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Gabon

Executive Summary

The constitution prohibits religious discrimination and provides for freedom of religion and worship and equality for all, irrespective of religious belief.  It grants religious groups autonomy and the right to provide religious instruction.  The government denied more than 100 applications for registration of religious groups, higher than the previous year.  The government stated that the reasons were often related to documentation, as well as an increase in individuals seeking to use religious cover to scam individuals.  Ministry officials described the religious groups it rejected as often “one-man operations,” practicing a mixture of Christianity and traditional animist beliefs.

Leaders of Muslim, Protestant, and Catholic faiths met regularly, attended each other’s major festivals, and worked together to promote religious tolerance and to defend freedom of religion.

U.S. embassy staff met with senior government officials from the Ministry of Interior (MOI) to encourage continued respect for religious freedom and encouraged government officials to continue their outreach to religious communities to discuss religious freedom.  Embassy staff encouraged Muslim, Protestant, and Catholic leaders to continue their interfaith dialogue and activities promoting interreligious tolerance and understanding.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Government Practices

The MOI reported it generally processed registration requests from religious groups within one month and estimated it rejected more than 100 such applications during the year, compared with more than 40 in the 2016-17 period.  Ministry officials described the religious groups it rejected as often “one-man operations,” practicing a mixture of Christianity and traditional animist beliefs.  Their difficulty with registration usually concerned gathering the appropriate documents, according to ministry officials.  In addition, there was anecdotal evidence of an increase in “fake pastors” seeking to defraud their followers.  The MOI emphasized the necessity for all groups to register and no longer allowed unregistered groups to operate freely.  Unregistered groups charged with fraud or other illegal activity were most likely to be sanctioned.

Georgia

Executive Summary

A new constitution took effect in December and provides for “absolute freedom of religion,” the separation of the Georgian Orthodox Church (GOC) and the state, and equality for all regardless of religion.  It also prohibits persecution based on religion.  Previously, in March the ruling party withdrew proposed amendments to the then draft constitution that generated controversy after critics said the amendments appeared to allow the limiting of freedom of religion on national security grounds.  Laws and policies continue to grant the GOC privileges not accorded to any other religious group, including legal immunity for the GOC patriarch and a consultative role in education.  In July, however, the Constitutional Court declared both the tax and property privileges of the GOC unconstitutional and mandated legislative changes by December 31, although parliament missed this deadline.  Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) continued to report a lack of effective investigations into crimes motivated by religious hatred, but they said the quality of investigations was improving.  The Public Defender’s Office (PDO) reported it received 19 cases of violence based on religious intolerance during the year, compared to five cases the previous year.  Authorities registered seven new religious organizations as legal entities during the year.  They suspended the application for registration of one organization due to legal issues with its application.  Some NGOs and minority religious groups continued to report both national and local government resistance to minority religious groups’ construction of buildings for religious purposes.  After negotiations with the local government about mosque construction in Batumi broke down, Muslim representatives continued to state government delays and opaque decision-making prevented them from building a new mosque.  Some religious organizations and NGOs criticized the State Agency on Religious Issues (SARI, also known as the State Agency for Religious Affairs) for functioning opaquely, practicing favoritism toward the GOC in restitution of buildings confiscated by the state in the Soviet era, and inadequately addressing acts of religious intolerance and discrimination in favor of the GOC in public schools.  The Armenian Apostolic Church petitioned SARI for ownership of 37 churches it operated.

Restrictions continued on religious activities in the regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, which remained outside the control of the central government.  According to the GOC Patriarchate, GOC clergy were unable to conduct religious services in South Ossetia or Abkhazia.  De facto authorities in these occupied territories continued to ban Jehovah’s Witnesses, classifying the Church as an extremist organization.

During the year, there were eight reported cases of religiously motivated physical assaults on 12 Jehovah’s Witnesses.  There were reports of vandalism against religious minorities, such as graffiti on Armenian churches in Adjara and an attack on a Kingdom Hall building in Gori.  Representatives of minority religious groups continued to report widespread societal beliefs that minority religious groups posed a threat to the GOC and the country’s cultural values.  The NGO Media Development Foundation (MDF) documented at least 140 instances of religiously intolerant remarks in national media, up from 92 the previous year.

U.S. embassy officials continued to meet regularly with senior government officials, including SARI leadership, the prime minister’s adviser for human rights and gender equality, the president’s adviser for minority issues, and officials at various ministries to encourage dialogue between the government and minority religious groups, support government-led efforts to reform the investigative arm of the Ministry of Internal Affairs (responsible for assessing whether crimes were motivated by religious hatred), and promote religious freedom as provided in the new constitution.  The Charge d’Affaires met with the GOC Patriarch several times to stress the importance of the GOC’s role in promoting religious diversity and tolerance.  The Ambassador, Charge d’Affaires, and other embassy officials traveled throughout the country to meet with minority religious groups, and the embassy sponsored the participation of various representatives from different faiths in programs in the United States on religious freedom and interfaith issues.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Government Practices

In March the ruling Georgian Dream (GD) party withdrew a draft constitutional amendment that critics said would have allowed the government to interfere in religious affairs based on national security grounds.  The Council of Europe’s European Commission for Democracy through Law (known as the Venice Commission), as well as NGOs and local religious organizations, criticized the draft amendment.  Parliament revised the language and introduced a new amendment that did not include the provision on national security as a justification for interference in religious affairs.  The Venice Commission positively assessed the revised language and parliament passed the new amendment.

In April a member of parliament from the Alliance of Patriots political party introduced a draft of a “blasphemy law” that would criminalize “insults to religious feelings.”  Although the draft generated significant discussion about religious sentiment, free speech, and the “defense” of Georgia’s traditions and history, parliament ultimately did not pass the legislation.

The introduction of the draft bill followed an incident in March, when protesters attacked two Rustavi 2 journalists after one “insulted [their] religious feelings” with an on-air joke that involved Jesus Christ.  Authorities arrested six individuals on charges of group hooliganism and an investigation of threats against the journalist was ongoing at year’s end.

In April the government fined a condom production company for including on its products a design of medieval Queen Tamar, whom the GOC considers a saint.  The judge said the design was “unethical” and charged the firm with an administrative offense under the “Law on Distribution of Advertisement.”

NGOs and some Muslim community leaders stated the government continued to influence the NGO All Muslims of All Georgia (AMAG), including the appointment of AMAG religious leaders.

The PDO reported it received 19 accounts of violence on the ground of religious intolerance during the year, 14 more than in 2017.  The PDO also noted that cases from previous years remained largely unresolved.  The 2018 cases all pertained to Jehovah’s Witnesses, and Church members accused the relevant authorities of lacking the will to investigate these cases.

During the year, the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MoIA) investigated 23 cases involving alleged religiously motivated hate crimes.  The CPO, however, investigated none of these cases during the year, as compared to seven such cases in 2017.  Of the MoIA investigations, one concerned unlawful interference with the activities of a religious association; one, damage or destruction of property; one, damage or destruction of property together with persecution; five, unlawful interference with the performance of a divine service; 14, persecution; and one, abuse of official authority.

The NGO Tolerance and Diversity Institute (TDI) assessed that the MoIA was correctly applying proper articles of the criminal code and the quality of investigations of crimes motivated by religious hatred had improved since 2017.  TDI reported, however, that several cases from previous years remained pending.

Authorities registered seven new religious organizations as legal entities during the year:  Christian Church Spring of Life, Armenian-language Christian Church of Gospel Faith, Evangelical-Christian Centralized Religion Organization First Nazareth Church, International Orthodox Laz-Khalibian Kharibian Catacomb Church, Salvation Army in Georgia, the Light of the Evangel, and Multinational Church of Marneuli.  Authorities suspended the registration of the Georgian Christian-Evangelical Church New Life due to legal issues with its application.

Most prisons reportedly continued to have GOC chapels but no areas for nondenominational worship.  According to SARI, Catholic, AAC, Baptist, Muslim, and Jewish groups, services remained available upon request in the military and in prisons.

According to the PDO’s Tolerance Center, non-GOC religious organizations continued to face government resistance when attempting to obtain construction permits for houses of worship, as was the case with the Batumi mosque.  The center continued to attribute the resistance to what it termed a general societal bias in favor of the GOC.  According to TDI, although the law provides for equal treatment for applicants seeking construction permits, representatives of religious minority groups were often subject to discrimination.  TDI previously stated municipalities issued construction permits, although religious minorities often faced obstacles due to the municipalities’ discriminatory approaches.  TDI also noted the “problematic role” of SARI in the process, which “without a legitimate purpose and legal basis,” interfered with the authority of local self-governance.

In January the AAC appealed the National Agency of Public Registry’s decision to register as GOC property a church the AAC has claimed ownership of since the collapse of the Soviet Union.  As of the end of the year, the appeal remained under review by the courts.  The AAC continued to request restitution of five churches in Tbilisi and one in Akhaltsikhe, all of which the GOC also claimed and authorities registered as state property.  The AAC reported it operated 57 churches in the country but did not own any of them.  The AAC petitioned SARI for ownership and/or right of usage of 20 of the churches in 2015 and for the remaining churches during the year.  SARI’s response remained pending at year’s end.

Muslim community members said there was a lack of transparency around government decisions on mosques and their construction.  The Muslim community continued to dispute the government’s ownership of mosques in Kvemo Kartli, Adigeni, and Adjara.  Muslim leaders and local and central government authorities remained unable to reach a mutually agreeable solution to address overcrowding in the state-owned mosque in Batumi.  NGOs and some Muslim community leaders stated the government continued to exert influence over the NGO Administration of Muslims of All Georgia (AMAG), including through the selective transfer of land to AMAG and the appointment of AMAG religious leaders.  The potential transfer of land to AMAG rather than local religious organizations continued to be a source of tension, including in Batumi.  A number of Sunni Muslim groups also were critical of AMAG for its attempt to represent all Muslim communities in the country within one organization regardless of denomination.

In February Batumi City Court held its first hearing of the New Mosque Construction Fund’s 2017 appeal of Batumi City Hall’s decision in 2017 to deny the permits necessary to build a new mosque on land the fund owned.  In April the new mayor of Batumi announced he wanted to negotiate with the fund to find a resolution.  The mayor outlined several conditions to allow the construction, including that the fund retract its appeal from the courts and give the land acquired for the mosque to AMAG, which would later apply for the necessary permits.  The fund rejected the requests and refused to continue negotiations.  Parallel to this, the fund appealed Batumi City Hall’s decision to impose a fine of 3,000 lari ($1,100) for the construction of a temporary wooden structure built on the fund’s land.  As of December court hearings had not resumed on either case.

Construction continued on a new mosque promised by SARI and AMAG in the village of Mokhe in Samtskhe-Javakheti.  The construction resulted from a 2017 SARI commission recommendation that the government transfer ownership of a building claimed by local Muslims and the GOC to the National Agency for Cultural Heritage Preservation and provide the local Muslims an alternative plot for a new mosque.  The disputed historical building has been fenced off and protected as a cultural heritage monument.  The PDO stated the SARI commission failed to establish the origin and ownership of the building.  In April the Human Rights Education and Monitoring Center (EMC) addressed the UN Human Rights Committee on behalf of the Mokhe Muslims and stated the government’s discriminatory restitution policy towards minority religious groups constituted a violation of the UN Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and was emblematic of the government’s more general restitution policy.

The government continued to pay subsidies for the restoration of religious properties it considered national cultural heritage sites, increasing funding compared to the previous year.  The National Agency for Cultural Heritage, now housed within the Ministry of Education, Science, Culture, and Sport, allocated 2,483,300 lari ($930,000) during the year for the restoration of religious monuments, including 145,000 lari ($54,300) for design drafts and 2,338,300 lari ($876,000) for rehabilitation, conservation, and infrastructure development.

The EMC appealed to the Supreme Court a Kutaisi Court of Appeals ruling that the MoIA did not discriminate against Muslims by failing to prevent vandalism in 2014 against a planned Muslim boarding school in Kobuleti.  The EMC also submitted a case to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) on “the prolonged and discriminatory obstruction of boarding schools for Kobuleti Muslim students,” although the Supreme Court must rule on the case before the ECHR can accept it.  As of December protests by the Orthodox community had prevented local Muslims from installing sewage infrastructure for the boarding school, which had not yet opened.

TDI continued to report cases of religious discrimination in schools, including incidents involving the promotion of GOC theology in religion courses, GOC prayers conducted in classrooms, and the display of icons and other religious symbols in schools, despite the law’s prohibition of proselytization.  The Ministry of Education’s General Inspection Department continued to be responsible for dealing with complaints of inappropriate teacher behavior.  According to a TDI report, while the law governing general education provides for religious neutrality and nondiscrimination, religious education in public schools persisted.

The government distributed 25 million lari ($9.36 million) to the GOC in compensation for “material and moral damages” inflicted upon it during the Soviet period.  In addition, in accordance with a 2014 parliamentary resolution allowing the government to compensate Islamic, Jewish, Roman Catholic, and Armenian Apostolic religious organizations registered as LEPLs, SARI disbursed compensation funds totaling 4.5 million lari ($1.69 million) to those four religious groups in coordination with the Ministry of Finance.  SARI reported compensation remained the same as the previous year and was as follows:  2.75 million lari ($1.03 million) to the Muslim community, represented by the AMAG; 550,000 lari ($206,000) to the RCC; 800,000 lari ($300,000) to the AAC; and 400,000 lari ($150,000) to the Jewish community.  In making the disbursements, SARI stated the compensation was of “partial and of symbolic character,” and stated the government continued to take into account levels of damage and “present day negative conditions” of denominations during the selection process.  NGOs continued to criticize the exclusion of other religious groups and to question the criteria the government used to select the four denominations for compensation.

In accordance with the government human rights action plan for 2018-2020, SARI trained approximately 1,000 students, journalists, and representatives from religious organizations to raise awareness of human rights, freedom of religion, and other fundamental freedoms.

Germany

Executive Summary

The constitution prohibits religious discrimination and provides for freedom of faith and conscience and the practice of one’s religion.  The country’s 16 states exercise considerable autonomy on registration of religious groups and other matters.  Unrecognized religious groups are ineligible for tax benefits.  The federal and some state offices of the domestic intelligence service continued to monitor the activities of certain Muslim groups.  Authorities also monitored the Church of Scientology (COS), which reported continued government discrimination against its members.  Certain states continued to ban or restrict the use of religious clothing or symbols, including headscarves, for some state employees, particularly teachers and courtroom officials.  While senior government leaders continued to condemn anti-Semitism and anti-Muslim sentiment, some members of the federal parliament and state assemblies from the Alternative for Germany (AfD) Party again made anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim statements.  The federal and seven state governments appointed anti-Semitism commissioners for the first time, following a recommendation in a parliament-commissioned 2017 experts’ report to create a federal anti-Semitism commissioner in response to growing anti-Semitism.  The federal anti-Semitism commissioner serves as a contact for Jewish groups and coordinates initiatives to combat anti-Semitism in the federal ministries.  In July the government announced it would increase social welfare funding for Holocaust survivors by 75 million euros ($86 million) in 2019.  In March Federal Interior Minister Horst Seehofer said he did not consider Islam to be a part of the country’s culture, and that the country was characterized by Christianity.  In May the Bavarian government decreed that every public building in the state must display a cross in a clearly visible location near its entrance.

There were numerous reports of anti-Semitic, anti-Muslim, and anti-Christian incidents.  These included assaults, verbal harassment, threats, discrimination, and vandalism.  Most anti-Christian incidents involved actions by Muslim migrants against migrant converts.  Jews expressed security concerns after several widely publicized anti-Semitic attacks, coupled with reports of anti-Semitic bullying in schools.  Final federal crime statistics cite 1,799 anti-Semitic crimes during the year, including 69 involving violence, an increase of 20 percent compared with 1,504 anti-Semitic crimes, of which 37 were violent, in 2017.  The federal crime statistics attributed 93 percent of the 2017 crimes to the far right.  A study covering 2007-2017 by the Technical University of Berlin found online anti-Semitism was at its highest level ever recorded.  There were demonstrations expressing anti-Muslim and anti-Islamic sentiment and protests against what participants described as radical Islam.  The Roman Catholic Church and the Protestant Church in Germany (EKD) continued to make public statements opposing the COS.

The U.S. embassy and five consulates general monitored the government’s responses to incidents of religious intolerance and expressed concerns about anti-Semitic, anti-Christian, and anti-Muslim acts.  Embassy representatives met regularly with the newly appointed federal government anti-Semitism commissioner at the Ministry of Interior.  The embassy and consulates general maintained a dialogue with a broad spectrum of religious communities and human rights nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) on their concerns about religious freedom and on ways to promote tolerance and communication among religious groups.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Government Practices

In January the federal government created the new position of commissioner for Jewish life in Germany and the fight against anti-Semitism.  The new commissioner, Felix Klein, started work in May.  The appointment followed federal parliament enactment of a resolution entitled “Resolutely Combating Anti-Semitism” on January 18.  The resolution called for creation of an anti-Semitism commissioner and expressed appreciation for the government’s 2017 decision to adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA’s) working definition of anti-Semitism.  It also called for deportation of foreigners that incite anti-Semitic hatred, “determined” countering of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement, continued punishment for persons who denied or trivialized the Holocaust, and further financing – including with Muslim organizations and mosques – for projects to combat anti-Semitism, as well as continued financial support for Jewish communities and memorials of the Holocaust.  A 2017 report on anti-Semitism in the country by independent experts had also called for the appointment of a federal commissioner on anti-Semitism, as well as improved documentation and punishment of anti-Semitic crimes and better advisory services for those affected by anti-Semitism.

In October Klein announced that he planned to implement a nationwide system of recording anti-Semitic incidents below the threshold of criminal offenses.  During a visit to Israel, he announced cooperation with the Israeli government in encouraging third party states to apply the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism and to develop codes of conduct for governments’ interactions with social media companies to combat online anti-Semitism.  On December 20, Klein announced the 2019 launch of a nationwide online platform for reporting anti-Semitic incidents.  The platform will be run by the Research and Information Center for Anti-Semitism (RIAS), a nonprofit organization that receives some federal and state funding.  The Ministry of Interior also announced it would establish a separate anti-Semitism department and add experts on Jewish life to the religious department.  Klein repeatedly encouraged the federal states to establish their own anti-Semitism commissioners.

Rhineland-Palatinate, Baden-Wuerttemberg, Hesse, Bavaria, Saarland, Saxony-Anhalt and NRW established anti-Semitism commissioners.  The responsibilities and functions of the position varied by state, but generally included developing contacts with the Jewish community, collecting statistics on anti-Semitic incidents, and designing education and prevention programs.  In November the federal and state level anti-Semitism commissioners met for the first time to discuss best practices and identify areas of cooperation.

In November Baden-Wuerttemberg opened an anti-discrimination office.  The state government said it would serve as a point of contact for those experiencing any form of discrimination, including religious discrimination.

In March NRW Minister-President Armin Laschet advocated granting PLC status to Muslim organizations.  In January the Ahmadiyya Muslim Jamaat requested PLC status in NRW, and the application was pending at year’s end.

In November Rhineland-Palatinate announced it was planning to sign a state agreement with the Muslim Alevite community.  According to the state chancellery, the agreement would outline conditions for Alevi holidays and religious instruction in schools.  At year’s end, four Rhineland-Palatinate elementary schools offered Alevi religious instruction.  The government was scheduled to sign the agreement in March 2019.

In August the state of Rhineland-Palatinate announced it would stop negotiations to establish a “religion treaty” with the Turkish Islamic Union for Religious Affairs (DITIB) and three other Islamic organizations, Schura Rheinland-Palatinate, Ahmadiyya, and the Association of Islamic Cultural Centers.  Such an agreement would have been a precondition for introducing state-wide Islamic religious education in public schools, but the state followed two expert opinion reports that had questioned DITIB’s independence from the Turkish government and the organizations’ “constitutional adequacy” as official partners for the state.  State authorities also classified DITIB and Schura as “suspicious.”

In December media reported the Hesse State criminal police office started an investigation of a possible neo-Nazi network in Frankfurt’s police force after a group of police officers allegedly sent a threatening letter to a German lawyer of Turkish origin.  In August investigators said they had found police officials used a work computer to look up the lawyer’s personal information without an official reason, and also found a group of five police officers had been sharing neo-Nazi images and content.  Authorities suspended the five officers from duty, and the case remained under investigation at year’s end.

According to reports from the federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (OPC) – the domestic intelligence service – and state OPCs and COS members, the federal and state OPCs in Baden-Wuerttemberg, Bavaria, Berlin, Bremen, Hamburg, Lower Saxony, NRW, and Thuringia continued to monitor the activities of the COS, reportedly by evaluating Scientology publications and members’ public activities to determine whether they violated the constitution.  In September following the opening of new representational COS offices in Stuttgart, a Baden-Wuerttemberg state OPC spokesperson said state and national COS membership had decreased by one third since 1997, and suggested that the OPC’s monitoring of the COS deterred membership.  COS leadership disputed the state OPC’s statement that membership had declined.  At least four major political parties (the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), the Christian Social Union (CSU), the Social Democratic Party (SPD), and the Federal Democratic Party (FDP)) continued to exclude Scientologists from party membership.

Federal and state OPCs continued to monitor a number of Muslim groups, including Salafist movements, ISIS, Hezbollah, Hamas, Turkish Hezbollah (TH), Hizb ut-Tahrir, Tablighi Jama’at, Millatu Ibrahim, the Islamic Center Hamburg (IZH), the Muslim Brotherhood, and Milli Gorus.  The website of NRW’s OPC stated the Muslim Brotherhood “rejects democracy.”

Groups under OPC observation continued to say their status as meriting OPC scrutiny implied they were extremist and constrained their ability to apply for publicly funded projects.

In January the Hamburg Regional Court acquitted 12 alleged members of the banned Salafist group Millatu Ibrahim.  The Hamburg state attorney’s office charged that the men had, among other offenses, stormed a mosque in Luebeck, Schleswig-Holstein in 2013 and threatened to kill those who did not adhere to Millatu Ibrahim’s convictions.  The state attorney’s office stated it was convinced of the defendants’ guilt but that it had failed to prove the allegations.

In July Hamburg began to record hate crimes in a more detailed manner.  Hamburg Justice Senator (the city-state’s minister of justice) Till Stefen told the newspaper Welt in June the statistics would improve sentencing and make sociopolitical developments more visible.  Stefen added, “We need new sources to make anti-Semitic crimes visible.”  Hamburg State Attorney General Jorg Frohlich stated that collecting the new statistics would require significant additional work but that “every progress is worthwhile” when combating hate crime.

In September Bavaria established a hotline for reporting anti-Semitic incidents, according to the state’s anti-Semitism commissioner.  Bavarian authorities said the hotline would begin operations in spring 2019.

In May federal statistical data on the number of anti-Muslim and anti-Christian hate crimes became available for the first time.  Police had added the categories to their criminal statistics in 2017.  Anti-Semitism was already a category of hate crime in federal crime statistics.

In February Baden-Wuerttemberg announced the state would start organizing training for Muslim chaplains at correctional facilities, rather than rely on outside organizations to conduct the training.  In the same month media reported the state OPC had barred three of 16 imams who were graduates of a third-party training course from serving as prison chaplains because of what the OPC said were the imam’s contacts with radical Islamist organizations.

In May Bavarian Minister-President Markus Soeder announced a decree requiring public offices to display a cross in a visible place at the entrance area of the building where they were located.  According to Soeder, the decree was intended to highlight Bavaria’s cultural and historical roots.

In March the Federal Constitutional Court dismissed the suit of a woman who wanted to drive wearing a niqab.  The court stated the woman had not sufficiently demonstrated how the law prohibiting driving with a face covering restricted her religious freedom.

In March the Koblenz police district completed a disciplinary review of a male Muslim police officer who in 2017 refused to shake the hand of a female colleague, citing religious reasons.  Police officials disciplined the officer, and ordered him to pledge his allegiance to the constitution in writing and pay a fine of 1,000 euros ($1,100).  They also instructed the officer, on penalty of dismissal, not to refuse to shake the hands of women in the future when acting in an official capacity.

In May the Berlin Labor Court ruled against a teacher in Berlin who had sued the school system in 2017 for transferring her from a primary school to a school for older children because state law barred women who wore a headscarf from teaching younger children.  The court decided the state administration had the right to transfer its teachers to any other post of the same salary level.

In November the State Labor Court of Berlin and Brandenburg awarded approximately 5,000 euros ($5,700) to a job applicant in compensation for discrimination on the grounds of religion.  The job applicant, trained in information technology, said the school where she applied to work as a teacher had rejected her because she wore a headscarf.  In May the local labor court had ruled that, because teachers served as a model for young students, the school was justified in limiting her religious freedom and asking her to teach without a headscarf.  The state court, however, saw no indication that a teacher wearing a headscarf would have threatened “school peace,” and quoted the Federal Constitutional Court’s 2015 decision that such a threat was a necessary condition for prohibiting teachers from wearing headscarves.

In April the NRW integration ministry announced it would examine legal requirements for a headscarf ban for girls younger than 14, the age of so-called “religious majority.”  The state integration minister stated in an interview that wearing a headscarf was a personal decision, but children lacked the self determination to decide and should not be pressured.  Critics of the proposed ban, including some teachers, asked how the ban would be enforced.  The federal integration commissioner and the chairwoman of the Federal Anti-Discrimination Agency spoke against the ban while federal FDP Party Chair Christian Lindner and CDU Party Vice Chair and federal Minister of Agriculture Julia Kloeckner supported it.  By year’s end, the NRW state government had not decided on the proposed ban and said it expected to continue debating the issue through the end of 2019.

In April a Muslim woman wearing a niqab left a reception by Heiner Bernhard (SPD Party), the mayor of Weinheim in Baden-Wuerttemberg, after she refused a request by a town employee to show her face.  The mayor stated he wished “to greet all citizens of his town face to face,” and that he considered it a “citizen’s duty” to show one’s face in a democratic state.  Shortly before the incident, the municipality had refused to process a pending passport application for the woman’s child because, according to Mayor Bernhard, the mother declined to show her face for identification purposes, as required by law, while applying for the passport on behalf of her child.  Bernhard told the newspaper Welt, “For identity verification, we had to see the woman’s face.  She could have gone to a separate room in our town hall.”

In September the city of Pforzheim announced it had reversed a regulation requiring Muslim women wishing to wear a headscarf in their driver’s license photograph to present evidence of their faith through a certificate from their mosque or religious community.  Earlier in the year, a Muslim woman’s tweet about the requirement had generated strong criticism of it on social media.  The new policy required certificates of faith only in cases where there was reasonable doubt about the religious motivation of those seeking to wear a headscarf in the photograph.

In February the AfD put forward a motion requesting the government to introduce legislation in parliament to prohibit full-face veils in public.  Citing the individual rights of Muslim women, the AfD motion stated that wearing a full-face veil was “an expression of the oppression of women” and of conscious distancing from “Western liberal society.”  At year’s end parliament was still debating the motion in committee.

In March the Bavarian Administrative Court rejected the complaint of a judicial trainee in Augsburg who in 2014 had sued to contest a Bavarian Ministry of Justice rule denying judicial trainees the right to wear a headscarf in court.  A lower court had previously sided with the plaintiff in 2016.

In July a majority of the citizens of Kaufbeuren, Bavaria voted in a referendum against leasing (for a symbolic fee) municipal real estate to the local DITIB organization on which to build a mosque.

In March the Higher Administrative Court in Muenster, NRW ruled that an event venue owner could not rent his venue for a Muslim circumcision celebration scheduled for Good Friday.  The ruling reaffirmed a December 2015 ruling by the Administrative Court in Cologne.  The circumcision itself had taken place several weeks before the scheduled celebration and the court ruled that the jubilant nature of the event contradicted the quiet nature of the Christian Good Friday observance, which several federal states, including NRW, legally enforced.

In February the Gelsenkirchen Administrative Court in NRW banned outdoor amplification of the call to prayer via speakers by a local mosque.  Following legal action by nearby residents in 2015, the Muslim community had to stop amplifying the prayer call outside of the mosque’s premises pending a court decision.  The court justified its decision in this specific case with the lack of citizen involvement and dialogue in the city’s first decision to grant the permit for the call to prayer but did not prohibit the call to prayer altogether.  In March the city announced it would appeal the decision prohibiting the amplification.  The city’s lawyer compared the call to prayer with the ringing of church bells and said the court had not respected the religious freedom of the Muslim community.

In October the Federal Labor Court ruled on new guidelines for the rights of religious communities as employers, ruling on a case in which the EKD-owned charity organization Diakonie denied employment to a social worker because she was not a member of a religious community.  Although the job description required applicants to belong to a Christian church, the court ruled that Diakonie could not deny her employment solely on that basis.  The court’s decision stated religious communities could no longer require applicants to belong to a religious community as a condition of employment unless religious communities could demonstrate that membership was required to perform the job.

In March the European Court of Human Rights unanimously held that the country’s courts’ decisions in 2013 to take Twelve Tribes Church children living in Bavaria into state care because of reports that Church members punished their children by caning had not violated Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

In March Foreign Minister Heiko Maas condemned rising anti-Semitism at schools after Muslim immigrant children bullied a Jewish girl at a Berlin elementary school.  The bullying reportedly included death threats.

In May the NRW Ministry of Schools and Education distributed resources on countering anti-Semitic bullying in schools to all schools and education authorities in the state.  The action followed reports indicating that bullying of Jewish students rose in 2017.  Politicians from the CDU/CSU called for action, including that schools pay more attention to communicating religious tolerance.

In December Hamburg’s parliament passed a resolution to strengthen preventive work against anti-Semitism.  The parliament allocated an additional 300,000 euros ($344,000) for school programs to combat anti-Semitism, including educational visits to former concentration camps, adult education, and anti-discrimination counseling.  The parliament said it would cooperate with Hamburg’s Jewish community and organizations to support their efforts to combat anti-Semitism, and that its efforts would target right-wing extremist groups.

In May the education ministry of Brandenburg, and the education ministries of Saarland and Rhineland-Palatinate in June, signed declarations of intent with Yad Vashem World Holocaust Remembrance Center in Israel to collaborate on Holocaust education in the states’ schools.  In November Hamburg’s education ministry introduced educational materials on Jewish life from Yad Vashem as part of a broader effort to combat anti-Semitism in schools.  Yad Vashem said it had concluded such agreements with 15 of 16 states in the country.

In June the Baden-Wuerttemberg state government announced plans to reorganize Islamic religious education in public schools.  Minister-President Winfried Kretschmann said that, because of the absence of a single Islamic partner organization, he proposed establishing a Sunni Muslim educational foundation that would serve as a mediator between the state and various Islamic associations.  The state government did not reach a decision on a new model for Islamic religious education and announced it would continue the existing system for an additional school year.

The Alevi Muslim community continued to offer separate religious lessons in schools in eight states for approximately 1,400 students.

In June Berlin Humboldt University, a public university, created an institute for Islamic theology and said it would begin training imams and religion teachers in 2019.  The state of Berlin pledged to provide 13.8 million euros ($15.83 million) in funding for the institute through 2022.  Humboldt University created the institute in cooperation with three Muslim associations – the Central Council of Muslims, Islamic Federation, and Islamic Association of Shia Communities – and the associations were to have a voice in selecting the institute’s professors.  Critics, including student organizations and the Berlin CDU, said they disapproved of the extent of the associations’ control over the institute’s board, or of what they described as the associations’ conservative orientation.

During campaigning for the October Bavarian state elections, the Bavarian AfD distributed posters calling for “Islam-free schools,” which the party explained as a call to end “Islamic education and headscarves in schools.”

The COS continued to report governmental discrimination.  “Sect filters,” which were signed statements by potential employees to confirm they had no contact with the COS, remained in use in the public and private sectors.  According to the COS, in September a Munich school refused to hire a teacher due to his membership in the COS.  The COS said the government also discriminated against firms owned or operated by its members.  According to the COS, Hamburg city officials asked one COS member to sign a “sect filter” when he attempted to purchase land from the city for his company.

In April the Berlin Administrative Court dismissed a suit that the mosque association Neukoellner Begegnungsstaette (NBS) had brought against the Berlin OPC in 2017.  NBS had sought to have the Berlin OPC remove the association’s name from its annual report and to stop stating NBS had ties to the Muslim Brotherhood.  The court ruled that the Berlin OPC’s statements that NBS had had contacts with the Islamic Community in Germany and that the latter group organized followers of the Muslim Brotherhood were valid.

In May the NRW state chancery spokesperson told media the state government stopped cooperation with DITIB due to the Turkish government’s influence over the group.

In July the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany (also known as the Jewish Claims Conference) and the government announced an increase of 75 million euros ($86 million) of government funding for social welfare services for Holocaust survivors, raising the yearly contribution from 405 million euros ($464.45 million) in 2018 to 480 million euros ($550.46 million) in 2019.  According to the commission, the increased funds would finance additional home care, food support, medicine, and transportation services for Holocaust survivors.

The government continued to subsidize some Jewish groups.  Based on an agreement between the federal government and the Central Council of Jews in Germany, the federal government increased its yearly support from 10 to 13 million euros ($11.47 to $14.91 million) to help maintain Jewish cultural heritage, restore the Jewish community, and support integration and social work.  In addition, the federal government provided financial support to the Institute for Jewish Studies in Heidelberg, the Rabbi Seminar at the University of Potsdam, and the Leo Baeck Institute, an international research group on the history and culture of German Jewry.

State governments continued to provide funds to Jewish communities and organizations in various amounts, for such purposes as the renovation and construction of synagogues.  The federal government continued to cover 50 percent of maintenance costs for Jewish cemeteries.  State and local police units continued to provide security for synagogues and other Jewish institutions.

In September the NRW government announced a ten-year plan totaling 44 million euros ($50.46 million), beginning in 2018 and ending in 2028, for the modernization and new construction of Jewish facilities and institutions.  The state said funding would begin at three million euros ($3.44 million) and be increased by 200,000 euros ($229,000) annually until reaching the maximum funding level of five million euros ($5.73 million) in 2028.  Separately, NRW again provided three million euros ($3.44 million) to support and upgrade security in Jewish buildings.

On November 8, the city of Dessau-Rosslau in Saxony-Anhalt presented the Jewish community with a piece of land to build a new synagogue in the center of town.  The community received 195,000 euros ($224,000) from the city and 300,000 euros ($344,000) from the state’s lottery commission for the construction of the building, as well as 700,000 euros ($803,000) from the federal government.  The Minister-President of Saxony-Anhalt, Reiner Hasselof, welcomed the new synagogue, stating it would increase the visibility of Jewish life in the city.

According to the Humanistic Union, an independent civil liberties organization, total state contributions during the year to the Catholic Church and the EKD amounted to approximately 538 million euros ($616.97 million).  The union said it calculated its estimate based on the federal states’ budgets.

In June the NRW state government’s Center for Political Education organized six one-day information programs in six cities entitled Diverse Islam versus Violence-Prone Salafism:  Opportunities for Intervention and PreventionThe stated goals were to help teachers and educators distinguish between Islam as a religion and what the organizers described as violent Islamist extremists, and to engage with youths vulnerable to religiously based extremism.  Presenters were Muslim and non-Muslim academics, members of NGOs, and state government employees.  Muslim religious leaders did not participate in the programs.

In July the NRW Ministry for Children, Family, Refugees, and Integration awarded 160,000 euros ($183,000) to the Central Council of Muslims in support of its Hands-on Diversity:  Students against anti-Semitism project.

In January the Federal Constitutional Court reversed the 2016 acquittal by the Wuppertal Regional Court of seven members of a self-declared “Sharia Police” on charges of violating the prohibition on wearing uniforms as expressions of a common political opinion.  Dressed in yellow vests marked “Sharia Police,” the men patrolled Wuppertal in September 2014 to counter “non-Muslim behavior.”  The Constitutional Court remanded the case back to the lower court and stated the latter had failed to consider whether the uniforms caused intimidation or were otherwise threatening to the public.  At year’s end the lower court had not scheduled a new trial date.

On July 9, the Berlin-based Jewish Forum for Democracy and anti-Semitism, in conjunction with several other Jewish organizations in the country, published a “declaration of principles on the fight against anti-Semitism.”  While applauding several “well-intentioned” federal- and state-level public statements and initiatives over the previous months, the declaration called on the government to back up policies with concrete action.  It cited the need to take victims seriously, distinguish anti-Semitism as a specific form of discrimination, and apply the IHRA’s working definition of anti-Semitism.  The signatories called upon the newly appointed federal and state commissioners on anti-Semitism to develop more effective preventative measures to combat it and to learn from the experiences of victims to develop more effective preventive measures.  They also called on federal and state government agencies and publicly funded institutions to explicitly distance themselves from all form of anti-Semitism, including campaigns such as BDS.

Frankfurt Deputy Mayor and City Treasurer Uwe Becker targeted the BDS movement against Israel on numerous occasions and called for a ban of BDS in Germany.  In April Becker said “Frankfurt will, in the future, only work with banks which do not maintain business relations with the anti-Semitic BDS movement.”  In June he added that artists who supported the BDS movement were not welcome in Frankfurt and festivals or organizations in Frankfurt supporting BDS or providing a platform to its supporters risked losing city funding.

In September the NRW State Parliament condemned the BDS movement and its calls to boycott Israeli products and companies, as well as Israeli scientists and artists in NRW.  The parliament also requested that all NRW government organizations deny BDS requests to use city, municipality, and county spaces.

In December Jewish community leaders in Duesseldorf said they believe NRW could still do more to combat anti-Semitism, and they found state-level responses to the BDS movement to be insufficient and weak.

On January 1, the government implemented procedures for registering complaints and violations of the law barring hate speech enacted in late 2017.  The procedures stipulated operators of social networks with more than two million users in the country, including Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, must delete or block “obviously illegal content” within 24 hours after notification or, in more complex cases, within seven days.  Operators must name a representative in the country able to react to complaints within 48 hours.  Operators failing to comply systematically with the requirements were subject to fines of up to 50 million euros ($57.34 million).  By year’s end the government had not penalized any companies under the law.  Anti-Semitism Commissioner of Baden-Wuerttemberg Michael Blume reported the new law had had little effect on the spread of anti-Semitism and other forms of hate speech, as groups simply chose to use other, less public social media forms such as WhatsApp groups and video game chat rooms not covered by the law.

In March federal Interior Minister Seehofer stated the phrase “Islam is part of Germany,” which former President Christian Wulff and other politicians had popularized, was wrong.  “No.  Islam is not part of Germany,” he said.  Seehofer added that Muslims in the country “are, of course, part of Germany,” but that he did not consider Islam to be a part of the country’s culture.  The minister’s statements led to a public debate on the role of Islam and Muslims in the country.  Chancellor Angela Merkel stated that, while the country was shaped by its Judeo-Christian heritage, “Now there are four million Muslims living in Germany” who “can live their religion here, too.”  Several Muslim associations criticized the minister’s statements.  Gokay Sofuoglu, chair of the advocacy group Turkish Community in Germany, said, “At a time when there are more and more attacks on mosques and Muslims, it is not a good start if the minister of the interior begins with such a statement.”  He also stated that “it is not his [Seehofer’s] job to decide who belongs to Germany and who does not.”  Addressing Seehofer’s remarks, Islamic Council Chair Burhan Kesici said, “He does not have the decency to withhold his opinion.…It would be better to recognize reality and see Muslims as part of society.  Only then could prejudices be reduced.”  Ayman Mazyek, Chair of the Central Council of Muslims, commented, “Against the backdrop of the mosque fires and the increased Islamophobic attacks, I would have expected the new interior minister to stand behind German Muslims.”

In September Hans Peter Stauch, an AfD state parliament member in Baden-Wuerttemberg, posted a video on Facebook entitled “The Power of the Rothschilds.”  The video included statements that the Rothschilds, a Jewish banking family, were responsible for World War II and the Holocaust.  Baden-Wuerttemberg’s state commissioner for anti-Semitism and the heads of the state-level Green, SPD, and FDP parties criticized Stauch, saying that he was spreading anti-Semitic conspiracy theories.  Stauch responded that he had only posted the video without commentary and said he was exercising his freedom of speech.

In January AfD Bundestag (federal parliament) member Beatrix von Storch tweeted that Cologne police were appeasing “barbaric, gang-raping, Muslim hordes” when the police tweeted a New Year’s Day greeting in Arabic.  Twitter briefly suspended von Storch’s account.  Thomas Held, spokesman for the Cologne police, confirmed to media that the Cologne police initiated a criminal report against von Storch for suspicion of inciting hatred, stating that this was “a completely normal procedure” which they were “legally obliged” to start upon the suspicion of a criminal offense.  Additionally, approximately 100 private individuals reported von Storch’s tweet to police.  Twitter also deleted a tweet by AfD Parliamentary Caucus Chief Alice Weidel, defending her colleague by using the phrase “imported, marauding, grabbing, beating, knife stabbing migrant mobs.”

In May Weidel argued in a parliamentary debate that the uncontrolled immigration of Muslims endangered the wealth of the country, stating, “Burquas, headscarf girls, subsidized knife men, and other good-for-nothings will not secure our wealth, the economic growth, and most of all our welfare state.”  Representatives of all other parties present in parliament reacted with interjections and booing.  Parliament President Wolfgang Schaeuble called her to order for “discriminating against all women who wear a headscarf.”

In July a group of AfD party members from Weidel’s Bodensee electoral district in Baden-Wuerttemberg visited the Sachsenhausen concentration camp memorial in Brandenburg State as part of a trip to Berlin sponsored by the federal press office.  According to the memorial site’s staff, some participants continuously interrupted the guided tour with inappropriate comments, including speech that trivialized Nazi crimes and questioned the existence of gas chambers.  The federal press office stated one participant made anti-Semitic statements.  Neuruppin public prosecutor Wilfried Lehman was investigating the case, and stated in November that his office hoped to complete the investigation by year’s end, and he already had sufficient evidence for one case of Holocaust denial.

On April 26, the Bundestag condemned the increasing number of anti-Semitic incidents and attacks in the country, and emphasized its support for Israel’s right to exist.  “It is intolerable when Jewish life in Germany is not possible without fear,” said SPD party leader Andrea Nahles.  Volker Kauder (who at the time was CDU/CSU parliamentary caucus leader), said “Everyone has a place in this society,” but that there was no place for anti-Semitism.

In May the Rostock District Court upheld a lower court’s 2016 finding that AfD state Member of Parliament (MP) Holger Arppe was guilty of hate speech against Muslims for comments he wrote on the right-wing website Politically Incorrect in 2010, while using a pseudonym.  The court increased Arppe’s fine from 6,300 to 9,000 euros (from $7,200 to $10,300).

On February 8, the Stuttgart Higher Regional Court found the creator of the banned Altermedia neo-Nazi website guilty of leadership in a criminal association and inciting racial hatred and sentenced him to two and a half years in prison.  Three women, charged with supporting the website and incitement, were convicted and received suspended sentences ranging from eight months to two years.  The court declared the platform a criminal organization.  It had published content that denied the Holocaust and targeted Jews, immigrants, and foreigners; the federal interior minister closed it in 2016.

According to the Central Council of Muslims (ZMD), political parties continued to distance themselves from Islamic associations because they were concerned foreign nations and organizations could influence Muslims with money and by sending radical imams to mosques in the country.

As part of the coalition agreement between the ruling CDU/CSU and SPD parties, the government agreed to continue the German Islam Conference dialogue between representatives of the government and Muslims in the country, which began in 2006.  The conference’s aim was to improve the religious and social participation of the Muslim population in the country, give greater recognition to Muslims’ contributions to society, and, in the absence of a central organization representing all Muslims in the country, further develop partnerships between the government and Islamic organizations.  In November the government held its fourth German Islam Conference, a two-day conference with 240 participants.  Conference attendees included representatives of Muslim associations, communities, scholars, and activists.  Interior Minister Seehofer called on Muslim communities to cut their ties with sources of foreign funding and influence, develop their own training systems for the country’s imams, and increase their cooperation with the country’s government.  Federal Integration Commissioner Annette Widmann-Mauz, reiterating concerns about the foreign financing of the country’s mosques, said, “Those who want to be part of Germany as a Muslim organization cannot remain part of Ankara.”

In January Sawsan Chebli, a Berlin state legislator of Palestinian heritage, proposed the government require that “everybody living in this country” visit Nazi concentration camp memorials at least once.  She added that newly arrived immigrants should visit the memorials as part of programs to integrate them into society, in order to sensitize them to Nazi crimes against Jews and combat anti-Semitism.  The country’s Central Council of Jews and the World Jewish Congress endorsed the proposal.  Council President Josef Schuster told Deutschlandfunk Radio that migrants who had fled or been expelled from their home countries could develop empathy by visiting such memorials.  The proposal generated debate and was not adopted.  Critics said such visits should be voluntary and preceded by prior education about the Holocaust.  Gunter Morsch, Director of the Brandenburg Memorials Foundation and head of the Sachsenhausen Memorial and Museum, said, “It seems to me an illusion to believe that such a visit can help to counter a strongly entrenched prejudice.”

In March NRW Minister-President Laschet hosted an iftar at the state chancery, the first NRW minister-president to do so.

The government created the position of federal commissioner for worldwide religious freedom within the Ministry of Economic Cooperation and Development and in April it appointed MP Markus Gruebel as the first commissioner.  Gruebel stated the government wanted to send a clear signal on the importance it places on religious freedom and the strengthening of common values.

The country is a member of the IHRA.

Ghana

Executive Summary

The constitution prohibits religious discrimination, stipulates that individuals are free to profess and practice their religion, and does not designate a state religion.  Registration is required for religious groups to have legal status.  In March President Nana Akufo-Addo unveiled plans to build a new national interdenominational cathedral on land provided by the government.  Critics, including some religious leaders, questioned the cost and details of the financing, and an opposition political party member filed a lawsuit to block construction on constitutional grounds.  In June the president spoke at an Eid al-Fitr celebration and declared, “Our country stands unique in West Africa, both in terms of inter- and intra-religious cooperation… We ought to guard this tradition of cooperation and tolerance jealously.”  In August the president met with religious leaders to explore ways to ensure all religious institutions pay statutory taxes required of them on their commercial activities, stating the need for government and faith-based organizations to meet periodically on issues of mutual interest.

Muslim and Christian leaders continued to emphasize the importance of religious freedom and tolerance, and reported sustained communication among themselves on religious matters and ways to address issues of concern.

The embassy urged the government to restart dialogue with religious communities regarding concerns over religious accommodations in publicly funded, religiously affiliated schools.  The embassy discussed religious freedom and tolerance with religious leaders and community organizations and sponsored several events to promote interfaith dialogue and tolerance.  The embassy provided funding again to the Islamic Peace and Security Council of Ghana, which held a series of lectures on good governance and encouraged Muslim leaders to take a more active role in governance.  The objective was to increase their visibility in the public sphere and promote tolerance of Muslims generally.  In May the U.S. Ambassador hosted a Ramadan event at a local school with religious leaders from various faiths where embassy officials distributed food kits to schoolchildren to enable them to break the fast with their families.  During the program, the Ambassador emphasized the importance of nurturing interfaith understanding and protecting religious freedom as foundations of peace and security.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Government Practices

Muslim leaders continued to report that some publicly funded Christian mission schools required female Muslim students to remove their hijabs and Muslim students to participate in Christian worship services, despite a Ministry of Education policy prohibiting these practices.  For example, Muslim leaders reported three examples of schools that required Muslim students to participate in church services, saying they were compulsory school gatherings.  Similarly, there were continued reports that some publicly funded Muslim mission schools required female Christian students to wear the hijab.

Government officials leading meetings, receptions, and state funerals offered Christian and Muslim prayers and, occasionally, traditional invocations.  President Nana Akufo-Addo, a Christian, and Vice President Mahamudu Bawumia, a Muslim, continued to emphasize the importance of peaceful religious coexistence in public remarks.  For example, in June President Akufo-Addo spoke at an Eid al-Fitr celebration and declared, “Our country stands unique in West Africa, both in terms of inter- and intra-religious cooperation… We ought to guard this tradition of cooperation and tolerance jealously.”  He also cautioned his fellow citizens to be wary of “troublemakers and hate preachers” who might sow disunity.

In March the president unveiled design plans for an interdenominational Christian cathedral, to be built in Accra.  Several groups, including Christian ones, spoke against the proposal, citing reasons such as wasting public lands, the relocation of judges residing on the plot, and undue government involvement in the affairs of religious groups.  The Coalition of Muslim Organizations issued a statement saying it did not object to the construction of a cathedral but government should not play a role.  National Chief Imam spokesperson Sheikh Shaibu Aremeyaw said an interfaith edifice would have been more appropriate.  The president defended the plan as “a priority among priorities,” saying the country needed “a symbol that the Ghanaian nation can rally behind.”  The president’s liaison for the cathedral denied the government was playing favorites, citing the government’s donation of land for the construction of the national mosque, financed by international donors.  An opposition political party member filed a lawsuit in August to block construction of the cathedral on constitutional grounds.

During the year, the president emphasized the importance he placed on government representatives meeting with religious leaders on matters of mutual interest.  In August he convened a closed-door session with religious leaders to explore ways (such as establishing a regulatory body) to ensure all religious institutions pay statutory taxes required of them on their commercial activities.  The Ghana Revenue Authority planned to tax income churches receive from business activities, but not from offerings and donations.  The former head of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference backed the plan, cautioning, however, against a “blanket” tax on churches.

Greece

Executive Summary

The constitution states freedom of religious conscience is inviolable and provides for freedom of worship with some restrictions.  It recognizes Greek Orthodoxy as the “prevailing religion.”  The law prohibits offenses violating “religious peace,” including blasphemy and “religious insult,” punishable by prison sentences of up to two years.  Police arrested two Jehovah’s Witnesses for religious insult, releasing them the following day.  At least 30 different religious communities are officially registered with the government.  In August parliament passed legislation requiring all Greek Orthodox priests, imams in Thrace, and rabbis to register in the same electronic database used for other registered religious communities.  The same law requires mandatory retirement for muftis at the same age as other judicial officials, authorizes the Ministry of Education, Research, and Religious Affairs to fund the muftiates, and tasks the Ministry of Finance with their financial oversight.  On March 20, the Council of State deemed changes introduced to religious instruction in primary and middle schools in 2016 were unconstitutional and contrary to the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).  In October parliament passed legislation requiring notarized consent from all parties wishing to adjudicate a family matter using sharia instead of the civil courts.  A criminal trial continued for 69 members and supporters of the Golden Dawn (GD) political party accused of a string of violent attacks and arson, including on Muslim migrants.  The government issued 11 new house of prayer permits:  eight to Jehovah’s Witnesses, two to Muslim groups, and one to Pentecostals.  The Greek Orthodox Church, Muslim minority of Thrace, Jewish communities, and Roman Catholic Church continued to receive some government benefits not available to other religious communities.  Some members of the Muslim minority of Thrace continued to oppose the government’s appointment of muftis, advocating that the community elect them.  The government continued to fund Holocaust education programs; on January 19, the parliamentary president announced the government would fund a museum inside the Auschwitz concentration camp commemorating Greek Jews who perished there.

Media reported continued incidents of anti-Semitic discrimination, hate speech, vandalism, and anti-Muslim assaults.  Incidents of vandalism affecting religious properties, including Holocaust memorials and Greek Orthodox churches, continued.  On March 6, a group of self-described anarchists placed an explosive device outside the Diocese of Neapoli and Stavroupolis, near Thessaloniki; the explosion damaged the building entrance.  On December 27, a small explosive device left by self-proclaimed anarchist group “Iconoclastic Sect” detonated outside Greek Orthodox Agios Dionysios Church in central Athens.  A police officer and the churchwarden sustained minor injuries.  On May 4, unidentified individuals destroyed nine marble stones in the Jewish section of a historic Athens cemetery.  The president of the Athens Jewish Community said the destruction was “the most severe [anti-Semitic] incident in Athens in the past 15 years.”  Secretary General for Religious Affairs George Kalantzis condemned the vandalism in a statement that said, in part, “What kind of people are those who hate the dead? . . . The vandalism of the Jewish cemetery should be for us a cause, a reason to intensify even more our efforts so as the poison of anti-Semitism stays away from our society.”  The Mayor of Athens, George Kaminis immediately issued a statement condemning the attack, noting, “Such events have no place in Athens, in a city free and open that is not intimidated.”  The secretary general for human rights said these types of incidents “attack human dignity and harm society as a whole.”  On May 13, national government and municipal officials joined the Jewish community in a silent protest against violence, intolerance, and racism.  Police investigated the case but made no arrests by year’s end.

The U.S. Ambassador, visiting U.S. government officials, and other embassy and consulate representatives met with officials and representatives from the Ministry of Education, Research, and Religious Affairs, including the secretary general for religious affairs, and officials from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, including Deputy Minister Markos Bolaris and Special Secretary for Religious and Cultural Diplomacy Efstathios Lianos Liantis.  They discussed the ability of minority religious communities to establish houses of worship, government initiatives affecting both the Muslim minority in Thrace and immigrants, laws against undermining religious belief through coercion or fraud, and government initiatives promoting worldwide interfaith and interreligious dialogue.  U.S. government officials expressed concern about anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim acts and rhetoric, and attacks on Orthodox churches.  On December 28, the Charge d’Affaires sent a letter to Archbishop of Athens and All Greece Ieronymos condemning the December 27 attack on Agios Dionysios Orthodox Church.  Embassy officials also engaged Archbishop of Athens and All Greece Ieronymos and metropolitans, as well as members of the Muslim, Jewish, Catholic, Baha’i, and Jehovah’s Witnesses communities, to promote religious tolerance and encourage interfaith dialogue.  On November 29, a senior embassy official hosted representatives from a range of religious communities and government agencies to discuss legal protections related to religious freedom and challenges faced by various communities.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Government Practices

Police in Agrinio, located in the central part of the country, reported the arrest and detention of two Jehovah’s Witnesses after an Orthodox priest accused them of religious insult for distributing their materials in front of his church.  Police released the accused individuals the following day without charge.  On February 9, Metropolitan Seraphim of Kythira filed a lawsuit for malicious blasphemy and religious insult against a theater group performing Jesus Christ Superstar.  Two lawyers and another Orthodox priest filed separate lawsuits against the same theater group on similar grounds.  There were no reports of government action against the theater group.  Unlike in the previous year, there were no reports of arrests for blasphemy.

The criminal trial of 69 GD party members and supporters, including 18 of its current and former members of parliament, continued through the end of the year.  The charges related to a string of attacks, including against Muslim migrants and Greeks; they included murder, conspiracy, weapons possession, and membership in a criminal organization.  As of the end of the year, media reported 253 trial sessions had taken place and nearly 250 prosecution witnesses had testified in court since the trial began in 2015.  The examination of approximately 230 defense witnesses was still pending at year’s end.

On March 8, police arrested 11 suspects during operations to dismantle the self-identified extreme-right militant group Combat 18.  The prosecutor pressed for criminal and other charges for a series of offenses, including forming a criminal organization.  Authorities ordered pretrial detention for four of the individuals.  Combat 18 was accused of organizing 30 attacks, including arson and homemade bombs deployed in venues frequented by Muslim migrants and refugees.

No religious group applied to courts seeking recognition as a religious legal entity during the year.

Religious groups without religious entity status and no house of prayer permits, including Scientologists and ISKCON, continued to function as registered nonprofit civil law organizations.  The government did not legally recognize weddings conducted by members of those religious groups, whose only option was a civil marriage.

The government approved permits for 11 houses of prayer, including eight for Jehovah’s Witnesses, one for Pentecostals, and two for Muslim groups.  The government revoked one permit at the request of a small religious community that no longer wished to operate its house of prayer.  There were no pending applications at year’s end.  On October 19, the Ministry for Education, Research, and Religious Affairs issued guidance allowing houses of prayer continually operating since before 1955 to obtain permits regardless of any failure to comply with modern town planning regulations.

Jehovah’s Witnesses continued to report some doctors in public hospitals did not understand or respect their refusal to receive blood transfusions.

On March 20, the Council of State ruled changes introduced to religious instruction in primary and middle schools in 2016 were unconstitutional and contrary to the ECHR.  On April 25, the Council of State issued a ruling that changes introduced in 2016 to religious instruction in high schools were also unconstitutional and contrary to the ECHR.  The changes directed teachers to supplement religious textbook material, which primarily covers Greek Orthodox doctrine, with material introducing the basic tenets of other religions.  The Council of State ruled the new curriculum violated Articles 13 and 16 of the constitution because the classes were mandatory only for Greek Orthodox students; students of other religions could apply for an exemption.  The Ministry of Education, Research, and Religious Affairs issued revised guidelines in 2017 for religious instruction in public schools, including supplemental materials on the tenets of various religions and the importance of interfaith dialogue.  Several complaints regarding the 2017 guidelines were still pending with the Council of State, including one that the course did not adequately cover the needs of Greek Orthodox students, another that the course did not include enough information on non-Orthodox religions, and a third from atheist parents requesting the abolition of the class entirely.  The council issued no decisions on these appeals by year’s end.

The government continued to provide direct support to the Greek Orthodox Church, including funding for religious leaders’ salaries, religious and vocational training of clergy, and religious instruction in schools.  Greek Orthodox officials stated the government provided this direct support in accordance with a series of legal agreements with past governments and in exchange for religious property previously expropriated by the state.

Some members of the Muslim minority in Thrace continued to object to the government’s practice of appointing muftis, pressing for direct election of muftis by the Muslim minority.  The government continued to state government appointment was appropriate because the muftis had judicial powers, albeit now only in cases where both parties proactively request the mufti’s adjudication, and the constitution requires the government to appoint all judges.  On August 16, following passage of the law requiring muftis and acting muftis to retire at the same age as other judicial officials – 67 – the government announced the dismissal of the two official muftis in Xanthi and Rodopi regions – age 77 and 81 respectively.  The government appointed two acting muftis to replace them.  On September 12, the two former muftis issued a statement announcing they would file an appeal to the Council of State and to the European Commission, stating their dismissals violated the religious freedom of the Muslim minority in Thrace.

Some members of the Muslim minority in Thrace continued to criticize government appointment of members entrusted to oversee endowments, real estate, and charitable funds of the auqafs, stating the Muslim minority in Thrace should elect these members.  Muslim leaders also continued to criticize the lack of Islamic cemeteries outside of Thrace, stating this obliged Muslims to transport their dead to Thrace for Islamic burials.  They also continued to state municipal cemetery regulations requiring exhumation of bodies after three years because of shortage of space contravened Islamic religious law.  At least three sites continued to be used unofficially for the burial of Muslim migrants and asylum seekers on Lesvos Island, in Schisto, and near the land border with Turkey in Evros.

Media reported delays in the construction of a government-funded mosque in Athens, originally slated for completion in 2017.  On December 19, the Ministry of Education, Research, and Religious Affairs posted a job vacancy for an imam to serve in this mosque.  Applications were due by January 18, 2019.  On August 24, the Ministry of Infrastructure and Transport announced the obligation of 2.6 million euros ($2.98 million) to complete exterior construction and landscaping around the mosque.  On October 3, the government published the bylaws of the Athens mosque’s managing committee, determining how to operate the mosque to share space among diverse Muslim communities in the wider region of Attica and how to resolve disagreements on these issues.  On September 9, according to YouTube videos and media reports, approximately 200 GD supporters held a protest in front of the mosque objecting to its construction, shouting “whoever does not want Greece and [its] religion should … go to Asia.”  In the absence of an official mosque in Athens, central and local government authorities continued to provide public space free of charge to groups of Muslims whose members requested places of worship during Ramadan and for other religious occasions.

On June 26, 29 parliamentarians from ruling SYRIZA party requested the Ministry of Education, Research, and Religious Affairs to stop listing students’ religion on school transcripts, stating doing so violated freedom of conscience and data protection laws because employers requested transcripts from job applicants.  The ministry had not responded to this request by year’s end.

NGO Greek Helsinki Monitor (GHM) and the Humanist Union of Greece continued to state some judicial and other authorities did not comply with the country’s legislation and ECtHR judgments on religious oaths by continuing to record witnesses’ and defendants’ religions and not offering a choice between a civil affirmation and a religious oath.

On September 20, the Union of Atheists requested the Council of State remove all icons and religious symbols from the courtroom while hearing its appeal related to religion classes in public schools.  On September 21, the Council of State denied the request by a 30-6 majority.

The government continued to fund Catholic religious training and teachers’ salaries in state schools on the islands of Syros and Tinos, trips for non-Jewish students to Holocaust remembrance events and Auschwitz, and Holocaust education training for teachers.  The government organized Holocaust-themed contests for high school students.  It also supported and organized initiatives promoting religious tolerance, including a one-day seminar on Islam for prison staff guarding Muslim inmates in detention facilities in the northern part of the country.  On August 9, the Ministry of Education, Research, and Religious Affairs issued a decree officially incorporating Hajj and Umrah pilgrimages to Mecca and Medina into the program of students attending Islamic religious schools in Thrace.  The students paid for the trip expenses, while the ministry set guidelines on field trip safety and organization.  On January 18, Parliament Speaker Nikos Voutsis announced parliament would fund the creation of a museum space inside the Auschwitz concentration camp commemorating Greek Jews who perished there.  Government officials also continued to participate in Holocaust remembrance events around the country.

Some religious groups and human rights organizations continued to state the discrepancy between the length of mandatory alternative service for conscientious objectors (15 months) and for those serving in the military (nine months) was discriminatory.  On May 14, the Council of State issued a decision in favor of an unbaptized Jehovah’s Witness seeking such alternative service, finding he had supplied sufficient evidence to prove he was a Jehovah’s Witness even though he was not baptized.

On June 8, the head of the main opposition New Democracy Party expelled the Mayor of Argos-Mycenae, Dimitris Kamposos, over a comment targeting the Mayor of Thessaloniki, Yannis Boutaris.  Criticizing Boutaris over his stance on national and LGBT-related issues, Kamposos stated in a television interview, “He gets away with it because he is liked by the Jews,” adding, “We, on the other hand, cannot say what we want because we have never worn the kippah.”

On several occasions, government officials publicly denounced acts of vandalism of Holocaust memorials and Jewish sites around the country.

On December 19, the General Secretariat for Human Rights at the Ministry of Justice hosted in Athens the first bilateral dialogue with Israel on fighting anti-Semitism, xenophobia, and racism.  According to a statement  from the Israeli embassy in Athens, participants discussed ways to tackle hate speech on social media, methods for conducting criminal investigations, opportunities for training prosecutors and judges, and best practices for government responses.

On February 14, Metropolitan Anthimos of Alexandroupolis and the local municipal board announced they would erect a monument on the grounds of a local church in honor of 150 local Jewish residents whom Nazis arrested in March 1943 and transported to concentration camps.

Grenada

Executive Summary

The constitution protects freedom of conscience, including freedom of thought and religion.  The criminal code prohibits the publishing and sale of blasphemous language; however, the code is not enforced.  The government continued to fund public schools administered by long-established Christian groups, including the Roman Catholic, Anglican, Methodist, Seventh-day Adventists, and Mennonite communities.  Denominational and ecumenical Christian worship services continued to form part of official festivities on national holidays.  In March the government moved its Religious Affairs Unit to the Ministry of Education.

The Conference of Churches, an ecumenical body, continued to serve as a forum to promote mutual understanding among religious organizations.

The Ambassador and the Principal Officer engaged the government on the importance of respect for religious freedom, diversity, and tolerance and participated in government events that promoted respect for these values.  Embassy officials also met with members of the various religious communities to discuss their views on respect for religious diversity and tolerance in the country.  The Principal Officer participated in denominational, ecumenical, Muslim, and Jewish community events to emphasize U.S. government commitment to these issues.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Government Practices

In March the government moved the Religious Affairs Unit from the Ministry of Youth to the Ministry of Education.  The government also started its review of the religious affairs program to determine appropriate resource allocation and to design a work program for 2019.

The government’s official declarations, speeches, and activities often included religious references; denominational and ecumenical Christian worship services were part of official festivities on national holidays.

Guatemala

Executive Summary

The constitution provides for freedom of religion, including freedom of worship and the free expression of all beliefs.  The constitution recognizes the distinct legal personality of the Roman Catholic Church.  Non-Catholic religious groups must register with the Ministry of Government to enter into contracts or receive tax-exempt status.  Mayan spiritual leaders said the government continued to limit their access to some Mayan religious sites, including some located in national parks and in other protected areas where the government charges entrance fees.  The Mayan community of Chicoyoguito raised concerns in September about continued lack of access to a spiritual site on former Guatemalan Military Base 21, which became a UN peacekeeping training base known as CREOMPAZ, in Coban, Alta Verapaz.  Non-Catholic groups, including The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Church of Jesus Christ), stated some municipal-level authorities still discriminated against them in processing permit approvals and in local tax collection.  In September the congress requested that migration authorities ban a rock band from performing in the country, stating the band’s lyrics offended Christian values.

Some Catholic clergy continued to report threats and harassment against them because of their engagement in environmental protection.  Some Mayan religious groups reported land owners continued to limit their access to Mayan religious sites on private property.  Interfaith coordination and humanitarian efforts associated with this coordination increased during the year, including campaigns to assist survivors of the June 3 Fuego Volcano eruption, regardless of their religious affiliation.

The U.S. embassy regularly held meetings with government officials from the executive and legislative branches in addition to leaders of religious groups to discuss issues of religious freedom, including threats against Catholic clergy and the reported lack of access to Mayan spiritual sites.  Embassy officials emphasized the value of tolerance and respect for religious diversity, including for religious minorities, in meetings with various civil society and religious groups.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Government Practices

Some Mayan leaders said the government continued to limit their access to a number of religious sites on government-owned property and to require them to pay to access the sites.  The government continued to state there were no limitations to access; however, anyone seeking access to the sites located on national parks or other protected areas had to pay processing or entrance fees.  In Semuc Champey, a natural monument, for example, the processing fee was approximately $4 to $5, a prohibitive price for many indigenous populations.  Leaders from the Committee on the Designation of Sacred Sites continued to state practitioners of Mayan spirituality were generally able to obtain free access to sites if they were accredited and issued an identification card as spiritual guides and had received written permission from the Ministry of Culture in advance of the scheduled ceremony/religious practice.  Mayan leaders said the government continued to require written permission, involving considerable paperwork, costly travel to the capital, and fluency in Spanish.  The Presidential Commission against Discrimination and Racism (CODISRA) continued to provide interpreters for indigenous persons upon request.  Mayan advocates continued to press for access, within reasonable parameters, to the approximately 2,000 sacred sites on both public and private land.

In September the Mayan community of Chicoyoguito expressed concerns about lack of access to a spiritual site on former Guatemalan Military Base 21, which was transformed into a UN peacekeeping training base known as CREOMPAZ in Coban, Alta Verapaz.  The community stated it continued to petition for the return of land, including its sacred ceremonial center.  In 1968 military forces seized the land and evicted members of the Mayan community.

On November 5, with a search warrant from the Solicitor General’s Office (PGN), National Civilian Police officers and investigators, along with a PGN attorney, conducted a partial search of the compound of an ultraorthodox Jewish group, Lev Tahor, located in Santa Rosa.  Some government officials stated allegations of child abuse, including child marriage, surrounded the group.

Non-Catholic groups, including the Church of Jesus Christ, said some municipal-level authorities still discriminated against them in processing permit approvals and in local tax collection.  Members of the Church of Jesus Christ said in spite of a 2013 ruling exempting the Church from paying taxes, municipal authorities continued to link the issue of tax collection to construction permits, refusing to issue new permits unless the Church paid its taxes.

Missionaries continued reporting they chose to remain on tourist visas to avoid what they considered a complicated procedure to apply for temporary residence.

On September 26, congress approved a resolution instructing migration authorities to ban a heavy metal rock band from performing a concert, stating the band was satanic and its lyrics were tantamount to an attack on Christian values.  The human rights ombudsman criticized the decision, noting the constitution protects freedom of religion and thought.  Some local media sources stated the decision amounted to religious censorship.

Guinea

Executive Summary

The constitution states the state is secular, prohibits religious discrimination, and provides for the right of individuals to choose and profess their religion.  The High Authority of Communication banned three private radio stations from activity, stating it considered these stations as having a “denominational” character.  The Secretariat of Religious Affairs (SRA) continued to issue weekly themes for inclusion in Friday sermons at mosques and Sunday sermons in churches.  Although the SRA did not control sermons at every mosque and church, its inspectors were present in every region and responsible for ensuring that mosque and church sermons were consistent with SRA directives.  In July the government called for a temporary moratorium on public protests against increased fuel prices in what it said was an effort to ensure that pilgrims going to Saudi Arabia would be able to complete administrative tasks ahead of their trip.  The Governor of Conakry called for all protests to cease while pilgrims prepared to travel to Saudi Arabia and Christian destinations.

Members of religious minority groups continued to report discrimination, and Islamic intrafaith rivalries between the majority Tidjani and the minority Wahhabi communities continued to exist.

On multiple occasions, the Ambassador and other embassy officials met with the secretary of religious affairs and the Grand Imam of Conakry to discuss religious tolerance, reconciliation, and social cohesion among religious groups.  A senior embassy officer hosted an iftar with senior Muslim leaders from throughout the country, conveying the importance of religious freedom and interfaith harmony.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Government Practices

The SRA continued to issue mandatory weekly themes for inclusion in Friday sermons at mosques and Sunday sermons in churches.  The stated purpose of the weekly guidance was to harmonize religious views in order to prevent radical or political messages in sermons.  Although the SRA did not monitor sermons at every mosque and church, its inspectors were present in every region and responsible for ensuring that mosque and church sermons were consistent with SRA directives.  Clerics whom the SRA judged to be noncompliant were subject to disciplinary action.  Deviations from approved guidance were often reported in various sermons at mosques and other Islamic events, but the SRA said it had difficulty imposing disciplinary sanctions.  To address the issue, in January the SRA convened the leading imams in Conakry and Islamic organizations to call for increased sensitivity regarding the messages coming from religious institutions.

In partnership with the UN Population Fund, the government launched a project to prevent radicalization and extreme violence in the country’s at-risk areas, with a focus on Quranic schools and Franco-Arabic schools.  The project began in September and included training for teachers and religious workers.  The training focused on sensitizing populations to the signs and dangers of radicalization and violent extremism, and to religious tolerance and community development.

Saudi Arabian’s quota of Hajj pilgrims from the country remained at 9,000 for the year.  The SRA organized the logistics and facilitated the travel of 7,500 pilgrims and fixed the year’s individual pilgrimage fare at 40.9 million Guinean francs ($4,500).

The government continued to subsidize the travel of Christians to pilgrimages in the Holy Land, Greece, and Italy.

According to the SRA, several unregistered religious groups operated freely.  The small Jehovah’s Witnesses community reportedly proselytized from house to house without interference, although neither it nor the Baha’i community requested official recognition.  Some groups stated they preferred not to have a formal relationship with the SRA.

Islamic schools were prevalent throughout the country and remained the traditional forum for religious education.  Some Islamic schools were wholly private, while others received local government support.  Islamic schools, particularly common in the Fouta Djallon region, taught the compulsory government curriculum along with additional Quranic studies.  Private Christian schools, which accepted students of all religious groups, existed in Conakry and most other large cities.  They taught the compulsory curriculum but did not receive government support, and they held Christian prayers before school.

In May the Higher Authority of Communication, the regulatory body for the communications sector, banned three private radio stations from operating.  The media regulators stated they considered these stations to have a “denominational” character.

In August the government called for a temporary moratorium on public protests against an increase in fuel prices in what it said was an attempt to ensure that Muslim and Christian pilgrims would be able to complete administrative tasks in the capital ahead of their overseas trips.  The government stated roadblocks erected by protesters during repeated demonstrations impeded movement around the city and restricted access to the airport and government services.  The Governor of Conakry called for all protests to cease while pilgrims prepared to travel.

The government allocated free broadcast time on state-owned national television for Islamic and Christian programming, including Islamic religious instruction, Friday prayers from the central mosque, and church services.  The government permitted religious broadcasting on privately owned commercial radio and encouraged equal time for Christian and Muslim groups.

Guinea-Bissau

Executive Summary

The constitution establishes the separation of religion and state and the responsibility of the state to respect and protect legally recognized religious groups.  The governor of Gabu Region expressed concerns about signs of “stricter” Islamic practices and recommended the central government take action.

Media reported imams’ concerns about the increase in Salafist Quranic schools, new mosques with “unvetted” imams, online recruitment of youth to religious radicalism, and the threat that these developments posed to the country’s tradition of religious tolerance.

U.S. diplomats met with high-level government officials as well as leaders of various religious communities to promote religious freedom and tolerance.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Government Practices

In October the governor of Gabu Region expressed concern about “increased signs of stricter Islamic practices” in that region, influenced by immigrants from the Republic of Guinea.  The governor recommended the intervention of the central government to increase vigilance over activities associated with Islam.

The Gambia

Executive Summary

The constitution provides for the freedom of religious choice, as long as doing so does not impinge on the rights of others or the national interest.  It prohibits religious discrimination, establishment of a state religion, and formation of political parties based on religious affiliation.  President Adama Barrow’s announcement in July of the nonprofit Barrow Youth Movement for Development’s plan to build 60 mosques was criticized by many observers for blurring the lines of separation between state and religion and showing preference of one religion over the others.  On December 6, the Office of the President announced the transfer of the religious affairs portfolio to the Ministry of Lands and Regional Affairs from the Office of the President.  On several occasions, President Barrow stressed the need for continued religious freedom and tolerance.  In a meeting with the Roman Catholic Bishop of Banjul, President Barrow called on religious leaders to continue to “preach peace, good citizenship, and unity.”

Interfaith marriage remained common and accepted, according to religious leaders.  There continued to be tensions between the majority Sunni Muslim community and the minority Ahmadiyya Muslim community.  The Supreme Islamic Council (SIC), a religious council tasked with providing Islamic religious guidance, continued to state the Ahmadiyya community did not belong to Islam, and it did not include members of the community in its events and activities.  The government largely did not become involved in the disagreement between the two communities.  The Ahmadiyya International Association of Architects and Engineers met with President Barrow in August to discuss the group’s plans to expand its humanitarian work in the country.

The embassy expanded outreach and decentralized its annual iftar dinner, holding iftars throughout the country in an effort to meet directly with religious leaders from around the country and highlight the message of continued peace and religious harmony.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Government Practices

Local media reported a large portion of the Christian community felt alienated when during a stop on President Barrow’s Meet the People Tour in July, the president announced plans for the new Barrow Youth Movement for Development to build 60 mosques throughout the country at the request of various communities.  The Barrow Youth Movement for Development is a registered nonprofit organization that publicly promotes the president’s development agenda and has been publicly endorsed by the president.  Many observers criticized this announcement and argued that it blurred the separation of state and religion and showed a preference of one religion over the others.  Critics also questioned the source of funding for the construction.  Prominent members of the Christian community spoke against the 60-mosque plan, stating that despite initial optimism regarding the Barrow administration’s actions to treat religious groups impartially, especially its reversal of the previous administration’s declaration of the country as an Islamic state, they stated they felt increasingly alienated by these more recent actions.  They also highlighted the fact that only three members of the 19-person cabinet were Christians.  Although this constituted overrepresentation in terms of their percentage of the population, observers stated that to some in the Christian community it represented an ongoing decline in influence from the early 1990s.

On December 6, the Office of the President issued a press release announcing the portfolio of Religious Affairs was transferred to the Ministry of Lands and Regional Affairs.  No official reason was stated.

President Barrow continued to reiterate his administration’s commitment to preserving the country’s religious freedom and tolerance.  Speaking in Bwiam after being criticized for the 60-mosque announcement, the president said, “We have different kinds of faith groups in this country.  We do not discriminate against any one religion because they are all part of my family, the Gambian family.  All religions are equal in this country, and I treat everyone equally.”  In meetings with religious leaders, Special Advisor to the President on Religious Matters Dembo Bojang urged them to be strong advocates of tolerance and to continue to preach peace.

In August President Barrow met with the Ahmadiyya International Association of Architects and Engineers to discuss the group’s plans to expand its humanitarian work in the country.  The group informed the president that it intended to “build an international center of excellence for vocational and technical training to help build a noticeable skills gap in the areas of architecture, artistry, and technical skills.”  The president thanked the Ahmadis for their continued investment in the country.

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The Lessons of 1989: Freedom and Our Future