The constitution bars the federal government from making any law that imposes a state religion or religious observance, prohibits the free exercise of religion, or establishes a religious test for a federal public office. In August the government released draft religious freedom laws whose stated aim was to make it unlawful to discriminate on the basis of religious belief or activity in key areas of public life. Some religious groups criticized the legislation as inadequate for not explicitly recognizing a positive right to freedom of religion, and for providing inadequate protections for religious groups engaging in commercial activities, such as retirement villages or youth camps. Some civil society groups said the draft legislation would give too much weight to religious views and would weaken existing protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBTI) people and those from diverse racial and cultural backgrounds. The government responded with a second draft in December, and invited further public comment. Pauline Hanson’s One Nation Party, which had two senators in the federal parliament, called for a travel ban for certain countries until a solution can be found to “first, second, and third generation migrants who violently reject Australia’s democratic values and institutions in the name of radical Islam” and for limits on some Islamic practices. The Catholic Church opposed state and territory laws requiring priests to report evidence of child abuse heard in confession.
In August a Muslim woman reported being assaulted while on public transportation in Melbourne, and in November another Muslim woman, who was in an advanced state of pregnancy, was attacked by a man who reportedly yelled anti-Muslim hate speech. Two incidents of anti-Semitic bullying at Melbourne-area schools received widespread media attention during the year. Four incidents of anti-Semitic graffiti appeared in east Melbourne during the year, as well as similar vandalism in other cities. Unknown perpetrators painted anti-Muslim graffiti on the car of a Muslim family in Western Australia days after the Christchurch, New Zealand mosque shootings.
The U.S. embassy and consulates general engaged government officials and a wide range of religious leaders, faith communities, and groups to promote religious freedom. This included well-publicized engagement with members of the country’s Uighur community, some of whom have reported harassment by the Chinese Communist Party in the country.
The constitution guarantees the right of individuals to worship according to their beliefs. It establishes the Evangelical Lutheran Church (ELC) as the national church, which has privileges not available to other religious groups. Other religious groups must register with the government to receive tax and other benefits. A state-funded institute reported Christian converts and practitioners at Muslim-majority asylum centers were at risk in potential conflict situations the government could not control. The government revoked the registration of nine religious groups during the year. Parliament again took up consideration of, but did not vote on, a citizen’s petition that would legislate a ban on the circumcision of minors. Additional provisions of the government’s action plan against “vulnerable neighborhoods,” which included Muslim-majority areas, entered into force on July 1. The plan included education of Christian holiday traditions in mandatory daycare for children of families receiving government benefits. The country’s largest Muslim school closed in December 2018 after the government ceased funding it amid what it stated were concerns about the school leadership’s handling of finances and quality of education. The Stram Kurs Party, which advocated deporting all Muslims and banning Islam, garnered enough signatures to run candidates for parliament in June elections and held demonstrations in which it burned the Quran; it received 1.8 percent of the vote, short of the threshold to enter parliament. Muslim candidates in those elections reported significant harassment from other Muslims. The government added eight new persons to a list of foreign preachers it banned from the country and removed five, bringing the total on the list to 13 persons.
Police reported 112 religiously motivated crimes in 2018, the most recent year for which data were available, 21 percent fewer than in 2017. There were 63 incidents against Muslims and 26 against Jews. Most incidents involved harassment, hate speech, and vandalism, including desecration of cemeteries. Separately, the Jewish community reported 45 anti-Semitic incidents in 2018, 50 percent more than in 2017, including assault, physical harassment, threats, vandalism, discrimination and hate speech. There were also reports of anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim incidents during the year. Jewish and Muslim community leaders stated most victims did not report incidents because they believed police would not follow up. In September a man operating a city bus in Norrebro drove the vehicle into a group of marching Muslims while shouting, according to witnesses, “Go home.” There were no injuries. Prosecutors charged the driver with willful endangerment. According to a European Commission (EC) survey, 61 percent of respondents believed discrimination on the basis of religion or belief was widespread in the country. Another EC survey found 43 percent of residents believed anti-Semitism was a problem in the country, and 50 percent said it had increased over the previous five years.
U.S. embassy officials met with national police representatives to discuss religiously motivated hates crimes and upcoming programs to combat them, and separately engaged with staff from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ Freedom of Religion Unit. The Ambassador and other embassy officials regularly met with religious groups, including Jews, Muslims, and Christian groups, as well as nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), to discuss their concerns and stress the importance of religious tolerance and diversity.
The constitution protects freedom of religion and the right of religious communities to establish their own institutions. The constitution 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. Religious groups must register to request an accord. On July 30, the government signed an accord with the Church of England; at year’s end, it was awaiting parliamentary approval. Unregistered religious groups operate freely but are not eligible for the same benefits as groups with accords; however, they may apply separately for benefits. In October the senate approved a proposal from Senator for Life and Holocaust survivor Liliana Segre to establish an extraordinary committee to fight intolerance, anti-Semitism, and hate crimes; 98 center-right senators abstained in the vote. In November the Milan prefect granted Segre a police escort after she received threatening anti-Semitic messages, and a prosecutor opened an investigation. The Muslim community, which does not have an accord, continued to experience difficulties in acquiring permission from local governments to construct mosques or to continue operating existing ones. According to a weekly newspaper, Panorama, there were 1,200 unofficial Muslim places of worship. Politicians from several political parties, including leader of the League (Lega) Party Matteo Salvini, who served as deputy prime minister and minister of interior from June 2018 until September 2019, again made statements critical of Islam and against the construction of new mosques. In March the Union of Islamic Communities of Italy (UCOII) President Yassine Lafram told the general assembly in Bologna that Islamic communities were not able to open “dignified” places of worship and said it was “inconceivable” that Muslims had to worship in “basements.”
There were reports of anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim incidents, including harassment, discrimination, hate speech, and vandalism. The Anti-Semitism Observatory of the Jewish Contemporary Documentation Center Foundation (CDEC), a nongovernmental organization (NGO), identified 251 anti-Semitic reported incidents during the year, compared with 181 in 2018 and 130 in 2017. Of those incidents, 172 involved hate speech on social media or the internet. The press reported examples of anti-Semitic graffiti and posters, including depictions of swastikas on walls, anti-Semitic stereotypes, and praise of neo-Nazi groups in cities such as Rome, Milan, and Pisa. While there is no official government data from institutions or public agencies on anti-Muslim incidents, local and European NGOs reported physical and verbal attacks against Muslims, especially involving hate speech, on social media, and in the press. The NGO Vox Diritti reported 22,523 tweets containing negative messages targeting Muslims between March-May, compared with 26,783 from March-May 2018. On March 21, a woman forcibly removed a Muslim woman’s hijab on a public bus in Turin and taunted her, according to press reports.
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. They also discussed the efforts to integrate new migrants, many of whom were Muslim, Orthodox, or Hindu, and second-generation Muslims. Embassy, consulate, and Department of State representatives met with religious leaders and civil society representatives to promote interfaith dialogue and awareness, social inclusion of immigrants, the empowerment of faith groups through social media, and the mobilization of youth leaders among faith groups. The embassy and consulates continued to use their 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 local level. Embassy officials met with the president of the Union of Italian Jewish Communities (UCEI) and Rome Jewish community leaders to discuss how to support their efforts to counter anti-Semitism among self-defined far-right groups and civil society.