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Germany

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 and some state offices of the domestic intelligence service continued to monitor the activities of certain Muslim groups.  Authorities also monitored the Church of Scientology (COS), which reported continued government discrimination against its members.  Certain states continued to ban or restrict the use of religious clothing or symbols, including headscarves, for some state employees, particularly teachers and courtroom officials.  While senior government leaders continued to condemn anti-Semitism and anti-Muslim sentiment, some members of the federal parliament and state assemblies from the Alternative for Germany (AfD) Party again made anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim statements.  The federal and seven state governments appointed anti-Semitism commissioners for the first time, following a recommendation in a parliament-commissioned 2017 experts’ report to create a federal anti-Semitism commissioner in response to growing anti-Semitism.  The federal anti-Semitism commissioner serves as a contact for Jewish groups and coordinates initiatives to combat anti-Semitism in the federal ministries.  In July the government announced it would increase social welfare funding for Holocaust survivors by 75 million euros ($86 million) in 2019.  In March Federal Interior Minister Horst Seehofer said he did not consider Islam to be a part of the country’s culture, and that the country was characterized by Christianity.  In May the Bavarian government decreed that every public building in the state must display a cross in a clearly visible location near its entrance.

There were numerous reports of anti-Semitic, anti-Muslim, and anti-Christian incidents.  These included assaults, verbal harassment, threats, discrimination, and vandalism.  Most anti-Christian incidents involved actions by Muslim migrants against migrant converts.  Jews expressed security concerns after several widely publicized anti-Semitic attacks, coupled with reports of anti-Semitic bullying in schools.  Final federal crime statistics cite 1,799 anti-Semitic crimes during the year, including 69 involving violence, an increase of 20 percent compared with 1,504 anti-Semitic crimes, of which 37 were violent, in 2017.  The federal crime statistics attributed 93 percent of the 2017 crimes to the far right.  A study covering 2007-2017 by the Technical University of Berlin found online anti-Semitism was at its highest level ever recorded.  There were demonstrations expressing anti-Muslim and anti-Islamic sentiment and protests against what participants described as radical Islam.  The Roman Catholic Church and the Protestant Church in Germany (EKD) continued to make public statements opposing the COS.

The U.S. embassy and five consulates general monitored the government’s responses to incidents of religious intolerance and expressed concerns about anti-Semitic, anti-Christian, and anti-Muslim acts.  Embassy representatives met regularly with the newly appointed federal government anti-Semitism commissioner at the Ministry of Interior.  The embassy and consulates general maintained a dialogue with a broad spectrum of religious communities and human rights nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) on their concerns about religious freedom and on ways to promote tolerance and communication among religious groups.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 80.5 million (July 2018 estimate).  Unofficial estimates based on the census and figures provided by religious groups indicate approximately 29 percent of the population is Roman Catholic, and 27 percent belongs to the 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, combined account for less than 1 percent of the population.  Orthodox Christians represent 2.4 percent of the population.

According to government estimates, approximately 6.3 percent of the population is Muslim, of which 75 percent is Sunni, 13 percent Alevi, and 7 percent Shia; the remainder identifies simply as “Muslim.”  According to the Ministry of Interior, approximately 25 percent of Muslims are recent immigrants; between 2011 and 2015, an estimated 1.2 million refugees arrived from predominately Muslim countries.  Estimates of the Jewish population vary widely; the Central Council of Jews estimates it at 200,000.  The Central Welfare Office for Jews in Germany reported that Jewish communities had approximately 100,000 members at the end of 2017.  According to Religious Studies Media and Information Service (REMID), a secular, religious studies NGO, groups that together constitute less than 1 percent of the population include Buddhists (270,000); Jehovah’s Witnesses (222,000); Hindus (100,000); Yezidis (100,000); The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Church of Jesus Christ) (40,000); Sikhs (15,000); and COS (5,000-10,000).  All of REMID’s estimates are based only on members who have registered with a religious group.  According to the nonprofit Research Group Worldviews Germany, approximately 36 percent of the population either has no religious affiliation or belongs to religious groups not counted in the government’s statistics.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Government Practices

In January the federal government created the new position of commissioner for Jewish life in Germany and the fight against anti-Semitism.  The new commissioner, Felix Klein, started work in May.  The appointment followed federal parliament enactment of a resolution entitled “Resolutely Combating Anti-Semitism” on January 18.  The resolution called for creation of an anti-Semitism commissioner and expressed appreciation for the government’s 2017 decision to adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA’s) working definition of anti-Semitism.  It also called for deportation of foreigners that incite anti-Semitic hatred, “determined” countering of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement, continued punishment for persons who denied or trivialized the Holocaust, and further financing – including with Muslim organizations and mosques – for projects to combat anti-Semitism, as well as continued financial support for Jewish communities and memorials of the Holocaust.  A 2017 report on anti-Semitism in the country by independent experts had also called for the appointment of a federal commissioner on anti-Semitism, as well as improved documentation and punishment of anti-Semitic crimes and better advisory services for those affected by anti-Semitism.

In October Klein announced that he planned to implement a nationwide system of recording anti-Semitic incidents below the threshold of criminal offenses.  During a visit to Israel, he announced cooperation with the Israeli government in encouraging third party states to apply the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism and to develop codes of conduct for governments’ interactions with social media companies to combat online anti-Semitism.  On December 20, Klein announced the 2019 launch of a nationwide online platform for reporting anti-Semitic incidents.  The platform will be run by the Research and Information Center for Anti-Semitism (RIAS), a nonprofit organization that receives some federal and state funding.  The Ministry of Interior also announced it would establish a separate anti-Semitism department and add experts on Jewish life to the religious department.  Klein repeatedly encouraged the federal states to establish their own anti-Semitism commissioners.

Rhineland-Palatinate, Baden-Wuerttemberg, Hesse, Bavaria, Saarland, Saxony-Anhalt and NRW established anti-Semitism commissioners.  The responsibilities and functions of the position varied by state, but generally included developing contacts with the Jewish community, collecting statistics on anti-Semitic incidents, and designing education and prevention programs.  In November the federal and state level anti-Semitism commissioners met for the first time to discuss best practices and identify areas of cooperation.

In November Baden-Wuerttemberg opened an anti-discrimination office.  The state government said it would serve as a point of contact for those experiencing any form of discrimination, including religious discrimination.

In March NRW Minister-President Armin Laschet advocated granting PLC status to Muslim organizations.  In January the Ahmadiyya Muslim Jamaat requested PLC status in NRW, and the application was pending at year’s end.

In November Rhineland-Palatinate announced it was planning to sign a state agreement with the Muslim Alevite community.  According to the state chancellery, the agreement would outline conditions for Alevi holidays and religious instruction in schools.  At year’s end, four Rhineland-Palatinate elementary schools offered Alevi religious instruction.  The government was scheduled to sign the agreement in March 2019.

In August the state of Rhineland-Palatinate announced it would stop negotiations to establish a “religion treaty” with the Turkish Islamic Union for Religious Affairs (DITIB) and three other Islamic organizations, Schura Rheinland-Palatinate, Ahmadiyya, and the Association of Islamic Cultural Centers.  Such an agreement would have been a precondition for introducing state-wide Islamic religious education in public schools, but the state followed two expert opinion reports that had questioned DITIB’s independence from the Turkish government and the organizations’ “constitutional adequacy” as official partners for the state.  State authorities also classified DITIB and Schura as “suspicious.”

In December media reported the Hesse State criminal police office started an investigation of a possible neo-Nazi network in Frankfurt’s police force after a group of police officers allegedly sent a threatening letter to a German lawyer of Turkish origin.  In August investigators said they had found police officials used a work computer to look up the lawyer’s personal information without an official reason, and also found a group of five police officers had been sharing neo-Nazi images and content.  Authorities suspended the five officers from duty, and the case remained under investigation at year’s end.

According to reports from the federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (OPC) – the domestic intelligence service – and state OPCs and COS members, the federal and state OPCs in Baden-Wuerttemberg, Bavaria, Berlin, Bremen, Hamburg, Lower Saxony, NRW, and Thuringia continued to monitor the activities of the COS, reportedly by evaluating Scientology publications and members’ public activities to determine whether they violated the constitution.  In September following the opening of new representational COS offices in Stuttgart, a Baden-Wuerttemberg state OPC spokesperson said state and national COS membership had decreased by one third since 1997, and suggested that the OPC’s monitoring of the COS deterred membership.  COS leadership disputed the state OPC’s statement that membership had declined.  At least four major political parties (the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), the Christian Social Union (CSU), the Social Democratic Party (SPD), and the Federal Democratic Party (FDP)) continued to exclude Scientologists from party membership.

Federal and state OPCs continued to monitor a number of Muslim groups, including Salafist movements, ISIS, Hezbollah, Hamas, Turkish Hezbollah (TH), Hizb ut-Tahrir, Tablighi Jama’at, Millatu Ibrahim, the Islamic Center Hamburg (IZH), the Muslim Brotherhood, and Milli Gorus.  The website of NRW’s OPC stated the Muslim Brotherhood “rejects democracy.”

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

In January the Hamburg Regional Court acquitted 12 alleged members of the banned Salafist group Millatu Ibrahim.  The Hamburg state attorney’s office charged that the men had, among other offenses, stormed a mosque in Luebeck, Schleswig-Holstein in 2013 and threatened to kill those who did not adhere to Millatu Ibrahim’s convictions.  The state attorney’s office stated it was convinced of the defendants’ guilt but that it had failed to prove the allegations.

In July Hamburg began to record hate crimes in a more detailed manner.  Hamburg Justice Senator (the city-state’s minister of justice) Till Stefen told the newspaper Welt in June the statistics would improve sentencing and make sociopolitical developments more visible.  Stefen added, “We need new sources to make anti-Semitic crimes visible.”  Hamburg State Attorney General Jorg Frohlich stated that collecting the new statistics would require significant additional work but that “every progress is worthwhile” when combating hate crime.

In September Bavaria established a hotline for reporting anti-Semitic incidents, according to the state’s anti-Semitism commissioner.  Bavarian authorities said the hotline would begin operations in spring 2019.

In May federal statistical data on the number of anti-Muslim and anti-Christian hate crimes became available for the first time.  Police had added the categories to their criminal statistics in 2017.  Anti-Semitism was already a category of hate crime in federal crime statistics.

In February Baden-Wuerttemberg announced the state would start organizing training for Muslim chaplains at correctional facilities, rather than rely on outside organizations to conduct the training.  In the same month media reported the state OPC had barred three of 16 imams who were graduates of a third-party training course from serving as prison chaplains because of what the OPC said were the imam’s contacts with radical Islamist organizations.

In May Bavarian Minister-President Markus Soeder announced a decree requiring public offices to display a cross in a visible place at the entrance area of the building where they were located.  According to Soeder, the decree was intended to highlight Bavaria’s cultural and historical roots.

In March the Federal Constitutional Court dismissed the suit of a woman who wanted to drive wearing a niqab.  The court stated the woman had not sufficiently demonstrated how the law prohibiting driving with a face covering restricted her religious freedom.

In March the Koblenz police district completed a disciplinary review of a male Muslim police officer who in 2017 refused to shake the hand of a female colleague, citing religious reasons.  Police officials disciplined the officer, and ordered him to pledge his allegiance to the constitution in writing and pay a fine of 1,000 euros ($1,100).  They also instructed the officer, on penalty of dismissal, not to refuse to shake the hands of women in the future when acting in an official capacity.

In May the Berlin Labor Court ruled against a teacher in Berlin who had sued the school system in 2017 for transferring her from a primary school to a school for older children because state law barred women who wore a headscarf from teaching younger children.  The court decided the state administration had the right to transfer its teachers to any other post of the same salary level.

In November the State Labor Court of Berlin and Brandenburg awarded approximately 5,000 euros ($5,700) to a job applicant in compensation for discrimination on the grounds of religion.  The job applicant, trained in information technology, said the school where she applied to work as a teacher had rejected her because she wore a headscarf.  In May the local labor court had ruled that, because teachers served as a model for young students, the school was justified in limiting her religious freedom and asking her to teach without a headscarf.  The state court, however, saw no indication that a teacher wearing a headscarf would have threatened “school peace,” and quoted the Federal Constitutional Court’s 2015 decision that such a threat was a necessary condition for prohibiting teachers from wearing headscarves.

In April the NRW integration ministry announced it would examine legal requirements for a headscarf ban for girls younger than 14, the age of so-called “religious majority.”  The state integration minister stated in an interview that wearing a headscarf was a personal decision, but children lacked the self determination to decide and should not be pressured.  Critics of the proposed ban, including some teachers, asked how the ban would be enforced.  The federal integration commissioner and the chairwoman of the Federal Anti-Discrimination Agency spoke against the ban while federal FDP Party Chair Christian Lindner and CDU Party Vice Chair and federal Minister of Agriculture Julia Kloeckner supported it.  By year’s end, the NRW state government had not decided on the proposed ban and said it expected to continue debating the issue through the end of 2019.

In April a Muslim woman wearing a niqab left a reception by Heiner Bernhard (SPD Party), the mayor of Weinheim in Baden-Wuerttemberg, after she refused a request by a town employee to show her face.  The mayor stated he wished “to greet all citizens of his town face to face,” and that he considered it a “citizen’s duty” to show one’s face in a democratic state.  Shortly before the incident, the municipality had refused to process a pending passport application for the woman’s child because, according to Mayor Bernhard, the mother declined to show her face for identification purposes, as required by law, while applying for the passport on behalf of her child.  Bernhard told the newspaper Welt, “For identity verification, we had to see the woman’s face.  She could have gone to a separate room in our town hall.”

In September the city of Pforzheim announced it had reversed a regulation requiring Muslim women wishing to wear a headscarf in their driver’s license photograph to present evidence of their faith through a certificate from their mosque or religious community.  Earlier in the year, a Muslim woman’s tweet about the requirement had generated strong criticism of it on social media.  The new policy required certificates of faith only in cases where there was reasonable doubt about the religious motivation of those seeking to wear a headscarf in the photograph.

In February the AfD put forward a motion requesting the government to introduce legislation in parliament to prohibit full-face veils in public.  Citing the individual rights of Muslim women, the AfD motion stated that wearing a full-face veil was “an expression of the oppression of women” and of conscious distancing from “Western liberal society.”  At year’s end parliament was still debating the motion in committee.

In March the Bavarian Administrative Court rejected the complaint of a judicial trainee in Augsburg who in 2014 had sued to contest a Bavarian Ministry of Justice rule denying judicial trainees the right to wear a headscarf in court.  A lower court had previously sided with the plaintiff in 2016.

In July a majority of the citizens of Kaufbeuren, Bavaria voted in a referendum against leasing (for a symbolic fee) municipal real estate to the local DITIB organization on which to build a mosque.

In March the Higher Administrative Court in Muenster, NRW ruled that an event venue owner could not rent his venue for a Muslim circumcision celebration scheduled for Good Friday.  The ruling reaffirmed a December 2015 ruling by the Administrative Court in Cologne.  The circumcision itself had taken place several weeks before the scheduled celebration and the court ruled that the jubilant nature of the event contradicted the quiet nature of the Christian Good Friday observance, which several federal states, including NRW, legally enforced.

In February the Gelsenkirchen Administrative Court in NRW banned outdoor amplification of the call to prayer via speakers by a local mosque.  Following legal action by nearby residents in 2015, the Muslim community had to stop amplifying the prayer call outside of the mosque’s premises pending a court decision.  The court justified its decision in this specific case with the lack of citizen involvement and dialogue in the city’s first decision to grant the permit for the call to prayer but did not prohibit the call to prayer altogether.  In March the city announced it would appeal the decision prohibiting the amplification.  The city’s lawyer compared the call to prayer with the ringing of church bells and said the court had not respected the religious freedom of the Muslim community.

In October the Federal Labor Court ruled on new guidelines for the rights of religious communities as employers, ruling on a case in which the EKD-owned charity organization Diakonie denied employment to a social worker because she was not a member of a religious community.  Although the job description required applicants to belong to a Christian church, the court ruled that Diakonie could not deny her employment solely on that basis.  The court’s decision stated religious communities could no longer require applicants to belong to a religious community as a condition of employment unless religious communities could demonstrate that membership was required to perform the job.

In March the European Court of Human Rights unanimously held that the country’s courts’ decisions in 2013 to take Twelve Tribes Church children living in Bavaria into state care because of reports that Church members punished their children by caning had not violated Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

In March Foreign Minister Heiko Maas condemned rising anti-Semitism at schools after Muslim immigrant children bullied a Jewish girl at a Berlin elementary school.  The bullying reportedly included death threats.

In May the NRW Ministry of Schools and Education distributed resources on countering anti-Semitic bullying in schools to all schools and education authorities in the state.  The action followed reports indicating that bullying of Jewish students rose in 2017.  Politicians from the CDU/CSU called for action, including that schools pay more attention to communicating religious tolerance.

In December Hamburg’s parliament passed a resolution to strengthen preventive work against anti-Semitism.  The parliament allocated an additional 300,000 euros ($344,000) for school programs to combat anti-Semitism, including educational visits to former concentration camps, adult education, and anti-discrimination counseling.  The parliament said it would cooperate with Hamburg’s Jewish community and organizations to support their efforts to combat anti-Semitism, and that its efforts would target right-wing extremist groups.

In May the education ministry of Brandenburg, and the education ministries of Saarland and Rhineland-Palatinate in June, signed declarations of intent with Yad Vashem World Holocaust Remembrance Center in Israel to collaborate on Holocaust education in the states’ schools.  In November Hamburg’s education ministry introduced educational materials on Jewish life from Yad Vashem as part of a broader effort to combat anti-Semitism in schools.  Yad Vashem said it had concluded such agreements with 15 of 16 states in the country.

In June the Baden-Wuerttemberg state government announced plans to reorganize Islamic religious education in public schools.  Minister-President Winfried Kretschmann said that, because of the absence of a single Islamic partner organization, he proposed establishing a Sunni Muslim educational foundation that would serve as a mediator between the state and various Islamic associations.  The state government did not reach a decision on a new model for Islamic religious education and announced it would continue the existing system for an additional school year.

The Alevi Muslim community continued to offer separate religious lessons in schools in eight states for approximately 1,400 students.

In June Berlin Humboldt University, a public university, created an institute for Islamic theology and said it would begin training imams and religion teachers in 2019.  The state of Berlin pledged to provide 13.8 million euros ($15.83 million) in funding for the institute through 2022.  Humboldt University created the institute in cooperation with three Muslim associations – the Central Council of Muslims, Islamic Federation, and Islamic Association of Shia Communities – and the associations were to have a voice in selecting the institute’s professors.  Critics, including student organizations and the Berlin CDU, said they disapproved of the extent of the associations’ control over the institute’s board, or of what they described as the associations’ conservative orientation.

During campaigning for the October Bavarian state elections, the Bavarian AfD distributed posters calling for “Islam-free schools,” which the party explained as a call to end “Islamic education and headscarves in schools.”

The COS continued to report governmental discrimination.  “Sect filters,” which were signed statements by potential employees to confirm they had no contact with the COS, remained in use in the public and private sectors.  According to the COS, in September a Munich school refused to hire a teacher due to his membership in the COS.  The COS said the government also discriminated against firms owned or operated by its members.  According to the COS, Hamburg city officials asked one COS member to sign a “sect filter” when he attempted to purchase land from the city for his company.

In April the Berlin Administrative Court dismissed a suit that the mosque association Neukoellner Begegnungsstaette (NBS) had brought against the Berlin OPC in 2017.  NBS had sought to have the Berlin OPC remove the association’s name from its annual report and to stop stating NBS had ties to the Muslim Brotherhood.  The court ruled that the Berlin OPC’s statements that NBS had had contacts with the Islamic Community in Germany and that the latter group organized followers of the Muslim Brotherhood were valid.

In May the NRW state chancery spokesperson told media the state government stopped cooperation with DITIB due to the Turkish government’s influence over the group.

In July the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany (also known as the Jewish Claims Conference) and the government announced an increase of 75 million euros ($86 million) of government funding for social welfare services for Holocaust survivors, raising the yearly contribution from 405 million euros ($464.45 million) in 2018 to 480 million euros ($550.46 million) in 2019.  According to the commission, the increased funds would finance additional home care, food support, medicine, and transportation services for Holocaust survivors.

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 increased its yearly support from 10 to 13 million euros ($11.47 to $14.91 million) to help maintain Jewish cultural heritage, restore the Jewish community, 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 research group on 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 September the NRW government announced a ten-year plan totaling 44 million euros ($50.46 million), beginning in 2018 and ending in 2028, for the modernization and new construction of Jewish facilities and institutions.  The state said funding would begin at three million euros ($3.44 million) and be increased by 200,000 euros ($229,000) annually until reaching the maximum funding level of five million euros ($5.73 million) in 2028.  Separately, NRW again provided three million euros ($3.44 million) to support and upgrade security in Jewish buildings.

On November 8, the city of Dessau-Rosslau in Saxony-Anhalt presented the Jewish community with a piece of land to build a new synagogue in the center of town.  The community received 195,000 euros ($224,000) from the city and 300,000 euros ($344,000) from the state’s lottery commission for the construction of the building, as well as 700,000 euros ($803,000) from the federal government.  The Minister-President of Saxony-Anhalt, Reiner Hasselof, welcomed the new synagogue, stating it would increase the visibility of Jewish life in the city.

According to the Humanistic Union, an independent civil liberties organization, total state contributions during the year to the Catholic Church and the EKD amounted to approximately 538 million euros ($616.97 million).  The union said it calculated its estimate based on the federal states’ budgets.

In June the NRW state government’s Center for Political Education organized six one-day information programs in six cities entitled Diverse Islam versus Violence-Prone Salafism:  Opportunities for Intervention and PreventionThe stated goals were to help teachers and educators distinguish between Islam as a religion and what the organizers described as violent Islamist extremists, and to engage with youths vulnerable to religiously based extremism.  Presenters were Muslim and non-Muslim academics, members of NGOs, and state government employees.  Muslim religious leaders did not participate in the programs.

In July the NRW Ministry for Children, Family, Refugees, and Integration awarded 160,000 euros ($183,000) to the Central Council of Muslims in support of its Hands-on Diversity:  Students against anti-Semitism project.

In January the Federal Constitutional Court reversed the 2016 acquittal by the Wuppertal Regional Court of seven members of a self-declared “Sharia Police” on charges of violating the prohibition on wearing uniforms as expressions of a common political opinion.  Dressed in yellow vests marked “Sharia Police,” the men patrolled Wuppertal in September 2014 to counter “non-Muslim behavior.”  The Constitutional Court remanded the case back to the lower court and stated the latter had failed to consider whether the uniforms caused intimidation or were otherwise threatening to the public.  At year’s end the lower court had not scheduled a new trial date.

On July 9, the Berlin-based Jewish Forum for Democracy and anti-Semitism, in conjunction with several other Jewish organizations in the country, published a “declaration of principles on the fight against anti-Semitism.”  While applauding several “well-intentioned” federal- and state-level public statements and initiatives over the previous months, the declaration called on the government to back up policies with concrete action.  It cited the need to take victims seriously, distinguish anti-Semitism as a specific form of discrimination, and apply the IHRA’s working definition of anti-Semitism.  The signatories called upon the newly appointed federal and state commissioners on anti-Semitism to develop more effective preventative measures to combat it and to learn from the experiences of victims to develop more effective preventive measures.  They also called on federal and state government agencies and publicly funded institutions to explicitly distance themselves from all form of anti-Semitism, including campaigns such as BDS.

Frankfurt Deputy Mayor and City Treasurer Uwe Becker targeted the BDS movement against Israel on numerous occasions and called for a ban of BDS in Germany.  In April Becker said “Frankfurt will, in the future, only work with banks which do not maintain business relations with the anti-Semitic BDS movement.”  In June he added that artists who supported the BDS movement were not welcome in Frankfurt and festivals or organizations in Frankfurt supporting BDS or providing a platform to its supporters risked losing city funding.

In September the NRW State Parliament condemned the BDS movement and its calls to boycott Israeli products and companies, as well as Israeli scientists and artists in NRW.  The parliament also requested that all NRW government organizations deny BDS requests to use city, municipality, and county spaces.

In December Jewish community leaders in Duesseldorf said they believe NRW could still do more to combat anti-Semitism, and they found state-level responses to the BDS movement to be insufficient and weak.

On January 1, the government implemented procedures for registering complaints and violations of the law barring hate speech enacted in late 2017.  The procedures stipulated operators of social networks with more than two million users in the country, including Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, must delete or block “obviously illegal content” within 24 hours after notification or, in more complex cases, within seven days.  Operators must name a representative in the country able to react to complaints within 48 hours.  Operators failing to comply systematically with the requirements were subject to fines of up to 50 million euros ($57.34 million).  By year’s end the government had not penalized any companies under the law.  Anti-Semitism Commissioner of Baden-Wuerttemberg Michael Blume reported the new law had had little effect on the spread of anti-Semitism and other forms of hate speech, as groups simply chose to use other, less public social media forms such as WhatsApp groups and video game chat rooms not covered by the law.

In March federal Interior Minister Seehofer stated the phrase “Islam is part of Germany,” which former President Christian Wulff and other politicians had popularized, was wrong.  “No.  Islam is not part of Germany,” he said.  Seehofer added that Muslims in the country “are, of course, part of Germany,” but that he did not consider Islam to be a part of the country’s culture.  The minister’s statements led to a public debate on the role of Islam and Muslims in the country.  Chancellor Angela Merkel stated that, while the country was shaped by its Judeo-Christian heritage, “Now there are four million Muslims living in Germany” who “can live their religion here, too.”  Several Muslim associations criticized the minister’s statements.  Gokay Sofuoglu, chair of the advocacy group Turkish Community in Germany, said, “At a time when there are more and more attacks on mosques and Muslims, it is not a good start if the minister of the interior begins with such a statement.”  He also stated that “it is not his [Seehofer’s] job to decide who belongs to Germany and who does not.”  Addressing Seehofer’s remarks, Islamic Council Chair Burhan Kesici said, “He does not have the decency to withhold his opinion.…It would be better to recognize reality and see Muslims as part of society.  Only then could prejudices be reduced.”  Ayman Mazyek, Chair of the Central Council of Muslims, commented, “Against the backdrop of the mosque fires and the increased Islamophobic attacks, I would have expected the new interior minister to stand behind German Muslims.”

In September Hans Peter Stauch, an AfD state parliament member in Baden-Wuerttemberg, posted a video on Facebook entitled “The Power of the Rothschilds.”  The video included statements that the Rothschilds, a Jewish banking family, were responsible for World War II and the Holocaust.  Baden-Wuerttemberg’s state commissioner for anti-Semitism and the heads of the state-level Green, SPD, and FDP parties criticized Stauch, saying that he was spreading anti-Semitic conspiracy theories.  Stauch responded that he had only posted the video without commentary and said he was exercising his freedom of speech.

In January AfD Bundestag (federal parliament) member Beatrix von Storch tweeted that Cologne police were appeasing “barbaric, gang-raping, Muslim hordes” when the police tweeted a New Year’s Day greeting in Arabic.  Twitter briefly suspended von Storch’s account.  Thomas Held, spokesman for the Cologne police, confirmed to media that the Cologne police initiated a criminal report against von Storch for suspicion of inciting hatred, stating that this was “a completely normal procedure” which they were “legally obliged” to start upon the suspicion of a criminal offense.  Additionally, approximately 100 private individuals reported von Storch’s tweet to police.  Twitter also deleted a tweet by AfD Parliamentary Caucus Chief Alice Weidel, defending her colleague by using the phrase “imported, marauding, grabbing, beating, knife stabbing migrant mobs.”

In May Weidel argued in a parliamentary debate that the uncontrolled immigration of Muslims endangered the wealth of the country, stating, “Burquas, headscarf girls, subsidized knife men, and other good-for-nothings will not secure our wealth, the economic growth, and most of all our welfare state.”  Representatives of all other parties present in parliament reacted with interjections and booing.  Parliament President Wolfgang Schaeuble called her to order for “discriminating against all women who wear a headscarf.”

In July a group of AfD party members from Weidel’s Bodensee electoral district in Baden-Wuerttemberg visited the Sachsenhausen concentration camp memorial in Brandenburg State as part of a trip to Berlin sponsored by the federal press office.  According to the memorial site’s staff, some participants continuously interrupted the guided tour with inappropriate comments, including speech that trivialized Nazi crimes and questioned the existence of gas chambers.  The federal press office stated one participant made anti-Semitic statements.  Neuruppin public prosecutor Wilfried Lehman was investigating the case, and stated in November that his office hoped to complete the investigation by year’s end, and he already had sufficient evidence for one case of Holocaust denial.

On April 26, the Bundestag condemned the increasing number of anti-Semitic incidents and attacks in the country, and emphasized its support for Israel’s right to exist.  “It is intolerable when Jewish life in Germany is not possible without fear,” said SPD party leader Andrea Nahles.  Volker Kauder (who at the time was CDU/CSU parliamentary caucus leader), said “Everyone has a place in this society,” but that there was no place for anti-Semitism.

In May the Rostock District Court upheld a lower court’s 2016 finding that AfD state Member of Parliament (MP) Holger Arppe was guilty of hate speech against Muslims for comments he wrote on the right-wing website Politically Incorrect in 2010, while using a pseudonym.  The court increased Arppe’s fine from 6,300 to 9,000 euros (from $7,200 to $10,300).

On February 8, the Stuttgart Higher Regional Court found the creator of the banned Altermedia neo-Nazi website guilty of leadership in a criminal association and inciting racial hatred and sentenced him to two and a half years in prison.  Three women, charged with supporting the website and incitement, were convicted and received suspended sentences ranging from eight months to two years.  The court declared the platform a criminal organization.  It had published content that denied the Holocaust and targeted Jews, immigrants, and foreigners; the federal interior minister closed it in 2016.

According to the Central Council of Muslims (ZMD), political parties continued to distance themselves from Islamic associations because they were concerned foreign nations and organizations could influence Muslims with money and by sending radical imams to mosques in the country.

As part of the coalition agreement between the ruling CDU/CSU and SPD parties, the government agreed to continue the German Islam Conference dialogue between representatives of the government and Muslims in the country, which began in 2006.  The conference’s aim was to improve the religious and social participation of the Muslim population in the country, 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 Islamic organizations.  In November the government held its fourth German Islam Conference, a two-day conference with 240 participants.  Conference attendees included representatives of Muslim associations, communities, scholars, and activists.  Interior Minister Seehofer called on Muslim communities to cut their ties with sources of foreign funding and influence, develop their own training systems for the country’s imams, and increase their cooperation with the country’s government.  Federal Integration Commissioner Annette Widmann-Mauz, reiterating concerns about the foreign financing of the country’s mosques, said, “Those who want to be part of Germany as a Muslim organization cannot remain part of Ankara.”

In January Sawsan Chebli, a Berlin state legislator of Palestinian heritage, proposed the government require that “everybody living in this country” visit Nazi concentration camp memorials at least once.  She added that newly arrived immigrants should visit the memorials as part of programs to integrate them into society, in order to sensitize them to Nazi crimes against Jews and combat anti-Semitism.  The country’s Central Council of Jews and the World Jewish Congress endorsed the proposal.  Council President Josef Schuster told Deutschlandfunk Radio that migrants who had fled or been expelled from their home countries could develop empathy by visiting such memorials.  The proposal generated debate and was not adopted.  Critics said such visits should be voluntary and preceded by prior education about the Holocaust.  Gunter Morsch, Director of the Brandenburg Memorials Foundation and head of the Sachsenhausen Memorial and Museum, said, “It seems to me an illusion to believe that such a visit can help to counter a strongly entrenched prejudice.”

In March NRW Minister-President Laschet hosted an iftar at the state chancery, the first NRW minister-president to do so.

The government created the position of federal commissioner for worldwide religious freedom within the Ministry of Economic Cooperation and Development and in April it appointed MP Markus Gruebel as the first commissioner.  Gruebel stated the government wanted to send a clear signal on the importance it places on religious freedom and the strengthening of common values.

The country is a member of the IHRA.

Philippines

Executive Summary

The constitution provides for the free exercise of religion and religious worship and prohibits the establishment of religion by law.  On July 26, President Rodrigo Duterte signed the Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL), which the government said would address the aspirations of Muslim and other separatist groups in Mindanao.  The signing took place after years of negotiations between the government and separatist groups in Mindanao, aimed at creating lasting peace in the region.  The Catholic Church expressed concern over the killings of three priests that the press reported were politically motivated.  Church leadership criticized the president’s policies, and the president made several statements critical of the Catholic Church and its doctrines.  In December he stated people should kill bishops, but his spokesperson said this was hyperbole.  He also made statements aimed at improving his relationship with the Catholic Church and the government’s relationship with persons of all faiths.  The Office of the President’s National Commission on Muslim Filipinos (NCMF) continued to promote the rights of Muslims at the national and local level, and the Department of Education continued to promote the standardization of Arabic language and Islamic values curricula for Muslim students in private madrassahs and public schools with 10 percent or more Muslims.  In November the NCMF began to issue standardized identification cards to Muslims to enable better access to services in government and private institutions.

During the year, ISIS-affiliated and other militant groups carried out killings, bombings, and kidnappings for ransom.  ISIS claimed responsibility for several attacks, including a July vehicle-borne improvised explosive device attack in Basilan that killed 10 persons and wounded several others.  In April a bomb explosion outside St. Anthony’s Cathedral in the capital of South Cotabato Province injured two persons; police blamed the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) for the attack.

In July police officers shot and killed a gunman who entered an archbishop’s residence, with media suggesting several possible motives of the gunman.  There were instances of clan violence and societal discrimination against Muslims pursuing housing and employment opportunities, including on the basis of names and religious attire.  Public statements on the internet and social media denigrated the beliefs or practices of religious groups, particularly Muslims.

In meetings with government officials, U.S. embassy representatives discussed the implementation of the BOL and its implications for religious minorities and emphasized the importance of supporting all communities of faith, particularly in conflict areas.  In meetings with religious groups and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), embassy representatives highlighted the importance of religious freedom and interfaith dialogue and cooperation.  In September the embassy organized an orientation seminar for interfaith-based organizations.  The two-day seminar encouraged the integration of community-based interventions and facilitated the formulation of community-level cooperation between religious groups and authorities.  The Ambassador gave remarks at public events on the importance of the value of religious freedom and tolerance.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 105.9 million (July 2018 estimate).  According to the 2015 census conducted by the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA), 79.5 percent of the population is Roman Catholic and 9 percent belong to other Christian groups, including Seventh-day Adventists, United Church of Christ, United Methodists, Episcopal Church in the Philippines, Bible Baptist Church, other Protestant churches, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  Other Christian groups include locally established churches such as the Iglesia ni Cristo (Church of Christ), Philippine Independent Church (Aglipayan), Members Church of God International, the Kingdom of Jesus Christ, and the Name Above Every Name.  Approximately 6 percent of the population is Muslim, according to the PSA; the NCMF estimates that 10 to 11 percent of the total population is Muslim.  The NCMF attributes its higher estimate to the reluctance of Muslims to participate in a formal survey, failure to survey Muslim areas and communities, and transience due to internal movement of Muslims for work.  According to the PSA, approximately 4 percent of those surveyed in the 2015 census did not report a religious affiliation or belong to other groups, such as animism or indigenous syncretic faiths.

The majority of Muslims are members of various ethnic minority groups and reside in Mindanao and nearby islands in the south.  Although most are practitioners of Sunni Islam, a small minority of Shia Muslims live in the provinces of Lanao del Sur and Zamboanga del Sur on Mindanao.  An increasing number of Muslims are migrating to the urban centers of Manila and Cebu.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Government Practices

On July 26, President Duterte signed the Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL), previously known as the Bangsamoro Basic Law.  Pending the results of a January 2019 plebiscite, the BOL will grant additional political autonomy in majority Muslim areas and establish the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM).  If ratified, the BOL will both reinforce existing legislation governing the application of sharia within the BARMM and provide an alternative dispute mechanism for non-Muslims to seek redress in the court system.

The Philippines Council of Evangelical Churches (PCEC) director, Aldrin Penamora, welcomed the passage of the BOL, saying that “the dream for peace, justice, and progress is at last becoming reality.”  Catholic Archbishop Martin Jumoad of Ozamiz said the peace agreement would be “inclusive and not discriminate against others” by ensuring that religious freedom would be respected.  Mujiv Hataman, Governor of the current Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, called the agreement a milestone and said the “struggle continues” as the inhabitants of Mindanao “seek to change a culture of discrimination against our people.”

Some priests in the Catholic Church vocally criticized alleged extrajudicial killings attributed to the war on drugs under President Duterte.  In an official statement in July the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) called attention to reported abuses under the Duterte administration, particularly the drug war killings, exchange of insults and hurtful words on social media, arrested “loiterers,” congested jails, blasphemy, and political motives.  The Catholic Church expressed concern over the killings of three priests and other serious forms of harassment reported by the press to be politically motivated.  Father Mark Anthony Venura and Father Richmond Nilo were shot in April and June 2018, respectively, and Father Marcelito Paez in December 2017.  The CBCP denounced Nilo’s killing, and church leaders called on the president to stop the “verbal prosecution” of the Church, stating that this could lead to more crimes against priests.  There were reports the motive of Nilo’s killing was his attempt to revive a rape case against an ex-seminarian.  Senate President Vicente Sotto III rejected a resolution to open a senate inquiry into the killings filed by an opposition senator, Risa Hontiveros, calling the killings a “coincidence.”  One Roman Catholic priest said there was a link between assassination attempts against him and his previous comments critical of the president regarding the war on drugs.

In November the NCMF began to issue standardized identification cards to Muslims to allow better access to services in government and private institutions.  Issuance began in the central office in Quezon City, and in 2019, all regional offices were to issue the cards.  The daily newspaper Manila Bulletin reported the cards contained a barcode with the identification number of the holder; and, according to the Facebook posting of an official, are to include other security features such as biometric data.

In April the Bureau of Immigration (BI) terminated the visa of 71-year-old Australian nun, Sister Patricia Fox, for political activism.  Church officials and human rights advocates expressed disapproval of the decision.  In July the BI ordered her deportation, which Fox appealed to the Department of Justice.  In August Fox applied to renew her missionary visa, but the BI denied her request in September.  Fox had lived in the Philippines for 28 years on a missionary visa prior to receiving a 59-day temporary visitor’s visa in September.  Fox left the Philippines on November 3 after BI refused to extend her visa.  The presidential spokesperson stated it was “a classic case of an unappreciative tourist.”

In August the Supreme Court upheld the decision of the Court of Appeals, which found Carlos Celdran guilty of “offending religious feelings” for his 2010 disruption of a Manila Cathedral service to express his views in support of “reproductive health” legislation, including access to contraception, which the Catholic Church opposed.  Celderon had asked the court to find the law under which he was charged unconstitutional.  He faced a jail sentence of two months and 21 days to one year, one month, and 11 days.

On several occasions, President Duterte expressed disapproval of the Catholic Church, describing it as a “hypocritical institution,” and discussed what he said were corruption, molestation of minors (including himself) by priests, and unaccounted donations in the Church.  The president met with the CBCP president in July and agreed to stop comments against the Church.  The CBCP issued an official letter the same day saying the persecution of church leaders was nothing compared to the suffering of the poor and of “drug addicts who are labeled as ‘non-humans.’”  In August and subsequently the president again made remarks against the Church similar to those he made in the past.  In December the president said the bishops were useless fools and told a crowd to “kill them.”  His spokesperson later said the remark was hyperbole and the president was speaking for dramatic effect.

Muslim officials reported that while Muslim prison detainees were allowed to engage in religious observances, Roman Catholic Mass was often broadcast by loudspeaker to both Catholic and non-Catholic prison populations.

In February the senate approved a bill declaring the last Monday of January as National Bible Day to celebrate the Christian faith and reflect on the scriptures.

The PCEC, along with other church groups, said the Sexual Orientation or Gender Identity Expression bill, which emphasizes the rights of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex communities and passed the third reading in the lower house in 2017, could infringe on the rights of religious communities.

The National Council of Churches in the Philippines (NCCP) stated in February that three missionaries from the United Methodist Church were forced to leave or their visas were not renewed following their participation in an international fact-finding mission to investigate alleged human rights violations.  One missionary was held by authorities for weeks, while the other two had not been allowed to leave the country.  By July 13, all three had their passports returned and left the country.  The NCCP reported that BI barred one of the three from future travel to the Philippines.

The Presidential Task Force on Interreligious and Intercultural Concerns, in partnership with the Commission on Human Rights (CHR), continued to monitor issues relating to religious freedom.  From January to August the CHR noted six reported cases of human rights violations involving eight church workers.  The CHR resolved three of the cases.  The other three remained ongoing investigations as of September.

In January the Department of Tourism announced plans to make the country a significant “religious pilgrimage destination,” by restoring and developing historical churches and shrines throughout the country.

The NCMF’s Bureau of Pilgrimage and Endowment continued to administer logistics for the Hajj, such as obtaining flight schedules, administering vaccines, coordinating with the Department of Foreign Affairs to process Hajj passports, filing Hajj visa applications at the Saudi Embassy, and conducting predeparture orientations for pilgrims.  The NCMF reported that 5,813 individuals made the pilgrimage during the year, lower than the 8,000-limit set by the Saudi Ministry of Hajj for pilgrims from the Philippines.  The NCMF said that the armed conflict in Marawi, where a large proportion of Hajj pilgrims originate, resulted in lower participation from the area.  The NCMF also administered the awqaf (an endowment for the upkeep of Islamic properties and institutions) and continued to oversee the establishment and maintenance of Islamic centers and other projects.

The Department of Education continued to support the Arabic Language and Islamic Values Education (ALIVE) program for Muslim students in public elementary schools with a Muslim population of 10 percent or greater.  For the 2017-18 school year, 1,622 public elementary schools administered the voluntary ALIVE program for 158,093 students.

Madrassahs continued to have the option of registering with the NCMF and Department of Education, both, or neither.  Registered madrassahs received government funding and produced curricula that were subject to government oversight.  There were 86 private madrassahs registered with the Department of Education, and 27 more applied for registration, but had not met all the requirements to receive funding.  Many private madrassahs chose to remain unregistered rather than allow government oversight, according to Department of Education representatives.  Some unregistered madrassahs preached radical ideologies, according to religious officials.  Only registered schools could receive financial assistance from the government.  The Department of Education’s Office of Madrassah Education managed local and international financial assistance to the private madrassah system.  The madrassahs registered by the Department of Education followed the Standard Madrassah Curriculum and received funding for classrooms, facilities, and educators who taught the Revised Basic Education Curriculum.  The overall funding for and attendance at private madrassahs increased by 10 percent from the previous year.  During 2018, the Department of Education provided a total of 67,510,000 pesos ($1.29 million) to 13,502 private madrassah students.

NCMF officials said that anti-Muslim discrimination occurred in government offices but cited no specific examples.  Some Muslim leaders, including an NCMF official, expressed concern with the low representation of Muslims in senior government and military positions.  There were 11 Muslims in the 292-member House of Representatives.  In March President Duterte spoke at the Philippine National Police Academy and urged more Muslims to join security forces and said “not all” Muslims in Mindanao were enemies.

Abuses by Foreign Forces and Nonstate Actors

The government attributed several killings, attacks, and kidnappings for ransom in the south of the country to the Maute Group and the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG), both designated as terrorist organizations by the U.S. Department of State; the BIFF; and other ISIS-related terrorist groups.  ISIS claimed responsibility for a July vehicle-borne improvised explosive device attack in Basilan that killed 10 persons and wounded several others and that the government blamed on the ASG.  ISIS also claimed responsibility for two improvised explosive device attacks at civilian locations in Sultan Kudarat, attacks that security officials linked to a faction of the BIFF.  On April 29, a bomb went off outside St. Anthony’s Cathedral in the capital of South Cotabato Province, injuring two persons.  Police said the bomb “bore the signature of an Islamic extremist group” and blamed the BIFF.

The government continued sustained military, law enforcement, and counterterrorism operations against the Maute Group, ASG, and other ISIS-related groups.  Since religion and ethnicity are often closely linked, it was difficult to categorize many incidents as being solely based on religious identity.

Sweden

Executive Summary

The constitution protects “the freedom to practice one’s religion alone or in the company of others” and prohibits discrimination based on religion.  The government more than doubled security funding for religious organizations.  Christian organizations stated the Migration Agency denied asylum to Christians fleeing religious persecution.  One Christian committed suicide in September after authorities denied his asylum application.  The government gave funding to 43 religious groups and facilitated revenue collection for 17 of them.  The prime minister and other politicians condemned anti-Semitism and other religious intolerance.  There were numerous reports of anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim remarks by members of the Sweden Democrats and other political parties, and party members proposed bills to prohibit the Muslim call to prayer, nonmedical circumcision of boys, and students and teachers from wearing the hijab in school.  The Social Democratic Party, Sweden Democrats, and Left Party proposed bans on independent religious schools.

There was a report of an attack against a Christian convert seeking asylum and reports of threats, harassment, and discrimination against Jews and Muslims and attacks on their property.  An Uppsala University survey released in June found 52 percent of 106 Muslim congregations responding had received threats, and 45 percent reported at least one attack against their properties in 2017; 15 percent reported more than 10 incidents.  Jewish-owned houses were set on fire on two occasions in Lund.

The Charge d’Affaires and other U.S. embassy representatives continued to meet with the Ministries of Justice and Culture, parliament, the Swedish Agency for Support to Faith Communities (SST), police, and local government on religious freedom issues, welcoming government efforts to improve security for religious groups and highlighting threats to member of some religious minorities, including immigrants.  Embassy officials spoke about religious tolerance with Christian, Jewish, and Muslim representatives in Malmo and Stockholm.  The Department of State Senior Advisor for Combating Anti-Semitism met with government officials and Jewish and Muslim leaders in Stockholm and Malmo, calling for more efforts to protect religious groups.  The embassy hosted a function at which grandchildren of a Nazi SS officer and a Holocaust survivor spoke about religious tolerance.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the population at 10.0 million (July 2018 estimate).  According to the Church of Sweden (Lutheran), approximately 59 percent of citizens are members.  According to government statistics and estimates by religious groups, other Christian groups – including the Roman Catholic Church, Pentecostal movement, Missionary (or Missions) Church, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints – together total less than 7 percent of the population.  The Pew Research Center estimated in 2016 that 8.1 percent of the population was Muslim.  According to the Official Council of Swedish Jewish Communities, Jews number approximately 20,000-30,000, concentrated mainly in larger cities such as Stockholm, Gothenburg, and Malmo.

Smaller religious communities include Buddhists, Hindus, Sikhs, Zoroastrians, and members of the Church of Scientology, Word of Faith, International Society for Krishna Consciousness, Family Federation for World Peace and Unification (Unification Church), and Mandaeism.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Government Practices

Several Christian organizations – including the Christian Council of Sweden, which represents 27 Catholic, Free Church, Lutheran, and Orthodox Churches, with 6.5 million members – criticized the Migration Agency for rejecting asylum applications of Christians – primarily converts – who said they risked religious persecution in their home countries.  In addition, these critics said the methods used by the agency to evaluate asylum seekers’ Christian status required the applicants to demonstrate unreasonable knowledge of scripture and did not sufficiently take into account their participation in religious activities and references from their clergy.

In September an Afghan asylum seeker in Jonkoping who converted to Christianity in the country in 2016 committed suicide after authorities rejected his application for asylum on the grounds of religious persecution in his home country.  The man’s pastor, Chatrine Carlson, told the newspaper Dagen that “his Christian faith was not deemed to be genuine.  The authorities concluded, therefore, that he faced no risks upon his return and that he did not have a legitimate asylum claim.  But he was open and clear about his Christian faith and he was part of our congregation’s network for converts.”  Ulrik Josefsson, the chair of the man’s church in Jonkoping, told the same newspaper, “We have seen this guy participate in our activities.  If his faith was not genuine, then my faith is not genuine.”

As part of its continuing “National Plan to Combat Racism, Similar Forms of Hostility, and Hate Crimes,” the government more than doubled its allocation from 2017 – to 22 million kronor ($2.46 million) per year in 2018 and 2019 and 15 million kronor ($1.68 million) annually thereafter – to improve the security of religious organizations and civil society.  The government moved the responsibility of dispensing the funding from the SST to the Legal, Financial, and Administrative Services Agency.  The move enabled a wider range of civil society organizations, including religiously oriented nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) not registered with the SST, to apply for funding to improve their security, for example, by purchasing security cameras and hiring security guards.

In October Chairman of the Official Council of Swedish Jewish Communities Aron Verstandig stated he welcomed the government’s increased allocation of funds in support of religious organizations’ security measures.  He projected the initiative would ease the financial burden of security spending currently borne by the country’s Jewish congregations.  In an interview with Israeli newspaper Israel Hayom in September, Verstandig described the nationalist right in the country as an indirect but palpable threat to the Jewish community and called on politicians to rein in neo-Nazis and their activities.

The Police Authority spent an additional 10 million kronor ($1.12 million) to prevent and investigate hate crimes.

Some Christian leaders stated the government largely ignored cases of persecution against Christian asylum seekers and refugees during the year.  Deputy Secretary-General of the Swedish Evangelical Alliance Jacob Rudenstrand and Director of the Christian NGO Open Doors Sweden Peter Paulsson said that Christian refugees faced persecution, particularly from Muslim refugees, that they were not safe in the country, and that the government needed to take measures to ensure the Christians’ safety.

Some Muslim groups and the Official Council of Swedish Jewish Communities continued to state they considered the law requiring stunning of and/or administration of anesthetics to animals prior to slaughter to conflict with their respective religious rituals.  The Muslim community remained divided over whether the requirement conformed to halal procedures.  The Jewish community reported the law effectively prevented the production of kosher meat.  Most halal and all kosher meat was imported.

In August the country’s labor court ruled in favor of a Muslim woman who had filed a complaint via the Discrimination Ombudsman of anti-Muslim discrimination in the workplace.  At a job interview in 2016, the woman refused to shake hands with a male supervisor, stating physical contact with nonfamily members of the opposite sex was contrary to her religious beliefs.  As a result, she said she was no longer considered for employment.  The labor court ruled the company violated her rights protected under Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights and ordered the company to pay her 40,000 kronor ($4,500).

There were multiple reports that representatives of the Sweden Democrats – the country’s third largest political party, which received 17.6 percent of the vote in the September parliamentary elections – made denigrating comments about religious minorities.

In response to criticism by Center Party leader Annie Loof for earlier comments he had made about minorities in the country, Sweden Democrats Member of Parliament (MP) and then-Second Deputy Speaker of Parliament Bjorn Soder repeated in an op-ed in the newspaper Dagens Industri in August his belief that there was a distinction between Jews and Swedes, because “the Sweden Democrats believe nationally recognized minorities should be exempted from our general goal of assimilation.”  Official Council of Swedish Jewish Communities Chairman Verstandig wrote in response in the same newspaper that the Sweden Democrats’ policies “would make Jewish life in Sweden practically impossible.  For example, the party wants to ban circumcision of newborn boys and make it illegal to import kosher meat.”  Political leaders, such as Prime Minister Stefan Lofven and Minister for Rural Affairs Sven-Erik Bucht, also condemned Soder’s comments.

On August 31, the newspaper Expressen stated a number of Sweden Democrats candidates in the September 9 general election had made anti-Semitic comments on social media.  Martin Sihlen, a candidate for the municipal government in Orkelljunga, questioned the number of persons killed in the Holocaust, referred to the “Jewish plague,” and wrote online that “Hitler did not lie about the Jews,” and “Hitler was not bad.”  Per Olsson, a candidate for the municipal government in Oskarshamn, shared an image of Anne Frank wearing a shirt reading “Coolest Jew in the Shower Room,” as well as a photograph of Adolf Hitler.  Raghu Jacobsen, a candidate for the municipal government in Stenungsund, wrote, “As long as the Rothschilds run the economy, and as such modern slavery on this planet, there will be anti-Semitism.”  He also shared an image stating, “What’s the difference between a cow and the Holocaust?  You can’t milk a cow for 70 years straight.”  The Sweden Democrats expelled the three candidates in response to media reports about their activities online, and none of them was elected.

According to a June 19 article in Expressen, Mikael Bystedt – a staffer for the Sweden Democrats in parliament, candidate for local and parliamentary elections, and deputy party chair in Taby – made anti-Muslim comments on social media.  He compiled a list of measures “to save Sweden” that included “destroying all traces of Islam, mosques, etc.,” “stopping all immigration of Muslims,” and “using military force and expulsion of all Muslims who object to this.”  In response to reports of arson attacks against mosques in London, Bystedt stated, “Damn good work!  Let us hope this spreads to Sweden like wildfire.”  The Sweden Democrats subsequently expelled Bystedt from the party, and he was not elected.

Chairman of the Official Council of Swedish Jewish Communities Verstandig said in September he was concerned by the gains the Sweden Democrats made in the September parliamentary elections.  He also described the nationalist right in the country as an indirect but palpable threat to the Jewish community and called on politicians to rein in neo-Nazis and their activities.

Members of other political parties also made negative remarks about religious minorities.  A Christian Democrats candidate for the local election in Sundbyberg, Erik Ivarsson, wrote on social media, “The Muslims are raping our nations.  Time to bring back the death sentence?” reported Expressen in July.  The Christian Democrats subsequently expelled Ivarsson, and party leader Ebba Busch Thor called his statement “completely unacceptable.”  Ivarsson was not elected.

Daniel Bystedt, a Liberal Party candidate for the local election in Linkoping, made a number of denigrating statements about Muslims and Islam on social media, according to a report by Expressen in July.  He wrote, “Islam is the greatest threat of our time.  The only solution is to send back every Muslim.  Our civilization will perish if we do not,” “Islam is a poison that is destroying our society,” “Any sound Swede dislikes everything connected to Islam,” and “I cannot understand how a woman can voluntarily become a Muslim.  It must be caused by some psychological disorder.”  Bystedt subsequently renounced his membership in the Liberal Party, and he was not elected.

Expressen reported in August there were ties between the Left Party and Grupp 194, an NGO based in the Skane region the report said spread anti-Semitic images online.  For example, the group posted a cartoon of a Jew drinking blood and eating a child.  The leader of Grupp 194 ran unsuccessfully as a Left Party candidate for parliament in the September general election, and Left Party leader Jonas Sjostedt spoke in at least two Grupp 194 events in 2012 and 2014.  The Left Party’s Skane branch responded to Expressen that “the party had no formal cooperation with Grupp 194, but some members of Grupp 194 were also active in the Left Party.  We both support a free Palestine and oppose anti-Semitism.”

In August Expressen also reported the municipality of Malmo gave Grupp 194 and two other NGOs 132,000 kronor ($14,800) from public funds in 2017 for a project to promote public safety on the city’s streets.  A city councilman for the Sweden Democrats, Nima Gholam Ali Pour, stated the municipal government should not have funded Grupp 194 because, among other things, it had spread anti-Semitic images.

During the campaign for the September elections, the Social Democratic Party, the Left Party, and the Sweden Democrats Party campaigned for a proposal to ban independent religious schools.  The Liberal Party advocated a prohibition on establishing new, or expanding existing, independent religious schools.  “We consider it a given that no student should be impacted by religion at school.  Every child should choose freely whether or not to have faith,” said Anna Ekstrom, Social Democratic Minister for High Schools on the party’s website.  “I grew up in a country in which religious influence and gender segregation were part of every school.  I will never accept that the oppression I and many others have fled finds its way into Sweden’s schools,” said Iranian-born Minister for Civil Affairs Ardalan Shekarabi, a Social Democrat, also on the party website.  Christian, Jewish, and Muslim leaders expressed concern about the proposals, arguing such measures would constitute an infringement on religious freedom.

On March 10, the government launched a nonbinding study to recommend, according to then-Minister of Education Gustaf Fridolin, new laws and regulations on religious activities in all schools, including independent religious schools.  The government instructed the civil servant authors of the study to present their results by May 31, 2019.

The Sweden Democrats continued to advocate local and national bans on the Muslim call to prayer.  After police in Vaxjo granted a mosque permission to conduct a call to prayer on Fridays, the party’s Vaxjo branch launched a petition for a referendum to ban the call to prayer in the municipality.  By year’s end, Vaxjo had not held the referendum and the mosque continued its call to prayer.  Sweden Democrats MP and Party Spokesperson for Justice Affairs Adam Marttinen stated in May “Not only will we appeal the decision to permit the call to prayer in Vaxjo, it should be made impossible in the entire country.”  In October Sweden Democrats MPs Richard Jomshof, Robert Stenkvist, and Carina Stahl Herrstedt introduced a bill in parliament to institute a national ban, which was defeated in committee.

Christian Democrats party leader Ebba Busch Thor and then-Member of the European Parliament Lars Adaktusson stated in an op-ed in Expressen on March 15 that “Regular and institutionalized [Islamic] calls to prayer are not compatible with our values.  …We can under no circumstances accept calls to prayer in Sweden.”  Official Council of Swedish Jewish Communities Chairman Verstandig and Catholic Cardinal Anders Arborelius separately criticized the Christian Democrats for opposing the Islamic call to prayer.

Sweden Democrats MP and Party Secretary Richard Jomshof introduced a bill in parliament in October that would prohibit circumcision of boys for nonmedical purposes.  “I ask myself how people can talk about freedom of religion while forcing a religious identity on the child, violating its integrity, and exposing the child to an irreversible procedure that causes lifelong harm,” Jomshof wrote in the bill.  Parliament defeated the bill in committee.

Jomshof introduced another bill in parliament in October that would ban “the use of Muslim veils in Swedish schools up to ninth grade, applicable to both teachers and students.”  He wrote in the bill that “the Muslim veil is an Islamic symbol of religious subservience and forced separation of men and women … [it] goes against everything our gender equal, democratic, and secular society stands for.”  Parliament defeated the bill in committee.

On June 25, the Gothenburg District Court convicted three men of “serious unlawful threats” and “inflicting gross damage” for throwing Molotov cocktails at a local synagogue in December 2017.  The court sentenced two of the men to two years in prison and the other one to 15 months.  The three were part of a larger group that threw the incendiary weapons but were the only ones authorities were able to identify.  The court ruled the incident a hate crime intended to “threaten, harm, and violate the Jewish people,” and handed down more severe sentences as a result.  Chairman of the Jewish congregation of Gothenburg Allan Stutzinsky welcomed the verdict, stating, “It was important that the case was tried and that we have a verdict written down from which others can learn.”

The three perpetrators of the attack on the synagogue were asylum seekers, two from Syria and one from the Palestinian Territories.  The district court ordered the Palestinian deported but judged Syria too unsafe to expel the two other men there.  On September 12, the Court of Appeal for Western Sweden cancelled the deportation of the Palestinian, arguing that “given Israel’s possible interest in the case and the uncertain situation… there is good reason to believe the basic human rights of [the perpetrator] would not be guaranteed should he be deported to Palestine.”  The Ambassador of Israel to Sweden, Ilan Ben-Dov, expressed his “deep concern” with the decision, arguing that it “excuses, and therefore legitimizes, the actions of a violent anti-Semite as acceptable political criticism by stating that his hostility is not towards Jews in general but due to his vengeful attitude towards Israel.”  In October the prosecutor-general appealed the decision not to extradite the Palestinian to the Supreme Court.  The Supreme Court agreed in late October to hear the case but had not done so by year’s end.

The SST continued to conduct a series of courses around the country open to all faiths, including religious groups not registered with the SST, aimed at strengthening the civil engagement capacity of minority religious communities and promoting interfaith cooperation.  New course topics included family law for religious leaders, female empowerment for minority women, and NGO management and accountability.  The SST also conducted interfaith scriptural reasoning courses, including sessions for women only, in which Jews, Christians, and Muslims read and discussed passages from their respective scriptures together.

The SST continued to fund, publish, and promote publications aimed at educating the public about religious minorities, including books on the history of Islam in the country and on the country’s Alawite, Alevi, Druze, Mandaean, and Yazidi communities.  In addition, the SST held lectures on denominations within Islam, targeted at academics and government officials.

The Media Council initiated a No Hate Speech Movement campaign, which included targeted efforts to stop anti-Semitic conspiracy theories by teaching youths to be critical of information posted online and by providing teachers with material to use in the classroom.  The government allocated five million kronor ($559,000) annually for 2018-20 to strengthen opportunities for study visits to Holocaust memorial sites, which allowed more students and teachers to visit them.  The government also said it would invest 15 million kronor ($1.68 million) on projects over three years to raise awareness about Nazi crimes against Jews and other groups.  “Nazism and racism are growing and spreading.  We are therefore launching this investment so that more youth can be equipped with knowledge to tackle the antidemocratic forces that are growing in Sweden,” then-Culture Minister Alice Bah Kuhnke said in a statement.

The government continued to fund the Living History Forum, a public authority “commissioned to work with issues related to tolerance, democracy, and human rights, using the Holocaust and other crimes against humanity as its starting point.”  The government allocated 46 million kronor ($5.15 million) to the forum, a more than threefold increase over the previous year, which provided lesson plans, books, and other resources for teachers.  Topics covered included anti-Semitism, Holocaust remembrance, ethnic and religious conflicts in the Balkans, and critical reading of history.

Schools continued to sponsor visits to Holocaust sites such as Auschwitz-Birkenau as educational tools.  Students participated in such trips regardless of religious background.  According to a study the Living History Forum released in June, 44,000 Swedes visited Auschwitz-Birkenau in 2017, the most on record.  The study concluded most of these visitors were likely students and other young people.  The Living History Forum provided education material and guidance for teachers to facilitate visits to Auschwitz-Birkenau and similar locations.

The SST distributed 82 million kronor ($9.17 million) in grants to 43 religious groups during the year for operating expenses, theological training, spiritual care in hospitals, building renovations, and refugee assistance.  In addition, the SST distributed funds for specific projects in response to grant requests, which different religious groups often carried out jointly.

The Swedish Agency for Youth and Civil Society (MUCF) provided grants to civil society organizations working to combat religious intolerance.  Grants included 925,000 kronor ($103,000) to the Jewish Youth Association for the project Ung Dialog, which fights anti-Semitism and anti-Muslim sentiments through interfaith dialogue.  MUCF also gave 2,728,375 kronor ($305,000) to the Expo Foundation to combat intolerance and racism, including religious intolerance.

Members of the Nordic Resistance Movement (NRM), widely described as a neo-Nazi group, ran as a political party in the general election in September.  The organization received 2,106 votes, or 0.03 percent, in the parliamentary elections and failed to gain any seats in local elections.  The organization carried out a large number of rallies and public meetings around the country.

Prime Minister Lofven commemorated the Holocaust in a speech in the Stockholm synagogue on January 27, Holocaust Remembrance Day.  In addition to condemning the Holocaust and present-day anti-Semitism and paying tribute to those killed, Lofven stated, “I want each and every one of you to know this:  Ensuring your safety – as well as your constitutional right to practice your religion, embrace your culture, be who you are, live openly, safely, and freely with your children and those you love – is the foremost task facing me and this country…Anti-Semitism will be fought using all the power of Swedish society.”

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

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