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Executive Summary

Historical and modern constitutional documents provide for freedom of religious belief and affiliation and prohibit religious discrimination.  The law prohibits public incitement to hostile acts against religious groups and classifies registered religious groups into one of three categories:  religious societies, religious confessional communities, and associations.  The 16 groups recognized as religious societies receive the most benefits.  Unrecognized groups may practice their religion privately if the practice is lawful and does not offend “common decency.”  The Federal Chancellery’s Documentation Center for Political Islam researched, disseminated information on, and organized workshops pertaining to what it described as Muslim extremism.  The Jewish Community (IKG) partnered with the government to hold workshops for teachers and personnel working with immigrant and refugee groups to combat antisemitism among the latter groups.  In July, parliament amended the law pertaining to Muslims as part of an antiterrorism package providing for stricter annual government monitoring of the finances of mosques and Muslim cultural associations, focusing on financial flows from abroad.  The Islamic Religious Authority of Austria (IGGO) opposed the amendment, which it said applied only to the Muslim community, was discriminatory, and interfered with religious freedom.  In May, the Documentation Center for Political Islam created a website with an “Islam Map” listing Islamic institutions in the country.  Religious and civil society groups criticized the map – and the center for publicizing it – stating it violated data privacy rules and endangered the lives of Muslims in the country by giving right-wing extremist groups the ability to target them.  In January, the government presented its strategy to combat antisemitism, which called for enhancing education about Judaism, improving security of Jewish sites, and more-vigorous prosecution of antisemitic crimes, and launched an office in the Federal Chancellery to coordinate the strategy.  A survey commissioned by parliament found antisemitism had become more visible during the COVID-19 pandemic and that more than a quarter of respondents agreed with statements that Jews dominated the business world and took advantage of having been victimized by the Nazis.  Citing the study, the parliamentary president said the country could not afford to view antisemitism as just a marginal phenomenon.

According to the Ministry of Interior, there were 20 antisemitic and three anti-Muslim crimes reported to police in the first half of the year.  For all of 2020, the ministry cited 36 antisemitic and 16 anti-Muslim crimes, compared with 30 and six crimes, respectively, in the previous year.  In 2020, the most recent year for which it had data, IGGO reported 1,402 anti-Muslim incidents, one-third more than in the previous year.  The IKG reported 562 antisemitic incidents in the first half of the year, more than double the number over the same period in the previous year; there were 585 such incidents in all of 2020.  Most incidents involved hate speech, especially on the internet, but there were also incidents of assault.  For example, in Vienna in May, a man threw rocks at a Jewish family wearing traditional religious clothing.  Government figures, unlike those from the IKG and IGGO, only included incidents in which authorities filed criminal charges.  In September, the Brussels-based nongovernmental organization (NGO) Action and Protection League issued the results of its European antisemitism survey, which found that 18 percent of 1,000 respondents ages 18-75 in Austria said they had negative feelings towards Jews.

U.S. embassy representatives met with officials from the Federal Chancellery and the Ministries of Foreign Affairs and Interior to discuss religious freedom, the protection of religious minorities, and measures to combat antisemitism and anti-Muslim sentiment.  The Ambassador and Charge d’Affaires met with leaders from the IGGO, IKG, Roman Catholic Church, Lutheran Church, and various Orthodox churches to discuss their relations with the government, instances of discrimination and interreligious dialogue, and the impact on their respective communities of the COVID-19 crisis.  In February, the embassy cohosted a virtual live event with the Muslim Youth Organization with an American professor who spoke about the important role of youth in social movements.  Embassy officials continued to serve on the advisory board of the Mauthausen Memorial Agency, a governmental agency that promotes Holocaust remembrance.  In April, the Charge d’Affaires was interviewed for a Mauthausen Committee video commemorating World War II.  In September, the embassy cohosted with a local NGO that focuses on antisemitism and the Holocaust a discussion with a group of Holocaust survivors.  In July, embassy staff hosted a lunch with representatives of the Jewish community to discuss Holocaust education.  Throughout the year, the embassy used social media platforms to deliver messages about religious freedom.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 8.9 million (midyear 2021).  According to religious groups and government estimates, Roman Catholics constitute 55 percent of the population, and Muslims – predominantly Sunni – 8 percent, while approximately 25 percent is unaffiliated with any religion.  According to estimates from religious groups, Eastern Orthodox churches (Russian, Greek, Serbian, Romanian, Antiochian, and Bulgarian) constitute 5 percent of the population, and Protestants (Augsburg and Helvetic confessions) 3.2 percent.  Groups that together constitute less than 5 percent of the population include Jehovah’s Witnesses, Jews, and other Christian and non-Christian religious groups.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

A combination of historical and modern constitutional documents guarantees freedom of “conscience and creed.”  The law provides for freedom of religious belief and the rights of all residents to join, participate in, leave, or abstain from association with any religious community.  The law stipulates, “Duties incumbent on nationals may not be impeded by religious affiliation.”

Several constitutional provisions protect religious freedom.  The main pillars are historical laws on fundamental rights and freedoms, including religious freedom, and treaties and conventions, such as the European Convention on Human Rights, which form part of the constitution.  Antidiscrimination legislation prohibits discrimination on religious grounds.  Citizens have the right to sue the government for constitutional violations of religious freedom.

The law prohibits public incitement to hostile acts against a church group, religious society, or other religious group if the incitement is perceivable by “many people,” which an official government commentary on the law and the courts interpret as 30 or more individuals.  The prohibition also applies specifically in the case of incitement in print, electronic, or other media available to a broad public.  The law also prohibits incitement, insult, or contempt against religious groups, if such action violates human dignity.

The law divides registered religious groups into three officially recognized legal categories (listed in descending order of rights, privileges, and legal responsibilities):  religious societies, religious confessional communities, and associations.  Members of religious groups not legally recognized may practice their religion at home, “insofar as this practice is neither unlawful nor offends common decency.”

There are 16 recognized religious societies:  the Roman Catholic Church; Protestant churches (Augsburg and Helvetic confessions); the IGGO; Old Catholic Church; IKG; Eastern Orthodox Church (Bulgarian, Greek, Romanian, Russian, Serbian, and Antiochian); The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints; New Apostolic Church; Syrian Orthodox Church; Coptic Orthodox Church; Armenian Apostolic Church; Methodist Church of Austria; the Buddhist Community; Jehovah’s Witnesses; Alevi Community in Austria; and Free Christian Churches.

The law grants registered religious societies the right to public practice and independent administration of their internal affairs; to participate in the program requiring mandatory church contributions by church members; to bring religious workers into the country to act as ministers, missionaries, or teachers; and to provide pastoral services in prisons and hospitals.  Under the law, religious societies have “public corporation” status, permitting them to engage in several public or quasi-public activities, such as government-funded religious instruction in both public and private schools, which the government denies to confessional communities and associations.  The government grants all recognized religious societies tax relief in two main ways:  donors do not pay taxes on donations, and the societies receive exemption from property tax for all buildings dedicated to the active practice of religion or administration of such.  Additionally, religious societies are exempt from a surveillance charge, otherwise payable when the state provides security to religious groups, and administrative fees for garbage collection and other municipal services.  Responsibilities of religious societies include a commitment to sponsor social and cultural activities that serve the common good and – like all religious groups – to ensure their teachings do not violate the law or ethical standards, which the law does not define.

Religious groups seeking to achieve religious society status for the first time must apply for recognition with the Office for Religious Affairs in the Federal Chancellery.  Religious groups recognized as societies prior to 1998 retained their status.  The government grandfathered in 14 of the 16 recognized religious societies under this provision of the law.  To gain recognition as a religious society, religious groups not recognized prior to 1998 must have membership equaling 0.2 percent of the country’s population (approximately 17,700 persons) and have existed for 20 years, at least five of which must have been as a confessional community.  The government recognizes Jehovah’s Witnesses and Alevi Muslims as religious societies under these post-1998 criteria.  Groups that do not meet these criteria may still apply for religious society status under an exception for groups that have been active internationally for at least 100 years and active as an association in the country for 10 years.  Groups sharing a broad faith with an existing society or confessional community, for example Christianity, may register separately as long as they can demonstrate that they have a different theology.

The law allows religious groups not recognized as societies to seek official status as confessional communities with the Office for Religious Affairs.  The government recognizes 10 confessional communities:  the Baha’i Faith, Movement for Religious Renewal-Community of Christians, Pentecostal Community of God, Seventh-day Adventists, Hindu Community, Islamic-Shia Community, Old-Alevi Community in Austria, the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification, United Pentecostal Community of Austria, and Sikhs.

A recognized confessional community has the juridical standing needed to engage in such activities as purchasing real estate in its own name and contracting for goods and services, but it is not eligible for the financial and educational benefits available to recognized religious societies.  Contributions to confessional communities’ charitable activities are tax deductible for those who make them and tax free for the groups receiving them, but the communities are not exempt from property taxes.  Confessional communities may provide pastoral care in prisons and hospitals.

To gain government recognition as a confessional community, a group must have at least 300 members and submit to the Office for Religious Affairs its statutes describing the goals, rights, and obligations of members as well as membership regulations, a list of officials, and financing information.  A group must also submit a written description of its religious doctrine, which must differ from that of any previously recognized religious society or religious confessional community.  The Office for Religious Affairs determines whether the group’s basic beliefs are consistent with public security, order, health, and morals and with the rights and freedoms of citizens.  A religious group seeking to obtain confessional community status is subject to a six-month waiting period from the time of application to the chancellery.  After this period, groups that have applied automatically receive the status unless the government issues a decree rejecting the application.

Religious groups not qualifying for either religious society or confessional community status may apply to become legal associations, a status applicable to a broad range of civil groups.  Some groups organize as associations while waiting for the government to recognize them as confessional communities.

The Church of Scientology and several smaller religious groups, such as Sahaja Yoga and the International Society for Krishna Consciousness, have association status.

According to the law, any group of more than two persons pursuing a nonprofit goal qualifies to organize as an association.  Groups may apply to the Ministry of Interior to obtain such status.  To become an association, a group must submit a written statement citing its common, nonprofit goal and commitment to function as a nonprofit organization.

Associations have juridical standing, the right to function in public, and many of the same rights as confessional communities, including the right to own real estate and to contract for goods and services.  Associations may not offer pastoral care in hospitals or prisons or receive tax-deductible contributions.

Pursuant to the law governing relations between the government and the Roman Catholic Church, the Church is the only religious group to receive government funding for pastoral care it provides in prisons.  The law also makes various Catholic holidays official national holidays.

The law governing relations between the government and the IGGO and Alevi Muslim groups stipulates that funding for the day-to-day operations of mosques must be derived from domestic sources, Islamic teachings and practices must not violate federal law (compliance with which is determined by the Office for Religious Affairs), and Islamic institutions should “take a positive stance” toward the state and society.  The law provides an explicit legal definition of, and legal protection for, Islamic practices, such as circumcision and preparation of food in conformity with religious rules, and states Muslims may raise children and youth in accordance with Islamic traditions.  Muslim groups with at least 300 members and a theology not distinct from a pre-existing Islamic religious society or confessional community are considered cultural communities and fall under the umbrella of the pre-existing, legally recognized Islamic religious society or confessional community.  This includes the IGGO and the Alevi Community in Austria, which are both religious societies, or the Islamic-Shia Community and the Old-Alevi Faith Community in Austria, both of which have confessional community status.  The law allows for Islamic theological university studies, which the University of Vienna offers.

An amendment to the law pertaining to Muslims passed in July as part of an antiterrorism package provides for stricter annual government monitoring of the finances of mosques and Muslim cultural associations, focusing on financial flows from abroad.  The legislation, which entered into force September 1, also allows the Federal Chancellery to request a list of all Muslim officials and associations and makes it easier to close mosques to “protect public security,” with the approval of the IGGO.  The IGGO must report changes in Muslim associations, such as changes in by-laws, leadership, and funding to the Office for Religious Affairs, so that authorities have up-to-date information on such associations.  The law also empowers Ministry of Interior officials, who already review requests to establish new associations, to scrutinize such requests to ensure that they are not “cover organizations” for religious groups attempting to bypass the transparency requirements for mosques.  The antiterrorism package also introduced a new statutory offense banning “religiously motivated extremism.”

Separate laws govern relations between the government and each of the other 14 state-recognized religious societies.  The laws have similar intent but vary in some details, since they were enacted at different times over a span of approximately 140 years.  As with the Muslim community, a law provides explicit protections for Jewish religious practices, including circumcision and ritual slaughter.

The law bans full-face coverings in public places as a “violation of Austrian values,” with exceptions made only for artistic, cultural, or traditional events, in sports, or for health or professional reasons.  Failure to comply with the law is an administrative violation.  The law prescribes a 150 euro ($170) fine but does not entitle police to remove the face covering.

In accordance with a Constitutional Court ruling in 2020 that overturned a headscarf ban for children in elementary school, children of all ages may wear headscarves and other head coverings in schools.

The government funds, on a proportional basis, religious instruction for any of the 16 officially recognized religious societies by clergy or instructors provided by those groups for children in public schools and government-accredited private schools.  The government does not offer such funding to other religious groups.  A minimum of three children is required to form a class.  Attendance in the respective religion classes is mandatory for all students who are members of those religious groups unless they formally withdraw at the beginning of the school year; students younger than age 14 require parental permission to withdraw from religion classes.  Religious instruction takes place either in the school or at sites organized by religious groups.  Some schools offer ethics classes for students not attending religious instruction.  Religious education and ethics classes include the tenets of different religious groups as comparative religious education.

The curriculum for both public and private schools includes compulsory antibias and tolerance education, including religious tolerance, as part of civics education across various subjects, including history and German-language instruction.

Holocaust education is part of history instruction and is also part of other courses such as civics.

The Equal Rights Agency, an independent agency falling under the jurisdiction of the Federal Chancellery Minister for Women, Family, Youth, and Integration, oversees discrimination cases, including those based on religion.  The agency provides legal counseling and mediation services, and it assists with bringing cases before the Equal Treatment Commission, another independent government agency.  In cases where it finds discrimination, the commission makes a recommendation for corrective action.  In a case of noncompliance with the recommendation, the case goes to court.  The commission may issue expert reports for plaintiffs to present before the court.  Only a court may order corrective action and compensation.

The law bans neo-Nazi activity and prohibits public denial, belittlement, approval, or justification “of the National Socialist genocide” or other Nazi crimes against humanity in print, broadcast, or other media.

The law prohibits incitement, insult, or contempt against a group because of its members’ race, nationality, religion, or ethnicity if the statement violates human dignity, and it imposes criminal penalties for violations.

On January 1, a law on hate speech, including religiously motivated hate speech, went into effect requiring online platforms to identify and delete posts that can be classified as hateful or defamatory.  It broadens the definition of hate speech to include single offenses, cyberbullying, and photographs taken surreptitiously, for which a person may be prosecuted in court.  The law also facilitates means of recourse by allowing individuals subjected to online hate speech to seek redress directly with the relevant communication platform, rather than go through civil courts.  It mandates companies to designate a contact person to whom affected individuals and government authorities can send complaints, and it requires platforms to issue annual reports on how they received and processed hate speech complaints.  Repeated failure by the platform to comply could lead to fines of up to 10 million euros ($11.34 million).  The law applies only to large for-profit communication platforms with more than 100,000 users and revenues of 500,000 euros ($567,000) or more per year.  Videos on video-sharing platforms such as YouTube or Facebook are excluded, as they are subject to a separate EU law, but comments on the videos fall under the new law.

The law extends citizenship to direct descendants of Austrian victims of Nazi crimes.  Descendants may obtain citizenship by reporting to Austrian consulates.  Dual citizenship is also possible.

The law bans certain symbols the government considers extremist, including those pertaining to the Muslim Brotherhood, ISIS, al-Qaida, Hizballah, and the Croatian Ustasha.

The government requires a visa for visitors from non-visa-waiver countries or individuals who would stay beyond 90 days, including religious workers of confessional communities or associations.  Foreign religious workers of groups recognized as confessional communities or associations must apply for a general immigrant visa that is not employment or family based and is subject to a quota.  Foreign religious workers belonging to religious societies also require immigrant visas but are exempt from the quota system.  Religious workers from Schengen or EU-member countries are exempt from all visa requirements.

The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Government Practices

The IGGO expressed objections to the amendment of the law pertaining to Muslims enacted in July as part of the government’s antiterrorism legislation, stating it was discriminatory and interfered with religious freedom and the internal affairs of the Muslim community.  The provisions in the amendment pertained only to Islam.  IGGO president Umit Vural said he was also disappointed the government did not engage with the IGGO on the provisions of the amendment.  Responding to his criticism, both Justice Minister Alma Zadic and Integration Minister Suzanne Raab stated the new legislation was in no way designed to target a specific religious group.  The Office for Religious Affairs stated all religious groups in the country must adhere to the same restrictions concerning foreign funding and violating federal law and that only Islamic groups had violated either of these restrictions.

The Federal Chancellery’s Documentation Center for Political Islam, which was established in 2020, continued its research on what it described as politically motivated Muslim extremism.  It stated that it made its research available to the general public to promote awareness of Muslim extremism, pluralism, and religious freedom, while also staging workshops and publishing studies relevant to Muslim extremism.  In October, the Federal Chancellery hosted the Vienna Forum on Countering Segregation and Extremism in the Context of Integration, which brought together officials from Austria, Denmark, Belgium, and France as well as experts in the field to find avenues for cooperation on fighting “political Islam.”  The four countries agreed to begin joint cooperation projects in fighting radicalization and Islamic extremism, focusing on exchanging best practices and cooperation in research.  The Federal Chancellery said it would host the forum annually and seek cooperation with other countries as well.

In May, the Documentation Center for Political Islam created a website featuring an “Islam Map” compiled by the University of Vienna’s Institute for Muslim Theological Studies, listing Islamic institutions in the country, including mosques, Muslim associations, and prayer rooms.  The Islam Map had already been available through the university’s website, but it only became widely known publicly after the government posted it to the Documentation Center’s website in June.  Religious, political, and civil society groups criticized the map.  Green Party integration spokeswoman Faika El-Nagashi called it “the opposite of what integration policy and dialogue should look like on an equal footing,” while IGGO President Umit Vural called it dangerous and said attacks against Muslims rose after the posting of the map.  Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn, the head of the Catholic Church in the country, called it “dangerous to give the impression that one of the religious communities is under general suspicion,” and asked why one of the country’s many religious communities was singled out.  In June, following the posting of the map, individuals began to use the map to “out” certain locations as Muslim with posters and signs reading or “Beware!  Political Islam is here.”  The government briefly took the map down in June before reposting it online a few weeks later.  Also in June, the Muslim Youth Organization of Austria filed a complaint against the University of Vienna professor who compiled the map, the University of Vienna, and the Documentation Office on Political Islam, stating the map violated data privacy rules.

In January, the Federal Chancellery Minister for the EU and Constitution, Karoline Edtstadler, presented a national strategy to combat antisemitism and established an office in the Federal Chancellery to coordinate measures by all ministries to implement the new strategy.  The strategy focused on addressing antisemitism when educating new refugees and establishing security for the Jewish community, guidelines for tracking and prosecuting antisemitic incidents, and standards for EU-wide data comparison.  It recommended increasing protection of synagogues, improving education about Judaism in schools and awareness campaigns, more vigorous prosecution of hate speech, and closing loopholes in the law pertaining to right-wing extremist groups and their symbols.  Edtstadler stated that combatting antisemitism was a central priority of the government.  Vice Chancellor Werner Kogler said the strategy reflected the country’s historic responsibility to combat antisemitism, and he warned against right-wing extremists exploiting protests against COVID-19 restrictions to spread antisemitism.  Jewish community president Oskar Deutsch welcomed the strategy, saying it would ensure the security and continuity of Jewish life in the country.

The Federal Office of Sect Issues offered advice to persons with questions about groups that it considered “sects” and “cults.”  The office was nominally independent but government funded, and the Minister of Women, Family, Youth and Integration appointed and oversaw its head.

In June, the government declared it had fulfilled the responsibilities of the Arbitration Panel for In Rem Restitution under the Law on the General Settlement Fund for Victims of National Socialism.  Parliament unanimously took note of the Final Report of the Arbitration Panel.  The Arbitration Panel was established in 2001 under the provisions of the Washington Agreement to decide on applications for in rem restitution of publicly owned property and movable assets for the previous owners and their heirs.

In August, an appellate court in the Styrian provincial capital of Graz ruled that nine police raids against Muslim Brotherhood individuals and associations in 2020 were illegal.  The Graz appellate court ruled that raids targeting terrorist financing were illegal because they were not based on probable cause or reasonable suspicion of wrongdoing.  The court said there was no evidence that every member of the Muslim Brotherhood was “also a member of or promoted a terrorist organization, in particular Hamas.”  Individuals detained in the raids, who were reportedly questioned and released, had told media the raids were “mere guesswork by the police” and that there was no evidence of terrorist financing.

Revenue authorities continued to investigate Islamic associations that they said might have evaded taxes, which would result in the loss of charity status for those associations.  At year’s end, authorities had not stripped any Islamic associations of their charity status.

The Federal Office for Foreigner Affairs and Asylum (BFA) continued to refuse to issue or renew residence permits for foreign imams financed by foreign sources.  There were no reports that other religious groups faced similar problems in obtaining residence permits for their foreign clerics, as those clerics are not financed by foreign sources according to the BFA.

At year’s end, the Vienna-based, Saudi Arabia-funded King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz International Center for Interreligious and Intercultural Dialogue remained open, despite a foreign ministry announcement in 2019 that it would close the center, consistent with a nonbinding parliamentary resolution calling on it to do so because of Saudi Arabia’s human rights record.  In October, Saudi Arabia announced it would move the center to Lisbon, although it did not indicate a timetable for the relocation.

In January, four online platforms, not publicly identified, sought an exemption from the new law on hate speech, stating it should not apply to them because they had offices in Ireland, but the Vienna Commercial Court rejected the claim.  Officials in the Ministry for Digital and Economic Affairs and the Federal Chancellery reported companies were complying to varying degrees, and some proceedings to penalize noncompliant companies were underway, but they did not provide details.  By year’s end, KommAustria, an independent telecommunications supervisory authority responsible for monitoring compliance with the law, had not levied penalties on any companies.

Following the IKG’s April presentation of its annual report on antisemitic incidents in 2020, EU and Constitution Minister Edtstadler said much remained to be done and that it was important to implement the government’s strategy to fight antisemitism adopted in January.  Vice Chancellor Kogler also stated combatting antisemitism remained a major challenge.

In March, Parliamentary President Wolfgang Sobotka presented the results of a survey of citizens commissioned by parliament that found antisemitism had become more visible during the COVID-19 pandemic due to the circulation of conspiracy theories regarding the pandemic’s origin.  Of 2,000 persons polled in late 2020, 28 percent agreed with the statement that “Jews today try to take advantage of the fact that they were victims during the Nazi era.”  Another 26 percent agreed that “Jews dominate the international business world.”  Forty-nine percent of respondents agreed that it was citizens’ “moral responsibility to stand by Jews” in the country.  The study’s authors, the Institute for Empirical Social Research and the Demox research institute, said that, despite better efforts to combat antisemitism in the country, a vocal minority exploited public frustration with health and safety restrictions and demonstrations against COVID-19 restrictions as public platforms to make antisemitism more visible and exploit the right to assemble to spread conspiracy theories against Jews.  Sobotka praised the study, saying it offered a chance to “grow awareness of the problem of antisemitism, which in turn is the basis for an actual change in the attitudes of Austrians,” adding that the country could not afford to view antisemitism as just a marginal phenomenon in society.  Sobotka also criticized opposition Freedom Party (FPOe) Floor Leader Herbert Kickl for his participation at demonstrations in March against COVID-19 restrictions, where Sobotka said right-wing extremists had spread antisemitic messages equating persons affected by COVID-19 restrictions with Holocaust victims.  In his speech at a demonstration against COVID-19 restrictions, Kickl accused Israel of “vaccination apartheid.”

The international NGO Anti-Defamation League continued to conduct teacher-training seminars on Holocaust awareness in schools in the country, reaching approximately 100 teachers.  School councils and the Ministry of Education, Science, and Research continued to invite Holocaust survivors to talk to school classes about National Socialism and the Holocaust.

In September, Parliamentary President Sobotka presented the restored grave of the Epstein family, a renowned Jewish family that lived in Vienna in the 19th century, at the historic Waehring Jewish cemetery in Vienna to the IKG.  Parliament had financed and organized the restoration project.  Sobotka stated the cemetery was a “unique memorial for Jewish life in Vienna.”

The Vienna Prosecutor’s Office declined to prosecute the FPOe for incitement after the party posted slogans that equated traditionally dressed Muslims with radical, violent Islamism during Vienna municipal elections in October 2020.  The Association of Social Democrat Academics had sought incitement charges against the FPOe.

In May, Education Minister Heinz Fassmann announced the establishment of a research office on right-wing extremism and antisemitism with the Documentation Center of the Austrian Resistance Movement, an NGO that monitors right-wing extremism.  The center also provided schools with material for Holocaust education and supported investigations into right-wing extremists.

The government continued to allow headwear for religious purposes in official identification documents, provided the face remained sufficiently visible to allow for identification of the wearer.

According to statistics presented by Foreign Minister Alexander Schallenberg in September, the government granted citizenship to 6,600 descendants of Austrian victims of Nazi crimes, including persons from the United States, Israel, and the United Kingdom.

The city of Vienna continued work on the Campus of Religions, which it financed and launched in 2019.  Vienna unveiled the winning design for the campus in September, which contains eight buildings on 2.5 acres of land and is expected to be completed in 2028.  The campus is planned as a site where the Catholic, Evangelical, and Orthodox Churches, as well as Sikhs, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, and members of the New Apostolic Church will exercise their own religious activities, while also working together.  Its designated function is to serve to promote faith, respect, diversity, and ideological tolerance.  Alongside the interfaith University College of Teacher Education of Christian Churches Vienna/Krems, the campus is designed to be a meeting point that encourages dialogue between religions, science, and education, and it will include access for the general public.

The government did not impose any COVID-19 restrictions on religious gatherings, relying on religious organizations to regulate their own gatherings.  Religious groups worked with government officials to establish COVID-19 guidelines that mirrored each other, which Catholic and Muslim leaders stated helped create unified restrictions that eliminated confusion and risk among their congregations.  There were no reports of widespread dissatisfaction among religious community members about the restrictions.

In October, the country opened its redesigned exhibit at the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum commemorating the victims and acknowledging the role of Austrian perpetrators in the Holocaust.

The government inaugurated the Shoah Wall of Names Memorial in Vienna in November listing the names of the country’s 66,000 Jewish Holocaust victims.

The country is a member of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance.


Executive Summary

The constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the law prohibits discrimination based on religious orientation.  Federal law bans covering one’s face in public.  In June, the Flemish government resumed accepting applications for recognition from houses of worship after suspending them in 2017.  The Flemish government also moved to withdraw existing recognition from four mosques.  Numerous mosque recognition applications remained pending in the Brussels and Flanders regions.  A Ghent criminal court fined the Kraainem Jehovah’s Witness congregation 12,000 euros ($13,600) for inciting hatred or violence against former members.  The federal government expelled a Turkish imam from the country, stating he had posted homophobic comments online.  All regions except Brussels retained their ban on the slaughter of animals without prior stunning, which Muslim and Jewish groups criticized for infringing on halal and kosher practices.  Despite an announcement by the coalition government elected in 2020 of its intention to recognize the Belgian Buddhist Union, which first applied for such status in 2008, at year’s end, the group remained unrecognized.

Unia, the Interfederal Center for Equal Opportunities, an independent government agency that reviews discrimination complaints, reported that in 2020, the most recent year for which data were available, there were 115 antisemitic incidents (compared with 79 in 2019) and 261 incidents (336 in 2019) against other religious groups, 88 percent of which targeted Muslims.  Media reported increased hate speech against Jews during the year, and some Jews reported accusations blaming Jews for the spread of COVID-19.  On December 16, Minister of Justice Vincent Van Quickenborne stated that foreign influence and mismanagement within the Muslim Executive could justify a cutoff of government subsidies in 2022 if the executive did not carry out reforms.  In September, the Brussels-based NGO Action and Protection League issued the results of its European antisemitism survey, which found that 8 percent of 1,000 respondents ages 18-75 in Belgium said they had negative feelings towards Jews.

U.S. embassy officials continued to meet regularly with senior government officials in the Office of the Prime Minister; at the Ministries of Interior, Foreign Affairs, and Justice; and with members of parliament to discuss anti-Muslim and antisemitic incidents and discrimination.  The Charge d’Affaires and other embassy officials met with civil society and religious leaders in Brussels and other communities to address anti-Muslim and antisemitic incidents and sentiment and to advocate religious tolerance.  The embassy continued to provide funding for a nongovernmental organization (NGO) to implement a project to educate elementary aged students from varied backgrounds on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to break down stereotypes and combat antisemitism and anti-Muslim sentiment.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 11.8 million (midyear 2021).  According to the most recent survey in December 2018 by the GESIS-Leibniz Institute for the Social Sciences, 57.1 percent of residents are Roman Catholic, 2.3 percent Protestant, 2.8 percent other non-Orthodox Christian, 6.8 percent Muslim (mostly Sunni), 0.6 percent Orthodox Christian, 0.3 percent Jewish, 0.3 percent Buddhist, 9.1 percent atheist, 20.2 percent “nonbeliever/agnostic,” and 0.5 percent “other.”  A 2015 study by the Catholic University of Louvain estimated that 42.2 percent of Muslims reside in Flanders, 35.5 percent in Brussels, and 22.3 percent in Wallonia.  According to Catholic University of Louvain sociologist Jan Hertogen, based on 2015 data, 24.2 percent of the Brussels population and 7.5 percent of the Antwerp population is Muslim.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution provides for freedom of worship, including its public practice, and freedom of expression, provided no crime is committed in the exercise of these freedoms.  It states no individual may be required to participate in any religious group’s acts or ceremonies or to observe the group’s religious days of rest, and it bars the state from interfering in the appointment of religious clergy or blocking the publication of religious documents.  It obligates the state to pay the salaries and pensions of clergy (according to law, to qualify clergy must work in recognized houses of worship and be certified by those religious groups), as well as those of representatives of organizations recognized by the law as providing moral assistance based on a nonconfessional philosophy.

The law prohibits discrimination based on religious or philosophical (e.g., nonconfessional) orientation.  Federal law prohibits public statements inciting religious hatred, including Holocaust denial.  Discrimination based on Jewish descent is distinguished from discrimination against Jewish religious practices.  The maximum sentence for Holocaust denial is one year in prison.  Courts have interpreted that an antiracism law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of nationality, race, skin color, ancestry, national origin, or ethnicity may be applied to cases of antisemitism.

The government officially recognizes Roman Catholicism, Protestantism (including evangelicals and Pentecostals), Anglicanism (separately from other Protestant groups), Orthodox (Greek and Russian) Christianity, Judaism, Islam, and secular humanism.

The law does not define requirements to obtain official recognition.  The Ministry of Justice specifies the legal basis for official recognition.  A religious group seeking official recognition applies to the Ministry of Justice, which then recommends approval or rejection to parliament, which votes on the application.  The government evaluates whether the group meets organizational and reporting requirements and applies criteria based on administrative and legislative precedents in deciding whether to recommend granting recognition to a religious group.  The religious group must have a structure or hierarchy, a “sufficient number” of members, and a “long period” of existence in the country.  It must offer “social value” to the public, abide by the laws of the state, and respect public order.  The government does not formally define “sufficient number,” “long period of time,” or “social value.”  Final approval is the sole responsibility of the federal parliament; however, parliament generally accepts the ministry’s recommendation.

The law requires each officially recognized religious group to have an official interlocutor, such as an office composed of one or more representatives of the religion plus administrative staff, to support the government in its constitutional duty of providing the material conditions for the free exercise of religion.  The functions performed by the interlocutor include certification of clergy and teachers of the religion, assistance in the development of the religious curriculum in schools, and oversight of the management of houses of worship.

The federal and regional governments provide financial support for officially recognized religious groups.  Federal government subsidies include direct payment of clergy salaries and pensions, while regions subsidize maintenance and equipment costs for facilities and places of worship, as well as clergy housing, and oversee finances and donations when the legal exemption amount is exceeded.  Denominations or divisions within the recognized religious groups (Shia Islam, Reform Judaism, or Lutheranism, for example) do not receive support or recognition separate from their parent religious group.  Parent religious groups distribute subsidies according to their statutes, which may also include salaries to ministers and public funding for renovation or facility maintenance.  Unrecognized religious groups may worship freely and openly but do not receive the subsidies that recognized groups do.  In addition, the law stipulates a separate federal government subsidy for three organizations:  the Belgian Muslim Executive, the Secular Central Council, and the Belgian Buddhist Union.  Although the Buddhist Union receives this separate subsidy, the government has not officially recognized Buddhism as a religious group.

There are procedures for individual houses of worship of recognized religious groups to apply to obtain recognition and federal subsidies.  To do so, a house of worship must meet requirements set by the region in which it is located and receive final approval by the federal Ministry of Justice.  These requirements include transparency and legality of accounting practices, renunciation of foreign sources of income for ministers of religion working in the facility, compliance with building and fire safety codes, and certification of the minister of religion by the relevant interlocutor body.  Recognized houses of worship also receive subsidies from the linguistic communities and municipalities for the upkeep of religious buildings.  Houses of worship or other religious groups that are unable or choose not to meet these requirements may organize as nonprofit associations and benefit from lower taxes but not government subsidies.  Individual houses of worship in this situation (i.e., not completing the recognition process) may still be affiliated with an officially recognized religious group.

The Flemish government has a policy of conducting enhanced security screening for possible radicalization of imams or worshippers and against foreign influence at mosques, including by requiring all religious communities and places of worship to submit to a four-year probation period prior to official recognition.  This policy applies to all places of worship regardless of religion.

There is a federal ban on covering one’s face in public.  Individuals wearing face coverings that cover all or part of the face in public are subject to a maximum fine of 137.50 euros ($160).  In addition, the penal code stipulates violators may be sentenced to a maximum of seven days’ imprisonment.

Outside of the Brussels region, which still allows ritual slaughter without stunning, the law prohibits the slaughter of animals without prior stunning.  The legislation does not prevent halal and kosher meat from being imported from abroad.

By longstanding practice rather than law, the government bans the wearing of religious symbols by employees in public sector jobs requiring interaction with the public.  The ban does not apply to teachers of religion in public schools.

The constitution requires teaching in public schools to be neutral with respect to religious belief.  The public education system requires neutrality in the presentation of religious views outside of religion classes.  All public schools offer religious or “moral” instruction oriented toward citizenship and moral values.  Outside of Flanders, these courses are mandatory; parents in schools in Flanders may have their children opt out of such courses.  Francophone schools offer a mandatory one-hour per week “philosophy and citizenship” course plus an additional one-hour mandatory course on either philosophy and citizenship or one of the recognized religions, based on a constitutional court ruling.

Schools provide teachers, clerical or secular, for each of the recognized religious groups, as well as for secular humanism, according to the student’s preference.  The degree of religious expression varies but must follow a principle of “neutrality.”  Because “neutrality” is not defined explicitly in the constitution in the context of religious expression, most state-funded institutions follow one of two principles: “inclusive neutrality,” where individuals must remain neutral in their behavior but may wear religious symbols, or “exclusive neutrality,” where there is a total ban on religious attire.  In either case, the education provided outside of the religious classes must remain neutral.

Public school religion teachers are nominated by a committee from their religious group and appointed by the linguistic community government’s education minister.  Private, authorized religious schools (limited to schools operated by recognized religious groups), known as “free” schools, follow the same curriculum as public schools but may place greater emphasis on specific religious classes.  Teachers at these religious schools are civil servants, and their salaries, as well as subsidies for the schools’ operating expenses, are paid for by the respective linguistic community, municipality, or province.

Unia is a publicly funded independent agency responsible for reviewing discrimination complaints, including those of a religious nature, and attempting to resolve them through mediation or arbitration.  The agency lacks legal powers to enforce resolution of cases but may refer them to the courts.

The federal justice minister appoints a magistrate in each judicial district to monitor discrimination cases and oversee their prosecution, including those involving religion, as a criminal act.

The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Government Practices

During the year, according to Justice Minister Van Quickenborne and reported by media outlet La Libre, mosque applications for government recognition stagnated due to changes in the leadership of the Muslim Executive and an announced internal restructuring of the organization, as well as unfavorable decisions by intelligence services following the review of some mosques’ applications.  Some observers continued to state that a number of mosques opted not to seek official recognition because they received sufficient foreign funding and preferred to operate without government oversight.  Some observers stated the lengthy, bureaucratic process of obtaining recognition also acted as a deterrent.

On June 4, the Flemish government approved a decree to resume accepting and reviewing applications for recognition by religious houses of worship that then regional Interior Minister Liesbeth Homans had suspended in 2017.  In 2020, a senior Flemish government official estimated there were 50-100 local places of worship with pending applications for recognition, some dating back to the 2017 moratorium.  Local media reported in June that in the province of Antwerp alone, 31 mosques were awaiting official recognition.

On June 9, Flemish Minister of Civic Integration Bart Somers withdrew the recognition of a Pakistani mosque in Antwerp due to what he said was its failure to meet the criteria of social value.  Somers stated the mosque disrupted social cohesion and had insufficient support within the community.  According to the civil intelligence service, Surete d’Etat, the mosque had faced internal disputes since 2013, which in some cases required police intervention.  On October 18, Somers withdrew recognition of the De Koepel Mosque in Antwerp for what he said was a failure to meet administrative obligations, such as providing annual accounts, budget, and board meeting records.

According to local media and academics, recognition applications by eight mosques in the Brussels-Capital region remained pending.  Minister of Justice Van Quickenborne denied recognition to the Great Mosque of Brussels in December 2020 after a negative report from Surete d’Etat.  The Surete cited what it described as questionable ties to Moroccan authorities.

At year’s end, there were 87 recognized mosques, the same number as at the end of 2020 – 39 in Wallonia, 27 in Flanders, and 21 in Brussels.  The Belgian Muslim Executive estimated there were a total of 300 mosques in the country, both recognized and unrecognized.

In January, the deputy head of the Muslim Executive, Salah Echallaoui, resigned after Minister of Justice Van Quickenborne accused him of mismanagement; he was subsequently replaced by Noureddine Smaili.  On January 27, the Muslim Executive reported that an internal evaluation found several of its members had ties to extremist movements and networks.  The organization subsequently announced it would undergo internal restructuring.  On October 6, Justice Minister Van Quickenborne requested an investigation to be led by Surete d’Etat into the operations of the Muslim Executive, since, he said, it had failed to make progress restructuring.  On October 19, several media outlets quoted President of the Muslim Executive Mehmet Ustun stating that he was considering renouncing state subsidies due to excessive “political meddling.”  In response, Van Quickenborne threatened to withdraw state funding for the Muslim Executive, which amounts to 500,000 euros ($567,000) per year, if the organization failed to comply with the government’s conditions for maintaining official recognition – greater transparency, reduced concentration of power among a small group of persons within the organization, and elimination of foreign influence.  On December 16, during a plenary session of the House of Representatives, Van Quickenborne stated that the “current circumstances” of foreign influence and mismanagement within the Muslim Executive could justify cutting it off from subsidies in 2022, and he urged the executive to institute reforms.

An application from the Belgian Hindu Forum for the government to recognize Hinduism as a religion, submitted in 2013, remained pending, as did its application to receive a government subsidy.  There were no other pending requests by religious groups.

In March, the Ghent Correctional Court ruled against the Kraainem Jehovah’s Witness congregation, finding it guilty of inciting discrimination and inciting hatred or violence against former members of the congregation and fining it 12,000 euros ($13,600).  The Ghent prosecutor filed a criminal case against the group in 2020 following a five-year investigation based on a complaint by a former member of the congregation, Patrick Haeck, who said he had been shunned after he exposed a case of sexual abuse.

Although the ban on face coverings remained unchanged, police did not enforce the law in the context of COVID-19.

On January 27, media reported that the State Secretary for Asylum and Migration, Sammy Mahdi, said he had ordered a Turkish imam to leave the country within 30 days for making homophobic remarks.  The man, who was the imam of the Green Mosque in the Flemish municipality of Houthalen-Helchteren and a member of the Belgian branch of the Turkish religious authority Diyanet, reportedly posted the comments on the mosque’s and his personal Facebook pages.  Mahdi stated that the imam’s comments could incite hate and “harm public order or national security” and refused to renew his residence permit.  On April 23, Mahdi’s cabinet confirmed via a press release that the imam had left Belgium.  At the same time, Flemish Minister for Civic Integration Somers began procedures to remove the recognition of the mosque due to what he said were discriminatory messages against the LGBTQI+ community on its Facebook page.  At year’s end, the government continued to recognize the mosque.

In January, the city of Charleroi approved a construction project for a mosque in its municipality of Lodelinsart after a second public comment period, which the city opened in 2020 after approving the project in 2019.  However, in June, Walloon Minister for Urbanism Willy Borsus denied a construction permit for the mosque, citing parking and noise concerns.

On March 8, media reported that a mosque in Court-St-Etienne had been completed.  The project was approved in 2018 after four construction permit rejections.

In a newspaper interview, Mayor of Antwerp Bart De Wever stated that the city’s historic community of Orthodox Jews risked bringing a “wave of antisemitism” upon themselves because of noncompliance with COVID-19 social distancing and testing requirements.  De Wever threatened to close one synagogue for violation of COVID-19 restrictions, stating that police had raided the synagogue twice on the Sabbath, evicting 37 persons in one incident and 22 persons in the other.  A spokesperson in Antwerp for the Forum of Jewish Organizations called De Wever’s criticism of the Jewish community “undiplomatic,” but added that the mayor was “a close and good friend of the Jewish community.”

In October, the Constitutional Court rejected the appeals launched by Muslim and Jewish associations against the ban on animal slaughter without stunning in Flanders and Wallonia.  The office of the Central Israelite Consistory of Belgium (the official representative of the Jewish community in dealings with the government) unanimously decided to lodge an appeal with the European Court of Human Rights against the decision rendered by the court.  Representatives of the Islamic faith, the Muslim Executive, and the Coordination Council of Islamic Institutions in Belgium said they were also considering an appeal.

A large slaughterhouse performing kosher and halal slaughter continued to operate in Brussels, where slaughter without prior stunning remained permitted, but it could not accommodate all requests, particularly during religious holidays.  The Brussels government said it had no policy on animal slaughter without prior stunning.  In February, Brussels Minister for Animal Welfare Bernard Clerfayt held discussions on the subject with Muslim and Jewish leaders in Brussels who followed halal and kosher practices, as well as with animal welfare organizations.  Sources stated that Clerfayt had been due to present a draft ordinance to the Brussels Council of Ministers in October that would prohibit the slaughter of animals without prior stunning, including for religious reasons, but he had not done so by year’s end.

On January 9, national media reported that, in a civil case, the Antwerp Court of First Instance ruled that the Antwerp-based NGO Mothers for Mothers, which stated its aim was to assist families and mothers in financial difficulties, was guilty of discrimination for refusing aid to veiled women.  The organization allowed veiled women to access only the entrance hall to its offices, excluding them from the rest of the premises.  The court ruled that the association had to remove the restrictions on veiled women or incur a penalty of 500 euros ($570) for each documented violation.  On January 15, the association closed its building in Antwerp to avoid complying with the court order.  A notice on the building door stated that the association deemed the court ruling “incomprehensible.”

During the year, the government appointed Ihsane Haouch, who wears a hijab, as government commissioner to the Institution for the Equality of Women and Men.

In May, the Brussels Labor Court found the Brussels-based public transportation company STIB/MIVB guilty of gender and religious discrimination after a Muslim woman was denied interviews for jobs at the company for wearing a religious head covering.  The court ordered the company to end its policy of “exclusive neutrality,” which bans all outward display of religious symbols and ruled that it disproportionately affected Muslim women.  In June, following internal discussions, the Brussels government announced it would not appeal this decision.  In a press release, Brussels authorities highlighted the “importance of the principle of neutrality of staff in the organization of public services” and called on parliament to hold a debate on the issue.

In February, the Ghent public prosecutor’s office called for the criminal prosecution of nine members of the youth movement Schild & Vrienden (Shield and Friends), commonly characterized as far right in Flemish and Francophone news media, for violating the antiracism law.  The accused included Dries Van Langenhove, a founder of Schild & Vrienden and a Member of Parliament for the Flemish political party Vlaams Belang (Flemish Interest), commonly characterized as extreme right.  The public prosecutor’s office opened an investigation in 2018 after public broadcaster VRT documented antisemitic, anti-Muslim, xenophobic, racist, and sexist messages exchanged by the members in an online chat room.  Some of the individuals were also accused of Holocaust denial.  On December 28, the media outlet De Morgen reported that procedural issues in the case had arisen following accusations of a lack of impartiality by investigating judge Annemie Serlippens.  Serlippens subsequently resigned, and Van Langenhove’s lawyer requested that the evidence obtained through her investigation be declared null and void.  The Ghent Chamber of Indictments rejected this request.  At year’s end, the case had not been referred to the criminal court.

On September 1, the government ended Operation Vigilan Guardian (OVG), which since 2015 had provided domestic military protection in the face of increased terror threats.  With the change, responsibility for protection of Antwerp’s Jewish quarter shifted from the military to the Antwerp municipal police, although Antwerp Mayor De Wever stated on multiple occasions that his municipality lacked the resources to protect the Jewish quarter.  According to media, the Antwerp police department would need to expand significantly to meet the increased security requirement.  Community members stated publicly that they felt less secure due to the end of OVG.  They said the military had withdrawn the military protection because the government assessed the threat to the Jewish community was a tier lower than it had been several years earlier when the threat had been rated at the highest of four possible tiers.  Community members expressed concern that police might provide less effective security because, unlike the military, the police could be called away.  On Jewish high holy days, the city assigned extra police to protect synagogues and other sites.

Police continued to offer a voluntary, day-long course, “The Holocaust, the Police, and Human Rights,” at the Dossin Barracks in Mechelen, site of a Holocaust museum and memorial.


Executive Summary

The constitution provides for freedom of religion and conscience.  Religious groups may worship without registering, but registered groups receive financial and other benefits and legal protections.  The constitution recognizes Eastern Orthodox Christianity as the country’s “traditional” religion, and the law exempts the Bulgarian Orthodox Church (BOC) from registration.  In February, the Plovdiv Appellate Court confirmed the sentences of 12 Romani Muslims convicted in 2019 of supporting ISIS and spreading Salafi Islam, among other charges.  The 12 individuals appealed the ruling.  Muslim leaders again said several municipalities denied permission to build new or rehabilitate existing religious facilities.  In May, the Supreme Administrative Court ruled Shumen Municipality’s ordinance restricting proselytizing did not violate the constitution.  In March, the Sofia Appellate Court rejected a restitution claim by the International Missionary Society Seventh-day Adventist Reform Movement General Conference on land in Sofia.  In February, Sofia Mayor Yordanka Fandakova canceled an annual march (after it had begun) honoring 1940s pro-Nazi leader Hristo Lukov on procedural grounds after the city was unable to legally ban the event.  In February, Jewish groups strongly protested remarks by a television quiz show host on Bulgarian National Television denying there were gas chambers in Nazi extermination camps and stating that Jews disliked working, especially in the camps, preferring others “to do all the work so that they can collect the profit.”  The director general of the station and the show’s host apologized for the remarks.  According to NGOs, souvenirs exhibiting Nazi insignias and imagery continued to be widely available in tourist areas around the country and few local governments responded to complaints about them.

Antisemitic rhetoric continued to appear regularly in online comments and on social networking sites, for example, calling Jews “lampshades,” and in online media articles and in the mainstream press.  Antisemitic graffiti, including swastikas and offensive slurs appeared in public places.  The Jewish nongovernmental organization (NGO) Shalom reported increased incidents of antisemitic hate speech online in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic and ongoing election campaigns, and vandalism of Jewish cemeteries and monuments.  The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Church of Jesus Christ) and Jehovah’s Witnesses reported no instances of harassment or threats from the public, which they attributed to moving most of their activity online due to COVID-19 restrictions.

The U.S. Ambassador and other embassy officials met with relevant government officials, including representatives of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ (MFA) Directorate for Human Rights, the Council of Ministers’ Directorate for Religious Affairs, Office of the Ombudsman, Commission for Protection against Discrimination, and local governments regularly to discuss cases of religious discrimination, harassment of religious minorities, and their efforts to promote interfaith dialogue among the community.  The Ambassador and embassy officials also met with the National Council of Religious Communities (NCRC) and discussed how to involve the BOC more in interreligious activities.  Embassy officials regularly met with religious groups and supported civil society efforts to encourage tolerance and stimulate interfaith dialogue, although the frequency of such engagements decreased.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 6.9 million (midyear 2021).  According to the 2011 census (the most recent), 76 percent of the population identifies as Eastern Orthodox Christian, primarily affiliated with the BOC.  The census reports Muslims, the second largest religious group, are approximately 10 percent of the population, followed by Protestants, including the Union of Evangelical Congregational Churches, Union of Evangelical Baptist Churches, and Union of Evangelical Pentecostal Churches, at 1.1 percent, and Roman Catholics at 0.8 percent.  Nearly 95 percent of Muslims reported being Sunni; most of the rest are Shia, and there is a small number of Ahmadis concentrated in Blagoevgrad.  Orthodox Christians of the Armenian Apostolic Orthodox Church (AAOC), Jews, Jehovah’s Witnesses, members of the Church of Jesus Christ, and other groups together make up 0.2 percent of the population.  According to the census, 4.8 percent of respondents have no religion and 7.1 percent did not specify a religion.  According to a 2019 report by the think tank Agency for Social Analyses, 74 percent of individuals identify as Orthodox Christians, 10 percent as Muslims, 13 percent as atheists, and 3 percent with other religious traditions.

Some religious minorities are concentrated geographically.  Many Muslims, including ethnic Turks, Roma, and Pomaks (descendants of Slavic Bulgarians who converted to Islam under Ottoman rule) live in the Rhodope Mountains along the southern border with Greece and Turkey.  Ethnic Turkish and Romani Muslims also live in large numbers in the northeast and along the Black Sea coast.  Some recent Romani converts to Islam live in towns in the central region, such as Plovdiv and Pazardjik.  According to the census, nearly 40 percent of Catholics live in and around Plovdiv.  The majority of the small Jewish and Armenian communities are in Sofia, Plovdiv, and along the Black Sea coast.  Protestants are widely dispersed.  Many Roma are Protestant converts, and Protestants are more numerous in areas with large Romani populations.  Approximately 80 percent of the urban population and 62 percent of the rural population identifies as Orthodox Christian.  Approximately 25 percent of the rural population identify as Muslim, compared with 4 percent of the urban population.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution states freedom of conscience and choice of religion or no religion are inviolable, prohibits religious discrimination, and stipulates the state shall assist in maintaining tolerance and respect among believers of different denominations, as well as between believers and nonbelievers.  It states the practice of any religion shall be unrestricted except to the extent its practice would be detrimental to national security, public order, health, and morals, or the rights and freedoms of others.  It states no one shall be exempt from obligations established by the constitution or the law on grounds of religious or other convictions.  The constitution also stipulates the separation of religious institutions from the state and prohibits the formation of political parties along religious lines or organizations that incite religious animosity, as well as the use of religious beliefs, institutions, and communities for political ends.  The law does not allow any privilege based on religious identity.

The constitution names Eastern Orthodox Christianity as the country’s “traditional” religion.  The law establishes the BOC as a legal entity, exempting it from the court registration that is mandatory for all other religious groups seeking legal recognition.

The penal code prescribes up to three years’ imprisonment for persons attacking individuals or groups based on their religious affiliation.  Instigators and leaders of an attack may receive prison sentences of up to six years.  Those who obstruct the ability of individuals to profess their faith, carry out their rituals and services, or compel another to participate in religious rituals and services may receive prison sentences of up to one year.  Violating a person’s or group’s freedom to acquire or practice a religious belief is subject to a fine of between 100 and 300 levs ($58-$170).  If a legal entity commits the infraction, the fine may range from 500 to 5,000 levs ($290-$2,900).

To receive national legal recognition, religious groups other than the BOC must register with the Sofia City Court.  Applications must include:  the group’s name and official address; a description of the group’s religious beliefs and service practices, organizational structure and bodies and management procedures, bodies, and mandates; a list of official representatives and the processes for their election; procedures for convening meetings and making decisions; and information on finances, property, and processes for termination and liquidation of the group.  The Directorate for Religious Affairs under the Council of Ministers provides expert opinions on registration matters upon the court’s request.  Applicants must notify the Directorate for Religious Affairs within seven days of receiving a court decision on their registration.  Applicants may appeal negative registration decisions to the Sofia Appellate Court and, subsequently, the Supreme Cassation Court, the country’s highest court.  The law does not require the formal registration of local branches of registered groups with the local court, only that branches notify local authorities and local authorities enter them in a register.  The law prohibits registration of different groups with the same name in the same location.  The Directorate for Religious Affairs and any prosecutor may request that a court revoke a religious group’s registration on the grounds of systematic violations of the law.  There are 199 registered religious groups in addition to the BOC.

Registered religious groups must maintain a registry of all their clergy and employees, provide the Directorate for Religious Affairs with access to the registry, and issue a certificate to each clerical member, who must carry it as proof of representing the group.  Foreign members of registered religious groups may obtain long-term residency permits, but for the foreign member to be allowed to conduct religious services during his or her stay, the group must send advance notice to the Directorate for Religious Affairs.

The law requires the government to provide funding for all registered religious groups based on the number of self-identified followers in the latest census, at a rate of 10 levs ($6) per capita to groups that comprise more than 1 percent of the population and varying amounts for the rest.

Registered groups have the right to perform religious services; maintain financial accounts; own property such as houses of worship and cemeteries; provide medical, social, and educational services; receive property tax and other exemptions; and participate in commercial ventures.

The law does not consider unregistered religious groups.  These groups may engage in religious practice, since there is no law prohibiting it, but they lack privileges that the law grants to registered groups, such as access to government funding and the right to own property, establish financial accounts in their names, operate schools and hospitals, receive property tax exemptions, and sell religious merchandise.  Some local regulations also restrict the groups, in breach of the law.  Several municipalities, including Kyustendil and Sliven, prohibit unregistered religious groups from conducting any religious activities.

The law restricts the wearing of face-covering garments in public places, imposing a fine of 200 levs ($120) for a first offense and 1,500 levs ($870) for repeat offenses.

The law allows registered groups to publish, import, and distribute religious media; it does not address the rights of unregistered groups with regard to such media.  The law does not restrict proselytizing by registered or unregistered groups.  Dozens of municipalities, including the regional cities of Kyustendil, Pleven, Shumen, and Sliven, have ordinances prohibiting door-to-door proselytizing and the distribution of religious literature without a permit.  The ordinance in Kyustendil remains in effect despite a 2018 Supreme Administrative Court ruling that it was unconstitutional.  Burgas municipality prohibits the wearing of religious dress and symbols of unregistered religious groups.  Some municipalities prohibit religious activities inside cultural institutes, schools, and establishments for youth and children.

The law states that every child has “the right to protection from involvement” in religious activities and prescribes that parents or guardians shall determine the religious attitudes of children up to 14 years of age.  Between the ages of 14 and 18, children determine their religion by agreement between them and their parents or guardians.  If such agreement is not reached, a child may apply to the relevant regional court to resolve the dispute.

By law, public schools at all levels may, but are not required, to teach the historical, philosophical, and cultural aspects of religion and introduce students to the moral values of different religious groups as part of the core curriculum.  A school may teach any registered religion in a special course as part of the elective curriculum upon request of at least 13 students, subject to the availability of books and teachers.  The Ministry of Education and Science approves the content of and provides books for these special religion courses.  If a public school is unable to pay for a religion teacher, it may accept financial sponsorship from a private donor or a teacher from a registered denomination.  The law also allows registered religious groups to operate schools, provided they meet government standards for secular education, and post-secondary educational institutions that meet the requirements for opening secular higher education institutions.

The Commission for Protection against Discrimination is an independent government body charged with preventing and protecting against discrimination, including religious discrimination, and ensuring equal opportunity.  It functions as a civil litigation court adjudicating discrimination complaints and does not charge for its services.  The commission’s decisions may be appealed to administrative courts.  Upon accepting a case, the commission assigns it to a panel that then reviews it in open session.  If the commission makes a finding of discrimination, it may impose a fine of 250 to 2,000 levs ($150-$1,200).  The commission may double fines for repeat violations.  Regional courts may also try civil cases involving religious discrimination.

The law establishes an independent ombudsman to serve as an advocate for citizens who believe public or municipal administrations or public service providers have violated their rights and freedoms, including those pertaining to religion, through their actions or inaction.  The ombudsman may request information from authorities, act as an intermediary in resolving disputes, make proposals for terminating existing practices, refer information to the prosecution service, and request that the Constitutional Court abolish legal provisions as unconstitutional.

The penal code provides up to three years’ imprisonment for forming “a political organization on religious grounds” or using a church or religion to spread propaganda against the authority of the state or its activities.

The penal code prohibits the propagation or incitement of religious or other discrimination, violence, or hatred “by speech, press, or other media, by electronic information systems or in another manner,” as well as religiously motivated assault or property damage.  Either offense is punishable by imprisonment for one to four years and a fine of 5,000 to 10,000 levs ($2,900-$5,800), as well as “public censure.”  The propagation of “fascism or another antidemocratic ideology” is punishable by imprisonment for up to three years or a fine of up to 5,000 levs ($2,900).  Courts have found that Nazism falls within the purview of “antidemocratic ideology.”  Desecration of religious symbols or sites, including places of worship or graves, is punishable by up to three years’ imprisonment and a fine of 3,000 to 10,000 levs ($1,700-$5,800).

The law provides for restitution of real estate confiscated during the communist era; courts have also applied the law to Holocaust-related claims.

The law allows religious groups to delay until 2029 paying back outstanding revenue obligations owed to governments, for example, for social insurance payments or garbage collection or other municipal services, incurred before December 31, 2018.

The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Government Practices

On February 19, the Plovdiv Appellate Court confirmed the Pazardjik District Court’s 2019 verdict convicting 12 Romani Muslims on charges of supporting ISIS, assisting foreign fighters, propagating Salafi Islam, characterized by the government as an antidemocratic ideology, and incitement to war.  Two other Romani Muslims who were part of the original case did not appeal their convictions or sentences.  The appellate court also confirmed the lower court’s sentences:  8.5 years in prison for the group’s leader, Islamic preacher Ahmed Mussa, and incarceration ranging from 12 to 42 months for 10 of the other Romani, all men.  The 12th Romani, the only woman in the group, received a two-year suspended sentence.  A final appeal of the case to the Supreme Cassation Court by both defendants and prosecutors was pending at year’s end.

In May, the Samokov Regional Court exonerated Church of God-Bulgaria pastor Nikolay Vasilev, who was charged in 2020 with holding an Easter service in Samokov in breach of the COVID-19-related ban on public gatherings.  A prosecutor appealed the verdict in the Sofia District Court, where the case was pending at year’s end.  Administrative proceedings in the Samokov Regional Court regarding fines imposed on other Church of God-Bulgaria officials relating to the same event were also pending.

In April, Sofia Municipality revoked its ordinance restricting the activity of unregistered religious groups, complying with a 2020 decision of the Sofia Administrative Court.  In May, the Supreme Administrative Court reversed a 2020 decision of the Shumen Administrative Court and determined that a Shumen Municipality ordinance restricting door-to-door proselytizing did not violate the country’s constitution and laws, but it stated the provisions prohibiting religious activities by “non-traditional religious groups” (i.e., groups other than the BOC) inside cultural institutes, schools, and establishments for youth and children were illegal, since they discriminated against those religious groups.  Jehovah’s Witnesses said the decision limited their right to express their beliefs and put followers at risk of being subjected to discrimination and aggression.  On November 2, a five-member panel of the Supreme Administrative Court refused to review an appeal by Jehovah’s Witnesses of the court’s April ruling, stating the group had missed the appeal deadline.

Contrary to years prior to 2020, Jehovah’s Witnesses did not report any incidents against their members by government officials while engaged in proselytizing.  They attributed the change to reduced public proselytizing and increased online activity due to COVID-19 restrictions.

In September, a publication in the online human rights platform Marginalia stated the national census had violated children’s rights for the benefit of religious groups by disregarding the legal right of children aged 14-18 to independent religious self-identification.  According to the publication, the census instructions allowed adults to increase the number of members of a religious group by including their children, which directly affected the size of the government subsidy for that group until the next census.

The Office of the Grand Mufti and regional Muslim leaders again said several municipalities, including Sofia, Stara Zagora, and Gotse Delchev, continued to reject, on what they said were nontransparent grounds, their requests to build new, or rehabilitate existing, religious facilities.  Grand Mufti Mustafa Hadji said he had raised the issue in several meetings with Sofia Mayor Fandakova, including in March and October, but the mayor’s office had not provided by year’s end any information on the reasons for the city’s continued rejections of the construction applications.

The Office of the Grand Mufti said it was continuing to search for ways to litigate its recognition as the successor to all pre-1949 Muslim religious communities for the purpose of reclaiming approximately 30 properties, including eight mosques, two schools, two baths, and a cemetery seized by the former communist government.  Pending a decision on who was the rightful successor to the Muslim religious communities, some courts continued to suspend action on all restitution claims by the Office of the Grand Mufti.  In May, the Targovishte District Court ruled against the Office of the Grand Mufti’s claim regarding a former mosque and Muslim school in Popovo, stating the office was not the proven successor.  In October, the Varna Appellate Court confirmed the lower court’s decision.  In October, the Tutrakan Regional Court ruled against the Office of the Grand Mufti’s claim to a former Muslim school converted to a secular school during communism, refusing to recognize the office as the proven successor.

In March, the Sofia Appellate Court rejected a restitution claim by the International Missionary Society Seventh-day Adventist Reform Movement on a plot of land in Sofia.  According to the court, the group had failed to prove that the three persons who bought the lot in 1934 had acted on behalf of the denomination despite the written declarations to that effect by two of those persons in 1949 and 1951.  At year’s end, an appeal was ongoing at the Supreme Cassation Court, and the next hearing was scheduled for January 2022.

The national public school elective curriculum continued to provide three sets of classes in religious studies at various grade levels:  one for Orthodox Christianity, one for Islam, and one for “good morals” (nonconfessional) developed by the Protestant NGO Bible League.  In September, the Ministry of Education approved official school textbooks for students from sixth to twelfth grade in the program on Islam, grades one through five having been approved in 2020.  Schools began using the full set of books on Orthodox Christianity and Islam from first to twelfth grade in the academic year that began in September.  There were approved textbooks on nonconfessional religious education from first to third grade but there were no trained teachers to put them to use.  The Evangelical Alliance, a group of 14 Protestant Churches and 16 Protestant NGOs, complained that the Ministry of Education delayed the training of teachers until 2022 and provided funding only for 40 percent of the candidates.

The Office of the Grand Mufti and the Evangelical Alliance expressed concern that they lacked the resources to meet the legal requirement for bringing their religious academies up to university standards by the end of the year and would be forced to close them.

In September, High Muslim Council chair Vedat Ahmed criticized schools and universities that invited BOC clerics to perform religious rituals, stating that many students were Muslims, and said it would be appropriate either to invite imams as well or refrain from any religious activity.

On February 13, Sofia mayor Fandakova issued an order canceling the Lukov March after it had begun on the grounds that the municipality had not approved the route proposed by the organizers, after the city was unable to legally ban the event in advance.  Approximately 50 participants turned out for the annual demonstration to honor General Hristo Lukov, the 1940s antisemitic, pro-Nazi Union of Bulgarian National Legions leader.  Police divided the rally into smaller groups and escorted them to Lukov’s house, where the groups held a commemoration ceremony.  The Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the then-ruling GERB Party, the Democratic Bulgaria Alliance, the Bulgarian Socialist Party, NGOs, international organizations, and diplomatic missions denounced the rally.  In February, the Sofia City Court rejected a prosecutor’s claim for deregistration of the rally organizer, Bulgarian National Union-Edelweiss, stating the claim failed to provide evidence of incitement of ethnic, racial, and religious hostility or other unconstitutional activity by the party.  At year’s end, an appeal was proceeding in the Sofia Appellate Court.

In February, Blagovest Asenov, the leader of the National Resistance organization, accused on social media Jews and Jewish NGOs of being “anti-Bulgarian,” as well as of causing the “refugee crises in Europe” and “forcing the COVID pandemic” on authorities.  Police issued Asenov a warning, but a prosecutor dismissed the case, citing lack of evidence of a criminal offense.

Shalom expressed “strong concern” regarding Alternative for Bulgarian Revival Party leader Rumen Petkov’s appearance for a TV interview on September 21 while wearing a yellow badge reading “Unvaccinated” on his lapel.  Shalom said Petkov’s badge was a reference to the yellow stars Jews were forced to wear during World War II and stated he was minimizing the Holocaust.  In a subsequent public statement, Petkov denied the accusations of antisemitism and apologized to “everyone who felt offended.”

In October, the Office of the Grand Mufti expressed concern that municipal authorities had excavated the area around the historic Kursun Mosque in Karlovo and piled up a large amount of dirt in the yard, calling it a desecration.  In a subsequent meeting with Regional Mufti of Plovdiv Taner Veli, Karlovo mayor Emil Kabaivanov explained the piles of dirt were the result of archaeological excavations dating back three years.  At year’s end, the Office of the Grand Mufti’s litigation (which the office initiated in 2012) against Karlovo Municipality regarding ownership of the mosque was pending in the Sofia Appellate Court.

In February, Jewish organizations protested the “scandalous and slanderous content” of a question posed by Orlin Goranov, host of the game show “Last One Wins,” to contestants on Bulgarian National Television.  Goranov asked for the name of the chess player who allegedly denied there were gas chambers in Nazi extermination camps and who claimed that Jews disliked working, especially in the camps, preferring others “to do all the work so that they can collect the profit.” According to press reports, the host was quoting, without naming him, the late world chess champion Bobby Fischer.  The Director General of the station, Emil Koshlukov, apologized on Facebook and fired the scriptwriter for including the question.  The show’s host also publicly apologized on the air.

According to NGOs, souvenirs exhibiting Nazi insignias and imagery continued to be widely available in tourist areas around the country and few local governments responded to complaints about them.  In June and August, Shalom alerted the mayors of Primorsko and Pomorie, respectively, about such souvenirs, calling for their removal from the market.  The Primorsko Municipality did not respond, but Pomorie authorities removed the merchandise.

In February, March, April, and November, the government allocated 11.42 million levs ($6.62 million) to fund repair and maintenance of BOC facilities in Karan Varbovka, Kyustendil, Nevestino, Granitsa, Godech, Pernik, Sugarevo, Zhablyano, Shipka, Veliko Tarnovo, Vidin, Muldava, Sofia, and Rila, as well as 3.34 million levs ($1.94 million) for repair and maintenance of Islamic facilities and for purchasing a building to house the High Islamic Institute.

The national budget allocated 42.65 million levs ($24.74 million) to registered religious groups for current expenses, such as employee and cleric salaries, educational activities, and cemetery maintenance, as well as capital investments, such as construction and maintenance of religious facilities and related expenses, compared with 33.34 million levs ($19.34 million) in 2020.  Of the 42.65 million, 35.75 million levs ($20.74 million) went to the BOC; 6.35 million levs ($3.68 million) to the Muslim community; 220,000 levs ($128,000) to the Catholic Church; 176,000 levs ($102,000) to Protestant denominations; and 77,000 levs ($45,000) each to the AAOC and the Jewish community.  No other registered religious groups received government funding.  Evangelical Alliance representatives again said Protestants did not receive their fair share of government funding, possibly because they were not represented by a single organization, even though their numbers exceeded 1 percent of the population.  The Religious Affairs Directorate held the subsidy allocated for Protestants and said it allocated portions of it (typically only for construction and repairs) to whichever denomination sent a request.

In April, ahead of Ramadan, President Rumen Radev invited Grand Mufti Hadji to meet with him “as a token of respect to the traditions and culture of Bulgarian Muslims.”  The President subsequently issued an Eid al-Fitr greeting addressed to the country’s Muslim population, citing a national culture of tolerance and sharing.

In January, the Armenian Community Association objected in an open letter to the April 4 date the President had set for general elections, which coincided with Armenian Easter, stating it was a “sign of disrespect for Armenian religious customs and culture.”  Pavel Gudjerov, the mayor of Rakovski, home to the largest Catholic community in the country, also addressed the President, urging him to change the date, but the President did not reverse his decree.

After the government’s term expired in May and the new parliament failed to form a government, the two caretaker governments succeeding it did not appoint a new national coordinator on combating antisemitism to replace the outgoing coordinator.  In May, a senior official at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) said the ministry would fill the coordinator position when parliament formed a regular government.  In early November, another MFA official said the previous coordinator could not be replaced because he was appointed to the post by name.  The MFA stated in mid-December it was unable to submit the draft decision establishing the position permanently to the Council of Ministers for adoption due to the elections in November and subsequent government formation process, but it expected to have a decree establishing the position permanently at the deputy minister of foreign affairs level in early 2022.  At year’s end, the government had not filled the coordinator position.

According to press reports, the city of Vidin, with the approval of Shalom, was proceeding with a project using the equivalent of $6 million in EU funds to restore the crumbling synagogue in the city and convert it into a community and cultural center.  The center, according to the plan, would include a permanent exhibition on the history of the Jewish community in Vidin, which once numbered approximately 2,000 members, although only approximately a dozen Jews remained.

The country is a member of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance.


Read A Section: Crimea


Executive Summary

In February 2014, armed forces of the Russian Federation seized and occupied Crimea.  In March 2014, Russia claimed that Crimea had become part of the Russian Federation.  The UN General Assembly’s Resolution 68/262 of March 27, 2014, entitled “Territorial Integrity of Ukraine,” and Resolution 75/192 of December 28, 2020, entitled “Situation of Human Rights in the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the City of Sevastopol (Ukraine),” declared continued international recognition of Crimea as part of Ukraine.  The U.S. government recognizes Crimea is part of Ukraine; it does not and will not recognize the purported annexation of Crimea.  Russian occupation “authorities” continue to impose the laws of the Russian Federation in the territory of Crimea.

On September 10, the Executive Board of the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) published its Follow-up of the Situation in the Autonomous Republic of Crimea, stating that the “Russian occupation of Crimea has changed the perception of Ukraine’s historical and cultural heritage, both by the state and society.”  According to the Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group, following Russia’s occupation of Crimea, many religious communities were essentially driven out of the peninsula through registration requirements under newly imposed Russian laws.  Only the UOC-MP continued to be exempt from these registration requirements.  According to the Religion Information Service of Ukraine (RISU), the number of denominations decreased from 43 in 2014 to 20 in 2021.  Various sources reported that Russian “authorities” in occupied Crimea continued to persecute and intimidate minority religious congregations, including Muslim Crimean Tatars, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and OCU members and clergy.  At year’s end, two Jehovah’s Witnesses were serving prison sentences for their faith.  According to the NGO Crimea SOS, as of July, 74 (compared with 69 through October 2020) Crimean residents remained in prison in connection with their alleged involvement with the Muslim religious political organization Hizb ut-Tahrir, which is banned in Russia but legal in Ukraine.  Russian occupation “authorities” continued to subject Muslim Crimean Tatars to imprisonment and detention in retaliation for their opposition to Russia’s occupation by prosecuting them for purported involvement in Hizb ut-Tahrir.  According to the international religious freedom NGO Forum 18, Russia continued to prosecute individuals for some types of worship, including imams leading prayers in their own mosques, as “illegal missionary activity.”  UGCC leaders said they continued to have difficulty staffing their parishes because of the policies of occupation “authorities “and that they must register their congregations in Crimea as parishes of the Catholic Church of the Byzantine Rite, removing all reference to Ukraine in their name.  Crimean Tatars reported police continued to be slow to investigate attacks on Islamic religious properties or refused to investigate them at all.  The OCU reported continued seizures of its churches.  According to the OCU, Russian occupation “authorities” continued to pressure the OCU Crimean diocese to force it to leave Crimea.  On August 23, a judge fined Archimandrite Damian, the head of the St. Demetrius of Thessaloniki Men’s Monastery, for holding a church service on the private land on which the monastery stands, stating such worship constituted “unlawful missionary activities.”  Religious and human rights groups continued to report Russian media efforts to create suspicion and fear among certain religious groups, especially targeting Crimean Tatar Muslims, whom media repeatedly accused of having links to Islamist groups designated by Russia as terrorist groups, such as Hizb ut-Tahrir.  Russian media portrayed Jehovah’s Witnesses as “extremists.”  In January, the European Court of Human Rights issued a decision accepting for consideration Ukraine’s complaint alleging that Russia was responsible for multiple human rights violations in Crimea between February 27, 2014, and August 26, 2015.  The court accepted Ukraine’s allegation of the harassment and intimidation of religious leaders not conforming to the Russian Orthodox faith, arbitrary raids on places of worship, and confiscation of religious property.

According to Jehovah’s Witnesses, a radio survey in Crimea found 67 percent of those surveyed did not approve of Russia’s ban on Jehovah’s Witnesses.  The Jehovah’s Witnesses said that non-Jehovah’s Witnesses who observed Jehovah’s Witnesses being treated like criminals and accused of terrorism for their faith had increased sympathy for the organization.

The U.S. government condemned the continued intimidation of Christian and Muslim religious groups by Russian occupation “authorities” in Crimea and called international attention to religious rights abuses committed by Russian forces through public statements by the Secretary of State and other senior officials.  In a September 5 press statement, the State Department spokesperson stated, “The United States strongly condemns the September 4 detention of the Deputy Chairman of the Crimean Tatar Mejlis Nariman Dzhelyal and at least 45 other Crimean Tatars by Russian occupation “authorities” in Crimea.  We call on the Russian occupation “authorities” to release them immediately.  This is the latest in a long line of politically-motivated raids, detentions, and punitive measures against the Mejlis and its leadership, which has been targeted for repression for its opposition to Russia’s attempted annexation of Crimea.”  U.S. government officials remained unable to visit the peninsula following its occupation by the Russian Federation.  Embassy officials, however, as well as other State Department officials and the Secretary of Energy, participated in the August 23 Crimea Platform Summit, an international gathering of senior officials to discuss the annexing of Crimea, in which human rights was one of five key topics.  The Secretary of Energy, a Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Europe and Eurasia, and a senior official from the Bureau of Democracy, Rights, and Labor gave remarks at the summit, whose joint declaration condemned the “continued violations and abuses and systematic undue restrictions of human rights and fundamental freedoms that residents of Crimea face,” including the right to religion or belief.  Embassy officials continued to meet with Crimean Muslim, Orthodox, and Protestant leaders to discuss their concerns about actions taken against their congregations by the occupation “authorities” and to demonstrate continued U.S. support for their right to practice freely their religious beliefs.

Section I. Religious Demography

The Crimean Peninsula consists of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea (ARC) and the city of Sevastopol.  According to State Statistics Service of Ukraine 2014 estimates (the most recent), the total population of the peninsula is 2,353,000.  There are no recent independent surveys with data on the religious affiliation of the population, but media outlets estimate the number of Crimean Tatars, who are overwhelmingly Muslim, is 300,000, or 13 percent of the population.

According to information provided by the Ukrainian Ministry of Culture in 2014 (the most recent year available), the UOC-MP remains the largest Christian denomination.  Smaller Christian denominations include the OCU, RCC, UGCC, and Jehovah’s Witnesses, along with Protestant groups, including Baptists, Seventh-day Adventists, and Lutherans.  Adherents of the UOC-MP, Protestants, and Muslims are the largest religious groups in Sevastopol.

There are several Jewish congregations, mostly in Sevastopol and Simferopol.  Jewish groups estimate between 10,000 and 15,000 Jewish residents lived in Crimea before the 2014 Russian occupation.  No updates have been available since the occupation began.  The 2001 census, the most recent, records 671 Karaites.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

Pursuant to international recognition of the continued inclusion of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea within Ukraine’s international borders, Crimea continues to be officially subject to the constitution and laws of Ukraine.  In the aftermath of Russia’s occupation, however, Russian occupation “authorities” continue their implementation of the laws of the Russian Federation in the territory.  The Muslim religious-political group Hizb ut-Tahrir is considered a terrorist organization under Russian Federation law but not under Ukrainian law.  According to Jehovah’s Witnesses, Russian occupation “authorities” continue to ban Jehovah’s Witnesses in Crimea under a 2017 ruling by the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation.

According to occupation “authorities,” fines for individuals conducting illegal missionary activity range from 5,000 to 50,000 rubles ($67-$670); the fine for legal entities is 100,000 to one million rubles ($1,300-$13,300).

Government Practices

According to the Kyiv-based Ukrainian human rights organization Crimean Human Rights Group (CHRG), the Russian government unlawfully incarcerated or imprisoned 117 individuals pursuant to politically or religiously motivated persecution in Crimea during the year, compared with 111 in 2020.

Human rights groups said occupation “authorities” continued to impede the rights of Crimean Tatars following the 2016 designation of the Mejlis, recognized under Ukrainian law as the democratically elected representative council of Crimean Tatars, as an extremist organization.  Rights groups reported detentions and forced psychiatric examinations of Crimean Tatar Muslim prisoners continued throughout the year.

According to CHRG, as of December, 79 Crimean residents remained in prison for alleged involvement in Muslim religious organizations that are declared terrorist or extremist in Russia, although they are legal in Ukraine.  In most cases, these were individuals accused of belonging to the “illegal” organization Hizb ut-Tahrir, but detainees also included individuals accused of belonging to Tablighi Jamaat and Takfir wal-Hijra.  Observers believed these individuals were largely prosecuted in retaliation for their opposition to Russia’s occupation of Crimea.  Occupation “authorities” placed three additional Crimean residents under supervision and banned them from leaving the occupied territory, and two more remained under house arrest.  As of November, the Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group reported Russian occupation authorities had detained 80 Crimean Tatars and other Ukrainian Muslims for supposed involvement in Hizb ut-Tahrir, which the human right group described as a peaceful transnational Muslim party.

On August 16, the Southern District Military Court in the Russian city of Rostov-on-Don sentenced Crimean Muslims Ruslan Mesutov and Lenur Halilov to 18 years each in prison, Ruslan Nagayev to 13 years, and Eldar Kantimirov to 12 years in prison for their membership in Hizb ut-Tahrir.  “Authorities” arrested the four men in 2019 in Crimea after searching their homes.

According to the CHRG, on December 1, Russia’s Southern Area Military Court (YuOVS) in Rostov-on-Don extended to March 2022 the detention of Crimean Tatars Tofik Abdulgaziyev, Vladlen Abdulkadyrov, Izzet Abdullayev, Medzhit Abdurakhmanov, Imam Bilial Adilov, Servet Gaziyev, Dzhemil Gafarov, Alim Karimov, Seyran Murtaz, Erfan Osmanov, Erver Ametov, Osman Arifmemetov, Yashar Muedinov, Ruslan Suleymanov, and Rustem Sheikhaliyev.

In December, the Military Court of Appeal in Vlasikha, Russia upheld the decision of a lower court to hold in custody Crimean Tatars Ernest Ibragimov and Oleg Fedorov until February 2022.

On December 23 the same court upheld a lower court decision to hold in custody Crimean Tatars Raim Ayvazov, Farkhod Bazarov, Remzi Bekirov, Rizu Izetov, Shaban Umerov until February 16, 2022.

On December 23, YuOVS extended the detention period for Crimean Tatar Ismet Ibragimov until April 24, 2022.

According to press reports, on November 25, the Southern District Military Court in Rostov-on-Don extended until March 15, 2022 the detention of NGO Krymska Solidarnist (Crimean Solidarity) activist Remzi Bekirov.  Crimean Solidarity is a human rights organization that opposes Russia’s occupation of Crimea.  The court also extended until March 15 the detention period of Tatars Rustem Seitkhalilov, Seitveli Seitabdiyev, Asan Yanikov, and Ruslan Suleimanov.

According to Crimean Solidarity, during mass searches of Crimean Tatar homes on August 17, the FSB detained Rustem Murasov, Rustem Tairov, Dzhebbar Bekirov, Zavur Abdullayev, and Raif Fevziyev for their suspected membership in Hizb ut-Tahrir.  Fevziyev was the imam of a mosque in Strohonivka village near Simferopol.  According to the Parliamentary Human Rights Ombudsperson, occupation “authorities” kept the imam in a damp and overcrowded prison cell containing six beds for eight inmates.  One of Fevziyev’s cellmates reportedly suffered from a mental health disorder and posed a threat to the lives of other prisoners.  According to the Radio Free Europe-associated news website Krym.Realii, in November, occupation “authorities” subjected the imam to forced psychiatric examination, keeping him in a hospital ward with four convicted murderers.  During his detention, Fevziyev reportedly began to feel abdominal pain and could only ease it using medicine provided by his family.  In December, Simferopol’s Kyivsky District Court extended his detention until April 11, 2022.

Krym.Realii reported that on December 21, the Leninsky District Court of Simferopol extended the detention of Murasov and Abdullayev until February 10, 2022.  Krym.Realii quoted Murasov’s lawyer as saying that occupation “authorities” kept Murasov in a cell infested with rats, mice, and mold.  In October, the court extended the detention of Rustem Tairov until January 11, 2022.  The news outlet said that for two weeks Tairov suffered tooth pain, but the administration of his pretrial detention center ignored his request for medical assistance.

On July 30, Ukraine’s Consul General in Rostov-on-Don, Russia, described to the Crimea SOS-affiliated QirimInfo news website what he said were the worsening conditions of elderly Tatar prisoners Servet Gaziyev and Dzhemil Gafarov.  The Consul General said Russian “authorities” did not provide adequate medical assistance to Gaziyev, who suffered a ministroke on June 28, until September 2.  On October 29, Crimean Solidarity quoted lawyer Aider Azamatov as saying that during the year, an ambulance had to be called six times to provide urgent medical aid to Servet Gaziyev during his trial, and the judge insisted that Gaziyev speak Russian rather than Crimean Tatar.  According to lawyer Lilya Gemedzhi, prior to his discharge from the hospital on September 25, unspecified individuals threw Gaziyev to the floor, beat him, and shaved his beard.

According to the Jehovah’s Witnesses, Russian occupation “authorities” continued to ban Jehovah’s Witnesses’ activities in Crimea, ostensibly under a 2017 ruling by the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation outlawing the group.  The OHCHR reported that all 22 congregations of Jehovah’s Witnesses registered in Crimea had lost the right to operate since 2017.  As a result, practicing Jehovah’s Witnesses risked retaliation by law enforcement and were subject to detention, house arrest, or travel restrictions.  According to the Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group, four Ukrainian Jehovah’s Witnesses were serving sentences of six years or more, with at least 12 others facing such sentences.

The Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group reported that on February 10, “authorities” searched the homes of Jehovah’s Witnesses Andriy Rogutsky and Lyudmila Shevchenko, removing Bibles, notebooks, and electronic devices.  According to the website, the items seized at Lyudmyla Shevchenko’s home included a book, “The Sacred Nativity Scene,” that did not belong to her and was not published by Jehovah’s Witnesses.  She said security officials had planted and then “found” the book.  During the search, Andriy Rogutskiy’s wife became ill and required an ambulance.  Reportedly, “authorities” did not detain or charge the women.

In March, according to the Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group, “authorities” carried out 11 armed searches and detained four Jehovah’s Witnesses.  “Authorities” charged Taras Kuzio, who was previously charged in 2019, with “financing an extremist organization” and ordered him to remain under house arrest.  They also ordered him to have no contact with others involved in the case and prohibited him from using the internet and sending or receiving mail.  According to the CHRG, on July 29, “authorities” detained Jehovah’s Witness Petro Zhiltsov, whom they previously interrogated as a witness against Kuzio, and charged him with “organization of the activities of an extremist organization” and “financing of extremist activities.”  The charges carry a sentence of up to 10 years.  On July 30, “authorities” placed him under house arrest until his trial.  On July 29, “authorities” opened a case against Daria Kuzio, the wife of Taras Kuzio, for “organizing of the activities of an extremist organization” and issued a travel restriction.  On July 30, “authorities” combined the criminal cases against the Kuzios and Zhiltsov into one case.  On August 10,” authorities” detained Sergei Lyulin, connected to Taras Kuzio, and transported him to Simferopol, a 16-hour journey, taping him to the seat of the luggage compartment of a minibus with his arms handcuffed to the ceiling.  The court in Simferopol ordered his detention until September 4.

According to Jehovah’s Witnesses, on August 2, FSB investigators filed charges against Oleksandr Lytvyniuk and Oleksandr Dubovenko for “organizing the activities of an extremist organization.”  The charges, which carry a sentence of up to 10 years imprisonment, stemmed from a Zoom conference that “authorities” said was to “attract new members of a banned organization.”  On August 5, “authorities” searched at least eight Jehovah’s Witnesses’ homes for more than nine hours.  According to the Jehovah’s Witnesses, the FSB officers reportedly tried to force their way into one home by turning off the plumbing.  Authorities removed individuals’ computers, personal notes that mentioned the Bible, and documents confirming ownership of their residences.  They later held Lytvyniuk overnight, placing him under house arrest on August 6.  “Authorities” placed Dubovenko, who was not at home during the searches, under house arrest on August 9.

According to Forum 18, Jehovah’s Witnesses Sergei Filatov and Artyom Gerasimov remained in prison in the town of Kamensk-Shakhtinsky in Rostov Oblast, Russia – each serving six-year sentences since 2020 – and “authorities” did not allow them to receive letters from their families.

According to the Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group, on May 24, Jehovah’s Witness Artem Shabliy’s trial for “drawing others into the activities of an extremist organization” began.  The group stated that in May 2020, armed FSB, Russian National Guard, and masked riot police raided four homes of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Kerch, arresting Shabliy.

According to the Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group, on October 22, a court in Sevastopol sentenced Jehovah’s Witness Ihor Schmidt to six years in prison for “organizing extremist activities.”  Three other men, Yevhen Zhukov, Volodymyr Maladyka, and Volodymyr Sakada, arrested with Schmidt in 2020 and also charged with “organizing extremist activities,” remained imprisoned at year’s end.

According to the Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group, on March 23, a court sentenced Jehovah’s Witness Viktor Stashevsky to six and half years’ imprisonment for “organizing extremist activities” and placed a seven-year restriction on his right to carry out public activities.  Addressing the court before sentencing, Stashevsky said all charges against him would be dismissed if he were to stop being a Jehovah’s Witness, saying, “I do not plan to renounce my faith in God.  I have been and remain a Jehovah’s Witness.”  A judge dismissed his appeal in August.

In a review of the eighth periodic report on Ukraine, released in October, OHCHR cited the significantly limited freedom of religion in territories controlled by armed groups, noting that religious communities there faced selective restrictions.  Valeriia Kolomiiets, the country’s Deputy Minister of Justice for European Integration, reported to OHCHR that the Russian Federation continued to violate human rights in the temporarily occupied territories.  Specifically noting the systematic persecution of the OCU, she reported that persecution on national and religious grounds was carried out systematically.  According to the report, there continued to be a pattern of criminalization of affiliation with or sympathy toward Muslim groups banned in the Russian Federation that continued to disproportionately affect Crimean Tatars.  According to the report, these cases raised concerns about the right to a fair trial, because detainees’ hearings often banned cameras, media, and family members from the courtroom.  OHCHR reported that Russian courts in Crimea cited the “need to ensure the safety of the participants in the proceedings,” but defendants’ lawyers and family members said Russian occupation “authorities” excluded the public from court hearings to limit public awareness of trials, restrict public scrutiny, and exert additional pressure on the defendants.

According to Forum 18, Russian “authorities” continued to prosecute and fine individuals in Crimea for conducting missionary activity.  Of the nine known prosecutions brought so far during the year, three were against imams and four against members of Sevastopol’s House of the Potter Protestant Church.  The NGO stated that by law, “Russians conducting missionary activity” could incur a fine of 5,000 to 50,000 rubles ($67-$670), with the fine for organizations (legal entities) being from 100,000 to one million rubles ($1,300-$13,300).  “Foreigners conducting missionary activity” could incur a fine of 30,000 to 50,000 rubles ($400-$670), with the possibility of expulsion from Russia.

On February 11, a judge fined Imam Murtaza Ablyazov the equivalent of approximately two weeks average local wages for conducting missionary activity by leading prayers in a mosque.  On January 25, a judge fined Aleksey Smirnov and Ivan Nemchinov after identifying them as Potter Protestant Church leaders based on a social media post by a Church member.

On August 23, a judge fined OCU Archimandrite Damian, the head of the St. Demetrius of Thessaloniki Men’s Monastery, for holding a church service on the private land on which the monastery stands, stating such worship constituted unlawful missionary activities.  This ruling followed an August 8 raid on the parish.  Archbishop Klyment, Head of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine in Crimea, called it “an appalling act of lawlessness.  A priest is accused merely of praying to God in his own home.”  According to the Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group, Damian’s lawyer stated he planned to appeal, and said, “Russia is destroying yet another Ukrainian religious and cultural group and is continuing to purge Crimea of all that is Ukrainian.”

Renat Suleimanov, a member of Muslim group Tablighi Jamaat, remained under administrative supervision and on Russia’s Federal Financial Monitoring Service List of Terrorists and Extremists at year’s end.  Russia continued to ban the Tablighi Jamaat Muslim missionary movement in Crimea under a 2009 ruling by the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation, although the movement remained legal in Ukraine.  In January 2019, a Simferopol court sentenced Suleimanov to four years in prison on extremism-related charges for meeting openly in mosques with three friends to discuss their faith.  The state released him in December 2020 and ordered him to spend one year under administrative supervision.

On January 14, the European Court of Human Rights issued a decision accepting for consideration Ukraine’s complaint alleging that Russia was responsible for multiple human rights violations in Crimea between February 27, 2014, and August 26, 2015.  Among the claims accepted was Ukraine’s allegation that the local “authorities” harassed and intimidated religious leaders not conforming to the Russian Orthodox faith, arbitrary raided places of worship, and confiscated religious property in violation of Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

On February 16, parliament appealed to international organizations and foreign governments to condemn the occupation of Crimea and to call for the release of Ukrainian political prisoners.  It condemned the persecution and harassment of its citizens on ethnic, religious, political, and other grounds in the Russia-occupied area, emphasizing the unacceptability of restricting linguistic, religious, and other rights of minorities and indigenous peoples, in particular, Crimean Tatars.

On February 25, the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy released a declaration that stated, “Residents of the peninsula face systematic restrictions of their fundamental freedoms, such as the freedoms of expression, religion or belief and association, and the right to peaceful assembly… The Crimean Tatars continue to be unacceptably persecuted, pressured, and [to] have their rights gravely violated.  Crimean Tatars, Ukrainians, and all ethnic and religious communities in the peninsula must be ensured the possibility to maintain and develop their culture, education, identity, and cultural heritage traditions, which are currently threatened by the illegal annexation… The ban on the activities of the Mejlis, a self-governing body of the Crimean Tatars, must be reversed.”

On November 24, the Religious Information Service of Ukraine reported that the First Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, Emine Dzhaparova, told the audience attending the Forum of the International Alliance on Freedom of Religion in Brazil that Russia continued to create artificial obstacles to the activities of any religious community that did not belong to the Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate.  She said Crimean Tatars had become the most persecuted religious community in occupied Crimea, with more than 120 imprisoned on trumped-up criminal cases.  “In the occupied territories of Ukraine, Russia restricts missionary activities under the pretext of fighting so-called extremism.  The Russian Federation is trying to stop the activities of all pro-Ukrainian organizations in occupied Crimea – in particular, religious communities of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine and Crimean Tatar Muslims.”  Dzhaparova said that of the 49 religious communities that operated in Crimea at the beginning of 2014, only five were still operating.

According to Russia’s Ministry of Justice, as of the end of 2020 (the most recent information available), 907 religious organizations were registered in Crimea, compared with 891 in 2019.  The number of religious organizations had dropped by more than 1,000 since the occupation began in 2014, the last year for which Ukrainian government figures were available.  Registered religious organizations included the two largest – the Christian Orthodox UOC-MP and the Spiritual Administration of Muslims of Crimea – as well as various Protestant, Jewish, Roman Catholic, and Greek Catholic communities, among other religious groups.

On January 7, Metropolitan Epiphaniy told the news agency that Russia wanted to eliminate the OCU’s presence in Crimea.  In May, RISU reported Metropolitan Klyment of Simferopol and Crimea of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine said that at the beginning of the occupation, 49 Ukrainian Orthodox religious organizations were operating in Crimea, but only six remained.  In August, RISU reported that Iryna Verihina, a representative of the Commissioner for the Observance of the Rights of Residents of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and Sevastopol, said that because of Russian repression, only five of 49 OCU religious organizations remained in Crimea, and only four of 22 clergymen.

Human rights groups reported Russian occupation “authorities” continued to require imams at Crimean Tatar mosques to inform them each time they transferred from one mosque to another.

The RCC continued to operate in the territory as a pastoral district directly under the authority of the Vatican.  “Authorities” permitted some Polish and Ukrainian RCC priests to stay in the territory for only 90 days at a time and required them to leave Crimea for 90 days before returning.

UGCC leaders said they continued to have difficulty staffing their parishes because of the policies of occupation “authorities”.  They said “authorities” continued to require them to register their congregations in Crimea as parishes of the Catholic Church of the Byzantine Rite, removing all reference to Ukraine in their name, and to operate as a part of the pastoral district of the RCC.

According to the pro-Ukraine Voice of Crimea news website, on August 8, representatives of the Center for Combating Extremism, led by police major Vladimir Gorevanov, stormed into a church at the OCU Monastery of St. Demetrius of Thessaloniki in Balky Village, Bilohirsk District.  The representatives forced the monastery’s abbot to halt the morning religious service and ordered all its participants to exit to the backyard so “authorities” could document the monastery’s “illegal missionary activity.”  On August 23, the Bilohirsk District Court ordered the abbot, Archimandrite Damian, to pay a fine of 15,000 rubles ($200).

On September 10, the Executive Board of UNESCO published its Follow-up of the Situation in the Autonomous Republic of Crimea (Ukraine), pursuant to the decisions and resolutions by the UNESCO Executive Board and the general conferences.  According to the document:  “Over seven years of occupation… systemic political persecution, physical and psychological pressure, annihilation of the independent media, discrimination on the basis of religion, [and] violation of ownership and language rights forced more than 45,000 Crimean Tatars and Ukrainians to leave the occupied peninsula.  The Russian Federation continues to prosecute ethnic and religious communities that refuse to recognize the illegal occupation of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol and seek to preserve their native language, religious, and cultural identity.  The Russian occupation of Crimea has changed the perception of Ukraine’s historical and cultural heritage, both by the state and society.  Russia has appropriated Ukrainian cultural property on the peninsula, including 4,095 national and local monuments under state protection.  Appropriation of monuments is in itself a violation of international law.  However, it is equally important that Russia uses such appropriation to implement its comprehensive long-term strategy to strengthen its historical, cultural, and religious dominance over the past, present and future of Crimea.”

The OCU continued to call on the Ukrainian parliament to finalize the approval of a 2020 decision by the Cabinet of Ministers to transfer the Saints Volodymyr and Olha Cathedral, the only OCU church building in Simferopol and the location of the OCU diocesan administration, from the ownership of the government of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea to central government ownership.  OCU sources believed this transfer would enable Ukraine to take Russia to international courts over its refusal to allow OCU members to use the premises.  According to RISU, on June 28, the Russian-controlled Arbitration Court of Crimea ordered the transfer of the cathedral premises to the use of the Russian Ministry of Property of Crimea.  Klyment said he would appeal this decision.

Crimean Tatars reported police continued to be slow to investigate attacks on Islamic religious properties or refused to investigate them at all.

On April 20, the Spiritual Administration of Muslims of Crimea and Sevastopol expressed outrage over the desecration of an old Islamic cemetery in Kamyanske village, Leninsky District.  Construction equipment scattered human remains while digging a trench though the burial area as part of a pipeline project.  Occupation “authorities” had reportedly not taken the cemetery into account when planning the construction.  After complaints from local residents, authorities suspended the work to allow the Muslim community to rebury the remains.

According to Freedom House, the Russian FSB continued to encourage residents to inform on individuals who expressed opposition to the purported annexation, including expressing support for Crimean Tatars, condemning the designation of Jehovah’s Witnesses and Hizb ut-Tahrir as extremist groups, or opposing the oppression of the OCU.

Religious and human rights groups continued to report Russian media efforts to create suspicion and fear of certain religious groups, especially targeting Crimean Tatar Muslims, whom media repeatedly accused of having links to Islamist groups that were designated by Russia as terrorist, such as Hizb ut-Tahrir.  Russian media also portrayed Jehovah’s Witnesses as extremists.


Executive Summary

The constitution provides for freedom of religious thought and expression and prohibits incitement of religious hatred.  All religious communities have the same religious protections under the law.  The government has written agreements with the Roman Catholic Church that provide state financial support and specific tax and other benefits; 19 other registered religious communities have agreements with the state offering benefits not available to registered religious communities without such agreements or to unregistered religious groups.  Serbian Orthodox Church (SOC) representatives again said that although some property had been returned, the restitution of property seized by the Yugoslavia government remained an outstanding issue.  This was echoed by representatives of the Catholic Church.  In April, media reported that an Afghan woman stated a border police officer forced her to strip naked while using religiously charged language during a search of a group of migrants on the border with Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) in mid-February.  The European Commission urged the government to thoroughly investigate the alleged incident and the Ministry of Interior said it would do so.  In February, Minister of Foreign and European Affairs Gordan Grlic-Radman attended a ceremony to reinstall a damaged Stolperstein (stumbling block) memorial for Holocaust victim Chief Rabbi Miroslav Salom Freiberger.  According to the 2020 annual report released in March by the Office of Ombudsperson for Children, the largest number of complaints of discrimination with regard to education were related to religion and/or belief.  On April 22, senior government officials, a representative from the Alliance of Anti-Fascists, and leaders of the Serbian, Roma, and Jewish communities commemorated victims of the World War II concentration camp at Jasenovac.

SOC representatives said that following the enthronement of the new head of the Church in Montenegro, Metropolitan Joanikije II, at the historic monastery in Cetinje, Montenegro on September 5, several media outlets published negative news articles against the SOC.  One article appeared under the headline, “Zagreb Likes [head of the SOC] Metropolitan Porfirije; however, this does not mean that the SOC is not evil.”  Members of Jewish groups reported hate speech, especially on the internet, and graffiti and other vandalism with offensive slogans.  Representatives of the Jewish community expressed concerns regarding the use of Ustasha (pro-Nazi World War II-era government) symbols in society.

U.S. embassy officials discussed the status and treatment of religious minorities, antisemitism, and Holocaust revisionism with cabinet ministers and other senior government officials.  During the year, embassy officials attended major events that emphasized the importance of Holocaust remembrance and interreligious dialogue.  Embassy officials continued to encourage the government to amend legislation covering Holocaust and post Holocaust-era property restitution to allow for restitution and compensation claims with a revised deadline for new applications.  Embassy officials discussed religious freedom issues, including freedom of expression and efforts to counter discrimination, with nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and representatives from a broad spectrum of religious groups.  The embassy continued a speaker series under a diversity and inclusion initiative in which embassy staff engaged representatives from different religious and secular groups to promote tolerance and discuss challenges and cooperation among religious communities.  In September, the Charge d’Affaires and embassy staff visited the memorial at the Jasenovac World War II concentration camp to pay respects and learn about its history.  Also in September, the embassy and several partner organizations promoted Holocaust remembrance through a youth performance of the opera Brundibar for hundreds of Croatian students at the Jasenovac site.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 4.2 million (midyear 2021).  According to the 2011 census (the most recent available), 86.3 percent of the population is Catholic, 4.4 percent Serbian Orthodox, and 1.5 percent Muslim.  Nearly 4 percent identify as nonreligious or atheist.  Other religious groups include Jews, Protestants, and other Christians.  According to the World Jewish Congress, there are approximately 1,700 Jews.

Religious affiliation correlates closely with ethnicity.  Ethnic Serbs are predominantly members of the SOC and live primarily in cities and areas bordering Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina.  Most members of other minority religious groups reside in urban areas.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution provides for equality of rights regardless of religion, as well as freedom of conscience and religious expression.  It prohibits incitement of religious hatred.  According to the constitution, religious communities shall be equal under the law and separate from the state; they are free to conduct religious services publicly as well as open and manage schools and charitable organizations under the protection and with the assistance of the state.  The Penal Code defines a hate crime as a criminal offense committed on the grounds of race, skin color, religion, national or ethnic origin, disability, gender, sexual orientation, or gender identity.  The Penal Code criminalizes public incitement to violence and hate and provides sanctions for such crimes.  Hate crimes are also considered an aggravating circumstance unless a provision already provides for more severe sanctions.

Hate speech is also punishable as a misdemeanour under laws on Public Order and Peace, Act on Public Assembly, Law on Prevention of Violence at Sport Games, and the Anti-Discrimination Act. 


Legislation covering electronic media (amended in 2021) stipulates that in audio and/or audiovisual media services it is forbidden to incite, encourage incitement, and spread hatred or discrimination on the grounds of race or ethnic origin or skin color, gender, language, religion, political or other belief, national or social background, property, union membership, education, social status, marital or family status, age, health, disability, genetic heritage, gender identity and expression or sexual orientation, as well as antisemitism and xenophobia, fascism, nationalism, communism, and support for other totalitarian regimes.  The legislation stipulates that audiovisual and radio programs and contents in electronic publications must publish accurate information and respect human rights and fundamental freedoms.

The Roman Catholic Church receives state financial support and other benefits established by four concordats between the government and the Holy See.  One of these agreements provides state financial support for some religious officials.  Another agreement stipulates state funding for religious education in public schools.

The law defines the legal position of religious communities and determines eligibility for government funding and tax benefits.  Registered religious communities are exempt from taxes on the purchase of real estate, the profit/capital gains tax, and taxes on donations.  According to the law, a religious community previously active as a legal entity before enactment of the current law in 2002 (amended in 2013) need only submit its name, the location of its headquarters, information on the office of the person authorized to represent it, and the seal and stamp it uses to register.  To register as a religious community, a religious group without prior legal status as a religious community must have at least 500 members and have been registered as an association, with at least three members, for at least five years.  To register as a religious community, a group must submit a list of its members and documentation outlining the group’s activities and bylaws and describing its mission to the Ministry of Justice and Public Administration.  Nonregistered religious groups may operate freely but do not receive tax benefits.  They may conduct financial transactions as legal entities.  A contractual agreement with the state, which grants a registered religious community eligibility for further funding and benefits, defines the community’s role and activities and provides for collaboration with the government in areas of joint interest, such as education, health, and culture.

There are 55 registered religious communities, including the Roman Catholic Church, SOC, Bulgarian Orthodox Church, Christian Adventist Church, Church of Christ, Church of God, Croatian Old Catholic Church, Catholic Old Church, Evangelical Church, Macedonian Orthodox Church, Pentecostal Church, Reformed Christian Church, Union of Baptist Churches, Seventh-day Adventist Reform Movement, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Union of Pentecostal Churches of Christ, Coordination Committee of Jewish Communities in Croatia (an umbrella group of nine distinct Jewish communities), Jewish Community of Virovitica, Bet Israel (a Jewish group), and the Islamic Community of Croatia.  In addition to the Roman Catholic Church, 19 of the registered religious communities have formal agreements with the state that more clearly define activities and cooperation, such as in the areas of marriage and religious education in public schools.  These groups may access state funds for religious activities.

The state recognizes marriages conducted by registered religious communities that have concluded agreements with the state, eliminating the need for civil registration.  Marriages conducted by registered communities that have not concluded agreements with the state, or by nonregistered religious groups, require civil registration.

Registered religious communities that have not concluded agreements with the state and nonregistered religious groups may not conduct religious education in public schools.  Nonregistered religious groups have no access to state funds in support of religious activities, including charitable work, counseling, and building costs.  Registered religious communities that have not concluded agreements with the state and nonregistered religious groups may engage in worship, proselytize, own property, and import religious literature.  Only registered religious communities, with or without agreements with the state, may provide spiritual counsel in prisons, hospitals, and the military.

Public schools at both the primary and secondary levels must offer religious education, although students may opt out without providing specific grounds.  The Catholic catechism is the predominant religious text used.  Other religious communities that have agreements with the state may also offer religious education classes in schools if there are seven or more students of that faith.  Eligible religious communities provide the instructors, and the state pays their salaries.  Private religious schools are eligible for state assistance and follow a national curriculum.  Registered religious communities may have their own schools.  Unregistered religious groups may not have their own schools.

Education regarding the Holocaust is mandatory in the final year of elementary school (eighth grade) and during the final year of high school.

The law allows foreign citizens whose property was confiscated during and after the Holocaust era to seek compensation or restitution if the applicant’s country has a bilateral restitution treaty with the state; however, no such bilateral treaties currently exist.  Two court cases have held that such treaties are not required; however, the law has not changed.  The law does not allow new property claims because the deadline expired in 2003.

The ombudsperson is a commissioner appointed by parliament responsible for promoting and protecting human rights and freedoms, including religious freedom.  The ombudsperson examines citizens’ complaints pertaining to the work of state bodies, local and regional self-governments, and legal persons vested with public authority.  The ombudsperson may issue recommendations to government agencies regarding human rights and religious freedom practices but does not have authority to enforce compliance with his or her recommendations.

The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Government Practices

International media reported in April that an Afghan woman stated that a border police officer on February 15 held her at knifepoint and forced her to strip during a search of a group of migrants on the border with BiH.  The Guardian newspaper later reported the woman told police officers she was a Muslim and said it was haram (forbidden) to strip and he slapped her over the head and responded, “If you are Muslim, why did you come to Croatia – why didn’t you stay in Bosnia with Muslims?”  The European Commission described the incident in the report as a “serious alleged criminal action” and urged the Croatian authorities “to thoroughly investigate all allegations and follow up with relevant actions.”  According to the Danish Refugee Council, the incident occurred on the night of February 15, a few kilometers from the city of Velika Kladusa in BiH.  The Ministry of Interior said the police would investigate the allegations but that based on preliminary checks, there were no recorded dealings with “females from the population of illegal migrants” on the day in question.  It stated, “The persistent portrayal of the Croatian police as a brutal and inhumane group prone to robberies and abuse of illegal migrants has now become commonplace, without a single piece of evidence.”

The government’s measures to limit the spread of COVID-19 applied to all religious groups and representatives of religious groups stated that they did not perceive them as having a discriminatory effect.  Leaders from several religious groups cooperated with the government in respecting COVID-19 related guidelines related to their religious practices, which included modifications as circumstances changed.

Representatives of different minority groups advocated the criminalization of the Ustasha salute, Za Dom Spremni (For the Homeland, Ready).  On August 26, Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic told reporters that the use of salute already was not allowed and no one could question that, but that potential amendments of the Penal Code would be discussed.  Scholars and judges were reported to be divided on the question of whether the use of the salute is a criminal act, misdemeanor, or permissible for the use of commemorative purposes under existing law.

On September 20, Croatian state television (HRT) aired a 12-part documentary entitled “NDH” that featured approximately 30 members of the academic community and historians who discussed the period when Croatia was controlled by the Ustasha.  Media reported that the creator, historian Hrvoje Klasic, said the documentary should have been aired much sooner; HRT rejected claims that it deliberately delayed the broadcast.  Both Klasic and HRT said publicly that this project was long-awaited.

SOC representatives said their community still had outstanding restitution issues with the government, mainly properties and residential buildings the government appropriated during the Yugoslav period.  The government reported that since 1999, the state had resolved 344 property claims related to the Orthodox Church that included the right to compensation in bonds.  The Church stated several outstanding claims remained, especially in the southern and eastern part of the country.  Catholic Church representatives also said there remained a significant number of outstanding claims for Catholic properties appropriated during the Yugoslav period.

According to the 2020 annual report released in March by the Office of Ombudsperson for Children, the largest number of complaints of discrimination with regard to education were related to religion and/or belief.  Parents complained about difficulties for children who did not attend elective religious education classes; complaints involved the timing for such classes and the lack of appropriate facilities to meet during prescribed times.  The report cited these issues as especially problematic in the lower grades of primary school because children whose parents did not want them enrolled in religious education classes would sit in the hallway, walk around the school or, in the absence of a suitable solution, be required to remain in the religious education class.  The report stated that due to the inadequate organization of activities for opt-out students during this “free” hour, some parents would enroll their children in religious education for their protection and safety, even though they did not wish to do so.  In 2020, parents reported that teachers required children who did not attend religious education at school to stay with other students in religious classes due to COVID-related epidemiological measures.

The Office of the Ombudsperson for Children reiterated to the Ministry of Science and Education its recommendations that elective religious instruction should take place at the beginning or end of the daily schedule, and in the case such scheduling was not possible, that schools provide an alternative plan.  The introduction of such an alternative plan was supported by the National Strategy for the Rights of the Child for the period 2014-2020, which emphasized the right to education, its acceptability and that “quality education that should be without discrimination, relevant and culturally appropriate for all students,” and that students “should not be expected to adapt to any religion or ideology.”

Atheist, Jewish, and Serbian Orthodox organizations continued to state that although the law allowed students to opt out of religious education, in practice, most public primary schools did not offer any alternatives to Catholic catechism.

Atheist groups continued to complain that Catholic symbols remained prevalent in government buildings such as courtrooms, prisons, and public hospitals.  They said they believed this practice was inconsistent with the constitution, which states religious communities shall be separate from the state.

During the year, the government did not take action to adopt amendments to legislation providing for restitution of private property from the Holocaust and post-Holocaust-eras for foreign claimants or reopen the deadline for potential new claims.

According to the Office of the Commission for Relations with Religious Communities, the government budgeted 325.9 million kuna ($50.53 million) during the year to the Catholic Church for salaries, pensions, and other purposes, compared with 293.1 million kuna ($45.44 million) in 2020.  The government provided funding to other religious communities that had concluded agreements with the state, a portion of which was based on their size, in addition to funds provided to support religious education in public schools and the operation of private religious schools.  The government budgeted 23.9 million kuna ($3.71 million) to these groups, compared with 22.7 million kuna ($3.52 million) in 2020.  Atheist groups again criticized the government for allocating more to the Catholic Church than to other groups; although the funding was generally proportional to the Catholic share of the population, analysts stated the criticism reflected the atheist groups’ concern about what they perceive as the outsized role of the Church in society.

Some minority religious and secular groups, including atheists, continued to say the Catholic Church enjoyed a special status in relation to other religious communities, in part because of its concordats with the government, which provided the Church with significant financial support, and in part because of its far-reaching cultural, educational, and political influence as the majority religion.

According to the ombudsperson’s annual report released in February, apart from the specific challenges related to the restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic, 2020 was marked by a smaller number of complaints of religious discrimination.  The office reported on the positive impact of the amendment to the law governing holidays and time off that entered into force in January 2020.  Specifically, the law stipulates that Muslims who celebrated Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha and Jews who celebrated Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashanah had the right not to work one day of their choice for each of these holidays with full salary compensation, while Orthodox Christians who celebrated Easter according to the Julian calendar had the right not to work on Easter Monday, also with the right to full salary.  The office had received complaints in previous years about the unequal treatment of members of certain religious communities in the workplace when using days off during religious holidays but said there were no such complaints in 2020.

On January 27, President Zoran Milanovic, Speaker of Parliament Gordan Jandrokovic, Deputy Prime Minister for Social Affairs and Human Rights Boris Milosevic, and Minister of Culture and Media Nina Obuljen-Korzinek marked International Holocaust Remembrance Day by laying a wreath in the Jewish section of Zagreb’s Mirogoj Cemetery.  The government issued a statement on that day strongly opposing any form of discrimination, exclusiveness, or intolerance, and stressing the importance of Holocaust education.  Civil society organizations, including the Croatian Antifascist League and the Serb National Council (SNV), issued a statement on January 27 demanding that the law be changed to ban and criminally prosecute the use of Ustasha insignia, the denial of the existence of World War II concentration camps, and the glorification of pro-Nazi Ustasha war criminals.

On February 5, Minister of Foreign and European Affairs Gordan Grlic-Radman attended a ceremony to reinstall a damaged memorial Stolperstein (“stumbling block” that denotes the last location of residency or work before Holocaust victims were apprehended) honoring Holocaust victim Chief Rabbi Miroslav Salom Freiberger, organized by the Centre for the Promotion of Tolerance and Holocaust Remembrance, in partnership with the Bet Israel community and the Spuren (Traces)-Gunter Demnig Foundation.  Grlic-Radman expressed regret that the monument was damaged and spoke on behalf of the government about the importance of preserving the collective memory, declaring that no crime should be minimized and each victim deserved to be remembered and respected.  He said that Croatia would chair the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) in 2023.

On April 22, President Milanovic, Prime Minister Plenkovic, Speaker of Parliament Jandrokovic, several ministers, and representatives of victims’ groups (Jews, Roma, Serbs, and antifascists) commemorated the victims of the Jasenovac World War II concentration camp and condemned the World War II Nazi-affiliated Independent State of Croatia (NDH).  Prime Minister Plenkovic called the atrocities committed under the NDH “the most tragic period in Croatian history” and stated that patriotism could not be contrary to the tolerance of others.  President Milanovic told the press, “This was an Ustasha-run camp, and the Ustasha were Croats, and since I am a Croat, I cannot say that it does not concern me.”  For four years, from 2016 to 2019, representatives of the Jewish and Serbian communities, as well as antifascists, boycotted the official commemoration, stating that the government had not taken real measures to stop or even limit revisionist denials of the Holocaust.

Czech Republic

Executive Summary

The Charter of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms, a supplement to the constitution, guarantees freedom of religious conviction and states everyone has the right to change, abstain from, and freely practice religion.  The Ministry of Culture (MOC) registered one religious group; a second registration application submitted in January remained pending with the MOC at year’s end.  The Prague Municipal Court rejected a religious group’s appeal of the MOC’s denial of its registration application, and another religious group’s appeal remained pending with the same court.  An appellate court upheld the Zlin Regional Court’s conviction of Jaroslav Dobes, the leader of the Path of Guru Jara (PGJ), and another PGJ member on six charges of rape and also upheld their acquittal on a seventh charge.  The Ministry of Interior (MOI) granted subsidiary protection, which prevents the forced return of persons found ineligible for refugee status, to some of the Chinese Christians whose applications for asylum it rejected in 2018.  The government continued to compensate religious groups for communal property confiscated by the communist regime.  The opposition Freedom and Direct Democracy (SPD) Party and its leader, Tomio Okamura, continued to publicly criticize Islam and Muslim migrants and initiated a petition against accepting migrants from Afghanistan following the departure of allied forces in order to restrict the immigration of Muslims to the country.

A local nongovernmental organization (NGO), In IUSTITIA, said it received reports of one religiously motivated incident in the first half of the year – an antisemitic hate crime – compared with seven (four against Muslims, two against Jews and one against Christians) in the first half of 2020.  The government reported 27 antisemitic and nine anti-Muslim incidents in 2020, compared with 15 and eight incidents, respectively, in the previous year.  The Federation of Jewish Communities (FJC) reported 874 antisemitic incidents in 2020, almost all of which were internet hate speech, but which also included one case of assault, six of harassment, and one of vandalism, as well as antisemitic graffiti.  The number of incidents in 2020 was 26 percent higher than in the previous year and 252 percent higher than in 2018.  In September, the Brussels-based NGO Action and Protection League issued the results of its European antisemitism survey, which found that 21 percent of 1,000 respondents ages 18-75 in the Czech Republic said they had negative feelings towards Jews.  The MOI reported two “white power” concerts in which participants expressed antisemitic views in the first half of the year.

U.S. embassy representatives discussed religious freedom issues, including property restitution for religious groups and religious tolerance, with MOC officials and the envoy for Holocaust issues at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.  Embassy officials met with Jewish, Roman Catholic, and Protestant religious leaders to reaffirm U.S. government support for religious freedom and tolerance.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 10.7 million (midyear 2021).  According to the 2021 census, of the 70 percent of citizens who responded to the question about their religious beliefs, approximately 48 percent held none, 10 percent were Roman Catholic, 13 percent listed no specific religion, and 9 percent identified with a variety of religious faiths, including the Evangelical Church of Czech Brethren, the Czechoslovak Hussite Church, other Christian churches, Judaism, Islam, and Buddhism.  Academics estimate there are 10,000 Jews, while the FJC estimates there are 15,000 to 20,000.  Leaders of the Muslim community estimate there are 10,000 Muslims, most of whom are immigrants.  According to a 2018 report by the Pew Research Center based on a 2015 survey of 1,490 adults, 72 percent of persons do not identify with a religious group, 21 percent identify as Catholic, 3 percent as Protestant, 1 percent as Orthodox Christian, and 3 percent as other or did not know or refused to answer.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution does not explicitly address religious freedom, but the Charter of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms, a supplementary constitutional document, provides for freedom of religious conviction and the fundamental rights of all, regardless of faith or religion.  It states every individual has the right to change religion or faith; to abstain from religious belief; and to freely practice religion, alone or in community, in private or public, “through worship, teaching, practice, observance.”  The charter defines religious societies, recognizing their freedom to profess their faith publicly or privately and to govern their own affairs, independent of the state.  It stipulates conscientious objectors may not be compelled to perform military service and that conditions for religious instruction at state schools shall be set by law.  The charter states religious freedom may be limited by law in the event of threats to “public safety and order, health and morals, or the rights and freedoms of others.”

The law states the MOC Department of Churches is responsible for religious affairs.  Religious groups are not required by law to register with the government and are free to perform religious activities without registering.  The law establishes a two-tiered system for religious groups which choose to register with the ministry.  The ministry reviews applications for first- and second-tier registration with input from other government bodies such as the Office for Protection of Private Data and from outside experts on religious affairs.  The law does not establish a deadline for the ministry to decide on a registration application.  Applicants denied registration may appeal to the MOC to reconsider its decision and, if denied again, to the courts.

To qualify for the first (lower) tier, a religious group must present at least 300 signatures of adult members permanently residing in the country, a founding document listing the basic tenets of the faith, and a clearly defined structure of fiduciary responsibilities to the Department of Churches.  First-tier registration confers limited tax benefits, including exemptions from taxes on interest earned on current account deposits, donations, and members’ contributions.

For second (higher) tier registration, a group must have been registered with the Department of Churches as a first-tier group for 10 years, have published annual financial reports throughout the time of its registration, and have membership equal to at least 0.1 percent of the population, or approximately 10,700 persons.  The group must provide this number of signatures as proof.  Second-tier registration entitles religious groups to tax benefits granted to first-tier groups and to the exercise of special rights, including conducting weddings, teaching religion at public schools, and conducting chaplaincy in the army and prisons.  Prisoners may receive visits from their own clergy, regardless of registration status.  Second-tier religious groups registered prior to 2002 are entitled to government subsidies.  The law phases out direct state subsidies to second-tier religious groups over a 17-year period ending in 2029.

Religious groups registered prior to 2002 received automatic second-tier status without having to fulfill the requirements for second-tier registration.  These groups must publish an annual report on the execution of special rights, including conducting weddings, teaching religion at public schools, and maintaining chaplaincy in the army and prisons.

There are 42 state-registered religious groups, 21 first- and 21 second-tier.

Unregistered religious groups are free to assemble and worship but may not legally own property.  Unregistered groups may form civic associations to own and manage their property.

The law authorizes the government to return land or other property that was confiscated during the communist era and is still in the government’s possession to 17 religious groups (the largest of which are the Roman Catholic Church, FJC, Evangelical Church of Czech Brethren, and Hussite Church).  The government estimates the total value of property in its possession eligible to be returned at 75 billion crowns ($3.5 billion).  The law also sets aside 59 billion crowns ($2.8 billion) in compensation for property – mostly in possession of private persons or entities or local or regional governments – that cannot be returned, payable over a 30-year period ending in 2043.  Based on an agreement among the affected religious groups, the law allocates approximately 79 percent of these funds to the Catholic Church and 21 percent to the other 16 groups.  The law prescribed a one-year deadline ending in 2013 for religious groups to file restitution claims for confiscated property.  The government agency in possession of a property for which a group has filed a restitution claim adjudicates that claim.  If the government agency rejects a property claim, the claimant may appeal the decision in court.

The law permits second-tier religious groups to apply through the MOC to teach religion in state schools if there is a demand for such classes.  Eleven of the 21 second-tier groups have permission to teach religion classes.  The religious groups provide the teachers and the state pays their salaries.  If a state school does not have enough funds to pay for its religious education teachers, religious groups pay for them.  Student attendance at religious classes is optional.  According to law, if seven or more students register for a particular religion class at the beginning of the school year, a school must offer that class to those who registered.

The government does not regulate religious instruction in private schools.

The law prohibits speech that incites hatred based on religion, as well as the denial of Nazi- and communist-era genocides and crimes.  Violators may be sentenced to up to three years in prison.

Religious workers who are not from European Economic Area countries or Switzerland must obtain long-term residence and work permits to remain in the country for more than 90 days.  There is no special visa category for religious workers.  Foreign missionaries and clergy are required to meet the conditions for a standard work permit.

The law designates January 27 as Holocaust Remembrance Day.

The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Government Practices

In December, the MOC registered the Religious Society of Slavs, which had applied for registration in 2020.  In August, the Municipal Court in Prague denied an appeal, pending since 2017, of the MOC’s 2016 rejection of the registration application from the Lions of the Round Table – Order of the Lands of the Czech Crown.  The Ecclesia Risorum’s (Church of Laughter) 2020 appeal against the MOC’s 2019 and 2020 denials of its application remained pending with the Municipal Court in Prague.  The Essenic Christian Church’s application for registration, submitted to the MOC in January, was pending at year’s end.

In January, the Olomouc Appellate Court upheld the Zlin Regional Court’s 2020 conviction of PGJ leader Jaroslav Dobes and member Barbora Plaskova of the rape of six women and acquitted them of a charge of rape of a seventh woman.  Dobes and Plaskova continued to seek asylum in the Philippines, where they were in immigration detention, and international arrest warrants by Czech authorities for the pair remained outstanding.

In March, according to the PGJ, the Prague Municipal Court ruled that the government’s Office for Personal Data Protection’s investigation of the group’s registration application had been conducted improperly and instructed the office to reexamine the case.  PGJ officials reported that the office declined to further investigate the group’s registration application procedures and returned the fine it had levied on PGJ representative Martin Krajca for what the office had said was negligence in the collection of personal data of PGJ members.  The PGJ had filed a lawsuit with the Prague Municipal Court in 2017 against the Office for Personal Data Protection, alleging abusive investigation of its registration application and arguing against the MOC’s rejection of its registration application.  Also in March, the PGJ said it filed an appeal of the MOC’s denial of its registration application with the Administrative High Court after the Prague Municipal Court rejected the group’s appeal of the MOC’s registration denial.  That appeal, according to the PGJ, remained pending in the Administrative High Court at year’s end.

According to an article published in April by the NGO Center for Studies on New Religion, the Appellate Court in Olomouc ruled that 190,000 euros ($215,000) seized by the Zlin Regional Court in 2010 should be returned to the Poetrie esoteric yoga school, which was tied to the PGJ.  The Zlin court had seized the funds as part of the prosecution against Jaroslav Dobes and Barbara Plaskova.  According to the PGJ, the group was seeking additional compensation for losses due to inflation during the 11 years the funds had been withheld.

The MOI reported that as of June, it had granted subsidiary protection to all the remaining Chinese citizens who applied for asylum in 2016 citing fear of persecution as Christians.  Subsidiary protection prevents forcible return to their country of origin of persons who have been found ineligible for refugee status.  An NGO representing some of the applicants, however, reported that its clients still had pending applications but had stopped communicating with the Czech government out of fear of reprisal from the government of China.

The government provided second-tier religious groups approximately 3.2 billion crowns ($149.41 million):  one billion crowns ($46.69 million) in government subsidies to 17 groups and 2.2 billion crowns ($102.72 million) to 16 groups as compensation for communal property in private and state hands that would not be returned.  Five of the 22 second-tier groups declined the government subsidy and were not eligible for compensation payments for lost property.  The Baptist Union accepted the state subsidy, but while eligible to receive it, opted not to accept compensation for unreturned property.  In addition, the MOC provided 11.9 million crowns ($556,000) in grants for religiously oriented cultural activities in response to applications from various religious groups.

The government paid the annual allotment of 20 million crowns ($934,000) of the total of 100 million crowns ($4.67 million) earmarked for 2019-2023 as contribution to the Endowment Fund for Holocaust Victims for projects focused on Holocaust remembrance and education, welfare for Holocaust victims, and care for Jewish monuments.

In November, the Kolel Damesek Eliezer Foundation (a U.S. charity), the FJC, the U.S. Commission for Preservation of America’s Heritage Abroad, and the Hanacky Jerusalem Association met with the municipal council of Prostejov to continue discussions on the plan to restore a former Jewish cemetery in that city that the MOC had designated a cultural monument.  Later in the month, the Prostejov municipal assembly approved the 2022 municipal budget that earmarked 350,000 crowns ($16,300) to conduct a preparatory study for the restoration project.

The SPD and its leader, Tomio Okamura, continued to criticize Islam and Muslim migrants.  In November, Okamura stated on his Facebook page that “It has been fully confirmed that Islam is not compatible with freedom and democracy.  There will either be democracy here, or Islam.  There is nothing in between.”  In October, Okamura stated on Facebook that the “SPD submitted bills that ban the promotion of hateful Islamic ideology and Islamic veiling in public.”  Also in October, he stated on Facebook that the “SPD does not want us [the Czech Republic] to end up like the Islamized Western Europe where people often fear to go outside as they do not want to be stabbed or killed by the migrants.”  In September, the SPD initiated a petition against accepting migrants from Afghanistan after the departure of allied forces.  The petition, which had no legal force, was part of an action by the Identity and Democracy faction in the European Parliament, of which the SPD is a member, stated that “the new migration wave from Afghanistan can bring various risks, including Islamization and terrorism.”

In June, the government approved the 2020 Report on Extremism and Hate Crime, the 2021-2026 Strategy to Combat Extremism and Hate Crime, and the 2021-2022 Action Plan to Combat Extremism and Hate Crime that defined as one of its three strategic goals improving protection and assistance to victims of crimes, including religiously motivated crimes.  The action plan outlined specific tasks for various ministries, such as the MOI, Ministry of Justice, Ministry of Education, MOC, and Ministry of Finance, in fighting extremism and hate crimes, including those against religious groups.  Steps the document outlined included “raising public awareness about extremist activities, initiatives by state regulatory and security bodies to reduce hate speech on the internet, strategic communication to combat xenophobia and racism, education and prevention programs at schools, specialized training for law enforcement, and assistance to victims.”

On January 27, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, in cooperation with the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Social Equality, organized an online commemoration of International Holocaust Memorial Day entitled “Remembering, Perpetuating and Pursuing Justice.”  Speakers included Czech President Milos Zeman and then Foreign Minister Tomas Petricek, Israeli President Reuven Rivlin, and the U.S. Secretary of State.  Speakers stressed the importance of recalling past tragedies and fighting Holocaust denial.

Also on January 27, the Senate, in cooperation with the FJC, again organized a ceremony to honor victims of the Holocaust.  Speaker of the Senate Milos Vystrcil, Speaker of the Chamber of Deputies Radek Vondracek, Holocaust survivor Michaela Vidlakova, and FJC Chairman Petr Papousek delivered remarks and called for religious tolerance.  The event was broadcast live on state-owned television.

In April, the 16th annual public reading of Holocaust Victims’ names – Yom Ha-Shoah – took place online.  Public figures who participated in the reading included then Foreign Minister Petricek, Mayor of Prague Zdenek Hrib, and members of the diplomatic community.

In April, organizers cancelled the annual Culture Against Antisemitism Festival and march due to the COVID-19 pandemic and held an online event in the Pinkas Synagogue in Prague in memory of victims of the Shoah entitled “We All Are People 2021.”  Speaker of the Senate Vystrcil and director of the Jewish Museum Oto Pavlat spoke out against hatred and violence based on ethnicity and religion, and Vystrcil cited the importance of the continued fight against antisemitism, stating that any form of hatred, including hatred against Jews, was dangerous to persons all over the world.  The event also included the testimony of a Czech Holocaust survivor and a telecast of the commemoration ceremony from the Yad Vashem Memorial in Jerusalem.

The government provided grants for religiously oriented cultural activities, including the annual Night of Churches held in several cities; the National Commemoration of the 1,100th Anniversary of St. Ludmila’s death; a liturgical festival of St. Cyril and Methodius in Velehrad; the annual Concert in Memory of Holocaust Victims; an exhibition entitled Musical Treasures of the Jerusalem Synagogue; a celebration of the 100th anniversary of the Hussite Church, part of which had been postponed from 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic; and the Litomysl Days of Baroque Tradition (a festival consisting of liturgical music, masses, and readings).

According to the FJC, the MOI continued to provide security to the Jewish community and Jewish sites based on a memorandum of cooperation signed in 2016.

The government-funded Endowment Fund for Holocaust Victims, established by the FJC, contributed four million crowns ($187,000) to 14 institutions providing health and social care to approximately 450 Holocaust survivors.

The country is a member of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance.


Executive Summary

The constitution guarantees the right of individuals to worship according to their beliefs.  The constitution establishes the Evangelical Lutheran Church (ELC) as the national church, granting it privileges not available to other religious groups.  The Ministry of Ecclesiastical Affairs is responsible for granting official status to religious groups other than the ELC through recognition by royal decree (for groups recognized prior to 1970) or through official registration.  Congregations are not required to register by law, though registration is required to receive tax benefits.  Religious communities must comply with annual reporting requirements to maintain their government recognition.  In January, prior to parliamentary debate on 2020 draft legislation to mandate the translation of sermons into Danish, the Danish Council of Churches sent an open letter to Prime Minister Frederiksen opposing the legislation.  The letter noted, “We welcome the broader political intention of integrating ethnic minorities in an open and pluralistic Danish society – but we see dangers in a law leading to religious harassment.”  The letter stated that the draft legislation was “discriminatory and ill-considered” and would impose “significant burdens” on economically weak minority religious groups.  In March, parliament approved a new law that bans foreign countries from funding and financing mosques in the country.  The new law garnered support from all major political parties.  Social Democrat Immigration and Integration Minister Mattias Tesfaye labeled the law as an important step to curb what he termed “Islamist extremism.”  In a report released in September and drawn from data collected in 2019, the Pew Research Center categorized the country as having “moderate government restrictions on religion,” the second level in the report’s four-tiered system (low, moderate, high, and very high government restrictions).  In November, the Immigration Service updated its national sanctions list of religious preachers barred from entering the country to include 21 individuals; five were U.S. citizens.  The Ministry of Immigration and Integration stated the individuals were barred from entering the country for the “sake of the nation’s public order,” but provided no additional details.

In January, witnesses discovered the words “[expletive] the Quran,” accompanied by a drawing of a hand with the middle finger up, painted on the side of the mosque belonging to the Danish-Turkish Islamic Foundation in Aabenraa, in the southern part of the country.  This was the third time vandals damaged the mosque since 2019.  By year’s end, authorities had not arrested anyone for the incident.  In April, vandals placed two dolls in nooses near a grave in the Jewish cemetery in Aalborg and poured red paint over the dolls and the wall surrounding the cemetery.  The vandals also left antisemitic flyers referring to a website for the right-wing radical organization Nordic Resistance Movement near the dolls.  Police charged a man with vandalism and racism for the crime, and in June, a court sentenced him to one year in prison.  He appealed the verdict and authorities released him in November, with the court expected to rule on his appeal in January 2022.

The U.S. Special Envoy for Holocaust Issues met with the Special Representative for Freedom of Religion or Belief to encourage the country to include the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s examples in applying the alliance’s definition.  Embassy officials met with parliamentarians and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Office of the Special Representative for Freedom of Religion or Belief to emphasize the importance the United States places on religious freedom, and to discuss ways to combat anti-Muslim sentiment and antisemitism.  Embassy officials expressed concerns about legislation proposing to ban circumcision and requiring translation of sermons into Danish, and urged support for the protection of religious expression.  Embassy officials engaged with religious leaders from the Muslim, Jewish, and Christian communities throughout the year to discuss issues including the debate on the proposed circumcision ban, the ban on ritual slaughter, the proposed bill requiring the translation of sermons into Danish, and the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on their faith practices.  Embassy officials met with representatives from the Danish Islamic Center, Muslim World League, and Danish Muslim Aid to discuss interfaith engagement opportunities and challenges for Muslims in the country, including anti-Muslim sentiment.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 5.9 million (midyear 2021).  As of the end of 2021, 73.2 percent of the Danish population were ELC members according to Statistics Denmark.  In 2021, 8,961 members left the ELC, representing the lowest yearly number who departed that church since 2007.  A church historian at the University of Copenhagen attributed this development to the pandemic, which highlighted the importance of religious communities.  The Danish government does not collect data on religious affiliation outside of the ELC.  A professor estimated in April 2020 that there are approximately 250,000 Muslims, accounting for 4.4 percent of the population.  Muslims are concentrated in the largest cities, particularly Copenhagen, Odense, and Aarhus.  The Ministry of Foreign Affairs estimates other religious groups, each constituting less than 1 percent of the population, to include, in descending order of size, Roman Catholics, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Serbian Orthodox Christians, Jews, Baptists, Buddhists, members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Pentecostals, members of the Baha’i Faith, and nondenominational Christians.  According to a 2020 survey released by the Ministry of Immigration and Integration, approximately 11 percent of the population does not identify as belonging to a religious group or identifies as atheist.  The organization Jewish Community in Denmark estimates between 6,000 and 8,000 Jews live in the country, mostly in the Copenhagen area.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution declares the ELC as the country’s established church, which shall receive state support and to which the reigning monarch must belong.  The constitution also states individuals shall be free to form congregations to worship according to their beliefs, provided that nothing “contrary to good morals or public order shall be taught or done.”  The constitution stipulates no person may be deprived of access to the full enjoyment of civil and political rights because of religious beliefs and that these beliefs shall not be used to evade compliance with any common civic duty.  It prohibits requiring individuals to make personal financial contributions to religious denominations to which they do not adhere.

The law prohibits hate speech, including religious hate speech, and specifies as penalties a fine (amount unspecified) or a maximum of two years’ imprisonment.  The law also prohibits the incitement of terrorism, murder, rape or violence in connection with religious movements or training and specifies penalties, including a fine or a maximum of three years’ imprisonment.

The ELC is the only religious group that receives funding through state grants and voluntary, tax-deductible contributions paid through payroll deduction by its members.  Voluntary payroll deduction contributions account for an estimated 79 percent of the ELC’s operating budget, and government grants contribute another 10 percent; the remaining 11 percent comes from a variety of activities, such as revenue from use of Church property.  Members of other recognized religious communities may not contribute via payroll deduction but may donate to their own community voluntarily and receive a tax deduction.  The ELC and other state-recognized religious communities have the authority to carry out registration of civil unions and name changes.  The ELC also registers births and deaths of its members.

The Ministry of Ecclesiastical Affairs is responsible for granting official status to religious groups other than the ELC through recognition by royal decree (for groups recognized prior to 1970) or through official registration.  Congregations are not required to register by law, although registration is required to receive tax benefits.  Religious communities must comply with annual reporting requirements to maintain their government recognition.  According to the Ministry of Ecclesiastical Affairs, there are 448 religious groups and congregations the government officially recognizes or that are affiliated with recognized groups:  338 Christian, 65 Muslim, 16 Buddhist, seven Hindu, three Jewish, and 19 other groups and congregations, including Baha’is, the Alevi community, and followers of the indigenous Norse belief system Forn Sidr.

Recognized religious groups may perform legal marriage ceremonies, name and baptize children with legal effect, issue legal death certificates, obtain residence permits for foreign clergy, establish cemeteries, and receive various value added tax exemptions.  The law allows only religious communities recognized before 1970 to issue birth, baptismal, and marriage certificates.  In accordance with the 2018 law recognizing religions outside the ELC, this privilege will expire for all religious communities except the ELC in 2023.  Members of other religious communities or individuals unaffiliated with a recognized religious group may have birth and death certificates issued by the health authority.

The state entitles groups not recognized by either royal decree or the registration process, such as the Church of Scientology, to engage in religious practices without public registration.  The state does not grant unrecognized religious groups full tax-exempt status, but members may deduct contributions to these groups from their taxes.

The law codifies the registration process for religious communities other than the ELC and treats equally those recognized by royal decree and those approved through registration.  A religious community must have at least 50 adult members who have resident status and possess Danish citizenship.  For congregations located in sparsely populated regions such as Greenland, the government applies a lower population threshold, which varies according to the total population of the region.

Religious groups seeking registration must submit a document describing the group’s central traditions and most important rituals to the Ministry of Ecclesiastical Affairs.  A group applying for registration must also provide a copy of its rules, regulations, and organizational structure; an audited financial statement (which it must submit annually); information about the group’s leadership; and a statement on the number of adult members permanently residing in the country.  Groups also must have formal procedures for membership and make their teachings available to all members.  The ministry makes the final decision on registration applications after receiving recommendations from a group consisting of a lawyer, religious historian, sociologist of religion, and nonordained theologian.  Religious groups that do not submit the annual financial statement or other required information may lose their registration status.

The law prohibits masks and face coverings, including burqas and niqabs, in public spaces.  Violators face fines ranging from 1,000 to 10,000 Danish kroner ($150-$1,500).  Fines are 1,000 kroner ($150) for the first offense, 2,000 kroner ($310) for the second, 5,000 kroner ($760) for the third, and 10,000 kroner ($1,500) for the fourth and subsequent offenses.

The law bans judges from wearing religious symbols such as headscarves, turbans, skullcaps, and large crucifixes while in court proceedings.

The law requires persons to shake hands during their naturalization ceremonies to obtain Danish citizenship, although authorities suspended the requirement during the COVID-19 pandemic.  In December, the government passed a bill reintroducing the handshake requirement for citizenship ceremonies starting January 1, 2022.

All public and private schools, including religious schools, receive government financial support.  The Ministry of Children and Education oversees private schools, which includes supervising teaching standards, regulating compliance with the country’s regulations on curriculum, and financial screening.  The Board of Education and Quality conducts systematic monitoring and has authority to issue directives to individual institutions, withhold grants, and terminate financial support.  Public schools must teach ELC theology.  The instructors are public school teachers rather than individuals provided by the ELC.  Religion classes are compulsory in grades 1-9, although students may be exempted if a parent presents a request in writing.  No alternative classes are offered.

The ELC course curriculum in grades 1-6 focuses on life philosophies and ethics, biblical stories, and the history of Christianity.  In grades 7-9, the curriculum adds a module on world religions.  The course is optional in grade 10.  If the student is 15 or older, the student and parent must jointly request the student’s exemption.  Private schools must teach religion classes in grades 1-9, including world religions in grades 7-9.  The religion classes taught in grades 1-9 need not include ELC theology.  The law allows collective prayer in schools but each school must regulate prayer in a neutral, nondiscriminatory manner, and students must be allowed to opt out of participating.

The law requires parents in communities with significant non-Western populations to send children from one year of age to government-funded daycare, where they learn what are considered to be Danish values, including Christmas and Easter traditions.  The penalty for noncompliance is the loss of quarterly welfare benefits of up to 4,557 kroner ($700).

Military service, typically for four months, is mandatory for all physically fit men older than 18 years of age.  There is an exemption for conscientious objectors, including on religious grounds, which allows for alternative civilian service.  An individual wishing to perform alternative service as a conscientious objector must apply within eight weeks of receiving notice of military service.  The application is adjudicated by the Conscientious Objector Administration and must demonstrate that military service of any kind is incompatible with the individual’s conscience.  Alternative service may take place in various social and cultural institutions, peace movements, organizations related to the United Nations, churches and ecumenical organizations, and environmental organizations.

The law prohibits ritual slaughter of animals, including kosher and halal slaughter, without prior stunning and limits ritual slaughter with prior stunning to cattle, sheep, goats, and chickens.  All slaughter must take place at a slaughterhouse.  Slaughterhouses practicing ritual slaughter are obliged to register with the Veterinary and Food Administration.  Violations of this law are punishable by a fine or up to four months in prison.  Halal and kosher meat may be imported.

The law requires clergy members with legal authorization to officiate marriages to have an adequate mastery of the Danish language and to complete a two-day course on family law and civil rights administered by the Ministry of Ecclesiastical Affairs.  The law also requires that religious workers “must not behave or act in a way that makes them unworthy to exercise public authority.”  The government may strip the right to perform marriages from religious workers whom it perceives as not complying with these provisions.

By law, the Ministry of Immigration and Integration may prevent entry by foreign religious figures who do not already have a residence permit if it determines their presence poses a threat to public order.  In such cases, the ministry places the individuals on a national sanctions list and bars them from entry for two years, a period which it may extend.  The sanctions list does not apply to European Union nationals and residents.

The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Government Practices

In January, prior to parliamentary debate on 2020 draft legislation to mandate the translation of sermons into Danish, the Danish Council of Churches sent an open letter to Prime Minister Frederiksen opposing the legislation.  The letter noted, “We welcome the broader political intention of integrating ethnic minorities in an open and pluralistic Danish society – but we see dangers in a law leading to religious harassment.”  The letter stated that the draft legislation was “discriminatory and ill-considered” and would impose “significant burdens” on economically weak minority religious groups.  Similarly, in February the Islamic Faith Society published a press release with concerns over the proposed bill’s potential to increase the alienation of Danish Muslims, referring to it as “an encroachment on religious freedom” and “a clear obstacle to the Danish Muslims’ practice of their religion.”  In July, the government postponed indefinitely plans to introduce the legislation, which had been sponsored by the ruling Social Democratic Party but opposed by ELC, Muslim, Jewish, and Catholic religious leaders.

Representatives of the Muslim and Jewish communities continued to express frustration at the country’s limitations on slaughter of livestock meeting their religious requirements but reported that halal and kosher meat could be imported from within the European Union.

In March, parliament approved a new law that bans foreign countries from funding and financing mosques in the country.  The new law garnered support from all major political parties.  Social Democrat Immigration and Integration Minister Mattias Tesfaye labeled the law an important step to curb what he termed “Islamist extremism.”  The law states, “Anyone who receives one or more donations that individually or together exceed 10,000 kroner ($1,500) within 12 consecutive calendar months from a natural or legal person who is included on the public ban list is punishable by a fine.”

In March, the parliamentary Legal Committee held a hearing focusing on hate crimes committed against Muslim women in the country at the request of Free Greens parliamentarian Sikandar Siddique.  During the hearing, Siddique criticized the government for not doing enough to publicly denounce incidents, such as a confrontation between an elderly couple and a Muslim woman in a suburb of Copenhagen in February.  In that incident, a Muslim woman reported that an elderly woman repeatedly slammed her car door into her car and when the young woman confronted the woman and her husband, they called her a racial slur and spat on her.  Police charged the elderly couple with assault and the husband with threatening violence, as well as vandalism.  In May, the court sentenced the husband to 50 days’ probation, subsequently lowered to 60 days of community service because this was his first offense.  The court acquitted his wife.

Siddique contrasted what he termed the government’s weak reaction to attacks against Muslims to what he said was its stronger response to hate crimes against the Jewish community.  He called for an action plan to combat what he labeled Islamophobia.  In response to Siddique’s comments, Minister of Justice Nick Haekkerup cited improved prosecution efforts for hate crimes and strengthened police training on identifying and handling hate crimes.  In October, Siddique and his parents were targets of hate speech outside of parliament when a man accosted them and shouted at them, “Go home,” and “Your Arabic culture has no place in Denmark, you’re not welcome here.”

In March, parliament amended the law for religion instructors seeking to extend their residency permits, raising the required passing grade for the test in competency in the Danish language and knowledge of Denmark and Danish society to qualify for an extension.

In April, Jakob Naesager, chairman of the Copenhagen municipality resident committee and member of the Conservative People’s Party, stated that municipal legislation should be changed to ban the Islamic call to prayer in that city in the absence of national level legislation to do so.  Legislators took no action on it during the year.

On May 18, parliament failed to pass legislation proposed in 2020 to ban and criminalize ritual circumcision for boys under the age of 18.  The vote followed extensive political and public debate, including opposition from Prime Minister Frederiksen, leader of the largest opposition party Jakob Ellemann-Jensen, and Jewish community leaders.  The Institute for Human Rights (IHR) stated that the proposed ban would have been “a significant encroachment on religious freedom.”  The Society of Anesthesiology and Intensive Care Medicine supported the legislation, which was proposed for the third year in a row in 2020.  Despite the government’s opposition, approximately 74 percent of the public supported the ban according to an April opinion poll conducted by the Danish research firm Epinion.  In a similar poll conducted by the nongovernmental organization (NGO) Jewish Community in September, only 38 percent of respondents supported the ban, due to a different phrasing of the question.  Representatives from the Jewish and Muslim communities expressed concern that parliament could take up the bill again after the next parliamentary election, which will take place no later than June 2023.

In May, the Danish People’s Party (DPP) proposed requiring that cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad and discussion of the 2005 controversy surrounding publication of those caricatures be included in school curricula.  In a media interview, DPP parliamentary faction leader Peter Skaarup said the cartoon controversy is “part of Danish history” and reflected the country’s “firm stance” in favor of free speech.  Skaarup said the requirement would be “a protection for teachers who are under threat today because they want to show what the Muhammad cartoons are about, but they cannot be allowed to do so because someone is coming and threatening them.”  At the Socialist People’s Party’s annual meeting in September, Party Chair Pia Olsen Dyhr said there was a need for teachers to be able to use such “tools” in a classroom setting without fearing consequences.  The Chair of the Union of Teachers said the DPP proposal, which was not presented as draft legislation, would still leave the choice of whether to include the cartoons to the teachers.  Representatives from the Muslim community expressed concerns that if the proposal became enacted legislation, it would further fuel anti-Muslim sentiment.

In June, the government reached an agreement with five major political parties to modify the 2018 policy to reduce the number of what are termed “parallel societies” by 2030.  The agreement passed as legislation in November and replaced the term “ghetto” with the term “parallel society,” which the government defined as a neighborhood with more than 1,000 residents where at least two criteria based on employment, income, education, and crime rates were met and where the proportion of non-Western immigrants and their descendants exceeded 50 percent.  The agreement also introduced a new category called “prevention areas,” defined as meeting two of four socioeconomic criteria and where the proportion of non-Western immigrants and their descendants exceeded 30 percent.  The stated goal of the agreement was to prevent the emergence of new parallel societies by reducing the percentage of non-Western residents in such neighborhoods to less than 30 percent within 10 years, according to the Ministry of the Interior and Housing website.  In May, parliament had rejected a civil society petition that received 55,000 signatures calling for the pre-November “ghetto” law to be repealed altogether.

Media continued to widely interpret “non-Western” to mean Muslim-majority communities.  In March, Minister of Housing and the Interior Kaare Dybvad Bek said the government’s goal was to “prevent more vulnerable residential areas” by “creating more mixed residential areas” throughout the country.  He also said, “The term ghetto is misleading….This is about helping the residents and creating equal opportunities for all children, no matter where they grow up in Denmark.”  The November legislation required neighborhoods classified as parallel societies for four years in a row to reduce the amount of public housing in their area by 40 percent through demolition, sale, or privatization.  The government would be responsible for rehousing evicted individuals.  The legislation aimed to integrate Danish residents from these neighborhoods into other neighborhoods to reduce “the risk of an emergence of religious and cultural parallel societies,” according to Bek.  The legislation also mandated that parents living in those areas send their children to daycare to learn Danish values, and doubled penalties and sentences for crimes committed in the neighborhoods, such as vandalism, burglary, arson, drug offenses, and possession of weapons.

One activist from a neighborhood affected by the legislation said, “The ghetto lists and ghetto legislation are an expression of the politicians’ desire to change the composition of the population [in those areas].”  Some NGOs said that the government’s language regarding societal integration stemmed from anti-Muslim sentiment and therefore focused on predominately Muslim immigrant communities.  DIHR advocated for the removal of ethnic origin from the legislation’s criteria to avoid discrimination, and it said the term “parallel society” could be as stigmatizing as the term “ghetto.”  Several NGOs demonstrated against the new legislation on December 1 when the Interior Minister announced additions to the list of areas to be covered by the legislation.

In a report released in September and drawn from data collected in 2019, the Pew Research Center categorized the country as having “moderate government restrictions on religion,” the second level in the report’s four-tiered system (low, moderate, high, and very high government restrictions).

In November, the Immigration Service updated its national sanctions list of religious preachers barred from entering the country to include 21 individuals; five were U.S. citizens.  The Ministry of Immigration and Integration stated the individuals were barred from entering the country for “the “sake of the nation’s public order” but provided no additional details.

In consultation with Jewish Community, the government continued to provide security for sites considered to be at high risk of a terrorist attack, including Copenhagen’s synagogue, community center, and one school.

In a December letter to parliament, DIHR reiterated the need for religious communities to be able to apply for COVID-19 exemptions to permit services, weddings, and funerals to protect their religious freedom in future revisions of the Epidemic Act, which governed the country’s COVID-19 protocols.  Most leaders of faith groups, however, reported that the pandemic did not have a major impact on their religious services, as they were able to adapt by implementing safety protocols such as social distancing.

The government is a member of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance.


Executive Summary

The constitution declares there is no state church and protects the freedom of individuals to practice their religion.  It prohibits the incitement of religious hatred, violence, or discrimination.  The law establishes registration of religious associations and religious societies and regulates their activities.  Unregistered religious associations are free to conduct religious activities but are not eligible for tax benefits.  The government continued to provide funds to the Council of Churches for ecumenical activities.  On January 27, the government held an annual memorial event on Holocaust Remembrance Day at the Rahumae Jewish Cemetery in Tallinn.  In April, the government approved a plan to combat antisemitism designed by representatives of the Ministries of the Interior, Culture, Foreign Affairs, Education and Research, and Justice, the Police and Border Guard Board, the Estonian Jewish Community, and the Estonian Jewish Congregation.  Authorities arrested Kristo Kivisto for threats and defamation of a foreign symbol after Kivisto had advocated for the formation of a new cell of the violent far-right Nordic Resistance Movement.  Kivisto also made antisemitic comments online.  In February, the Parnu County Court sentenced him to six months’ probation.  On April 2, individuals desecrated the site of the Holocaust Memorial in Rahumae Jewish Cemetery.  Police identified the individuals involved and filed charges.

According to 2020 government statistics, the most recent data available, police registered three cases of physical abuse, breach of public order, or threats (as defined by law) that included hatred against persons belonging to religious or other minorities, compared with eight cases in 2019.  According to government sources, most of the cases were tied to the victim’s race or national origin.

Embassy officials raised the importance of combating antisemitism, promoting religious tolerance, and promoting Holocaust education in meetings with government officials from the Ministries of Interior, Culture, Education and Research, and Foreign Affairs.  The Charge d’Affaires regularly met with the leader of the Jewish community and participated in its Yahad Conference, a forum on Estonian Jewry held in the city of Parnu.  Embassy officials met with members of the Jewish community, leaders of religious associations, including members of the Muslim community, representatives of the Council of Churches, civil society groups, and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) to discuss religious tolerance and the state of religious freedom in the country.  The embassy used social media to promote religious freedom, including a Facebook post celebrating International Religious Freedom Day.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 1.2 million (midyear 2021).  According to the 2011 census (the most recent data available), 29 percent of the population is religiously affiliated, 54 percent do not identify with any religion, and 17 percent do not state an affiliation.  According to Estonian Council of Churches data from December 2020, 13 percent of the population belong to the Estonian Evangelical Lutheran Church, while 13.9 percent belong to the Estonian Orthodox Church of Moscow Patriarchate (EOCMP), and 2.3 percent belong to the Estonian Apostolic Orthodox Church.  The Union of Free Evangelical and Baptist Churches of Estonia and the Roman Catholic Church together comprise 1 percent of the population.  Other Christian groups, including Jehovah’s Witnesses, Pentecostals, Methodists, Seventh-day Adventists, and Russian Old Believers, collectively constitute 1.1 percent of the population.  According to the 2011 census, there are small Jewish and Muslim communities of 2,500 members and 1,500 members, respectively.  Most religious adherents among the Russian-speaking population belong to the EOCMP and reside mainly in the capital or the northeastern part of the country.  According to 2011 census data, most of the country’s community of Russian Old Believers live along the west bank of Lake Peipsi in the eastern part of the country.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution declares there is no state church and stipulates freedom for individuals to belong to any religious group and practice any religion, both alone and in community with others, in public or in private, unless doing so is “detrimental to public order, health, or morals.”  The constitution also prohibits incitement of religious hatred, violence, or discrimination.  According to the penal code, an act inciting hatred is a crime if it results in danger to the life, health, or property of a person.  The law also states that violations are punishable by fines or up to three years in prison.  The constitution recognizes the right to refuse military service for religious reasons but requires conscientious objectors to perform alternative service for the same amount of time required for military service as provided by law.

Although gender discrimination and discrimination based on race or ethnicity are prohibited in employment, housing, healthcare, social welfare, education, goods and services, and other forms of discrimination, including that based on religion, are only prohibited for employment.  For these forms of discrimination there is no mechanism for affected individuals to receive state assistance or to claim compensation.

The law criminalizes activities that publicly incite hatred, violence, or discrimination on the basis of religion or other minority status if they result in danger to the life, health, or property of a person.  Violators are subject to a fine or detention.  The law prohibits any activity that knowingly interferes, without legal grounds, with the acknowledgement or declaration of religious beliefs or the absence thereof, or the exercise of religion or religious rites.  Violators are subject to a fine or up to one year’s imprisonment.

The law regulates the activities of religious associations and religious societies.  Religious associations are defined as churches, congregations, unions of congregations, and monasteries.  Churches, congregations, and unions of congregations are required to have a management board.  The management board has the right to invite a minister of religion from outside the country.  The residence of at least half the members of the management board must be in the country, in another member state of the European Economic Area, or in Switzerland.  The elected or appointed superior of a monastery serves as the management board for the monastery.  Religious societies are defined as voluntary organizations whose main activities include religious or ecumenical activities relating to morals, ethics, and culture and social rehabilitation activities outside the traditional forms of religious rites of a church or congregation.  Religious societies do not need to affiliate with a specific church or congregation.

The registration office of the Tartu County Court registers all religious associations and religious societies.  To register, a religious association must have at least 12 members, and its management board must submit a notarized or digitally signed application, the minutes of its constitutive meeting, and a copy of its statutes.  The law treats registered religious associations as nonprofit entities entitled to some tax benefits, such as a value-added tax exemption, if they apply for them.  There are more than 550 religious associations registered with the government.

The law does not prohibit activities by unregistered religious associations.  Unregistered religious associations, however, may not act as legal persons.  Unlike registered religious associations, unregistered associations are not eligible for tax benefits.

Religious societies are registered according to the law governing nonprofit associations and are entitled to the same tax benefits as religious associations.  To register as an NGO, a religious society must have a founding contract and statutes approved by its founders, who may be physical or legal persons.  The minimum number of founders is two.  The society must submit its registration application either electronically or on paper to the Tartu County Court registry office.

The law requires the commanding officer of each military unit to provide its members the opportunity to practice their religion.  Prison directors must also provide the opportunity for inmates to practice their religious beliefs.  The state funds police and border guard, military, and prison chaplains, who may belong to any registered religious denomination, and it must guarantee religious services for individuals of all faiths.

Optional basic religious instruction is available in public and private schools and is funded by the state.  All schools must provide religious studies at the primary and secondary levels if students request these studies.  The courses offer a general introduction to different faiths.  Religious studies instructors may be lay teachers.  There are also private religious schools.  All students, regardless of their religious affiliation or nonaffiliation, may attend religious schools.  Attendance at religious services in religious schools is voluntary.

The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Government Practices

Authorities arrested Kristo Kivisto for threats and defamation of a foreign symbol after Kivisto had advocated for the formation of a new cell of the violent Nordic Resistance Movement, generally characterized as far right.  Kivisto also made antisemitic comments online.  In February, the Parnu County Court sentenced him to six months’ probation on those charges.

On April 2, individuals threw eggs at the site of the Holocaust Memorial in Rahumae Jewish Cemetery.  Police identified those involved and filed charges under the penal code’s section on desecration of graves.

According to the government NGO register, two religious associations – both Christian congregations – registered with the government during the year.

The government allocated 646,000 euros ($732,000) to the Estonian Council of Churches.  The council, comprised of 10 Christian churches, including the Lutheran Church and both the Estonian Orthodox Church of Moscow Patriarchate and the Estonian Apostolic Orthodox Church, continued to serve as an organization encompassing the country’s largest Christian communities.  The government continued to fund ecumenical activities, including ecclesiastical programs broadcast by the Estonian Broadcasting Company, youth work by churches, activities promoting interreligious dialogue, and religious publishing.

The Ministry of the Interior provided 103,179 euros ($117,000) in subsidies for the salaries of religious association employees to compensate for losses caused by COVID-19 restrictions.  All registered religious associations had the opportunity to apply for salary compensation.

in cases of suspected arson in February and again in June, fires broke out at the Orthodox Church of Narva Joesuu, in the northeast of the country.  The police opened a criminal investigation, which was pending at year’s end.  Due to the significant destruction of church property of historical and cultural value, the National Heritage Board allocated 100,000 euros ($113,000) to the restoration of the church.

In March and April, the government provided 65,100 euros ($73,800) to support televised prayer services on the Estonian Broadcasting Company when in-person religious services were restricted due to COVID-19.

In April 2020, the government pledged two million euros ($2.27 million) for support of religious associations struggling as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, both to the members of the Council of Churches and to other independent congregations, including the Estonian Jewish Congregation and the Jewish Community of Estonia.

On January 27, the government held its annual memorial event for Holocaust Remembrance Day at the Rahumae Jewish Cemetery in Tallinn.  Schools again participated in commemorative activities throughout the country.  The Education and Research Ministry, in cooperation with the Estonian Jewish community, the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA), the Estonian Memory Institute, and the Museum of Occupation, again organized an essay writing competition for schoolchildren on topics related to the lessons of the Holocaust.

The government is a member of IHRA.

In May, the government announced a reorganization and reduction of the military chaplain service due to state budget cuts.

On May 8 and in the last week of July, the Chaplain Service of the Estonian Defense Forces held annual commemorations honoring victims who lost their lives in the Second World War.


Executive Summary

The constitution prohibits religious discrimination “without an acceptable reason” and provides for the right to profess and practice a religion and to decline to be a member of a religious community.  The law prohibits breaching the sanctity of religion, which includes blasphemy, offending that which a religious community holds sacred, and disturbing worship or funeral ceremonies.  According to representatives of their respective groups, immigration authorities continued to deny most asylum applications from Jehovah’s Witnesses from Russia and Ahmadi Muslims from Pakistan.  While a United Nations Human Rights Committee ruling granted two families that are members of Jehovah’s Witnesses positive interim decisions halting deportation proceedings, 15 other cases of Jehovah’s Witness asylum applicants were pending before the Supreme Administrative Court at year’s end.  At least 47 members of Jehovah’s Witnesses previously denied asylum renewed their applications.  In July and September, the Helsinki Police Department fired two officers and were investigating at least five others for engaging in communications that included antisemitic and anti-Muslim rhetoric.  A Finnish People First Party chairman and a Finns Party Member of Parliament (MP) were convicted of aggravated defamation and ethnic agitation respectively for comments against Muslims and asylum seekers.  In September, authorities charged a former city councilor with ethnic agitation for making threatening comments about Muslim immigrants and refugees.  The attorney general declined to prosecute a Social Democratic Party (SDP) MP regarding antisemitic comments made in 2011 because the attorney general declared that the MP had actively and independently sought to minimize the harm from his previous actions.  Prosecutors charged Christian Democrat MP Paivi Rasanen, a former Minister of the Interior, with ethnic agitation and incitement to hatred on the basis of sexuality in connection with a booklet she published in 2004 and a 2019 tweet.  Rasanen said her statements were an expression of her freedom of speech and religion.

Police reported 108 hate crimes involving members of religious groups in 2020, the most recent statistics available, compared with 133 such incidents in 2019, but did not specify how many were motivated solely by religion.  Police stated the largest drop in hate crimes were crimes reported at bars and restaurants and were driven by COVID-19 protocols.  The nondiscrimination ombudsman’s office received 34 complaints of religious discrimination in 2020, compared with 37 in 2019.  The Nordic Resistance Movement (NRM) continued to post anti-Muslim and antisemitic statements online and acted to circumvent the ban of the organization by continuing activities as part of Towards Freedom and far-right websites such as Partisaani.  There were several demonstrations by neo-Nazi or nativist groups.  The Jewish community reported continued incidents of antisemitic vandalism in Helsinki throughout the year.  Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) working with migrants, including the Finnish Refugee Advice Centre, continued to raise concerns about the inability of religious minorities housed in migrant reception centers to worship without harassment from other migrants housed within the same center.  Some Muslim groups reported that currently available places of worship did not suit the full needs of their communities, but there was disagreement across communities as to the need for additional places of worship or the need for a grand mosque and disagreement as to how these places of worship could best serve the diverse Muslim population.

U.S. embassy staff engaged with government ministries to discuss government support for religious freedom and interfaith dialogue, government and police responses to antisemitic incidents, and the treatment of Jehovah’s Witnesses and Ahmadi Muslims seeking asylum.  Embassy staff met with the Jewish and Muslim communities to discuss their shared concerns about the impact of government guidelines discouraging male circumcision and addressed religiously motivated crimes and continuing problems involved in establishing or maintaining mosques sufficient for the diverse Muslim population.  Embassy staff also discussed the state of religious freedom with these communities, other religious minority groups, and interfaith networks.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 5.6 million (midyear 2021). According to Finnish government statistics from December 2020 that count only registered members of registered congregations, 67.8 percent of the population belongs to the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland (ELC) and 1.1 percent to the Finnish Orthodox Church, while 0.3 percent (approximately 17,000) have official membership in Islamic congregations, and 29.4 percent do not identify as belonging to any religious group.  The census combines other minority religious communities, including Jehovah’s Witnesses, Roman Catholics, Pentecostals, Seventh-day Adventists, members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Jews, and members of the Free Church of Finland, that together account for 1.4 percent of the population.

Multiple sources indicate the Muslim population has grown rapidly in recent years because of a significant inflow of immigrants.  Muslim religious leaders estimate the number of Muslims rose to 100,000 in 2018 (most recent data available), of which approximately 80 percent is Sunni and 20 percent Shia.  In 2017, the latest year for which statistics are available, the Pew Research Center estimated 2.7 percent of the population, or approximately 150,000 persons, were Muslim.  According to a survey by the Ministry of Education and Culture (MEC), the Muslim population numbered approximately 65,000 in 2016.  According to the Islamic Society of Finland, discrepancies among these sources and between them and official government statistics may occur because only a minority of Muslims register with registered Islamic societies.  Apart from Tatars, who immigrated in the late 19th and early 20th centuries as well as during the Soviet Union period, most Muslims are immigrants or descendants of immigrants who arrived in recent decades from Somalia, North Africa, Iraq, Afghanistan, the Balkans, Syria, Turkey, and Iran.  There are 300 registered members of the Ahmadi community, according to leaders of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Jamaat Finland.

In a report released in 2020, the Institute of Jewish Policy Research estimated the Jewish population at 1,300.  There are 18,000 members of Jehovah’s Witnesses in the country, according to Church representatives.  According to Catholic Diocese statistics from 2021, there are 15,902 registered Catholics in the country.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution bars discrimination based on religion “without an acceptable reason.”  It stipulates freedom of religion and conscience, including the right to profess and practice a religion, to express one’s convictions, and to be a member or decline to be a member of a religious community.  It states no one is under the obligation to participate in the practice of a religion.

The law criminalizes blasphemy, or the “breach of the sanctity of religion,” which includes “blaspheming against God,” publicly defaming or desecrating to offend something a religious community holds sacred, and disturbing worship or funeral ceremonies.  Violators are subject to fines or imprisonment of up to six months.  The amount of a fine is dependent both on the severity of the offense and the financial standing of the sentenced offender.  Authorities have occasionally applied the law, most recently in 2019.

The constitution cites the ELC, the only religious group it mentions, stating that “provisions on the organization and administration [of the ELC] are laid down in the Church Act.”

It is considered a crime of ethnic agitation if any person makes available or spreads to the public an expression of opinion or any other message that threatens, defames, or insults a certain group on the basis of race, skin color, birth status, national or ethnic origin, religion, belief, sexual orientation, or disability.  This includes the distribution of hate material intended to incite discrimination in print or in broadcast media, books, or online newspapers and journals.  Punishment includes a fine based on the severity of the defamation or insult or up to two years’ imprisonment.  If the ethnic agitation involves incitement or enticement to serious violence, a person may be charged with aggravated ethnic agitation, which carries a punishment of imprisonment of between four months and four years.  Hate speech is not a separate criminal offense but may constitute grounds for an aggravated sentence for other offenses.  In principle, any act that is considered a crime in legislation may be a hate crime, depending on the underlying motive.  The victim does not need to be a part of a defined group for a crime to be considered a hate crime; it is enough that the perpetrator assumes the victim to be a member of the group.

The law prohibits religious discrimination and establishes the position of a nondiscrimination ombudsman responsible for supervising compliance with the law, investigating individual cases of discrimination, and having the power to issue fines in noncriminal cases.  The ombudsman advocates on behalf of victims, offers counseling, promotes conciliation, and lobbies for legislation, among other duties and authorities.  The ombudsman may also refer cases to the National Non-Discrimination and Equality Tribunal (NDET), which also enforces fines issued by the ombudsman and assists plaintiffs seeking compensation in court.  Individuals alleging discrimination may alternatively pursue legal action through the NDET, which may issue binding decisions that may be appealed to the courts or through the district court system.  Litigants may appeal the decisions of the NDET and the district courts to the higher Administrative Court.  Neither the ombudsman nor the NDET has the authority to investigate individual cases of religious discrimination involving employment.  Such cases fall under the purview of the Occupational Safety and Health Authority.

Individuals and groups may exist, associate, and practice their religion without registering with the government.  To be eligible to apply for government funds, however, religious groups must register with the Patent and Registration Office as a religious community.  To register as a religious community, a group must have at least 20 members, the public practice of religion as its purpose, and a set of rules to guide its activities.  A registered religious community is a legal entity that may employ persons, purchase property, and make legal claims.  A religious group may also acquire legal status by registering as an association with a nonprofit purpose that is not contrary to law or proper behavior.  Registered religious groups and nonprofit associations are generally exempt from taxes.  According to the MEC, as of August, there were approximately 156 registered religious communities, most of which had multiple congregations.

According to the MEC, several additional religious communities are organized under the name the Pentecostal Church of Finland but have registered as associations and not as separate religious communities.  Similarly, other organizations, such as revivalist congregations of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, have independent theological or functional operations but have remained administratively under the Evangelical Lutheran Church and have not registered as independent religious communities.  Persons may belong to more than one religious group.

In March, parliament passed an amendment to the Church Act that governs the practices of the ELC.  The amended Church Act provides greater freedom to the ELC administration for holding meetings in an online setting.  It allows members participating in meetings virtually to be considered as present for the purposes of reaching a quorum.

All citizens who belong to either the ELC or Finnish Orthodox Church pay a church tax, collected together with their income tax payments.  Congregations collectively decide the church tax amount, currently set at between 1 to 2 percent of a member’s income.  Those who do not want to pay the tax must terminate their ELC or Orthodox congregation membership.  Members may terminate their membership by contacting the official congregation or the local government registration office, either electronically or in person.  Local parishes have fiscal autonomy to decide how to use funding received from taxes levied on their members.

Registered religious communities other than the ELC and Finnish Orthodox Church are eligible to apply for state funds in lieu of the church tax.  In addition to receiving the church tax, the ELC and Finnish Orthodox Church may also apply for state funds.  The law states registered religious communities that meet the statutory requirements, including ELC and Orthodox congregations, may apply to receive an annual subsidy from the government budget in proportion to the religious community’s percentage of the population.

The law requires the ELC to maintain public cemeteries using its general allocation from state funds and church taxes and to account for monies used for this purpose.  Other religious communities and nonreligious foundations may maintain their own cemeteries.  All registered religious communities may own and manage property and hire staff, including appointing clergy.  The law authorizes the ELC and Finnish Orthodox Church to register births, marriages, and deaths for their members in collaboration with the government Digital and Population Data Services Agency.  State registrars do this for other persons.

Parents may determine their child’s religious affiliation if the child is younger than 12.  The religious affiliation of children between the ages of 12 and 17 may only be changed by a joint decision of the child and his or her parents or guardian, and the family must pursue specific administrative procedures with their religious community and the local population registration officials to change or terminate the religious affiliation.

All public schools provide religious teaching in accordance with students’ religion.  All students must take courses either in religious studies or ethics, with the choice left up to the student.  Schools must provide religious instruction in religions other than the Lutheran faith if there is a minimum of three pupils representing that faith in the municipal region, the religious community in question is registered, and the students’ families belong to the religious community.  Municipalities may arrange for students from different schools to take a combined course to meet this requirement.  Students who do not belong to a religious group or belong to a religious group for which special instruction is not available may study ethics.  Students aged 18 or older may choose to study either the religious courses pertaining to their religion or the ethics courses.  If a student belongs to more than one religious community, the parents decide in which religious education course the student participates.  The national and municipal governments fund private, including religiously based, schools.  Despite the name, private schools are in fact completely financially dependent on government funding, to ensure equitable education nationwide.  With the exception of international and foreign-language schools, by law private schools may not charge tuition.  They do not practice selective admission based on students’ religion.

Religious education focuses on familiarizing students with their own religion, other religions, and on general instruction in ethics.  Teachers of religion must have state-mandated training for religious instruction.  The state appoints them, and they are not required to belong to any religious community.  The National Board of Education provides a series of textbooks about Orthodox and Lutheran Christianity, Catholicism, Judaism, and Islam, as well as a textbook on secular ethics.

By law, conscientious objectors, including those who object on religious grounds, may choose alternative civilian service instead of compulsory military service.  Conscientious objectors who refuse both military and alternative civilian service may be sentenced to prison terms of up to 173 days, one-half of the 347 days of alternative civilian service.  Regular military service ranges between 165 and 347 days.

The law requires that animals be stunned prior to slaughter or be stunned and killed simultaneously if done pursuant to religious practice.

The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Government Practices

YLE, the Finnish English news site, administered a poll revealing that a majority of MPs did not want to change Finland’s law on the sanctity of religion, which includes the possibility of a six-month prison sentence for blasphemy.  The survey, however, also indicated that MPs of the Greens Party, part of the governing coalition, and opposition Finns Party were united in favor of making changes to the law, with their views based on the same issue:  freedom of speech.  The UN Human Rights Committee called on Finland to change the “vague and broadly worded” criminal provision on the sanctity of religion, stating that it restricts freedom of expression.

Religious communities reported a consistently high level of autonomy in how they were allowed to implement COVID-19 protocols and said that inspections by government officials were unobtrusive and generally helpful.  According to the Ministry of Education and Culture, restrictions imposed on public events did not apply to the characteristic activities of religious communities organized in community premises or similar facilities.  According to legal analysts in an interview with the newspaper Iltalehti, the legislation on communicable diseases that provides the legal basis for limiting public gatherings does not apply to religious gatherings because the latter are legally distinct from public events, as defined by the relevant legislation regarding public assembly.  Catholic Church officials said that when more than 100 persons were potentially exposed to COVID-19 after attending a funeral service in Kouvola, which led to a public outcry, the Church worked closely with government officials to develop improved internal protocols to continue offering regular services without additional public backlash.

In August, the Helsinki District Court ruled that men who carried swastika flags in an Independence Day Towards Freedom rally in 2018 were not guilty of ethnic agitation.  According to the court, while flags carried in the demonstration were associated with the Nazi ideology of persecution and genocide of Jews, carrying a swastika flag was not sufficient for an ethnic agitation conviction.  The court found that the defendants had not been shown to have spread a message that threatened and insulted specific ethnic groups.  Prosecutor General Raija Toiviainen stated that he intended to appeal the decision.  Leaders in the Jewish community spoke out against the ruling, saying that displaying a swastika flag represented expressing advocacy of genocide.  According to a survey by the public broadcaster Yle News, most political parties supported criminalizing public use of the swastika flag, either through legislative action or through a Court of Appeal’s decision.  Of the major parties, only the Finns Party, citing concerns for individual freedom, responded that swastika flags should not be banned.

On October 1, Director General of the Finnish National Gallery Kimmo Leva stated the COVID-19 pandemic continued to disrupt plans to prepare a formal study of the state of research on the provenance of Holocaust-era art in museum collections, as recommended by the MEC in June 2019.  At the same time, the Finnish Heritage Agency organized a roundtable discussion for Finnish museums on art provenance (the record of ownership of a work of art) related to both Nazi art and colonialism.  Articles published in 2020 and 2021 through MuseoPro, a publication of the Finnish Association of Museums, showed an increasing consensus regarding the complications of art provenance.  Leva suggested the Finnish Association of Museums might crowdsource the research, following the example of the Finnish National Gallery, which had published a list online of all its art lacking sufficient provenance from the period 1933-1945.

Yle News in May reported that the Ministry of the Interior continued its previously postponed study regarding whether religious symbols, including headscarves, could be worn as part of police uniforms.  In January, the newspaper Helsingin Sanomat reported the story of Fardowsa Mohamud, a Muslim woman who withdrew from voluntary military service due to a similar hijab ban in the Defense Forces.

In November, the Ministry of Forestry and Agriculture requested public commentary for proposed changes to animal welfare laws.  Proposals included a section on the stunning of animals before slaughter, and explicitly did not include religious exceptions for ritual slaughter.  These legal changes, which would affect kosher and halal practices in the country, were met by vocal opposition by Muslim and Jewish organizations.  The Central Council of Jewish Communities in Finland in a public statement said the law trampled on religious rights and was in contradiction of rights protected under the European Human Rights Convention. Religious groups also stated that as the proposal did not include measures to rectify what they said were other problematic issues concerning animal rights, including tightening of animal stunning procedures, the effect was a culturally subjective law that exclusively limited the cultural traditions of religious minorities.

Ministry of Social Affairs and Health guidelines discouraged the circumcision of males and continued to withhold public healthcare funding for such procedures.  In its guidelines, which were recommendations rather than requirements per prior Supreme Court rulings, the ministry stated only licensed physicians should perform nonmedical circumcision of boys, a child’s guardians should be informed of the risks and irreversibility of the procedure, and it should not be carried out on boys old enough to understand the procedure without their consent.  The ministry termed nonmedical male circumcision a violation of child bodily integrity and self-determination.  Members of the Muslim and Jewish communities continued to express disagreement with the guidelines and stated that each time the issue came up for public debate, it was accompanied by antisemitic or anti-Muslim rhetoric in the press and more broadly.

Parliament took no action on a proposal submitted by 16 parliamentarians in 2020 that “the government…identify the need for regulation of non-medical circumcision of boys and take the necessary legislative measures to clarify the legal situation and define the legal boundaries of non-medical circumcision.”  In the parliamentary Legal Affairs Committee discussion on the October proposal, however, pro-ban MPs were able to get a mention in the committee report that the matter should be brought under consideration in the future.

According to representatives from Jehovah’s Witnesses, the number of Russia-origin members of Jehovah’s Witnesses applying for asylum based on stated religious persecution continued to decline for the second consecutive year, in part because of COVID-19 travel restrictions.  The Finnish Immigration Service (FIS) rejected most of the claims by members of Jehovah’s Witnesses and continued to state that asylum adjudicators did not consider membership in the Church alone to be sufficient basis for an asylum claim.  Information from representatives for Finnish Jehovah’s Witnesses and the FIS showed 15 cases pending before the Supreme Administrative Court (SAC) in the first half of 2021.  At least 47 individuals who received negative decisions from the SAC renewed their asylum applications with the FIS based on changed circumstances and were awaiting new decisions at year’s end.

In its Concluding Observations on the Seventh Periodic Report of Finland submitted in April, the United Nations Human Rights Committee expressed concern “that the Act Repealing the Act on the Exemption of Jehovah’s Witnesses from Military Service in Certain Cases (330/2019) has removed the exemption from military and civilian service accorded to Jehovah’s Witnesses, in contrast to the Committee’s previous recommendations to extend such exemption to other groups of conscientious objectors.”  The Human Rights Committee and the Finnish branch of Amnesty International both noted that alternative nonmilitary service amounted to the longest period of conscripted service, placing a burden on those who exercised their right to conscientious objection, including those who did so on religious grounds.

According to Jehovah’s Witnesses representatives, two asylum-seeking families who identified as members of Jehovah’s Witnesses faced deportation to Russia during the year because the families had exhausted all domestic legal remedies in seeking asylum.  The families applied for interim measures to the United Nations Human Rights Committee; both received positive interim decisions that halted their deportation.  While their applications were pending under the domestic immigration system, legal employment was no longer possible.  As a result, the families became dependent on limited government services.

According to representatives of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Jamaat Finland, the FIS continued to deny most asylum applications for Ahmadi Muslims from Pakistan.  The representatives said the FIS only considered “prominent persons” in the Ahmadi community to be in danger, while other Ahmadis should be able to move to safer areas of Pakistan instead of seeking asylum.  The representatives said that when deportation orders were appealed, authorities requested proof that the individuals in question were in danger instead of considering the systematic persecution Ahmadis faced in Pakistan.  Ahmadi community leaders said they were never consulted on how to confirm or verify membership or persecution status in seeking asylum.  They said that asylum applications had decreased during the past two years because individuals who faced persecution were unwilling to start the asylum process, knowing that it would ultimately be unsuccessful.  The representatives said the group had met with several government representatives, but that it had not yet been able to secure a meeting with the Ministry of Interior to discuss the challenges the community faced.  In the past, the Ministry of the Interior had formally declined to meet with the community and had directed representatives to the Ministry for Foreign Affairs.

According to a senior military officer, the military continued to maintain a zero-tolerance policy regarding hate speech and hate crimes, including religiously motivated incidents.  Unit commanders initiated investigations of reported incidents.  If a commander judged the infraction to be minor, he or she administered a formal reprimand or other punishment.  For more serious offenses, the commander reported the investigation up the chain of command, and military authorities might refer the case to civilian courts.  The officer also stated that the military accommodated, per regulation, religious dietary needs and fasting requirements, and granted religious leave and prayer time to all personnel.  The officer said that these procedures were maintained during the COVID-19 pandemic and that recruits still had access to military chaplains while pandemic protocols were in place.

Yle News reported in July and September that the Helsinki Police Department fired two officers, including the chief of staff, for engaging in communications with far-right hate groups that included anti-Muslim and antisemitic messages.  Text messages revealed discussion of an upcoming “civil war,” with language particularly targeting the country’s Muslim, Somali, and Roma populations.  The report indicated that an additional five police officers and one guard with ties to far-right groups were under investigation.

Religious community leaders repeatedly stated that reported hate crime statistics likely significantly undercounted incidences of hate crimes.  A member of the National Forum for Cooperation of Religions (CORE Forum), an interfaith dialogue group, stated that many members of Muslim communities, particularly women who wear hijabs, encountered verbal and physical harassment that had gone unreported because previous reports were unaddressed.  One Muslim woman said that she no longer used public transit, and a Jewish woman stated she was considering leaving the country due to increased harassment, but neither had reported incidents to the police.  In October, the hashtag #miksienluotapoliisiin (“why I do not trust the police”), trending on Twitter, included citizens’ statements of religious harassment and neo-Nazi, racist, and anti-Muslim rhetoric that they said police ignored.  Representatives from the Helsinki police responded that they were taking the discussion seriously.

On January 5, Yle News reported that Jyrki Aland, the chairperson of the Turku local association of the Finns Party, said he wished for increased COVID-19 deaths in the Varissuo district of Turku in light of the area’s ethnic composition.  Sources quoted Aland as saying that the reports of COVID-19 deaths in Sweden in 2020 would be good for Varissuo because “it is a neighborhood where migrants live and possibly a small Corona cleaning job would do a lot of good there.”  Aland later stated that the comments were made in jest and apologized for them.  According to Yle News on January 11, police were investigating the statements.  More than 48 percent of the population and more than 80 percent of school-age children in Varissuo identify as speaking neither Finnish nor Swedish as their first language, and the suburb is home to significant Muslim and Catholic immigrant populations.  Aland resigned as local association chairperson on September 20.

Yle News also reported in January that the Attorney General’s office announced it would not prosecute SDP MP Hussein al-Taee for Facebook posts from 2011-2012, before he was elected to parliament.  At a press conference in September 2019, al-Taee apologized to Jewish and Sunni Muslim communities for the posts, which were directed at those communities, and did not contest police findings that his posts promoted ethnic agitation.  The Attorney General’s office stated in its decision that al-Taee had actively and independently, without the intervention of authorities, sought to apologize and minimize the harm from his previous actions. On his website, al-Taee apologized to Jewish, Egyptian, and Sunni Muslim communities for the posts and stated that his previous writings are incompatible with his current worldview.

On April 30, the Helsinki Times reported that Christian Democrat MP Paivi Rasanen, a former Minister of the Interior, had been charged with ethnic agitation and incitement to hatred on the basis of sexuality in connection with a booklet she published in 2004 and a 2019 tweet.  According to the article, the prosecutor examined statements in Rasanen’s booklet, entitled “Male and Female He Created Them – Homosexual Relationships Challenge the Christian Concept of Humanity,” and a tweet responding to news that the ELC was partnering with the Helsinki Pride Festival that stated, “How can the Church’s doctrinal foundation, the Bible, be compatible with the lifting up of shame and sin as a subject of pride?”  The prosecutor determined that these comments disparaged gays and lesbians, violated their equality rights, and fomented intolerance and hatred.  Incitement to hatred on the basis of sexuality was outlawed in 1995.  Rasanen defended her statements by stating her religious beliefs were an expression of her freedom of speech and religion.  Dr. Juhana Pohjola, Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Mission Diocese of Finland, faced a similar charge related to distribution of the 2004 booklet.

Yle News reported in May that authorities sentenced former chairman of the Finnish People First Party Marco de Wit to six months’ probation for three counts of aggravated defamation and 13 counts of defamation, one of which concerned “violating the peace of religion.”  De Wit had published several articles online threatening and insulting Muslims, Afghans, refugees, and asylum seekers on the basis of their religion, skin color, and ethnic origin.  More than 20 plaintiffs joined the defamation case against de Wit, who had posted social media items linking Finnish Muslims and police officers with child sexual exploitation.  In addition, the court ordered de Wit to delete his social media posts and pay more than 40,000 euros ($45,400) in compensation to the victims.

On October 7, Helsingin Sanomat reported that the Oulu District Court convicted former Oulu city councilor Junes Lokka of ethnic agitation and sentenced him to 70 day-fines with a value of 420 euros ($480).  The severity of a sentencing fine is measured by the number of day-fines while the monetary value of the day-fine is set by one’s income level.  The court had previously convicted Lokka on two counts of ethnic agitation regarding videos Lokka posted online in 2016 depicting Muslim immigrants and other immigrants as being inferior to other human beings.  The prosecution brought the new charge as a result of comments Lokka made at an Oulu city council meeting in February 2020 in which he threatened Muslim immigrants and refugees and promoted the hiring of “death squads” to promote migration of minorities out of the municipality of Oulu.

In October, a court convicted Finns Party MP Sebastian Tynkkynen on charges of ethnic agitation in connection with 2017 Facebook posts that were part of a municipal election campaign.  In the posts, Tynkkynen published several pictures and texts referencing “the criminal behavior of Muslim asylum seekers and immigrants towards women and children.”  Tynkkynen denied all charges, stating that his posts were moderate and in accordance with freedom of expression.  The court fined Tynkkynen 70 day-fines, totaling 4,410 euros ($5,000) and demanded Tynkkynen delete the posts from his Facebook account.

Ministry of the Interior and MEC statistics indicated the government allocated 117 million euros ($132.65 million) to the ELC, compared with 115.6 million euros ($131.07 million) in 2020, and 2.6 million euros ($2.95 million) to the Finnish Orthodox Church, compared with 2.58 million euros ($2.93 million) in 2019.  The MEC allotted a total of 824,000 euros ($934,000) to all other registered religious organizations, equal to the amount allotted in 2020.  This sum includes 524,000 euros ($594,000) distributed across communities in relation to the number of registered members and 300,000 euros ($340,000) to the Helsinki Jewish Congregation to continue its investments in security at facilities and events following antisemitic incidents.  Religious leaders of minority religions indicated concern over the funding allocation.  Several Muslim community leaders noted what they said was that a lack of cultural understanding regarding individual registration hurt funding for Muslim communities, while the Catholic Church lobbied for the ability of its members to designate funds for the Church through their taxes, as ELC and Finnish Orthodox Church members are able to do.

The MEC awarded 80,000 euros ($90,700) to promote interfaith dialogue, consistent with funding in 2020.  Three organizations split the funding:  the CORE Forum, composed of representatives from the largest religious denominations; Fokus, an interfaith and intercultural organization; and Ad Astra, an organization promoting dialogue, interfaith projects, and inclusivity for children in schools, preschools, and daycare facilities.

The country is a member of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance.


Executive Summary

The constitution and the law protect the right of individuals to choose, change, and practice religion. On August 24, President Emmanuel Macron signed a law providing authorities broader powers to monitor and close down religious organizations and groups they determined to be promoting ideas contrary to French values.  Religious groups, including Muslim, Catholic, Protestant, and Christian Orthodox leaders, and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) publicly condemned the law before it was enacted, saying that it “risks undermining fundamental freedoms” such as freedom of worship and of association.  Although the law did not specifically mention Islam, critics said it targeted and stigmatized Muslims and that President Macron had initially proposed the law as a means to combat “Islamist separatism.”  In January, the government praised Muslim leaders who reached an agreement on a “Charter of Principles for the Islam of France,” affirming the signatories’ adherence to national law and values.  Critics of the charter said it was crafted by the government and represented an unconstitutional intervention into religious affairs.  The government dissolved by decree several Muslim organizations it accused of “inciting hatred, violence, and discrimination,” and said that it had closed 672 Muslim establishments from February 2018 through October 2021, including 21 mosques since November 2020.  On April 14, the Court of Cassation – the country’s highest court of criminal and civil appeal – upheld lower court rulings that cannabis use by the killer of a 65-year-old Jewish woman in 2017 rendered him criminally irresponsible for her death, leading to protests and creation of a parliamentary commission of inquiry into the affair.  After President Macron’s announcement that a COVID-19 “health pass” would be required to enter public spaces beginning in August, some protesters wore the yellow Star of David or held signs comparing treatment of nonvaccinated persons to that of Jews during the Holocaust; others protested with antisemitic signs.  President Macron and other government officials continued to condemn antisemitic, anti-Muslim, and anti-Christian acts, and the government continued to deploy security forces to protect religious and other sensitive sites.  In October, the Senate adopted the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) working definition of antisemitism.  In February, the Paris city council adopted the IHRA working definition of antisemitism; in March, the Strasbourg city council rejected it.

There were instances of religiously motivated crimes and other abuses against Christians, Jews, and Muslims, including physical assaults, threats, hate speech, discrimination, and vandalism and the killing in August of a priest in the Loire Region that generated a public outcry.  In the latter case, authorities judged the killer mentally unfit and placed him in a psychiatric hospital.  Authorities reported registering 1,659 antireligious acts during the year, a 12 percent drop compared with the same period in 2019, when 1,893 acts were reported.  (According to the Ministry of the Interior, statistics from 2020, when it recorded 1,386 antireligious acts, were not comparable because of the COVID-19 lockdown.)  While the total number of acts reported decreased from 2019, the number of anti-Muslim acts increased by 38 percent to 213, from 154 in 2019 (234 in 2020).  Anti-Christian acts decreased 19 percent to 857, from 1,052 in 2019 (813 in 2020), and antisemitic acts fell 14 percent to 589, from 687 in 2019 (339 in 2020).  In September, the Brussels-based NGO Action and Protection League issued the results of its European antisemitism survey based on data that was collected in France between February and June 2020.  According to the survey, 7 percent of 1,000 respondents ages 18-75 in France said they had negative feelings towards Jews.

Officials from the U.S. embassy, consulates, and American Presence Posts (APPs) discussed religious tolerance, antisemitic and anti-Muslim acts, the role of religious freedom in combating violent extremism, and cooperation on these issues with officials at the Ministries of Interior and Foreign Affairs and the Interministerial Delegation to Fight Against Racism, Antisemitism and Anti-LGBT Hate (DILCRAH).  The Charge d’Affaires and embassy, consulate, and APP officials met regularly with religious communities and their leaders throughout the country to discuss religious freedom concerns and encourage interfaith cooperation and tolerance, including engaging Christian, Jewish, and Muslim representatives in Strasbourg, discussions of interfaith dialogue in Rennes, exchanges on antisemitism in Lyon, and raising Holocaust awareness in Marseille.  The embassy sponsored projects and events to combat religious discrimination and religiously motivated hate crimes, such as projects bringing together youth of different faiths and a roundtable with religious leaders, and regularly used social media to convey messages highlighting issues pertaining to religious freedom.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 68.1 million (midyear 2021).  ccording to a January 2020 report released by the government-appointed Observatory for Secularism, based on a poll conducted in cooperation with polling company Viavoice, approximately 47 percent of respondents identify as Catholic, 3 percent Muslim, 3 percent Protestant, 2 percent Buddhist, 1 percent Jewish, 1 percent Christian Orthodox, and 1 percent other religious groups; 34 percent said they have no religious affiliation and 8 percent preferred not to respond.  According to the observatory’s 2019 report, there are 140,000-150,000 Jehovah’s Witnesses and 150,000-300,000 Hindus.  In a poll on secularism released in February and conducted with Viavoice, 35 percent of respondents say they are believers, 30 percent nonbelievers or atheist, 14 percent agnostic, and 13 percent indifferent.  Most observers, including the observatory in its 2019 report, estimate the number of Muslims in the country at three to five million, or between 4 and 7 percent of the population.  According to Church of Scientology leaders, there are approximately 40,000 followers in the country.

A poll by the research firm French Institute of Public Opinion (IFOP) conducted August 24-25 found that 51 percent of respondents said they do not believe in God, and 49 percent said they do.  According to the IFOP poll, the highest percentage of believers (58 percent) was found among those 65 years and older and the lowest (45 percent) among those aged 35-49.  Other age groups were close to evenly split, with a slight majority of nonbelievers.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution defines the country as a secular republic and states it “shall ensure the equality of all citizens before the law,” regardless of religion, and shall respect all beliefs.  The law provides for the separation of religion and state and guarantees the free exercise of religious worship except to maintain public order.

The law, as well as international and European covenants to which the country adheres, protects the freedom of individuals to choose, change, and practice their religion.  Interference with freedom of religion is subject to criminal penalties, including a fine of 1,500 euros ($1,700) and imprisonment for one month.  Individuals who are defendants in a trial may challenge the constitutionality of any law they say impedes their freedom of religion.

Laws increase the penalties for acts of violence or defamation when they are committed because of the victim’s actual or perceived membership or nonmembership in a given religious group.  Additional penalties beyond those for the underlying crime for acts of violence that courts determine are religiously motivated are three to five years’ imprisonment and fines of 45,000 to 75,000 euros ($51,000-$85,000), depending on the severity of the victims’ injuries.  For religiously motivated acts of public defamation, defined as an allegation of fact that affects the honor of a person or body, the penalties are one year’s imprisonment and/or a fine of 45,000 euros ($51,000).  The government may expel noncitizens for inciting discrimination, hatred, or violence against a specific person or group of persons based on religion.

The law penalizes hate crimes and hate speech.  Provisions in the criminal code cover hate crimes.  They criminalize racist, antisemitic, or xenophobic acts, considering them as aggravating circumstances when an offense is committed on the basis of a victim’s membership or nonmembership, true or supposed, in a given ethnic group, nation, race, or religion.  When made in public, such as on the internet, hate speech is covered by a special law related to the rights of the press that criminalizes the publication or dissemination of racist remarks, including those directed against persons because of their membership in religious groups.  The law covers all means of public expression (speeches, exclamations, threats, writings, printed matter, drawings, engravings, paintings, symbols, images, etc.), and any media permitting wide dissemination to the public.  When not made in public, hate speech is covered by the criminal code and punishable by a 1,500 euro ($1,700) fine.

There is no national-level law prohibiting blasphemy, but Alsace-Moselle continues to retain part of an old German code, a remnant from past German annexation of the area, that declares “blasphemy” against Catholics a crime.  However, a Ministry of Justice decree states that the antiblasphemy provision may not be applied anywhere in the country.

Although the law does not require it, religious groups may apply for official recognition and tax-exempt status.  Religious groups may register under two categories:  associations of worship, which are exempt from taxes; and cultural associations, which normally are not exempt.  Associations in either category are subject to fiscal oversight by the state.  An association of worship may organize only religious activities.  Although not tax-exempt, a cultural association may engage in for-profit as well as nonprofit activity and receive government subsidies for its cultural and educational operations.  Religious groups normally register under both categories.  For example, Catholics perform religious activities through their associations of worship and operate schools through their cultural associations.

Religious groups must apply at the local prefecture (the administrative body, headed by a prefect, that represents the central government in each department) for recognition as an association of worship and tax-exempt status.  To qualify as an association of worship, the group’s sole purpose must be the practice of religion, which may include liturgical services and practices, religious training, and the construction of buildings serving the religious group.  The association must also engage in public worship and respect public order.  Among excluded activities are those that are purely cultural, social, or humanitarian in nature.  To apply for tax-exempt status, the association must provide to the prefecture its estimated budget for the year, annual accounts for the previous three years or since the association’s creation, whichever is shorter, a written justification of eligibility for the status, and the number of members of the association.  In Paris, the association must have a minimum of 25 members.  Once granted, the association may use the tax-exempt status nationwide.  The government does not tax associations of worship on donations they receive.  If the prefecture determines an association is not in conformity with its tax-exempt status, however, the government may change that status and require the association to pay taxes at a rate of 60 percent on past, as well as future, donations until it regains tax-exempt status.  The Ministry of Interior has not provided recent information on the number of associations with tax-exempt status.  According to ministry data more than a decade old, there are 109 Protestant, 100 Catholic, 50 Jehovah’s Witness, 30 Muslim, and 15 Jewish associations with tax-exempt status.

The number of cultural associations, many of which are not associated with religious groups, is in the thousands and changes frequently.  Cultural associations may be declared using an online form through the government’s public administration website.  Cultural associations, even if associated with religious groups, may operate without applying for government recognition, but receiving government recognition exempts them from taxes.  The Church of Scientology has the status of a secular and not a religious association.

The law states, “Detained persons have the right to freedom of opinion, conscience, and religion.  They may practice the religion of their choice…without other limits than those imposed by the security needs and good order of the institution.”

Counterterrorism legislation grants prefects in each department the authority to close a place of worship for a maximum of six months if they find that comments, writings, or activities in the place of worship “provoke violence, hatred, or discrimination or the commission of acts of terrorism or praise such acts of terrorism.”  The management of the place of worship has 48 hours to appeal the closure decision to an administrative court.  A place of worship that has been closed may remain closed beyond the six-month maximum if it does not replace its chief cleric and/or management.  Noncompliance with a closure decision carries a six-month prison sentence and a fine of 7,500 euros ($8,500).  A counterterrorism and intelligence law that parliament enacted on July 22 makes permanent some provisions of a 2017 law on internal security and counterterrorism that had been set to expire July 31.  The new law allows authorities to close facilities belonging to places of worship linked to acts of terrorism, rather than only the places of worship themselves, as was previously the case.

The law prohibits covering one’s face, including for religious reasons, in public places, including public transportation, government buildings, and other public spaces, such as restaurants and movie theaters.  If police encounter a person in a public space wearing a face covering such as a niqab or burqa, they are legally required to ask the individual to remove it to verify the individual’s identity.  According to the law, police officials may not remove it themselves.  If an individual refuses to remove the garment, police may take the person to the local police station to verify his or her identity.  Police may not question or hold an individual for more than four hours.  Refusing a police instruction to remove a face-covering garment carries a maximum fine of 150 euros ($170) or attendance at a citizenship course.  Individuals who coerce other persons to cover their face on account of gender by threat, violence, force, or abuse of power or authority are subject to a fine of up to 30,000 euros ($34,000) and may receive a sentence of up to one year in prison.  The fine and sentence are doubled if the person coerced is a minor.  The law exempts use of face coverings mandated by the authorities, such as masks worn for COVID-19 prevention.

The law prohibits agents of the administration, public services, and companies or associations carrying out public services from demonstrating their religion through visible signs of religious affiliation, such as an Islamic headscarf, Jewish skullcap, Sikh turban, or Christian cross.  The prohibition applies during working hours even if the agents are not in their place of employment and at any time at the place of employment.

By law, the government may not directly finance religious groups to build new places of worship, except, as noted below, in Alsace-Lorraine and overseas departments and territories.  The government may, however, provide loan guarantees or lease property to groups at advantageous rates.  The law also exempts places of worship from property taxes.  The state owns and is responsible for the upkeep of most places of worship, primarily Catholic, built before 1905.  The government may fund cultural associations with a religious connection.

The Upholding Republican Values law – passed by parliament on July 23, ruled constitutional on August 13 by the Constitutional Court, and signed by President Macron on August 24 – includes measures expanding requirements of neutrality in expression and attire for public servants and private contractors of public services, methods to combat online hate speech, stricter restrictions on homeschooling, increased control of public associations, transparency of religious associations, and enhanced measures against polygamy, forced marriages, and “virginity certificates.”  The law requires audits of associations, including those that are religious in nature, that receive foreign funding of more than 153,000 euros ($173,500) per year.  The law imposes additional reporting requirements on local religious-based organizations.  It modifies a law on policing of religions to include punishing the incitement to discrimination, hatred, or violence with up to five years in prison.  The law also increases the punishment for holding political meetings in places of worship and prohibits the organization of campaigning operations for political elections in places of worship.  In addition, a judge may forbid anyone convicted of provoking terrorism, discrimination, hate, or violence from entering places of worship.  The government may temporarily close places of worship if it finds any activities that incite hatred or violence.  The new law expanded the requirements for neutrality, impartiality, and principles of secularism, which previously applied only to government employees, to apply to private contractors for public services.  The law also implements a commemorative “secularism day,” to be recognized annually on December 9.  In addition, it requires municipalities and departments to inform local prefects three months before concluding a long-term lease with, or providing loans to, places of worship.

The Upholding Republican Values law includes provisions to combat hate speech, including the criminalization of disseminating personal information which could endanger the life of others.  Violators may be punished with up to five years in prison and a fine of 75,000 euros ($85,000) if the victim is a public official, a journalist, or a minor.  An expedited procedure allows authorities to remove content on mirror sites.

The law separating religion and state does not apply in three classes of territories.  Because Alsace-Lorraine (currently comprising the departments of Haut-Rhin, Bas-Rhin, and la Moselle and known as Alsace-Moselle) was part of Germany when the law was enacted, Catholics, Lutherans, Calvinists, and Jews there may choose to allocate a portion of their income tax to their religious group.  Pastors, priests, and rabbis of these four recognized faiths in Alsace-Moselle receive a salary from the Interior Ministry, and the country’s President, with the agreement of the Holy See, appoints the Catholic bishops of Metz and Strasbourg.  The Prime Minister appoints the Chief Rabbi and the presidents of the Jewish and Protestant consistories (the administrative governance bodies of these groups) in Alsace-Moselle, and the Interior Minister appoints ministers of three Christian Churches (Catholic, Lutheran, and Protestant Reformed Church of Alsace and Lorraine) in the region.  Local governments in the region may also provide financial support for constructing religious buildings.  The Overseas Department of French Guiana, which is governed under 19th century colonial laws, may provide subsidies to the Catholic Church.  Other overseas departments and overseas territories, which include island territories in the Caribbean and the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian Oceans, and several sub-Antarctic islands, may also provide funding for religious groups.  This provision also applies to the portion of Antarctica the government claims as an overseas territory.

Public schools are secular.  The law prohibits public school employees from wearing visible signs of religious affiliation and students from wearing “conspicuous religious symbols,” including the Islamic headscarf, Jewish skullcap, Sikh turban, and large Christian crosses.  Public schools do not provide religious instruction except in Alsace-Moselle and overseas departments and territories.  In Alsace-Moselle, religious education regarding one of the four recognized faiths (Catholicism, Lutheranism, Protestant Reformed Church of Alsace and Lorraine, and Judaism) is compulsory in public primary and secondary schools, although students may, with a written request from their parents, opt for a secular equivalent.  Religious education classes are taught by laypersons who are trained and nominated by the respective religious groups but are paid by the state.  Elsewhere in the country, public schools teach information about religious groups as part of the history curriculum.  Parents who wish their children to wear conspicuous religious symbols or to receive religious instruction may homeschool their children or send them to a private school.  Homeschooling and private schools must conform to the educational standards established for public schools; however, private schools may permit the wearing of religious symbols on their premises.  Under the Upholding Republican Values law, beginning in September 2022, homeschooling will be allowed only for strictly defined reasons, including sickness, disability, intensive sport or artistic training, transient families, or those with geographic constraints.  Parents who wish to take their children out of school will be required to get an annual authorization from the local education authority.

By law, the government subsidizes private schools, including those affiliated with religious organizations.  In 98 percent of private schools, in accordance with the law, the government pays the teachers’ salaries, provided the school accepts all children regardless of their religious affiliation.  The law does not address the issue of religious instruction in government-subsidized private schools.  According to the education code, religious instruction is allowed but optional in government-subsidized private schools.  Students are not required to attend religion classes, and other activities are available for students who opt out.

Missionaries from countries not exempt from visa requirements must obtain a three-month tourist visa before traveling to the country.  All missionaries from nonexempt countries wishing to remain longer than 90 days must obtain long-duration visas before entering the country.  Upon arrival, missionaries must provide a letter from their sponsoring religious group to apply to the local prefecture for a temporary residence card.

The country adheres to the nonbinding Terezin Declaration of 2009 – an agreement to remedy the economic wrongs experienced by Jews and other victims of Nazi persecution – and its guidelines and best practices of 2010.  The government has laws and mechanisms in place for property restitution and reparation, including for all three types of immovable property:  private, communal, and heirless.

The government’s Commission for the Compensation for Victims of Spoliation (CIVS or the “Drai Commission”) is a sovereign and independent administrative body under the authority of the Prime Minister.  CIVS recommends and examines reparations to individual victims of the Holocaust or their heirs not previously compensated for damages resulting from antisemitic legislation passed either by the Vichy government or by the occupying Germans.  On June 17, the CIVS announced that on its recommendation, Prime Minister Jean Castex had ordered the return to the descendants of Jewish lawyer Armand Dorville 12 works of art acquired by the French State in 1942.  At year’s end, the government was working on a draft law to effectively implement this decision.

The law criminalizes the Boycott, Divestment and Sanction (BDS) movement against Israel, treating it as “a provocation to discrimination or hatred or violence towards a person or a group of persons because of their origin or belonging to an ethnic group, a nation, a race, or a determined religion.”

The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Government Practices

On April 14, the Court of Cassation upheld the Paris Court of Appeals’ decision that Kobili Traore, the killer of Sarah Halimi, a 65-year-old Jewish woman, was unfit to stand trial because his cannabis consumption prior to the killing rendered him psychotic, despite the judges’ opinion that the attack was antisemitic in character.  The Court of Cassation’s decision closed the case.  According to media reports, Traore continued under psychiatric care where he had been assigned since killing Halimi in 2017 and would remain hospitalized until psychiatrists concluded he no longer represented a danger to himself or others.  Lawyers for Halimi’s relatives announced their intention to take the case to the European Court of Human Rights.  On April 21, lawyers representing Halimi’s sister announced that she intended to file a criminal complaint against Traore in Israel.

On April 25, media reported that more than 20,000 persons demonstrated at Trocadero Square in Paris to “proclaim determination to continue the fight for Sarah’s memory.”  Similar protests were held in several other cities across the country.  French political leaders, including President Macron, criticized the court ruling and what he called the loopholes in law exposed by the case.  Macron also told daily newspaper Le Figaro that “Deciding to take narcotics and then ‘going mad’ should not, in my view, remove your criminal responsibility,” and said he wanted Justice Minister Eric Dupond-Moretti to introduce a change in the law “as soon as possible.”  On July 22, the National Assembly established a parliamentary commission of inquiry into the affair, which was continuing its investigation at year’s end.

On March 15, following the resignation of M’hammed Henniche, the rector (administrator) of a mosque in Pantin, a Paris suburb, and the nomination of a new board of directors, Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin called for the reopening of the mosque, made effective on April 9.  In October 2020, Darmanin had ordered a six-month closure of the mosque, following the beheading of teacher Samuel Paty, who had shown his class cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad as part of a lesson on freedom of expression.  The mosque’s imam Ibrahim Doucoure had posted on social media calls to retaliate against Paty for showing the cartoons.  The Montreuil Administrative Court had validated the government’s decision to close the mosque.

On October 26, Junior Minister for Citizenship Marlene Schiappa reported that, since the end of 2019, as part of a nationwide program to counter “Islamism and communitarianism,” the Ministry of Interior had conducted 23,996 assessments and closed 672 establishments of various kinds, including 22 mosques.  According to Schiappa, those establishments, which the government did not specifically identify, “were gathering places to organize Islamist separatism,” which President Macron had previously described as a “methodical organization” to create a “countersociety” in which Islamists impose their own rules and laws on isolated communities.

On October 13, Interior Minister Darmanin announced he had ordered authorities to close a mosque in Allonnes, in the Loire Region, following what he said was evidence the mosque preached radical Islamism.  According to the local prefecture, some of its 300 members were linked to radical Islamist movements that “legitimized the use of armed jihad” as well as “hate and discrimination.”  In early October, authorities froze the accounts of the two associations running the mosque.

On October 26, Interior Minister Darmanin reported that, following inspections of mosques conducted starting in November 2020, the government suspected 92 of the 2,500 mosques in the country of being radical and had closed 21 of them.  On December 12, Darmanin said 36 mosques were removed from the list of those suspected of Islamist separatism after complying with government requests, including dismissing “dangerous” imams and rejecting foreign funding.  Darmanin reiterated the mosques suspected of practicing radical Islam represented a very small minority.

In a December 27 decree, Darmanin announced the government administratively closed the mosque of Beauvais, north of Paris, for six months because of the anti-republican sermons of one of its imams.  Darmanin accused Imam Islem, born Eddy Lecocq, of dividing society by justifying jihad and using discriminatory language against LGBTQ+ persons and women in his sermons.  The mosque’s representative argued that Islem’s comments were taken out of context, calling the closure “unjustified” and the accusations against the imam false.  Some members of the Beauvais Muslim community expressed frustration to the press, saying that while the law should apply to this imam, it was unfair that “the whole community was being punished” for his actions.

Contrary to the previous year, Jehovah’s Witness officials did not report any cases in which authorities interfered with proselytizing during the year.

After President Macron’s announcement that a COVID-19 health pass would be required to enter public spaces beginning in August, some protesters wore the yellow Star of David or held signs comparing treatment of nonvaccinated persons to that of Jews during the Holocaust; others protested with antisemitic signs.

With the stated intent to combat the COVID-19 pandemic, the government continued to impose measures limiting the distance between worshippers during religious services.  It required places of worship to ensure that there were at least two empty seats between persons unless they were members of the same household and that only one row of seats out of two was occupied.  Unlike with other gatherings, the government did not require a COVID-19 health pass to attend religious ceremonies.  The Prime Minister’s office told Le Figaro newspaper July 13 that places of worship enjoyed constitutional protections beyond those of other groups because of the fundamental value of the freedom of religion.

On August 24, President Macron signed into law the Upholding Republican Values bill, which the government used to continue closing organizations accused of separatism, including some places of worship.  On March 10, leaders of the Catholic, Protestant, and Orthodox Churches in the country issued a public statement expressing their concern about the then draft bill.  Catholic Archbishop Eric de Moulins-Beaufort, President of the Bishops Conference of France (CEF), Pastor Francois Clavairoly, President of the Protestant Federation of France, and Metropolitan Emmanuel Adamakis, Metropolitan of the Greek Orthodox Metropolis of France, signed the statement.  The statement said that “by its internal logic … this bill risks undermining fundamental freedoms such as freedom of worship, association, teaching and even freedom of opinion.”  The three leaders added that “turning its back on the separation [of church and state], the state interferes in the qualification of what is religious” and that the law allowed the state to apply more constraints and controls on religious organizations when the Christian churches believed the procedures necessary to maintain public order already existed.  Muslim leaders, also speaking about the bill while in draft, said that, although it did not specifically mention the word Islam, many of its provisions clearly singled out Islam, targeting and stigmatizing Muslims.  They also pointed out that President Macron had initially proposed the law as a means to combat “Islamist separatism.”  NGOs expressed concern about the increased power of unelected prefects to close associations.  Mohammed Moussaoui, president of the French Council of the Muslim Faith (CFCM), said the then draft would increase restrictions on French religious associations, “but in the end it will be beneficial and there will be less suspicion towards donations.”  France’s Chief Rabbi Haim Korsia said the then draft law “reminds us of the importance of carrying the values of the republic everywhere, in all spaces, including religious spaces” and gives “legal tools to do what we could not do before.”

In a January 18 meeting with representatives of the CFCM, which until December was the government’s main dialogue partner among groups representing the Muslim community, President Macron praised the CFCM’s adoption of the “Charter of Principles for the Islam of France,” the Elysee (Office of the Presidency) reported.  “This is a clear, decisive and precise commitment in favor of the republic,” Macron said, hailing “a truly foundational text for relations between the state and Islam in France.”  According to the CFCM, the agreement was reached during a January 16 meeting of the CFCM with Interior Minister Darmanin after weeks of resistance from some CFCM members, who objected to a “restructuring” of Islam to make it compatible with French law and values.  Signatories to the charter included the CFCM, the Union of Mosques of France, Gathering of Muslims of France, Great Mosque of Paris (GMP), and the French Federation of Islamic Associations of Africa, Comoros, and the West Indies.  Signatories to the charter, composed of 10 articles, vowed to reject attempts to use Islam for political ends, refrain from distributing messages of violence, hate, terrorism, or racism, and educate youth against those who spread such messages; affirmed gender equality and the need to educate believers that certain cultural practices presumed to be Muslim are not part of Islam; and agreed to combat “superstitions and archaic practices” that endanger the lives of victims, recognize Muslims have the right to renounce Islam, and reject racism, antisemitism, and misogynistic acts.

Online news site Middle East Eye published an opinion piece in February that called the charter “the worst violation of the separation of Church and state in the history of the Fifth Republic,” and stating it was crafted by the government, particularly President Macron and Interior Minister Darmanin, and not by Muslims.  On January 17, Tareq Oubrou, the Great Imam of Bordeaux, said he deplored that the CFCM produced the charter “under political pressure.”

On November 21, the GMP along with three Muslim federations announced they had set up a National Council of Imams (CNI) aimed at establishing a new certification system for imams in France.  The CFCM, which President Macron had instructed in 2020 to establish a new imam certification system to ensure Muslim clerics’ compliance with French republican values, denounced the initiative.  The CFCM president, Mohammed Moussaoui, accused the GMP, the Gathering of Muslims of France; the French Federation of Islamic Associations of Africa, Comoros, and the West Indies; and the Muslims of France (former Union of Islamic Organizations in France) of having “taken the organization of Muslim worship hostage.”

On July 23, the Ministry of the Interior and the Loire regional prefecture officially suspended Mmadi Ahamada, the imam of the Attakwa Mosque in Saint-Chamond, for discriminating against women.  In Eid al-Adha remarks, the imam said women should “stay home, not show off … and not be too complacent in your language,” nor give in to “corruption and vice.”  Interior Minister Darmanin tweeted that he would relentlessly counter those who violated the values of the republic, and said that at his instruction, the Saint-Chamond imam and another imam were fired for “unacceptable sermons.”  Darmanin also ordered the Loire prefect to evaluate the Saint-Chamond imam’s renewal of his residency permit.  According to media reports, the imam, a citizen of Comoros, could be deported if the permit were not renewed.

On July 15, the government announced the creation of a new Interministerial Committee on Secularism to replace the Observatory for Secularism – an independent public watchdog entity established in 2013 whose members were appointed by the government – that critics from the political right and left said did not crack down hard enough on radical Islam.  According to Minister for Citizenship Schiappa, who announced the new committee, it would function under the authority of the Prime Minister’s office and be responsible, as the observatory had been, for coordinating government efforts to protect state secularism, for instance by ensuring no public funding was allocated to nonsecular programs.  She stated the committee would also assume responsibility for secularism training for public employees, with the goal of providing such training to all five million employees by 2025.  Twelve ministers on the new committee were tasked with coordinating state secularism and tracking the implementation of the Upholding Republican Values law.  The committee was also tasked with placing a secularism specialist in each public administration by the end of the year to provide information and mediate on issues relating to religion.  It would oversee new powers given to prefects to take legal action against local governments if they implement policies that seem to contradict secularism, for example by allowing women-only sessions in public pools.  In her announcement, Minister Schiappa also said that, during the December 9 “Secularism Day,” the Ministry of the Interior would award a “Legality Prize” of 50,000 euros ($56,700) for promoting secularism.

According to media, on October 12, at the request of President Macron, Interior Minister Darmanin summoned CEF President Archbishop de Moulins-Beaufort, after the Archbishop publicly stated that the secrecy of confession was “above the laws of the republic,” sparking outrage among groups of victims of sexual abuse by priests.  De Moulins-Beaufort made the comment after a Church-commissioned independent report revealed more than 200,000 cases of sexual abuse by priests over the previous seven decades.  After the meeting, Archbishop de Moulins-Beaufort cited “the determination of all bishops, and all Catholics, to make the protection of children an absolute priority, in close cooperation with the French authorities.”

According to the Ministry of Justice, as of 2018, the penitentiary system employed 720 Catholic, 361 Protestant, 231 Muslim, 191 Jehovah’s Witness, 74 Jewish, 54 Orthodox Christian, and 18 Buddhist chaplains.  In detainee visiting areas, visitors could bring religious objects to an inmate or speak with the prisoner about religious issues but could not pray.  Prisoners could pray in their cells individually, with a chaplain in designated prayer rooms, or, in some institutions, in special apartments where they could receive family for up to 48 hours.

In September, 55 foreign imams and two murshidates (Muslim religious female guides) began year-long assignments at mosques in the country.  On September 14, Chemsedine Hafiz, Rector of the Grand Mosque of Paris, announced on social media that his mosque held a welcoming seminar before sending the imams and murshidates to their respective places of assignment.  In accordance with a bilateral agreement with Algeria, the government hosted training sessions on secularism and French values for these imams and murshidates.

On September 29, as part of the government’s stated efforts to combat radicalization, Interior Minister Darmanin announced in a tweet the dissolution of the Nawa Center for Oriental Studies and Translation in the southwestern town of Pamiers for reportedly producing Islamist propaganda and legitimizing violence.  In its decree, the government cited Nawa publications that called for the “extermination of the Jews,” legitimized violence against LGBTQ+ individuals, and encouraged the punishment of “adulterous women.”  In a September 28 interview with Le Figaro, Darmanin said the government was in the process of closing six religious sites and banning another 10 local associations for ties to radical Islam.

In a September 24 ruling, the Council of State, the country’s highest court for public administration issues, approved the authorities’ December 2020 dissolution of the Collective Against Islamophobia in France, an NGO with the stated aim of combating discrimination towards Muslims in the country and providing legal support to victims of discrimination.  The government had moved to close the collective in late 2020, following the killing of teacher Samuel Paty by an Islamist.

In a tweet published on October 20, Interior Minister Darmanin announced that, at his request based on the instructions of President Macron, the Council of Ministers had dissolved the Coordination against Racism and Islamophobia, an association created in 2008 and based near Lyon.  On its website, the association presented itself as “an initiative aiming at fighting against a continuously growing scourge:  Islamophobia.”  Darmanin said the association called for “hatred, violence, and discrimination,” and government spokesman Gabriel Attal added it also expressed antisemitism.

In May, President Macron’s ruling La Republique en Marche! (The Republic on the Move!) Party threatened to withdraw its support for a Muslim candidate running in June local elections after she wore a headscarf in a photograph on a campaign flyer.  Party chief Stanislas Guerini said wearing “ostentatious religious symbols” in photographs appearing in campaign materials was against the party’s values.

On November 2, the Council of Europe retracted visuals that said, “freedom is in [a] hijab,” from a campaign combating discrimination and anti-Muslim sentiment after the French government rejected the messaging.  One advertisement, published the previous week, showed a split image of two women, one wearing a hijab and the other not, alongside the slogan: “Beauty is in diversity as freedom is in hijab.”  The split image “deeply shocked me,” Secretary of State for Youth Sarah El Hairy said in a November 2 television interview.  “It is the opposite of the values France is standing up for … which is why it was pulled today.”  The council suspended the entire promotional campaign on November 3.

On December 21, the Paris Administrative Court upheld the 2020 ruling by the Court of Montreuil overturning a 2019 municipal decree that had refused a permit for the Church of Scientology to renovate a building it had purchased in the municipality of Saint-Denis for the purpose of converting it into its headquarters and a training center.  The court ruled that the refusal was a “misuse of power” and ordered the city of Saint-Denis to reexamine the permit request within three months.

According to statistics released by the Ministry of the Armed Forces in March, the government regularly deployed 3,000 military personnel – a number that could rise to 10,000 at times of high threat – throughout the country to patrol vulnerable sites, including Catholic, Jewish, and Islamic sites and other places of worship.  Some Jewish leaders requested the government also station armed guards at Jewish places of worship; the government did not do so.

Interior Minister Darmanin called for strengthening security at places of worship ahead of major religious holidays because of the “persistent terrorist threat,” AFP reported on March 17.  Darmanin reportedly instructed prefects to pay particular attention to religious “gatherings and services that traditionally bring together large groups of people … and consequently constitute targets with strong symbolism.”  Darmanin also called for increasing counterterrorism patrols under the Ministry of the Armed Forces’ Operation Sentinel around vulnerable and symbolic religious sites.

In a September 1 memo to prefects during the Jewish month of Tishrei (September 7-October 6), which includes Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, and several other Jewish holidays, Interior Minister Darmanin asked them to strengthen the security of Jewish places of worship and to ensure maximum police presence due to the “very high level of the terrorist threat.”  Counterterrorism patrols under Operation Sentinel could also be deployed around particularly vulnerable sites, according to the memo.  The MOI executed similar countermeasures at all Christian churches throughout the country on August 15 for the Day of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

On January 4, according to judicial sources, two of 14 defendants that the Special Criminal Court found guilty in 2020 of supporting terrorists who conducted attacks against satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo and a kosher supermarket in 2015 appealed their sentences.  The appeal was scheduled to be heard in September-October 2022.

On March 22, the city of Strasbourg approved 2.56 million euros ($2.90 million) in city funding for the construction of the Milli Gorus Islamic Confederation-sponsored Eyyup Sultan Mosque.  In a March 23 Business FM television interview, Minister Darmanin stated that the city’s decision supported foreign interference in the country.  He criticized the Milli Gorus Islamic Confederation for what he said was its affiliation with Turkey and for engaging in political Islam and refusing to sign the “Charter of Principles for the Islam of France,” a part of the government’s effort to fight Islamist separatism.  Darmanin asked the local prefect to contest the city’s decision before an administrative judge.  Mayor Jeanne Barseghian wrote in a letter to President Macron that she had set as conditions for final approval of the funding that mosque project leaders ensure transparency in their financing and subscribe to the values of the republic.  The prefect disputed that conditions were set and announced on April 7 that the city’s decision would be contested in administrative court.  Further information on the status of the project was unavailable at year’s end.

On January 27, the Paris Court of Appeals ruled that 67-year-old Hassan Diab, the main suspect in the 1980 deadly bombing of the rue Copernic Synagogue in Paris, would have to stand trial, and on May 19, the Court of Cassation upheld that decision.  Diab, a dual Lebanese-Canadian citizen, is suspected of having prepared and placed the bomb, which killed three Frenchmen and an Israeli journalist and injured 46 persons.  Diab returned to Canada in 2018 after three years in detention in France when judges determined the evidence was insufficient to warrant prosecution.  On December 22, Le Figaro reported that Diab’s trial would open in Paris in April 2023, but by year’s end, authorities had not issued an arrest warrant and Diab remained in Canada.

On April 14, the Paris Appeals Court validated the grounds for an investigation of a 1982 terrorist attack against an Israeli restaurant in Paris that left six dead and wounded 22 others.  The decision left open the possibility of a trial, judicial sources reported.  The court dismissed two challenges relating to a missing signature on a judicial detention document and an attempt to nullify a December 2020 decision to place the suspect under investigation.  In December 2020, Norwegian authorities extradited to France a suspect in the case, naturalized Norwegian Walid Abdulrahman Abou Zayed.  On December 23, judges decided to keep the suspect in pretrial detention.

On April 16, the Ministry of Education reported 547 infringements of the secularism law in schools between December 2020 and March 2021.  Middle schools accounted for 45 percent of incidents, while primary schools accounted for 33 percent and high schools for 22 percent; 32 percent of violations were in the form of religiously motivated insults or other verbal aggression, while 10 percent involved proselytism.  According to a report released on December 9 by the ministry, 614 infractions of secularism in schools were reported between September and mid-November in the country’s 60,000 schools, an increase of 12 percent compared to December 2020-March 2021.  Incidents cited included insults or other verbal abuse of a religious nature, the wearing of religious symbols, and refusal to take part in school activities.

In February, Education Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer commissioned a report from former school inspector Jean-Pierre Obin on how teachers and headteachers might be better equipped to handle the issue of secularism in schools.  The report, published on June 14, described some confusion among pupils and teachers about the meaning of secularism, exacerbated by the case of teacher Samuel Paty, beheaded in 2020.  The report also highlighted how the historical roots of the country’s current laws were not always understood.  Following the report’s publication, according to Radio France International, Blanquer introduced training programs for teachers and principals on the place of religion in schools so that there would be a common understanding of what secularism entailed and what was and was not allowed.  On October 19, 1,000 teachers started the 120- to 150-hour training.

On October 15-16, schools commemorated the first anniversary of the killing of Samuel Paty with a series of ceremonies and screenings of documentaries on freedom of speech.  On October 16, Prime Minister Castex unveiled a memorial plaque honoring Paty at the entrance of the Education Ministry.  Macron also received Paty’s family at the Elysee Palace.

On February 20, 800 academics signed an open letter in Le Monde calling for Higher Education Minister Frederique Vidal’s resignation for threatening “intellectual repression” by ordering, earlier that month, a “scientific investigation” of “Islamo-leftism” at universities.  In a February 21 response, Vidal stated the investigation would be carried out in a “scientific” and “rational” manner.  Several officials within the Macron administration, including President Macron, distanced themselves from Vidal’s proposal, affirming their commitment to academic independence.  Academics said it was a failed attempt to distract from the more important problem of growing student discontent and poverty caused by COVID-19.  Information on the status of the investigation was unavailable at year’s end.

On April 14, the Mayor of Albertville, Frederic Burnier-Framboret, announced he would appeal an April 6 Grenoble Administrative Tribunal decision obliging him to grant a building permit for the Islamic school supported by the Milli Gorus Islamic Confederation, linked to Turkey.  According to media reports, Burnier-Framboret’s appeal would rest on an amendment to the Upholding Republican Values law that allows prefects to oppose the opening of out-of-contract schools supported by a foreign state “hostile” to the republic.  On December 16, the Lyon Appeals Court approved the mayor’s decision not to grant a building permit for the Muslim school.

On October 5, the Senate passed a nonbinding draft resolution to adopt the IHRA nonlegally binding working definition of antisemitism.  The motion, which was sponsored by the Senate’s majority party, the Republicans, with the government’s support, was adopted by a show of hands by all political groups, with one exception, the Communist, Republican, and Citizen and Ecologist Group.  Recalling the National Assembly had passed a similar resolution in 2019, Minister Schiappa said she was “happy that the Senate is taking the same approach.”  Although the resolution was not legally binding, it would allow for better identification and characterization of antisemitism, she added.  In February, the Paris city council adopted the IHRA working definition, while in March, the Strasbourg city council rejected it.  Pierre Jakubowicz, a council member who supported the IHRA working definition, said he was dismayed by the latter decision, adding that Strasbourg had been “plagued” by antisemitic outrages during the year.

In March, following a final judgment in 2020 by the European Court of Human Rights that the country had violated Article 10 (freedom of expression) of the European Convention on Human Rights when it convicted a group of 12 pro-Palestinian activists for incitement to discrimination for distributing leaflets calling for a boycott of Israeli goods, the government paid a fine of 380 euros ($430) of pecuniary damage and 7,000 euros ($7,900) in nonpecuniary damage to each activist.

On May 19, Normandy’s public prosecutor opened a formal investigation of what the prosecutor said were racist and anti-Islamic social media posts by the then far-right National Rally candidate for President of the Regional Council, Nicolas Bay.  On May 5, Bay – a member of both the Normandy Regional Council and the European Union (EU) Parliament – posted a video calling the Evreux Mosque a hub of “delinquency and terrorism” and saying it was linked to the killing of Samuel Paty.  Evreux elected officials denounced the video as a call to violence against Muslims, and the Great Mosque of Paris called for charges against Bay for inciting “racial hatred.”  On Facebook, Bay responded that “identity politics and Islamism” were threats to the nation and that the Evreux minaret was not welcome in Normandy.

Various groups initiated multiple petitions seeking action against the government for failing, according to the petitions, to follow the rule of law in dealing with the country’s Muslim population.  For example, in January, a coalition of 36 civil society and religious organizations from 13 countries, including the Strasbourg-based European Initiative for Social Cohesion, wrote to the United Nations Human Rights Committee to request that it open formal infringement procedures against the government for “entrenching Islamophobia and structural discrimination against Muslims.”  The 28-page document stated that the country’s actions and policies in relation to Muslim communities violated international and European laws.

On March 8, 25 NGOs from 11 different countries signed a letter urging the EU to investigate the French government for “state-sponsored Islamophobia” and imposing what the letter described as the discriminatory Charter of Principles for the Islam of France.  According to the signatories, the letter responded to what they said were the government’s efforts to isolate Islamist extremists through the Upholding Republican Values law, which was then under consideration in the Senate.  The letter to the European Commission stated that the legislation was inherently discriminatory and that the charter censored free speech in violation of European law.

On May 6, the National Council of Evangelicals of France sent an official report to the United Nations Human Rights Committee, criticizing the Upholding Republican Values law and stating it would restrict freedom of worship.

In an April 20 statement, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe’s General Rapporteur on combating racism and intolerance, Momodou Malcolm Jallow, expressed deep concern that the Upholding Republican Values law stigmatized Muslims and “will serve to further legitimize the marginalization of Muslim women and will contribute to establishing a climate of hate, intolerance, and ultimately violence against Muslims.”

In an October 4 meeting with prefects, Interior Minister Darmanin said the country had deported 72 radicalized foreign Islamists since October 2020 and 636 since 2018.  The 72 were part of a list of foreigners on the FSPRT (fichier des signalements pour la prevention de la radicalisation a caractere terroriste) – a list of individuals suspected of radicalization – under orders of deportation.  On September 28, Interior Minister Darmanin said he had called on regional prefects to refuse any residence permits for imams sent by a foreign government.  According to the Ministry of Interior, approximately 300 imams, or 70 percent of all imams in the country, were trained in foreign countries such as Turkey, Morocco, and Algeria.  In 2020, President Macron announced he would gradually end the foreign imam program by 2024, creating instead a program for imams to be trained in France.

On January 27, on International Holocaust Remembrance Day and the 76th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, the Education Ministry invited teachers to take part in special activities and reflect on the Holocaust with students.

On January 10, Interior Minister Darmanin, Justice Minister Dupond-Moretti, Education Minister Blanquer, Armed Forces Minister Florence Parly, government spokesperson Gabriel Attal, and Junior Minister for Gender Equality, Diversity and Equal Opportunities Elisabeth Moreno attended a Representative Council of French Jewish Institutions (CRIF)-organized memorial ceremony outside a Paris kosher supermarket, where six years earlier a gunman had killed four Jews and held 15 other persons hostage.

On July 16, Prime Minister Castex, Junior Minister for Gender Equality, Diversity, an Equal Opportunities Moreno, and Secretary of State for the Armed Forces Genevieve Darrieussecq attended a ceremony at the Izieu Memorial Museum, the site where 44 Jewish children and their six educators were deported to Nazi extermination camps and later killed.  Prime Minister Castex issued a call to “fight everywhere and always against the unfulfilled temptations of barbarism.”

President Macron and government ministers continued to condemn antisemitism and declare support for Holocaust education on several occasions, including a February 19 visit to the Shoah Memorial; the March 19 commemoration of the ninth anniversary of the killings of three Jewish children and their teacher by Mohammed Merah in Toulouse; and the April 30 Holocaust Remembrance Day commemoration.  On April 25, Secretary of State for the Armed Forces Darrieussecq laid a wreath at the Shoah Memorial and the Memorial of the Martyrs of the Deportation in central Paris.

On April 26, the country held private or virtual ceremonies (because of COVID-19 restrictions) commemorating the thousands of persons deported to Nazi death camps during World War II.  On July18, Secretary of State for the Armed Forces Darrieussecq held a ceremony in Paris honoring the victims of the 1942 Velodrome d’Hiver roundup in which 13,000 Jews, including 4,000 children, were deported to extermination camps.  At the ceremony, 94-year-old Holocaust survivor Joseph Schwartz expressed anger in a speech at seeing anti-COVID-19 vaccine activists comparing the government’s COVID-19 health pass with the yellow Star of David Jews were forced to wear during World War II.

On July 26, Interior Minister Darmanin participated in a tribute for Father Jacques Hamel, the Catholic priest killed in an attack at his church in Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray in 2016, for which ISIS claimed responsibility.  In his remarks, Darmanin said, “The government of the republic commemorates its martyrs, and there is no doubt that Jacques Hamel is one of them,” adding that “Islamist barbarism [touched] all the symbols that make the West and France.”  President Macron and Prime Minister Castex also paid tribute to Father Hamel on social media on the same date, the anniversary of his death.

On October 18, Prime Minister Castex met with Pope Francis at the Vatican for celebrations to mark the centenary of the restoration of diplomatic relations between France and the Holy See.  At a press conference after the meeting, Castex, in a reference to a report on the sexual abuse of French children by Catholic clergy, said the Church “will not revisit the dogma of the secrecy of the confession,” and emphasized the need to find “ways and means to reconcile this with criminal law, the rights of victims,” adding that “the separation of Church and state is in no way the separation of Church and law.”

On October 26, President Macron and Interior Minister Darmanin participated in the first Economy and Protestantism dinner organized by the Protestant Federation and the Charles Gide Circle, a Protestant association which advocates a “responsible economy.”  In his remarks, President Macron stated that the Upholding Republican Values law was important “because we cannot deny [that] … in the name of religions, strategies have been set up that want to separate the republic.”  Macron added that he did not mean that the republic and society must separate itself from religion but that every person must be free to believe or not believe.  He said he did not accept any speech separating an individual from these rules “on the basis of a religion, a philosophy or anything else.  That is the basis of this law.”

On October 26, President Macron, accompanied by Chief Rabbi of France Korsia inaugurated in the village of Medan the first museum dedicated to the “Dreyfus Affair,” which recalls the 1894-1906 period when antisemitism led to the wrongful conviction of Jewish army captain Alfred Dreyfus.

On October 28, Interior Minister Darmanin attended a ceremony marking the repair of the Jewish cemetery of Sarre-Union, where vandals desecrated 269 graves in 2015.  “There is no greater duty for the republic than the protection of our Jewish compatriots who have suffered so much,” Darmanin stated.

In June, declared presidential candidate Jean-Luc Melenchon of the France Unbowed Party said that the killing by Mohammed Merah of Jewish schoolchildren and a rabbi in Toulouse in 2012 was “planned in advance” to place blame on Muslims before elections.  CRIF President Francis Kalifat condemned Melenchon’s remarks, tweeting they were an obscene attack on the memory of the victims and that Melenchon was pandering to Islamo-leftist voters and conspiracy theories.

On July 16, President Macron became the first president to visit the sanctuary of Lourdes on the same day when, according to believers, in 1858 the 18th and last apparition of the Virgin Mary to Bernadette Soubirous, also known as Saint Bernadette of Lourdes, took place in the cave of Massabielle, a Catholic holy place.

The country is a member of the IHRA.


Executive Summary

The constitution prohibits religious discrimination and provides for freedom of faith and conscience and the practice of one’s religion.  The country’s 16 states exercise considerable autonomy on registration of religious groups and other matters.  Unrecognized religious groups are ineligible for tax benefits.  The federal government banned the Muslim association Ansaar International, stating it financed terrorism, and Hamburg’s intelligence service said it would classify the Islamic Center Hamburg (IZH) as an organization receiving “direct orders from Tehran.”  Federal and some state offices of the domestic intelligence service continued to monitor the activities of numerous Muslim groups and mosques, as well as the Church of Scientology (COS).  Certain states continued to ban or restrict the use of religious clothing or symbols, including headscarves, for some state employees.  A ruling on two German cases by the Court of Justice of the European Union said the needs of employers could outweigh an employee’s right to wear religious clothing and symbols.  Senior government leaders continued to condemn antisemitism and anti-Muslim sentiment and acts.  In speeches in September and October, then Chancellor Angela Merkel expressed regret that public antisemitism had increased in the country and said Germany would expend great strength to resist it.  The first antisemitism commissioner for the state of Hamburg assumed office in July; Bremen remained the only state without such a position.

There were numerous reports of antisemitic, anti-Muslim, and anti-Christian incidents.  These included assaults, verbal harassment, threats, discrimination, vandalism, and demonstrations.  In separate incidents, two Jewish men were hospitalized after being severely beaten and suffering broken bones in the face.  In May, there was an outbreak of antisemitic demonstrations and attacks, some of them violent, as well as vandalism and assaults across the country, during violence in the Middle East.  According to figures collected by the Federal Criminal Police Office, as of November 5, there had been 1,850 antisemitic crimes reported during the year, including 35 involving physical violence leading to 17 persons injured.  Ministry of Interior crime statistics for 2020, the most recent year for which complete data were available, cited 2,351 antisemitic crimes, an increase of 15.7 percent from 2019, attributing 2,224 (94.6 percent) of them to the far right.  Fifty-seven of the antisemitic crimes involved violence.  The ministry registered 929 crimes targeting Muslims and Muslim institutions – including 79 against places of worship and 51 involving battery – and 141 anti-Christian crimes, including seven involving violence.  The ministry classified most of the perpetrators of anti-Muslim crimes as right-wing extremists; the composition of those acting against Christians was mixed.  The partially government-funded Federal Association of Departments for Research and Information on Antisemitism (RIAS) attributed the increase in antisemitic incidents to the large number of demonstrations against measures to contain COVID-19 or to other COVID-related issues, classifying 489 antisemitic incidents as connected to the pandemic.  Demonstrations also occurred expressing anti-Muslim sentiment.  In September, the Brussels-based nongovernmental organization (NGO) Action and Protection League issued the results of its European antisemitism survey, which found that 10 percent of 1,000 respondents ages 18-75 in Germany said they had negative feelings towards Jews.

In June, then Foreign Minister Heiko Maas and the U.S. Secretary of State launched the U.S.-Germany Dialogue on Holocaust Issues to promote accurate Holocaust education and information and to combat Holocaust denial and distortion and antisemitism.  The U.S. embassy and five consulates general assessed the government’s responses to incidents of religious intolerance and met with a wide range of officials at all levels and with federal and state legislators.  They expressed concerns regarding antisemitic, anti-Muslim, and anti-Christian acts, and advocated for more law enforcement and other resources to prevent violent attacks on religious communities.  Consuls General met with state-level government representatives, including antisemitism commissioners.  The embassy and consulates general maintained a dialogue with a broad spectrum of religious communities and human rights NGOs on their concerns regarding religious freedom and on ways to promote tolerance and communication among religious groups.  The embassy and consulates worked closely with Jewish communities to support programs promoting religious tolerance and understanding, while countering antisemitism and extremism targeting religion.  The embassy utilized virtual and in-person speaker programs and workshops to help preserve accurate Holocaust narratives and expand discussion of religious freedom issues.  The Frankfurt Consul General visited Ulm’s Jewish community in June following an attack on a synagogue there.  The Charge d’Affaires and the Leipzig Consul General visited Halle, the site of a fatal 2019 attack on a synagogue, where they met with members of the Jewish community to discuss antisemitism, religious tolerance, and Jewish life in the east of the country.  The embassy made extensive use of social media to amplify U.S. government messaging and disseminate its own original content advocating religious freedom.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 79.9 million (midyear 2021).  Unofficial estimates based on the census and figures provided by religious groups indicate approximately 27 percent of the population is Catholic and 25 percent belongs to the Evangangelische Kirche in Deutschland (EKD) – a confederation of Lutheran, Reformed (Calvinist), and United (Prussian Union) Protestant regional churches.  Other Protestant denominations, including the New Apostolic Church, Baptist communities, and nondenominational Christians, account for approximately 2 percent of the population.  Orthodox Christians represent 1.9 percent of the population.

According to government estimates published in April, approximately 6.6 percent of the population is Muslim, of which 74 percent is Sunni, 8 percent Alevi, 4 percent Shia, 1 percent Ahmadi, and 1 percent other affiliations such as Alawites and Sufis.  The remaining 12 percent of Muslims in the country say they are not affiliated with any of the above groups or are unwilling to disclose an affiliation.  Intelligence officials estimate there are approximately 12,150 Salafi Muslims in the country.  Estimates of the Jewish population vary widely; the Federal Ministry of the Interior estimates it at 95,000, while other estimates place the number at approximately 190,000 when including Jews who do not belong to a specific Jewish community.  According to the secular NGO Religious Studies Media and Information Service (REMID), Buddhists (270,000); Jehovah’s Witnesses (167,000); Hindus (100,000); Yezidis (100,000); members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Church of Jesus Christ) (40,000); Sikhs (10,000-15,000); and members of the COS (3,400) together constitute less than 1 percent of the population.  All of REMID’s estimates are based on members who have registered with a religious group.  According to the nonprofit Research Group Worldviews Germany, approximately 39 percent of the population either has no religious affiliation or belongs to religious groups not counted in government statistics.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution prohibits discrimination based on religious opinion and provides for freedom of faith and conscience, freedom to profess a religious or philosophical creed, and freedom to practice one’s religion.  It also prohibits an official state church.  It stipulates no one shall be required to disclose his or her religious convictions nor be compelled to participate in religious acts.  The constitution states religious instruction shall be part of the curriculum in public schools, and parents have the right to decide whether their children receive religious instruction.  It recognizes the right to establish private denominational schools.  The constitution guarantees the freedom to form religious societies and permits groups to organize themselves for private religious purposes without constraint.  It allows registered religious groups with Public Law Corporation (PLC) status to receive public subsidies from the states and to provide religious services in the military, hospitals, and prisons.

A federal law prohibits discrimination on the grounds of race or ethnic origin, gender, religion or belief, disability, age, or sexual orientation.

The federal criminal code prohibits calling for violence, inciting hatred, or taking arbitrary measures against religious groups or their members.  Violations are punishable by up to five years in prison.  It also prohibits “assaulting the human dignity of religious groups or their members by insulting, maliciously maligning, or defaming them,” specifying a maximum penalty of five years in prison, although prison sentences are rare.  The prohibition and penalties apply equally to online speech.  In addition, the federal criminal code prohibits insulting a domestic religious organization, its institutions or practices, or the religious beliefs or world views of another person, if doing so could disturb the public peace.  Violations are punishable by a fine or up to three years in prison but are rarely prosecuted.  The federal criminal code prohibits disturbing religious services or acts of worship, with violators subject to a fine or imprisonment for up to three years.  The law bans Nazi propaganda, Holocaust denial, and fomenting racial hatred, specifying a penalty of up to five years’ imprisonment.

By law, social media companies with more than two million registered users in the country must implement procedures to review complaints and remove or block access to illegal speech within seven days of receiving a complaint and within 24 hours for cases considered “manifestly unlawful.”  Noncompliance may result in fines of up to 50 million euros ($56.69 million).  Unlawful content includes actions illegal under the criminal code, such as defamation of religions and denial of historic atrocities.

The law permits the federal government to characterize “nontraditional” religious groups – such as the COS – as “sects,” “youth religions,” and “youth sects” and allows the government to provide “accurate information” or warnings about them to the public.  The law does not permit the government to use terms such as “destructive,” “pseudo-religious,” or “manipulative” when referring to these groups.  Several past court decisions ruled that the government must remain neutral toward a religion and may provide a warning to the public only if an “offer” by a religious group would endanger the basic rights of an individual or place the individual in a state of physical or financial dependence.

Religious groups wishing to qualify as nonprofit associations with tax-exempt status must register.  State-level authorities review registration submissions and routinely grant tax-exempt status; if challenged, their decisions are subject to judicial review.  Those applying for tax-exempt status must provide evidence they are a religious group through their statutes, history, and activities.

A special partnership exists between the states and religious groups with PLC status, as outlined in the constitution.  Any religious group may request PLC status, which, if granted, entitles the group to levy tithes (8 percent of income tax in Bavaria and Baden-Wuerttemberg, 9 percent in the other states) on members, who must register their religious affiliation with federal tax authorities.  Each state collects the tithes on behalf of the religious community through the state’s tax collection process, separately from and in addition to income taxes.  PLCs pay fees to the government for the tithing service, but not all groups with PLC status utilize the service.  PLC status also allows for benefits, including tax exemptions (larger than those given to groups with nonprofit status), representation on supervisory boards of public television and radio stations, and the right to special labor regulations.  State governments subsidize institutions with PLC status that provide public services, such as religious schools and hospitals.  In addition, due to historic “state-church contracts” dating back to before 1919, all state governments except for Bremen and Hamburg subsidize the Catholic Church and the EKD with different yearly amounts.

According to the constitution, the decision to grant PLC status is made at the state level.  Individual states base PLC status decisions on a number of varying qualifications, including an assurance of the group’s permanence, size, and respect for the constitutional order and fundamental rights of individuals.  An estimated 180 religious groups have PLC status, including Catholics, the EKD, Baha’is, Baptists, Christian Scientists, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Jews, Mennonites, Methodists, the Church of Jesus Christ, the Salvation Army, and Seventh-day Adventists.  The Ahmadiyya Muslim Community has PLC status in the states of Hesse and Hamburg; no other Muslim communities have PLC status.  The COS does not have PLC or nonprofit status in any state.

Federal animal protection laws prohibit the killing of animals without anesthesia, including as part of halal and kosher slaughter practices.  Pursuant to a Federal Administrative Court decision, however, trained personnel may kill animals without anesthesia in a registered slaughterhouse under observation of the local veterinary inspection office if the meat is for consumption only by members of religious communities whose beliefs require slaughtering animals without anesthesia.

On July 6, a federal law took effect that enables authorities to restrict the tattoos, clothing, jewelry, and hair or beard styles of civil servants if this is necessary to ensure the functionality of public administration or fulfill the obligation for respectful and trustworthy conduct.  The law specifies that if these symbols are of a religious nature, they may only be restricted if they are “objectively suited to adversely affecting trust in a civil servant’s neutral performance of his official duties.”

According to a ruling by the Federal Constitutional Court, general headscarf bans for teachers at public schools are a violation of religious freedom, but implementation is left to the states, which may determine if special circumstances apply.  The states of Bavaria, North-Rhine Westphalia (NRW), and Saarland render decisions on a case-by-case basis.  Schleswig-Holstein, Hamburg, Bremen, and Lower Saxony do not prohibit headscarves for teachers.  Hesse permits teachers to wear headscarves as long as doing so does not impair “school peace” or threaten perceptions of state neutrality.  Rhineland-Palatinate and Baden-Wuerttemberg prohibit teachers from wearing full-face veils (i.e., niqabs or burqas).  Berlin bans visible signs of religious affiliation for police, lawyers, judges, and law enforcement staff but not for primary and secondary school teachers.  In Lower Saxony and Bavaria, judges and prosecutors may not wear religious symbols or clothing in the courtroom.  Other states have laws that restrict religious attire in certain circumstances.

Citing safety reasons and the need for traffic law enforcement, federal law prohibits the concealment of faces while driving, including by a niqab.  Infractions are punishable by a 60 euro ($68) fine.

State law in Rhineland-Palatinate and Baden-Wuerttemberg forbids students in primary and secondary schools from full-face veiling at school (i.e., wearing a niqab or burqa).  This state ban on full-face covering does not apply in higher education.

According to federal law, religious groups may appoint individuals with special training to carry out circumcision of males younger than six months.  After six months, the law states circumcisions must be performed in a “medically professional manner” and without unnecessary pain.

All states offer religious instruction and ethics courses in public schools.  Religious communities with PLC status (or those without such status that have concluded a special agreement with the state granting them this right) appoint religion teachers and work with the states to ensure the curriculum is in line with the constitution; the states pay the teachers’ salaries.  Most public schools offer the option of Protestant and Catholic religious instruction in cooperation with those Churches, as well as instruction in Judaism if enough students (usually 12, although regulations vary by state) express an interest.  Bavaria, Baden-Wuerttemberg, Berlin, Hesse, Lower Saxony, NRW, Rhineland-Palatinate, Saarland, and Schleswig-Holstein also offer some religious instruction in Islam.  In most federal states, Muslim communities or associations provide this instruction, while in Bavaria and Schleswig-Holstein, the state does.  In Hamburg and Bremen, nondenominational religious instruction is offered for all students by the EKD and the state, respectively.

Students who do not wish to participate in religious instruction may opt out; in some states, those who opt out may substitute ethics courses.  State authorities generally permit religious groups to establish private schools as long as they meet basic curriculum requirements.  Schooling is constitutionally mandated, and homeschooling, including for religious reasons, is prohibited in all states.

The government provides annual payments to Holocaust victims and their descendants, and regularly expands the scope of these programs to broaden the eligibility requirements.

The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Government Practices

In May, then federal Interior Minister Horst Seehofer banned the Duesseldorf-based Muslim association Ansaar International and related suborganizations for financing terrorism and opposing the country’s constitutional order.  The NRW Office for the Protection of the Constitution (OPC, the state’s intelligence service) had been observing these organizations since 2013.  More than 1,000 officers were deployed in 10 states (Baden-Wuerttemberg, Bavaria, Berlin, Brandenburg, Hamburg, Hesse, Lower Saxony, North Rhine-Westphalia, Rhineland-Palatinate and Schleswig-Holstein) to enforce the ban.

In July, Hamburg’s domestic intelligence service announced that, based on new evidence, it would officially classify the IZH as an organization that is not independent, but rather one that “receives and depends on direct orders from Tehran.”  The IZH challenged this and previous claims in court; a verdict was pending at year’s end.  Hamburg opposition parties and civil society actors continued to advocate an end to Hamburg’s formal relationship with the IZH, which they said was an important Iranian regime asset.

Federal and state OPCs continued to monitor numerous Muslim groups, including the U.S.-designated terrorist groups ISIS, Hizballah, and Hamas, as well as groups such as Turkish Hizballah, Hizb ut-Tahrir, Tablighi Jama’at, Millatu Ibrahim, the IZH, the Muslim Brotherhood, Milli Gorus, and various Salafist movements.

The OPC in Saxony continued to monitor two mosques it said were dominated by Salafists.

According to reports from the federal OPC and COS members, the federal OPC and the OPCs of six states – Baden-Wuerttemberg, Bavaria, Berlin, Bremen, Hamburg, Lower Saxony, NRW, and Saxony-Anhalt – continued to monitor the activities of the COS, reportedly by evaluating COS publications and members’ public activities to determine whether they violated the constitution.  At least four major political parties – the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), Christian Social Union (CSU), Social Democratic Party (SPD), and Free Democratic Party (FDP) – continued to exclude Scientologists from party membership.  “Sect filters,” signed statements by potential employees to confirm they had no contact with the COS, remained in use in the public and private sectors.

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

In speeches in September and October, then Chancellor Merkel expressed regret that expressions of public antisemitism had increased in the country and said the country would expend great strength to resist it.  At the presentation of a prize for tolerance in September, she stated that support for Jewish life was a special obligation of the government and that the country would not tolerate racism, antisemitism, or hate directed at a group of persons.  She also acknowledged a strong increase in antisemitic acts in 2020 and expressed concern that antisemitism was becoming bolder and more open than before.

In August, the federal government announced it would spend an additional 12 million euros ($13.61 million) on research networks focusing on antisemitism between 2021 and 2024, complementing the one billion euros ($1.13 billion) in spending already planned for 89 measures against right-wing extremism, antisemitism, and racism during that period.  Then Education and Research Minister Anja Karliczek said the government wanted to invest millions in researching the causes of anti-Semitism in order “to efficiently fight” it, adding that there was reason to worry that the 2,351 cases of antisemitism reported in 2020 were “only the tip of the iceberg and that the unreported number of daily attacks on Jews is substantially higher.”

In July, the Duisburg public prosecutor’s office charged six law enforcement officers with sedition and spreading symbols of unconstitutional organizations by participating in right-wing extremist chat groups with names such as “Alphateam” and “Kunte Kinte.”  According to the NRW Interior Ministry, officers exchanged anti-Muslim content in the groups, including praise for the 2019 anti-Muslim attacks at mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand.  The groups had been found entered into an officer’s phone in September 2020.  Investigations against seven other accused members of the chat groups were dropped due to statutes of limitation or lack of sufficient evidence.  Investigations continued in 13 other cases, all involving law enforcement officers.  In September, the NRW Interior Ministry’s unit examining police right-wing extremism published its report of conclusions, in which it recommended 18 separate measures to fight right-wing extremism within the police.

In June, Frankfurt prosecutors launched investigations of 20 members of the city’s elite police special forces (SEK) for exchanging right-wing extremist material in a chat group, including material venerating Nazi organizations and expressing hate against minority groups.  On August 26, Hesse Interior Minister Peter Beuth dissolved the Frankfurt SEK and announced a statewide reorganization of SEK units.  Investigations against a majority of the officers continued at year’s end, but investigations of two superior officers for failing to report the activity were closed.  Frankfurt Police president Gerhard Bereswill said in September that parts of the city’s police force would be reformed to address antisemitic tendencies and other discriminatory attitudes within it.

In July, the chair of the Central Council of Muslims in Germany, Ayman Mazyek, and other representatives of the Muslim community said that military chaplains were not available to the estimated 3,000 Muslim soldiers who “put their heads on the line for Germany.”  The Ministry of Defense said that the lack of an umbrella organization for Muslims with which the ministry could negotiate made it difficult to appoint imams as chaplains.

In June, the Bundeswehr (military) appointed its first military rabbi, the first of up to 10 rabbis scheduled to serve the 150-300 Jews in the armed forces.  The Central Council of Jews in Germany and leading politicians of all major parties welcomed the move.

According to the Rhineland-Palatinate Ministry of Justice, the state employed four Muslim prison chaplains, all of whom are state employees and had to pass a multistep recruitment process.  The states of Hesse, Rhineland-Palatinate, and Bavaria also employed Muslim chaplains, according to media reports, and in Lower Saxony, 11 Muslim chaplains worked for the prison system on a freelance basis.

In May, the Stuttgart Administrative Court decided in favor of the Wuerttemberg EKD, ruling that the federal government’s COVID-19 restrictions for areas with high infection rates did not apply to church funerals.  The EKD had argued in April that church funerals were religious services, not private events, and should therefore be exempt from the 30-person attendance limit mandated by the COVID-19 regulations.  The court also found that the federal regulation constituted an infringement on religious freedom.

Religious groups, including the Coordination Council of Muslims, whose members included the country’s largest Muslim organizations, expressed concern that authorities might restrict civil servants from wearing headscarves or other religious symbols after the law allowing such restrictions in some circumstances came into effect in July.

On March 22-23, then Chancellor Merkel and the minister-presidents (governors) of the 16 states decided the government would ask churches to cancel in-person Easter services on April 4 as part of heightened COVID-19 restrictions during a five-day “quiet period” of no in-person gatherings.  According to media reports, the Chancellor and minister-presidents did not consult with church leaders or government advisors on religious affairs before announcing the decision.  On March 24, following strong protests by the Catholic Church, the EKD, and business leaders, the federal government withdrew the plan for the quiet period.  The government, however, still encouraged churches to avoid in-person Easter services.

In April, NRW Interior Minister Herbert Reul suggested that religious congregations suspend in-person services due to the COVID-19 pandemic.  The suggestion followed a COVID-19 outbreak at a church in Euskirchen.  Religious groups followed strict social distancing rules for in-person worship but also offered virtual and drive-in services.

Also in April, local officials and mayors across NRW encouraged Muslims to celebrate Ramadan virtually, as large gatherings were prohibited due to COVID-19 regulations.  To comply with social distancing regulations, many mosques offered in-person services for smaller numbers of participants, as well as online prayers.

In August, the NRW state government established a reporting office for antisemitic incidents that do not rise to the level of criminal charges.  The North Rhein State Association of Jewish Communities temporarily administered the office until the government could establish a new organization.

In March, the city of Cologne established a reporting and documentation office for antisemitic incidents at its National Socialist Documentation Center that it said would coordinate its efforts with similar institutions at the state and national level.

In April, the Hamburg government appointed Stefan Hensel, the local chair of the German Israeli Society (DIG), as the city-state’s first independent antisemitism commissioner.  Hensel’s three-year term began on July 1.  Hamburg’s largest Jewish congregation, led by Chief Rabbi Shlomo Bistritzky, as well as the smaller Liberal Jewish Community, endorsed the appointment.  Hensel stated that he was committed to fighting both antisemitism and anti-Zionism, adding that the city should appreciate Hamburg Jews as modern citizens.

Bremen remained the only state in the country without an antisemitism commissioner.  In previous years, the deputy chair of the Jewish community in Bremen said the community preferred to address antisemitism and other issues of concern in an existing forum that included the mayor and president of the legislature.

In August, the government of Baden-Wuerttemberg announced that the annual budget of the state’s antisemitism commissioner would be doubled to more than 2.2 million euros ($2.49 million).

In January, the Baden-Wuerttemberg State Criminal Police Office and the state Interior Ministry announced a new prevention program called “Safe in Religious Communities” aimed at improving communication between law enforcement agencies and religious communities, while giving community representatives tools to safely organize events and identify extremism.  Police officers at regional headquarters were trained to act as liaisons to the Jewish and Muslim communities.  According to a press release by the Baden-Wuerttemberg government, more religious communities might be added at a later date.

On August 23, Baden-Wuerttemberg Interior Minister Thomas Strobl officially inaugurated the country’s first two police rabbis, Moshe Flomenmann from Loerrach and Shneur Trebnik from Ulm.  According to Strobl, the police rabbis would serve as counselors and points of contact for prospective and current police officers, as well as for community members.

In September, the Central Archive for the History of Jews in Germany reopened at a new location in Heidelberg.  The federal Ministry of the Interior funded the archive with 900,000 euros ($1.02 million) annually.

On October 7, the Berlin Administrative Court dismissed a lawsuit filed by two supporters of the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement in which they said the Bundestag had infringed upon their fundamental rights when it passed a resolution criticizing the BDS as antisemitic in 2019.

In May, the Moenchengladbach District Court of Appeals overturned a man’s eight-month suspended sentence imposed by a lower court for distributing the antisemitic manifesto of the 2019 Halle synagogue attacker online, and instead fined him 900 euros ($1,000).  The court stated it found the defendant’s claims that he had shared the manifesto only to mock its contents to be credible.

In May, the NRW Higher Administrative Court in Muenster rejected an exemption for a woman from Duesseldorf who wanted to drive a car while wearing a niqab.  The court cited the law prohibiting drivers from fully covering their face except for the eyes.  The decision could not be appealed.

According to a 2020 survey of state-level education ministries, the most recent available, more than 900 schools in the country offered Islamic religious instruction.  Almost 60,000 students took part in Islamic religious instruction in the school year 2019-20, an increase of 4,000 from the previous year.  Since 2017-18, approximately 35 schools had added Islamic religious instruction.

In May, the NRW Ministry of Education created a new commission to cooperate on Islamic religious instruction in public schools.

In July, the Wiesbaden Administrative Court ruled the Hesse state government had unlawfully ended cooperation with the Turkish-Islamic Union for Religious Affairs (DITIB) on Islamic religious education in public schools in April 2020.  The state government appealed the decision in August; the appeal was pending at the end of the year.

In the 2021-22 school year, 364 schools in Bavaria began offering Islamic religion courses, similar to existing religion courses on Christianity and Judaism.  All pupils in Bavaria must receive instruction in one of these religions, or an ethics course if courses in their religion are not available.  Approximately 100 Muslim instructors were expected to teach approximately 17,000 Muslim pupils, although demand for Islamic religion courses was much higher than 17,000, according to parents, schools, and education ministry officials.  Muslim communities complained that the state government, not the religious community, set the curriculum of the course.

In October, Saxony-Anhalt also began offering pupils Judaism instruction for the first time as a pilot project at an elementary school in Magdeburg.  Fourteen pupils enrolled in the course.

In April, the Mainz Administrative Court ruled that the 2019 closure of Rhineland-Palatinate’s only Islamic daycare center, the al-Nur center in Mainz, was lawful.  State authorities had closed the center, saying it was linked to the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafist organizations.

In May, the Sunni School Council Foundation, which oversees Islamic religious education in Baden-Wuerttemberg public schools, rejected the teaching license of Abdel-Hakim Ourghi, head of the Islamic Theology department at the University of Education in Freiburg.  While the foundation cited missing credentials as a reason for its decision, critics, including members of the Muslim community, academics, and politicians, accused it of trying to silence a prominent voice of a liberal interpretation of Islam.  The Baden-Wuerttemberg Ministry of Education and Cultural Affairs defended the decision, which could be appealed.

The government continued to subsidize some Jewish groups.  Based on an agreement between the federal government and the Central Council of Jews in Germany, the federal government contributed 13 million euros ($14.74 million) to help maintain Jewish cultural heritage and support integration and social work.  In addition, the federal government provided financial support to the Institute for Jewish Studies in Heidelberg, the Rabbi Seminar at the University of Potsdam, and the Leo Baeck Institute, an international group researching the history and culture of German Jewry.

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

In March, the Conference on Jewish Material Claims against Germany (also known as the Jewish Claims Conference) and the government announced an agreement to provide transitional payments to surviving spouses of Jewish victims of the Nazis who had been receiving a pension from the government.

In January, the Baden-Wuerttemberg state government signed a contract with the state’s Jewish communities to protect Jewish institutions and combat antisemitism.  The contract stipulated the state government would provide funds to protect Jewish facilities totaling one million euros ($1.13 million) in 2021 and 1.17 million euros ($1.33 million) in each of the ensuing three years, as well as 200,000 euros ($227,000) yearly for three years for the construction of a Jewish academy.

On April 22, the Dresden city council voted to establish a museum on the history of Jewish life in the states of Saxony, Saxony-Anhalt, and Thuringia and in Poland and the Czech Republic.

After many years of renovation, the Goerlitz synagogue reopened on July 12.  Consecrated 110 years earlier, it had survived the Nazi pogrom of November 1938 (also referred to as Kristallnacht) and been neglected during the German Democratic Republic period.  The federal government supported the construction with 2.8 million euros ($3.17 million).

Construction of Frankfurt’s Jewish Academy began in September.  The academy, due to open in 2024, would function, according to sponsors, as an intellectual center of Jewish life, philosophy, and culture.  The costs of construction, estimated at 34.5 million euros ($39.12 million), was to be shared by the federal government, the state of Hesse, the city of Frankfurt, and the Central Council of Jews in Germany.

In September, the city of Frankfurt and its Jewish community signed an extension to the contract that governs cooperation between them.  The contract stipulated the city would provide an additional one million euros ($1.13 million) for the protection and security of the Jewish community, starting with the 2022 fiscal year.

According to media reports and the Humanistic Union, an organization that describes its mission as working to protect and enforce civil rights, including the right to free development of the personality, total state government contributions during the year to the Catholic Church and the EKD totaled approximately 581 million euros ($658.73 million).  The union said it calculated its estimate based on budgets of the 16 states.  The Humanistic Union advocates the abolition of state church privileges such as faith-based religious education as a regular school subject, collection of church taxes, and other financial aid to religious groups.

On June 16, the country’s first publicly funded Islamic seminary opened in Osnabrueck with a class of 50 students.  Five Muslim federations, including the Central Council of Muslims in Germany and the Muslim Community of Lower Saxony, founded the seminary.  A commission of their representatives sets the curriculum, which is taught in German.  The federal and Lower Saxony governments committed to provide 5.5 million euros ($6.24 million) in funding to the school over five years.

The government continued the German Islam Conference dialogue with Muslims in the country.  The dialogue’s stated aim was to improve the religious and social participation of the Muslim population, give greater recognition to Muslims’ contributions to society, and – in the absence of a central organization representing all Muslims in the country – further develop partnerships between the government and Muslim organizations.  Among the specific outcomes of the dialogue were the April publication of a large study on Muslim life in the country that included new official estimates of the size of the Muslim population, the first in years; a May conference on young Muslims’ perspectives on issues affecting Islam in the country; the establishment of an Islamic seminary in Osnabrueck in June, including government funding for it; and support for efforts to inform the Muslim community about the COVID-19 pandemic throughout the year.

The country is a member of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance and held the organization’s chairmanship for the year ending March 31.


Executive Summary

The constitution states freedom of religious conscience is inviolable and provides for freedom of worship, with some restrictions.  It recognizes Greek Orthodoxy as the “prevailing religion.”  On July 1, national police arrested and jailed Christos Pappas, the fugitive former deputy leader of Golden Dawn, commonly characterized as a neo-Nazi political party, who had been a fugitive since he was sentenced to 13 years in prison in October 2020.  Parliament approved legislation on June 5 banning religious leaders of “known religions” (religious groups with at least one valid permit to operate a place of prayer or worship) from running for mayor or city councilor and candidates from using religious symbols as campaign emblems.  On February 17, parliament approved legislation increasing from seven to nine the number of members of the Athens Mosque Managing Committee, adding two additional representatives from Muslim communities in Athens.  During the year, a civil court approved the registration of an Old Calendarist Christian group as a religious legal entity.  The government issued seven permits for houses of prayer, four of which Muslim groups submitted, including a group of Bektashi (Sufi) Muslims in Evros, Thrace.  The remaining permits were granted to a group of evangelical Christians, a group of Pentecostal Christians, and to the Ethiopian Orthodox Church of Athens.  The government also approved the construction of a new church for evangelical Christians in in the northern town of Porotsani.  During the year, the Ministry of Education and Religious Affairs rejected at least three applications by Muslim groups to establish houses of prayer, including one each in Thessaloniki, Imathia (Central Macedonia Region), and Athens, on various administrative grounds.  Government authorities also revoked seven house of prayer permits – two at the request of the specific religious groups that held the permits.  In the other cases, the permits were revoked due to a lack of responsiveness, of space for worship, or of a religious leader.  On October 26, the Council of State, the country’s highest administrative court, annulled a 2017 ministerial decree allowing the ritual killing of animals during Islamic and Jewish ceremonies without anesthesia, stating the decree contradicted the constitution and European and domestic legislation.  On May 13 in Athens, the government opened the first government-funded mosque in Europe.  In September, the government announced it would distribute 4.5 million euros ($5.1 million) to religious groups to counter the COVID-19 pandemic’s negative impact.  Throughout the year, Alternate Foreign Minister Miltiadis Varvitsiotis publicly advocated for the return of the Thessaloniki Jewish community’s archives seized by Germany in World War II and subsequently transferred to Moscow.  In a December 8 meeting with Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced that Russia would return these archives to the Jewish Communities in Greece (KIS).  On May 24, parliament approved legislation allowing for a land exchange between the Railway Organization and the municipality of Thessaloniki for the construction of a Holocaust Memorial Museum, an exchange the city of Thessaloniki approved on June 4.  On June 23, by a joint initiative of the KIS Central Board and the Ministries of Defense and Culture, a commemorative plaque was placed at “Block 15” of the Haidari concentration camp in western Attica, where Jews, among others, were imprisoned and tortured during the Nazi occupation of Greece.  On April 1, the country assumed chairmanship of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA).

KIS continued to express concern regarding political cartoons and images in which political controversies were portrayed with the use of Jewish sacred symbols and Holocaust comparisons.  On January 18, KIS issued a statement protesting a sketch of the entrance to the Auschwitz concentration camp in a political cartoon arguing against an education bill regarding universities.  KIS called the cartoon, which appeared in a widely circulated newspaper on January 16, “a hideous and vulgar instrumentalization of the Holocaust for political purposes.”  At least three instances of antisemitic graffiti and vandalism were widely reported.  In addition to damage in March to a 115-foot mural at the Thessaloniki New Train Station honoring Holocaust victims carried out a few days after the creation of the mural, on August 5, vandals opened a grave and destroyed its headstone in the Jewish cemetery of Ioannina in the western region of Epirus.  On September 10, unidentified individuals vandalized a different grave at the same cemetery.  On January 10, vandals sprayed red paint on the facade of the cathedral in Heraklion, Crete.  In September, the Brussels-Based NGO Action and Protection League issued the results of its European antisemitism survey, which found that 25 percent of 1,000 respondents ages 18-25 in Greece said they had negative feeling toward Jews.

The U.S. Ambassador and other embassy and consulate general representatives met with Deputy Prime Minister Panagiotis Pikrammenos as well as with officials and representatives of the Ministry of Education and Religious Affairs and officials of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, including the Minister and the Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs, and the secretary general for religious affairs and governors to discuss Greece’s chairmanship of the IHRA and other religious freedom issues.  These included the ability of minority religious communities to establish houses of worship and the operation of the first public mosque in Athens, government action regarding the planned Holocaust Memorial Museum and Educational Center of Greece on Human Rights in Thessaloniki, and initiatives promoting interreligious dialogue, including the country’s IHRA chairmanship.  In outreach to contacts and meetings with government officials and religious leaders, including the head of the Greek Orthodox Church, U.S. government officials expressed concern regarding antisemitic and anti-Muslim acts and rhetoric and attacks on Orthodox churches.  On February 3, the Ambassador discussed the planned Holocaust Museum in Thessaloniki with the Deputy Prime Minister.  Three individuals working on religious issues in the country took part in digital leadership programs on interfaith dialogue and religious freedom and on countering Holocaust distortion and denial.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 10.6 million (midyear 2021).  According to research polls, 81 to 90 percent of the population identifies as Greek Orthodox, 4 to 15 percent atheist, and 2 percent Muslim.

Approximately 140,000 Muslims live in Thrace, according to government sources using 2011 data; they are largely descendants of the officially recognized Muslim minority according to the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne.  According to a Pew Research Center study released in November 2017, an additional 520,000 Muslims – mostly asylum seekers, refugees, and other migrants from Southeastern Europe, South and Southeast Asia, the Middle East, and North Africa – reside throughout the country, many clustered in communities by their countries of origin or in reception facilities.  Government sources estimate half reside in Athens.

Members of other religious communities that together constitute less than 5 percent of the population include Old Calendarist Orthodox, Catholics (mostly Roman Catholics and smaller numbers of Eastern Rite Catholics), Protestants, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Jews, members of polytheistic Hellenic religions, Scientologists, Baha’is, members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Sikhs, Seventh-day Adventists, Buddhists, and members of the International Society of Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON).  Independent and media sources estimate Ethiopian Orthodox number 2,500 and Assyrians less than 1,000.  According to the Armenian Orthodox Archbishop, interviewed in 2018, approximately 100,000 Armenian Orthodox live in the country.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution recognizes Greek Orthodoxy as the “prevailing religion.”  It states freedom of religious conscience is inviolable and provides for freedom of worship under the protection of the law, with some restrictions.  The constitution prohibits “proselytizing,” defined by law as “any direct or indirect attempt to intrude on the religious beliefs of a person of a different religious persuasion with the aim of undermining those beliefs through inducement, fraudulent means, or taking advantage of the other person’s inexperience, trust, need, low intellect, or naivete.”  The prohibition of proselytism is rarely enforced, entailing brief questioning or detentions, with no new cases reported since 2020.  The constitution prohibits worship that “disturbs public order or offends moral principles.”  It allows prosecutors to seize publications that “offend Christianity” or other “known religions,” which are defined as groups with at least one valid permit to operate a place of prayer or worship.  There is no publicly available list of “known religions,” but the Ministry for Education and Religious Affairs keeps a registry.

The law provides penalties of up to two years in prison for individuals who maliciously attempt to prevent or who intentionally disrupt a religious gathering for worship or a religious service, and for individuals engaging in “insulting action” inside a church or place of worship.  A 2019 amendment to the penal code abolishes articles criminalizing malicious blasphemy and religious insults.  The constitution enumerates the goals of public education, including “the development of religious conscience among citizens.”  Greek Orthodox priests and government-appointed muftis and imams in Thrace receive their salaries from the government.

The constitution states that ministers of all known religions are subject to the same state supervision and obligations to the state as clergy of the Greek Orthodox Church.  It states individuals are not exempt from their obligations to the state or from compliance with the law because of their religious convictions.

The Greek Orthodox Church, Jewish community, and Muslim minority of Thrace have long-held status as official, religious, public-law, legal entities.  The Catholic Church, Anglican Church, two evangelical Christian groups, and the Ethiopian, Coptic, Armenian Apostolic, and Assyrian Orthodox Churches acquired the status of religious legal entities under a 2014 law.  The same law also allows groups seeking recognition to become “religious legal entities” under civil law.

The recognition process requires filing a request with the civil courts, providing documents proving the group has “open rituals and no secret doctrines,” supplying a list of 300 signatory members who do not adhere to other religious groups, demonstrating there is a leader who is legally in the country and is otherwise qualified, and showing their practices do not pose a threat to public order.  Once a civil court recognizes a group, it sends a notification to the Secretariat General for Religions.  Under the law, all religious officials of known religions and official religious legal entities, including the Greek Orthodox Church, the muftiates of Thrace, and the Jewish communities, must register in the electronic database maintained by the Ministry of Education and Religious Affairs.

The law also provides a second method for groups to obtain government recognition:  any religious group that has obtained at least one valid permit to operate a place of prayer or worship is considered a “known religion” and acquires legal protection, including a tax exemption for property used for religious purposes.  The terms houses or places of prayer or worship are used interchangeably; it is at the discretion of a religious group to determine its term of preference.  Membership requirements for house of prayer permits differ from the requirements for religious legal entities.  Local urban planning departments in charge of monitoring and enforcing public health and safety regulations certify that facilities designated to operate as places of worship fulfill the necessary standards.  Once a house of worship receives the required approvals, the religious group must submit a description of its basic principles and rituals and a biography of the religious minister or leader to the Ministry of Education and Religious Affairs for final approval.  The application for a house of prayer or worship permit requires at least five signatory group members.  The leaders of a religious group applying for a house of prayer permit must be Greek citizens, EU nationals, or legal residents of the country and must possess other professional qualifications, including relevant education and experience.  A separate permit is required for each physical location.

A religious group qualifying as a religious legal entity may transfer property and administer houses of prayer or worship, private schools, charitable institutions, and other nonprofit entities.  Some religious groups have opted to retain their status as civil society nonprofit associations acquired through court recognition prior to the 2014 law.  Under this status, religious groups may operate houses of prayer and benefit from real estate property tax exemptions, but they may face administrative and fiscal difficulties in transferring property and in operating private schools, charitable institutions, and other nonprofit entities.

All recognized religious groups are subject to taxation on property used for nonreligious purposes.  Property used solely for religious purposes is exempt from taxation, as well as from municipal fees.

The law allows religious communities without status as legal entities to appear before administrative and civil courts as plaintiffs or defendants.

The 1923 Treaty of Lausanne accords the recognized Muslim minority of Thrace the right to administer and maintain mosques and social and charitable organizations.  A 1991 law authorizes the government, in consultation with a committee of Muslim leaders, to appoint three muftis in Thrace to 10-year terms of office, which may be extended.  The law also allows a regional official to appoint temporary acting muftis until this committee convenes.  The law mandates that official muftis in Thrace must request notarized consent from all parties wishing to adjudicate a family matter (marriage, divorce, child custody, alimony, or inheritance) based on sharia, or Islamic law.  Decisions issued by the muftis are subject to ratification by first instance courts.  Absent notarized consent from all parties, family matters fall under the jurisdiction of civil courts.  The law also provides for the Ministry of Education and Religious Affairs to assume all operating expenses for the muftiates in Thrace, under the supervision of the Ministry of Finance Directorate General for Fiscal Monitoring.

The law establishes an individual’s right to choose his or her burial or cremation location and mandates that death certificates detail this information.  In the presence of a notary, individuals may designate the location and method of funeral service under conditions that adhere to public order, hygiene, or moral ethics, as well as designate a person responsible for carrying out funeral preferences.

Home schooling of children is generally not permitted.  The law requires all children to attend 11 years of compulsory education in state or private schools, including two years of preschool education (ages four to six), in accordance with the official school curriculum.  Religious instruction, mainly Greek Orthodox teaching, is included in the curricula for primary and secondary schools.  Primary schools cover grades one to six, while secondary schools include three years of middle school and three years of high school.  Non-Orthodox students may be exempted from religious instruction with a parent’s or guardian’s submission of a document citing religious consciousness grounds, according to regulations issued by decree during the year.  Exempted students may attend classes with different subject matter during that time.  Under legislation passed in 2020, secondary schools no longer list their students’ religion and nationality on transcripts.

The law provides for optional Islamic religious instruction in public schools in Thrace for the recognized Muslim minority and optional Catholic religious instruction in public schools on the islands of Tinos and Syros.  The law also includes provisions to make it easier for schools to hire and retain religious instructors for those optional courses.

By law, any educational facility with fewer than nine students must temporarily suspend operations, with students referred to neighboring schools.

The law allows Muslim students in primary and secondary schools throughout the country to be absent for two days each for Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha.

According to the law, parents may send their children to private religious schools.  Private Orthodox, Catholic, and Jewish schools operate in the country.  As per the Lausanne Treaty, the government operates bilingual secular schools in Thrace.  Bilingual schools operate in Greek and Turkish, and their number may vary according to the number of registered students, with a minimum of nine per school.  There are two Islamic religious schools in Thrace for grades seven to 12.  In addition, Muslim students in Thrace wishing to study the Quran may attend after-hours religious classes in mosques with teachers paid by the Turkish Consulate in Komotini.  Bilingual schools in Thrace, in addition to other official holidays, also observe Islamic holidays.

The law establishes an annual 0.5 percent quota for admission of students from the recognized Muslim minority in Thrace to universities, technical institutes, and civil service positions.  Parliament approved legislation on January 15 designed to modernize the public-sector hiring system.  The law requires that 0.5 percent of job openings with an unspecified contract length be allocated to members of the Muslim minority in Thrace.  Similarly, 2 percent of students entering the national fire brigade school and academy are required to be from the Muslim minority in Thrace.

The law provides for alternative forms of mandatory service for religious conscientious objectors in lieu of the 12-month mandatory minimum military service for men.  Conscientious objectors must serve 15 months of alternative service in state hospitals or municipal and public services.  The law, among other provisions, requires the state to cover expenses for the transportation of conscientious objectors; provides an additional five-day parental leave per child for conscientious objectors who are fathers; protects the return of conscientious objectors to their previous employment after civilian service; and defines 33 as the age after which a conscientious objector may buy off the greatest part of civilian service.

According to what is commonly referred to as the “antiracist” law, individuals or legal entities convicted of incitement to violence, discrimination, or hatred based on religion, among other factors, may be sentenced to prison terms of between three months and three years and fined 5,000 to 20,000 euros ($5,700-$22,700).  Violators convicted of other crimes motivated by religion may be sentenced to an additional six months to three years, with fines doubled.  The law criminalizes approval, trivialization, or malicious denial of the Holocaust and “crimes of Nazism” if that behavior leads to incitement of violence or hatred or has a threatening or abusive nature toward groups of individuals.  A law, passed by parliament in June, prohibits individuals convicted of several specific felony crimes – including but not explicitly referencing those committed by imprisoned leaders from the Golden Dawn Party – from holding important party positions, such as president, secretary general, legal representative, or member of the administrative committee of a party or a coalition of parties during their sentence.  The law prevents any parties led by convicted felons from purchasing advertisements on radio and television during an election campaign.

The law requires all civil servants, including cabinet and parliament members, to take an oath before entering office; individuals are free to take a religious or secular oath in accordance with their beliefs.  Parliament approved legislation on June 5 banning religious leaders of known religions, in addition to judges and other public officials, from running for mayor or city counselor.  The same law also bans the use of religious symbols as emblems of candidate mayors and city counselors.  Through a separate provision in the same law, elected members of city and district councils are required to take a religious oath, in accordance with their faith, in the presence of religious leaders who are officially registered with the Ministry of Education and Religious Affairs.  A civil declaration remains an option for those who do not wish to take a religious oath.

The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Government Practices

On July 1, in Athens, national police arrested and jailed Christos Pappas, the fugitive former deputy leader of the Golden Dawn Party, which a court ruled a criminal organization and found responsible for orchestrated attacks against perceived outsiders, including Muslims and Jews, in 2020.  Pappas had been a fugitive since October 2020, when he was sentenced to 13 years in prison in a landmark trial that resulted in lengthy sentences for more than 50 Golden Dawn-associated defendants.  He was convicted of running a criminal organization, murder, assault, and possession of illegal weapons.

On October 7, Domokos Prison’s judicial council banned Ilias Kasidiaris, a former leader of Golden Dawn and former member of parliament, from making telephone calls from prison to outsiders.  The council ruled that Kasidiaris used the prison’s telephone to record speeches designed to incite his supporters to hatred.  The council decided Kasidiaris could maintain telephone communication only with individuals formally permitted to visit him in prison, including relatives and lawyers.

On February 19, an appeals court in Thessaloniki reduced the sentence of a medical doctor who in 2014 hung a sign in his office, stating “Jews not wanted” in German.  The court had initially sentenced him to a 14-month suspended term but reduced it to nine months based on his behavior afterward.

On October 18, a judicial council decided that Giorgos Patelis, a leading member of Golden Dawn, should be released, pending appeal, after serving just one year of his 10-year sentence because his son was facing mental health problems.  Patelis, who was the leader of Golden Dawn’s chapter in the Piraeus suburb of Nikaia, was convicted of taking part in a criminal organization and complicity in the killing of antifascist rapper Pavlos Fyssas in 2013.  Patelis was sentenced in October 2020.  Prosecutors and human rights groups condemned the decision.  On November 3, a Supreme Court vice prosecutor revoked the decision, and as of year’s end, Patelis remained in prison.

During the year, a civil court approved the registration of an Old Calendarist Christian group as a religious legal entity under the name “Holy Diocese of Talantio and Lokrida.”

On April 17, parliament approved legislation extending the term of all managing boards of Jewish communities until June 30.  Many terms had expired or were due to expire during the COVID-19 pandemic winter and spring lockdown periods.  Jewish community leaders said they appreciated the legislation because it helped the boards continue to operate and conduct transactions.

Groups lacking religious-entity status and without a house of prayer permit that had not applied for a house of worship permit, including Scientologists and ISKCON, continued to function as registered, nonprofit, civil law organizations.  The government did not legally recognize weddings conducted by members of these groups, who, if they wished to be officially recognized as couples, could pursue a civil wedding or civil partnership union.

On May 7, media reported on a local court that ruled, for the first time, that atheism should be listed among the vulnerability criteria when asylum seekers seek international protection.  The court ruling came in the case of a Pakistani man who faced a death sentence in his homeland due to his atheism.

Five prayer sessions marking Eid al-Fitr took place on May 13 in Athens at the newly opened, first government-funded mosque in Europe.  Commemoration of the event took place outside due to social distancing requirements.  The imam, Mohammed Sissi Zaki, led the sessions.  Secretary General for Religious Affairs George Kalantzis attended a session, as did representatives of al-Azhar University in Egypt.  Because of the COVID-29 pandemic, the government said it could not yet officially inaugurate the mosque; however, the mosque held regular prayer sessions in accordance with social distancing and other measures for the countering of the pandemic, similar to other religious sites.  Parliament approved legislation on February 17 that increased the number of members of the Athens Mosque Managing Committee from seven to nine, adding two representatives from the Muslim communities in Athens.

Turkish-speaking members of the Muslim minority in Thrace continued to object to the government’s practice of appointing muftis, pressing instead for direct election of muftis by Muslims in Thrace.  The government continued to state that the appointments were appropriate because the constitution does not permit the election of judges and that the muftis retain judicial powers on family and inheritance matters as long as all parties sign a notarized consent stating they wish to follow sharia law instead of the civil courts.  During the year, government-appointed acting muftis continued to lead all three muftiates in Thrace.  Muslim minority members objected to the muftis’ appointment, stating that the limited and optional judicial powers of muftis were used by the government as an excuse for ignoring their call for direct election.

In parallel with the three official acting muftis, two unofficial muftis also continued to operate in Thrace, providing religious services to members of the Muslim minority; however, the government did not recognize services conducted by the unofficial muftis.  In letters to international organizations, unofficial muftis said they had faced charges for the unauthorized assumption of an official position on several occasions throughout the last decade.  While several such cases never reached the courts and others remained pending and were postponed further due to COVID-19, unofficial muftis reported a climate of longstanding harassment and persecution by the Greek authorities.  Government officials stated that even in the few cases in which unofficial muftis were convicted in court, they were only handed suspended prison sentences, with no prison time.

On February 2, according to media, the Ministry of Education and Religious Affairs rejected a petition filed in 2019 by the Cultural Association of Muslims of Macedonia and Thrace to establish a licensed Muslim house of prayer in Thessaloniki.  The ministry cited unmet technical requirements as the reason for the denial.  Applicants stated authorities did not allow them to use Ottoman-era mosques in Thessaloniki as alternative prayer sites.

Another group, the Educational, Cultural, Philanthropic and Philathletic Association of Greek Muslims in the Prefecture of Imathia, appealed to the Council of State regarding the Ministry of Education and Religious Affairs’ rejection of the group’s petition to establish an authorized Muslim house of prayer.  Ministerial services rejected the association’s petition, contending that the applicants had requested the licensing of a space far exceeding what would be used for prayer and worship.  The ministry responded that it had no authority to license facilities for uses other than prayer and worship.  The hearing of the appeal at the Council of State took place on April 13, but no ruling was issued by year’s end.

On March 23, the same authorities rejected a petition to establish an authorized Muslim house of prayer filed by a Muslim group in Athens on the grounds that it did not provide certified copies of the passports of the applicants, including the individual who would perform the religious services.  The group also failed to submit documentation on the safety of the building, including fire safety and sound insulation.

Government authorities revoked a total of seven house-of-prayer permits; two, involving a Buddhist center and an evangelical Christian house of prayer in Rethymno, Crete, were revoked on June 29 and July 19 respectively, at the request of the groups operating the facilities.  According to government authorities, in the other cases, they revoked the permit because the religious groups in charge of the houses of prayer (all Pentecostal Christian) did not respond to government communications, had insufficient space for worship, or lacked a religious leader.

During the year, the government approved seven house-of-prayer permits, four of which were submitted by Muslim religious groups.  On February 17 and on July 5, Ministry of Education and Religious Affairs authorities granted house-of-prayer permits to two separate Sunni Muslim religious groups, in central Athens and the district of Marousi, respectively.  On March 19, a religious group of Bektashi (Sufi) Muslims in Evros, Thrace, was granted its first house-of-prayer permit.  A Muslim religious group based in the district of Peristeri, western Athens, was authorized on April 16 to operate a house of prayer.  The remaining permits were granted to a group of evangelical Christians in Glyfada, Athens, on February 10, a group of Pentecostals in Komotini on March 5, and to the Ethiopian Orthodox Church of Athens on March 17.  On March 23, the government also approved plans for the construction of a new church for evangelical Christians in Porotsani.

On June 16, authorities certified the lawful operation of an Old Calendarist Christian church operating in the district of Nea Smyrni in southern Athens.  The church was constructed before 1955, at a time when building permits were not required.  The certification allowed the church to overcome bureaucratic obstacles, such as not having a building permit, which for years had prevented it from filing petitions for building restoration, repairs, or expansion.  Authorities issued another 25 similar certifications involving 13 synagogues throughout the country and 12 Catholic churches.

Turkish-speaking members of the Muslim minority in Thrace continued to object to the government’s appointment of members entrusted to oversee endowments, real estate, and charitable funds of the Islamic Community Trust (waqf), an Islamic endowment, stating the Muslim minority in Thrace should elect the members in accordance with the Lausanne and other treaties.

Muslim leaders continued to state that a lack of Islamic cemeteries outside Thrace obliged Muslims to transport their dead to Thrace for Islamic burials.  Leaders cited cases in which local government bodies refused to establish burial sites designated for Muslims only.  Government officials said that by law, local authorities administered cemeteries and that cemeteries could not be established or privately managed by faith-based groups, except for some Islamic cemeteries in Thrace that dated back to the Ottoman era.  Muslim leaders outside Thrace also continued to state that municipal cemetery regulations requiring the exhumation of bodies after three years due to a shortage of space contravened Islamic law.  At least three sites – on Lesvos Island, in Schisto (in the Athens metropolitan area), and near the land border with Turkey, in Evros – served unofficially as burial grounds for Muslim migrants and asylum seekers.

On October 26, the Council of State ruled that a ministerial decree issued in 2017 allowing the ritual killing of animals during Muslim and Jewish ceremonies without anesthesia was unlawful and contrary to the constitution and European and domestic legislation.  According to the ruling, which came in response to an appeal filed by the Panhellenic Animal Welfare and Environmental Federation, the issuing authority, the Ministry of Development and Foods, “did not try to strike a balance between its obligation to protect the animals… and the religious freedom of practicing Muslims and Jews living in Greece.”  The council annulled the decree on grounds that it violated laws regarding the welfare of animals and called on the Ministry of Agricultural Development and Food “to regulate slaughtering in a way that safeguards the protection of animals from hardship but safeguards religious freedoms for practicing Muslims and Jews living in Greece.”  The government did not issue a new decree by year’s end.  Jewish and Muslim community leaders reported that once the government issued a new decree, they would decide on a legal strategy to challenge it.  According to Abdulhalim Dede, founder of the Greek branch of the European Halal Certification Center and member of the World Halal Council, the decision to outlaw ritual slaughter eroded religious freedom, hurt local halal-related businesses, and increased the risk of unauthorized private, in-house animal slaughtering.

In accordance with the Lausanne Treaty of 1923, the government reported that it operated a total of 115 bilingual secular primary schools in 2020-21 in Thrace, compared with 123 in 2019-20.  Some minority representatives reported lower numbers of 115 (for the period 2019-20) and 103 (for the period 2020-21).  Although the government operation of bilingual secondary schools, grades seven to 12, is not required under the treaty, the government operated two.  Turkish-speaking representatives of the Muslim minority continued to state that the two bilingual middle schools – grades seven to nine – were insufficient to meet their needs and that the government continued to repeatedly ignore their formally submitted request to privately establish an additional minority secondary school and a private bilingual preschool, the latter covering children ages four to six.  The same representatives said the number of primary minority schools – grades one to six – continued to decrease, which the government attributed to the decreasing number of students, particularly in rural areas.  As per government statistics, there were 4,103 Muslim students attending primary education schools, 1,531 attending secondary-level minority schools, and 192 students enrolled in the two Islamic religious schools.  Government officials also noted that in 2017, both minority secondary schools, in Xanthi and in Komotini (both in the region of East Macedonia and Thrace), expanded with additional classrooms.

The government continued to fund a Chair of Jewish Studies at the Aristotle University in Thessaloniki and Holocaust education training for teachers, but government-funded educational trips for students, including to the Auschwitz concentration camp, remained suspended due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Ministry of Education and Religious Affairs continued to promote Holocaust education in schools, based on IHRA recommendations, as well as in cooperation with other countries, such as the United States, Israel, and North Macedonia.  The ministry, in cooperation with the Olga Lengyel Institute and the Jewish Museum of Greece, continued providing scholarships to 10 schools annually for implementing Holocaust-related educational projects.  Through these scholarships, beneficiary schools covered material needs, including for purchasing laptop computers and video recording equipment.

On April 25, in the context of Greece’s chairmanship of IHRA, the Ministry of Education and Religious Affairs, in cooperation with the United States Holocaust Museum and Memorial and Yad Vashem, coorganized a webinar for 100 teachers from Greece, the United States, and Israel on the subject of IHRA recommendations for teaching and learning about the Holocaust.  The Secretariat General for Religious Affairs, under the Ministry of Education and Religious Affairs, distributed a free version in Greek of the book Five Chimneys from the Olga Lengyel Institute to schoolteachers attending Holocaust-related educational seminars.

On various occasions, on social and other media, some individuals objected to what they said was the government’s allowing or tolerating some religious gatherings, including a processional on October 18 by Pakistani Muslim immigrants in Athens to celebrate the Prophet Muhammad’s birthday, while banning processionals by Orthodox Christians, citing COVID-19 restrictions.  Individuals made similar comments online on August 19, when authorities permitted Shia Muslims to proceed with an Ashura processional in the port city of Piraeus.

Some religious groups and human rights organizations continued to advocate for an equal length of required mandatory alternative service for conscientious objectors and required military service, stating any discrepancy was discriminatory.  In June 2020, the Council of State heard an appeal filed by five conscientious objectors challenging a decree by the Ministry of Defense establishing alternative service requirements longer than the military service requirement.  A decision remained pending at year’s end.  During the year, the government increased from nine to 12 months the basic military service requirement without altering the duration of the alternative service, which remained at 15 months.

Just after his August 31 appointment as Minister of Health, Thanos Plevris apologized for antisemitic comments he made in 2009.  This came after several groups, including KIS, called on him to apologize for pro-Nazi views expressed in the past and to condemn Holocaust deniers.  Plevris said he made the comments in his capacity as defense counsel for his father, Konstantinos Plevris, a Holocaust denier and leader of neo-Nazism in the country but stated he did not personally believe them.  In his apology, Plevris said, “My respect for the victims of the Holocaust of the Jews is absolute.  I am sure that my actions as health minister will alleviate even the slightest doubt about my beliefs, and my critics will realize that I harbor no antisemitic feelings.”

In early January, Archbishop of Athens and All Greece Ieronymos said during an interview on OPEN TV that Islam was not a religion, but a political movement.  Later in the same month, Ieronymos clarified that he was referring to the “perversion of the Muslim religion itself by extreme fundamentalists, who sow terror and death throughout the Universe,” and not to Islam overall.

According to Jewish leaders, the government continued to help the Jewish community of Thessaloniki in its efforts to recover archives found by Soviet troops in a castle in Lower Silesia, formerly part of Germany, following Germany’s defeat at the end of World War II.  On several occasions throughout the year, Alternate Foreign Minister Varvitsiotis publicly urged the return of these archives, now held in Moscow.  In his December 8 meeting with Prime Minister Mitsotakis, President Putin announced that Russia would initiate the process for returning these archives to KIS.

The government announced in a September 10 decree that it would distribute a total of 4.5 million euros ($5.1 million) to the Orthodox Church of Greece; KIS; waqf administrations overseeing licensed mosques in Thrace, Rhodes, and Kos; and to religious groups with the status of a known religion or religious legal entity.  The funds would be distributed in lump sums, offered as nontaxable assistance for addressing the pandemic’s negative impact, including reduced income and monetary contributions offered by the faithful to religious leaders and places of worship.  The funds, exceeding 1,000 euros ($1,100) in all cases, would be allocated in proportion to the number of places of worship operated by each group, with a minimum contribution of 1,000 euros per religious group.

The government continued to provide direct support to the Greek Orthodox Church, including funding clergy salaries, estimated at 200 million euros ($226.76 million) annually, the religious and vocational training of clergy, and religious instruction in schools.  The government provided the support in accordance with a series of legal agreements with past governments and as compensation for religious property expropriated by the state, according to Greek Orthodox and government officials.  The government also provided direct support to the three muftiates in Thrace, including salaries for the three official muftis and for teachers contracted to teach an optional class on Islam in local public schools.  The government also paid the salary of the imam of the new Athens public mosque and the salaries of Catholic teachers at the state schools of Tinos and Syros islands.

Government officials publicly denounced the vandalism of Jewish sites, including a mural in Thessaloniki commemorating the Holocaust vandalized in March.  In a statement issued on March 18, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs condemned the damage while expressing its “abhorrence of any actions that insult the memory of the victims of Nazi barbarity” and underscoring “the importance of rejecting racism, hatred and fanaticism, and the need to defend moral values.”

On May 24, parliament approved legislation allowing for an exchange of land between the Railway Organization and the Municipality of Thessaloniki to pave the way for the construction of a Holocaust Memorial Museum.  The board of the city of Thessaloniki approved the exchange on June 4.

On June 23, through a joint initiative by KIS and the Ministries of Defense and Culture, a commemorative plaque was placed at “Block 15” of the Haidari concentration camp in western Attica, where Jews, in addition to prisoners of war and communists, were incarcerated and tortured during the Nazi occupation of Greece.  The plaque reads, “Thousands of Greek Jews from Athens, Arta, Thessaloniki, Corfu, Kos, Leros, Patras, Preveza, and Rhodes were imprisoned and tortured here until their deportation to Auschwitz and the other Nazi extermination camps in 1944.  Some of them took their dying breath here.”

On October 14, Minister of Infrastructure and Transport Costas Karamanlis unveiled a reconstructed monument to the Jews whom the Nazis sent to slave labor on the railway network of the Lianokladi-Karya area in the central region of the country.  The new monument, rebuilt by the Hellenic Railways Organization in cooperation with KIS, was located at a prominent place at the Lianokladi station dock.  The original monument – erected in 1988 – was probably destroyed during the renovation of the Lianokladi railway station, according to KIS.  In his remarks, Karamanlis stated, “It is our duty to honor the memory of our Jewish compatriots.  And of course, in our daily lives, it is our duty not to allow any national, religious, racial or other identity to divide us.  Everyone proudly bears their identity, but we always respect each other.  And all together, we create for the present and the future of our country.”

On January 27, Minister for Education and Religious Affairs Niki Kerameus issued a statement to mark Holocaust Remembrance Day.  Referring to the importance of remembering the Holocaust, including through education, she said, “Armed with our knowledge, we ensure the historical memory and the thorough study and teaching of these events, so that no crack is ever left open again, which will [would] allow the revival of fascism, Nazism, antisemitism, intolerance.”

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs posted a tweet on the Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes’ Remembrance Day (Yom Hashoah): “We join everyone marking Yom HaShoah to remember the millions of lives lost in the Holocaust.  We honor the victims by keeping the memory of the Holocaust alive and by continuing to learn and educate younger generations so that humanity never again experiences such atrocities,”

Greece assumed the IHRA chairmanship on April 1.  In a November interview with Greek diaspora newspaper The National Herald, IHRA Chair Ambassador Chris Lazaris said the central theme of the country’s chairmanship was “teaching and learning about the Holocaust:  education for a world without genocide ever again,” supplemented by the theme of “Combating Holocaust Denial and Distortion on the Internet.”


Executive Summary

The Fundamental Law, the country’s constitution, provides for freedom of religion, including freedom to choose, change, or manifest religion or belief, cites “the role of Christianity” in “preserving nationhood,” and values “various religious traditions.”  The Law prohibits religious discrimination and speech violating the dignity of any religious community and stipulates the autonomy of religious communities.  There are four tiers of religious groups, all of which may receive state funding and income tax allocations from taxpayers, provided they have concluded cooperation agreements with the state.  In January, the government informed the World Jewish Restitution Organization (WJRO) that it was “no longer possible” to pay restitution for heirless Jewish property.  The WJRO and the government resumed discussions on the issue in October.  The Church of Scientology (COS) said the Data Protection Authority (DPA) raided its office in Budapest and confiscated its files, and the National Tax Authority (NAV) raided the homes of COS members in a criminal case involving alleged tax fraud.  The Constitutional Court rejected a COS appeal related to the seizure of documents from the COS office in 2017.  In June, a court ordered a newspaper to pay a Member of Parliament (MP) from the Christian Democratic People’s Party compensation and issue an apology for publishing a satirical cartoon of the government’s chief medical officer and the crucified Jesus.  The newspaper published the apology but said it had asked the Supreme Court to review the decision.  Senior government officials, including Prime Minister (PM) Viktor Orban, continued to make statements in defense of what they called a “Christian Europe” and against Muslim immigration.  In September, Orban said present-day migrants were “all Muslims” who changed the cultural identity of Europe.  Other politicians made antisemitic and anti-Muslim statements.

The Action and Protection Foundation, which monitors antisemitism, reported 30 antisemitic incidents in 2020, compared with 35 incidents in the previous year. These were six cases of vandalism, one threat, one case of discrimination, and 22 cases of hate speech.  In September, the Brussels-based NGO Action and Protection League issued the results of its European antisemitism survey, which found that 13 percent of 1,000 respondents ages 18-75 in Hungary said they had negative feelings towards Jews.  Muslim leaders said that physical assaults against Muslims were rare, but verbal insults were frequent, and there were cases of anti-Muslim discrimination.  In June, a soccer fan affiliated with Kispest, a Budapest Honved football club, posted a photo on social media with a text that ended, “Heil Hitler.”  In September, independent media reported that Kispest Youth, also called Militant Jugend Kispest, painted swastikas and 88 (a common symbol for “Heil Hitler,” as H is the eighth letter of the alphabet) onto buildings in the Kispest district and wore red-white-black shirts with swastikas on photos that were posted on social media.

In meetings and discussions with the government, including officials from the PMO in charge of church and Jewish issues, the Charge d’Affaires and embassy representatives advocated for restitution of heirless Jewish property seized during the Holocaust and discussed provisions of the religion law, including the registration process for religious groups.  In June, the Charge d’Affaires dedicated a room in the embassy building to the memory of Carl Lutz, credited with saving the lives of over 62,000 Hungarian Jews.  The embassy maintained regular contact with leaders of various religious communities, including the four historical groups, as well as Muslims, the COS, and religious groups that lost incorporated church status in 2011, such as MET, Bet Orim, and Sim Shalom, to understand their concerns.  During these discussions, embassy officials discussed the effects of the religion law, antisemitism, and anti-Muslim rhetoric.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 9.7 million (midyear 2021). According to the 2011 national census (the 2021 census was postponed because of COVID-19), which included an optional question on religious affiliation, of the 73 percent of the population that responded, 51 percent identified as Roman Catholic, 16 percent as Hungarian Reformed Church (Calvinist), 3 percent as Lutheran, 2 percent as Greek Catholic, and less than 1 percent as Jewish; 23 percent reported no religious affiliation; and 2 percent said they were atheists.  Other religious groups together constituting less than 5 percent of the population include Greek Orthodox, the Faith Congregation (a Pentecostal group), the COS, Russian and other Orthodox Christian groups, other Christian denominations, Buddhists, Muslims, and the Hungarian Society for Krishna Consciousness.  The Hungarian Evangelical Fellowship (MET or the Hungarian Evangelical Brotherhood) has approximately 8,500 members, according to a 2013 news report, and the Hungarian Pentecostal Church approximately 9,300 members, according to the 2011 census.  Local Jewish organizations estimate approximately 100,000 citizens with Jewish heritage live in the country, primarily in Budapest.  Other religious groups are distributed throughout the country.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The Fundamental Law, the country’s constitution, provides for freedom of conscience and religion, including freedom to choose or change religion or belief, and freedom – alone or in community with others and in public or in private – to manifest religion or belief through religious acts or ceremonies, or in any other way, in worship, practice, and observance.  It prohibits religious discrimination, as well as speech “aimed at violating the dignity” of any religious community.

The constitution’s preamble states, “We recognize the role of Christianity” in preserving the nation and “value the various religious traditions” in the country.  The constitution stipulates separation between religious communities and the state, as well as the autonomy of religious communities.  According to the constitution, the state may, at the request of religious communities, cooperate with them on community goals.  A 2020 constitutional amendment states that children must be guaranteed an “upbringing based on values stemming from our country’s constitutional identity and Christian culture.”

Per a 2019 amendment to the 2011 law on religion, the law establishes a four-tier system of, in descending order, “established (or incorporated) churches,” “registered churches” (also called “registered II”), “listed churches” (also called “registered I”), and “religious associations.”  The term “church” in the law refers to any religious community, not just Christian ones, and religious groups in any category may use “church” in their official names.  All previously incorporated religious groups retained their status in the first tier of the system as established churches.  Parliament must approve recognition of churches as established.  The Budapest-Capital Regional Court has jurisdiction to rule on applications for registration within the other three categories.  Religious groups in all four tiers have legal personality, which grants them legal rights, such as the right to own property.

Religious entities that do not apply for legal status in one of the four tiers are still able to function and conduct worship but are not eligible to receive state funding or income tax contributions from taxpayers.  The law states constitutional protection of freedom of religion also applies to unregistered groups.

To qualify for established church status, a religious group must first have registered status and then conclude a comprehensive cooperation agreement with the state for the purpose of accomplishing community goals.  The government submits the comprehensive agreement to parliament, which must approve it by a two-thirds majority vote.  A registered church becomes an established church from the day parliament approves the comprehensive agreement.  Established churches are eligible to benefit from significant state subsidies for the performance of public service activities.

To qualify for registered church status, a religious group must have received tax allocations from an average of 4,000 persons per year in the five-year period prior to the application.  This status also requires that the group either have operated as a religious association for at least 20 years in the country, or at least 100 years internationally, or have operated as a listed church for at least 15 years in the country or at least 100 years internationally.

To qualify for listed church status, a religious group must receive tax allocations from an average of 1,000 persons per year in the three-year period prior to the application for status and have operated as a religious association for at least five years in the country or for at least 100 years internationally.

To qualify for religious association status, a religious group must have at least 10 members.

The law allows the government to negotiate individual cooperation agreements with all four tiers of religious groups for the performance of public service activities and support of faith-based activities.  The agreements’ duration depends on the status of the religious community, ranging from a five-year maximum for religious associations to 10 and 15 years for listed and registered churches, respectively, and unlimited duration for established churches.  These agreements may be prolonged.

Religious groups that agree not to seek state (including personal income tax allocations) or European Union (EU) funding for their religious activities may qualify as registered or listed churches without fulfilling the requirement regarding the number of personal income tax allocations.  The applicant religious community must perform primarily religious activities and may not be a criminal defendant or have been convicted of a crime during the previous five years, under sanction for “repeated violation of accounting and management rules,” or considered a national security threat.  The court decides whether to grant status as a registered or listed church based on an examination of the criteria above.  In reviewing these applications, the court may consult church law, church history, or ecclesiastical or academic experts, and may also seek the opinion of the national security services.

Religious groups that agree not to seek government or EU funding but accept financial support at a later stage must report it to the court within 15 days of the disbursement of the aid.  To avoid losing its status or a reclassification to the lower association tier, the religious group has eight days to declare to the court that it has returned the funds, requested cancellation of its religious registration status, or complied with the individual tax allocation requirement to become a registered or listed organization.  The religious group or prosecutor’s office may appeal the court’s decision on the status of the group to the Budapest-Capital Court of Appeal.

The law stipulates the minister responsible for church issues, based on information received from the court, shall manage an electronic database of religious groups with legal status, accessible to the public free of charge.  The database is publicly accessible at the government’s central webpage,

The law allows taxpayers to allocate 1 percent of their income taxes to any religious community in any of the four tiers, starting with the 2020 tax year. Religious groups may use these funds as they wish.  Only established and registered churches (the two highest tiers) are eligible to receive a state subsidy supplementing the 1 percent tax allocations.

According to the law, the Budapest-Capital Regional Court may dissolve a religious community with legal status – with the exception of established churches – if its activities conflict with the constitution or law or if the court rules its registration should have been denied.  Parliament may dissolve an incorporated church if the Constitutional Court finds it is operating in violation of the constitution.  If a religious community is dissolved without a legal successor, its assets, after satisfying creditors, become the property of the state and shall be used for public interest activities.

Thirty-two churches have established (previously known as “incorporated”) status.  These include the Roman Catholic church; a range of Protestant denominations; a range of Orthodox Christian groups; other Christian denominations such as The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Seventh-day Adventists, and the Salvation Army; three Jewish groups, the Federation of Hungarian Jewish Communities, Unified Hungarian Jewish Congregation (EMIH), and the Hungarian Autonomous Orthodox Jewish Community; two Muslim organizations; a Buddhist umbrella organization; and the Hungarian Society for Krishna Consciousness, the sole Hindu group registered as a church.

By law, the state may neither operate nor establish any institution for controlling or monitoring religious groups.  Their doctrines, internal regulations, and statutes are not subject to state review, modification, or enforcement.  Copyright law protects their names, symbols, and rites, while criminal law protects buildings and cemeteries.

The constitution establishes a unified system for the Office of the Commissioner for Fundamental Rights (ombudsperson).  The ombudsperson investigates cases related to violations of fundamental rights – including religious freedom – and initiates general or specific measures for their remedy.  These measures do not have the force of law.

Treaties with the Holy See regulate relations between the state and the Roman Catholic Church, including financing of public services and religious activities and settling claims for property seized by the state during the Communist era.  These treaties serve as a model for regulating state relations with other religious groups, although there are some differences in the rights and privileges the state accords to each of the religious groups with which it has agreements.  The state has also concluded formal agreements with the Hungarian Reformed Church, Hungarian Lutheran Church, Federation of Hungarian Jewish Communities (Mazsihisz), and four Orthodox churches.

According to the law, established, registered, and listed churches may perform pastoral services in prisons and hospitals.  Other laws indicate religious associations may also have the right to provide services at these facilities.

Military and law enforcement personnel may freely practice their religion in private and also at their workplaces if their religious practice does not violate their mandatory service duties.  The Roman Catholic, Reformed, and Lutheran Churches, and Jewish congregations (which the government generally calls “historical churches”) may provide chaplain services to the military without seeking permission.  Other religious groups must seek permission to offer such services.

Penitentiaries generally allow inmates free practice of religion and provide them with special diets, such as kosher, vegetarian, and pork-free meals.  Historical churches may provide pastoral services in prisons without special permission, but other religious groups may do so only within official visiting hours as outlined in individual agreements and with permission from the penitentiary.  Similarly, historical churches receive automatic access to patients in hospitals to provide pastoral services, while other groups may do so only under certain conditions, such as providing services only during visiting hours.

One hour per week of education in faith and ethics or general ethics is mandatory through the first eight grades of public school.  Parents and students choose between the faith and ethics class offered by an established church of their choosing or a secular ethics course taught by public school teachers.  Other religious groups are not entitled to provide religious education as part of the mandatory curricula in public schools but may offer extracurricular, optional religious education in public schools at the request of parents or students.  Private schools are not required to offer faith and ethics or general ethics classes.

All religious groups registered in one of the four categories have the right to open their own schools.  The state provides a subsidy, based on the number of students enrolled, for employee salaries at all such schools.  Only established churches automatically receive a supplementary subsidy for the schools’ operating expenses.  Other religious groups may apply for a supplementary operational subsidy, and the Ministry of Human Capacities (MHC) may sign an individualized contract with them to cover these costs.

The law also affords all religious groups with legal status the right to assume operation of public schools if more than 50 percent of the parents and adult students enrolled at the school sign a petition to do so and the MHC approves the change.  In these cases, the state may continue to fund the schools.  Whether newly established or converted from public status, religious schools are free to conduct their own religious teaching without government input and to make faith education mandatory and not substitutable with an ethics class.  The state inspects both religious and public schools every two years to ensure they conform to legal standards.

The constitution prohibits speech that violates the dignity of any religious community.  The law prohibits both incitement to violence and incitement to hatred against a religious community or its members, punishable by up to three years’ imprisonment.  The law provides a maximum punishment of three years in prison for impeding others through violence or threats from freely exercising their religion or abusing individuals because of their religious affiliation.

Assault motivated by the victim’s actual or presumed religious affiliation is a felony punishable by one to five years in prison.  Violence against a member of the clergy is classified as violence against an “individual providing public service” and is also punishable with a prison sentence of one to five years.  Any person who engages in preparation for the use of force against any member of a religious community is guilty of a misdemeanor punishable by imprisonment not exceeding two years.

The law prohibits public denial, expression of doubt, or minimization of the Holocaust, genocide, and other crimes against humanity committed by the National Socialist or Communist regimes, punishing such offenses with a maximum sentence of three years in prison.  The criminal code makes wearing, exhibiting, or promoting in public the swastika, the logo of the Nazi SS, or the symbol of the Arrow Cross – a fascist, antisemitic party that allied with Nazi Germany – in a way that harms the human dignity or the memory of Holocaust victims a misdemeanor, punishable by five to 90 days’ detention.

The law provides for the lifting of official immunity of an MP who incites hatred against religious groups or publicly denies crimes of the Communist or National Socialist regimes.  No MP has been the subject of such a proceeding.

The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Government Practices

During the year, the government provided 134 billion forints ($410.64 million) to established churches (compared with 216.4 billion forints – $663.15 million – during 2020), of which 91 percent – 122.3 billion forints ($374.79 million) – went to the four historical churches.  The Roman Catholic Church received 80 billion forints ($245.16 million), the Reformed Church 34.1 billion forints ($104.50 million), the Evangelical Church 5.2 billion forints ($15.94 million), Mazsihisz 2.2 billion forints ($6.74 million), EMIH 524 million forints ($1.61 million), and the Jewish Orthodox community 260 million forints ($797,000).  The religious groups that received the bulk of the government’s financial support used the funds for such activities as building maintenance; public educational and social services; religious instruction and cultural activities; community programs and investments; employee wages, and faith-based activities for citizens living abroad.

According to statistics the tax authority published on September 13, 136 churches and religious groups received 1 percent personal income tax allocations during the year.  As in previous years, the churches receiving the most allocations were the Roman Catholic Church, with 740,326 persons contributing 4.3 billion forints ($13.18 million); Hungarian Reformed Church, with 309,825 persons contributing 1.8 billion forints ($5.52 million); and Lutheran Church, with 82,701 persons contributing 508 million forints ($1.56 million).  The Hungarian Society for Krishna Consciousness ranked fourth, with 73,890 persons contributing 472 million forints ($1.45 million).  MET, which collected 1 percent personal income tax allocations for the first time since the 2011 modification of the religion law, ranked fifth, with 39,815 persons contributing 315 million forints ($965,000). Among Jewish groups, Mazsihisz received the largest allocation.

According to the PMO, during the 2021-2022 school year, churches or church-run higher educational institutions operated 19.6 percent of elementary and secondary schools (compared with 17.1 percent in 2019-20), and religious associations operated 0.4 percent.  Churches or church-run higher educational institutions operated 9.2 percent of preschools (with students aged three to seven), compared with 10 percent run by incorporated churches in the previous year, and religious associations operated 0.2 percent.  There were 217,169 students – 52.6 percent of whom were in Catholic schools – studying at preschools and elementary and secondary schools operated by churches and religious organizations, compared with 222,944 in the previous year.

Independent media reported in August that the government provided 10 billion forints ($30.64 million) to the preschool development program of the Roman Catholic Church during the year.  The government also allotted an additional 3.5 billion forints ($10.73 million) for educational development projects of the Reformed Church and the Catholic Churches.

For the school year beginning in September, the MHC withdrew complementary funding from MET’s educational institutions, attended by approximately 2,200 mostly Roma children.

Works of writers widely viewed as antisemitic, including member of the Arrow Cross Party Jozsef Nyiro and convicted war criminal Albert Wass, remained mandatory reading material in elementary and secondary public schools.

In a program broadcasted by public Kossuth Radio in March, a historian discussed the Numerus Clausus Law of 1920 and stated the law was not about the deprivation of rights, but only the limitation of rights.  The law, enacted under Regent Miklos Horthy, capped the number of Jews allowed to attend universities and is regarded by the Jewish community as the first antisemitic law in the country’s interwar period.  (Horthy was the leader of the World War II-era Hungarian state.  He allied the country with Nazi Germany and deported more than 400,000 Jews to Nazi death camps.)

In January, the first instance Budapest-Capital Regional Court rejected a complaint filed by MP and deputy faction leader of the Christian Democratic People’s Party Imre Vejkey regarding a cartoon by Gabor Papai published by the daily independent Nepszava in 2020.  The cartoon showed the chief medical officer, who oversaw the government’s COVID-19 pandemic response, looking at Jesus on the cross and saying, “his underlying conditions caused” his death.  According to media commenters, the cartoon satirized what critics viewed as the chief medical officer’s attempt to minimize the number of deaths in the country that were attributable to COVID-19.  The appeals court stated on June 3 that the cartoon infringed the plaintiff’s right to human dignity as a member of the Christian community.  The ruling also ordered the newspaper to pay 400,000 forints ($1,200) plus court costs to Vejkey and to publish an apology on the front page. The newspaper published the apology on June 25, but it announced on July 2 that it had requested the Supreme Court (Curia) to review the lower court’s decision.  At year’s end, there was no information on whether the Supreme Court had agreed to review the case.

On February 5, the Constitutional Court ruled in a seven-year-long case involving the cover page of independent weekly newspaper HVG, entitled “Nagy Haracsony” (a play on words with the terms “Great Christmas” and “great grab-all”).  The Constitutional Court ruled that the cover was protected by freedom of speech and was not intended to offend the Christian community.

In February, media reported a local municipality in Budapest did not extend a property use agreement with the town’s only Jewish broadcaster, Heti TV (Weekly TV).  The municipality said that due to financial difficulties, it intended to make the space available to bidders.  Station founder Peter Breuer criticized the move and the station continued to operate at a new location.

In March, Deputy PM Zsolt Semjen signed a cooperation agreement with the Hungarian Jewish Prayer Association (Zsima), a Jewish organization established in October 2020.  The agreement entailed state funding in the amount of 51 million forints ($156,000) annually until 2025.

The COS reported that on April 28, the DPA raided the storage facility of its Budapest mission and seized one-third of its religious files on its members.  The DPA confiscated the remaining folders on May 26.  These raids were the continuation of the DPA’s 2017 investigation into the COS’s alleged criminal abuse of personal data, in which the DPA seized COS documents at the group’s offices in in Budapest and Nyiregyhaza and fined the COS 40 million forints ($123,000).  The Constitutional Court rejected the appeals petition of the Nyiregyhaza COS mission of the DPA’s 2017 seizure of its documents, while a similar appeals petition of the Budapest COS mission remained pending at year’s end.

On May 27, the NAV raided the homes of dozens of COS members in a criminal case involving alleged tax fraud.  The NAV took four persons to its headquarters in handcuffs.  The COS also reported that the NAV put a lien on the building of the Central Church.  According to the COS, its appeals of government decisions to revoke the residence permit of a Russian Ukrainian missionary couple in 2019 and expel a Kazakh missionary in 2020 were unsuccessful and the decisions became final.

The list of religious associations and listed churches was available at a dedicated webpage maintained by the PMO.  Court decisions regarding the registration process for registered churches, listed churches, and religious associations were available at the central website of the courts,

The PMO reported that some religious groups were eligible for a simplified registration procedure.  Under the simplified procedure, religious groups did not need to establish the number of persons making income tax allocations to them in prior years or allocations from before 2012, the year when the religion law entered into force.  A total of 15 groups reapplied under the simplified procedure.  At year’s end, there were 234 groups registered as religious associations and 12 listed as churches, including 10 groups which had had applications pending before the amendment to the religion law entered into force in 2019.  According to the PMO, the Budapest-Capital Regional Court rejected two applications, and one remained pending.  The two rejected religious groups were registered as religious associations.  The number of established churches remained unchanged at 32.

The PMO also stated no religious groups qualified for registered church status during the year because they could not meet the requirement of receiving income tax allocations from an average of at least 4,000 persons per year in the previous five years, a period which could only begin in 2019 or later.  The number of registered churches therefore remained zero.  MET appealed the Budapest-Capital Regional Court’s decision to register it as a listed church and requested classification as a registered church.  That appeals process was ongoing at year’s end.

The Hungarian Civil Liberties Union (HCLU) – or TASZ in Hungarian – an NGO that represented some religious groups deregistered following the 2011 adoption of the religion law that established a new reregistration process and a tiered system for churches, reported it would not continue domestic or international legal challenges after the Constitutional Court in 2020 rejected its petition that the amended religion law was discriminatory and did not sufficiently address concerns related to its 2011 version.

The HCLU continued the monitoring of, and international advocacy for, the enforcement of the 2014 European Court of Human Rights ruling that the religion law violated freedom of religion and caused monetary damages to the deregistered churches.  The 2014 judgment required the government to reach an agreement with the applicant churches on the restoration of their status and on just compensation for any damages.  The HCLU said it was also assessing whether state financing for certain churches led to their overrepresentation in educational and social institutions, thereby compromising the state’s neutrality in religion.

In February, the NAV debited MET’s bank account for what it said were tax and social security arrears in the amount of approximately 250 million forints ($766,000).  MET’s leader, Pastor Gabor Ivanyi, stated MET would be able to pay its outstanding bills if the state would compensate it for damages sustained in 2016-2019 stemming from the group’s loss of church status.  The pastor added that losing its established church status had also made MET ineligible to receive a government supplement matching the 1 percent personal income tax allocations from Church members.  Separately, in September 2020, MET concluded an agreement with the state-owned utility company to delay payment of outstanding bills until April.  The company had threatened to disconnect MET’s institutions from the gas network in 2020 due to nonpayment.  MET stated that its deregistration as a state-recognized church in 2011 and state administrative measures against the Church in 2020 and 2021 were a retaliation for MET’s leader and Pastor Ivanyi’s public criticism and questioning of PM Orban’s claims that he governed by Christian principles.

The government concluded a research project it had been conducting for several years regarding the value of Jewish heirless and unclaimed property, but in January, in a letter addressed to the WJRO, the government stated for the first time that its 2007 settlement with the WJRO represented “definitive satisfaction of compensation claims” and that under the constitution adopted by the government in 2011, it was “no longer possible to pay restitution for any abandoned Jewish property, whether in or outside Hungary.”  The WJRO disagreed with the government position and sought further negotiations.  Discussions between the government and the WJRO on the compensation issue resumed in October, but by year’s end, the government had not proposed a negotiation roadmap or target date.

In April, Mazsihisz announced that two Orthodox Jewish groups, EMIH and the Hungarian Orthodox Jewish Community, had requested the revision of the government-paid restitution annuity for confiscated Jewish properties, and sued Mazsihisz at the Jerusalem Supreme Rabbinical Court.  In June, the court (which holds no legal jurisdiction in Hungary), in a nonbinding injunction, called on the government to freeze the payments until new criteria for the division of the annuity were defined.  At year’s end, the government had not changed the distribution of the restitution annuity.

According to the COS, the Csongrad County Government Office again failed to act on a certificate of occupancy application by the COS for its headquarters in Budapest.  The application had remained pending since 2017, despite a 2017 Budapest Administrative and Labor Court ruling that the county office process the COS’s application by March 2018.  The COS said it had received no explanation for the continued delay.  An extant court order allowed the COS to continue to use the building.

The Organization of Muslims in Hungary (OMH) reported that the municipality-owned Budapest Funeral Institute provided cemetery space for Muslims, but that Islamic burials required a permit issued by the Hungarian Islamic Community (HIC), the other Muslim organization, for which the HIC charged a fee of approximately 50,000 forints ($150).  OMH members expressed concerns about this practice.  Other than in the capital, OMH reported there was a limited amount of cemetery space in the city of Pecs.  The restoration of the state-owned Yakovali Hasan Mosque in Pecs, ongoing since 2019, remained pending, which prevented the local Muslim community from using the mosque as a place of worship.

On June 10, the renovated Rumbach Synagogue in Budapest – which served as a Jewish deportation point in 1941 – reopened as a place of worship and culture for the first time since the 1950s.  The government supported the renovation with 3.2 billion forints ($9.81 million).  Senior officials of the World Jewish Congress attended the opening ceremony.

On August 29, a ceremony marked the completion of the renovation of a Mazsihisz-operated Jewish hospital in Budapest.  Minister of Human Capacities Miklos Kasler stated at the opening ceremony that the government provided five billion forints ($15.32 million) for the reconstruction of the hospital as part of its efforts to ensure that hospitals run by faith-based groups played a significant role in the national healthcare system.  The facility was the only Jewish hospital in the country and served both Jewish and non-Jewish patients, some of whom were Holocaust survivors.

According to the OMH, Muslims serving prison sentences continued to receive meals containing pork meat or pork fat regularly, despite complaints that it violated their religious dietary practices.

On May 1, Fidesz cofounder and media personality Zsolt Bayer wrote in the government-aligned newspaper Magyar Nemzet that the U.S. Secretary of State, who has Hungarian ancestry, was a “rootless Hungarian” and a “rootless American,” which many interpreted as a classic antisemitic trope.  Bayer has a long history of antisemitic writings and statements.  He has high profile platforms on government-aligned media outlets and received a prestigious government award in 2016.

In June, Laszlo Toroczkai, president of the Mi Hazank (Our Homeland) Party, which is widely described as extreme right and has seats in parliament and in local municipalities, wrote that European nations should stand on their own feet and needed “neither Jews nor Palestinians.”  In August, he commemorated the members of Ragged Guard, a paramilitary unit active in the interwar period, whose leader Ivan Hejjas was responsible for killing and robbing hundreds of Jews.  On his social media channel, he said in October that certain influential businessmen and politicians with Jewish roots were using the COVID-19 pandemic to create a new world order.  In February, the deputy president of the Mi Hazank Party, Elod Novak, gave a speech at an event commemorating Regent Horthy.

In September, the Hungarian Baptist Church signed a cooperation agreement with the government to carry out religious, educational, social, and cultural activities.

On September 12, Prime Minister Orban met with Pope Francis, who celebrated the closing Mass of the International Eucharistic Congress, a week-long gathering of the Roman Catholic Church held in Budapest.  Following their meeting, PM Orban wrote on his Facebook page, “I asked Pope Francis not to let Christian Hungary perish.”

At an international conference on antisemitism and Holocaust remembrance on October 13 in Sweden, Minister for Family Affairs Katalin Novak said that [Holocaust] remembrance was “extremely important” for the government.  She called for a continuous fight against manifestations of antisemitism.

Government officials continued to make statements in defense of a “Christian Europe” and against Muslim immigration.  On September 1, PM Orban stated at the Bled Strategic Forum in Slovenia that present-day migrants were “all Muslims” who changed the cultural identity of Europe.  On September 9, he said at the opening of the academic year at the Mathias Corvinus Collegium, a private educational institution, that during the “Muslim flood [of immigrants],” the West was unable to confront its own historical mission.  On September 27, Orban stated at a church consecration, “Hungarians can only survive as Christians, and each new church is a bastion in the nation’s struggle for freedom and greatness.” He added that since 2010, there had been 150 new churches built and more than 3,000 churches renovated in the country and in the Carpathian basin (former Hungarian territories currently inhabited by ethnic Hungarians).

On October 14, head of the PMO Gergely Gulyas stated at a government-sponsored conference organized in the framework of the country’s Council of Europe presidency, “In Western Europe, we can no longer speak of Christian democracy in its original and Central European sense.”

In October, Peter Barnabas Farkas, deputy mayor in the town of Ozd and member of the Jobbik Party, resigned from his position after two photos of him from 2018 emerged in which he appeared to be giving a Nazi salute in front of the Holocaust Museum in Poland.  Farkas later apologized and visited the Holocaust Memorial Center in Budapest.

On October 23, the anniversary of the 1956 revolution, PM Orban accused the opposition of competing to represent the interests of a certain Jewish-American financier and the EU, who were aiming to “take Hungary from the hands of Mary and place it at the feet of Brussels.”

In November, the Chief Rabbi of EMIH, Slomo Koves, told press that the House of Fates, a proposed new Holocaust museum and education center in Budapest owned by EMIH, would likely be ready to open by 2024.  Leading Jewish groups and Holocaust scholars have criticized the museum concept as an attempt to obscure the role of the World War II-era Hungarian state and its leader, Miklos Horthy, in the Holocaust.

In a report on the instrumentalization of antisemitism in European politics issued in February, the Anti-Defamation League, an international NGO, stated the government used coded antisemitism in campaigns – beginning at the end of 2015 – against EU migration policies, following the arrival of more than a million migrants from the Middle East.  The report cited what it described as the government’s demonization of a well-known Jewish-American financier of Hungarian origin.

The country is a member of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance.


Executive Summary

The constitution guarantees freedom of religion and prohibits discrimination on the basis of religion.  It references Jesus Christ and God and stipulates the state shall respect religion.  From January until May, the government prohibited all in-person religious services as a COVID-19 mitigation measure and opened gradually thereafter until October, when it lifted all restrictions.  Church representatives generally supported the ban, although some individuals said it was inconsistent to ban religious services but keep certain essential businesses open.  There were continued reports that some school authorities in national Catholic schools continued to give preferential treatment to students for participating in religious activities and told parents that, contrary to law, their children could not opt out of religion classes.  Thirteen government-funded multidenominational national schools opened during the year.  In April, the government introduced a bill, pending before parliament at year’s end, that would make provision for hate crimes and impose a heavier penalty for offenses committed with a hate element based on, among other things, the religious identity of the victim.  In November, a member of parliament, referring to the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA)’s Working Definition of Antisemitism, said in the Dail (parliament) that Ireland should not sign up to a definition of antisemitism that did not allow for questioning Israel’s right to exist, when it was a “racist apartheid state.”  In January, Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Micheal Martin and other senior government officials participated virtually in the National Holocaust Day Memorial commemoration.

The NGO Irish Network Against Racism recorded 334 incidents of hate speech related to race and religion in 2020, of which 69 targeted Muslims and 23 targeted Jews.  In October, a researcher published a report documenting antisemitic content posted online by members of parliament and members of the public, and recommended the government adopt the IHRA Working Definition of Antisemitism.  The Workplace Relations Commission (WRC), an independent statutory body, reported it received 30 complaints of employment discrimination based on religion or belief in 2020, compared with 36 complaints in 2019.  On July 20, approximately 500 Muslims performed prayers at an interfaith celebration to mark Eid al-Adha in Dublin’s Croke Park.  Catholic, Protestant, and Jewish community leaders, as well as members of government, attended.

U.S. embassy officials discussed issues of discrimination and integration of religious minorities into the community with the government.  Embassy officials met with religious groups, secularist advocates, and NGOs to discuss their concerns over religious tolerance, secularism, and religion in the national school system.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 5.2 million (midyear 2021).  According to the 2016 census, the most recent, the population is approximately 78 percent Roman Catholic, 3 percent Church of Ireland (Anglican), 1 percent Muslim, 1 percent Orthodox Christian (including Greek, Russian, and Coptic Orthodox), 1 percent unspecified Christian, and 2 percent other religious groups, while 10 percent stated no religious affiliation, and 3 percent did not specify their religion.  There are small numbers of Presbyterians, Hindus, Apostolic Pentecostals, Pentecostals, and Jews.  The census estimates the Jewish population at 2,500.  The number of Christians and Muslims from sub-Saharan Africa, Muslims from North Africa and the Middle East, Muslims and Hindus from South Asia, and Orthodox Christians from Eastern Europe continues to grow, especially in larger urban areas.  NGOs such as Atheist Ireland and the Humanists Association of Ireland said the census overestimates religious affiliation by asking “What is your religion?” which they said was a leading question.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution provides for the free profession and practice of religion, subject to public order and morality.  The constitution references “the Most Holy Trinity” and “our divine Lord, Jesus Christ,” and stipulates the state shall hold the name of God in reverence and honor and respect religion.  The constitution requires the President, judges, and members of the Council of State to swear a religious oath, which begins with a reference to “Almighty God.”  It prohibits discrimination on the grounds of religion or belief and states, “The State guarantees not to endow any religion.”

The constitution stipulates every religious denomination has the right to manage its own affairs, own and acquire property, and maintain institutions for religious or charitable purposes.  It prohibits the diversion of property of any religious denomination except for necessary works of public utility and upon payment of compensation.  The constitution states legislation providing for government aid to schools shall not discriminate among schools under the management of different religious denominations nor affect the right of a child to attend any school receiving public money without attending religious instruction at that school.

A “statement of truth” may be used in civil proceedings in place of affidavits and statutory declarations sworn on a religious oath.  The document must contain a statement that the person making the statement of truth has an honest belief that the stated facts are true.  Religious oaths and affirmations are still required when a witness is giving oral evidence in court.  The statement of truth may not be used in criminal proceedings.

The law forbids incitement of others to hatred based on religion, among other categories, and carries a maximum penalty of up to two years’ imprisonment and a maximum fine of 25,400 euros ($28,800).  The law does not address or define hate crimes other than incitement of others, although a hate motive is an aggravating factor that judges may take into account on a discretionary basis at sentencing for any criminal offense.

There is no legal requirement for religious groups to register with the government, nor is there any formal mechanism for government recognition of a religious group.  Religious groups may apply to the Office of the Revenue Commissioners (the tax authority) as a charity to receive tax exemptions, and the groups must operate exclusively for charitable purposes, which under the law may include “the advancement of religion.”  The law requires all charitable organizations carrying out activities in the country to register with and provide certain information relating to their organization to the Charities Regulator, a government-appointed independent authority.  The regulator maintains a public register of charitable organizations and ensures their compliance with the law.  Organizations must apply their income and property solely toward the promotion of their main charitable object, as set out in their governing instruments (such as a constitution, memorandum and articles of association, deed of trust, or rules).

Under the law, individual medical professionals may opt out of participating in certain legal procedures, such as abortion, on conscience grounds; however, institutions may not refuse to perform such procedures.

Under the constitution, the Department of Education provides funding to privately owned and managed primary schools – most of which are affiliated with religious groups, particularly the Catholic Church – referred to as “national schools” or simply as primary schools.  Most children receive their elementary-level education at these privately owned schools.  The government pays most of the building and administrative costs, teachers’ salaries, and a set amount per pupil.

Denominational schools are under the patronage of a single religious community.  They provide religious education according to traditions, practices, and beliefs of the specified religious community.  Interdenominational schools are under the patronage or trusteeship of more than one faith community.  Such schools provide for a variety of religious education opportunities.  There are also two types of multidenominational schools at the primary school level:  schools that do not provide religious education as formation during the school day, but do provide education about religions and beliefs (parents/guardians may arrange for denominational religious education outside school hours in such schools); and schools that provide education about religions and also provide some faith formation for different denominations, depending on parental requests, during the school day.

Ninety percent of all national schools are Catholic, 6 percent Church of Ireland, 2 percent multidenominational, 1 percent other religious groups, and 1 percent not religiously affiliated.  Patrons, who are usually members of the religious groups and affiliated with religious organizations with which the school is associated, manage the schools themselves or appoint a board of management to do so.  Patrons often provide land for schools and contribute to building and administrative costs.

By law, Catholic national schools are not allowed to discriminate on religious grounds when making admissions decisions.  According to the law, national schools under the patronage of other religious groups may discriminate in admissions on religious grounds to preserve their distinct religious identities, but only in schools that are oversubscribed.  The law prohibits discrimination in admissions based on religious beliefs in secondary schools.

In funding schools, the constitution stipulates the state shall have due regard “for the rights of parents, especially in the matter of religious and moral formation.”  The government permits but does not require religious instruction, faith-based classes, or general religion classes in national schools.  Although religious instruction is part of the curriculum of most schools, parents may exempt their children from such instruction.  Religious schools teach about their religion while multidenominational schools generally teach about religion in a broader context.  Students may opt out and sit in a classroom where religious instruction is not being conducted.  The Catholic Church certifies teachers of religion classes in Catholic schools.

Approximately half of secondary schools are religiously affiliated.  The government funds religiously affiliated secondary schools.

Vocational schools are state run and nondenominational.

The WRC hears cases of reported workplace discrimination, including claims based on religion.  The WRC may refer cases for mediation, investigate these cases, or decide the case itself.  If the adjudicating officer finds there has been discrimination, he or she can order compensation for the effects of discrimination and/or corrective action.  Litigants may appeal WRC decisions in the courts.

The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission (IHREC) is an independent public body accountable to parliament whose stated purpose is to protect and promote human rights and equality and to build a culture of respect for human rights, including religious freedom.  The commission works at the policy level to review the effectiveness of human rights and equality law, as well as public policy and practice.  It also works with communities, including religious and other civil society groups, to monitor and report on the public’s experience of human rights, religious freedom, and equality.

The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Government Practices

From January until May, the government suspended all in-person religious services as part of COVID-19 mitigation measures that also applied to nonreligious venues, although churches remained open for private prayer, and up to 25 attendees were allowed for weddings and funerals.  Church representatives generally supported the ban, although some said it was inconsistent to ban religious services but keep certain businesses open.  Media reported that on March 17 (St. Patrick’s Day), Archbishop of Dublin Dermot Farrell in a homily called on authorities “to give assurance that the legitimate desire of people to gather responsibly and within reasonable guidelines to exercise their constitutional right to worship will be prioritized in the easing of restrictions.”  In March, police fined a priest 500 euros ($570) for holding a public Mass in violation of restrictions on public gatherings.

Media reported that on April 15, Taoiseach Micheal Martin met Catholic bishops to discuss COVID-19 mitigation measures, which retired Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin described as “draconian.”  As of May 10, up to 50 persons could attend religious events, and as of September 6, religious ceremonies could take place with 50 percent of normal capacity.  On September 10, the Irish Times reported Archbishop of Armagh Eamon Martin, head of the Catholic Church of Ireland, expressed “deep frustration” with the “dismissive manner” in which the government announced restrictions during the summer.  On October 22, the government lifted all restrictions on attendance.

School patrons, generally affiliated with religious denominations, continued to define the ethos of schools and to determine the development and implementation of the religious education curriculum in primary schools.  Curricula varied by school and could include teaching about the patron’s religion, the religious history of the country, or an overview of world religions.  Atheist Ireland continued to criticize the government for primarily delivering moral formation through religion and not offering students moral education outside of religion classes.

Atheist Ireland and the media continued to report incidents of school authorities giving preferential treatment, such as homework exemptions, to students in national Catholic schools that engaged in activities such as singing in religious choirs or performing altar services in church.  There were continued reports that some school authorities told parents that, contrary to law, their children could not opt out of religion classes.

The government facilitated patrons’ efforts to open more schools with multidenominational patronage.  Thirteen new multidenominational national schools opened during the year as part of the government’s plan, announced in 2018, to facilitate the establishment of 42 schools – 26 primary and 16 secondary – from 2019-2022.  The Department of Education said it considered parental preferences and projected demand when deciding which patrons would be allowed to sponsor the new schools.  A separate process, the “Schools Reconfiguration for Diversity,” continued, with the aim of accelerating the creation of multidenominational and nondenominational schools in the country, in line with parental preference and the government’s stated commitment to having a total of 400 multidenominational or nondenominational schools by 2030, out of approximately 3,300 public schools in the country.

In accordance with a 2011 government initiative to create more diversity and inclusiveness in the primary school system through a combination of divestment and construction of new schools, eight transfers of patronage took place during the 2019/2020 school year – three schools from Catholic patronage, two from Church of Ireland patronage, and three multidenominational Steiner (aka Waldorf) schools.  All were transferred to the Education and Training Board (ETB).  The ETB manages and operates coeducational, multidenominational national schools, post-primary schools, and further education colleges.

In rural areas, parents continued to report finding non-Catholic national schools was difficult.

Catholic religious orders remained affiliated with 20 of the country’s 45 hospitals.

Several state agencies, including IHREC, WRC, and the police’s National Diversity and Integration Unit (GNDIU), continued to enforce equality legislation and work on behalf of minority religious groups.  According to GNDIU representatives, GNDIU’s liaison officers continued to engage regularly with immigrant minority religious groups to inform them of police services and to educate them on their rights.  These groups included the Cavan Cross Cultural Community, Dublin City Interfaith Forum, Federation for Victim Assistance, Garda Traveller advisory group, and Immigrant Council of Ireland.

Police continued to implement the 2019-21 Diversity and Integration Strategy, with the stated aim of protecting all minorities and diverse groups (including religious groups) in society, although sources said progress was hampered by COVID-19 restrictions.  The strategy focused on improving the identification, reporting, investigation, and prosecution of hate crimes.  It introduced a working definition of hate crime for the police; emphasized human rights as a foundation for providing policing services; and initiated diversity, integration, and hate crime training within the police.  The strategy defined a hate crime as “any criminal offense which is perceived by the victim or any other person to, in whole or in part, be motivated by hostility or prejudice, based on actual or perceived age, disability, race, color, nationality, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation or gender.”  The police’s official website further clarified, “Religion includes ‘non-believers’.”

NGOs, including the Irish Council for Civil Liberties, Immigrant Council of Ireland, Anti-Racism Network Ireland, National Steering Group Against Hate Crime, and European Network Against Racism Ireland, as well as IHREC, again advocated better monitoring of hate crimes, including religiously motivated incidents, legislation against hate crimes, more stringent laws against hate speech, and action to ensure authorities took prejudice into account as an aggravating factor in sentencing criminals.

In April, the government introduced hate crime legislation, which was pending before parliament at year’s end, to establish a category of hate crimes and impose a heavier penalty on an offender whose commission of a relevant offense was accompanied by a hate motive against an individual based on numerous factors, including religion.  There was broad support for the legislation among NGOs.

The country is a member of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA).

In November, parliamentarian Boyd Barrett from the People Before Profit Party representing Dun Laoghaire, referring to the IHRA’s non-legally binding Working Definition of Antisemitism, said on the floor of the Dail that while “we must absolutely commemorate the Holocaust and insist that it never ever happens again,” Ireland should not sign up to a definition of antisemitism that was not allowed to question Israel’s right to exist, when it was a “racist apartheid state.”  He added it was unacceptable that those who “question the right of… an apartheid state to exist” were labeled antisemites.  Thomas Byrne, Minister of State for European Affairs, afterwards urged parliamentarians to avoid injecting the Israel-Palestinian conflict into discussions of antisemitism.

On January 24, Taoiseach Martin and other senior government officials participated in the national Holocaust Day Memorial commemoration.  In his remarks, Martin affirmed “unequivocally and publicly, Ireland’s absolute commitment to Holocaust remembrance and to fighting the ugly scourge of antisemitism and racism.”  Hazel Chu, Lord Mayor of Dublin, said people in the city “feel privileged to be among survivors of the Holocaust and descendants of survivors who have made Dublin and Ireland their home.”  The NGO Holocaust Education Trust Ireland, in association with the Department of Justice, Office for the Promotion of Migrant Integration, and Dublin City Council, organized the virtual event, which included readings, survivors’ remembrances, and music, as well as the lighting of six candles symbolizing the six million Jews killed in the Holocaust.


Executive Summary

The constitution protects freedom of religion and the right of religious communities to establish their own institutions.  It specifies the state and the Roman Catholic Church are independent, with their relations governed by treaties, including a concordat granting the Church a number of specific privileges and benefits, and financial support.  Twelve other religious groups have accords granting many of the same benefits in exchange for a degree of government monitoring.  Unregistered religious groups operate freely and are eligible for some of the benefits that registered groups receive, but they must apply separately for them.  According to the Ministry of the Interior’s website, during the year, the government expelled at least 46 persons, mostly due to links with what the ministry stated were violent extremist Islamist groups.  Muslim groups, none of which has an accord, again experienced difficulties acquiring permission from local governments to construct mosques and provide dedicated areas appropriate for Islamic burials.  Some local governments granted permission to build mosques or temporary prayer centers and to allow or expand plots for Islamic burials, but not enough to meet growing demand.  Politicians from several political parties again made statements critical of Islam or antisemitic in nature.  On August 28, League Party leader Matteo Salvini said the Quran and Islam were incompatible with civil and democratic rights.  On September 9, the Court of Cassation (the country’s highest court of appeals) ruled that hanging a crucifix in classrooms was legal.  The court also stated that each public school should take into consideration the beliefs of all when deciding whether to hang a crucifix and that all schools should promote coexistence.

There were again reports of antisemitic incidents, including physical assaults, verbal harassment, discrimination, hate speech, and vandalism, as well as expressions of anti-Muslim sentiment and vandalism of Christian churches.  Press reported that in March, in Rome, a food delivery person stabbed a Jewish colleague several times, after screaming antisemitic insults.  The victim, whose wounds required hospitalization, was the son of a Holocaust concentration camp survivor.  In August, a Bangladeshi migrant attacked an Israeli tourist in Pisa with a souvenir statue, yelling “Jews are assassins!”  The nongovernmental organization (NGO) Anti-Semitism Observatory of the Jewish Contemporary Documentation Center Foundation (CDEC) recorded 220 antisemitic acts during the year, compared with 230 in 2020 and 251 in 2019.  Of the incidents, at least 117 involved hate speech on social media or the internet.  Press reported examples of antisemitic graffiti and posters, including depictions of swastikas on walls, antisemitic stereotypes, and praise of neo-Nazi groups in cities such as Rome, Perugia, and Arezzo.  Experts monitoring antisemitism said they believed the number of antisemitic incidents was vastly underreported.  According to Milena Santerini, the National Coordinator for the Fight Against Anti-Semitism, Facebook had removed only a small percentage of the Facebook posts containing antisemitic material.  The independent NGO Vox Diritti reported that during the year, 65 percent of all tweets mentioning Islam (165,297) contained negative messages against Muslims, compared with 59 percent (67,889) in 2020.  In September, the Brussels-based NGO Action and Protection League issued the results of its European antisemitism survey, which found that 11 percent of 1,000 respondents ages 18-75 in Italy said they had negative feelings towards Jews.

Representatives from the U.S. embassy and consulates general met with national and local government officials to encourage respect for religious freedom and equal treatment for all faiths throughout the year.  They also discussed efforts to integrate new migrants – many of whom were Muslim, Orthodox, or Hindu – and second-generation Muslims living in the country.  Embassy officials additionally expressed support for a proposed accord between the government and the country’s Muslim communities.  U.S. government officials met with religious leaders and civil society representatives to promote interfaith dialogue and awareness, to encourage religious groups to be more effective in interfaith outreach, and to help young faith leaders become more visible and accepted by elderly religious leaders at the grass roots level.  In September, embassy officials met with the national coordinator for the fight against antisemitism, the president of the Union of Italian Jewish Communities (UCEI), and the president of the Rome Jewish community to discuss how to support their efforts to counter antisemitism.  The embassy and consulates continued to utilize social media platforms to acknowledge major Christian, Muslim, and Jewish holidays, as well as to amplify initiatives that promote religious freedom and interfaith dialogue at the grass roots level.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 62.4 million (midyear 2021).  A 2020 study by the independent research center The Center for Studies of New Religions (CESNUR) estimates 67 percent of the population is Catholic, 24 percent atheist or agnostic, 5 percent non-Catholic Christian, 4 percent Muslim, and 1 percent followers of other religions.  Non-Catholic Christian groups include Eastern Orthodox, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Assemblies of God, the Methodist and Waldensian Churches, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Church of Jesus Christ), the Union of Pentecostal Churches, and several other smaller Protestant groups, including other evangelical Christian groups.  According to the national branch of the Church of Jesus Christ, there are approximately 26,000 adherents in the country.  CESNUR also estimates that non-Christian religious groups that together account for less than 10 percent of the population include Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Baha’is, Buddhists, Sikhs, the International Society for Krishna Consciousness, and Ananda Marga Pracaraka Samgha, an Indian spiritual movement.  According to a 2020 study conducted by SWG, an independent research center, 50 percent of the population identifies as Catholic, 25 percent identifies as atheist or agnostic, 17 percent other religious groups and 8 percent unaffiliated.

The UCEI estimates that the Jewish population numbers 28,000.  According to the legal counsel of the Italian Federation of Progressive Judaism, the organization has between 500 and 600 members.

According to CESNUR, approximately 1.76 million foreign Muslims and 500,000 Italian Muslims – almost 4 percent of the population – live in the country.  According to the Ministry of Interior (MOI) and the National Agency for Statistics (ISTAT), most growth in the Muslim population comes from large numbers of immigrants from Eastern Europe, Africa, the Middle East, and South Asia, the majority of whom live in the north.  Muslims with Moroccan and Albanian roots make up the largest established groups, while Tunisia and Bangladesh are increasingly prominent sources of Muslims arriving as seaborne migrants.  The MOI reports Muslims in the country are overwhelmingly Sunni.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution states all citizens are equal before the law regardless of religion and are free to profess their beliefs in any form, individually or with others, and to promote and celebrate rites in public or in private, provided they are not offensive to public morality.  According to the constitution, each religious community has the right to establish its own institutions according to its own statutes if these do not conflict with the law.  The constitution stipulates the state may not impose special limitations or taxes on the establishment or activities of groups because of their religious nature or aims.  The constitution specifies the state and the Catholic Church are independent of each other, and treaties, including a concordat between the government and the Holy See, govern their relations.

The country’s penal code contains an unenforced article on blasphemy, classifying public insults against religions or against religious followers as administrative offenses punishable by a fine ranging from 51 to 309 euros ($58-$350).  The penal code punishes other public offenses to religion, such as offenses against objects used for religious rites or offenses expressed during religious ceremonies, with a fine of up to 5,000 euros ($5,700) or a prison sentence of up to two years.  Those who destroy or violate objects used for religious ceremonies may be punished with up to two years in prison.

The constitution states all religious groups are equally free, and relations between the state and non-Catholic groups, including state support, are governed by agreements (“accords”) between them.  Relations between the state and the Catholic Church are governed by a concordat between the government and the Holy See.  Representatives of a non-Catholic faith requesting an accord must first submit their request to the Office of the Prime Minister.  The government and the group’s representatives then negotiate a draft agreement, which the Council of Ministers must approve.  The Prime Minister then signs and submits the agreement to parliament for final approval.  Twelve groups have an accord:  The Confederation of Methodist and Waldensian Churches, Seventh-day Adventists, Assemblies of God, Jews, Baptists, Lutherans, Church of Jesus Christ, Orthodox Church of the Constantinople Patriarchate, Italian Apostolic Church, Buddhist Union, Soka Gakkai Buddhists, and Hindus.

The law provides religious groups with tax-exempt status and the right to recognition as legal entities once they have completed the registration process with the MOI.  Legal registration is a prerequisite for any group seeking an accord with the government.  A religious group may apply for registration by submitting to a prefect (the local representative of the MOI) an official request that includes the group’s statutes; a report on its goals and activities; information on its administrative offices; a three-year budget; certification of its credit status by a bank; and certification of the Italian citizenship or legal residency of its head.  To be approved, a group’s statutes must not conflict with the law.  Once approved, the group must submit to MOI administrative monitoring, including oversight of its budget and internal organization.  The MOI may appoint a commissioner to administer the group if it identifies irregularities in its activities.  Religious groups that are not registered may still operate legally as cultural associations and obtain tax-exempt status, legal recognition of marriages, access to hospitals and prisons, and other benefits, but those benefits are more easily obtained if a group has an accord with the government.  The Catholic Church is the only legally recognized group exempted from MOI monitoring in accordance with the concordat between the government and the Holy See.

An accord grants clergy automatic access to state hospitals, prisons, and military barracks, allows for civil registry of religious marriages, facilitates special religious practices regarding funerals, and exempts students from school attendance on religious holidays.  Any religious group without an accord may request these benefits from the MOI on a case-by-case basis.  An accord also allows a religious group to receive funds collected by the state through a voluntary 0.8 percent of personal income tax set-aside on taxpayer returns.  Taxpayers may specify to which eligible religious group they would like to direct these funds.

National law does not restrict religious face coverings, but some local authorities impose restrictions.  Regional laws in Liguria, Veneto, and Lombardy prohibit the wearing of burqas and niqabs in public buildings and institutions, including hospitals.

The concordat with the Holy See provides for the Catholic Church to select teachers, paid by the state, to provide instruction in weekly “hour of religion” courses taught in public schools.  The courses are optional, and students who do not wish to attend may study other subjects, or in certain cases, leave school early with parental consent.  Church-selected instructors are lay or religious, and the instruction includes material determined by the state and relevant to both Catholics and non-Catholic religious groups.  Government funding is available for only these Catholic Church-approved teachers.  If a student requests a religion class from a non-Catholic religious group, that group must provide the teacher and cover the cost of instruction; it is not required to seek government approval for the content of the class.  Some local laws provide scholarship funding for students to attend private, religiously affiliated schools, usually but not always Catholic, that meet government educational standards.

Schools are categorized as state-owned, state-equivalent, or private.  The “state-equivalent” category includes public (municipal, provincial, regional, or owned by another public entity) and some private schools, which may be religiously affiliated.  All state-equivalent schools receive government funding if they meet criteria and standards published every year by the Ministry of Education.  The funding is released through the ministry’s regional offices.  Religious entities operate most private schools, and private schools may not issue certificates or diplomas.  Private school students must take final annual exams in state-owned or state-equivalent schools.

A 2019 Lombardy regional law prohibits local authorities from dividing burial plots by religious belief, although local authorities have at times made exceptions.

According to law, hate speech, including instances motivated by religious hatred, is punishable by up to four years in prison.  This law also applies to denial of genocide or crimes against humanity.

All missionaries and other foreign religious workers from countries that are not European Union members or signatories of the Schengen Agreement must apply for special religious activity visas before arriving in the country.  An applicant must attach an invitation letter from his or her religious group to the application.

The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Government Practices

According to the MOI, during the year, it expelled at least 46 persons, reportedly mostly because of what the ministry stated was their violent extremist opinions and their efforts to radicalize Muslims.  On August 30, press reported that the MOI expelled a Tunisian preacher, Mohammed Bezaraa, for expressing extremist views during his sermons in several Islamic cultural centers in Vicenza.  A member of the local Muslim community said he agreed with Bezaraa’s expulsion, stating that some of the Islamic cultural centers in the country had “provided platforms for false imams to spout nonsense without meaning and without any theological basis.”

According to leaders of the Islamic Cultural Center of Italy, the government once again did not make significant progress on reaching an accord with the Muslim community, despite dialogue underway with various Islamic religious entities.  The MOI continued to recognize only the Islamic Cultural Center of Italy, which administers the Great Mosque of Rome, as a legal religious entity, making it the only Islamic entity eligible to sign an accord with the government.  The government continued to recognize other Muslim groups as nonprofit organizations.

On May 29, the Senate Extraordinary Committee to Fight Intolerance, Antisemitism, and Hate Crimes launched an investigation into the nature and the root causes of hate speech.  The committee said it would recommend legal measures and policies to prevent hate crimes against religious minorities.  During a parliamentary hearing, Amnesty International presented the results of a 2020 study of 36,269 tweets, showing that 55 tweets contained hate speech and 2,117 had offensive or discriminatory content against religious minorities.

Regional governments and Muslim religious authorities continued to recognize five mosques, one each in Colle Val d’Elsa (in Tuscany), Milan, and Rome, and two in the Emilia-Romagna Region, in Ravenna and Forli, respectively.  In addition, local governments continued to recognize many sites as Islamic places of worship, although Muslim authorities stated these were not considered full-fledged mosques because they lacked minarets or other key architectural features such as domes.

According to weekly magazine Panorama, there were also an estimated 800 to 1,200 unofficial, informal places of worship for Muslims in 2019 (the most recent figure), known colloquially as “garage” mosques.  According to press reports, authorities allowed most to operate, but they did not officially recognize them as places of worship.

According to media reports, Muslim leaders stated they continued to experience difficulty obtaining permission from local governments to construct mosques.  Local officials continued to cite lack of zoning plans allowing for the establishment of places of worship on specific sites as a reason for denying construction permits, rather than anti-Muslim sentiment.  Some Muslim leaders, however, stated they believed some local authorities were using all possible legal means to block the construction of new mosques in their regions.

According to media reports, informal mosques, including in warehouses, continued to operate in Milan, and worshippers did not adhere to government mandated COVID-19 restrictions limiting public gatherings.  In 2020, the European Court for Human Rights had ruled as admissible the appeal of Abu Hanif Patwery, president of the Bangladesh Cultural and Welfare Association, against the city of Milan for the association’s having contracted a company to convert a storage site into a place of worship.

Media reported that on April 15, the city of Pisa authorized the construction of a mosque.  The decision followed the July 2020 ruling of the Tuscany Regional Administrative Court to annul city council plans in 2019 that prevented the Pisa Islamic Association from building a mosque on land it had purchased.  Pisa city officials had stated at the time that the lot was not large enough for the planned building, while a local imam said the city council had always been hostile to the mosque’s construction.  In July, the Pisa Islamic Association launched a crowdfunding campaign to build the facility.

On April 20, the city of Fermignano modified its zoning plan to officially recognize the headquarters of the local Islamic Cultural Association as a place of worship.  On May 6, Fermignano mayor Emanuele Feduzi stated that the decision “was a sign of civilization; we couldn’t disregard the request of the Muslim community.  Local authorities were also the first in the province [of Pesaro e Urbino] to grant cemetery spaces to religious minorities during the pandemic, a decision that has been a source of inspiration for several other cities.”

On May 6, the city of Florence signed an agreement with the local Muslim community providing two venues to be used as temporary places of worship for five years.  Local authorities also requested the religious community specify the location where it intended to build a permanent mosque, after which the city would review the application.

On July 20, the Council of State (the highest administrative court) ruled that a warehouse bought by the Islamic Association Assalam in Cantu in 2014 could not be used as a place of worship because of zoning restrictions that did not allow religious services.  The ruling was final, and no further appeal was possible.  On June 8, local authorities in Sesto San Giovanni, a municipality in Milan, approved a provision of the zoning plan banning the construction of a mosque proposed by the local Muslim community.

In September, local press reported that the Italian Islamic Confederation had purchased a facility from the city of Turin.  According to a confederation representative, the facility would be restructured to host a mosque, to provide community services open to all regardless of religious affiliation, and to include classrooms to be made available to two local universities.

According to media, on September 1, the Council of State overruled a 2020 ruling by the Veneto Regional Administrative Court that had invalidated the Monfalcone Municipality’s decision to block the conversion of a supermarket into a mosque.  The municipality had concluded that the building was inappropriate for religious services because the building, located in a seismically vulnerable area, was structurally unsound, and the Council of State agreed with the regional court.  A local Muslim association had purchased the facility in 2017 and requested authorization to convert it into a mosque in 2019; however, the city stated that the property had been condemned and the requirements for construction had not been met.

Local governments continued to rent out public land at discounted rates to non-Muslim religious groups, usually Catholic, for constructing places of worship.  Government funding also helped preserve and maintain historic places of worship, which were almost all Catholic.  In September, Vicenza municipal authorities transferred a municipal facility to a Catholic parish for its use for nine years, with an annual rent of 120 euros ($140).

Approximately 60 local governments maintained dedicated burial spaces for Muslims.  Muslim associations reported there were insufficient spaces to meet the needs of Muslim communities in Lombardy, Lazio, and other regions.  The associations said that during the COVID-19 lockdown in place from March through May of 2020, the bodies of several Muslims could not be moved to their countries of origin, placing additional stress on the limited dedicated Islamic burial spaces in Italian cemeteries.

In March, despite a regional provision in Lombardy forbidding the separation of burial plots according to religious belief, municipal authorities dedicated burial plots to the local Muslim community in Desio.

On May 18, the president of the Madni Dar Ul-Islam Muslim cultural association requested local authorities in Brescia to authorize the construction of an Islamic burial space.

In September, the Lombardy Regional Administrative Court overturned a decision by the city of Magenta that denied a Muslim association’s request for space to establish an Islamic cemetery.  Despite the ruling, local authorities did not provide dedicated spaces to the local Muslim community by year’s end.  On September 12, a group of Islamic cultural associations urgently requested additional dedicated burial areas for Muslims in Monza.

On September 9, the Court of Cassation ruled that the constitution neither prohibits nor requires the hanging of a crucifix in classrooms.  The court had censured a school principal in Terni who had ordered the hanging of a crucifix in a public school classroom in 2008 and 2009 as requested by the assembly of students.  The court ruled, “The school community should evaluate and autonomously decide to hang [a crucifix], respecting the beliefs of all, hanging other religious symbols [when requested] and pursuing reasonable arrangements to promote the coexistence of diversities.”

Politicians from several parties, including the League and Brothers of Italy, and from representatives of Casa Pound, a political association widely considered to be far-right, again made statements critical of Islam.  During a rally in the town of Pinerolo on August 28, League Party leader Salvini stated, “The literal implementation of the Quran is incompatible with our democratic society.  Also the Bible?  No, we, as Christians and Catholics, we ended with stakes and the Inquisition some centuries ago.”  He concluded, “The Quran and Islam are incompatible with our civil and democratic rights.”

On February 18, a Turin prosecutor opened an investigation of municipal councilor Monica Amore of the Five Star Movement for possible defamation motivated by racial hatred.  Amore had published a cartoon depicting a collage of newspapers of the Gedi media conglomerate and the drawings of two Jews with caricatured noses, kippahs, and the Star of David on social media.  On March 30, the Jewish community withdrew the complaint after receiving a letter of apology from Amore and other parliamentarians of the Five Star Movement.

On January 27, Holocaust Remembrance Day, President Sergio Mattarella hosted a ceremony to commemorate the liberation of the Auschwitz concentration camp and stressed “the need to remember as a duty of civilization and as a foundation of the constitution.”

In a January 27 Facebook post, Milan mayor Beppe Sala wrote, “Being a community means remaining vigilant against a common enemy that threatens our society.  We will never turn our back in front of hate.”

On September 30, Prime Minister Mario Draghi and Senator-for-Life and Holocaust survivor Liliana Segre visited the Holocaust Memorial in Milan.  Draghi thanked Segre “in the name of the Italian government and all Italians for her commitment in defense of truth and humanity.”  He stated, “Remembering isn’t a passive act,” but rather “a commitment for the present.  We must act on the deep roots of racism and antisemitism and fight their violent manifestation and stem every form of Holocaust denial.”  Segre remarked, “Indifference leads to violence because indifference is already violence.”

The city of Rome continued its support of collaboration and understanding among the Jewish community, the Waldensian Evangelical Church, Eastern Orthodox communities, the Islamic Cultural Center of Italy, the Italian Hindu Union, and the Italian Buddhist Maitreya Foundation through the Tavolo Interreligioso (interreligious table) interfaith network.  In-person cultural events and presentations in public schools to increase awareness of religious diversity significantly dropped compared with previous years due to the COVID-19 pandemic.  On March 22, the Tavolo Interreligioso, promoted by municipal authorities, organized an online event dedicated to funeral ceremonies during the pandemic.  On February 1, the Tavolo celebrated World Interfaith Harmony Week, which the UN General Assembly designated as an annual event in 2010.

The government is a member of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance.


Executive Summary

The constitution provides every person the right to “freedom of thought, conscience, and religion,” and it specifies the separation of church and state.  By law, eight “traditional” religious groups (seven Christian groups and Jews) receive rights and privileges other groups do not.  On November 10, the Prosecutor General’s office filed an injunction to terminate the activities of the New Generation Organization, an evangelical Christian church, after it said representatives and members of two congregations were determined to have repeatedly disregarded COVID-19 restrictions limiting the number of persons at public gatherings.  The government approved the applications of 10 new religious groups during the year.  In June, a social media post by Law and Order Party leader Aldis Gobzems equating COVID-19 restrictions to the Holocaust was condemned across the political spectrum.  Gobzems was consequently barred from participation in one Saeima (parliament) meeting, and the Saeima ethics committee initiated an ethics violation case against him.  In September, the first of three readings took place in the Saeima of a draft restitution bill that would satisfy the country’s commitments under the 2009 Terezin Declaration and provide 40 million euros ($45.35 million) to the Jewish community for heirless and communal properties seized by the Nazis and Soviets during World War II.  According to the annual report of the security police, authorities continued to monitor Muslim community activities but made no interventions during the year.  President Egils Levits and other senior government officials attended several Holocaust memorial events throughout the year.

Jewish and Muslim groups cited instances of antisemitic and anti-Muslim hate speech in news articles and on social media.  In September, the Brussels-based NGO Action and Protection League issued the results of its European antisemitism survey, which found that 6 percent of 1,000 respondents ages 18-75 in Latvia said they had negative feelings towards Jews.  On November 30, approximately 300 persons lit thousands of candles at the Freedom Monument in Riga in remembrance of Jews massacred by the Nazis in Rumbula Forest in 1941.

In September, the Secretary of State posted on Twitter a message reiterating the importance of resolving the country’s obligations under the Terezin Declaration.  U.S. embassy officials regularly engaged with senior government officials and parliamentarians on the importance of religious tolerance and providing restitution and compensation for expropriated property to the Jewish community.  Embassy officials also engaged with representatives of the Jewish and Muslim communities as well as NGOs MARTA Center and Safe House to discuss religious tolerance and acceptance.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 1.9 million (midyear 2021).  According to the Annual Report of Religious Organizations and their Activities published by the Ministry of Justice (MOJ), based on 2019 data, the largest religious groups are Lutheran (37 percent), Roman Catholic (18 percent), and Latvian Orthodox Christian (13 percent), the latter being predominantly native Russian speakers.  Thirty-one percent of the population is unaffiliated with any religious group.  The Latvian Orthodox Church is a self-governing Eastern Orthodox Church under the jurisdiction of the Moscow Patriarchate.  The Central Statistical Bureau reports there are 4,372 persons who identify as Jewish, and the Council of Jewish Communities believes there are approximately 10,000 persons with Jewish heritage.  The Muslim community reports approximately 1,000 Muslims resident in the country, while the MOJ’s report of religious organizations lists 176 active members in eight Muslim congregations.  Separately, there is a small Ahmadi Muslim community.  Other religious groups that together constitute less than 5 percent of the population include Baptists, Pentecostals, Seventh-day Adventists, Old Believers, evangelical Christians, Methodists, Calvinists, and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution states that everyone has the right to “freedom of thought, conscience, and religion,” and provides, “The church shall be separate from the state.”  It allows restrictions on the expression of religious beliefs to protect public safety, welfare, morals, the democratic structure of the state, and others’ rights.  The law gives eight “traditional” religious groups – Lutherans, Catholics, Latvian Orthodox Christians, Old Believers, Baptists, Methodists, Seventh-day Adventists, and Jews – some rights and privileges not given to other religious groups, including the right to teach religion courses in public schools and the right to officiate at marriages without obtaining a civil marriage license from the MOJ.  These eight groups are also the only religious groups represented on the government’s Ecclesiastical Council, an advisory body established by law and chaired by the Prime Minister that meets on an ad hoc basis to comment and provide recommendations on religious issues.  These recommendations do not carry the force of law.

Separate laws define relations between the state and each of these eight groups.  The rights and activities of other religious groups are covered by a law on religious organizations.

Although the government does not require religious groups to register, the law accords registered religious groups a number of rights and privileges, including legal status to own property and conduct financial transactions, eligibility to apply for funds for religious building restoration, and tax deductions for donors.  Registration also allows religious groups to perform religious activities in hospitals, prisons, and military units and to hold services in public places such as parks or public squares, with the agreement of the local government.  The law accords the same rights and privileges to the eight traditional religious groups, which it treats as already registered.

Unregistered groups do not possess legal status and may not own property in the name of the group, although individual members may hold property.  Unregistered groups may not conduct financial transactions or receive tax-free donations.  They may not perform religious activities in hospitals, prisons, or military units and generally may not hold worship services in public places without special permission.  The law stipulates fines ranging from 40 to 200 euros ($45 to $230) if an unregistered group carries out any of these activities.

By law, to register as a congregation, a religious group must have at least 20 members aged 18 or older.  Individuals with temporary residency status, such as asylum seekers and foreign diplomatic staff, may count as members for the purpose of registration only during the authorized period of their residency permits.  To apply, religious groups must submit charters explaining their objectives and activities; a list of all group members (full name, identification number, and signature); the names of the persons who will represent the religious organization; minutes of the meeting founding the group; confirmation that members voted on and approved the statutes; and a list of members of the audit committee (full name, identification number, and title).  The audit committee is responsible for preparing financial reports on the group and ensuring it adheres to its statutes.  The MOJ determines whether to register a religious group as a congregation.  The ministry may deny an application if it deems registration would threaten human rights, the democratic structure of the state, public safety, welfare, or morals.  Groups denied registration may appeal the decision in court.

Ten or more congregations with a total of at least 200 members of the same faith or denomination, each with permanent registration status, may form a religious association or church.  Groups with religious association status, or status as a private society or foundation, may establish theological schools and monasteries.  The law does not permit simultaneous registration of more than one religious association of a single faith or denomination or of more than one religious group with the same or similar name.

According to the law, all traditional and registered religious organizations are required to submit an annual report to the MOJ by March 1 regarding their activities and goals.  They must also provide other data, including congregation size, number of clergy, number of weddings, other ceremonies performed, and details of group governance and financial status.

The law states that the activities of a religious organization may be terminated on the basis of a court ruling if it is in conflict with the constitution and other regulatory laws.  Activities may also be terminated if a religious organization calls on others to disobey the law or if its activities endanger the democratic state system, public peace and order, or the health and morals of others.

The law criminalizes hate speech and the incitement of hatred on the basis of religious affiliation but requires legal proof, determined at trial, of substantial harm for conviction.  Penalties range from community service or fines to up to three years of imprisonment.  Committing a crime for religious reasons may also be considered an aggravating factor at trial.

The government funds required religion and ethics classes in public schools in first through third grade.  A school must receive the approval of the parents of at least 10 students to hold religion classes in any of the eight traditional groups; if such approval is not obtained or if they prefer not to enroll in religion classes, students take courses on general ethics.  The Center for Educational Content at the Ministry of Education must review the content of the classes to verify it does not violate freedom of conscience.  Starting in fourth grade, religious subjects are incorporated into elective ethics and social science classes.  If there is demand, schools are permitted to teach classes on the history of religion.  Students at state-supported national minority schools may attend classes on a voluntary basis on the religion “characteristic of the national minority.”  Other nontraditional religious groups without their own state-supported minority schools may provide religious education only in private schools.  Religion courses in public schools range from doctrinal instruction by church-approved government-certified instructors, usually at the lower grades, to nondenominational Christian teachings or overviews of major world religions by certified teachers who are proposed by a religious group and approved by the Ministry of Education, usually at higher grades.  Education guidelines require inclusion of Holocaust education in Latvian history and world history classes, which are mandatory for all students in public schools.

The law establishes an independent Ombudsman’s Office for Human Rights.  Its mandate includes helping to resolve cases of religious discrimination through collaboration with authorities.  While it does not have enforcement powers, it may issue recommendations to specific authorities.  Parliament appoints the ombudsman.

The law stipulates foreign missionaries may be issued a residency permit, hold meetings, and proselytize only if a registered domestic religious group invites them to conduct such activities.  Visa regulations require foreign religious workers to present letters of invitation, typically from a religious organization, and either an ordination certificate or evidence of religious education that corresponds to a local bachelor’s degree in theology.  Religious workers from European Union or Schengen countries do not require visas.

The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Government Practices

During the year, two congregations belonging to the New Generation religious organization of the Evangelical Christian Church received warnings from police and faced court proceedings for violating public health laws.  On November 10, the Prosecutor General’s office filed an injunction to terminate the activities of the New Generation Organization after representatives and members were determined to have committed more than six violations of public health laws.  Despite previous warnings, authorities stated that the New Generation Organization’s representatives and members continued to disregard public health restrictions prohibiting public gatherings.  On October 27, police found approximately 50 persons participating in an event, and on October 31, during a national lockdown, approximately 150.

During the year, the MOJ approved the applications of 10 religious groups that applied to register for the first time:  the Autonomous Church SIKHISM; the Riga English Church of Jehovah’s Witnesses; “Spirit Assembly International Ministries,” the Riga Evangelical Christian Church; “Light of Zion,” the Evangelical Christian Church New Generation congregation; “REBIRTH,” the Latvian Evangelical Christian Church; “Source of Faith,” the Valmiera Pentecostal Church; “KACIR,” the Limbazi Pentecostal Church; “KACIR,” the Riga Pentecostal Church; “Glory of God,” the Riga Pentecostal Church; and “Hope,” the Tukums Evangelical Pentecostal Church.

In June, Saeima deputy and leader of the recently formed Law and Order Party Aldis Gobzems posted to social media a photograph in which he wore a yellow Star of David.  The image was widely understood as Gobzems’ drawing a parallel between the backlash he received for his stance against COVID-19 restrictions and the persecution of the Jews under the Nazi regime.  His post was widely condemned across the political spectrum.  The Saeima Mandate, Ethics, and Submissions Committee subsequently filed a breach of ethics complaint against Gobzems, and he was barred from participating in a later Saeima meeting.

Authorities continued to monitor Muslim community activities, according to the annual report of the security police, but they made no interventions during the year.

According to a 2020 report by the NGO National Coalition Supporting Eurasian Jewry (NCSEJ), the most recent available, the country made progress in assessing its role in the Holocaust, and senior government officials expressed their solidarity with the country’s Jewish victims and with Israel.  NCSEJ, however, expressed continued concern over what it described as the country’s ultra-nationalist movement.

In September, the first of three readings took place in the Saeima of a draft restitution bill that would satisfy the country’s commitments under the 2009 Terezin Declaration and provide 40 million euros ($45.35 million) to the Jewish community for communal and heirless properties confiscated during World War II.

Public funding continued to support Holocaust education in schools.

Due to COVID-19 restrictions, events commemorating the Holocaust were smaller than in previous years.  President Egils Levits and other senior government officials, including Speaker of Parliament Inara Murniece, Prime Minister Krisjanis Karins, Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkevics, Defense Minister Artis Pabriks, and Interior Minister Marija Golubeva attended Holocaust memorial events, including International Holocaust Remembrance Day, and Latvian Holocaust Memorial Day.  Officials held a socially distanced public event on July 4 to commemorate the 1941 burning of the Great Choral Synagogue with victims inside.

In March, organizers cancelled a march commemorating the Latvian Legionnaires, who fought in the Waffen-SS in World War II, due to COVID-19 pandemic restrictions.  On March 16, organizers laid a wreath at the Freedom Monument, the customary end of the march route.  Six senior National Alliance party members – four of them parliamentarians – and dozens of supporters laid flowers there during the day.  Press reported a small group of protesters also gathered.  No Nazi emblems or symbols were evident among the participants.  According to media and police reports, the event has received less and less attention each year and was generally viewed as a commemoration of national identity and remembrance of those who fought for independence rather than as a glorification of Nazism.

The country is a member of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance.


Executive Summary

The constitution provides for freedom of religion, freedom of religious practice, and state recognition of religious organizations, provided they do not contradict the constitution or the law.  The government extends special benefits to nine “traditional” religious groups and more limited benefits to four recognized “nontraditional” religious groups.  On June 8, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) issued a decision recognizing that the parliament had violated the European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms when it denied recognition to the Romuva, an ancient Baltic neopagan religious community, in 2019.  On October 8, the Parliamentary Human Rights Committee reintroduced a draft resolution on the recognition of the Romuva community.  On August 17, local media reported the government’s decision to cancel plans to redevelop the former Vilnius Sports Palace into a convention center.  Some Jewish communities in the country and internationally had opposed the project because of plans for the redevelopment on the site of an historic 15th century Jewish cemetery.  The spokesperson for the Prime Minister said that the COVID-19 pandemic “changed the market for conference tourism, and earlier visions of the project are being adjusted.”  On January 27, International Holocaust Remembrance Day, Member of Parliament (MP) Valdas Rakutis wrote an article in which he said, “There was no shortage of Holocaust perpetrators among the Jews themselves, especially in the ghetto self-government structures.”  Senior government officials, including Prime Minister Ingrida Simonyte, Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis, and Speaker of Parliament Viktorija Cmilyte-Nielsen, rejected Rakutis’ remarks.  On June 15, parliament adopted a resolution marking the 80th anniversary of the start of deportations of Jews and the resistance to the Soviet and Nazi occupations.

On August 10, protesters opposed to government measures promoting vaccination against COVID-19 carried signs in front of parliament comparing government COVID-related restrictions to the persecution of Jews during the Holocaust and that featured references to Nazis.  On September 9, workers at the Jewish cemetery in Kaunas reported that grave sites had been vandalized, including at least three graves that had been dug up allegedly by thieves searching for valuables.  In August, vandals damaged a sign listing information about a site in Kretinga where Jews were killed during the Holocaust.  In both cases, police started investigations, which remained open at year’s end.  Anonymous online commentators continued to express negative views of Muslim refugees.

The Ambassador and other U.S. embassy officers met regularly with government officials, including the Prime Minister, the President’s foreign policy advisor, the Prosecutor General, the Ministers of Justice, Foreign Affairs, and Culture, the Speaker of Parliament, and MPs to promote religious freedom and discuss related issues, including restitution of private and heirless property for Holocaust victims and their families and combating religious discrimination.  They also discussed these issues with Jewish community leaders.  The Ambassador also met with the Archbishop of the Catholic Church of Vilnius and Tatar community leaders and discussed issues related to religious freedom with them.  During a visit to the country in June, the U.S. Special Envoy for Holocaust Issues and the chair of the U.S. Commission for the Preservation of America’s Heritage Abroad met with government and civil society representatives to encourage the government to provide private and heirless property restitution for Holocaust victims and their families, promote an objective evaluation of the Holocaust, and identify specific Jewish heritage sites for preservation and restoration.  On October 15, the Ambassador joined the director of International Jewish Affairs at the American Jewish Committee and cochair of the Good Will Foundation for meetings with senior government officials to discuss projects to preserve the country’s Jewish heritage and prospects for private and heirless property restitution.  The Ambassador and embassy officers also took part in and delivered remarks at multiple events throughout the year commemorating the 80th anniversary of the beginning of the Holocaust in the country.  In meetings with senior government officials, the Ambassador and embassy officials encouraged them to find ways to promote tolerance and integration of religious minorities, including Muslim refugees, into society.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 2.7 million (midyear 2021).  According to the 2011 census, of the 90 percent of the population that responded to a question regarding religious affiliation, 86 percent identify as Roman Catholic, and 7 percent do not identify with any religious group.  Religious groups that together constitute less than 5 percent of the population include Russian Orthodox, Old Believers, Lutherans, Evangelical Reformed, Jews, Muslims, Greek Catholics, Karaite Jews, Jehovah’s Witnesses, members of the Full Gospel Word of Faith Movement, Pentecostals/Charismatics, Old Baltic faith communities, Baptists, Seventh-day Adventists, Methodists, and members of the New Apostolic Church and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

In the 2011 census, approximately 5,100 persons identified as followers of Romuva, a neopagan religion practiced in the Baltic region since before the introduction of Christianity.  According to the census, the Jewish population is predominately concentrated in larger cities and is estimated at 3,300, of whom approximately 250 are Karaite Jews, who traditionally live in Trakai and in the greater Vilnius region.  The Sunni Muslim population numbers approximately 2,800, the majority of whom are Tatars, a community living primarily in Vilnius and Kaunas.  The Muslim community also includes recent converts, migrants, refugees, and temporary workers from the Middle East and Africa, most of whom are Sunni.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution stipulates there is no state religion and provides for the right of individuals to choose freely any religion or belief, to profess their religion and perform religious practices, individually or with others, in private or in public, and to practice and teach their beliefs.  It states no one may compel another person (or be compelled) to choose or profess any religion or belief.  The constitution allows limits on the freedom to profess and spread religious beliefs when necessary to protect health, safety, public order, or the fundamental rights and freedoms of others.  It restricts freedom of expression if it incites religious hatred, violence, or discrimination.  It stipulates religious belief may not serve as justification for failing to comply with laws.

Under the constitution, the government may temporarily restrict freedom of expression of religious belief during a period of martial law or a state of emergency.

The constitution acknowledges the freedom of parents or guardians to oversee the religious and moral education of their children without interference and stipulates public education shall be secular, although schools may provide religious instruction at the request of parents.

The constitution grants recognition to traditional religious groups and provides for recognition of other religious groups if their teachings and practices do not conflict with law or public morals.  It states the status of religious groups shall be established by agreement or law and recognized religious groups shall be free to carry out their activities, as long as they are not in conflict with the constitution or laws.

Recognition entitles nontraditional religious groups to perform marriages that will be recognized by the state in the same manner as marriages officiated by traditional religious groups, and to provide religious instruction in public schools.  Recognition also grants nontraditional religious groups eligibility for annual subsidies from the state budget and for certain social security and healthcare contributions by the state.

The law requires police to take preemptive measures against illegal activities, giving special attention to maintaining order on specific historical dates and certain religious or cultural holidays.

The law defines religious groups as religious communities; religious associations, which comprise at least two religious communities under common leadership; and religious centers, which are higher governing bodies of religious associations.

Religious groups may apply to the government for state registration, state recognition, or both.  The Ministry of Justice (MOJ) handles official registration of religious communities, associations, and centers.  Groups wishing to register must submit an application and supporting documentation to the ministry, including bylaws describing their religious teachings and governance, minutes of the founding meeting, and a list of the founders, at least 15 of whom must be citizens.  Upon approval of its application, a religious community, association, or center may register as a legal entity with the State Enterprise Center of Registers.  Registration is voluntary for religious communities, associations, and centers affiliated with traditional religious groups and mandatory for nontraditional communities wishing to receive legal status.

Registration of traditional religious communities, associations, and centers is free of charge, while nontraditional communities pay a fee of 32 euros ($36).  Traditional communities also have a simpler registration procedure and need to submit only an application, decisions of their governing body on the appointment of their leader, and their headquarters address.  The MOJ may refuse to register a religious group if full data are not included in the application, the activities of the group violate human rights or public order, or a group with the same name has already registered.  According to data from the Center of Registers, there are 1,121 traditional and 197 nontraditional religious communities, associations, and centers that are officially registered legal entities.

The law recognizes as traditional those religious groups able to trace back their presence in the country at least 300 years.  The law lists nine traditional religious groups:  Roman Catholic, Greek Catholic, Evangelical Lutheran, Evangelical Reformed, Russian Orthodox, Old Believer, Jewish, Sunni Muslim, and Karaite Jewish.  Traditional religious groups may perform marriages that are state recognized, establish joint private/public schools, provide religious instruction in public schools, and receive annual government subsidies.  Their highest-ranking leaders are eligible to apply for diplomatic passports, and they may provide chaplains for the military, social care institutions, hospitals, and prisons.  The state provides social security and healthcare insurance contributions for clergy, religious workers, and members of monastic orders of the traditional religious groups.  Traditional religious groups are also not required to pay social and health-insurance taxes for clergy and most other religious workers and members of monastic orders.

Other religious groups and associations may apply to the MOJ for state recognition if they have legal entity status, meaning they have been officially registered in the country for at least 25 years.  Parliament votes on whether to grant state recognition status upon recommendation from the ministry.  The Evangelical Baptist Union of Lithuania, Seventh-day Adventist Church, Pentecostal Evangelical Belief Christian Union, and New Apostolic Church of Lithuania are the only state-recognized nontraditional religious groups registered in this manner.

For all religious groups, official registration is a prerequisite for opening a bank account, owning property, and acting in a legal or official capacity as a community.  The law allows all registered religious groups to own property for use as prayer houses, homes, and other functions, and it permits construction of facilities necessary for religious activities.  All registered groups are eligible for public funds from municipalities for cultural and social projects.

The country has compulsory military service for males between the ages of 19 and 26 and up to the age of 38 for those with higher education.  Military service is for nine months.  Clergy from registered groups are exempt from compulsory military service.  In the event of a military conflict, clergy would be called to serve as chaplains.  The law recognizes the right to conscientious objection to military service and provides for alternative service in civilian institutions or, if the military deems it necessary, in a national defense institution.

Unregistered communities have no legal status, but the constitution allows them to conduct worship services and seek new members.

The Interministerial Commission to Coordinate Activities of Governmental Institutions that Deal with Issues of Religious, Esoteric, and Spiritual Groups coordinates investigations of religious groups if there is a concern a group’s actions may be inconsistent with what the commission perceives to be “principles that stress respect for human freedom of expression and freedom of religion.”

The Journalist Ethics Inspectorate, a government-sponsored organization whose head is appointed by parliament, investigates complaints involving the violation of regulatory laws governing the provision of information to the public, including by print media and the internet.  These laws include prohibition of the publication of material that fuels religious hatred.  The inspectorate may levy administrative fines on newspapers or refer cases to the Office of the General Prosecutor.

The Soviet Union nationalized all religious buildings on June 19, 1948, some of which religious groups continued to use after that date to serve religious communities.  By law, registered religious communities had until 1997 to apply to the appropriate ministry or municipality for restitution or compensation of religious property they owned before June 19, 1948.  The government continues to review cases from registered religious groups filed by the 1997 deadline but is not accepting any new claims.  Religious groups may appeal ministry or municipality decisions in court.  Unregistered religious groups could not apply for restitution.

The law permits registered religious groups to register previously nationalized religious property that was not officially registered under their name but which they owned before 1948 and continued to use during the Soviet period.  The deadline for registered religious groups to register such properties with the MOJ was 2014.  The government continues to review cases from registered religious groups filed by the 2014 deadline but is not accepting any new claims.  Religious groups may appeal the ministry’s decisions in court.

For individuals, the country’s private property restitution laws provided a mechanism through which the country’s citizens who had received citizenship before the restitution application deadline (December 31, 2001) and resided in the country had the right to submit a claim for private property restitution.  The laws excluded those who either lacked citizenship or regained it after 2001.

For Jewish-owned communal property nationalized under totalitarian regimes, a compensation fund was established in 2011 to support Jewish educational, religious, scientific, cultural, and healthcare projects with public benefits.  Pursuant to the law, the government is committed to disbursing a total of 36 million euros ($40.82 million) over the decade ending March 1, 2023.  Funds go to the Good Will Foundation, a public institution governed by national and international Jewish leaders, for distribution.

The country has no law for the restitution of private and/or heirless private property seized during the Nazi era.

The government allocates funds to traditional religious communities for refurbishing houses of prayer, restoring old cemeteries, and preserving cultural heritage sites.  Each traditional religious group receives 3,075 euros ($3,500) every year as a base fund, plus an additional amount that is calibrated according to the number of adherents in each community.

The constitution and other laws permit and fund religious instruction in public schools for traditional and state-recognized religious groups.  Most religious instructors are regular state-employed teachers, but some are priests, seminarians, or members of religious orders.  Parents must choose either religious instruction or secular ethics classes for their children.  Schools decide which of the traditional or state-recognized nontraditional religious groups will be represented in their curricula based on requests from parents of children up to the age of 14, after which students present the requests themselves.

There are 30 private schools established by religious communities, of which 26 are Catholic and four are Jewish.  Students of different religious groups may attend these schools.  All accredited private schools (religious and nonreligious) receive funding from municipalities and the Ministry of Education, Science, and Sport through a voucher system based on the number of pupils.  Each private school receives 1,099 euros ($1,200) per student.  National minority schools, which include schools established by the Jewish community, receive 20 percent more than other private schools – a total of 1,318.80 euros ($1,500) – per student.  This funding supports additional language study, as minority communities often do not speak Lithuanian as their first language.  The per-student stipend covers only the program costs of school operation.  Private school operators generally bear responsibility for covering capital outlays; however, according to an agreement the government signed with the Holy See, the Ministry of Education, Science, and Sport funds both the capital and operating costs of private Catholic schools.

The criminal code prohibits incitement of hatred and discrimination based on religion and stipulates fines or up to two years in prison for violations.  The code penalizes interference with religious ceremonies of recognized religious groups, with community service, fines, or detention for up to 90 days.  The law does not address interference with or incitement of hatred against unrecognized religious groups.

The Office of the Equal Opportunities (OEO) ombudsperson investigates complaints of discrimination, including those based on religion, directed against state institutions, educational institutions, employers, and product and service sellers and producers.  Parliament appoints the ombudsperson for a period of five years.  The office conducts independent investigations, publishes surveys and independent reports on discrimination, and provides conclusions and recommendations on any discrimination-related issues.  Its recommendations are not mandatory, but the OEO may appeal to the courts in cases of noncompliance.  The office also makes proposals to state and municipal institutions and government agencies concerning the improvement of legal acts and priorities for the implementation of equal rights policy.  The ombudsperson does not levy monetary penalties.  It may recommend cases to the Prosecutor General’s Office for pretrial investigation.

The parliamentary ombudsperson is a separate entity that examines the conduct of state authorities in serving the population.  The ombudsperson may investigate complaints, recommend changes in the law or draft legislation to parliamentary committees and ministries, and recommend cases to the Prosecutor General’s Office for pretrial investigation.

The criminal code prohibits public display of Nazi symbols or national anthems.  Violators are subject to fines of 144-289 euros ($160-$330).

The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Government Practices

The MOJ again made no recommendation to parliament on a 2017 Jehovah’s Witnesses application for state-recognized religious association status.

An application for religious association status by the United Methodist Church of Lithuania, which the MOJ submitted to parliament with a favorable recommendation in 2001, remained pending.

On June 8, the ECHR ruled that the government had violated articles of the European Convention on Human Rights and Freedom of Thought, Conscience, Religion, and Non-Discrimination and the right to a fair trial when in 2019 the parliament did not approve the Romuva community’s application for status as a state-recognized religious community, despite a positive conclusion from the MOJ.  On September 7, the Constitutional Court ruled as unconstitutional the provision of law that states that if an application for recognition of a religious community is not approved, it may reapply but only after 10 years.  Following the ruling, on September 30, the Romuva community resubmitted its application, and on October 8, the Parliamentary Human Rights Committee registered the application for consideration.  At year’s end, the application remained pending before the full parliament.

On August 17, local media reported the government cancelled a project to redevelop the Vilnius Sports Palace into a convention center because the COVID-19 pandemic “changed the market for conference tourism, and earlier visions of the project are being adjusted.”  The Jewish community opposed the project because it was located on the site of the 15th-century historic Snipiskes Jewish cemetery.  Mayor of Vilnius Remigijus Simasius and business leaders publicly criticized the decision, commenting on the importance of the space as a venue for conference tourism.

As it has done annually since 2012, the government disbursed 3.62 million euros ($4.10 million) to the Good Will Foundation, a public institution that distributes government funds provided “for projects that contribute to building a strong and active Jewish community,” in accordance with its agreement with that institution.  The government did not address compensation for Jewish private and/or heirless property seized during the Nazi era or resolve any pending restitution or compensation claims by other religious groups for property seized by the Soviet Union.

The government provided 1.59 million euros ($1.80 million) to traditional religious groups to reconstruct religious buildings and to support other religious community activities.  This amount was distributed to religious groups based on the number of adherents published by the Department of Statistics.  Of this total, it granted 1.46 million euros ($1.66 million) to the Roman Catholic Church and 80,700 euros ($91,500) to the Russian Orthodox community.  The remaining 155,000 euros ($176,000) was divided among the Old Believer, Evangelical Lutheran, Evangelical Reformed, Sunni Muslim, Jewish, Karaite Jewish, and Greek Catholic communities.

The OEO ombudsperson received four complaints of discrimination based on religion and decided that all of them fell outside its jurisdiction.  One of the complaints, a legal challenge to the requirement that clergy of nonrecognized religions must pay compulsory health insurance tax, remained under consideration by a court at year’s end.  There were no court cases related to the other three complaints.

Seventeen researchers employed by the government-funded Genocide and Resistance Research Center of Lithuania (GRRCL) signed a letter on January 17 to the Speaker of Parliament expressing their concerns regarding GRRCL director Adas Jakubauskas.  The letter described Jakubauskas as supporting the use of the GRRCL’s research to wage “memory wars” by rehabilitating historical figures who resisted the Soviet occupation of the country but also collaborated with the Nazis during the Holocaust.  On February 3, GRRCL advisor Vidmantas Valiusaitis, appointed by Jakubauskas, resigned from the GRRCL; he publicly cited the letter signed by the researchers as the reason for his departure.  On April 1, the parliament dismissed Jakubauskas after a parliamentary working group issued a decision that he had caused the “polarization” of GRRCL staff.  On April 15, the parliament appointed as GRRCL director Arunas Bubnys, who was then head of the GRRCL’s Department of Historical Research.  During his tenure in that position, Bubnys ran for parliament as a candidate of the National Union Party, described as far-right and nationalist, in the October 2020 parliamentary election.  He was not elected, and in April, he announced he had left the party.

On August 10, in response to protesters criticizing government COVID-19 restrictions by comparing them to the Holocaust, Prime Minister Simonyte issued a public apology for the protesters’ use of Holocaust and Nazi imagery, stating, “I apologize to those who were insulted by the use of Jewish symbols and comparisons with ghettos of Nazi occupation times by some of the protesters,” and he described their use as “an unacceptable devaluation” of “a horrible tragedy of humanity.”  Speaker of Parliament Cmilyte-Nielsen and other public figures also made statements to media rejecting the protesters’ references to the Holocaust.

On January 27, International Holocaust Remembrance Day, MP and then chair of the Parliamentary Commission for the Cause of Freedom and the National Historical Memory Valdas Rakutis wrote an article published on the news portal in which he said, “There was no shortage of Holocaust perpetrators among the Jews themselves, especially in the ghetto self-government structures.”  Rakutis’ article drew public criticism from Prime Minister Simonyte, Foreign Minister Landsbergis, Speaker of Parliament Cmilyte-Nielsen, and other officials.  Two days later, Rakutis stepped down as head of the Parliamentary Commission for the Cause of Freedom and the National Historical Memory.  On February 22, Vilnius prosecutors announced they had declined to open a pretrial investigation into his comments on the Holocaust, and the Vilnius District Prosecutor’s Office concluded that Rakutis’ article did not constitute a crime or misdemeanor.

The municipal government of Ukmerge District continued to resist removing a monument to Juozas Krikstaponis.  Archival evidence documented that Krikstaponis participated in the killing of Jews in Belarus in 1941.  In May, the Minister of Foreign Affairs sent a letter to the mayor of Ukmerge urging removal of the monument.

On June 15, parliament adopted a resolution marking the 80th anniversary of the start of deportations of Jews and the resistance to the Soviet and Nazi occupations.  The resolution passed with 103 MPs supporting and three abstaining.  The single opposing vote was cast by the chair of the International Commission for the Evaluation of the Crimes of the Nazi and Soviet Occupation Regimes in Lithuania, Emanuelis Zingeris, the only Jewish MP.  Zingeris stated publicly that he opposed the resolution because it omitted specific wording that had been included in similar resolutions from previous years, stating that the Nazis carried out the genocide in the country “with the help of local collaborators.”  Jewish Committee of Lithuania (JCL) chair Faina Kukliansky stated she agreed with Zingeris’ concerns.

On January 27, International Holocaust Remembrance Day, President Gitanas Nauseda tweeted, “Today we remember those who perished in the ghastly Shoah fire ignited by hatred, fueled by indifference.  We remember because #NeverAgain.”  Prime Minister Simonyte stated in a press release, “The horrors of the Holocaust brought tragedy to all of humanity.”

On April 8, Foreign Minister Landsbergis, Speaker of Parliament Cmilyte-Nielsen, members of the Jewish community, and Holocaust survivors attended a ceremony at Paneriai Memorial to commemorate Holocaust victims and to mark Holocaust and Heroism Remembrance Day.  “It is a warning to all of us that the aggressive policy of violence, mutual hatred must be prevented today to ensure that such a tragedy will never happen again.  To this end, we must constantly teach and educate our society, especially the younger generation.  We should not be afraid to speak boldly and openly about our painful history,” Landsbergis said.

On June 4, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs hosted a conference entitled “A Divisive Past:  The Soviet-German War and Narratives of Mass Violence in East Central Europe.”  The event featured prominent Lithuanian and international historians and critically examined the events of June 1941 (a revolt against the Soviet forces then in Lithuania, followed by a wave of violence against Jews when the Nazis invaded that marked the beginning of the Holocaust in the country).  The conference also examined historical narratives surrounding resistance to the Soviet occupation and violence against Jews.  Prime Minister Simonyte and Speaker of Parliament Cmilyte-Nielsen delivered opening remarks.  Simonyte stated in her remarks, “The maturity of society is measurable as to whether it can accept truth from historians.”

On June 18, President Nauseda delivered remarks at a second conference on the topic, “June 1941:  Occupations, Great Losses, and Resistance.”  Nauseda praised the “patriotism” of the June 23, 1941, uprising, a revolt against the Soviet forces then in Lithuania and that also included a wave of violence against Jews that marked the beginning of the Holocaust in the country.  He alluded to the role of Lithuanians in the Holocaust by adding, “Today we would have fewer victims of mass deportations in the Holocaust if it had not been for the collaborators, who willingly stood in the service of one of the occupation governments.”

On July 28, President Nauseda and Prime Minister Simonyte congratulated the Tatar community on the Year of Lithuanian Tatar History and Culture, as officially designated by parliament, which passed a resolution in October 2019 declaring 2021 the Year of Lithuanian Tatar History and Culture.  In his congratulatory message, President Nauseda emphasized that the majority-Muslim Tatars had left a significant mark on the history of the country.  Prime Minister Simonyte stated that Lithuanian Tatars are part of the country’s multicultural identity.

On September 23, the parliament passed a resolution to commemorate the 80th anniversary of the Holocaust in the country, calling on municipalities to mark all sites of the mass murder of Jews, put old Jewish cemeteries in order, and set up appropriate direction signs and interpretive displays.  The resolution also stressed that monuments and commemorative markers to those who collaborated with the Nazis and the Soviets must not remain in public spaces or be commemorated in educational programs.  It also emphasized the need to continue documenting the names of Jews who perished during the Holocaust for the purpose of including this information at massacre sites.

On the occasion of the 80th anniversary of the wave of violence against Jews that began in June 1941 and marked beginning of the Holocaust in the country, the International Commission for the Evaluation of the Crimes of the Nazi and Soviet Occupation Regimes in Lithuania initiated a national project entitled, “Memory Road 1941-2021,” which took place from June to December.

On June 23, Prime Minister Simonyte participated in the first event of the Memory Road project, in the city of Gargzdai.  In her remarks, she stated, “You cannot change that atrocious past; it is paramount that we remember it.  We must tell our children and grandchildren what happened, just to make sure that this never happens again.”

On September 8, Foreign Minister Landsbergis participated in a Memory Road event in the city of Alytus.  In his remarks, he stated, “The Holocaust was the largest tragedy of Europe of the 20th century; its scale in Lithuania is shocking.”

On September 14, President Nauseda presented state awards to 37 individuals who saved Jews during World War II.  Almost all were awarded posthumously.  In his remarks at the ceremony, Nauseda said, “Every September, as we mark the National Memorial Day for the Genocide of Lithuanian Jews, we honor the memory of Lithuanian Jewish citizens who were killed during World War II.”

On September 23, the Day of the Genocide of Lithuania’s Jews, Prime Minister Simonyte attended a ceremony in Vilnius to pay tribute to the victims of the genocide.  In her remarks, she stated, “What happened is not only a tragedy of the Jewish nation, it is a tragedy of all nations.”  Also on September 23, Speaker of Parliament Cmilyte-Nielsen attended a ceremony at the Paneriai Memorial, where she stated that the example of those Lithuanians who saved Jews during the Holocaust should be a part of the country’s public education.

The Presidential Palace hosted a September 23 concert in commemoration of Holocaust Memorial Day in Lithuania.  In pre-recorded remarks, President Nauseda stated, “Today we bow our heads in memory of hundreds of thousands of Jews lost during the Holocaust.  In one blink of history a community that had been creating the multicultural state of Lithuania was annihilated.”

On October 13, President Nauseda attended the International Forum on Holocaust Remembrance and Combating Antisemitism in Malmo, Sweden.  In his remarks at the event, he stated, “We still deeply feel the loss of our fellow Lithuanian Jewish citizens.  We must ensure that future generations remember and reflect on the painful lessons of the Holocaust.”

In response to a Jehovah’s Witness conscientious objector whose appeal the Supreme Administrative Court rejected in 2019, the ECHR announced in 2020 that it would examine whether the country provided a suitable alternative to religiously motivated conscientious objectors.  The case remained pending at year’s end.

On April 29, President Nauseda met with leaders of the Catholic and Orthodox churches, and issued a statement wishing Catholic, Orthodox, and Old Believer communities a happy Easter.

The country is a member of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance.


Executive Summary

The constitution prohibits religious discrimination and protects the freedom of individuals to profess their religion or belief.  It is a crime to engage in public speech inciting religious hatred.  Parliament continued to pressure the government to counter foreign funding of mosques and Islamic institutions in an effort to stop the influence of Salafist and radical ideas.  Authorities rarely enforced the law banning full-face coverings in schools, hospitals, public transportation, and government buildings.  Local and national security officials said they continued to work with Jewish and Muslim communities to increase security at religious sites.  Politicians from some political parties made anti-Islam statements during the year that were protected by constitutional provisions on free speech.  Government ministers spoke out against antisemitism.  In April, Eddo Verdoner became the country’s first National Coordinator for Countering Antisemitism.  In September, Justice Minister Ferdinand Grapperhaus announced that Holocaust denial would explicitly become a punishable offense under the law and King Willem-Alexander unveiled the National Holocaust Memorial of Names in Amsterdam.  During the International Forum on Holocaust Remembrance and Combating Antisemitism in October, Deputy Prime Minister Karin Ollongren announced the country would host the headquarters of the European Holocaust Research Infrastructure and help finance its establishment.  In September, leading Jewish organizations called on parliamentary parties to speak out against the use of Holocaust comparisons in political debates and messaging in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic.  In March and June, Education Minister Ingrid van Engelshoven announced updates to the national artwork restitution policy which would end the “balancing principle” that weighed the interests of museums against claimants in deciding restitution cases.  The Minister also announced the allotment of 1.5 million euros ($1.70 million) annually for four years to support restitutions and to restart provenance research.

Government and nongovernmental organizations reported hundreds of anti-Muslim and antisemitic incidents involving nonlethal violence, threats, harassment, discrimination, hate speech, and vandalism, although the data collected by agencies often differed because of varied reporting, collection, and analysis methods.  The editor-in-chief of a prominent daily issued a statement in April in which he apologized for publishing a caricature depicting a Jewish political pollster and entrepreneur as a puppet master.  An unknown assailant vandalized a kosher restaurant in Amsterdam in February, the eighth incident targeting the restaurant since 2018.  The Netherlands Institute for Human Rights (NIHR), an independent government advisory body, received 22 complaints of religious discrimination in 2020 (the most recent information available), mostly in the workplace, compared with 26 in 2019.  Police registered 517 antisemitic incidents in 2020 (the most recent information available) compared to 768 in the previous year.  Of those incidents, 17 involved vandalism (swastikas or antisemitic texts sprayed on property and Jewish monuments) and 27 involved some form of violence.  Some observers attributed the decrease in complaints to the COVID-19 pandemic-related reduction in the number of public gatherings, for example sports events, where antisemitic incidents tended to occur.  Antisemitic chanting continued at soccer matches, despite agreements between authorities, the Royal Netherlands Soccer Association (KNVB), soccer clubs, and the Anne Frank Foundation to discourage antisemitic behavior at those events.  The Jewish community again stated it was concerned about increasing antisemitism.  In September, the Brussels-based NGO Action and Protection League issued the results of its European antisemitism survey, which found that 2 percent of 1,000 respondents ages 18-75 in the Netherlands said they had negative feelings towards Jews.  In 2020, police registered 180 incidents of other forms of religious discrimination, most of which targeted Muslims, compared with 225 incidents in 2019.  Municipal antidiscrimination boards registered more overall incidents in 2020 (391) than in 2019 (297), 79 percent of which involved anti-Muslim discrimination.  Monitoring organizations said there was a further increase in anti-Muslim hate speech online and that many instances of workplace discrimination against Muslims were directed at women wearing headscarves.  Muslim women wearing niqabs or burqas reported they were subjected to increased physical and verbal abuse in locations where the full-face covering ban did not apply, such as parks and shops.

The U.S. embassy in The Hague and the consulate general in Amsterdam emphasized the importance of supporting all faiths and engaging in interfaith dialogue in both formal meetings and informal conversations with government officials from multiple ministries and with parliamentarians.  Embassy and consulate general representatives discussed religious freedom issues with leaders of several different faith communities and a broad range of civil society groups.  U.S. officials met with the Dutch Jewish Council (CJO) regarding cooperation with the Jewish community on Holocaust restitution and reparations efforts.  The embassy and consulate general highlighted the need for religious tolerance and interfaith understanding and discussed issues of religious integration and countering violent extremism in outreach to youth, academics, religious leaders, and organizations from various faith traditions.  During these meetings, embassy representatives discussed religious freedom issues, including the ban on full face coverings and the importance of safeguarding halal and kosher slaughter and religious education.

Section I. Religious Demography

The Netherlands, along with the Dutch Caribbean islands of Aruba, Curacao, and Sint Maarten, form the Kingdom of the Netherlands.

The U.S. government estimates the total population of the Netherlands at 17.3 million (midyear 2021).  In a 2019 survey (the most recent available), Statistics Netherlands, the official source for government statistics, reported that 54 percent of the population age 15 or older in the Netherlands declared no religious affiliation, 20 percent identified as Roman Catholic, 15 percent as Protestant (6 percent Reformed, 2.9 percent Calvinist, and 5.6 percent unspecified Protestant), 5 percent as Muslim, and 6 percent as “other,” including Hindus, Jews, Buddhists, and Baha’is.

The U.S. government estimates the total population of Curacao at 151,900 (midyear 2021).  According to 2011 census data, 72.8 percent of the population in Curacao identified as Roman Catholic, 18.4 percent another denomination of Christianity, 2.3 percent another religion (including Jehovah’s Witness, Muslim, Jewish, and “other”), and 6.0 percent not religious.

The U.S. government estimates the total population of Aruba at 121,000 (midyear 2021).  According to 2010 census data, 75.3 percent of the population in Aruba identified as Roman Catholic, 4.9 percent Protestant, 1.7 percent Jehovah’s Witness, 12 percent “other,” 5.5 percent “none,” and 0.5 percent “unspecified.”

The U.S. government estimates the total population of Sint Maarten at 44,500 (midyear 2021).  According to 2011 census data, 41.9 percent of the population in Sint Maarten identified as Protestant, 33.1 percent Roman Catholic, 5.2 percent Hindu, 4.1 percent another denomination of Christianity, 1.7 percent Jehovah’s Witness, 1.7 percent Evangelical, 1.4 percent Muslim or Jewish, 1.3 percent “other,” 7.9 percent “none,” and 2.4 percent “no response.”

Most Muslims in the Netherlands live in urban areas and are of Turkish, Moroccan, or Surinamese descent.  The Muslim population also includes recent immigrants and asylum seekers from other countries, including Iran, Iraq, Somalia, Syria, Afghanistan, Albania, and Bosnia and Herzegovina.  While there are no official estimates, most Muslims are believed to be Sunni.  The Reform Jewish Congregation, the largest Jewish community in the country, estimates there are 40,000-50,000 Jews.  A Statistics Netherlands study from 2015 (the most recent available) estimates the number of Hindus at 10,000, of whom approximately 85 percent are of Surinamese descent and 10 percent of Indian descent.  The Buddhist community has approximately 17,000 members, according to a 2007 report by the Netherlands Institute for Social Research, the most recent Dutch estimate available.  Boston University’s World Religion Database estimates there are 207,000 Buddhists in the country (1.2 percent of the population.)

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution prohibits discrimination on religious grounds and provides for the freedom of individuals to profess their religion or belief, individually or in community with others, provided it does not affect their responsibilities under the law.  The constitution allows the government to restrict the exercise of religious beliefs outside of buildings or enclosed spaces to protect health, ensure traffic safety, and prevent disorder.

The law makes it a crime to engage in public speech that incites religious hatred and provides a penalty of imprisonment for up to two years, a fine of up to 8,100 euros ($9,200), or both.  To qualify as hate speech, statements must be directed at a group of persons; the law does not consider statements targeted at a philosophy or religion, such as “Islam” (as opposed to “Muslims”), to be criminal hate speech.

The law does not require religious groups to register with the government.  Under the law, if the tax authorities determine a group is “of a philosophical or religious nature,” contributes to the general welfare of society, and is nonprofit and nonviolent, they grant it exemptions from all taxes, including income, value-added, and property taxes.

The law bans full-face coverings – including niqabs and burqas, as well as other nonreligious attire such as ski masks and helmets – in schools, hospitals, public transportation, and government buildings.  According to the law, authorities must first ask individuals violating the ban to remove the face covering or to leave the premises.  Those refusing to comply may be fined 150 euros ($170).

The law permits employees to refuse to work on Sundays for religious reasons, but employers may deny employees such an exception depending on the nature of the work, such as employment in the health sector.  Members of religious communities for whom the day of worship is not Sunday may request similar exemptions.

The Council of State and the NIHR are responsible for reviewing complaints of religious discrimination.  The Council of State is the highest administrative court in the country, and its rulings are binding.  The NIHR serves as the government’s independent human rights watchdog, responsible for advising the government and monitoring and highlighting such issues, including those pertaining to religion.  The NIHR hears complaints of religious discrimination, often involving labor disputes, and issues opinions that do not carry the force of law but with which the involved parties tend to comply.  If respondents do not comply with NIHR’s opinion, complainants may take their case to a regular court.

Local governments appoint antidiscrimination boards that work independently under the auspices of the Ministry of the Interior and Kingdom Relations.  These local boards provide information on how to report complaints and mediate disputes, including those pertaining to discrimination based on religion.  Parties involved in disputes are not forced to accept mediation decisions of the local boards.

The government provides funding to religious schools, other religious educational institutions, and religious healthcare facilities.  To qualify for funding, institutions must meet government educational standards as well as minimum class size and healthcare requirements.  The constitution says that standards required of religious or ideology-based (termed “special”) schools, financed either in part or fully by the government, shall be regulated by law with due regard for the freedom of these schools to provide education according to their religion or ideology.

The constitution stipulates public education shall pay due respect to the individual’s religion or belief.  The law permits, but does not require, religious education in public schools.  Teachers with relevant training approved by the Ministry of Education teach classes about a specific religion or its theology in some public schools, and enrollment in these classes is optional.  All schools are required to familiarize students with the various religious movements in society, regardless of the school’s religious affiliation.  Religion-based schools that are government funded are free to determine the content of their religious classes and make them mandatory, provided the education inspectorate agrees that such education does not incite criminal offenses such as inciting hate speech or action.  Approximately 71 percent of government-funded schools have a religious, humanist, or philosophical basis.  The Ministry of Education, Culture, and Science is responsible for setting national curriculum standards with which all schools must comply and for monitoring compliance.

Courts may issue fines and arrest warrants against a spouse who refuses to give a spouse a religious divorce.

The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Government Practices

In response to a parliamentary request to screen foreign funding of mosques and Islamic institutions in order to counter what he said was the influence of Salafist and extremist ideology, Minister for Legal Protection Sander Dekker proposed legislation on June 8 that would require oversight of all donations from outside the EU to any civil society organization.  Dekker rejected a parliamentary proposal to include an index of “unfree countries” that could be influencing the Netherlands through funding.  He said, however, “Propagating hatred against dissenters, inciting violence and extremism, or spreading anti-democratic ideas, there is no place for that in the Netherlands.  Organizations that are involved in this must be fought vigorously.”  As of year’s end, the bill had not been put forward for parliamentary debate.

Authorities said the government continued working with various Muslim communities to reinforce their “resilience” against Salafist doctrine, including meeting with community representatives to discuss the challenges faced by mosques, providing training on how to recognize signs of radicalization, and supporting Muslim youth exposed to polarization, radicalization, and extremism.

During the year, authorities rarely enforced the law banning full-face coverings in schools, hospitals, public transportation, and government buildings.  Public transportation representatives reported a decrease in the number of women wearing niqabs or burqas using public transportation.  A May report by the Ministry of Social Affairs stated that most women surveyed who wore a niqab or burqa said they did not use public transportation and those that did experienced some form of discrimination.  The respondents stated they felt insecure and were subjected to increased physical and verbal abuse, such as attempts to forcibly remove their full-face covering in some public places where the face covering ban did not apply, such as parks and shops.  One respondent reported that while she was crossing the road with her daughter, a bicyclist ran into her daughter, which the respondent said was due to her wearing a burqa.  Another woman, making a similar assertion, said someone in an electric wheelchair ran over her son’s hand in a market.  When the law banning full-face covering passed in 2019, the government said it would evaluate it in 2022, but the NGO Report Islamophobia in 2020 called for an earlier evaluation.  This had not occurred by year’s end.

The government continued to require asylum seekers requesting a residence permit to sign a statement of “participation in civic integration.”  The statement informed immigrants of their rights and obligations and of the country’s fundamental values, including freedom of religion.

The Central Body for Accommodating Asylum Seekers, the agency charged with overseeing asylum centers, said it prohibited religious proselytizing in the centers to avoid inflaming tensions among different religious groups housed together in an already sensitive environment.  Other than inside the asylum centers, the government permitted proselytizing within society.

Local and national authorities, the National Coordinator for Counterterrorism and Security, and police said they consulted closely on security issues with representatives from religious communities.  Local governments, in consultation with the national government, continued to provide security to all Jewish institutions.  The volunteer organization For Life and Welfare said it also provided private security to Jewish institutions and events.

Local governments continued to provide security to mosques and Islamic institutions as necessary, and local authorities worked with Islamic institutions on enhancing the security of mosques and other religious institutes, as well as their visitors.  The national government continued to support this local approach and developed materials to assist religious institutes and local governments in implementing such measures.  The national government continued to disseminate the 2019 “Security of Religious Institutes” manual, which was developed in consultation with the Muslim community, local governments, and police.

In April, the government proposed updates to legislation that would allow mayors to close local religious facilities such as churches and mosques for a maximum of 10 days to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic.  The Council of State said that a profession of religion or belief within such buildings was constitutionally protected, but this protection did not exclude restrictions that would protect public health.  Leader of the Reformed Christian Party Kees van der Staaij disagreed with the bill and said it “[detracted] from the church’s position as a constitutionally protected place.”  As of year’s end, the bill had yet to be put forward for parliamentary debate.

In an August 4 interview, member of parliament Esther Ouwehand, leader of the Party for the Animals (PvdD), announced plans to propose legislation that would ban animal slaughter without prior stunning.  At year’s end, PvdD had not put forward such legislation.  On July 19 (Eid al-Adha), Party for Freedom (PVV) leader and member of parliament Geert Wilders tweeted, “Tonight begins the barbaric festival of sacrifice for Muslims…As far as the PVV is concerned, we must ban this sickly ‘party’ [the Eid]…as soon as possible.”  In 2019, the Council of State had said legislation to ban animal slaughter without prior stunning “constitutes a serious infringement on freedom of religion, violates the human rights of Jews and Muslims,” and should therefore not be introduced.  The Council stated the interest of protecting animal welfare did not outweigh the freedom of religion.

In May, the Ministry of Education told media that an Islamic primary school would be established in the predominantly Christian community of Westland.  The school had not been established by year’s end.  In 2020, the town voted to remove a budget line item set aside for the school, citing the fact that the school had not submitted an application.

The government continued to require imams and other spiritual leaders recruited from abroad to complete a course on integrating into Dutch society before preaching in the country.  This requirement did not apply to clergy from EU countries and countries with association agreements with the EU, such as Turkey, whose Religious Affairs Directorate appointed approximately 140 Turkish imams to serve in the country.  The government continued to sponsor leadership courses intended to facilitate imam training in Dutch.

The national railway, Nederlandse Spoorwegen (NS), announced in a June 3 report that it had paid 5,498 applicants a total of 43,877,500 euros ($49.75 million) through its 2019-2020 Holocaust compensation program in recompense for the railway having transported more than 100,000 victims to transit camps during World War II.  Of the approved applications, 804 were from living direct survivors.  NS received 7,791 total applications from 35 countries, mostly from the Netherlands (4,936), Israel (1,195), and the United States (668).  NS reported it also donated five million euros ($5.67 million) to the Holocaust memorial centers Camp Westerbork, Camp Vught, Camp Amersfoort, and the Oranjehotel as an expression of remembrance for all the victims.

In March 12 and June 25 letters to parliament, Education Minister Ingrid van Engelshoven responded to a December 2020 evaluation of the national artwork restitution policy done by the ad hoc Kohnstamm Committee.  In her first letter, she stated that the government would no longer use the “balancing principle” – which weighed the interest of museums against claimants – in artwork restitution review.  Instead, claimants would be given priority.  In her second letter, van Engelshoven announced a pledge of 1.5 million euros ($1.70 million) annually for four years to support the implementation of the artwork restitution policy, the resumption of systematic provenance research, and a new policy under which the government would return “heirless art” with Jewish provenance currently under state control to the Jewish community.  The CJO welcomed van Engelshoven’s response, which CJO chair Ronny Nafthaniel described as “righteous.”

The country is a member of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA).  The government continued to state that it accepted the IHRA Working Definition of Antisemitism but that it was not legally bound by it.  The government said it shared indicators from this definition with police and the Public Prosecutor’s Office so they could take the indicators into account when dealing with incidents of antisemitism.  The government said it used the IHRA definition as a practical tool for registration and detection of criminal offenses that could have a discriminatory element.

On June 24, the government presented the annual update of its National Action Plan Against Discrimination, which outlined the need to strengthen efforts to combat racism and discrimination, including anti-Islamic sentiment and antisemitism, developed in consultation with experts in the field of antidiscrimination.

For the third consecutive year, the government spent one million euros ($1.13 million) on projects to counter antisemitism, with emphasis on improving incident reporting and response and focusing on capacity building, resilience, awareness, and supporting local antidiscrimination boards to better help victims submit complaints.  The government supported projects by the Anne Frank Foundation and the government’s own Project Cyber:  Hate Speech, which trained an estimated 8,000 youth to recognize discrimination, including antisemitism, online.

In 2020, parliamentarians Gert-Jan Segers of the Christian Union Party and Dilan Yesilgoz of the People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD) proposed a nonbinding plan of action to combat antisemitism more effectively.  In response to the VVD proposal, in 2021 the government allocated funds to improve authorities’ ability to monitor antisemitism, encourage the filing of complaints about antisemitic incidents, and establish educational programs on the Holocaust and Jewish heritage in schools.  One project built the capacity of antidiscrimination facilities to support victims of antisemitism and other forms of discrimination, including helping them report incidents to the police.

The government’s first national coordinator for countering antisemitism, Eddo Verdoner, began his duties on April 1.  CJO chair Ronny Naftaniel said the appointment of Verdoner was “a proof of confidence” in the government’s commitment to fight antisemitism; he added that Verdoner was “pre-eminently the person who can form a bridge between the policy of government and the civil society organizations that are active in this area.”  Verdoner stated he wished to work on the criminalization of Holocaust denial, on Holocaust education, and on commemorating and celebrating Jewish history in the country.  He said, “The Netherlands must learn to cherish its Jewish past.  This includes explaining the past, how antisemitism arose, Luther and the Inquisition, and how hatred of Jews ultimately led to the Shoah.  We have to keep fighting so that the persecution of the Jews remains central during the [annual Remembrance of the Dead] ceremony on May 4.”  The national coordinator reports directly to the Minister of Justice and Security and is charged with working to strengthen cooperation between government and civil society organizations.  The position lasts for one year and may be renewed after the government reviews the office’s effectiveness.  On July 13, parliament passed a nonbinding motion to extend the term of the national coordinator for two years.

In September, Justice Minister Grapperhaus stated to parliament that “publicly condoning, denying, or grossly trivializing genocide, war crimes, and the Holocaust” would become punishable offenses under Dutch law.  The announcement was in response to demands from the European Commission in 2020 and National Coordinator Verdoner earlier in September 2021 for the country to explicitly criminalize Holocaust denial.  While Holocaust denial had not been explicitly referenced as prohibited by law previously, the Supreme Court had ruled in past cases that it was punishable as a criminal offense.  The government did not propose legislation regarding the Minister’s announcement during the year.

Mayors and aldermen in larger cities, including Amsterdam, Rotterdam, and The Hague, said they continued to meet at regular intervals with the Jewish community to discuss security issues and other topics of interest.  These city governments continued to support a range of projects, such as educational programs to teach primary schoolchildren about the Holocaust and to counter prejudice against Jews.  Amsterdam, with the largest Jewish population in the country, remained particularly active in such programming, which comprised mostly virtual presentations during the year because of COVID-19 restrictions.

Government and security officials reported they met throughout the year with the Jewish community to discuss matters of concern, such as security, antisemitism, and animal slaughter.  The CJO, Netherlands-Jewish Congregation, Netherlands Alliance of Progressive Judaism, Christian NGO Only Jesus Christian Ministries (OJCM), and NGO Center for Information and Documentation on Israel (CIDI) took part in these meetings.

PVV leader Wilders continued to pursue a campaign calling for the “de-Islamization of the Netherlands,” advocating a series of measures including closing all mosques and Islamic schools, banning the Quran, and barring all asylum seekers and immigrants from Muslim-majority countries.  He used social media to disseminate his message.  Wilders’ Twitter account contained a number of entries criticizing Islam.  For example, on October 16, Wilders posted, “And while the Netherlands continues to Islamize, including [allowing] headscarves in our own parliament…, I say: #stopislam!”  On July 26 he posted, “Stop Islam.  Stop Muhammad.  Stop immigration of non-Western immigrants.  Stop mosques.  Stop Islam education.  Stop Muslim violence…. The less Islam in NL the better.”

The Forum for Democracy Party (FvD) stated that freedom of expression should prevail over freedom of religion.  According to its election platform, the party opposed foreign funding of religious schools and institutions, as well as the wearing of niqabs and other full face-coverings in public.

Citing freedom of expression, authorities in Amsterdam permitted a weekly demonstration of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement at Dam Square.  CIDI reported the demonstrations frequently used antisemitic slogans, such as equating Zionism with racism.

Government ministers, including Prime Minister Mark Rutte, spoke out against antisemitism in speeches, such as at the annual Auschwitz and Kristallnacht commemorations.  During the October 13 Malmo International Forum on Holocaust Remembrance and Combating Antisemitism in Sweden, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of the Interior and Kingdom Relations Ollongren announced four commitments the government had pursued during the year:  appointing the first national coordinator for countering antisemitism; pledging to explicitly criminalize Holocaust denial and other hate speech; emphasizing Holocaust awareness and Jewish culture in the education system; and committing the country to host the headquarters of the European Holocaust Research Infrastructure and financially contributing to its establishment.

The Anne Frank Foundation continued to organize government-sponsored and government-funded projects, such as the “Fan Coach” project that sought to counter antisemitic chanting at soccer matches by educating fans on why their actions were antisemitic.  Another foundation initiative, the “Fair Play” project, promoted discussion about countering discrimination, including religious discrimination, among soccer fans, particularly youth and young adults.  The foundation also provided materials for teaching about antisemitism in schools and a virtual library to showcase stories of youth who had experienced discrimination, including antisemitism.

An Amsterdam appellate court ruled on July 21 that the 2019 Dutch version of the Nashville Statement on marriage and sexuality, a 2017 publication by an evangelical Christian group in Tennessee that rejected homosexuality and transgender identity, did not incite discrimination.  The court ruling on the case, filed by the Transgender Network Netherlands and Netherlands Network for Sexual Diversity, followed a March 2020 statement by the Public Prosecutor’s Office that the language of the statement did not constitute a criminal offense because the freedoms of religion and expression were constitutional rights.  More than 250 individual Protestant leaders in the Netherlands had signed the Dutch version of the statement, which had been adapted from its U.S. progenitor.  The Protestant Church in the Netherlands, the representative body of Protestant churches in the country, rejected it.

On September 19, King Willem-Alexander unveiled the Amsterdam-based National Holocaust Memorial of Names, which listed the name, birthday, and date of death of each of the more than 102,000 Dutch Jews, Sinti, and Roma who perished during the Holocaust.  Prime Minister Rutte and State Secretary of Health, Welfare, and Sport Paul Blokhuis, responsible for Holocaust issues, also attended.  During the unveiling, the Prime Minister said in his remarks that “Antisemitism is never far away,” and called for vigilance.

On October 15, Benno Troostwijk, a Dutch Holocaust survivor, unveiled a monument in the city of Leeuwarden memorializing the 544 Jewish Holocaust victims of that city.  Chief Rabbi of the Council of the Inter-Provincial Chief Rabbinate Binyomin Jacobs warned against antisemitism in a speech during the unveiling and mayor of Leeuwarden Sybrand Buma welcomed the monument.

In a September 19 open letter, leading Jewish organizations, including CJO, CIDI, and Dutch Auschwitz Committee, called on parliamentary parties to speak out against the use of Holocaust comparisons in political debates and messaging in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, urging the parties “to take [on this] responsibility.”  While the letter did not name the FvD party, several politicians from FvD had made such comparisons, equating the persecution of Jews during the Holocaust with government measures against the pandemic.  On July 23, party leader Thierry Baudet tweeted, “For anyone wondering how things went in the 1930s/40s, which witnessed the exclusion of population groups and a step-by-step increase in totalitarian state control, for anyone wondering where he/she would have been at that time, now is your chance to find out!”  After CIDI and CJO filed legal action against Baudet for this and other similar tweets, the Amsterdam Court ordered on December 15 that Baudet delete his tweets comparing government COVID-19 measures with the Holocaust.  Baudet complied with the order but characterized it as an “insane, incomprehensible verdict.”  CIDI welcomed Amsterdam Mayor Femke Halsema’s condemnation of the wearing of “yellow stars” by some demonstrators during a September 5 protest in Dam Square against COVID-19 control measures.


Executive Summary

The constitution prohibits religious discrimination and protects the right to choose, practice, or change one’s faith or life stance (belief in a nonreligious philosophy).  It declares the Church of Norway is the country’s established church.  The government continued to provide the Church of Norway with exclusive benefits, including funds for salaries and benefits of clergy and staff.  The government continued to implement an action plan to combat antisemitism, particularly hate speech, as well as its action plan to combat anti-Muslim sentiment.  The government continued to provide financial support for interreligious dialogue.

Stop the Islamization of Norway (SIAN) held a number of rallies during the year in different cities, including one outside the U.S. embassy, that received widespread media attention.

U.S. embassy officials met with officials from the Ministry of Children and Families to discuss the law on faith and life stance communities, public financing for faith and life stance organizations, and the impacts COVID restrictions had on individuals’ right to practice their faith and religious communities’ ability to assemble and conduct ceremonies.  In addition, embassy officials discussed with officials from the Ministry of Justice and Public Security and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs the government’s efforts to prosecute religiously based hate crimes as well as to promote religious freedom.  Embassy representatives met with individuals from nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and faith and religious minority groups, including Christians, Muslims, Jews, Uyghur Muslims, and humanists, to discuss issues such as religious freedom and tolerance and the integration of minority groups.  The embassy routinely used social media to share messages of religious tolerance and to highlight religious holidays and events.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 5.5 million (midyear 2021).  According to Statistics Norway, the official government statistics office, 68 percent of the population (June 2020) belongs to the Church of Norway, an evangelical Lutheran denomination, a decline of 2.8 percentage points over the previous three years.

Statistics Norway, which assesses membership in religious groups using criteria based on registration, age, and attendance, reports registered membership in religious and life stance communities other than the Church of Norway is approximately 12.6 percent of the population (January 2021 estimate); 6.9 percent belongs to other Christian denominations, of which the Roman Catholic Church is the largest, at 3 percent, and 3.1 percent is Muslim.  There are approximately 21,500 Buddhists, 11,900 Hindus, 4,200 Sikhs, and 760 Jews registered in the country.  The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Church of Jesus Christ) has approximately 4,600 members.

According to Statistics Norway, approximately 1.8 percent of the population participates in life stance organizations.  The Norwegian Humanist Association reports approximately 100,000 registered members, making it the largest life stance organization in the country.

Immigrants, whom Statistics Norway defines as those born outside the country and their children, even if born in Norway, comprise the majority of members of religious groups outside the Church of Norway.  Immigrants from Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, and the Philippines have increased the number of Catholics in the country, while those from countries including Syria, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Pakistan, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Somalia have increased the size of the Muslim community.  Catholics and Muslims generally have greater representation in cities than in rural areas.  Muslims are located throughout the country but are mainly concentrated in the Oslo region.  Most of the Jewish community resides in or near the cities of Oslo and Trondheim.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution states all individuals shall have the right to free exercise of religion, and all religious and philosophical communities shall be supported on equal terms.  The constitution also states, “The King shall at all times profess the Evangelical-Lutheran religion,” national values “will remain our Christian and humanistic heritage,” and “The Church of Norway shall remain the country’s established church and be supported by the state.”  The law further specifies the right of individuals to choose or change their faith or life stance.  Any person older than age 15 has the right to join or leave a religious or life stance community.  Parents have the right to decide their child’s faith or life stance community before age 15, but they must take into consideration the views of the children once they reach the age of seven and give those views priority once they reach age 12.

The penal code specifies penalties, including a fine or imprisonment for up to six months, for discrimination based on faith or life stance, or for expressions of disrespect for religious believers or members of religious groups.

By law, the national government and local municipalities provide direct financial support to the Church of Norway.  The national government provides an annual block grant that covers the cost of salaries, benefits, and pension plans of Church employees.  The national government may provide additional support for other projects.  By law, localities provide partial funding for the maintenance of Church properties, such as Church buildings and cemeteries, which other religious communities are required to fund on their own.

All registered faith and life stance organizations are eligible to apply for financial support from the government.  The government pays prorated subsidies to 724 such organizations based on their membership numbers in 2021, as compared to membership numbers of the Church of Norway.

According to a law that went into effect January 1, faith and life stance organizations with at least 50 registered members may apply for state subsidies, a decrease from the previous requirement of 500 adherents.  Faith and life stance organizations must provide annual reports detailing activities, opportunities for children and youth, the use of the state subsidies, marital law administration, and gender equality, as well as any funds received from abroad.  The government also continues to provide the Church of Norway with an annual block grant that pays the full cost of salaries, benefits, and pension plans of Church employees.  The government must provide additional funding to the Church of Norway for maintenance of cemeteries and religious buildings, in addition to any provided by municipal governments.

To register, a faith or life stance organization must notify the government and provide its creed and doctrine, activities, names of board members, names and responsibilities of group leaders, operating rules – including who may become a member – voting rights, and the processes for amending statutes and dissolution.  A group must report its national tally of members annually.  If a religious group does not register, it does not receive financial support from the government, but there are no restrictions on its activities except that faith and life stance communities that practice or give support to violent activities or receive funding from abroad may lose financial support following an assessment by the state.  Most religious organizations and life stance communities register and receive government funding.

Public schools include a mandatory course on Christian Knowledge and Religious and Ethical Information (CKREE) for grades one through 10.  State-employed instructors teach the CKREE course, which covers world religions and philosophies and promotes tolerance and respect for all religious beliefs, as well as for atheism.  Students may not opt out of this course.  Schools do not permit religious ceremonies, but schools may organize religious outings, such as attending Christmas services at a local Church of Norway church.  At their parents’ request, children may opt out of participating in or performing specific acts related to religion, such as a class trip to a church.  Parents need not give a reason for requesting an exemption.  Students may apply to be absent to celebrate certain religious holidays, such as an Eid or Passover, but there is no celebration or observance of such holidays in public schools.

Members of minority religious groups must apply for annual leave from work in order to celebrate religious holidays; many Christian religious holidays are official holidays.

The law bans clothing at educational institutions that mostly or fully covers the face.  The prohibition applies to students and teachers wearing burqas or niqabs in schools and day-care centers.

A hate crime law punishes some expressions of disrespect for religious believers, which includes those meant to threaten or mock someone, or promote hate, persecution, or contempt.  Police are responsible for investigating criminal cases of discrimination, including those involving religion, such as hate crimes.  The government-funded but independent Antidiscrimination Tribunal reviews noncriminal discrimination and harassment cases, including those involving religion.

Individuals may apply for a full exemption from the required registration for a year of military service for religious reasons and are not required to perform alternative service.

According to the law, an animal must be stunned or administered anesthetics before slaughter, making most traditional kosher and halal slaughter practices illegal.  Halal and kosher meat may be imported.  The Ministry of Agriculture and Food routinely waives import duties on halal and kosher meat and provides guidance on import procedures to the Jewish and Muslim communities.

The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Government Practices

Organizations criticized the government for unequally applying COVID-19 restrictions among different faith and life stance groups.  For example, according to the Council for Religious and Life Stance Communities in Norway (STL), limits on gathering sizes and seating arrangements were more conducive to church ceremonies than those of other faith or life stance communities.  The Ministry of Children and Families stated that this was occurring.  Some municipalities banned funeral services at crematoriums while permitting them with restrictions at churches.  Pandemic restrictions on moving across municipalities to perform clerical and other professional duties did not apply to Church of Norway clergy.  The Church of Norway received funding from the government for financial losses resulting from the pandemic, while other faith and life stance groups did not.

The government extended its 2016-20 action plan to counter antisemitism to 2023 and continued funding projects carried out by government, academic institutions, and the Mosaic Community (DMT), the country’s principal Jewish organization.  Although a 2017 survey showed a decrease in antisemitism in Norwegian society, the government noted that such attitudes still existed and referenced the Nordic Resistance Movement´s (NRM) presence outside the Oslo Synagogue on Yom Kippur in September 2020.  The plan emphasizes data collection, training and education programs in schools, research on antisemitism and Jewish life in the country, and efforts to safeguard Jewish culture.  For example, the government provided 11.3 million kroner ($1.29 million) to the Dembra Program of the Norwegian Center for Holocaust and Minority Studies (the Holocaust Center), an independent research and educational center associated with the University of Oslo.  Dembra is a nationwide education program offered to increase awareness and prevent and combat antisemitism, prejudice, discrimination, and harassment of minorities in schools.  Throughout the year, the government continued to implement measures from its action plan to combat discrimination against and hate toward Muslims.  The plan contains 18 measures that focus on research and education, dialogue across religious communities, and police initiatives such as registration of hate crimes toward Muslims as a separate category in crime statistics.  The plan also outlines a new grant scheme outlining security measures for religious and life stance communities.

The Ministry of Justice and Public Security continued its five-million-kroner ($570,000) fund to enhance physical security for religious and life stance communities considered potential targets by the Police Security Service annual threat assessment.  The Norwegian Police Directorate administers the fund.

The government’s 2021 budget included funding to build awareness of and support research on hate crimes as a part of its 2020-23 Action Plan Against Racism and Discrimination on the Basis of Ethnicity and Religion.

The government provided five million kroner ($570,000) in additional funding to the Church of Norway and other religious and life stance communities to increase the frequency and quality of digital content and digital events during the Christmas holidays in lieu of in-person gatherings restricted by COVID-19 measures.

Police continued to prohibit officers from wearing religious symbols, including religious headwear, with police uniforms.  Other uniformed organizations allowed the use of religious headwear.  The military provided some religious headwear that conformed to military dress regulations.

Christian, Muslim, and humanist chaplains served as officers in the military.  Religious and humanist groups provided chaplains at their own expense to hospitals, universities, and prisons.

Funded by the Ministry of Local Government and Modernization, the Oslo Synagogue, in coordination with the DMT, worked with the Oslo police to coordinate security for Jewish heritage sites and the Oslo Synagogue, and also acted as an intermediary between the Jewish community and police to facilitate timely reporting and monitoring of hate crimes.

The NGO Center against Racism continued to provide training and advisory services to police on detecting, investigating, and prosecuting racially and religiously motivated hate crimes.  Police continued to assign personnel to support and coordinate these efforts, including providing resources to maintain hate crime investigators in each of the country’s 12 police districts.

The National Criminal Investigation Service continued to maintain a website for the public to contact police to report hate crimes and hate speech, including religiously motivated incidents.

The national CKREE curriculum continued to include components on Judaism and the Holocaust.  In addition, the Ministry of Education and Research continued grants for school programs that raised awareness about antisemitism and hate speech, including religiously motivated hate speech.  The government also continued to fund the Jewish Pathfinders, a program through which young Jewish adults engaged with high school students about the teachings and principles of Judaism and being Jewish in the country.  In many instances, the government provided these grants as part of its action plan against antisemitism.

Schools nationwide observed Holocaust Memorial Day on January 27.  The government allocated 15.5 million kroner ($1.77 million) to support extracurricular programs that took secondary school students to Nazi concentration camps and other sites on three-day tours to educate them about the Holocaust, but it did not conduct these tours during the year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.  The two NGOs with primary responsibility for these programs, Hvite Busser (White Buses) and Aktive Fredsreiser (Travel for Peace), continued providing teaching materials, entrance fees, guided tours, and tour guide expenses for students who took day trips.  Schools facilitated fundraising activities among the students as well.

State support to religious and life stance organizations from the national government totaled approximately six billion kroner ($683.53 million) during the year.  The government provided 2.365 billion kroner ($269.42 million) or 632 kroner ($72) per member to the Church of Norway for salaries and operating expenses during the year, including for pensions and benefits of Church employees and clergy.  The government provided other registered religious and life stance organizations approximately 891 million kroner ($101 million) in total or 1,310 kroner ($150) per registered member.  The Church of Jesus Christ continued to be the only major religious community choosing to decline government funding.  Under the new law, all funding to religious and life stance communities comes from the national government.  However, the Church of Norway received additional local funding for the maintenance of church properties, such as church buildings and cemeteries, which other religious communities had to fund on their own.  The Humanist Association repeated its criticism of this practice and stated that maintenance of properties should be a municipal responsibility to ensure equal treatment.

The Jehovah’s Witnesses filed an application for annual state support, having received funding in past years, but by year’s end the County Governor of Oslo and Viken, responsible for reviewing the application, did not announce a determination on the application.  The practices of the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ were also the subject of a high profile legal case in which a former member was not permitted to have contact with her children who remained members of the religious community.  The national Court of Appeal ruled that the former member did have the right to have contact with her children.  At year’s end, the case was pending before the Supreme Court, which agreed to hear an appeal.

Consistent with previous years, the government budget provided 77.7 million kroner ($8.85 million) in subsidies for Church of Norway buildings and 15.3 million kroner ($1.74 million) to religious dialogue and umbrella organizations, such as STL, the Christian Council, the Buddhist Council, and the Muslim Dialogue Network, to promote dialogue and tolerance among religious and life stance organizations.

The government continued to fund workshops and other intervention programs that featured practitioners who worked with religious minorities to promote their economic and social integration into society.  Efforts focused on youth education and engaging local community stakeholders.

Proposed legislation for the education system, presented by the previous government, would ban religious activity in schools, such as attending school-organized church services.  This legislation remained pending for action by parliament at the end of the year.  The new government, which took office in October, had not made any statements on the legislation, and media and public discussion was minimal.  There was no significant opposition to the legislation from religious groups.

The government is a member of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance.


Executive Summary

The constitution provides for freedom of religion.  It states religion is a personal choice and that all churches and religious organizations have equal rights.  A concordat with the Holy See defines relations with the Roman Catholic Church.  Statutes determine relations between the government and 15 religious groups.  A separate statute regulates the functioning of religious groups that are not covered by individual statutes.  The law prohibits public speech offensive to religious sentiment and penalizes acts of violence motivated by religious differences.  In July, the Provincial Administrative Court in Warsaw suspended the government’s 2020 decision to invalidate the registration of the Reformed Catholic Church for recognizing same-sex marriage.  The government significantly restricted the process for seeking the return of, or compensation for, private property seized under the Nazi occupation or during the Communist era.  Revisions to the law that took effect in September made it impossible to challenge any administrative decision issued more than 30 years prior and ended any pending administrative challenges to those decisions.  During the year, the government decided 38 religious communal property restitution cases out of 2,912 outstanding cases, compared with 26 cases decided in 2020.  Some opposition parliamentarians and local government officials made antisemitic comments during the year.  Some antisemitic discourse appeared in the government-controlled public media.  Senior government officials participated in Holocaust remembrance events and publicly denounced antisemitism.

The national prosecutor’s office reported that during 2020, the most recent period for which data was available, prosecutors investigated 346 religiously motivated incidents, compared with 370 in 2019.  The report cited investigations into 147 antisemitic, 111 anti-Muslim, and 88 anti-Roman Catholic incidents.  There were several physical attacks against Roman Catholic priests and incidents involving the disruption of religious services in Catholic churches around the country.  There were also cases of desecration of Catholic and Jewish religious sites, such as churches, monuments, and cemeteries.  In September, the Brussels-based NGO Action and Protection League issued the results of its European antisemitism survey, which found that 19 percent of 1,000 respondents ages 18-75 in Poland said they had negative feelings towards Jews.

The Charge d’Affaires, other embassy and consulate general staff, and visiting U.S. officials discussed with government officials antidiscrimination, the status of private property restitution, communal religious property restitution, and countering antisemitism.  In July, the Special Envoy for Holocaust Issues met with government officials, parliamentarians, directors of museums and research institutions, and representatives of the Jewish community to discuss private property restitution, antisemitism, and Holocaust remembrance and education.  The Charge and other embassy and consulate general staff also met with Christian and Jewish leaders to discuss legislation restricting private property restitution, communal religious property restitution, Holocaust remembrance and education, and the community’s concerns over intolerance and antisemitism.  The embassy and the consulate general in Krakow engaged with Jewish leaders on countering antisemitism, and sponsored exchanges, roundtables, cultural events, and education grants promoting interfaith dialogue and religious tolerance, amplifying those messages on social media.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 38.2 million (midyear 2021).  The 2021 Polish government statistical yearbook, which publishes the membership figures for religious groups that voluntarily submit the information for publication, reports almost 85 percent of the population identifies as Roman Catholic.  The next largest religious groups are the Polish Orthodox Church, with approximately half a million members (Church representatives estimate that the number of Orthodox worshippers is well above one million as a result of an influx of Ukrainian and Belarusian migrants), and Jehovah’s Witnesses, with approximately 115,000 members.  Other religious groups include Lutherans, Pentecostals, the Old Catholic Mariavite Church, the Polish National Catholic Church, Seventh-day Adventists, Baptists, Church of Christ, Methodists, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the International Society for Krishna Consciousness, and Buddhists.  Some Jewish groups estimate there are 20,000 Jews, while other estimates, including by Chief Rabbi of Poland Michael Schudrich, put the number as high as 40,000.  Muslim groups estimate there are 25,000 Muslims, mostly Sunni.  Approximately 10 percent of Muslims are ethnic Tatars, a group present in the country for several hundred years.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution provides for freedom of conscience and religion.  It states freedom of religion includes the freedom to profess or to accept a religion by personal choice as well as to manifest that religion, either individually or collectively, publicly or privately, by worshipping, praying, participating in ceremonies, performing rites, or teaching.  It states freedom to express religion may be limited only by law when necessary to defend state security, public order, health, morals, or the rights of others.  The constitution states, “Churches and other religious organizations shall have equal rights.”  It stipulates the relationship between the state and churches and other religious organizations shall be based on the principle of respect for autonomy and mutual independence.  The constitution specifies that relations with the Roman Catholic Church shall be determined by an international concordat concluded with the Holy See and by statute, and relations with other churches and religious organizations by statutes adopted pursuant to agreements between representatives of these groups and the Council of Ministers.

According to the constitution, freedom of religion also includes the right to own places of worship and to provide religious services.  The constitution stipulates parents have the right to ensure their children receive a moral and religious upbringing and teaching in accordance with their convictions and their own religious and philosophical beliefs.

The constitution states religious organizations may teach their faith in schools if doing so does not infringe on the religious freedom of others, and it acknowledges the right of national and ethnic minorities to establish institutions designed to protect religious identity.  The constitution prohibits parties and other organizations with programs based on Nazism or communism.

The penal code criminalizes the public insult of an object of religious worship or a place dedicated to public observance of religious services as an offense to religious sentiment.  The penalties range from a fine, typically 5,000 zloty ($1,200), to a two-year prison term.  The same penalties apply for incitement to hatred on the grounds of religious differences or the lack of religious affiliation.  The law also provides for up to a three-year prison term for public insult of a person or a group of people and for violating the bodily integrity of a person on the grounds of their religious affiliation or lack of religious denomination.

By law, anyone who publicly assigns the “Polish state or nation” responsibility or joint responsibility for Nazi crimes committed by the Third Reich during World War II may be sued by the Institute of National Remembrance and relevant NGOs, fined, and/or forced to retract the offending statement and pay compensation to the state or a charity.

Specific legislation governs the relationship of 15 religious groups with the state, outlining the structure of that relationship and procedures for communal property restitution.  The 15 religious groups are the Roman Catholic Church, Polish Orthodox Church, Evangelical-Augsburg (Lutheran) Church, Evangelical Reformed Church, Methodist Church, Baptist Church, Seventh-day Adventist Church, Polish National Catholic Church, Pentecostal Church, the Union of Jewish Communities in Poland, Mariavite Church, Old Catholic Mariavite Church, Old Eastern Orthodox Church, Muslim Religious Union, and Karaim Religious Union.  Marriages performed by officials from 11 of these groups do not require further registration at a civil registry office; however, the Mariavite Church, Muslim Religious Union, Karaim Religious Union, and Old Eastern Orthodox Church do not have that right.  An additional 170 registered religious groups and five aggregate religious organizations (the Polish Ecumenical Council, Polish Buddhist Union, Biblical Society, Evangelical Alliance, and Council of Protestant Churches) do not have a statutorily defined relationship with the state.

The law states that relations between the state and all churches and other religious unions are based on respect of freedom of conscience and religion.  This includes separation of churches and other religious unions from the state; freedom to perform religious functions; equality of all churches and religious unions, no matter how their legal situation is regulated; and legal protections for churches and other religious groups within the scope defined by the law.

In accordance with the law, the government and the Roman Catholic Church participate in the Joint Government-Episcopate Committee, cochaired by the Minister of Interior and Administration and a bishop, currently the Archbishop of Krakow, which meets regularly to discuss Catholic Church-state relations.  The government also participates in a joint government-Polish Ecumenical Council committee, cochaired by a Ministry of Interior and Administration (MIA) undersecretary and the head of the Polish Ecumenical Council (an association composed of seven Christian denominations and two religious associations, all of them non-Roman Catholic), which meets to discuss issues related to minority Christian churches operating in the country.  In addition, there are separate joint committees consisting of government representatives and representatives of the Evangelical Alliance, the Lutheran Church, and the Orthodox Church.

Religious groups not covered by specific legislation may register with the MIA, but registration is not obligatory.  To register, the law requires a group to submit a notarized application with the personal information of at least 100 citizen members; details about the group’s activities in the country; background on the group’s doctrine and practices; a charter and physical address; identifying information about its leaders; a description of the role of the clergy, if applicable; and information on funding sources and methods of new member recruitment.  If the ministry rejects the registration application, religious groups may appeal to an administrative court.  By law, the permissible grounds for refusal of an application are failure to meet formal requirements or inclusion in the application of provisions that may violate public safety and order, health, public morality, parental authority or freedom, and rights of other persons.

Unregistered groups may worship, proselytize, publish, or import religious literature freely, and bring in foreign missionaries, but they have no legal recognition and are unable to undertake certain functions such as owning property or holding bank accounts in their name.  The 190 registered and statutorily recognized religious groups and organizations receive other privileges not available to unregistered groups, such as the right to acquire property, teach religion in schools, and selective tax benefits.  They are also exempt from import tariffs, property taxes, and income tax on their educational, scientific, cultural, and legal activities, and their official representatives are also exempt from income and property taxes

Four commissions oversee communal religious-property restitution claims submitted by their respective statutory filing deadlines:  one each for the Jewish community, Lutheran Church, and Orthodox Church, and one for all other denominations.  The commissions function in accordance with legislation providing for the restitution to religious communities of property they owned that was nationalized during or after World War II.  A separate commission overseeing claims by the Roman Catholic Church completed its work in 2011.  The MIA and the respective religious community each appoint representatives to the commissions.

The law states decisions by the commission ruling on communal property claims may not be appealed, but the Constitutional Tribunal ruled in 2013 that parties could appeal commission decisions in administrative courts.  Religious representatives on the joint commissions stated that parties continued to appeal final decisions by the commissions.  The law does not address communal properties the government sold or turned over to new private owners after World War II.

There is no comprehensive national law governing private property restitution.  Members of religious groups, like other private claimants, may pursue restitution through the courts.

The law authorizes Warsaw city authorities to resolve expeditiously longstanding restitution cases affecting properties in Warsaw being used for public purposes.  Warsaw city officials must post a notification of specific public properties for a six-month period during which original owners of the property must submit their claims.  At the end of the six-month period, Warsaw city authorities may make a final determination on the disposition of the property, either declaring the property shall remain public and not be subject to any future claims or returning the property or monetary compensation to the original owner.

In accordance with the law, all public and private schools teach voluntary religion classes.  Schools at all grade levels must provide instruction in any of the registered faiths if there are at least seven students requesting it.  Each registered religious group determines the content of classes on its faith and provides the teachers, who receive salaries from the state.  Students may also request to take an optional ethics class instead of a religion class; the ethics class is optional even if students decline to take a religion class.

Citizens have the right to sue the government for constitutional violations of religious freedom, and the law prohibits discrimination or persecution based on religion or belief.

The constitution recognizes the right to conscientious objection to military service on religious grounds but states such objectors may be required to perform alternative service as specified by law.

The human rights ombudsman is responsible for safeguarding human and civil freedoms and rights, including the freedom of religion and conscience, specified in the constitution and other legal acts.  The ombudsman is independent from the government and appointed by parliament.

The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Government Practices

In January, the MIA refused to register the Multi-Denominational Church of Visual Artists for failure to meet formal registration requirements.  The group had filed a motion for registration with the MIA in September 2020.  In March, the MIA approved the registration of the National Catholic Church, and in December, it approved the registration of the Natural Church.

On July 6, the Provincial Administrative Court in Warsaw suspended an MIA December 2020 decision to remove the Reformed Catholic Church from the official registry of churches and religious denominations, determining the implementation of the ministry’s decision could irreversibly affect the Church’s ability to operate.  The decision was to remain suspended until the Administrative Court ruled on the issue.  The Church appealed the decision to the court on January 21, but at year’s end, the suspension remained in place.  While the removal is suspended, the Reformed Church may operate as before.  Prosecutor General Zbigniew Ziobro had initiated a case to deregister the Reformed Catholic Church in July 2020 when he filed a motion with the MIA to invalidate the January 2020 registration of the Church, arguing that it had failed to meet several requirements.  In September 2020, the MIA ruled the Church’s registration invalid because registering the Church, the only registered group that recognized same-sex marriages, violated the constitution, which defined marriage as “a union of a woman and a man.”  In October 2020, the Church filed a motion with the MIA requesting it to reverse its decision.  The Church and the ombudsman stated the MIA’s decision was inconsistent with the constitutional provision providing for the autonomy and independence of religious organizations in relations with the state.  According to the ombudsman, the prosecutor general’s intervention following the registration of a religious group was unprecedented.  In December 2020, the MIA upheld its previous decision to deregister the Church.

In an article published on August 5 by the Catholic News Agency, the head of the Polish Bishops’ Conference criticized the government for imposing “unprecedented” severe restrictions on religious worship without proper consultation during the COVID-19 pandemic.  Archbishop Stanislaw Gadecki, the conference president, stated, “From a legal point of view, the Polish state, by imposing a kind of state ‘interdict’ [a prohibition on performing certain religious functions], did not retain the autonomy (sovereignty) of the Church,” despite “constitutional and concordat guarantees.”  Gadecki said the Catholic Church “submitted to these unilateral decisions – not wanting to undermine the decisions of the state authorities in an exceptionally difficult situation.”  He noted, “The issue requires serious analysis and drawing the right conclusions for the future, for the sake of democracy, in which the principle of respect for religious freedom is of great importance.”

According to MIA statistics, the religious community property commissions resolved 38 communal property claims during the first nine months of the year, out of approximately 2,912 pending claims by religious groups, compared with 26 claims resolved during the same period in the previous year.  At the end of September, the commissions had partially or entirely resolved 2,893 of the 5,504 total claims by the Jewish community deemed valid by the commission (the commission had previously dismissed 40 as invalid), 992 of 1,182 claims by the Lutheran community, 376 of 472 claims by the Orthodox Church, and 90 of 170 claims by all other denominations.

Critics continued to point out the laws on religious communal property restitution do not address the issue of disputed communal properties now privately owned, leaving several controversial and complicated cases unresolved.  These included cases in which buildings and residences were built on land that included Jewish cemeteries destroyed during or after World War II.  The Jewish community continued to report the pace of Jewish communal property restitution was slow, involved considerable legal expense, and often ended without any recovery of property or other compensation for claimants.  For example, a case for restitution of the old Jewish cemetery in the city of Kalisz remained unresolved after 21 years.

During the year, the government significantly altered legal and administrative procedures for private property restitution and compensation.  On June 24, parliament adopted a revision to the Code of Administrative Procedure that significantly restricted the ability of individuals to seek the return of private property seized under Nazi occupation or during the Communist era.  The revised law made it impossible to challenge any administrative decision issued more than 30 years prior and ended any pending administrative challenges to those decisions.  The legislation limited the primary process by which claimants could seek restitution or compensation for expropriated property, according to NGOs and lawyers specializing in the issue.  Individuals who already successfully challenged administrative decisions were still able to seek return of their property or compensation in the courts.  The President signed the legislation into law on August 14, and the law entered into force on September 16.  On August 14, the World Jewish Restitution Organization issued a statement that said the law would make it “virtually impossible for all former Polish property owners to secure redress for property illegally seized during the Communist era.”

During the year, Warsaw city authorities continued implementing a 2015 law with the stated purpose of ending abusive practices in the trading of former property owners’ claims, whereby specialized law firms allegedly acquired restitution claims from former owners.  The firms then reportedly sought large payouts or restitution from the city with little compensation returned to the original claimants.  Legal experts expressed concern that the law limited the ability of claimants to reclaim property unjustly taken from their lawful owners during the World War II and Communist eras, including from Jews and members of other religious minorities.  In November, Warsaw city authorities stated that since the 2015 law entered into force, the city had resolved approximately 378 dormant claims filed before 1950, an increase of 26 from the previous year.  These included the rejection of 136 restitution claims against public properties, an increase of one since 2020.  The rejected claims involved schools, preschools, a park, a police command unit site, a hospital, and city-owned apartment houses.  There was no information available on the identity of those claiming prior ownership or how many of them belonged to religious minority groups.

A special government commission continued to investigate accusations of irregularities in the restitution of private property in Warsaw.  Several NGOs and lawyers representing claimants, including lawyers representing Holocaust survivors or their heirs, stated the commission had a negative effect on private property restitution cases, as administrative and court decisions had slowed in response to the commission’s decisions.

The Never Again Association reported several instances of local and central government officials making antisemitic statements in public or on social media during the year.  On February 3, Mayor of Opatow Grzegorz Gajewski posted a photo of Orthodox Jews on his Facebook page, accompanied by antisemitic comments, including, “I am not a biased antisemite, but as a person who searches for the truth, I wonder why, wherever [Jews] appeared, they were so disliked.”  He also stated that the Communist security service, which he said was “saturated with Jews who came to Poland on Soviet tanks straight from Moscow,” was responsible for the 1946 Kielce pogrom, in which approximately 40 Jews were killed and approximately 40 were injured by Polish soldiers, police officers, and civilians.

Never Again reported that during the year, antisemitic discourse appeared in government-controlled public media, specifically during legislative work on revisions to the Code of Administrative Procedure, which affected the private property restitution process.  On July 10, former anti-Communist opposition activist Andrzej Michalowski, participating as a guest in a debate on state-run public radio, said the “Jewish lobby” was trying to interfere with legislation affecting heirless property.

In February, police questioned Katarzyna Markusz, editor of the website, on suspicion that she violated the article of the criminal code providing for sentences of up to three years in prison for those who “publicly insult the Nation or the Republic of Poland.”  In October 2020, Markusz wrote in an article, “Will we live to see the day when the Polish authorities also admit that hostility toward Jews was widespread among Poles, and that Polish complicity in the Holocaust is a historical fact?”  Police did not press any charges against Markusz, and in late February, the Warsaw-Ochota prosecutor’s office discontinued the case.

In April, during a town council meeting, a member of the Olecko council stated “Jews are using the pandemic to murder Poles and take their houses….There are housing estates in Warsaw and they are empty, uninhabited.  They are waiting for Jews.  They will murder us and then take over.  The Jews have not yet recognized Jesus; they are the chosen people and are waiting for the coming of the Messiah,” the council member said.

On March 2, the Plock regional court acquitted three LGBTQI+ rights activists charged with offending religious sentiment in 2019.  The activists had created and posted on various sites in the city of Plock posters of the icon of Virgin Mary with her halo painted in the colors of the rainbow flag.  Unknown persons allegedly placed some posters on trash cans and portable toilets.  The court noted the activists’ actions were intended as a denunciation of a Catholic church in Plock for its Easter display describing LGBT as a sin.  There were two appeals filed after the first instance court’s verdict:  one by the Plock local prosecutor’s office, and another by the legal representative of Kaja Godek, the leader of the Life and Family Foundation (a pro-life organization), who served as an auxiliary prosecutor.

On June 30, the Bialystok regional court sentenced two men to 12 and 6-month prison terms, respectively, for incitement to hatred against Jews during a march organized by the National Radical Camp in 2016 in Bialystok.  During the event, the men had chanted, “Zionists will hang on trees instead of leaves.”  The verdict remained subject to appeal.

In June, municipal authorities in the country’s second largest city, Krakow, called for an end to the sale of so-called “lucky Jew” figurines and paintings, which depict Orthodox Jews with stereotypically antisemitic facial features counting gold coins.  “These figurines are antisemitic, and it’s time for us to realize that,” Robert Piaskowski, the cultural representative of Krakow’s mayor, stated.

On September 24, the Czestochowa regional court discontinued a case against a man indicted for offending religious sentiment by using an icon of the Black Madonna of Czestochowa with her halo painted in the colors of the rainbow flag during the Equality March in Czestochowa in 2019.

In May, media reported the government-controlled National Freedom Institute awarded grants to an organization led by a student who made antisemitic comments, and to the Independent March Units, an organization closely affiliated with the Independence March Association, which human rights groups described as extremist and nationalist.  In remarks to the media, Chief Rabbi Schudrich said, “The grants go far beyond the simple abuse of public funds and constitute active support of purveyors of antisemitism.”

In June, media reported the government awarded grants worth more than three million zloty ($740,000) to several organizations that human rights groups considered nationalist and antisemitic, including the Independence March Association, the National Guard Association, and All-Polish Youth.

Crucifixes continued to be displayed in both the upper and lower houses of parliament, as well as in many other public buildings, including public school classrooms.

January, President Andrzej Duda and other political and religious leaders joined Holocaust survivors to mark International Holocaust Remembrance Day and commemorate the 76th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau.  Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, commemorations were held primarily online.  In his remarks, President Duda said, “The memory and the truth about the Holocaust will last forever.  We contemporaries will carry it into the future, and we will pass to the next generations the message flowing from this place:  Never again Auschwitz!  No more genocide, hatred and racism.”  Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki wrote on Twitter, “The memory of the victims is an important part of our identity.”

On January 21, President Duda hosted a virtual New Year’s meeting for representatives of various churches, religious unions, and national and ethnic minorities.  He thanked religious leaders for their service, which he said was “of special and enormous importance today for maintaining stability, unity in our society, [and] security and order in the Polish state.”

On February 25, the director of the government Institute of National Remembrance (IPN), a research institution responsible for education and archives with the authority to investigate Communist and Nazi crimes against the Polish nation, announced he had accepted Tomasz Greniuch’s resignation as head of the IPN branch office in Wroclaw.  Greniuch’s appointment had been made public earlier in February and had received widespread criticism due to his past role as chief of the far-right National Radical Camp (ONR) in the city of Opole.  Multiple pictures circulated in the media of Greniuch giving what appeared to be the Nazi salute during his time with ONR.  President Duda and Prime Minister Morawiecki had called for Greniuch’s resignation.

On March 24, the National Day of Poles Rescuing Jews, a holiday introduced in 2018 to honor citizens who risked their lives to save Jews during the Nazi occupation, President Duda awarded state medals to several citizens.  In his remarks, the President said he would “be resolute in fighting, in my work, not only as president, but also afterwards, after concluding my term in office, all demonstrations of antisemitism in our country.”  He noted all demonstrations of antisemitism in the country were equivalent to “trampling on the grave of the Ulma family” (a Polish family killed by Germans during World War II for sheltering Jews), “because the actions of the [Ulma] family stemmed from love, whereas antisemitism equals hatred.…We must never accept that, we must not remain indifferent.”

On April 19, President Duda and his wife laid a wreath before the Warsaw Ghetto Heroes Monument in an annual commemoration of the 78th anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising.  In his remarks, Duda said, “I frequently repeat the notion that it was an uprising of ‘Our Own.’  They were Our Own.  Some people may say, ‘our Jews.’  No.  They were Our Own.”  On the same day, Prime Minister Morawiecki lit a candle in front of the monument and wrote on his Facebook page, “The Warsaw Ghetto Uprising was one of the great heroic acts of opposition to evil, so significant in our history.”

On June 14, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Culture of National Heritage and Sport Piotr Glinski commemorated the 81st anniversary of the first transport of Poles to Auschwitz.  Glinski laid flowers at the former concentration camp.  In his address he called for remembrance stating, “It is important that we keep the memory of what happened in the inhuman land of Auschwitz, of all those who went through the hell of the German Nazi concentration and extermination camps.”

On July 4, Deputy Minister of Culture, National Heritage, and Sport Jaroslaw Sellin laid flowers in the city of Kielce to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the Kielce pogrom.  In his remarks, he said the memory of the pogrom should be a warning against hatred on the grounds of nationality and antisemitism, noting, “If anyone expresses such views, especially after the Holocaust, it is a moral scandal and a political embarrassment.”

The government is a member of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA).  In October, the Ministry of Culture, National Heritage and Sport released a statement announcing it “recognizes the IHRA’s working, legally nonbinding definition of antisemitism as an important and self-evident point related to counteracting this phenomenon.”  On October 14, speaking at the International Forum on Holocaust Remembrance and Combating Antisemitism in Sweden, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Culture, National Heritage, and Sport Glinski said Poland opposed all forms of racism and antisemitism.  He said numerous efforts were being made to prevent antisemitism in all areas of life.  He added that the country was participating in international programs on Holocaust remembrance and prevention, and as a result, the number of hate crimes motivated by antisemitism had gradually decreased since 2018.


Executive Summary

The constitution provides for freedom of religion and worship and prohibits discrimination based on religion.  According to the most recent data, in 2020 the government granted citizenship to 20,892 descendants of Sephardic Jews expelled during the Inquisition and rejected 163 applicants; 54,160 applications remained pending at year’s end.  On April 5, the Holocaust Museum opened in Porto, the first of its kind in the country.  On June 22, the National Day of Religious Freedom and Interreligious Dialogue, President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa presided at a conference on the 20th anniversary of the country’s religious freedom law at the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation in Lisbon, promoted by the Religious Freedom Commission (CLR) and the High Commission for Migration (ACM).  On October 29, the government entered into an agreement with the King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz International Center for Interreligious and Intercultural Dialogue (KAICIID) to relocate the center’s headquarters from Vienna to Lisbon.  Many religious groups opposed legislation passed by parliament decriminalizing euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide.  The President vetoed the legislation, effectively deferring any further consideration until 2022.

In January, the producers of the Big Brother television reality show removed a contestant after evidence emerged of him repeatedly performing Nazi salutes in the presence of fellow contestants.  In February, public officials criticized Rodrigo Sousa Castro, a retired colonel who helped lead the country’s 1974 revolution, after he tweeted, “Jews, since they dominate global finance, bought and possess all the [COVID-19] vaccines they want.  It’s a kind of historical revenge.”  On October 28, media reported that a Middle Eastern grocery store in Lisbon was vandalized with graffiti and religious images that were painted on the store’s windows.

U.S. embassy officials maintained regular contact with government officials from the ACM and representatives of the CLR to discuss the importance of mutual respect and understanding among religious communities and the integration of immigrants, many of whom belonged to minority religious groups.  In February and March, the embassy sponsored interfaith dialogues, initially with leaders of the three major faiths and then with leaders of three smaller religious groups.  Discussions included how the COVID-19 pandemic affected their communities, religious freedom, societal tolerance of migrants, the effect of the rise of far-right political parties in the country on religious groups, and interfaith programs and events.  On April 29, the Charge d’Affaires visited the Holocaust Museum of Porto to underscore U.S. condemnation of human rights abuses and to present a congratulatory video message by the U.S. Special Envoy for Holocaust Issues.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 10.3 million (midyear 2021).  According to the most recent census for which results are available (from 2011), 81 percent of the population older than age 15 is Roman Catholic.  Other religious groups, each constituting less than 1 percent of the population, include Orthodox Christians and various Protestant and other Christian denominations, including the Seventh-day Adventist Church, Lutheran Church of Portugal, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Church of Jesus Christ), Church of God of the Seventh Day, New Apostolic Church, and the Portuguese Evangelical Methodist Church.  Other religious groups include Muslims, Hindus, Jews, Buddhists, Sikhs, Taoists, Zoroastrians, and Baha’is.  In the census, 6.8 percent of the population said it does not belong to any religious group, and 8.2 percent did not answer the question.  According to the census, nonevangelical Protestants number more than 75,000.  The Muslim community estimates there are approximately 60,000 Muslims, of whom 50,000 are Sunni and 10,000 Shia, including Ismaili Shia.  There are more than 56,000 members of the Eastern Orthodox Church, most of whom are immigrants from Eastern Europe, primarily from Ukraine, and the Church of Jesus Christ estimates it has 45,000 members.  There are more than 163,000 members of other Christian groups, including other evangelical Christians, Baptists, Seventh-day Adventists, other Protestants, and Jehovah’s Witnesses.  The Jewish community leadership estimates the resident Jewish population is approximately 2,000, with half residing in the greater Lisbon area.

According to a survey published by the Pew Research Center in 2018, 77 percent of the population identifies as Roman Catholic, 4 percent as Protestant, and 4 percent as “other,” while 15 percent are religiously unaffiliated, a group that includes individuals who identify as atheist, agnostic, or “nothing in particular.”

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution provides for freedom of religion, including freedom of worship, which may not be violated even if the government declares a state of emergency.  It states no one shall be privileged, prejudiced, persecuted, or deprived of rights or exempted from civic obligations or duties because of religious beliefs or practices.  The constitution states authorities may not question individuals about their religious convictions or observance, except to gather statistical information that does not identify individuals, and individuals may not be prejudiced by refusal to reply.  Churches and religious communities are independent from the state and have the freedom to determine their own organization and perform their own activities and worship.  The constitution affords each religious community the freedom to teach its religion and use its own media to disseminate public information about its activities.  It bars political parties from using names directly associated with, or symbols that may be confused with, those of religious groups.  The constitution and law recognize the right to conscientious objection to military service, including on religious grounds; they require conscientious objectors to perform equivalent alternative civilian service.

The CLR is an independent, consultative body to parliament and the government, established by law.  Its members include two representatives of the Portuguese Episcopal Conference (Roman Catholic); three religious representatives appointed by the Ministry of Justice from the Evangelical Alliance, Islamic Community of Lisbon, and Jewish Community of Lisbon; and five laypersons, three of whom are affiliated with the Ismaili Muslim, Hindu, and Buddhist communities.  The Council of Ministers appoints its president.  The CLR reviews and takes a position on all matters relating to the application of the law on religious freedom, including proposed amendments.  The CLR alerts the relevant authorities, including the President, parliament, and others in the government, to cases involving religious freedom and discrimination, such as restrictions or prohibitions on the right to assembly or the holding of religious services, destruction or desecration of religious property, assaults on members and clergy of religious groups, incitement of religious discord, hate speech, and violations of the rights of foreign missionaries.

The 2021-2025 national plan to combat racism and discrimination revised the criminal code and expanded the grounds for protection.  An August 2020 law lists and defines the objectives, priorities, and general criminal policy and priority guidelines for 2020-22.  It further establishes crimes motivated by racial, religious, or sexual discrimination as crimes of priority prevention.  Additionally, it acknowledges the internet as the predominant vehicle of communication associated with hate crimes and prioritizes cybercrime prevention and investigation.

The CLR may file formal complaints at the national level with the ombudsman, an official position created by the constitution and supplemental legislation to defend the rights and freedoms of individual citizens, and at the international level with the European Court of Human Rights.  The ombudsman has no legal enforcement authority but is obligated to address complaints and provide an alternative remedy for dispute resolution.

Religious groups may be organized in a variety of forms that have national, regional, or local character.  A denomination may choose to organize as one national church or religious community or as several regional or local churches or religious communities.  An international church or religious community may establish a representative organization of its adherents separate from the branch of the church or religious community existing in the country.  A registered church or religious community may create subsidiary or affiliated organizations, such as associations, foundations, or federations.

All religious groups with an organized presence in the country may apply for registration with the registrar of religious corporate bodies in the Ministry of Justice.  The requirements include providing the organization’s official name, which must be distinguishable from all other religious corporate bodies in the country; the organizing documents of the church or religious community associated with the group applying for registration; the address of the organization’s registered main office in the country; a statement of the group’s religious purposes; documentation of the organization’s assets; information on the organization’s formation, composition, rules, and activities; provisions for dissolution of the organization; and the appointment method and powers of the organization’s representatives.  Subsidiary or affiliated organizations included in the parent group’s application are also registered; if not included, they must register separately.  The ministry may reject a registration application if it fails to meet legal requirements, includes false documentation, or violates the constitutional right of religious freedom.  If the ministry rejects an application, religious groups may appeal to the CLR within 30 days of receiving the ministry’s decision.

Religious groups may register as religious corporations and receive tax-exempt status.  Registered groups receive the right to minister in prisons, hospitals, and military facilities; provide religious teaching in public schools; access broadcasting time on public television and radio; and receive national recognition of religious holidays.  The government certifies religious ministers, who receive all the benefits of the social security system.  According to the law, chaplaincies for military services, prisons, and hospitals are state-funded positions open to all registered religious groups, although chaplains are predominantly Catholic.  A taxpayer may allocate 5 percent of income tax payments to any registered religious group.

Religious groups may also register as unincorporated associations or private corporations, which allows them to receive the same benefits granted to religious corporations.  The process for registering as unincorporated associations or private corporations involves the same procedures as for religious corporations.  There are no practical differences between associations and private corporations; the different categories distinguish the groups’ internal administration.  Unregistered religious groups are not subject to penalties and may practice their religion but do not receive the benefits associated with registration.

By law, religious groups registered in the country for at least 30 years or internationally recognized for 60 years may obtain a higher registration status of “religion settled in the country.”  There are more than 800 registered groups with this status.  To show they are established, religious groups must demonstrate an “organized social presence” for the required length of time.  These groups receive government subsidies based on the number of their members; may conclude “mutual interest” agreements with the state on issues such as education, culture, or other forms of cooperation; and may celebrate marriages that are recognized by the state legal system.  The government has mutual interest agreements with Jewish and Islamic religious bodies and a concordat with the Holy See that serves the same function for the Catholic Church.

Public secondary schools offer an optional survey course on world religions taught by lay teachers.  Optional religious instruction is available at government expense if at least 10 students attend the class.  Religious groups are responsible for designing the curriculum of the religious classes and providing and training the teachers.  Private schools are required to offer the same curriculum as public schools but may provide instruction in any religion at their expense.  All schools, public and private, are required to accommodate the religious practices of students, including rescheduling tests if necessary.

The law prohibits employers from discriminating against individuals on the basis of religion and requires reasonable accommodation of employees’ religious practices.  According to the labor code, employees are allowed to take leave on their Sabbath and religious holidays, even if these are not nationally observed.

The ACM, an independent government body operating under the guidelines of the Presidency of the Council of Ministers, has a statutory obligation to advocate for religious tolerance, including the “promotion of dialogue, innovation, and intercultural and interreligious education” and “combating all forms of discrimination based on color, nationality, ethnic origin, or religion.”

The law provides for the naturalization of Jewish descendants of Sephardic Jews expelled from the country in the 15th and 16th centuries.

The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Government Practices

The government reported that in 2020, the latest available data, it approved the naturalization of 20,892 descendants of Sephardic Jews expelled from the country during the Inquisition and rejected 163 applications of 34,000 new applications submitted.  Since the beginning of the program in 2015, the government reported receiving 86,557 applications, of which it approved 32,192 and rejected 273; 54,160 applications remained pending at year’s end.  Israel, Turkey, Brazil, Argentina, and Morocco had the greatest number of applicants.

Most prisons, state and private hospitals, and military services designated Catholic priests to provide chaplaincy services, but these positions were open to clergy of all religious groups.

The ACM continued to hold monthly online meetings with religious groups to consult on issues such as coordination for broader representation of religious groups in chaplaincies as needed, organization of interreligious youth events, and contributions to preparing and celebrating the 50th anniversary of the 25th of April Revolution, set to take place in 2024.  According to the ACM, groups often sought financial assistance from the ACM for conferences and other events.

Parliament twice approved versions of legislation decriminalizing euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide.  In March, President Rebelo de Sousa vetoed the first law, calling it unconstitutional.  Parliament rejected public efforts for a referendum on the issue and approved a second version of the legislation on November 5, which the President vetoed on November 29.  Efforts to decriminalize euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide were opposed throughout the year by a wide range of religious groups, including those represented in the ACM’s Interfaith Working Group and the Association of Portuguese Catholic Doctors.  Surveys showed that nearly 60 percent of citizens supported such decriminalization.

The Ministry of Culture continued implementation of its policy adopted in October 2020 that the ruins of the 12th century Almoravid Mosque discovered in a refurbishment and restoration project of the cloister of Lisbon Cathedral would remain on their original site.  Given the patrimonial value of the ruins, the Ministry of Culture, in dialogue with the Patriarchate of Lisbon, took steps to conserve, display, and integrate the ruins into the renovation of the Lisbon Cathedral.  Researchers and the directors of archaeological work on the site said the mosque, which includes baths, schools, the mosque of the dead – where funeral ceremonies were held – and other structures, was unique to the Iberian Peninsula and Morocco.

On March 9, President Rebelo de Sousa met in Porto with the president of the Islamic Cultural Center, Abdul Rehman Manga, and participated in an interfaith ceremony attended by members of Porto’s Muslim and Jewish communities and a representative of the Catholic Church, among others.  Manga characterized the President’s gesture as “a great blessing” and a call for all Portuguese to unite, “regardless of their religion, even if they do not practice any religion.”  Bishop Jose Ornelas, president of the Portuguese Episcopal Conference, said, “It is a very significant gesture for a president to say, upon taking office, that bridges must be built… for the good of this country and the world.”  This interfaith celebration in Porto was similar to another held at the Lisbon Mosque in 2016, on the first day of the President´s term.

A new Holocaust Museum in Porto opened on April 5, organized by members of the city’s Jewish community.  The museum, the first of its kind in the country, includes a reproduction of Auschwitz barracks, photographs, video footage, a memorial with the names of victims, an eternal flame, theater, conference room, and study center.  The museum’s activities include teaching, professional training for educators, promoting exhibitions, and supporting research.  On September 20, it conducted a seminar for teachers that was attended by Holocaust survivors and representatives from other Holocaust museums around the world.  Porto’s Jewish community archives on refugees in the city includes official documents, testimonies, letters, hundreds of individual records, and two Torah scrolls from survivors, previously on loan to the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C., all of which form part of the new museum’s permanent collection.

On April 13, the beginning of Ramadan, Minister of Foreign Affairs Augusto Santos Silva tweeted his wish for “peace and grace to all Muslims around the world,” adding, “May this holy month be a time of hope, tolerance, and reflection.  Together, we’ll work to overcome conflict, injustice, and prejudice.”

On June 22, the National Day of Religious Freedom and Interreligious Dialogue, President Rebelo de Sousa presided over the opening session of a conference on the 20th anniversary of the country’s religious freedom law at the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation in Lisbon, promoted by the CLR and the ACM.  Representatives of different religious groups also attended.  CLR chair Jose Vera Jardim opened the session, which included readings by young persons and a minute of silence honoring those who have defended religious freedom.  Minister of Justice Francisca Van Dunem gave remarks and delivered messages from the late former president Jorge Sampaio and the Cardinal Patriarch of Lisbon, D. Manuel Clemente.  The conference highlighted the progress of religious acceptance in the country since the Law on Religious Freedom came into effect 20 years ago.  President Rebelo de Sousa remarked that it is necessary to go further in the “promotion of fraternal integration of believers and nonbelievers” as well as among believers of various faiths, “without monopolies of the truth.”

On October 19-20, Lisbon hosted the 3rd European Policy Dialogue Forum on Refugees and Migrants, which focused on ways in which religious organizations, policymakers, and recent arrivals to Europe could encourage the participation of refugees and migrants in developing more inclusive societies in Europe.  Topics included how interfaith and intercultural dialogue supports migrant integration, refugee and migrant participation in political life and democratic processes, and countering hate speech by strengthening cross-sector collaboration among religious leaders and policymakers.

In a ceremony on October 29, the government signed an agreement with KAICIID to relocate the center’s headquarters from Vienna to Lisbon.  Diplomatic representatives from Saudi Arabia, Austria, Spain, the Holy See, and representatives of various religious groups attended the ceremony.

State-run television channel RTP continued half-hour religious programming five days a week and a separate weekly half-hour program, with segments for both written by registered religious groups.

The country is a member of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance.


Executive Summary

The constitution prohibits restricting freedom of conscience and belief, as well as forcing an individual to espouse a religious belief contrary to the individual’s convictions.  It stipulates all religions are independent from the state, and religious groups have the freedom to organize “in accordance with their own statutes.” According to the law on religious freedom and religious denominations, the state recognizes the “important role” of the Romanian Orthodox Church (ROC) in the history of the country, but it also recognizes the role of “other churches and denominations.”  The law specifies a three-tiered classification of religious organizations.  During the year, the government approved one application for registration of religious associations, compared with four in 2020.  In March, April, and May, the government waived COVID-19-related night curfew measures, allowing worshippers to attend Easter, Passover, and Ramadan services, stating the exemption was granted because religious activities were essential.  In October, a bishop told worshippers not to “rush to get vaccinated.”  Following the bishop’s statement, police placed him under criminal investigation for spreading “dangerous disinformation.”  There were continued reports of the slow pace of restitution of confiscated properties, especially to the Greek Catholic Church and the Jewish community.  The National Authority for Property Restitution (NAPR), the government agency responsible for overseeing the restitution process, reported the Special Restitution Commission (SRC) had approved 23 requests for the restitution of “immovable properties” (land or buildings) to religious denominations, approved compensation in 42 cases, and rejected 471 other claims during the year, compared with 26 approved requests for restitution, 57 approved compensations cases, and 500 rejected claims in 2020.  All the claims were submitted before the 2006 deadline.  In 28 cases, the filers withdrew their claims.  According to data provided by NAPR, the number of cases the SRC reviewed decreased from 816 in 2020 to 665.  In February, a Bucharest court found former Romanian Intelligence Service officer Vasile Zarnescu guilty of Holocaust denial and sentenced him to a deferred prison sentence of 13 months and two years’ probation.  In February, the website published a written interview with Corvin Lupu, an associate professor at the public Lucian Blaga University of Sibiu, who used antisemitic slurs, including the word jidan, the Romanian equivalent of “kike,” made statements distorting the history of the Holocaust, accused Jews of using the Holocaust for financial benefits, and blamed them for the rise of communism in the country.  In March, National Liberal Party (PNL) lawmaker Daniel Gheorghe delivered remarks in parliament glorifying Mircea Vulcanescu, a convicted war criminal who, according to the Wiesel Institute, supported antisemitic policies as a cabinet member in the government of World War II dictator Ion Antonescu.  In May, the government approved a two-year national strategy and action plan to combat antisemitism, xenophobia, radicalization, and hate speech.  Members of the Jewish community welcomed the strategy, while some antisemitic groups said the plan was the result of a Jewish-led conspiracy to hide the truth about the Holocaust and destroy Romanian identity.  In January, Prime Minister Florin Citu appointed Alexandru Muraru as the government’s Special Representative for Combating Antisemitism and Xenophobia and Promoting the Memory of the Holocaust and Communism.

Some minority religious groups, including the Greek Catholic and the Seventh-Day Adventist Church, continued to report ROC priests and adherents at times blocked their access to cemeteries.  Material promoting antisemitic views, glorifying Legionnaires, an antisemitic group founded in 1927 and also known as the Legion of the Archangel Michael, and messages promoting Holocaust denial and relativism continued to appear on the internet.  In March, the director of the Jewish State Theater received by email a letter with antisemitic slurs and death threats against her children, as well as threats to set fire to the theater.  In September, media reported that unknown persons vandalized a memorial located in the city of Bistrita, dedicated to Jews deported to Auschwitz and Birkenau.  According to a study released by the Wiesel Institute in April, several articles published online stated Jews or Israel were responsible for manufacturing harmful COVID-19 vaccines and were profiting from the health crisis.  In September, the Brussels-based nongovernmental organization (NGO) Action and Protection League issued the results of its European antisemitism survey, which found that 14 percent of 1,000 respondents ages 18-75 in Romania said they had negative feelings towards Jews.

U.S. embassy officials continued to advocate with the government for property restitution and religious tolerance.  The Charge d’Affaires and a senior embassy official participated in several Holocaust commemorations and spoke out against antisemitism.  Using its Facebook page, the embassy emphasized respect for religious freedom and paid tribute to Holocaust victims.  Embassy officials met with leaders of the Romanian Orthodox Church, the Jewish community, and the Greek Catholic Church to discuss ways to promote religious freedom and interfaith dialogue.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the population at 21.2 million (midyear 2021).  According to a 2011 government census, ROC adherents constitute 86.5 percent of the population and Roman Catholics almost 5 percent.  According to the census, there are approximately 151,000 Greek Catholics; however, Greek Catholics estimate their numbers at 488,000.  According to the Greek Catholic Church, since the time of the census, a significant number of persons whose Greek Catholic families were forced to covert during the Communist regime rediscovered their roots and joined the Greek Catholic Church.  Other religious groups include Old Rite Russian Christians; Protestants, including Reformed Protestants, Pentecostals, Baptists, Seventh-day Adventists, Evangelical Lutherans, and Evangelical Augustans; Jews; Muslims; Jehovah’s Witnesses; Baha’is; The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints; Zen Buddhists; the Family (God’s Children); the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification (Unification Church); the Church of Scientology; and the International Society of Krishna Consciousness.  Atheists and nonbelievers represent less than 1 percent of the population.

According to the 2011 census, Old Rite Russian Christians are mainly located in Moldavia and Dobrogea.  Of the 64,337 Muslims counted in the 2011 census, 43,279 live in the southeast near Constanta.  Most Greek Catholics reside in Transylvania.  Protestants of various denominations and Roman Catholics reside primarily in Transylvania.  Orthodox and ethnic Ukrainian Greek Catholics live mostly in the north.  Orthodox ethnic Serbs are primarily in Banat.  Members of the Armenian Apostolic Church are concentrated in Moldavia and the south.  Virtually all members of the Protestant Reformed and Unitarian Churches of Transylvania are ethnic Hungarians.  More than half of the Roman Catholic and Evangelical Lutheran Churches in Transylvania are composed of ethnic Hungarians.  Approximately 40 percent of the country’s Jewish population of 3,400 resides in Bucharest.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution prohibits restricting freedom of thought, opinion, conscience, or religious beliefs, as well as forcing individuals to espouse a religious belief contrary to their convictions.  It stipulates all religions are independent from the state and have the freedom to organize “in accordance with their own statutes” under terms defined by the law.  The law on religious freedom and religious denominations specifies the state’s recognition of the “important role of the Romanian Orthodox Church” as well as the role of “other churches and denominations as recognized by the national history” of the country.

The constitution states religious denominations shall be autonomous and enjoy state support, including the facilitation of religious assistance in the army, hospitals, penitentiaries, retirement homes, and orphanages.  Only clergy members of recognized religious denominations may be hired by the government as military or prison chaplains.  Regulations state that clergy members of religious associations may be granted access to prisons on a case-by-case basis in certain conditions.  There are no similar regulations for religious groups.  The law forbids public authorities or private legal entities from asking individuals to specify their religion, except for the census.

The provisions of the law devoted to religion stipulate a three-tier system of religious classification, with “religious denominations” at the highest level, followed by “religious associations,” and “religious groups” at the most basic level.  Organizations in the top two tiers are legal entities, while religious groups are not.  Civil associations established under separate provisions of the law governing associations and foundations may also engage in religious activities and have the status of legal entities.

By law, there are 18 religious organizations recognized as “religious denominations,” all of which were in existence at the time the law on religion was enacted in 2006:  the ROC, Orthodox Serb Bishopric of Timisoara, Roman Catholic Church, Greek Catholic Church, Old Rite Russian Christian (Orthodox) Church, Reformed (Protestant) Church, Christian Evangelical Church, Romanian Evangelical Church, Evangelical Augustan Church, Evangelical Lutheran Church, Unitarian Church, Baptist Church, Pentecostal Church, Seventh-day Adventist Church, Armenian Apostolic Church, Federation of Jewish Communities, Muslim Denomination (Islam), and Jehovah’s Witnesses.

For additional organizations to obtain recognition as religious denominations, the law specifies they must demonstrate 12 years of continuous activity beginning in 2006.  A religious association is then eligible to apply for the status of religious denomination if it has a membership of at least 0.1 percent of the population as counted at the most recent census (approximately 20,120 persons).

The law defines a religious association as an organization of at least 300 citizens who share and practice the same faith and has attained legal status through registration with the Registry of Religious Associations in the office of the clerk of the court where the main branch of the association is located.  To register, religious associations must submit to the government their members’ personal data (e.g., names, addresses, personal identification numbers, and signatures), which the law says the government may not share with other public institutions or use in any other way.  To operate as religious associations, organizations also require approval from the National Secretariat for Religious Denominations, which is under the authority of the Office of the Prime Minister.

The law defines a religious group as a group of individuals sharing the same beliefs.  Religious groups do not have to register to practice their religion and do not need approval from the national secretariat to operate.

Civil associations engaged in religious activities function like secular associations and foundations; however, they do not receive the same benefits as religious denominations or religious associations.  These associations do not require approval from the National Secretariat for Religious Denominations to operate.  Their registration falls under the provisions of law governing the establishment of foundations, associations, and NGOs, which require a minimum membership of three individuals.  Such civil associations are not required to submit members’ personal data.

Under the constitution, each of the 18 recognized ethnic minorities, including Jews, who in some laws are categorized as an ethnic group and in others as a religious group, is entitled to a representative in the Chamber of Deputies.  An organization is required, however, to receive votes equal to 5 percent of the national average number of votes cast by district for a deputy to be elected, and any citizen, regardless of religious affiliation, may vote for them.  The list of organizations that benefit from these provisions is limited to those belonging to the National Council of Minorities, which consists of organizations already in parliament.

Religious denominations are eligible for state financial and other support.  They have the right to teach religion classes in public schools, receive government funds to build places of worship, partially pay clergy salaries with state funds, broadcast religious programming on radio and television, and apply for broadcasting licenses for their own stations.  Under the law, the amount of state funding a denomination receives is determined by the number of adherents reported in the most recent census, as well as by “the religious denomination’s actual needs,” which the law does not define.

Religious associations do not receive government funding and do not have the right to teach religion in public schools, but both they and religious denominations receive tax exemptions on income and buildings used for religious, educational, or other social purposes.  Religious groups do not receive either government funding or tax exemptions.

Both religious denominations and religious associations may own or rent property, publish or import religious literature, proselytize, establish and operate schools or hospitals, own cemeteries, and receive tax exemptions on income and buildings used for religious, educational, or other social purposes.  Religious groups have no legal status to engage in such activities; however, they may practice their religious beliefs, including in public.

Civil associations engaged in religious activities may engage in religious worship and own cemeteries.  While they do not receive the same tax exemptions or other benefits granted to religious denominations and religious associations, they may receive the tax advantages and other benefits accruing to civil associations and foundations.

Legal provisions allow local authorities to fund places of worship and theological schools belonging to religious denominations, including providing funding for staff salaries and building maintenance, renovation, and conservation or construction of places of worship.  The government funds theological schools through the same mechanism available for other preuniversity schools.  No similar provisions exist for religious associations or other associations engaged in religious activities; however, these associations may receive funding through legal provisions for civil associations and foundations.

The law allows all types of religious organizations to bury their dead in cemeteries belonging to other religious organizations, except for cemeteries belonging to local Jewish and Muslim communities.  By law, non-Muslims and non-Jews are not entitled to be buried in Jewish or Islamic cemeteries.  Public cemeteries must have separate sections for each religious denomination if requested by the denominations operating in the locality.

The law allows clergy from recognized religious denominations to minister to military personnel.  This includes the possibility of clergy to function within the Ministry of Defense, Ministry of Interior, Intelligence Service, Foreign Intelligence Service, Protection and Guard Service, Special Telecommunications Service, and General Directorate for Penitentiaries.  Under various other arrangements, clergy of recognized religious denominations, and in some cases religious associations, may enter hospitals, orphanages, and retirement homes to undertake religious activities.  Religious denominations and religious associations may undertake activities in penitentiaries, subject to approval by the director of the detention facility.

The law provides for the restitution of religious properties confiscated between 1940 and 1989, during World War II, and during the ensuing Communist regime, if the properties are in the possession of the state.

Under the law, if a confiscated property is used “in the public interest,” such as for a school, hospital, or museum, and is returned to its previous owner, the current occupants are allowed to remain in it for 10 years after the restitution decision and pay a capped rent.  The law does not address the general return of properties currently used as places of worship by another religious group.

A separate statute on the reinstatement of the Greek Catholic Church regulates the restitution of properties to the Church from the ROC.  Restitution decisions are made by a joint commission representing the two Churches and based on “the will of the believers from the communities that possess these properties.”  The Greek Catholic Church may pursue court action if attempts to obtain restitution of its properties through dialogue are unsuccessful.

The law establishes a points system of compensation in cases where in-kind restitution is not possible.  Religious groups may use the points only to bid on other properties in auctions organized by the National Commission for Real Estate Compensation (NCREC).  The NCREC also validates compensation decisions of other local or central authorities, including those of the SRC, which decides on restitution claims filed by religious denominations and national minorities.  The law establishes a 240-day deadline by which claimants must submit additional evidence in their cases at the specific request of the entity in charge of resolving their restitution claim.  If a claimant does not meet the deadline, the administrative authority may reject the case.  The authority may extend the deadline by an additional 120 days if the claimants prove they made a concerted effort to obtain the evidence, usually in the possession of other state authorities, but were unable to do so.

The law nullifies acts of forced “donations” of Jewish property during World War II and the Communist era and lowers the burden of proof for the previous owners or their heirs to obtain restitution.  The law designates the present-day Federation of Jewish Communities of Romania as the legitimate inheritor of forfeited communal Jewish property and accords priority to private claims by Holocaust survivors.  The law does not address heirless or unclaimed property left by Holocaust victims.  According to the country’s various civil codes adopted from 1939 on, heirless property and unclaimed property devolve to the government.

A law passed in 2020 prioritizes compensation to Holocaust survivors for immovable properties confiscated during the Communist regime.  Under the law, NAPR must make a one-time compensation payment to successful claimants who are Holocaust survivors, as opposed to other claimants who receive compensation in several tranches over a period of five years.  The law expands access to prioritized processing of claims by persons residing outside the European Union who can prove their status as Holocaust survivors with documents issued by an entity designated by the government of their country of residence.

Romanian and foreign citizens persecuted based on ethnic criteria between 1940 and 1945, defined in the law to include Jews, are entitled to a monthly pension.  The amount of the pension varies, depending on the type and length of persecution endured.  The pension is available to survivors and their families who are no longer Romanian citizens, thus entitling U.S. citizen Holocaust survivors and U.S. citizen family members of Holocaust victims to the same benefits as Romanian citizens.

The law allows Holocaust survivors residing in foreign countries and who are eligible for compensation in Romania to prove they were victims of racial and ethnic persecution based on official documents released by institutions of the country of residence.  The law exempts Holocaust survivors residing in foreign countries from having to physically submit their applications for compensation at the pension offices in Romania and allows them to use other means of communication, such as electronic mail or express mail, to apply.

A law passed in May makes children of Holocaust victims and survivors eligible for a monthly compensation.  The law also applies to persons who do not have Romanian citizenship or do not reside in the country.

By law, religious education is optional in both public and private schools.  Each of the 18 legally recognized religious denominations is entitled to offer religion classes, based on its own religious teachings, in schools.  The Ministry of Education drafts the religious education curriculum for religious education in cooperation with all religious denominations to ensure the accuracy of the teachings.  A denomination may offer classes regardless of the number of students adhering to the denomination in a school.  The law allows for exceptions where the right of students to attend religion classes cannot be implemented “for objective reasons,” without specifying what these reasons may be.

Under the law, participation in religion classes is not obligatory.  Parents of students younger than age 18 must request their children’s participation in religion classes, while students 18 and older may themselves ask to attend religion classes.  Although a student normally takes a school course based on the religious teachings of the denomination to which the student belongs, it is also possible for a student to take a religion course offered by his or her denomination outside the school system and submit a certificate from the denomination to receive academic credit.

Religion teachers in public schools are government employees, but each religious denomination approves the appointment and retention of the teachers of its religion classes.

The law forbids proselytizing in public and private schools.  If teachers proselytize, the school management determines the appropriate discipline, based on the conclusions of an internal committee.

The law states the religion of a child who has turned 14 may not be changed without the child’s consent; from age 16, a person has the right to choose her or his religion.

The law bans discrimination on religious grounds in all areas of public life.  It also bans religious defamation and stirring conflict on religious grounds, as well as public offenses against religious symbols.  Penalties may include fines varying from 1,000 to 100,000 lei ($230-$22,900), depending on whether the victim is an individual or a community.

According to amendments to a law that went into effect in 2019, deceased adherents of Judaism are exempted from autopsy upon the request of their families or the Federation of Jewish Communities in Romania and if law enforcement determines there are no suspicious circumstances surrounding their death.

By law, antisemitism is defined as a perception of Jews expressed in the form of anti-Jewish hatred, as well as speech and physical acts motivated by hatred that target Jews, non-Jews or their belongings, Jewish community institutions, or Jewish places of worship.  Penalties for publicly promoting antisemitic ideas and doctrines or manufacturing and disseminating antisemitic symbols range from three months to three years’ imprisonment and the loss of certain rights such as the right to vote and run for election.  Penalties for establishing antisemitic organizations range from three to 10 years of imprisonment and the loss of certain rights.

The law prohibits the establishment of fascist, Legionnaire (the country’s interwar fascist organization), racist, or xenophobic organizations, which it defines in part as groups that promote violence, religiously motivated hatred, or extremist nationalism, the latter term undefined.  Penalties for establishing such organizations range from three to 10 years of imprisonment and the loss of certain rights.  Criminal liability is waived if the person involved in establishing such an organization informs authorities before the organization begins its activity; penalties are halved if the individual helps authorities with the criminal investigation.  Legislation also makes manufacturing, selling, distributing, owning with intent to distribute, and using racist, fascist, xenophobic, and Legionnaire symbols illegal.  Penalties range from three months to three years’ imprisonment.

Publicly denying the Holocaust or contesting, approving, justifying, or minimizing it in an “obvious manner” as determined by a judge is punishable by six months’ to three years’ imprisonment or by a fine, depending on circumstances, of up to 200,000 lei ($45,900).  Publicly promoting persons convicted of genocide, crimes against humanity, or war crimes may incur fines and prison terms ranging from three months to three years and from six months to five years if done online.  The same penalties apply to publicly promoting antisemitic, fascist, Legionnaire, racist, or xenophobic ideas, worldviews, or doctrines.

The criminal code cites religious motivation as an aggravating factor in a crime, which allows courts to impose the maximum special sentence for that particular crime.  If the maximum special sentence is insufficient, courts may impose up to two more years of imprisonment, but not more than one third of the maximum special sentence.  In case of criminal fines, courts may additionally impose up to one third of the maximum special fine provided by the law for that crime.

The law allows religious workers from legally recognized religious organizations to enter and remain in the country under an extended-stay visa.  Visa applicants must receive approval by the State Secretariat for Religious Affairs and submit evidence they represent religious organizations legally established in the country.  The secretariat may extend such visas for up to five years.

The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Government Practices

As of November, the government had approved one application for religious association status, compared with four religious associations in 2020.  The approved application was for the Grace Association of Roma in Oltenia.  As of November, 41 entities with diverse religious affiliations were registered as religious associations, compared with 40 in 2020.

They also continued to criticize the three-tier classification system for religious organizations.

In March, April, and May, the government waived COVID-19-related night curfew measures, allowing worshippers to attend Easter, Passover, and Ramadan services.  Regulations adopted by the National Committee for Emergency Situation in October to contain the spread of COVID-19 exempted religious ceremonies and collective prayers from any restrictions.  According to Ministry of Interior State Secretary Raed Arafat, the exemption was granted because religious activities were considered essential.  Public figures such as journalist Cristian Tudor Popescu criticized the measure, stating it would lead to further spread of COVID-19.  Throughout the year, the State Secretariat for Religious Denominations and Prime Minister Citu met several times with leaders of religious denominations to discuss COVID-19-related guidelines.  In October, Bishop Ambrose of Giurgiu told worshippers not to “rush to get vaccinated.”  Following the bishop’s statement, police placed him under criminal investigation for spreading “dangerous disinformation.”

In October, the mayor of Sacel, Maramures County, sent an official letter to a Greek Catholic individual accusing him of establishing a “clandestine” Greek Catholic place of worship in his home and trying to recruit adherents.  The mayor also threatened to sue that person for damages and compensation related to a court decision ordering the town to return two previously confiscated properties to the Greek Catholic Bishopric of Maramures.  Following the incident, the Greek Catholic Bishopric of Maramures issued a press release stating that the place of worship in Sacel was a legally established Greek Catholic parish and that the town had a historical Greek Catholic presence.  The press release also noted that despite a court final decision ordering the town to return the confiscated properties, the local government of Sacel refused for years to enforce the ruling.  The bishopric also expressed concerns regarding pressure, harassment, and threats against Greek Catholics who wanted to practice their faith freely.

In October, the Targu-Mures Court of Appeal nullified a 2019 decision by the town of Darmanesti establishing ownership of a World War I cemetery in which predominantly Hungarian Catholic World War I soldiers were believed to be buried.  The cemetery was the site of 2019 protests and tensions between ethnic Hungarians and ethnic Romanians over the construction of a monument and placement of Orthodox-style crosses on the graves of Hungarian Catholic soldiers.  In December 2020, the Moinesti court repealed a prosecutorial decision to dismiss the inquiry into the cemetery incident and ordered the Moinesti prosecutor’s office to resume criminal investigations for property damage, incitement to hatred and discrimination, and breach of public peace.  In April, the General Prosecutor’s Office stated that it had taken over the investigation.

In March, the Constitutional Court ruled that the bill entitling original owners and their inheritors to compensation based on current-day market prices, rather than on 2013 market prices as provided for in an earlier government decision, was unconstitutional.  According to representatives of the Jewish community and the Greek Catholics, following the Constitutional Court ruling, the government provided compensation for confiscated properties based on 2013 market prices, which were significantly lower than current-day market prices.

There were continued reports of the slow pace of restitution of confiscated properties, especially to the Greek Catholic Church and the Jewish community.  NAPR SRC had approved 23 requests for the restitution of “immovable properties” (land or buildings) to religious denominations, approved compensation in 42 cases, and rejected 471 other claims during the year, compared with 26 approved requests for restitution, 57 approved compensations cases, and 500 rejected claims in 2020.  All the claims were submitted before the 2006 deadline.  In 28 cases, the filers withdrew their claims.  According to data provided by NAPR, the number of cases the SRC reviewed decreased from 816 in 2020 to 665.

According to NAPR, religious denominations appealed in courts 76 decisions the SRC issued during the year, compared with 62 in 2020.  The Roman Catholic Church made seven appeals (five in 2020); the ROC made 24 (12 in 2020); the Greek Catholics made 16 (16 in 2020); the Evangelical Augustinian Church made 17 (six in 2020); and the Jewish community made two (seven in 2020).  Information concerning court decisions on these cases was unavailable.  The Romanian Orthodox Church reported that the government had returned an estimated 7 percent of the properties confiscated during the Communist regime.

During the year, NAPR reviewed 305 claims submitted by the Greek Catholic Church, compared with 557 claims in 2020.  NAPR approved two requests for restitution to the Greek Catholic Church and approved compensation in two other cases.  Greek Catholic Church officials reported that NAPR rejected most of their claims because the properties now belonged to the ROC and were subject to a different law, making restitution possible only through a joint commission representing the two Churches and based on “the will of the believers from the communities that possess these properties.”  During the Communist regime, all places of worship and parish houses were transferred to the ROC, and most other properties (land and buildings) to the state.  According to Greek Catholic officials, there was no progress on forming a joint commission by year’s end, a request the Greek Catholic Church made 20 years ago.

The Greek Catholic Church continued to report delays on restitution lawsuits.  Church representatives stated there were no court decisions on Greek Catholic restitution cases again during the year and that in several cases, local government committees in charge of transferring the ownership of certain lands to the Greek Catholic Church following a restitution decision failed to do so.  The Greek Catholic parish of Chiheru de Jos Village in Mures County reported that the local government failed to enforce a final court decision issued in 2015 that returned to the Greek Catholic Church 120 hectares (297 acres) of forest and 20 hectares (49 acres) of other land.

Representatives of the Greek Catholic civic group ACUM (the word “now” in Romanian) continued to state that history textbooks and academic publications distorted or minimized the history of the Greek Catholic Church.  ACUM also reported that official websites of central and local government institutions published biased and false information about the Greek Catholic Church.  According to ACUM, in most cases local governments did not invite Greek Catholic Church representatives to public events, while government officials invited ROC representatives.  The group also reported that government officials deliberately overlooked the religious affiliation of historically important Greek Catholic leaders when commemorating them.

Restitution of a property in Bixad that was previously restored to the Greek Catholic Church by the government and confirmed by earlier court decisions continued to be delayed because of a revived claim for the property by the Satu Mare County Council filed in 2016.  At year’s end, the case remained pending.

Although implementing regulations to officially prioritize property restitution cases for Holocaust survivors remained pending, NAPR approved priority status for 114 such applications.  Since the passage of the legislation, NAPR had awarded compensation to Holocaust survivors in 103 cases, rejected the claims in 11 cases, and not issued a decision in 49 cases at year’s end.

The SRC approved 17 pending claims from previous years by the Jewish community – all through compensation – and rejected 38 others, compared with 21 during the same period in 2020.  In 14 other cases, compared with nine in 2020, claimants withdrew their requests.  Religious groups continued to state that it was difficult to obtain required documentation from the National Archives demonstrating proof of ownership in time to meet the 120-day deadline to submit an appeal.  The Caritatea Foundation continued to state the claims procedure was too bureaucratic because the SRC often requested the submission of numerous additional documents, which sometimes were found only in government-managed archives, giving Jewish claimants insufficient time to meet the deadline for document submission.  Caritatea stated access to government-managed archives holding the required documents for the restitution process remained difficult.

According to the Caritatea Foundation, as of December, the NCREC issued 16 final approvals on decisions during the year.  Caritatea stated it challenged eight of these decisions because the compensation amounts awarded were significantly lower than the value of confiscated property.  As of December, 99 decisions were pending final approval, of which 27 had been issued before 2013, according to Caritatea.

According to the Diocese of Transylvania of the Reformed Church, delays continued in addressing its property restitution lawsuits.  According to data provided by NAPR, since 2002, the SRC had reviewed 930 of the 1,191 claims submitted by the Reformed Church and had approved 521 requests for compensation or restitution in kind.

The Diocese of Transylvania of the Reformed Church said the government continued to reject its restitution claims on the grounds the entities registered as the former property owners were educational institutions of the Reformed Church and not the contemporary churches.  Church leaders said the Communist regime had dismantled the former educational institutions while confiscating their property, meaning the former property owners no longer existed as such, but the contemporary churches, as the successors to the dismantled educational institutions, were in effect the same entities whose property the Communist regime had seized.  During the year, the SRC rejected a claim submitted by the Transylvania diocese on the grounds that the claimed building belonged to the Reformed School in the city of Odorheiu Secuiesc and not to the diocese.  According to the diocese, however, the SRC’s decision was unjustified, because the documents attesting the ownership of the building, which were issued in 1891, mentioned the Reformed Church as the owner and the Reformed School as the building’s user.

According to the Transylvania Reformed Diocese, the Cluj-Napoca municipality repeatedly refused to enforce a court decision returning several previously confiscated buildings to the diocese.  The Cluj-Napoca municipality also submitted to the land record office a request to be registered as the rightful owner of a building it confiscated from the Reformed School in 1948.  The diocese reported that the land record still listed the Reformed School of Cluj as the owner of that building because, at the time of the confiscation, the government had not registered its ownership of the building.

In September, Zoltan Balog, the president of the General Synod of the Hungarian Reformed Church which represents Reformed Churches in several countries, including Romania, issued a statement condemning a criminal investigation against Bishops Istvan Csury and Bela Kato of the Reformed Church in Romania.  According to the statement, the prosecutors started an investigation against the two bishops on charges of document forgery in a case concerning the restitution of a Wesseleny College building in Zalau that had belonged to the Reformed Church in Transylvania.  Balog speculated that the investigation aimed to block church property restitution.

Twenty-one claims submitted by the Roman Catholic Church were resolved as of year’s end, compared with 20 in 2020.  The government granted compensation or restitution in kind in six cases and denied 13 claims, compared with five and 13 claims, respectively, in 2020.  The government reviewed 22 claims submitted by the Reformed Church and denied 13 others, compared with 38 and 19 claims, respectively, in 2020.

During the year, nearly 90 percent of schoolchildren continued to take religion classes taught by government employees appointed by the ROC and in accordance with the ROC faith.  According to some NGOs and parents’ associations, this enrollment continued to be the result of pressure by the ROC, as well as the failure of school directors to offer parents alternatives to religion classes.

The Greek Catholic Group ACUM reported that in some cases teachers discriminated against Greek Catholic students and pressured them to take religion classes taught according to the ROC faith.  Some schools reportedly did not offer Greek Catholic students alternatives to religion classes taught according to the ROC faith.

The Seventh-day Adventist Church reported that the Iuliu Hatieganu University of Medical Science and Pharmacy in Cluj scheduled admission examinations on Saturday without providing the option to Seventh-day Adventist candidates to take the exams on another day.  The Seventh-day Adventist Church also reported that several public hospitals in the cities of Bucharest, Ploiesti, Giurgiu, Galati, Deva, and Turda rejected requests by Seventh-day Adventists to take a day off and work on Saturday.  The Church reported, however, that the Body of Expert and Licensed Accountants of Romania agreed to provide the option for Seventh-day Adventist students to take the exams on a day other than Saturday.

Historians and Holocaust experts said the general history curricula provided few mandatory classes on the country’s Holocaust history.  According to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, however, the mandatory curricula for primary, middle, and high schools included explicit references to the Holocaust or other more general topics that allowed teachers to teach about it.  A high school course, “History of the Jews – The Holocaust,” remained an optional elective class.  During the 2020-21 school year, 1,650 students took the course.  According to the National Institute of Statistics, there were approximately 622,000 students enrolled in high school education during the 2020-21 school year.  In November, the parliament passed a bill sponsored by Jewish Member of Parliament Silviu Vexler making “The History of Jews – The Holocaust” a compulsory course for all high school students by 2023.  President Klaus Iohannis signed the bill on November 25.

The government reported that military chaplains continued to be ROC priests, with the exceptions of one Roman Catholic priest and one pastor from the Evangelical Alliance.

Through a declaration adopted on March 31, the parliament stated that antisemitic incidents were on the rise and condemned attempts to glorify Holocaust-era war criminals.

According to the NGO Center for Monitoring and Combating Anti-Semitism in Romania (MCA), prosecution of antisemitic speech and Holocaust denial continued to be infrequent.  The MCA stated that throughout the years, individuals who engaged in antisemitic acts were not held legally accountable, and that law enforcement failed to prosecute those who committed various acts of vandalism directed against cemeteries, synagogues, and memorials.  On February 4, through a nonfinal ruling, the Bucharest Sector Three Court found former intelligence service officer Vasile Zarnescu guilty of Holocaust denial and sentenced him to a deferred prison sentence of 13 months and two years’ probation.

The Bucharest Court of Appeal confirmed a previous prosecutorial decision to drop a 2014 case against the self-declared leader of the antisemitic Legionnaire Movement, stating there was no public interest in prosecuting the suspect and that his behavior had a limited impact and did not lead to violence or material damage.  The charges were for the public use of fascist, racist, and xenophobic symbols, according to the Wiesel Institute.  In 1940-41, the Legionnaire Movement had adopted antisemitic legislation and carried out various antisemitic attacks, including a pogrom in Bucharest in 1941.

Media reported some local authorities continued to allow streets, organizations, schools, and libraries to be named after persons convicted of Nazi-era war crimes or crimes against humanity and to allow the display of public statues and busts depicting persons convicted of war crimes.  Several cities and towns continued to name streets after Ion Antonescu, the country’s dictator during World War II, and some local governments refused to change the name despite requests from the Wiesel Institute.  After the Wiesel Institute repeatedly requested the Constanta municipality to change the name of Ion Antonescu Street in February, the mayor of Constanta, Vergil Chitac, told media that there were various controversies and contradictory assessments of Antonescu and that the municipality would consider renaming the street after academics examined the topic.  The Wiesel Institute condemned Chitac’s statements, stating there was no controversy about the role Antonescu had in the extermination of Jews and Roma.  In June, the Constanta City Council unanimously voted to rename the street after Constantin Costachescu, a submarine commander in the Romanian navy during World War II.

In April, the Iasi municipal administration organized a ceremony unveiling a bust of Octavian Goga, a writer and antisemitic politician who in 1938, when serving as prime minister, initiated laws stripping Jews of their citizenship.  The MCA condemned the municipal administration’s decision and the participation of Iasi mayor Mihai Chirica in the ceremony.  In July, the administration added a plaque on Goga’s bust with the wording, “Regrettably, his political activity was unfortunate for Romania’s history because he was a fascist and antisemitic militant.”  The MCA criticized the added wording and stated that the bust should have been removed.

In February, local councilors of the town of 1 Decembrie in Ilfov County changed the name of Ion Antonescu Street.  The local government in Cluj-Napoca, however, chose not to change the name of a street named in 2017 for Radu Gyr, a commander of the Legionnaire movement and apologist for antisemitism, whom a court convicted in 1945 of war crimes for “contributing to the political aims of Hitlerism and Fascism.”

The Wiesel Institute continued to organize several online and in-person educational activities for teachers, students, and police officers; informed the public about the Holocaust; and posted several teaching materials on the history of the Holocaust in the country on its web page.

In May, the government approved a two-year national strategy and action plan to combat antisemitism, xenophobia, radicalization, and hate speech.  The plan’s expressed goals were to seek to improve data collection on antisemitic incidents, revamp training programs for law enforcement and magistrates, update the school curriculum on the Holocaust, and develop relevant cultural programs.  The strategy mandated the Elie Wiesel Institute for the Study of the Holocaust in Romania and several other agencies and ministries to cooperate with Jewish community in implementing the action plan.  Members of the Jewish community welcomed the strategy, while some antisemitic groups posted on social media that the plan was the result of a Jewish-led conspiracy to hide the truth about the Holocaust and destroy Romanian identity.

In January, the National Council for Combating Discrimination imposed a fine of 5,000 lei ($1,100) on Iulian Bulai, a parliamentarian of the Save Romania Union, a party self-characterized as center right, for several statements he made in 2019 about Jesus Christ that, according to the council, were hostile, humiliating, and degrading towards Christians.  In his statements, Bulai had raised awareness regarding vulnerable children and compared them to Jesus, whom he described as a “a poor kid” coming from a “strange family,” consisting of a “surrogate mother and a father who accepted paternity without contributing to it.”  Several observers criticized the council’s decision, stating that it infringed on the freedom to express opinions about religion.  In August, the Bacau Court of Appeal issued a ruling repealing the fine imposed by the council on Bulai.

In February, the website published a written interview with Corvin Lupu, an associate professor at Lucian Blaga University of Sibiu.  Throughout the interview, Lupu used antisemitic slurs, including the word jidan, the Romanian equivalent of “kike,” and made statements distorting the history of the Holocaust, accused Jews of using the Holocaust for financial benefit, and blamed them for the rise of communism in the country.  Following a complaint by the Wiesel Institute, the university responded that Lupu’s statements were complex and required a detailed analysis and that they would carry out such an in-depth analysis if he renewed his request to teach in the next school year.

On March 3, PNL Member of Parliament (MP) Daniel Gheorghe delivered remarks in parliament glorifying Mircea Vulcanescu, a convicted war criminal who, according to the Wiesel Institute, supported antisemitic policies as a cabinet member in the government of World War II dictator Antonescu.  During a March 8 Senate session, Alliance for the Unity of Romanians (AUR) Senator Sorin Lavric made antisemitic statements, referring to a conspiracy theory that Jews initiated and promoted communism.  Lavric’s statements were made in response to Jewish MP Silviu Vexler’s criticism of statements made by some AUR MPs, including Lavric, glorifying Holocaust-era war criminals and members of the Legionnaire Movement.  AUR posted Lavric’s speech on its official Facebook page and described it as part of the fight for the country’s history and the nation’s soul.

On January 27, President Iohannis hosted a public ceremony to decorate Holocaust survivors, during which he renewed his commitment to preserve the memory of the Holocaust.  Pursuant to its pledge to implement the recommendations of the Wiesel Commission report, the government again commemorated the annual National Holocaust Remembrance Day on October 11, marking the day when Romanian authorities began deporting the country’s Jews to Transnistria, in current-day Moldova.  To mark the day, presidential advisor Catalina Galer delivered remarks on behalf of President Iohannis paying tribute to the victims of the Holocaust and condemning contemporary antisemitism and hate speech.  The Wiesel Institute held a wreath-laying ceremony at the Holocaust Memorial in Bucharest, which several government officials attended.

In the October 11 remarks delivered by presidential advisor Galer on National Holocaust Remembrance Day, President Iohannis stated that the planned Jewish History and Holocaust Museum was “blocked” and asked the government to take serious measures to ensure that it would be established.  In November, the Wiesel Institute, tasked to establish the museum, received the necessary funding from the government to conclude a contract for the design of the museum’s building and permanent exhibition.

The State Secretariat for Religious Denominations provided funding for the publication of several books on the history and heritage of religious groups in the country.  Throughout the year, Baptists, Evangelical Augustans, and Unitarians received such funding.

The country is a member of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance.


Executive Summary

The constitution declares the state is secular and guarantees freedom of religion, equal rights irrespective of religious belief, and the right to worship and profess one’s religion.  The law states government officials may prohibit the activity of a religious association for violating public order or engaging in “extremist activity.”  The law allows the government to criminalize a broad spectrum of activities as extremist but does not precisely define extremism.  The law identifies Christianity, Islam, Judaism, and Buddhism as the country’s four “traditional” religions and recognizes the special role of the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC).  A constitutional amendment cites the “ideals and faith in God” passed on by the country’s ancestors.  Religious groups and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) reported authorities continued to investigate, detain, imprison, torture, physically abuse persons, and/or seize their property because of their religious belief or affiliation or membership in groups designated “extremist,” “terrorist,” or “undesirable,” including Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mejlis of the Crimean Tatars, Hizb ut-Tahrir, Tablighi Jamaat, followers of Muslim theologian Said Nursi, Church of Scientology, Falun Gong, and multiple evangelical Protestant groups.  For example, an NGO reported that in September, while searching houses of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Irkutsk, security forces stabbed a man and beat him unconscious and beat another Jehovah’s Witness and sodomized him with a glass bottle.  According to the NGO, officers also beat the two men’s wives while they were in various stages of undress.  The human rights NGO Memorial identified 340 persons it said were persecuted for their religious beliefs or affiliation as of November, compared with 228 in all of 2020.  Memorial said the actual total was likely three to four times higher.  Memorial did not report the number of persecuted persons for all of the year because the Supreme Court ordered the closure of the NGO on December 28.  In July, the Court of Kemerovo upheld the designation of the Falun Gong branch in the Khakassia Region as an extremist organization and ordered its dissolution there.  During the year, the government declared four Pentecostal and two Scientology groups undesirable, effectively banning them from the country, and banned and dissolved an Orthodox Church unaffiliated with the ROC.  The government criminally prosecuted 13 cases of offending the feelings of believers compared with two such cases in 2020, and prosecuted cases against members of smaller religious groups for what it called illegal missionary work.  The government continued to grant privileges to the ROC not accorded to other religious groups.

In December, a court sentenced a member of the “Citizens of the USSR” movement to six years in prison for attempting to organize a contract killing of the head of the Jewish Community of Krasnodar.  The SOVA Center, a Moscow-based NGO, stated antisemitism was a part of the movement’s ideology.  In the first six months of the year, the SOVA Center reported seven incidents of vandalism at religious sites – two Orthodox, two Jewish, two pagan, and one Protestant – as well as other incidents of religiously motivated vandalism.  In February, two persons shot an air gun at a grocery store containing a halal market in St. Petersburg.  Police opened a criminal case against the two individuals.  Authorities reportedly investigated antisemitic social media posts.  A survey by the polling firm Levada Center found that 22 percent of respondents professed a negative attitude towards Jews, compared with 34 percent in 2010.  Local residents opposed the construction of churches, mosques, and other places of worship in Nizhny Novgorod, Ulyanovsk, Stupino, and Irkutsk.

The U.S. Ambassador and embassy representatives advocated greater religious freedom in the country, highlighting the government’s misuse of the law on extremism to restrict the peaceful activities of religious minorities.  The embassy also made extensive use of its social media platforms to disseminate messages advocating religious freedom.  Embassy representatives met with representatives of religious groups to discuss the state of religious freedom in the country, though these meetings were fewer than in previous years due to intimidation of religious groups by Russian authorities.  In August, the government prohibited the United States from retaining, hiring, or contracting Russian or third-country staff at its diplomatic facilities in the country, further constraining embassy outreach efforts to religious and civil society groups.  Department of State officials continued to monitor the situation of U.S. citizens working with religious institutions and organizations in the country to determine whether authorities targeted them for their faith or religious work.

On November 15, 2021, in accordance with the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998, as amended, the Secretary of State designated Russia a Country of Particular Concern for engaging in and tolerating systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of religious freedom and identified the following sanction that accompanied the designation:  the existing ongoing sanctions issued for individuals identified pursuant to section 404(a)(2) of the Russia and Moldova Jackson-Vanik Repeal and Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act of 2012 and section 11 of the Support for the Sovereignty, Integrity, Democracy, and Economic Stability of Ukraine Act of 2014, as amended by Section 228 of the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act, pursuant to section 402(c)(5) of the Act.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 142.3 million (midyear 2021).  A poll conducted in 2020 by the independent Levada Center found that 63 percent of the population identified as Orthodox Christian and 7 percent as Muslim, while 26 percent reported having no religious faith.  Religious groups each constituting approximately 1 percent or less of the population include Buddhists, Protestants, Roman Catholics, Jews, members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Hindus, Baha’is, members of the International Society of Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON), pagans, Tengrists, members of the Church of Scientology, and Falun Gong practitioners.  The 2010 census, the most recent for which data is available, estimates the number of Jews at 150,000.  The Russian Jewish Congress (RJC) estimates the Jewish population is 172,500.  According to Mufti Ravil Gaynutdin, chairman of the Religious Board of Muslims of the Russian Federation, there were 25 million Muslims in 2018, approximately 18 percent of the population.  Immigrants and migrant workers from Central Asia, which experts estimate at six to seven million, are mostly Muslim.  Most Muslims live in the Volga-Ural Region and the North Caucasus.  Moscow, St. Petersburg, and parts of Siberia also have sizable Muslim populations.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution stipulates the state is secular and provides for religious freedom, freedom of conscience, and freedom of religious worship, including the right to “profess, individually or jointly with others, any religion, or to profess no religion.”  It provides for the right of citizens “to freely choose, possess, and disseminate religious or other beliefs, and to act in conformity with them,” and it provides for equality of rights and liberties regardless of attitude toward religion.  The constitution bans any limitation of human rights on religious grounds and prohibits actions inciting religious hatred and strife.  It states all religious associations are equal and separate from the state.  The law acknowledges Christianity, Islam, Judaism, and Buddhism as the country’s four “traditional” religions, constituting an inseparable part of the country’s historical heritage.  The law recognizes the “special role” of Russian Orthodox Christianity in the country’s “history and the formation and development of its spirituality and culture.”

A 2020 constitutional amendment cites the ancestral history of the country and the “ideals and faith in God” passed on by those ancestors.  The language is the only explicit reference to God in the constitution.  According to a Constitutional Court ruling, the amendment’s reference to God does not contravene the secular nature of the government or undermine freedom of religion but only emphasizes the significant sociocultural role of religion in the formation and development of the nation.

The law states the government may restrict religious rights only to the degree necessary to protect the constitutional structure and security of the government; the morality, health, rights, and legal interests of persons; or the defense of the country.  It is a violation of the law to force another person to disclose his or her opinion of a religion or to force them to participate or not participate in worship, other religious ceremonies, the activities of a religious association, or religious instruction.

The law states those who violate the law on freedom of conscience, religion, and religious associations will be “held liable under criminal, administrative, and other legislation.”  The administrative code and the criminal code both punish obstruction of the right to freedom of conscience and belief with imprisonment of up to three years and/or fines of up to 500,000 rubles ($6,700) or 1,000,000 rubles ($13,300), depending upon which code governs the offense.

By law, officials may prohibit the activity of a religious association on grounds such as violating public order or engaging in “extremist activity.”  The law criminalizes a broad spectrum of activities as extremist, including “assistance to extremism,” but it does not precisely define extremism or require that an activity include an element of violence or hatred to be classified as extremist.

Anti-extremism laws stipulate that speech or actions aimed at “inciting hatred or enmity” based on group affiliation (including religion) are punishable by administrative penalties for first-time offenses if the actions do not contain a criminal offense.  These penalties include administrative arrests of up to 15 days or administrative fines of up to 20,000 rubles ($270) for individuals and up to 500,000 rubles ($6,700) for legal entities.  Individuals are held criminally liable if they commit multiple offenses within a one-year period or for the first offense if they threaten to use violence or use their official position to incite hatred.  The criminal penalties include fines up to 600,000 rubles ($8,000), compulsory labor for up to five years, or imprisonment for up to six years.

Participating in or organizing the activity of a banned religious organization designated as extremist is punishable by a fine of up to 800,000 rubles ($10,700) or imprisonment for a term of six to 10 years, with deprivation of the right to hold “certain positions” or engage in “certain activities” (not well specified but including a prohibition on running for public office) for up to 10 years and restrictions on freedom for a period of one to two years.  These restrictions may include house arrest or constraints on travel within the country.  For persons with “official status,” a term which applies to anyone working for the government or state-owned entities as well as to persons in management roles at commercial entities or NGOs, the prescribed prison term is seven to 12 years or a fine of up to 700,000 rubles ($9,300).  First-time offenders who willingly forsake their membership in banned religious organizations are exempt from criminal liability if they committed no other crimes as defined by the law.

Antiterrorism laws authorize law enforcement agencies to regulate evangelism, requiring permits and restricting the locations in which faith-related information may be shared with others.  These laws also allow security agencies to access private communications, which requires telecommunications companies to store all telephone conversations, text messages, videos, and picture messages for six months and make this data available to authorities.

The Supreme Court has banned the activities of several religious organizations on the grounds of “extremism” and “terrorism,” including a regional branch of Falun Gong, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mejlis of the Crimean Tatars, Hizb ut-Tahrir; Nurdzhular (a Russification of the Turkish for “followers of Said Nursi”); Tablighi Jamaat; and the Fayzrakhmani Islamic community.  These organizations are on the Federal List of Extremist Organizations and/or the Federal List of Terrorist Organizations.  Designations as extremist or terrorist organizations may be appealed in court.

Local laws in several administrative regions, including the republics of Kabardino-Balkaria and Dagestan, ban “extremist Islamic Wahhabism” but do not define the term.  Authorities impose administrative or criminal penalties (the former entail a maximum sentence of 15 days in prison, while sentences for the latter can be much longer) for violating these laws, in accordance with federal legislation.

By law, the government may designate an international religious-affiliated organization or foreign religious group “undesirable.”  The designation allows the closure of foreign and international organizations on the grounds of “presenting a threat to the foundation of the constitutional order of the Russian Federation, the defense capability of the country or the security of the state.”  The designation may also lead to fines or jail time for organization members.  Religious organizations designated undesirable include seven Falun Gong-associated organizations (World Organization to Investigate the Persecution of Falun Gong; Coalition to Investigate the Persecution of Falun Gong in China; Global Mission to Rescue Persecuted Falun Gong Practitioners; Friends of Falun Gong; Doctors Against Forced Organ Harvesting; Dragon Springs Buddhist; and The European Falun Dafa Organization), World Institute of Scientology Enterprises International and the Church of Spiritual Technology (from the United States), the New Generation International Christian Movement and the New Generation Evangelical Christian Church (from Latvia), and the New Generation Spiritual Directorate of the Evangelist Christians and the New Generation International Biblical College (from Ukraine).

The law criminalizes “offending the feelings of religious believers,” including atheists and followers of “non-traditional religions.”  Actions “in public demonstrating clear disrespect for society and committed with the intent to insult the feelings of religious believers” are subject to fines of up to 300,000 rubles ($4,000), compulsory labor for up to one year, or imprisonment for up to one year.  If these actions are committed in places of worship, the punishment is a fine of up to 500,000 rubles ($6,700), compulsory labor for up to three years, or a prison sentence of up to three years.

The law creates three categories of religious associations, with different levels of legal status and privileges:  “religious groups,” “local religious organizations” (LROs), and “centralized religious organizations” (CROs).  Religious groups or organizations may be subject to legal dissolution or deprivation of legal status by a court decision on grounds including violations of standards set forth in the constitution or protection of public security.

A “religious group” is the most basic unit and does not require registration with the government.  When a group first begins its activities, however, it must notify authorities, typically the regional Ministry of Justice (MOJ), of the location of its activity, its rites and ceremonies, and its leader(s) and members.  A religious group may conduct worship services and rituals and teach religion to its members with requisite notification to authorities.  It does not have legal status to open a bank account, own property, issue invitations to foreign guests, publish literature, receive tax benefits, or conduct worship services in prisons, state-owned hospitals, or the armed forces.  To hold services, a religious group may use property bought by its members for the group’s use, residential property owned or rented by its members, or public spaces rented by its members.

An LRO may register with the MOJ if it has at least 10 citizen members who are 18 or older and are permanently residing in the region where the LRO applies to register.  LROs have legal status and may open bank accounts, own property, issue invitation letters to foreign guests, publish literature, receive tax benefits, and conduct worship services in prisons, hospitals, and the armed forces.  CROs may register with the MOJ at the regional or federal level by combining at least three LROs of the same denomination.

To register as an LRO or CRO, an association must provide the following:  a list of the organization’s founders and governing body with addresses and “internal passport” data (the mandatory identity document for all citizens older than the age of 14 residing in the country); the organization’s charter; the minutes of the founding meeting; certification from the CRO (in the case of LROs); a description of the organization’s doctrine, practices, history, and attitudes toward family, marriage, and education; the organization’s legal address; a certificate of payment of government dues; and the charter or registration papers of the governing body in the case of organizations whose main offices are located abroad.  Authorities may deny registration for reasons including incorrect paperwork, failure to meet different administrative requirements, national security reasons, or placement on the list of extremist or terrorist organizations.  Denial of registration may be appealed in court.  By law, CROs and LROs receiving funding from abroad must report an account of their activities, a list of leaders, the source of foreign funding, and plans for how the organization intends to use the foreign funds or property obtained through foreign funding.  Reports are annual by default, but the MOJ may require additional ad hoc reports.  LROs and CROs may invite foreign citizens to carry out professional religious activities.  LROs and CROs may produce, acquire, export, import, and distribute religious literature in printed, audio, or video format, and “other religious items.”

The Expert Religious Studies Council, a committee established by the MOJ to advise it on religious groups, has wide powers to investigate religious organizations.  Some of the council’s powers include reviewing organizations’ activities and literature and determining whether an organization is “extremist.”  The law provides several examples of extremist activities, such as “incitement to violence,” but does not precisely define how organizations or religious materials may be classified as “extremist.”  The council also advises the MOJ on the issue of granting religious organization status to a religious group.

Foreign religious organizations (those created outside of the country under foreign laws) have the right to open offices for representational purposes, either independently or as part of religious organizations previously established in the country, but they may not form or found their own religious organizations in the country and may not operate houses of worship.

The government (the MOJ or the Prosecutor General’s Office) oversees a religious organization’s compliance with the law and may review its financial and registration-related documents when conducting an inspection or investigation.  With advance notice, the government may send representatives to attend a religious association’s events, conduct an annual review of compliance with the association’s mission statement on file with the government, and review its religious literature to decide whether the literature is extremist.  The law contains ongoing reporting requirements on financial and economic activity, funding sources, and compliance with antiterrorist and anti-extremist legislation.  The government may obtain a court order to close those associations that do not comply with reporting or other legal requirements.

The law allows the government to limit the places where prayer and public religious observance may be conducted without prior approval.  LROs and CROs may conduct religious services and ceremonies without prior approval in buildings and facilities or on lands owned or rented by these associations, as well as in cemeteries, crematoria, places of pilgrimage, and living quarters.  Baptism ceremonies in rivers and lakes, as well as services conducted in parks, open spaces, or courtyards, do not fall under this exemption.  In these cases, LROs and CROs must seek government approval at least one week in advance and provide the government with the names of organizers and participants, as well as copies of any written materials to be used at the event.

A prime ministerial decree requires religious organizations to conform to specific counterterrorism measures to qualify for safety permits for their real property.  Among other requirements, all facilities must be guarded during services by members of public organizations.  Facilities with maximum building occupancy limits between 500 and 1,000 must have “panic buttons” and video surveillance systems.  Buildings with occupancy limits of more than 1,000 must be guarded by private security guards or National Guard personnel.  Religious groups are responsible for defraying the costs of these measures.  The penalty for noncompliance is a fine of up to 100,000 rubles ($1,300).

The Ministry of Defense chaplaincy program only allows for chaplains representing the four traditional religions, and the program requires members of a religious group to comprise at least 10 percent of a military unit before an official chaplain of that group is appointed.  Chaplains are neither enlisted nor commissioned but are classified as assistants to the commander.  Chaplains are full-time employees of the Ministry of Defense, paid from the defense budget.  There are more than 120 chaplains in the program.

Federal law defines “missionary activity” as the sharing of one’s beliefs with persons of another faith or nonbelievers with the aim of involving these individuals in the “structure” of the religious association.  According to the law, to share beliefs outside of officially sanctioned sites (which include buildings owned by a religious organization, buildings whose owners have given permission for activities to take place, pilgrimage destinations, cemeteries and crematoria, and indoor spaces of educational organizations historically used for religious ceremonies), an individual must have a document from a religious group or registered organization authorizing him or her to share beliefs.  The law explicitly prohibits any beliefs being shared on another organization’s property without permission from that organization.  It also prohibits missionary activity in residential buildings and the rezoning of any building from residential to nonresidential for the purpose of conducting religious activities.  Materials disseminated by missionaries must be marked with the name of the religious association providing the authorization.

Violations of the law regulating missionary activity may be punished by a fine of 5,000 to 50,000 rubles ($67-$670) for individuals and 100,000 to 1,000,000 rubles ($1,300-$13,000) for legal entities, which includes LROs and CROs.  Foreign citizens or stateless persons who violate restrictions on missionary activities may be fined 30,000 to 50,000 rubles ($400-$670) and are subject to deportation.

Within the MOJ, the Scientific Advisory Board reviews religious materials for extremism.  Composed of academics and representatives of the four traditional religions, the board reviews materials referred to it by judicial or law enforcement authorities, private citizens, or organizations.  If the board identifies material as extremist, it issues a nonbinding advisory opinion, which is then published on the MOJ website and forwarded to the prosecutor’s office for further investigation.  In addition to the Scientific Advisory Board, regional board experts also may review religious materials for extremist content.

Prosecutors may take material to a court and ask the court to declare it extremist, but a court may declare extremist, on its own accord, materials introduced during the consideration of administrative, civil, or criminal cases.  By law, publications declared extremist by a federal court are automatically added to the federal list of extremist materials.  Courts may order internet service providers to block access to websites containing materials included on the federal list of extremist materials.  Courts review and reissue lists on a regular basis.  If the courts determine the material is no longer “extremist,” the MOJ is required to remove the material from the lists within 30 days.  Very rarely, in response to a legal challenge, courts may also reverse a decision to list a material as extremist.  The law makes it illegal to declare the key texts (holy books) of the four traditional religions in their “original languages” – Old and New Testaments of the Bible, Quran, and Tibetan Buddhist Kangyur (Kanjur) – to be extremist.  The law does not define what constitutes an original language nor does it specify that foreign-language translations of these texts may not be declared extremist.

According to the administrative code, mass distribution, production, and possession with the aim of mass distribution of extremist materials by private individuals may result in 15 days’ imprisonment or a fine of 1,000 to 3,000 rubles ($13-$40), or 2,000 to 5,000 rubles ($27-$67) for public officials, as well as confiscation of these materials.  Courts may suspend for 90 days the operations of legal entities found to be in possession of extremist materials and fine them 100,000 to 1,000,000 rubles ($1,300-$13,300).  Individuals who produce materials later deemed extremist may not be punished retroactively but must cease production and distribution of those materials.

On October 3, amendments to the law came into force formally prohibiting certain individuals from leading or participating in a group of believers.  The law prohibits individuals suspected of financing terrorism, or whose actions have been deemed extremist by a court, to lead or take part in religious groups.  The amendments also impose extra training and recertification requirements on clergy, religious teachers, and missionaries who have been trained abroad.  Such personnel must take part in a course in “state-confessional relations in the Russian Federation” and be recertified by a CRO.

The law allows the transfer of state and municipal property of religious significance to religious organizations, including land, buildings, and movable property.  The law grants religious organizations using state historical property for religious purposes the right to use such property indefinitely.  The law prohibits the transfer of living quarters for religious use and the use of living quarters for missionary activity, unless the activity is a part of a “religious service, rite, or ceremony.”

The law allows religious organizations to use buildings that were not originally authorized for religious purposes if they are part of a property that serves a religious purpose.  The law allows, for example, a group to establish a Sunday school in a warehouse on the property of a church.  If such a structure does not meet legal requirements or is not brought into legal compliance by submitting proper paperwork by 2030, it will be demolished.

Religious education or civil ethics classes are compulsory in all public and private secondary schools.  Students may choose to take a course on one of the four traditional religions, a general world religions course, or a secular ethics course.  Regional and municipal departments of education oversee this curriculum at the local level in accordance with their capacity to offer the courses and according to the religious makeup of the given location.  There is no requirement for representatives of religious organizations to be licensed to conduct religious education in schools affiliated with a religious organization or in-home schools.  Religious instructors in any other state or private school must be licensed to teach religious courses.

The Office of the Director of Religious Issues within the Office of the Federal Human Rights Ombudsman handles complaints about the government’s actions on religious freedom.  The ombudsman may intercede on behalf of those who submit complaints; however, the ombudsman may not compel other government bodies to act or intervene in complaints not addressed to the government.

The law entitles individuals and organizations to take religious freedom cases to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in Strasbourg, France.  The state must pay compensation to a person whose rights were violated as determined by the ECHR and ensure his or her rights are restored to the extent possible.  The Constitutional Court determines whether judgments by international and regional courts, including the ECHR, are consistent with the constitution.

Military service for men between the ages of 18 and 27 is compulsory, but the constitution provides for alternative service for those who refuse to bear arms for reasons of conscience, including religious belief.  The standard military service period is 12 months, while alternative service is 18 months in a Ministry of Defense agency or 21 months in a nondefense agency.  Failure to perform alternative service is punishable under the criminal code, with penalties ranging from a fine of 80,000 rubles ($1,100) to six months in prison.

By law, LROs and CROs may not participate in political campaigns or the activities of political parties or movements or provide material or other aid to political groups.  This restriction applies to religious organizations but not to their individual members.

Both the ROC and all members of the Civic Chamber, a state institution composed of representatives of public associations, are granted the opportunity to review draft legislation pending before the State Duma, the lower house of parliament, on a case-by-case basis.  No formal mechanism exists for permanent representation of religious organizations in the Civic Chamber, as the chamber convenes for three-year terms.  Individuals from traditional religions and other religious groups may be selected to serve in the chamber for a term, either in the initial selection of 40 representatives by the President of the Russian Federation or in one of the subsequent rounds of selection, where existing chamber members choose an additional 128 representatives representing national and regional civil society groups.  By law, a member of an organization that had been accused of extremism may not serve in the Civic Chamber.

The law states foreigners or stateless individuals whose presence in the country the government deems “undesirable” are forbidden from becoming founders, members, or active participants in the activities of religious organizations.  The same is true for individuals whose activities are deemed extremist by the courts or who are subject to prosecution under the law on combating money laundering and the financing of terrorism.  The law restricts any foreign national or stateless person from entering the country if he or she “participates in the activities of the organizations included in the list of organizations and individuals in respect of whom there is information about their involvement in extremist activities or terrorism.”

Foreigners engaging in religious work require a contract with a legally registered religious organization and a work visa.  Religious work is not permitted on “humanities visas,” which allow foreigners to enter the country to strengthen academic or cultural ties or take part in charitable work.  There are no missionary visas.

The law grants religious organizations the exclusive right to manage pilgrimage activities.

Under the criminal code, an individual convicted of committing an act of vandalism motivated by religious hatred or enmity may be sentenced to up to three years of compulsory labor or prison.

The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Government Practices

Religious groups and human rights NGOs reported authorities continued to investigate, detain, arrest, imprison, torture, and/or physically abuse persons on account of their religious belief or affiliation.  Authorities continued to accuse religious minority groups of extremism and terrorism.

According to international religious freedom NGO Forum 18, the government used increasingly strict legislation on “foreign agents” and “undesirable organizations” to curtail, complicate, or prohibit the activities of organizations that promote human rights, including freedom of religion and belief, and to monitor their violation.  In December, the Supreme Court ordered the closure of Memorial, one of the country’s best-known NGOs.

As of November 9, Memorial identified 340 persons persecuted for their religious belief or affiliation whom it considered to be political prisoners, meaning they were either already imprisoned or were in custody or under house arrest awaiting a formal sentence to begin.  Memorial stated that the actual number of cases of persecution was likely three to four times higher, given the number of cases the organization identified as similar to those designated as political prisoners; however, the organization said it lacked the supporting evidence to make designations in those instances.  Memorial’s list of political prisoners included 206 persons (45 percent more than in 2020) accused of involvement with the banned Hizb ut-Tahrir, an organization that Memorial characterized as a “nonviolent international Islamic organization,” and 104 Jehovah’s Witnesses (70 percent more than in 2020).  According to Memorial, none of the political prisoners being persecuted for their religious belief or affiliation called for violence or planned violent acts.

In August, Forum 18 reported Jehovah’s Witnesses and Muslims who had been convicted of “extremism” might suffer post-sentence consequences through sudimost (being a convicted person with an active criminal record).  The report stated that after their release, these individuals risked harsher punishment if prosecuted again and might experience more limited formal employment opportunities.  The courts might also impose restrictions on freedom and administrative supervision, including curfews, restrictions on movement, and an obligation to register with police or probation authorities at specified intervals.  These individuals might also be subject to bans on leadership of, or participation in, religious organizations.

Jehovah’s Witnesses and NGOs stated Federal Security Service (FSB) agents, officers of the Interior Ministry’s Center for Countering Extremism, police officers, and riot police continued to monitor, detain, search, and carry out raids in the homes and places of worship of Jehovah’s Witnesses.  The NGO Human Rights Without Frontiers stated authorities had raided more than 1,594 homes of Jehovah’s Witnesses throughout the country between early 2017 and November 2021.  Jehovah’s Witnesses reported 382 searches of homes during the year, compared with 477 in 2020.  They said that during these raids, authorities entered homes, often in the early morning, conducted unauthorized, illegal searches, tortured, and verbally and physically abused members.  Authorities often entered residences by forcing open the door.  They held individuals at gunpoint, including children and the elderly, and seized personal belongings, including religious materials, personal correspondence, money, mobile phones, and other electronic devices.

In January, authorities dropped charges against Jehovah’s Witness Vadim Kutsenko.  Jehovah’s Witnesses stated authorities detained Kutsenko in 2020, subjecting him to electric shocks and forcing him to confess that he had organized activities of a religious organization banned by the court, before placing him under house arrest and eventually releasing him on his own recognizance.

On September 4, Russian human rights NGO OVD-info reported searches of Jehovah’s Witnesses’ homes in Irkutsk by the Russian National Guard and the Ministry of Interior’s Grom special forces.  OVD-info said during the searches special forces beat and then detained Jehovah’s Witnesses Anatoly Razdabarov and Nikolai Merinov.  Officers stabbed Merinov, beat him unconscious, and broke his front teeth.  Officers interrogated Razdabarov for eight hours and demanded access to his telephone.  They beat Razdabrov, handcuffed him so his shoulders hyperextended, and sodomized him with a glass bottle.  According to the NGO, officers also beat the two men’s wives while they were in various stages of undress.  On October 12, a court in Irkutsk refused to recognize the searches of these homes as an illegal action by the security forces, though the security forces did not show search warrants during the raids.

The SOVA Center reported that on December 15, authorities searched 10 homes and interrogated 16 Jehovah’s Witnesses in Samara.  The authorities forced Nikolai Vasilyev and another unnamed Jehovah’s Witness to hold a heated kettle and poured boiling water on him after he refused to provide the authorities access to a laptop.  Vasilyev and two others were arrested and sentenced to two months in jail; the case continued at year’s end.

In January, authorities dropped charges against Jehovah’s Witness Vadim Kutsenko.  Jehovah’s Witnesses stated authorities detained Kutsenko in 2020, subjecting him to electric shocks and forcing him to confess that he had organized activities of a religious organization banned by the court, before placing him under house arrest and eventually releasing him on his own recognizance.

In April, authorities conducted mass searches in Yaroslavl, searching 31 premises and detaining at least two men.  In July, officials conducted mass searches in Kurgan, Shadrinsk, and other cities in Kurgan Region.  The European Association of Jehovah’s Witnesses reported that authorities detained at least 13 persons.  Authorities said the detainees held meetings for more than 130 individuals.

On May 12, the newspaper Novaya Gazeta reported that FSB operatives installed hidden cameras in a Perm bathhouse to monitor possible baptisms.  The recording captured 27 Jehovah’s Witnesses participating in a baptism ceremony, leading five members to be charged.  The Industrial District Court of Perm sentenced one participant in the ceremony to seven years’ probation, and each of the other four to two and a half years’ probation.  Authorities charged each defendant with participating in illegal religious activities as well as organizing, funding, and participating in the extremist community.

Jehovah’s Witnesses representatives said group members continued to flee the country as a result of what they described as increasing government persecution since a 2017 Supreme Court ruling banned the organization.  In March, Foreign Policy magazine estimated more than 175,000 Jehovah’s Witnesses remained in Russia.

The SOVA Center reported authorities had initiated criminal cases against at least 142 Jehovah’s Witnesses during the year; in 2020, the number was at least 146.  Since 2017, according to Jehovah’s Witnesses cited in the SOVA Center report, authorities had initiated 597 criminal cases against adherents in 70 regions of the country.  The NGO Memorial reported 104 imprisoned Jehovah’s Witnesses as of November 9 (35 serving sentences, 69 in custody or under house arrest pending sentencing), with 86 others receiving suspended sentences during the year.  In addition, according to the SOVA Center, during the year at least 68 convictions were handed down against 105 Jehovah’s Witnesses, compared with 25 sentences in 2020.

On January 19, the Kemerovo Regional Court rejected an appeal by Jehovah’s Witnesses Sergei Britvin and Vadim Levchuk, who had both been sentenced to four years’ imprisonment at a labor camp for organizing the activities of a banned extremist organization.  On December 30, both men were released, having served their sentences.

In February, the Abinsk District Court of Krasnodar sentenced Jehovah’s Witness Alexander Ivshin to seven and a half years in a penal colony for organizing the activities of an extremist organization.

On February 10, the Kursk Regional Court upheld a 2020 decision by the Lgov District Court denying Jehovah’s Witness and Danish citizen Dennis Christensen’s appeal for early release.  Detained since 2017, Christensen received a six-year prison sentence in 2019.  He remained in prison at year’s end.

On February 24, the Abakan City Court in the Republic of Khakassia sentenced Jehovah’s Witnesses Valentina Baranovskaya to two years, and her son, Roman Baranovskiy, to six years in a penal colony based on the government’s designation of the group as extremist.

The Central District Court of Chita began proceedings against four Jehovah’s Witnesses charged with organizing the activities of a banned organization:  Vladimir Ermolaev, Sergey Kirilyuk, Igor Mamalimov, and Aleksandr Putintsev.  The four were detained in mass raids in 2020; the case remained pending at year’s end.

In April, the Investigative Committee for the Krasnodar Territory announced that Abinsk District had opened criminal cases against four Jehovah’s Witnesses for participating in the activities of an extremist organization:  Anna Yermak, Olga Pnonmareva, Alexander Nikolaev, and an unnamed individual.

On May 28, authorities opened a criminal case against Anna Safronova, accusing her of participating in worship services of Jehovah’s Witnesses and financing extremist activities.  The case was ongoing at year’s end.

On June 30, the Blagoveshchensk City Court sentenced Jehovah’s Witnesses Dmitriy Golik and Aleksey Berchuk to seven and eight years in prison, respectively, for organizing the activities of an extremist organization.  The Amur Regional Court denied their appeal on September 2; the two were transferred from pretrial detention to prison.

On July 29, the Leninsky District Court of Rostov-on-Don sentenced Jehovah’s Witnesses Arsen Avanesov, Vilen Avanesov, and Alexander Parkov to terms of between six and six and a half years in prison for organizing the activities of an extremist organization.  The defendants had been arrested in 2019 and remained in jail pending trial.  On December 6, the Rostov Regional Court upheld the verdict on appeal.

On September 23, the Traktorozavodsky District Court of Volgograd sentenced Jehovah’s Witnesses Sergey Melnik and Igor Egozaryan to six years in prison for organizing the activities of an extremist organization.  Valery Rogozin, Vyacheslav Osipov, and Denis Peresunko were also found guilty of financing extremist activities.  Rogzin received a sentence of six and a half years; Peresunko and Osipov were each sentenced to six years and three months.

In October, after a year-long case, the Trusovsky District Court of Astrakhan sentenced Jehovah’s Witnesses Sergei Klikunov, Rustam Diarov, and Yevgeny Ivanov to eight years in prison – the longest sentences yet issued to Jehovah’s Witnesses – and Ivanov’s wife, Olga, to three and a half years in prison.  The three men had been in jail since June and charged with organizing and financing extremist activities; Olga had been under house arrest and charged with participation in extremist activities.  The court also cited “the commission of a crime as part of a group, by prior conspiracy” as an aggravating circumstance for all four sentences.

On October 28, the Supreme Court decreed that “the actions of persons not related to the continuation or resumption of the activities of an organization recognized by the court as extremist and consisting solely in the exercise of their right to freedom of conscience and freedom of religion … do not constitute an offense.”  On October 28, the SOVA Center stated the wording of the decision of the Supreme Court was not ideal and “unlikely to completely eliminate the numerous cases of persecution for essentially noncriminal activities.”  The SOVA Center reported that at the end of 2021, Jehovah’s Witness Dmitry Barmakin was acquitted by the Supreme Court and several other cases of Jehovah’s Witnesses were slated for review.

In the month following the Supreme Court’s October 28 ruling, authorities raided the homes of 25 Jehovah’s Witnesses across 10 different regions, and courts convicted or upheld the convictions of at least seven members of the group on charges of extremist activity, including an 80-year-old woman who was fined 500,000 rubles ($6,700).  In November, the Pervorechka District Court of Vladivostock acquitted a Jehovah’s Witness, Dmitry Barmakin, who had been accused of extremist activity – reportedly the first acquittal based on the October Supreme Court decision.

In November, authorities announced completion of the investigation of the 10 Jehovah’s Witnesses detained during raids in Voronezh in 2020 who were accused of organizing a banned community and preaching and recruiting new members between 2018 and 2020.  The case was pending in the Levoberezhny District Court of Voronezh at year’s end.

Felix Makhammadiev, a Jehovah’s Witness who was stripped of his citizenship following his 2019 conviction for organizing extremist activities, was deported to Uzbekistan on January 21.  Makhammadiev had moved to the country from Uzbekistan with his mother as a minor and subsequently became a Russian citizen.  Konstantin Bazhenov, who was convicted in the same case as Makhammadiev, was also stripped of his Russian citizenship; he was deported to Ukraine on May 19.

According to the NGO Memorial, between January and November, authorities convicted, investigated, or charged 18 persons for alleged involvement with Hizb ut-Tahrir, nine of whom were from Crimea.  Since the Supreme Court first labeled the group a terrorist organization and banned it in 2003, Memorial reported that authorities had investigated or charged 331 persons for involvement with Hizb-ut-Tahrir and tried and convicted 258.  Since 2003, courts had sentenced 70 persons to between 10 and 15 years in prison, and 87 to 15 years or more.  The SOVA Center reported that at least 35 defendants in new cases were arrested during the year.  Human Rights Watch characterized Hizb ut-Tahrir as a group that aimed to establish an Islamic caliphate, but which renounced violence.

The SOVA Center reported that on February 18, the FSB conducted a special operation against Hizb u-Tahrir across 10 regions of the country.  The FSB detained alleged members, and authorities opened criminal cases against seven of them.  Individuals continued to receive long prison sentences for their alleged involvement with Hizb-ut-Tahrir.

In April, the Central District Military Court in Yekaterinburg sentenced Rais Mavlyutov to 23 years in a maximum security penal colony after convicting him of recruiting for a terrorist organization, using the internet to incite terrorism, and organizing and participating in meetings where the literature of a terrorist organization, Hizb ut-Tahrir, was read and discussed.  Memorial classified Mavlyutov as a political prisoner and stated there was no evidence that he represented a public danger or was involved in terrorist activities.

On September 6, the Oktyabrsky District Court of Ufa sentenced Ilmira Bikbaeva to three years’ probation for transferring money to the mother of Ayrat Dilmukhametov, a prisoner accused of supporting Hizb ut-Tahrir.  The prosecution said the transfer was proof that Bikbaeva was financing extremism.  Bikbaeva said she simply wanted to help the mother who lacked the means to support herself.

On December 24, the Second Western District Military Court of Moscow sentenced Marifjon Mamadaliyev and Ikboljon Sultonov to terms of between 16 and 18 years in a penal colony for allegedly creating a Hizb ut-Tahrir cell.  The court convicted six additional defendants of participating in the activities of the cell and sentenced them to imprisonment for terms of 11 to 12 years.  The SOVA Center stated the case was based on testimony by a secret witness.

In July, the Court of Kemerovo upheld the designation of the Falun Gong branch in the Khakassia Region as an extremist organization and ordered its dissolution there.

The government prosecuted 13 cases under the law prohibiting offending the feelings of believers, two more than in 2020.  According to Memorial, investigating authorities increased activity during the year, including internet monitoring.  For example, on October 29, Moscow’s Tverskoy District Court sentenced blogger Ruslan Bobiev and his girlfriend, Anastasia Chistova, to 10 months in a penal colony for violating the law.  The teens posted a photograph with St. Basil’s Cathedral in the background depicting Chistova wearing a jacket with the inscription “Police” while simulating a sex act, with Bobiev standing behind her.  The Interior Ministry described the photos as “provocative,” and the court stated the couple “committed public acts expressing clear disrespect for society and committed with the aim of insulting the religious feelings of believers.”  On October 30, police detained and charged Irina Volkova for posting a photo exposing her underwear in front of St. Isaac’s Cathedral in St. Petersburg.  On November 19, authorities in St. Petersburg opened a criminal case against two teenagers in response to a photo circulating on social media, in which the two defendants posed with their pants down in front of the Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood.

In October, the authorities initiated a criminal case against Lolita Bogdanova for insulting the feelings of believers after she bared her chest in front of St. Basil’s Cathedral in Moscow.

On October 25, the SOVA Center and human rights activists reported that staff at correctional colony No.2 in Kurgan Region mocked Muslim prisoners and threw the Quran on the ground, “trampling” it.  Media reported that investigators said they found no evidence of the action as video from the surveillance cameras was destroyed.

On November 18, a court in Kurgan closed the Kurgan Orthodox Parish in Honor of the Holy Trinity.  In July, the Kurgan Regional Court ordered the dissolution stating that the parish had misled Orthodox believers and infringed on their constitutional freedom of religion.  The Magistrate Court of Kurgan had fined the church in 2020 for illegal missionary work.  The parish was independent of the ROC.

In December, the ECHR ruled in favor of Maksim Mikhaylovich Yefimov in his case against the government for prosecuting him for hate speech in 2011 and dissolving his NGO, the Youth Human Rights Group in 2013.  Authorities had charged Yefimov with offending the feelings of believers and extremist speech when he published an article criticizing the ROC.  The court ruled that the government had violated Article 10 – dealing with freedom of expression – and Article 11 – dealing with freedom of association – of the European Convention on Human Rights and that the government should pay Yefimov 10,000 euros ($11,300).

In November, the ECHR ruled in two separate cases that Russian authorities had violated the right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion under the European Convention on Human Rights of members of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness and the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification (Unification Church).  In the latter case, the court also found the government had violated members’ right to family life and a fair trial by arresting and deporting them.  The court awarded 9,500 euros ($10,800) in damages and expenses to the plaintiffs in the International Society for Krishna Consciousness case and a total of 34,270 euros ($38,900) to the plaintiffs in Unification Church case.

According to the MOJ, as of December 2020, there were 31,392 registered religious organizations (LROs and CROs) in the country, most of which were ROC-affiliated, compared with 31,379 in 2019.

According to the SOVA Center, registration was sometimes complicated by imprecise language in the laws regulating the activities of religious groups, LROs, and CROs, which left room for interpretation by local and national authorities.

The SOVA Center reported that in August, law enforcement officers checked the documents of those who had gathered for Friday prayers in several mosques in Moscow and the Moscow region, for example, in Kotelniki.  The officers reportedly took a total of 140 persons to police stations, where they released Russian citizens after checking their documents.  They released the foreigners after collecting their DNA.

In September, the government designated two Church of Scientology groups – World Institute of Scientology Enterprises International and the Church of Spiritual Technology – “undesirable organizations,” effectively banning Scientology within the country.  According to the SOVA Center, the designation meant that the Church of Scientology must stop its activities in the country, and any cooperation with the group would be treated as an administrative or, in some cases, criminal offense.

In August, the government designated four evangelical groups (the New Generation International Christian Movement and the New Generation Evangelical Christian Church (from Latvia), and the New Generation Spiritual Directorate of the Evangelist Christians and the New Generation International Biblical College (from Ukraine) as “undesirable organizations.”

In December, security forces broke up a conference in Ramenskoye attended by Protestant clergy, including representatives of New Generation Churches; one participant was reportedly beaten.

The country’s 83 federal subjects (administrative divisions, excluding Russia-occupied Crimea and Sevastopol) maintained varying policies on the wearing of the hijab in public schools and/or government institutions.  In January, a schoolgirl in a Tyumen secondary school was barred from attending classes due to a Ministry of Education and Science policy that mandated students comply with “generally accepted norms of business style [dress] in society.”  In March, a local Yekaterinburg media outlet published a report describing the ostracism experienced by Muslim women who chose to wear the hijab.

Representatives of minority religious associations and human rights NGOs stated authorities continued to prosecute individuals and smaller religious groups for “illegal” missionary work and frequently imposed fines.  From July 2020 to December 2021, Forum 18 reported 108 prosecutions on administrative charges of unlawful missionary activity for a wide range of activities, including ordinary worship meetings.  Forum 18 stated that more than 80 percent of defendants whose cases reached a verdict were found guilty and fined.  Foreigners also faced possible expulsion.  According to the SOVA Center, Protestant churches were the targets in the largest number of cases.

In September, the Yalta Judicial District Court fined the Christians of the Evangelical Faith of Yalta 30,000 rubles ($400) for carrying out illegal missionary activity.  According to press reports, the Fellowship of Christian Businessmen and Russian Church of Christians of Evangelical Faith Pentecostals were also prosecuted.  In June, four evangelical Christian pastors and believers from Adygea faced administrative cases for illegal missionary activity.  The accused faced fines ranging from five to 50,000 rubles ($.07-$670).  In June, the Sovetsky District Court of Astrakhan found a U.S. citizen guilty of illegal missionary activity, fining him 30,000 rubles ($400) and ordering his expulsion.  In May, authorities charged Russian astrologer Ekaterina Kalinkina with illegal missionary work for promoting and organizing events for the Hindu festival of Maha Shivratri.  Kalinkina faced a fine of 50,000 rubles ($670) as she was not an authorized religious leader.  In April, the Magistrate Court of Evpatoria Judicial District fined the Chava Nagila Synagogue 30,000 rubles ($400) for illegal missionary work, finding that videos posted by the community on social media did not carry the full name of the organization.

Religious minorities said local authorities continued to use the country’s anti-extremism laws to ban sacred religious texts and other books related to religion, other than the four holy books – in their original languages – recognized by law.  The MOJ’s list of extremist material grew during the year to 5,253 compared with 5,130 in 2020 according to SOVA Center reports.

In February, customs officials in Rostov-on-Don confiscated publications by Jehovah’s Witnesses from the library of the ship Missia, which arrived from the Turkish port of Tuzla.  On March 31, the Oktyabrsky District Court of St. Petersburg declared that the Jehovah’s Witness Library mobile application containing the group’s literature, including various translations of the Bible, was extremist.  On September 27, the St. Petersburg City Court upheld the decision to ban distribution of the app in the country.  On September 14, the Primorsky FSB border department searched four homes of Jehovah’s Witnesses and confiscated electronic devices, Bibles, religious literature, and personal records in which they found mention of Jehovah.

On multiple occasions, authorities fined missionary organizations for violating legal requirements pertaining to missionary activity.  On November 10, OVD-Info reported that the Magistrate’s Court in Kabardino-Balkaria fined the Seventh-day Adventist Church 30,000 rubles ($400) for distributing literature without special marking as part of missionary activity.  On November 19, the Magistrate’s Court in Kabardino-Balkaria also fined Seventh-day Adventist Nina Boronina for possessing Christian books about health in violation of the law.  On September 15, the newspaper Novaya Gazeta reported as part of a commentary on persecution of religious believers in the country that authorities in Belgorod fined a Baptist individual for distributing free Bibles in the Sputnik shopping center.

The SOVA Center reported on October 7 that the Leninsky District Court of Stavropol fined the Orthodox Jewish Community of the Stavropol Territory 100,000 rubles ($1,300) for keeping the book Forcibly Baptized by Markus Lehmann, which was included in the government’s list of extremist materials, in its library.  The SOVA Center stated there were no signs of incitement to religious or national hatred in the novel, which is about the persecution and discrimination of Jews in the 14th century in Poland and Lithuania.

Authorities classified literature related to Said Nursi as extremist.  On April 22, the Naberezhnye Chelny City Court in Tatarstan designated 163 editions of the works of Nursi as extremist, according to the SOVA Center.  The court accused the defendants in the case of participating in the “Nurdzhular” organization, a Muslim organization that the Supreme Court declared extremist.

There were several other instances of restrictions on Islamic literature.  The SOVA Center reported on July 14 that the Sernursky District Court in Mari El fined Rosalia Timurgalieva for distributing extremist materials after she posted the film “Miracles of the Koran,” which the center said contained no calls to violence or discriminatory content, on social media.  In April, the Yoshkar-Ola City Court fined Valea Takhmazova and Izzatilo Isakov 1,000 rubles ($13) each for the same offense.

In January, Muslim community leaders criticized the decision by city authorities in Rostov-on-Don to transform the former Cathedral Mosque into a jazz school.  The mosque had been closed during the Soviet era and utilized by the army; in 2016 the Muslim community in Rostov asked for the building’s return.

In November, residents of Troitsk near Moscow complained to the city administration about an unofficial mosque – a residential building in which Muslims gathered for prayer.  The residents said the mosque led to traffic disruptions.  City officials reportedly determined the building was an illegal structure and planned to demolish it.  There were no other mosques in the city.  The case continued at year’s end.

On November 19, Ildar Alyautdinov, the Mufti of Moscow and the main imam of the Moscow Cathedral Mosque, proposed opening prayer rooms in shopping centers and the subway instead of in residential buildings.  He stated that Moscow did not have enough local mosques for resident Muslims and migrants, and the rooms would allow Muslims to perform prayers at the right times without eliciting negative reactions from others.  In response, the press service of the Moscow Department of Transport stated that it was impossible to allocate “premises and places for religious actions of people of all views in public transport.”

In August, Ryazan authorities denied a request from Dmitry Pakhamov, cochairman of the Christianity and Islam Association and head of the International Christian Solidarity Foundation, to build an Islamic cultural and educational center in the city.  Officials responded that there were no free plots suitable for the construction of a religious facility.

In August, Samara city government authorities ordered the demolition of a Pentecostal Good News Church in Mekhzavod as an illegal building, saying the area was zoned for residential use.

On November 12, the Leninsky District Court of Nizhny Novgorod charged Kirill Evstigneev with providing financial services deliberately intended to support an extremist organization, for paying rent for a meeting place for Jehovah’s Witnesses.

On November 2, the Kuznetsk District Court of Novokuznetsk prohibited the Orthodox diocese from operating a chapel, citing a violation of fire safety rules.

The NGO Alliance Defending Freedom International (ADF) stated it had filed two cases with the ECHR on behalf of the Word of Life church in Kaluga – a Pentecostal church in a dispute with local authorities over ownership and building code violations which blocked efforts to convert a building to a meeting place for their community.  Worshipers reportedly were meeting in a tent outside the property pending resolution of the case.

ADF’s 2019 application to the ECHR on behalf of Pastor Vitaliy Bak remained pending at year’s end.  Bak, a Baptist community leader whom the Novorossiysk city administration accused of holding illegal worship services in his home, faced the possibility that his house would be demolished; local authorities closed the house in July 2019.  The ADF stated the authorities’ actions violated freedom of religion.

According to NGOs and independent experts, the government continued to cooperate more closely with the ROC than with other religious organizations, with officials often interpreting the law that recognized the “special role” of Orthodox Christianity as granting special privileges or benefits to the ROC as an institution.  Georgetown University’s Berkley Center for Religion, Peace and World Affairs stated in a report in May that “the Kremlin continues to deepen its reliance on the Russian Orthodox Church-Moscow Patriarchate (ROC) as a lever of soft power in Russian foreign policy.”  In a July interview posted on the ROC website, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov cited the existence of a Working Group for Cooperation between the foreign ministry and the ROC.  In June, ROC Patriarch Kirill presented Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu with an ROC medal for “supervision of the construction of the main temple of the Russian Armed Forces.”  He thanked Shoigu for his contribution to “this new way of interaction between the Church and the armed forces.”  Patriarch Kirill also presented awards to two deputy defense ministers.  The government continued to provide the ROC Patriarch with security guards and access to official vehicles, a privilege accorded to no other religious organization.  According to the SOVA Center, the ROC had received more government-granted property than any other religious organization.

In January, the Verkhnepyshminsky City Court sentenced an assistant to former ROC priest Shiigumen Sergiy to 15 days administrative arrest for inciting hatred through uploading a video on social media, a punishment that does not involve criminal charges.  The ROC had banned him from preaching.  Sergey refused to leave the Sredeuralsk Convent in a dispute over the property.

On February 10, the Sverdlovsk Arbitration Court recognized the Sredneuralsk Convent as property of the ROC Yekaterinburg Diocese.  The ROC had filed a claim for recognition of ownership in 2020.

Forum 18 raised concerns about amendments to the law in October which required clergy, missionaries, or religious teachers who received their religious training outside the country to enroll in a class on state-confessional relations and obtain recertification by a CRO.  The NGO criticized what it said was the vague wording of the amendments, which left interpretation to law enforcement authorities.  According to Forum 18, the majority of religious educational establishments appeared ineligible to offer such courses as they lacked state accreditation.  Baptist, Pentecostal, and Lutheran seminaries all lost their higher education licenses by May.  Forum 18 stated the amendments would affect some communities more than others; for example, the majority of Russia’s Buddhist leaders had trained outside Russia.  Sergey Gavrilov, head of the State Duma’s Committee for the Development of Civil Society and Issues of Public and Religious Associations, stated in an April 5 press release that the (then proposed) amendments were “aimed at protecting the spiritual sovereignty of Russia” and would “take into account Russian legal, moral, and cultural traditions.”

The country’s National Security Strategy, approved in July, included the prevention of the spread of religious radicalism, destructive religious movements, and formation of ethnic and religious enclaves as measures to ensure security.

The Jerusalem Post and Forum 18 reported that antisemitism was rising in the political sphere.  In February, an Anti-Defamation League report criticized the Russian government for instrumentalizing antisemitism to influence domestic and foreign public opinion in its conflict with Ukraine by exaggerating the prevalence of antisemitism in that country.

In January, St. Petersburg State University of Economics and Russian Presidential Academy of National Economy and Public Administration Professor Vladimir Matveyev publicly denied the Holocaust during a webinar.  Matveyev stated Zionists invented the Holocaust, as “it was impossible to pass six million victims through all the concentration camps.”  Other webinar participants contested the statements.  Both institutions fired him in February, and a court denied his request for reinstatement.  Matveyev was charged with rehabilitation of Nazism, and his case remained pending at year’s end.  If convicted, he could face up to three years in prison.

In August, Russia Religious News reported Foreign Minister Lavrov commented that the ROC was “suffering from (unspecified) pressure by Western countries.”

At an October 21 plenary session of the 18th annual meeting of the Valdai International Discussion club, President Vladimir Putin stated that Russians were guided by a moral and spiritual conservatism and must defend “true values” from “adherents of the so-called social progress,” whom he compared to the Bolsheviks, whose quest for progress a century ago became an effort to destroy “age-old values and religion.”


Executive Summary

The constitution guarantees freedom of belief and religion, including the right to change one’s religion; forbids the establishment of a state religion; guarantees equality for all religious groups; and prohibits incitement of religious hatred.  The Macedonian and Montenegrin Orthodox Churches remained unregistered.  Leaders of the country’s two Islamic communities continued to say that, due to a continuing dispute, neither could represent the entire Muslim community when dealing with the government, creating difficulties in coordinating property restitution claims and selecting instructors for religion courses in public schools.  In January, one of the Islamic communities sued the government at the European Court of Human Rights for registering the other Islamic community.  The government continued to return heirless and unclaimed properties seized during the Holocaust and restitute religious properties confiscated in 1945 or later.  The government continued efforts to develop a Holocaust memorial center at Staro Sajmiste, the site of a World War II-era concentration camp in Belgrade, which would also incorporate another former concentration camp in Belgrade, Topovske Supe.  Representatives of several religious groups said the government’s grant of 2.4 billion Serbian dinars ($23.17 million) to the Serbian Orthodox Church (SOC) to complete the Cathedral of St. Sava in Belgrade constituted government favoritism.

In January, May, and June, unknown individuals wrote antisemitic messages and placed antisemitic posters on multiple buildings in Novi Sad and Belgrade.  In May, Jewish leaders filed charges with the Republic Public Prosecutor and the Ministry of Interior against unknown perpetrators, which is permitted within the legal system, who put up antisemitic posters in downtown Belgrade.  Antisemitic literature continued to be available from informal sellers via online platforms.  A report by the International Republican Institute cited cases of antisemitism in online postings related to conspiracy theories involving the Jewish community and Israel.  Smaller, nontraditional groups, mainly Protestant, again said they encountered continued public distrust and misunderstanding.  They said that some websites, traditional media, and members of the public often branded small religious groups as “sects,” a term with a strong negative connotation in the Serbian language.  On February 18, the SOC elected Metropolitan Porfirije Peric as its Patriarch.  Patriarch Porfirije publicly cited the importance of interreligious dialogue and the SOC’s responsibility to “overcome polarization” among ethnic and religious groups.  On October 10, the Jewish Community of Belgrade elected Aron Fuks as its new president.  None of the candidates disputed the results, avoiding a repeat of the 2019 contested election.

Embassy officials engaged with a variety of government ministries and offices to advocate religious freedom and tolerance, continued interfaith dialogue, and protection of religious sites throughout the country.  The embassy urged the government to finalize plans for the Holocaust memorial center at Staro Sajmiste in Belgrade and emphasized the importance of continued restitution of Holocaust-era heirless and unclaimed Jewish property.  Embassy officials met with representatives from a wide range of religious groups, including the SOC, Roman Catholic Church, Islamic community, Jewish community, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and Christian Baptist Church, to discuss issues of religious freedom and tolerance, the religious groups’ cooperation with the government, interaction between traditional and nontraditional religious groups, and property restitution.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at seven million (midyear 2021).  According to the 2011 census (the most recent data available), approximately 85 percent of the population is Orthodox Christian, 5 percent Roman Catholic, 3 percent Sunni Muslim, and 1 percent Protestant.  The remaining 6 percent includes other Christians, Jews, Buddhists, members of the International Society of Krishna Consciousness, Jehovah’s Witnesses, members of other religious groups, agnostics, atheists, and individuals without a declared religious affiliation.  The vast majority of the population that identifies as Orthodox Christian are members of the SOC, a category not specifically listed in the census.  Adherents of the Macedonian, Montenegrin, Romanian, and other Orthodox Churches are included in the numbers of “Orthodox Christians” or in the “other Christian” category, depending on how they self-identify.

Roman Catholics are predominantly ethnic Hungarians and Croats residing in Vojvodina Province in the country’s north.  Muslims include Bosniaks (Slavic Muslims) in the southwest Sandzak region, ethnic Albanians in the south, and some Roma located throughout the country.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution guarantees freedom of belief and religion as well as the right to change one’s religion.  It states everyone shall have the freedom to worship and practice religion individually or with others, in private or in public, and no one shall be obliged to declare one’s religion.  The constitution states the freedom to express one’s religion or beliefs may be restricted by law only as necessary to protect life or health, the morals of democratic society, other freedoms and rights guaranteed by the constitution, public safety and order, or to prevent incitement of religious, national, or racial hatred.  The constitution forbids the establishment of a state religion, guarantees equality for religious groups, and calls for separation of religion and state.  It states that churches and religious communities shall be free to organize their internal structure, perform religious rites in public, and establish and manage religious schools and social and charity institutions in accordance with the law.  The constitution prohibits religious discrimination or incitement of religious hatred, calls upon the government to promote religious diversity and tolerance, and states religious refugees have a right to asylum, the procedures for which shall be established in law.

The law bans incitement of discrimination, hatred, or violence against an individual or group on religious grounds and carries penalties ranging from one to 10 years in prison, depending on the type of offense.  The constitution allows any court with legal jurisdiction to prevent the dissemination of information advocating religious hatred, discrimination, hostility, or violence.  The law bans hate speech, stating, “ideas, opinions, and information published in media must not incite discrimination, hatred, or violence against individuals or groups based on their (non) belonging to a certain faith regardless of whether their publishing constituted criminal offence.”

The law grants special treatment to seven religious groups the government defines as “traditional.”  These are the SOC, Roman Catholic Church, Slovak Evangelical Church, Reformed Christian Church, Evangelical Christian Church, Jewish community, and Islamic community.  The Islamic community is divided between the Islamic Community of Serbia, with its seat in Belgrade, and the Islamic Community in Serbia, with its seat in Novi Pazar.  Both Islamic communities are registered with the government and may conduct most normal business, such as receiving financial assistance from the government, receiving healthcare and pension benefits for clergy, maintaining tax-exempt status, holding bank accounts, owning property, and employing staff.  Neither group, however, has absolute authority over matters regarding the entire Islamic community.  Under the law, “church” is a term reserved for Christian religious groups, while the term “religious community” refers to non-Christian groups and to some Christian entities.

The seven traditional religious groups recognized by law are automatically registered in the Register of Churches and Religious Communities.  In addition to these groups, the government grants traditional status, solely in Vojvodina Province, to the Diocese of Dacia Felix of the Romanian Orthodox Church, which has its seat in Romania and an administrative seat in the city of Vrsac in Vojvodina.

The law also grants the seven traditional religious groups, but not other registered religious groups, the right to receive value-added tax refunds on all purchases enumerated under law and to provide chaplain services to military personnel.

To obtain registration, a group must submit the following:  the names, identity numbers, copies of notarized identity documents, and signatures of at least 100 citizen members; its statutes and a summary of its religious teachings, ceremonies, religious goals, and basic activities; and information on its sources of funding.  The law prohibits registration if an applicant group’s name includes part of the name of an existing registered group.  The Ministry of Justice maintains the Register of Churches and Religious Communities and responds to registration applications.  If the Ministry of Justice rejects a registration application, the religious group may appeal the decision in court.

There are 28 “nontraditional” religious groups registered with the government, compared with 27 in 2020:  the Seventh-day Adventist Church, Evangelical Methodist Church, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Evangelical Church in Serbia, Church of Christ’s Love, Spiritual Church of Christ, Union of Christian Baptist Churches in Serbia, Nazarene Christian Religious Community (associated with the Apostolic Christian Church [Nazarene]), Church of God in Serbia, Protestant Christian Community in Serbia, Church of Christ Brethren in Serbia, Free Belgrade Church, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Zion Sacrament Church, Union of Seventh-day Adventist Reform Movement, Protestant Evangelical Church Spiritual Center, Evangelical Church of Christ, Slovak Union of Baptist Churches, Union of Baptist Churches in Serbia, Charismatic Community of Faith in Serbia, the Buddhist Religious Community Nichiren Daishonin, the LOGOS Christian Community in Serbia, Golgotha Church in Serbia, Theravada Buddhist Community in Serbia, Biblical Center Good News, First Roma Christian Church Leskovac, Vaishnava Religious Community-International Society for Krishna Consciousness, Protestant Reformed Church of Czechs Veliko Srediste, and New Apostolic Church in Serbia.  Several of these organizations are umbrella groups that oversee many individual churches, sometimes of slightly differing affiliations.

The law does not require religious groups to register, but it treats unregistered religious organizations as informal groups that do not receive any of the legal benefits afforded registered religious groups.  Only registered religious groups may build new places of worship, own property, apply for property restitution, or receive state funding for their activities.  Registration is also required to open bank accounts and hire staff.  Registered clerics of registered groups are entitled to government support for social and health insurance and a retirement plan.  According to government sources, 2,397 clergy from 18 registered groups used these benefits.  The law also exempts registered groups from property and administrative taxes and from filing annual financial reports.

According to the constitution, the Constitutional Court may ban a religious community for activities infringing on the right to life or health, the rights of the child, the right to personal and family integrity, public safety, and public order, or if it incites religious, national, or racial intolerance.  The constitution also states the Constitutional Court may ban an association that incites religious hatred.

The Ministry of Justice’s Directorate for Cooperation with Churches and Religious Communities manages all matters pertaining to the cooperation of the state with churches and religious communities.  These include assistance to national minorities in protecting the religious traditions integral to their cultural and ethnic identity, cooperation between the state and SOC dioceses abroad, support for religious education, and support for and protection of the legal standing of churches and religious communities.  The Ministry for Human and Minority Rights and Social Dialogue is tasked with combating misperceptions and hate, including against religious communities, through organizing roundtables, discussions, and other forms of dialogue, public messaging and activities, and assessing related legislation.

The Law on Restitution of Property to Churches and Religious Communities regulates restitution claims for religious property and endowments confiscated in 1945 or later, but only for registered religious groups.  The Holocaust-era Heirless and Unclaimed Property Law permits individual claims for properties lost by Holocaust victims, but religious groups may not claim property confiscated prior to 1945.  In accordance with the Terezin Declaration on Holocaust-era assets, the Holocaust-era Heirless and Unclaimed Property Law provides for the restitution of heirless and unclaimed Jewish property seized during the Holocaust, allowing the Jewish community to file restitution claims based on these seizures, while still permitting future claimants to come forward.  The law defines “heirless property” as any property not the subject of a legitimate claim for restitution.  This law governs personal property taken from members of the Jewish community during the Holocaust, primarily consisting of nonreligious residential and business property and agricultural land.  The Jewish community must prove the former owner of the property was a member of the community and that the property was confiscated during the Holocaust.  The law also stipulates financial support from the state budget for the Jewish community of 950,000 euros ($1.08 million) per year for a 25-year period, which began with an initial payment in 2017.  The law requires the appointment of a supervisory board with representatives from the country’s Jewish community, the World Jewish Restitution Organization, and a government-appointed chairperson to oversee implementation of the restitution law’s provisions.  The law established a February 28, 2019 deadline for filing claims.

The constitution states parents and legal guardians shall have the right to ensure the religious education of their children in conformity with their own convictions.  The law provides for religious education in public schools.  Students in primary and secondary schools must attend either religious or civic education class.  Parents choose which option is appropriate for their child.  The curriculum taught in the religion classes varies regionally, reflecting the number of adherents of a given religion in a specific community.  The Ministry of Education (MOE) requires a minimum of 15 students for a school to offer any elective course, including religion classes.  In areas where individual schools do not meet the minimum number, the MOE attempts to combine students into regional classes for religious instruction.  According to the MOE, 441,487 students in elementary and high schools attended religious education classes during the 2020-2021 school year.

The Commission for Religious Education approves religious education programs, textbooks, and other teaching materials and appoints religious education instructors from lists of qualified candidates supplied by each religious group.  The commission is comprised of representatives from each traditional religious group, the Ministry of Justice’s Directorate for Cooperation with Churches and Religious Communities, the Ministry of Education, and the Ministry of Science and Technological Development.

The constitution recognizes the right of conscientious objection based on religious beliefs.  It states no person shall be obliged to perform military or any other service involving the use of weapons if this is inconsistent with his or her religion or beliefs, but a conscientious objector may be called upon to fulfill military duty not involving carrying weapons.  By law, all men must register for military service when they turn 18, but there is no mandatory military service.

The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Government Practices

In January, the Islamic Community of Serbia, with its seat in Belgrade and registered in 2006, filed charges against the government before the European Court of Human Rights for registering the separate Islamic Community in Serbia, with its seat in Novi Pazar, in 2007.  The Islamic Community of Serbia stated the Islamic Community in Serbia’s name was too closely linked to its own and therefore, per its interpretation of Serbian law, should not have been registered.  The court case continued at year’s end.

The Macedonian and Montenegrin Orthodox Churches remained unregistered and, according to the government, the Churches have not attempted to register in the country for almost 10 years.  The government stated it maintained its policy of deferring to the SOC for recognition of any other Orthodox Church body in keeping with generally accepted Orthodox canons (other than the Romanian Orthodox Church in Vojvodina) in the country and that secular authorities should refrain from resolving issues among individual Orthodox Churches.

Jehovah’s Witnesses reported they had ceased door-to-door preaching since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic and, as a result, had limited engagement with the public and therefore no cases of abuse or harassment as in previous years.  They reported the conclusion of two court cases related to harassment during the year.  The first case stemmed from a 2019 incident in which the police issued a misdemeanor to a member of the Church for occupying a public area while preaching and using a mobile literature cart.  In April, the court ordered the Jehovah’s Witness to pay a fee of 29,000 dinars ($280).  In the second case, stemming from a similar but earlier incident in 2019, the court determined the statute of limitations had expired, and closed the case without issuing a final ruling.  Jehovah’s Witnesses reported they maintained good communication with the Ministry of Justice with respect to registration of their congregations and registered five new ones during the year.  Jehovah’s Witnesses expressed frustration at having to pay value-added tax, which according to national law is only refunded to the seven traditional religious groups.  Together with other smaller religious communities, they said they planned to engage the government to change this law but believed the likelihood of immediate change was small.

In accordance with the Holocaust-era Heirless and Unclaimed Property Law, the government continued to return to the Jewish community heirless and unclaimed properties seized during World War II.  The Restitution Agency reported 1,683 filed claims by the February 28, 2019 deadline.  The agency reported that under those claims, it returned more than 876.9 hectares (2,167 acres) of agricultural land and 1,034 square meters (11,130 square feet) of unbuilt land, as well as 32 properties, including 17 business premises, six apartments, and nine other buildings during the year.  Since the implementation of the law, the government said it had restituted 134 properties and 2,727.7 hectares (6,740 acres) of agricultural land and 1,476 square meters (15,888 square feet) of undeveloped land to Jewish communities in the country.  The agency estimated the overall value of the property and land returned under the law was more than 36 million euros ($40.82 million).  By law, Jewish communities were then responsible for transferring property to individual heirs.

The government continued restitution of religious properties confiscated in 1945 or later under the Law on the Restitution of Property to Churches and Religious Communities.  During the year, it returned 238.5 hectares (589 acres) of total land (compared with 337 hectares/833 acres in 2020), of which 225.7 hectares (558 acres) were agricultural land; 2.2 hectares (5 acres) were forests and forest land; and 10.6 hectares (26 acres) were unbuilt land, 117 square meters (1,259 square feet) were residential property, and 823 square meters (8,859 square feet) were office space.  The government returned either the properties themselves or substituted other property of equivalent value to groups that included the SOC, the Roman Catholic Church, and the Reformed Christian Church.  The government estimated it had returned approximately 74.3 percent of the land and 24.61 percent of the buildings claimed by churches and religious communities.  The Restitution Agency stated it did not return any religious property to the Jewish community during the year under this law but continued to process the Jewish community’s ongoing property restitution claims.  Representatives from some churches and religious communities objected to the restitution’s slow process and to restitution through substitution, challenging the location and value of the property substituted.

According to Muslim leaders, the fact that neither the Islamic Community of Serbia nor the Islamic Community in Serbia had authority over matters regarding the entire Muslim community complicated efforts to pursue restitution claims with the government.  The Restitution Agency continued to process claims by the Islamic communities but did not restitute any properties to them during the year.

In April and August, the government granted 1.7 billion dinars ($16.41 million) and 720 million dinars ($6.95 million), respectively, to the SOC for completion of the Cathedral of St. Sava in Belgrade.  Representatives of other churches and religious communities said the funding was preferential treatment for the SOC.

Representatives of the Office for Cooperation with Churches and Religious Communities stated that public schools offered religious education for any registered religious community whenever the minimum number of 15 students requested it, but there had been no such requests other than from the seven traditional groups.

Muslim leaders said selecting religious instructors for public school courses on religion remained difficult because neither of the two Islamic groups had authority over matters regarding the entire community.  Both communities had religious teachers on the MOE-approved list for the 2020-21 school year.  According to the Islamic Community in Serbia, appointment of its religious teachers in schools throughout the southern Sandzak region continued to depend on local authorities rather than the MOE.

Vladimir Roganovic, the acting director (since December 2020) of the Directorate for Cooperation with Churches and Religious Communities, said that the directorate’s activities during the year focused on the promotion of belief and positive discrimination toward smaller religious communities.  He stated that 20.5 percent of the budget for high school-level theological education and 16 percent of the budget for university-level theological education was dedicated to smaller religious groups.

The national television service, Radio Television of Serbia, continued to broadcast a daily, 10-minute Religious Calendar program about major holidays celebrated by monotheistic religions.

The government continued efforts to develop a Holocaust memorial center at Staro Sajmiste, a site of World War II-era concentration camp in Belgrade.  The Holocaust memorial center will incorporate the site of another former concentration camp in Belgrade, Topovske Supe.  The government was developing design plans and establishing an international executive body to review decisions related to the memorial center.  On November 3, the government appointed Krinka Vidakovic-Petrov as the Acting Director of the Staro Sajmiste Memorial.


Executive Summary

The constitution provides for freedom of religious belief and affiliation and states the country is not bound to any particular faith.  Registration requirements for religious groups include the need to present a petition with signatures of at least 50,000 adherents, which members of some religious groups considered discriminatory.  A group lacking the minimum 50,000 adult adherents required to obtain status as an official religious group may register as a civic association to function; in doing so, however, it may not identify itself officially as a religious group.  Some groups registered as civic associations in order to function.  Government officials and members of parliament (MPs) from both the government coalition and opposition parties continued to make anti-Muslim statements.  In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the government implemented restrictions on the freedom of movement and public assembly throughout the year that some religious leaders stated violated freedom of religion.  A former deputy prime minister asked the Prosecutor General’s office to formally request that the Constitutional Court assess whether these restrictions violated the right to freedom of religion.  The court confirmed that the state of emergency accorded with the constitution.  The government’s ombudsperson separately concluded that while COVID-19 measures introduced by the government in 2020 did restrict fundamental rights, the measures were substantiated and proportional and “did not interfere with the core of religious freedom.”  State authorities continued to prosecute some members of the Kotlebovci – Ludova strana Nase Slovensko (Kotleba’s – People’s Party Our Slovakia) (LSNS) for defaming minority religious beliefs and denying the Holocaust.  The party chairperson’s appeal against a four-and-a-half-year prison sentence for an act of antisemitism remained pending before the Supreme Court.  The government adopted a formal resolution apologizing for crimes committed by the Slovak fascist state and denouncing the adoption of an antisemitic “Jewish Code” in 1941 that enabled the deportation of Slovak Jews.  The government created the position of Plenipotentiary for Freedom of Religion or Belief charged with promoting religious freedom at home and abroad.

The Muslim community continued to report anti-Muslim hate speech on social media, which it mostly attributed to public statements by politicians portraying Muslim refugees as a threat to the country’s society.  According to a survey by a local nongovernmental organization (NGO), a majority of Slovaks, citing the religion as “very dangerous,” held negative attitudes toward Muslim refugees and migrants; 43 percent believed Islam should be banned in the country.  Organizations that media described as far right continued to publish material on and to commemorate the World War II-era, Nazi-allied Slovak state, and to praise its leaders.  In September, the Brussels-based NGO Action and Protection League issued the results of its European antisemitism survey, which found that 20 percent of 1,000 respondents ages 18-75 in Slovakia said they had negative feelings towards Jews.  Unregistered religious groups said the public tended to distrust them because of their lack of official government recognition.

The U.S. Ambassador and other embassy officers raised with government officials the treatment of religious minorities and the difficulties those groups faced regarding registration, as well as measures to counter what religious groups and others described as widespread antisemitism and anti-Muslim sentiment.  The Ambassador and other embassy officers also repeatedly raised public awareness of the importance of religious freedom, using private and public events, as well as social media, to highlight the need for tolerance in society and the importance of countering hate speech.  Embassy officials, including the Ambassador, met regularly with registered and unregistered religious organizations and NGOs to raise the issue of hate speech and to highlight the role of churches and religious groups in countering extremism and promoting tolerance.  The embassy continued to support efforts aimed at combating anti-Islamic sentiment and antisemitism and increasing tolerance through public diplomacy grants.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 5.4 million (midyear 2021).  According to the most recent census in 2021, Roman Catholics constitute 55.8 percent of the population, more than 300,000 members fewer than in the previous census (2011), when they constituted 62 percent of the population.  Members of the Evangelical Church of the Augsburg Confession constitute 5.3 percent, and Greek Catholics 4 percent; 23.8 percent did not state a religious affiliation – almost 600,000 persons more, compared with 13.4 percent in 2011.  There are smaller numbers of members of the Reformed Christian Church, other Protestants, members of the Orthodox Church, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Buddhists, Muslims, Jews, Hindus, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, and Baha’is.  In the 2021 census, 3,862 persons self-identified as Muslim, more than double the number in 2011, while representatives of the Muslim community estimate their number at 6,000.  According to the census, there are 2,007 Jews, although the Central Union of Jewish Religious Communities in the Slovak Republic estimates the Jewish population at 5,000.  Greek Catholics are generally ethnic Slovaks and Ruthenians, although some Ruthenians belong to the Orthodox Church.  Most Orthodox Christians live in the eastern part of the country.  Members of the Reformed Christian Church live primarily in the south, near the border with Hungary, where many ethnic Hungarians live.  Other religious groups are equally distributed across the country.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution provides for freedom of religious belief and affiliation, as well as the right to change religious faith or to refrain from religious affiliation.  It prohibits discrimination on religious grounds.  The constitution states the country is not bound to any particular faith, and religious groups shall manage their affairs independently from the state, including in providing religious education and establishing clerical institutions.  The constitution guarantees the right to practice one’s faith privately or publicly, either alone or in association with others.  It states the exercise of religious rights may be restricted only by measures “necessary in a democratic society for the protection of public order, health, and morals or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.”

The law prohibits establishing, supporting, and promoting groups dedicated to the suppression of fundamental rights and freedoms, as well as “demonstrating sympathy” with such groups, which courts have interpreted to include Nazis and neo-Nazis.  Violators are subject to up to five years’ imprisonment.

The law requires religious groups to register with the Ministry of Culture’s Department of Church Affairs to employ spiritual leaders to perform officially recognized functions.  Clergy from unregistered religious groups do not have the right to minister to their members in prisons or government hospitals.  Civil functions such as weddings officiated by clergy from registered groups are recognized by the state, while those presided over by clergy from unregistered groups are not, and couples must undergo an additional civil ceremony.  Unregistered groups may apply to provide spiritual guidance to their adherents in prisons, but they have no legal recourse if their requests are denied.  Unregistered groups may conduct religious services, which the government recognizes as private, rather than religious, activities.  Unregistered groups lack legal status and may not establish religious schools or receive government funding.  The law exempts registered groups from the duty to notify public authorities in advance of organizing public assemblies – an exemption that does not apply to unregistered groups.

According to the law, organizations seeking registration as religious groups must have a minimum of 50,000 adherents.  The 50,000 persons must be adult citizens with permanent residence in the country and must submit to the Ministry of Culture an “honest declaration” attesting to their membership, knowledge of the articles of faith and basic tenets of the religion, personal identity numbers and home addresses of all members, and support for the group’s registration.  All groups registered before these requirements came into effect in 2017 remained registered without having to meet the 50,000-adherent requirement; no new religious groups have attained recognition under the revised requirements.  According to the law, only groups that register using the title “church” in their official name may call themselves a church, but there is no other legal distinction between registered “churches” and other registered religious groups.

The 18 registered religious groups are:  the Apostolic Church, Baha’i Community, The Brotherhood Unity of Baptists, Seventh-day Adventists, Brotherhood Church, Czechoslovak Hussite Church, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Evangelical Church of the Augsburg Confession, Evangelical Methodist Church, Greek Catholic Church, Christian Congregations, Jehovah’s Witnesses, New Apostolic Church, Orthodox Church, Reformed Christian Church, Roman Catholic Church, Old Catholic Church, and Central Union of Jewish Religious Communities.  Registered groups receive annual state subsidies.  All but the Evangelical Church of the Augsburg Confession, Greek Catholic Church, Orthodox Church, Reformed Christian Church, and Roman Catholic Church have fewer than 50,000 members, but they registered before this requirement came into effect.

The Department of Church Affairs oversees relations between religious groups and the state and manages the distribution of state subsidies to religious groups and associations.  The ministry may not legally intervene in the internal affairs of religious groups or direct their activities.

In 2020, a legislative amendment took effect that increased the total state subsidies to registered religious groups, basing the funding on the number of adherents reported in the most recent census.  Under the law, the state adjusts annual subsidy payments for inflation.

A group lacking the 50,000 adult adherents required to obtain status as an official religious group may register as a civic association, which provides the legal status necessary to carry out activities such as maintaining a bank account, entering into a contract, or acquiring or renting property.  In doing so, however, the group may not identify itself officially as a religious group, since the law governing registration of civic associations specifically excludes religious groups from obtaining this status.  The group must also refrain from carrying out activities related to practicing religion, which from a legal perspective are reserved for registered religious groups only, or face possible dissolution by authorities.  To register as a civic association, three citizens must provide their names and addresses and the name, goals, organizational structure, executive bodies, and budgetary rules of the group.

A concordat with the Holy See provides the legal framework for relations among the government, the Roman Catholic Church in the country, and the Holy See.  Two corollaries cover the operation of Catholic religious schools, the teaching of Catholic religious education as a subject in public schools, and the service of Catholic priests as military chaplains.  A single agreement between the government and 11 of the 17 other registered religious groups provides similar status to those groups.  These 11 religious groups may also provide military chaplains.  The unanimous approval of all existing parties to the agreement is required for other religious groups to obtain similar benefits.

The law does not allow burial earlier than 48 hours following death.

All public elementary school students must take a religion or ethics class, depending on personal or parental preferences.  Schools have some leeway in drafting their own curricula for religion classes, but these must be consistent with the Ministry of Education’s National Educational Program.  Representatives of registered religious communities are involved in the preparation of the National Education Program.  Although most school religion classes teach Roman Catholicism, if there is a sufficient number of students, parents may ask a school to open a separate class focusing on the teachings of one of the other registered religious groups.  All schools offer ethics courses as an alternative to religion classes.  Alternatively, parents may request that teachings of different faiths be included in the curriculum of the Catholic religion classes.  There are no clear requirements as to course content when teaching about other faiths in the Catholic classes.  Private and religious schools define their own content for religion courses and may teach only their own religion, but they are required to offer ethics courses as an alternative.  Registered religious groups approve textbooks used for religious classes and the state finances the textbooks.  In both public and private schools, religion class curricula do not mention unregistered groups or some of the smaller registered groups, and unregistered groups may not teach their faiths at schools.  Teachers normally teach about the tenets of their own faith, although they may teach about other faiths as well.  The Roman Catholic Church appoints teachers of Catholic classes.  Depending on the registered religious group and the school, other religious groups may appoint the teachers of their classes.  The government pays the salaries of religion teachers in public schools.

The law criminalizes issuance, possession, and dissemination of materials defending, supporting, or instigating hatred, violence, or unlawful discrimination against a group of persons on the basis of religion.  Such activity is punishable by up to eight years’ imprisonment.

The law requires public broadcasters to allocate program time for registered religious groups but not for unregistered groups.

The law prohibits the defamation of a person’s or group’s belief, treating a violation as a criminal offense punishable by up to five years’ imprisonment.  If such crimes are committed with a “special” aggravating motive, which includes hatred against a group or individuals for their actual or alleged religious beliefs, the defamation and incitement crimes are punishable with sentences of up to five and six years, respectively.

The law prohibits Holocaust denial, including questioning, endorsing, or excusing the Holocaust.  Violators face sentences of up to three years in prison.  The law also prohibits denial of crimes committed by the Nazi-allied, WWII-era fascist and postwar communist regimes.

The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.