The constitution guarantees freedom of religion, and the law prohibits discrimination based on religious orientation. Federal law bans covering one’s face in public. Jewish and Muslim groups launched legal challenges against laws, scheduled to take effect in 2019 in Wallonia and Flanders, banning the slaughter of animals without prior stunning. The government maintained its policy of attempting to curb what it described as radical Islam. The federal government terminated Saudi Arabia’s lease on the Great Mosque in Brussels. The Brussels regional government recognized two mosques in July, increasing the number of recognized mosques in the country to 85. Most public schools continued to ban headscarves, and the government maintained its ban on wearing religious symbols in public-sector jobs.
There were reports of incidents of religiously motivated violence, threats, harassment, discrimination, and hate speech against Jews and Muslims. The Center for Equal Opportunities, Unia, preliminarily reported 101 anti-Semitic incidents (56 in 2017), and 319 incidents in 2017 (390 in 2016) against other religious groups, primarily Muslims.
U.S. embassy officials continued to meet regularly with senior government officials in the Office of the Prime Minister and at the Ministries of Interior and Foreign Affairs to discuss anti-Muslim and anti-Semitic incidents and discrimination. Embassy officials met with nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and religious leaders to address anti-Muslim and anti-Semitic incidents and sentiment, and to promote religious tolerance. The embassy sponsored the visit of a U.S.-based imam to discuss interfaith tolerance and cooperation in meetings with religious groups, civil society, and police. It also sponsored visits of two young Muslim leaders to the United States on programs that included a focus on religious pluralism and tolerance. Through small grants, the embassy supported programs that promoted interfaith dialogue and tolerance and raised awareness of religious minorities.
Section I. Religious Demography
The U.S. government estimates the total population at 11.5 million (July 2018 estimate). A 2011 report (based on 2009 data) by the King Baudouin Foundation estimates the religious affiliation of the population to be 50 percent Roman Catholic, 33 percent without affiliation (a figure that includes secular humanists), 9 percent atheist, 5 percent Muslim, 2.5 percent non-Catholic Christian, and 0.4 percent Jewish. According to the report, other religious groups that together constitute less than 5 percent of the population include Buddhists, Hindus, Sikhs, the International Society of Krishna Consciousness, Scientologists, and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. A 2015 study by the Catholic University of Louvain updates the estimate of the Muslim portion of the population to approximately 7 percent, with no significant changes for other affiliations. The Muslim population is highest in Antwerp and Brussels, where some studies estimate it at more than 25 percent of the respective metropolitan areas.
Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom
The constitution guarantees freedom of worship (including its public practice) and freedom of expression, provided no crime is committed in the exercise of these freedoms. It states no individual may be required to participate in any religious group’s acts or ceremonies or to observe the group’s religious days of rest and bars the state from interfering in the appointment of religious clergy or blocking the publication of religious documents. It obligates the state to pay the salaries and pensions of religious clergy (according to law, to qualify these clergy must work in recognized houses of worship and be certified by those religious groups), as well as those of representatives of organizations recognized by the law as providing moral assistance based on a nonconfessional philosophy.
The law prohibits discrimination based on religious or philosophical (e.g., nonconfessional) orientation. Federal law prohibits public statements inciting religious hatred, including Holocaust denial. The maximum sentence for Holocaust denial is one year in prison.
The government officially recognizes Catholicism, Protestantism (including evangelicals and Pentecostals), Judaism, Anglicanism (separately from other Protestant groups), Islam, Orthodox (Greek and Russian) Christianity, and secular humanism.
The requirements to obtain official recognition are not legally defined. The legal basis for official recognition is the constitution and other laws and interpretations, some of which predate the constitution itself. A religious group seeking official recognition applies to the Ministry of Justice, which then recommends approval or rejection. The government evaluates whether the group meets organizational and reporting requirements and applies criteria based on administrative and legislative precedents in deciding whether to recommend that parliament grant recognition to a religious group. The religious group must have a structure or hierarchy, a “sufficient number” of members, and a “long period” of existence in the country. It must offer “social value” to the public, abide by the laws of the state, and respect public order. The government does not formally define “sufficient number,” “long period of time,” or “social value.” Final approval is the sole responsibility of the federal parliament; however, parliament generally accepts the ministry’s recommendation.
The law requires each officially recognized religion to have an official interlocutor, such as an office composed of one or more representatives of the religion plus administrative staff, to support the government in its constitutional duty of providing the material conditions for the free exercise of religion. The functions performed by the interlocutor include certification of clergy and teachers of the religion, assistance in the development of religious curriculum, and oversight of the management of houses of worship.
The federal government provides financial support for officially recognized religious groups. The subsidies for recognized groups include payment of clergy salaries and for maintenance and equipment for facilities and places of worship, as well as tax exemptions. Denominations or divisions within the recognized religious groups (Shia Islam, Reform Judaism, or Lutheranism, for example) do not receive support or recognition separate from their parent religious group. Parent religious groups distribute subsidies according to their statutes, which may also include salaries to ministers and public funding for renovation or facility maintenance. Unrecognized groups outside of these recognized religions do not receive government subsidies but may worship freely and openly.
There are procedures for individual houses of worship of recognized religious groups to obtain recognition and state subsidies. To do so, a house of worship must meet requirements set by the region in which it is located and by the federal Ministry of Justice. These requirements include transparency and legality of accounting practices, renunciation of foreign sources of income for ministers of religion working in the facility, compliance with building and fire safety codes, certification of the minister of religion by the relevant interlocutor body, and a security check. Recognized houses of worship also receive subsidies from the linguistic communities and municipalities for the upkeep of religious buildings. Houses of worship or other religious groups that are unable or choose not to meet these requirements may organize as nonprofit associations and benefit from lower taxes but not government subsidies. Houses of worship in this situation (i.e., not completing the recognition process) may still be affiliated with an officially recognized religious group.
There is a federal ban on covering one’s face in public. Women who wear the full-face veil in public face a maximum fine of 137.50 euros ($160).
The constitution requires teaching in public schools to be neutral with respect to religious belief. All public schools outside of Flanders offer mandatory religious or “moral” instruction (which is oriented towards citizenship and moral values); parents in schools in Flanders may have their children opt out of such courses. Francophone schools offer “philosophy and citizenship” courses alongside courses on the recognized religions, based on a constitutional court ruling.
Schools provide teachers, clerical or secular, for each of the recognized religious groups, as well as for secular humanism, according to the student’s preference. The public education system requires neutrality in the presentation of religious views outside of religion classes. Teachers of religion are permitted to express their religious beliefs and wear religious attire, even if school policy otherwise forbids such attire. Public school religion teachers are nominated by a committee from their religious group and appointed by the linguistic community government’s education minister. Private, authorized religious schools, known as “free” schools, follow the same curriculum as public schools but may place greater emphasis on specific religious classes. Teachers at these religious schools are civil servants, and their salaries, as well as subsidies for the schools’ operating expenses, are paid for by the respective linguistic community, municipality, or province.
Unia is a publicly funded but independent agency responsible for reviewing discrimination complaints, including those of a religious nature, and attempting to resolve them by such means as mediation or arbitration. The agency lacks legal powers to enforce resolution of cases.
The justice minister appoints a magistrate in each judicial district to monitor discrimination cases and oversee their prosecution, including those involving religion, as a criminal act.
Bans on the slaughter of animals without prior stunning enacted by the Walloon and Flanders regional governments in 2017 are scheduled to take effect in 2019, ending the long-standing authorization certified permanent slaughterhouses in those regions have had to slaughter animals without prior stunning.
The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
The government maintained its efforts, initiated after 2016 terrorist attacks, to curb what it termed radical Islam in the country’s mosques and highlighted Salafism in particular as a possible driver of violent extremism. The federal and regional governments stated they remained committed to their previously announced plans to encourage mosques to seek official recognition as a means of increasing government oversight. According to government officials, including Minister of Justice Koen Geens and Brussels Minister-President Rudy Vervoort, government funding for imams and infrastructure at officially recognized mosques would reduce the mosques’ reliance on foreign sources of funding, such as those from Saudi Arabia, and afford the government greater oversight of how those mosques vetted imams.
Although the federal government recommended several mosques for recognition by the regional governments, the number of recognized mosques increased by only two, to 85, during the year. Some observers, such as a sociologist at the Free University of Brussels, stated a number of mosques opted not to seek official recognition because they received sufficient foreign funding and preferred to do without government oversight.
Long-standing applications for government recognition by Buddhists and Hindus remained pending. Buddhists filed their request for recognition in 2008, and Hindus in 2013. There were no other pending recognition requests by religious groups. Despite the lack of recognition, Buddhists received federal government subsidies of approximately 200,000 euros ($229,000). Hindus did not receive any government subsidies.
In accordance with recommendations in a 2017 report by a parliamentary commission investigating terrorist attacks, the federal government announced in March it would terminate Saudi Arabia’s lease on the Great Mosque in Brussels, effective March 31, 2019. Saudi Arabia had signed a 99-year lease for the building in 1969. The government called for the creation of a new, pan-Islamic institution to manage the mosque and said the Muslim Executive, the Muslim community’s official interlocutor with the government, would be responsible for creating the institution and ensuring it began managing the mosque by the lease termination date. The government said it terminated the lease because the Great Mosque was spreading Wahhabi Salafism, which the government stated played a role in spreading violent radicalism. According to media reports, in September the Council of State, the country’s highest administrative court, denied an appeal by Saudi Arabia against the lease termination, ruling that the council lacked jurisdiction in the case.
The government maintained its ban on wearing religious symbols in public sector jobs requiring interaction with the public.
On September 18, the European Court of Human Rights ruled the government had violated the EU Convention on Human Rights by excluding a Muslim woman from a courtroom in 2017 for refusing to remove her headscarf. The court ordered the government to pay the woman 1,000 euros ($1,100).
Most public schools continued to ban headscarves, in accordance with government policy allowing individual schools to decide whether to impose such bans. According to media reports, at least 90 percent of Francophone community public schools and virtually all Flemish public schools maintained such bans.
According to Muslim groups, city and town administrations continued to withhold or delay approval for the construction of new mosques and Islamic cultural centers. In Court-Saint-Etienne in May, city authorities granted an application for the construction of a new mosque after denying it four times during the previous several years. Mosque construction projects in La Louviere, Kortrijk, and Ghent still faced legal obstacles and/or opposition from public authorities or neighbors.
The Jewish and Muslim communities remained opposed to the decisions by the Flanders and Walloon governments to ban slaughter without prior stunning. As in the previous year and unlike in years prior to 2017, the Brussels regional government did not authorize any temporary slaughterhouse to carry out slaughter without prior stunning during Islamic holidays.
Appeals against the Flemish and Walloon laws banning animal slaughter without stunning remained pending at the Constitutional Court at year’s end. Members of the Muslim Executive, the Coordination Committee of Jewish Organizations of Belgium (CCOJB), representing Jewish groups in the country, together with the Belgian section of the European Jewish Congress and the World Jewish Congress, Muslim and Jewish NGOs, and Muslim and Jewish individuals, with the assistance of the U.S.-based NGO Lawfare Project, jointly appealed to the Supreme Court against the Flemish ban in a letter dated January 16. The Jewish Consistoire (the Jewish community’s official interlocutor with the government), the Francophone branch of the CCOJB, Jewish NGOs, and Jewish individuals appealed to the Constitutional Court against the Walloon ban in a letter dated November 28, 2017. The Muslim Executive, Muslim NGOs, and Muslim individuals also appealed to the Supreme Court against the Walloon ban in a November 30, 2017 letter. At year’s end there were four appeals against the Walloon ban and five against the Flemish ban, all pending before the Constitutional Court.
In May the European Court of Justice upheld the existing Flanders law restricting the nonstun, ritual slaughter of animals by the Jewish and Muslim communities to licensed butchers. Muslims had originally challenged the law, which prohibited temporary slaughter arrangements at times of peak demand, for example, during Islamic holidays such as Eid al-Adha, in Belgian courts in 2016.
The Ministry of Justice increased its annual allocation for clergy salaries and other financial support for recognized religious groups by four million euros to 111 million euros ($4.59 million to $127.29 million). Catholic groups once again received approximately 85 percent of the total available funding for religious groups, followed by secular humanists (8 percent) and Protestant groups (2.5 percent). Muslims again received approximately 2.3 percent of the funding, and Jews approximately 0.9 percent. According to the report for 2017 issued in June by the Observatory of Religions and Secularism at the Free University of Brussels, the Muslim community, contrary to other recognized religious groups, received a smaller percentage of the government’s allocation than its share of the population, and its representative body faced budget difficulties.
According to a March report by Israeli online news site Ynet News, a parent in Bruges reported to the Jerusalem-based NGO International Legal Forum that a geography textbook approved by the education ministry and used throughout the country included an anti-Semitic cartoon. The cartoon stated that, according to Amnesty International, Israel denied Palestinians adequate access to water. It depicted an overweight Jew with payot (sidelocks) asleep in a bathtub overflowing with water juxtaposed with an old Palestinian woman unable to fill an empty water bucket. International Legal Forum Director Ylfa Segal wrote to the education ministry, stating, “It could scarcely be believed that in 2018 Belgian caricatures exist that scream anti-Semitism so bluntly… we demand the caricature be summarily expunged.” Ynet News reported that in May Flemish Education Minister Julia Crevits wrote to Segal, announcing the cartoon would be removed from the next edition of the book. The news site quoted Segal as stating, “We welcome the education minister’s understanding of the gravity of the matter and her action to expunge it.”
Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom
There were reports of violence, threats, harassment, discrimination, and hate speech against Muslims and Jews during the year. Except for anti-Semitic incidents, which it defined as incidents against Jewish persons rather than against the practice of the Jewish religion and tracked separately, Unia reported 319 complaints of religious discrimination or harassment in 2017, the most recent year for which data were available, compared with 390 complaints in 2016. Approximately 85 percent of incidents targeted Muslims. There were 10 incidents against Christians, five against Jewish religious practice, and three against nonbelievers. According to Unia, 39.5 percent of the complaints in 2017 involved speech in media or on the internet (half of these media/internet complaints involved Facebook), 26 percent concerned discrimination in the workplace, and 11 percent occurred in the education sector (where a plurality of incidents involved restrictions or prohibitions on wearing of the hijab). Unia also preliminarily reported 101 anti-Semitic incidents in 2018, one of the highest totals in recent years, and 80 percent more than the 56 incidents reported in 2017. The report did not cite details of any of the incidents. Jewish groups reported anti-Semitic statements and attitudes in the media and in schools during the year, including ones related to the Holocaust.
On July 3, two persons assaulted a Muslim woman in Anderlues, pulling off her headscarf and some clothes, including her bra, calling her a “dirty Arab,” knocking her to the ground, and then cutting her body, forming the shape of a cross. Police said they were investigating and did not disclose information on the victim’s condition.
In December according to press reports, a man in Anderlecht punched a Muslim woman wearing a hijab on the street. The footage was shared on the internet, and the woman called on the authorities to find her attacker. The Muslim Executive condemned the attack as “Islamophobic.”
In October a man in Marchienne-au-Pont threatened a Jewish couple and their son in front of their home with a gun, saying he would shoot the woman in the head. The man had reportedly threatened the woman the week prior before the incident. Following the second incident, an unidentified person fired a shot from a vehicle in front of the Jewish couple’s home.
In July the same woman stated that she and her family had become the target of harassment after neighbors discovered the family was Jewish. The woman said death threats had been stuffed into their mailbox and anti-Semitic graffiti scrawled on their front door. She reported one letter called her “a dirty whore.” The family complained to the police, who had not identified any suspects.
In February according to press reports, police said that an incident earlier that month in which a car nearly ran down an Orthodox Jewish man and his son was not anti-Semitic, contradicting a statement by the Belgian League Against anti-Semitism. Security cameras showed the car jumping the curb and swerving towards the father and son, who were dressed in Hasidic garb. Police reportedly charged the driver with driving while intoxicated.
Also in February police briefly detained a man described as a refugee after security camera footage showed him destroying at least 20 mezuzahs in Antwerp and vandalizing the doorways of several Jewish institutions. Additional footage showed the man placing a Quran near a synagogue and knocking the hat off an Orthodox Jew on the street. Police released the man without charging him.
Unia reported 82 complaints of workplace discrimination based on religion in 2017, compared with 88 in the previous year. The main target of reported discriminations were Muslims.
According to Unia, NGOs, and media, incidents of religious discrimination towards Muslims in both the workplace and educational institutions typically involved actions directed against women wearing headscarves and a failure to make accommodations for prayer, religious holidays, or dietary requirements.
In October the National Secretary for Culture of the ACOD public service trade union, Robrecht Vanderbeeken, wrote an article for online alternative media site De Wereld Morgen accusing Israel of starving and poisoning Gaza and kidnapping and murdering children for their organs. Wilfried Van Hoof, a private citizen, filed a complaint with Unia against Vanderbeeken.
In May, according to press reports, police authorities transferred a Brussels senior police officer from his post while they investigated reports the officer had engaged in Holocaust denial and insulted Jewish subordinates. At year’s end the investigation was ongoing.
In May the League Against Anti-Semitism filed a complaint of anti-Semitism involving testimony from multiple witnesses against the head of the canine police unit in the Midi police zone of the Brussels-Capital Region. One report stated he broadcast Nazi songs and shouted that the Nazi extermination camps and gas chambers were lies.
According to Flemish and Francophone news media, including the news service of public broadcaster VRT and newspaper De Standaard, the group Schild & Vrienden (Shield & Friends) was an extreme right-wing movement that portrayed itself as a conservative, family-values, Flemish national group but was secretly seeking to influence social and political circles with an agenda that included anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim messages and Nazi propaganda. Journalists stated young people in the group were driving the movement and organizing training and camps abroad. News articles cited boot camps with close combat and weapons training, as well as political outreach training. Reportedly, the group’s leadership instructed members that their activities should remain nonviolent during organization-sponsored events. Media also reported the group circulated anti-Semitic messages and that Ghent University suspended its leader, Dries Van Langenhove.
According to a report in the newspaper La Libre, Arabic-language training manuals for imams used in the Islamic and Cultural Center of Belgium, which included the Grand Mosque of Brussels, contained incitements to violence against Druze and Alawite religious minorities and hatred of Jews. One manual referred to the fictitious and anti-Semitic Protocols of the Elders of Zion. The newspaper cited as a source a report for a parliamentary review committee by the government’s Coordination Unit for Threat Analysis issued in February and covering 2016-17.
In December the European Union’s Agency for Fundamental Rights (EU-FRA) released its second survey of Jewish experiences and perceptions of anti-Semitism. EU-FRA targeted Jewish populations through community organizations, Jewish media, and social networks; 785 individuals who identified themselves as Jewish residents of Belgium responded to the online survey. Twenty-eight percent said they had witnessed other Jews being physically attacked, insulted, or harassed in the previous 12 months, and 39 percent reported being harassed over the same period. One-quarter of respondents said they had felt discriminated against because of their religion or belief; 87 percent thought anti-Semitism had increased over the previous five years.
In November on the anniversary of Kristallnacht, a monument commemorating Holocaust victims was vandalized in Ghent.
Anti-Semitic comments appeared on Google Business and “Jews of Antwerp” Facebook pages in November.
In April Prime Minister Charles Michel joined Jewish groups, including the European Jewish Congress, in expressing regret at the Free University of Brussels’s decision to award British filmmaker Ken Loach an honorary doctorate. Speaking about the award at Brussels’ Grand Synagogue, Michel said, “No accommodation with anti-Semitism can be tolerated.” According to press reports, some critics accused Loach, a longtime Palestinian advocate and critic of Israel, of anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial after remarks he made during an interview in 2017. Loach strongly denied he was anti-Semitic, calling the charge “malicious.” The Free University stood by its decision to honor Loach and issued a statement by Loach in which he said the Holocaust was real and “not to be doubted.”
In August the Brussels public transportation authority dismissed an employee after it discovered he had Nazi tattoos on his arm.
In May an Antwerp court sentenced a man to five months in prison and fined him 300 euros ($340) for Holocaust denial for statements he had made at his workplace in 2016.
In June an Antwerp court sentenced a man to a partially suspended sentence of 18 months in prison and a 1,600 euro ($1,800) fine for incitement to hatred, harassment, and vandalism with racist intent against Jews and Jewish symbols. Media reports did not provide further details about the case.
Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement
U.S. embassy officials discussed continued anti-Muslim and anti-Semitic incidents and sentiment in meetings with representatives from the Office of the Prime Minister; the Ministries of Foreign Affairs, Interior, and Justice; and regional governments. Embassy officials also discussed with government officials the continued efforts of Buddhist and Hindu groups to obtain recognition and the status of the government’s plans to encourage more mosques to apply for official recognition as places of worship.
In October the embassy sponsored the visit of a United States-based imam, who also headed an NGO fostering dialogue, to engage with religious leaders, local police officials, NGOs, and academics on ways to promote interfaith and intercultural understanding and tolerance. Also in October the embassy sponsored a Flemish Muslim community leader who runs a network for young Muslim professionals to participate in an exchange focusing on religious pluralism. In November the embassy sponsored the participation of a Francophone politician and civil society leader in a training program focused on youth empowerment and tolerance.
Additionally, the embassy awarded small grants to fund programs promoting religious tolerance and understanding among youth. The embassy supported the NGO Actions in the Mediterranean, led by a prominent Jewish community leader and politician, which educated high school youth of different religious backgrounds on how to work constructively and bridge divides around the topic of the Israel-Palestinian conflict. The embassy also supported a local NGO that taught negotiation skills to diverse groups of high school students from different religious and cultural backgrounds to promote mutual understanding. The embassy provided a grant to the Jewish Museum of Brussels to highlight the work of a Jewish photographer and invited disadvantaged youth groups of predominantly Muslim background to the Jewish Museum for guided tours to promote religious tolerance.
Embassy officials regularly met with religious leaders to discuss incidents of religious discrimination and ways to counter public manifestations of anti-Muslim and anti-Semitic sentiment. They continued engagement with activists from the Catholic, Muslim, and Jewish communities to promote interreligious understanding.
In March the embassy sponsored the attendance of eight Belgian student leaders from a variety of Muslim NGOs who had participated in the embassy’s youth interfaith competition in 2017 at a leadership, intercultural, and interfaith program in the United States. The program focused on developing leadership skills by fostering tolerance and mutual understanding through interfaith dialogue.
In June the embassy cohosted an iftar for disadvantaged Muslim and other youth who used the arts to promote religious tolerance and inclusion during Ramadan. In July the embassy sponsored the participation of six experts on Islam from academia, NGOs, and the clergy in an interfaith program in the United States that highlighted religious freedom and interfaith relations as pathways to a more tolerant society.
The constitution and the law protect the right of individuals to choose, change, and practice religion. The president and other government officials again condemned anti-Semitic, anti-Muslim, and anti-Christian acts, and the government continued to deploy 7,000 security forces to protect sensitive sites, including religious ones. In June the government thwarted an attempted extremist plot to attack Muslims. In April authorities expelled an Algerian imam because of his radical preaching in Marseille. The government denied an Algerian Muslim woman citizenship after she refused to shake the hands of male officials. The government announced a 2018-2020 action plan to combat hatred, including anti-Semitism, and a nationwide consultation process with the Muslim community to reform the organization and funding of Islam within France. In July the interior minister announced expansion of a “precomplaint” system designed to facilitate reporting of crimes, to include anti-Semitic acts. The government continued to enforce a ban on full-face coverings in public and the wearing of “conspicuous” religious symbols in public schools. President Emmanuel Macron stated his intent to “fight against Salafism and extremism,” which he described as “a problem in our country.” In May the UN special rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism said the government treated Muslims as a “suspect community” through the application of counterterrorism laws and called the government closure of mosques a restriction on religious freedom.
Religiously motivated crimes and other incidents against Jews and Muslims occurred, including killings or attempted killings, beatings, threats, hate speech, discrimination, and vandalism. The government reported 1,063 anti-Christian incidents, compared with 1,038 in 2017, most of which involved vandalism or other acts against property. According to government statistics, there were 100 crimes targeting Muslims, including an attack against Muslim worshippers outside a mosque, a 17 percent decrease compared with the 121 in 2017. The government also reported an additional 51 acts against Muslim places of worship or cemeteries. There were 541 anti-Semitic crimes, consisting of physical attacks, threats, and vandalism, an increase of 74 percent compared with the 311 incidents recorded in 2017. Anti-Semitic incidents included the killing of a Holocaust survivor, an acid attack against a rabbi’s baby, and threatening letters against Jewish groups citing the killing of the Holocaust survivor. Violent anti-Semitic crimes totaled 81, compared with 97 in 2017. A student leader at the University of Paris (the Sorbonne) generated considerable debate after wearing a hijab on national television. According to a poll conducted by the French Institute of Public Opinion (IFOP) in February, 43 percent of respondents thought Islam was not compatible with the values of the republic.
The U.S. embassy, consulates general, and American Presence Posts (APPs) discussed religious tolerance, anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim acts, the role of religious freedom in combating violent extremism, and cooperation on these issues with officials at the Ministries of Interior and Foreign Affairs and with the country’s Ambassador-at-Large for Human Rights and Holocaust Issues. The Ambassador, embassy, consulate, and APP officials met regularly with religious communities and their leaders throughout the country to discuss religious freedom concerns and encourage interfaith cooperation and tolerance. The embassy sponsored projects and events to combat religious discrimination and advance tolerance. The embassy funded a visit to the United States for four nongovernmental organization (NGO) directors on an exchange program that included themes of interfaith cooperation and religious tolerance. It also sponsored the participation of three imams at a conference in Rabat focused on building interfaith relationships.
Section I. Religious Demography
The U.S. government estimates the total population at 67.4 million (July 2018 estimate). According to the most recent study by the National Institute for Demographic and Economic Studies, conducted in 2008 and published in 2010, 45 percent of respondents aged 18-50 reported no religious affiliation, while 43 percent identified as Roman Catholic, 8 percent as Muslim, 2 percent as Protestant, and the remaining 2 percent as Orthodox Christian, Buddhist, Jewish, or other.
A poll conducted in March by the private firm Opinionway found 41 percent of respondents older than 18 years identify as Catholic, 8 percent Muslim, 3 percent Protestant, 1 percent Buddhist, and 1 percent Jewish; 43 percent said they have no religious affiliation.
According to a survey conducted in March by the Catholic Institute of Paris and St. Mary’s Catholic University in the United Kingdom, 64 percent of young people aged 16-29 in France declared themselves without a religion compared with 23 percent who said they were Catholic and 10 percent who said they were Muslim.
The MOI estimates 8-10 percent of the population is Muslim. The Muslim population consists primarily of immigrants from former French colonies in North and sub-Saharan Africa and their descendants. According to a Pew Research Center study published in November 2017, Muslims number 5.72 million, 8.8 percent of the total population.
According to a 2017 Ipsos study published in Reforme, a Protestant online news daily, there are an estimated 600,000 Lutheran, 600,000 evangelical, and 800,000 nondenominational members in the Protestant community. Many evangelical churches primarily serve African and Caribbean immigrants.
A 2016 report by Berman Jewish Data Bank estimated there are 460,000-700,000 Jews, depending on the criteria chosen. According to the study, there are more Sephardic than Ashkenazi Jews.
The Buddhist Union of France estimates there are one million Buddhists, mainly Chinese and Vietnamese immigrants and their descendants. Other religious groups estimate their numbers as follows: Jehovah’s Witnesses, 120,000; Orthodox Christians, most of whom are associated with the Greek or Russian Orthodox Churches, 80,000-100,000; The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 66,000; Church of Scientology, 45,000; and Sikhs, 30,000.
Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom
The constitution defines the country as a secular republic and states it “shall ensure the equality of all citizens before the law,” regardless of religion, and respect all beliefs. The law provides for the separation of religion and state and guarantees the free exercise of religious worship except to maintain public order.
The law, as well as international and European covenants which France adheres to, protects the freedom of individuals to choose, change, and practice their religion. Interference with freedom of religion is subject to criminal penalties, including a fine of 1,500 euros ($1700) and imprisonment of one month. Individuals who are defendants in a trial may challenge the constitutionality of any law they say impedes their freedom of religion.
Laws increase the penalties for acts of violence or defamation when they are committed because of the victim’s actual or perceived membership or nonmembership in a given religious group. Penalties for acts of violence that courts determine are religiously motivated are three to five years’ imprisonment and fines of 45,000-75,000 euros ($51,600-86,000), depending on the severity of the victims’ injuries. For religiously motivated acts of public defamation, the penalties are one year’s imprisonment and/or a fine of 45,000 euros ($51,600). The government may expel noncitizens for inciting discrimination, hatred, or violence against a specific person or group of persons based on religion.
Although the law does not require it, religious groups may apply for official recognition and tax-exempt status. Religious groups may register under two categories: associations of worship, which are exempt from taxes; and cultural associations, which normally are not exempt. Associations in either category are subject to fiscal oversight by the state. An association of worship may organize only religious activities, defined as liturgical services and practices. Although not tax-exempt, a cultural association may engage in for-profit as well as nonprofit activity and receive government subsidies for its cultural and educational operations. Religious groups normally register under both of these categories. For example, Catholics perform religious activities through their associations of worship and operate schools through their cultural associations.
Religious groups must apply at the local prefecture (the administrative body representing the central government in each department) for recognition as an association of worship and tax-exempt status. Once granted, the association may use the tax-exempt status nationwide. In order to qualify, the group’s sole purpose must be the practice of religion, which may include religious training and the construction of buildings serving the religious group. Among excluded activities are those purely cultural, social, or humanitarian in nature. The government does not tax associations of worship on donations they receive. If the prefecture determines an association is not in conformity with its tax-exempt status, however, the government may change that status and require the association to pay taxes at a rate of 60 percent on past, as well as future, donations until it regains tax-exempt status. According to the MOI, 109 Protestant, 100 Catholic, 50 Jehovah’s Witness, 30 Muslim, and 15 Jewish associations have tax-exempt status.
The law states “detained persons have the right to freedom of opinion, conscience, and religion. They can practice the religion of their choice…without other limits than those imposed by the security needs and good order of the institution.”
Counterterrorism legislation grants prefects in each department the authority to close a place of worship for a maximum of six months if they find comments, writings, or activities in the place of worship “provoke violence, hatred or discrimination or the commission of acts of terrorism or praise such acts of terrorism.” The management of the place of worship has 48 hours to appeal the closure decision to an administrative court. Noncompliance with a closure decision carries a six-month prison sentence and a fine of 7,500 euros ($8,600). The core provisions of the legislation will expire at the end of 2020 unless renewed by parliament.
The law prohibits covering one’s face in public places, including public transportation, government buildings, and other public spaces, such as restaurants and movie theaters. If police encounter a person in a public space wearing a face covering such as a mask or burqa, they are legally required to ask the individual to remove it to verify the individual’s identity. Police officials may not remove it themselves. If an individual refuses to remove the garment, police may take the person to the local police station to verify his or her identity. Police may not question or hold an individual for more than four hours. Refusing a police instruction to remove a face-covering garment carries a maximum fine of 150 euros ($170) or attendance at a citizenship course. Individuals who coerce another person to cover his or her face on account of gender by threat, violence, force, or abuse of power or authority are subject to a fine of up to 30,000 euros ($34,400) and may receive a sentence of up to one year in prison. The fine and sentence are doubled if the person coerced is a minor.
By law, the government may not directly finance religious groups to build new places of worship. The government may, however, provide loan guarantees or lease property to groups at advantageous rates. The law also exempts places of worship from property taxes. The state owns and is responsible for the upkeep of most places of worship, primarily Catholic, built before 1905. The government may fund cultural associations with a religious connection.
The law separating religion and state does not apply in three classes of territories. Because Alsace-Lorraine (currently comprising the Departments of Haut-Rhin, Bas-Rhin, and la Moselle and known as Alsace-Moselle) was part of Germany when the law was enacted, Catholics, Lutherans, Calvinists, and Jews there may choose to allocate a portion of their income tax to their religious group. Pastors, priests, and rabbis of these four recognized faiths in Alsace-Moselle receive a salary from the interior ministry, and the country’s president, with the agreement of the Holy See, appoints the Catholic bishops of Metz and Strasbourg. Local governments in the region may also provide financial support for constructing religious buildings. The overseas department of French Guiana, which is governed under 19th century colonial laws, may provide subsidies to the Catholic Church. Other overseas departments and overseas territories, which include island territories in the Caribbean and the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian Oceans, and several sub-Antarctic islands, may also provide funding for religious groups. This provision also applies to the portion of Antarctica the government claims as an overseas territory.
Public schools are secular. The law prohibits public school employees and students from wearing “conspicuous religious symbols,” including the Muslim headscarf, Jewish skullcap, Sikh turban, and large Christian crosses. Public schools do not provide religious instruction, except in Alsace-Moselle and overseas departments and territories. In Alsace-Moselle, religious education is compulsory in public primary and secondary schools, although students may opt for a secular equivalent with a written request from their parents. Religious education classes are taught by members of the faiths concerned and are under the control of the respective churches. Elsewhere in mainland France, public schools teach information about religious groups as part of the history curriculum. Parents who wish their children to wear conspicuous religious symbols or to receive religious instruction may homeschool or send their children to a private school. Homeschooling and private schools must conform to the educational standards established for public schools.
By law, the government subsidizes private schools, including those affiliated with religious organizations. In 98 percent of private schools, in accordance with the law, the government pays the teachers’ salaries, provided the school accepts all children regardless of an individual child’s religious affiliation. The law does not address the issue of religious instruction in government-subsidized private schools or whether students must be allowed to opt out of such instruction.
Missionaries from countries not exempted from entry visa requirements must obtain a three-month tourist visa before traveling to the country. All missionaries from non-exempt countries wishing to remain longer than 90 days must obtain long-duration visas before entering the country. Upon arrival, missionaries must provide a letter from their sponsoring religious group to apply to the local prefecture for a temporary residence card.
The law criminalizes the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel, treating it as “a provocation to discrimination or hatred or violence towards a person or a group of persons because of their origin or belonging to an ethnic group, a nation, a race, or a determined religion.”
The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
On June 23, the General Directorate for Internal Security (DGSI) arrested 10 men linked to a suspected far-right extremist plot to attack Muslims, according to media reports. The suspects were arrested in the Paris and southwestern regions and on the island of Corsica and charged with criminal association with a terrorist enterprise. Among the detainees was a retired police officer whom investigators considered the head of the network. The suspects, who were previously unknown to authorities, reportedly had an “ill-defined plan to commit a violent act targeting people of the Muslim faith,” according to a source close to the investigation. LCI TV reported the group was planning to “target radical imams, Islamist inmates released from prison, and veiled women chosen at random in the streets.” In a June 24 statement, Interior Minister Gerard Collomb hailed the arrests and welcomed “DGSI’s constant commitment to the protection of the French people from any violent action, no matter where it comes from.”
In January investigating magistrates dismissed the court case against Lebanese-Canadian academic Hassan Diab, who was charged with bombing a synagogue in Paris during Sabbath prayers in 1980, killing four and injuring 40. The magistrates said they found the evidence against Diab inconclusive and ordered his release. Prosecutors appealed Diab’s discharge, and on October 26, the Paris Appeals Court requested additional expert testimony before ruling. The court had not issued a ruling by year’s end. Diab was extradited from Canada in 2014.
On July 10, a senate report stated authorities had closed four places of worship under the counterterrorism law between November 1, 2017 and June 8. On December 13, the newspaper La Voix du Nord reported the prefect of the North Department applied the counterterrorism law to close the As-Sunnah prayer room in Hautmont for six months. According to a statement issued by the prefecture, the prayer room’s activities and the ideas disseminated there “provoke violence, hatred, and discrimination, and praise acts of terror,” and the prefecture closed the prayer room “with the sole purpose of preventing the commission of acts of terrorism.”
On April 20, authorities expelled Algerian imam El Hadi Doudi, the leader of the Salafist As-Sounna Mosque in Marseille, to Algeria. This decision followed the closing of As-Sounna for six months by the Bouches-du-Rhone Prefecture in December 2017 because of what it stated was Doudi’s radical preaching, which, according to press reports, inspired attendees to join ISIS. According to authorities, sermons at the As-Sounna Mosque, sometimes disseminated via internet, preached in favor of armed jihad and the death penalty for adulterers and apostates, and used insulting or threatening terms towards Jews. The As-Sounna Mosque, which had approximately 800 worshippers for its Friday prayers before its closure, was one of 80 places of Islamic worship in Marseille. The mosque did not reopen after the six-month closure, because, according to the Marseille online newspaper Marsactu, the city of Marseille invoked its legal “preemption right” to take possession of the site. According to a report in Le Parisien newspaper in May citing an interior ministry source, the purposed of the preemption was to prevent the mosque from reopening, while according to a report in La Provence newspaper citing a source in the Marseille municipality, the city acquired the property for purposes of urban renewal.
In an April 12 interview, President Macron stated his intent to “fight against Salafism and extremism,” which he described as “a problem in our country.” In September Interior Minister Collomb stated that since 2017, the country had expelled 300 radical imams.
On May 16, the prefect of the Herault Department closed a small Muslim prayer room in in a townhouse in Gigean, which the authorities said they had considered a Salafist “reference point” for six months. According to the prefectural decree posted on the townhouse, the prayer room was “an influential place of reference of the Salafist movement, advocating a rigorous Islam, calling for discrimination, hatred and violence against women, Jews, and Christians.” Information as to whether the prayer room reopened after the six-month period was unavailable at year’s end.
The government continued to deploy 7,000 security forces throughout the country to protect sensitive sites, including vulnerable Catholic, Jewish, and Muslim sites and other places of worship. On March 30, NGO Human Rights Without Frontiers reported the government deployed 70,000 law enforcement personnel from March 31 until April 7 to protect places of worship during Easter celebrations.
In April authorities denied an Algerian woman citizenship for refusing to shake hands with male officials at a French nationalization ceremony in the Department of Isere in the Auvergne-Rhone-Alpes Region due to her religious convictions. The country’s top administrative court, the Council of State, ruled there were sufficient grounds to do so since the woman’s refusal “in a place and at a moment that are symbolic, reveals a lack of assimilation,” and that the decision was not detrimental to her freedom of religion.
On September 4, a court in Nanterre fined the Union of Clichy Muslim Association (UAMC) 17,000 euros ($19,500) for organizing Friday street prayers on 34 occasions without first informing city or prefecture officials of its plans. The UAMC had been conducting the street prayers as a protest in front of the mayor’s office in Clichy-la-Garenne, after the town declined to renew the UAMC’s lease on a space it had been using as a mosque and expelled the group from the site in 2017. The UAMC had rejected as inadequate an alternative space offered by the town.
According to the Ministry of Justice, as of August 2017 the penitentiary system employed the following number of chaplains: 695 Catholic, 347 Protestant, 224 Muslim, 76 Jewish, 54 Orthodox Christian, 170 Jehovah’s Witness, and 19 Buddhist. In detainee visiting areas, visitors could bring religious objects to an inmate or speak with the prisoner about religious issues but could not pray. Prisoners could pray in their cells individually, with a chaplain in designated prayer rooms, or, in some institutions, in special apartments where they could receive family for up to 48 hours.
On June 19, the administrative court of Nice ordered the Mayor of Cannes to refund a fine levied on a woman for violating an “anti-burkini order” at the beach. In August 2016, municipal police had fined the woman and told her she could not remain at the beach while wearing a burkini. After the terrorist attack in Nice in 2016, Cannes and several other coastal cities banned burkinis on the beaches. However, later that same year, the Council of State ruled that these decrees were illegal.
On August 10, the UN Human Rights Committee (UNHRC) criticized a 2014 Supreme Court ruling upholding the 2008 dismissal of a woman from a private nursery in the town of Chanteloup-les-Vignes for refusing to remove her veil at work. The council stated that prohibiting a person from wearing a headscarf in the workplace interfered with her right to manifest her religion.
On October 23, the UNHRC found the country violated the human rights of two women by fining them for wearing niqabs in two separate cases in 2012. The committee received the complaints in 2016 and issued the decisions in the two cases concurrently. The government had 180 days to report to the committee action taken to respond to the violation and to prevent similar violations in the future. On October 23, the government issued a statement declaring “the total legitimacy of a law [prohibiting concealment of the face in public spaces] whose goal is to uphold the conditions for living together harmoniously while fully exercising one’s civil and political rights,” and adding, “Everyone is free to appear in public wearing clothing that expresses a religious conviction, so long as it allows the face to be seen.” The statement cited a ruling by the country’s Constitutional Court that the law complied with the constitution and a European Court of Human Rights ruling that the law did not infringe upon freedom of conscience or religion and was not discriminatory. In its statement, the government said it would convey its views in a follow-up report to the UNHRC.
On December 11, the senate adopted a resolution reaffirming the importance of the 2010 law prohibiting the concealment of the face in public spaces and calling on the government to maintain the legal framework “relative to the wearing of the full-face Islamic veil in the public space.”
UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism Fionnuala Ni Aoilain expressed concern that counterterrorism legislation enacted in 2017 restricted freedom of religion, movement, and expression in the country. After a weeklong visit in May, Ni Aoilain said, “the scope of these measures constitutes a de facto state of qualified emergency in ordinary French law.” She said the government treated Muslims as a “suspect community” through the “broad application” of counterterrorism law and called the closure of mosques a restriction on religious freedom.
Pursuant to the 2014 agreement between France and the United States on Compensation for Certain Victims of Holocaust-Related Deportation from France Who Are Not Covered by French Programs, the United States established the Holocaust Deportation Claims Program. Under the agreement, which entered into force on November 1, 2015, France provided a lump sum of $60 million to the United States for distribution to eligible claimants. At year’s end, payments to claimants from this fund totaled $30,028,500.
Speaking on March 19 at the National Museum of the History of Immigration in Paris, Prime Minister Edouard Philippe announced the broad outlines of a three-year national action plan, covering the 2018-2020 period, to combat racism and anti-Semitism in the country, with a strong focus on countering online hate content. Accompanied by seven other ministers and the head of the Interagency Delegation to Counter Racism, Anti-Semitism and Anti-LGBT Hatred (DILCRAH), Philippe stated the action plan would have four key targets: countering online hate content; improving victim protection services; anti-racism education; and developing new areas of mobilization against hate.
The plan would encompass specific measures, including: advocating for an EU-level law to require social media platforms to more quickly remove hate content on their servers; imposing heavy fines on social media companies that failed to remove hate content within 24 hours; increasing the capacity and staffing of the government’s Pharos online platform to register and remove online hate content; creating a national anti-racism prize named after Ilan Halimi, a young Jewish man killed in 2006, to recognize the efforts of youth fighting racism and anti-Semitism; and launching a campaign to increase awareness of racism in sport. The prime minister said a three-person committee would develop the details of the action plan and submit it to the government for review and implementation.
In a July 5 speech before the Representative Council of Jewish Institutions in France (CRIF), then-Interior Minister Collomb announced the extension of law enforcement’s online “precomplaint” system to racist and anti-Semitic acts in order to facilitate action and “prosecute anti-Semitic offenders even more effectively.” The system previously was restricted to property crimes. Grievants may submit their identity and contact information, the location of an incident, and other relevant facts on a government website and, after filling out the precomplaint, go to a police station to sign and validate the complaint to initiate an investigation.
On May 15, the Observatory for Secularism, a body comprised of 15 senior civil servants, parliamentarians, legal experts, and intellectuals who advise the government on the implementation of the “principle of secularism,” released its fifth annual report evaluating secularism in schools, public spaces, and hospitals. According to the report, the subject of secularism remained a sensitive one, although “direct attacks on secularism” were not widespread. The report stated there was a need for training and education to overcome “deep ignorance” of the law.
President Macron delivered his New Year’s greetings to the country’s religious communities at the Elysee Presidential Palace on January 4. He welcomed two representatives each from Catholic, Protestant, Orthodox, Muslim, Jewish, and Buddhist groups. Prime Minister Philippe and then-Interior Minister Collomb also attended. Macron’s speech focused mainly on secularism, which he underlined as a fundamental pillar of the country, before highlighting the essential place for religion in society and the importance of teaching theology. The president hailed the role played by Christian charitable organizations in assisting refugees while recalling the “ethical tension” between the right of asylum and “the reality of our society, its capacity to welcome.” Macron also said he would meet religious community leaders on a regular basis behind closed doors to consult on various topics. He cited the need to “structure” Islam in the country and to train imams to fight radicalization. “I will help you,” he said.
On June 12, then-Interior Minister Collomb attended an iftar hosted by the French Council of the Muslim Faith (CFCM), the official government structure responsible for relations with the country’s Muslim community. Collomb, whose ministry oversees government relations with religious communities, strongly defended secularism and stated the government “will never accept … the stigmatization of a religion” nor “to reduce Islam to Islamism.” He said the country must focus on the preventing radicalization, training for imams, sources of financing of mosques, and structuring the administration of Islam in the country. “It is up to the Muslims of France to address these issues in the long-term,” he said. Attendees at the event included Muslim community leaders, interfaith leaders, other government officials, and ambassadors.
On June 25, then-Minister Collomb announced a nationwide consultation process with the Muslim community to reform the organization and the funding of Islam in the country. Prefects in each department would hold listening sessions with local representatives from the Muslim community on issues related to institutional representation, financing of Islamic places of worship, and training of imams. He stated the dialogue would strive to include all the diversity of the Muslim community, including younger and female voices, as well as civil society members, according to an administrative circular he sent to prefects. The government said it expected to release the results of the dialogue in 2019.
Speaking before the Conference of Catholic Bishops of France (CEF) on April 9, President Macron said he supported “repairing” ties between the state and the Catholic Church. Macron was the first sitting president to speak at a CEF event. He stated the Catholic Church should engage in the political debate on key issues important to the Church, such as treatment of migrants, possible legislative changes concerning bioethics, and medically assisted reproduction for single women and lesbian couples, and generally encouraged Catholics to engage more in politics. His appearance generated criticism from left-wing politicians, including Jean-Luc Melenchon, Alexis Corbiere, and Olivier Faure, who said it flouted the strict separation of church and state mandated by the law on secularism.
President Macron met with Pope Francis at the Vatican on June 26 to discuss immigration and other challenges facing Europe. The Vatican described the meeting as “cordial” and said it highlighted the “good existing bilateral relations” between the two nations. Speaking later to the press, Macron described the meeting as “intense” and said he told Pope Francis that the “progressive way to handle the migrant crisis was through a true policy of development for Africa.”
On January 9, Prime Minister Philippe, then-Interior Minister Collomb, Justice Minister Nicole Belloubet, and government spokesperson Benjamin Griveaux attended a memorial ceremony outside a Paris kosher supermarket, where two years earlier a gunman had killed four Jews and held 15 other people hostage. Former President Francois Hollande and former Prime Ministers Manuel Valls and Bernard Cazeneuve also attended the event.
On July 22, Prime Minister Philippe held a ceremony in Paris honoring the victims of the Velodrome d’Hiver roundup of July 1942 in which 13,000 French Jews, including 4,000 children, were deported to extermination camps. “There is one area in which we must do better, that of the restitution of cultural property,” stolen during the Nazi occupation, Philippe said. A Ministry of Culture report submitted in April to Culture Minister Francoise Nyssen criticized the current policy of restitution as inefficient and lacking ambition, coordination, leadership, and visibility. As a result, the Commission for the Compensation of the Victims of Spoliation was to examine all cases of restitution and transmit its recommendations to the prime minister, according to an official statement released by the Ministry of Culture. In addition, the Ministry of Culture said it would take a more active role in the search and restitution of stolen properties. The report identified 2,008 cultural works with no identified owner.
Recalling his plan to fight racism and anti-Semitism launched in March, Prime Minister Philippe reiterated his “absolute desire to change French law and European law to remove hate content on the internet, to unmask and punish its authors.”
President Macron and government ministers condemned anti-Semitism and declared support for Holocaust education on several occasions including the March 7 annual CRIF dinner; the March 19 commemoration of the sixth anniversary of the killings of three Jewish children and their teacher by Mohammed Merah in Toulouse; the April 30 Holocaust Remembrance Day commemoration; and the June 1 French Judaism Day observance.
In a November 9 Facebook post, Prime Minister Philippe announced the number of anti-Semitic acts committed in the first nine months of the year rose by 69 percent compared to the same period in 2017. Philippe did not quote the exact numbers of anti-Semitic acts or their nature, such as physical attacks, threats, or vandalism. Underlining that his announcement coincided with the 80th anniversary of the Kristallnacht pogrom by the Nazis against Jews, PM Philippe wrote, “Every aggression perpetrated against one of our citizens because they are Jewish echoes like the breaking of a new crystal…. We are very far from being finished with anti-Semitism.” Referencing Elie Wiesel’s “danger of indifference,” Philippe pledged the government would not be indifferent and recalled recent acts taken to combat anti-Semitism. Acts he cited included toughening of rules against hate speech online; mobilizing a national rapid-response team from the Ministry of Education and DILCRAH to support teachers reporting cases of anti-Semitism; and the trial use of a network of investigators and magistrates specifically trained in the fight against hate acts, which could later be extended nationwide.
On December 20, Education Minister Jean-Michel Blanqer announced the launch of an online platform that teachers could use to report cases of anti-Semitism and racism to the education ministry.
The government is a member of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance.
As part of an established exchange program, the government continued to host the visit of 30 Moroccan, 120 Algerian, and 151 Turkish imams to promote religious tolerance and combat violent extremism within Muslim communities. The imams’ countries of origin paid their salaries. During Ramadan, when there was an increased number of worshippers, between 250 and 300 imams came to France temporarily.
On June 11, the Diocese of Vannes moved a 25-foot-tall statue of Saint Pope John Paul II from public land in Ploermel in Brittany to a Catholic school in the same town. In 2017, the Council of State had ruled the statue could remain on public land but ordered the removal of the cross on the statue within six months because it violated the law separating church and state. Rather than removing the cross, the diocese elected to move the entire statue to Church-owned land. Some Christians and politicians criticized the decision, calling it another example of efforts to erase the country’s Christian heritage.
Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom
According to the latest government estimates available, the MOI reported registered crimes targeting Muslims (threats or violence) totaled 100, down from 121 in 2017; there were an additional 45 acts of vandalism against Muslim places of worship and six acts of desecration against Muslim cemeteries. The reported anti-Semitic crimes (threats or violence) increased to 541, compared with 311 in the previous year. Despite an overall increase resulting from a significant rise in threats, violent acts against Jews fell from 97 to 81. Anti-Semitic threats rose from 214 in 2017 to 358, and acts of vandalism totaled 102. The government also reported 1,063 anti-Christian incidents, most of which involved vandalism or other acts against property, compared with 1,038 in 2017. The government did not provide a detailed breakdown of anti-Muslim or anti-Christian acts registered during the year.
On March 23, Holocaust survivor Mireille Knoll, aged 85, was found dead in her Paris apartment. An autopsy revealed she had been stabbed at least 11 times before being burned in a fire, which was ruled to be arson. Authorities arrested two individuals in connection with the killing and placed them in pretrial detention. The Paris prosecutor’s office was investigating the killing as a hate crime. After the incident, thousands of people participated in a “white march,” a silent gathering to commemorate the victim, in Paris. On May 27, President Macron stated Knoll was “murdered because she was Jewish.”
In February unknown individuals placed acid in the stroller of a rabbi’s baby daughter in Bron. The child suffered burns on her back and legs. According to an ongoing police investigation, anti-Semitic motives were involved.
In March police arrested four teens suspected of beating a Jewish boy with a stick and taking his kippah outside a synagogue north of Paris. The suspects reportedly called the boy and his siblings “dirty Jews.”
On August 24, a man attacked two male worshippers with a bicycle chain as they were leaving a mosque in the town of Lens, near Calais. The Mayor of Lens, Sylvain Robert, condemned the attack in a statement. According to the mayor, during his court hearing, the accused cited “ideological and racist” justifications for his act. On September 26, the Lens Court sentenced the accused to an 11-month prison sentence for aggravated assault, referencing the racist nature of the attack.
In July a psychiatric evaluation of Kobili Traore, charged with killing his 65-year-old Jewish neighbor, Sarah Halimi, in 2017, determined Traore was not responsible for his actions and therefore unable to stand trial. Authorities were planning to conduct a third psychiatric evaluation of Traore, who remained incarcerated at year’s end. On February 27, reversing a previous decision, the judge presiding over the case added the charge of anti-Semitism as a motive for the crime. The magistrate made this decision after hearing testimony from Traore. In a statement, CRIF hailed the judge’s decision and expressed “satisfaction” and “relief.”
Authorities scheduled a new trial for March 2019 in Paris Criminal Court for Abdelkader Merah on the charge of complicity in the killing by his brother, Mohammed Merah, of seven persons outside a Jewish school in Toulouse in 2012. In November 2017, prosecutors appealed the 2017 acquittal of Abdelkader Merah on the complicity charge; the court had convicted him on the lesser charge of criminal terrorist conspiracy.
By year’s end authorities had not set a date for the trial of five individuals arrested in November 2017 and charged with carrying out an attack on a Jewish family in Livry Gargan earlier that year.
On July 6, a court in Val-de-Marne sentenced three young men who carried out a rape and robbery of a Jewish couple in the Paris suburb of Creteil in 2014. Abdou Salam Koita and Ladje Haidara, who committed the rape, were present in court. Houssame Hatri, who made anti-Semitic slurs during the attack, remained at large and was convicted in absentia. The three, who were sentenced to eight, 13, and 16 years in prison, respectively, bound and gagged their victims before carrying out the rape and stealing jewelry and bank cards. “Jews do not put money in the bank,” one of them reportedly said. During the attack Hatri also reportedly said that the attack was “for my brothers in Palestine” before suggesting the perpetrators should “gas” their victims. Two accomplices received sentences of five and six years in jail.
On June 29, the Paris prosecutor’s office opened an investigation into anti-Semitic letters received by at least six Jewish associations, including CRIF. The letters, signed by “The Black Hand,” were posted June 18 and referred to the killing of Mireille Knoll, according to press reports. The letters read in part, “Dear Jews, you bitterly mourn the death of an old Jew murdered for her money. We think you pay little for the number of crimes you commit every day. Enjoy it, because the day of punishment will come.”
In December the European Union’s Agency for Fundamental Rights (EU-FRA) released its second survey of Jewish experiences and perceptions of anti-Semitism. EU-FRA targeted Jewish populations through community organizations, Jewish media, and social networks; 3,869 individuals who identified themselves as Jewish residents of France responded to the online survey. Twenty-two percent said they had witnessed other Jews being physically attacked, insulted, or harassed in the previous 12 months, and 27 percent reported being harassed over the same period. One-fifth of respondents said they had felt discriminated against because of their religion or belief; 93 percent thought anti-Semitism had increased over the previous five years.
The annual report of the National Consultative Commission on Human Rights, an advisory body to the prime minister, released in March, included the results of a poll conducted in November 2017 by the Ipsos Institute, a research and consulting company, involving face-to-face interviews with a representative sample of 1,003 residents over the age of 18. According to the poll, 38.2 percent of the respondents (2 percent fewer than in 2016) believed Jews “have a particular relationship with money,” and 19.7 percent thought Jews had too much power in the country. The same poll found 29.5 percent of respondents had a negative image of Islam and 43.9 percent (2.1 percent fewer than in the previous year) of them considered it a threat to national identity. The report also cited what it said was persistent societal rejection of Islamic religious practices, such as of prayer and women wearing a veil. According to the report, there was a decrease in anti-Semitic and racist acts compared with 2016, “despite a general context favorable to the rejection of the other, notably marked by terrorism, the arrival of migrants, unemployment, the importance of security issues reported in the media, and the rise in populism in Europe.”
In May Maryam Pougetoux, aged 19, the leader of the Sorbonne chapter of the French National Students’ Union, set off a debate by wearing a hijab on national television. Laurent Bouvet, a secularist and member of Le Printemps Republicain (Repulican Spring), a group created to defend secularism, stated in a Twitter post, “We aren’t hunting anyone but merely pointing to the inconsistency” of Pougetoux wearing a hijab, arguing it contradicted her support for abortion rights and other “feminist principles.” Then-Interior Minister Collomb called her appearance “shocking,” while Marlene Schiappa, the junior minister for gender equality, said she saw in Pougetoux’s act a “form of promotion of political Islam.” Hijabs are permitted on college campuses.
According to media reports, on June 28, a judge fined a tobacco shop owner in the town of Albi 1,000 euros ($1,100) for refusing goods and services to a Muslim woman who was wearing a jilbab. The woman had come to the merchant’s store to pick up a parcel she had delivered there. The woman’s face was visible when she presented her identity card to the shop owner, and she offered to remove her veil in a setting where no men were present, according to reports. The judge also ordered the shop owner to pay to each of the four women who accompanied the plaintiff to the store 800 euros ($920) for moral damages and 500 euros ($570) for legal fees, as well as 800 euros ($920) in damages each to the International League against Racism and Anti-Semitism and the Movement Against Racism and Friendship Between Peoples, and one euro ($1) to the Collective Against Islamophobia in France (CCIF).
On Easter Monday (April 2), unidentified individuals vandalized the church of Fenay, near Dijon. According to the parish priest, the attackers broke the door of the sacristy with an ax, then threw down and trampled the consecrated hosts. “This is a deliberate act of desecration,” said the priest, who filed a complaint, according to press reports. The investigation continued at year’s end.
On January 26, unknown individuals painted a large swastika at the entrance to the Council of Europe in Strasbourg.
On June 17, Strasbourg celebrated the 11th anniversary of its interfaith dialogue initiative, which continued to bring together religious leaders from Protestant, Jewish, Catholic, Muslim, Hindu, and Buddhist faiths.
In July, for the second consecutive year, young Christians and Muslims from across the country, Europe, North Africa, sub-Saharan Africa, and the Middle East participated in a three-day “weekend of friendship” event at the Taize Ecumenical Community in the Department of Saone-et-Loire. The approximately 200 participants addressed a series of questions from the organizers on prayer, religious freedom, and fasting.
In December 80 civil society representatives from 25 countries attended the ninth annual Muslim-Jewish Conference in Paris, exchanging best practices and discussing ways to combat anti-Semitism and anti-Islamic sentiment. The organizers said interfaith dialogue was more important than ever and committed to supporting Jewish and Muslim communities in the country and around the world.
The Council of Christian Churches, composed of 10 representatives from the Protestant, Catholic, Orthodox, and Armenian Apostolic Churches, continued to serve as a forum for dialogue. One observer represented the Anglican Communion on the council. The council met twice in plenary session and twice at the working level.
Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement
The U.S. Ambassador and other staff from the U.S. embassy, consulates general, and APPs discussed issues pertaining to religious freedom and tolerance with relevant government officials, including at the religious affairs offices of the Ministries of the Interior and Foreign Affairs. Topics discussed included religious tolerance, anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim acts, the role of religious freedom in lessening violent extremism, the BDS movement, Holocaust-related compensation, and bilateral cooperation on these issues.
In June embassy and visiting U.S. government officials met MFA Ambassador-at-Large for Human Rights Francois Croquette regarding the 2014 Agreement on Compensation for Certain Victims of Holocaust-Related Deportation from France Who Are Not Covered by French Programs between France and the United States.
The Ambassador met in Paris with Grand Rabbi of France Haim Korsia, Rector of the Grand Mosque of Paris Dalil Boubakeur, Apostolic Nuncio Monsignor Luigi Ventura, Rector of Notre-Dame Cathedral of Paris Patrick Chauvet, CRIF president Francis Kalifat, and Joel Mergui of the Central Consistory (the leading Jewish institution administrating Jewish religious affairs), to discuss their views on religious freedom and tolerance. In these meetings, the Ambassador stressed the U.S. government’s commitment to promoting freedom of religion, the benefits of interfaith dialogue in promoting peace and countering radicalization, and the importance of collectively countering anti-Semitism and anti-Muslim sentiment.
Staff from the embassy, consulates general, and APPs met regularly with religious community leaders, activists, and private citizens throughout the country to discuss issues of discrimination and to advocate tolerance for diversity. Embassy officials discussed religious freedom, anti-Semitism, anti-Muslim sentiment, and interfaith dialogue and tolerance with senior Christian, Muslim, and Jewish representatives and NGOs such as Coexister and AJC Europe. They also hosted meetings with CRIF, the Consistory, the CFCM, Catholic priests, and Protestant representatives working on interfaith dialogue.
The Ambassador and embassy officials engaged regularly with senior Israeli embassy representatives on efforts and best practices to counter anti-Semitism in France. U.S. embassy officials closely monitored and reported on anti-Semitic incidents in the country and the official government position on the BDS movement.
In September the embassy hosted a conference in partnership with the German Marshall Fund on inclusive leaders, including those promoting interfaith collaboration and dialogue, from NGOs Coexister, Sparknews, The Next Level, and the Ariane de Rothschild Fellowship, which focused on developing leaders and creating stronger networks across sectors, including interfaith relations.
The embassy awarded small grants to various NGOs across the country to support projects that aimed to advance religious tolerance and integration. One grant for $17,500 to Coexister was to fund a documentary film based on the group’s 2019-2020 Interfaith World Tour, a yearlong voyage around the globe centered on the theme of material and immaterial religious heritage and designed to observe interfaith initiatives and gather best practices to share with youth organizations across the country.
In April the embassy identified and funded the travel of three imams to the two-day conference for European imams in Rabat organized by the U.S. NGO Civilizations Exchange and Cooperation Foundation (CECF) in partnership with the U.S. embassy in Rabat and the Imam Training Center in Rabat. The conference focused on interfaith relationship building, radicalization prevention, and countering violent extremism in each imam’s home community.
In April the embassy funded a program in the United States for four NGO leaders. Representatives from Parle-moi d’Islam (Speak to Me about Islam), focused on the prevention of youth radicalization, Coexister, which promotes diversity, social cohesion, and peaceful coexistence across faiths, and the Hozes Institute, dedicated to training imams in French language and culture, participated. The program included meetings with the Islamic Community Center of Phoenix and with a panel of female religious leaders in New York City that examined how U.S. religious groups function in the context of a democratic society and illustrated U.S. approaches to interfaith dialogue.
On September 28, the Consulate General in Strasbourg hosted an interfaith lunch to discuss issues affecting religious communities, including the separation of church and state, state funding of religion, and the official status granted to four religions (Catholic, Lutheran, Reformed, and Judaism) in Alsace-Moselle by the Alsatian Concordat of 1801.
On September 19, staff from APP Bordeaux joined faith leaders, elected Bordeaux officials, members of the academic community, and various social organizations at a gathering to promote interfaith dialogue and support nondiscrimination initiatives. As part of the event, participants attended a screening of the short-film “Ramdam,” produced by Bordeaux-based film director Zangro, which depicted the trials and tribulations of a fictional imam living in Mont-de-Marsan.
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 I. Religious Demography
The U.S. government estimates the total population at 80.5 million (July 2018 estimate). Unofficial estimates based on the census and figures provided by religious groups indicate approximately 29 percent of the population is Roman Catholic, and 27 percent belongs to the EKD – a confederation of Lutheran, Reformed (Calvinist), and United (Prussian Union) Protestant regional churches. Other Protestant denominations, including the New Apostolic Church, Baptist communities, and nondenominational Christians, combined account for less than 1 percent of the population. Orthodox Christians represent 2.4 percent of the population.
According to government estimates, approximately 6.3 percent of the population is Muslim, of which 75 percent is Sunni, 13 percent Alevi, and 7 percent Shia; the remainder identifies simply as “Muslim.” According to the Ministry of Interior, approximately 25 percent of Muslims are recent immigrants; between 2011 and 2015, an estimated 1.2 million refugees arrived from predominately Muslim countries. Estimates of the Jewish population vary widely; the Central Council of Jews estimates it at 200,000. The Central Welfare Office for Jews in Germany reported that Jewish communities had approximately 100,000 members at the end of 2017. According to Religious Studies Media and Information Service (REMID), a secular, religious studies NGO, groups that together constitute less than 1 percent of the population include Buddhists (270,000); Jehovah’s Witnesses (222,000); Hindus (100,000); Yezidis (100,000); The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Church of Jesus Christ) (40,000); Sikhs (15,000); and COS (5,000-10,000). All of REMID’s estimates are based only on members who have registered with a religious group. According to the nonprofit Research Group Worldviews Germany, approximately 36 percent of the population either has no religious affiliation or belongs to religious groups not counted in the government’s statistics.
Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom
The constitution (also known as the basic law) prohibits discrimination based on religious opinion and provides for freedom of faith and conscience and the freedom to profess a religious or philosophical creed and to practice one’s religion. The constitution also prohibits an official state church. It stipulates no one shall be required to disclose his or her religious convictions nor be compelled to participate in religious acts. The constitution states religious instruction shall be part of the curriculum in public schools and that parents have the right to decide whether their children shall receive religious instruction. It recognizes the right to establish private denominational schools. The constitution guarantees the freedom to form religious societies and states groups may organize themselves for private religious purposes without constraint. It allows registered religious groups with Public Law Corporation (PLC) status to receive public subsidies from the states and provide religious services in the military, at hospitals, and in prisons.
The federal criminal code prohibits calling for violence or arbitrary measures against religious groups or their members or inciting hatred against them. Violations are punishable by up to five years in prison. It also prohibits “assaulting the human dignity of religious groups or their members by insulting, maliciously maligning, or defaming them,” specifying a maximum penalty of five years in prison, although prison sentences are rare. The prohibition and the penalties apply equally to online speech. The federal criminal code prohibits disturbing religious services or acts of worship, with violators subject to a fine or imprisonment for up to three years. The law bans Nazi propaganda, Holocaust denial, and fomenting racial hatred, specifying a penalty of up to five years’ imprisonment.
The law permits the federal government to characterize “nontraditional” religious groups as “sects,” “youth religions,” and “youth sects,” and allows the government to provide “accurate information” or warnings about them to the public. The law does not permit the government to use terms such as “destructive,” “pseudo-religious,” or “manipulative” when referring to these groups. Several court decisions have ruled the government must remain neutral towards a religion and may provide a warning to the public only if an “offer” by a religious group would endanger the basic rights of an individual or place the individual in a state of physical or financial dependence.
Religious groups wishing to qualify as nonprofit associations with tax-exempt status must register. State-level authorities review registration submissions and routinely grant tax-exempt status; if challenged, their decisions are subject to judicial review. Religious groups applying for tax-exempt status must provide evidence through their statutes, history, and activities that they are a religious group.
A special partnership exists between the states and religious groups with PLC status, as outlined in the constitution. Any religious group may request PLC status, which, if granted, entitles the group to levy tithes on members (averaging 9 percent of income tax) that each state collects on its behalf, separately from income taxes, but through the state’s tax collection process. PLCs pay fees to the government for the tithing service, but not all groups with PLC status utilize the service. PLC status also allows for tax exemptions (larger than those given to groups with nonprofit status), representation on supervisory boards of public television and radio stations, and the right to special labor regulations, for example, requiring employees in hospitals, kindergartens, or NGOs run by a religious group to be members of that group. State governments subsidize institutions with PLC status providing public services, such as religious schools and hospitals. Due to historic “state-church contracts” dating back to before the Weimar republic, all state governments except for Bremen and Hamburg subsidize the Catholic Church and the EKD with different yearly amounts.
According to the constitution, the decision to grant PLC status is made at the state level. Individual states base PLC status decisions on a number of varying qualifications, including an assurance of the group’s permanence, size, and respect for the constitutional order and fundamental rights of individuals. An estimated 180 religious groups have PLC status, including Catholics, the EKD, Baha’is, Baptists, Christian Scientists, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Jews, Mennonites, Methodists, the Church of Jesus Christ, the Salvation Army, and Seventh-day Adventists. Ahmadi Muslim groups have PLC status in the states of Hesse and Hamburg; no other Muslim communities have PLC status. The COS does not have PLC or nonprofit status in any state.
According to a ruling by the Federal Constitutional Court, general headscarf bans for teachers at public schools are a violation of religious freedom, but implementation is left to the states, which may determine if special circumstances apply. Bavaria, North-Rhine Westphalia (NRW), and Saarland render decisions on a case-by-case basis. Schleswig-Holstein, Hamburg, and Bremen do not prohibit headscarves for teachers. Hesse permits teachers to wear headscarves as long as doing so does not impair “school peace” or threaten perceptions of state neutrality. A law in Berlin bans visible signs of religious affiliation for police, lawyers, judges, law enforcement staff, and primary and secondary public school teachers. The Berlin law permits teachers at some categories of institutions, such as vocational schools, to wear headscarves. Other states have laws that restrict religious attire in certain circumstances.
In April the Bavarian Parliament amended its legislation to prohibit judges, prosecutors, and judicial trainees from wearing religious symbols in court.
Citing safety reasons and the need for traffic law enforcement, federal law prohibits the concealment of faces while driving. Infractions are punishable by a 60 euro ($69) fine.
Some federal and state laws affect religious practices. Federal animal protection laws prohibit the killing of animals without anesthesia, including as part of halal and kosher slaughter practices. However, there are exceptions. Pursuant to a Federal Administrative Court decision, trained personnel may kill animals without anesthesia in a registered slaughterhouse under observation of the local veterinary inspection office if the meat is for consumption only by members of religious communities whose beliefs require slaughtering animals without anesthesia.
According to federal law, religious groups may appoint individuals with special training to carry out circumcision of males under the age of six months. After six months, the law states circumcisions must be performed in a “medically professional manner” and without unnecessary pain.
All states offer religious instruction and ethics courses in public schools. Religious communities with PLC status (or without such status that have concluded a special agreement with the state that grants them this right) appoint religion teachers and work with the states to set the curriculum for religious education in line with the constitution; the states pay the teachers’ salaries. Most public schools offer the option of Protestant and Catholic religious instruction in cooperation with those Churches, as well as instruction in Judaism if enough students (usually 12, although regulations vary state to state) express an interest. The states of Bavaria, Baden-Wuerttemberg, Berlin, Hesse, Lower Saxony, NRW, Rhineland-Palatinate, Saarland, and Schleswig-Holstein also offer some religious instruction in Islam, with the teachers provided by the religious community or by the government, depending on the state. In Bavaria and Schleswig-Holstein, the state provides this instruction; in the other federal states, Muslim communities or associations do. In Hamburg and Bremen, nondenominational religious instruction for all students is offered by the Protestant Church and the state, respectively.
In Bavaria, teachers provide Islamic instruction to approximately 15,000 students in 219 primary schools and 118 middle and secondary schools under a pilot program expiring in 2019. In the fall, NRW began providing Islamic religious instruction in 20 occupational (vocational) schools.
Students who do not wish to participate in religious instruction may opt out; in some states those who opt out may substitute ethics courses. State authorities generally permit religious groups to establish private schools as long as they meet basic curriculum requirements. Schooling is constitutionally mandated, and homeschooling, including for religious reasons, is prohibited in all the states.
The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
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 Prevention. The 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.
Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom
There were numerous reports of anti-Semitic, anti-Muslim, and anti-Christian incidents, including assaults, verbal harassment, threats, discrimination, and vandalism. Most anti-Christian incidents involved actions by Muslim migrants against migrant converts. According to Ministry of Interior federal crime statistics, there were 1,799 anti-Semitic crimes committed during the year – including 69 incidents involving violence – a 20 percent increase over the 1,504 anti-Semitic crimes, of which 37 were violent, reported in 2017. The interior ministry attributed 93 percent of the incidents in 2017 to the far right but stated its methodology was not exact.
The federal OPC’s annual report stated the number of violent right-wing anti-Semitic incidents decreased from 31 in 2016 to 28 in 2017. It noted membership in neo-Nazi groups remained steady at approximately 6,000 persons.
NGO RIAS, to which victims can report anti-Semitic incidents independently of filing charges with police, reported 527 anti-Semitic incidents in Berlin in the first six months of the year, including 18 involving violence or attempted violence, compared with 514 incidents over the same period a year earlier. RIAS used different categories than official police statistics and counted anti-Semitic incidents that did not rise to the level of a criminal offense, such as “hurtful behavior.”
According to the anti-Semitism commissioner in Bavaria, incidents of anti-Semitism were increasing in the state. He said perpetrators were from both the extreme left and right, as well as the Muslim community.
In 2017, the first year in which authorities maintained a tally of anti-Muslim and anti-Christian incidents, the Ministry of Interior registered 1,075 incidents against Muslims and Muslim institutions, such as mosques or community centers, including 56 attacks involving bodily harm. Other recorded infractions included online hate speech against Muslims, hate mail, and aggressive behavior in the street. The ministry also recorded approximately 90 demonstrations against the “Islamization of Germany.”
The Ministry of Interior counted 129 incidents against Christians in 2017, including 34 cases involving violence. It classified a majority of these incidents as motivated by religious ideology. In at least 14 cases, the victims were refugees. Media reported that refugees who had converted from Islam to Christianity experienced aggression from Muslim refugees, especially if they were housed in the same refugee shelter.
In February an unknown perpetrator fired shots with an air gun from a high-rise building towards a mosque in Halle and injured a Syrian man. Federal Immigration Commissioner Aydan Oezoguz (SPD) visited the site to talk to members of the Muslim community. In June one or more unidentified individuals fired shots from an air gun near the same mosque that hit a man of Syrian origin. Police investigated, but by year’s end had not identified a suspect in either incident.
On June 3, according to RIAS, three men accosted four teenagers listening to an Israeli song on a cell phone at a subway station in Berlin. The men asked the cell phone owner if he was Jewish. When he said yes, they told him they were from Gaza City, that Jews had been killing children for 70 years, and that if he showed up again they would slit his throat, calling him a [expletive] Jew. The men then tried to push the cell phone owner onto the subway tracks and injured one of the other youths with broken glass. The attackers fled when police appeared. There were no arrests.
In September the president of the Jewish amateur sports club Makkabi Germany, Alon Meyer, said club members increasingly faced anti-Semitic abuse from other competitors during sporting events, ranging from insults to physical violence and knife attacks. According to Meyer, insults included “filthy Jew” and “Jews into the gas.” He added, “It’s not stopping at insulting, it will be fisticuffs, it will be knife attacks.” Meyer attributed the attacks mostly to an increase in migrants and refugees with a Muslim-Arab background.
In February the regional court in Traunstein, Bavaria sentenced an Afghan man to life in prison. The court found the man guilty of stabbing a woman to death in 2017, in part because she had converted from Islam to Christianity. According to the court, the attacker killed the victim, who was also from Afghanistan, in front of her young sons.
On August 31, the Dresden District Court convicted a man charged with bombing a mosque in 2016 of attempted murder, arson, and causing a bomb explosion and sentenced him to nine years and eight months in prison.
In June police reported three men with extreme far-right views attacked a Jewish man from Dortmund, attempting to punch him in the head and insulting him. The victim said he encountered the attackers for a second time that same day, and they again insulted and threatened him and made the Nazi salute. The Dortmund police intelligence service published a call for witness accounts and launched an investigation, which was ongoing at year’s end. Three days earlier, the victim said one of the three men had pushed him and directed anti-Semitic insults at him. At that time, police had verified the identities of alleged perpetrator and victim and were investigating the former for possible charges, including incitement to violence.
In July in Bonn, a 20-year old citizen of Palestinian descent assaulted a visiting Israeli professor from Johns Hopkins University. The attacker, upon seeing the professor, shouted “No Jews in Germany!” and then knocked the yarmulke off his head. When police arrived, the attacker fled the scene. The police mistakenly believed the victim to be the attacker and used force to detain him. Police later apprehended the alleged perpetrator and charged him with incitement of hate and causing bodily harm. They later released him. The Cologne police opened an internal investigation of the Bonn police actions in the incident, and the police officers involved were assigned to desk jobs pending the investigation’s results.
In April a group of three men reportedly insulted two men wearing yarmulkes across a street in Berlin. In court, the victims stated their attackers had shouted insults at them in Arabic. A video then showed one of the perpetrators, a Syrian refugee, crossing the street towards one victim, hitting him with a belt, and screaming the Arabic word for Jew. The victim was an Arab-Israeli who had received the yarmulke as a gift. In June the local court in Berlin-Tiergarten sentenced the attacker to four weeks in jail. Since the man had been in pretrial detention for two months, authorities set him free immediately, as they considered the sentence served. The man sought monetary compensation for the excess time he had served in prison, but authorities denied his claim. While his lawyer initially announced in July he would appeal the decision not to compensate him, the lawyer withdrew the appeal in October.
On August 26, the AfD and the group Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the West (PEGIDA) organized a peaceful rally in Chemnitz after the killing of a citizen, reportedly by two refugees from Syria and Iraq. Later that day, approximately 800 persons marched in another demonstration in downtown Chemnitz and reportedly shouted anti-immigrant slogans, attempted to attack persons who appeared to be migrants, and clashed with police. On August 27, a group of 12 individuals who yelled “Get out of Germany, you Jewish pig” attacked the Jewish owner of the Schalom restaurant in Chemnitz, throwing rocks and bottles at the restaurant and injuring the owner, before running away. At year’s end Chemnitz police were still investigating the case. Saxony Minister-President Michael Kretschmer strongly condemned the attack, which occurred after social unrest in the city. The same day, according to press reports, approximately 6,000 right-wing demonstrators and 1,500 counterdemonstrators marched in Chemnitz. Newscasts showed demonstrators shouting anti-immigrant slogans and making the Nazi salute. Two police and 18 demonstrators were injured. Because ethnicity and religion are closely linked, it was difficult to categorize the demonstrations as being solely based on religious identity.
In May a 67-year-old man allegedly hit a woman wearing a headscarf in the face at a bus stop in Berlin. The man had asked the woman about the headscarf, and she had told him she was a Muslim and liked to wear it. Police identified a suspect and opened an investigation.
In August the Berlin-Tiergarten local court convicted a 68-year-old woman of committing deliberate bodily harm and insult for hitting a Muslim woman in the face and trying to rip off her headscarf in an incident in January. The victim and her daughter managed to detain the perpetrator until police arrived. The court fined the perpetrator 2,400 euros ($2,800).
In separate incidents during one week in March, unknown individuals threw Molotov cocktails at a mosque in Berlin, at a Turkish club in Meschede, and at a Turkish greengrocer in Itzehoe. The newspaper Sueddeutsche Zeitung reported that, between mid-January and mid-March, individuals carried out 26 attacks on mosques, of which 18 belonged to DITIB. According to the same newspaper, after an attack with Molotov cocktails on a building belonging to the Muslim group Milli Gorus in Laufen-am-Neckar in March, what appeared to be anti-Turkish Kurds said in an online video the attacks were in retaliation for Turkish army raids against the northern Syrian city of Afrin. In a joint statement, DITIB, the Central Council of Muslims, and the Islamic Council expressed the Muslim community’s perception that politicians and the public were not taking their concerns about their safety and that of their mosques seriously. At year’s end authorities continued to investigate these incidents and had made no arrests.
A Berlin-based Jewish-Israeli restaurant owner who appeared in a 2017 video that received widespread online attention showing him as the target of verbal anti-Semitic aggression received death threats and hate mail, and individuals threw firecrackers at his restaurant. According to a media report in September, hate mail he received filled 31 pages. Police investigated but could not identify any of those sending death threats. In July the man who had initiated the original diatribe against the restaurant owner in 2017 received a seven months’ suspended prison sentence.
The Duesseldorf Jewish Community said attendance at two Jewish schools it sponsored in the city had spiked up due to increased anti-Semitism in schools around Duesseldorf. According to the group, the schools, which the NRW government funded, had been established to enable Jewish students to strengthen their Jewish identity. Most students, however, were enrolling because they sought a safe haven from increased bullying due to their Jewish faith. According to NRW Ministry of Education officials, much anti-Semitism in schools came from students’ parents and media, and anti-Semitism among Muslim children was particularly difficult to change.
The Catholic Church and the EKD continued to oppose the COS publicly. “Sect commissioners” or “departments on sects and worldview matters” of the EKD and the Catholic Church investigated “sects and cults” and publicized what they considered to be the dangers of these groups. On its website, the EKD Center for Questions of World Views warned the public about what it said were the dangers posed by multiple religious groups, including the COS, the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification (Unification Church), Bhagwan-Osho, Transcendental Meditation, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and Universal Life, and continued to produce literature criticizing these groups.
A study on discrimination against migrants in the labor market by the Scientific Center Berlin for Social Research released in June reported that Muslims experienced discrimination when looking for a job. According to the study, which included more than 6,000 fictitious job applications, Muslim job applicants were 7 percent less likely to receive a positive answer than Christian applicants with the same qualifications.
In April the Center to Combat Antidiscrimination and Counselling on Racism and Anti-Semitism (SABRA) held an all-day conference on Anti-Semitism and Refugees. The Duesseldorf Jewish Community established SABRA in 2017 as a new service to combat anti-Semitism. SABRA is part of a network of state government-supported organizations throughout NRW that provide services to immigrants to help them integrate into society. Conference participants stated that, although anti-Semitism had always been present in the country, the influx of a large number of mostly Muslim refugees exacerbated anti-Semitism. The program focused on supporting individuals who were victims of anti-Semitism, racism, and discrimination by providing counseling and legal services and helping to resolve cases of discrimination; sponsoring prevention programs in schools; and monitoring incidents of anti-Semitism throughout the state. SABRA also provided support for victims of anti-Semitic incidents that did not meet the threshold for filing criminal charges.
In November Abraham Lehrer, Vice President of the Central Council of Jews, told media that he expected anti-Semitism among Arab or Muslim immigrants to increase and called for combating anti-Semitism through education. Lehrer said, “Many of these people were influenced by regimes in which anti-Semitism is part of the rationale of the state and the Jewish state is denied the right to existence.” As a remedy, Lehrer proposed integration courses tailored to immigrants’ country of origin, with intensive teaching of such values as democracy and the treatment of women in society.
In December the European Union’s Agency for Fundamental Rights (EU-FRA) released its second survey of Jewish experiences and perceptions of anti-Semitism. EU-FRA targeted Jewish populations through community organizations, Jewish media, and social networks; 1,233 individuals who identified themselves as Jewish residents of Germany responded to the online survey. Twenty-nine percent said they had witnessed other Jews being physically attacked, insulted, or harassed in the previous 12 months, and 41 percent reported being harassed over the same period. Thirty-seven percent said they had felt discriminated against because of their religion or belief. Eighty-nine percent said anti-Semitism had increased during the previous five years.
According to a survey of more than 2,000 German-speaking residents released in September by the Social Science Institute of the Protestant Church, 54 percent did not agree with the statement that “Islam fits into German society,” and 31 percent agreed. While 69 percent agreed that Muslims were part of everyday life in the country, only 27 percent said they were well or very well informed about Islam. A third of respondents approved of Islamic religious instruction in schools.
PEGIDA continued to organize weekly demonstrations in Dresden. Journalists said PEGIDA supporters pushed and threatened them when they were reporting on the demonstrations. On September 3, police detained a PEGIDA demonstrator who had allegedly attacked a journalist, according to Deutschlandfunk online. On September 24, several PEGIDA demonstrators attacked two journalists, hitting one reporter in the face and kicking the other, while other PEGIDA supporters stood nearby and cheered, according to the newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. Some members of the crowd then reportedly helped the perpetrators escape. Amid calls to curb immigration, PEGIDA supporters regularly expressed anti-Muslim sentiments during the rallies, including by carrying posters expressing opposition to women who wear religious head coverings.
The number of participants at PEGIDA marches remained constant at approximately 1,500-2,000 protesters per rally, according to several media reports. An exception was the October 21 rally in Dresden, when 4,500 supporters marked the group’s fourth anniversary. On the same day in Dresden, approximately 10,000 persons marched in support of tolerance and against PEGIDA. Among the participants in the counterdemonstration were Saxony Minister-President Kretschmer, Dresden Mayor Dirk Hilbert, and several state ministers. The October 21 demonstrations were largely peaceful, but police reported five incidents of assault. Early in the year AfD parliamentarians gave multiple speeches at PEGIDA rallies. In January the magazine Der Spiegel cited AfD Bundestag member Siegbert Droese as stating that in Saxony there was close cooperation between his party and PEGIDA.
In what organizers said was a sign of solidarity with Jews in Germany, hundreds of persons wearing yarmulkes demonstrated against anti-Semitism in several cities around the country, including in Berlin, Cologne, Erfurt, Magdeburg, and Potsdam, in April and May. During the Berlin demonstration, where there were approximately 2,500 participants, authorities reported incidents in which counterprotesters spit on demonstrators, called them terrorists, and violently removed an Israeli banner.
Between May and August Realitaet Islam (Reality Islam), a group that said it aimed to strengthen the Islamic identity of Muslims in the country, campaigned in Frankfurt and other cities in Hesse against a headscarf ban. The group said it targeted young Muslims and had collected more than 140,000 signatures from throughout the country. The Hesse state OPC stated to media on August 29 that, while the campaign itself was not illegal, the group rejected the country’s liberal democratic order and was striving for a theocracy, and a “high Islamic radicalization potential” for the group “could not be excluded.”
On January 17, approximately 300 persons demonstrated against the construction of a mosque by the Ahmadiyya Muslim community in Erfurt. The AfD leadership in Thuringia supported the demonstration, and state AfD Chairperson Bjoern Hoecke said the mosque’s construction was “part of a long-standing land grab project.” Mosque opponents subsequently organized a series of smaller demonstrations against the construction. For example, in June David Koeckert, who press reported was a former member of the National Democratic Party, widely described as a neo-Nazi group, organized an event at an Erfurt market where protestors staged a fake execution, shouting “Allahu akbar” (“God is great” in Arabic) and pretending to cut a woman’s throat using imitation blood. Left Party state MP Steffen Dittes called the act disgusting. According to police, authorities filed charges against the organizers for insult and damage to property.
In September demonstrators against the construction of the mosque wore masks depicting what they considered to be stereotypical Middle Eastern faces and “Arab” garb. Numbering fewer than 20 participants, the demonstrators also marched in front of Green Party state MP Astrid Rothe-Beinlich’s home. Rothe-Beinlich criticized local authorities for authorizing a demonstration directly in front of her house, which she described as a personal threat. Authorities permitted the masks’ use, stating there was no violation of the ban on face coverings during demonstrations, because protestors could be identified with their identification documents. Critics stated there was no exception to the ban on face coverings during demonstrations.
The Ahmadiyya Muslim community in Erfurt moved forward with the construction and celebrated the laying of the foundation stone on November 13. The ceremony was accompanied by loud protests from approximately 60 opponents of the mosque, as well as a counterdemonstration by persons calling for religious freedom and tolerance.
Construction of a mosque in Sulzbach, Saarland was ongoing at year’s end. The citizen’s group Sulzbach wehrt sich (Sulzback Fights Back) continued to protest the construction of the mosque. In April the group organized a protest as well as a concert with the band Kategorie C/Hungrige Wolfe that the OPC said it was monitoring for its connection to right wing extremists. The city tried to prevent the concert in a municipal building, stating the group had misled it in registering the event without the band’s name. The Saarland Higher Administrative Court ruled in April the city had to allow the concert to take place since it could not show sufficient cause for cancelling it. Approximately 200 representatives of political parties, trade unions, and churches protested against the concert.
In June Ruhrtriennale, a cultural festival receiving state financial support in NRW, invited the Scottish band Young Fathers to play a concert. The private company Kultur Ruhr GmbH organizing the festival said it cancelled the appearance when it learned the band supported the BDS movement. The organizers stated they later reversed their decision and reinvited the band so they could publicly explain their views, but the band declined. State Minister of Culture and Science Isabel Pfeiffer-Poensgen criticized the organizer’s reinvitation of the band in a press statement, and the minister-president cancelled his attendance. Jewish organizations criticized the scheduling of a panel discussion at the festival about the BDS debate because it took place on the Sabbath and featured Jewish artists who supported BDS. A Jewish activist, Malca Goldstein-Wolf, organized a demonstration headlined “No support for BDS with taxpayers’ money.” The demonstration took place in Bochum on August 18, and there were approximately 250 participants.
In August the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel called for a boycott of the Berlin Pop-Kultur Festival, and several artists from the United Kingdom and the United States cancelled their appearances. The Israeli embassy had supported the festival with 1,200 euros ($1,400) and appeared on the festival’s website as a “partner.” During the festival, the BDS movement put up posters in Berlin that mimicked the festival’s logo, stating “pop culture – sponsored by apartheid.” BDS activists also disrupted the festival’s opening event.
According to a study the Technical University of Berlin issued in July, anti-Semitic online hate speech reached record levels on social media, blogs, websites’ comment sections, and thematically unrelated websites and online forums. The researchers stated that, since online communication was becoming more important, acceptance of anti-Semitism could increase. The study, which distinguished between anti-Semitism and political criticism of Israel, evaluated 30,000 German language online statements made between 2014 and 2018 on Twitter, Facebook, and the comment sections of mainstream media outlets. The study also evaluated 20,000 emails sent to the Israeli embassy in Berlin and the Central Council of Jews in Germany. According to the report authors, between 2007 and 2017, anti-Semitic content in the texts had tripled “in some instances.” The study identified an increased use of comparisons of Israel to Nazis; fantasies of violence targeting Jews, e.g., references to asphyxiating Jews in pig excrement and to hunting and killings Jews; and dehumanizing or demonizing characterizations of Jews, such as “pest,” “cancer,” or “filth.” Almost half of the texts used centuries-old anti-Semitic stereotypes, such as portraying Jews as strangers, usurers, exploiters, vindictive intriguers, blood cult practitioners, robbers, and murderers. According to the authors, anti-Semitism related to Israel was encountered in a third of all texts.
In April the German Music Federation awarded rappers Farid Bang and Kollegah, whose songs include anti-Semitic lyrics, the country’s Echo music award based on high record sales. Civil society groups, artists, politicians, and Jewish groups criticized the award. Several musicians who were past recipients of the Echo, returned their awards in protest, and singer Peter Maffay and Foreign Minister Maas both said awarding the prize on Holocaust Remembrance Day was “shameful.” After the award ceremony, 11 persons reported the rappers to police for “incitement of hatred.” In June the Duesseldorf public prosecutor’s office declined to prosecute them. The Duesseldorf prosecutor stated that, while their songs contained anti-Semitic and misogynist lyrics, the lyrics were characteristic of their genre and a form of protected artistic freedom. Following the controversy, the federation revoked the Echo prize given to Farid Bang and Kollegah, and the organizers announced they would discontinue the award.
In April a satirical play based on Adolf Hitler’s book Mein Kampf was performed in Constance, Baden-Wuerttemberg. The play’s organizers promised free entry to spectators who wore the swastika, and those who paid for a ticket had to wear a Star of David “as a sign of solidarity with the victims of Nazi barbarism.” Several legal complaints were filed against the theater. Although the law prohibits the public display of Nazi symbols and several legal complaints were reportedly filed against the theater, local prosecutors allowed the theater to present the play and allow free entry for those wearing swastikas, citing free speech laws that permit artistic performances. The region’s German-Israeli Society called for a boycott of the play.
On April 20, approximately 1,300 neo-Nazis gathered in the town of Ostritz in Saxony to commemorate Hitler’s birthday. Thorsten Heise, chairman of the National Democratic Party of Germany, organized the event. On the same date, also in Ostritz, opponents held a peace festival, a counterrally of approximately the same size. Police were present in force, and both events were largely peaceful. According to press reports, one person was slightly injured during scuffles between the opposing groups, and police detained one man for making the Nazi salute. The same organizers organized a neo-Nazi Shield and Sword (SS) rock festival in Ostritz on November 1-4. In another peace festival, approximately 3,000 opponents protested again. Police stopped another right-wing rock concert in Ostritz on December 1, after neighbors reported hearing the participants yell the Nazi slogan, “Sieg Heil.” Authorities were investigating the incident at year’s end.
On September 21, an estimated 100 neo-Nazis rallied in Dortmund, NRW, chanting anti-Semitic slogans, such as, “He who loves Germany is anti-Semitic,” and carrying symbols such as the “Reich” flag.
At a Unification Day demonstration on October 3 in Berlin with approximately 2,000 participants, media reported a few participants performed the Nazi salute, and several dozen displayed neo-Nazi tattoos, inscriptions on their clothes, or posters. Several counterdemonstrations with a similar total number of participants took place in Berlin at the same time. All the demonstrations were peaceful.
In May authorities arrested 89-year-old Ursula Haverbeck after she failed to appear to serve her prison sentence for Holocaust denial. In 2017, the Regional Court Verden sentenced Haverbeck to two years’ imprisonment after convicting her on eight counts of incitement of hate. In February the Celle Higher Regional Court rejected her appeal. In August the Federal Constitutional Court refused to accept her complaint that Holocaust denial was covered by the protected constitutional right of freedom of expression and not a punishable offense. At year’s end, Haverbeck was serving her sentence and publishing messages from prison on her website, Freedom for Ursula.
In May unknown perpetrators spray-painted a swastika on a house in the town of Kirchhain in Hesse and covered commemorative cobblestones for Nazi victims (Stolpersteine) with black paint.
According to state authorities and local media, religious establishments in Ulm in Baden-Wuerttemberg experienced increased vandalism over the course of the year. In September unknown individuals painted swastikas and other pro-Nazi symbols or writing on the door and pews of the Protestant cathedral in Ulm. State authorities said they had found similar anti-Semitic graffiti in Ulm and the surrounding area in the preceding months, including at a local synagogue and a Turkish mosque.
In September unknown persons targeted the Al-Nour Mosque in Hamburg, just before its opening, with anti-Muslim graffiti. The mosque was converted from a former Protestant church. According to a mosque official, the mosque had held open days for city residents in an effort to engage with non-Muslims and be as transparent as possible with the project.
In February the Duesseldorf Memorial and Education Center, a museum, research center, and archive of the Holocaust, started a research project aimed at identifying the number of victims in NRW of the November 1938 Pogromnacht (Kristallnacht) pogrom, as well as how the victims had died. The center published a report of its findings on the 80th anniversary of the pogrom, on November 9. The report detailed the cases of the approximately 127 persons from NRW who lost their lives as a result of the pogroms.
According to local officials, legal proceedings against a bus driver in Emden, Lower Saxony for refusing a pregnant woman wearing a full-face veil onto his bus on three occasions, were continuing at year’s
In May Hamburg’s Jewish Community ordained five rabbis, its first ordination since World War II. Hamburg Mayor and Minister-President Peter Tschentscher (SPD) attended the ceremony.
Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement
The U.S. embassy and the five consulates general continued to engage closely with the government regarding responses to incidents of religious intolerance. Embassy officials regularly met with the Ministry of Interior’s federal government commissioner for Jewish life in Germany and the fight against anti-Semitism. Consulate general officials in Frankfurt and Munich met with the Baden-Wuerttemberg and Bavaria commissioners for anti-Semitism to express concern about anti-Semitism and discuss ways of ensuring anti-Semitic incidents were correctly recorded.
Embassy and consulate general representatives met with members and leaders of numerous local and national religious and civil society groups about their concerns related to freedom of worship. Topics of discussion with Jewish groups included concerns about what they characterized as the growing acceptability of anti-Semitism through the country’s changing political landscape (for example, the cooperation of the AfD with extreme right groups, especially in Chemnitz), the rise of the BDS movement, and concern that refugees and other migrants might be bringing concepts of anti-Semitism into the country. Embassy and consulate general representatives also discussed issues pertaining to religious freedom and tolerance with the Catholic, Evangelical, and other Protestant churches; COS; ZMD; Association of Islamic Cultural Centers; the Central Council of Jews in Germany; Coordination Council of Muslims in Germany; Alevi Muslims; Council of Religions Frankfurt; Jehovah’s Witnesses; and human rights NGOs.
In January the Charge d’Affaires met with the head representative of the Conference on Jewish Material Claims against Germany (Jewish Claims Conference) in Frankfurt am Main to discuss the status of claims negotiations.
In March the embassy sponsored the visit of 11 young Muslim leaders from Berlin and Heilbronn to participate in a program in the United States on community outreach and engagement. Program topics included community efforts to combat violent extremism, particularly of Muslim youth, strengthening civil society and citizen participation, combating hate speech, and developing leadership skills to connect with and engage Muslim youth.
The embassy funded the participation of a U.S. photographer in a photography project titled A World of Faith – 4 Perspectives on Religion, in which four photographers presented pictures highlighting aspects of the beliefs of Islam, Judaism, and Christianity. A display of the project at a Berlin art gallery in January and February encouraged interreligious dialogue among visitors and media. During a visit to the exhibition, the Charge d’Affaires stressed to organizers the importance of religious freedom and tolerance and commended the gallery and participating photographers for their efforts to promote understanding among people of different faiths.
To commemorate Religious Freedom Day on January 16, the Charge d’Affaires visited the photography exhibition Religion behind Bars that discussed religiosity in prison. The embassy supported the exhibition with a travel fund for one of the photographers. During the visit, the Charge stressed the importance of religious tolerance and freedom of religion.
On April 18, the Charge d’Affaires hosted a Celebrate Diversity Month reception for approximately 100 religious, government, and civil society leaders from a variety of backgrounds to encourage them to find common ground and engage in productive dialogue over shared values. In his remarks, the Charge spoke of religious diversity and freedom.
In June the Ambassador discussed Jewish life in the country and the community’s concerns about anti-Semitism and intolerance with Rabbi Gesa Ederberg of the New Synagogue on Oranienburger Street in Berlin and Rabbi Joshua Spinner, Executive Vice President of the Ronald Lauder Foundation in the country.
In July the Ambassador met with the Kreuzberger Initiative against anti-Semitism (KIGA), a Berlin-based NGO that trains students from Kreuzberg (a neighborhood with a high number of Muslim immigrants) to work with students and talk to school classes to promote tolerance and combat anti-Semitism.
In September the Ambassador hosted a screening of Yezidi activist Duezen Tekkal’s documentary Hawar – My Journey to Genocide, which focused on the atrocities committed by ISIS against the Yezidi people in Iraq in 2014. The Ambassador delivered remarks on the importance of religious freedom and commended the work that Tekkal and fellow Yezidi activist and 2018 Nobel Peace Prize recipient Nadia Murad have done to highlight abuses by ISIS. The Ambassador said the Baden-Wuerttemberg state government’s efforts to resettle approximately 2,500 Yezidi women and children were “courageous,” and cited it as an example of Germany’s commitment to defend religious freedom.
In October the Ambassador hosted a 20th anniversary celebration in honor of international Jewish NGO AJC’s Berlin Ramer Institute. In his speech, the Ambassador highlighted the significance of religious freedom and efforts to combat anti-Semitism. He stressed the importance of German government restitution of Jewish property seized in World War II, compensation for Holocaust survivors, and promotion of Holocaust education.
In October the U.S. Special Envoy for Holocaust Issues visited Berlin and Magdeburg and met with representatives of the Jewish community to discuss how to best combat anti-Semitism. In Magdeburg, the special envoy attended a board meeting of the German Lost Art Foundation, which focused on provenance research for art and cultural assets the Nazis confiscated from Jews.
On November 9, the 80th anniversary of the Pogromnacht (Kristallnacht) pogrom, the Ambassador met with the head of Deutsche Bahn’s (German Railway’s) historical section at the Track 17 memorial, one of three deportation points for Berlin Jews during World War II, and toured the memorial. Embassy officials also cleaned defaced commemorative cobblestones for Nazi victims (Stolpersteine) throughout Berlin.
In November the Ambassador participated in a roundtable with KIGA peer trainers and program participants to discuss the importance of tolerance and religious freedom. The Ambassador also listened to the participants’ views on KIGA’s training, as well as their experiences with combatting anti-Semitism in their communities.
On November 13, the U.S. Under Secretary of the Treasury for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence and State Secretary at the German Ministry of Finance Rolf Bosinger hosted a discussion at the AJC’s Berlin Ramer Institute on the U.S. Treasury’s role in assisting Jews in Europe during the Holocaust, as well on Germany’s contributions to the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany.
In November the Charge d’Affaires delivered remarks on religious freedom and the importance of restitution for Holocaust victims and their heirs at the German Lost Art Foundation’s Conference. On the margins of the conference, the German government signed a joint declaration with the U.S. government that reaffirmed both governments’ commitment to find just and fair solutions for the return of stolen artwork to Holocaust survivors and their heirs.
On December 2, the Ambassador gave remarks on religious tolerance and nondiscrimination at an embassy reception to mark Hanukkah, in advance of an annual menorah lighting ceremony in central Berlin.
The embassy and consulates general provided small cash grants to support programs promoting religious tolerance, such as the Jewish Cultural Days in Halle, Saxony-Anhalt, Jewish Week in Leipzig, Saxony, and Yiddish Summer in Weimar, Thuringia. These events featured music, dancing, film screenings, exhibitions, and speakers that raised awareness about the Jewish community and Jewish culture.
The constitution guarantees all persons religious freedom, including the right to engage in religious ceremonies and acts of worship. Under the constitution, indigenous communities enjoy a protected legal structure allowing them to practice their own particular “uses and customs.” The General Directorate for Religious Associations (DGAR) within the Interior Ministry (SEGOB) continued to work with state and local officials on criminal investigations involving religious groups. During the year, DGAR investigated 11 cases related to religious freedom at the federal level, compared with six in 2017. Government officials stated a continued wave of killings and attacks on Catholic priests reflected high levels of generalized criminal violence throughout the country rather than targeting for religious beliefs. Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), however, said criminal groups targeted Catholic priests because communities viewed them as moral authority figures. NGOs said criminal groups sought to remove these moral authority figures so communities would more likely overlook organized crime activities. According to Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), in March community authorities in San Miguel Chiptic, Chiapas State, threatened three indigenous families for converting from Catholicism to the Seventh-day Adventist Church and later did significant damage to three of their properties. Members of the Seventh-day Adventist Church sought assistance from municipal and state authorities, who declined to intervene, according to CSW. On May 23, local police in San Miguel Chiptic arrested two Seventh-day Adventist men for preaching beliefs other than Catholicism. At year’s end, six families remained displaced and sheltered with other Seventh-day Adventist Church members in Chiapas. Evangelical Protestant leaders continued to state local indigenous leaders pressured some evangelical Protestants in mainly rural and/or indigenous areas in the states of Chiapas and Oaxaca to support financially and/or participate in Catholic cultural and religious events, and in some cases convert or return to Catholicism. In September CSW reported representatives from Rancheria Yocnajab, located in the Comitan de Dominguez municipality of Chiapas, did not allow the burial of an evangelical Protestant in the community public cemetery because she had not participated in Catholic religious festivals.
The Catholic Multimedia Center (CMC) reported criminal groups continued targeting priests and other religious leaders in some parts of the country, which included killings, kidnappings, death threats, and extortion. The CMC reported unidentified individuals killed seven priests and kidnapped another during the year, and in August asserted Mexico was the most violent country for priests in Latin America for the 10th year in a row. In March unidentified individuals detonated two homemade bombs in two Catholic churches in Matamoros, Tamaulipas. CSW reported unidentified individuals killed four non-Catholic clergy.
U.S. embassy and consulate officials met with government counterparts throughout the country to discuss concerns about violence toward religious leaders as well as reports of discrimination toward religious minorities in some communities. Embassy officials met with members of religious groups and NGOs to gather details about specific cases.
Section I. Religious Demography
The U.S. government estimates the total population at 126 million (July 2018 estimate). According to the 2010 census, approximately 83 percent identify as Catholic, 5 percent evangelical Protestant, 1.6 percent Pentecostal, 1.4 percent Jehovah’s Witnesses, and 0.5 percent Jewish. Other religious groups include The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and Muslims. More than 2 percent of the population reports practicing a religion not otherwise specified, and nearly 5 percent reports not practicing any religion. Some indigenous persons adhere to syncretic religions drawing from indigenous beliefs.
Official statistics based on self-identification during the 2010 census sometimes differ from the membership figures stated by religious groups. Approximately 315,000 individuals identify themselves as members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the 2010 census. Church officials, however, state their membership is approximately 1.3 million. There are large Protestant communities in the southern states of Chiapas and Tabasco. In Chiapas, evangelical Protestant leaders state nearly half of the state’s 2.4 million inhabitants are members of evangelical groups, including Seventh-day Adventists; however, fewer than 5 percent of 2010 census respondents in Chiapas self-identify as evangelical Protestant.
According to the 2010 census, the Jewish community totals approximately 67,500 persons, of whom nearly 42,000 live in Mexico City and the state of Mexico. Nearly half of the country’s approximately 4,000 Muslims are concentrated in Mexico City and the state of Mexico. There is also an Ahmadi Muslim population of several hundred living in Chiapas, most of whom are converts and of ethnic Tzotzil Maya origin. There are also small indigenous communities of Baha’i that number in the hundreds. An estimated half of the approximately 100,000 Mennonites are concentrated in the state of Chihuahua.
Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom
The constitution states all persons have the right to have or adopt the religion of their choosing, or not to have a religion. This freedom includes the right to participate individually or collectively, both in public and in private, in ceremonies, devotions, and acts of worship, if they do not constitute an offense otherwise prohibited by law. Philosophical freedoms of conscience and religion have equal treatment by the state. Congress may not dictate laws that establish or prohibit any religion. Religious acts of public worship should be held in places of worship. Individuals who conduct religious ceremonies outside of places of worship will be subject to regulatory law, which requires a permit to do so.
To establish a religious association, applicants must certify the church or other religious group observes, practices, propagates, or instructs a religious doctrine or body of religious beliefs; has conducted religious activities in the country for at least five years; has established domicile in the country; and shows sufficient assets to achieve its purpose. Registered associations may freely organize their internal structures and adopt bylaws or rules pertaining to their governance and operations, including the training and appointment of their clergy. They may engage in public worship and celebrate acts for the fulfillment of the association’s purpose lawfully and without profit. They may propagate their doctrine in accordance with applicable regulations and participate in the creation, management, maintenance, and operation of private welfare, educational, and health institutions, provided the institutions are not for profit.
To operate, religious groups are not required to register with the government. Registration is only required with DGAR to negotiate contracts, purchase or rent land, apply for official building permits, receive tax exemptions, or hold religious meetings outside of customary places of worship. Religious associations must notify the government of their intention to hold a religious meeting outside their licensed place or places of worship. Religious associations may not hold political meetings of any kind.
The federal government coordinates religious affairs through SEGOB. Within SEGOB, DGAR promotes religious tolerance, conducts conflict mediation, and investigates cases of religious intolerance. If a party presents a dispute based on allegations of religious intolerance, DGAR may mediate a solution. If mediation fails, the parties may submit the issue to DGAR for binding arbitration or seek judicial redress. Each of the 32 states has offices with responsibility for religious affairs. The National Council to Prevent Discrimination (CONAPRED) is an autonomous federal agency responsible for ensuring nondiscrimination and equal opportunity, including for minority religious groups.
As of September 28, there were 9,146 religious associations registered by DGAR, an increase from the 8,908 groups registered in 2017. Registered groups included 9,106 Christian (an increase of 237 from 2017), 13 Buddhist, 10 Jewish, two Hindu, three Islamic, and two International Society for Krishna Consciousness groups. Baha’is and Ahmadi Muslims remain unregistered.
The constitution states acts of public worship are to be performed inside places of worship. Active clergy may not hold public office, advocate partisan political views, support political candidates, or publicly oppose the laws or institutions of the state.
The law guarantees prisoners dignified and equal treatment from prison staff without distinction based on religious preferences.
Religious groups must apply for permits to construct new buildings or convert existing buildings into houses of worship. Any religious building constructed after January 27, 1992, is the property of the religious group that built it and is subject to the relevant taxes. All religious buildings erected before then are considered part of the national patrimony and owned by the state.
The constitution requires that public education be secular and not include religious doctrine. Religious groups may operate private schools that teach religion and hold religious ceremonies at their schools. Private schools affiliated with a religious group are open to all students regardless of their religious beliefs. Students in private schools are exempt from participating in religious courses and activities if the students are not affiliated with the school’s religious group. Homeschooling is allowed at the secondary level after completion of schooling at an accredited primary school.
A visa category exists for foreign clergy and religious associates to obtain a temporary resident visa or visitor visa without permission to perform paid religious activities.
The law states religious groups may not own or operate radio or television stations. Government permission is required for commercial radio or television to transmit religious programming.
The constitution grants indigenous communities the right to autonomy to “decide their internal forms of coexistence” and permits them to maintain separate legal systems for the resolution of conflicts within their communities. The constitution also protects the right of indigenous leaders to practice their own particular uses and customs. This right of self-governance for indigenous communities sometimes conflicts with other rights provided by the constitution, including freedom of religion, for members of those communities.
The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The country claims the following constitutional limitations to the covenant: a limitation (to Article 18) that religious acts must be performed in places of worship unless granted prior permission and a reservation (to Article 25) that religious ministers have neither a passive vote nor the right to form political associations.
According to CSW, community authorities in the indigenous community of San Miguel Chiptic, Chiapas, threatened three families on March 4 for converting from Catholicism to the Seventh-day Adventist faith, telling them if they did not renounce their faith, authorities would destroy their houses and expel them from the community. On March 15, indigenous community members destroyed three buildings, toppling cement blocks that damaged all of the furniture and appliances inside the residences. Members of the Seventh-day Adventist Church sought assistance from municipal and state authorities, who, according to CSW, declined to intervene because of the constitution’s legal authorities granted to the indigenous community leadership. On May 23, local indigenous authorities arrested two Seventh-day Adventist men for preaching beliefs differing from the community’s traditional Catholicism. At year’s end, six families remained displaced and sheltered with other Church members in the municipality of Ocosingo, Chiapas. Some Protestant groups continued to request the government amend the constitution or laws to permit a more vigorous governmental response to reports of abuse and discrimination in indigenous communities.
DGAR continued to work with state and local officials on criminal investigations involving religious groups, primarily evangelical Protestants. DGAR investigated 11 cases related to religious freedom at the federal level during the year, compared with six in 2017. Four of these cases occurred in the state of Oaxaca, three in Hidalgo, and one each in Puebla and Chiapas. According to DGAR, most incidents of religious discrimination should have been filed with the state government, as the federal government lacked jurisdiction. Municipal and state officials commonly mediated disputes among religious groups. Some groups said officials rarely pursued legal punishments against offending local leaders, preferring instead to reach informal mediated solutions. The groups said there were insufficient resources devoted to federal and state agencies that work on religious freedom.
According to CSW, local indigenous authorities in the indigenous community of Rancho Nuevo, Hidalgo, illegally detained five members of the Christ Is Coming Protestant Church. Unidentified individuals reportedly removed four men from a church service on March 3, tied them up, and held them until just after noon on the following day. A fifth victim was taken from his home on the following day and held with the others. The unidentified individuals reportedly beat them and forced them to pay a fine for their “religious beliefs.”
NGOs and some religious organizations continued to state that a number of rural and indigenous communities expected inhabitants, regardless of their faith, to participate in and fund traditional community religious gatherings, and in some cases adhere to the majority religion.
According to media reports, in March local authorities expelled three evangelical Protestant families from their indigenous community in Altamirano, Chiapas, for practicing a religion other than Catholicism. According to the reports, the children in these families were not allowed to return to school, the adults could not return to work, and the community leaders destroyed their homes with all their belongings still inside. The municipal government had not responded to complaints from the families by year’s end.
According to the NGO Impulso 18, the indigenous community authority in Coamila, Hidalgo, closed a small school of 16 students in August because the students’ parents were evangelical Protestants who refused to let their children participate in local festivities that violated their religious beliefs. The families filed a complaint with DGAR. The Hidalgo State Commission of Human Rights opened a complaint on behalf of the students. On September 25, state education authorities stated the students were welcome to attend and reopen the school and said many parents decided to keep their children out of school because of social tensions arising from their refusal to contribute to community festivals associated with Catholic holidays.
Evangelical Protestants again cited cases in which those refusing to participate in Catholic festivities, or in some cases to convert to Catholicism, faced forcible displacement from their communities, experienced arbitrary detention by local authorities, or had property destroyed by community leaders. In September CSW reported representatives from Rancheria Yocnajab, located in the Comitan de Dominguez municipality of Chiapas, did not allow the burial of an evangelical Protestant in the community public cemetery because she had not participated in Catholic religious festivals and the local indigenous community restricted the cemetery’s use to Catholic burials.
On August 15, the Supreme Court ruled a child in Chihuahua with leukemia must be given blood transfusions despite the parents’ religious objections due to their religious beliefs as Jehovah’s Witnesses. After receiving input from doctors and the parents, state officials took custody of the girl to provide proper medical attention, including transfusions. The Supreme Court later ruled in favor of the state’s actions to protect the life of the child.
According to DGAR, the federal government continued to promote dialogue with religious actors with the stated goal to ensure the exercise of religious freedom and help resolve conflicts involving religious intolerance. Between 2011 and 2017, CONAPRED reported 67 complaints of alleged acts of religious discrimination, and another five filed in 2018. In July a Tijuana hospital refused to perform surgery on a Jehovah’s Witness because of his religious objection to receiving blood transfusions if required, a hospital requirement for the procedure he requested.
Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom
According to the CMC, on February 4, unidentified individuals killed two Catholic priests, Germain Muniz Garcia and Ivan Anorve Jimenez, on a highway between Iguala and Taxco in the state of Guerrero. Investigators initially stated the motive of the assassination was Muniz Garcia’s alleged ties with organized crime. Investigators said they made this assumption because Muniz Garcia was pictured holding an assault rifle with alleged gang members. The investigation of the killings continued at year’s end. According to the CMC, four nuns fled Chilpancingo Chilapa, Guerrero, where Muniz Garcia and Anorve Jimenez worked, following the killings and after one nun’s sibling was the subject of targeted violence on January 30.
According to the CMC, on April 3, unidentified individuals kidnapped Catholic priest Jose Moises Fabila Reyes in Cuernavaca, Morelos. Despite the family paying a ransom of two million pesos ($106,000), the family discovered his body on April 25, dead of an apparent heart attack during his captivity. The investigation of the case continued at year’s end.
According to the CMC, on April 9, unidentified individuals shot and killed evangelical Protestant pastor Eduardo “Lalo” Garcia in Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua. According to the CMC, Garcia’s family had long been a target of criminal groups. In 2009 his son was killed for not paying a protection extortion, and his daughter was kidnapped in 2011. The investigation continued at year’s end.
According to the CMC, on April 18, unidentified individuals stabbed and killed Catholic priest Ruben Alcantara Diaz inside his church in Cuatitlan Izacalli, Mexico State. State officials described the attack as a personal dispute. The investigation of the case continued at year’s end.
According to the CMC, on April 20, two individuals shot and killed Catholic priest Juan Miguel Contreras Garcia in Tlajomulco de Zuniga, Jalisco. The investigation of the case continued at year’s end.
According to CSW, on July 23, two men shot and killed evangelical Protestant pastor Noe Plaza Rico in a tire repair shop in Cortazar, Guanajuato. The armed men fled. The investigation of the case continued at year’s end.
According to the CMC, on August 25, the body of Catholic priest Miguel Gerardo Flores Hernandez was found in Mugica, Michoacan. Authorities stated that the motive for his killing was unknown. The Michoacan Attorney General’s Office detained the alleged killer on August 29.
According to media reports, on October 14, the body of Catholic priest Icmar Arturo Orta was found three days after he disappeared. The investigation of the case continued at year’s end.
According to the CMC, on January 14, a knife attack at a Catholic church in Ecatepec de Morelos, Mexico State, left one dead and four injured. The CMC reported police captured the alleged aggressor and said the case was in the hands of State of Mexico prosecutors.
According to NGOs and media reports, Catholic priests and other religious leaders continued to be targeted and were the victims of killings, extortion attempts, death threats, kidnappings, and intimidation by organized-crime groups. Federal government officials and Catholic Church authorities stated these incidents were not a result of targeting for religious beliefs but rather incidents related to overall crime. NGOs believed some criminals targeted Catholic priests because communities viewed them as moral authority figures.
The CMC reported the most dangerous states for priests were Mexico City, Guerrero, Veracruz, and Michoacan. The CMC reported unidentified individuals killed seven priests and kidnapped another during the year. The CMC identified Mexico as the most violent country for priests in Latin America for the 10th year in a row.
According to the CMC, unidentified individuals detonated homemade explosives at Catholic churches in Matamoros, Tamaulipas, on March 1 and March 4. The first bomb exploded in the Diocese Cathedral of Matamoros. The second bomb exploded in San Antonio de Padua Church. No one was hurt in the attacks. The investigation of the case continued at year’s end.
Jewish community representatives stated no anti-Semitic acts occurred during the year, compared with very rare occurrences in 2017.
In Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua, civil society and private-sector organizers of local nativity procession events (posadas) during the Christmas holiday emphasized that all were welcome, regardless of religious affiliation.
Religions for Peace, an interreligious working group, continued to be active in the country. Member groups included the Jewish Communities of Mexico, Buddhist Community of Mexico, Sufi Yerrahi Community of Mexico, Sikh Dharma Community of Mexico, Anglican Church, Lutheran Church, and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement
U.S. embassy and consulate representatives met with government officials responsible for religious and indigenous affairs at both the federal and state levels. U.S. officials raised concerns regarding the continued killings of Catholic priests and abuses against religious minorities, especially evangelical Protestants, by religious majority groups and local authorities.
The embassy posted multiple times on social media using the hashtag #LibertadReligiosa (Freedom of Religion), including posts by the former Ambassador on Rosh HaShannah and for the Hanukkah and Virgen de Guadalupe holidays.
Embassy representatives met with members of religious groups and religiously affiliated NGOs, including the Central Jewish Committee, Tribuna Israelita, the CMC, CSW, and Impulso 18, to discuss the safety of religious workers working on humanitarian issues, assess the status of religious freedom, and express support for religious tolerance.
The constitution provides for freedom of religion and worship and prohibits discrimination on the basis of religion. The government, via the High Commission for Migration (ACM), sponsored activities to promote religious tolerance and acceptance, published religious texts, and organized education for teachers and workers interacting with persons of diverse religious backgrounds. The government granted citizenship during the year to 3,525 descendants of Sephardic Jews expelled during the Inquisition. President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa and other senior officials advocated religious tolerance and harmony at public events throughout the year, including during regular visits to churches, mosques, and other places of worship.
In February the European Jewish Congress reported in a newsletter that government officials, whom it did not name, characterized the country as having an almost nonexistent level of public anti-Semitism. According to a 2017 Pew Research Center survey cited in September, 52 percent of residents of the country believed Muslim women should be free to wear any religious clothing without restriction; 44 percent favored at least some restrictions. A series of 2015-17 Pew surveys cited in October found 70 percent of non-Muslims would be willing to accept Muslims as members of their family, and 73 percent of non-Jews would be willing to accept Jews as members of their family.
U.S. embassy representatives continued to meet regularly with the independent Commission for Religious Freedom (CLR) and ACM officials and discussed the importance of mutual respect and understanding among religious communities and the integration of immigrants, many of whom belonged to religious minority groups. The ambassador and other embassy officials met with Christian, Muslim, Jewish, and Orthodox religious leaders, including from the Ismaili Imamat, Jewish Community of Lisbon, and Islamic Center of Bangladesh in Lisbon, to discuss religious tolerance and interfaith collaboration. The embassy hosted a multimedia theatrical presentation on ways to combat religious intolerance and funded the visit of a Muslim youth leader to the United States to participate in a program on religious freedom and interfaith dialogue.
Section I. Religious Demography
The U.S. government estimates the total population at 10.4 million (July 2018 estimate). According to the 2011 census, more than 80 percent of the population older than 15 is Roman Catholic. Other religious groups, each constituting less than 1 percent of the population, include Orthodox Christians; various Protestant and other Christian denominations, including the Seventh-day Adventist Church, Lutheran Church of Portugal, Universal Church of Jesus Christ, New Apostolic Church, Portuguese Evangelical Methodist Church, and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Church of Jesus Christ); and Muslims, Hindus, Jews, Buddhists, Taoists, Zoroastrians, and Baha’is. Approximately 6.8 percent of the population said it does not belong to any religious group, and 8.2 percent did not answer the question. According to the census, mainline Protestants number more than 75,000 persons, and there are more than 163,000 members of other Christian denominations, including evangelicals. According to the census, there are more than 56,000 members of the Eastern Orthodox Church, most of whom are immigrants from Eastern Europe, primarily from Ukraine, and approximately 3,000 Jews. The Muslim community estimates there are 50,000 Muslims.
Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom
The constitution provides for freedom of religion, including freedom of worship, which may not be violated even if the government declares a state of emergency. It states no one shall be privileged, prejudiced, persecuted, or deprived of rights or exempted from civic obligations or duties because of religious beliefs or practices. The constitution states authorities may not question individuals about their religious convictions or observance, except to gather statistical information that does not identify individuals, and in such cases individuals may not be prejudiced by refusal to reply. Churches and religious communities are independent from the state and have the freedom to determine their own organization and perform their own activities and worship. The constitution affords each religious community the freedom to teach its religion and use its own media to disseminate public information about its activities. It bars political parties from using names directly associated with, or symbols that may be confused with those of, religious groups. The constitution and the law recognize the right to conscientious objection to military service, including on religious grounds; they require conscientious objectors to perform equivalent alternative civilian service.
Religious groups may be organized in a variety of forms that have national, regional, or local character. A denomination may choose to organize as one national church or religious community or as several regional or local churches or religious communities. An international church or religious community may set up a representative organization of its adherents separate from the branch of the church or religious community existing in the country. A registered church or religious community may create subsidiary or affiliated organizations, such as associations, foundations, or federations.
All religious groups with an organized presence in the country may apply for registration with the registrar of religious corporate bodies in the Ministry of Justice (MOJ). The requirements include: providing the organization’s official name, which must be distinguishable from all other religious corporate bodies in the country; the organizing documents of the church or religious community associated with the group applying for registration; the address of the organization’s registered main office in the country; a statement of the group’s religious purposes; documentation of the organization’s assets; information on the organization’s formation, composition, rules, and activities; provisions for dissolution of the organization; and the appointment method and powers of the organization’s representatives. Subsidiary or affiliated organizations included in the parent group’s application are also registered; if not included, they must register separately. The MOJ may reject a registration application if it fails to meet legal requirements, includes false documentation, or violates constitutional rights of religious freedom. In the case where the MOJ rejects an application, religious groups may appeal to the CLR within 30 days of receiving the MOJ’s decision.
The CLR is an independent, consultative body to parliament and the government, established by law. Its members include representatives of various religious groups in the country, such as the Portuguese Episcopal Conference, Evangelical Alliance, Jewish Community of Lisbon, Islamic Community of Lisbon, Hindu Community of Lisbon, and Aga Khan Foundation, as well as laypersons appointed by the MOJ. The Council of Ministers appoints its president. The CLR reviews and takes a position on all matters relating to the application of the law on religious freedom, including proposed amendments. The CLR alerts the competent authorities, including the president, parliament, and others in the government, to cases involving religious freedom and discrimination, such as restrictions or prohibitions on the right to assembly and the holding of religious services; the destruction or desecration of religious property; assaults against members and clergy of religious groups; incitement of religious discord; hate speech; and violations of the rights of foreign missionaries.
The CLR may file formal complaints at the national level with the ombudsman, an official position created by the constitution and supplemental legislation to defend the rights and freedoms of individual citizens, and at the international level with the European Court of Human Rights. The ombudsman has no legal enforcement power, but he or she is obligated to address complaints and provides an alternative remedy for dispute resolution.
The ACM, an independent government body operating under the guidelines of the Presidency of the Council of Ministers, has a statutory obligation to advocate religious tolerance, including the “promotion of dialogue, innovation, and intercultural and inter-religious education” and “combating all forms of discrimination based on color, nationality, ethnic origin or religion.”
Religious groups may register as religious corporations and receive tax-exempt status. They also receive the right to minister in prisons, hospitals, and military facilities; provide religious teaching in public schools; participate in broadcasting time on public television and radio; and receive national recognition of religious holidays. The government certifies religious ministers, who receive all the benefits of the social security system. According to the law, chaplaincies for military services, prisons, and hospitals are state-funded positions open to all registered religious groups. A taxpayer may allocate 5 percent of his or her tax payment to any registered religious group.
Religious groups may also register as unincorporated associations or private corporations, and in that form they may receive the same benefits granted to religious corporations. The process for registering as unincorporated associations or private corporations involves the same procedures as for religious corporations. There are no practical differences between associations and private corporations; the different categories distinguish the groups’ internal administration. Unregistered religious groups are not subject to penalties and may practice their religion but do not receive the benefits associated with registration.
By law, religious groups registered in the country for at least 30 years or internationally recognized for 60 years may obtain a higher registration status of “religion settled in the country.” To show they are established, religions must demonstrate an “organized social presence” for the required length of time. These groups receive government subsidies based on the number of members they have; may conclude “mutual interest” agreements with the state on issues such as education, culture, or other forms of cooperation; and may celebrate religious marriages that have effect in the state legal system. The government has mutual interest agreements with Jewish and Islamic religious bodies and a concordat with the Holy See that serves the same function for the Catholic Church.
Public secondary schools offer an optional survey course on world religions taught by lay teachers. Optional religious instruction is available at government expense if at least 10 students attend the class. Religious groups are responsible for designing the curriculum of the religious classes and providing and training the teachers, who are lay. Private schools are required to offer the same curriculum as public schools but may provide instruction in any religion at their expense. All schools, public and private, are required to accommodate the religious practices of students, including rescheduling tests if necessary.
The law prohibits employers from discriminating against individuals on the basis of religion and requires reasonable accommodation of employees’ religious practices. According to the labor code, employees are allowed to take leave on their Sabbath and religious holidays, even if these are not nationally observed.
The law provides for the naturalization of Jewish descendants of Sephardic Jews expelled from the country in the 15th and 16th centuries.
The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
The government reported that, of 13,607 applications received during the year, it had approved the naturalization of 3,525 Sephardic descendants of Jews expelled from the country during the Inquisition. The government rejected three applications, and 9,460 others remained pending. Beneficiaries of the program included individuals from Israel (9,517), Brazil (939), and Turkey (876).
There were complaints by some religious minorities, such as evangelical Christians, that the Catholic Church had an advantage over minority religious groups, since most prisons, hospitals, and military services had designated Catholic priests, while minority religions did not have designated representation. Jose Vera Jardim, chairman of the CLR, said, “There is discrimination” in that, since the country is more than 80 percent Catholic, “the Catholic Church has a more articulated and stronger presence in chaplaincies.” According to the CRF, the vast majority of those who sought chaplain assistance requested a Catholic priest. Vera Jardim stated he did not believe there were serious grievances from religious denominations and “The right to assistance … is safeguarded.” There were no official statistics on the percentage of chaplaincies each religious group held.
In February four left-leaning parties introduced separate draft bills in parliament that would have legalized assisted suicide in cases of terminal illness and “unbearable suffering.” On May 24, the president received 16 representatives from eight religious communities, Catholic, evangelical Christian, Seventh-day Adventist, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Orthodox Christian, and Buddhist, to discuss the four bills to decriminalize and regulate medically assisted death. All 16 representatives expressed opposition to medically assisted killing. Catholic Cardinal Patriarch of Lisbon and President of the Portuguese Episcopal Conference Manuel Clemente said the country should follow the example of “other democratic and evolved societies,” which opted to improve palliative care. Pastor Jorge Humberto of the Portuguese Evangelical Alliance called euthanasia “a civilizational retrocession.” Sheikh David Munir, Imam of the Central Islamic Mosque in Lisbon, said, “We … have the same voice … I hope we will care for those who need our help rather than abandon them.” Rabbi Natan Peres of the Jewish Community of Lisbon welcomed that the subject of euthanasia had shown that religious groups in the country could unite and work together. On May 29, parliament rejected all four bills. The bill that came closest to passage, introduced by the governing Socialist Party, was defeated 115-110. All of the versions would have allowed health-care providers to refuse to participate in euthanasia because of moral or other personal beliefs.
The ACM hosted events, activities, and debates, published books on religion to promote religious tolerance and acceptance, and provided education for teachers and workers interacting with individuals of diverse religious backgrounds. On October 3, the ACM hosted the Second Interreligious Dialogue Congress, “Caring for Others,” in partnership with the CLR. The Minister of the Presidency and Administrative Modernization, Maria Manuel Leitao Marques; the State Secretary for Citizenship and Equality, Rosa Monteiro; the High Commissioner for Migration, Pedro Calado; and CLR Chairman Vera Jardim participated in the congress, held at the Catholic University in Lisbon. Religious groups participating included Catholics, Muslims, Buddhists, evangelical Christians, members of the Church of Jesus Christ, Hindus, and Baha’is. Among topics discussed by congress participants were the role of religious groups in providing services in hospitals and prisons, civil society, and formal and informal education. Representatives of religious groups pledged to work together to organize social and community activities to promote religious acceptance. The ACM and the CRF proposed designating February 1 as the National Day of Religious Freedom and Interreligious Dialogue. Parliament had not taken up the proposal by year’s end.
The ACM also organized a course on November 1-4, coordinated by the British Council and funded by the European Commission, to train 29 persons to become community leaders in identifying and combating discrimination, including religious discrimination, and to promote inclusion. The trainees agreed to organize periodic visits to religious communities, museums, libraries, cultural centers, and temples to experience the religious and cultural diversity in the country.
The state-run television channel RTP continued to broadcast a half-hour religious program five days a week and a weekly half-hour program, with segments for both written by different religious groups. Participant religious groups, which had to be registered, included the Evangelical Alliance, Orthodox Church, Seventh-day Adventists, Islamic Community of Lisbon, Baha’i Community, Old Catholic Church, Orthodox Catholic Church, Roman Catholic Church, Hindu Community, and Jewish Community.
During a visit to the Central Lisbon Seventh-day Adventist Church on March 3, President Rebelo de Sousa thanked the Seventh-day Adventist community for its contribution to the “construction of justice, of social solidarity, for a more humane, fraternal, and more united Portugal.” He added that one of the principles of his mandate was “proximity … also to religious communities as well as to those who do not practice a belief or faith,” and that the country was open to religious pluralism, with “instruments that guarantee a fair treatment of the various churches and creeds.” The president also said the state had the duty to collaborate with churches and religious communities in the country.
On March 16, the president awarded the Order of Freedom to the Islamic Community of Lisbon, which celebrated its 50th anniversary. At a ceremony in Lisbon’s Central Mosque, Rebelo de Sousa said he presented the award to the Islamic Community of Lisbon for the defense of “religious freedom and freedom in general.” He stated, “Humanistic values are by nature the values of Islam.” In addition, present at the ceremony were UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, the three living former presidents of the country, Speaker of Parliament Eduardo Ferro Rodrigues, Lisbon Mayor Fernando Medina, and Cardinal Clemente.
On February 26, the CLR awarded its first annual religious freedom prize to Rita Mendonca Leite for her work The Role of the Religious Society in the Development of Religious Freedom in Portugal during the Constitutional Monarchy and the First Republic. It attributed two honorable mentions: Use of Religious Symbols in the Workplace: The Limits to Freedom of Expression of Religious Convictions by Susana Machado and The European Court of Human Rights and Religious Symbols: The Use of the Islamic Veil in 21st Century Europe by Ines Granja Costa.
On June 5, at the Central Mosque of Lisbon, President Rebelo de Sousa joined the President of the Islamic Community of Lisbon, Abool Vakil, Sheikh Munir, and members of the Muslim community, as well as members of other religious faiths, at an iftar at the Central Mosque of Lisbon. In his remarks, Rebelo de Sousa said, “It is an honor for me … to be here … sharing understanding, fraternity and affection,” adding that the country followed the constitutional principles of religious freedom and interreligious living.
Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom
In its report for 2017, the most recent available, the CLR said it had received several complaints involving religion, including disputes between municipalities and religious groups over places of worship, religious activities in schools, and taking time off from work during the Sabbath or religious holidays. The CRF said it responded to each case but provided no further details.
In its February newsletter, the European Jewish Congress stated that government officials, whom it did not name, characterized the country as having an almost nonexistent level of public anti-Semitism.
According to a survey by the Pew Research Center conducted in 2017 and cited in September, 52 percent of residents said Muslim women should be free to wear any religious clothing without restrictions. Of the remainder, 32 percent said they should be able to wear religious clothing as long as it did not cover the face, and 12 percent believed Muslim women should not be allowed to wear any religious garb. Pew Research Center Surveys conducted in 2015-17 and cited in October found that 56 percent of residents agreed religion should be kept separate from the state, while 40 percent disagreed. The surveys also found 70 percent of non-Muslims would be willing to accept Muslims as members of their family and 73 percent of non-Jews would be willing to accept Jews as members of their family. Among young adults 18 to 34 years old, 87 percent and 89 percent, respectively, said they would accept Muslims and Jews as family.
Along with approximately 45,000 Ismaili Muslims, Prince Aga Khan IV visited the country on July 6-11 to conclude a yearlong commemoration of his 60 years as leader of the Ismaili religious community. On July 9, President Rebelo de Sousa and Prime Minister Costa welcomed him with state honors, and parliament hosted a conference for his visit, bringing together religious groups, civil society, and public and private organizations to recognize the work of Prince Aga Khan and the Ismaili community in the country. Lisbon Mayor Fernando Medina said the Ismaili community found in the country “intercultural dialogue and religious tolerance that symbolizes Portuguese society.”
According to press reports, in August a brewery in Belmonte, Castelo Branco District, in the center of the country announced it had begun brewing the country’s first artisanal kosher beer, which would be sold in the town’s annual kosher market, opening in October. Belmonte is one of three municipalities in the country with its own rabbi and synagogue. Although it has few practicing Jews, the town has a long Jewish history, and many inhabitants reportedly are descendants of Jews forced to convert to Christianity in the 16th century. The beer was to be brewed under the supervision of Belmonte Chief Rabbi Elisha Salas, emissary for Portugal and Spain of Shavei Israel, a nonprofit organization dedicated to assisting descendants of Jews to reclaim their roots.
Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement
U.S. embassy representatives met regularly with CLR and ACM officials and discussed the importance of mutual respect and understanding among religious communities and the integration of immigrants, many of whom belonged to religious minority groups.
The ambassador and embassy representatives met with leaders of religious groups, including the Catholic, Protestant, Orthodox, Jewish, and Muslim communities, to discuss issues of religious tolerance and encourage interfaith collaboration. The ambassador continued his contact with Sheikh Munir and Arif Z. Lalani, head of the Department for Diplomatic Affairs of the Ismaili Imamat, to discuss ways in which the Muslim community and the embassy could work together to promote religious acceptance and tolerance. Embassy officials met with Gabriel Szary Steinhardt and Esther Mucznik, president and vice president, respectively, of the Jewish Community of Lisbon; Maria Antonieta Rebelo Vinagre Becker-Weinberg, president of the Somej Nophlim Jewish Association; Rabbi Eliyohu Rosenfeld of Chabad Lisbon; Rana Uddin, president of the Islamic Center of Bangladesh in Lisbon; president of the Islamic Community Vakil; and Archimandrite Philip Jagnisz, vicar of Portugal and Galiza of the Eastern Orthodox Church. At all of these meetings, embassy officials discussed the importance of freedom of expression of religious views, promoting tolerance and understanding among religious communities, and countering the spread of religiously motivated violence.
During a March visit to the Sahar Hassamaim Synagogue, the oldest standing synagogue in the country, located on Sao Miguel Island in the Azores Autonomous Region, the principal officer of the consulate in Ponta Delgada met with historian Jose de Almeida Mello, the coordinator of the Azores Synagogue Restoration Committee and curator of the Sahar Hassamaim Synagogue Museum. Although no longer used as a synagogue, Sahar Hassamaim serves as a library as well as a museum, with a mission to preserve Jewish history in the country and promote religious tolerance. Following that visit, the principal officer contacted U.S. universities and institutions with Judaic studies programs to encourage future collaboration on the synagogue archives.
On July 27, the embassy posted on its Facebook page the speech by the U.S. Secretary of State at the Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom, held in July in Washington, D.C., in which the Secretary stated that religious freedom is an essential building block for free societies and emphasized that ensuring religious freedom around the world was a U.S. foreign policy priority.
In September the embassy organized a “Debunking Disinformation: Building Cultural Integrity through Storytelling” conference, in which the cofounders of a theater company shared their experience of countering anti-Islamic sentiment and discourse with narratives blending lived experiences, religious texts, and imaginary worlds.
The embassy sponsored the visit of Khalid Jamal, leader of Lisbon’s Muslim youth community, to the United States on October 13-27, to participate in a program focusing on religious freedom, diversity, and expression, including interfaith dialogue and examples of protections granted to religious minorities in the United States.
The constitution protects freedom of religion and states the government shall consider the religious beliefs of society and form cooperative relations with the Roman Catholic Church and other religious faiths. The government has a bilateral agreement with the Holy See that grants the Catholic Church additional benefits not available to three other groups with which the government has agreements: Protestants, Muslims, and Jews. Groups without agreements may register with the government and receive some benefits. Various politicians and civil society actors continued to criticize compulsory religious education, which is under the control of regional governments. The Ministry of Justice’s (MOJ) 2017 annual report on religious freedom cited concerns regarding unequal treatment of religious groups, different financing of religious assistance, difficulties in opening places of worship, proselytizing, and providing spiritual services in public institutions, and the inability of the state to respond to religiously motivated incidents. Between January and September the government granted citizenship to approximately 4,000 descendants of Jews expelled in 1492. Muslims, Jews, and especially Buddhists reported problems with cemetery access. Leaders of other religious groups said the state allowed citizens to allocate part of their taxes to the Catholic Church or its charities but not other religions. The government continued outreach to Muslims to combat religious discrimination and promote integration.
There were incidents of assaults, threats, incitement to violence, other hate speech, and vandalism against Christians, Muslims and Jews. The nongovernmental organization (NGO) Observatory for Religious Freedom and Conscience (OLRC) reported 142 religiously motivated incidents – including two assaults – in the first nine months of the year, 20 more than in the same period in 2017. Of the 142 cases, 65 percent were against Christians. The Ministry of Interior (MOI) documented 103 hate crimes with religious motivations in 2017, compared with 47 in 2016. The NGO Citizens’ Platform against Islamophobia reported 546 anti-Muslim incidents in 2017, of which hate speech on the internet accounted for 70 percent. The MOJ reported 43 hospitals throughout the country denied treatment to Jehovah’s Witnesses who refused blood transfusions. Christians, Muslims, and Jews reported increased hostility against them in media.
U.S. embassy and consulate officials met regularly with the MOJ’s Office of Religious Affairs, as well as with regional governments’ offices for religious affairs and with religious leaders who participated in the governmental Pluralism and Coexistence Foundation (the Foundation). Topics discussed included anti-Semitic, anti-Muslim, and anticlerical sentiment, the failure of some regional governments to comply with legal requirements to treat religious groups equally, concerns about societal discrimination against religious minorities, access to religious education and cemeteries for religious groups, and pensions for clergy. In January the embassy hosted religious leaders for a discussion on religious freedom and equality in the country. In June the Ambassador hosted an iftar focused on strengthening government engagement with, and inclusion of, the Muslim community. In May the Consulate General in Barcelona organized an iftar where Muslim leaders and public officials discussed ways of promoting religious freedom and tolerance.
Section I. Religious Demography
The U.S. government estimates the total population at 49.3 million (July 2018 estimate). According to a survey conducted in April by the governmental Center for Sociological Research, 67.4 percent of respondents identified themselves as Catholic and 2.6 percent as followers of other religious groups. In addition, 15.6 percent described themselves as “nonbelievers” and 12.2 percent as atheists; the remaining 2.3 percent did not answer the question.
The (Catholic) Episcopal Conference of Spain estimates there are 32.6 million Catholics. The Federation of Evangelical Religious Entities (FEREDE) estimates there are 1.7 million Protestants, 900,000 of whom are immigrants. The Union of Islamic Communities of Spain (UCIDE), the largest member organization of the Islamic Commission of Spain (CIE), estimates there are 1.9 million Muslims, while other Muslim groups estimate a population of up to two million. According to the MOJ’s 2017 report on religious freedom, citing estimates by religious groups, the Federation of Jewish Communities of Spain (FCJE) estimates there are 45,000 Jews; the Episcopal Orthodox Assembly stated in 2014 there were 1.5 million Orthodox Christians; the Jehovah’s Witnesses report 188,000 members; the Federation of Buddhist Communities estimates there are 85,000 Buddhists; and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Church of Jesus Christ) cites 57,000 members. Other religious groups include Christian Scientists, other Christian groups, Baha’is (12,000 members), Scientologists (11,000 members), and Hindus. The autonomous communities of Catalonia, Andalusia, and Madrid and the autonomous cities of Ceuta and Melilla in North Africa contain the highest percentage of non-Christians, nearly 50 percent in the latter two cities.
Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom
The constitution prohibits discrimination based on religion and guarantees freedom of religion and worship for individuals and communities; it allows limits on expression if “necessary to maintain public order.” According to the Foundation, reasons would include overcrowding in small facilities or public spaces. The Foundation provides funding in support of activities and projects that promote cultural, educational, and social integration among religious denominations that have a cooperation agreement with the state. The Foundation also promotes dialogue and rapprochement among religious groups and the normalization of religion in society. A law restricts unauthorized public protest, but authorities have not used it or the constitutional limits on expression against religious groups.
The constitution states no one may be compelled to testify about his or her religion or beliefs. The constitution also states, “No religion shall have a state character,” but “public authorities shall take into account the religious beliefs of Spanish society and consequently maintain appropriate cooperative relations with the Catholic Church and other denominations.” The Catholic Church is the only religious group explicitly mentioned in the constitution.
The government does not require religious groups to register, but registering confers religious groups with certain legal benefits. Groups registered in the MOJ’s Registry of Religious Entities have the right to autonomy; may buy, rent, and sell property; and may act as a legal entity in civil proceedings. Registration entails completing forms available on the MOJ’s website and providing notarized documentation of the foundational and operational statutes of the religious group, its legal representatives, territorial scope, religious purposes, and address. Any persons or groups have the right to practice their religion whether or not registered as a religious entity.
Registration with the MOJ and notorio arraigo (“deeply rooted” or permanent) status allows groups to establish bilateral cooperation agreements with the state. The government has a bilateral agreement with the Holy See, executed in part by the Episcopal Conference. The government also has cooperation agreements with FEREDE, CIE, and FCJE. These agreements are legally binding and provide the religious groups with certain tax exemptions, the ability to buy and sell property, open a house of worship, and conduct other legal business; grant civil validity to the weddings they perform; and permit them to place teachers in schools and chaplains in hospitals, the military, and prisons. Groups with cooperation agreements are also eligible for independently administered government grants.
The agreement with the Holy See covers legal, educational, cultural, and economic affairs; religious observance by members of the armed forces; and the military service of clergy and members of religious orders. The later cooperative agreements with FEREDE, CIE, and FCJE cover the same issues.
Registered groups who wish to sign cooperative agreements with the state must acquire notorio arraigo status through the MOJ. To achieve this status, groups must have an unspecified “relevant” number of followers; a presence in the country for at least 30 years; and a “level of diffusion” that the MOJ considers demonstrates a “social presence” but is not further defined. Groups must also submit documentation demonstrating the group is religious in nature to the MOJ’s Office of Religious Affairs, which maintains the Register of Religious Entities.
The Episcopal Conference deals with the government on behalf of the entire Catholic community. Per the state’s 1979 agreement with the Holy See, individual Catholic dioceses and parishes are not required to register with the government. In addition to FEREDE, CIE, and FCJE, the Jehovah’s Witnesses, Federation of Buddhist Communities (FCBE), Church of Jesus Christ, and Orthodox Church are registered religions with notorio arraigo status. New religious communities may register directly with the MOJ, or religious associations may register on their behalf.
If the MOJ considers an applicant for registration not to be a religious group, the group may be included in the Register of Associations maintained by the MOI. Inclusion in the Register of Associations grants legal status but offers no other benefits. Registration itself simply lists the association and its history in the government’s database. Registration as an association is a precursor to requesting that the government deem the association to be of public benefit, which affords the same tax benefits as charities, including exemption from income tax and taxes on contributions. For such a classification, the association must be registered for two years and maintain a net positive fiscal balance.
The government funds religious services within the prison system for Catholic and Muslim groups. Examples of religious services include Sunday Catholic Mass, Catholic confession, and Friday Islamic prayer. The cooperation agreements of FCJE and FEREDE with the government do not include this provision; these groups provide religious services in prisons but at their own expense. Other religious groups registered as religious entities with the MOJ may provide services at their own expense during visiting hours upon the request of prisoners.
The Regions of Madrid and Catalonia have agreements with several religious groups that have accords with the national government. These regional agreements permit activities such as providing religious assistance in hospitals and prisons under regional jurisdiction. The central government funds these services for prisons and the military, and the regional governments fund hospital services. According to the MOJ, these subnational agreements may not contradict the principles of the federal agreements, which take precedence. The Catalan government has agreements with Catholics, FEREDE, and CIE. The Madrid Region has agreements with Catholics, FEREDE, FCJE, and CIE.
The government guarantees religious workers of groups with cooperative agreements with the state access to refugee centers, known as foreign internment centers, so that these groups may provide direct assistance, at the groups’ expense, to their followers in the centers. According to the MOJ, other religious practitioners may enter the internment centers upon request.
Military rules and prior signed agreements allow religious military funerals and chaplain services for Catholics, Protestants, Jews, and Muslims, should the family of the deceased request it. Other religious groups may conduct religious funerals upon request.
The government recognizes marriages performed by all religious communities with notorio arraigo status.
Religious groups must apply to local governments for a license to open a place of worship, as with other establishments intended for public use. Requirements for licenses vary from municipality to municipality. The MOJ states documentation required is usually the same as for other business establishments seeking to open a venue for public use and includes information such as architectural plans and maximum capacity. Religious groups must also inform the MOJ after opening new places of worship.
Local governments are obligated to consider requests for use of public land to open a place of worship. If a municipality decides to deny such a request after weighing factors such as availability and value added to the community, the city council must explain its decision to the requesting party.
As outlined in agreements with religious groups, the government provides funding for salaries for teachers of Catholic and, when at least 10 students request it, Protestant and Islamic classes in public schools. The Jewish community is also eligible for government funding for Jewish instructors but has declined it. The courses are not mandatory. Those students who elect not to take religious education courses are required to take an alternative course covering general social, cultural, and religious themes. The development of curricula and the financing of teachers for religious education is the responsibility of the regional governments, with the exception of Andalusia, Aragon, the Canary Islands, Cantabria, and the two autonomous cities of Ceuta and Melilla, which leave the curricula and financing of education to the national government in accordance with their individual regional statutes.
Autonomous regions generally have the authority to develop the requirements for religious education instructors and certify their credentials, although some choose to defer to the national government. For example, prospective instructors must provide personal data, proof that the educational authority of the region where they are applying to work has never dismissed them, a degree as required by the region, and any other requirement as stipulated by the religious association to which they correspond. The religious associations are required to provide a list of approved instructors to the government. MOE-approved CIE guidelines stress “moderate Islam” in worship practices, with emphasis on plurality, understanding, religious tolerance, conflict resolution, and coexistence. CIE also requires instructors to have a certificate of training in Islamic education.
Catholic clergy may include time spent on missions abroad in calculations for social security, and claim retirement pension credit for a maximum of 38.5 years of service. Protestant clergy are eligible to receive social security benefits, including health insurance and a government-provided retirement pension with a maximum credit of 15 years of service, but pension eligibility requirements for these clergy are stricter than for Catholic clergy. The law allows Protestant clergy to count towards retirement time worked prior to 1999, the date of a prior decree, only if these clergy adjusted their status in 1999, and does not allow Protestant clergy to claim retirement credit for time worked abroad. Protestant clergy must also pay unfunded pension contributions in one lump sum rather than via monthly salary deductions, as Catholic clergy do. Clergy from the Russian Orthodox Church, CIE, and Jehovah’s Witnesses are also eligible for social security benefits. The benefits for clergy from these groups depend on the specific terms of separate social security agreements that each of these groups negotiated with the state.
The penal code definition of hate crimes includes acts of “humiliation or disrespect” against victims because of their religion, with penalties of one to four years in prison. Under the penal code, it is a crime to prevent or disrupt religious services and to offend, scorn or blaspheme religious beliefs, ceremonies, or practitioners. Those who do not profess any religion or belief are also protected under the penal code. By law, authorities may investigate and prosecute criminal offenses committed by neo-Nazi groups as “terrorist crimes.” Genocide denial is a crime if it incites violent attitudes, such as aggressive, threatening behavior or language.
The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
According to the MOJ’s report on religious freedom, the Church of Jesus Christ and the FCBE both said they were unable to conclude agreements with the government and therefore were excluded from the benefits available to the Catholic Church and the three other religious groups with such agreements. The Church of Jesus Christ said it had been trying unsuccessfully for years to obtain an agreement, and the FCBE expressed regret that the state had for many years denied agreements to other religious groups with notorio arraigo status.
Some religious minorities, such as FEREDE, FCJE, and the Church of Jesus Christ, called for improved and equal access for religious groups providing spiritual services at public institutions, such as hospital, prisons, and the military. FEREDE also sought government reimbursement for the cost of providing such services, in the same way the government did for the Catholic Church. FEREDE welcomed the state’s decision to house Protestant chapels and ministers in some military bases, although it criticized the lengthy delays and lack of attention the issue received from the government. FCJE, CIE, and FEREDE welcomed the decision to allow religious observance in prisons but also considered it necessary to standardize prisoners’ access to religious services so that it would be on a par with other basic services.
According to the MOJ’s report on religious freedom, several groups cited local government restrictions on their ability to proselytize or manifest their faith in public spaces. FEREDE stated municipalities often imposed fines or other sanctions on members who distributed religious pamphlets or engaged in other religious activities in public areas, although the central government owned the land. According to FEREDE, there was a growing tendency of local authorities to silence religious groups and expel them from the public space. Jehovah’s Witnesses cited 37 municipalities where there were unresolved issues involving restrictions on the use of public spaces for religious activities. The Church of Jesus Christ said its missionaries had occasionally encountered restrictions in posting placards in public or establishing booths at public fairs.
In September authorities detained and questioned actor Willy Toledo after he refused to appear in court to respond to allegations of offending religion for making insulting remarks in 2017 about God and the Virgin Mary. In May and June Toledo had refused to answer questions before a judge about the charges, which were filed by the Spanish Association of Christian Lawyers, and said he would continue to “make mockery.” The lawyers’ association reportedly broadened its complaint against Toledo to incitement to hatred after he said, “Ultra-Catholics should disappear from the face of the earth,” and, according to the association, justified crimes against Catholic clergy during the Spanish Civil War by stating on television, “The churches and priests must have done something to be burned.”
In March Member of Parliament Enric Bataller of the Compromis Party introduced a bill to remove from the penal code the crime of offending religion. According to the draft bill, the existing provision of the code contradicted “the constitutional rights that guarantee freedom of expression and the nonconfessional character of the state.”
Several religious groups, especially Protestant ones, said burdensome and unequal regulations remained a principal obstacle to religious groups seeking licenses or permits for places of worship. For example, FEREDE Executive Secretary Mariano Blazquez cited a requirement in several municipalities that there be at least 500 meters (1640 feet) separating one place of worship from another, which disproportionately affected non-Catholic denominations due to the prevalence of Catholic churches. Groups said other restrictions, such as requirements that religious centers maintain the same level of acoustic insulation as nightclubs, were excessively expensive and technically difficult to fulfill.
According to the MOJ, Protestant groups built 197 new places of worship in the country between December 2017 and December 2018, bringing the total to 4,238, or 58.5 percent of all non-Catholic places of worship.
Other religious groups cited similar concerns in the government’s report on religious freedom. CIE stated municipal urban planning restricted the opening of places of worship in city centers, forcing them to move to city outskirts. Jehovah’s Witnesses cited long delays of up to one year after approval of construction for a place of worship until authorities issued a permit to begin work.
According to the MOJ’s report on religious freedom, Muslim and Buddhist communities reported problems with accessing and establishing cemeteries. FCBE said no Buddhist cemeteries or specific places to deposit remains according to Buddhist tradition existed in the country, and there was no interest on the part of municipalities to address the issue. CIE expressed the need for a place of burial in each one of the Balearic and Canary Islands. In addition, CIE reported only the autonomous communities of Andalucia and Valencia and the autonomous cities of Ceuta and Melilla allowed coffinless burials. The European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) stated the country had 28 public cemeteries with specific plots for Muslims.
The Jewish community also cited a need to obtain more space in cemeteries, where it could carry out burials in accordance with Jewish customs. Despite existing agreements between FCJE and Valencia and Alicante under which the cities were to provide Jewish cemeteries, the projects remained pending at year’s end.
In May pamphlets featuring People’s Party Leader in Catalonia and former Badalona Mayor Xavier Garcia Albiol, in which Garcia Albiol called for blocking the construction of an Islamic prayer room in the Artigues neighborhood of Badalona, circulated in the city. Then-Badalona Mayor Dolors Sabater said her administration was considering charging Garcia Albiol with a hate crime but did not do so.
FCJE Director Carolina Aisen said implementation of the law allowing descendants of Sephardic Jews expelled from the country in 1492 to gain citizenship continued to run smoothly. According to Aisen, who said she met monthly with the MOJ to discuss progress, 4,000 Sephardi descendants obtained citizenship between January and September, and approximately 18,000 Sephardis had started the application process. The bulk of applicants continued to come from Venezuela; others came from Israel, other countries in Latin America, and the United States. The Jewish community said burdensome financial and administrative requirements, such as a requirement to self-fund a trip to the country for the personal interview, reduced the response to the law. Aisen said the sharp rise in applications for citizenship was likely due to concerns the law would expire in 2019.
The FCJE estimated there were very few survivors of the Holocaust residing in the country and said this was why the government only considered restitution on a case-by-case basis. The FCJE reported no restitution cases during the year.
The MOJ’s report on religious freedom cited complaints by several religious groups, including the Catholic Church, FEREDE, FCJE, and CIE, about obstacles to providing religious education and the integration of religious teachers in schools. The Catholic Church said some autonomous communities failed to provide students or their parents sufficient information on the possibility of pursuing religious studies, or placed barriers to the teaching of such classes, in violation of the government’s accord with the Holy See. FEREDE stated many localities did not offer Protestant classes, and parents often were unable even to request such classes. After protracted efforts by the Protestant community, according to the report, the autonomous community of La Rioja began to offer religious classes for Protestants in schools, as did Huesca Province; however, the autonomous community of Valencia had not responded to the requests for such classes by more than 700 students.
Religious groups said there was also a continuing lack of information on classes or enrollment options for students. CIE cited a similar lack of information and enrollment options for students and reported that only six autonomous communities and Ceuta and Melilla had Islamic studies educators, despite the existence of eligible instructors in every region. In the Basque Country, there were reports some schools had called in parents to discourage them from seeking Islamic classes for their children.
There were no Jewish classes in public schools, and FCJE reported schools were usually unaware of Jewish holidays provided for in the accord between FCJE and the state. The Church of Jesus Christ proposed the right of religious education in public schools be extended to all religious groups with notorio arraigo status, not just to groups with agreements with the state.
In February the Education Commission of the national parliament approved a nonbinding resolution introduced by members of the Valencia-based Compromis Party and Together We Can (Unidos Podemos), a coalition of left-wing political parties, calling on the government to eliminate religion from the public school curriculum. The draft resolution, which parliament did not vote on, also called for the repeal of the government’s agreements with the Holy See and with other religious groups.
In June the Regional Parliament of Navarre approved a nonbinding resolution calling on the federal government to “denounce the accords between Spain and the Holy See,” with a view to establish a secular education system in public schools.
In July the Federation of Associations of Fathers and Mothers of Students in the Province of Castellon (FAMPA) said it was receiving complaints from parents of students in schools selected to teach Muslim students classes on Islam. FAMPA head Silvia Centelles said the organization had always favored doing away with teaching religion in classes and that parents said they could not understand how education officials could be in favor of teaching “the Islamic religion in classes, a religion that denigrates women and relegates them to second-class status.”
In January the Workers’ Commissions (Comisiones Obreras), the country’s largest labor union, called for the elimination of religion from public schools and an education “free of the dogmatism of the Catholic Church.” In February the teachers’ union of Castilla La Mancha called for a reduction in class hours dedicated to teaching religion to the minimum required by law until national norms were changed towards establishing secular public schools. According to a statement by the union, religion as a subject matter was neither a science nor an art and did not merit inclusion in public schools; rather it served to spread Catholic doctrine and only distorted the normal functioning of students’ education, taking beliefs from the private to the public space, where they did not belong in a nonconfessional society.
Holocaust education in secondary school curricula continued to expand in accordance with an MOE mandate contained in two existing royal decrees. The subject was included in fourth-year compulsory geography and history class and first-year contemporary world history class. In 2017, the FCJE signed an agreement with the MOE to train teachers on the Holocaust, Judaism, and anti-Semitism.
In December the state-supported cultural center Centro Sefarad Israel organized a trip to Berlin for approximately 15 Spanish teachers to learn about the Wannsee Conference, the meeting at which Nazi officials planned the Holocaust. The trip included lectures and a tour of a concentration camp. Centro Sefarad Israel organized dozens of lectures and courses throughout Spain on anti-Semitism and the Holocaust, bringing speakers from around the world to speak to groups of teachers and other instructors.
Despite a 2017 Supreme Court ruling making government pension eligibility requirements for Protestant clergy the same as those for Catholic priests, no Protestant clergy had yet begun receiving a government pension because the ruling was not retroactive. FEREDE asked the government to issue a royal decree to allow retired Protestant clergy to collect pensions from their time in service prior to 1999 and to allow survivor benefits for spouses and children of clergy.
The Catholic Church remained the only religious entity to which persons could voluntarily allocate 0.7 percent of their taxes. Other religious groups were not listed on the tax form as potential recipients of funds. Several religious groups, including Protestants, Muslims, Buddhists, and members of the Church of Jesus Christ, continued to express their desire to have their groups included on the tax form so they could be eligible to receive the 0.7 percent allocation from taxpayers. The tax designation yielded 267.8 million euros ($307 million) in donations to the Catholic Church during the year, according to news reports.
Representatives of FEREDE, CIE, and FCJE stated they did not receive all of the benefits to which they were entitled under their cooperative agreements with the government. As an example, they cited their inability to make use of the same tax allocation financing system that the Catholic Church used.
Many religious groups, such as FEREDE, CIE, and FCJE, said that they relied on government funds, provided through the Foundation, to cover their administrative and infrastructure costs. According to the MOJ’s report on religious freedom, CIE indicated its interest in changing the Foundation’s system of assigning funds that supported Islamic communities so that funds could be used to support several communities that stopped receiving other forms of assistance. FCBE, which is not a participant in the Foundation, said that it did not receive any public funding and expressed its desire to receive such assistance in the future. FEREDE proposed the government increase tax deductions for donations to religious groups so that these groups could better self-finance their operations. Religious representative bodies, such as FEREDE, CIE, and FCJE received funding from the Foundation to cover administrative and infrastructure costs. During the year FEREDE received 356,000 euros ($408,000), FCJE received 169,362 euros ($194,000), and CIE received 255,000 euros ($292,000). The Foundation also provided 120,000 euros ($138,000) in small grants to dozens of local religious associations for educational and cultural projects aimed at promoting religious integration.
In May the regional government of Navarre became the first of the 17 autonomous communities to endorse the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel, approving a nonbinding declaration calling on the central government to “support any initiative promoted by the international BDS campaign” and “suspend relations with Israel until that country stops its criminal and repressive policies against the Palestinian population.” The measure did not stipulate any actions the Navarre government should take in support of BDS other than its appeal to the central government.
As of June approximately 100 local, municipal, or provincial governments had passed resolutions supporting the BDS movement, including Valencia, the country’s third largest city, although court rulings had voided more than a dozen of these resolutions after the attorney general for hate crimes began investigations in 2017 to determine possible criminal responsibility of municipalities that supported the BDS movement. For example, in June the High Court in the province of Asturias found that the city of Castrillon’s policy of boycotting Israel was unconstitutional. In August the municipalities of Sagunto and Villarrobledo reversed prior statements in support of BDS after the local NGO Action and Communication on the Middle East threatened a lawsuit. The NGO Lawfare Project said that, as of June, its litigation fund had secured 58 court victories against BDS campaigns in the country.
In December the interagency Religious Freedom Advisory Committee, led by Minister of Justice Dolores Delgado, held plenary and standing committee sessions to review issues pertaining to religious freedom in the country. The committee reviewed the status of religious freedom, noted issues of concern, and approved the MOJ’s 2017 report on religious freedom. The committee comprised representatives from various government offices, academics, and religious leaders from the Catholic Church, FEREDE, FCJE, CIE, Church of Jesus Christ, Federation of Buddhist Communities, and Orthodox Church. The committee had seven working groups to address specific religious issues, including approval of the MOJ’s annual report on the status of religious freedom in the country.
The city of Barcelona continued to implement its “Plan of Action against Islamophobia.” As part of the plan, the city’s Office for Nondiscrimination launched a communications campaign in partnership with Muslim communities to sensitize the population to anti-Muslim sentiment and its impact. The city hall led training events on human rights and diversity, including religious tolerance, to municipal employees, as well as to more than 1,500 children. The office also provided legal, social, and psychological assistance to victims of discrimination, including religious discrimination.
In August the Foundation signed an agreement with the Madrid municipal police to protect the religious freedom of members of the police force by coordinating on research and development of new methodologies to manage a religiously diverse police force.
According to the MOJ’s report on religious freedom, FEREDE and FJCE again called for greater neutrality on the part of the national and local governments in conducting official activities. They cited the organization of Catholic state funerals and the participation of government officials in acts or ceremonies of a particular religious group as evidence of a lack of neutrality.
In May the Rioja Provincial Parliament approved a nonbinding resolution calling on the provincial government to give proof of institutional secularism as a “public reflection of real neutrality and respect for diverse religious beliefs.” In particular, the resolution asked the government to ensure that public ceremonies in which members of the provincial executive branch participated were secular.
In May the Barcelona High Court upheld the 2017 conviction and six-month prison sentence of Barcelona bookstore owner Pedro Varela for intellectual property crimes for selling Mein Kampf without authorization. Varela was released on two-year’s probation after serving one month of his sentence. Authorities continued to investigate Varela on charges of selling books promoting religious hatred or discrimination, and his bookstore remained closed.
Movement Against Intolerance, a nonreligiously affiliated NGO that compiles instances of religiously motivated hate crimes, criticized government and religious leaders for not working together to combat all forms of religious intolerance. Director Esteban Ibarra again stated authorities should apply the criminal code pertaining to religiously motivated crimes more widely and that public prosecutors and police remained unprepared to combat religious intolerance. Ibarra also pointed to a lack of preventive education in schools. In addition, FEREDE proposed the government create a hotline for victims of religious persecution and hate crimes.
According to Ibarra, anti-Semitism and anti-Muslim sentiment were on the rise, partly due to the actions of some members of political parties on the far left and right, such as Podemos and Vox. Ibarra said that, although membership in ultra-right parties remained small, such parties had gradually expanded their online and public presence over the previous year, including through public meetings, marches, and statements in the press. Ibarra stated the support for BDS policies among some members of parties like Podemos contributed to the further isolation of Israel and an increase in anti-Semitism.
During an appearance on Catalan public television, Bel Olid, a writer and activist affiliated with the far-left CUP (Catalan Popular Unity Candidacy) Party, encouraged participation in the March 8 International Women’s Day demonstrations by calling for the burning of the Episcopal Conference for being sexist and patriarchal.
The Foundation provided training on preventing anti-Islamic sentiment and other religious discrimination and organized an event with the Canada Foundation and the Spanish Federation of Municipalities and Provinces on reducing violent religious extremism. The Foundation hosted a seminar with members of the Baha’i Faith on preventing violent radicalization.
According to the MOJ’s report on religious freedom, FEREDE asked the government to adjust its visa policies for foreign religious workers in recognition that spouses and minor children might accompany Protestant clergy.
The Office of Religious Affairs continued to maintain an online portal for information on registered minority religious groups to aid new immigrants or citizens moving into a community to find his or her locally registered religious community and place of worship. The MOJ stated the tool provided no personally identifiable information and complied with the information protection law.
The government is a member of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance.
Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom
According to the Observatory for Religious Freedom and Conscience (OLRC), there were 142 incidents that it described as violating religious freedom in the first nine months of the year, 20 more than in the same period in 2017. Of the incidents, 92 targeted Christians (including 79 against Catholics), 10 were against Muslims, five against Jews, and 35 classified as against all faiths. There were two incidents of violence, 33 attacks on places of worship, 42 cases of harassment, and 65 cases of public marginalization of religion. As described in the report, many incidents had political as well as religious motivations. Some involved protests of government actions perceived as favoring or disfavoring religious groups or were declarations or resolutions by civil society groups or political parties calling for the cessation of religion classes in schools, a strict separation of religion and state, or a renegotiation of the government’s agreement with the Holy See.
The MOI reported 103 hate crimes based on religious beliefs or practices and, separately, six motivated by anti-Semitism in 2017, the most recent year for which data were available, compared with 47 and seven such crimes, respectively, in 2016. Half of the anti-Semitic crimes and 43 percent of the other religiously motivated crimes reported in 2017 occurred in Catalonia. The MOI’s report did not cite specific examples or provide a breakdown of religiously motivated incidents by type of crime.
The Citizens’ Platform against Islamophobia reported 546 anti-Muslim incidents in 2017. The NGO said that, because its methodology had changed, this figure should not be compared to the 573 incidents in 2016. Of the total reported cases, which it said represented “only the tip of the iceberg,” 386 incidents were media or internet based, while 48 percent comprised verbal insults or derogatory statements against Islam and Muslims. Incidents occurred most often in Catalonia (51), Andalucia (22), Valencia (20) and Madrid (17). The NGO said it believed the large number of incidents in Catalonia was related to August 2017 terrorist attacks. The government characterized these attacks as “jihad terrorism.” According to the NGO, the targets were Muslims and Islam in general, women (21 percent), children (7 percent), and mosques (7 percent). The most frequent type of incidents after online hate speech, it reported, was discrimination against women wearing hijabs, at 21 percent.
According to the OLRC report, in one violent incident in March, a Moroccan man attacked and insulted a Moroccan woman in Lorca because of what he said was her attire and demeanor in public. The woman reportedly suffered minor injuries. Police arrested the suspected perpetrator, who had allegedly threatened the woman on other occasions. In the other violent incident OLRC cited, in August police arrested two men described as leftist extremists after they allegedly attacked a group of youths wearing t-shirts of a Catholic university in Murcia. One of the attackers hit a youth on the head with a bottle, causing an ocular hemorrhage.
In August in Mataro, Barcelona Province, the Civil Guard detained two Moroccan men allegedly involved with recruiting individuals to join ISIS. According to press reports, the detainees had posted on the internet that their objective was “to kill all Jews.”
The attacks against places of worship the OLRC report cited included not only vandalism, but also threats and incitement to violence. In one, ISIS disseminated a message to followers and sympathizers containing a picture of the Church of the Holy Family in Barcelona with the words, “If you don’t have a weapon, you have a truck or a knife.”
The MOJ’s report on religious freedom cited 43 hospitals throughout the country that refused to treat Jehovah’s Witnesses who declined to consent to blood transfusions. The report stated that many hospitals denied treatment even for minor procedures and made no effort to identify a physician within the hospital or another medical facility willing to treat the patient. If a physician was willing to operate on or treat a Jehovah’s Witness, hospital administrators sometimes hindered the ability of these physicians to provide medical services to that patient. If another medical facility willing to treat a Jehovah’s Witness were found, hospitals sometimes refused to transport the patient to the other facility. The problem, according to the report, was most serious in smaller cities, where alternative medical options were limited.
In March according to press reports, neighborhood associations and others in the Barcelona district of Nou Barris called on authorities to stop the daily harassment of dozens of persons using a mosque located there. According to a district representative, neighbors opposed to the mosque banged pots and pans in protest every night, and on Fridays and weekends, members of far-right groups from outside the district came to harass and insult persons leaving the mosque. A member of the local Muslim community called on authorities to provide security, as did the priest of a Catholic Church in the neighborhood, who said, “They [Muslims] should have the same right that we have.”
In May a Barcelona court issued preliminary measures restricting seven members of the far-right National Democracy Party from communicating with or coming within 300 meters (1000 feet) of the Nou Barris mosque. Additionally, the court shut down their social media accounts from which it said they spread their hate speech. Authorities accused the perpetrators of vandalism, coercion, and incitement of hate against the Muslim community after having systematically perpetrated hostile actions against this community since March 2017.
In September a group of women protesters, some of them topless and wearing masks, surrounded Catholic Bishop of San Sebastian Jose Ignacio Munilla as he was entering a church to celebrate Mass. In March another group of women protesters stripped in front of the Good Pastor Cathedral in San Sebastian, protesting remarks the bishop had made about feminism.
According to the ECRI report on the country, the Jewish community stated anti-Semitism was increasing in the media, and ignorance about Jews created opportunities for anti-Semitic sentiment. ECRI said frequent use of expressions such as “Islamic terrorism” and “Jihadist terrorism” in the press contributed to a rise in anti-Islamic sentiment and negatively influenced public perception of Muslims.
According to the MOJ report on religious freedom, FEREDE stated offenses and acts of incitement of hatred against Christianity were growing, although many incidents were not reported, and when they were, authorities did not always impute a religious motive to them. The FCJE cited continued anti-Semitism in mass media, and particularly in social media, by anonymous accounts. The Catholic Church reported increased instances of offensive speech against Catholicism, its priests, and the religious beliefs of its members, which, according to the Church, exceeded the normal scope of freedom of expression or opinion. The CIE cited particular concerns over societal discrimination against Muslim women, especially those wearing the hijab, in the workplace and schools and at swimming pools and beaches. CIE also reported growing hate speech against Islam, Muslims, and refugees, many of whom were Muslim, on social media, as well as increased incidents of vandalism against mosques. Each group called on the government to improve its response and provide better protection to places of worship.
In June authorities in the Canary Islands arrested a Moroccan national for disseminating hate speech in social media against the Jewish community.
In December the European Union’s Agency for Fundamental Rights (EU-FRA) released its second survey of Jewish experiences and perceptions of anti-Semitism. EU-FRA targeted Jewish populations through community organizations, Jewish media, and social networks; 570 individuals who identified themselves as Jewish residents of Spain responded to the online survey. Seventeen percent said they had witnessed other Jews being physically attacked, insulted, or harassed in the previous 12 months, and 32 percent reported being harassed over the same period. Twenty-six percent of respondents said they had felt discriminated against because of their religion or belief; 73 percent thought anti-Semitism had increased over the previous five years.
In March police found an incendiary device, described as akin to a Molotov cocktail, on the window of a Catholic church in Cordoba. Reportedly, the fuse had been lit, but the device did not explode. A similar incident occurred in June when a group broke windows at the Autonomous University of Madrid and threw incendiary devices at the chapel. Also in June unknown individuals started a fire in the Catholic Basilica of Santa Maria in the city of Elche. Persons inside the church put out the fire before it spread.
In July vandals ransacked a Catholic church in the town of Adrados in Leon Province, causing damages that residents estimated might exceed 30,000 euros ($34,400). Authorities detained two suspects.
In July vandals painted swastikas on the walls of the Great Mosque of Valencia, hung up the mask of a pig, and wrote graffiti and signs reading “No Moors” and “Stop Islam, Stop Jews.”
In March unidentified individuals painted “Moors Get Out” and a target at the entrance to a mosque in Hernani, Guipozkoa Province. The head of the Islamic Federation of the Basque Country, Aziz Messaoudi, spoke out against the vandalism, stating, “One cannot toy with the social peace of our society of Euskadi, because that is the red line we cannot cross.”
In February unknown individuals scrawled on the front of the Greater Synagogue of Barcelona, “Get Out of Our Land.” The synagogue is one of the oldest in Europe.
In March unidentified persons painted graffiti linking Jews to the Illuminati on the Holocaust Monument in Oviedo.
Press reported that in March on International Women’s Day, far-left feminists scrawled graffiti on Catholic churches in several cities throughout the country, including Madrid, Seville, Granada, Cordoba, and La Coruna. The graffiti criticized the Catholic Church, religion, or “the patriarchy” or was pro-abortion. One read, “The church that best illuminates is the one that burns.”
In January a graffito reading “Muslims Not Welcome” was scrawled on a wall near the M30 Mosque in Madrid. The graffito was signed with the initials “DNJ,” which, according to press reports, corresponded to the youth wing of National Democracy, a far-right political party without representation in the national or regional parliaments.
In May a Madrid court prosecuted Melisa Dominguez, the leader of the neo-Nazi group Hogar Social Madrid, for a hate crime in connection with an incident involving the M30 Madrid Mosque in March 2016. Dominguez was accused of throwing flares at or near the mosque and posting signs near it that contained hate speech. Dominguez’ trial was ongoing at year’s end.
In September the UNESCO Association for Interreligious Dialogue (AUDIR), a Catalan NGO comprised of members of multiple religious groups, organized the third of its “Night of Religions” in Barcelona, in which more than 30 religious centers representing 15 different faiths shared their religious traditions with the public. AUDIR continued to implement the project “Building Bridges,” in which 40 youths from different faiths attended courses on interfaith dialogue, among other subjects. As part of the program, the participants visited places of worship in their neighborhoods.
Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement
U.S. embassy and consulate representatives met regularly with the MOJ, MOI, regional officials, and politicians to discuss anti-Semitism, anti-Muslim sentiment, anticlericalism, and concerns about societal discrimination against religious minorities. Issues discussed included access to permits for places of worship and to religious education, cemeteries and burial, pensions, religiously motivated hate crimes and hate speech, and public statements and campaigns to promote tolerance. They also raised these issues with religious leaders who participated in the Foundation.
Embassy officials met and communicated with leaders of CIE, FEREDE, FCJE, the Federation of Buddhist Communities, Scientologists, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and other religious and civil society members, including imams of local mosques, Muslim youth leaders, NGOs, and business leaders in Madrid, Barcelona, and Melilla. Embassy and consulate officials heard the concerns of community members regarding discrimination and the free exercise of their religious rights, including anti-Semitism, anti-Muslim sentiment, lack of religious education, and access to permits for places of worship.
To celebrate Religious Freedom Day in January, the embassy invited representatives from several faiths and the coordinator of the coexistence pact – a group of Catholic, Protestant, and Jewish representatives, and academics and psychologists, which included as one of its goals the promotion of religious tolerance – for a discussion on the state of religious freedom and equality in the country. During the discussion, the Ambassador underscored U.S. commitment to religious freedom and asked how the embassy could assist religious leaders in promoting these goals.
In February and March the Ambassador met with leaders of the (Catholic) Episcopal, Evangelical, Islamic, and Jewish federations to solicit recommendations on increasing religious freedom in Spain.
In June the Ambassador hosted an iftar to highlight the work of young Muslim leaders to an audience of Muslim activists, government officials, and Arab diplomats. A series of follow-on meetings with embassy officers provided opportunities for the youth leaders to share insights about the challenges they faced and ideas for strengthening U.S. efforts to help the Muslim community address those challenges.
In May the Consulate General in Barcelona organized an iftar that gathered leaders of the Muslim community in the region, including its younger generation, as well as regional public officials, law enforcement, and academics. Guests agreed on the need to improve actions aimed at promoting cultural and religious diversity in the region and to combat stereotypes.
The embassy continued its engagement with a group of young Muslim leaders who had taken part in embassy-sponsored visits to the United States. The embassy assisted the group with organizing community forums in several cities to discuss issues, including freedom of worship, religious tolerance, the role of media in spreading their messaging, and prevention of radicalization in Muslim communities.
The constitution prohibits religious discrimination and protects the freedom of individuals to profess their religion or belief. It is a crime to engage in public speech inciting religious hatred. In June the government enacted a ban of face coverings in schools and some public spaces and expected to implement the ban in 2019. The Jewish community asked the government to focus more attention on combating anti-Semitism and to appoint an anti-Semitism coordinator. Politicians from several parties made anti-Islamic or anti-Semitic statements. There were several proposals in parliament to reduce benefits for religious groups and eliminate religion from public spaces, but no such legislation was passed.
The government and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) reported hundreds of anti-Muslim and anti-Semitic incidents in 2017, involving violence, threats, harassment, discrimination, hate speech, and vandalism. According to police, incidents targeting Muslims decreased by 45 percent compared with 2016 while anti-Semitic incidents declined by 15 percent over the same period. In August an Afghan man stabbed two persons, stating he had done so in response to Dutch insults to Islam. A study by two historians found most instances of anti-Semitism in recent years involved verbal or written speech, and that Dutch Moroccans and Dutch Turks, but not recent immigrants, were overrepresented among those committing anti-Semitic acts. A study by the Netherlands Institute for Social Research (SCP) found significant numbers of Muslims held a negative opinion of Dutch society.
The U.S. embassy and consulate general in Amsterdam emphasized the importance of support for refugees of all faiths, integration for newcomers, and interfaith dialogue in formal meetings and informal conversations with government officials, including at the Ministries of Foreign Affairs, Justice, Social Affairs, and Education and with parliamentarians and police. Embassy and consulate general representatives discussed religious freedom issues with leaders of several different faith communities and a broad range of civil society activists, and they pursued public outreach to youth to increase interfaith understanding and tolerance. The embassy also discussed religious tolerance with refugees.
Section I. Religious Demography
The U.S. government estimates the total population at 17.2 million (July 2018 estimate). In a 2017 survey of persons aged 15 or older by the government’s Statistics Netherlands, 51 percent of the population declared no church affiliation, 23 percent self-identified as Roman Catholic, 15 percent as Protestant, 5 percent as Muslim, and 6 percent as “other,” including Hindu, Jewish, Buddhist, and Baha’i.
Most Muslims live in urban areas and are of Turkish, Moroccan, or Surinamese background. The Muslim population also includes recent immigrants and asylum seekers from other countries, including Iran, Iraq, Somalia, Syria, and Bosnia and Herzegovina. The Liberal Jewish Community, the largest Jewish community in the country, estimates the number of Jews at 40-50,000. A Statistics Netherlands study from 2015 estimated the number of Hindus at 10,000, of whom approximately 85 percent are of Surinamese descent and 10 percent of Indian descent. The Buddhist community has approximately 17,000 members, according to a 2007 report by the governmental Netherlands Institute for Social Research (SCP), the most recent estimate available.
Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom
The constitution prohibits discrimination on religious grounds and provides for the freedom of individuals to profess their religion or belief, individually or in community with others, without affecting their responsibilities under the law. The constitution allows the government to restrict the exercise of religious beliefs outside of buildings or enclosed spaces to protect health, ensure traffic safety, and prevent disorder.
The law makes it a crime to engage in public speech that incites religious hatred and provides a penalty of imprisonment for up to two years, a fine of up to 8,100 euros ($9,300), or both. To qualify as hate speech, statements must be directed at a group of persons; the law does not consider statements targeted at a philosophy or religion, such as “Islam” (as opposed to “Muslims,”) as criminal hate speech.
The law does not require religious groups to register with the government. If the tax authorities determine the groups meet specific criteria, they grant them exemptions from all taxes, including income, value-added, and property taxes. Under the tax law, to qualify for tax exemptions such groups must be “of a philosophical or religious nature,” contribute to the general welfare of society, and be nonprofit and nonviolent.
On June 26, the government approved a ban on full-face coverings in schools, hospitals, public transportation, and government buildings. The government did not implement the ban during the year; it expected to do so in 2019 after agreeing on implementation procedures. Individuals violating the law will first be asked to remove the face covering or leave the building. Those refusing to cooperate may be fined 410 euros ($470).
The law permits employees to refuse to work on Sundays for religious reasons, but employers may deny employees such an exception depending on the nature of the work, such as employment in the health sector. Members of religious communities for whom the Sabbath is not Sunday may request similar exemptions.
The Council of State and the Netherlands Institute for Human Rights (NIHR) are responsible for reviewing complaints of religious discrimination. The Council of State is the highest administrative court in the country, and its rulings are binding. The NIHR serves as the government’s independent human rights watchdog, responsible for advising the government and monitoring and highlighting such issues, including those pertaining to religion. The NIHR hears complaints of religious discrimination, often involving labor disputes, and issues opinions that do not carry the force of law but with which the addressed parties tend to comply.
Local governments appoint antidiscrimination boards that work independently under the auspices of the Ministry of the Interior and Kingdom Relations. These local boards provide information on how to report complaints and mediate disputes, including those pertaining to discrimination based on religion. Acceptance of mediation decisions by parties involved in disputes is voluntary.
The government provides funding to religious schools, other religious educational institutions, and religious healthcare facilities. To qualify for funding, institutions have to meet government educational standards as well as minimum class size and healthcare requirements. The constitution stipulates that standards required of religious or ideology-based (termed “special”) schools, financed either in part or fully by the government, shall be regulated by law with due regard for the freedom of these schools to provide education according to their religion or ideology.
The constitution stipulates public education shall pay due respect to the individual’s religion or belief, and the law permits, but does not require, religious education in public schools. Specialist teachers teach religion classes in public schools that offer them, and enrollment in these classes is optional. All schools are required to familiarize students with the various religious movements in society, regardless of the school’s religious affiliation. Religion-based schools, which are also government-funded, are free to shape religious education, as long as the education inspectorate agrees that such education does not incite criminal offenses. Approximately 71 percent of government-funded schools have a religious, humanist, or philosophical basis. The Ministry of Education, Culture, and Science is responsible for setting national curriculum standards that all schools must comply with and monitoring compliance.
The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
Local governments continued to provide security to mosques and Islamic institutions, as required. Separately, the national government continued to address security issues with representatives of the Muslim community, the National Coordinator for Security and Counterterrorism, and local authorities, through a special working group established in 2017. Local governments, in consultation with the national government, also continued to provide security to all Jewish institutions. The Foundation for Life and Welfare, an NGO that advised the Jewish community on security and protection, stated in its annual report in July that the Jewish community was exposed to substantial threats. It emphasized the importance of maintaining rigorous security measures and expressed regret over the city of Amsterdam’s 2017 decision to replace manned police booths at Jewish institutions with camera surveillance.
Ron van der Wieken, president of the Central Jewish Council (CJO), which advocated for the rights and interests of the Jewish community in the country, said that when the CJO met in February with a government delegation that included Prime Minister Mark Rutte, it requested the establishment of a Dutch anti-Semitism coordinator. At year’s end the government had not yet taken a position on whether to appoint such a coordinator.
Proponents of the law banning full-face coverings in schools, hospitals, public transportation, and government buildings, which included most political parties (132 out of 150 members of parliament voted in favor of it) argued the law had nothing to do with religion, and was necessary for individuals to integrate into an open democratic society. Opponents, which included the D66 Party, the Green Party, and the DENK Party, stated the legislation targeted devout Muslim women and religious freedom and was largely symbolic, since the number of women wearing a niqab or burka in the country was very small.
Regional Muslim organizations, including SIOHR (the Alliance of Islamic Organizations in The Hague region), SMBZ (the Alliance of Mosque Boards in Brabant and Zeeland), and SPIOR (the Foundation Platform of Islamic Organizations in the Rotterdam Region) also protested the ban. Authorities said they expected to begin enforcing the ban beginning in summer 2019 after coming to agreements on the logistics of enforcement with the leaders of sectors to which the ban applied. The mayors of Amsterdam and Rotterdam said they would give no priority to enforcing the ban.
Freedom (PVV) Party leader Geert Wilders announced in May he would hold a Prophet Muhammad cartoon contest in November in his party’s offices in parliament. The government, including National Coordinator for Security and Counterterrorism Dick Schoof, distanced itself from the event but said it was prepared to provide security in order to protect freedom of expression. In August Prime Minister Rutte said the contest was “not respectful,” but the government “stands firmly by freedom of expression.” He called it “a provocation.” On August 27, police arrested a Pakistani man in The Hague after the man posted a video on Facebook stating he planned to attack the organizer of the cartoon contest or the parliament. Shortly thereafter, Wilders cancelled the contest because of what he said were threats against him and others. He stated the response to the contest had proven his point that Islam was violent and intolerant.
In March the PVV campaign produced a television commercial with the text reading, “Islam equals discrimination, violence, terror, misogyny, hatred of gays, hatred of Jews, hatred of Christians, subjugation, forced marriage, honor killing, totalitarianism, death of apostates, sharia, animal suffering, injustice, slavery, and is lethal.” Several organizations, including the Council of Moroccan Mosques in the Netherlands, filed a complaint with police for inciting discrimination of, and violence against, Muslims. On May 1, the prosecutor’s office announced the video did not constitute a criminal offense, as it was directed against a religion, and not against people, and did not incite discrimination or violence against Muslims.
In September Forum for Democracy (FVD) Party leader Thierry Baudet, whose party had two seats in parliament, stated in media interviews that Islam posed a threat to society. He said “the radicalization of Muslims [was] increasing” and the construction and architecture of mosques in the country was intentionally provocative. He also stated mosques were “a breeding ground for anti-Dutch sentiments and behavior,” Islamic schools were a problem, and Christianity was superior to Islam.
On February 14, the discrimination officer at the prosecutor’s office decided that a January statement by a local PVV politician, Henk van Deun, did not constitute hate speech or incitement to commit criminal offenses. Van Deun said in a radio interview about a particular mosque, “We prefer if it was burned down, so to speak. We are truly against mosques. We do not recognize Islam as a religion. It is an ideology.”
In its most recent report, covering 2017, the NGO Center for Information and Documentation on Israel (CIDI) reported half a dozen anti-Semitic statements by politicians from the DENK party and local Hague Unity Party. In October 2017, CIDI said DENK had queried the cabinet about what it said was a slander campaign by the “Israeli lobby” against a minister married to a Palestinian. At the same time, according to the CIDI report, DENK posted on Facebook a picture suggesting that Israel or Jews controlled politics in the country and alluding to the anti-Semitic forgery, “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.” In May CIDI filed a complaint with police against a tweet by Hague Unity Party council member Arnoud van Doorn saying, “May Allah destroy the Zionists.”
In September the prosecutor’s office said it had initiated an investigation into whether spokespersons for the Muslim NIDA and Unity Parties broke the law with anti-Semitic statements during a pro-Palestinian rally in Rotterdam in 2017. The investigation continued at year’s end.
The government continued to monitor the foreign funding of Dutch mosques and Islamic institutions and said it was examining whether it was legally possible to obligate foreign countries or organizations to be transparent about their donations.
Spokespersons for Christian political parties such as the Political Calvinist Alliance (SGP) and Christian Democratic Appeal said political parties that were part of the secular majority in parliament regularly presented proposals to ban religion from public spaces and eliminate what it called privileges of religious communities, such as the right to conduct religious slaughter, tax advantages, and death notification services (when the government informs churches of the deaths of citizens.) These proposals failed to gain sufficient support to move forward in parliament. Representatives of religion-based parties in parliament, such as SGP leader Kees van der Staaij, stated in October that true democracy reflected respect for minorities, which included persons of religious belief.
On July 12, the Amsterdam District Court convicted Saleh Ali, a Palestinian refugee from Syria, of vandalism and theft and sentenced him to a six-week prison term. It also ordered him to undergo treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder. In December 2017, Ali waved a Palestinian flag and smashed the windows of a kosher restaurant in Amsterdam. According to his attorney, he carried out the attack out of frustration over Israeli policy toward Palestinians and President Trump’s decision to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem. Minister of Justice and Security Ferdinand Grapperhaus reacted to the attack by saying, “discrimination of population groups in whatever form … is unacceptable.” According to The Times of Israel newspaper, Vice President of CJO and former head of CIDI Ronny Naftaniel said Ali’s sentence “does not constitute any deterrence” for those contemplating anti-Semitic crimes. On social media, CIDI expressed concern that “someone who constitutes such a risk can walk about freely.”
Government ministers, including Prime Minister Rutte, regularly spoke out against anti-Semitism and anti-Muslim sentiment in speeches, such as at the annual Auschwitz and Kristallnacht commemorations. At the National Holocaust Commemoration in Amsterdam on January 28, Rutte stated, “Contemporary anti-Semitism still frightens people. There is always fear. Not daring to go outside wearing a yarmulke, and the surveillance at synagogues, Jewish schools, and shops. We must remain alert in the fight against the big evil that may always raise its head again.” On April 13, Minister of Justice and Security Grapperhaus said in parliament, “There is no place in our society for anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, honor killings…inciting hatred and violence against those with different opinions and minorities.”
On September 11, two parliamentarians, Gert-Jan Segers (Christian Union Party) and Dilan Yesilgoz (People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy), organized a roundtable in parliament on anti-Semitism at which Jewish organizations highlighted proposals they believed would help combat anti-Semitism. Proposals included explicit condemnation of anti-Semitic offenses by public officials, heavier penalties for hate crimes, adoption of the European working definition on anti-Semitism drafted by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA), and Holocaust education initiatives.
In its annual report issued in April and covering 2017, the NIHR said that in November of that year the National Police had discriminated against a police officer by not allowing her to wear a headscarf with her uniform. The police, Minister of Justice and Security Grapperhaus, and politicians from various political parties, however, stated police must convey a neutral and uniform image, and said that was the basis for the ban on wearing any visible and recognizable sign of religion in combination with a uniform. According to Grapperhaus, the National Police disregarded the NIHR’s finding and continued with a policy of not allowing personnel to wear headscarves.
According to several religious community leaders, the government continued its policy of not allowing religiously affiliated organizations to proselytize at asylum centers. The government agency charged with overseeing asylum centers, the Central Body for Accommodating Asylum Seekers, again said it had instituted this policy to avoid inflaming tensions among different religious groups housed together in an already sensitive environment. Some members of religious groups said they continued to have difficulty gaining access to the centers, even as volunteers.
In August Said Bouharrou, spokesman for the Council of Moroccan Mosques in the Netherlands, said the government had not properly communicated the stricter requirements on ritual slaughter that it introduced in 2017, and thereby caused significant unrest within the Muslim community. Richard de Mooij, spokesman for the Association of Slaughterhouses, said the new rules were not unclear, but the procedure had become more cumbersome due to the requirement of having a veterinarian present. According to attorney Herman Loonstein, who represented the only kosher butcher in the country, the stricter rules created some initial problems, but they were resolved after consultations between the communities and the local authorities.
PVV leader Wilders presented draft legislation on September 19 to close mosques and schools teaching Islamic ideology, and to ban the Quran and the wearing of a burqa or niqab in public. The bill proposed substantial financial penalties. Wilders tweeted “Islam is no religion but an ideology – totalitarian-like fascism. Let us treat Islam as such and not grant it constitutional protection anymore.” Other parties did not support the bill, and at year’s end parliament had not taken it up for debate.
Wilders unsuccessfully tried in the spring and fall to void his December 2016 court conviction for inciting discrimination and making insulting racial remarks about Moroccans at a 2014 rally. Wilders argued that the 2016 trial was politically motivated and that his statements were protected free speech. The court did not void the conviction, and Wilders’ formal appeal was scheduled to proceed in spring 2019.
Following the release of a 2017 government report stating that Salafist organizations were growing in the country and promoting intolerance towards others, the government issued a policy paper in October citing its commitment to religious freedom for the wide variety of religious communities in the country. The policy paper stated Dutch society had room for “a huge diversity of [religious] doctrines, opinions, and value systems,” but that within the Salafist movement there were those who promoted intolerance, incited hatred, and rejected government authority. The paper added that religious freedom had limits, and that, while the government did not interfere with religious aspirations, “it must act against those who aim to limit the freedom of people with different views.”
On February 8, Prime Minister Rutte, three deputy prime ministers, Minister of Justice Grapperhaus, and security officials met with the Jewish community to discuss matters of concern, such as security, anti-Semitism, and ritual slaughter. The CJO, Netherlands-Jewish Congregation, Netherlands Alliance of Progressive Judaism, Contact Body for Jews, Christians and Muslims, and CIDI attended the meeting. The mayors and responsible aldermen in the larger cities, such as Amsterdam, Rotterdam, and The Hague, also met with the Jewish community to discuss security issues and other topics of interest to the Jewish community. These city governments supported a range of projects, such as educational projects to teach primary schoolchildren about the Holocaust and to counter prejudice about Jews. Amsterdam, with the largest Jewish population in the country, was particularly active in such programming and sponsored visits of school children to the Westerbork Holocaust commemoration center.
On April 26, the government presented the annual update of its National Action Plan against Discrimination, which included specific measures to counter anti-Semitism and anti-Islamic sentiment. Among the government-funded projects the report cited were several to train teachers to deal with such issues. The University of Amsterdam developed teaching material to address current and historical relations between Jews and Muslims. Other programs trained leading figures from the Jewish and Muslim communities to serve as constructive societal leaders and encouraged interfaith dialogue through a project titled Building Bridges, which established local networks of persons from different religious communities. In April the government presented a comprehensive manual for local governments on developing a local antidiscrimination policy, including religiously motivated discrimination.
In May the government appropriated two million euros ($2.29 million) of additional funding to expand two sites located at former concentration camps in Amersfoort and Vught currently used for Holocaust education programs for schoolchildren. The camps received growing numbers of visitors, including many school classes. “It is good that these sites keep the memories alive and that stories are not forgotten,” State Secretary for Health, Welfare, and Sport Paul Blokhuis said regarding Holocaust remembrance.
Also as part of the action plan, the government continued to work with the Royal Netherlands Soccer Association, local authorities, police officials, the prosecutor’s office, soccer clubs, and the Anne Frank Foundation NGO on ways to counter anti-Semitic chanting, salutes, and other behavior directed against religious groups during soccer matches. According to the plan, as soon as anti-Semitic chanting occurred, soccer clubs asked supporters to stop immediately. If they did not, the clubs suspended the match. Participants agreed on measures to prosecute offenders or ban them from stadiums. With government funding, the Anne Frank Foundation organized government-sponsored projects such as the “Fan Coach” project that sought to counter anti-Semitic chanting by educating soccer fans on why their actions were anti-Semitic. Another Anne Frank Foundation initiative, the “Fair Play” project, promoted discussion about countering discrimination, including religious discrimination.
Among the elements of the action plan designed to counter discrimination against Muslims were projects examining how to better enable reporting of discrimination complaints against Muslims, and improve security at mosques. As part of this effort, authorities conducted regional meetings in which representatives of local governments, police, antidiscrimination bureaus, and Muslim communities discussed ways to improve collaboration. Representatives of the Muslim community, National Coordinator for Counterterrorism and Security, national government, local authorities, and police together drafted the Safe Mosque Manual, containing information, recommendations, and best practices for mosques, local authorities, and the police on how to deal together with concrete tension and incidents around mosques.
In the run-up to the March local elections, all major political parties except the DENK and Bij1 Parties, which had a significant number of migrant members, signed an accord in which they pledged to protect the Jewish community in Amsterdam. The signatories to the accord offered support and guidance to schools and teachers that had trouble discussing the Holocaust in the classroom. As a part of the accord, the city of Amsterdam added programs to its existing Holocaust education curriculum for schoolchildren.
In March CIDI called on the government to pay specific attention to anti-Semitism in efforts to combat discrimination; adopt the working definition on anti-Semitism of the IHRA; monitor anti-Semitism on social media; issue heavier penalties for anti-Semitic crimes of violence; make anti-Semitism part of the government’s integration and radicalization policy; bar foreign terrorist fighters from the country; and improve Holocaust education at all schools.
In late November a majority of parliamentarians supported a nonbinding motion to adopt the IHRA’s definition of anti-Semitism, per the European Parliament’s 2017 call to EU member states. Foreign Minister Stef Blok stated the government accepted the IHRA definition, although it was not legally bound by it. On December 12, parliamentarians expressed concern over the findings of a survey by the EU’s Agency for Fundamental Rights (EU-FRA) that Jews perceived anti-Semitism to be on the rise in Europe and the Netherlands. GreenLeft Party Parliamentarian Kathalijne Buitenweg said she would call Minister of Justice and Security Grapperhaus to parliament to inquire what was being done to counter anti-Semitism.
The government continued to require asylum seekers seeking to obtain a residence permit to sign a statement of participation in civic integration. The statement informed immigrants of their rights and obligations and of fundamental values, including freedom of religion.
The government continued to require imams and other spiritual leaders recruited from abroad to complete a course on integrating into Dutch society before preaching in the country. This requirement did not apply to clergy from EU countries, or to approximately 140 Turkish imams appointed by Turkey’s Religious Affairs Directorate. The government also sponsored leadership courses intended to facilitate imam training in Dutch, free of foreign influence.
The government is a member of the IHRA.
Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom
There were reports of violence, threats, discrimination, verbal abuse, and vandalism against Muslims and Jews. Agencies collecting data on such incidents stated many occurrences went unreported. Because religion and ethnicity are often closely linked, it was difficult to categorize many incidents as being solely based on religious identity.
On August 31, an Afghan man stabbed two persons at Amsterdam Central Station. The suspect told police he believed the Dutch had insulted the Prophet Muhammad, Islam, and the Quran. He cited PVV leader and opposition parliamentarian Geert Wilders as a motivating factor.
CIDI reported 113 anti-Semitic incidents in 2017, the most recent year for which data were available, compared with 109 in the previous year. These included four physical assaults, 28 incidents of vandalism, 24 incidents of hate speech on the internet, four violent incidents, and 18 incidents of cursing. In one incident, two Israeli tourists who, according to CIDI, were recognizably Jewish, were beaten up and stabbed. In another incident, a Jewish Syrian refugee was physically assaulted several times. Police did not make any arrests in either incident.
CIDI stated the large number of anti-Semitic incidents demonstrated that Jews were disproportionately targeted for discrimination, given the small number of Jews in the country. CIDI also continued to maintain that persons who were recognizable as Jewish because of dress or outward appearance, for instance wearing a yarmulke, were sometimes targets of confrontations. CIDI concluded in its annual report on anti-Semitism that, compared with neighboring countries such as Belgium, France, and the UK, the country was doing well, but concerns about anti-Semitism remained.
Police registered 192 incidents, including harassment, verbal abuse, and vandalism, against Muslims in 2017, the most recent year for which data were available, a decrease of 45 percent compared with 352 reports in 2016. Antidiscrimination boards registered 190 anti-Muslim incidents in 2017, compared to 250 in 2016.
The police reported 284 incidents of anti-Semitic discrimination in 2017, a decline of 15 percent compared with the 335 recorded in 2016. Many incidents occurred in the immediate living environment of those targeted, often involving neighbors using insults and drawing swastikas or writing anti-Semitic graffiti and threats on walls, mailboxes, or personal property. Approximately 75 percent of anti-Semitic incidents involved shouted slurs. Persons frequently shouted at police officers, in particular by calling them “Jew.”
According to the National Expertise Center for Discrimination, a part of the prosecutor’s office dealing exclusively with cases of discrimination, the bulk of anti-Semitic speech in 2017 was soccer-related, consisting of soccer fans making anti-Semitic statements, mostly directed at Amsterdam soccer team Ajax, which has been identified throughout its history as a “Jewish” club. CIDI called for more specific measures to stop discrimination and anti-Semitic chanting during soccer matches.
“We are not afraid but we are worried,” said CJO President van der Wieken in a May interview on anti-Semitism in the country. “The Netherlands is still in the top three countries with a favorable climate, but we have the impression that anti-Semitism is on the rise, and we are concerned where this may end.”
In December EU-FRA released its second survey of Jewish experiences and perceptions of anti-Semitism. EU-FRA targeted Jewish populations through community organizations, Jewish media, and social networks; 1,202 individuals who identified themselves as Jewish residents of the Netherlands responded to the online survey. Twenty-two percent of respondents said they had witnessed other Jews being physically attacked, insulted, or harassed in the previous 12 months, and 35 percent reported being harassed over the same period. Twenty-seven percent said they had felt discriminated against because of their religion or belief; 90 percent thought anti-Semitism had increased over the previous five years.
CIDI Director Hanna Luden expressed skepticism about the results of the FRA report, stating the results did not match her own experience. She also criticized the survey for not querying a random sample of Jews.
On April 23, two Dutch historians presented the results of a study they conducted in 2016-17 on anti-Semitism and immigration in the country. They found the number and intensity of anti-Semitic incidents tended to vary directly with Israeli military operations and that most incidents consisted of verbal or written statements, often on the internet; assaults, arson, vandalism, and graffiti against Jews were rare. While the majority of those who carried out anti-Semitic incidents did not belong to any single ethnic or religious minority, Dutch Moroccans and, to a lesser extent, Dutch Turks were significantly represented among the perpetrators. Extreme right-wing activists were responsible for a few cases of anti-Semitism. The report did not find evidence that refugees or recent immigrants were responsible for anti-Semitic incidents or held anti-Jewish attitudes. Nevertheless, according to the report, a number of representatives of Jewish communities expressed concern about the immigration of large numbers of persons who might harbor anti-Semitic or “jihadist” opinions or intentions.
While the report focused on anti-Semitism, it found anti-Muslim sentiment was prevalent in schools. According to research from 2014, nearly two-thirds of teachers said they had witnessed incidents in class they regarded as discriminatory against Muslims, and 61 percent stated students harassed or made hostile comments towards Muslims. It said in secondary schools discrimination against Muslims was more prevalent than anti-Semitism (36 percent, according to a 2015 study) or discrimination against Christians (30 percent, according to the same study). It also cited another 2015 study that found young non-Muslims were “much more Islamophobic” than young Muslims were anti-Semitic.
The NIHR reported receiving 13 requests for rulings on religious discrimination in the workplace in 2017, compared to 24 requests in 2016, and ruled in eight cases. The NIHR had not yet published its report on 2018 at year’s end. Among the NIHR rulings the 2017 report cited were that a Christian school did not discriminate when it refused to hire a female teacher who did not subscribe to the school’s religious views; a Christian clothing shop did discriminate when it refused to hire a non-Christian shop assistant; and a public school did not discriminate when it denied an internship to a Muslim woman who would not shake hands with men.
Mohamed Ajouaou, theologian and teacher of Islamic studies at the Free University of Amsterdam, said on September 7, “As [a] Muslim in Europe, you are probably best off in the Netherlands. There is freedom of religion, respect for Islamic rituals, and mosques may be built. But the same as in the rest of Europe there is plenty of prejudice about Islam…”
On June 7, the Netherlands Institute for Social Research (SCP) published a major study on Muslims living in the country, particularly the two largest Muslim groups, those with a Turkish and Moroccan background. It found religiosity among both these groups of Muslims was increasing. For many Muslims, including youth, religion was an important part of their lives, and approximately 40 percent of both groups visited a mosque at least once a week. Women of Moroccan origin increasingly wore a headscarf (78 percent), and 87 percent of Muslims with a Moroccan background fasted every day during Ramadan. A large segment of Muslims usually ate halal food. According to the study, 84 percent of Muslims with a Moroccan background and 45 percent of those with a Turkish background were strictly practicing Muslims. Except for the small group of secular Muslims, all Muslim groups believed the social climate in the country was not always welcoming and sometimes hostile towards Muslims. None of the Muslim groups strongly endorsed the use of force for their faith.
The PEGIDA (Patriotic Europeans against the Islamization of the West) movement regularly staged protests against Islamic institutions. On March 10, PEGIDA members placed crosses at a mosque construction site in Enschede and said the crosses stood for victims killed in attacks by Muslim terrorists. In May during Ramadan, PEGIDA planned a series of pork barbecues near mosques in a number of cities during Friday prayers.
The government-sponsored, editorially independent Registration Center for Discrimination on the Internet (MIND) registered 101 inflammatory statements made against Muslims in 2017, compared with 251 in 2016. Some Muslims said that, increasingly, members of their community would not bother to file reports of such incidents, even though they continued to occur.
MIND reported 236 instances of anti-Semitic rhetoric on the internet in 2017, compared to 162 in 2016. The center said criticism of Israel’s policies and appeals to boycott the country readily turned into anti-Semitism, Holocaust denial, and expressions of wishing Jews dead.
Although MIND did not cite specific examples, CIDI described numerous instances of anti-Semitic rhetoric and other content on the internet. For example, CIDI stated that Rachid el Hajoui of Tilburg tweeted anti-Semitic language and was fined 250 euros ($290). According to CIDI, Dutch speakers posted a number of YouTube videos with anti-Semitic themes, including Holocaust denial.
On September 12, The Hague District Court convicted a man for inciting hatred and violence against Jews by shouting anti-Semitic chants at a pro-ISIS rally in The Hague in 2014. The court sentenced him to two weeks in prison.
CIDI registered 28 incidents of anti-Semitic vandalism in 2017, the highest number since 2007. On August 23, The Hague District Court convicted a man for vandalizing a Jewish monument in The Hague and sentenced him to 20 hours of community service.
On January 17, a decapitated puppet was attached to the gate of the Emir Sultan mosque in Amsterdam with the text “Islam is inextricably linked to brutal decapitations. The Islamization must stop. No Diyanet mega mosque in Amsterdam-north tied to dictator Erdogan.” A few weeks later, the police arrested a man who confessed and said he was “driven by ideological motives.” At year’s end his case had not come to trial.
In May vandals repeatedly smashed the windows of the Ram Mandir Hindu temple in The Hague. Temple President Attry Ramdhani stated he believed Muslim youth had carried out the attack during Ramadan because they wanted to drive the temple away from the predominantly Muslim Schilderswijk neighborhood. Police initiated an investigation, which was ongoing at year’s end.
Throughout the year, the Security Pact Against Discrimination, a movement established by Muslim, Jewish, and Christian organizations to combat anti-Semitic, anti-Muslim, and other forms of discrimination, organized events to promote mutual solidarity. The group’s membership included the Council of Churches and a number of NGOs such as the Turkish Islamic Cultural Federation and the Humanist Alliance. The group’s events included a gathering after the attack on the Emir Sultan Mosque, another meeting after an attack on the HaCarmel Jewish restaurant in Amsterdam in December 2017, and a program in response to PEGIDA’s pork barbecues.
CIDI continued to conduct programs to counter prejudice against Jews and other minorities in schools, working with a network of teachers to improve education on the Holocaust. CIDI invited 25 teachers for an annual visit to the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem for a seminar on how to teach students about the Holocaust, and it continued to lead anti-Semitism workshops for police and prosecutors at the police academy.
Jewish community leaders, such as CJO’s Ron van der Wieken and Albert Ringer of the Netherlands Alliance of Progressive Judaism, emphasized the need to develop a more robust education curriculum to teach about the Holocaust and World War II. They also advocated more interfaith dialogue to increase tolerance and suggested greater oversight to ensure a uniform curriculum, including antidiscrimination content, in schools.
The Liberal Jewish Community of Amsterdam continued with its youth outreach “Get to Know Your Neighbors” project, which invited students into a synagogue to explain Jewish practices. The project received two awards from local NGOs for its work.
Multiple groups continued with existing initiatives to foster Muslim and Jewish dialogue. These included the Mo&Moos (Mohammed and Moshe) program of the Amsterdam-based Salaam-Shalom NGO and SPIOR that again brought together young Muslim and Jewish professionals; a website by the NGO INS Platform, where citizens could meet “ordinary” Muslims; and ongoing meetings in Amstelveen between Jewish and Muslim groups, local authorities, and political parties to discuss issues of safety, religion, education, and discrimination involving Jews and Muslims.
Bertien Minco, who created Salaam-Shalom, said that, despite these efforts, “The fact is that the Jewish community is very small. That makes it hard to reverse the picture among a million Muslims because we barely meet each other.”
In a September 14 newspaper interview, Catholic Archbishop of Utrecht Wim Eijk stated the Catholic Church was disappearing rapidly from the country. Eijk referred to a total population of 3.5 million Catholics, but said the vast majority of them never went to church. On average, 173,500 persons attend Mass on any given weekend, according to figures from the Nijmegen Kaski Institute, a think tank specializing in religion and society at the Catholic Radboud University of Nijmegen. Eijk said he expected that in the Archdiocese of Utrecht, which covers a third of the country and currently oversees 280 Catholic churches, there would only be 10 to 15 churches left in another 10 years. Eijk also expressed concern about calls by secular political parties such as D66 and the Animal Rights Party to remove religion from the public square: “If we are a truly tolerant society, we should give people the opportunity to express what they believe,” Eijk said, adding, “Don’t force anyone to profess his belief only behind his front door.”
Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement
In conversations with government officials from the Ministries of Foreign Affairs, Justice and Security, Social Affairs and Employment, Education, Culture, and Science, and with parliamentarians, the U.S. embassy and consulate general in Amsterdam emphasized the importance of religious freedom and tolerance, and discussed how the country safeguarded religious freedom. The embassy and consulate general also raised these issues with local police forces in The Hague and Amsterdam, including Amsterdam’s Moroccan Police Network, municipal leaders, and local political leaders such as the Mayor of Rotterdam and members of the Amsterdam City Council.
The embassy and consulate general highlighted the need for religious tolerance and interfaith understanding and discussed issues of religious integration and violent extremism in outreach to youth, academics, and religious leaders from the Muslim, Jewish, Buddhist, Hindu, Baha’i, and Christian faiths, as well as community organizations such as CIDI, SPIOR, Humanity in Action, Hague Peace Projects, the Hope and Peace Foundation, The Connectors, and the Anne Frank Foundation. Embassy and consulate general representatives also met with the NIHR and with NGOs such as Human Rights Watch to discuss religious freedom issues and related factors and equal treatment from law enforcement and housing authorities.
For National Religious Freedom Day on January 16, the embassy and consulate general organized an interfaith dinner with 16 guests from the Catholic, Jewish, Muslim, Protestant, and Baha’i communities to discuss religious freedom in the country.
In November the embassy organized a panel discussion on religious freedom, Islam and civil society, and strength through diversity, which brought together approximately 20 leaders from the religious and NGO communities to discuss interfaith issues and ways of promoting tolerance.
In November embassy officials toured two Islamic schools, Ikra (kindergarten-sixth grade), located in Dordrecht, and Avicenna Rotterdam (high school). The embassy representatives met with the schools’ administration and leadership to discuss their perceptions of religious freedom, curriculum requirements, discrimination, the government’s funding of religious schools, and the experience of Muslims in the United States.
On November 2, the Ambassador toured the Blue Mosque in Amsterdam as a part of the embassy’s outreach to the Dutch Moroccan community. He met with the mosque’s board and prominent members of the Dutch Moroccan community, including members of the Moroccan police network, and former Dutch Moroccan Deputy Mayor of Amsterdam Ahmed Baadoud. The mosque visit occurred in conjunction with an embassy-sponsored visit by an imam from the United States, who led the Friday sermon at the mosque. During the visit, the imam and the Ambassador engaged in wide-ranging discussions on religious freedom, ways of countering violent extremism, and Islam in the United States.
On November 3, as part of the embassy’s engagement with the Muslim community, the embassy sponsored the Diwan Awards, dedicated to recognizing the accomplishments of Dutch Moroccan youth. The embassy livestreamed the awards ceremony on Facebook to a large audience.
The embassy met with Syrian refugees, who were primarily Muslim, to discuss the challenges, including anti-Islamic sentiment, they faced in integrating into society. In October the embassy hosted a symposium and panel discussion on religious and racial intolerance and the need to respect diversity and inclusion; guests included experts on religious freedom, tolerance, and discrimination. The Ambassador delivered remarks highlighting the importance of religious freedom and U.S-Netherlands cooperation in promoting it.
In the absence of a written constitution, the law establishes the Church of England as England’s state church and the Church of Scotland as Scotland’s national church. The law prohibits “incitement to religious hatred” as well as discrimination on the grounds of religion. The government updated the 2016 Hate Plan and committed to spending 1.5 million pounds ($1.92 million) on educational programs to challenge discriminatory beliefs. The Home Office published an independent review of the application of sharia in England and Wales that included recommendations for legislative changes to bring the treatment of Muslim religious marriages into line with those of other faiths, an awareness campaign highlighting the benefits of civil registration for religious marriages, and a proposal for the government to regulate sharia councils. The main political parties faced numerous accusations of religious bias. Religious and civil society groups, the media, and others accused Conservative Party politicians, including former Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, of anti-Muslim sentiment, and a number of Labour Party politicians, including leader Jeremy Corbyn, faced repeated accusations of anti-Semitism. The Scottish government launched an “Anti-Hate” campaign in an effort to erase sectarianism. The government, a member of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) since 1998, adopted the IHRA’s full working definition of anti-Semitism. In 2017 the London Assembly, Scottish government, and Welsh government also adopted the IHRA’s definition. During the year, the Conservative, Labour, and Liberal Democrat Parties adopted the IHRA definition, but the Green Party’s ruling body decided against it. The Scottish National Party (SNP) did not clarify whether it has adopted the definition.
The government reported similarly high numbers as the previous year in religiously motivated hate crimes and incidents in England, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland. Community Security Trust (CST), a nongovernmental organization (NGO) monitoring anti-Semitism, recorded 1,652 anti-Semitic incidents during the year, the highest it had ever recorded in a single year and an increase of 16 percent, compared with 1,414 incidents in 2017. There were multiple incidents of violence, arson, threats, and vandalism against religious groups. There were incidents of religiously motivated hate speech against Muslims, Jews, and Christians. Such incidents included the assault on and threatening of a man because of his Muslim beliefs, an assault on two female Jewish protesters outside a political event, attacks and vandalism on Sikh temples and mosques, and a postal campaign encouraging members of the public to “Punish a Muslim.” A number of interfaith initiatives were launched, including the “21 for 21” project, which attempts to identify leaders for the 21st century, seven each from the Christian, Muslim, and Jewish communities.
U.S. embassy officials engaged with and sponsored speakers to visit religious groups. The embassy recognized October 27 as International Religious Freedom Day on its social media channels, including tweets from the embassy’s account highlighting the International Religious Freedom Act, the 2018 Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom, and the statement of the U.S. Secretary of State on the importance of promoting religious freedom and defending vulnerable minorities. On October 29, the Ambassador joined Home Secretary Sajid Javid, Mayor of London Sadiq Khan, Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis, and other religious and political leaders at a memorial at a North West London Jewish center for the victims of the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting. The Ambassador joined other speakers in calling for unity against religious hatred.
Section I. Religious Demography
The U.S. government estimates the total population at 65.1 million (October 2018 estimate). Census figures from 2011, the most recent, indicate 59.3 percent of the population in England and Wales is Christian, comprising the Church of England (Anglican), the Church of Scotland (Presbyterian), other Protestant churches, the Roman Catholic Church, and other Christian groups. Of the remaining population, 4.8 percent identified as Muslim; 1.5 percent Hindu; 0.8 percent Sikh; 0.5 percent Jewish; and 0.4 Buddhist. Approximately 25 percent of the population reported no religious affiliation, and 7 percent chose not to answer. The Jehovah’s Witnesses estimates there are 137,000 members in the country, and the Baha’i community estimates it numbers more than 7,000 members.
According to the 2018 British Social Attitudes survey, an annual survey conducted by the independent National Center for Social Research, 53 percent of those surveyed described themselves as having no religion, 15 percent as Anglican, 10 percent as Catholic, and 6 percent as belonging to non-Christian religious groups.
The Muslim community in England and Wales is predominantly of South Asian origin, but it also includes individuals from the Arabian Peninsula, the Levant, Africa, and Southeast Asia, as well as a growing number of converts of European descent. Hindus, Sikhs, Jews, and Buddhists are concentrated in London and other large urban areas, primarily in England.
Census figures for Scotland in 2011 indicate 54 percent of the population is Christian, comprising the Church of Scotland (32 percent), Roman Catholic Church (16 percent), and other Christian groups (6 percent). The Muslim community constitutes 1.4 percent of the population. Other religious groups, which together make up less than 1 percent of the population, include Hindus, Sikhs, Jews, and Buddhists. Persons not belonging to any religious group make up 36.7 percent of the population, and the remainder did not provide information on religious affiliation.
Census figures from Northern Ireland in 2011 indicate 41.5 percent of the population is Protestant – consisting of the Presbyterian Church of Ireland (19 percent), Church of Ireland (14 percent), Methodist Church in Ireland (3 percent), and other Protestant groups (6 percent) – and 41 percent Roman Catholic. Less than 1 percent of the population belongs to non-Christian religious groups, and approximately 10 percent professes no religion; 7 percent did not indicate a religious affiliation.
Census figures from Bermuda in 2010 cite 22 religious groups in the population of 71,000; 78 percent identifies as Christian, including 16 percent Anglican, 15 percent Roman Catholic, 9 percent African Methodist Episcopal, and 7 percent Seventh-day Adventist. Approximately 2 percent identifies with other religious groups, including approximately 600 Muslims, 200 Rastafarians, and 120 Jews. Approximately 20 percent did not identify with or state a religious affiliation.
Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom
In the absence of a written constitution, the law establishes the Church of England as England’s state church. Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland do not have state religions. Legislation establishes the Church of Scotland as Scotland’s national church, but it is not dependent on any government body or the queen for spiritual matters or leadership.
The Human Rights Act 1998 protects freedom of thought, conscience, and religion. It states, “Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief and freedom, either alone or in community with other and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief, in worship, teaching, practice and observance.” The Human Rights Act reaffirms the European Convention of Human Rights, Article 9, which guarantees freedom of thought, conscience, and religion, subject to certain restrictions that are “in accordance with law” and “necessary in a democratic society.”
As the supreme governor of the Church of England, the monarch must always be a member of, and promise to uphold, that Church. The monarch appoints Church of England officials, including lay and clergy representatives, on the advice of the prime minister and the Crown Appointments Commission. Aside from these appointments, the state is not involved in the Church’s administration. The Church of Scotland is governed by its General Assembly, which has the authority to make the laws determining how it operates.
In England and Wales, the law prohibits religiously motivated hate language and any acts intended to incite religious hatred through the use of words or the publication or distribution of written material. The law defines religious hatred as hatred of a group because of its religious belief or lack thereof. The police are responsible for investigating criminal offenses and for gathering evidence; the Crown Prosecution Service, which is an independent body and the main public prosecution service for England and Wales, is responsible for deciding whether a suspect should be charged with a criminal offense. The maximum penalty for inciting religious hatred is seven years in prison. If there is evidence of religious hostility in connection with any crime, it is a “religiously aggravated offense” and carries a higher maximum penalty than the underlying crime alone. In Scotland the law requires courts to consider the impact of religious bias when sentencing.
By law the General Register Office for England and Wales governs the registration and legal recognition of places of worship in England and Wales. The law also states buildings, rooms, or other premises may be registered as meeting places for religious worship upon payment of a fee; the General Register Office for England and Wales keeps a record of the registration, and the place of worship is assigned a “worship number.” Registration is not compulsory, but it provides certain financial advantages and is also required before a place of worship may be registered as a venue for marriages. Registered places of worship are exempt from paying taxes and benefit from participating in the country’s Gift Aid program. Gift Aid allows charities to claim back the 25 percent basic rate of tax already paid on donations by the donor, boosting the value of a donation by a quarter.
Throughout the country the law requires religious education (RE) and worship for children between the ages of three and 13 in state-run schools, with the content decided at the local level. Specialist schoolteachers, rather than religious groups, teach the syllabus. Parents may request to exempt their children from RE. At age 13, students themselves may choose to stop RE or continue, in which case they study two religions. Nonreligious state schools require the RE curriculum to reflect “Christian values,” be nondenominational, and refrain from attempts to convert students. It must also teach the practices of other principal religions in the country. Students and, unless they are employed by faith-based schools, teachers may decline participation in collective worship, without prejudice.
Nonreligious state schools in England and Wales are required to practice daily collective prayer or worship of “a wholly or mainly…Christian character.” Schoolteachers lead these assemblies; however, parents have the legal right to request their children not participate in collective prayer or worship. The law permits sixth form students (generally 16- to 19-year-olds in the final two years of secondary school) to withdraw from worship without parental permission or action. Nonreligious state schools are free to hold other religious ceremonies as they choose.
In Scotland only denominational (faith-based) schools practice daily collective prayer or worship; however, religious observance is compulsory in all Scottish schools. Religious observance is defined as “Community acts which aim to promote the spiritual development of all members of the school’s community.” Examples of religious observance include school assemblies and events to recognize religious events, including Christmas, Easter, and Holocaust Memorial Day. Parents can make the decision to opt out their children from this requirement, but children may not make this decision themselves.
In Bermuda the law requires students attending state schools to participate in collective worship, characterized by educational officials as reciting the Lord’s Prayer, but prohibits worship “distinctive of any particular religious group.” At the high school level, students are required to take a course that explores various religions until year 9 (ages 11-14); in years 10 and 11 (ages 15-16), courses on religion are optional.
There are two faith-based private schools in Bermuda that operate from kindergarten through high school. One follows the guidance of the North American division of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. The other follows principles of the Catholic Church.
The government determines whether to establish a faith-based school when there is evidence of demand, such as petitions from parents, religious groups, teachers, or other entities. If a faith-based school is not oversubscribed, then the school must offer a place to any child, but if the school is oversubscribed, it may use faith as a criterion for acceptance. Nonstate faith-based schools are eligible to claim “charitable status,” which allows for tax exemptions.
Almost all schools in Northern Ireland receive state support, with approximately 90 percent of students attending Protestant or Catholic schools. Approximately 7 percent of school-age children attend religiously integrated schools with admissions criteria designed to enroll equal numbers of Catholic and Protestant children without the intervention of the state, as well as children from other religious and cultural backgrounds. Students of different faiths are able to attend Protestant and Catholic schools but tend to gravitate toward the integrated schools. These integrated schools are not secular but are “essentially Christian in character and welcome all faiths and none.” RE – a core syllabus designed by the Department of Education, Church of Ireland, and Catholic, Presbyterian, and Methodist Churches – is compulsory in all government-funded schools, and “the school day shall include collective Christian worship whether in one or more than one assembly.” All schools receiving government funding must teach RE; however, students may request to opt out of the classes and collective worship. Catholic-managed schools draw uniquely on the Roman Catholic tradition for their RE, while other schools may draw on world religions.
An estimated 30 sharia councils operate parallel to the national legal system. They adjudicate Islamic religious matters, including religious divorces, which are not recognized under civil law. Participants may submit cases to the councils on a voluntary basis. The councils do not have the legal status of courts, although they have legal status as mediation and arbitration bodies. As such, rulings may not be appealed in the courts.
The law prohibits discrimination on the grounds of “religion or belief” or the “lack of religion or belief.” The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) – a body sponsored by the Department of Education’s Government Equalities Office – is responsible for enforcing legislation prohibiting religious discrimination. The EHRC researches and conducts inquiries into religious and other discrimination in England, Scotland, and Wales. The minister for women and equalities appoints the members. If the commission finds a violation, it may issue a notice to the violator and seek a court order to enforce the notice. The EHRC receives government funds but operates independently. The Northern Ireland equivalent to the EHRC is the Equality Commission.
In Northern Ireland the law bans discrimination on the grounds of religious belief only in employment; however, schools may discriminate on the grounds of religion when recruiting teachers. In the rest of the country, the law prohibits any discrimination, including employment discrimination, based on religious belief, unless the employer can show a genuine requirement for a particular religion.
Citing a limited broadcast spectrum, the law prohibits religious groups from holding national radio licenses, public teletext licenses, more than one television service license, and/or radio and television multiplex licenses, which would allow them to offer multiple channels as part of a single bundle of programming.
Twenty-six senior bishops of the Anglican Church sit in the House of Lords as representatives of the state Church. Known as the Lords Spiritual, they read prayers at the start of each daily meeting and play a full role in the life and work of the upper house.
The law requires visa applicants wishing to enter the country as “ministers of religion” to have worked for at least one of the previous five years as a minister and to have at least one year of full-time experience or, if their religion requires ordination, at least two years of part-time training following their ordination. A missionary must also be trained as such or have worked previously in this role.
The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
In the Autumn Budget, Chancellor Phillip Hammond announced 1.7 million pounds ($2.18 million) of new funding to support Holocaust education. The money was earmarked for coordinating Holocaust survivors’ visits to schools and student visits to concentration camps. The Treasury is designated to work with the Holocaust Education Trust to distribute the funds. This funding is in addition to the 50 million pounds ($64.02 million) committed to support the UK Holocaust Memorial and Learning Centre and Holocaust Memorial, due to be built next to Parliament.
On October 16, the Home Office and the Department for Housing, Communities, and Local Government updated the government’s 2016 Hate Crime Plan. The updated plan includes more than 1.5 million pounds ($1.92 million) of new funding for educational programs to challenge discriminatory beliefs among young persons. The plan also extended the Places of Worship Security Funding Scheme from three to four years. During the year, the scheme provided grants to nine churches, 22 mosques, two Hindu temples, and 12 Sikh gurdwaras. Additional new measures include a Law Commission review into hate crime; a nationwide public awareness campaign; specialist training for police call handlers on how to support hate crime victims; an upgrade of the reporting website, True Vision; and roundtables hosted by government ministers on anti-Semitism and anti-Islamic sentiment.
On May 31, a committee led by Lord Bracadale (Alastair Campbell, former Scottish judge) provided to Scottish ministers the final report of the Independent Review of Hate Crime Legislation that was tasked in January 2017. The report found adequate provisions under existing law for religion as a “protected characteristic.”
In September the Scottish government together with Police Scotland launched a “Letters from Scotland” advertising campaign to raise awareness of hate crimes and encourage persons to report them. The Catholic Church criticized the Scottish government for not directly addressing sectarian hate crimes in the campaign.
The government continued to provide religious accommodation for employees when it considered such accommodation feasible. Muslim employees of the prison service regularly took time off during their shifts to pray. The prison service recognized the rights of prisoners to practice their faith while in custody. The pastoral needs of prisoners were addressed, in part, through chaplains paid for by the Ministry of Justice, rather than religious groups. All chaplains worked as part of a multifaith team, the size and breakdown of which was determined by the size of the prison and the religious composition of the prisoner population. Prison service regulations stated that “chaplaincy provision must reflect the faith denomination requirements of the prison.”
The military generally provided adherents of minority religious groups with chaplains of their faith. At year’s end, there were approximately 240 recruited chaplains in the armed forces, all of whom were Christian. The armed forces also employed five civilian chaplains as full-time civil servants to care for their Buddhist, Hindu, Sikh, Jewish, and Muslim recruits. The Armed Forces Chaplaincy Policy Board was reviewing provision of chaplaincy for personnel of these religions and considering employing suitable chaplains in the reserve forces.
In February the Home Office published an independent review into the application of sharia in England and Wales. The review, commissioned in October 2015 and launched in May 2016, provided three recommendations. The independent review panel recommended amendments be made to the Marriage Act 1949 and the Matrimonial Act 1973. These changes would “ensure that civil marriages are conducted before or at the same time as the Islamic marriages, in line with Christian and Jewish marriages in the eyes of the law.” The review stated the closure of sharia councils was not a viable option. Sharia councils are predominantly used by Muslim women seeking a religious divorce, in some cases because their religious marriages were never registered civilly, rendering civil divorce unavailable to them. The report also recommended the introduction of awareness campaigns, educational programs, and other similar measures to “encourage communities to acknowledge women’s rights in civil law, especially in areas of marriage and divorce.” The report also proposed the creation of a body that would set up the process for councils to regulate themselves. This regulation would require sharia councils to accept and implement a code of practice established by the regulatory body.
The Home Office responded to the independent panel’s recommendations stating, “We will not be taking forward the review’s recommendation to regulate sharia councils. Sharia law has no jurisdiction in the UK, and we would not facilitate or endorse regulation, which could present councils as an alternative to UK laws.”
As of January 2017 there were 6,814 state-funded faith-based schools in England. Of these, 6,177 were primary schools (ages three through 11), representing 37 percent of all state-funded primary schools, and 637 secondary schools (ages 11 through 16), representing 19 percent of all state-funded secondary schools. Church of England schools were the most common type among primary schools (26 percent); Roman Catholic schools were the most common at secondary level (9 percent). Additionally, at the primary and secondary levels, there were 26 Methodist, two Greek Orthodox, one Quaker, one Seventh-day Adventist, one United Reform, 145 other Christian, 48 Jewish, 27 Muslim, 11 Sikh, and five Hindu state-funded schools. There were 370 government-funded denominational schools in Scotland: 366 Catholic, three Episcopalian, and one Jewish. The government classified schools with links to the Church of Scotland as nondenominational.
On the centenary of the legislation that brought Catholic schools into Scotland’s state education system, in June First Minister Nicola Sturgeon announced a 450 percent increase to 127,000 pounds ($163,000) in funding for a Catholic teaching program so that more individuals could acquire a Catholic Teaching Certificate allowing them to teach at a Catholic school.
The government continued to require schools to consider the needs of different religious groups when setting dress codes for students. This included wearing or carrying specific religious artifacts, not cutting hair, dressing modestly, or covering the head. Guidance from the Department of Education required schools to balance the rights of individual students against the best interests of the school community as a whole; it noted schools could be justified in restricting individuals’ rights to manifest their religion or beliefs when necessary, for example, to promote cohesion and good order.
In April the Department of Education dropped plans to require providers of out-of-school education to register with local authorities, following a reported personal intervention by the Archbishop of Canterbury. The proposals, which aimed to safeguard children from the risk of extremism, would have subjected religious organizations to government regulations and inspections. The plans would have affected Christian Sunday schools and Muslim madrassas. Groups including the Evangelical Alliance, Christian Institute, and Christian Concern expressed their opposition to the proposals. The Department of Education received approximately 18,000 responses during its three-month consultation period (November 2015-January 2016), many of which were from faith groups stating concern over the proposed regulation.
In January press reported that a North London coroner withdrew a special arrangement for the Jewish community in October 2017. Under the arrangement in effect since January 2015, the remains of Jews who died at home in North London could be sent directly to a specified funeral home, rather than a public mortuary. Coroner Mary Hassell stated that a North London synagogue and burial society had made one of her officers feel bullied and persecuted during a previous postmortem examination. In response, Stamford Hill’s Adath Yisroel Synagogue and Burial Society said the policy was “unlawful” and called for Hassell’s removal. Religious groups brought a legal challenge, and in April the High Court declared Hassell’s policy unlawful and ordered her to change it. In July Hassell made a public apology and requested input from religious groups in crafting a new policy.
In Scotland, a law that criminalized religious hatred where it was connected to soccer matches was repealed on April 20. New charges that would previously have been reported under that law would henceforth be reported as a different offense with a religious aggravation. All ongoing charges under the former law were amended to reflect the change in statutes.
In August a Scottish judge blocked the deportation of a Malaysian Christian woman on religious grounds after she stated she had come to the country to flee Islamist persecution. The presiding Judge Lady Clark held that the woman’s life would be in danger if she were to return to Malaysia.
In May the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) wrote an open letter to the chairman of the Conservative Party demanding an inquiry into “Islamophobia” within the party. In the letter, the MCB asked the party to launch an independent inquiry, publish a list of incidents, institute an education program, and make a public commitment to stamp out bigotry. The letter named Conservative Member of Parliament (MP) Bob Blackman as “fostering Islamophobia.” It listed examples of politicians who had “liked” or reposted anti-Muslim social media posts and pages or had ties to anti-Muslim and far-right groups. In August a petition demanding an independent inquiry into “Islamophobia” in political parties reached more than 30,000 signatures in two days. The petition asked the parliament to adopt the steps proposed by the MCB.
In June two Conservative councilors were suspended following allegations of anti-Muslim comments on social media. Councilor Linda Freedman of Barnet in North London appeared to express support for the detention of Muslims on Twitter. Councilor Ian Hibberd of Southampton posted derogatory comments under a photograph of a fellow councilor wearing Sikh religious dress.
In August former Foreign Secretary and Conservative MP Boris Johnson wrote an opinion piece in The Telegraph newspaper in which he compared fully veiled Muslim women to “letter boxes” and “bank robbers.” Johnson faced criticism from a range of voices within his party, the opposition, and civil society. Prime Minister and leader of the Conservative Party Theresa May and the chairman of the Conservative Party, Brandon Lewis, both called on Johnson to apologize for his comments. Labour Party Shadow Equalities Minister, MP Naz Shah, labeled the comments as “ugly and naked Islamophobia.” The chairman of the Conservative Muslim Forum accused Johnson of “pandering to the far right.” In December an independent panel cleared Johnson of breaking the Conservative Party’s code of conduct. The panel found that while his comments could be considered provocative, it would be “unwise to censor excessively,” adding that Conservative Party rules do not “override an individual’s right to freedom of expression.”
The Labour Party and its leader, Jeremy Corbyn, faced further allegations of anti- Semitism. The CST recorded 148 incidents during the year that were examples of, or related to arguments over, alleged anti-Semitism within the Labour Party. In April the Labour Party was internally investigating 90 cases of anti-Semitism among its members. In April Corbyn wrote an article published in the London Evening Standard newspaper stating that the number of cases of anti-Semitism over the past three years represented less than 0.1 percent of Labour’s membership. In response, BBC Reality Check calculated that from 2015 to 2018, there were more than 300 complaints regarding anti-Semitism in the party, approximately half of those leading to expulsions. In March press reported that in 2012, Corbyn showed support for a mural depicting “Jewish bankers playing monopoly on the backs of the poor.” In response, two major Jewish groups – the Jewish Leadership Council and the Board of Deputies of British Jews – wrote an open letter to the Labour Party and organized a demonstration in Parliament Square. Corbyn later apologized, saying he did not properly look at the picture before arguing that the art should not be removed. Labour MPs joined the British Jewish community in a 2,000-person protest against anti-Semitism within the party.
In April Labour expelled a party member for heckling a Jewish MP at the launch of an anti-Semitism report in 2016. Former Labour Party member and activist Marc Wadsworth accused MP Ruth Smeeth of working “hand-in-hand” with the right-wing newspapers. Wadsworth was expelled two years later by the party’s National Constitution Committee for breaching party rules.
In May former London Mayor Ken Livingstone announced his resignation from the Labour Party after being suspended by the party for two years over allegations of anti-Semitism. The Labour Party first suspended Livingstone in 2016 after he said in a radio interview that Hitler had supported Zionism and announced in March that his suspension had been extended following another formal investigation over anti-Semitism. He continued to dispute the allegations.
In July Labour MP Naz Shah was appointed Shadow Minister for Women and Equalities. In 2016 Shah lost the party whip position and was barred from party activity for three months following comments on Facebook in which she appeared to liken Israeli policies to those of Hitler and suggested Israel should be moved to the United States. In January 2017, following a meeting with the Bradford Board of Deputies, a leading Jewish organization, its president, Jonathan Arkush, supported her, saying, “[Shah] is one of the only people involved in Labour’s anti-Semitism crisis who has sought to make amends for her actions, and for this we commend her and now regard Naz as a sincere friend of our community.”
In December Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt ordered an independent, global review of the persecution of Christians of all nationalities. The Foreign Office review was to be led by Bishop of Truro Philip Mountstephen and was to make recommendations to the government to better support those under threat. The review was due by April 21 (Easter) 2019.
The government, a member of the IHRA since 1998, adopted the full working definition of anti-Semitism in 2016, and the Crown Prosecution Service used it to assess potential prosecutions for anti-Semitic hate crimes. In 2017 the London Assembly, Scottish government, and Welsh government also adopted the IHRA’s definition. In July the Conservative Party adopted the IHRA definition and amended its code of conduct to include an interpretive annex on discrimination, which refers to the IHRA definition. The Liberal Democrats Party adopted the definition in September. The Guardian newspaper reported that the Green Party’s ruling body discussed adopting the definition as part of an internal review but decided against it. The SNP did not clarify whether it had adopted the IHRA definition, but a spokesperson pointed out that the Scottish government, which is ruled by the SNP, adopted the definition in 2017.
Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom
According to Home Office figures for the 12 months ending in March, there were 8,336 religiously motivated hate crimes recorded in England and Wales – 9 percent of total hate crimes – a 40 percent increase over the 5,949 crimes in the previous year. There was no breakdown by type of crime. Home Office statisticians said the increase likely reflected both a genuine rise in hate crime and ongoing improvements in crime recording by the police. Figures rose sharply in March 2017 and March 2018; however, police record crime data on a UK financial year basis (April-March), and there are commonly “increases” in March of each year as police reconcile their annual data. There was also a sharp increase in religiously motivated hate crime in June 2017, which the Home Office linked to the ISIS terrorist attacks in May and June.
In July Tell MAMA, a national project that records anti-Muslim hate crimes, released its annual report for 2017. The report showed the highest number of anti-Muslim incidents since its launch in 2012. In 2017 Tell MAMA recorded a total of 1,330 reports, of which 1,201 were verified as being anti-Muslim in nature. More than two-thirds (839) of the verified incidents, a 30 percent increase compared with 2016, did not occur online. Online reports accounted for one-third of the total incidents in 2017, a 16.3 percent increase from the previous year. Consistent with previous years, incidents that were not online took place within public areas such as parks and shopping areas. Public transport was the second most common place for incidents to take place. The report stated there was “a sharp increase in hate crime in June 2017 following terrorist attacks in May and June.”
In November Tell MAMA released its interim report for the first six months of 2018. During this time, a total of 685 incidents were reported, of which 608 were verified as being anti-Muslim. Of the total number of incidents, 65.9 percent (401) were offline, or street-based, and 34 percent (207) occurred online. The report noted 59.9 percent (124) of the online incidents took place on Twitter, 23.6 percent (49) on Facebook, and the rest on platforms including YouTube and Instagram. Abusive behavior formed the majority of incidents that were not online, and accounted for 45.3 percent (182) records. More than half the victims were Muslim women, accounting for 58 percent (233) of incidents where gender data was available.
In Scotland the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service reported 642 religiously motivated crimes in the 12 months ending in March, a 5 percent decrease (678 in the previous year). The most recent figures included 319 anti-Catholic crimes (384), 174 anti-Protestant crimes (165), 115 anti-Muslim crimes (113), and 21 anti-Semitic crimes (23). Cases did not add up to the total number reported as some of the crimes related to conduct that targeted more than one religious group. In the year ending in March, court proceedings commenced in 85 percent of cases.
The Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) reported 41 religiously motivated hate crimes committed in 38 incidents during 2017-18, a 46 percent increase from the previous period. The PSNI cited 52 other religiously motivated incidents in the same period that did not constitute crimes, an increase of 31 over the previous year.
The CST recorded 1,652 anti-Semitic incidents during the year – the highest in a calendar year. For the 2018 calendar year, incidents targeted Jewish public figures (82, compared with 18 in 2017), Jewish schools (40), synagogues (66), Jewish homes (130), and Jewish community organizations, communal events, or commercial property (221). The CST categorized 122 incidents as assaults. Almost three quarters of the incidents occurred in the main Jewish centers of greater London and greater Manchester, 950 and 145, respectively. The CST recorded 384 incidents of anti-Semitism on social media, constituting 23 percent of the overall total of incidents, an increase of 54 percent, compared with 249 in 2017.
According to CST, the sustained high levels of anti-Semitic incidents reported may have resulted in part from improvements in information collection, including better reporting from victims and witnesses as a result of growing communal concern about anti-Semitism; an increase in the number of security guards (many of whom the government funded through a CST-administered grant to provide security at Jewish locations); and ongoing improvements to CST’s information sharing with police forces around the country. While CST stated there was no clear trigger event, months in which the CST recorded a higher number of incidents correlated with the political and media debate over allegations of anti-Semitism within the Labour Party. The CST recorded 148 incidents that were examples of, or linked to, the Labour Party. The CST also stated that higher monthly totals in April and May might have been partly influenced by reactions to violence on the Gaza-Israel border. According to the CST, this sustained high number of anti-Semitic incidents suggested a longer-term phenomenon in which persons with anti-Semitic views appeared to be more confident expressing their views. The CST stated that identifying the ethnicity or religious beliefs of anti-Semitic offenders was difficult, since many incidents involved brief public encounters or, in the case of online statements, no face-to-face contact at all. The CST received a description of the ethnic appearance of an offender in 30 percent (502) of the 1,652 incidents reported. Of these, 60 percent (300) were described as white – European; 15 percent (73) as Black; 13 percent (64) as South Asian; and 9 percent (44) as Arab or North African; and 4 percent (18) as white – South European.
In January the Chelsea Football Club (FC) announced a new campaign to raise awareness of anti-Semitism and its consequences, after fans chanted anti-Semitic abuse at a game in late 2017. Days after Chelsea FC announced its initiative to combat anti-Semitism by its fans, in February some of its supporters were caught singing anti-Semitic songs during a game. In April Chelsea FC sent a delegation of 150 staff and supporters to Auschwitz for the annual March of the Living, a trip described by Chelsea FC’s chairman, Bruce Buck, as “important and effective.” In October Chelsea FC owner Roman Abramovich announced plans to continue the initiative by sending anti-Semitic supporters on educational trips to Auschwitz, rather than banning them from attending games. Buck told The Sun, “This policy gives them a chance to realize what they’ve done, to make them want to behave better.” On October 10, Chelsea FC previewed a film at the Houses of Parliament aimed at raising awareness of the consequences of anti-Semitism, through interspersing images of offensive chants and social media posts alongside images from the Holocaust. The club’s website states, “We are just trying to make a dent in the anti-Semitism in this world. Over time, we hope to make a real contribution for good to society.”
Paul Golding and Jayda Fransen, respectively the leader and deputy leader of Britain First, a nationalist party widely described as far right, appeared separately in court in January in response to charges lodged in November 2017 over their allegedly inciting hatred with anti-Islamic remarks made at the “Northern Ireland against Terrorism” rally, held in Belfast in August 2017. The pair were due in court in April 2018, but the trial was postponed after they were imprisoned in England for similar crimes. As of year’s end, no date had been set for the trial to resume.
In March the leaders of Britain First were jailed over anti-Muslim hate crimes. In May 2017 authorities charged them with causing religiously aggravated harassment in connection with a trial of four Muslim men, at least three of whom were migrants from Afghanistan, accused of gang-raping a 16-year-old girl. Authorities stated that during the trial of the four men, Britain First leaders Paul Golding and Jayda Fransen had distributed leaflets, posted videos, and harassed individuals who they believed were associated with the accused rapists. On October 17, Golding and Fransen were found guilty of “religiously aggravated harassment,” Golding on one charge and Fransen on three. Golding was sentenced to 18 weeks in prison and Frasen to 36 weeks. Facebook deleted the pages of Britain First in the following days, stating the posts had “crossed the line and became hate speech designed to stir up hatred against groups in our society.”
In September the Local Government Commissioner for Standards suspended independent Belfast Councilor Jolene Bunting for four months after she helped Britain First deputy leader Jayda Fransen send a video message from the lord mayor’s chair. In the video, Fransen referred to a speech she gave in August 2017, where she made anti-Muslim comments. In addition to the PSNI investigation of the incident, the local government commissioner was investigating 14 other complaints, including comments she made about Islam.
In March an individual sent letters promoting “Punish a Muslim Day” to mosques in England and Wales, South Asian Members of Parliament, and members of the government, including Prime Minister May. Similar letters, sent in 2016, targeted former Prime Minister David Cameron and Queen Elizabeth II. In 2017 similar letters were sent to mosques around the country. The letters assigned points to specific acts of violence, from awarding 25 points for removing a Muslim woman’s headscarf to 1,000 points for bombing a mosque. Politicians from across the political divide condemned the letters. Following an Urgent Question raised by MP Yasmin Qureshi in the House of Commons, Home Office Minister MP Victoria Atkins called on Muslims to report this letter, or similar communications, to the police. The minister also confirmed the government would revise its Hate Crime Action Plan by introducing new measures, including a wide-ranging law commission review into hate crime, increased funding for places of worship, and the launch of a new public awareness campaign. In June David Parnham, a local government employee from central England, was arrested following fingerprint and DNA evidence. In October Parnham pleaded guilty to creating and sending the letters with the intention of terrorizing Muslims; Parnham faced a potential life sentence.
In March staff at a Belfast library received “threatening phone calls” following an event planned to mark the birth of Belfast-born former Israeli President Chaim Herzog. The Israeli ambassador attended the event organized by the Northern Ireland Friends of Israel, which occurred without incident. Following the event, former First Minister of Northern Ireland Arlene Foster called for political parties in the region to unite against anti-Semitism.
In April the Glasgow High Court sentenced Connor Ward of Banff to life imprisonment for planning terror attacks against mosques. In October Ward appealed his conviction, which the Edinburgh Court of Criminal Appeal rejected on December 13.
In April a group calling itself “Generation Sparta” distributed anti-Muslim leaflets in the lower Ravenhill Road area of Belfast, warning against the “Islamification” of Northern Ireland and calling for Catholics and Protestants to unite against the “common threat” of “fanatical Islamists.” Belfast City Councilor Jolene Bunting defended the incident, which was widely condemned by political parties and was being investigated by the PSNI.
In April a court in Airdrie fined Mark Meechan, who posted online videos of a pet dog taught to perform Nazi salutes, 800 pounds ($1,000). Meechan recorded his partner’s dog responding to statements such as “gas the Jews” and “sieg heil” by raising its paw. Meechan posted these videos on YouTube in 2016. Meechan reacted to the verdict saying, “It’s the juxtaposition of having an adorable animal react to something vulgar that was the entire point of the joke.”
In May police investigated two incidents of anti-Semitic graffiti at Mearns Castle High School in the suburbs of Glasgow. Mearns Castle is a receiving high school for Calderwood Lodge, Scotland’s only Jewish primary school.
In June a man was jailed for threatening to “slit a Muslim’s throat” on Twitter. Twitter users reported Rhodenne Chand to police after they said they feared he would carry out his threat. Chand told police he was “venting” in the wake of the ISIS-inspired terrorist attacks in Manchester and London. He had written 32 tweets between the Manchester Arena bombing and his arrest in June 2017, including wanting to “slit Muslim’s throat.” West Midlands police said some of Chand’s tweets, which had since been taken offline, encouraged violence against Muslims and called for mosques to be attacked. Upon his arrest, Chand told officers he “felt disgusted at himself for writing the posts.” Chand was jailed for 20 months.
In June supporters of English Defence League founder Tommy Robinson – real name Stephen Yaxley-Lennon – performed Nazi salutes at a violent protest in London. Demonstrations against Robinson’s jail sentence took place in various cities across the country. In London a man was filmed repeatedly saluting while holding a banner with anti-Muslim messaging. In Belfast, another supporter was photographed displaying the Nazi salute. Robinson was serving a 13-month sentence in prison, but a court of appeals overturned the verdict in August and ordered a retrial. In October the judge, retrying Robinson for contempt of court, referred the case to the attorney general, stating that in the current setting, lawyers would not be able to perform an appropriate cross-examination of the testimony and evidence given by Robinson in his own defense. By referring the case to the attorney general, Robinson’s contempt charges could be heard in an adversarial setting, in which a lawyer could present evidence and question witnesses to make the case. Robinson was released on bail. The attorney general had responsibility for deciding whether to send the case to the High Court or drop the contempt proceedings. There was no timeline for the decision to be made, and the case remained pending at year’s end.
Police were investigating a video showing England football fans making Nazi salutes during the World Cup in June. The video showed two fans performing a Nazi salute and singing a fascist chant while in a bar.
In July an individual spat on a Scottish priest twice as he spoke to parishioners outside a Catholic church in Glasgow. Another man carrying a pole then further insulted and lunged at the priest. The Orange Walk parade, an annual march held by the Protestant fraternal order Orange Order, was passing by at the time of the incident. Police Scotland investigated the incident; the Grand Orange Lodge of Scotland said none of its members was responsible. Later, police charged a 24-year-old man with aggravated assault linked to the incidents. The attack drew condemnation from all sides of the political debate. In August in Glasgow, the Council banned the Orange Order from walking past the church. Police Scotland welcomed the move to reroute the parade.
In August two women, Emma Storey and Lois Evans, were convicted of assaulting a man because of his Islamic beliefs near Middlesborough in northeast England. The two women held and beat the victim while shouting that they hated Muslims. Evans threatened to kill the victim. The court was shown footage of the assault, filmed on Storey’s cell phone. Storey was sentenced to three years and four months, and Evans was sentenced to two years and eight months in prison.
In August an individual set fire to the doors of the Guru Nanak Gurdwara, a Sikh temple in Edinburgh, causing smoke damage to the temple. The gurdwara is situated in a former church and is the only Sikh center in the Scottish capital, serving a community of more than 500 Sikhs. The Church of Scotland released a short statement expressing its “deepest sympathy” to Edinburgh’s Sikh community. Police arrested a 49-year-old man who had “issues with religion” in connection with the attack.
In August, in Birmingham, armed police were called to two mosques after perpetrators smashed windows using a “heavy-duty catapult” during evening prayers. The attacks, reportedly led worshippers to believe they were under attack by a gunman. No arrests were made.
In September a Swansea FC fan was banned from games for three years and sentenced to a 12-month probation period for making a Nazi salute during a game against Tottenham Hotspur FC. Tottenham’s Director Jon Reuben captured the salute on camera.
In October ITV Tyne Tees discovered a Facebook group named “Bishop Auckland Against Islam” and reported it to Durham police. The Facebook group featured posts praising acts of violence against Muslims, with suggestions that Muslims should be killed for their religious beliefs. Facebook removed the page.
In October attackers beat and kicked two female Jewish protesters outside a “Corbyn, Antisemitism, and Justice for Palestine” event hosted by a pro-Corbyn group in Islington, North London. One of the protesters was pulled to the ground and kicked repeatedly in the head by two women. The victim sustained minor head injuries. The protesters were asked by their attackers to cease filming the doorway to the event and were reportedly shouting “shame on you” as the women turned to enter the venue. It was not clear if the attackers were attending the Corbyn-hosted event.
In October police investigated a possible hate crime in Newtownards by a group dressed as Ku Klux Klan members, including an image posted on social media of the group in a threatening pose outside the town’s Islamic Centre. In 2017 a pig’s head was placed outside the same center.
Numerous individuals expressed complaints concerning an article in The Sunday Times newspaper in October by Rod Liddle for suggesting that British Islamists should “blow themselves up” in East London. The Independent Press Standards Organisation confirmed that it was processing the complaints but did not provide further information. Labour MP Anna Turley called the article “deeply insulting,” and Tell MAMA accused Liddle of Islamophobia.
In November a young boy required hospitalization after he was punched in the eye and grabbed by the mouth by a couple on a bus in Wales after his mother told them she was born in Israel. According to a bystander, the couple appeared to be intoxicated, and the man used “verbal anti-Semitic abuse” when he found out she was Israeli. Police were searching for the perpetrators.
In December the Arsenal Football Club investigated allegations of anti-Semitic behavior by fans during a game against Tottenham, including offensive chants and gestures.
In December the European Union’s Agency for Fundamental Rights (EU-FRA) released its second survey of Jewish experiences and perceptions of anti-Semitism. EU-FRA targeted Jewish populations through community organizations, Jewish media, and social networks; 4,731 individuals who identified themselves as Jewish residents responded to the online survey. Twenty-four percent said they had witnessed other Jews being insulted, harassed, or physically attacked in the previous 12 months, and 25 percent reported being harassed over the same period. Seventeen percent of respondents said they had felt discriminated against because of their religion or belief; 88 percent thought anti-Semitism had increased over the previous five years.
A number of interfaith organizations operated in the country, including Faith Matters, the Inter Faith Network, and Interfaith Scotland. Various interfaith efforts took place throughout the year. In May Muslim leaders ran a full-page advertisement in The Daily Telegraph newspaper condemning anti-Semitism. Leaders of groups including Faith Matters, the Association of British Muslims, and Tell MAMA signed the advertisement. The advertisement read, “We understand that many in our country empathise with the Palestinians and their right to a sovereign state. However, we must be ever vigilant against those who cynically use international issues to vilify Jews or promote anti-Semitic tropes.” The Board of Deputies of British Jews praised the advertisement, tweeting, “Incredible solidarity…. Thank you. Together we will defeat the twin evils of anti-Semitism and anti-Muslim hate.” A week earlier, the Board of Deputies joined Tell MAMA in condemning Islamophobia following the release of its annual report.
In March Interfaith Glasgow won third prize in the UN World Interfaith Harmony Week for its program, “Friendship, Dialogue, Cooperation: Exploring Crucial Elements of Interfaith Harmony.” The group promotes positive engagement between persons of different religious traditions in Scotland’s most religiously diverse city.
In July Christian, Muslim, and Jewish groups joined to launch the “21 for 21” interfaith collaboration. The project, in collaboration with three media outlets – The Jewish News, The Church Times, and Muslim TV – was termed a “search for 21 leaders for the 21st century.” Seven Christians, seven Jews, and seven Muslims were to be chosen from a range of nominees. Winners would be presented with prizes at a reception at Lambeth Palace, the official residence of the Archbishop of Canterbury.
In September local chapters of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Association and the Quakers in Peterborough in Cambridgeshire organized an interfaith conference.
In October the Anglican Diocese of Oxford extended an invitation to a Muslim scholar to preach at a Eucharist service. In response to criticism, a spokesperson for the Diocese of Oxford said the imam “is not the first person from another faith community to be invited to preach the University Sermon. His presence on Sunday reflects the strong commitment of the Church, university, and other faith communities to interfaith engagement.”
In November Interfaith Scotland celebrated Scottish Interfaith Week through a series of events and competitions, including a launch event focused on women of faith in the suffragette movement and creative competition targeted at school students and local communities.
Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement
In April U.S. embassy consular officials hosted members of the Jewish community to discuss religious funerals and ways in which the embassy could assist. Specific areas of concern included coroners refusing to work “out-of-hours” and intrusive post-mortems.
The embassy used social media channels to promote the recognition of International Religious Freedom Day on October 27, including tweets highlighting the International Religious Freedom Act, the 2018 Ministerial, and the Secretary of State’s statement on the importance of promoting religious freedom and defending vulnerable minorities. Similarly, the embassy used social media to call attention to International Holocaust Remembrance Day on January 27. On October 29, the Ambassador joined Home Secretary Sajid Javid, Mayor of London Sadiq Khan, Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis, and other religious and political leaders at a memorial in honor of the victims of the Pittsburgh Synagogue shooting at a North West London Jewish center. The Ambassador joined other speakers in calling for unity against religious hatred.
In November the Department of State and the UK’s Department for International Development cohosted a dialogue titled “Protecting Vulnerable Religious Minorities in Conflict and Crisis Settings,” at Wilton Park, Surrey.
In early December the Ambassador invited a local rabbi to light the menorah in observance of Hanukkah at a ceremony in the embassy. Also in December embassy officials sponsored a speaker to address a gathering at the London Central Mosque. The theme of the event was “diversity in the workplace” and specifically focused on diversity of religion in the working environment.
The U.S. Consulate General in Belfast continued to regularly engage Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, and Muslim religious leaders to discuss challenges in their communities, including those pertaining to religious freedom and tolerance.