The constitution provides for freedom of religion and the right to profess one’s religious beliefs. It prohibits discrimination based on religion. The Ministry of Interior (MOI) is responsible for formally recognizing churches, religious denominations, religious federations and confederations, and associations of religious ministers. The MOI continued to hold training sessions on community development strategies for religious groups and societal leaders. Religious leaders expressed continued concern regarding a law requiring interagency commissions to evaluate requests for conscientious objector status. Religious leaders noted their increased involvement with the MOI, including in the planning process for the country’s role as host of the Hemispheric Forum on Freedom of Religion or Belief. Religious leaders reported arbitrary enforcement of the tax law, specifically regarding the taxability of donations to religious organizations. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ (MFA) and the United Nations Development Program’s (UNDP) 2019 agreement to study the social contribution and sustainable development goals of religious organizations went into effect, and the department of Cundinamarca officially enrolled in the study in August. On February 28, the MOI released a new public policy draft decree on religious freedom and worship aimed at increasing coordination with religious groups in an effort to update a 1997 agreement that stipulated which religious organizations might perform government-recognized services. According to the MOI, these decrees would enable religious groups, in addition to the original signatories, to have the authority to engage in activities such as marriages, funeral services, chaplain services, and spiritual assistance. By year’s end, 19 major cities and 14 departments had adopted new public policies on religious freedom, up from 14 and 11 at the close of 2019.
Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) continued to report that illegal armed groups threatened and physically attacked leaders and members of religious organizations in many areas of the country. The Attorney General’s Office (AGO) reported members of illegal armed groups killed three leaders of religious organizations and committed acts of violence against 16 others that resulted in injury.
The Jewish community reported continued anti-Semitic comments on social media sites, including some that questioned Israel’s right to exist. During the year, the Catholic Church, Mennonite Church, and other religious groups continued to conduct programs focused on religious tolerance, land rights, peace, and reconciliation. Faith-based and interfaith NGOs, including DiPaz and the Inter-Ecclesiastical Commission on Justice and Peace, continued to promote religious freedom and tolerance through their programs and community engagement. The Catholic Church in the country and other religious organizations helped the Association of Food Banks of Colombia distribute more than 33 million pounds of food during the COVID-19 pandemic to all in need regardless of religion.
U.S. embassy officials raised issues of religious freedom, including conscientious objection to military service and the effect of illegal armed actors on religious practice, with government officials. Embassy officials met with the Human Rights Directorate of the MFA, the International Affairs Directorate of the AGO, the Religious Affairs Directorate of the MOI, and members of congress. Embassy officials discussed with the MOI public policies on religious freedom and worship, including support for victims of conflict and other vulnerable populations and the importance of ensuring indigenous groups were included in government-sponsored events on religious tolerance and inclusion. Embassy officials also met with representatives from a wide range of religious groups, including the Jewish and Muslim communities, Catholics, evangelical Protestants, Baptists, Seventh-day Adventists, Presbyterians, Mennonites, Baha’is, Greek Orthodox, and members of indigenous groups. In these meetings, embassy officials discussed issues related to the government’s policies on religious freedom, conscientious objection, anti-Semitism, and government support for religious organizations providing services for trafficking victims, internally displaced persons, and Venezuelan migrants and refugees.
The constitution provides for freedom of religion, including the right to practice one’s religious beliefs and express one’s religious opinions in public, and prohibits compulsory participation in religious services or observance of religious groups’ days of rest. In February, the country’s highest court upheld a 2019 lower court decision appointing an external administrator to organize and monitor general assemblies and elections within the Protestant Consistory, the Protestant community’s leading intermediary with the government. In August, the consistory applied to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) to overturn the court’s ruling. On July 2, the Magistrate’s Court of Luxembourg City submitted to the Constitutional Court for review the agreement between the government and the Catholic Archdiocese of Luxembourg dissolving 285 local church councils and the Syndicate of Church Councils and transferring property managed by them and profits derived therefrom to the Catholic Church. Between March 13 and May 29, the government prohibited in-person religious services as part of its efforts to combat COVID-19. The Catholic Archbishop of Luxembourg criticized the government for not lifting its ban on in-person attendance at religious services earlier. The Jewish Consistory, the group representing the Jewish community in dealings with the government, said the government made progress on resolution of Holocaust-era claims, including claims by foreign citizens. In January, the government adopted the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) working definition of anti-Semitism and agreed to develop a national action plan to combat anti-Semitism.
The nongovernmental organization (NGO) Research and Information on Anti-Semitism in Luxembourg (RIAL) reported it registered 64 anti-Semitic incidents during the year, compared with 47 in 2019. In August, RIAL reported to a government-supported watchdog organization two Facebook posts that questioned the number of Jews killed during the Holocaust. Representatives of the Jewish community said that in August, unknown persons painted a swastika and wrote the word “Jew” on the wall of the Luxembourg City synagogue. The national report of the NGO Islamophobia Observatory in Luxembourg (OIL), based on 2019 data, stated that 57 percent of Muslims surveyed believed “Islamophobia” was present in the country and 45 percent said they had experienced or observed anti-Muslim incidents in 2019; 76 percent said Muslims were well integrated into society.
Embassy representatives discussed religious freedom issues with government officials at the Ministry of State, including government efforts to combat anti-Semitic and anti-Islamic sentiment, its interaction with religious communities, and concerns of religious communities about such issues as the Protestant Consistory, as well as the impact of the government’s COVID-19 response on religious groups, the court cases regarding dissolution of the Syndicate of Churches and church councils, and Holocaust-related restitution and compensation. The Ambassador and embassy officials met virtually and in person with leaders and representatives of other religious groups, including the Jewish, Protestant, Catholic, the New Apostolic Church, and Baha’i communities and the Alliance of Humanists, Atheists, and Agnostics.
The constitution provides for freedom of religion and belief and prohibits discrimination on the basis of religion. The government does not require religious groups to register; however, registered groups receive tax-exempt status. The government’s strict lockdown, imposed in March in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, included bans on religious gatherings. Police stringently enforced the lockdown, which lasted through Easter and Ramadan, prompting complaints from some religious groups. In May, the President eased restrictions on houses of worship following consultation with the South African Council of Churches. Police broke up several Ramadan gatherings and made arrests, during which they were filmed making disrespectful remarks to worshippers. Authorities addressed several cases regarding the Muslim call to prayer. In August, a Durban man who publicly acknowledged he opposes Islam won a court case restricting the call to prayer from being heard inside his house. In another case, city authorities in Pretoria issued a notice ordering a mosque to stop broadcasting the call to prayer through loudspeakers. In December, the Supreme Court of Appeal ruled that the nonrecognition of Muslim marriages was inconsistent with the constitution. The court gave the President and Cabinet 24 months to amend or pass new legislation to ensure recognition of Muslim marriages as valid.
In July, attackers killed five persons and held men, women, and children hostage at the International Pentecostal Holiness Church in Zuurbekom before police and military rescued the hostages, arrested 40 of the attackers, and seized dozens of weapons. The church has been the scene of sporadic violence between factions since the death of its leader in 2016. Police said the attack “may have been motivated by a feud” or power struggle between factions. Media reported a number of incidents of anti-Semitism online. In November, the Randberg magistrate’s court issued an interim order of protection against Jan Lamprecht, described in the press as a white supremacist, vocal Holocaust denier, and staunch neo-Nazi advocate, for online threats against South African Board of Jewish Deputies (SAJBD) vice-chairperson Karen Milner. The SAJBD recorded 69 anti-Semitic incidents during the year. Numerous individuals made anti-Semitic comments verbally, by mail, and across social media throughout the year.
U.S. embassy officials met with religious groups and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), including Muslim, Hindu, Christian, Jewish, and humanist representatives, to gauge and discuss issues of religious freedom, including cases of anti-Semitism and anti-Muslim sentiment, and pending draft legislation that remained stalled in committees at year’s end: the Prevention and Combating of Hate Crimes and Hate Speech Bill, the Muslim Marriages Bill, and a proposed draft bill that would require religious institutions to register with the government to operate.