The constitution bars the federal government from making any law that imposes a state religion or religious observance, prohibits the free exercise of religion, or establishes a religious test for a federal public office. The government considered public feedback on revised draft religious freedom laws whose stated aim was to make it unlawful to discriminate on the basis of religious belief or activity in key areas of public life. Citing pressures related to the COVID-19 pandemic, the government announced the legislation’s consideration would be delayed to an unspecified date. As movement restrictions imposed to contain the spread of COVID-19 began to ease in the latter part of the year, several religious leaders criticized remaining state government restrictions, saying they unfairly affected religious communities. Parliaments in the two most populous states – New South Wales (NSW) and Victoria – initiated inquiries into laws with the stated purpose of strengthening protections against religious discrimination and vilification. While Catholic archdioceses welcomed the legislation, some individual Catholic leaders expressed opposition to state laws enacted in Victoria and Queensland requiring religious leaders and workers to report evidence of child abuse, including evidence heard in confession.
There were reports that COVID-19 enabled conspiracy theorists, neo-Nazi sympathizers, and far-right hate groups to introduce new avenues of attack on religious organizations. Members of minority religious groups, including Jews and Muslims, experienced instances of religious discrimination, threats, attacks, and hate speech. Allegations of anti-Semitic bullying in a Melbourne school received widespread media attention and in July, the Victoria Department of Education launched an investigation into claims two Jewish brothers were regularly the subjects of verbal and physical abuse. There were several reports of anti-Semitic verbal attacks in Melbourne. In NSW, a man was jailed for 10 months for posting anti-Muslim threats on social media.
The U.S. embassy and consulates general engaged government officials and a wide range of religious leaders, faith communities, and groups to promote religious freedom. This included engagement with members of the country’s Uyghur community, some of whom have reported harassment by the Chinese Communist Party in the country.
The constitution prohibits restricting freedom of conscience and belief, as well as forcing an individual to espouse a religious belief contrary to the individual’s convictions. It stipulates all religions are independent from the state, and religious groups have the freedom to organize “in accordance with their own statutes.” According to the law on religious freedom and religious denominations, the state recognizes the “important role” of the Romanian Orthodox Church (ROC) in the history of the country, but it also recognizes the role of “other churches and denominations.” The law specifies a three-tiered classification of religious organizations. In addition, civil associations wishing to perform religious functions may organize under a separate provision of the law. During the year, the government approved four applications for registration of religious associations. Religious groups stated restrictions meant to contain the spread of COVID-19 were unfair because a March ban on travel outside the home contained an exemption for travel to work but not for travel to places of worship. In September, the National Council for Combating Discrimination ruled the lack of an agreement with all recognized religious denominations on Easter observances while COVID-19 restrictions were in force constituted discrimination. The council recommended the Ministry of Interior be impartial towards all religious denominations and establish nondiscriminatory rules for the exercise of freedom of belief. There were continued reports of the slow pace of restitution of confiscated properties, especially to the Greek Catholic Church and the Jewish community. During the year, the government rejected 500 restitution claims for confiscated religious properties and approved 83, compared with 474 claims rejected and 48 approved in 2019; it again approved no claims for the Greek Catholic Church. In February, the standing bureaus of the Senate and Chamber of Deputies appointed Parliamentarian Silviu Vexler to the honorary position of “High Representative of the Parliament for Fighting Antisemitism, Protecting the Memory of Holocaust Victims and Developing Jewish Life.”
Some minority religious groups continued to report at times ROC priests and adherents blocked their access to cemeteries. In June, the Impreuna Agency for Community Development released a survey on the perceptions of Roma and other ethnic and religious minorities in the country, including Jews. According to findings, 44 percent of respondents had little or no trust in Jews and 30 percent would accept Jews as friends or relatives. Some private media outlets depicted religious minority groups as a threat. In October, an article published by the news site activenews.ro mentioned the alleged religious affiliation of several government officials, purportedly members of the Baha’i, Unitarian, Reformed, Muslim, or Roman Catholic faiths, and called them “anti-Orthodox Talibans” for imposing COVID-19-related restrictions on religious activities. According to a study released by the Wiesel Institute in May, several articles published online stated Jews or the state of Israel were responsible for the COVID-19 outbreak and were profiting from the health crisis.
Embassy officials continued to advocate with the government for property restitution and religious tolerance. The Ambassador and a senior embassy official participated in several Holocaust commemorations and spoke out against anti-Semitism. Using its Facebook page, the embassy emphasized respect for religious freedom and paid tribute to Holocaust victims. The Ambassador met with leaders of the Romanian Orthodox Church and the Muslim community to discuss ways to promote religious freedom and interfaith dialogue.
The constitution guarantees freedom of religion and prohibits discrimination based on religion. It states that while no religion shall have a “state character,” the government shall form cooperative relations with the Roman Catholic Church and other religious faiths. The government has a bilateral agreement with the Holy See that grants the Catholic Church additional benefits not available to three other groups with which the government has agreements: Protestants, Muslims, and Jews. Groups without agreements may register with the government and receive some benefits. In January, the government moved responsibility for religious issues from the Ministry of Justice to the Ministry of the Presidency, Relations with Parliament, and Democratic Memory (Ministry of the Presidency). Several religious groups and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) expressed satisfaction with the move, stating the reorganization gave religious issues increased prominence. In July, Amnesty International called on the government to decriminalize “offending religious sentiments,” which it said unduly restricted freedom of expression. Some religious groups and NGOs voiced concerns about government restrictions on places of worship during the COVID-19 pandemic. Several minority religious groups objected to unequal legal treatment, compared with the Catholic Church, on issues including tax allocations, access to cemeteries, public financing, and pensions for clergy. There were instances of members of parliament or local government officials using derogatory language against religious minorities. The governmental Pluralism and Coexistence Foundation continued outreach to various religious groups and organized events promoting religious freedom. The Ministry of the Interior’s Office on Hate Crimes offered assistance to victims of religiously motivated hate crimes and provided training to law enforcement.
The NGO Observatory for Religious Freedom and Conscience (OLRC) reported 181 religiously motivated incidents – including two assaults – in the first nine months of the year, six more than in the same period in 2019. Of the 181 cases, 75 percent were against Christians. The Ministry of the Interior documented 66 hate crimes with religious motivations in 2019, compared with 69 in 2018. The General Prosecutor’s 2019 annual report reported seven judicial processes opened during 2019 for hate crimes involving religion and two court rulings for crimes against religious sentiments. Some Christians, Muslims, and Jews reported increased hostility against them on social media and increased instances of vandalism.
U.S. embassy and consulate officials maintained communication with the Ministry of the Presidency’s Office of Religious Affairs, as well as with regional governments’ offices for religious affairs; topics discussed included access to permits for places of worship, religious education, cemeteries and burial, pensions, religiously motivated hate crimes, and hate speech. Embassy and consulate officials met with a wide range of religious groups and civil society members and discussed discrimination and the free exercise of their religious rights. The embassy and consulate posted social media messages commemorating various religious holidays and observances and highlighting the importance of religious freedom and the inclusion and respect for religious minority communities. In January, embassy officials cosponsored a series of events commemorating Holocaust Remembrance Month.