The constitution stipulates the state is independent of religion and provides for “freedom of thought, spirituality, religion, and worship, expressed individually or collectively, in public and in private.” The constitution and other laws accord educational institutions the right to teach religion, including indigenous spiritual belief classes. Because of COVID-19 restrictions, there were administrative delays reported in implementing and enforcing the 2019 Law of Religious Freedom, Religious Organizations and Spiritual Beliefs, which created a clear distinction between nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and religious organizations. Evangelical Protestant community representatives again reported several smaller religious communities with “house churches” preferred not to register their organizations because they did not want to provide the government access to private internal information.
There were no reports of significant societal actions affecting religious freedom.
In October, embassy representatives met with Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) officials to discuss the challenges related to COVID-19 restrictions and their impact on religious freedom and the status of implementation of the religious freedom law. Embassy staff regularly met with religious leaders to underscore the importance of religious freedom. The Charge d’Affaires hosted a virtual interfaith meeting with religious leaders in October, including representatives from Roman Catholic, Protestant, Muslim, and Jewish groups, to engage them in interfaith dialogue, discuss the impact of COVID-19 in their communities, and hear their views on the current state of religious freedom. Embassy officials met on other occasions with representatives from Muslim, evangelical Protestant, and Catholic groups to discuss the impact of COVID-19 pandemic on their congregations and their relationships with the interim government under the leadership of President Jeanine Anez, which was in power until November when newly elected President Luis Arce took office.
Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom
According to the constitution, the state respects and provides for “freedom of thought, spirituality, religion and worship,” expressed individually or collectively, in public and in private. The constitution stipulates the state is independent of all religion.
The constitution prohibits religious discrimination, including access to educational institutions, health services, and employment, and protects the right of access to public sport and recreational activities without regard to religion.
The Freedom of Religion, Religious Organizations, and Spiritual Organizations Law creates a clear distinction between NGOs and religious organizations. Under the law, religious organizations are constituted to practice, profess, and teach their specific faith or religion, while NGOs have no such faith-based ties. The religious freedom law requires all religious or spiritual organizations to inform the government of all financial, legal, social, and religious activities. The law regulates religious or spiritual organizations’ finances and labor practices by requiring their use of funds exclusively to achieve the organization’s objectives, banning the distribution of money among members, subjecting all employees to national labor laws, requiring the organizations to register with the MFA, and compelling them to pay taxes. Pursuant to a concordat with the Holy See, the Catholic Church is exempt from registration.
Religious organizations must submit 14 documentary requirements to register with the government. These include notarized legal documents, including statutes, internal regulations and procedures; rental agreement documents, utility invoices for the place(s) of worship, and a site map; detailed information on board members and legal representatives, including criminal background checks; an INTERPOL certificate for foreigners; proof of fiscal solvency; organization chart, with names, addresses, identification card numbers, and photographs; a full list of members and identifying information; details on activities and services provided by the organization, including the location of the services; and information on their financing source(s), domestic and/or foreign.
The requirements for classification as a spiritual organization or religious organization vary slightly, but the government requires essentially the same type of information from both spiritual and religious entities. The constitution defines a spiritual organization as a group of natural, national, and/or foreign persons who organize themselves to carry out practices that develop their spirituality according to their ancestral worldview. Most spiritual organizations are indigenous in their origins. The constitution defines a religious organization as a group of natural, national, and/or foreign persons who organize themselves with the purpose of carrying out practices of worship and/or belief around a Supreme Being in order to develop their spirituality and religiosity, and whose purpose does not pursue profit.
The government may revoke a spiritual or religious organization’s operating license if the organization does not produce an annual report of activities for more than two consecutive years; does not comply with its stated objectives; carries out activities different from those established in its statutes; or carries out activities contrary to the country’s constitution, laws, morality, or “good customs.” A religious or spiritual organization may also lose its operating license if it does not comply with the deadline for renewing the license.
A 2017 regulation requires religious and spiritual groups to reregister their operating licenses to ensure all documents list the official name of the country as “Estado Plurinacional de Bolivia.” Reregistration also requires any amendments to organizations’ bylaws to conform to all new national laws. Religious and spiritual groups were required to comply with these new registration requirements by the end of 2019.
The fees to obtain an operating license differ between “Religious Organizations” and “Spiritual Organizations,” with costs of 6,780 bolivianos ($1,000) and 4,068 bolivianos ($600), respectively.
The government reserves the right to revoke an organization’s operating permit for noncompliance with the registration requirements. The government may not deny legal recognition to any organization based on its articles of faith.
The constitution and other laws provide educational institutions the option to teach religion classes, including indigenous spiritual belief classes, with the stated aim of encouraging mutual respect among religious communities. While religion classes are optional, schools must teach ethics with curriculum materials that promote religious tolerance. The government does not restrict religious teaching in public or private schools, and it does not restrict a student from attending private, religiously affiliated schools. The law also requires all schools to accept students regardless of their religious affiliation.
The country is a party to the International Covenant on Political and Civil Rights.
The constitution states freedom of conscience and belief is inviolable, and it provides for the free exercise of religious beliefs. The constitution prohibits federal, state, and local governments from either supporting or hindering any religion. According to media reports, a military officer threatened an Afro-Brazilian religious group multiple times, including with weapons. In July, media outlets reported an electrician would press charges against the mayor of Belford Roxo in Rio de Janeiro State because the mayor’s staff threatened him and made derogatory statements about his Afro-Brazilian Candomble religion. The city government later apologized. On July 31, a Sao Paulo court awarded custody of a 12-year-old girl to her maternal Christian grandmother, removing the girl from her mother, who had supported her daughter’s choice to practice Candomble. In an August 14 appeal decision, the court restored custody to the mother. During the year, high level government officials made public remarks that religious minorities considered derogatory. In January, President Jair Bolsonaro dismissed Culture Minister Roberto Alvim after Alvim included in remarks excerpts from a speech by Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels. In October, the Santa Catarina Liberal Party leadership removed a history professor from its candidate list for a local town council election in Pomerode due to his association with neo-Nazi symbols and for not being ideologically aligned with the party. In February, in response to attacks on Afro-Brazilian religious places of worship, known as terreiros, the municipal government in Baixada Fluminense, Rio de Janeiro State, inaugurated the Center for Assistance to Victims of Religious Intolerance to support victims of religious intolerance in the region. On January 21, municipalities throughout the country commemorated the National Day to Combat Religious Intolerance. In May, the Sao Paulo Legislative Assembly held the Sao Paulo State Religious Freedom Week, a series of virtual meetings to promote freedom of religion and tolerance.
According to national human rights hotline data and other sources, societal respect for practitioners of minority religions continued to be weak, and violent attacks on terreiros continued. Although less than two percent of the population followed Afro-Brazilian religions, 17 percent of the cases registered by the human rights hotline during the first six months of 2019 involved victims who were practitioners of Afro-Brazilian religions, down from 30 percent the previous year. According to the National Secretariat of Human Rights of the Ministry of Women, Family, and Human Rights, the national human rights hotline received 410 reports of religious intolerance in 2019, compared with 506 in 2018. Media reported individuals set fire to, bombed, and destroyed Afro-Brazilian places of worship, sometimes injuring or threatening worshippers. From January to August, the Jewish Federation of Sao Paulo recorded 149 incidents and allegations of anti-Semitism in the country in its annual Anti-Semitism Report. A global survey released in June by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) showed that the percentage of Brazilians who harbor some anti-Jewish sentiment increased from 19 percent in 2019 to 26 percent in 2020. Authorities investigated the physical assault on a Jewish man in rural Sao Paulo in February. Three attackers shouted anti-Semitic offenses while they beat the victim and cut his kippah with a knife. Media and religious organizations reported increased accounts of hate speech directed at religious minorities on social media and the internet, in particular anti-Afro-Brazilian and anti-Semitic comments. On December 13, Rio de Janeiro Mayor Marcelo Crivella inaugurated the Monument in Memory of the Victims of the Holocaust. Religious organizations hosted interfaith community events, including the 11th Annual Walk against Religious Intolerance in Salvador, Bahia, which drew approximately five thousand Candomble followers.
In October, the Ambassador met with the Minister of Women, Family, and Human Rights. In September, embassy representatives met with the Ministry of Women, Family, and Human Rights’ Secretariat of Global Protection to discuss the importance of religious freedom. On September 1, the Ambassador met virtually with the President of the National Conference of Brazilian Bishops. In July, the embassy and consulates held an interfaith virtual roundtable to discuss the state of religious freedom, tolerance, and diversity in the country. In July, a representative from the consulate in Rio de Janeiro met with a representative of the local nongovernmental organization (NGO) Jewish Federation of Rio de Janeiro (FIERJ) to discuss challenges faced by the Jewish community in Rio de Janeiro and cases of anti-Semitism in the state. A consulate representative met with Candomble priest and head of the Commission to Combat Religious Intolerance (CCIR) Ivanir dos Santos to learn about the challenges faced within the Candomble community due to the COVID-19 pandemic, new cases of religious intolerance involving followers of Afro-Brazilian religions, and possible areas in which the United States could serve as a partner for promoting religious freedom. In August, the embassy held a virtual roundtable with four speakers, including a representative of an Afro-Brazilian community known as a quilombo (founded by runaway slaves), who discussed the challenges for members of the community who participate in religious events in the terreiro. The Rio de Janeiro Consul General wrote an op-ed in honor of the August 22 International Day Commemorating the Victims of Acts of Violence Based on Religion or Belief, published by Bahia newspaper Correio. On October 8, embassy representatives hosted a roundtable with representatives from three religious faiths and two interfaith organization representatives to discuss the state of religious freedom in the country and raise concerns regarding attacks on religious minorities.
Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom
The constitution states freedom of conscience and belief is inviolable, and the free exercise of religious beliefs is guaranteed. The constitution prohibits the federal, state, and local governments from either supporting or hindering any specific religion. The law provides penalties of up to five years in prison for crimes of religious intolerance, including bullying, employment discrimination, refusal of access to public areas, and displaying, distributing, or broadcasting religiously intolerant material. Courts may fine or imprison for one to three years anyone who engages in religious hate speech. If the hate speech occurs via publication or social communication, including social media, courts may fine or imprison those held responsible for two to five years. It is illegal to write, edit, publish, or sell literature that promotes religious intolerance.
Religious groups are not required to register to establish places of worship, train clergy, or proselytize, but groups seeking tax-exempt status must register with the Department of Federal Revenue and the local municipality. States and municipalities have different requirements and regulations for obtaining tax-exempt status. Most jurisdictions require groups to document the purpose of their congregation, provide an accounting of finances, and have a fire inspection of any house of worship. Local zoning laws and noise ordinances may limit where a religious group may build houses of worship or hold ceremonies. The law protects the right to use animal sacrifice in religious rituals.
Government regulations require public schools to offer religious instruction, but neither the constitution nor legislation defines the parameters. By law, the instruction must be nondenominational and conducted without proselytizing, and alternative instruction for students who do not want to participate must be available. Schools are required to teach Afro-Brazilian religion, history, and culture. The law allows public and private school students, except those in military training, to postpone taking exams or attending classes on their day of worship when their faith prohibits such activities. The law guarantees the right of students to express their religious beliefs and mandates that schools provide alternatives, including taking replacement exams or makeup classes.
The law prohibits public subsidies to schools operated by religious organizations.
A constitutional provision provides the right of access to religious services and counsel to individuals of all religions in all civil and military establishments. The law states that public and private hospitals as well as civil or military prisons must comply with this provision.
A Sao Paulo State law establishes administrative sanctions for individuals and organizations engaging in religious intolerance. Punishment ranges from a warning letter to fines of up to 82,000 reais ($15,800); the increase reflects changes in the law.
The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
The constitution provides for freedom of religion and the right to profess one’s religious beliefs. It prohibits discrimination based on religion. The Ministry of Interior (MOI) is responsible for formally recognizing churches, religious denominations, religious federations and confederations, and associations of religious ministers. The MOI continued to hold training sessions on community development strategies for religious groups and societal leaders. Religious leaders expressed continued concern regarding a law requiring interagency commissions to evaluate requests for conscientious objector status. Religious leaders noted their increased involvement with the MOI, including in the planning process for the country’s role as host of the Hemispheric Forum on Freedom of Religion or Belief. Religious leaders reported arbitrary enforcement of the tax law, specifically regarding the taxability of donations to religious organizations. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ (MFA) and the United Nations Development Program’s (UNDP) 2019 agreement to study the social contribution and sustainable development goals of religious organizations went into effect, and the department of Cundinamarca officially enrolled in the study in August. On February 28, the MOI released a new public policy draft decree on religious freedom and worship aimed at increasing coordination with religious groups in an effort to update a 1997 agreement that stipulated which religious organizations might perform government-recognized services. According to the MOI, these decrees would enable religious groups, in addition to the original signatories, to have the authority to engage in activities such as marriages, funeral services, chaplain services, and spiritual assistance. By year’s end, 19 major cities and 14 departments had adopted new public policies on religious freedom, up from 14 and 11 at the close of 2019.
Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) continued to report that illegal armed groups threatened and physically attacked leaders and members of religious organizations in many areas of the country. The Attorney General’s Office (AGO) reported members of illegal armed groups killed three leaders of religious organizations and committed acts of violence against 16 others that resulted in injury.
The Jewish community reported continued anti-Semitic comments on social media sites, including some that questioned Israel’s right to exist. During the year, the Catholic Church, Mennonite Church, and other religious groups continued to conduct programs focused on religious tolerance, land rights, peace, and reconciliation. Faith-based and interfaith NGOs, including DiPaz and the Inter-Ecclesiastical Commission on Justice and Peace, continued to promote religious freedom and tolerance through their programs and community engagement. The Catholic Church in the country and other religious organizations helped the Association of Food Banks of Colombia distribute more than 33 million pounds of food during the COVID-19 pandemic to all in need regardless of religion.
U.S. embassy officials raised issues of religious freedom, including conscientious objection to military service and the effect of illegal armed actors on religious practice, with government officials. Embassy officials met with the Human Rights Directorate of the MFA, the International Affairs Directorate of the AGO, the Religious Affairs Directorate of the MOI, and members of congress. Embassy officials discussed with the MOI public policies on religious freedom and worship, including support for victims of conflict and other vulnerable populations and the importance of ensuring indigenous groups were included in government-sponsored events on religious tolerance and inclusion. Embassy officials also met with representatives from a wide range of religious groups, including the Jewish and Muslim communities, Catholics, evangelical Protestants, Baptists, Seventh-day Adventists, Presbyterians, Mennonites, Baha’is, Greek Orthodox, and members of indigenous groups. In these meetings, embassy officials discussed issues related to the government’s policies on religious freedom, conscientious objection, anti-Semitism, and government support for religious organizations providing services for trafficking victims, internally displaced persons, and Venezuelan migrants and refugees.
Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom
The constitution provides for freedom of religion and the right to profess one’s religious beliefs. It prohibits discrimination based on religion. There is no official state church or religion, but the law says the state “is not atheist or agnostic, nor indifferent to Colombians’ religious sentiment.” The constitution states all religions and churches are equal before the law. A 1998 Constitutional Court ruling upholds the right of traditional authorities to enforce the observation of and participation in traditional religious beliefs and practices on indigenous reserves. Subsequent rulings refer to the 1998 decision to reaffirm the right of indigenous governors to prohibit the practice of certain religions on indigenous reserves. A concordat between the Holy See and the government, recognized and enforced by law, recognizes marriages performed by the Catholic Church, allows the Church to provide chaplaincy services, and exempts members of the Catholic clergy from compulsory public service, including military service. According to a court ruling, these provisions are constitutional as long as they apply to all religious groups, but the legal framework is not in place to extend them to all religious groups. The law prohibits any official government reference to a religious affiliation for the country.
The MOI is responsible for formally recognizing churches, religious denominations, religious federations and confederations, and associations of religious ministers, as well as keeping a public registry of religious entities. Entities formally recognized by the MOI may then confer this recognition, called “extended public recognition,” to affiliated groups sharing the same beliefs. The application process requires submission of a formal request and basic organizational information, including copies of the organization’s constitution and an estimate of the number of members. The government considers a religious group’s total membership, its “degree of acceptance within society,” and other factors, such as the organization’s statutes and its required behavioral norms, when deciding whether to grant it formal recognition. The MOI is authorized to reject requests that are incomplete or do not fully comply with established requirements. The MOI provides a free, web-based registration process for religious and faith-based organizations seeking recognition. Formally recognized entities may collect funds and receive donations, establish religious education institutions, and perform religious services, excluding marriages. Unregistered entities may perform religious activities without penalty but may not collect funds or receive donations.
The state recognizes as legally binding marriages performed by the Catholic Church, the Jewish community, and 13 non-Catholic Christian denominations that are signatories to a 1997 public law agreement. The agreement authorizes these religious groups to engage in activities such as marriages, funeral services, and spiritual assistance in prisons, hospitals, military facilities, and educational institutions. Under this agreement, members of religious groups that are neither signatories to the agreement nor affiliated with signatories must marry in a civil ceremony for the state to recognize the marriage. Religious groups not signatories to the 1997 public law may not provide chaplaincy services or conduct state-recognized marriages.
The constitution recognizes the right of parents to choose the education of their child, including religious instruction. The law states religious education shall be offered in accordance with laws protecting religious freedom, and it identifies the Ministry of Education as responsible for establishing guidelines for teaching religion within the public school curriculum. Religious groups, including those that have not acceded to the public law agreement, may establish their own schools, provided they comply with ministry requirements. A Constitutional Court ruling obligates schools to implement alternative accommodations for students based on their religion, which could include students at religious institutions opting out of prayers or religious lessons. The government does not provide subsidies for private schools run by religious organizations.
The law imposes a penalty of one to three years in prison and a fine of 10 to 15 times the monthly minimum wage, approximately 8.3 million to 12.4 million Colombian pesos ($2,400 to $3,600), for violations of religious freedom, including discrimination based on religion. The penal code also prohibits discrimination based on religious beliefs, including physical or moral harm.
A Constitutional Court ruling states that citizens, including members of indigenous communities, may be exempt from compulsory military service if they can demonstrate a serious and permanent commitment to religious principles that prohibit the use of force. Conscientious objectors who are exempt from military service may complete alternative, government-selected public service. The law requires that regional interagency commissions (Interdisciplinary Commissions on Conscientious Objection, under the Ministry of Defense) evaluate requests for conscientious objector status; commission members include representatives from the armed forces, the Inspector General’s Office, and medical, psychological, and legal experts. By law, the National Commission of Conscientious Objection reviews any cases not resolved at the regional level. The law requires that every battalion or larger military unit designate an officer in charge of processing conscientious objector exemptions.
According to the law, all associations, foundations, and corporations declared as nonprofit organizations, including foundations supported by churches or religious organizations recognized by the MOI, must pay taxes. Churches and religious organizations recognized by the MOI are tax-exempt, but they must report their incomes and expenses to the National Tax and Customs Authority. According to a Constitutional Court ruling, the state may not seize the assets of non-Catholic churches in legal proceedings if the church meets the requirements for formal government recognition.
Foreign missionaries must possess a special visa, valid for up to two years. The MFA issues visas to foreign missionaries and religious group administrators who are members of religious organizations officially recognized and registered with the MOI. When applying for a visa, foreign missionaries must have a certificate from either the MOI or church authorities confirming registration of their religious group with the MFA. Alternatively, they may produce a certificate issued by a registered religious group confirming the applicant’s membership and mission in the country. The visa application also requires a letter issued by a legal representative of the religious group stating the organization accepts full financial responsibility for the expenses of the applicant and family, including funds for return to their country of origin or last country of residence. Applicants must explain the purpose of the proposed sojourn and provide proof of economic means. A Constitutional Court ruling stipulates that no group may impose religious conversion on members of indigenous communities.
The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
The constitution grants individuals the right to choose, practice, and change religions; it prohibits discrimination based on religion. The constitution also states secular ethics are the basis for public service and the legal system. The law requires all religious groups to register with the government; failure to do so can result in the group’s dissolution and liquidation of its physical property. Multiple religious leaders continued to express concern regarding the 2019 administrative consolidation of religious affairs issues within the Human Rights Secretariat, stating the change had improved the registration process but reduced a religious group’s ability to advocate its interests before the government. Religious leaders said the registration processing time decreased from six-month delays in 2019 to an average 30-day wait. On September 1, the human rights ombudsman ruled in favor of a group of COVID-19 victims’ relatives, stating authorities had infringed on the freedom of worship during the pandemic outbreak by misplacing or losing several remains and thus preventing religious traditions regarding burial customs from taking place as prescribed. Religious leaders said the National Assembly made no progress on the proposal to reform the 1937 religion law that the interfaith National Council on Religious Freedom and Equality (CONALIR), which includes representatives from Anglican, Baha’i, Buddhist, Catholic, evangelical and nonevangelical Protestants, Greek Orthodox, Jewish, Muslim, and Seventh-day Adventist Church faith communities, first discussed with the National Assembly in 2018. Jewish and Muslim leaders said general customs regulations continued to hinder their ability to import products for use in religious festivals. Religious leaders expressed opposition to a health reform law the National Assembly passed on August 25, but which President Lenin Moreno vetoed on September 25. Catholic and evangelical Christian leaders asked the President to reject the law because of a provision requiring medical doctors to provide emergency care to women who had begun an abortion or had complications from an abortion to protect the mother’s life. Two cases involving Seventh-day Adventist students remained pending in the court system; both involved the refusal of two different universities to accommodate the students’ requests to observe Saturday, the Seventh-day Adventist Sabbath.
Some Catholic and Protestant leaders said COVID-19 infection fears sparked social media disinformation about places of worship being epicenters for COVID-19 contagion. Several religious leaders expressed concern regarding what they considered a rise in secularism and societal discouragement of their participation in important legal and cultural discussions. A Muslim leader said a common societal view was that Muslims were foreigners, with some individuals saying Muslims should “return to their countries,” even though they were citizens or residents.
U.S. embassy and consulate general officials met with officials in the Ministry of Government to discuss the registration process for religious groups, government promotion and protection of religious freedom, and other related human rights. A senior embassy official hosted an October 15 roundtable with religious leaders to discuss challenges facing their communities. The Consul General in Guayaquil hosted a roundtable on September 29 with religious leaders to discuss religious freedom and their communities’ response to COVID-19. Embassy officials spoke with representatives from CONALIR to encourage continued interfaith and ecumenical dialogue.
Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom
The constitution grants all individuals the right to practice and profess publicly and freely the religion of their choice and prohibits discrimination based on religion. It states the government has a responsibility to “protect voluntary religious practice, as well as the expression of those who do not profess any religion and will favor an atmosphere of plurality and tolerance.” Individuals have the right to change their religion. The constitution also states secular ethics are the basis for public service and the country’s legal system. The constitution grants the right of self-determination to indigenous communities, including provisions granting freedom to “develop and strengthen their identity, feeling of belonging, ancestral traditions, and form of social organization.”
A 1937 concordat with the Holy See accords juridical status to the Catholic Church and grants it financial privileges and tax exemptions. Other religious groups must register as legal entities with the government under a separate 1937 religion law and a 2000 decree on religion. If a religious group wishes to provide social services, it must register under a 2017 executive decree regulating civil society. The 2017 decree dictates how civil society organizations (CSOs) must register to obtain and maintain legal status. A religious group does not need to register as a religious organization to register as a CSO and may conduct the processes separately.
By law, the Ministry of Government’s Human Rights Secretariat oversees religious issues, including the registration process for religious groups and CSOs. The Human Rights Secretariat maintains national databases of legally recognized religious organizations and legally recognized CSOs, including religious groups that have registered as CSOs. Registration provides religious groups with legal and nonprofit status. An officially registered religious group, whether as a religious organization or as a CSO, is eligible to receive government funding and exemptions from certain taxes per the tax code.
To register as a religious organization, a group must present a charter signed by all of its founding members to the Human Rights Secretariat and provide information on its leadership and physical location. Registrants may deliver their documentation to the Human Rights Secretariat directly, to one of the secretariat’s eight regional offices, or via email. The registration process is free of charge. The Office of Religious Groups within the Human Rights Secretariat then assigns an expert to analyze the submitted documentation.
To register as a CSO, religious groups require the same documentation as required for registration as a religious organization, in addition to approved statutes and a description of the mission statement and objectives of the organization. A religious group registers as a CSO under the government agency overseeing the issues on which the group wishes to work.
The secretariat may dissolve a religious group if the group does not maintain legal status or does not adhere to the mission, goals, and objectives listed in its bylaws at the time of registration. Dissolution may include liquidation of physical property and be voluntary – in which case, the religious group could decide to whom to transfer its property – or forced, in which case the Human Rights Secretariat would confiscate the group’s property. The Office of the Human Rights Ombudsman, a separate entity from the Human Rights Secretariat, protects and advocates for human rights, including rights pertaining to religious groups; however, its role in this regard is not clearly defined in the constitution.
The labor law states that in general all work must be paid and does not distinguish religious workers from other types of workers. A citizen participation law recognizes volunteerism and states social organizations may establish agreements with government authorities to employ unpaid labor. The law, however, does not specifically reference religious volunteerism as a category to be utilized to establish such an agreement.
Foreign missionaries and religious volunteers must apply for a temporary residence visa and present a letter of invitation from the sponsoring organization, which may be foreign or domestic but must have legal status in the country, to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The letter must include a commitment to cover the applicant’s living expenses and detail the applicant’s proposed activities. Applicants also must provide a certified copy of the bylaws of the sponsoring organization and the name of its legal representative as approved by the government.
The law prohibits public schools from providing religious instruction. Private schools may offer religious instruction but must comply with Ministry of Education standards. There are no legal restrictions specifying which religious groups may establish schools.
The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
The constitution and the law protect the right of individuals to choose, change, and practice religion. On October 2, President Emmanuel Macron unveiled a broad set of policies to combat “Islamist separatism,” which he described as a “methodical organization” to create a “countersociety” in which Islamists impose their own rules and laws on isolated communities, and defend state secularism against radical Islam. Among the measures in a draft law to be taken up by parliament, which Macron said were directed against radical Islamists that undermined French values rather than at Muslims broadly, were ending foreign financing of imams and abolishing unaccredited schools. On November 2, Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin announced the government had closed 43 mosques for extremism since May 2017. Catholic Church officials criticized government COVID-19 restrictions that, they said, inordinately affected religious groups. In May, the country’s highest administrative court ordered an end to the ban on religious gatherings, calling freedom of worship a fundamental right. In November, the same court denied an appeal by Catholic bishops to overturn a new government prohibition on masses after a new wave of COVID infections. In June, the Constitutional Council invalidated core provisions of a law against online hate speech that parliament had enacted in May as part of the government’s plan to combat racism and anti-Semitism. In June, the European Court of Human Rights ruled the government had violated the free speech rights of Palestinian activists advocating for the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel. In January, demonstrators in Paris protested a 2019 court ruling that the killer of a Jewish woman, Sarah Halimi, in 2017 was not criminally responsible. Jewish groups protested the Paris prosecutor’s decision not to charge a man with anti-Semitism after he painted swastikas on a landmark Paris street. President Macron and other government officials condemned anti-Semitic, anti-Muslim, and anti-Christian acts, and the government continued to deploy security forces to protect religious and other sensitive sites.
There were instances of religiously motivated crimes and other abuses, including killings, attempted killings, assaults, threats, hate speech, discrimination, and vandalism. On October 29, a Tunisian man killed three Christian worshippers in a church in Nice. In October, a teenage Chechen Muslim refugee beheaded teacher Samuel Paty after he showed his class cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad in a discussion on freedom of expression. In September, a Pakistani man stabbed two persons outside the former offices of the Charlie Hebdo magazine, shortly after the magazine had republished cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad. Although 2020 statistics on anti-Christian incidents were not yet available, most incidents involved vandalism or arson of churches and cemeteries. The French Council of the Muslim Faith (CFCM) reported 235 incidents targeting Muslims, compared with 154 in 2019. The Jewish Community Protection Service (SPCJ) reported 339 anti-Semitic incidents – a decrease of 50 percent compared with the 687 in 2019 – including a violent assault on a Jewish man and desecration of Jewish cemeteries. In October, authorities charged two women with assault and racist slurs for stabbing two women wearing Islamic headscarves. A January survey for the American Jewish Committee (AJC) found 70 percent of Jewish respondents said they had been the targets of at least one anti-Semitic incident in their lifetimes. In the same survey, 47 percent of Jewish and non-Jewish respondents (and two-thirds of Jews) said the level of anti-Semitism in the country was high.
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 designated combating anti-Semitism as one of four key “pillars” of enhanced embassy outreach. 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, such as projects bringing together youth of different faiths and roundtable events with religious leaders, and regularly used social media to convey messages highlighting issues pertaining to religious freedom.
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 ($1,800) and imprisonment for 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 ($55,200-$92,000), 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 ($55,200). 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 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 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, 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. Under the law, the Church of Scientology has the status of a secular and not a religious association. Parliamentary reports (most recently in 1996) have labelled Scientology as a “cult,” and multiple Scientology officials have been convicted of crimes in the country.
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 that 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. A place of worship that has been closed may remain closed beyond the six-month maximum if it does not replace its chief cleric and/or management. Noncompliance with a closure decision carries a six-month prison sentence and a fine of 7,500 euros ($9,200). On December 17, parliament voted for the extension of the legislation until the end of July 2021.
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 ($180) 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 ($36,800) 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 Islamic 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 (the administrative governance bodies of these groups) in Alsace-Moselle, and the Interior Minister appoints ministers of the three Christian churches (Catholic, Lutheran, and Protestant Reformed Church of Alsace and Lorraine) 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 Islamic 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 (Catholicism, Lutheranism, Protestant Reformed Church of Alsace and Lorraine, and Judaism) 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. According to the education code, religious instruction is allowed but optional in government-subsidized private schools. Students are not required to attend religion classes, and other activities are available for students who opt out.
Missionaries from countries not exempt from entry visa requirements must obtain a three-month tourist visa before traveling to the country. All missionaries from nonexempt 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 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.
The constitution protects freedom of religion and the right of religious communities to establish their own institutions. It specifies the state and the Roman Catholic Church are independent, with their relations governed by treaties, including a concordat granting the Church a number of specific privileges and benefits, and financial support. Twelve other religious groups have accords granting many of the same benefits in exchange for a degree of government monitoring. Religious groups must register to request an accord. Unregistered religious groups operate freely but are not eligible for the same benefits as groups with accords, although they may apply separately for benefits. The Muslim community, which does not have an accord, continued to experience difficulties acquiring permission from local governments to construct mosques. From March 8 to May 18, the government banned public gatherings, including all religious services in all places of worship, due to the coronavirus pandemic. The Italian Catholic Bishops Conference objected to these COVID-19 measures, and the government allowed the Catholic Church to resume services outdoors starting on May 10 and other religious groups on May 18. On February 10, a Rome court convicted and sentenced 24 persons to up to three years and 10 months in prison for racial and ethnic hate speech, defamation, and threats against Jews, migrants, and some public figures. Politicians from several political parties again made statements critical of Islam. On January 20, League Party leader Matteo Salvini said the large numbers of immigrants from Muslim majority countries had increased anti-Semitism in the country. On June 6, Jewish Member of Parliament Emanuele Fiano reported he had received an envelope in the mail containing an image of Adolf Hitler and subtitled “In the Oven.” The President of the Senate appointed 25 members to an extraordinary committee to fight intolerance, anti-Semitism, and hate crimes, as proposed by Senator for Life and Holocaust survivor Liliana Segre and approved by parliament in 2019. In July, the European Court for Human Rights ruled as admissible an appeal by the president of a Bangladeshi cultural association in Milan, who was sentenced to prison and fined in 2019 for hiring a construction company to convert a storage site into a place of worship without prior local government approval. The case marked the first time a court imposed criminal rather than administrative penalties for this type of violation. The Court of Cassation (the country’s highest court of appeal) suspended the prison sentence and fine associated with this case following the appeal.
There were reports of anti-Semitic incidents, including harassment, discrimination, hate speech, and vandalism. The nongovernmental organization (NGO) Anti-Semitism Observatory of the Jewish Contemporary Documentation Center Foundation (CDEC) recorded 224 anti-Semitic incidents during the year, compared with 251 in 2019 and 181 in 2018. Of the incidents, 117 involved hate speech on social media or the internet. The press reported examples of anti-Semitic graffiti and posters, including depictions of swastikas on walls, anti-Semitic stereotypes, and praise of neo-Nazi groups in cities such as Rome, Pavia, and Forli. The private research center STATISTA reported an estimated 15.6 percent of Italians believed the Holocaust never happened. While there was no official government data from institutions or public agencies on anti-Muslim incidents, local and European NGOs reported several physical attacks and verbal harassment against Muslims, especially involving hate speech. The NGO Vox Diritti reported 67,889 tweets, representing 59 percent of the total mentioning Islam, containing negative messages against Muslims during the year, compared with 22,532, or 74 percent of the total, in 2019.
Representatives from the U.S. embassy and consulates general met with national and local government officials to encourage respect for religious freedom and equal treatment for all faiths during the year. They also discussed efforts to integrate new migrants – many of whom were Muslim, Orthodox, or Hindu – and second-generation Muslims living in the country, and the prospect for an accord between the government and Muslim communities. In October, the Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom and other senior officials met with religious leaders and government officials to advance priority issues, including the fight against anti-Semitism and anti-Muslim sentiment and regional and local rules that impede the establishment of new places of worship. Embassy, consulate, and senior Department of State officials met with religious leaders and civil society representatives to promote interfaith dialogue and awareness, social inclusion, the empowerment of faith groups through social media, and the mobilization of youth leaders among faith groups. In September, embassy officials met with the national coordinator for the fight against anti-Semitism, the president of the Union of Italian Jewish Communities (UCEI), and Rome Jewish community leaders to discuss how to support their efforts to counter anti-Semitism among self-defined far-right groups and civil society. The embassy and consulates general consulted with the country’s Jewish communities and concerned authorities to develop the Department of State’s Justice for Uncompensated Survivors Today (JUST) Act Report for the country, which was published on July 29. The report highlighted the government’s commitment to the Terezin Declaration and its goals and objectives as well as areas where the government had not followed through with a government commission’s recommendations to identify survivors of targeted persecution in World War II or their heirs who are entitled to unclaimed property. The embassy also worked with the Commission for the Preservation of America’s Heritage Abroad to engage on issues surrounding a development that could affect a Jewish cemetery in Mantua. The embassy and consulates continued to use their social media platforms to acknowledge major Christian, Muslim, and Jewish holidays as well as to amplify initiatives that promote religious freedom and interfaith dialogue at the local level.
Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom
The constitution states all citizens are equal before the law regardless of religion and are free to profess their beliefs in any form, individually or with others, and to promote them and celebrate rites in public or in private, provided they are not offensive to public morality. According to the constitution, each religious community has the right to establish its own institutions according to its own statutes as long as these do not conflict with the law. The constitution stipulates the state may not impose special limitations or taxes on the establishment or activities of groups because of their religious nature or aims. The constitution specifies the state and the Catholic Church are independent of each other, and treaties, including a concordat between the government and the Holy See, govern their relations.
Insults against religions or against their followers in public are considered an administrative offense punishable by a fine ranging from 51 to 309 euros ($63-$380). The penal code punishes other public offenses to religion, such as offenses against objects used for religious rites or offenses expressed during religious ceremonies, with a fine of up to 5,000 euros ($6,100) or a prison sentence of up to two years. Those who destroy or violate objects used for religious ceremonies may be punished with up to two years in prison.
The constitution states all religious groups are equally free, and relations between the state and non-Catholic groups, including state support, are governed by agreements (“accords”) between them. Relations between the state and the Catholic Church are governed by a concordat between the government and the Holy See. Representatives of a non-Catholic faith requesting an accord must first submit their request to the Office of the Prime Minister. The government and the group’s representatives then negotiate a draft agreement, which the Council of Ministers must approve. The Prime Minister then signs and submits the agreement to parliament for final approval. Twelve groups have an accord: The Confederation of Methodist and Waldensian Churches, Seventh-day Adventists, Assemblies of God, Jews, Baptists, Lutherans, Church of Jesus Christ, Orthodox Church of the Constantinople Patriarchate, Italian Apostolic Church, Buddhist Union, Soka Gakkai Buddhists, and Hindus.
The law provides religious groups with tax-exempt status and the right to recognition as legal entities once they have completed the registration process with the MOI. Legal registration is a prerequisite for any group seeking an accord with the government. A religious group may apply for registration by submitting to a prefect, the local representative of the MOI, an official request that includes the group’s statutes; a report on its goals and activities; information on its administrative offices; a three-year budget; certification of its credit status by a bank; and certification of the Italian citizenship or legal residency of its head. To be approved, a group’s statutes must not conflict with the law. Once approved, the group must submit to MOI administrative monitoring, including oversight of its budget and internal organization. The MOI may appoint a commissioner to administer the group if it identifies irregularities in its activities. Religious groups that are not registered may still operate legally as cultural associations and obtain tax-exempt status, legal recognition of marriages, access to hospitals and prisons, and other benefits, but those benefits are more easily obtained if a group has an accord with the government. The Catholic Church is the only legally recognized group exempted from MOI monitoring, in accordance with the concordat between the government and the Holy See.
An accord grants clergy automatic access to state hospitals, prisons, and military barracks; allows for civil registry of religious marriages; facilitates special religious practices regarding funerals; and exempts students from school attendance on religious holidays. Any religious group without an accord may request these benefits from the MOI on a case-by-case basis. An accord also allows a religious group to receive funds collected by the state through a voluntary 0.8 percent of personal income tax set-aside on taxpayer returns. Taxpayers may specify to which eligible religious group they would like to direct these funds.
National law does not restrict religious face coverings, but some local authorities impose restrictions. Regional laws in Liguria, Veneto, and Lombardy prohibit the wearing of burqas and niqabs in public buildings and institutions, including hospitals.
The concordat with the Holy See provides for the Catholic Church to select teachers, paid by the state, to provide instruction in weekly “hour of religion” courses taught in public schools. The courses are optional, and students who do not wish to attend may study other subjects or, in certain cases, leave school early with parental consent. Church-selected instructors are lay or religious, and the instruction includes material determined by the state and relevant to both Catholics and non-Catholic religious groups. Government funding is available for only these Catholic Church-approved teachers. If a student requests a religion class from a non-Catholic religious group, that group must provide the teacher and cover the cost of instruction; it is not required to seek government approval for the content of the class. Some local laws provide scholarship funding for students to attend private, religiously affiliated schools, usually but not always Catholic, that meet government educational standards.
Schools are divided into “state-owned,” “state-equivalent,” and private categories. The “state equivalent” category includes public (municipal, provincial, regional, or owned by another public entity) and some private schools, which may be religiously affiliated. All state-equivalent schools receive government funding if they meet criteria and standards published every year by the Ministry of Education. The funding is released through the regional offices for education. Most private schools are run by religious entities and may not issue certificates or diplomas. Private school students must take final annual exams in “state-owned” or “state-equivalent” schools.
Since 2019, Lombardy regional law has prohibited local authorities from dividing burial plots by religious belief.
According to law, hate speech, including instances motivated by religious hatred, is punishable by up to four years in prison. This law also applies to denial of genocide or crimes against humanity.
All missionaries and other foreign religious workers from countries that are not EU members or signatories of the Schengen Agreement must apply for special religious activity visas before arriving in the country. An applicant must attach an invitation letter from his or her religious group to the application.
The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
The constitution provides all persons the right to religious freedom, including the right to engage in religious ceremonies and acts of worship. The constitution declares the country a secular state. Under the constitution, indigenous communities enjoy a protected legal structure, allowing them some measure of self-governance and to practice their own particular “uses and customs.” The General Directorate for Religious Affairs (DGAR) within the Secretariat of the Interior (SEGOB) continued to work with state and local officials on criminal investigations involving religious groups. During the year, DGAR investigated four cases related to religious freedom at the federal level, compared with seven in 2019. The cases were in the states of Morelos, Chiapas, and Guerrero and mostly involved religious minorities. Government officials and leaders within the Catholic Church continued to state the killings and attacks on Catholic priests and evangelical Protestant pastors reflected high levels of generalized violence throughout the country and not attacks based on religion. According to media reports, in May, an indigenous community in the state of Chiapas expelled six evangelical Protestant families. Local community authorities arrested and jailed the families for not practicing Catholicism, according to the families. In October, media reported that local community leaders drove out 33 evangelical Protestants from a neighborhood of San Cristobal de las Casas, in the state of Chiapas, because they did not adhere to the community’s traditional faith. In July, the Supreme Court of Justice (SCJN) issued a ruling guaranteeing reintegration and protection for a group of indigenous Jehovah’s Witnesses in Tuxpan de Bolanos, Jalisco. According to DGAR, it did not register any new religious associations during the year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Because religious leaders are often involved in politics and social activism and are thus more vulnerable to generalized violence, it was difficult to categorize many incidents as being solely based on religious identity. There were two reported killings of evangelical Protestant pastors, and attacks and abductions of priests and pastors continued. Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) reported unidentified individuals killed two religious leaders and kidnapped three others. The Catholic Multimedia Center (CMC) identified the country as the most violent country for priests in Latin America for the 12th year in a row, stating more than two dozen priests were killed over the past decade and emphasizing the ranking reflected the high levels of generalized violence in the country. Some nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) continued to say criminal groups singled out Catholic priests and other religious leaders for their denunciation of criminal activities and because communities viewed them as moral authority figures. According to media, in March, demonstrators in several marches organized for International Women’s Day vandalized church buildings, public structures, and businesses.
Embassy and consulate representatives met regularly with government officials responsible for religious and indigenous affairs at both the federal and state levels. Embassy and consulate human rights officers regularly and repeatedly raised religious freedom and freedom of expression issues with foreign affairs and interior secretariat officials. The Ambassador and a senior embassy official met with religious and civil society leaders during travel throughout the country to highlight the importance of religious freedom and tolerance and to reinforce the U.S. government’s commitment to these issues. In January, the Ambassador visited Colegio Israelita and gave brief remarks at its Holocaust Remembrance Day ceremony. The Ambassador stressed the United States would continue to defend human rights as well as combat anti-Semitism or any other form of hatred. Embassy representatives met with members of religious groups and religiously affiliated NGOs, including the Central Jewish Committee, CMC, and CSW, to discuss the safety of religious workers focusing on humanitarian issues and expressed support for religious tolerance.
Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom
The constitution states all persons have the right to follow or adopt the religion of their choosing, or not to follow a religion. This freedom includes the right to participate individually or collectively, both in public and in private, in ceremonies, devotions, and acts of worship if they do not constitute an offense otherwise prohibited by law. Article 40 of the constitution declares the country a secular state. Secularism is mentioned in three other articles, including one dedicated to education. Philosophical freedoms of conscience and religion receive equal treatment by the state. Congress may not dictate laws that establish or prohibit any religion. Religious acts of public worship should be held in places of worship. Individuals who conduct religious ceremonies outside of places of worship, which requires a permit, are subject to regulatory law. Active clergy may not hold public office, advocate partisan political views, support political candidates, or publicly oppose the laws or institutions of the state.
To establish a religious association, applicants must certify the church or other religious group observes, practices, propagates, or instructs a religious doctrine or body of religious beliefs; has conducted religious activities in the country for at least five years; has established domicile in the country; and shows sufficient assets to achieve its purpose. Registered associations may freely organize their internal structures and adopt bylaws or rules pertaining to their governance and operations, including the training and appointment of their clergy. They may engage in public worship and celebrate acts for the fulfillment of the association’s purpose lawfully and without profit. They may propagate their doctrine in accordance with applicable regulations and participate in the creation, management, maintenance, and operation of private welfare, educational, and health institutions, provided the institutions are not for profit.
Religious groups are not required to register with DGAR to operate. Registration is required to negotiate contracts, purchase or rent land, apply for official building permits, receive tax exemptions, or hold religious meetings outside of customary places of worship. A religious group registering for the first time may not register online; its representatives must register in person. Religious groups must apply for permits to construct new buildings or convert existing buildings into places of worship. Any religious building constructed after January 27, 1992, is the property of the religious group that built it and is subject to relevant taxes. All religious buildings erected before then are considered part of the national patrimony and owned by the state.
Religious associations must notify the government of their intention to hold a religious meeting outside their licensed place or places of worship. Religious associations may not hold political meetings of any kind or own or operate radio or television stations. Government permission is required for commercial radio or television to transmit religious programming.
The federal government coordinates religious affairs through SEGOB. Within SEGOB, DGAR promotes religious tolerance, conducts conflict mediation, and investigates cases of religious intolerance. If a party presents a dispute based on allegations of religious intolerance, DGAR may mediate a solution. Each of the 32 states has offices responsible for religious affairs. The National Council to Prevent Discrimination (CONAPRED) is an autonomous federal agency responsible for ensuring nondiscrimination and equal opportunity, including for minority religious groups.
The law provides that prisoners receive dignified and equal treatment from prison staff without distinction based on religious preferences.
The constitution requires that public education be secular and not include religious doctrine. Religious groups may operate private schools that teach religion and hold religious ceremonies at their schools. Private schools affiliated with a religious group are open to all students regardless of their religious beliefs. Students in private schools are exempt from participating in religious courses and activities if the students are not affiliated with the school’s religious group. Homeschooling is allowed at the secondary level after completion of schooling at an accredited primary school.
A visa category exists for foreign clergy and religious associates to obtain a temporary resident visa or visitor visa without permission to perform paid religious activities.
The constitution recognizes the right of indigenous communities to autonomy and codifies their right to use their own legal systems for the resolution of conflicts within their communities, while respecting human rights as defined in the constitution and the international treaties to which the country is a signatory. The constitution also protects the right of indigenous leaders to practice their own “uses and customs.” This right of self-governance for indigenous communities sometimes conflicts with other rights provided by the constitution, including freedom of religion, for members of those communities.
The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). It claims both an interpretative statement and a reservation relating to freedom of religion in the covenant. Article 18 of the ICCPR states that countries may limit religious freedom only when it is “necessary to protect public safety, order, health, or morals or the fundamental rights and freedoms of others.” The country’s interpretative statement states that religious acts must be performed in places of worship unless granted prior permission and that the education of religious ministers is not officially recognized.
The constitution bars discrimination based on religious affiliation or belief and provides for freedom of conscience and religion, either individually or in association with others. It provides for the separation of religion and state but also recognizes the historic importance of the Roman Catholic Church. During the year, the government registered 156 non-Catholic groups, an increase from 148 in 2019. Among the newly registered groups were the Religious Association of the Good Seed of Majes, House of Prayer for All Nations, and Ministry of God’s Assemblies Abreu e Lima, all evangelical Protestant. In January, the People’s Agrarian Front of Peru (FREPAP), a political party founded by and directly affiliated to the Israelites of the New Universal Pact religious group, obtained 8.4 percent of the vote and 15 seats in congress, the largest congressional representation of a non-Catholic religious party in the country’s history. The Interreligious Council of Peru continued to engage the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights (MOJ) for equal access to government benefits for all religious groups, including tax exemptions on income, imports, property, and sales; visas for religious workers; and the opportunity to serve as military chaplains, all benefits for which the Catholic Church automatically qualifies but for which other religious groups must apply. The council continued to discuss the government’s religious freedom regulations, particularly in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Interreligious Council continued to promote respect, tolerance, and dialogue among different faith traditions, including through a virtual event on the International Day of Tolerance that highlighted respect for migrants, refugees, and displaced persons. Muslim and Jewish community members continued to state some public and private schools and employers occasionally required their members to use accumulated leave for non-Catholic religious holidays, including Eid al-Fitr and Yom Kippur, an option in accordance with the law.
U.S. embassy officials continued to engage with government officials regarding religious freedom, and they discussed how religious groups were assisting the humanitarian response to Venezuelan migrants in the country, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic. While restrictions related to COVID-19 made events and in-person outreach difficult, embassy officials engaged representatives of the Interreligious Council and encouraged religious groups to work together to provide humanitarian assistance to those most affected by the COVID-19 health emergency and its subsequent economic crisis, including Venezuelan migrants in the country.
Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom
The constitution bars discrimination and persecution based on religious affiliation or belief and provides for freedom of religion, either individually or in association with others. It states every person has the right to privacy of religious conviction. It establishes the separation of religion and state but recognizes the Catholic Church’s role as “an important element in the historical, cultural, and moral foundation” of the country.
A concordat between the government and the Holy See signed in 1980 accords the Catholic Church certain institutional privileges in education, taxation, and immigration of religious workers. A religious freedom law exempts Catholic Church buildings, houses, and other real estate holdings from property taxes. Other religious groups often must pay property taxes on their schools and clerical residences, depending on the municipal jurisdiction and whether the group seeks and/or receives tax-exempt status as a nonprofit organization. The law exempts Catholic religious workers from taxes on international travel. The government also exempts all work-related earnings of Catholic priests and bishops from income taxes. A 2018 temporary exemption of these taxes for non-Catholic religious groups was in place through December 31. By law, the military may employ only Catholic clergy as chaplains.
The MOJ is responsible for engaging with religious groups, through the Office of Catholic Church Affairs or the Office of Interconfessional Affairs (for all other religious groups).
Registration with the MOJ is optional and voluntary. The stated purpose of the registry is to promote integrity and facilitate a relationship with the government. Religious groups do not have to register to obtain institutional benefits, but doing so allows them to engage directly with the government. The regulations allow all religious groups, registered or not, to apply for tax exemptions and worker or resident visas directly with the pertinent government institutions. Registration is free, the process usually takes one week, and the MOJ helps in completing the application forms.
By law, all prisoners, regardless of their religious affiliation, may practice their religion and seek the ministry of someone of their same faith.
The law mandates all schools, public and private, to provide a course on religion through the primary and secondary levels, “without violating the freedom of conscience of the student, parents, or teachers.” Public schools teach Catholicism in religion class, and the Ministry of Education requires the presiding Catholic bishop of an area to approve the public schools’ religious education teachers. Parents may request the school principal to exempt their children from mandatory religion classes. The government may grant exemptions from the religious education requirement to secular and non-Catholic private schools. Non-Catholic children attending public schools are also exempt from classes on Catholicism. The law states schools may not academically disadvantage students seeking exemptions from Catholic education classes. According to a 2018 Constitutional Court ruling, government financing for schools run by religious groups is unconstitutional because it is “incompatible with the principle of secularism.” The ruling provides the state must suspend funding for these schools within a reasonable period or establish a general and secular system of subsidies for all private educational institutions regardless of their religious affiliation.
The law requires all employers to accommodate the religious days and holidays of all employees; this accommodation includes allowing an employee to use annual vacation leave for this purpose.
Foreign religious workers must apply for a visa through the National Superintendency for Migration (SNM) of the Ministry of Interior. If the religious group registers with the MOJ, the SNM accepts this as proof the applicant group is a religious organization. If the group does not register with the MOJ, the SNM makes its decision on a case-by-case basis.
The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
The constitution provides for freedom of religion and worship and prohibits discrimination on the basis of religion. During the year, the government granted citizenship to 20,854 descendants of Sephardic Jews expelled during the Inquisition and rejected 163 applicants. In March, parliament approved a bill declaring March 31 a day of commemoration for victims of the Inquisition. On February 17, President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa met with representatives of the Interfaith Working Group (GTIR), composed of Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, and Buddhist representatives, to hear their views against the legalization of euthanasia. On February 20, parliament enacted five bills to decriminalize assisted suicide, widely seen as a preliminary step to legalize euthanasia. On July 15, following pressure from local and international Jewish groups, parliamentarians from the Socialist (PS) and Social Democrat (PSD) political parties withdrew two amendments they had introduced in parliament that would have made it more difficult for descendants of Jews expelled during the Inquisition to obtain citizenship.
In January, on Holocaust Remembrance Day, a news magazine published a cartoon depicting the Israeli Prime Minister as a neo-Nazi pushing a coffin covered with a Palestinian flag into an oven below the words displayed at the entrance gate to the Auschwitz extermination camp. In April, the Jewish Community and Catholic Diocese of Porto introduced a film about the history of Jewish-Catholic relations in the city in the Middle Ages, part of a collaboration to combat anti-Semitism that the two organizations announced at the end of 2019.
U.S. embassy officials continued to regularly contact government officials from the High Commission for Migrations (ACM) and representatives of the independent Religious Freedom Commission (CLR) to discuss the importance of mutual respect and understanding among religious communities and the integration of immigrants, many of whom belonged to minority religious groups.
Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom
The constitution provides for freedom of religion, including freedom of worship, which may not be violated even if the government declares a state of emergency. It states no one shall be privileged, prejudiced, persecuted, or deprived of rights or exempted from civic obligations or duties because of religious beliefs or practices. The constitution states authorities may not question individuals about their religious convictions or observance, except to gather statistical information that does not identify individuals, and individuals may not be prejudiced by refusal to reply. Churches and religious communities are independent from the state and have the freedom to determine their own organization and perform their own activities and worship. The constitution affords each religious community the freedom to teach its religion and use its own media to disseminate public information about its activities. It bars political parties from using names directly associated with, or symbols that may be confused with, those of religious groups. The constitution and law recognize the right to conscientious objection to military service, including on religious grounds; they require conscientious objectors to perform equivalent alternative civilian service.
The CLR is an independent, consultative body to parliament and the government, established by law. Its members include two representatives of the Portuguese Episcopal Conference (Roman Catholic); three religious representatives appointed by the Ministry of Justice from the Evangelical Alliance, Islamic Community of Lisbon, and Jewish Community of Lisbon; and five laypersons, three of whom are affiliated with the Ismaili Muslim, Hindu, and Buddhist communities. The Council of Ministers appoints its president. The CLR reviews and takes a position on all matters relating to the application of the law on religious freedom, including proposed amendments. The CLR alerts the relevant authorities, including the President, parliament, and others in the government, of cases involving religious freedom and discrimination, such as restrictions or prohibitions on the right to assembly or the holding of religious services; destruction or desecration of religious property; assaults on members and clergy of religious groups; incitement of religious discord; hate speech; and violations of the rights of foreign missionaries.
The CLR may file formal complaints at the national level with the ombudsman, an official position created by the constitution and supplemental legislation to defend the rights and freedoms of individual citizens, and at the international level with the European Court of Human Rights. The ombudsman has no legal enforcement authority but is obligated to address complaints and provide an alternative remedy for dispute resolution.
Religious groups may be organized in a variety of forms that have national, regional, or local character. A denomination may choose to organize as one national church or religious community or as several regional or local churches or religious communities. An international church or religious community may establish a representative organization of its adherents separate from the branch of the church or religious community existing in the country. A registered church or religious community may create subsidiary or affiliated organizations, such as associations, foundations, or federations.
All religious groups with an organized presence in the country may apply for registration with the registrar of religious corporate bodies in the Ministry of Justice. The requirements include providing the organization’s official name, which must be distinguishable from all other religious corporate bodies in the country; the organizing documents of the church or religious community associated with the group applying for registration; the address of the organization’s registered main office in the country; a statement of the group’s religious purposes; documentation of the organization’s assets; information on the organization’s formation, composition, rules, and activities; provisions for dissolution of the organization; and the appointment method and powers of the organization’s representatives. Subsidiary or affiliated organizations included in the parent group’s application are also registered; if not included, they must register separately. The ministry may reject a registration application if it fails to meet legal requirements, includes false documentation, or violates the constitutional right of religious freedom. If the ministry rejects an application, religious groups may appeal to the CLR within 30 days of receiving the ministry’s decision.
Religious groups may register as religious corporations and receive tax-exempt status. Registered groups receive the right to minister in prisons, hospitals, and military facilities; provide religious teaching in public schools; participate in broadcasting time on public television and radio; and receive national recognition of religious holidays. The government certifies religious ministers, who receive all the benefits of the social security system. According to the law, chaplaincies for military services, prisons, and hospitals are state-funded positions open to all registered religious groups. A taxpayer may allocate 5 percent of income tax payments to any registered religious group.
Religious groups may also register as unincorporated associations or private corporations, which allows them to receive the same benefits granted to religious corporations. The process for registering as unincorporated associations or private corporations involves the same procedures as for religious corporations. There are no practical differences between associations and private corporations; the different categories distinguish the groups’ internal administration. Unregistered religious groups are not subject to penalties and may practice their religion but do not receive the benefits associated with registration.
By law, religious groups registered in the country for at least 30 years or internationally recognized for 60 years may obtain a higher registration status of “religion settled in the country.” To show they are established, religious groups must demonstrate an “organized social presence” for the required length of time. These groups receive government subsidies based on the number of their members; may conclude “mutual interest” agreements with the state on issues such as education, culture, or other forms of cooperation; and may celebrate marriages that are recognized by the state legal system. The government has mutual interest agreements with Jewish and Islamic religious bodies and a concordat with the Holy See that serves the same function for the Catholic Church.
Public secondary schools offer an optional survey course on world religions taught by lay teachers. Optional religious instruction is available at government expense if at least 10 students attend the class. Religious groups are responsible for designing the curriculum of the religious classes and providing and training the teachers. Private schools are required to offer the same curriculum as public schools but may provide instruction in any religion at their expense. All schools, public and private, are required to accommodate the religious practices of students, including rescheduling tests if necessary.
The law prohibits employers from discriminating against individuals on the basis of religion and requires reasonable accommodation of employees’ religious practices. According to the labor code, employees are allowed to take leave on their Sabbath and religious holidays, even if these are not nationally observed.
The ACM, an independent government body operating under the guidelines of the Presidency of the Council of Ministers, has a statutory obligation to advocate religious tolerance, including the “promotion of dialogue, innovation, and intercultural and interreligious education” and “combating all forms of discrimination based on color, nationality, ethnic origin or religion.”
The law provides for the naturalization of Jewish descendants of Sephardic Jews expelled from the country in the 15th and 16th centuries.
The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
The constitution guarantees freedom of religion and prohibits discrimination based on religion. It states that while no religion shall have a “state character,” the government shall 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. In January, the government moved responsibility for religious issues from the Ministry of Justice to the Ministry of the Presidency, Relations with Parliament, and Democratic Memory (Ministry of the Presidency). Several religious groups and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) expressed satisfaction with the move, stating the reorganization gave religious issues increased prominence. In July, Amnesty International called on the government to decriminalize “offending religious sentiments,” which it said unduly restricted freedom of expression. Some religious groups and NGOs voiced concerns about government restrictions on places of worship during the COVID-19 pandemic. Several minority religious groups objected to unequal legal treatment, compared with the Catholic Church, on issues including tax allocations, access to cemeteries, public financing, and pensions for clergy. There were instances of members of parliament or local government officials using derogatory language against religious minorities. The governmental Pluralism and Coexistence Foundation continued outreach to various religious groups and organized events promoting religious freedom. The Ministry of the Interior’s Office on Hate Crimes offered assistance to victims of religiously motivated hate crimes and provided training to law enforcement.
The NGO Observatory for Religious Freedom and Conscience (OLRC) reported 181 religiously motivated incidents – including two assaults – in the first nine months of the year, six more than in the same period in 2019. Of the 181 cases, 75 percent were against Christians. The Ministry of the Interior documented 66 hate crimes with religious motivations in 2019, compared with 69 in 2018. The General Prosecutor’s 2019 annual report reported seven judicial processes opened during 2019 for hate crimes involving religion and two court rulings for crimes against religious sentiments. Some Christians, Muslims, and Jews reported increased hostility against them on social media and increased instances of vandalism.
U.S. embassy and consulate officials maintained communication with the Ministry of the Presidency’s Office of Religious Affairs, as well as with regional governments’ offices for religious affairs; topics discussed included access to permits for places of worship, religious education, cemeteries and burial, pensions, religiously motivated hate crimes, and hate speech. Embassy and consulate officials met with a wide range of religious groups and civil society members and discussed discrimination and the free exercise of their religious rights. The embassy and consulate posted social media messages commemorating various religious holidays and observances and highlighting the importance of religious freedom and the inclusion and respect for religious minority communities. In January, embassy officials cosponsored a series of events commemorating Holocaust Remembrance Month.
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. 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 or scorn religious beliefs, ceremonies, or practitioners. The constitution allows limits on expression if “necessary to maintain public order.”
The law imposes a sentence between eight to 12 months against an individual who, in order to offend the feelings of members of a religious group, publicly disparages the dogmas, beliefs, rights, or ceremonies of that religious group or who publicly insults members of the religious group. The law imposes the same penalties against an individual who publicly disparages those who do not profess any religion or belief. The law also imposes a six-month to one-year prison sentence or a fine against anyone who perpetrates “profane acts” that “offend the feelings” of legally protected religious confessions in a place of worship or at religious ceremonies.
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 specifically defined in the penal code as a hate crime. 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 law also provides for a declaration of personal recognition for those who experienced violence or persecution for political, ideological, or religious beliefs during the Spanish Civil War or the dictatorship of Francisco Franco.
The government does not require religious groups to register, but registering confers on religious groups certain legal benefits. Groups registered in the Registry of Religious Entities maintained by the Ministry of the Presidency may buy, rent, and sell property and may act as a legal entity in civil proceedings. Registration entails completing forms available on the ministry’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. All persons or groups have the right to practice their religion whether or not registered as a religious entity.
Registration with the Ministry of the Presidency, 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. The Episcopal Conference of Spain interacts with the government on behalf of the entire Catholic community. Per a 1979 agreement with the Holy See, individual Catholic dioceses and parishes are not required to register with the government. The Catholic Church is the only religious entity to which persons may voluntarily allocate 0.7 percent of their taxes. The government also has cooperation agreements with CIE, FCJE, and FEREDE. These agreements with the country’s four predominant religions – Catholicism, Islam, Protestantism, and Judaism – are legally binding and provide the religious groups with certain tax exemptions and the ability to buy and sell property, open a house of worship, and conduct other legal business. The agreements also grant civil validity to weddings clergy perform and permit the placement of teachers in schools and chaplains in hospitals, the military, and prisons. Groups with cooperation agreements are also eligible for independently administered government grants. The agreements cover 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.
Registered groups that wish to sign cooperation agreements with the state must acquire notorio arraigo status through the Ministry of the Presidency. 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 ministry considers demonstrates a “social presence” but is not further defined. Groups must also submit documentation demonstrating the group is religious in nature to the ministry’s Office of Religious Affairs, which maintains the Register of Religious Entities. Jehovah’s Witnesses, UBE-FEBE, the Church of Jesus Christ, and the Episcopal Orthodox Assembly of Spain and Portugal are registered religions with notorio arraigo status. New religious communities may register directly with the Ministry of the Presidency, or religious associations may register on their behalf.
If the Ministry of the Presidency considers an applicant for registration not to be a religious group, the latter may be included in the Register of Associations maintained by the Ministry of the Interior. Inclusion in the register 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 Pluralism and Coexistence Foundation is a public sector foundation attached to the Ministry of the Presidency that promotes religious freedom and diversity. It provides funding to non-Catholic religious denominations that have a cooperation agreement with the government in support of activities that promote cultural, educational, and social integration. It provides nonfinancial assistance to other religious groups registered with the government to increase public awareness. The foundation also promotes dialogue and rapprochement among religious groups and the integration of religion in society. It works closely with the Ministry of the Presidency’s Office of Religious Affairs.
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 Ministry of the Presidency may provide services at their own expense during visiting hours upon the request of prisoners.
The government guarantees religious workers of groups with cooperation agreements with the state access to centers for asylum seekers and refugees so that these groups may provide direct assistance, at their expense, to their followers in the centers. Religious workers from groups without a cooperation agreement with the government may enter the internment centers upon request to the Ministry of the Presidency.
Military rules and cooperation agreements with the government 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 must be married in a civil ceremony.
The regions of Madrid and Catalonia maintain 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 central government, these subnational agreements may not contradict the principles of the federal agreements, which take precedence.
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. 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 Ministry of the Presidency 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 the cooperation 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. Ministry of Education-approved CIE guidelines stress “moderate Islam” in worship practices, with emphasis on pluralism, understanding, religious tolerance, conflict resolution, and coexistence. CIE also requires instructors to have a certificate of training in Islamic education. Private religiously based schools, whether or not they receive public funds, must comply with governmental education regulations. Private religiously based schools that do not receive public funds must additionally obtain authorization to function from regional educational authorities.
Catholic and Jewish 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. Muslim, Orthodox, and Jehovah’s Witnesses clergy are also eligible for social security benefits under the terms of separate social security agreements each of these groups negotiated with the state.
The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
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 Emergency Coronavirus Bill was amended in March in response to concerns from Muslim and Jewish advocacy groups that the bill would permit cremation of COVID-19 victims “against the wishes of the deceased.” In January, the Welsh government announced plans to make relationships, sexuality, and religion a mandatory part of the curriculum for all students over the age of five by 2022. In September, Conservative Member of Parliament (MP) Rehman Chishti resigned from his position as the Prime Minister’s Special Envoy for Religious Freedom. Conservative MP Fiona Bruce was appointed his successor in December. In July, Imam Qari Asim, the Deputy Chair of the government’s Anti-Muslim Hatred Working Group, was appointed independent advisor to propose a working definition of Islamophobia. On the one-year anniversary of the March mosque attacks in Christchurch, New Zealand, the government announced that funding for the Places of Worship Scheme, which provides physical security measures to Muslim, Christian, Sikh, and Hindu places of worship, would double from the previous year to 3.2 million pounds ($4.37 million) in 2020-2021. In April, the government provided 14 million pounds ($19.13 million) via a nongovernmental organization (NGO) to provide security at Jewish institutions, including schools and synagogues. In January, the Scottish government announced 500,000 pounds ($683,000) to fund security at places of worship. In January, the government renewed its commitment to the founding principles of the 2000 Declaration of the Stockholm International Forum on the Holocaust (Stockholm Declaration). To mark International Holocaust Memorial Day and the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau, the UK government announced a one-million pound ($1.37 million) grant to the Auschwitz-Birkenau Foundation to help preserve the site of the former concentration camp. The main political parties and party members continued to face numerous accusations of religious bias. The Conservative Party faced allegations of anti-Muslim incidents, with the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) submitting a dossier of 150 cases of alleged anti-Muslim incidents by party members to the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC). The party announced it would conduct a review into how complaints were handled and the EHRC accepted the party’s terms of reference for the investigation, but the MCB criticized the scope of the inquiry. In October, the EHRC released a report calling on the Labour Party to reform its handling of allegations of anti-Semitism within the party. In light of his negative reaction to the report, Jeremy Corbyn was suspended from both the wider Labour Party and the Parliamentary Labour Party and was forced to sit as an independent MP, a first for a former leader. While his wider-party membership was later reinstated in November, he continued to serve as an independent MP. In December, the Labour Party published a plan to implement the EHRC’s recommended reforms.
The government reported a 5 percent decline (from 8,566 to 7,203 offenses) in religiously motivated hate crimes in England and Wales in the 2019-2020 period compared to the same period one year prior. This was the first period of decline in religiously motivated hate crimes since 2012-2013. Where the perceived religion of the victim was recorded (in 91 percent of cases), 50 percent (3,089 offenses) of religious hate crime offenses targeted Muslims, and 19 percent (1,205 offenses) targeted Jews. The annual report of the NGO Community Security Trust (CST) recorded 1,668 anti-Semitic incidents during the year, an 8 percent decline from 2019, yet still the second-highest ever annual figure recorded by the organization. Among the incidents were 97 assaults and three incidents classified as “extreme violence.” (Due to privacy laws, CST did not provide details on cases of extreme violence.) There were a further 1,399 incidents of nonviolent abusive behavior. CST recorded 634 anti-Semitic online incidents, a 9 percent decline from the previous year. In September, the NGO Tell MAMA (Measuring Anti-Muslim Attacks), which monitors anti-Muslim activity, released its annual report for 2018. The report disclosed 3,173 reports of anti-Muslim hate incidents in 2018, including 1,891 recorded by police. This was the highest number since the NGO’s founding in 2011. Several religiously motivated conspiracy theories surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic circulated online. According to a report by the Henry Jackson Society think tank, anti-Semitic conspiracy theories included claims that Jews used global lockdowns to “steal everything.” Both Jewish and Muslim communities were vilified by media commentators such as Katie Hopkins, who alleged that Muslims were flouting lockdown restrictions and spreading COVID-19 by continuing Friday prayers at mosques.
U.S. embassy and consulate staff engaged with government officials, political parties, and religious groups to advance religious freedom issues, with a strong emphasis on digital engagement and use of social media in response to COVID-19 pandemic restrictions. In May, the Ambassador, along with the Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom, gave remarks at virtual iftars, which were part of the largest such series in the UK, entitled #RamadanatHome. In June, the Ambassador hosted a virtual meeting with representatives of the Jewish community, and separately, with Labour Leader MP Sir Keir Starmer, to discuss the Labour Party’s plan to confront the issue of anti-Semitism within the party. In April, the Ambassador spoke to the Chief Rabbi of the United Synagogues to extend his best wishes for Passover and to show support for the British Jewish communities during the COVID-19 pandemic. Similarly, in May, the Ambassador called Dr. Ahmad al-Dubayan of the Central London Mosque to commemorate Ramadan and discuss how the Muslim community was faring, given COVID-19 pandemic restrictions on gatherings. In December, a senior embassy official delivered remarks and conducted a virtual candle lighting in honor of Diwali, in partnership with the Hindu Forum of Europe. In January, a senior embassy official represented the United States at the UK’s Holocaust Memorial Day Commemoration Ceremony marking the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau and met with Trustees of the Holocaust Day Memorial Trust. To mark National Religious Freedom Day in January, the consulate general in Belfast hosted an interfaith dialogue. Throughout the year, the embassy’s social media messaging on international religious freedom reached approximately 400,000 persons.
Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom
In the absence of a written constitution, the law establishes the Church of England as England’s state church. Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland do not have state religions. Legislation establishes the Church of Scotland as Scotland’s national church, but it is not dependent on any government body or the Queen for spiritual matters or leadership.
The Human Rights Act 1998 protects freedom of thought, conscience, and religion. It states, “Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief, in worship, teaching, practice and observance.” The Human Rights Act reaffirms the European Convention of Human Rights, Article 9, which guarantees freedom of thought, conscience, and religion, subject to certain restrictions that are “in accordance with law” and “necessary in a democratic society.”
As the supreme governor of the Church of England, the monarch must always be a member of, and promise to uphold, that Church. The monarch appoints Church of England officials, including lay and clergy representatives, on the advice of the Prime Minister and the Crown Appointments Commission. Aside from these appointments, the state is not involved in the Church’s administration. The Church of Scotland is governed by its General Assembly, which has the authority to make the laws determining how it operates.
Blasphemy and blasphemous libel remain criminal offenses in Northern Ireland under common law. To date, however, there have been no convictions for blasphemy or blasphemous libel there. Northern Ireland Humanists continues to run a campaign to repeal blasphemy laws originating from the 1888 Law of Libel Amendment Act and the 1819 Criminal Libel Act, which remain in force in the region. These laws prohibit “composing, printing or publishing any blasphemous libel or any seditious libel tending to bring into hatred…any matter in Church or State.”
In England and Wales, the law prohibits religiously motivated hate speech and any acts intended to incite religious hatred through the use of words or the publication or distribution of written material. The law defines religious hatred as hatred of a group because of its religious belief or lack thereof. Police are responsible for investigating criminal offenses and for gathering evidence; the Crown Prosecution Service, which is an independent body and the main public prosecution service for England and Wales, is responsible for deciding whether a suspect should be charged with a criminal offense. The maximum penalty for inciting religious hatred is seven years in prison. If there is evidence of religious hostility in connection with any crime, it is a “religiously aggravated offense” and carries a higher maximum penalty than does the underlying crime alone.
Blasphemy is an offense under common law in Scotland. It is a crime against public order and decency and has two aspects: whether an individual’s spoken or written words against God or religion occurred, and the words are spoken or written with intent to cause disorder. The law relates only to Christianity and is punishable by fines or imprisonment or both. The law requires courts to consider the impact of religious bias when sentencing.
Northern Ireland does not have specific hate crime laws, but current legislation allows for increased sentencing if offenses are judged to be motivated by hostility based on religion, among other aggravating factors.
By law, the General Register Office for England and Wales governs the registration and legal recognition of places of worship in England and Wales. A representative of the congregation, for example, a proprietor, trustee, or religious head, must complete and submit an application form and pay a fee of 29 pounds ($40) to a local registrar. The General Registrar Office typically provides registration certificates to the local superintendent registrar within 20 working days. The law also states buildings, rooms, or other premises may be registered as meeting places for religious worship upon payment of a fee; the General Register Office for England and Wales keeps a record of the registration, and the place of worship is assigned a “worship number.” Registration is not compulsory, but it provides certain financial advantages and is also required before a place of worship may be registered as a venue for marriages. Registered places of worship are exempt from paying taxes and benefit from participating in the country’s Gift Aid program. Gift Aid allows charities to claim back the 25 percent basic rate of tax already paid on donations by the donor, boosting the value of a donation by a quarter. The law only applies in England and Wales and does not cover the Church of England or in Wales.
The law requires religious education (RE) and worship for children between the ages of three and 18 in state-run schools, with the content decided at the local level. Specialist schoolteachers, rather than religious groups, teach the syllabus. Parents may request to exempt their children from RE, and in England and Wales, students may opt out themselves at age 14, although religious worship continues until students leave school at either age 16 or 18. State schools that are not legally designated as religious require the RE curriculum to reflect “Christian values,” be nondenominational, and refrain from attempts to convert students. It must also teach the practices of other principal religions in the country. Students and teachers, unless they are employed by faith-based schools, may decline participation in collective worship, without prejudice. All schools not designated as religious, whether private or state-run, must maintain neutrality in their interpretation of the RE syllabus and must avoid presenting one faith or belief as greater than another.
State schools in England and Wales that are not legally designated as religious are required to practice daily collective prayer or worship of “a wholly or mainly…Christian character.” Schoolteachers lead these assemblies; however, parents have the legal right to request their children not participate in collective prayer or worship. The law permits sixth form students (generally 16- to 19-year-olds in the final two years of secondary school) to withdraw from worship without parental permission or action. State schools not designated as religious are free to hold other religious ceremonies as they choose.
The government requires schools to consider the practices of different religious groups when setting dress codes for students. This includes wearing or carrying specific religious artifacts, not cutting hair, dressing modestly, or covering the head. Guidance from the Department of Education requires schools to balance the rights of individual students against the best interests of the school community as a whole; it acknowledges schools could be justified in restricting individuals’ rights to manifest their religion or beliefs when necessary, for example, to promote cohesion and good order.
In Scotland, only denominational (faith-based) schools practice daily collective prayer or worship; however, religious observance at least six times per year is compulsory in all Scottish schools. Religious observance is defined as “community acts which aim to promote the spiritual development of all members of the school’s community.” Examples of religious observance include school assemblies and events to recognize religious events, including Christmas and Easter. Parents may make the decision to opt out their children from this requirement, but children may not make this decision themselves.
In Bermuda, the law requires students attending state schools to participate in collective worship, characterized by educational officials as reciting the Lord’s Prayer, but it prohibits worship “distinctive of any particular religious group.” At the high school level, students are required to take a course that explores various religions until year 9 (ages 11-14); in years 10 and 11 (ages 15-16), courses on religion are optional.
There are two faith-based private schools in Bermuda that operate from kindergarten through high school. One follows the guidance of the North American division of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. The other follows principles of the Catholic Church.
The government determines whether to establish a faith-based school when there is evidence of demand, such as petitions from parents, religious groups, teachers, or other entities. If a faith-based school is not oversubscribed, then the school must offer a place to any child, but if the school is oversubscribed, it may use faith as a criterion for acceptance. Nonstate faith-based schools are eligible to claim “charitable status,” which allows for tax exemptions.
Almost all schools in Northern Ireland receive state support, with approximately 90 percent of students attending Protestant or Catholic schools. Approximately 7 percent of school-age children attend religiously integrated schools with admissions criteria designed to enroll equal numbers of Catholic and Protestant children without the intervention of the state, as well as children from other religious and cultural backgrounds. Students of different faiths are able to attend Protestant or Catholic schools but tend to gravitate toward the integrated schools. These integrated schools are not secular but are “essentially Christian in character and welcome all faiths and none.” RE – a core syllabus designed by the Department of Education, Church of Ireland, and Catholic, Presbyterian, and Methodist Churches – is compulsory in all government-funded schools, and, “The school day shall include collective Christian worship whether in one or more than one assembly.” All schools receiving government funding must teach RE; however, students may request to opt out of the classes and collective worship. Catholic-managed schools draw uniquely on the Roman Catholic tradition for their RE, while other schools may draw on world religions.
An estimated 30 sharia councils operate parallel to the national legal system. They adjudicate Islamic religious matters, including religious divorces, which are not recognized under civil law. Participants may submit cases to the councils on a voluntary basis. The councils do not have the legal status of courts, although they have legal status as mediation and arbitration bodies. As such, rulings may not be appealed in the courts.
The law prohibits discrimination on the grounds of “religion or belief” or the “lack of religion or belief” and requires “reasonable” religious accommodation in the workplace for employees. The EHRC – a body sponsored by the Department of Education’s Government Equalities Office – is responsible for enforcing legislation prohibiting religious discrimination. The EHRC researches and conducts inquiries into religious and other discrimination in England, Scotland, and Wales. The Minister for Women and Equalities appoints the members. If the commission finds a violation, it may issue a notice to the violator and seek a court order to enforce the notice. The EHRC receives government funds but operates independently. The Northern Ireland equivalent to the EHRC is the Equality Commission.
In Northern Ireland the law bans discrimination on the grounds of religious belief in employment; however, schools may be selective on the grounds of religion when recruiting teachers. In the rest of the country, the law prohibits any discrimination, including employment discrimination, based on religious belief, unless the employer can show a genuine requirement for a particular religion.
Citing a limited broadcast spectrum, the law prohibits religious groups from holding national radio licenses, public teletext licenses, more than one television service license, and/or radio and television multiplex licenses, which would allow them to offer multiple channels as part of a single bundle of programming.
Twenty-six senior bishops of the Anglican Church sit in the House of Lords as representatives of the state Church. Known as the Lords Spiritual, they read prayers at the start of each daily meeting and play a full role in the work of the upper house.
The law requires visa applicants wishing to enter the country as “ministers of religion” to have worked for at least one of the previous five years as a minister and to have at least one year of full-time experience or, if their religion requires ordination, at least two years of part-time training following their ordination. A missionary must also be trained as such or have worked previously in this role.
The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.