswig-Holstein established a new, independent “Statewide Office for Information on and Documentation of Anti-Semitism.” In March the Hesse Ministry of Education began a statewide anti-Semitism prevention project to organize workshops and training events for students and teachers. In April the Bavarian anti-Semitism commissioner established a registration office for anti-Semitic incidents, modeled after RIAS Berlin, and in November the Baden-Wuerttemberg anti-Semitism commissioner did the same.
In July Duesseldorf appointed a commissioner as part of a comprehensive plan to fight anti-Semitism, and the public prosecutor’s offices in Karlsruhe and Stuttgart added anti-Semitism officers. In July the Baden-Wuerttemberg State anti-Semitism commissioner published his first report to the state parliament, which warned of conspiracy theories targeting Jews, and detailed 87 anti-Semitic offenses in the first nine months of 2018, a 38 percent increase compared with 2017. In July the NRW State anti-Semitism commissioner presented a plan to establish a reporting office for anti-Semitic attacks. She also called for new educational programs to combat anti-Semitic attitudes and stereotypes.
According to the first annual report by Berlin Anti-Semitism Commissioner Claudia Vanoni, law enforcement authorities there initiated 386 proceedings with an anti-Semitic background during the year, 156 involving online cases. At year’s end, 169 of the overall cases were terminated because the perpetrators could not be identified, and 27 were concluded – most of which resulted in fines. Investigations in 49 cases were ongoing at the end of the year.
In May federal anti-Semitism commissioner Klein said – in response to what he stated was the rising number of anti-Semitic incidents in the county – he could “no longer recommend Jews wear a kippah at every time and place in Germany.” Many Jewish leaders in the community were supportive of Klein, but prominent politicians and national media responded negatively. Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said, “No one should ever have to hide their Jewish faith again – not in Germany nor anywhere else,” while government spokesperson Stefan Seibert said, “The state has to ensure the free exercise of religion is possible for everyone, and thus it’s the job of the state to ensure that anyone can move around securely with a kippah in any place in our country.” Klein then called on individuals everywhere in the country to wear a kippah in solidarity with Jews on June 1 during the annual anti-Israel al-Quds demonstration in Berlin.
The Alternative for Germany (AfD) party in the NRW State Parliament introduced a resolution in April 2018 to deny PLC status to the Ahmadiyya Muslim Jamaat community, which it asserted was working “towards the establishment of a theocratic order of rule.” Following a January hearing, all other parties in the state parliament rejected the motion in May, stating that only the State Chancellery had the authority to grant or reject PLC status. At the end of the year, the State Chancellery had yet to make a decision on the Ahmadiyya application, which was submitted in early 2018.
In April Rhineland-Palatinate signed a state agreement with the Muslim Alevite community outlining conditions for Alevi holidays and religious instruction in schools. Four Rhineland-Palatinate elementary schools offered Alevi religious instruction.
In June the Federal Labor Court ruled a physician employed in a Catholic hospital in Duesseldorf should not have been fired in 2009. He was dismissed because the hospital stated his remarriage without an annulment of a previous marriage was a violation of canon law. The press spokesman of the Archdiocese of Cologne said the country’s Catholic Church liberalized its labor law in 2015, and the dismissal would likely not take place today.
According to reports from the federal OPC and Scientology members, the federal and state OPCs in Baden-Wuerttemberg, Bavaria, Berlin, Bremen, Hamburg, Lower Saxony, NRW, and Thuringia continued to monitor the activities of the COS, reportedly by evaluating Scientology publications and members’ public activities to determine whether they violated the constitution. At least four major political parties – the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), Christian Social Union (CSU), Social Democratic Party (SPD), and Free Democratic Party (FDP) – continued to exclude Scientologists from party membership. “Sect filters,” signed statements by potential employees to confirm they had no contact with the COS, remained in use in the public and private sectors. The COS said the government also discriminated against firms owned or operated by its members.
In July the UN special rapporteurs on minority issues and freedom of religion or belief wrote the government to ask for its response to allegations of “continued use of discriminatory (sect filters) against Scientologists in government grants and employment.” In its response in September, the government cited a 1995 ruling by the Federal Labor Court that stated the COS did not qualify as a religious community under German law, COS goals were geared toward commercial activities, and the COS had “aspirations opposing the free democratic constitutional system,” making it ineligible for government grants and contracts. According to the government, the COS therefore was not eligible for religious protections and use of the sect filters was not a violation of human rights. Also in September, the COS asked the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe to “investigate” the practice of sect filters in the country and to “assist in promoting a real dialogue” between the COS and the government on the issue.
In May, responding to a parliamentary inquiry, the NRW State OPC disclosed it was monitoring 109 mosques for extremist activities. Based on the monitoring, authorities identified 156 individuals as “relevant persons” and 260 as “potentially dangerous.” Of these, 127 of the “relevant” and 110 of the “potentially dangerous” were considered capable of action because they were present in the country and not in detention.
Federal and state OPCs continued to monitor numerous Muslim groups, including the terrorist groups ISIS, Hezbollah, and Hamas, as well as groups such as Turkish Hezbollah (TH), Hizb ut-Tahrir, Tablighi Jama’at, Millatu Ibrahim, the Islamic Center Hamburg (IZH), the Muslim Brotherhood, Milli Gorus, and various Salafist movements. The director of NRW’s OPC stated in June that the Muslim Brotherhood was recruiting members among the refugee community and represented a “greater threat to democracy” than the Salafists.
Groups under OPC observation continued to say the OPC scrutiny implied they were extremist, and it constrained their ability to apply for publicly funded projects.
At a May 14 conference, entitled “European Network: Combating Anti-Semitism through Education,” hosted by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Foreign Minister Heiko Maas stated Germany would prioritize the fight against anti-Semitism when it assumes the rotating presidency of the Council of the European Union in 2020.
In June unknown perpetrators desecrated 50 copies of the Quran at Bremen’s Rama Mosque by throwing them into toilets. Bremen Mayor Carsten Sieling said the Bremen Senate was “thoroughly appalled” by the “disgusting crime,” and the Senate stood firmly with Bremen’s Muslim citizens. Local politicians attended Islamic Friday prayers to show their solidarity.
In September the Higher Administrative Court agreed to hear the city of Oer-Erkenschwick’s appeal of the 2018 decision by an Administrative Court in NRW State banning a local mosque’s outdoor amplification of the call to prayer. The case was still pending at the end of the year.
In March the Bavarian Constitutional Court upheld the state’s ban on judges and prosecutors wearing headscarves, kippahs, or crosses but found the display of crosses in courtrooms to be acceptable.
In June the Rhineland-Palatinate Superior Administrative Court overturned the city of Koblenz’s ban on burkinis, an all-encompassing swimsuit worn by some Muslim women. The court ruled the ban violated the constitution’s call for equal treatment of all persons. In July the Federal Administrative Court ruled Sikhs were not exempt from the requirement to wear a helmet while riding a motorcycle, even though helmets do not fit over their turbans.
In October the Higher Administration Court in Muenster denied state compensation to two headscarf-wearing Muslim teachers who claimed professional disadvantages because of their religious beliefs. The court determined it could not be demonstrated that the state refused to offer them employment due to religious reasons.
In March the EKD-sponsored charity Diakonie appealed to the Federal Constitutional Court to reverse a 2018 ruling by the Federal Labor Court that prevented Diakonie from denying employment to a social worker because she was not a member of a Christian church. The case was pending at the end of the year.
In January the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled German authorities at the local level did not violate a Christian family’s human rights when they placed the family’s children in foster care for three weeks in 2013. The family from Darmstadt had argued German authorities were in breach of Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights when they refused to allow them to homeschool their four children through a Christian distance-learning program. The ECHR ruled authorities were justified in removing the children from their home, and it was reasonable to assume the parents were endangering their children by not sending them to school because the children were isolated and had no contact with anyone outside the family.
In May Federal Minister for Migration, Refugees, and Integration Annette Widmann-Mauz called on the government to examine whether it could legally institute a ban on headscarves for children in schools. The president of the German Teachers’ Association supported a headscarf ban, calling them “hostile to integration.”
In January the state government of Baden-Wuerttemberg established a Sunni Muslim educational foundation to serve as a mediator between the state and various Islamic associations. This action followed the 2018 announcement that the Baden-Wuerttemberg State government planned to reorganize Islamic religious education in public schools. Two of the larger Muslim organizations – the Turkish-Islamic Union DITIB (connected to the Turkish government’s religious affairs ministry) and the Islamic Religious Community Baden-Wuerttemberg – refused to participate, saying they considered the arrangement unconstitutional.
In September an administrative court in Hesse State ruled state-run Islamic studies lessons in schools would be constitutional under national law. The case was in response to the state’s decision to phase out cooperation with DITIB because of its ties to the Turkish government and move to a purely state-run program.
Officials in Hesse continued to investigate a possible neo-Nazi network in Frankfurt’s police force, first discovered in December 2018. At year’s end, six police officers had been dismissed from duty as a result of the scandal. Overall, 38 officers were under investigation.
In September the Saarland State Education Ministry announced it would extend its cooperation with several Islamic associations that provide Islamic religious education in four public schools through at least 2023. The ministry also announced plans to expand the program to additional schools.
In February the Rhineland-Palatinate State youth welfare office revoked the operating license of the Al-Nur Kindergarten in Mainz – the state’s only Muslim day care center – due to its alleged promotion of Salafism and connections with extremist groups, citing the Muslim Brotherhood as an example. Al-Nur was told to cease operations by March 31, and that the city of Mainz would stop funding the facility. The Mainz Administrative Court upheld the decision, as did the Koblenz Higher Administrative Court on appeal.
In May Berlin Humboldt University, a public university, announced the initial cohort of students at its institute for Islamic theology would not be eligible to become religion teachers because the lack of Islamic religion classes at Berlin’s middle and high schools would prevent them from completing the internship required to become a teacher. These students, however, still could become imams or work in other religious capacities. The Islamic theology institute was established in the fall of 2018 to train future imams and religion teachers.
In April experts estimated NRW lacked more than 2,000 teachers for Islamic religious education. Only two universities in NRW offered courses to obtain the required teaching permit, and just 251 teachers in NRW had such a permit. There are more than 400,000 Muslim students in NRW, but only approximately 20,000 of them have received Islamic religious education.
In July the NRW state government opened a coordination office for Muslim engagement to reorganize its relations with a broad range of Muslim organizations and civil society groups. DITIB was included among the organizations, even though NRW previously ceased all cooperation with DITIB, stating it would reinstate relations only if DITIB took steps to reduce the Turkish government’s influence over its activities. At the end of the year, the state government had yet to resume any further cooperation with DITIB beyond the new coordination office.
In July the Conference on Jewish Material Claims against Germany (also known as the Jewish Claims Conference) and the government announced an increase of 44 million euros ($49.4 million) in government funding for social welfare services for Holocaust survivors, raising the yearly contribution from 480 million euros ($539.3 million) in 2019 to 524 million euros ($588.8 million) in 2020. For the first time, pension payments will be extended to Holocaust survivors’ widowed spouses, and these payments are to be applied retroactively.
The government continued to subsidize some Jewish groups. Based on an agreement between the federal government and the Central Council of Jews in Germany, the federal government contributed 13 million euros ($14.6 million) to help maintain Jewish cultural heritage and support integration and social work. In addition, the federal government provided financial support to the Institute for Jewish Studies in Heidelberg, the Rabbi Seminar at the University of Potsdam, and the Leo Baeck Institute, an international group researching the history and culture of German Jewry.
State governments continued to provide funds to Jewish communities and organizations in various amounts for such purposes as the renovation and construction of synagogues. The federal government continued to cover 50 percent of maintenance costs for Jewish cemeteries. State and local police units continued to provide security for synagogues and other Jewish institutions
According to the Humanistic Union, an independent civil liberties organization, total state government contributions during the year to the Catholic Church and the EKD totaled approximately 548.7 million euros ($616.5 million). The union said it calculated its estimate based on budgets of the 16 states.
In May the Wuppertal Regional Court fined seven men from 300 to 1,800 euros ($340-$2000) each for wearing yellow vests marked “Sharia Police” and patrolling the streets in 2014 to counter “non-Muslim” behavior. They were charged with wearing uniforms as expressions of a common political opinion. A regional court acquitted the men in 2016, but the Federal Constitutional Court reversed the acquittal in 2018. The defendants appealed to the Constitutional Court in June, and the case was pending at the end of the year.
In April media reported on a police cadet in NRW State who was fired because of his close contacts with Salafists and his extremist views. The police headquarters in Bielefeld refused to offer the Muslim man tenure as a police detective at the end of his three-year training.
The government continued the German Islam Conference dialogue with Muslims in the country, which began in 2006. The dialogue’s aim was to improve the religious and social participation of the Muslim population, give greater recognition to Muslims’ contributions to society, and – in the absence of a central organization representing all Muslims in the country – further develop partnerships between the government and Muslim organizations.
The states of Rhineland-Palatinate and Baden-Wuerttemberg held conferences for law enforcement officials in August and September, respectively, to discuss methods to better prevent and police anti-Semitism. The events were largely aimed at awareness-raising. In both states, more than 150 members of the security services, state and local governments, and the Jewish community gathered for the events.
In August media reported local authorities would not allow a Brazilian Pentecostal congregation to purchase the former Protestant church building it had been renting in Berlin since 2016 as the headquarters for the denomination’s branches in Germany and Austria. District Mayor Stephan von Dassel vowed to continue blocking the sale to the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God (UCKG), whose message he described as “People should donate a lot of money to the church, then their problems will just go away.” Von Dassel was also quoted in the media, stating, “The UCKG enriches neither our neighborhood nor its surroundings.” The most recent deed of sale specified the church could be resold only with the approval of city administrators.
In September the city of Dortmund and the national jury for the award rescinded the awarding of the Nelly Sachs Prize, one of the country’s most renowned literary prizes, to author Kamila Shamsie due to her membership in the BDS movement. Also in September, the Aachen Art Association announced it would rescind the prize it awarded to artist Walid Raad due to his support for the BDS movement, but it reversed that decision in October after determining he had not engaged in any anti-Semitic behavior. The mayor of Aachen responded to the reversal by withdrawing the city from the award ceremony and criticized Raad’s involvement in a “cultural boycott of Israel.”
The country is a member of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance.
Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom
There were numerous reports of anti-Semitic, anti-Muslim, and anti-Christian incidents, including assaults, verbal harassment, threats, discrimination, and vandalism. According to Ministry of Interior federal crime statistics, there were 1,799 anti-Semitic crimes committed during 2018 (the most recent statistics available). These included 69 incidents involving violence, a 20 percent increase compared with the 1,504 anti-Semitic crimes, of which 37 were violent, reported in 2017.
On October 9, a gunman attacked the synagogue in the eastern city of Halle on Yom Kippur, where approximately 50 individuals were attending a prayer service. When the gunman failed to gain entrance to the locked building, he shot and killed two persons outside the synagogue in a snack bar. He was arrested shortly after the attack. The federal public prosecutor’s investigation of the suspect’s background and motives was ongoing at year’s end, but according to media reports he admitted to the investigating authorities he harbored far-right extremist political sympathies. Several prominent Jewish organizations called for police protection at all synagogues during services. Leading government officials, including Chancellor Merkel, Federal President Steinmeier, and Foreign Minister Maas, promised a more determined fight against anti-Semitism and far-right violent extremism.
The federal OPC’s annual report stated the number of violent right-wing anti-Semitic incidents increased from 28 in 2017 to 48 in 2018. Interior Minister Horst Seehofer stated, “We can find in almost all areas of far-right extremism hostile attitudes toward Jews … It’s a development that we must take very, very, very seriously.” According to the report, membership in right-wing extremist parties, such as the neo-Nazi National Democratic Party (NPD), decreased from approximately 6,000 in 2017 to 5,500 persons in 2018.
In May the BKA presented its annual statistics, which indicated 36,062 politically motivated crimes in 2018, an 8.7 percent decrease from 2017. The BKA report covers a broader definition of “politically motivated crime” than does the MOI in its separate annual report. Notwithstanding the general downward trend, anti-Semitic crimes increased 19.6 percent. Moreover, crimes registered as being motivated by racism or xenophobia increased 22 percent, and the overall number of politically motivated crimes was the third-highest since these statistics were first reported in 2000.
The NGO RIAS, to which victims may report anti-Semitic incidents independent of filing charges with police, reported 404 anti-Semitic incidents in Berlin in the first six months of the year, compared with 579 incidents over the same period in 2018. This included 33 incidents involving violence or threatened violence (down from 47) and 46 online hate speech postings (down from 73). RIAS used categories different from official police statistics and counted anti-Semitic incidents that did not rise to the level of a criminal offense. According to RIAS, the largest motivating factor for anti-Semitic attacks was right-wing political ideology.
At a May 16 conference hosted by several German NGOs working to combat anti-Semitism, participants said anti-Semitism “is now expressed more openly in Germany” than it was two years ago. Head of the Central Council of Jews Dr. Josef Schuster described the rise in anti-Semitic incidents as “alarming,” but said the increase may be due in part to the increased options victims of anti-Semitism have for reporting incidents and crimes. Head of Berlin’s Anne Frank Center Patrick Siegele cited a study by Bielefeld University indicating Jews aged 16-29 experienced more severe anti-Semitic stereotypes compared with previous generations – a significant change in recent years. Head Manager of the Ministry of Family’s “Living Democracy” program Thomas Heppener described how the program provided funding to NGOs fighting anti-Semitism and other forms of discrimination. He said the ministry failed to place appropriate emphasis on countering right-wing extremism as a main source of anti-Semitism in its 2015 round of funding and vowed to address this in its 2020 programming.
In April the federal OPC published a report titled “Anti-Semitism in Islamism,” which stated, “Anti-Semitic events with an Islamic background are not uncommon in Germany.” According to the report, while anti-Semitism was traditionally linked to the far right, it was also widespread in the social and political center of society. The report noted the arrival of more than a million Muslims in the country between 2014 and 2017 increased the significance of Islamic anti-Semitism. The report stated anti-Semitic ideas were increasingly prevalent among Muslims who were not members of Islamist organizations.
In January the Hamburg Senate reported 74 anti-Semitic crimes in 2018 – up from 44 in 2017 and 35 in 2016. The Saxony-Anhalt state minister of interior reported anti-Semitic crimes in the state rose from 54 in 2017 to 62 in 2018.
In 2018 the Ministry of Interior registered 910 incidents targeting Muslims and Muslim institutions, such as mosques or community centers, including 74 attacks involving bodily harm. This was a decrease from the 1,075 incidents in 2017. The Ministry of Interior classified 92 percent of these incidents as right-wing extremism, although this included incidents in which the perpetrators were unknown. Other recorded infractions included online hate speech against Muslims, hate mail, and aggressive behavior in the street.
The Ministry of Interior counted 121 incidents against Christians in 2018, including 11 cases involving violence, a slight decline from the 129 incidents in 2017. The Ministry of Interior classified 39 percent of these incidents as motivated by religious ideology and 35 percent as motivated by right-wing ideology.
In March the Duesseldorf Regional Court sentenced an Iraqi asylum seeker to three years and 10 months in prison for stabbing an Iranian in 2017, causing life-threatening injuries. The alleged motive was the Iranian’s conversion to Christianity, although the Iraqi denied this.
In May a 27-year-old man shouted anti-Muslim slurs at two teenagers in a tram in Bremen before stabbing one of them in the neck with a knife. The suspect confessed to the stabbing after he was arrested and was taken to a medical center for psychiatric examination.
In March the regional court found three young men guilty of arson for attacking a mosque in Lauffen-am-Neckar, Baden-Wuerttemberg in 2018 and sentenced them to between two and a half and three years in prison.
There were four reported incidents of arson in churches. During the night of May 18, unknown individuals broke a church window with stones, broke several sacred objects, and burned a statue of Jesus in the Church of the Heiligen Dreifaltigkeit in Grossholbach. On the same night, police discovered a tablecloth and church balcony were burned in St. Blasii’s Evangelical Church in Nordhausen. A fire in St. Nikolaus Catholic Church in Ankum was discovered on June 1. On July 29, a fire was set at St. Magnus Church at Schussenried Abbey in Bad Schussenried. Pictures and a wooden cross were damaged. Police began investigations of all the cases, which were pending at year’s end.
In separate incidents in Berlin in June, two young Jewish men were assaulted. A 23-year-old U.S. citizen tourist was harassed by three individuals, one of whom hit him in the face. Police were investigating the attack as an anti-Semitic crime. Days earlier, a 20-year-old man wearing a kippah was harassed and the perpetrator tried to spit on him. Both cases were under investigation at the end of the year.
In October a German with Palestinian roots was sentenced for incitement of hate, insult, coercion, bodily harm, and fare evasion following his anti-Semitic assault on a university professor visiting Bonn in July 2018. Added to an already existing sentence for robbery, the attacker was sentenced to a total of four years, six months. In March local media reported the suspension of criminal proceedings against four police detectives for allegedly using excessive force against a Jewish victim during an incident; they had originally mistaken him for the attacker. The officers faced an internal investigation, but prosecutors denied the victim’s request to provide testimony to the investigation, and the officers returned to regular duty without charges.
In June Hamburg Chief Rabbi Shlomo Bistritzky and a senior member of the Jewish community were threatened by a reportedly mentally unstable man of Moroccan descent at city hall. On June 27, the Hamburg mayor and the rabbi launched a new initiative to oppose anti-Semitism and discrimination.
In June a rabbi in Duesseldorf was threatened by a passerby. In July a prominent American rabbi and community leader in Berlin was spat on and insulted while walking home from a synagogue with his son. In August another rabbi was insulted and then pushed to the ground by two unidentified suspects in Berlin. Also in August, a rabbi and his two sons were insulted and spat on while leaving a synagogue in Munich.
In June unknown perpetrators desecrated 20 gravestones and a wall with Nazi graffiti at the Jewish cemetery of Gotha, Thuringia State. Mayor Knut Kreuch led a moment of silence during the city council meeting, and investigations by local authorities were ongoing at the end of the year.
The Catholic Church and the EKD continued to oppose the COS publicly. “Sect commissioners” or “departments on sects and worldview matters” of the EKD and the Catholic Church investigated “sects and cults” and publicized what they considered to be the dangers of these groups. On its website, the EKD Center for Questions of World Views warned the public about what it said were the dangers posed by multiple religious groups, including the COS, the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification (Unification Church), Bhagwan-Osho, Transcendental Meditation, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and Universal Life, and continued to produce literature criticizing these groups.
According to the Pew Research Global Attitudes Survey released in October, 24 percent of respondents in the country expressed unfavorable opinions of Muslims, while 6 percent expressed unfavorable opinions of Jews.
In May the European Commission (EC) carried out a study in each EU member state on perceptions of discrimination and published the results in September. According to the findings, 43 percent of respondents believed discrimination on the basis of religion or belief was widespread in the country, while 52 percent said it was rare; 64 percent would be comfortable with having a person of different religious belief than the majority of the population occupy the highest elected political position in the country. In addition, 87 percent said they would be comfortable working closely with a Christian, and 79 percent said they would be with an atheist, 77 percent with a Jew, 74 percent with a Buddhist, and 68 percent with a Muslim. Asked how they would feel if a child were in a “love relationship” with an individual belonging to various groups, 85 percent said they would be comfortable if the partner were Christian, 73 percent if atheist, 71 percent if Jewish, 66 percent if Buddhist, and 51 percent if Muslim.
In January the EC published a Special Eurobarometer survey of perceptions of anti-Semitism based on interviews it conducted in December 2018 in each EU-member state. According to the survey, 66 percent of residents believed anti-Semitism was a problem in the country, and 61 percent believed it had increased over the previous five years. The percentage who believed that anti-Semitism was a problem in nine different categories was as follows: Holocaust denial, 71 percent; on the internet, 67 percent; anti-Semitic graffiti or vandalism, 62 percent; expression of hostility or threats against Jews in public places, 64 percent; desecration of Jewish cemeteries, 63 percent; physical attacks against Jews, 64 percent; anti-Semitism in schools and universities, 48 percent; anti-Semitism in political life, 50 percent; and anti-Semitism in the media, 43 percent.
In November the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) released the results of a survey on anti-Semitic views of the country’s residents. The survey cited stereotypical statements about Jews and asked respondents whether they believed such statements were “probably true” or “probably false.” The proportion agreeing that various statements were “probably true” was: 49 percent that Jews are more loyal to Israel than to Germany; 27 percent that Jews have too much power in the business world; and 42 percent that Jews talk too much about the Holocaust.
In July a study by the Bertelsmann Foundation found many Germans had negative perceptions of Islam. The study found respondents believed Islam’s beliefs and stance toward other religions could be harmful to democracy in the long run. Half of the interviewees perceived Islam as a threat. This sentiment was stronger in the east, where 30 percent of respondents said they did not want Muslims as neighbors, compared with 16 percent who expressed the same preference in western German states.
According to media reports, women who wore the hijab continued to face employment discrimination.
In September a research project at the University Duisburg-Essen published results from a survey of students on anti-Muslim sentiment and its causes among youth. The survey indicated young persons with no interaction with Muslims who drew their knowledge about them from social media were likely to develop stereotypical and negative views of Muslims. Students who interacted with Muslim peers were more critical of negative media reports and had lower levels of anti-Muslim sentiment.
The far-right group Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the Occident (PEGIDA) continued to organize weekly demonstrations in Dresden, although media reports indicated significantly fewer demonstrators than in previous years. There were approximately 3,000 PEGIDA marchers on October 20 for the fifth anniversary of the group’s first demonstration, but they were outnumbered by the more than 5,000 counterdemonstrators. Amid calls to curb immigration, PEGIDA supporters regularly expressed anti-Muslim sentiments during the rallies, including by carrying posters expressing opposition to women who wear religious head coverings. In May the public prosecutor’s office in Saxony State reported it had initiated 198 preliminary proceedings against speakers and supporters of PEGIDA between 2014 and 2018; the most frequent crimes were assault and battery and the display of symbols of unconstitutional organizations.
In October the Dresden City Council declared a Nazi emergency. Local politician Max Aschenbach initiated the measure in response to rising levels of right-wing extremist attitudes and actions, saying, “Politics must finally begin to ostracize that and say: No, that’s unacceptable.” The resolution called on the city and civil society organizations to strengthen a democratic culture, protect minority and human rights, and help the victims of right-wing violence.
An estimated 23 churches continued to use bells with Nazi symbols and inscriptions. One person filed a criminal complaint on February 2, accusing a Protestant church in Thuringia State of violating a ban on the use of Nazi symbols by using six bells with Nazi symbols in five churches. The individual said he repeatedly asked the church to stop using the bells but was ignored. Thuringia’s Jewish community had complained about the six Nazi bells in January. A church spokesman told the KNA news agency that regional leaders had written to churches using the bells and organized a meeting in April to discuss the issue. In May the public prosecutor’s office in Erfurt, Thuringia State, declined to investigate the state bishop or the Protestant Church of Central Germany. The man who filed the February complaint appealed the public prosecutor’s decision, and the case was pending at year’s end.
In June approximately 1,200 participants marched in the annual al-Quds Day demonstration against Israel in Berlin, fewer than the 2,000 participants in 2018. Demonstrators called for the destruction of Israel and for Jerusalem to be returned to Muslims, and some displayed illegal signs or chanted prohibited slogans in support of the banned groups Hizballah or Hamas. Approximately 1,200 individuals took part in a counterdemonstration. Berlin Interior Senator Andreas Geisel said he regretted it was legally not possible to ban the demonstration. He advocated designating Hizballah a terrorist organization, which would enable him to ban future al-Quds Day marches.
In May the Hesse State OPC issued a warning about the “radicalization potential” of the group Realitaet Islam (Reality Islam). The OPC said the group rejected the country’s liberal democratic order and was striving for a theocracy.
Eighteen right-wing extremists, including members of the NPD and the far-right Wodans Erben Germanien (Odin’s Heirs Germania) group, marched past a refugee center in Nuremberg on the evening of February 23. Police identified the marchers and recorded their march, but after police departed, the demonstrators continued with lit torches to the former Nazi parade grounds in Nuremberg, an area used by Adolf Hitler for annual rallies from 1933 to 1938. The individuals filmed themselves and later released a video on the internet. Prosecutors were considering filing charges, according to Nuremberg mayor Ulrich Maly, who said, “This is an event that should alarm all of us across Germany and especially in Nuremberg – the fact that such symbols are used at places like this.” Police admitted they had failed to assess the group’s intentions correctly and preventive measures failed to keep the groups from using the “historically burdened” site to further their propaganda.
In April a militant neo-Nazi group distributed flyers at Goethe University in Frankfurt am Main. The flyers called for the killing of Muslims, imams, and rabbis and for “total civil war.” The group signed its flyers as “Atomwaffen (Atomic Weapons) Division Germany,” claiming ties to the U.S.-based network of the same name.
In August several soccer fans in Frankfurt hurled anti-Semitic insults at an Israeli referee during a Europa League qualifying match. The fans were escorted out of the match and at least one was banned from the stadium in the future.
In June politicians from the AfD were not invited to speak at the biannual German Protestant Church Assembly in Dortmund. High level representatives from other main political parties were invited. The AfD’s attendance at the event in 2017 led to protests. The AfD criticized the leadership of EKD for being biased.
In July two day care centers in Leipzig announced plans to remove all pork items from their lunch menus out of consideration for two Muslim children. The country’s largest newspaper Bild reported on the change, which subsequently became a trending topic on social media. The centers received anonymous death threats, and police provided them with additional protection. The director of the centers announced in July he would put the plans on hold.
In May a bloody pig’s head, plastic bags filled with blood, right-wing extremist slogans, and swastikas were found in front of the Arrahman Mosque in Moenchengladbach. Authorities investigated, but as of the end of the year had not filed any charges. The following weekend, approximately 260 protesters took part in a right-wing demonstration initiated by a representative of the “Alliance of Hooligans against Salafists” who was also a member of the Moenchengladbach City Council. A counterrally attracted approximately 325 marchers.
In July unidentified persons left excrement covered with pages torn from a Quran in the prayer room, as well as a torn and soiled Quran, in the mosque of the DITIB community in Minden, NRW State. Before the incident, the prayer room had been freely accessible to the public, but was since kept closed. A police investigation was ongoing at the end of the year.
In July the DITIB mosque in Duisburg, NRW State, received a bomb threat by email signed by the violent right-wing extremist network Combat 18. The mosque was evacuated and searched, but no explosives were found. In September the mosque received a second bomb threat. A police investigation was ongoing at year’s end.
In July the DITIB Central Mosque in Cologne received a bomb threat by email signed by “Volksfront,” which authorities believed to be an extreme right-wing organization that originated in the United States. The mosque complex, the largest in the country, was evacuated and searched, but no explosives were found. At year’s end, authorities continued to investigate.
In March Diakonie and a local organization of Muslims in Duesseldorf launched a joint project to introduce Islamic customs to preschool children as a contribution to early childhood education. As part of the program, a Protestant pastor and an imam would visit the day care center together to promote religious tolerance. Before the first event in April, Diakonie received threats and hate mail, including allegations the imam might hold radical views. The imam rejected the charge, and both Diakonie and the local Jewish community supported him. The preschool program was held as planned.
In May the Duisburg-based association “Jungs e.V.,” a group of young Muslims engaged in combatting anti-Semitism, received the inaugural Mevluede Genc Medal from the NRW state government. The state established the award in 2018 to recognize special services towards promoting tolerance, reconciliation between cultures, and the peaceful coexistence of religions.
In April the association Sekten-Info (Sect Info) NRW, a counseling service providing information about new religious and ideological communities, publicly warned against the Korean Shinchonji Bible movement, whose adherents were reportedly using psychological pressure and social isolation to recruit new members, especially near the university in Essen. The movement counted approximately 200 active members in the greater Ruhr region.
Volkswagen announced in June it would fund an ADL office in Berlin because of the rise of extremism, especially anti-Semitism, in Europe. At year’s end, the office had not yet opened, but ADL recognized Volkswagen for its “generous gift.”
In August, according to media reports, the Yezidi community inaugurated its first temple and cemetery in the country, in Augsburg.
Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement
The U.S. embassy and the five consulates continued to engage closely with authorities at all levels of government regarding responses to incidents of religious intolerance. The Ambassador and other embassy officials regularly met with Federal Commissioner for Jewish Life in Germany and the Fight Against Anti-Semitism Klein and the Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development’s Federal Commissioner for Global Freedom of Religion Markus Gruebel. The Ambassador and other embassy and consulate officials met regularly with a wide variety of federal and state parliamentarians to discuss religious freedom issues. Consulate officials in Frankfurt met with the commissioners for anti-Semitism in Baden-Wuerttemberg, Hessen, and Rhineland-Palatinate to express concern about anti-Semitism and discuss ways of ensuring anti-Semitic incidents were correctly recorded. Consulate officials in Duesseldorf met with the commissioner for anti-Semitism in NRW State to discuss cooperation possibilities.
In November the Secretary of State visited Halle Synagogue to pay his respects following a Yom Kippur 2019 attack on the community, and the Neue Synagogue in Berlin to commemorate the 81st anniversary of the Reichs Pogromnacht (previously known as Kristallnacht/Night of Broken Glass) attacks committed by the Nazi regime against Jewish institutions in 1938. At Halle, the Secretary said, “The world must work together against this threat and this vicious attack against religious freedom, and in particular, religious freedom of the Jewish people.”
In October the. Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism visited Frankfurt, Berlin, Halle, and Munich and met with a wide range of government officials, advocates, and representatives of the Jewish community to discuss how best to combat anti-Semitism. In Frankfurt he met law enforcement officials from four states, including 30 high-ranking officials from state-level Interior and Justice Ministries, including police officers, state prosecutors, judges, and state anti-Semitism commissioners. In Halle the special envoy visited the synagogue a gunman had attempted to attack earlier in the month. In Munich he attended the International Meeting of Special Envoys & Coordinators Combating Anti-Semitism organized by the World Jewish Congress. The Ambassador hosted an event for the special envoy in Berlin, which was attended by law enforcement officials, politicians, Jewish NGOs, and other representatives of the Jewish community.
Embassy and consulate general representatives met with members and leaders of numerous local and national religious and civil society groups about their concerns related to tolerance and freedom of religion. Topics of discussion with Jewish groups included concerns about what they characterized as the growing acceptability of anti-Semitism through the country’s changing political landscape and concern that refugees and other migrants might be bringing concepts of anti-Semitism into the country. Embassy and consulate general representatives also discussed issues pertaining to religious freedom and tolerance with the Catholic, Evangelical, and other Protestant churches; COS; Central Council of Muslims; Association of Islamic Cultural Centers; the Central Council of Jews in Germany; Coordination Council of Muslims in Germany; the World Uyghur Congress; Alevi Muslims; Jehovah’s Witnesses; and human rights NGOs.
The Ambassador met frequently with NGOs and Jewish leaders to discuss how to combat rising anti-Semitism. In March he hosted a roundtable in Frankfurt with local community leaders, government officials, and civil society members engaged in the fight against anti-Semitism. The discussion centered on youth engagement strategies and effective educational programs, accurately recording and quantifying the rise of anti-Semitic incidents, and the need for stricter laws to deter anti-Semitic incidents.
In April the Ambassador attended a memorial service on the 74th anniversary of the liberation of the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. In May the Ambassador took issue with federal Anti-Semitism Commissioner Klein’s public statement that Jews should be wary of wearing kippahs at all times and in all places because of rising anti-Semitism in the country, writing on Twitter, “Wear your kippa. Wear your friend’s kippa. Borrow a kippa and wear it for our Jewish neighbors.” The Ambassador also spoke at a counterdemonstration to Berlin’s annual al-Quds Day march in June, where he countered the anti-Semitic messaging of the event and called for the ban of Hezbollah in the country. In September he hosted a dinner in honor of the Middle East Peace Forum, during which participants discussed how to combat the BDS movement.
In March the Ambassador met with two members of the Kurdish community to discuss secular Islam, anti-Semitism, and extremism. He met with representatives of the Jehovah’s Witnesses community in July to discuss the difficulties Russian Jehovah’s Witnesses encountered trying to obtain asylum in the country and the increased harassment they faced.
In January, as part of the embassy’s broader engagement for International Holocaust Remembrance Day, a high-level embassy official held a roundtable with the director of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum and representatives from NGOs and the government engaged in promoting religious tolerance and combating anti-Semitism. The discussion focused on Holocaust education, integration, and religious freedom. A senior embassy official also met with her Israeli counterpart in September to discuss ways to counter anti-Semitism in the country.
The embassy and consulates worked closely with Jewish communities, especially in eastern Germany, to provide small grants in support of programs promoting religious tolerance to leading NGOs countering violent extremism, anti-Semitism, and xenophobia.
In May Embassy Berlin and Consulate Duesseldorf staff visited the Alevitische Gemeinde Deutschland e.V. (Alevi Community Germany) and the VIKZ Verband der Islamischen Kulturzentren (Association of Islamic Cultural Centers) to discuss issues of concern to those religious communities. They also met with the managing director of the Jewish Synagogue Community Cologne and with a Muslim contact to discuss religious freedom.
In August staff from the embassy and the consulate in Duesseldorf met with the chief administrator of the Jewish Community in Duesseldorf and with staff of SABRA, a Duesseldorf-based NGO for antidiscrimination engagement and counseling against racism and anti-Semitism. The discussion focused on the experience of the Jewish community in Duesseldorf and on countering anti-Semitism.
In October officers from the consulate general in Frankfurt met with police and justice ministry officials from Rhineland-Palatinate, Hesse, Saarland, and Baden-Wuerttemberg States on combating anti-Semitism. Many of the participants commended the event for offering a neutral space to discuss best practices and challenges and requested the consulate to host it on a regular basis.
In November embassy officials met with the imam of a mosque that included a prayer space not segregated by gender and open to LGBTI worshippers. They discussed possibilities for future cooperation and support.
The embassy sponsored a 10-day visitor program for a group of 16 youth leaders from the Berlin-based Kreuzberg Initiative Against Anti-Semitism to travel to Washington, D.C., Birmingham, and Dallas in February-March. The program focused on countering intolerance through the lens of effective anti-Semitism programs. The Ambassador attended the briefing and debriefing sessions at the embassy.
The embassy and consulates actively promoted religious freedom and tolerance through their social media channels, utilizing Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram to highlight the engagement of the Ambassador and other senior embassy officials on this issue. For example, following the October attack on the synagogue in Halle, the embassy published a statement condemning it as an attack on religious freedom and tolerance on its social media accounts. The postings received high levels of engagement.
The constitution stipulates everyone is free to choose his or her faith. It makes the state responsible for “protecting the religious…interests of the People” and establishes Roman Catholicism as the state religion. It stipulates other religions may practice their faith within the bounds of morality and public order. There are criminal penalties for public incitement to hatred towards a religious group, religious discrimination, or “debasement” of any religion. The state-subsidized, nonprofit Liechtenstein Institute said Muslims remained unable to obtain local authorities’ permission to establish their own cemetery or build a mosque, and the Islamic Community of Liechtenstein was unable to establish a prayer room. On January 27, government officials held public film screenings and discussions on the Holocaust, and Minister for Home Affairs, Education, and Environment Dominique Hasler spoke on the importance of remembering and raising awareness of the Holocaust.
There was one Muslim prayer room in the country belonging to the Turkish Association. Religious groups in every municipality continued to open their chapels to other denominations and faiths upon request.
The U.S. Embassy in Bern, Switzerland, which is responsible for diplomatic relations with the country, continued to encourage the promotion of religious freedom in discussions with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA), focusing primarily on access to religious education, particularly by Muslims, and the establishment of religious infrastructure, such as a mosque or Muslim burial sites. Embassy staff discussed religious freedom issues, such as the extent of societal discrimination and the difficulties Muslims encountered in establishing religious infrastructure, with the Liechtenstein Friends of Yad Vashem, Liechtenstein Institute, and the Liechtenstein Human Rights Association.
Section I. Religious Demography
The U.S. government estimates the total population at 39,000 (midyear 2019 estimate). According to the 2015 census, religious group membership is as follows: 73.4 percent Roman Catholic, 6.3 percent Protestant Reformed, 5.9 percent Muslim, 1.2 percent Lutheran, 1.3 percent Christian Orthodox, 1.8 percent other religious groups, 7 percent no religious affiliation, and 3.3 percent unspecified.
According to the Liechtenstein Institute, the majority of Muslims are Sunni, predominantly immigrants and descendants of immigrants from Turkey, Kosovo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Macedonia. The Jewish community consists of approximately 30 individuals. Immigrants, who comprise approximately one-third of the country’s population, come mainly from Switzerland and Austria and belong predominantly to the same religious groups as native-born citizens.
Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom
The constitution states that all persons shall have the freedom to choose their faith and the state shall be responsible for ‘‘protecting the religious…interests of the People.” The constitution specifies Roman Catholicism is the state religion, which “shall enjoy full protection from the state.” The constitution stipulates other religions may practice their beliefs and hold religious services “within the bounds of morality and public order.”
Municipalities provide the Catholic Church with certain unique benefits that vary by municipality, including financial support and state maintenance of buildings and grounds owned by the Church.
There is no law requiring the registration of religious groups. Religious groups other than the Catholic Church may organize themselves as private associations, which enables registration in the commercial registry, and must do so to receive government funding for such activities as providing religious education in schools or executing projects to promote social integration of religious minorities, such as offering language courses for foreigners. To register in the commercial registry, the association must submit an official letter of application to the Office for Justice, including the organization’s name, purpose, board members, and head office location, as well as a memorandum of association based on local law, a trademark certification, and a copy of the organization’s statutes.
All religious groups are exempt from certain taxes. The government has not indicated how it determines whether groups not registered in the commercial registry are religious groups entitled to the tax exemptions.
The law prohibits the slaughter of animals without anesthetization, making the kosher and halal slaughter illegal. Importation of such meat is legal.
The criminal code prohibits any form of public incitement to hatred or discrimination against, or disparagement of, any religion or its adherents by spoken, written, visual, or electronic means. The criminal code also prohibits the denial, trivialization, and justification of genocide and other crimes against humanity by spoken, written, visual, or electronic means. Penalties may include a prison sentence of up to two years. The criminal code prohibits refusing service to a person or group of persons based on religious affiliation as well as membership in any association that aims to promote discrimination against a person or persons based on religious affiliation.
The law requires the inclusion of religious education in the primary and secondary public school curriculum. Catholic or Protestant Reformed religious education is compulsory in all primary schools. Parents may request exemptions for their children, without providing a reason, from the Office of Education. Children exempted from religious education or who are neither Catholic nor Protestant must attend a class called “Ethics and Religions.” The law also grants the Office of Education the right to organize and finance Islamic education as an elective in public primary schools. Catholic, Protestant Reformed, and Muslim groups provide the teachers for religious instruction, and the Office of Education pays for some or all of their salaries. The Catholic Church determines the Catholic curriculum, with minimal supervision from municipalities. Other religious groups registered as associations may provide teachers for optional religious classes if there is a demand for them and may apply for partial funding of the teachers’ salaries from the government’s integration budget.
At the secondary school level, parents and students may choose between a Catholic religious education course, which the government finances and the Catholic religious community organizes, and a general course in religion and culture taught from a sociological perspective.
To receive residency permits, foreign religious workers must have completed theological studies, command a basic level of German, belong to a “nationally known” religious group (the law does not define “nationally known”), and be sponsored by a resident clergy member of the same religious group.
The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
In August the Liechtenstein Institute said Muslims had still not been able to obtain permission from local authorities to establish an Islamic cemetery or build a mosque in the country. All religious groups, including Muslims, were allowed to bury their dead in cemeteries owned by municipalities. According to the institute, municipalities did not categorically oppose mosques, but there was little political will among citizens to address the issue.
The institute also stated the Islamic Community of Liechtenstein remained unable to establish a prayer room in the country. The institute reiterated that Muslims faced difficulties in finding suitable rental space for use as prayer room spaces due to societal skepticism and wariness towards Islam, a wariness which it said was also reflected in the reluctance of municipalities to issue a permit for an Islamic cemetery.
During the 2018-19 school year ending in July, public primary schools in six municipalities offered Islamic education twice each month to a total of 66 students between the ages of six and 12.
Public schools continued to include Holocaust education as part of their curriculum and held Holocaust discussion forums to mark International Holocaust Remembrance Day on January 27. In February senior high school students at the Liechtenstein Grammar School traveled to Dachau, Germany to learn about the history of the Holocaust.
In January three high schools, including the secondary school in Eschen, and the University of Liechtenstein hosted the Liechtenstein Friends of Yad Vashem’s exhibition “SHOAH. The Holocaust. How was it humanly possible?” Several schools also invited the honorary president of the Liechtenstein Friends of Yad Vashem, Evelyne Bermann, to speak with students about the Holocaust.
Funding for religious institutions continued to derive mainly from the municipalities. Municipalities provided Catholic and Protestant Reformed churches annual subsidies in proportion to membership. The MFA stated municipalities allocated funding for specific purposes, such as paying the rent for places of worship, and remained in regular contact with religious representatives regarding the funding.
According to the MFA, authorities in 2018 dropped criminal proceedings against persons suspected of violating the antidiscrimination law by spray-painting a swastika on an outdoor trash can. The MFA stated authorities concluded that, despite the implied support for Nazi ideology, painting the swastika did not amount to anti-Semitic activity.
The government immigration and passport office continued to issue residency permits to religious workers, valid for five years, instead of visas. Religious workers from Schengen member countries did not require permits or visas. The Turkish Association’s imam was not replaced after his 2018 departure – neither the government nor the Turkish Association indicated whether authorities denied a permit for a replacement or the association failed to apply for one.
On January 27, in honor of International Holocaust Remembrance Day, Minister for Home Affairs, Education, and Environment Hasler hosted government officials and the public at the Takino cinema in Schaan for film screenings and discussions on moral guilt, radicalization, the maintenance of historical records, and ways of dealing with the truth about the Holocaust. Parliament President Albert Frick and Liechtenstein Police Chief Jules Hoch attended the opening, which screened the 1924 silent movie “The City Without Jews.” In her speech, Hasler stated the “darkest chapter of humanity’s history” cannot be forgotten and emphasized the need for the government to continue its efforts to raise awareness of the Holocaust.
Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom
There were no mosques in the country; there was one Islamic prayer room, operated by the Turkish Association, in leased space in Triesen. The Islamic Community of Liechtenstein had a prayer room in the canton of St. Gallen in neighboring Switzerland.
According to the MFA, religious groups in every municipality continued to open their chapels to other denominations and faiths upon request, including to Orthodox and Islamic groups. For example, the Catholic Church of Schaan continued to make its church available to the Christian Orthodox community to hold an Orthodox Easter Sunday service.
Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement
Embassy staff continued to discuss religious freedom issues, focusing primarily on access to religious education by different religious groups, particularly the Muslim community, and the establishment of religious infrastructure, such as a mosque or Muslim burial sites, with the MFA’s specialist for human rights and international law.
Embassy staff also continued to discuss the effects of laws on religious practices and the extent of societal discrimination with the Liechtenstein Friends of Yad Vashem, the Liechtenstein Institute, and the government-supported Liechtenstein Human Rights Association, a consortium of nongovernmental organizations.
The constitution provides for freedom of religion, freedom of religious practice, and state recognition of religious organizations, provided they do not contradict the constitution or the law. The government extends special benefits to nine traditional religious groups and more limited benefits to four recognized religious groups. Religious groups must register with the government to gain legal status. Parliament did not approve the recognition application by the indigenous religious group Romuva, despite a favorable recommendation by the Ministry of Justice (MOJ), and again did not consider the recognition application from the United Methodist Church, pending since 2001. The MOJ did not provide a recommendation to parliament for the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ recognition application, pending since 2017. In October a court dismissed an appeal by a Jehovah’s Witness who, as a conscientious objector, refused any form of service under military authority. In March a local court dismissed a case against the Center for the Study of the Genocide and Resistance of the Residents of Lithuania brought by a U.S. citizen who sued the center for concluding that Jonas Noreika, an anti-Soviet partisan leader, did not participate in the mass killing of Jews in the country during World War II (WWII). In December the center issued a report stating that Noreika was actually an anti-Nazi resistance fighter who worked to save Jews from the ghetto; academics, Jewish groups, and NGOs criticized this report as factually unsupported (it cited a single source from the 1980s) and misleading. In July the Vilnius mayor removed a plaque honoring Noreika, but it was reinstalled subsequently without permission by the nationalist NGO Pro Patria. The government continued with plans to begin the conversion of a Soviet-era sports arena, which was built on top of a Jewish cemetery, into a conference center. A Lithuanian Jew residing in Israel petitioned to stop construction on the grounds that it would disturb human remains. On December 2, Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) Ambassador-at-Large for Jewish Issues Dainius Junevicius and Member of Parliament and chairman of the International Commission for the Evaluation of the Crimes of the Nazi and Soviet Occupation Regimes in Lithuania (International Commission) Emanuelis Zingeris attended a regional conference in Vilnius commemorating the 10th anniversary of the signing of the Terezin Declaration. On December 10, the MFA organized a session on the importance of religious freedom and belief during the country’s second annual human rights forum. Experts participating in the session included an MOJ official.
There were six recorded anti-Semitic acts of vandalism between September and November, including one on October 6 in Vilnius involving an unknown person spray-painting a swastika on the side of a building and leaving an apparent makeshift explosive near the entrance of that building. On November 13, three teenagers spray-painted the words “Heil Hitler” on a Kaunas synagogue’s information board. On November 17, three teenagers broke the windows of a mosque in Kaunas. In March some participants at a nationalist march in Vilnius of approximately 1,000 persons wore fascist symbols and carried banners of Lithuanian partisans who critics said were Nazi collaborators. Some participants at another nationalist march of 300 persons in February carried a banner with a picture of a WWII-era anti-Semite, Kazys Skirpa. Anonymous anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim internet postings in response to articles about Jewish or Muslim issues were common, but observers said media portals generally removed them when these postings were brought to their attention.
The Ambassador and other U.S. embassy officers met with government officials, including Prime Minister Saulius Skvernelis, ministers and vice ministers at the Ministries of Foreign Affairs and Culture, and the speaker and members of parliament (MPs). They also met with the International Commission and the head of the Lithuanian Jewish Community (LJC) to discuss ways to combat intolerance and anti-Semitism and to resolve compensation for Jewish private property seized during the Nazi and Soviet eras. In September the Special Envoy for Holocaust Issues released a statement on social media encouraging Lithuanians to review objectively the actions of historical anti-Soviet resistance fighters whose actions directly led to the persecution and mass killing of persons during the Holocaust. On October 27, the Charge d’Affaires attended the opening of a Holocaust education seminar for teachers and delivered remarks emphasizing the responsibility of teachers in educating youth about the country’s role in the Holocaust. On October 29, the Charge attended the unveiling of a memorial stone commemorating the individuals killed during the Holocaust in the forest near Zarasai on August 26, 1941. On December 2, the Charge and other embassy officers attended a regional conference in Vilnius commemorating the 10th anniversary of the signing of the Terezin Declaration.
Section I. Religious Demography
The U.S. government estimates the total population at 2.8 million (midyear 2019 estimate). According to the 2011 census, of the 90 percent of the population that responded to the question about religious affiliation, 86 percent are Roman Catholic, and 7 percent do not identify with any religious group. Religious groups that together constitute less than 5 percent of the population include Russian Orthodox, Old Believers, Lutherans, Reformed Evangelicals, Jews, Muslims, Greek Catholics, Karaite Jews, Jehovah’s Witnesses, members of the Full Gospel Word of Faith Movement, Pentecostals/Charismatics, Old Baltic faith communities, Baptists, Seventh-day Adventists, Methodists, and members of the New Apostolic Church and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
In the 2011 census, approximately 5,100 persons identified as followers of Romuva, a religion practiced in the country since before the introduction of Christianity. According to the census, the Jewish population is predominately concentrated in larger cities and is estimated at 3,050. The population of Karaite Jews, who traditionally live in Trakai and in the greater Vilnius region, is estimated at 250. The Sunni Muslim population numbers approximately 2,800, the majority of whom are Tatars, a community living primarily in Vilnius and Kaunas. The Muslim community also includes recent converts, migrants, refugees, and temporary workers from the Middle East and Africa, most of whom are Sunni Muslim.
Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom
The constitution stipulates there is no state religion and provides for the right of individuals to choose freely any religion or belief, to profess their religion and perform religious practices, individually or with others, in private or in public, and to practice and teach their beliefs. It states no one may compel another person (or be compelled) to choose or profess any religion or belief. The constitution allows limits on the freedom to profess and spread religious beliefs when necessary to protect health, safety, public order, or the fundamental rights and freedoms of others. It restricts freedom of expression if it incites religious hatred, violence, or discrimination. It stipulates religious belief may not serve as justification for failing to comply with laws.
Under the constitution, the government may temporarily restrict freedom of expression of religious belief during a period of martial law or a state of emergency.
The constitution acknowledges the freedom of parents or guardians to oversee the religious and moral education of their children without interference and stipulates public education shall be secular, although schools may provide religious instruction at the request of parents. The constitution grants recognition to traditional religious groups and provides for recognition of other religious groups if their teachings and practices do not conflict with law or public morals. It states the status of religious groups shall be established by agreement or law and recognized religious groups shall be free to carry out their activities as long as they are not in conflict with the constitution or laws.
The law requires the police to take preemptive measures against illegal activities, giving special attention to maintaining order on specific historical dates and certain religious or cultural holidays.
The law defines religious groups as (1) religious communities, (2) religious associations, which comprise at least two religious communities under common leadership, and (3) religious centers, which are higher governing bodies of religious associations.
The law recognizes as “traditional” those religious groups able to trace back their presence in the country at least 300 years. The law lists nine “traditional” religious groups: Roman Catholic, Greek Catholic, Evangelical Lutheran, Evangelical Reformed, Russian Orthodox, Old Believer, Jewish, Sunni Muslim, and Karaite Jewish. “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. Their highest-ranking leaders are eligible to apply for diplomatic passports, and they may provide chaplains for the military, social care institutions, hospitals, and prisons. The state provides social security and healthcare insurance contributions for clergy, religious workers, and members of monastic orders of the traditional religious groups. Traditional religious groups are also not required to pay social and health insurance taxes for clergy and most other religious workers and members of monastic orders.
Other religious groups and associations may apply to the MOJ for state recognition if they have legal entity status, meaning they have been officially registered in the country for at least 25 years. Parliament votes whether to grant state recognition status upon recommendation from the MOJ. The Evangelical Baptist Union of Lithuania, Seventh-day Adventist Church, Pentecostal Evangelical Belief Christian Union, and New Apostolic Church of Lithuania are the only state-recognized “nontraditional” religious groups registered in this manner.
Recognition entitles “nontraditional” religious groups to perform marriages that will be recognized by the state, similar to marriages officiated by traditional religious groups, and to provide religious instruction in public schools. Recognition also grants “nontraditional” religious groups eligibility for annual subsidies from the state budget and for certain social security and healthcare contributions by the state.
The MOJ handles official registration of religious communities, associations, and centers. Groups wishing to register must submit an application and supporting documentation to the MOJ, including bylaws describing their religious teachings and governance, minutes of the founding meeting, and a list of the founders, at least 15 of whom must be citizens. Upon approval of its application, a religious community, association, or center may register as a legal entity with the State Enterprise Center of Registers. Registration is voluntary for religious communities, associations, and centers affiliated with traditional religious groups and mandatory for nontraditional communities wishing to receive legal status.
Registration of “traditional” religious communities, associations, and centers is free of charge, while “nontraditional” communities pay a fee of 32 euros ($36). Traditional communities also have a simpler registration procedure and need to submit only an application, decisions of their governing body on the appointment of their leader, and their headquarters address. The MOJ may refuse to register a religious group if full data are not included in the application, the activities of the group violate human rights or public order, or a group with the same name has already registered. According to the Center of Registers, there are 1,121 traditional and 197 nontraditional religious communities, associations, and centers that are officially registered legal entities.
For all religious groups, official registration is a prerequisite for opening a bank account, owning property, and acting in a legal or official capacity as a community. The law allows all registered religious groups to own property for use as prayer houses, homes, and other functions, and permits construction of facilities necessary for religious activities. All registered groups are eligible for public funds from municipalities for cultural and social projects.
The country has compulsory military service for males between the ages of 19 and 26 and up to the age of 38 for those with higher education. The country has approximately 3,500 conscripts each year. Military service is for nine months. Clergy from registered groups are exempt from compulsory military service. In the event of a military conflict, clergy would be called to serve as chaplains. The Constitutional Court recognizes the right to conscientious objection on any grounds. The law provides an alternative to military service in civilian institutions unless the military deems it necessary to perform an alternative service in a national defense institution.
Unregistered communities have no legal status, but the constitution allows them to conduct worship services and seek new members.
The Interministerial Commission to Coordinate Activities of Governmental Institutions that Deal with Issues of Religious, Esoteric, and Spiritual Groups coordinates investigations of religious groups if there is a concern a group’s actions may be inconsistent with what the commission perceives to be “principles that stress respect for human freedom of expression and freedom of religion.”
The Journalist Ethics Inspectorate, a government-sponsored organization whose head is appointed by parliament, investigates complaints involving the violation of regulatory laws governing the provision of information to the public, including print media and the internet. These laws include prohibition of the publication of material that fuels religious hatred. The inspectorate may levy administrative fines on newspapers or refer cases to the Office of the General Prosecutor.
The Soviet Union nationalized all religious buildings on June 19, 1948, some of which continued to serve religious communities. On March 21, 1995, the national government passed a law on the restitution of religious property permitting registered religious communities to apply to the appropriate ministry or municipality for restitution or for compensation of religious property they owned before June 19, 1948. The deadline to apply for restitution of religious property was in 1997. The government continues to review cases from registered religious groups filed by the 1997 deadline but is not accepting any new claims. Religious groups may appeal ministry or municipality decisions in court. Unregistered religious groups could not apply for restitution.
In 2011 the national government adopted a law permitting registered religious groups to register previously nationalized religious property that was not officially registered under their name but which they owned before 1948 and continued to use during the Soviet period. The deadline for registered religious groups to register this property was in 2014. The government continues to review cases from registered religious groups filed by the 2014 deadline but is not accepting any new claims. Religious groups may appeal the MOJ’s decisions in court.
For individuals, the country’s private property restitution laws provided a mechanism through which the country’s citizens who had received citizenship before the restitution deadline (December 31, 2001) and resided in the country had the right to submit a claim for private property restitution. The laws excluded those who either lacked citizenship or regained it after 2001.
For Jewish-owned communal property nationalized under totalitarian regimes, a compensation fund was established in 2011 to support Jewish educational, religious, scientific, cultural, and healthcare projects with public benefits. Pursuant to the law, the government is committed to disbursing a total of 36 million euros ($40.45 million) over the decade ending March 1, 2023. Funds go to the Good Will Foundation, a public institution governed by national and international Jewish leaders.
The country has no law for the restitution of heirless private property.
The government allocates funds to traditional religious communities for refurbishing houses of prayer, restoring old cemeteries, and preserving cultural heritage sites. Each traditional religious group receives 3,075 euros ($3,500) every year as a base fund plus an additional amount that is calibrated according to the number of adherents in each community.
The constitution and other laws permit and fund religious instruction in public schools for traditional and state-recognized religious groups. Most religious instructors are regular state-employed teachers, but some are priests, seminarians, or monks. Parents must choose either religious instruction or secular ethics classes for their children but may not opt out of both offerings. Schools decide which of the traditional or state-recognized nontraditional religious groups will be represented in their curricula based on requests from parents of children up to the age 14, after which students present the requests themselves.
There are 30 private schools established by religious communities, 26 Catholic and four Jewish. Students of different religious groups may attend these schools. All accredited private schools (religious and nonreligious) receive funding from municipalities and the Ministry of Education and Science through a voucher system based on the number of pupils. Each private school receives 1,099 euros ($1,200) per student. Beginning with the 2017-18 school year, national minority schools, which include schools established by the Jewish community, receive 20 percent more – 1,318.80 euros ($1,500) – per student than other private schools. The per-student stipend covers only the program costs of school operation. Private school operators generally bear responsibility for covering capital outlays; however, per an agreement the government signed with the Holy See, the Ministry of Education and Science funds both the capital and operating costs of private Catholic schools.
The criminal code prohibits incitement of hatred and discrimination based on religion and stipulates fines or up to two years in prison for violations. The code penalizes interference with religious ceremonies of recognized religious groups, with community service, fines, or detention for up to 90 days. The law does not address interference with or incitement of hatred against unrecognized religious groups.
The Office of the Equal Opportunities (OEO) ombudsperson investigates complaints of discrimination, including those based on religion, directed against state institutions, educational institutions, employers, and product and service sellers and producers. Parliament appoints the ombudsperson for a period of five years. The office conducts independent investigations, publishes surveys and independent reports on discrimination, and provides conclusions and recommendations on any discrimination-related issues. The office also makes proposals to state and municipal institutions and government agencies concerning the improvement of legal acts and priorities of the implementation of equal rights policy. The OEO ombudsperson does not levy monetary penalties.
The parliamentary ombudsperson often works with the OEO ombudsperson but is a separate entity. The parliamentary ombudsperson examines the conduct of state authorities in serving the population. The law governing the parliamentary ombudsperson specifically includes religious discrimination within its purview. The OEO and parliamentary ombudsperson may investigate complaints, recommend changes in the law or draft legislation to parliamentary committees and ministries, and recommend cases to the Prosecutor General’s Office for pretrial investigation.
The criminal code prohibits public display of Soviet and Nazi symbols or national anthems. Violators are subject to fines of 144-289 euros ($160-$320).
The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
In March a local court dismissed a case against the state-funded Center for the Study of the Genocide and Resistance of the Residents of Lithuania, brought by a U.S. citizen who lost relatives in Holocaust-era killings attributed to Jonas Noreika, a Soviet-era partisan and Nazi collaborator who signed documents establishing a Jewish ghetto and confiscating Jewish property in Siauliai during WWII. The U.S. citizen sued the center for concluding that Noreika did not participate in the mass killing of Jews in Lithuania during the war. In December the center issued a report stating Noreika was an anti-Nazi resistance fighter who actively worked to rescue Jews during the Holocaust, based solely on the 1986 testimony of a Jesuit priest in a U.S. district court. The LJC and a number of prominent academics rejected this claim because it was based on a single witness whom they stated was of dubious credibility.
On July 27, Vilnius Mayor Remigijus Simasius removed a plaque honoring Noreika based on historical evidence that concluded Noreika was a Nazi collaborator. On July 30, President Gitanas Nauseda called for a moratorium on the removal of WWII-era monuments and proposed an initiative to provide municipalities with criteria to evaluate historic property.
In July the Vilnius City Council voted to rename a street, Skirpa Alley, previously named in honor of Kazys Skirpa, the leader of the Lithuanian Activist Front, a WWII anti-Soviet resistance group that was also found to have cooperated with the Nazis in the roundup of Lithuanian Jews. According to media reports, because of Skirpa’s anti-Semitism, the street was renamed Trispalves Aleja. On August 7, media reported that approximately 300 individuals gathered in central Vilnius to protest the city’s decision to rename Skirpa Alley. Attendees also protested the removal of the Noreika plaque.
On September 5, the nationalist NGO Pro Patria reinstalled the Noreika plaque without permission from the Vilnius municipality. Mayor Simasius told media the municipality would not remove the plaque again. On September 6, Foreign Minister Linas Linkevicius told media that glorifying figures like Noreika would harm the country’s international image.
On June 27, parliament voted 46 (31 opposed and 15 abstentions) to 40 against granting Romuva state-recognized religious association status, despite their receiving a positive recommendation from the MOJ in 2018. According to the Romuva, a member of the Conference of Lithuanian Bishops sent a letter to MPs advising them against granting state recognition to Romuva. The letter, which was subsequently made public, asserted that state recognition of Romuva as a religion would “unduly mislead Lithuanian citizens and discriminate against all other religious communities.” Some MPs told media the Romuva did not present a counterargument to the claims raised in the letter, and other MPs said they viewed Romuva as a cultural organization rather than a religious institution. The law stipulates that Romuva must wait 10 years before reapplying for recognition. Sources stated that the rejection of Romuva led other religious organizations to hesitate before advocating for their applications.
The MOJ was still reviewing the Jehovah’s Witnesses 2017 application for state-recognized religious association status at year’s end. The MOJ says it was conducting research to verify the application dates before recommending the group to parliament.
An application for religious association status by the United Methodist Church of Lithuania, which the MOJ submitted to parliament with a favorable recommendation in 2001, remained pending. According to the MOJ, it was incumbent on the United Methodist Church to advocate for its application in parliament, but the group had not done so. United Methodist Church minister Remigijus Matulaitis said an application rejection would devastate the morale of the Methodist community, and thus the group decided to wait until after parliamentary elections in 2020 to consider advocating for the proposal in parliament.
In April Yousef Yizhak, a Lithuanian Jew residing in Israel, petitioned a Lithuanian court to prevent the renovation of the Vilnius Sports Palace, located on the site of the Snipiskes Jewish Cemetery, stating the renovation into a conference center “would…disturb the human remains surrounding the Sports Palace, and [the remains] that the Soviets mixed into the Sports Palace’s building materials.” The government said the claim would not affect renovation plans until the court made a final decision, expected in 2020 or 2021. The LJC concurred with the government’s decision to continue with the renovations in the meantime. In April the government approved plans to create a permanent exhibition in the conference center devoted to the history of the Snipiskes Jewish Cemetery. On September 23, members of the Vilnius Jewish Community, one of 33 regional branches of the LJC, and visiting rabbis from abroad gathered in front of the Sports Palace with signs urging the government, “to stop these disgraceful plans for construction and allow the dead to rest.”
The government again disbursed 3.62 million euros ($4.07 million) to the Good Will Foundation, in accordance with its agreement with that institution.
The government said it was open to discussions with the LJC, World Jewish Restitution Organization (WJRO), and American Jewish Committee to find a mechanism to compensate the country’s Jewish citizens whose personal property was confiscated during the Nazi and Soviet eras.
The government provided 1.2 million euros ($1.35 million) to traditional religious groups to reconstruct religious buildings and to support other religious community activities. Of this total, it granted one million euros ($1.12 million) to the Roman Catholic Church (some of which was to assist with preparations for the visit of Pope Francis in September) and 61,100 euros ($68,700) to the Russian Orthodox community. The remaining 139,000 euros ($156,000) was divided among the Old Believer, Evangelical Lutheran, Evangelical Reformed, Sunni Muslim, Karaite and other Jewish, and Greek Catholic communities. These levels were all identical to the previous year’s funding.
The OEO ombudsperson received five complaints of discrimination based on religion. The OEO decided that three of these complaints fell outside its jurisdiction; the OEO considers only complaints based on protected categories such as ethnicity, religion, or gender. The fourth complaint was regarding the process to obtain a temporary residence permit. The fifth complaint was related to employment discrimination. The ombudsperson ruled that neither case constituted religious discrimination.
On September 19, the Office of the Parliamentary Ombudsman reported Muslim detainees at the Pabrade Foreigners’ Registration Center, a detention center for migrants and asylum seekers, complained about the lack of halal food options and poor sanitary conditions.
The government and civil society organizations continued to work together to promote Holocaust education and tolerance in schools. On January 27, the International Commission for the Evaluation of Crimes of the Nazi and Soviet Occupation Regimes in Lithuania (the International Commission) held an annual conference entitled “Stories of Jewish Kids” in honor of International Remembrance Day of Holocaust Victims. Students from schools across the country prepared theatrical performances and retold the stories of child victims of the Holocaust.
On July 24, the government approved the 2020 schedule of commemoration events in honor of Vilna Gaon, a prominent 18th century rabbi. In 2018 parliament unanimously dedicated 2020 to Gaon’s legacy and to the history of Lithuanian Jews. Vice Chancellor Deividas Matulionis told media these events would raise public awareness of the country’s “rich history, which is inseparable from the history of Lithuania’s Jews.” The government coordinated with the LJC and cultural institutions to schedule public lectures and design exhibitions to highlight the contributions of Lithuanian Jews and the country’s role in the Holocaust.
On September 23, the International Commission coordinated a student march to massacre sites around the country entitled “Memory Road.” The program included 165 schools traveling to more than 35 different Holocaust sites.
In October the International Commission cosponsored a Holocaust education teacher training with Yad Vashem, Israel’s official memorial to the victims of the Holocaust. The Kaunas Ninth Fort Museum coordinated a seminar for teachers entitled “Pages of Jewish History” and provided teachers with materials to use during classroom instruction. On October 27, the International Commission and the Vilna Gaon State Jewish Museum in partnership with the Olga Lengyel Institute sponsored a week-long Holocaust education seminar for teachers. The program included presentations, discussions, group work, videos, visits to Holocaust sites, and survivors’ testimonies.
On June 16, Mayor of Birzai Vytas Jareckas, the LJC, and foreign dignitaries attended the unveiling of a memorial stone. Attendees walked the historic path from the train station through the forest to a mass killing site. In opening remarks, Jareckas said, “This event taking place in Birzai will be an opportunity to remember and honor former residents of our country.” Government officials continued to participate in ceremonies to commemorate the Holocaust.
In July government and nongovernmental bodies organized events to mark the 75th anniversary of the liquidation of the Kaunas and Siauliai ghettos. On July 14, Mayor of Kaunas Visvaldas Matijosaitis, MPs, the Catholic Archbishop of Kaunas, the LJC, and foreign dignitaries attended commemoration events in Kaunas. On July 15, Mayor of Siauliai Arturas Visockas, MPs, the LJC, and foreign dignitaries attended two commemoration events in Siauliai. In opening remarks, Visockas recounted the stories of Jews from Siauliai who died during the Holocaust and emphasized the importance of remembering Jewish contributions to the development of the city.
On July 19, the Jurbarkas municipality, with support from the Good Will Foundation and foreign donors, erected a Holocaust memorial to commemorate the lives of Jews who lived in Jurbarkas. According to a press statement by Mayor of Jurbarkas Skirmantas Mockevicius, the memorial “is a wonderful creation, commemorating the city’s history and people who lived here as well as Jurbarkas residents who saved Jews during the war.”
President Nauseda’s address on September 20 during a state ceremony to honor families that helped save Jewish lives during the Holocaust condemned intolerance and any attempts to intimidate Jewish citizens.
On September 23, the anniversary of the liquidation of the Vilnius ghetto, Speaker of Parliament Viktoras Pranckietis, Minister of Culture Mindaugas Kvietkauskas, Vice Chancellor Matulionis, Mayor of Vilnius Simasius, MPs, foreign dignitaries, the LJC, and Lithuanian Jewish organizations from Israel and Poland attended a Holocaust Memorial Day ceremony at the Paneriai Memorial. Pranckietis in his remarks said, “Let this heavy, cruel, and inhumane burden of responsibility teach Lithuanians how to proceed today.” Also on September 23, in his remarks given near the site of the former Vilnius ghetto, Prime Minister Skvernelis stated, “Every effort must be taken to stamp out any manifestations of incitement to ethnic hatred or anti-Semitism in the modern, democratic state of Lithuania.”
On October 4, Mayor of Sakiai Edgaras Pilypaitis with the support of Rami Reznik, an Israeli with Lithuanian Jewish heritage, dedicated a memorial stone to mark the entrance of a previously unmarked Jewish cemetery in Pilviskiai. Mayor Pilypaitis and Reznik restored the old cemetery. Members from the municipality, the LJC, and Lithuanian Jews from Israel attended the commemoration event. In October Mayor of Zarasai Nikolajus Gusevas and the LJC unveiled a Holocaust memorial to commemorate the lives of Zarasai’s Jews lost during the Holocaust.
On December 2, MFA Ambassador-at-Large for Jewish Issues Dainius Junevicius and MP and chairman of the International Commission Emanuelis Zingeris attended a regional conference in Vilnius commemorating the 10th anniversary of the signing of the Terezin Declaration. The Good Will Foundation, in cooperation with WJRO and the International Commission, organized the conference. Experts from the United States, Israel, Germany, Poland, Latvia, Hungary, Moldova, and the Czech Republic shared best practices for restituting Holocaust-era assets.
On December 10, the MFA organized a session on the importance of religious freedom and belief during the country’s second annual human rights forum. Experts included MOJ official Donatas Glodenis; Vytautas Magnus University sociologist and Religious Studies Professor Milda Alisauskiene; a priestess from the Romuva religious community, Migle Valaitiene; and the director of Italy’s Center for Studies on New Religions, Massimo Introvigne. Forum participants discussed the Catholic Church’s intervention in parliament’s decision not to approve the application for recognition submitted by the Romuva community, despite a favorable recommendation by the MOJ. Professor Alisauskiene said parliament had only approved recognition applications from Christian organizations, and minority religions such as Romuva experienced discrimination as a result.
The government is a member of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance.
Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom
In May the European Commission carried out a study in each EU member state on perceptions of discrimination and published the results in September. According to the findings, 15 percent of respondents believed discrimination on the basis of religion or belief was widespread in Lithuania, while 73 percent said it was rare; 60 percent would be comfortable with having a person of a different religion than the majority of the population occupy the highest elected political position in the country. In addition, 95 percent said they would be comfortable working closely with a Christian, and 80 percent said they would be with an atheist, 79 percent with a Jew, 67 percent with a Buddhist, and 62 percent with a Muslim. Asked how they would feel if their child were in a “love relationship” with an individual belonging to various groups, 93 percent said they would be comfortable if the partner were Christian, 68 percent if atheist, 65 percent if Jewish, 50 percent if Buddhist, and 35 percent if Muslim.
In January the European Commission published a Special Eurobarometer survey of perceptions of anti-Semitism based on interviews it conducted in December 2018 in each EU member state. According to the survey, 75 percent of residents believed anti-Semitism was not a problem in Lithuania, and 63 percent believed it had stayed the same over the previous five years. The percentage who believed that anti-Semitism was a problem in nine different categories was as follows: Holocaust denial, 19 percent; on the internet, 21 percent; anti-Semitic graffiti or vandalism, 23 percent; expression of hostility or threats against Jews in public places, 15 percent; desecration of Jewish cemeteries, 30 percent; physical attacks against Jews, 17 percent; anti-Semitism in schools and universities, 13 percent; anti-Semitism in political life, 15 percent; and anti-Semitism in the media, 15 percent.
On November 13, three teenagers spray-painted the words “Heil Hitler” on the Kaunas synagogue’s information board. Police said they suspected the same teenagers broke the windows of a mosque in Kaunas on November 17. Police launched a pretrial investigation into both acts of vandalism on November 25 and detained an 18-year-old suspect on November 28. The Kaunas municipality removed the graffiti from the information board.
On October 6, media reported that a swastika and a homemade bomb were left outside of a building in Vilnius. Police removed the apparent bomb and launched an investigation.
On February 16, nationalists held a march in Vilnius to commemorate the anniversary of the restoration of the country’s independence, similar to previous years. The march attracted approximately 1,000 participants, an increase from 300 in the previous year, which some NGOs attributed to better organization and publicity. Some of the participants held torches and carried national Lithuanian flags. The march included a banner with a picture of, and a quote by, WWII-era anti-Semite Kazys Skirpa. Nationalists also organized a march in Vilnius on March 11, the country’s official Restoration of Independence Day, involving approximately 1,000 persons, similar to the previous year. According to media, some of the participants displayed fascist or neo-Nazi symbols, such as a skull-and-crossbones flag, and carried a banner with the images of Lithuanian partisans who were Nazi collaborators, such as Kazys Skirpa and Jonas Noreika.
Anonymous anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim comments on the internet were common, for example, on Lithuanian media portal Delfi. Examples of anti-Semitism in this forum included statements that Jews who collaborated with the KGB should be condemned by the LJC for “serving in the repressive Soviet structures and participating or otherwise contributing to the genocide of the Lithuanian nation.” Anti-Muslim examples included equating Muslim refugees entering the country with “a swarm of insects” and urging the government and citizens “to chase those [Muslim] refugees from Lithuania.” Media portals generally removed such comments promptly after becoming aware of them.
In the wake of the Noreika controversy, LJC Chairwoman Faina Kukliansky reported to media the LJC had received threatening calls and letters, and on August 6, she temporarily closed the local synagogue and the Jewish community’s headquarters. In response, Prime Minister Skvernelis condemned all examples of ethnic hatred and called on law enforcement to guarantee the security for every citizen and every community living in the country. Kukliansky reopened the synagogue and community center shortly thereafter.
On September 15, media reported an unidentified person created a large soil swastika near the LJC headquarters. The swastika appeared during the Festival of the Nations, an annual festival displaying the country’s national minority cultures. Prime Minister Skvernelis in a press release denounced it as an act of vandalism and warned that such activities tarnished the country’s image internationally. Foreign Minister Linkevicius condemned the act as “deplorable” and called for police to investigate. On September 16, police launched an investigation; no results were available at year’s end.
In October three more anti-Semitic acts of vandalism took place around the country. On October 5, media reported that an unknown person painted a swastika on a statue of Chaim Frenkel, a 19th century Jewish industrialist, in Siauliai. The Siauliai municipality removed the swastika. The following day, someone spray-painted a swastika on a street in Vilnius. On October 12, a group vandalized a mural representing Jewish cultural life in Vilnius with a swastika. The Vilnius municipality removed all of the swastikas.
Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement
The embassy continued to maintain regular dialogue with senior government officials on the importance of religious freedom. The Ambassador and other embassy representatives met with Prime Minister Skvernelis, Speaker of Parliament Pranckietis, presidential advisors, a vice chancellor, mayors, ministers and vice ministers of the Ministries of Foreign Affairs, Culture, and Education, and MPs and continued to engage them on ways to promote tolerance and integration of religious minorities, including Muslim refugees, into society and combat anti-Semitism. Embassy representatives urged the government to address the remaining issues regarding compensation for Jewish private property seized during the Nazi and Soviet eras. Embassy officials also discussed Holocaust education, remembrance, and property restitution at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and other government offices and with MPs.
The Ambassador and embassy representatives met regularly with the Jewish community to discuss issues of concern, including property restitution, preservation and restoration of heritage sites, combating intolerance, and Holocaust remembrance.
On February 25, the Ambassador met with Minister of Culture Kvietkauskas to discuss embassy programs related to Holocaust education and preservation of Jewish cultural sites.
On March 7, the Ambassador spoke with Vice Chancellor Matulionis about the Justice for Uncompensated Survivors Today (JUST) Act and the embassy’s outreach to government and nongovernmental agencies to discuss property restitution issues and Holocaust education. The Ambassador also spoke about the issues covered in the JUST report with Minister of Education, Science, and Sports Algirdas Monkevicius on March 18.
On May 9, the Ambassador accompanied an American Jewish Committee representative and LJC Chairwoman Kukliansky to meetings with Foreign Minister Linkevicius and Vice Chancellor Matulionis to discuss the removal of the Noreika plaque, the renovations of the Snipiskes Sports Palace, and private property restitution.
In June embassy officers attended the unveiling of the memorial stone in Birzai. On June 21, an embassy officer attended the unveiling of the YIVO plaque in Vilnius. On June 28, the Ambassador spoke with Foreign Minister Linkevicius about the importance of increasing societal tolerance for religious minorities, government visibility at annual Holocaust remembrance events, and support for Holocaust education and preserving Jewish cultural heritage sites.
On July 10, the Ambassador and Prime Minister Skvernelis discussed the necessity of government support for the Jewish community and continued cooperation and open discussions over the renovation of the Snipiskes Sports Palace. On July 14, a senior embassy official participated in a ceremony honoring the 75th Holocaust Memorial Day in Kaunas. The next day, embassy officials delivered remarks at the 75th Holocaust Memorial Day event in Siauliai, commenting on the importance of remembrance and Holocaust education. In July the embassy provided financial support for an expedition to discover a lost Jewish shtetl located beneath a lake. In his remarks at a July 16 reception announcing the results of the expedition, a senior embassy official highlighted the archaeological team’s contributions to the discovery and preservation of Jewish cultural heritage sites in the country.
In September the Special Envoy for Holocaust Issues released a series of tweets in response to the Noreika controversy encouraging Lithuanians to objectively review the actions of historical figures. The envoy advocated against honoring those whose actions directly led to the persecution and killing of Jews during the Holocaust. On September 23, the Charge d’Affaires participated in a ceremony at the Paneriai memorial in honor of Holocaust Memorial Day.
On October 27, the Charge attended the opening of a week-long Holocaust education seminar for teachers and delivered remarks emphasizing the role of teachers in educating the youth about the country’s role in the Holocaust. On October 29, the Charge travelled to Zarasai to attend the unveiling of a memorial stone commemorating the individuals killed in the forest on August 26, 1941. In his remarks, the Charge acknowledged the government’s efforts to preserve Jewish history and cultural heritage and to raise awareness of the country’s role in the Holocaust. On December 2, the Charge and other embassy officers attended the regional conference commemorating the 10th anniversary of the signing of the Terezin Declaration.
The constitution prohibits religious discrimination and protects the freedom of individuals to profess their religion or belief. It is a crime to engage in public speech inciting religious hatred. In August the government implemented a ban of face coverings in schools and some public spaces, but institutions involved with enforcing the law expressed reluctance to enforce the ban. In April the country’s highest administrative court ruled the government must finance and facilitate the establishment of an Islamic primary school in Westland after the city council there denied the school a permit. The national railway company began accepting applications for compensation to Jewish and other survivors, as well as close relatives of deceased persons, whom it had transported to transit camps ultimately leading to concentration camps during the Nazi occupation. In May the government allocated three million euros ($3.4 million) to combat anti-Semitism after the Jewish community requested greater government attention to the issue. Construction of the National Holocaust Monument in Amsterdam started on July 9, after the Amsterdam Administrative Court dismissed all objections to its development. Politicians from several parties made anti-Muslim or anti-Semitic statements during the year.
Government and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) reported hundreds of anti-Muslim and anti-Semitic incidents, involving nonlethal violence, threats, harassment, discrimination, hate speech, and vandalism. One NGO reported 182 anti-Semitic incidents during the year, compared with 135 in 2018. Police registered 275 anti-Semitic incidents in 2018, slightly less than in 2017, and 137 incidents against Muslims, a decline of 29 percent from 2017. There were two violent anti-Semitic incidents reported by NGOs involving homes of Jewish families. A study by the European Commission found 65 percent of respondents viewed anti-Semitism as a problem in the country. According to Report Islamophobia, 95 percent of the Muslims it surveyed said they had experienced an anti-Muslim incident in the previous five years. The Jewish community expressed worry about increasing anti-Semitism and said many members avoided attending Jewish events or wearing Jewish symbols or clothing in public. Monitoring organizations said there were increases in anti-Muslim hate speech online and protests near mosques, particularly by what they consider extremist groups, and that many instances of workplace discrimination against Muslims were directed at women wearing headscarves. In October an Amsterdam court sentenced an Afghan man, who stabbed two U.S. citizens in 2018 because of what he said were Dutch insults to Islam, to almost 27 years in prison.
The U.S. embassy and consulate general in Amsterdam emphasized the importance of support for all faiths and interfaith dialogue in formal meetings and informal conversations with government officials – including at the Ministries of Foreign Affairs, of Justice and Security, of Social Affairs and Employment, of Education, Culture, and Science, and of local governments – and with parliamentarians. Embassy and consulate general representatives discussed religious freedom issues with leaders of several different faith communities and a broad range of civil society. In April the Ambassador spoke about the history of religious tolerance in the United States and the relationship between the Christian communities of the United States and the Netherlands to a public television broadcaster. During the international Istanbul Process conference in November on combating religious intolerance, a senior Department of State official spoke on implementing measures to combat intolerance based on religion or belief.
Section I. Religious Demography
The U.S. government estimates the total population at 17.2 million (midyear 2019 estimate). In a 2017 survey of persons age 15 or older by Statistics Netherlands, an official source of government statistics, 51 percent of the population declared no church affiliation, 23.6 percent self-identified as Roman Catholic, 14.9 percent as Protestant (6.4 percent Reformed, 2.9 percent Calvinist, and 5.6 percent unspecified Protestant), 5.1 percent as Muslim, and 5.6 percent as “other,” including Hindu, Jewish, Buddhist, and Baha’i.
Most Muslims live in urban areas and are of Turkish, Moroccan, or Surinamese background. The Muslim population also includes recent immigrants and asylum seekers from other countries, including Iran, Iraq, Somalia, Syria, Afghanistan, Albania, and Bosnia and Herzegovina. While there are no official estimates, most Muslims are believed to be Sunni. The Liberal Jewish Community, the largest Jewish community in the country, estimates there are 40,000-50,000 Jews. A Statistics Netherlands study from 2015, the most recent available, estimates the number of Hindus at 10,000, of whom approximately 85 percent are of Surinamese descent and 10 percent of Indian descent. The Buddhist community has approximately 17,000 members, according to a 2007 report by the governmental Netherlands Institute for Social Research (SCP), the most recent estimate available.
Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom
The constitution prohibits discrimination on religious grounds and provides for the freedom of individuals to profess their religion or belief, individually or in community with others, without affecting their responsibilities under the law. The constitution allows the government to restrict the exercise of religious beliefs outside of buildings or enclosed spaces to protect health, ensure traffic safety, and prevent disorder.
The law makes it a crime to engage in public speech that incites religious hatred and provides a penalty of imprisonment for up to two years, a fine of up to 8,100 euros ($9,100), or both. To qualify as hate speech, statements must be directed at a group of persons; the law does not consider statements targeted at a philosophy or religion, such as “Islam” (as opposed to “Muslims”) as criminal hate speech.
The law does not require religious groups to register with the government. If the tax authorities determine a group meets specific criteria, they grant it exemptions from all taxes, including income, value-added, and property taxes. Under the tax law, to qualify for tax exemptions such groups must be “of a philosophical or religious nature,” contribute to the general welfare of society, and be nonprofit and nonviolent.
On August 1, the ban on full-face coverings – including ski masks, helmets, niqabs, and burqas – in schools, hospitals, public transportation, and government buildings – came into force. According to the law, authorities must first ask individuals violating the ban to remove the face covering or to leave the premises. Those refusing to comply may be fined 150 euros ($170).
The law permits employees to refuse to work on Sundays for religious reasons, but employers may deny employees such an exception depending on the nature of the work, such as employment in the health sector. Members of religious communities for whom the Sabbath is not Sunday may request similar exemptions.
The Council of State and the Netherlands Institute for Human Rights (NIHR) are responsible for reviewing complaints of religious discrimination. The Council of State is the highest administrative court in the country, and its rulings are binding. The NIHR serves as the government’s independent human rights watchdog, responsible for advising the government and monitoring and highlighting such issues, including those pertaining to religion. The NIHR hears complaints of religious discrimination, often involving labor disputes, and issues opinions that do not carry the force of law but with which the addressed parties tend to comply. If they do not comply with NIHR’s opinion, plaintiffs may take their case to a regular court.
Local governments appoint antidiscrimination boards that work independently under the auspices of the Ministry of the Interior and Kingdom Relations. These local boards provide information on how to report complaints and mediate disputes, including those pertaining to discrimination based on religion. Parties involved in disputes are not forced to accept mediation decisions of the local boards.
The government provides funding to religious schools, other religious educational institutions, and religious healthcare facilities. To qualify for funding, institutions must meet government educational standards as well as minimum class size and healthcare requirements. The constitution stipulates that standards required of religious or ideology-based (termed “special”) schools, financed either in part or fully by the government, shall be regulated by law with due regard for the freedom of these schools to provide education according to their religion or ideology.
The constitution stipulates public education shall pay due respect to the individual’s religion or belief. The law permits, but does not require, religious education in public schools. Teachers with special training to do so teach classes about a specific religion or its theology in some public schools, and enrollment in these classes is optional. All schools are required to familiarize students with the various religious movements in society, regardless of the school’s religious affiliation. Religion-based schools that are government funded are free to determine the content of their religious classes and make them mandatory, if the education inspectorate agrees that such education does not incite criminal offenses. Approximately 71 percent of government-funded schools have a religious, humanist, or philosophical basis. The Ministry of Education, Culture, and Science is responsible for setting national curriculum standards that all schools must comply with and for monitoring compliance.
The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
The August 1 implementation of the law banning full-face coverings – including niqabs and burqas – in schools, hospitals, public transportation, and government buildings generated societal debate. On August 9, a few dozen women wearing niqabs and other supporters demonstrated against the ban in The Hague. They argued the ban limited the individual freedom of women and isolated Muslim women who might be afraid to take their children to school or a hospital. Advocates of the ban insisted that the law be enforced, including one advocate, Party for Freedom (PVV) leader and Member of Parliament Geert Wilders, who described it as a prelude to a future ban on headscarves. Opponents of the law viewed it as largely symbolic, since the number of women wearing a niqab or burka in the country was very small, estimated by officials to be between 150 and 400. The Federation of Islamic Organizations, among others, urged authorities not to enforce the law.
The institutions involved in the ban expressed reluctance to enforce it, stating the ban should not interfere with their regular business. Hospitals stated they would never refuse care to a woman for wearing a niqab. Public transportation companies stated they were obliged to transport anyone with a valid ticket and objected to any interruption of their regular service. Police stated they would not prioritize responses if called about these types of incidents. Following the introduction of the ban, there were two incidents, one involving a bus in Stein, Limburg, on August 19, and the other a train at Rotterdam Central Station on September 16, in which women wearing niqabs refused to show their faces or to leave the vehicles. In both cases, the women eventually left the vehicles after police insisted on compliance with the law, and neither was fined. Activists posted video on Facebook showing the train conductor involved in one of the incidents, who became the target of threats.
After the ban came into force, the local Rotterdam-based Islamic political party NIDA offered to pay the fine on behalf of any woman cited for violating the face-covering ban, stating it viewed the ban as an infringement on religious freedom. The women’s rights organization Femmes for Freedom filed a complaint against NIDA, stating that NIDA was breaking the law by offering to pay the fine.
The Central Appeal Council, one of the highest administrative courts, ruled on several cases in February in which social welfare recipients refused employment and training based on religious belief. In one case, a Muslim man refused to shave off his beard, a requirement for wearing a safety hood in a specific training job. The council ruled that in this case the legal requirement of wearing the safety hood, which protected the employee, outweighed the individual’s right to freedom of religion.
During the campaign for March provincial council elections, PVV leader Wilders reiterated that his party’s primary objective was to promote the “de-Islamization of the Netherlands” through a series of measures, including closing all mosques and Islamic schools, banning the Quran, and shutting out all asylum seekers and immigrants from Muslim-majority countries. He used social media to disseminate his message. Wilders’ Twitter account contained hundreds of entries criticizing Islam. For example, on September 27, Wilders tweeted, “Islam is a sect of hatred and violence. Islam and freedom do not go together, anywhere. That is why all Islamic schools and mosques must be shut…” On April 22, he tweeted, “We need (inter)national laws to declare Islam a violent totalitarian ideology. We should not grant freedom to a doctrine that takes our freedom away from us.”
In May the Council of State – which reviews and issues advisory opinions on any legislation before it is considered in parliament – issued a negative opinion on a draft law Wilders proposed in 2018 that would close mosques and schools teaching Islamic ideology, ban the Quran and the wearing of a burqa or niqab in public, and levy substantial fines on violators. According to the council, the proposed legislation “seriously and unacceptably devalues the core elements of the democratic rule of law and violates the constitutional right of freedom of religion.” The council rejected Wilders’ assertion that Islam is “a totalitarian ideology of conquest” and stated the redefinition of a religion is illegal. Wilders stated he intended to proceed with the parliamentary review of his proposal; no other party supported the bill. Parliament had not scheduled a debate on the draft law by year’s end.
Wilders’ appeal at the Hague Appellate Court of his 2016 conviction for inciting discrimination and making insulting racial remarks about Moroccans at a 2014 rally continued at year’s end.
The Forum for Democracy Party did not support the PVV campaign for “de-Islamization” of the country and closure of all mosques, but party leader Thierry Baudet stated Islam posed a threat to society, opposed the construction of new mosques, objected to school visits to mosques, characterized submitting children to fasting during Ramadan as child abuse, and favored amending the constitutional right to freedom of education to preclude the foundation of Islamic schools.
On September 12, Minister of Social Affairs and Employment Wouter Koolmees and Minister for Legal Protection Sander Dekker wrote a letter to parliament based on findings from a task force the government created to advise and assist with what it described as problematic behavior within the Salafist community. The ministers stated Muslim communities were those most affected by “the problematic influence of these Salafist protagonists, as a result of which children turn their back on society,” and because others blamed the Muslim community as a whole for the problems of a small group. They added the government supported Islamic voices who spoke out against problematic behavior. Created in 2018, after a 2017 Ministry of Social Affairs report stating Salafist groups were growing and promoting intolerance, the task force worked with police, local authorities, and communities. A February 11 letter from Koolmees to parliament stated the government focused only on “criminal and/or problematic behavior from the perspective of the democratic rule of law within segments of the Salafist movement.”
Parliament continued to pressure the government to counter the foreign funding of Dutch mosques and Islamic institutions to stop the influence of Salafist and radical ideas. The government worked on legislation to make foreign financing transparent but stated it was reluctant to ban foreign financing altogether, considering potential diplomatic repercussions, erosion of national credibility on human rights and the rule of law, and possible negative repercussions to national NGOs active abroad. It also worked on legislation to ban financing of civil society organizations from “unfree” countries and to obtain more powers to ban entities whose activities violate public order, but it had not presented either piece of legislation to parliament as year’s end.
The press reported in September that 44 of the 52 Islamic primary schools used a sexual diversity textbook that states boys and girls should not look at each other or wear clothing of “the infidel,” and that “Allah despises homosexuality.” The Education Inspectorate saw no reason to intervene because the “basic values of the democratic rule of law are not violated.”
The Education Inspectorate reproached the Jewish Cheder primary school and the Islamic Cornelius Haga Lyceum for using inappropriate civics curricula based on their own interpretation of religious rules. Both schools received government funds that required them to adhere to a minimum state requirement on curriculum content. Authorities found problems with the Jewish Cheder primary school’s religious curriculum not including information on homosexuality and the school’s policy of separating boys and girls into different religious classes instead of holding mixed-gender classes. Authorities had no concerns with Islamic Cornelius Haga Lyceum’s curriculum but found problems with its management. Media also reported that most private afterschool Salafist classes taught their students a strict interpretation of Islam and to turn their back on Dutch society.
There was growing political pressure from various secular parties, including Labor Party and Democrats 66, to amend Article 23 of the constitution that guarantees freedom of education, to give the minister of education the power to intervene in order to prevent the foundation of schools supporting radical and undemocratic views. In response, Education Minister Arie Slob of the Christian Union (CU) party stated, “Parents must be able to choose a school that befits their education. It is wrong to assume that problems can be resolved by restricting the freedoms of a certain group.”
In July the city council of the predominantly Christian community of Westland denied a permit to start an Islamic primary school, even though the school met the criteria, according to Minister of Education, Culture, and Science Ingrid van Engelshoven. In April the Council of State ruled the Ministry of Education must facilitate and finance the new school over the objections of local authorities. There were continuing discussions between the Ministry of Education and the local government at year’s end.
On August 5, the national railway company Nederlandse Spoorwegen (NS) began accepting online applications for compensation to Jewish, Roma, and Sinti Holocaust victims whom NS transported to transit camps ultimately leading to concentration and extermination camps during World War II when the country was under Nazi occupation. The company said it would pay between 7,500 and 15,000 euros ($8,400-$16,900) to an estimated 500 Holocaust survivors and 5,000 widows and children. The application window was scheduled to remain open until August 5, 2020.
The government continued to state that it accepted the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of anti-Semitism but was not legally bound by it. In February the government reported the Ministry of Justice and Security shared the indicators from this definition with the police and prosecutor’s office so that they could take them into account when dealing with incidents of anti-Semitism.
In February the government presented the annual update of its National Action Plan Against Discrimination, which included specific measures to counter anti-Islamic sentiment and anti-Semitism. It stated the government must continue to implement existing measures vigorously. These included projects to train teachers to deal with discrimination issues including on the basis of religion, and leading figures from the Jewish and Muslim communities to serve as constructive societal leaders and encouragement of interfaith dialogue through the Building Bridges project, which establishes local networks of persons from different religious communities. The update tightened the instructions for the prosecutor’s office to facilitate prosecution of discriminatory expression, including religious, on social media. The government also appropriated nine million euros ($10.1 million) for the education work by museums and commemoration centers, the Anne Frank Foundation, and the National May 4 and 5 Committee to incorporate contemporary issues, such as combating anti-Semitism and discrimination, into education on World War II.
In May the cabinet appropriated three million euros ($3.4 million) to enhance existing efforts to combat anti-Semitism following an April paper by parliamentarians Gert-Jan Segers of the CU party and Dilan Yesilgoz of the People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD), which made concrete proposals to combat anti-Semitism and other calls for action. The paper proposed the following measures: improving mandatory education about the Holocaust and anti-Semitism, including the history of the Jewish community in the country; increasing support to teachers to raise these subjects in the classroom; creating a safe environment at school; reaching out to Jewish youth; focusing attention on the Holocaust, World War II, and freedom of religion in the mandatory integration courses for immigrants; providing structural security to Jewish institutes and synagogues; training police to recognize anti-Semitism; promoting policies to encourage victims to file complaints with police; pursuing zero tolerance with respect to anti-Semitism on the internet and during soccer matches; appointing a national anti-Semitism coordinator; and developing an action plan to combat anti-Semitism. Segers stated, “We have failed if we cannot offer a safe existence to the Jewish community…”
In January several political parties in Amsterdam presented a nine-point plan to combat anti-Semitism more effectively, including: stimulating improved education on the Holocaust and the history of Jews in the capital; fighting prejudice; requiring every student to visit Westerbork Camp (from which Jews and others were transported to concentration camps to the east); launching a campaign to encourage victims of anti-Semitic incidents to file complaints; and advocating the appointment of a local coordinator for combating anti-Semitism in Amsterdam. The city implemented these measures during the year.
The mayors and responsible aldermen in larger cities, such as Amsterdam, Rotterdam, and The Hague, again met with the Jewish community to discuss security issues and other topics of interest. These city governments continued to support a range of projects, such as educational programs to teach primary schoolchildren about the Holocaust and to counter prejudice about Jews. Amsterdam, with the largest Jewish population in the country, remained particularly active in such programming and sponsored visits of school children to the Westerbork Camp. On a March visit to the Westerbork Camp, State Secretary for Health, Welfare, and Sport Paul Blokhuis expressed his desire to make the discussion of anti-Semitism in the classroom mandatory. In May The Hague said it would finance school excursions to the Westerbork and Auschwitz concentration camps.
In May the NGO Center for Information and Documentation on Israel (CIDI) proposed several measures to combat anti-Semitism more effectively: improve education on the Holocaust and Jews; help teachers recognize and combat anti-Semitism; teach immigrants about the Holocaust, Jews, and democratic rule of law; identify anti-Semitic incidents more clearly; accelerate the reporting procedures for such incidents; encourage victims to report incidents; train policemen in handling anti-Semitism complaints; impose heavier penalties on anti-Semitism; make clearer agreements with the Royal Netherlands Soccer Association (KNVB) about halting matches after an anti-Semitic incident; and observe zero tolerance for criminal discrimination online, including anti-Semitism. The government began implementation of several of recommendations, while others remained pending.
CIDI organized a demonstration in front of the Dutch parliament on May 29 to support the wearing of the yarmulke, or kippah, after the German government’s anti-Semitism ombudsman warned Jews not to wear them in public because of the increasing likelihood of being attacked. During this demonstration Justice and Security Minister Ferdinand Grapperhaus and spokespersons of the main political parties expressed solidarity with the Jewish community and spoke out for a more vigorous approach to combat anti-Semitism.
Local governments, in consultation with the national government, continued to provide security to all Jewish institutions. Eddo Verdoner, chairman of the Central Jewish Council (CJO), said his organization worked closely with national and local authorities to provide security to Jewish institutions so that Jews could feel safe without withdrawing from society. The volunteer organization For Life and Welfare also provided private security to Jewish institutions and events.
Local governments continued to provide security to mosques and Islamic institutions as necessary, and local authorities worked with Islamic institutions on enhancing the security and resilience of mosques and other religious institutes, as well as their visitors. The national government continued to support this local approach and developed materials to assist religious institutes and local governments in implementation measures. The national government published a “Security of Religious Institutes” manual in consultation with the Muslim community, local governments, and police. Local and national authorities, the National Coordinator for Counterterrorism and Security (NCTV), and police consulted closely on security issues with representatives from religious communities.
In January Amsterdam Mayor Femke Halsema announced the city would provide more security to Islamic institutions based on threat assessments by local and national authorities. The city engaged in talks with Islamic institutions on maximizing security and adopted supplemental security measures, similar to those it adopted in previous years for Jewish institutions.
In response to the March attacks on mosques in New Zealand, Justice and Security Minister Grapperhaus informed parliament that authorities were closely monitoring threats, and the NCTV maintained close contacts with local authorities, which in turn consulted with mosques on increased security measures, including greater police presence but also increasing self-reliance of mosques to protect themselves by discussing best practices, including installing closed-circuit television cameras and monitoring who is entering the mosque. The NCTV also met with the Dutch Islamic Council, and local mayors visited mosques.
Several politicians and the CJO condemned the October 9 attack on a synagogue in Halle, Germany. “Sickening, cowardly, and terrible,” tweeted VVD parliamentarian Dilan Yesilgoz. The CJO asked if anti-Semitism was on the rise in Europe and wrote, “The CJO calls in the Netherlands for education and information. Only by knowing each other do we diminish mutual hatred…CJO calls on everyone not to be intimidated. Be yourself and live your culture without fear.”
On May 3, the CU and Reformed Calvinist parties and CIDI launched a petition calling on the European Commission to make combating anti-Semitism in Europe one of its priorities. They stated Jews continued to be targets of prejudice and hatred and synagogues and Jewish schools required protection. The petition also called for a more effective approach of anti-Semitism in Europe. Within a few weeks, more than 19,000 people had signed the petition, including several leading politicians from other parties.
The NIHR reported receiving 17 complaints of religious discrimination in 2018 – mostly in the workplace – compared with 13 in 2017 and issued opinions in nine cases. In one case, it judged that a primary school did not make a prohibited distinction on the grounds of religion when it refused to offer an internship to a woman who refused to shake hands with men. The NIHR stated the school policy on etiquette was consistent and objective. In another case, it judged that a Protestant school could elect not to hire a teacher wearing a headscarf because the school held a consistent and legitimate policy prohibiting clothing reflecting non-Christian religious beliefs based on the school’s Protestant values.
The Animal Rights Party introduced draft legislation to ban ritual slaughter of animals. In May the Council of State said the proposed legislation “constitutes a serious infringement on freedom of religion, violates the human rights of Jews and Muslims,” and should therefore not be introduced. The council stated that the interest of protecting animal welfare did not outweigh the freedom of religion. Animal Rights Party leader Marianne Thieme stated she would continue to seek parliamentary support for the ban. At year’s end, parliament had not scheduled a debate on the proposed legislation.
In June parliament adopted a nonbinding resolution calling for the deployment of specialized detectives to deal with complaints about anti-Semitic incidents or other incidents of discrimination. Parliamentarians of several parties, including Democrats 66, Labor Party, and Denk, stated they hoped the measure would encourage victims to file complaints. According to CIDI, those who reported an incident often believed police did not take them seriously, and in some cases this dissuaded them from filing a complaint.
Government and security officials met throughout the year with the Jewish community to discuss matters of concern, such as security, anti-Semitism, and ritual slaughter. The CJO; Netherlands-Jewish Congregation; Netherlands Alliance of Progressive Judaism; Contact Body for Jews, Christians, and Muslims; and CIDI attended such meetings.
In its most recent report covering the year, CIDI reported three anti-Semitic statements by politicians from the Denk Party and PVV. For example, the report cited multiple anti-Semitic comments on Facebook in response to a video posted by Denk party leader Tunahan Kuzu while visiting Palestinians in Hebron, such as “The Holocaust never happened, it was invented by Jews to snatch away land”; “Zionist Jews do the same as what Hitler did”; and “If Hitler had dealt with Jews properly, Palestine would be free today.” CIDI criticized Denk for failing to remove the comments.
Citing freedom of expression, authorities in Amsterdam declined to act against the weekly demonstration of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement at the Dam Square, despite the frequent use of anti-Semitic texts and Israeli flags covered in swastika and cockroach designs. CIDI appealed directly to the mayor to intervene after police did not respond to repeated complaints; the mayor’s office took no action.
Although authorities, the KNVB, soccer clubs, and the Anne Frank Foundation had multiple agreements in place to discourage anti-Semitic behavior at soccer matches, participants did not always carry out the terms of the agreements. For example, one agreement stipulated that if anti-Semitic chanting arose, clubs would ask fans to stop immediately and, if they did not, suspend the match; however, the matches were rarely suspended. In one example, on January 27, Feyenoord soccer club hooligans engaged in anti-Semitic chanting outside the stadium in Rotterdam ahead of the Feyenoord-Ajax match. Police intervened and arrested five supporters, who were fined 500 euros ($560) each. That same day, similar chanting occurred ahead of a match between Heerenveen and AZ Alkmaar. AZ Alkmaar developed a policy to discourage such chanting, which it said was becoming more effective.
The Anne Frank Foundation continued to organize government-sponsored and government-funded projects, such as the “Fan Coach” project that sought to counter anti-Semitic chanting by educating soccer fans on why their actions were anti-Semitic. Another foundation initiative, the “Fair Play” project, promoted discussion about countering discrimination, including religious discrimination among soccer fans.
In April several political parties and CIDI urged the state secretary for migration to deny a U.S.-based preacher entry to the country because of what they described as his offensive anti-Semitic and homophobic statements based on his own biblical interpretations. The preacher canceled the visit.
In January the government, most political parties, the Protestant Church Netherlands (PKN), and other groups protested the signing by approximately 250 Protestant ministers and others of the evangelical Christian Nashville Statement on the relationship between men and women, which rejected homosexuality and transgender identity. On behalf of the government, Education Minister Ingrid van Engelshoven said the statement showed “emancipation is far from over. This is a step back in time. We still have a long way to go.” PKN president Rene de Reuver characterized the Nashville statement as “theologically one-sided and pastorally irresponsible.”
The Central Body for Accommodating Asylum Seekers (COA) – the agency charged with overseeing asylum centers – said it prohibited religious activities in the centers to avoid inflaming tensions among different religious groups housed together in an already sensitive environment. COA continued to prohibit religiously affiliated organizations from proselytizing at asylum centers. It allowed the Consultation Body for Jews, Christians, and Muslims (OJCM), however, to organize pilot programs at two asylum centers discussing freedom of religion and the importance of nondiscrimination in Dutch society. The OJCM requested COA to allow it to organize such talks at all asylum centers.
The government continued to require asylum seekers seeking to obtain a residence permit to sign a statement of participation in civic integration. The statement informed immigrants of their rights and obligations and of fundamental values, including freedom of religion.
The government continued to require imams and other spiritual leaders recruited from abroad to complete a course on integrating into Dutch society before preaching in the country. This requirement did not apply to clergy from EU countries and those with association agreements with the EU, such as Turkey, whose Religious Affairs Directorate appoints approximately 140 Turkish imams to serve in the Netherlands. The government also sponsored leadership courses intended to facilitate imam training in Dutch.
After the Amsterdam Administrative Court dismissed all objections to its development on July 9, construction started on the National Holocaust Monument in Amsterdam, which is government and privately supported and will carry the names of all 102,000 Dutch victims of the Holocaust. Local residents said the monument was too large, the expected large numbers of visitors would become a nuisance, and the residents were not sufficiently consulted.
At the request of parliament, in July the cabinet appointed Jos Douma as the first Special Envoy for Freedom of Religion and Belief. Douma stated his goal was to promote tolerance: “The issue is that we protect people, whether they are believers or not.” The Democrats 66 party requested that the envoy also speak out vigorously on the rights of nonbelievers.
An investigation begun in 2018 into whether spokespersons for the Muslim NIDA and Unity parties broke the law with anti-Semitic statements in 2017 continued at year’s end.
According to Minister of Justice and Security Grapperhaus, the National Police continued to disregard an NIHR finding and continued with a policy of not allowing personnel to wear headscarves.
The government is a member of the IHRA.
Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom
There were reports of violence, threats, discrimination, verbal abuse, and vandalism against Jews and Muslims. Agencies collecting data on such incidents stated many occurrences went unreported. Because religion and ethnicity are often closely linked, it was difficult to categorize many incidents as being solely based on religious identity.
CIDI reported 182 anti-Semitic incidents during the year, compared with 135 in 2018. CIDI also reported 127 incidents of hate speech online during the year compared with 95 in 2018. These included two violent incidents, 59 incidents of intimidation, 32 incidents occurring during the course of daily life (such as at school and work or among neighbors), 14 incidents of vandalism, and 152 incidents of hate speech, including 127 online. On September 19, an unknown man stopped his car next to an individual recognizable as Jewish and expressed profanities and spit at his face before driving on – spitting in the face is a violent incident under Dutch law. On June 25, a person from Brabant reported she was called by her neighbors “a cancer Jew,” allegedly because she was incorrectly perceived as Jewish, although she is not. On April 26, a law enforcement officer in Rotterdam heard someone shouting at a subway station, “All Jews should be killed.” CIDI stated it believed the overall vulgarization in public discourse contributed to the higher number of incidents. CIDI stated the registered incidents were likely only a small fraction of all incidents and pointed to a 2018 study by the European Union’s Agency for Fundamental Rights, which found that only 25 percent of Dutch respondents who were victims of anti-Semitism in the previous five years had reported the incident or filed a complaint to police.
Police reported 275 anti-Semitic incidents in 2018 – compared with 284 in the previous year – constituting 8 percent of all discriminatory incidents registered by police. Most incidents occurred in the immediate living environment of those targeted, often involving insults from neighbors or anti-Semitic graffiti or written threats on walls, mailboxes, or personal property. Approximately 57 percent of anti-Semitic incidents involved the use of slurs. Persons frequently shouted at police officers, calling them “Jews.” Ten incidents were soccer related, including the chanting of “Hamas, Hamas, Jews to the gas.” Twenty-nine incidents concerned vandalism involving swastikas or anti-Semitic texts sprayed on property and, in one case, a Jewish monument.
The antidiscrimination boards received 48 reports of anti-Semitic incidents in 2018, 1 percent of all reports, compared with 67 reports of anti-Semitic events in 2017. Most concerned aggression against Jews, including slurs or disputes between neighbors, soccer-related incidents, or vandalism. The National Expertise Center for Discrimination, part of the prosecutor’s office dealing exclusively with cases of discrimination, reported that it processed 79 new cases of discrimination in 2018, of which 19 percent were related to anti-Semitism and 13 percent were related to anti-Muslim sentiment.
Police registered 137 incidents against Muslims in 2018 (the most recent year for which data was available) including harassment, verbal abuse, and vandalism, compared with 192 in 2017. Multiple incidents concerned harassment of women on the street because they were wearing a headscarf, as well as incidents involving anti-Muslim stickers and posters. For example, in one report an unknown man told a woman at a shopping mall “get lost to your own country. You are not allowed to walk around here with a headscarf.” The police also found stickers saying “Islamists not welcome. Identitarian Resistance.” A dozen incidents targeted mosques.
Antidiscrimination boards registered 200 anti-Muslim incidents in 2018 – compared with 192 in the previous year – half of which concerned experiences in the labor market and workplace, often involving women who were discriminated against for wearing a headscarf. For example, a Muslim woman participating in an internship at a healthcare facility was told her internship would be terminated if she did not remove her headscarf, in response to patient complaints. The woman was assigned a different internship.
CIDI categorized two incidents as violent during the year. In one incident, fireworks were thrown into the house of a Jewish family, which had been subjected to repeated anti-Semitic incidents by a group of unknown youth in the town of Hippolytushoef. The family had faced years of threats and harassment, being cursed, and having swastikas scratched in the family’s car. Numerous complaints were made to police, but the offenders were not identified. In 2014 a group of youth were fined and carried out community service for threatening and using profane language toward the family.
In a second case, on August 31, an unknown passenger of a party bus fired shots that smashed a window displaying a star of David. No one was injured. The inhabitant reported the incident to CIDI, then contacted police and the organizer of the party bus, but neither was able to track down the offender. The organizer apologized to the inhabitant and offered to pay for the damaged window.
A Jewish man, identified only as Joram, told local newspaper Algemeen Dagblad that a group of approximately 50 men pushed, shoved, and verbally accused him with anti-Semitic insults him in The Hague on May 5, the country’s national holiday of liberation from the Nazis. Joram stated he had asked the men to stop singing a song about gassing Jews. The men, wearing Feyenoord soccer club jerseys, then began pushing him. Joram told Algemeen Dagblad that he believed the men targeted him because he was wearing an Ajax cap, Feyenoord’s rival team, which is widely associated with Jews. He later told CIDI he did not believe the incident had anything to do with the soccer teams. After consulting CIDI, he reported the incident to police.
In April pro-Israel activist Michael Jacobs was involved in a physical altercation with a crowd of men near an anti-Israel rally in Amsterdam. The Times of Israel stated that 20 pro-Palestinian protesters confronted Jacobs by pushing and shoving him and shouting “Jew” and “Zionist” at him at the Dam Square while he was wearing an Israeli flag around his shoulders. In a separate incident in March, Jacobs filmed himself with a body camera standing alone at the Dam Square. An anti-Israel protester called two police officers who told Jacobs he was disturbing public order. According to the article, Jacobs had been arrested several times for ignoring police orders, which aim to uphold public order by keeping demonstrators apart, while demonstrating in favor of Israel at the Dam Square, “at times amid violence by the anti-Israel crowd and anti-Semitic hate speech.”
CIDI stated the large number of anti-Semitic incidents demonstrated that Jews were disproportionately targeted for discrimination, given the small number of Jews in the country. CIDI also said that persons who were recognizable as Jewish because of dress or outward appearance, for instance wearing a yarmulke, were sometimes targets of confrontations.
A Pew Research Center survey released in October found 28 percent of residents held an unfavorable opinion of Muslims, compared with 35 percent in 2016. The same survey found that 5 percent of persons had an unfavorable opinion of Jews.
In May the European Commission carried out a study in each EU member state on perceptions of discrimination and published the results in September. According to the findings, 50 percent of respondents believed discrimination on the basis of religion or belief was widespread in the Netherlands, while 47 percent said it was rare; 91 percent would be comfortable with having a person of different religion than the majority of the population occupy the highest elected political position in the country. In addition, 97 percent said they would be comfortable working closely with a Christian, and 96 percent said they would be with an atheist, 97 percent with a Jew, 96 percent with a Buddhist, and 94 percent with a Muslim. Asked how they would feel if their child were in a “love relationship” with an individual belonging to various groups, 93 percent said they would be comfortable if the partner were Christian, 88 percent if atheist, 91 percent if Jewish, 87 percent if Buddhist, and 79 percent if Muslim. The poll did not attempt to break out respondents by religion.
In November the Anti-Defamation League released the results of a survey on anti-Semitic views of the country’s residents. The survey cited stereotypical statements about Jews and asked respondents whether they believed such statements were “probably true” or “probably false.” The proportion agreeing that various statements were “probably true” was: 43 percent that Jews are more loyal to Israel than to the Netherlands; 20 percent that Jews have too much power in the business world; and 31 percent that Jews talk too much about the Holocaust.
In January the European Commission published a Special Eurobarometer survey of perceptions of anti-Semitism based on interviews conducted in December 2018 in each EU member state. According to the survey, 65 percent of respondents believed anti-Semitism as a problem in the Netherlands, and 55 percent believed that it had increased over the previous five years. The percentages who believed that anti-Semitism was a problem in nine different categories was as follows: Holocaust denial, 56 percent; on the internet, 66 percent; graffiti or vandalism, 65 percent; expressions of hostility or threats against Jews in public places, 61 percent; desecration of Jewish cemeteries, 51 percent; physical attacks against Jews, 50 percent; in schools and universities, 37 percent; in political life, 29 percent; and in the media, 40 percent.
An April poll among 800 readers of the NRC Handelsblad newspaper, including 163 Jewish respondents, found that anti-Semitism was on the rise. Of the Jewish respondents, 70 percent held that opinion, even if they did not experience it themselves, while 84 percent of the Jewish respondents were worried about increased anti-Semitism.
In May CJO Chairman Verdoner stated that, although there was no organized violence against Jews in the country, people tended to normalize anti-Semitism as they would stealing a bicycle. He called for a coalition of people and organizations, including representatives of various religions, schools, and online moderators, to stand up against anti-Semitism, “because if only Jews take offense, it is too late.” Jacques Grishaver, president of the Netherlands Auschwitz Committee, stated one could “hardly walk around Amsterdam with a kippah on.” Conversely, Ruben Vis, secretary general of the Netherlands Jewish Congregation, dismissed that as “nonsense,” stating that he went everywhere wearing his kippah.
The government-sponsored, editorially independent Registration Center for Discrimination on the Internet (MiND Nederland) registered 67 inflammatory statements made against Muslims on the internet in 2018, compared with 101 in 2017. According to MiND Nederland, the decrease was likely due to the low incidence of reporting rather than to an actual drop in prevalence. MiND Nederland also reported 145 instances of anti-Semitic rhetoric on the internet in 2018, 25 percent of all registered instances of discrimination, compared with 236 in 2017. It had no clear explanation for the decrease but cited a sharp decrease of reported discriminatory expressions on social media following government agreements with companies such as Facebook, Google, and Twitter to remove such statements.
CIDI described numerous instances of anti-Semitic rhetoric and other content on the internet. For example, Dutch preacher David Sorensen posted multiple anti-Semitic comments on social media, such as “Jews complain that they were persecuted by Hitler, but they are doing exactly the same to millions of Palestinians.” He also disseminated conspiracy theories about Jews, including one that the founding of Israel was a plot between Freemasons and the Rothschilds.
In January supporters of the Rotterdam-based Feyenoord soccer club chanted anti-Semitic slogans during a soccer match against Ajax, including, “My father was with the commandos, my mother with the SS, and together they burn Jews because Jews burn best.” Police intervened and arrested eight supporters, who were each fined 500 euros ($560). A week earlier, fans in Leeuwarden chanted anti-Semitic slogans ahead of a match between Heerenveen and AZ Alkmaar. In February supporters of ADO Den Haag sprayed anti-Semitic texts around Amsterdam ahead of a match against Ajax. Following public and political outcry, CIDI filed police complaints related to anti-Semitic actions during the January and February games, and investigations continued at year’s end.
On July 16, the prosecutor’s office in The Hague announced that it would prosecute an imam who stated those who are not Muslim, or who are Sunni, are pigs. The imam did not deny making the statement but claimed it was allowed on the grounds of religious freedom.
In June CIDI revealed that a rapper calling herself “Anne Frank” had a long history of anti-Semitic statements, such as “if Taylor Swift were Jewish, I would have gassed her personally.” She also denied that Anne Frank had been killed by the Nazis. Following a public outcry, the rapper dropped the name and apologized, stating that she meant no harm.
On September 26, national broadcasting organization BNNVARA apologized for a nighttime radio program in which the moderator had allowed a caller to express numerous anti-Semitic statements for eight minutes. CIDI director Hanna Luden expressed shock, saying, “Such a long phone call in which virtually every anti-Semitic prejudice was raised – it’s amazing that the moderator did not intervene.” CIDI received dozens of angry phone calls and messages and filed a complaint with police.
According to academic researcher on anti-Muslim sentiment Ineke van der Valk’s book Mikpunt Moskee (Target Mosque), Islam was growing in the country while other religions were increasingly restricted to the private domain due to secularization. At the same time, she wrote, there was a strong negative reaction to Islam and its increasing visibility in public life. According to van der Valk, Muslims were not united on how to deal with this situation. They declined to join forces with other groups facing discrimination, such as Jewish and LGBTI communities, as they rejected acknowledgement of such discrimination within their own ranks. In the book, Van der Valk observed that many Muslims perceived a hostile social climate and lack of acceptance and experienced exclusion and discrimination. She stated media and politics played important roles in the negative representation of Muslims and Islam. According to the book, construction of some new mosques faced delays due to protests despite compliance with all procedures and legal regulations, although most building plans were carried out.
Van der Valk also cited 26 acts of aggression, ranging from arson to threats, against mosques in 2018, adding that many incidents remained unreported. The General Intelligence and Security Service (AIVD) and NCTV stated in their annual reports that the threat against mosques came from both those with jihadist and extreme right ideologies. They reported an increase of anti-Islamic activity by the extreme right online, particularly in the use of more aggressive language. The AIVD and NCTV reports estimated the likelihood of violence by known extremist groups to be low but cited the risks posed by lone actors.
The Islamophobia Report in the Netherlands: National Report 2018, part of the European Islamophobia Report, stated that 95 percent of Muslims it surveyed said they had experienced at least one anti-Muslim incident in the previous five years.
Societal research released in January by SCP found that 48 percent of residents had a negative view of Muslims, while 21 percent supported closing all mosques.
On January 4, the Amsterdam District Court convicted three men for offending and inciting discrimination against homosexuals and fined them 500 euros ($560) each for distributing pamphlets in mailboxes in predominantly migrant neighborhoods in Amsterdam with quotations from the Bible, Torah, and Quran condemning homosexuality.
On October 14, the Amsterdam District Court convicted an Afghan man, Jawed Santani, of attempted murder with terrorist intent and sentenced him to 26 years and 8 months in prison and to pay 2.6 million euros ($2.9 million) in material and immaterial damages for stabbing two U.S. citizens at Amsterdam Central Station in 2018. The suspect told police he believed the Dutch had insulted the Prophet Muhammad, Islam, and the Quran.
Police also arrested Pakistani Junaid I. in August 2018 at The Hague Central Train Station. Junaid had traveled to The Hague with plans to attack Geert Wilders, reportedly because of Wilder’s plans, later cancelled, to hold a Muhammad cartoon competition. On November 18, the district court of The Hague found the suspect guilty of planning a terrorist attack and sentenced him to 10 years in prison. Wilders resumed the cartoon contest on December 28. The next day he announced an anonymous winner, who would receive the $10,000 prize, and posted the winning image to his Twitter feed.
In April a man placed several garbage bags at the front door of the Esdoornlaan mosque in Leeuwarden and set them on fire. On October 3, the District Court in Leeuwarden convicted the man of arson, sentencing him to 36 months in prison and ordering him to pay damages to the mosque. Following the incident, the mosque took additional security measures.
On May 1, The Hague District Court convicted a man for offending Jews and sentenced him to 120 hours of community service and a visit to Westerbork Camp for chanting, “Hamas, Hamas, Jews to the gas,” during a soccer game in 2017.
The Security Pact Against Discrimination – a movement established by Muslim, Jewish, and Christian organizations to combat anti-Semitism, anti-Muslim sentiment, and other forms of discrimination – organized events to promote mutual solidarity. The group’s membership included the Council of Churches, the representative body of main Christian churches in the country, and several NGOs, including the Turkish Islamic Cultural Federation, the Humanist Alliance, the Liberal Jewish Congregation of Amsterdam, the National Council of Moroccans, and the Platform to Stop Racism and Exclusion. The group’s events included a gathering following the mosque attacks in New Zealand in March and another meeting after the synagogue attack in Halle in October.
For Holocaust Remembrance Day, artist Daan Roosegaarde installed light-up stones across 150 municipalities. The display was installed in museums and public spaces, including the Groningen synagogue in the north.
In December 2018 SCP published a major study of Christians living in the country. The report found the percentage of residents who considered themselves Christian dropped to 31 percent in 2018 from 43 percent in 2002. Three-quarters of respondents reported that their view of organized churches did not align with their view of the meaning of life. SCP found that young church members are strong believers. According to the report, the approximately one million Christian immigrants in the country were often surprised and disappointed about the secular nature of Dutch society.
CIDI continued to conduct programs to counter prejudice against Jews and other minorities in schools, working with a network of teachers to improve education on the Holocaust. CIDI invited 25 teachers for an annual visit to the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem for a seminar on how to teach students about the Holocaust. More than 250 teachers had participated in the program since its inception. Upon their return, they become members of the World War II Education Platform, an organization providing information and lectures about World War II. CIDI regularly organized symposia and lectures for this platform. It also continued to lead anti-Semitism workshops for police and prosecutors at the police academy.
There were multiple initiatives to promote interfaith dialogue among Jews, Muslims, and Christians, initiated by NGOs such as OJCM and Belief in Living Together. For example, the Liberal Jewish Community of Amsterdam continued its youth outreach project entitled “Get to Know Your Neighbors,” which invited students into a synagogue to explain Jewish practices. The Mo&Moos (Mohammed and Moshe) program of the Amsterdam-based Salaam-Shalom NGO and Platform for Islamic Organizations in Rijnmond again brought together young Muslim and Jewish professionals. NGO INS Platform maintained a website where citizens could meet “ordinary” Muslims. In Amstelveen, Jewish and Muslim groups continued to meet with local authorities and political parties to discuss issues of safety, religion, education, and discrimination involving Jews and Muslims.
Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement
In conversations with officials from the Ministries of Foreign Affairs, of Justice and Security, of Social Affairs and Employment, and of Education, Culture, and Science, local governments, and with parliamentarians, staff from the U.S. embassy and consulate general in Amsterdam emphasized the importance of religious freedom and tolerance and discussed measures to safeguard religious freedom, ritual slaughter, and male circumcision.
The embassy and consulate general highlighted the need for religious tolerance and interfaith understanding and discussed issues of religious integration and violent extremism in outreach to youth, academics, and religious leaders from various backgrounds, including Muslims, Jews, Christians, Baha’i, and Falun Gong adherents, as well as community organizations such as CJO, CIDI, OJCM, the Transatlantic Christian Council, and the Anne Frank Foundation. Embassy representatives met with NGOs such as Amnesty International to discuss religious freedom issues and related factors, such as equal treatment from law enforcement and housing authorities. Embassy officials also met with members of the Iranian community in the country to discuss freedom of religion issues in asylum centers.
In January the Ambassador participated, on behalf of the United States as a member of the IHRA, in the annual Holocaust remembrance event, hosted by the Dutch Auschwitz Committee, in Amsterdam to show solidarity for the Jewish community and religious tolerance. In April the Ambassador toured the synagogue of the Liberal Jewish Community (LJG) of The Hague and discussed the opportunities and challenges of the congregation regarding expression of faith. In September a senior embassy representative discussed the history and role of the Jewish community in the country, as well as the importance of protection of the community against anti-Semitism, with CJO chairman Verdoner. The same representative then met with the rabbis and the chairman of the LJG of Amsterdam to discuss the importance of religious freedom and dialogue between the Jewish community and rest of society, as well as the promotion of Holocaust remembrance.
In an April interview with public broadcasting association Evangelische Omroep for a documentary on the U.S.-Dutch relationship, the Ambassador spoke about the history of religious tolerance in the United States and the relationship between the Christian communities of the United States and the Netherlands. The documentary was scheduled to be broadcast in the country in 2020.
In May the Ambassador attended the National Iftar Dinner in The Hague, also attended by the mayor of The Hague and more than 200 government officials, politicians, business leaders, and members of NGOs. The Ambassador discussed the importance of shared compassion, respect, and support for people of all faiths and backgrounds.
In October embassy officials visited the Al Hijra Islamic Center in Leiden and joined the mayor of Leiden and community leaders in a roundtable to discuss the opportunities and challenges facing the Muslim community regarding religious freedom, interfaith dialogue, and civic integration.
In September the embassy sponsored the participation of a representative of the Jewish community in a program in the United States focused on advancing interfaith relations.
On November 10, a senior embassy representative attended the Kristallnacht commemoration event hosted by CJO at the Portuguese Synagogue in Amsterdam. During the event, the representative engaged with other attendees on the importance of promoting religious freedom and tolerance in a pluralistic society.
Officials from the U.S. Department of State Office of International Religious Freedom attended the Istanbul Process in The Hague, hosted by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on November 18-19. A senior Department of State official spoke at a session attended by numerous international and local delegations and advocacy groups on implementing measures to combat intolerance based on religion or belief. During the visit, the same official met with Dutch religious leaders and religious freedom advocates to discuss ways to enhance religious freedom in the country.
The constitution provides for guarantees freedom of religion, prohibits discrimination based on religion, and permits only such limitations of those rights as necessary to maintain public order under the law. It states that while no religion shall have a “state character,” the government shall consider the religious beliefs of society and form cooperative relations with the Roman Catholic Church and other religious faiths. The government has a bilateral agreement with the Holy See that grants the Catholic Church additional benefits not available to three other groups with which the government has agreements: Protestants, Muslims, and Jews. Groups without agreements may register with the government and receive some benefits. Various politicians and civil society actors continued to criticize compulsory religious education, which is under the control of regional governments. The Ministry of Justice (MOJ) convened its annual interagency Religious Freedom Advisory Committee and agreed to draft a report focusing on religious freedom as it pertains to cemeteries, burials, the treatment of the body, and funeral rites. The committee delivered its recommendations to local and regional governments, urging greater attention to and awareness of religious diversity to ensure a dignified burial without religious discrimination, encouraging dialogue with religious faiths, and increasing training and awareness of personnel who operate funeral homes. Between January and September the government granted citizenship to 4,917 descendants of Jews expelled in 1492. Muslims, Jews, and especially Buddhists reported problems with cemetery access. Leaders of other religious groups objected to the fact that the state allowed citizens to allocate part of their taxes to the Catholic Church or its charities but not to other religious groups. The government continued its outreach to Muslims aimed at combating religious discrimination and promoting integration. The Federation of Evangelical Religious Entities (FEREDE) proposed the government create a hotline for victims of religious persecution and hate crimes. FEREDE also called for authorities to apply the criminal code pertaining to religiously motivated crimes more vigorously and stated public prosecutors and police remained unprepared to combat religious intolerance.
The nongovernmental organization (NGO) Observatory for Religious Freedom and Conscience (OLRC) reported 159 religiously motivated incidents – including three assaults – in the first nine months of the year, 18 more than in the same period in 2018. Of the 159 cases, 85 percent were against Christians. The Ministry of Interior (MOI) documented 69 hate crimes with religious motivations in 2018 (the most recent year for which statistics were available), compared with 103 in 2017. The General Prosecutor reported 744 judicial processes open during 2018 for hate crimes, most of them related to racism, xenophobia, ideology, sexual orientation and religious beliefs. In 2018, the MOJ reported 43 hospitals throughout the country denied treatment to Jehovah’s Witnesses who had refused to accept blood transfusions. Some Jehovah’s Witnesses stated that some media reporting on cases involving their members who refused blood transfusions on religious grounds contained inaccurate information, and that court rulings protected this right. Some Christians, Muslims, and Jews reported increased hostility against them in media.
U.S. embassy and consulate officials maintained regular communication with the MOJ’s Office of Religious Affairs, as well as with regional governments’ offices for religious affairs. Embassy and consulate officials met with religious leaders to commemorate various religious holidays and observances, and they exchanged information with participants in the governmental Pluralism and Coexistence Foundation (the Foundation). Topics discussed included anti-Semitic, anti-Muslim, and anticlerical sentiment, the failure of some regional governments to comply with legal requirements to treat religious groups equally, concerns about societal discrimination against religious minorities, access to religious education and cemeteries for religious groups, and pensions for clergy. In May a senior embassy official hosted an iftar for Muslim activists, government officials, and Arab diplomats at which he promoted religious tolerance, freedom of worship, and cultural understanding. In Barcelona, the consulate hosted a roundtable with Muslim community leaders and organized meetings with the regional and Barcelona Offices for Religious Affairs, as well as with the Barcelona hate crimes prosecutor.
Section I. Religious Demography
The U.S. government estimates the total population at 49.7 million (midyear 2019 estimate). According to a survey conducted in October 2018 by the governmental Center for Sociological Research, 66.2 percent of respondents identified themselves as Catholic and 2.8 percent as followers of other religious groups. In addition, 17.2 percent described themselves as “nonbelievers” and 11.2 percent as atheists; the remaining 2.6 percent did not answer the question.
The (Catholic) Episcopal Conference of Spain estimates there are 32.6 million Catholics. The Federation of Evangelical Religious Entities (FEREDE) estimates there are 1.7 million Protestants, 900,000 of whom are immigrants. The Union of Islamic Communities of Spain (UCIDE), the largest member organization of the Islamic Commission of Spain (CIE), estimates there are 1.9 million Muslims, representing approximately 4 percent of the total population. The Federation of Jewish Communities of Spain (FCJE) estimated in 2017 there were 45,000 Jews; the Episcopal Orthodox Assembly stated in 2014 there were 1.5 million Orthodox Christians; the Jehovah’s Witnesses report 188,000 members; the Federation of Buddhist Communities estimates there are 85,000 Buddhists; and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Church of Jesus Christ) cites 57,000 members. Other religious groups include Christian Scientists, other Christian groups, Baha’is (12,000 members), Scientologists (11,000 members), and Hindus. The autonomous communities of Catalonia, Andalusia, and Madrid and the autonomous cities of Ceuta and Melilla in North Africa contain the highest percentage of non-Christians, nearly 50 percent (mostly Muslims) in the latter two cities.
Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom
The constitution prohibits discrimination based on religion and provides for freedom of religion and worship for individuals and communities; it allows limits on expression if “necessary to maintain public order.” According to the Foundation, reasons would include overcrowding in small facilities or public spaces. The constitution states no one may be compelled to testify about his or her religion or beliefs. It also states, “No religion shall have a state character,” but “public authorities shall take into account the religious beliefs of Spanish society and consequently maintain appropriate cooperative relations with the Catholic Church and other denominations.” The Catholic Church is the only religious group explicitly mentioned in the constitution. Under the penal code, it is a crime to prevent or disrupt religious services or to offend, scorn or blaspheme religious beliefs, ceremonies, or practitioners.
A law restricts unauthorized public protest, but authorities have not enforced it or the constitutional limits on expression against religious groups.
The government does not require religious groups to register, but registering confers on religious groups certain legal benefits. Groups registered in the MOJ’s Registry of Religious Entities may buy, rent, and sell property, and may act as a legal entity in civil proceedings. Registration entails completing forms available on the MOJ’s website and providing notarized documentation of the foundational and operational statutes of the religious group, its legal representatives, territorial scope, religious purposes, and address. Any persons or groups have the right to practice their religion whether or not registered as a religious entity.
Registration with the MOJ, as well as notorio arraigo (“deeply rooted” or permanent) status, allows groups to establish bilateral cooperation agreements with the state. The government maintains a bilateral agreement with the Holy See, executed in part by the Episcopal Conference. It also has cooperation agreements with FEREDE, CIE, and FCJE. These agreements are legally binding and provide the religious groups with certain tax exemptions, the ability to buy and sell property, open a house of worship, and conduct other legal business; grant civil validity to the weddings they perform; and permit them to place teachers in schools and chaplains in hospitals, the military, and prisons. Groups with cooperation agreements are also eligible for independently administered government grants.
The agreement with the Holy See covers legal, educational, cultural, and economic affairs; religious observance by members of the armed forces; and the military service of clergy and members of religious orders. The later cooperative agreements with FEREDE, CIE, and FCJE cover the same issues.
Registered groups who wish to sign cooperative agreements with the state must acquire notorio arraigo status through the MOJ. To achieve this status, groups must have an unspecified “relevant” number of followers; a presence in the country for at least 30 years; and a “level of diffusion” the MOJ considers demonstrates a “social presence” but is not further defined. Groups must also submit documentation demonstrating the group is religious in nature to the MOJ’s Office of Religious Affairs, which maintains the Register of Religious Entities.
The Episcopal Conference of Spain deals with the government on behalf of the entire Catholic community. Per the state’s 1979 agreement with the Holy See, individual Catholic dioceses and parishes are not required to register with the government. The Jehovah’s Witnesses, Federation of Buddhist Communities (FCBE), Church of Jesus Christ, and Orthodox Church are registered religions with notorio arraigo status. New religious communities may register directly with the MOJ, or religious associations may register on their behalf.
If the MOJ considers an applicant for registration not to be a religious group, the latter may be included in the Register of Associations maintained by the MOI. Inclusion in the Register of Associations grants legal status but offers no other benefits. Registration itself simply lists the association and its history in the government’s database. Registration as an association is a precursor to requesting that the government deem the association to be of public benefit, which affords the same tax benefits as charities, including exemption from income tax and taxes on contributions. For such a classification, the association must be registered for two years and maintain a net positive fiscal balance.
The Foundation provides funding in support of activities that promote cultural, educational, and social integration among religious denominations that have a cooperation agreement with the state. It provides nonfinancial assistance to other religious groups to increase public awareness. The Foundation also promotes dialogue and rapprochement among religious groups and the integration of religion in society.
The government funds religious services within the prison system for Catholic and Muslim groups. Examples of religious services include Sunday Catholic Mass, Catholic confession, and Friday Islamic prayer. The cooperation agreements of FCJE and FEREDE with the government do not include this provision; these groups provide religious services in prisons but at their own expense. Other religious groups registered as religious entities with the MOJ may provide services at their own expense during visiting hours upon the request of prisoners.
The Regions of Madrid and Catalonia have agreements with several religious groups that have accords with the national government. These regional agreements permit activities such as providing religious assistance in hospitals and prisons under regional jurisdiction. The central government funds these services for prisons and the military, and the regional governments fund hospital services. According to the MOJ, these subnational agreements may not contradict the principles of the federal agreements, which take precedence.
The government guarantees religious workers of groups with cooperative agreements with the state access to refugee centers, known as foreign internment centers, so that these groups may provide direct assistance, at the groups’ expense, to their followers in the centers. According to the MOJ, other religious practitioners may enter the internment centers upon request.
Military rules and prior signed agreements allow religious military funerals and chaplain services for Catholics, Protestants, Jews, and Muslims, should the family of the deceased request it. Other religious groups may conduct religious funerals upon request.
The government recognizes marriages performed by all religious communities with notorio arraigo status. Members of religious groups without this status need to be married in a civil ceremony.
Religious groups must apply to local governments for a license to open a place of worship, as with other establishments intended for public use. Requirements for licenses vary from municipality to municipality. The MOJ states documentation required is usually the same as for other business establishments seeking to open a venue for public use and includes information such as architectural plans and maximum capacity. Religious groups must also inform the MOJ after opening new places of worship.
Local governments are obligated to consider requests for use of public land to open a place of worship. If a municipality decides to deny such a request after weighing factors such as availability and value added to the community, the city council must explain its decision to the requesting party.
As outlined in agreements with religious groups, the government provides funding for salaries for teachers of Catholic and, when at least 10 students request it, Protestant and Islamic religious education classes in public schools. The Jewish community is also eligible for government funding for Jewish instructors but has declined it. The courses are not mandatory. Those students who elect not to take religious education courses are required to take an alternative course covering general social, cultural, and religious themes. The development of curricula and the financing of teachers for religious education is the responsibility of the regional governments, with the exception of Andalusia, Aragon, the Canary Islands, Cantabria, and the two autonomous cities of Ceuta and Melilla, which leave the curricula and financing of education to the national government in accordance with their respective regional statutes.
Autonomous regions generally have the authority to develop the requirements for religious education instructors and certify their credentials, although some choose to defer to the national government. For example, prospective instructors must provide personal data, proof that the educational authority of the region where they are applying to work has never dismissed them, a degree as required by the region, and any other requirement as stipulated by the religious association to which they correspond. The religious associations are required to provide a list of approved instructors to the government. MOE-approved CIE guidelines stress “moderate Islam” in worship practices, with emphasis on plurality, understanding, religious tolerance, conflict resolution, and coexistence. CIE also requires instructors to have a certificate of training in Islamic education.
Catholic clergy may include time spent on missions abroad in calculations for social security and may claim retirement pension credit for a maximum of 38.5 years of service. Protestant clergy are eligible to receive social security benefits, including health insurance and a government-provided retirement pension with a maximum credit of 15 years of service, but pension eligibility requirements for these clergy are stricter than for Catholic clergy. Clergy of the Russian Orthodox Church, CIE, and Jehovah’s Witnesses are also eligible for social security benefits under the terms of separate social security agreements each of these groups negotiated with the state.
The penal code definition of hate crimes includes acts of “humiliation or disrespect” against victims because of their religion, with penalties of one to four years in prison. Anti-Semitism is distinguished as a hate crime. Those who do not profess any religion or belief are also protected under the penal code. By law, authorities may investigate and prosecute criminal offenses committed by neo-Nazi groups as “terrorist crimes.” Genocide denial is a crime if it incites violent attitudes, such as aggressive, threatening behavior or language.
The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
Government and religious groups cited the ongoing political impasse, with no officially functioning government for much of the year, as an impediment to progress on issues of religious freedom, along with many others. For example, the Ministry of Justice’s Religious Freedom Advisory Committee was unable to approve its 2018 annual report on religious freedom because of the lack of an official government.
On October 1, the enrollment period during which Sephardic Jews could apply for Spanish nationality ended after nearly four years. The FCJE Director said another extension was not possible, but applicants from countries such as Venezuela, with difficult documentation verification processes, would likely be granted a reprieve. According to the Ministry of Justice, during the four years the law was in force, 132,226 persons applied for citizenship. Most of the applicants originated from Mexico (20,000), Venezuela (14,600), and Colombia (13,600). By the end of September, nearly 26,000 applications had been processed, with 4,917 approvals for citizenship. The government received more than 50,000 new applications in the last month of enrollment. FCJE Director Carolina Aisen attributed the sharp rise in applications to deteriorating humanitarian situation in countries such as Venezuela. The Jewish community said burdensome financial and administrative requirements, such as the requirement to self-fund a trip to the country for the personal interview, reduced the response to the law. In March the Latin American Jewish Congress awarded King Felipe VI the Shalom Prize for “his invaluable work that led to the restoration of civic rights for the descendants of Sephardic Jews.”
In October the European Court of Human Rights agreed to hear a complaint lodged by the Spanish Association of Christian Lawyers against an artist whose 2015 photography exhibition featured the word “pederasty,” formed by consecrated communion wafers. The Association of Christian Lawyers filed a lawsuit against the artist, alleging he committed an “offense against religious sentiments and desecration,” which is illegal under the country’s blasphemy laws. A regional court in Pamplona had previously declined to hear the case, and the country’s Constitutional Court declared it to be inadmissible.
In July the Madrid autonomous community regional Ministry of Education determined that schools had the authority to regulate students’ attire, including the hijab. The ministry responded that although there was no “specific regulation on the use of the Islamic veil” in municipal schools or institutes, schools retained the right to “exercise their organizational autonomy” in regulating a dress code. The ministry cited judicial precedents in prohibiting hijabs, provided the policy “does not violate the dignity or constitute an interference in [students’] religious freedom…and is equally applicable to all students.”
In April the interagency Religious Freedom Advisory Committee agreed to change its annual reports from a general overview to one detailing specific issues of concern. Whereas in past years the committee had reviewed the overall state of religious freedom, noted issues of concern, and approved the MOJ’s annual report on religious freedom, for 2019, it agreed to produce a report focusing on religious freedom in cemeteries, burials, the treatment of the body, and funeral rites. Committee members reported that burials and related issues generated significant complications for religious groups and were a major topic of interest to address with the government. The committee gathered input from religious groups via a questionnaire and presented the report and recommendations to the government in December. The proposals, addressed to both local and regional governments, urge greater attention to and awareness of religious diversity in order to ensure dignified burial without religious discrimination, encourage dialogue with religious faiths, and enhance the training and sensitivity of personnel who operate funeral homes. According to the MoJ, the committee’s objective in future sessions is to make concrete suggestions to the government that would be translated into regulations.
FCJE Director Aisen said the cemetery debate was a priority for several religious groups, but not a leading concern for her organization. She said FCJE was mainly concerned with the preservation of existing Jewish cemeteries and had not experienced problems negotiating with autonomous community governments for the use of parts of civil cemeteries. She noted, however, the committee’s report could help with future requests to open cemeteries.
In June the Islamic Community of Extremadura in the western part of the country signed an agreement with the autonomous government to open new plots for Islamic burials. A member of the Badajoz municipal government of the Vox political party denounced the decision, stating it was not necessary and that he was “not in favor of creating ghettos in a cemetery that is nondenominational.”
The government exhumed the body of former dictator Francisco Franco from its resting place in the Valley of the Fallen Basilica on October 24, pursuant to a September Supreme Court ruling. Franco’s remains were transported by helicopter and reburied at El Pardo-Mingorrubio cemetery, north of Madrid, despite the insistence of Franco’s family that the remains be interred in a cathedral, and not in a cemetery. The prior of the Valley of the Fallen mausoleum initially threatened to restrict access to the basilica housing Franco’s remains, but he acquiesced when the secretary general of the Episcopal Conference of Spain, Luis Arguello, declared the Spanish Church would “respect the decision of Spanish authorities and would therefore not oppose the exhumation of Franco.” The OLRC said it did not consider removing Franco’s remains from the Valley of the Fallen as an attack on religious freedom.
In March the Huesca Prosecutor’s Office ruled against intervening in the case of a Jehovah’s Witness who had declined a blood transfusion while in intensive care. The woman had been placed in a medically induced coma for three weeks after developing an infection following an appendectomy. The Prosecutor’s Office ruled the woman was of legal age (20) and entitled to decide on her own medical treatment. In August a chamber of the Constitutional Court ruled against the country’s social security administration argument that a Jehovah’s Witness’ refusal to receive a blood transfusion was counter to laws protecting the “preservation of the patient’s life.” The court ruled “a patient’s right to autonomy must be respected as long as [he/she] is not faced with a hypothesis of extreme gravity or imminent danger of death, in which case the right to life will prevail.”
The Department of Religious Affairs of the Catalan regional government, with the support of its Advisory Council for Religious Diversity, provided guidance and financial support to religious communities; disseminated information and knowledge on religious diversity; and worked on a map on the state of religious freedom in the region to update its 2018 report.
Several religious groups, especially Protestant ones, said burdensome and unequal regulations remained a principal obstacle to religious groups seeking licenses or permits for places of worship. For example, FEREDE cited continuing difficulties adhering to laws governing sound levels in places of worship. Although the government repealed certain laws to limit authorizations needed to open new places of worship, Bueno said municipal governments often imposed onerous regulations that require religious centers to maintain the same acoustic standards as bars and nightclubs. According to Calvo, such requirements, which are technically difficult to meet, made opening new centers of worship excessively expensive.
Several religious groups cited continuing obstacles to providing religious education and the integration of teachers of religion in schools. FEREDE reported it had developed an agreement with the government for a recognized master’s degree program in evangelical religious education, but political paralysis prevented it from being officially sanctioned.
Religious groups declared there was also a continued lack of information on classes or enrollment options for students. CIE stated that only six autonomous communities and Ceuta and Melilla had Islamic studies educators, despite the availability of eligible instructors in every region. In the Basque Country, there were reports some schools had actively discouraged parents from seeking Islamic classes for their children. In October the regional Ministry of Education of Baleares (Balearic Islands) and the CIE signed an agreement by which 10 schools will include the teaching of Islam in their curricula starting in the 2020-21 school year.
There were no Jewish religious education classes in public schools, and FCJE reported schools were usually unaware of Jewish holidays provided for in the accord between FCJE and the state. The Church of Jesus Christ in 2018 proposed the right of religious education in public schools be extended to all religious groups with notorio arraigo status, not just to groups with agreements with the state. Jehovah’s Witnesses representatives said they chose not to seek their own religious instruction in schools, since they believed that religious training was the responsibility of the individual.
Nearly 60 associations, educational unions, and political parties presented a petition in April demanding an end to religious instruction in public schools. The statement criticized “religious indoctrination” financed with public funds and called on the government to repeal its agreements signed with the Vatican in 1979 and with other religious denominations that contained references to education. The document was signed by officials from the Podemos, United Left, ERC, and Communist parties, as well as members of the Workers’ Commissions, Lay Europe, the Student Union, and the Christian Networks associations.
In June the Council of the European Union sponsored a workshop in Madrid on best practices for combating racism and anti-Muslim sentiment. The objective of the workshop was to foster concrete cooperation between public authorities and civil society organizations, with the goals of tracking anti-Muslim hate crime data and support to victims; responding to anti-Muslim rhetoric and “Islamophobic narratives” in public opinion, politics, and the media, in particular online; and addressing discrimination against Muslims, especially women, in access to jobs and services.
Holocaust education in secondary school curricula continued in accordance with an MOE mandate contained in two royal decrees. The subject was included in a fourth-year compulsory geography and history class and a first-year contemporary world history class. A 2017 agreement between the FCJE and MOE to train teachers on the Holocaust, Judaism, and anti-Semitism remained in force, and the Sefarad-Israel Center took responsibility for its implementation. During the summer, the center organized a seminar for 24 teachers at the Yad Vashem World Holocaust Remembrance Center in Jerusalem.
The former Israeli ambassador to Spain told the media the country could not be considered anti-Semitic, but there are sectors where prejudice still existed, and extreme anti-Israel sentiments are found in some political circles.
In January in conjunction with the FCJE, the Senate commemorated International Holocaust Remembrance Day in a ceremony led by the president of the Senate which included speeches by the minister of justice, minister of foreign affairs, and FCJE president. Senators, members of the Jewish Communities led by Rabbi Moshe Bendahan, and diplomats also took part. In addition, the President of the Roma community and the vice president of the Friends of Mauthausen organization gave speeches in the memory of Holocaust victims. In April the government approved an executive decree establishing an annual commemoration for Spanish victims of the Holocaust. In May the minister of justice visited the Mauthausen concentration camp “to honor and recognize the injustice caused by the exile of many Spaniards and their internment in Nazi concentration camps.”
The FCJE estimated there were very few survivors of the Holocaust residing in the country and said for this reason, the government only considered restitution on a case-by-case basis. The FCJE reported no restitution cases during the year. In April a U.S. court ruled that the Thyssen Museum in Madrid had legal ownership of a Camille Pisarro painting originally owned by a Jewish woman, Lilly Cassirer, and extorted from her by Nazi officials in return for safe passage from Germany in 1939. The court ruled the plaintiffs failed to demonstrate that Baron Thyssen Bornemisza, who donated the painting to the museum, had actual knowledge the painting was stolen. In his decision the judge wrote the court had “no alternative but to apply Spanish law and cannot force the Kingdom of Spain or the Thyssen Museum to comply with its moral commitments.” The Cassirer family was likely to appeal the ruling, according to media reports.
The Movement Against Intolerance, a non-religiously affiliated NGO that compiles instances of religiously motivated hate crimes, criticized government and religious leaders for not working together to combat all forms of religious intolerance. Director Esteban Ibarra again stated the authorities should apply the criminal code pertaining to religiously motivated crimes more widely and public prosecutors and police remained unprepared to combat religious intolerance. Ibarra also pointed to a lack of preventive education in schools. According to Ibarra, anti-Semitism and anti-Muslim sentiment were on the rise, partly due to the actions of some members of political parties on the far left and right, such as Podemos and Vox. Ibarra said although membership in ultraright parties remained small, they had gradually expanded their online and public presence over the previous year, including through public meetings, marches, and statements in the press. Ibarra stated that support for Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) policies among some parties like Podemos contributed to the further isolation of Israel and an increase in anti-Semitism. FEREDE proposed the government create a hotline for victims of religious persecution and hate crimes.
The Foundation provided training on preventing anti-Islamic sentiment and other forms of religious discrimination and worked with the Ramon Llull University to provide knowledge, tools, and spaces to counteract it in online and offline spaces.
Despite a 2017 Supreme Court ruling making government pension eligibility requirements for Protestant clergy the same as those for Catholic priests, no Protestant clergy had yet begun receiving a government pension because the ruling was not retroactive. The government did not issue a royal decree, per FEREDE’s request, to allow retired Protestant clergy to collect pensions from their time in service prior to 1999 and to allow survivor benefits for spouses and children of clergy.
The Catholic Church remained the only religious entity to which persons could voluntarily allocate 0.7 percent of their taxes. Other religious groups were not listed on the tax form as potential recipients of funds. FEREDE and CIE requested that the government include the option in tax forms to donate 0.7 percent of taxes to other, non-Catholic, groups. This was FEREDE’s and CIE’s second such request since 1999. Several religious groups, including Protestants, Muslims, Buddhists, and the Church of Jesus Christ, continued to express their desire to have their groups included on the tax form. The tax designation yielded 267.8 million euros ($300.9 million) in donations to the Catholic Church in 2018, according to news reports.
Representatives of FEREDE, CIE, and FCJE continued to state they did not receive all of the benefits to which they were entitled under their cooperative agreements with the government. As an example, they cited their inability to make use of the same tax allocation financing system the Catholic Church used. These groups say they would prefer to collect voluntary funds from taxpayers without preconditions as the Catholic Church does, and not to have to depend on the Foundation, which has very specific conditions for the use of its funds. In November CIE President Riay Tatari formally requested from the MOJ the ability to receive funding through income tax returns, similar to the country’s agreement with the Catholic Church.
Many religious groups, such as FEREDE, CIE, and FCJE, said they relied on government funds, provided through the Foundation, to cover their administrative and infrastructure costs. The Ministry of Justice continued to allocate funding to different groups according to the number of registered entities and the approximate number of adherents. Religious representative bodies, such as FEREDE, CIE, and FCJE, received funding from the Foundation. In addition to infrastructure and administrative funding, the Foundation funds also cover small publicity projects and research projects. CIE reported the funding it receives from the Foundation was insufficient for the group’s needs. FEREDE reported that Foundation funds were used to finance its small projects, but burdensome requirements made it more difficult to apply for these funds.
During the year FEREDE received 462,000 euros ($519,000), FCJE received 169,405 euros ($190,000), and CIE received 330,000 euros ($371,000). In 2018, these three groups received a total of 780,000 euros ($876,000), approximately 180,000 euros ($202,000) more than the current year. The Foundation also provided 205,957 euros ($231,000) in small grants to dozens of local religious associations for educational and cultural projects aimed at promoting religious integration, 71 percent more than in 2018 (120,000 euros).
Numerous local, municipal, or provincial governments continued to pass resolutions supporting the BDS movement against Israel. Such resolutions usually entailed a nonbinding declaration calling on the central government to “support any initiative promoted by the international BDS campaign” and to “suspend relations with Israel until that country stops its criminal and repressive policies against the Palestinian population.” Some pro-BDS-movement legislation also contained language in support of a “space free of Israeli apartheid.” In June a court declared that a measure passed in support of BDS by the Valencia city council had violated the fundamental right to equality in the constitution, since it included ideological criteria in the selection of contractors for the municipality. In September a Pamplona court ruled its municipal government had “violated the principles of neutrality and objectivity that must govern the management of the public interest” when it adopted a pro-BDS measure in 2018. The court also determined the BDS declaration “creates an unjustified discrimination against the State of Israel and Israelis; a discrimination that violates the right to equality expressed in Article 14 of the Spanish Constitution.” In September a court ordered Cadiz Mayor Jose María “Kichi” Gonzalez to appear in his personal capacity on charges of perpetrating a hate crime against Israel. The case related to an incident from 2016, when the Cadiz municipal government pledged support to a network of “Israeli apartheid-free municipalities.” In 2017, a local court ruled that the Cadiz municipal government’s support for BDS policies went against the constitution.
The city of Barcelona’s Office for Religious Affairs supported religious community activities, including by facilitating and promoting their religious celebrations; provided grants for their projects; and gave guidance on the establishment of places of worship. The municipal government also led training events on the right to religious freedom and religious diversity to municipal employees, as well as to schools and to the public at large.
The Office of Religious Affairs continued to maintain an online portal for information to aid new immigrants or citizens moving into a community to find his or her locally registered religious community and place of worship. The MOJ stated the tool provided no personally identifiable information and complied with laws protecting personal information.
The government is a member of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance.
Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom
In April the prosecutor general issued official guidance on hate crimes requiring prosecutors to prove not only that a crime occurred and the defendant participated in the crime, but also that there was intent on the part of the alleged perpetrator.
According to the OLRC, there were 159 incidents it described as violating religious freedom in the first nine months of the year, 17 more than in the same period in 2018, or a 12 percent increase. OLRC statistics showed that the number of incidents increased every year since 2014. Of the incidents, 137 targeted Christians (including 131 against Catholics), six were against Muslims, two against Jews, and 14 classified as against all faiths. There were three incidents of violence (all assaults on Catholic clergy), 46 attacks on places of worship, 43 cases of harassment, and 67 cases of public marginalization of religion. As described in the report, many incidents had political as well as religious motivations. Some involved protests of government actions perceived as favoring or disfavoring religious groups or were declarations or resolutions by civil society groups or political parties calling for the cessation of religion classes in schools, a strict separation of religion and state, or a renegotiation of the government’s agreement with the Holy See.
The MOI reported 69 hate crimes based on religious beliefs or practices and, separately, nine motivated by anti-Semitism in 2018, the most recent year for which data is available, compared with 103 and six such crimes, respectively, in 2017. Over half of religiously motivated crimes (37 of 69) occurred in Catalonia. Four of the nine anti-Semitic attacks from 2018 occurred in Madrid. The MOI’s report did not cite specific examples or provide a breakdown of religiously motivated incidents by type of crime.
The Citizens’ Platform against Islamophobia reported 546 anti-Muslim incidents in 2017. The NGO said because its methodology had changed, this figure should not be compared to the 573 incidents in 2016. Of the total reported cases, which it said represented “only the tip of the iceberg,” 386 incidents were media or internet based, while 48 percent comprised verbal insults or derogatory statements against Islam and Muslims. Incidents occurred most often in Catalonia (51), Andalucia (22), Valencia (20) and Madrid (17). The NGO said it believed the large number of incidents in Catalonia was related to August 2017 terrorist attacks. The government characterized these attacks as “jihad terrorism.” According to the NGO, the targets were Muslims and Islam in general, women (21 percent), children (7 percent), and mosques (7 percent). The most frequent type of incidents after online hate speech, it reported, was discrimination against women wearing hijabs, at 21 percent.
In June, the Citizens’ Platform against Islamophobia published its second report, “Islamophobia in the Media,” incorporating data gathered in 2018. An analysis of 1,905 press articles in which Islam was mentioned showed a “considerable improvement” in comparison with the data from 2017. As detailed in the report, more than half of the analyzed articles (57 percent) did not use Islamophobic language, compared to 38 percent from the prior year. The report cites continuing issues of bias with reporting on Muslim women, as well as clear linkages in articles on Islam to radicalization and terrorism.
The General Prosecutor 2018 Year Book reported 16 judicial processes were opened during 2018 for hate crimes involving religion. The corresponding figure for 2017 was 14.
In November the Anti-Defamation League released the results of a survey on anti-Semitic views of the country’s residents. The survey cited stereotypical statements about Jews and asked respondents whether they believed such statements were “probably true” or “probably false.” The proportion agreeing that various statements were “probably true” was: 62 percent that Jews are more loyal to Israel than to Spain; 44 percent that Jews have too much power in the business world; and 37 percent that Jews talk too much about the Holocaust.
In January the European Commission published a Special Eurobarometer survey of perceptions of anti-Semitism based on interviews it conducted in December 2018 in each EU-member state. According to the survey, 71 percent of residents believed anti-Semitism was not a problem in Spain, and 58 percent believed it had stayed the same over the previous five years. The percentage who believed that anti-Semitism was a problem in nine different categories was as follows: Holocaust denial, 21 percent; on the internet, 26 percent; anti-Semitic graffiti or vandalism, 21 percent; expression of hostility or threats against Jews in public places, 21 percent; desecration of Jewish cemeteries, 16 percent; physical attacks against Jews, 21 percent; anti-Semitism in schools and universities, 20 percent; anti-Semitism in political life, 19 percent; and anti-Semitism in the media, 19 percent.
In May the European Commission carried out a study in each EU-member state on perceptions of discrimination and published the results in September. According to the findings, 40 percent of respondents believed discrimination on the basis of religion or belief was widespread in Spain, while 58 percent said it was rare; 92 percent would be comfortable with having a person of a different religion than the majority of the population occupy the highest elected political position in the country. In addition, 95 percent said they would be comfortable working closely with a Christian, and 94 percent said they would be with an atheist, 92 percent with a Jew, 94 percent with a Buddhist, and 91 percent with a Muslim. Asked how they would feel if their child were in a “love relationship” with an individual belonging to various groups, 96 percent said they would be comfortable if the partner were Christian, 92 percent if atheist, 89 percent if Jewish, 89 percent if Buddhist, and 80 percent if Muslim.
In September the Community of Sant’Egidio and the Archdiocese of Madrid gathered more than 400 religious leaders and government officials from 60 countries representing five continents to Madrid. The 33rd international meeting of Sant’Egidio, entitled “Peace without Borders: Religions and Cultures in Dialogue,” sought to promote an open dialogue among representatives of the world’s major religions, intellectual leaders, and representatives of civil society.
OLRC and the Nicolaus Copernicus University of Turun, Poland initiated a two-year joint project to analyze religious freedom in Europe.
In June two persons on motorcycles fired several shots at the Muley al-Mehdi Mosque in Ceuta while worshippers were inside the building. No injuries were reported, and a police investigation determined the shooting did not have a religious motivation.
Many incidents of vandalism of houses of worship involved elements of political motivation and could not be characterized as only religious in nature, according to the OLRC. In September vandals painted the facade of a church in Fuencarral with graffiti saying “fascist” and “You are stained with blood.” Vandals also painted part of a memorial for victims of the Spanish Civil War with the slogans “Nazis” and “Murderers.” The media reported the graffiti was thought to be in response to the decision to exhume the body of former dictator Francisco Franco. Vandals sprayed graffiti on a convent in Olivenza in August and set fire to a door in September. The convent was declared a building of public interest and had been recently restored.
In May vandals sprayed a Catholic church in Sevilla with graffiti that stated, “Death to the male” and “Legal Abortion Now.” OLRC reported at least 11 incidents of vandalism of Catholic churches tied to March 8 International Women’s Day demonstrations. Graffiti included phrases such as “The brightest church is the one that burns the most” and “Death to the patriarchy.” OLRC also reported on separate events in February tied to the women’s movement, including a feminist group burning a church door in Barcelona and a feminist demonstration in Valladolid in which participants sang, “Let’s burn the [Catholic] Episcopal Conference.”
In April protestors gathered outside of the Catholic cathedral in Alcala de Henares following reports it offered “therapies” to “cure” LGBT people. Approximately 50 individuals protested inside the cathedral.
The FCJE reported that while social networks contained significant anti-Semitic content, anti-Semitism in traditional media remained at the same level as in the past.
In April fans of the Barcelona soccer team RCD Espanyol displayed images of Anne Frank wearing the jersey of club rival FC Barcelona. After the FCJE asked RCD Espanyol to condemn the act, team officials denounced the incident and the regional police opened an investigation.
In September the UNESCO Association for Interreligious Dialogue (AUDIR), a Catalan NGO, organized its fourth “Night of Religions” in Barcelona, in which 54 religious centers representing 20 different religious groups opened their doors and invited local residents. More than 3,500 persons took part. AUDIR continued to implement the “Building Bridges” project, in which 30 youths from different faiths attended courses on interfaith dialogue, among other topics. As part of the program, the participants visited places of worship in their neighborhoods.
Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement
U.S. embassy and consulate representatives met regularly with the MOJ, MOI, regional officials, and politicians to discuss anti-Semitism, anti-Muslim sentiment, anticlericalism, and concerns about societal discrimination against religious minorities. Issues discussed included access to permits for places of worship, religious education, cemeteries and burial, pensions, religiously motivated hate crimes and hate speech, and public statements and campaigns to promote tolerance. Embassy officers also raised these issues with religious leaders who participated in the Foundation.
Embassy officials met with leaders of CIE, FEREDE, FCJE, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and other religious and civil society members, including imams of local mosques, Muslim youth leaders, NGOs, and business leaders in Madrid, Barcelona, Ceuta, and Melilla. Embassy and consulate officials discussed the concerns of community members regarding discrimination and the free exercise of their religious rights, including anti-Semitism, anti-Muslim sentiment, lack of religious education, and access to permits for places of worship.
To celebrate Religious Freedom Day in January, the embassy again invited representatives from several faiths and the coordinator of the coexistence pact – a group of Catholic, Protestant, and Jewish representatives, and academics and psychologists, which included as one of its goals the promotion of religious tolerance – for a discussion on the state of religious freedom and equality in the country. During the discussion, the Ambassador underscored U.S. commitment to religious freedom and asked how the embassy could assist religious leaders in promoting these goals.
In March the embassy sponsored the participation of Noha El-Haddad, President of the Association of Spanish Muslim Girls, in an exchange program in the United States focused on youth and civic engagement.
In April the Ambassador visited the Spanish North African enclave cities of Ceuta and Melilla, each of which shares a land border with Morocco and whose populations are 35-40 percent Muslim. As the meeting point of Europe and Africa, the two enclaves are at the center of a political debate on culture and religion, according to observers. Muslims residing in the enclave cities experience societal prejudice, with some citizens blaming immigration for rising crime rates and warning against a loss of “traditional culture” to Islamic beliefs and customs. The trip sought to deepen the respect for multiculturalism and religious diversity by highlighting community leaders from various faiths. In Ceuta, the Ambassador met with a former exchange program participant who is a Muslim community leader. In Melilla, the Ambassador toured a majority-Muslim school and met with a local non-profit that trains majority Muslim women on the production of textiles and clothing.
In May a senior embassy official hosted an iftar attended by Muslim activists, government officials, and Arab diplomats at which the embassy highlighted the work of young Muslim leaders. A series of follow-on meetings with embassy officers provided opportunities for the youth leaders to share insights about the challenges they faced as a religious minority community and ideas for strengthening U.S. efforts to help the Muslim community address those challenges.
In May a representative of the Department of State Office of International Religious Freedom met with representatives of the Ministries of Justice and Foreign Affairs to discuss the country’s efforts at ensuring religious freedom and respect for diversity. On the same visit, the consulate in Barcelona hosted a roundtable with Muslim community leaders and organized meetings with the regional and Barcelona offices for religious affairs, as well as with the Barcelona hate crimes prosecutor.
In June the embassy sponsored the visit of a U.S. Muslim leader to Madrid and Barcelona to discuss leadership strategies and ways to counter extremism related to religion. The visitor also discussed his organization with the Muslim community, NGOs, and Casa Arabe, the government’s organization for outreach to the Arab world.
The constitution protects “the freedom to practice one’s religion alone or in the company of others” and prohibits discrimination based on religion. The government continued funding for a program aimed at combating racism and reducing hate crimes, including those motivated by religion, and provided additional funding for the upcoming two years for educational efforts aimed at combating prejudiced views, including anti-religious views, in schools. Christian organizations stated the Migration Agency denied asylum to refugees who converted to Christianity while in the country and feared religious persecution in their home countries. The Migration Agency announced in March it would grant refugee status to Uighur Muslims from China’s Xinjiang Autonomous Region as well as any other Muslim minority group members in response to “far-reaching state repression.” The government gave funding to 46 religious groups in 2018, compared with 44 in 2017, and facilitated revenue collection for 17 of them. The prime minister and other politicians condemned anti-Semitism and other religious intolerance. In May Prime Minister Stefan Lofven said, “Wherever anti-Semitism exists, and whatever form it takes, it must be exposed and combated.” Several political parties proposed prohibiting students and teachers from wearing a hijab in school and the nonmedical circumcision of boys. All of the political parties represented in parliament except the Christian Democrats proposed bans on establishing new independent religious schools. There were some reports of anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim remarks by members of the Sweden Democrats and other political parties. In July the Equality Ombudsman (DO) initiated an inquiry after Bromolla municipality banned prayer during working hours. In August the Moderate Party called for a government study to consider introducing a ban on headscarves in schools for students under 12. On August 27, during a speech at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs annual memorial lecture in honor of Raoul Wallenberg, the Swedish diplomat who saved thousands of Jews from the Holocaust in Hungary, Prime Minister Lofven said “[When] Jews, Muslims, and Christians are attacked for their beliefs, when politicians in Europe and Sweden try to score points by creating fear and separation between people – then, we regular people – must search for that inner compass that was so strong with Raoul Wallenberg.” Prime Minister Lofven announced in May Sweden will host a high-level international forum in October 2020 on remembrance of the Holocaust and addressing contemporary anti-Semitism. The announced goal of the forum, which comes 20 years after the Stockholm International Forum on the Holocaust and the establishment of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA), is to promote the IHRA and reaffirm the Declaration of the Stockholm International Forum on the Holocaust.
A Jewish doctor reported ongoing anti-Semitic harassment at the New Karolinska Hospital (NKS). The DO opened three inquiries into the hospital’s actions concerning the doctor’s claims; all were ongoing at year’s end. In November a popular investigative news television program aired an episode on the NKS case that was largely dismissive of the doctor’s allegations. In August an imam was convicted of hate speech made in Arabic during a 2017 demonstration in central Helsingborg in which he called Jews “the progeny of the monkeys and pigs.” A web survey from the Inizio polling institute published in June with 1,001 respondents showed that over half of the respondents, who were not limited to Jewish individuals, felt anti-Semitism had increased over the past five years. Mosques were regularly vandalized, according to Muslim leaders. According to the findings of a European Commission on perceptions of discrimination in each European Union (EU) member state, 56 percent of respondents believed discrimination on the basis of religion or belief was widespread in the country, while 42 percent said it was rare; 80 percent would be comfortable with having a person of a different religion than the majority of the population occupy the highest elected political position in the country.
The Ambassador, the Charge d’Affaires, and other U.S. embassy representatives continued to meet with the Ministries of Justice and Culture, the Swedish Agency for Support to Faith Communities (SST), parliament, police, and local government on religious freedom issues, supporting government efforts to improve security for religious groups, and highlighting threats to members of some religious minorities, including immigrants. The Ambassador hosted a Thanksgiving dinner for religious freedom advocates and SST. Embassy officials spoke about religious tolerance with Christian, Jewish, and Muslim representatives, including Uighur Muslims, in Malmo, Gothenburg, and Stockholm. Social media highlighted visits by the Charge d’Affaires and other embassy representatives to a museum exhibit in Stockholm and Visby featuring portraits of Holocaust survivors. The embassy sponsored a priest from the Stockholm Cathedral for a September exchange program in the United States on advancing interfaith relations.
Section I. Religious Demography
The U.S. government estimates the population at 10.3 million (midyear 2019 estimate). According to the Church of Sweden (Lutheran), approximately 58 percent of citizens are members. According to government statistics and estimates by religious groups, other Christian groups – including the Roman Catholic Church, Pentecostal movement, Missionary (or Missions) Church, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints – together total less than 6 percent of the population. The Pew Research Center estimated in 2016 that 8.1 percent of the population is Muslim. According to the Official Council of Swedish Jewish Communities, Jews number approximately 20,000, concentrated mainly in larger cities including Stockholm, Gothenburg, and Malmo.
Smaller religious communities include Buddhists, Hindus, Sikhs, Zoroastrians, and members of the Church of Scientology, Word of Faith, International Society for Krishna Consciousness, Family Federation for World Peace and Unification (Unification Church), and Mandaeism.
Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom
The constitution provides “the freedom to practice one’s religion alone or in the company of others.” The law mandates there be no limitation of rights or freedoms on the grounds of religious opinion.
The constitution instructs public institutions to combat discrimination based on religious affiliation. According to law, complaints about discrimination for religious reasons in the private sector, in the government, or by a government agency or authority must be filed with the DO. The ombudsman investigates each case and issues a decision that is not legally binding. The decision includes recommendations to prevent future discrimination. The ombudsman takes some cases to court each year, in part to create legal precedent. The DO may represent the individual making a complaint in the event of legal proceedings if he or she requests it.
The constitution states, “The opportunities of religious minorities to preserve and develop a cultural and social life of their own shall be promoted.” No one is obliged to belong to a religious community or “divulge religious beliefs in relations with public institutions.”
There is no requirement in the law for religious groups to register or otherwise seek recognition. Only those faith communities registering with the SST, however, are eligible to receive tax exemptions similar to those of nonprofit organizations and government funding. To register with the SST, a religious group must submit an application to the Ministry of Culture demonstrating the group fulfills certain requirements, including that it has operated in the country for at least five years, has a clear and stable structure, is able to function independently, serves at least 3,000 persons, and that it has several locations in the country.
According to the law, animal slaughter must be preceded by stunning and/or the administration of anesthetics to minimize the animal’s suffering.
The law stipulates that male circumcision may be performed only by a licensed doctor or, for boys under the age of two months, by a person certified by the National Board of Health and Welfare. The board certifies circumcisers including mohels (individuals who conduct ritual Jewish circumcisions) to perform the operations on boys younger than two months but requires the presence of a medical doctor who must administer anesthesia to the infant.
The government facilitates fundraising by religious groups by offering them the option of collecting contributions through the Tax Agency in exchange for a one-time fee of 75,000 Swedish kronor ($8,100) and an annual fee of 21 kronor ($2) per member per year. The Church of Sweden is exempted from the annual fee because it, unlike the other religious groups participating in the scheme, does not receive financial support from the SST. Only religious groups registered with the SST may participate in the scheme. Religious groups choose what percentage of members’ annual taxable income to collect, with a median collection rate of 1 percent. The Tax Agency subtracts a percentage of the member’s gross income and distributes it to the religious organization. The member’s contribution is not deductible from income tax. Seventeen religious organizations participate in the scheme, including the Church of Sweden, the Roman Catholic Church, four Muslim congregations, and two Syriac Orthodox churches.
The government provides publicly funded grants to registered religious groups through the SST. The grants are proportional to the size of a group’s membership. Registered religious groups may also apply for separate grants for specific purposes, such as security expenses.
The military offers food options compliant with religious dietary restrictions. Each military district has a chaplain. According to the law, chaplains may be of any religious affiliation, but all chaplains seconded to the armed forces belong to the Church of Sweden. Regardless of religious denomination, chaplains are required to perform religious duties for other faiths or refer service members to spiritual leaders of other faiths if requested. The law specifically exempts Jehovah’s Witnesses from national military service. Other conscientious objectors may apply for unarmed military service but are in practice not inducted into the military. Armed forces guidelines allow religious headwear. Individuals serving in the military may observe their particular religious holidays in exchange for not taking leave on public holidays.
Religious education is compulsory in public and private schools. Teachers use a curriculum that encompasses lessons about the major world religions without preference for any particular religious group. Parents may send their children to independent religious schools, which the government supports through a voucher system and which must adhere to government guidelines on core academic curricula, including religious education. Such schools may host voluntary religious activities outside the classroom, but these activities may not interfere with government guidelines on core academic curricula.
Hate speech laws prohibit threats or expressions of contempt for persons based on several factors, including religious belief. Penalties for hate speech range from fines to a sentence of up to four years in prison, depending on the severity of the incident.
Law enforcement authorities maintain statistics on hate crimes, including religiously motivated hate crimes, issuing them every two years. Law enforcement authorities may add a hate crime classification to an initial crime report or to existing charges during an investigation. Prosecutors determine whether to bring hate crime charges as part of the prosecution, and the defense has an opportunity to rebut the classification. In cases where the criminal act involves a hate crime, the penalties increase.
The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
The Center Party decided at its national convention in September to advocate a ban on nonmedical circumcision, including for religious reasons. The party leadership opposed the ban, stating that it would be perceived as religious discrimination against Jewish and Islamic practice, but a majority of party members supported it and overruled the leadership. Center Party Leader Annie Loof said afterward the party would not propose legislation to ban nonmedical circumcision. Aftonbladet reported on September 30 that Loof presented a bill in 2007 where she promoted a ban. “It is true that I presented a bill about this 12 years ago as a new member of parliament, but I changed my mind just a year later,” she said. According to Chairman of the Official Council of Swedish Jewish Communities Aron Verstandig, this was seen by the Jewish community as an attack on Swedish Jews. “Circumcision is a central part of the Jewish religion,” he said. Mohamed Temsamani, president of the United Islamic Associations in Sweden, stated such a ban would be a restriction on religious freedom.
The Swedish National Board of Health and Welfare had no statistics on how many children are circumcised annually. In 2009, the board recommended the regional healthcare authorities provide circumcisions for religious reasons by certified doctors in state health clinics. All six healthcare regions offered this service during the year. In four regions, the service cost up to 14,000 Swedish kronor ($1,500). There were certified private clinics where the cost was lower but the waiting times were long. On October 7, newspaper Svenska Dagbladet reported that uncertified individuals were performing illegal circumcisions on boys in the home beyond the control of state authorities. Svenska Dagbladet reported that an uncertified circumciser charged approximately 1,500 Swedish kronor ($160) and waiting times were shorter than at private clinics.
In August the Moderate Party called for a government study to consider introducing a ban on headscarves in schools for students under 12. Christian, Jewish, and Muslim leaders expressed concern about the proposal, stating such a measure would constitute an infringement on religious freedom.
In July the DO initiated an inquiry after Bromolla municipality banned prayer during working hours. Representatives from the DO were investigating whether the decision disadvantaged certain workers and violated the law. The ban, which applied to all municipal employees, was passed by the local council at the end of May. Defending the ban, council Chairman Eric Berntsson stated its purpose was to ensure staff did not take time off to pray during working hours. “There is no general right to leave to pray during working hours…. This is a clarification of a regulation, just like a smoking ban,” Berntsson told Swedish Radio. Christian and Muslim representatives criticized the prayer ban.
The Sweden Democratic Party continued to advocate local and national bans on the Islamic call to prayer. After police in Vaxjo in 2018 granted a mosque permission to conduct a call to prayer on Fridays, the Sweden Democrats Vaxjo branch launched a petition for a referendum to ban the call to prayer in the municipality. Neighbors of the mosque appealed the police decision, stating they were disturbed by the noise; they also said their right under the European Convention on Human Rights not to be exposed to a religious message was violated. In April the Administrative Court of Appeal decided the call to prayer could continue. The Vaxjo local authority determined the call to prayer may be broadcast once a week for three minutes and 45 seconds, with limits on the volume.
Some Muslim groups and the Official Council of Swedish Jewish Communities continued to state they considered the law requiring stunning of and/or administration of anesthetics to animals prior to slaughter to conflict with their respective religious rituals. The Muslim community remained divided over whether the requirement conformed to halal procedures. The Jewish community reported the law effectively prevented the production of kosher meat. Most halal and all kosher meat continued to be imported.
The nongovernmental organization (NGO) Scandinavian Human Rights Lawyers, in partnership with five Christian organizations, issued a report in March criticizing the Migration Agency for rejecting asylum applications from Christians – primarily those who converted to Christianity while in the country – who said they risked religious persecution in their home countries. The report researched 619 Afghan converts who applied for asylum in 2015-2018. According to the report, the Migration Agency denied 68 percent of the claims on the basis of their faith not being genuine. The authors of the report concluded the Migration Agency had a poor understanding of religion, and its decisions on converts were arbitrary. The Migration Agency responded in a press release that it was investigating why there were different outcomes in similar cases but stated each decision was based on a complex overall assessment in which an individual’s religious knowledge was not considered but, rather, the intellectual reflections of belief. Following the critique, the government issued an addition to the Migration Agency’s regulatory letter requesting the agency report how it worked with converts’ cases and how it met the legal standards in matters where religion was stated as a factor in consideration for asylum. The report was not completed at year’s end.
Deputy Secretary General of the Swedish Evangelical Alliance Jacob Rudenstrand again said Christian refugees, including but not limited to converts, faced persecution, particularly from Muslim refugees, they were not safe in the country, and the government needed to take measures to ensure their safety.
The Migration Agency announced in March it would grant refugee status to Uighur Muslims from China’s Xinjiang Autonomous Region as well as any other Muslim minority group members in response to “far-reaching state repression.” Uighurs in the country were already shielded from deportation after the Migration Agency stopped all deportations of Uighurs in September 2018.
A government inquiry was tasked to present proposals on how to introduce a ban on new independent primary and secondary schools with a religious orientation. The results of the inquiry were still pending at year’s end, but will be nonbinding on the government. Minister of Education Anna Ekstrom said in June, “In recent years, we have seen examples of schools that, in the name of religion, separate girls and boys, hardly teach about sexuality and coexistence, and equate evolution with religious creation myths. This is totally unacceptable. Now, the government is taking the first steps towards stopping new religious schools.” The government suggested existing schools with a religious focus would be allowed to remain, but the regulations would be clarified to allow for greater oversight by the School Inspectorate and the municipalities. During the year, seven of eight political parties represented in parliament, except for the Christian Democrats, supported banning the establishment of new religious independent schools.
There were reports that representatives of the Sweden Democrats – the country’s second largest political party, which received 17.6 percent of the vote in the 2018 parliamentary elections – made denigrating comments about religious minorities. In January Karlskrona District Court acquitted the group leader of the Sweden Democrats in Karlskrona of charges of hate speech after a post on the party’s local Facebook page described Muslims as terrorists and oppressors of women. The court ruled the post was made on a “current and ongoing political issue,” the inauguration of a new minaret in Karlskrona, and it was therefore not reasonable to limit the politician’s freedom of expression.
On September 25, the press reported that a local Sweden Democrat politician in Vallentuna posted white supremacist propaganda and Holocaust denial material on Facebook. Dagens Nyheter reported that among other items, she posted photos of human skeletons with captions stating 500,000 Germans were “exterminated” during one night of the Dresden bombings in 1945. The politician stepped down shortly after. The local Sweden Democrat leader said, “These are opinions that go directly against what the party stands for and is something we take very seriously.… This person leaves all political assignments and no longer represents the Sweden Democrats.”
Christian Democrats party leader Ebba Busch Thor stated in an op-ed in the Expressen newspaper on April 20, “The suburbs would benefit from Christian values,” arguing that Christian values were the basis for the country’s democracy and liberal society and implying Christian values were lacking in the suburbs, where many Muslim immigrants live. She said, “It is clear what happens when the traditional values disappear.…there is no cultural Islamization, like the right-wing extremists cautioned about….I think it looks more like a lack of culture.” Prominent media outlets, including Dagens Nyheter criticized Busch Thor, not only for arguing there was a lack of values and culture in immigrant dense areas, but also for her claim that Christian values were what create a liberal society.
The Media Council, a government agency whose primary task is to promote the empowerment of minors as conscious media users and to protect them from harmful media influences, continued its “No Hate Speech Movement,” which included efforts to stop anti-Semitic conspiracy theories. The council offered classroom and online material for students and suggestions on how to address these issues with children.
The government allocated five million kronor ($538,000) annually for 2018-2020 to the Swedish Committee against Anti-Semitism and the Living History Forum to increase opportunities for student and teacher study visits to Holocaust memorial sites.
In February the Supreme Court overruled the appellate court’s decision not to expel a Palestinian man with “special refugee status” sentenced to two years in prison for attempting to firebomb the synagogue in Gothenburg in December 2017. The court ruled that the man would serve his sentence and then be expelled. He may not return to Sweden before 2028.
As part of its continuing “National Plan to Combat Racism, Similar Forms of Hostility, and Hate Crimes,” the government provided 22 million kronor ($2.37 million) to religious organizations and civil society to improve their security, and is scheduled to provide 15 million kronor ($1.61 million) annually thereafter. A wide range of civil society organizations, including religiously oriented NGOs, remained eligible for funding from the Legal, Financial, and Administrative Services Agency to improve their security; for example, by purchasing security cameras and hiring security guards. In September Chairman of the Official Council of Swedish Jewish Communities Aron Verstandig stated he welcomed the government’s increased allocation of funds in support of religious organizations’ security measures.
In October the government announced it would provide an additional 14 million kronor ($1.51 million) in 2020 for educational efforts to combat racism and support tolerance, including religious tolerance, in schools and increased support to civil society, and another 10 million kronor ($1.08 million) annually for 2021 and 2022.
The government allocated an additional 10 million kronor ($1.08 million) to the Police Authority to prevent and investigate hate crimes, including those related to religion. Part of the funding was earmarked for the Police National Operations Department that assisted the country’s regional authorities with investigations of hate crimes.
The SST continued to collaborate with other government agencies and civil society to promote dialogue between the government and faith communities as well as to contribute to knowledge about religion. During the year, SST cooperated with several municipalities and regions to set up interreligious dialogues with a focus on democracy promotion, countering violent extremism, and educating municipal employees on issues of religion and religious freedom. SST remained a partner to many government entities such as the law enforcement authorities, the Civil Contingencies Agency, the Defense Research Agency, the National Agency for Education, the Government Offices, the Crime Prevention Agency, the Migration Agency, and others, both in supporting ongoing government inquiries and facilitating meetings with different faith communities, including groups not registered with the SST. New course topics included NGO management and accountability, scriptural reasoning for female leaders, and leadership, religion and democracy. The SST also conducted courses in family law and movements within Islam. The agency continued to fund, publish, and promote publications aimed at educating the public about religious minorities. New publications included studies such as The Religious Landscape of Sweden, Religious Freedom and Religious Communities in Sweden, and Religious Minorities from the Middle East in Sweden.
The SST distributed 83 million kronor ($8.92 million) in grants to 46 religious groups during 2018, up from 44 the previous year, for operating expenses, theological training, spiritual care in hospitals, building renovations, and refugee assistance. In addition, the SST distributed funds for specific projects in response to grant requests, which different religious groups often carried out jointly.
The Swedish Agency for Youth and Civil Society provided grants to civil society organizations working to combat religious intolerance. Grants included approximately two million kronor ($215,000) to the NGO Expo to combat intolerance and racism, including religious intolerance.
The government continued to fund the Living History Forum (LHF), a public authority “commissioned to work with issues related to tolerance, democracy, and human rights, using the Holocaust and other crimes against humanity as its starting point.” The government allocated 46.5 million kronor ($5 million) to LHF, which provided lesson plans, books, and other resources for teachers. Topics covered included anti-Semitism, Holocaust remembrance, ethnic and religious conflicts in the Balkans, and critical reading of history. On August 29, the government announced a 1 million kronor ($108,000) increase to LHF’s budget to increase knowledge-based activities, including efforts to combat racism and anti-Semitism.
Schools continued to sponsor educational visits to Holocaust sites such as Auschwitz-Birkenau. Students participated in these trips regardless of religious background. According to a study released by LHF in June, 44,000 Swedes visited Auschwitz-Birkenau in 2017, the most on record. The study concluded most of these visitors were likely students and other young people. LHF provided educational materials and guidance for teachers to facilitate these visits.
Prime Minister Lofven commemorated the Holocaust in a speech at the Great Synagogue of Stockholm on January 27, Holocaust Remembrance Day. Lofven condemned the Holocaust and present-day anti-Semitism and spoke about his “profound anger” over “the raw and despicable anti-Semitism that we still see around the world, in Europe, and in Sweden.”
On August 27, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs hosted its annual memorial lecture in honor of Raoul Wallenberg, the Swedish diplomat who saved thousands of Jews from the Holocaust in Hungary. In his speech at the event, Prime Minister Lofven said, “[When] Jews, Muslims and Christians are attacked for their beliefs, when politicians in Europe and Sweden try to score points by creating fear and separation between people – then, we regular people – must search for that inner compass that was so strong with Raoul Wallenberg.” He also commended an exhibit in the Photography Museum displaying portraits of 23 Holocaust survivors and recounted memories of the Holocaust.
In May Prime Minister Lofven announced he was planning to host a high-level international forum in October 2020 on remembrance of the Holocaust and addressing contemporary anti-Semitism. This would take place 20 years after the Stockholm International Forum on the Holocaust and the establishment of the IHRA. The announced goal of the forum was to reaffirm the Declaration of the Stockholm International Forum on the Holocaust and to promote the IHRA, of which the country is a member.
Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom
In 2018, 7,090 hate crimes were reported, according to a report released in October by the Swedish National Council for Crime Prevention. Of those, 8 percent were anti-Muslim. Anti-Semitic, anti-Christian, and other antireligious hate crimes accounted for 4 percent each. Authorities said most victims of hate crimes did not report them to police.
During the year, a Jewish neurosurgeon at New Karolinska Hospital (NKS) reported continuing anti-Semitic harassment stemming from his 2017 report that the hospital’s chief of neurosurgery subjected him and two other Jewish colleagues to anti-Semitic harassment and discrimination. An internal investigation reportedly concluded in March 2018 no harassment had taken place. Following widespread media condemnation, the NKS demoted the accused chief of neurosurgery in June for “violating the hospital’s core values” but without acknowledging anti-Semitism. The DO undertook three inquiries into the hospital’s actions concerning the Jewish doctor’s claims, all of which were pending at year’s end. On October 7, the daily Svenska Dagbladet reported the Simon Wiesenthal Center (SWC) criticized the Karolinska Institute (KI), a medical university that awards the Nobel Prize for Medicine but is not legally part of NKS, for failing to introduce zero tolerance against anti-Semitism and other forms of racism. Mikael Odenberg, chairman of the KI board of directors, called the criticism “expected, but unfounded.”In November a popular investigative news television program aired an episode on the NKS case that was largely dismissive of the doctor’s allegations.
The head of the Swedish Swimming Federation Ulla Gustavsson stepped down on February 14 following negative reactions to her comments criticizing an advertisement of the Swedish Sports Confederation that showed a boy and a Muslim girl wearing a veil participating in a shooting competition. Gustavsson said, “If they want to show girls with an immigrant background, it can be done without them wearing a veil… Now it looks like they like and encourage, [and] honor repression…. That upsets me…. The veil is a religious, political, and sexist garment…. The Swedish Sports Confederation values gender equality as important, and the veil stands for something else.” The Swedish Swimming Federation said Gustavsson’s comments contradicted the federation’s basic view that all children should be welcome in sporting activities on equal terms,” and that Gustavsson no longer could lead the association successfully. Gustavsson subsequently resigned.
At a May 1 demonstration in Malmo arranged by the Social Democratic Youth Association, demonstrators sang “Long live Palestine – destroy Zionism.” The demonstrators were reported for hate speech to the police, and the police initiated an investigation. An association representative said it understood the criticism and that members would stop singing the song.
In August Helsingborg District Court convicted an imam of hate speech following a demonstration in central Helsingborg in July 2017. The imam received a suspended sentence and fines. During a speech given in Arabic he called Jews “the progeny of the monkeys and pigs.”
In December 2018, the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights published a report on the experience of Jews with hate crime, discrimination, and anti-Semitism which showed that over 80 percent of Jewish Swedes subjected to anti-Semitic harassment chose not to report the incidents to the police. The main reason cited was the belief that nothing would be done about it. Approximately one third of the 1,000 respondents said they avoided wearing Jewish symbols and were considering leaving the country for security reasons. Minister of Justice Morgan Johansson said, “It is completely unacceptable.… Everyone should feel safe.… Anti-Semitism is the basis of racist evils. We will not idly stand by, no matter what environment anti-Semitism comes from: Nazism, Islamism, or left-wing extremism.”
In May the European Commission carried out a study in each European Union (EU) member state on perceptions of discrimination and published the results in September. According to the findings, 56 percent of respondents believed discrimination on the basis of religion or belief was widespread in Sweden, while 42 percent said it was rare; 80 percent would be comfortable with having a person of a different religion than the majority of the population occupy the highest elected political position in the country. In addition, 97 percent said they would comfortable working closely with a Christian, and 96 said they would be with an atheist, 95 percent with a Jew, 95 percent with a Buddhist, and 92 percent with a Muslim. Asked how they would feel if their child were in a “love relationship” with an individual belonging to various groups, 93 percent said they would be comfortable if the partner were Christian, 93 percent if atheist, 90 percent if Jewish, 91 percent if Buddhist, and 78 percent if Muslim.
In January the European Council published a Special Eurobarometer survey of perceptions of anti-Semitism based on interviews it conducted in December 2018 in each EU member state. According to the survey, 81 percent of residents believed anti-Semitism was a problem in Sweden, and 73 percent believed it had increased over the previous five years. The percentage who believed that anti-Semitism was a problem in nine different categories was as follows: Holocaust denial, 79 percent; on the internet, 78 percent; anti-Semitic graffiti or vandalism, 78 percent; expression of hostility or threats against Jews in public places, 75 percent; desecration of Jewish cemeteries, 73 percent; physical attacks against Jews, 73 percent; anti-Semitism in schools and universities, 57 percent; anti-Semitism in political life, 63 percent; and anti-Semitism in media, 52 percent.
A web survey from the Inizio polling institute published in June with 1,001 respondents showed that over half of the respondents, who were not limited to Jews, felt anti-Semitism had increased over the past five years. More than one-third had experienced/witnessed anti-Semitism in their everyday lives once or several times. More than two-thirds of respondents were worried about anti-Semitism. The survey also showed that over half of the respondents stated they knew a great deal about the Holocaust, and 40 percent said they know about it rather well. Only a small minority felt it is not important to remember the Holocaust.
In November the Anti-Defamation League released the results of a survey on anti-Semitic views of the country’s residents. The survey cited stereotypical statements about Jews and asked respondents whether they believed such statements were “probably true” or “probably false.” The proportion agreeing that various statements were “probably true” was: 25 percent that Jews are more loyal to Israel than to Sweden; 10 percent that Jews have too much power in the business world; and 15 percent that Jews talk too much about the Holocaust.
Chair of the Stockholm Mosque Jalal Darir told Swedish Television on August 12 that the Stockholm Mosque was vandalized regularly. Although the mosque installed camera surveillance after several incidents of vandalism, incidents continued, occurring at least two to three times a week. “We feel that Islamophobia is growing,” Darir said.
The Nordic Resistance Movement (NMR), widely described as a small but vocal neo-Nazi group, split after NMR’s failure to garner support in the 2018 election (receiving 0.03 percent of the vote). Eight members of NMR’s top leadership formed a new group in August called Nordisk Styrka (Nordic Strength). The new group opposed NMR’s “liberalization” and stated it wanted to focus more on “the struggle.” The NGO Expo expressed concern Nordisk Styrka would try to distinguish itself from the NMR through more radical forms of violent activism.
On July 2, the NMR held a meeting with a small number of participants in Visby during an annual conference of political leaders. Later that day the NMR shouted denials of the Holocaust and briefly blocked the entrance to an exhibition featuring photographs of seven Holocaust survivors. Police dispersed the NMR demonstrators and initiated an investigation into hate speech.
On September 24, 16 supporters of the NMR faced trial for violence at the Gothenburg Book Fair in 2017. The indictment included acts of violence against journalists and police, as well as incitement of hatred by wearing matching attire and symbols, chanting Nazi slogans, and carrying placards with photos of prominent Swedes, many of Jewish descent, labeled as “criminals.” The suspects denied committing crimes.
In November, on the anniversary of Kristallnacht (“The Night of Broken Glass,” when Nazi Germany destroyed Jewish synagogues, schools, and businesses), neo-Nazis plastered stickers with Stars of David on the Great Synagogue and Bajit Jewish Center.
In the context of an interfaith project in Malmo, Imam Salahuddin Barakat and Rabbi Moshe David HaCohen continued to speak to students during the year about religious tolerance and conducted interfaith workshops to discuss religious texts and spiritual queries. The Malmo municipality and the SST provided some funding for the project.
Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement
The Ambassador, the Charge d’Affaires, and other embassy representatives continued to engage regularly with the Ministry of Justice and Ministry of Culture, the SST, parliament, police, and local government officials on issues related to religious freedom.
The Ambassador hosted a Thanksgiving dinner for religious freedom advocates, human rights activists, civil society representatives, and the SST.
Embassy officials spoke to Christian, Jewish, and Muslim representatives in Malmo, Gothenburg, and Stockholm about their security concerns and about threats to religious freedom more broadly.
The U.S. Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism sent a letter to Chairwoman of the Stockholm County Executive Committee Irene Svenonius in June offering U.S. assistance to the region’s council to help address charges of anti-Semitism at NKS. Embassy officials met with the individual who said he was subjected to anti-Semitism at NKS.
On July 3, the Charge d’Affaires and other embassy representatives visited the photography museum exhibit on Holocaust survivors in Visby to express support for Holocaust remembrance efforts the day following the NMR action at the exhibit. The embassy representatives’ visit was highlighted in social media.
On May 6, the Jewish Culture in Sweden presented Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg the 2019 Gilel Storch Award for outstanding contributions to human rights and the equal value of all human beings. The embassy hosted Justice Ginsburg at a reception with guests from the government, civil society, religious groups, and media. The event was highlighted in the traditional press and on social media.
The embassy sponsored a priest from the Stockholm cathedral for a September exchange program in the U.S. on advancing interfaith relations. The program included studying the impact of religion and religious organizations on communities throughout the U.S. and the evolving roles of women and youth within faith communities.