The constitution states freedom of conscience and belief is inviolable, and it guarantees free exercise of religious beliefs. The constitution prohibits federal, state, and local governments from either supporting or hindering any religion. On September 19, a court convicted three of 14 defendants of attempted homicide, which the court ruled was motivated by religious and racial discrimination related to a 2005 attack on three men wearing kippahs, Jewish head coverings. In September the Public Ministry of Sergipe State, in conjunction with the Coordination for the Promotion of Ethnic-Racial Equality (COPIER), filed suit against the municipality of Aracaju for violation of religious freedom. The Public Ministry filed the case on behalf of Yalorixa Valclides Francisca dos Anjos Silva after police officers accused her of practicing black magic and abusing animals. In February the government-associated Brasilia-based Religious Diversity and Human Rights Advisory (ASDIR) and the National Secretariat for the Promotion of Racial Equality (SEPPIR) launched a national campaign entitled “Religious Diversity: To Know, To Respect, To Value.” The launch coincided with World Interfaith Harmony Week. In April the Rio de Janeiro State government launched a program incorporating discussions on religious intolerance into the curriculum of 1,249 public schools in the state. In May the Ministry of Culture, with the Palmares Cultural Foundation and University of Brasilia, released the results of the first ever mapping exercise of Umbanda and Candomble houses of worship, known as terreiros, documenting 330 terreiros in the Federal District. In June the Human Rights Commission of the Chamber of Deputies held a public hearing on the development of public policies to combat religious discrimination and intolerance.
Media reported Guarani-Kaiowas, an indigenous group from Mato Grosso do Sul, denounced frequent acts of violence, which they said evangelical Christians committed against their shamanic rituals. According to media reports, unidentified individuals damaged religious buildings at various times throughout the year. These acts included the destruction of religious objects and spray painting of hateful statements at an Afro-Brazilian terreiro in Rio de Janeiro in May, spray painting of swastikas on a church in Rio de Janeiro in October, and spray-painting “God is Gay” on a Roman Catholic church in Sao Paulo in the same month. On May 18, unidentified individuals spray-painted messages on the walls of the Jewish Israelite Society of Pelotas building, threatening the Jewish community to “wait” for an “international intifada.” The individuals also attempted to set fire to the building, causing minor damage. Attacks on terreiros continued, two occurring in May and one in July. Religious organizations hosted interfaith community events, including on September 16, the 11th Annual Walk in Defense of Religious Freedom at Copacabana beach in Rio de Janeiro, which drew approximately 70,000 participants from across the religious spectrum, and on August 19, the Freedom Circuit three-kilometer and five-kilometer run in Brasilia. According to the Ministry of Human Rights’ Secretariat of Human Rights (SDH), its hotline received 210 complaints of religious intolerance between January and June compared with 169 complaints during the same period in 2017. The president of the Council for the Defense and Promotion of Religious Freedom for Rio de Janeiro State attributed the reported increase in religious intolerance to three factors: “The creation of a service trusted by society, societal understanding that religious discrimination is a punishable crime, and increased aggression in religious confrontations.”
In October embassy officials engaged the Ministry of Human Rights’ coordinator for religious diversity, discussing the status of state religious diversity committees and plans for a potential conference on respect for religious diversity. In February embassy officials attended the event commemorating the Federal District’s third annual Day to Combat Religious Intolerance. In December an embassy official discussed with the public defender the increase in societal intolerance of African religions and the importance of applying the law to protect the religious freedom of these groups. Sao Paulo consulate officials met with several evangelical Protestant leaders in the months leading up to the October elections – discussing the leaders’ views on the participation of religious groups in the political process and their priorities from a religious perspective. Rio de Janeiro consulate officials visited an Afro-Brazilian terreiro in Duque de Caxias, in the metropolitan area of Rio de Janeiro, in June to speak with Conceicao D’Liss, a priest leader of a Candomble terreiro.
The constitution guarantees freedom of conscience, religion, thought, belief, opinion, expression, and the right to equal protection and benefit of the law without discrimination based on religion. The government does not require religious groups to register, but registered groups receive tax-exempt status. In June the Supreme Court held that the law societies of British Columbia and Ontario had the authority to refuse accreditation to a Christian law school that required students to sign a strict code of conduct. The court ruled it was permissible to limit religious freedom to ensure equal access for all students and the diversity of members of the bar. In January an Ontario court affirmed the constitutionality of provincial regulations requiring doctors to refer patients seeking services such as assisted death, abortion, or contraception to another practitioner in circumstances where the physicians object to providing the services on religious or moral grounds. In June a Quebec court indefinitely extended the suspension of the previous Quebec provincial government’s prohibition of religious face coverings when providing or receiving provincial government services. In June the British Columbia Supreme Court sentenced two convicted polygamists to house arrest plus a year of probation and community service. The two men stated the conviction violated their religious beliefs. In November Prime Minister Justin Trudeau formally apologized for the government’s 1939 decision to turn away a ship with more than 900 Jews fleeing the Nazis.
Reports continued of anti-Muslim and anti-Semitic activity, including cases of violence, hate speech, harassment, discrimination, and vandalism. According to Statistics Canada’s hate crime statistics for 2017, the number of religiously motivated police-reported hate crimes was 83 percent higher than 2016, increasing to 842 cases. In 2017, the most recent year for which there were statistics, the B’nai Brith Canada League for Human Rights reported in its annual Audit of Anti-Semitic occurrences there were 16 cases of anti-Semitic violence nationwide and 327 reports of anti-Semitic vandalism. In July police arrested two men for a violent attack on a Muslim man. In January on the one-year anniversary of a shooting at a Quebec mosque, police investigated hate messages posted on the walls and door of an Ottawa mosque.
The Ambassador, embassy and consulate officials, and other U.S. government officials raised respect for religious freedom and diversity with the national and provincial governments. Embassy officials discussed strategies to combat religious intolerance through engagement with religious leaders, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and religious minority groups. The embassy sponsored and participated in public programs and events encouraging interfaith dialogue and freedom of religion. In January the Winnipeg Consul General and consulate staff visited the Islamic Social Services Agency to promote interfaith dialogue and explore future opportunities for collaboration. The embassy amplified these activities through social media.
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. 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, particularly teachers and courtroom officials. While senior government leaders continued to condemn anti-Semitism and anti-Muslim sentiment, some members of the federal parliament and state assemblies from the Alternative for Germany (AfD) Party again made anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim statements. The federal and seven state governments appointed anti-Semitism commissioners for the first time, following a recommendation in a parliament-commissioned 2017 experts’ report to create a federal anti-Semitism commissioner in response to growing anti-Semitism. The federal anti-Semitism commissioner serves as a contact for Jewish groups and coordinates initiatives to combat anti-Semitism in the federal ministries. In July the government announced it would increase social welfare funding for Holocaust survivors by 75 million euros ($86 million) in 2019. In March Federal Interior Minister Horst Seehofer said he did not consider Islam to be a part of the country’s culture, and that the country was characterized by Christianity. In May the Bavarian government decreed that every public building in the state must display a cross in a clearly visible location near its entrance.
There were numerous reports of anti-Semitic, anti-Muslim, and anti-Christian incidents. These included assaults, verbal harassment, threats, discrimination, and vandalism. Most anti-Christian incidents involved actions by Muslim migrants against migrant converts. Jews expressed security concerns after several widely publicized anti-Semitic attacks, coupled with reports of anti-Semitic bullying in schools. Final federal crime statistics cite 1,799 anti-Semitic crimes during the year, including 69 involving violence, an increase of 20 percent compared with 1,504 anti-Semitic crimes, of which 37 were violent, in 2017. The federal crime statistics attributed 93 percent of the 2017 crimes to the far right. A study covering 2007-2017 by the Technical University of Berlin found online anti-Semitism was at its highest level ever recorded. There were demonstrations expressing anti-Muslim and anti-Islamic sentiment and protests against what participants described as radical Islam. 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 monitored the government’s responses to incidents of religious intolerance and expressed concerns about anti-Semitic, anti-Christian, and anti-Muslim acts. Embassy representatives met regularly with the newly appointed federal government anti-Semitism commissioner at the Ministry of Interior. 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.
The constitution provides for the free exercise of all religions. The law establishes the conditions for recognition and practice of religious groups. The government continued to provide the Roman Catholic Church with funds and privileges other religious groups did not receive. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Religious Denominations (MFA) continued to state that it must provide such privileges to the Catholic Church in accordance with an 1860 international convention (concordat) between the government and the Holy See and not due to government preference for the Catholic Church. Although Vodou was a registered religious group, the government again did not grant Vodou clergy legal certification to perform civil marriages or baptisms. The MFA still did not approve long-standing requests from the Muslim community for religious registration. The MFA stated the government did not recognize Islam as an official religion because Islamic practices, such as polygamy, belief in the death penalty, and the practice of adopting Islamic names after conversion were incompatible with the law.
According to media reports, on January 16, police arrested four men suspected of killing well known Catholic priest Joseph Simoly in December 2017. While some individuals alleged Simoly was killed because of his political activism, others said there was no strong evidence that his death was anything but the result of a violent armed robbery. Vodou community leaders said Vodou practitioners continued to experience social stigmatization for their beliefs and practices. According to the leadership of the National Confederation of Haitian Vaudouisants, as in previous years, teachers and administrators in Catholic and Protestant schools at times openly rejected and condemned Vodou culture and customs as contrary to the teachings of the Bible. Muslim leaders said their community, especially Muslim women wearing hijabs, continued to face social stigma and discrimination from the rest of society. Muslims also said they faced discrimination when seeking public- and private-sector employment.
U.S. embassy officials met with the MFA to reinforce the importance of religious freedom, in particular the need for equal protection and equal legal rights for religious minority groups. Embassy representatives also met with faith-based nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and Catholic, Protestant, Vodou, and Muslim religious leaders to seek their views on religious freedom and tolerance and to emphasize the importance of respecting religious diversity and the rights of members of minority religious groups.
In the absence of a written constitution, the law establishes the Church of England as England’s state church and the Church of Scotland as Scotland’s national church. The law prohibits “incitement to religious hatred” as well as discrimination on the grounds of religion. The government updated the 2016 Hate Plan and committed to spending 1.5 million pounds ($1.92 million) on educational programs to challenge discriminatory beliefs. The Home Office published an independent review of the application of sharia in England and Wales that included recommendations for legislative changes to bring the treatment of Muslim religious marriages into line with those of other faiths, an awareness campaign highlighting the benefits of civil registration for religious marriages, and a proposal for the government to regulate sharia councils. The main political parties faced numerous accusations of religious bias. Religious and civil society groups, the media, and others accused Conservative Party politicians, including former Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, of anti-Muslim sentiment, and a number of Labour Party politicians, including leader Jeremy Corbyn, faced repeated accusations of anti-Semitism. The Scottish government launched an “Anti-Hate” campaign in an effort to erase sectarianism. The government, a member of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) since 1998, adopted the IHRA’s full working definition of anti-Semitism. In 2017 the London Assembly, Scottish government, and Welsh government also adopted the IHRA’s definition. During the year, the Conservative, Labour, and Liberal Democrat Parties adopted the IHRA definition, but the Green Party’s ruling body decided against it. The Scottish National Party (SNP) did not clarify whether it has adopted the definition.
The government reported similarly high numbers as the previous year in religiously motivated hate crimes and incidents in England, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland. Community Security Trust (CST), a nongovernmental organization (NGO) monitoring anti-Semitism, recorded 1,652 anti-Semitic incidents during the year, the highest it had ever recorded in a single year and an increase of 16 percent, compared with 1,414 incidents in 2017. There were multiple incidents of violence, arson, threats, and vandalism against religious groups. There were incidents of religiously motivated hate speech against Muslims, Jews, and Christians. Such incidents included the assault on and threatening of a man because of his Muslim beliefs, an assault on two female Jewish protesters outside a political event, attacks and vandalism on Sikh temples and mosques, and a postal campaign encouraging members of the public to “Punish a Muslim.” A number of interfaith initiatives were launched, including the “21 for 21” project, which attempts to identify leaders for the 21st century, seven each from the Christian, Muslim, and Jewish communities.
U.S. embassy officials engaged with and sponsored speakers to visit religious groups. The embassy recognized October 27 as International Religious Freedom Day on its social media channels, including tweets from the embassy’s account highlighting the International Religious Freedom Act, the 2018 Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom, and the statement of the U.S. Secretary of State on the importance of promoting religious freedom and defending vulnerable minorities. On October 29, the Ambassador joined Home Secretary Sajid Javid, Mayor of London Sadiq Khan, Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis, and other religious and political leaders at a memorial at a North West London Jewish center for the victims of the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting. The Ambassador joined other speakers in calling for unity against religious hatred.