The constitution states freedom of conscience and belief is inviolable, and it provides for the free exercise of religious beliefs. The constitution prohibits federal, state, and local governments from either supporting or hindering any religion. In March the Federal Supreme Court (STF) ruled animal sacrifice in religious rituals was constitutional, noting special protection for traditional Afro-Brazilian religions was necessary due to the country’s history of discrimination against these religions. The Rio Grande do Sul State Court of Justice continued the prosecution of individuals charged in a 2005 anti-Semitic attack against three men wearing kippahs in Porto Alegre, the state capital. In March a military police officer and a courthouse official prevented lawyer Matheus Maciel from entering two courthouses in the state of Bahia because he was wearing a religious head covering. Maciel was later permitted to enter a courthouse after he called the Bahia State Brazilian Bar Association (OAB) and reported the incident. In April the administration of Tarcila Cruz de Alencar Elementary School, located in Ceara State, removed history teacher Maria Firmino from the classroom for teaching the culture and history of Afro-Brazilian religions. On January 3, President Jair Bolsonaro signed into law a bill allowing public and private school students, except those in military training, to postpone taking exams or attending classes on their day of worship when their faith prohibits such activities. On August 21, the Sao Paulo Legislative Assembly approved a bill establishing administrative sanctions on individuals and organizations engaging in religious intolerance. The Senate passed a bill creating the annual National Day of Spiritism, to be celebrated on April 18, and a second bill designating Jaguaretama in Ceara State as the National Capital of Spiritism. On January 21, municipalities throughout the country commemorated the National Day to Combat Religious Intolerance. On March 26, Sao Paulo State Secretary of Justice and Citizenship Paulo Mascaretti launched an awareness campaign with the Inter-Religious Forum, an entity with civil society and religious group participation, to combat intolerance.
According to national human rights hotline data and other sources, societal respect for practitioners of minority religions continued to be weak, and violent attacks on Afro-Brazilian places of worship, known as terreiros, continued. Although less than 1 percent of the population follows Afro-Brazilian religions, 30 percent of the cases registered by the human rights hotline involved victims who were practitioners of Afro-Brazilian religions. According to the National Secretariat of Human Rights of the Ministry of Women, Family, and Human Rights, the national human rights hotline received 506 reports of religious intolerance in 2018, compared with 537 in 2017. From April to August, media reported members of criminal organizations attacked several terreiros in the Baixada Fluminense region of Rio de Janeiro State, expelling religious followers and preventing Afro-Brazilian religious services. On June 13, Rio de Janeiro police officers from four different police stations, including the Rio de Janeiro Civil Police Office for Racial Crimes and Crimes of Intolerance (DECRADI), launched an operation to detain individuals who participated in the attacks and arrested eight individuals. In January, after television network Record News lost a 15-year lawsuit in which it had been accused of promoting religious intolerance towards Afro-Brazilian religions, the organization paid a 600,000 reais ($149,000) fine and produced and broadcast four 20-minute programs on Afro-Brazilian religions. Religious organizations hosted interfaith community events, including the 22nd Azoany Walk in Defense of Religious Freedom in Salvador, Bahia, on August 16, which convened approximately 2,500 practitioners of Afro-Brazilian religions to advocate for the protection of Afro-Brazilian culture and religion.
In April and September, U.S. embassy officials engaged the coordinator for religious diversity at the Ministry of Women, Family, and Human Rights to discuss the government’s efforts to promote religious tolerance and prevent violence towards Afro-Brazilian religions. In July embassy officials met with the Federal District Special Police Station for the Prevention of Crimes of Discrimination based on Race, Religion, Sexual Orientation, Age, or Disability (DECRIN), which specifically covers religious hate crimes. As a result of nomination by the embassy and consulates, Ivanir dos Santos, an Afro-Brazilian activist and religious leader, was a recipient of the Secretary of State’s International Religious Freedom Award for his exceptional commitment to advancing religious freedom. His work included founding the Commission to Combat Religious Intolerance, an independent organization composed of representatives from different religious groups, members of civil society, police, and the Public Prosecutor’s Office, which documents cases of religious intolerance and assists victims. In April embassy and consulate officials met with representatives from the Israeli Federation of Rio de Janeiro to discuss anti-Semitism in the country. In May embassy and consulate officials met with representatives from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Church of Jesus Christ) at their national headquarters in Sao Paulo to discuss the importance of protecting religious freedom. In May and August officials from the Recife Consulate met with representatives of the Israeli Federation of Pernambuco to discuss issues affecting the Jewish community. Sao Paulo Consulate officials met with evangelical Christian leaders in July to discuss the role of religious leaders in promoting religious tolerance. In December the embassy hosted an interfaith dialogue on religious freedom for seven representatives from six religious and interfaith organizations to discuss the state of religious freedom in the country.
Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom
The constitution states freedom of conscience and belief is inviolable, and the free exercise of religious beliefs is guaranteed. The constitution prohibits the federal, state, and local governments from either supporting or hindering any specific religion. The law provides penalties of up to five years in prison for crimes of religious intolerance, including employment discrimination, refusal of access to public areas, and displaying, distributing, or broadcasting religiously intolerant material. Courts may fine or imprison for one to three years anyone who engages in religious hate speech. If the hate speech occurs via publication or social communication, including social media, courts may fine or imprison perpetrators for two to five years. It is illegal to write, edit, publish, or sell literature that promotes religious intolerance.
Religious groups are not required to register to establish places of worship, train clergy, or proselytize, but groups seeking tax-exempt status must register with the Department of Federal Revenue and the local municipality. States and municipalities have different requirements and regulations for obtaining tax-exempt status. Most jurisdictions require groups to document the purpose of their congregation, provide an accounting of finances, and have a fire inspection of any house of worship. Local zoning laws and noise ordinances may limit where a religious group may build houses of worship or hold ceremonies.
According to a March STF ruling, animal sacrifice in religious rituals is constitutional.
Government regulations require public schools to offer religious instruction, but neither the constitution nor legislation defines the parameters. By law, the instruction must be nondenominational and conducted without proselytizing, and alternative instruction for students who do not want to participate must be available. Schools are required to teach Afro-Brazilian religion, history, and culture. A law, signed by President Bolsonaro on January 3, allows public and private school students, except those in military training, to postpone taking exams or attending classes on their day of worship when their faith prohibits such activities. The new law guarantees the right of students to express their religious beliefs and mandates that schools provide alternatives, including taking replacement exams or makeup classes.
The law prohibits public subsidies to schools operated by religious organizations.
A constitutional provision provides the right of access to religious services and counsel to individuals of all religions in all civil and military establishments. The law states that public and private hospitals as well as civil or military prisons must comply with this provision.
A Sao Paulo State law establishes administrative sanctions for individuals and organizations engaging in religious intolerance. Punishment ranges from a warning letter to fines of up to 9,000 reais ($2,200).
The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).
On March 13, media reported a military police officer and a courthouse official tried to prevent lawyer Maciel, who wore an Afro-Brazilian religious head covering known as ekete, from entering two courthouses in Salvador, Bahia. The Bahia Court of Justice prohibits the wearing of head coverings inside courthouses. Maciel was later permitted to enter the building after he reported the incident to the OAB, a nationwide independent organization that regulates legal professions. According to media reports, Maciel criticized what he characterized as attempts to restrict his freedom; Maciel contacted members of the Religious Intolerance Commission of the OAB, which convened a meeting with all involved parties to discuss how to avoid similar incidents.
Although public and private schools are required to teach Afro-Brazilian religion, history, and culture, media reported in April that Tarcila Cruz de Alencar Elementary School administration removed history teacher Maria Firmino from the classroom for teaching the culture and history of Afro-Brazilian religions. The school, located in Juazeiro do Norte, Ceara State, informed Firmino’s lawyer that it intended to remove her from the classroom indefinitely and assign her to an administrative position. Firmino, a follower of Candomble, filed a complaint against the school at the Juazeiro do Norte Regional Police Station for not respecting her religious freedom. The Federal Prosecutor’s Office for Citizen’s Rights asked the Juazeiro do Norte Department of Education for more information on the removal. The State Prosecutor’s Office of Ceara State filed a motion to initiate an administrative proceeding on May 9, requesting additional information about the case from the education secretary and the school’s administrative director. Ceara Civil Police continued to investigate the case through year’s end.
In March the STF ruled animal sacrifice in religious rituals was constitutional. The Rio Grande do Sul State Public Prosecutor’s Office brought the case before the court, challenging a state court ruling permitting practitioners of Afro-Brazilian religions to perform animal sacrifices. The STF ruling stated that ritualistic animal sacrifice in Afro-Brazilian religions is not unconstitutional as long as it is “without excess or cruelty.” Justice Luis Barroso noted that special protection for traditional Afro-Brazilian religions was necessary due to the country’s history of discrimination.
Afro-Brazilian religious leaders from Rio’s northern suburbs who were victims of religious intolerance said police were indifferent to attacks on their places of worship, as evidenced by a lack of investigations and arrests.
In a special session on August 29, the Senate honored Adolfo Bezerra de Menezes Cavalcanti, who is widely recognized as “the father of Spiritism in Brazil.” Bezerra de Menezes, who died in 1900, was known as a pacifist and humanist who defended the right of individuals to follow Spiritism at a time when the doctrine was not widely accepted. The Senate passed a bill creating the National Day of Spiritism to be celebrated annually on April 18, the day Allan Kardec published the Book of Spirits in 1857 in France, the sacred text of Spiritist doctrine. The Senate passed a second bill designating Jaguaretama, Ceara State, the hometown of Menezes, as the National Capital of Spiritism. Ceara Senator Eduardo Girao, a Spiritist himself, led these initiatives.
On January 21, municipalities around the country commemorated the National Day to Combat Religious Intolerance. The State Attorney’s Office in Salvador, Bahia, organized an Affirmative Week of Religious Freedom that included an interfaith walk, workshops to discuss victims’ assistance channels and strategies, and a seminar on the importance of the judiciary system and the role of religious leaders in the promotion of religious freedom.
On March 26, Sao Paulo State Secretary of Justice and Citizenship Mascaretti launched an awareness campaign against religious intolerance within the state. The Inter-Religious Forum, an entity with civil society participation, coordinated the campaign through meetings, seminars, and promotion of the national human rights hotline. The forum has 101 members and unites representatives of 22 religious groups, including Buddhism, Islam, Catholicism, Protestantism, Afro-Brazilian, atheists, and agnostics.
In September the government released its third report on the ICCPR, presenting the main legislative, judicial, and administrative measures implemented by the government between 2004 and 2018, to protect the rights specified in the ICCPR. Highlights included the creation of the Religious Diversity Policy Advisory Board in 2011 under the then-National Secretariat of Human Rights and the creation of the participatory National Committee on Religious Diversity in 2013. Both entities are responsible for planning policies to defend and promote religious freedom, confronting discrimination and religious intolerance, and promoting secularism. The report also highlighted the adoption of a 2012 recommendation that requires the inclusion of a field on religious intolerance in criminal investigation records.
Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom
Although less than 1 percent of the population follows Afro-Brazilian religions, 30 percent of the cases registered by the human rights hotline involved victims who were practitioners of Afro-Brazilian religions. Four percent of instances recorded by the human rights hotline involved violence. Media reported multiple incidents where individuals and groups destroyed terreiros and sacred objects within.
Some religious leaders stated that attacks on Afro-Brazilian religious groups had increased throughout the country in recent years, attributing the increase in violence to criminal groups and a climate of intolerance promoted by evangelical groups.
According to media, on July 11, evangelical Christians, reportedly involved in drug trafficking, attacked a Candomble temple in the Parque Paulista neighborhood of Duque de Caxias, in the Baixada Fluminense region of Rio de Janeiro State. The individuals broke into the temple, in operation for more than 50 years, and forced the priestess to destroy all the symbols representing the orishas (divine beings). They also threatened to set fire to the temple if the practitioners did not stop holding regular religious services.
On April 11, media reported members of criminal organizations attacked a terreiro in Flora Park, Nova Iguacu, in the Baixada Fluminense region of Rio de Janeiro State and expelled its members. The property is located outside the Buraco do Boi favela (informal housing development), which according to multiple media sources is controlled by criminal organizations. According to media, criminals expanded their territory into the favela and banned Afro-Brazilian religious services. Someone sprayed graffiti stating, “Jesus owns this place” on a public wall in one neighborhood.
According to media reports, on June 13, Rio de Janeiro State police officers from four different police stations, including the DECRADI, launched an operation to prevent further attacks against terreiros in Nova Iguacu in Rio de Janeiro State. According to media reports, the MPF requested information from 120 religious groups operating in prisons with Rio de Janeiro State Secretariat of Penitentiary Administration permission. According to human rights sources, many of the perpetrators were former or current drug traffickers who converted to evangelical Christianity in prison, where they became radicalized to attack religious minorities and upon release, participated in the violent acts. In August police officers identified the organizers, a group of drug traffickers calling themselves Bonde de Jesus, and arrested eight persons accused of participating in the attacks, including the alleged leader of the group, Alvaro Malaquias Santa Rosa.
In other attacks on terreiros, it was unclear if the perpetrators were affiliated with a particular religious group. On January 12, media reported six armed men entered a terreiro in Camacari, Salvador, during a public event. The men assaulted and injured the religious leader, Babalorixa Rychelmy Esutobi, and the unidentified photographer for the event. The men robbed members of the terreiro as well as their guests, leaving with sacred objects, cellphones, and a car. At year’s end, local police continued to investigate the attack.
On May 6, Campinas council member Carlos Roberto de Oliveira reported to the Public Ministry an attack on the Terreiro de Umbanda Vo Benedita. According to a statement released by the terreiro, the attackers vandalized three cars in the parking lot, and members heard the attackers shout, “The Umbanda terreiros will be stoned.” An attacker threw rocks and other heavy objects at the building and punctured the car tires of the terreiro’s members. Another attacker threatened the terreiro’s leader, Joao Galerane, at gunpoint. At year’s end, police continued their investigation.
In May media reported an attack on a Candomble terreiro near the Federal University in Maceio, Alagoas State. According to religious leader Veronildes Rodrigues da Silva, someone attempted to break into the terreiro on a Sunday night but failed. The attackers returned again at approximately 4 a.m. the next morning. No one was injured; however, the area outside the gate was damaged. Da Silva submitted a complaint to the local Civil Police. According to local sources, the Alagoas State Brazilian Bar Association Social Equality Commission chair asked authorities to investigate the attack and pledged to protect the religious leader. The investigation continued through the end of the year.
In May media reported a group of approximately 50 evangelical Christians organized a religious service in front of a Candomble terreiro in Alagoinhas in the state of Bahia. According to the terreiro’s leader, the evangelical Christians became aggressive, shouting, “Satan shall die” and “let’s invoke Jesus’ name to shut down Satan’s house.” They also threw copies of the Bible at the gate of the terreiro.
According to the Falun Dafa Association of Brazil, in March a Falun Gong exposition in Brasilia was closed early due to pressure from the Chinese embassy, which some Falun Gong adherents said they believed was an attempt to conceal the Chinese Communist Party’s persecution of the Falun Gong. According to the association, they displayed the same exhibit at the University of Brasilia in October without Chinese embassy interference.
Between April and June the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) conducted a survey to update understanding of attitudes and opinions toward Jews in 18 countries around the world. In November the ADL released the results of the survey for each country, detailing the scope of anti-Semitic views among the country’s residents. The survey cited 11 stereotypical statements about Jews and asked respondents whether they agreed with them. The proportion agreeing that various statements were “probably true” was as follows: 70 percent agreed that Jews are more loyal to Israel than to Brazil; 38 percent that Jews have too much power in the business world; 63 percent that Jews talk too much about the Holocaust; 27 percent that Jews do not care what happens to anyone but their own kind; 25 percent that Jews think they are better than other people; and 39 percent that other people hate Jews because of the way they behave. According to the survey, 25 percent of the population harbored anti-Semitic attitudes – up from 16 percent in the previous survey in 2015 – which it stated represented the percentage of persons who agreed that a majority of the 11 statements were “probably true.”
From January to August, the Israeli Federation of Sao Paulo recorded 194 incidents of anti-Semitism in the country in its 2019 Anti-Semitism Report. From January to November 2018, the federation recorded 46 incidents. The report was based on empirical data with incidents coming from a range of sources, including traditional media, social media, and reports from other branch offices of the organization. The survey reported sightings of swastikas and other anti-Semitic graffiti.
There were reports of private entities and individuals inciting violence or harassment toward religious minorities on social media and in the press. Between January and August, the Israeli Federation of Sao Paulo recorded 50 incidents of anti-Semitic comments shared on social media. Between January and October of 2018, they recorded five complaints of anti-Semitic comments shared on social media.
In February Arlindinho, the son of a famous Brazilian samba singer, reported suffering persistent attacks on social media due to his religion, Candomble. He reported receiving negative and offensive comments after posting pictures involving his religion on social media. Arlindinho said he was considering filing a lawsuit against the offenders and started a campaign on social media to combat religious discrimination online.
Media reported Idalma Lima, a follower of an Afro-Brazilian religion, received threats on social media for sharing information about a ritual involving animal sacrifice on her Facebook page. Lima, a lawyer living in Santarem in western Para State, said one commenter suggested she sacrifice her minor children instead of the animals. She filed an official complaint with the local police on April 1; police investigated the case as a crime of religious intolerance. The investigation continued through year’s end.
In January Record News lost a 15-year lawsuit in which the Federal Public Prosecutor’s Office, National Institute of Afro-Brazilian Tradition and Culture (TECAB), and Center for Studies on Labor Relations and Inequality (CEERT) accused the organization of using its programming to promote religious intolerance towards Afro-Brazilian religions. As part of the settlement, the network’s parent organization, Grupo Record, owned by Bishop Edir Macedo, the founder of the evangelical Christian Universal Church of the Kingdom of God, agreed to broadcast four 20-minute programs on Afro-Brazilian religions designed and produced by TECAB and CEERT. In July Grupo Record began broadcasting the series, titled The Voice of Afro Religions. In addition to providing space in their broadcasting schedule and paying the production costs, Grupo Record had to pay 300,000 reais ($74,600) in indemnities to both TECAB and CEERT, amounting to 600,000 reais ($149,000) in total compensation.
The Ministry of Women, Family, and Human Rights’ National Secretariat of Human Rights received 506 reports of religious intolerance via the nationwide Dial 100 human rights hotline in 2018, compared with 537 in 2017. Most of the reports involved discrimination (48 percent), followed by psychological violence, including threats, humiliation, and hostility (31 percent), and institutional violence marked by discrimination in the workplace and other public settings (8 percent). Almost half of the 506 cases of religious intolerance recorded by the nationwide Dial 100 human rights hotline in 2018 were reported in the states of Sao Paulo (91), Rio de Janeiro (61), Bahia (24), Pernambuco (24), and Minas Gerais (23). There were 354 cases from January to June 2019 recorded by the Dial 100 hotline, including Sao Paulo (48), Rio de Janeiro (35), Minas Gerais (14), Goias (9), and Bahia (9). Statistics for the remainder of the year were not available.
According to a December 2018 Datafolha survey, released in January, 26 percent of those surveyed stated they had suffered some form of religious discrimination, with religion as the third-most-cited cause of discrimination, behind social class and place of residence, but higher than discrimination by gender, race or color, and sexual orientation.
On August 18, the Agora Sao Paulo newspaper published the results of an information request showing the civil police received 562 reports of religious intolerance between January and April, in comparison with 280 during the same period of 2018. Almost half the cases, 246, resulted in injury, for which the penalty is from one to six months in prison or a fine. The civil police data did not include the actual penalties imposed, but Agora Sao Paulo noted that in practice perpetrators are rarely imprisoned for this crime.
According to the Bahia State Secretariat of Racial Equality, there were 35 instances of religious intolerance in the state from January to August. The State Secretariat for Human Rights in Rio de Janeiro reported 123 instances of religious intolerance from January to June. Afro-Brazilian religious groups experienced the greatest number of occurrences, with 18 percent involving practitioners of Candomble, 57 percent other Afro-Brazilian religions, and 1 percent Umbanda. The municipalities in the metropolitan area of the state registered 55 percent of the incidents, followed by 32 percent from the Baixada Fluminense on the outskirts of the city of Rio de Janeiro, and 12 percent from the northern part of the state of Rio de Janeiro.
There were several reports of various interfaith groups, including Religions for Peace and United Religions Initiative, working across multiple faiths to promote religious freedom and tolerance. On July 14, hundreds of members of religious groups participated in a peaceful walk to combat religious intolerance in Nova Iguacu, Baixada Fluminense, Rio de Janeiro State, where evangelical Christian drug traffickers attacked terreiros numerous times. On August 16, the NGO Alzira Community Comfort Association held the 22nd Azoany Walk in Defense of Religious Freedom in Salvador, Bahia. Approximately 2,500 followers of Afro-Brazilian religions gathered to advocate for the protection of Afro-Brazilian culture and religion.
On September 15, the NGO Commission to Combat Religious Intolerance organized the 12th Annual Walk in Defense of Religious Freedom at Copacabana Beach in Rio de Janeiro. The event drew hundreds of participants from diverse religious and nonreligious backgrounds, including from Islam, Judaism, Christianity, Buddhism, spiritualism, atheism, Candomble, and Umbanda, and emphasized messages of mutual respect and love.
In Cabo de Santo Agostinho, Pernambuco State, members of Terreiro Ile Ase Sango Ayra Ibona organized a procession to honor the religious deity Oxum and ask for religious tolerance. Media reported the group walked to the banks of the Pirapama River in July to offer flowers, fruit, and jewelry. The walk helped raise awareness of Afro-Brazilian religions, promote a culture of tolerance, and encourage respect.
According to media, several religious freedom committees of state chapters of the OAB participated in events supporting religious freedom. On May 31, OAB Contagem supported and attended the Sixth Parade Against Racism and Religious Intolerance in Minas Gerais State. OAB Paraiba held the First Roundtable on Religious Intolerance and Racism on May 31. On July 24, OAB Rio de Janeiro established a hotline to receive reports of religious intolerance.
Democratic Republic of the Congo
The constitution provides for freedom of religion and prohibits discrimination based on religious belief. Relations between the government and religious organizations markedly improved in 2019, following the inauguration of President Felix Tshisekedi in January, according to media reports. In contrast to the previous year, there were no reports of government repression or intimidation of religious organizations engaged in political activities.
Antigovernment militia members targeted churches and church property in the North Kivu and Ituri Provinces, where armed groups remain active. Local media reported that on June 5, armed militia members kidnapped Father Luc Adelar Alecho, a Catholic priest in Ituri Province. The militants allegedly reproached him for his homilies urging his congregation to reject armed groups before letting him go. Local leaders in the northern part of the country expressed concern over the presence of the nomadic Muslim Mbororo cattle herder communities. Some leaders described their migration as an “Islamic invasion.” Clashes between Mbororo and local populations resulted in several deaths in Upper and Lower Uele Provinces throughout the year. In addition to religious differences, observers stated there were also economic and political concerns linked to the conflict, and for that reason it was difficult to categorize these acts as solely based on religious belief.
U.S. embassy officers met with officials in the Ministries of Justice, Human Rights, and Interior to discuss religious freedom issues, including government relations with religious organizations. Embassy officials also met regularly with religious leaders and human rights organizations and discussed relations with the government, their concerns about abuses of civil liberties, and the safety of religious leaders in the country’s conflict-affected areas.
Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom
The constitution prohibits religious discrimination and provides for freedom of religion and the right to worship subject to “compliance with the law, public order, public morality, and the rights of others.” It stipulates the right to religious freedom may not be abrogated even when the government declares a state of emergency or siege.
The law regulates the establishment and operation of religious groups. According to law, the government may legally recognize, suspend recognition of, or dissolve religious groups. The government grants tax-exempt status to recognized religious groups. Nonprofit organizations, including foreign and domestic religious groups, must register with the government to obtain official recognition by submitting a copy of their bylaws and constitution. Religious groups must register only once for the group as a whole, but nonprofit organizations affiliated with a religious group must register separately. Upon receiving a submission, the Ministry of Justice (MOJ) issues a provisional approval and, within six months, a permanent approval or rejection. Unless the MOJ specifically rejects the application, the group is considered approved and registered after six months even if the ministry has not issued a final determination. Applications from international headquarters of religious organizations must be approved by the presidency after submission through the MOJ. The law requires officially recognized religious groups to operate as nonprofits and respect the general public order. It also permits religious groups to establish places of worship and train clergy. The law prescribes penalties of up to two years’ imprisonment, a fine of 200,000 Congolese francs ($120), or both for groups that are not properly registered, but receive gifts and donations on behalf of a church or other religious organization.
The constitution permits public schools to work with religious authorities to provide religious education to students in accordance with students’ religious beliefs if parents request it. Public schools with religious institution guardianship may provide religious instruction. Government-owned schools may not mandate religious instruction, but offer religion as a subject.
The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
Following the inauguration of Felix Tshisekedi as president in January, relations between the government and religious communities improved, according to the media and religious leaders. Unlike the year prior, there were no reports of acts of violence or intimidation against Catholic Church officials by the government. In March the government freed several political prisoners from the Catholic Lay Community (CLC) who had been arrested in 2018 for leading protests, which nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and others had called an arbitrary action. Other CLC activists, including Leonnie Kandolo, who spent a year in hiding after organizing protests in support of elections in early January and February 2018, stated in January that their freedom of speech had returned with the inauguration of Tshisekedi.
The MOJ again did not issue any final registration permits for religious groups, and had not done so since 2014. An MOJ internal audit reportedly focused on fraudulent registration practices remained incomplete at year’s end and was cited by some observers as an obstacle to the resumption of registration issuances. The government, however, continued its practice that groups presumed to have been approved were permitted to operate. Unregistered domestic religious groups reported they continued to operate unhindered. The MOJ previously estimated that more than 2,000 registration applications for both religious and nonreligious NGOs remained pending and that more than 3,500 associations with no legal authorization continued to operate. Foreign-based religious groups reported they operated without restriction after applying for legal status. Under existing law, which was under review, nonprofit organizations could operate as legal entities by default if a government ministry gave a favorable opinion of their application and the government did not object to their application for status. According to 2015 registration statistics, the latest year for which the MOJ had statistics, there were 14,568 legally registered nonprofit organizations, 11,119 legal religious nonprofit organizations, and 1,073 foreign nonprofit organizations. Religious nonprofits that were legally operating and registered included 404 Catholic, 93 Protestant, 54 Muslim, and 1,322 evangelical nonprofits, the latter including those belonging to the Kimbangu Church.
Muslim community leaders again said the government did not afford them some of the same privileges as larger religious groups. The government continued to deny Muslims the opportunity to provide chaplains for Muslims in the military, police force, and hospitals, despite a complaint filed in 2015 with the then-president and his cabinet.
Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom
Illegal armed groups operating in the provinces of North Kivu and Ituri in the eastern part of the country occasionally targeted church leaders. Local media reported that on June 5, armed militia members kidnapped Father Luc Adelar Alecho, a priest and the administrator of the Catholic parish of Marie Reine de Jiba, in Ituri Province’s Welendu Ptisi Sector. The reports stated that the militants reproached him for his homilies urging his congregation to reject armed groups before letting him go.
Some religious leaders reported continued tensions between Christian and Muslim communities in the north. Local leaders expressed concerns that the nomadic Muslim Mbororo herder population was part of an “Islamic invasion” of the country. Sporadic violence between local communities and the Mbororo in Upper and Lower Uele Provinces throughout the year resulted in several deaths. In addition to religious differences, observers stated there were also economic and political concerns linked to the conflict and for that reason it was difficult to categorize these acts as solely based on religious belief.
In April ISIS claimed responsibility for attacks against a government military base that were carried out by the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), an armed group long-operating in North Kivu Province that proclaimed allegiance to ISIS in 2017 and was publicly recognized by ISIS as an affiliate in late 2018. In conjunction with the April claim of responsibility, ISIS announced the establishment of a new wilayat (province), ISIS–Central Africa. According to civil society sources in the eastern part of the country, these statements highlighted ADF’s desire to promote a strict brand of Islam in the overwhelmingly Christian region of the Great Lakes. Local Christian and Muslim leaders, with vocal support from the government, condemned ADF’s actions.
Leaders of the Jehovah’s Witnesses reported generally positive relations with individuals from other religious groups but noted that 27 cases of assault on or suspected killings of Jehovah’s Witnesses dating from as early as 2015 continued to languish in the court system or were never sent to court for criminal prosecution after the arrests of suspects. They also reported five assaults during the year that they stated were due to their religious beliefs in rural areas of Kwilu, South Kivu, and Sankuru Provinces.
Muslim leaders said that Christian groups sometimes failed to include them in intercommunal dialogues.
During the year, the Anglican Church reported that it was attempting to leave the Church of Christ in Congo, (ECC) a union of more than 70 Protestant denominations, in order to have the ability to act more independently.
The constitution provides for the free exercise of religion and religious worship and prohibits the establishment of a state religion. On January 21, citizens of the five provinces and three major cities of western Mindanao ratified the Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL), creating a new Muslim-led autonomous region and abolishing the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM). The measure provided the area’s majority Muslim population a larger region of authority. Although the referendum was widely backed by national Muslim and Christian groups, some local religious minorities continued to express concerns about the new authority. On March 29, President Rodrigo Duterte led the inauguration ceremony of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM). The Office of the President’s National Commission on Muslim Filipinos (NCMF) continued to promote the rights of Muslims at the national and local level. Catholic Church clergy continued to criticize the president’s policies, especially the drug war and his desire to reinstate the death penalty. Although the president agreed to stop denouncing the Church in 2018, he continued to express his displeasure with the conduct of its clergy. A number of priests critical of the government’s drug war received explicit death threats and raised concerns that the president’s negative statements promoted attacks against clergy. In July the government charged some members of the opposition, along with four Catholic bishops and three priests, with sedition, cyber libel, libel, and obstruction of justice because of their alleged involvement in the release of a supposed antigovernment video.
During the year, killings, bombings, and kidnappings by ISIS-affiliated and other militant groups continued. ISIS claimed responsibility for several attacks, including a January suicide bombing at a cathedral in Jolo that killed 20 persons and wounded several others. In August a cathedral in Baguio received bomb threats, allegedly from ISIS affiliates. Following the attacks, members of the Catholic and Muslim communities gathered in the cathedral to show solidarity against terrorism. On December 22, an explosion occurred outside a Catholic church during its Sunday Mass. By year’s end no public claim of responsibility for the attacks had emerged, though authorities suggested ISIS-linked groups were the most likely perpetrators.
Violent incidents, particularly in rural areas in the south of the country, were frequently associated with interclan rido (feud) violence. Since religion and ethnicity are often closely linked, incidents were difficult to classify as solely based on religious identity. Religious scholars and leaders within the Muslim, Catholic, and Protestant communities stated relations among religious groups were generally amicable, but they reported some tensions between different religious and ethnic groups, especially in conflict-affected areas such as Marawi City and Sulu. The NCMF reported no formal incidents of discrimination during the year, but stated that subtle forms of anti-Muslim societal discrimination existed throughout the country. Religious communities continued to participate in interreligious efforts to alleviate friction, foster connections, and address discrimination.
In a U.S. embassy-organized forum in June, Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA) representatives and legislative branch staffers discussed implementation of the BOL, including its implications for religious minorities and the importance of supporting all communities of faith, particularly in conflict areas. In meetings with religious groups, the government, and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), embassy representatives highlighted the importance of religious freedom and interfaith dialogue and cooperation. The embassy sponsored the visit to the United States of two scholars, who had advocated religious tolerance and social inclusion, for a three-week law and leadership program, and encouraged a local NGO to incorporate a religious tolerance module into its teaching curriculum.
Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom
The constitution provides for the free exercise of religion and religious worship and prohibits the establishment of a state religion. No religious test is required for the exercise of civil or political rights. The constitution provides for the separation of religion and state. The law treats intentional attacks directed against religiously affiliated buildings or facilities as war crimes or crimes against international humanitarian law. The law forbids public officials from interrupting religious worship, as well as any person “notoriously” offending religious feelings during such services or in a place of worship.
The law requires organized religious groups to register with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and with the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) to establish tax-exempt status. Religious groups must submit their articles of faith and bylaws for SEC registration as religious corporations. The SEC requires religious corporations to submit annual financial statements. The law does not specify penalties for failure to register with the SEC. To register as a nonstock, nonprofit organization, religious groups must meet the basic requirements for corporate registration with the BIR and must request tax exemption from the BIR. The basic requirements for registration include a name verification of the religious corporation, articles of incorporation and bylaws, the name of a director, list of members, and a list of financial contributors. The BIR provides tax exemptions to newly established religious corporations that are then reviewed for renewal every three years. The BIR may fine religious corporations for the late filing of registrations or for failing to submit registration datasheets and financial statements.
The government permits religious instruction in public schools with written parental consent, provided there is no cost to the government. Based on a traditional policy of promoting moral education, local public schools give religious groups the opportunity to teach moral values during school hours. Attendance is not mandatory, parents must express in writing a desire for their child to attend religious instruction for a specific denomination, and the various groups share classroom space. Students who do not attend religious instruction because no class was offered in their denomination or because their parents did not express a desire receive normal supervised class time. The government also allows groups to distribute religious literature in public schools. The law mandates that government agencies address religious issues and consult recognized experts on Filipino Muslim beliefs, as well as the history, culture, and identity of indigenous peoples, when formulating the national history curriculum.
By law, public schools must protect the religious rights of students. Muslim girls may wear the hijab and are not required to wear shorts during physical education classes.
The government recognizes sharia in all parts of the country through a presidential decree. Sharia courts are organized into five sharia districts, all located in the south of the country; Muslims residing in other areas must travel to these districts to pursue an action in a sharia court. Sharia courts handle only cases relating to personal laws affecting family relations and property. Sharia does not apply in criminal matters and applies only to Muslims. The state court system hears cases involving Muslims and non-Muslims, and national laws apply in those cases.
The BOL ratified on January 21 creates the BARMM, a new Muslim-led autonomous region. The BARMM replaces the former governing authority, the ARMM. The new entity has jurisdiction over five provinces and three major, noncontiguous cities. The BOL provides the framework for the transition to greater autonomy for the area’s majority Muslim population.
The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
Some Catholic clergy who vocally criticized extrajudicial killings attributed to the war on drugs under President Duterte or who stated their opposition to the reinstatement of the death penalty reported being harassed, intimidated, and threatened with death by unknown perpetrators following Duterte’s threats against them in late 2018, which sources stated he and his government subsequently tried to walk back. In July following the release of a video linking President Duterte and his family to the illicit drug trade, the government charged some members of the opposition, along with four Catholic bishops and three priests, with sedition, cyber libel, libel, and obstruction of justice concerning their alleged involvement in the video’s production and release. Various ecumenical groups condemned the charges, filed through the Philippine National Police (PNP) Criminal Investigation and Detection Group.
The Commission on Human Rights (CHR) received a complaint through its social media account saying a local government office in South Cotabato prohibited Balik-Islam (Philippine converts to Islam) from constructing mosques within its village. Initially, the local government stated that the structures did not meet building codes, but after public pressure, it relented and allowed the mosque projects to move forward. After conducting an investigation into a refusal to erect a mosque by local officials in Panagasinan, the NCMF determined that local officials halted construction because residents cited concerns that having the religious structure in their community might incite terrorism.
The CHR Mindanao regional office expressed concern over reported cases of church leaders and faith-based organizations being publicly labeled as members or supporters of the New People’s Army (NPA), the armed insurgent wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines. In February leaflets containing names of alleged NPA members, reportedly including some religious leaders, were posted and distributed in public places and private gatherings by unknown individuals; the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and PNP publicly denied any involvement.
In November media reported that the AFP included the National Council of Churches Philippines (NCCP) in a list of 18 organizations it described or “red-tagged” as communist terrorist groups or groups wittingly or unwittingly providing funds to such groups. The NCCP, one of the largest associations of Protestant and non-Roman Catholic denominations in the Philippines, described the listing as an “attack on [their] Christian faith and tradition.”
On several occasions, President Duterte expressed disapproval of the Catholic Church, despite his 2018 vow not to do so. In a public speech in February he said Catholicism may disappear in 25 years because of various criminal allegations, such as corruption and sexual abuse. Media reported that the criticism could relate more to the Church’s criticism of human rights abuses in Duterte’s anti-drug campaign. Duterte added in a speech in September that he would not support the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines’ (CBCP) celebration in 2021 of 500 years of Catholicism in the country. Some clergy continued to raise concerns that the manner in which the president denounced the Church promoted violence against its priests and leaders.
The Department of Education continued to support its Arabic Language and Islamic Values Education (ALIVE) program for Muslim students in private madrassahs and public elementary schools with a Muslim population of 10 percent or greater. For the 2018-19 school year, 1,686 public elementary schools administered the voluntary ALIVE program for 145,591 students, compared to 1,622 schools and 158,093 students the previous year.
Madrassahs continued to have the option of registering with the NCMF and Department of Education, both, or neither. Registered madrassahs received government funding and produced curricula that were subject to government oversight. There were 85 private madrassahs registered with the Department of Education during the 2018-2019 school year. Many private madrassahs, however, choose to remain unregistered rather than allow government oversight, according to Department of Education representatives.
The Department of Education’s Office of Madrassah Education managed local and international financial assistance to the private madrassah system. By law, only registered schools/madrassahs may receive financial assistance from the government. Madrassahs registered by the Department of Education followed the Standard Madrassah Curriculum and received funding for classrooms, facilities, and educators who taught the Revised Basic Education Curriculum. The overall funding for and attendance at private madrassahs increased by 25 percent from the previous year. During the year, the Department of Education provided funding of 90,960,000 pesos ($1.8 million) to 18,192 private madrassah students, compared to 67,510,000 pesos ($1.33 million) allocated to 13,502 private madrassah students in 2018.
A study by the Institute for Autonomy and Governance showed that 90 percent of 169 madrassahs surveyed in 2018 sought government recognition and support; however, the study stated that complicated accreditation processes and requirements hindered them from registering. The survey also conveyed the concerns of Muslim school leaders about the perception that terrorist groups used traditional madrassahs for recruitment, especially after the Marawi siege. The NCMF distributed books in April in order to alleviate community concerns that all traditional Muslim schools bred violent extremist ideologies.
On March 29, President Duterte led the inauguration ceremony of the BARMM. The results of a January plebiscite added Basilan and Cotabato City to BARMM territories. Although the move was widely backed by Muslims and Christians nationwide, some local religious minorities continued to express their concerns about the new authority. The BARMM government designated two seats, one for a Christian and one for an indigenous delegate, to its council to allay minority community concerns. BARMM authorities, an amalgamation of members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and presidential appointees, continued setting up their government, establishing budget priorities, staffing offices, and implementing infrastructure projects. The BARMM government continued to reinforce existing legislation that governed the application of sharia and provided an alternative dispute mechanism for non-Muslims seeking redress in the courts.
NCMF officials said that anti-Muslim discrimination continued to occur in government offices but cited no specific examples. Some Muslim leaders, including an NCMF official, expressed concern about the low percentage of Muslims in senior government and military positions. There were 13 Muslims in the 301-member House of Representatives and one Muslim cabinet appointee. No members of the Senate were Muslim. In October seven Muslim lawmakers of the House of Representatives and the Federation of Free Workers issued statements calling for President Duterte to appoint a Muslim justice to the 15-person supreme court for the first time since 1995.
The PSA estimated during the year that 40 percent of five million total unregistered residents were children aged between birth and 14, primarily among Muslim and indigenous groups. Citizenship derives from birth to a citizen parent. The government initiated a pilot program in Metro Manila that provides undocumented Muslim Filipinos with an identity card – the Muslim Filipino Identity Card– stating that it was intended to help them access services, since many in this population did not have a birth certificate. Sources stated that the lack of a birth certificate did not generally result in a denial of education or other services, but it could cause delays in some circumstances. Undocumented Filipinos could use this secondary identification when applying for jobs, schools, and for other government services in lieu of a birth certificate or formal registry. The NCMF noted that this secondary identification helped overseas Filipino workers who found themselves in precarious labor situations. If their employers confiscated their passports, these secondary IDs could speed the government’s citizenship assessment, thus providing fast repatriation services. Critics expressed reservations about the potential for abuse in similar initiatives in the past.
Muslim officials reported that while Muslim prison detainees were allowed to engage in religious observances, Roman Catholic Mass was often broadcast by loudspeaker to both Catholic and non-Catholic prison populations.
In March the NCMF, along with other religious leaders, participated in an interfaith dialogue in Cebu City to highlight the importance of youth involvement in curbing violent extremism. NCMF Secretary Saidamen Pangarungan stressed that an effective way of achieving peace was through interfaith collaboration.
In January the Department of Tourism announced plans to make the country a significant “religious pilgrimage destination” by restoring and developing historic churches and Christian shrines throughout the country.
The NCMF’s Bureau of Pilgrimage and Endowment continued to administer logistics for the Hajj, such as obtaining flight schedules, administering vaccines, coordinating with the Department of Foreign Affairs to process Hajj passports, filing Hajj visa applications at the Saudi embassy, and conducting predeparture orientations for pilgrims. The NCMF reported that 7,232 individuals made the pilgrimage during the year, lower than the 8,000-limit set by the Saudi Ministry of Hajj for pilgrims from the Philippines, but an increase of 1,419 persons from the previous year. The NCMF also administered the awqaf (an endowment for the upkeep of Islamic properties and institutions) and continued to oversee the establishment and maintenance of Islamic centers and other projects.
In February the senate adopted a resolution filed by Senate President Vicente Sotto declaring the first Thursday of February “Synchronized National Interfaith Prayers for Peace and Reconciliation.” The resolution aimed to encourage Filipinos of all religious groups to participate in a universal prayer for peace.
The government attributed several killings, attacks, and kidnappings in the south of the country to the Maute Group and the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) – both designated as terrorist organizations by the U.S. Department of State – the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), and other ISIS-related terrorist groups. ISIS claimed responsibility for a January suicide bombing at a cathedral in Jolo that killed 20 persons and wounded several others. In August a cathedral in Baguio received bomb and terror threats from alleged ISIS affiliates. Following these attacks, members of the Catholic and Muslim communities gathered in the cathedral to show solidarity against terrorism. Eleven soldiers and nine civilians were wounded in a December 22 grenade attack adjacent to a radio station and a Catholic cathedral in Cotabato City. The attack reportedly unfolded as soldiers dismounted from a military truck to provide security for a Mass taking place at the cathedral. Authorities suggested the attack, which came on the eve of a planned visit by President Duterte to Cotabato, may have been linked to ISIS-linked groups operating in the area, though no one claimed responsibility by year’s end. The government continued sustained military, law enforcement, and counterterrorism operations against the Maute Group, ASG, and other ISIS-related groups.
Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom
Violent incidents, particularly in rural areas in the south of the country, were frequently associated with interclan rido (feud) violence. Since religion and ethnicity are often closely linked, incidents were difficult to classify as solely based on religious identity.
Religious scholars and leaders within the Muslim, Catholic, and Protestant communities stated relations among religious groups were generally amicable, but they reported tensions among different religious and ethnic groups, especially in conflict-affected areas such as Marawi City and Sulu. Social media comments denigrating the beliefs or practices of Muslims continued to appear.
The NCMF received several formal complaints of discrimination on the grounds of Muslim religious identity during the year. The organization reported that Muslims received stares in public for wearing hijabs, particularly in schools and banks. NCMF noted a successful legal intervention on behalf of a Muslim nursing student whose school, citing health concerns, initially prevented her from wearing a hijab. The NCMF also stated that subtle forms of anti-Muslim societal discrimination continued to exist throughout the country, particularly among detainees in correctional institutions.
Religious communities continued to participate in interreligious efforts to alleviate friction, foster connections, and address discrimination. The CBCP collaborated with other Christian groups and civil society networks to prepare for the implementation of the BOL. Other interfaith efforts by the CBCP, but not limited to religious freedom issues, included multi-sectoral consultations and meetings with provincial and local governments on localizing humanitarian coordination and collaboration against human trafficking.
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. Throughout the year, religious groups and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) continued to express concerns that two separate draft laws, one requiring religious groups to register with the government and the other criminalizing, defining, and punishing hate crimes and speech, could potentially infringe on religious freedom and freedom of speech. In March the Pretoria High Court ordered the Dutch Reformed Church to allow individual church councils to recognize and bless same-sex relationships and to employ noncelibate gay clergy. In September the Constitutional Court ruled that parental rights to religious freedom did not include the right to discipline their children using corporal punishment (including spanking), in response to a case brought by the NGO Freedom of Religion SA.
The South African Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD) recorded 36 anti-Semitic incidents during the year – a 15-year low. Numerous individuals made anti-Semitic comments throughout the year. Religious leaders reported a number of anti-Muslim incidents, including vandalism of several mosques and desecration of Muslim graves in a Cape Town cemetery, and attempts to prevent the slaughter of animals for Eid-al-Adha.
U.S. government officials met with religious groups and 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 a proposed draft bill that would require religious institutions to register with the government in order to operate.
Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom
The constitution provides for freedom of religion and belief, including the right to form, join, and maintain religious associations. It prohibits religious discrimination and specifies freedom of expression does not extend to advocacy of hatred based on religion. The constitution permits legislation recognizing systems of personal and family law to which persons professing a particular religion adhere. It also allows religious observances in state or state-supported institutions, provided they are voluntary and conducted on an equitable basis. These rights may be limited for reasons that are “reasonable and justifiable in an open and democratic society based on human dignity, equality, and freedom” and take account of “all relevant factors.” Cases of discrimination against persons on the grounds of religion may be taken to Equality Courts, the South African Human Rights Commission, and the Constitutional Court. The constitution also provides for the promotion and respect of languages used for religious purposes, including, but not limited to, Arabic, Hebrew, and Sanskrit.
The constitution establishes and governs the operation of the Commission for the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Cultural, Religious, and Linguistic Communities (CRL) with the mission of fostering the rights of communities to freely observe and practice their cultures, religions, and language. The CRL is an independent national government institution whose chair is appointed by the president and whose commissioners include members of the clergy, scholars, and politicians, among others.
The law does not require religious groups to register; however, registered religious and other nonprofit groups may qualify as public benefit organizations, allowing them to open bank accounts and exempting them from paying income tax. To register as a public benefit organization, groups must submit a nonprofit organization application, including their constitution, contact information, and list of officers and documentation stating they meet a number of prescribed requirements that largely ensure accounting and tax compliance, to the provincial social development office. A group registers once with the local office but its status then applies nationwide. Once registered, the group must submit annual reports on any changes to this information, important achievements and meetings, and financial information, as well as an accountant’s report.
The government allows but does not require religious education in public schools but prohibits advocating the tenets of a particular religion.
The law allows for marriages to be conducted under customary law; however, it applies only to “those customs and usages traditionally observed among the indigenous African people” and may be performed by all religious groups and their leaders.
The constitution grants detained persons visitation rights with their chosen religious counselor.
The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
In March the Pretoria High Court ordered the Dutch Reformed Church to allow individual church councils to recognize and bless same-sex relationships and to employ noncelibate gay clergy. The case effectively ended the Church’s 2016 policy banning LGBTI persons from marrying or becoming clergy, according to civil society activists. In September the Church’s General Synod adopted a policy “in which everyone’s human dignity is respected.” The synod’s decision allowed councils and ministers to “confirm civil unions between persons of the same sex” and called for the licensing of theological students without regard to their “race, gender, class, or sexual orientation and identity.”
In June the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) charged an officer with disobedience for refusing to remove her religious headscarf. Major Fatima Isaacs worked in SANDF for more than a decade and always wore the Islamic garment under her military beret. According to her attorney, Isaacs received permission to wear her hijab from senior officers. One “colonel had continuously refused her request until he served her with a final written warning for repeatedly disobeying a lawful instruction,” the attorney said. In August SANDF gave Isaacs interim relief while it reviewed its dress code. In November the case was postponed to January 2020.
In September the CRL denounced a public school in Alberton, Gauteng for promoting a specific religion. The CRL cited a 2017 ruling by the High Court in Johannesburg that found it unconstitutional for Laerskool Randhart and other public schools to promote one religion over others. A parent complained to the CRL that the school continued to hold Monday morning Bible reading and prayer along with Wednesday religious periods featuring a teacher from a church. “The outcome of the High Court matter is quite explicit about this because it said that schools have the right to determine access to any religion, but any preference given to one religion is not permitted,” said CRL Chair Luka David Mosoma.
Also in September, in a case brought by the NGO Freedom of Religion SA, the Constitutional Court ruled that parents may not spank their children. The case concerned a father convicted in 2016 of assaulting his 13-year-old son and upheld an earlier ruling by the High Court to do away with the common-law defense of reasonable chastisement when spanking a child. The Constitutional Court found that “violence meted out to the son… took the form of vicious kicking and punching… The father could not… [have] relied on any religious or cultural ground to justify that unmistakably immoderate and unreasonable application of force…The application of force or a resort to violence, which could be harmful or abused, cannot in circumstances where there is an effective non-violent option available be said to be consonant with the best interests of the child.” The court charged parliament with devising an appropriate regulatory framework to implement the decision and stated, “The aim is not to prosecute parents but to get them to parent better. The removal of the defense does not mean that all cases of parental corporal punishment mean automatic or frequent prosecution of parents.” Freedom of Religion SA argued that “there is a clear distinction between violence or abuse, and mild (non-injurious) physical correction.” Freedom of Religion SA’s attorney said the judgment “sets a very dangerous precedent in that the State can dictate to people of faith how to read and live out the Scriptures, thereby seriously eroding their right to religious freedom.”
According to media, the Johannesburg Metro Police (JMPD) closed at least 16 churches for not complying with city bylaws regarding noise and fire safety. JMPD also created a forum with church leaders to raise awareness about the municipal code. “Rogue churches, they will never be allowed,” JMPD head David Tembe told the private broadcaster eNCA.
In February the then minister of cooperative governance and traditional affairs urged the CRL to “protect the public against abuse in the name of religion” after a video clip of a pastor allegedly raising someone from the dead was widely distributed on the internet. In July the new CRL chair stated that “the issue of regulation of religion is still on the plate… Parliament will have to take a position on whether religion is regulated or not.” Several groups, including the Southern Africa Catholic Bishops’ Conference, the nonprofit Christian organization Freedom of Religion South Africa (FORSA), and the International Institute for Religious Freedom, stated their continued opposition to a 2016 CRL legislative proposal requiring religious groups to register, stating it would restrict their religious freedom. The proposal would require religious groups to register formally with the government and would create a peer review council, consisting of representatives from various religious groups, which would grant organizations and individual religious leaders’ permission to operate. In 2018 the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs announced that every comment it had received from the religious community opposed the CRL proposal. No member of the committee recommended that the CRL proposal be forwarded for adoption by parliament. According to media, the legislative proposal was prompted by the CRL’s 2016 investigation that revealed some independent church leaders instructed their congregations to eat live snakes, expose their faces to insect repellant, drink gasoline, and pay large sums of money to receive blessings and miracles. The proposal remained with the parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs at year’s end.
In 2018 the Department of Justice introduced to parliament a hate crimes and hate speech bill that would criminalize any action or statement motivated by bias or hatred towards an individual based upon a number of categories, including his or her ethnic, national, religious, or sexual identity; health status; employment status or type; or physical ability. The bill would provide law enforcement officials and courts increased authority to arrest and punish offenders, and it would mandate prison sentences of up to three years for first-time offenses. Opponents to the bill, including religious figures, media representatives, and civil society and NGOs, argued the bill’s definition of hate crimes and speech was too vague and could potentially restrict freedom of religion and speech. The draft legislation was expected to be debated in parliament in early 2020, according to media reports.
Twin brothers Brandon Lee Thulsie and Tony Lee Thulsie continued to await trial on charges of contravening the Protection of Constitutional Democracy Against Terror and Related Activities. The brothers, along with two others who were alleged to have links to ISIS, were arrested in 2016 for allegedly planning to set off explosives at the U.S. Embassy in Pretoria and Jewish institutions in the country. Their trial was expected to begin in March 2020.
Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom
In June unknown individuals vandalized three Western Cape Jewish cemeteries. A Jewish group in Strand filed a police complaint after four Jewish gravestones were damaged.
In July at a Johannesburg university following the showing of a documentary, a student said that “if Hitler had succeeded in wiping out the Jews, there would be no apartheid state of Israel,” according to the SAJBD. The student subsequently apologized.
In August a driver rammed the trailer of a Muslim family in Saddlebrook Estate, a gated neighborhood in Midrand, Gauteng, as they were arriving home with animals to slaughter for Eid-al-Adha. The driver also slashed the tires of the family’s vehicle, for which he was subsequently arrested. The slaughtering eventually took place under police guard. Representatives of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals had visited the residents’ premises and deemed them suitable for the slaughtering ceremony. The estate’s board of directors denounced the “intolerant and illegal actions in the estate of some residents.”
In September protesters from nearby neighborhood Thokoza forced open the gate of Katlehong Mosque in Johannesburg and burned a parked car and some artwork in the building. Imam Sheikh Ishaq told media the attack stemmed from a hoax message circulating on social media alleging that Pakistanis and Bangladeshis were kidnapping students from a local school. Later in September, a man threw a Molotov cocktail at the Himayatul Islam Mosque while worshippers were inside. Police arrested two suspects, according to media reports.
In October vandals desecrated 80 Islamic graves in Mowbray in Cape Town and rearranged the headstones in the shape of a cross, according to media.
The SAJBD recorded a 15-year low of 36 anti-Semitic incidents during the year, a 40 percent drop from the 62 during 2018. The incidents included verbal threats and intimidation, verbal abuse, abusive communications, and graffiti/offensive slogans.
During Ramadan in Cape Town, a neighbor of the Zeenatul Islam Mosque in the neighborhood known as District Six lodged a noise complaint with the city over the mosque’s call to prayer. A variety of organizations, including the Desmond and Leah Tutu Legacy Foundation, defended the mosque. “It defies logic that anyone living in District Six…would consider the call to prayer worthy of a complaint,” it said in a statement, referring to the fact that District Six has historically had a significant Muslim population and the Zeenatul Islam Mosque had been broadcasting the call to prayer since 1919.
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 created and filled two new positions dealing with religious freedom issues: an independent advisor on anti-Semitism and an independent advisor appointed to provide expert advice on a definition of “Islamophobia.” The government also appointed a new special envoy for freedom of religion or belief. In addition to coordinating efforts among faith groups in the UK, the special envoy will play a key role in the UK’s international advocacy for religious freedom and has been charged with implementing recommendations from an independent review into the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s (FCO’s) support for persecuted Christians, completed in May. Following the Christchurch, New Zealand mosque attack, the government doubled the amount of funding from 800,000 pounds ($1.06 million) in 2018-2019 to 1.6 million pounds ($2.11 million) from 2019-2020 available to provide security at places of worship and related security training. This was in addition to a new five million pound ($6.6 million) fund to provide security training for places of worship across England and Wales. The main political parties and party members faced numerous accusations of religious bias. The Conservative Party suspended several members who posted or endorsed anti-Muslim comments on Twitter. The Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) asked the Equalities and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) to launch an inquiry into “Islamophobia in the Conservative Party”; however, no inquiry was launched by year’s end. Separately, after receiving a number of complaints, the EHRC launched an investigation into whether the Labour Party had “unlawfully discriminated against, harassed, or victimized people because they are Jewish.” A BBC documentary reported allegations of anti-Semitism within the Labour Party and the party’s and its leader’s mishandling the issue.
The government reported a 3 percent increase (to 8,566 offenses) in religiously motivated hate crimes in England and Wales in the 2018-2019 period. The annual report of the nongovernmental organization (NGO) Community Security Trust (CST) recorded 1,805 anti-Semitic incidents during the year, the highest ever annual figure recorded by the organization, and 7 percent higher than the preceding year. This was the fourth year in a row in which CST documented a record high. Among the anti-Semitic incidents were 157 assaults and one incident classified as “extreme violence.” There were a further 710 incidents of nonviolent abusive behavior. CST recorded 697 anti-Semitic online incidents, a sharp rise from 384 in 2018. The most recent annual report from NGO Tell MAMA (Measuring Anti-Muslim Attacks), which monitors anti-Muslim activity, showed 3,173 reports of anti-Muslim hate incidents in 2018, including 1,891 recorded by police. This was the highest number since the NGO’s founding in 2011. A European Commission (EC) survey published in September showed that 61 percent of respondents believed discrimination based on religion or belief was very or fairly widespread in the country, while 34 percent said it was fairly or very rare. A Special Eurobarometer survey of perceptions of anti-Semitism based on interviews conducted in December 2018 showed that 62 percent of respondents believed anti-Semitism was a problem in the country, and 44 percent believed it had increased over the previous five years. A number of interfaith initiatives took place throughout the year, including activities across the country during Inter-Faith Week in October.
Visiting senior U.S. government officials and embassy staff engaged with government officials and religious groups to advance international religious freedom issues, supported by a strong social media presence. In July and October, the U.S. Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism met with government officials and encouraged British Jewish and interfaith communities to continue to speak out against religious hatred and intolerance. In a roundtable with the Archbishop of Canterbury and other faith leaders in May, the Secretary of State welcomed input by faith leaders in the policymaking process. In April the Ambassador met with the top leaders of the British Jewish community to hear their concerns regarding the rise of anti-Semitism in the UK and Europe. In October the Ambassador co-hosted an event with the FCO to celebrate International Religious Freedom Day, joined by the Minister of State for the Commonwealth, UN, and South Asia. Throughout the year, the embassy’s social media messaging on international religious freedom reached approximately 170,000 persons.
Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom
In the absence of a written constitution, the law establishes the Church of England as England’s state church. Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland do not have state religions. Legislation establishes the Church of Scotland as Scotland’s national church, but it is not dependent on any government body or the queen for spiritual matters or leadership.
The Human Rights Act 1998 protects freedom of thought, conscience, and religion. It states, “Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief, in worship, teaching, practice and observance.” The Human Rights Act reaffirms the European Convention of Human Rights, Article 9, which guarantees freedom of thought, conscience, and religion, subject to certain restrictions that are “in accordance with law” and “necessary in a democratic society.”
As the supreme governor of the Church of England, the monarch must always be a member of, and promise to uphold, that Church. The monarch appoints Church of England officials, including lay and clergy representatives, on the advice of the prime minister and the Crown Appointments Commission. Aside from these appointments, the state is not involved in the Church’s administration. The Church of Scotland is governed by its General Assembly, which has the authority to make the laws determining how it operates.
In England and Wales, the law prohibits religiously motivated hate speech and any acts intended to incite religious hatred through the use of words or the publication or distribution of written material. The law defines religious hatred as hatred of a group because of its religious belief or lack thereof. Police are responsible for investigating criminal offenses and for gathering evidence; the Crown Prosecution Service, which is an independent body and the main public prosecution service for England and Wales, is responsible for deciding whether a suspect should be charged with a criminal offense. The maximum penalty for inciting religious hatred is seven years in prison. If there is evidence of religious hostility in connection with any crime, it is a “religiously aggravated offense” and carries a higher maximum penalty than does the underlying crime alone. 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. A representative of the congregation, for example, a proprietor, trustee, or religious head, must complete and submit an application form and pay a fee of 29 pounds ($38) to a local registrar. The General Registrar Office typically provides registration certificates to the local superintendent registrar within 20 working days. The law also states buildings, rooms, or other premises may be registered as meeting places for religious worship upon payment of a fee; the General Register Office for England and Wales keeps a record of the registration, and the place of worship is assigned a “worship number.” Registration is not compulsory, but it provides certain financial advantages and is also required before a place of worship may be registered as a venue for marriages. Registered places of worship are exempt from paying taxes and benefit from participating in the country’s Gift Aid program. Gift Aid allows charities to claim back the 25 percent basic rate of tax already paid on donations by the donor, boosting the value of a donation by a quarter. The law only applies in England and Wales and does not cover the Church of England or Wales.
The law requires religious education (RE) and worship for children between the ages of three and 18 in state-run schools, with the content decided at the local level. Specialist schoolteachers, rather than religious groups, teach the syllabus. Parents may request to exempt their children from RE, and in England and Wales, students may opt out themselves at age 14, although religious worship continues until students leave school at either age 16 or 18. State schools that are not legally designated as religious require the RE curriculum to reflect “Christian values,” be nondenominational, and refrain from attempts to convert students. It must also teach the practices of other principal religions in the country. Students and, unless they are employed by faith-based schools, teachers may decline participation in collective worship, without prejudice. All schools not designated as religious, whether private or state-run, must maintain neutrality in their interpretation of the RE syllabus and must avoiding presenting one faith or belief as greater than another.
State schools in England and Wales that are not legally designated as religious are required to practice daily collective prayer or worship of “a wholly or mainly…Christian character.” Schoolteachers lead these assemblies; however, parents have the legal right to request their children not participate in collective prayer or worship. The law permits sixth form students (generally 16- to 19-year-olds in the final two years of secondary school) to withdraw from worship without parental permission or action. State schools not designated as religious are free to hold other religious ceremonies as they choose.
The government requires schools to consider the practices of different religious groups when setting dress codes for students. This includes wearing or carrying specific religious artifacts, not cutting hair, dressing modestly, or covering the head. Guidance from the Department of Education requires schools to balance the rights of individual students against the best interests of the school community as a whole; it acknowledges schools could be justified in restricting individuals’ rights to manifest their religion or beliefs when necessary, for example, to promote cohesion and good order.
In Scotland only denominational (faith-based) schools practice daily collective prayer or worship; however, religious observance at least six times per year is compulsory in all Scottish schools. Religious observance is defined as “community acts which aim to promote the spiritual development of all members of the school’s community.” Examples of religious observance include school assemblies and events to recognize religious events, including Christmas and Easter. Parents may make the decision to opt out their children from this requirement, but children may not make this decision themselves.
In Bermuda the law requires students attending state schools to participate in collective worship, characterized by educational officials as reciting the Lord’s Prayer, but it prohibits worship “distinctive of any particular religious group.” At the high school level, students are required to take a course that explores various religions until year 9 (ages 11-14); in years 10 and 11 (ages 15-16), courses on religion are optional.
There are two faith-based private schools in Bermuda that operate from kindergarten through high school. One follows the guidance of the North American division of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. The other follows principles of the Catholic Church.
The government determines whether to establish a faith-based school when there is evidence of demand, such as petitions from parents, religious groups, teachers, or other entities. If a faith-based school is not oversubscribed, then the school must offer a place to any child, but if the school is oversubscribed, it may use faith as a criterion for acceptance. Nonstate faith-based schools are eligible to claim “charitable status,” which allows for tax exemptions.
Almost all schools in Northern Ireland receive state support, with approximately 90 percent of students attending Protestant or Catholic schools. Approximately 7 percent of school-age children attend religiously integrated schools with admissions criteria designed to enroll equal numbers of Catholic and Protestant children without the intervention of the state, as well as children from other religious and cultural backgrounds. Students of different faiths are able to attend Protestant or Catholic schools but tend to gravitate toward the integrated schools. These integrated schools are not secular but are “essentially Christian in character and welcome all faiths and none.” RE – a core syllabus designed by the Department of Education, Church of Ireland, and Catholic, Presbyterian, and Methodist Churches – is compulsory in all government-funded schools, and, “The school day shall include collective Christian worship whether in one or more than one assembly.” All schools receiving government funding must teach RE; however, students may request to opt out of the classes and collective worship. Catholic-managed schools draw uniquely on the Roman Catholic tradition for their RE, while other schools may draw on world religions.
An estimated 30 sharia councils operate parallel to the national legal system. They adjudicate Islamic religious matters, including religious divorces, which are not recognized under civil law. Participants may submit cases to the councils on a voluntary basis. The councils do not have the legal status of courts, although they have legal status as mediation and arbitration bodies. As such, rulings may not be appealed in the courts.
The law prohibits discrimination on the grounds of “religion or belief” or the “lack of religion or belief.” 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 be selective on the grounds of religion when recruiting teachers. In the rest of the country, the law prohibits any discrimination, including employment discrimination, based on religious belief, unless the employer can show a genuine requirement for a particular religion.
Citing a limited broadcast spectrum, the law prohibits religious groups from holding national radio licenses, public teletext licenses, more than one television service license, and/or radio and television multiplex licenses, which would allow them to offer multiple channels as part of a single bundle of programming.
Twenty-six senior bishops of the Anglican Church sit in the House of Lords as representatives of the state Church. Known as the Lords Spiritual, they read prayers at the start of each daily meeting and play a full role in the 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 July then-prime minister May appointed Lord John Mann as the government’s Independent Advisor on Anti-Semitism. Then-prime minister May created the position to address reports of rising anti-Semitism in the UK. Lord Mann is responsible for providing the Ministry of Housing, Communities, and Local Government with independent advice on the most effective methods to tackle anti-Semitism. Lord Mann was charged with collaborating with the UK’s special envoy for post-Holocaust issues and the Special Envoy for the Freedom of Religion and Belief to ensure a consistent approach across domestic and international policy and efforts on anti-Semitism. In addition to speaking publicly and making statements to the media on prominent cases of anti-Semitism, he partnered with several organizations to raise awareness of anti-Semitism in the UK, including the Chelsea Football Club’s Say No to Anti-Semitism Campaign. In August new Home Secretary Priti Pratel told the media that she would “stand up to the threat of anti-Semitism” in the country.
In July Imam Qari Asim, Deputy Chair of the government’s Anti-Muslim Hatred Working Group, was appointed independent advisor to lead work to propose a definition of Islamophobia. The stated purpose of the appointment was to help strengthen government efforts to combat anti-Muslim sentiment by developing a formal definition of “Islamophobia” after an existing definition came under question for potentially undermining freedom of speech. The Anti-Muslim Hatred Working Group was established in 2012 to develop and implement proposals to address anti-Muslim sentiment in the country. The working group is the government’s main forum for discussing issues of concern with Muslim leaders and the communities whose interests they represent and convey. It both disseminates and provides feedback on key policy messages and approaches. The group is made up of representatives from Muslim communities, independent experts, academics, and a range of government departments, including the Attorney General’s Office, the Crown Prosecution Service, the FCO, and the Home Office.
In September the Johnson government appointed Member of Parliament (MP) Rehman Chishti as the new prime minister’s special envoy for freedom of religion or belief. The special envoy was given a mandate to coordinate religious freedom efforts across the government, faith actors, and civil society; advocate for the rights of all individuals who are being discriminated against or persecuted because of their faith or belief; and promote the country’s stance abroad in favor of religious freedom. Special Envoy Chishti was charged with leading the implementation of recommendations from the independent review into FCO’s support for persecuted Christians.
In January, then-foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt commissioned an independent report into the persecution of Christians worldwide and requested the Bishop of Truro conduct the research. The final report, released in May, stated, “Christianity is by most calculations the most persecuted religion of modern times.” In addition to implementing the report’s recommendations, the FCO team overseeing freedom of religion and belief was directed to “make freedom of religion or belief central to the FCO’s culture, policies, and international operations.”
In August Lord Ahmad, then serving as the prime minister’s special envoy on freedom of religion or belief, read a statement from the prime minister at the UN General Assembly in which he underlined the country’s commitment to freedom of religion or belief. The statement said, “Freedom of religion or belief is at the heart of what the UK stands for. We will do everything possible to champion these freedoms and protect civilians in armed conflict, including religious, ethnic, or other minorities.”
The law continued to require religious accommodation for employees when it considered such accommodation feasible. 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 by 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. 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 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.
As of January there were 6,802 state-funded faith-based schools in England, representing 34 percent of all state-funded mainstream schools and serving approximately 1.9 million students. Of these, 6,179 were primary schools (ages three through 11), representing 37 percent of all state-funded primary schools, and 623 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 72 “other Christian,” 36 Jewish, 25 Methodist, 14 Islamic, six Sikh, five Hindu, and two multifaith state-funded faith 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.
In October the Welsh government launched an eight-week public consultation on proposals relating to the future of RE and Relationships and Sexuality Education (RSE). Proposed changes include renaming the RE and RSE lessons “Religions and Worldviews” and removing the parental right to withdraw children from the lessons. The Welsh action followed a 2018 report by the Commission on Religious Education that recommended reform of RE in England, Scotland, and Wales, including a name change to “Religion and Worldviews.” The 2018 report followed a 2015 high court ruling that as part of the General Certificate of Secondary Education (a nationwide syllabus and academic qualification pursued by all students 14-16), schools (other than faith schools) must teach all religious and nonreligious world views without bias.
The Conservative Party faced allegations of anti-Muslim sentiment and anti-Semitism. During the Conservative Party leadership contest in June, candidate Sajid Javid in a televised leadership debate urged his rivals to pledge an independent investigation into “Islamophobia within the party;” which they all agreed to do. In November PM Johnson apologized publicly for Islamophobia in his party and said an earlier inquiry into all forms of discrimination in the Conservative Party would continue. Shortly after the general election in December, PM Johnson appointed a psychiatry expert, Professor Swaran Singh, to investigate how the party handled complaints of discrimination. Singh is a former Commissioner of the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), the country’s semi-governmental human rights watchdog. Then-Conservative Party chairman James Cleverly said Singh’s appointment would help the party “stamp out unacceptable abuse.” The Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) stated it was angered by the broad scope of the investigation into “discrimination” rather than specifically into Islamophobia and accused PM Johnson of breaking his promise. MCB General Secretary Harun Khan commented, “This appointment is at risk of being seen in the same light as the Conservative Party’s customary approach to Islamophobia, that of denial, dismissal, and deceit,” adding, “We were promised an independent inquiry into Islamophobia specifically.” The inquiry did not begin by year’s end.
In September during a session of prime minister’s questions on the floor of the House of Commons, Labour MP Tanmanjeet Singh Deshi publicly called on PM Johnson to apologize for his comments about Muslim women in a 2018 opinion article. Johnson did not do so. In November, when asked by media if he apologized for the Islamophobia that existed in the Conservative Party, PM Johnson replied, “Of course, and for all the hurt and offence that has been caused.”
In September the Conservative Party suspended several members, including at least one official, who posted or endorsed anti-Muslim comments on Twitter, one of which stated Islam was “the religion of hate.” The BBC highlighted 20 new cases to the party. While the number of suspensions was not revealed, the party told media that those found to be party members were suspended immediately, pending investigation. After calling for the Conservatives to launch an independent investigation into the alleged Islamophobia since 2018, in May the MCB formally asked the EHRC to open an inquiry. By year’s end, the EHRC did not take action.
Members of the Muslim community in Northern Ireland expressed concern that they could not apply for funding from the UK government’s “Places of Worship Protective Security Scheme” because Northern Ireland is not included in the plan. They pointed to attacks on mosques in recent years as evidence that funding is needed to increase security. Leaders of the Belfast Islamic Centre reported excellent relations with local Police Service of Northern Island (PSNI), which they said reliably responded to calls and provided additional security at mosques during periods when mosques had additional worshippers, including Ramadan.
In October Conservative MP Crispin Blunt suggested in an interview that the British Jewish Community demanded “special status” regarding circumcision and ritual slaughter. Blunt supported calls for eliminating subsidies to the CST, an organization that provided security for the British Jewish communities and reported anti-Semitic incidents in the country. When questioned by the Jewish Chronicle, Blunt said the “Jewish community has a special place in Britain” and while the CST “does a good job in protecting” British Jews, his “anxiety is that we have got to get to where faith and non-faith communities all feel secure.” He added the country needed to get to “a place where the Jewish community does not feel the need to have its own security.”
CST recorded over 100 anti-Semitic incidents monthly during the year. The highest single monthly totals came in February and December and, according to CST, coincided with months when anti-Semitism within the opposition Labour Party was under particular scrutiny and the party and its leader, Jeremy Corbin, faced further allegations of anti-Semitism. The CST stated it was “hard to precisely disaggregate the impact of the continuing Labour anti-Semitism controversy upon CST statistics, but it clearly has an important bearing.”
A poll commissioned by the Jewish Leadership Council in March found 87 percent of Jewish adults in the country viewed Jeremy Corbyn as anti-Semitic, compared to just 1 percent for former Prime Minister Theresa May and 21 percent for the leader of the far-right UK Independence Party, Gerard Batten. The same poll found 42 percent of respondents would “seriously consider emigrating” if Corbyn became Prime Minister.
In May the EHRC launched a formal investigation into whether the Labour Party had “unlawfully discriminated against, harassed, or victimized people because they are Jewish.” This was only the second such EHRC formal investigation taken against a political party. According to media reports, the EHRC opened the investigation based on complaints from party members, including Jewish members of parliament, about anti-Semitism within Labour. In a press statement, the EHRC said the party had committed to fully cooperate with the investigation. A party spokesperson reiterated Labour’s intention to assist the investigation and rejected “any suggestion that the party does not handle anti-Semitism complaints fairly and robustly.” The announcement was welcomed by the Campaign Against Anti-Semitism, the NGO that first referred the Labour Party to the EHRC in July 2018. At year’s end, the EHRC did not release any interim findings of its investigation.
In October the Jewish Labour Movement (JLM), an organization affiliated with the Labour party, announced its refusal to campaign for Labour in the event of a general election, and it carried out this pledge in the approach to the December 12 general election. The JLM cited a “culture of anti-Semitism,” but said it intended to remain affiliated to the party to “fight racism, rather than disaffiliate.” The JLM adopted a policy to campaign for certain Labour candidates who “have been unwavering in their support” for JLM.
Three weeks prior to the general election in December, spiritual leader of the nation’s Orthodox Jews Ephraim Mirvis wrote in The Times that the Jewish community was deeply anxious about the prospect of Jeremy Corbyn becoming prime minister if Labour won because he had failed to stand up to anti-Semitism, including in his own party. The same day Mirvis’ commentary appeared, Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby posted on Twitter, “That the Chief Rabbi should be compelled to make such an unprecedented statement at this time ought to alert us to the deep sense of insecurity and fear felt by many British Jews.”
During the general election campaign, the Scottish National Party suspended its candidate for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath, Neale Hanvey, over anti-Semitic social media posts. Hanvey remained on the ballot as the party’s candidate because the suspension came too late for changes to be made. He was elected with a majority of 1,243 votes and will sit as an independent Member of Parliament until a disciplinary process is completed. Obervers stated that his election is thought to be the first time a candidate who was dropped by his party was elected as an independent.
In May vandals drew a 30-foot swastika on the side of the East London warehouse of Brexit Party candidate for the European Parliament and Jewish businessman Lance Forman, whose father was a Holocaust survivor. Police investigated the incident, but no arrests were made.
In March an Iranian Christian who said he converted to Christianity because it was a peaceful faith was denied asylum after a Home Office official used the Bible to argue that Christianity was violent and denied the applicant’s request. The Independent reported the refusal letter cited several biblical passages, including the book of Revelation, to say the Bible was “inconsistent” with the asylum seeker’s claim. The refusal letter said, among other things, “These examples are inconsistent with your claim that you converted to Christianity after discovering it is a ‘peaceful’ religion, as opposed to Islam, which contains violence, rage, and revenge.” The Home Office then said the case of the Iranian Christian did not follow proper procedure and the asylum request was being reconsidered, with a resulting withdrawal of its refusal and a commitment to reconsider the application.
In March the Northern Ireland Humanists group publicly called for the repeal of the region’s 1891 and 1888 blasphemy laws. The Catholic Church and the Irish Council of Churches responded by referring to a 2013 statement acknowledging “that the current reference to blasphemy is largely obsolete” and suggesting new legislation against discrimination and hate crimes could be introduced to provide more effectively for the freedom of individuals to practice their faith openly. All major political parties declared support for repeal, except for the Democratic Unionist Party, which stated antidiscrimination and hate crime legislation did not provide adequate protection for Christians.
In June the Northern Ireland Department of Justice requested a judicial review of hate crime legislation in Northern Ireland. At year’s end the review was ongoing, with a full report due in May 2020. Northern Ireland was the only part of the country that did not have specific hate crime laws; rather, current legislation allowed for increased sentencing if offenses were judged motivated by hostility based on race, religion, disability, or sexual orientation. Crown Court Judge Desmond Marrinan led the independent review with the goal of extending coverage to marginalized communities currently not protected by legislation, including those discriminated against because of age and gender.
On July 30, the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Select Committee launched an inquiry entitled, “Human Rights: Freedom of religion and belief, and human rights defenders.” The inquiry examined the FCO’s human rights programs and priorities, with a focus on freedom of religion and belief, and the work of human rights defenders overseas. The inquiry remained open to public input at year’s end.
In May then-prime minister May and several former prime ministers backed a proposal for a new Holocaust Memorial and Learning Centre to be constructed in Victoria Tower Gardens, adjacent to the Houses of Parliament. The government committed 25 million pounds ($32.98 million) to the project, which was matched by a contribution from a newly established charity for the purpose. At year’s end, the project was pending approval by the local planning authority and Westminster City Council.
In September the Foundation for Jewish Heritage bought a former synagogue in Merthyr Tydfil, South Wales with a grant from Cadw, the Welsh government’s historic environment service. Cadw contributed 44,000 pounds ($58,000), equating to 55 percent of the overall costs, towards the purchase of the building, which will be transformed into a Jewish Heritage Center.
Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom
According to Home Office figures for the 12 months ending in March, there were 8,566 recorded offenses of religiously motivated hate crimes in England and Wales, a 3 percent increase from 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. According to Tell MAMA, a national project that records anti-Muslim hate crimes, the figures rose sharply in March immediately following the mosque shootings in Christchurch, New Zealand. Tell MAMA recorded 95 incidents in the week following that attack; in a typical week the total was 30-35.
In September David Parnham was sentenced to 12.5 years in prison after admitting to police that he wrote letters encouraging individuals to commit acts of violence against Muslims by awarding points for anti-Muslim offenses.
In Scotland, the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service reported 529 religiously motivated crimes in the 12 months ending in March, an 18 percent decrease from the 642 crimes recorded in the same period in 2017-18. In the year ending in March, court proceedings commenced in 92 percent of cases. A spokesperson for the EHRC attributed the decrease to improvements in the methods victims used to report hate crime, but added more work needed to be done to give victims the confidence to come forward.
The PSNI reported 22 religiously motivated hate crimes committed in 46 incidents during 2018-19, a decrease from 41 crimes reported in the previous period.
The annual report of CST recorded 1,805 anti-Semitic incidents during the year, the highest ever annual figure recorded by the organization and 7 percent higher than the preceding year. This was the fourth year in a row in which CST documented a record high. CST recorded 697 anti-Semitic online incidents, a sharp rise from 384 in 2018.
CST recorded 158 violent anti-Semitic assaults during the year, an increase of 25 percent in 2018 and the highest number of violent incidents ever recorded by CST in a single year. Almost half of these were recorded in three locales: Barnet and Hackney in London, and Salford in Manchester. There were 88 incidents of “damage and desecration” of Jewish property; 98 direct anti-Semitic threats; 1,443 incidents in the category of “abusive behavior,” which included verbal and online abuse, anti-Semitic graffiti, and individual cases of hate mail; and 18 incidents of mass-mailed anti-Semitic leaflets or emails.
Almost two-thirds of anti-Semitic incidents were recorded in Greater London and Greater Manchester – the two largest Jewish communities in the country. CST recorded 947 anti-Semitic incidents in Greater London during the year, three fewer than the 950 incidents recorded in London in 2018. CST recorded a decline of 11 percent in anti-Semitic incidents in Greater Manchester, from 251 incidents in 2018 to 223 in 2019.
According to a Catholic news service, in late April in Glasgow, Scotland, two Catholic churches were targeted by vandals. Anti-Catholic slogans were painted on a bus stop outside of Holy Family Church and vandals entered the sanctuary of St. Simon’s Church, smashing a statue of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and overturning a Marian shrine.
In January Ephraim Borowski, the director of the Scottish Council of Jewish Communities, said Jews were “actively considering” emigrating from Scotland because of rising anti-Semitism. He added, “In recent years there has been a very worrying increase in the level of anti-Semitism in the country.” His comments led a number of Scottish politicians to call for a renewed effort to address anti-Semitism.
In February Jacek Tchorzewski, a self-described radical Nazi and Polish national, was arrested at London’s Luton Airport on suspicion of terrorism offenses as he attempted to board a flight to Poland. Police recovered an “enormous amount” of digital documents, which included manuals on making explosives and weapons and material praising Hitler, neo-Nazism, and anti-Semitism and calling for genocide. In June Tchorzewski pled guilty to 10 counts of possession of information likely to be useful to a person committing or preparing for an act of terrorism, and in September he was sentenced to 4.5 years in prison.
In March Jayda Fransen, deputy leader of Britain First, a nationalist party widely described as far right, was convicted of anti-Muslim hate speech by a Belfast court after making remarks at a “Northern Ireland against Terrorism” rally held in Belfast in August 2017. Fransen was sentenced to 180 hours of community service. Britain First leader Paul Golding and two other English men, John Banks and Paul Rimmer, were acquitted on similar charges.
In April Israeli author Tuvia Tenenbom noted that during a trip to Northern Ireland, he asked patrons in a Derry pub about Palestinian flags flying in the area. The patrons responded by describing Jews as the “scourge of the earth” and Israelis as “child-murdering scum.” At year’s end, the PSNI was investigating the incident. Leaders and representatives from across the all main political parties condemned the comments as “disgusting,” “vile,” and “disgraceful.”
According to The Daily Mail, an elementary school teacher was fired after telling Jewish students she would “ship them off to the gas chambers” if they didn’t finish their schoolwork.
Mark Meechan, who was fined in April 2018 for posting online videos of a pet dog taught to perform Nazi salutes, was selected as a candidate for Scotland from the right-wing United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) in the May European elections. He was not elected after UKIP won less than 2 percent of the vote in Scotland. During the campaign, media reports highlighted he had previously used Twitter to promote racist and anti-Muslim views.
In June a Belfast resident was sentenced to four months in prison after phoning in a death threat in March to a Muslim resident of Birmingham, England whom he had identified on Facebook.
In July the founder of the self-styled anti-Islamic English Defence League, Tommy Robinson, was sentenced to nine months in prison on contempt of court charges for interrupting 2017 and 2018 trials of mainly Muslim men accused of sexual assaults against minors. In 2017, Robinson had called the defendants “Muslim child rapists.” He was released in September after serving nine weeks in solitary confinement.
In August media reported Jay Davison in Cardiff posted anti-Muslim and pro-Nazi comments on his social media account along with photographs of himself holding a shotgun. A jury convicted him of one count of stirring up religious hatred and two counts of stirring up racial hatred. A judge sentenced him to four years in prison.
In March the Irish Football Association condemned an online video appearing to show Northern Ireland soccer fans chanting, “We hate Catholics, everybody hates Roman Catholics.” Sinead Ennis, Sinn Fein Member of the Legislative Assembly and party spokeswoman for sport, called on the Irish Football Association to “identify and punish those involved.”
In the fall, a couple who said their children were being religiously indoctrinated during Christian school assemblies entered a judicial review claim, supported by national charity organization Humanists UK, that Burford primary school in Oxfordshire forced their children take part in Christian prayers and watch re-enactments of Bible stories, including the crucifixion. The couple withdrew their children from the assemblies but said the school refused to provide a meaningful alternative of equal educational worth. At the time the children enrolled, Burford primary school was a community school with no religious character. In 2015 it became an academy and joined the Church of England’s Oxford Diocesan Schools Trust.
In May the EC carried out a study in each EU-member state on perceptions of discrimination and published the results in September. According to the findings, 61 percent of respondents believed discrimination on the basis of religion or belief was widespread in the United Kingdom, while 34 percent said it was rare; 93 percent would be comfortable with having a person of different religion than the majority of the population occupy the highest elected political position in the country. In addition, 97 percent said they would be comfortable working closely with a Christian, 96 percent said they would be with an atheist, 96 percent with a Jew, 96 percent with a Buddhist, and 95 percent with a Muslim. Asked how they would feel if a child were in a “love relationship” with an individual belonging to various groups, 94 percent said they would be comfortable if the partner were Christian, 91 percent if atheist, 91 percent if Jewish, 89 percent if Buddhist, and 88 percent if Muslim.
In January the EC published a Special Eurobarometer survey of perceptions of anti-Semitism based on interviews it conducted in December 2018 in each EU-member state. According to the survey, 62 percent of residents in the country believed anti-Semitism was a problem, and 44 percent believed it had increased over the previous five years. The percentage who believed anti-Semitism was a problem in nine different categories was as follows: Holocaust denial, 53 percent; on the internet, 53 percent; anti-Semitic graffiti or vandalism, 50 percent; expression of hostility or threats against Jews in public places, 51 percent; desecration of Jewish cemeteries, 43 percent; physical attacks against Jews, 50 percent; anti-Semitism in schools and universities, 40 percent; anti-Semitism in political life, 56 percent; and anti-Semitism in the media, 49 percent.
In November the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) released the results of a survey on anti-Semitic views of the country’s residents. The survey cited stereotypical statements about Jews and asked respondents whether they believed such statements were “probably true” or “probably false.” The proportion agreeing that various statements were “probably true” was: 33 percent that Jews are more loyal to Israel than to the UK; 20 percent that Jews have too much power in the business world; and 18 percent that Jews talk too much about the Holocaust.
In December the EU’s Agency for Fundamental Rights conducted a survey of 4,731 individuals who identified as Jewish EU residents in order to understand their perceptions of anti-Semitism. 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, and 88 percent thought anti-Semitism had increased over the previous five years.
In May the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland voted to adopt the working definition of anti-Semitism held by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA). The move, initiated by the Reverend Dr. Richard Frazer, the convener of the Church and Society Council, highlighted that anti-Semitic incidents in the UK, per the CST report, were “at a record high for the third year in a row.”
In June bishops of the Church in Wales adopted the IHRA definition, stating, “We note that the IHRA definition itself does not preclude criticism of the State of Israel, and that legitimately holding the Israeli government to account is not anti-Semitic.” They added, “In making the decision we recognize the excellent relationships between faith communities in Wales.” The decision was welcomed by the President of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, Marie van der Zyl.
On November 6, the Chelsea Football Club adopted the IHRA working definition of anti-Semitism – the first English soccer club to do so. The announcement was made via a press conference alongside the prime minister’s independent advisor on anti-Semitism, Lord Mann. As part of the soccer club’s “Say No to Anti-Semitism” campaign, Chelsea played the New England Revolution team in Foxborough, Massachusetts in a first of its kind friendly charity match named “The Final Whistle on Hate.” The match raised $4 million for organizations promoting equality and tolerance including the World Jewish Congress, CST, the Tree of Life Synagogue (Pittsburgh), the ADL, and the Holocaust Educational Trust.
In July the University of Essex announced plans to introduce mandatory training on anti-Semitism for university staff and to expand current “bystander training” for students, to include anti-Semitism. The training was recommended in a review conducted by the university following anti-Semitic incidents earlier in the year, according to media reports.
Several interfaith organizations operated in the country, including Faith Matters, the Inter Faith Network, and Interfaith Scotland. Various interfaith efforts took place throughout the year, including an LGBT Faith and Coffee evening in Camden, North London; high school interfaith days in Scotland; and interfaith seminars throughout the country. During Inter Faith week November 10-17, organizations across England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland hosted events to strengthen interfaith relations at all levels, increase awareness of different and distinct faith communities, and increase understanding between people of religious and nonreligious beliefs. Interfaith Scotland hosted a cross-party Holocaust Memorial Day in the Scottish Parliament.