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Belgium

Executive Summary

The constitution guarantees freedom of religion, and the law prohibits discrimination based on religious orientation.  Federal law bans covering one’s face in public.  Jewish and Muslim groups launched legal challenges against laws, scheduled to take effect in 2019 in Wallonia and Flanders, banning the slaughter of animals without prior stunning.  The government maintained its policy of attempting to curb what it described as radical Islam.  The federal government terminated Saudi Arabia’s lease on the Great Mosque in Brussels.  The Brussels regional government recognized two mosques in July, increasing the number of recognized mosques in the country to 85.  Most public schools continued to ban headscarves, and the government maintained its ban on wearing religious symbols in public-sector jobs.

There were reports of incidents of religiously motivated violence, threats, harassment, discrimination, and hate speech against Jews and Muslims.  The Center for Equal Opportunities, Unia, preliminarily reported 101 anti-Semitic incidents (56 in 2017), and 319 incidents in 2017 (390 in 2016) against other religious groups, primarily Muslims.

U.S. embassy officials continued to meet regularly with senior government officials in the Office of the Prime Minister and at the Ministries of Interior and Foreign Affairs to discuss anti-Muslim and anti-Semitic incidents and discrimination.  Embassy officials met with nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and religious leaders to address anti-Muslim and anti-Semitic incidents and sentiment, and to promote religious tolerance.  The embassy sponsored the visit of a U.S.-based imam to discuss interfaith tolerance and cooperation in meetings with religious groups, civil society, and police.  It also sponsored visits of two young Muslim leaders to the United States on programs that included a focus on religious pluralism and tolerance.  Through small grants, the embassy supported programs that promoted interfaith dialogue and tolerance and raised awareness of religious minorities.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 11.5 million (July 2018 estimate).  A 2011 report (based on 2009 data) by the King Baudouin Foundation estimates the religious affiliation of the population to be 50 percent Roman Catholic, 33 percent without affiliation (a figure that includes secular humanists), 9 percent atheist, 5 percent Muslim, 2.5 percent non-Catholic Christian, and 0.4 percent Jewish.  According to the report, other religious groups that together constitute less than 5 percent of the population include Buddhists, Hindus, Sikhs, the International Society of Krishna Consciousness, Scientologists, and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  A 2015 study by the Catholic University of Louvain updates the estimate of the Muslim portion of the population to approximately 7 percent, with no significant changes for other affiliations.  The Muslim population is highest in Antwerp and Brussels, where some studies estimate it at more than 25 percent of the respective metropolitan areas.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

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

The law prohibits discrimination based on religious or philosophical (e.g., nonconfessional) orientation.  Federal law prohibits public statements inciting religious hatred, including Holocaust denial.  The maximum sentence for Holocaust denial is one year in prison.

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

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

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

The federal government provides financial support for officially recognized religious groups.  The subsidies for recognized groups include payment of clergy salaries and for maintenance and equipment for facilities and places of worship, as well as tax exemptions.  Denominations or divisions within the recognized religious groups (Shia Islam, Reform Judaism, or Lutheranism, for example) do not receive support or recognition separate from their parent religious group.  Parent religious groups distribute subsidies according to their statutes, which may also include salaries to ministers and public funding for renovation or facility maintenance.  Unrecognized groups outside of these recognized religions do not receive government subsidies but may worship freely and openly.

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

There is a federal ban on covering one’s face in public.  Women who wear the full-face veil in public face a maximum fine of 137.50 euros ($160).

The constitution requires teaching in public schools to be neutral with respect to religious belief.  All public schools outside of Flanders offer mandatory religious or “moral” instruction (which is oriented towards citizenship and moral values); parents in schools in Flanders may have their children opt out of such courses.  Francophone schools offer “philosophy and citizenship” courses alongside courses on the recognized religions, based on a constitutional court ruling.

Schools provide teachers, clerical or secular, for each of the recognized religious groups, as well as for secular humanism, according to the student’s preference.  The public education system requires neutrality in the presentation of religious views outside of religion classes.  Teachers of religion are permitted to express their religious beliefs and wear religious attire, even if school policy otherwise forbids such attire.  Public school religion teachers are nominated by a committee from their religious group and appointed by the linguistic community government’s education minister.  Private, authorized religious schools, known as “free” schools, follow the same curriculum as public schools but may place greater emphasis on specific religious classes.  Teachers at these religious schools are civil servants, and their salaries, as well as subsidies for the schools’ operating expenses, are paid for by the respective linguistic community, municipality, or province.

Unia is a publicly funded but independent agency responsible for reviewing discrimination complaints, including those of a religious nature, and attempting to resolve them by such means as mediation or arbitration.  The agency lacks legal powers to enforce resolution of cases.

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

Bans on the slaughter of animals without prior stunning enacted by the Walloon and Flanders regional governments in 2017 are scheduled to take effect in 2019, ending the long-standing authorization certified permanent slaughterhouses in those regions have had to slaughter animals without prior stunning.

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

Government Practices

The government maintained its efforts, initiated after 2016 terrorist attacks, to curb what it termed radical Islam in the country’s mosques and highlighted Salafism in particular as a possible driver of violent extremism.  The federal and regional governments stated they remained committed to their previously announced plans to encourage mosques to seek official recognition as a means of increasing government oversight.  According to government officials, including Minister of Justice Koen Geens and Brussels Minister-President Rudy Vervoort, government funding for imams and infrastructure at officially recognized mosques would reduce the mosques’ reliance on foreign sources of funding, such as those from Saudi Arabia, and afford the government greater oversight of how those mosques vetted imams.

Although the federal government recommended several mosques for recognition by the regional governments, the number of recognized mosques increased by only two, to 85, during the year.  Some observers, such as a sociologist at the Free University of Brussels, stated a number of mosques opted not to seek official recognition because they received sufficient foreign funding and preferred to do without government oversight.

Long-standing applications for government recognition by Buddhists and Hindus remained pending.  Buddhists filed their request for recognition in 2008, and Hindus in 2013.  There were no other pending recognition requests by religious groups.  Despite the lack of recognition, Buddhists received federal government subsidies of approximately 200,000 euros ($229,000).  Hindus did not receive any government subsidies.

In accordance with recommendations in a 2017 report by a parliamentary commission investigating terrorist attacks, the federal government announced in March it would terminate Saudi Arabia’s lease on the Great Mosque in Brussels, effective March 31, 2019.  Saudi Arabia had signed a 99-year lease for the building in 1969.  The government called for the creation of a new, pan-Islamic institution to manage the mosque and said the Muslim Executive, the Muslim community’s official interlocutor with the government, would be responsible for creating the institution and ensuring it began managing the mosque by the lease termination date.  The government said it terminated the lease because the Great Mosque was spreading Wahhabi Salafism, which the government stated played a role in spreading violent radicalism.  According to media reports, in September the Council of State, the country’s highest administrative court, denied an appeal by Saudi Arabia against the lease termination, ruling that the council lacked jurisdiction in the case.

The government maintained its ban on wearing religious symbols in public sector jobs requiring interaction with the public.

On September 18, the European Court of Human Rights ruled the government had violated the EU Convention on Human Rights by excluding a Muslim woman from a courtroom in 2017 for refusing to remove her headscarf.  The court ordered the government to pay the woman 1,000 euros ($1,100).

Most public schools continued to ban headscarves, in accordance with government policy allowing individual schools to decide whether to impose such bans.  According to media reports, at least 90 percent of Francophone community public schools and virtually all Flemish public schools maintained such bans.

According to Muslim groups, city and town administrations continued to withhold or delay approval for the construction of new mosques and Islamic cultural centers.  In Court-Saint-Etienne in May, city authorities granted an application for the construction of a new mosque after denying it four times during the previous several years.  Mosque construction projects in La Louviere, Kortrijk, and Ghent still faced legal obstacles and/or opposition from public authorities or neighbors.

The Jewish and Muslim communities remained opposed to the decisions by the Flanders and Walloon governments to ban slaughter without prior stunning.  As in the previous year and unlike in years prior to 2017, the Brussels regional government did not authorize any temporary slaughterhouse to carry out slaughter without prior stunning during Islamic holidays.

Appeals against the Flemish and Walloon laws banning animal slaughter without stunning remained pending at the Constitutional Court at year’s end.  Members of the Muslim Executive, the Coordination Committee of Jewish Organizations of Belgium (CCOJB), representing Jewish groups in the country, together with the Belgian section of the European Jewish Congress and the World Jewish Congress, Muslim and Jewish NGOs, and Muslim and Jewish individuals, with the assistance of the U.S.-based NGO Lawfare Project, jointly appealed to the Supreme Court against the Flemish ban in a letter dated January 16.  The Jewish Consistoire (the Jewish community’s official interlocutor with the government), the Francophone branch of the CCOJB, Jewish NGOs, and Jewish individuals appealed to the Constitutional Court against the Walloon ban in a letter dated November 28, 2017.  The Muslim Executive, Muslim NGOs, and Muslim individuals also appealed to the Supreme Court against the Walloon ban in a November 30, 2017 letter.  At year’s end there were four appeals against the Walloon ban and five against the Flemish ban, all pending before the Constitutional Court.

In May the European Court of Justice upheld the existing Flanders law restricting the nonstun, ritual slaughter of animals by the Jewish and Muslim communities to licensed butchers.  Muslims had originally challenged the law, which prohibited temporary slaughter arrangements at times of peak demand, for example, during Islamic holidays such as Eid al-Adha, in Belgian courts in 2016.

The Ministry of Justice increased its annual allocation for clergy salaries and other financial support for recognized religious groups by four million euros to 111 million euros ($4.59 million to $127.29 million).  Catholic groups once again received approximately 85 percent of the total available funding for religious groups, followed by secular humanists (8 percent) and Protestant groups (2.5 percent).  Muslims again received approximately 2.3 percent of the funding, and Jews approximately 0.9 percent.  According to the report for 2017 issued in June by the Observatory of Religions and Secularism at the Free University of Brussels, the Muslim community, contrary to other recognized religious groups, received a smaller percentage of the government’s allocation than its share of the population, and its representative body faced budget difficulties.

According to a March report by Israeli online news site Ynet News, a parent in Bruges reported to the Jerusalem-based NGO International Legal Forum that a geography textbook approved by the education ministry and used throughout the country included an anti-Semitic cartoon.  The cartoon stated that, according to Amnesty International, Israel denied Palestinians adequate access to water.  It depicted an overweight Jew with payot (sidelocks) asleep in a bathtub overflowing with water juxtaposed with an old Palestinian woman unable to fill an empty water bucket.  International Legal Forum Director Ylfa Segal wrote to the education ministry, stating, “It could scarcely be believed that in 2018 Belgian caricatures exist that scream anti-Semitism so bluntly… we demand the caricature be summarily expunged.”  Ynet News reported that in May Flemish Education Minister Julia Crevits wrote to Segal, announcing the cartoon would be removed from the next edition of the book.  The news site quoted Segal as stating, “We welcome the education minister’s understanding of the gravity of the matter and her action to expunge it.”

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

There were reports of violence, threats, harassment, discrimination, and hate speech against Muslims and Jews during the year.  Except for anti-Semitic incidents, which it defined as incidents against Jewish persons rather than against the practice of the Jewish religion and tracked separately, Unia reported 319 complaints of religious discrimination or harassment in 2017, the most recent year for which data were available, compared with 390 complaints in 2016.  Approximately 85 percent of incidents targeted Muslims.  There were 10 incidents against Christians, five against Jewish religious practice, and three against nonbelievers.  According to Unia, 39.5 percent of the complaints in 2017 involved speech in media or on the internet (half of these media/internet complaints involved Facebook), 26 percent concerned discrimination in the workplace, and 11 percent occurred in the education sector (where a plurality of incidents involved restrictions or prohibitions on wearing of the hijab).  Unia also preliminarily reported 101 anti-Semitic incidents in 2018, one of the highest totals in recent years, and 80 percent more than the 56 incidents reported in 2017.  The report did not cite details of any of the incidents.  Jewish groups reported anti-Semitic statements and attitudes in the media and in schools during the year, including ones related to the Holocaust.

On July 3, two persons assaulted a Muslim woman in Anderlues, pulling off her headscarf and some clothes, including her bra, calling her a “dirty Arab,” knocking her to the ground, and then cutting her body, forming the shape of a cross.  Police said they were investigating and did not disclose information on the victim’s condition.

In December according to press reports, a man in Anderlecht punched a Muslim woman wearing a hijab on the street.  The footage was shared on the internet, and the woman called on the authorities to find her attacker.  The Muslim Executive condemned the attack as “Islamophobic.”

In October a man in Marchienne-au-Pont threatened a Jewish couple and their son in front of their home with a gun, saying he would shoot the woman in the head.  The man had reportedly threatened the woman the week prior before the incident.  Following the second incident, an unidentified person fired a shot from a vehicle in front of the Jewish couple’s home.

In July the same woman stated that she and her family had become the target of harassment after neighbors discovered the family was Jewish.  The woman said death threats had been stuffed into their mailbox and anti-Semitic graffiti scrawled on their front door.  She reported one letter called her “a dirty whore.”  The family complained to the police, who had not identified any suspects.

In February according to press reports, police said that an incident earlier that month in which a car nearly ran down an Orthodox Jewish man and his son was not anti-Semitic, contradicting a statement by the Belgian League Against anti-Semitism.  Security cameras showed the car jumping the curb and swerving towards the father and son, who were dressed in Hasidic garb.  Police reportedly charged the driver with driving while intoxicated.

Also in February police briefly detained a man described as a refugee after security camera footage showed him destroying at least 20 mezuzahs in Antwerp and vandalizing the doorways of several Jewish institutions.  Additional footage showed the man placing a Quran near a synagogue and knocking the hat off an Orthodox Jew on the street.  Police released the man without charging him.

Unia reported 82 complaints of workplace discrimination based on religion in 2017, compared with 88 in the previous year.  The main target of reported discriminations were Muslims.

According to Unia, NGOs, and media, incidents of religious discrimination towards Muslims in both the workplace and educational institutions typically involved actions directed against women wearing headscarves and a failure to make accommodations for prayer, religious holidays, or dietary requirements.

In October the National Secretary for Culture of the ACOD public service trade union, Robrecht Vanderbeeken, wrote an article for online alternative media site De Wereld Morgen accusing Israel of starving and poisoning Gaza and kidnapping and murdering children for their organs.  Wilfried Van Hoof, a private citizen, filed a complaint with Unia against Vanderbeeken.

In May, according to press reports, police authorities transferred a Brussels senior police officer from his post while they investigated reports the officer had engaged in Holocaust denial and insulted Jewish subordinates.  At year’s end the investigation was ongoing.

In May the League Against Anti-Semitism filed a complaint of anti-Semitism involving testimony from multiple witnesses against the head of the canine police unit in the Midi police zone of the Brussels-Capital Region.  One report stated he broadcast Nazi songs and shouted that the Nazi extermination camps and gas chambers were lies.

According to Flemish and Francophone news media, including the news service of public broadcaster VRT and newspaper De Standaard, the group Schild & Vrienden (Shield & Friends) was an extreme right-wing movement that portrayed itself as a conservative, family-values, Flemish national group but was secretly seeking to influence social and political circles with an agenda that included anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim messages and Nazi propaganda.  Journalists stated young people in the group were driving the movement and organizing training and camps abroad.  News articles cited boot camps with close combat and weapons training, as well as political outreach training.  Reportedly, the group’s leadership instructed members that their activities should remain nonviolent during organization-sponsored events.  Media also reported the group circulated anti-Semitic messages and that Ghent University suspended its leader, Dries Van Langenhove.

According to a report in the newspaper La Libre, Arabic-language training manuals for imams used in the Islamic and Cultural Center of Belgium, which included the Grand Mosque of Brussels, contained incitements to violence against Druze and Alawite religious minorities and hatred of Jews.  One manual referred to the fictitious and anti-Semitic Protocols of the Elders of Zion.  The newspaper cited as a source a report for a parliamentary review committee by the government’s Coordination Unit for Threat Analysis issued in February and covering 2016-17.

In December the European Union’s Agency for Fundamental Rights (EU-FRA) released its second survey of Jewish experiences and perceptions of anti-Semitism.  EU-FRA targeted Jewish populations through community organizations, Jewish media, and social networks; 785 individuals who identified themselves as Jewish residents of Belgium responded to the online survey.  Twenty-eight percent said they had witnessed other Jews being physically attacked, insulted, or harassed in the previous 12 months, and 39 percent reported being harassed over the same period.  One-quarter of respondents said they had felt discriminated against because of their religion or belief; 87 percent thought anti-Semitism had increased over the previous five years.

In November on the anniversary of Kristallnacht, a monument commemorating Holocaust victims was vandalized in Ghent.

Anti-Semitic comments appeared on Google Business and “Jews of Antwerp” Facebook pages in November.

In April Prime Minister Charles Michel joined Jewish groups, including the European Jewish Congress, in expressing regret at the Free University of Brussels’s decision to award British filmmaker Ken Loach an honorary doctorate.  Speaking about the award at Brussels’ Grand Synagogue, Michel said, “No accommodation with anti-Semitism can be tolerated.”  According to press reports, some critics accused Loach, a longtime Palestinian advocate and critic of Israel, of anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial after remarks he made during an interview in 2017.  Loach strongly denied he was anti-Semitic, calling the charge “malicious.”  The Free University stood by its decision to honor Loach and issued a statement by Loach in which he said the Holocaust was real and “not to be doubted.”

In August the Brussels public transportation authority dismissed an employee after it discovered he had Nazi tattoos on his arm.

In May an Antwerp court sentenced a man to five months in prison and fined him 300 euros ($340) for Holocaust denial for statements he had made at his workplace in 2016.

In June an Antwerp court sentenced a man to a partially suspended sentence of 18 months in prison and a 1,600 euro ($1,800) fine for incitement to hatred, harassment, and vandalism with racist intent against Jews and Jewish symbols.  Media reports did not provide further details about the case.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

U.S. embassy officials discussed continued anti-Muslim and anti-Semitic incidents and sentiment in meetings with representatives from the Office of the Prime Minister; the Ministries of Foreign Affairs, Interior, and Justice; and regional governments.  Embassy officials also discussed with government officials the continued efforts of Buddhist and Hindu groups to obtain recognition and the status of the government’s plans to encourage more mosques to apply for official recognition as places of worship.

In October the embassy sponsored the visit of a United States-based imam, who also headed an NGO fostering dialogue, to engage with religious leaders, local police officials, NGOs, and academics on ways to promote interfaith and intercultural understanding and tolerance.  Also in October the embassy sponsored a Flemish Muslim community leader who runs a network for young Muslim professionals to participate in an exchange focusing on religious pluralism.  In November the embassy sponsored the participation of a Francophone politician and civil society leader in a training program focused on youth empowerment and tolerance.

Additionally, the embassy awarded small grants to fund programs promoting religious tolerance and understanding among youth.  The embassy supported the NGO Actions in the Mediterranean, led by a prominent Jewish community leader and politician, which educated high school youth of different religious backgrounds on how to work constructively and bridge divides around the topic of the Israel-Palestinian conflict.  The embassy also supported a local NGO that taught negotiation skills to diverse groups of high school students from different religious and cultural backgrounds to promote mutual understanding.  The embassy provided a grant to the Jewish Museum of Brussels to highlight the work of a Jewish photographer and invited disadvantaged youth groups of predominantly Muslim background to the Jewish Museum for guided tours to promote religious tolerance.

Embassy officials regularly met with religious leaders to discuss incidents of religious discrimination and ways to counter public manifestations of anti-Muslim and anti-Semitic sentiment.  They continued engagement with activists from the Catholic, Muslim, and Jewish communities to promote interreligious understanding.

In March the embassy sponsored the attendance of eight Belgian student leaders from a variety of Muslim NGOs who had participated in the embassy’s youth interfaith competition in 2017 at a leadership, intercultural, and interfaith program in the United States.  The program focused on developing leadership skills by fostering tolerance and mutual understanding through interfaith dialogue.

In June the embassy cohosted an iftar for disadvantaged Muslim and other youth who used the arts to promote religious tolerance and inclusion during Ramadan.  In July the embassy sponsored the participation of six experts on Islam from academia, NGOs, and the clergy in an interfaith program in the United States that highlighted religious freedom and interfaith relations as pathways to a more tolerant society.

Brazil

Executive Summary

The constitution states freedom of conscience and belief is inviolable, and it guarantees free exercise of religious beliefs.  The constitution prohibits federal, state, and local governments from either supporting or hindering any religion.  On September 19, a court convicted three of 14 defendants of attempted homicide, which the court ruled was motivated by religious and racial discrimination related to a 2005 attack on three men wearing kippahs, Jewish head coverings.  In September the Public Ministry of Sergipe State, in conjunction with the Coordination for the Promotion of Ethnic-Racial Equality (COPIER), filed suit against the municipality of Aracaju for violation of religious freedom.  The Public Ministry filed the case on behalf of Yalorixa Valclides Francisca dos Anjos Silva after police officers accused her of practicing black magic and abusing animals.  In February the government-associated Brasilia-based Religious Diversity and Human Rights Advisory (ASDIR) and the National Secretariat for the Promotion of Racial Equality (SEPPIR) launched a national campaign entitled “Religious Diversity:  To Know, To Respect, To Value.”  The launch coincided with World Interfaith Harmony Week.  In April the Rio de Janeiro State government launched a program incorporating discussions on religious intolerance into the curriculum of 1,249 public schools in the state.  In May the Ministry of Culture, with the Palmares Cultural Foundation and University of Brasilia, released the results of the first ever mapping exercise of Umbanda and Candomble houses of worship, known as terreiros, documenting 330 terreiros in the Federal District.  In June the Human Rights Commission of the Chamber of Deputies held a public hearing on the development of public policies to combat religious discrimination and intolerance.

Media reported Guarani-Kaiowas, an indigenous group from Mato Grosso do Sul, denounced frequent acts of violence, which they said evangelical Christians committed against their shamanic rituals.  According to media reports, unidentified individuals damaged religious buildings at various times throughout the year.  These acts included the destruction of religious objects and spray painting of hateful statements at an Afro-Brazilian terreiro in Rio de Janeiro in May, spray painting of swastikas on a church in Rio de Janeiro in October, and spray-painting “God is Gay” on a Roman Catholic church in Sao Paulo in the same month.  On May 18, unidentified individuals spray-painted messages on the walls of the Jewish Israelite Society of Pelotas building, threatening the Jewish community to “wait” for an “international intifada.”  The individuals also attempted to set fire to the building, causing minor damage.  Attacks on terreiros continued, two occurring in May and one in July.  Religious organizations hosted interfaith community events, including on September 16, the 11th Annual Walk in Defense of Religious Freedom at Copacabana beach in Rio de Janeiro, which drew approximately 70,000 participants from across the religious spectrum, and on August 19, the Freedom Circuit three-kilometer and five-kilometer run in Brasilia.  According to the Ministry of Human Rights’ Secretariat of Human Rights (SDH), its hotline received 210 complaints of religious intolerance between January and June compared with 169 complaints during the same period in 2017.  The president of the Council for the Defense and Promotion of Religious Freedom for Rio de Janeiro State attributed the reported increase in religious intolerance to three factors:  “The creation of a service trusted by society, societal understanding that religious discrimination is a punishable crime, and increased aggression in religious confrontations.”

In October embassy officials engaged the Ministry of Human Rights’ coordinator for religious diversity, discussing the status of state religious diversity committees and plans for a potential conference on respect for religious diversity.  In February embassy officials attended the event commemorating the Federal District’s third annual Day to Combat Religious Intolerance.  In December an embassy official discussed with the public defender the increase in societal intolerance of African religions and the importance of applying the law to protect the religious freedom of these groups.  Sao Paulo consulate officials met with several evangelical Protestant leaders in the months leading up to the October elections – discussing the leaders’ views on the participation of religious groups in the political process and their priorities from a religious perspective.  Rio de Janeiro consulate officials visited an Afro-Brazilian terreiro in Duque de Caxias, in the metropolitan area of Rio de Janeiro, in June to speak with Conceicao D’Liss, a priest leader of a Candomble terreiro.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 208.8 million (July 2018 estimate).  According to a 2016 Datafolha survey, 50 percent of the population identified as Catholic, compared with 60 percent in 2014.  During the same period, the proportion of atheists increased from 6 percent to 14 percent, and the proportion of evangelical Protestants increased from 24 percent to 31 percent.  According to the 2010 census, 65 percent of the population is Catholic and 22 percent is Protestant.  Adherents of other Christian groups, including Jehovah’s Witnesses and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, as well as followers of non-Christian religions, including Buddhists, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, and African and syncretic religious groups such as Candomble and Umbanda, comprise a combined 5 percent of the population.  Some Christians also practice Candomble and Umbanda.  Those identifying with no religion comprise 8 percent of the population.

According to the 2010 census, approximately 35,200 Muslims live in the country, while the Federation of Muslim Associations of Brazil states the number at approximately 1.5 million.  Some observers say the discrepancy in numbers may be because the 1.5 million figure may include the entire Arab-Brazilian population, all of whom the federation may assume are Muslim, but many of whom are Christian or adhere to other faiths.  Religious scholars estimate the actual number of Muslims to be between 400,000 and 500,000.  There are significant numbers of Muslims in Sao Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Curitiba, and Foz do Iguazu, as well as in smaller cities in the states of Parana and Rio Grande do Sul.

According to the Jewish Confederation of Brazil, there are approximately 125,000 Jews, 65,000 of whom reside in Sao Paulo State and 25,000 in Rio de Janeiro State.  Many other cities have smaller Jewish communities.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution states freedom of conscience and belief is inviolable and the free exercise of religious beliefs is guaranteed.  The constitution prohibits the federal, state, and local governments from either supporting or hindering any specific religion.  The law provides penalties of up to five years in prison for crimes of religious intolerance.  Courts may fine or imprison for two to five years any individual who displays, distributes, or broadcasts religiously intolerant material; the government did not apply the law during the year.  It is illegal to write, edit, publish, or sell literature that promotes religious intolerance.

Religious groups are not required to register to establish places of worship, train clergy, or proselytize, but groups seeking tax-exempt status must register with the Department of Federal Revenue and the local municipality.  States and municipalities have different requirements and regulations for obtaining tax-exempt status.  Most jurisdictions require groups to document the purpose of their congregation, provide an accounting of finances, and have a fire inspection of any house of worship.  Local zoning laws and noise ordinances may limit where a religious group may build houses of worship or hold ceremonies.

Government regulations require public schools to offer religious instruction, but neither the constitution nor legislation defines the parameters.  By law, the instruction should be nondenominational, conducted without proselytizing, and with alternative instruction for students who do not want to participate.  The law prohibits public subsidies to schools operated by religious organizations.

A constitutional provision provides the right of access to religious services and counsel individuals of all religions in all civil and military establishments.  The law states that public and private hospitals as well as civil or military prisons must comply with this provision.

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

Government Practices

According to media reports, on September 19, a court in Porto Alegre convicted three of 14 defendants of attempted homicide motivated by religious and racial discrimination related to a 2005 attack on three men wearing kippahs, Jewish head coverings.  The attack took place in Porto Alegre, capital of Rio Grande do Sul State, on May 8, 2005, the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II.  The three convicted defendants were members of a group called Carecas do Brasil (Skinheads of Brazil) that disseminates anti-Semitic and Nazi content on the internet.  The three sentences totaled 38 years and eight months in prison.  According to media sources, the other 11 defendants in the case would also stand trial; however, by year’s end the court had not set a date.

In September the Public Ministry of Sergipe State, in conjunction with COPIER, filed suit against the municipality of Aracaju for violation of the constitutional right to religious freedom.  The Public Ministry filed the case for reparation of collective moral damages on behalf of Yalorixa Valclides Francisca dos Anjos Silva, who was at the Rei Hungria terreiro when six police officers and one official from the Municipal Secretariat for the Environment (MSE) searched her building alleging she practiced black magic and abused animals.  Dos Anjos Silva stated she suffered emotional trauma.  The Public Ministry required the municipality to pay 50,000 reais ($12,900).  The MSE stated it did not have a policy of restricting the right to use animals for religious worship and ritual and that the inspection was an isolated event carried out without the proper authorization and knowledge of the municipal secretary of the environment or the director of the department of environmental control.

Rio de Janeiro State’s hotline, called “Dial to Combat Discrimination,” continued to respond to a growing number of incidents targeting practitioners and terreiros.  The state government signed cooperation agreements with local universities to assist victims of religious intolerance.  According to the State Secretariat for Human Rights, between June and September the hotline received 32 calls and assisted 88 victims; no comparable information was available for 2017 because the hotline started operations in August 2017.  The secretariat stated 74 percent of the callers were followers of Afro-Brazilian religions.  The state also established the Police Station for Racial Crimes and Incidents Related to Religious Intolerance, created in August and officially launched in December.

On January 21, municipalities around the country commemorated the National Day to Combat Religious Intolerance.  In Rio de Janeiro, the state governor signed a bill on January 19 to create the State Council for Promotion and Defense of Religious Freedom.  The council consists of 32 members from civil society, state officials, members of the Brazilian Bar Association, and religious groups.  In Bahia State, practitioners of Afro-Brazilian religions and Black Movement nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) organized a debate and cultural activities at Tumba Junsara terreiro, Engenheiro Velho de Brotas in the state capital Salvador.  Other cities, including Sao Paulo and Recife, also held events.

In February Brasilia-based ASDIR and SEPPIR launched a campaign entitled “Religious Diversity:  To Know, To Respect, To Value.”  The launch coincided with World Interfaith Harmony Week.  The campaign launch featured a showing of the short film “By My Side” (“Do Meu Lado”), a panel discussion on the theme “Dialogue for Diversity,” and the launch of two publications, “Religious Intolerance in Brazil” and “Secular State, Intolerance, and Religious Diversity.”

In March the Superior Electoral Court (TSE) prohibited political campaigning in churches and religious spaces as well as in all public spaces.  The TSE made its ruling ahead of national elections on October 7 and October 28.  Some religious and civil society groups said they did not follow the ruling and continued to campaign for the candidates they supported.

In April the Municipal Office for the Respect of Religious Diversity in Rio de Janeiro organized an interfaith seminar for practitioners of different religions in Rio.  Approximately 120 individuals attended the event.

In April the Rio de Janeiro State government launched a joint program between the State Secretariat of Education and the State Secretariat of Human Rights and Women’s Policies to incorporate discussions of religious intolerance into the curriculum of all public schools in the state.  According to media, students across the state watched a video on religious tolerance produced by students participating in the More Human Education Program at the Pedro II State High School in the northeastern part of the state.  This video was the first in a series of five short films; according to media sources, other public schools in the state would also produce original videos, which students could view at school and access on social media platforms.  Student discussion would follow video screenings.

In May the Ministry of Culture, with the Palmares Cultural Foundation and the University of Brasilia, released the results of the first ever mapping exercise of Umbanda and Candomble terreiros in the Federal District.  The study verified the existence of 330 terreiros, of which 87.8 percent are in urban areas.  The majority of the terreiros – 58 percent – are Umbanda, while 33 percent are Candomble and 9 percent both.

In May the Sao Paulo Legislative Assembly approved a bill to reduce prison sentences for prisoners who read the Bible.  Based on a general recommendation from the National Council of Justice (CNJ), the law reduced prison sentences for prisoners engaging in work, study, or reading.  The CNJ recommendation included reducing sentences by four days for every completed book with a limit of 12 books per year.  The Sao Paulo law allows prisoners to receive credit for each individual book in the Bible.  In June Federal Deputy Marco Antonio Cabral introduced similar legislation at the national level.

In June the Human Rights Commission of the Chamber of Deputies held a public hearing on the development of public policies to combat religious discrimination and intolerance.  Attendees recommended the creation of police stations in each state dedicated to investigating crimes of racism and religious intolerance, thorough implementation of a law requiring an Afro-Brazilian history and culture class in all schools, a nationwide mapping of violence against followers of Afro-Brazilian religions, and financial compensation for victims of racism and religious intolerance.  In August Rio de Janeiro State inaugurated a police station dedicated to investigating crimes of race and intolerance.  The Federal District, Parana State, and Mato Grosso do Sul State continued to operate similar police stations.

In June the Religious Diversity Parliamentary Front of the Federal District Legislative Assembly held a seminar on Rights, Public Policy, Religion, and Racism.  The seminar included sessions on racism and religion; racial crimes, hate crimes, and combating intolerance; and public policies on combating racism and religious intolerance.

The Supreme Court case on the right to practice animal sacrifice as an element of religious ritual began on August 9.  The Public Ministry in Rio Grande do Sul State brought the case before the court, challenging a state court ruling permitting practitioners of Afro-Brazilian religions to perform animal sacrifices.  Adherents of Afro-Brazilian religions said the criticism of and challenges to the practice of animal sacrifice were motivated more by racism than concern for the welfare of the animals, stating the practice of animal sacrifice was in accordance with the Universal Declaration of Animal Rights.  On August 8, the eve of the Supreme Court vote, demonstrators gathered in the capitals of Bahia and Pernambuco States to defend animal sacrifice as part of their religious beliefs.  Rapporteur Justice Marco Aurelio and Justice Edson Fachim voted to uphold the state ruling; however, Justice Alexandre de Moraes requested additional time to review the case, which indefinitely postponed the final vote of the 11-member court pending the completion of the review.

On September 28, the Federal Court in Santa Catarina State overturned a regulation of the capital city of Florianopolis that restricted the hours of operation of terreiros.  The existing regulation adopted in 2013 required terreiros to acquire business permits, similar to bars; terreiros without business permits had to close by 2 a.m. every day and could not use candles.

On October 23, the Federal District commemorated its third annual Day to Combat Religious Intolerance.  The Ministry of Human Rights in partnership with the Federal District Committee for Religious Diversity hosted an interfaith event in Brasilia entitled “Intergenerational Meeting for Respect for Religious Diversity.”  Participants discussed the creation of a working group to arrange for public officials to visit places of worship and schools to emphasize the importance of religious tolerance.

A religious diversity specialist at the Ministry of Human Rights said five of the country’s 26 states – Amazonas, Minas Gerais, Sao Paulo, Tocantins, and Rio de Janeiro – as well as the Federal District had committees for the respect of religious diversity.  The ministry also stated the 10-member National Committee for the Respect of Religious Diversity remained active, meeting four times during the year.

In May the State Secretariat of Human Rights launched the Itinerant Forum for the Promotion and Defense of Religious Freedom.  The forum assisted victims of religious intolerance in several municipalities in Rio de Janeiro State.  According to media, members of the forum visited the Afro-Brazilian terreiro Tenda Espirita Cabocla Mariana in Seropedica, Baixada Fluminense, and spoke to the terreiro priest who received death threats because of her religious leadership role.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

Media reported that Guarani-Kaiowas, an indigenous group from Mato Grosso do Sul, denounced what the group said were frequent acts of violence by evangelical Protestants against shamanic rituals of the Guarani-Kaiowas.  Izaque Joao, an indigenous researcher and historian, said, “The churches enter in large quantities into the indigenous communities, degrading the traditional culture and devaluing traditional beliefs.”  Spensy Pimentel, an anthropologist, journalist, and professor from Federal University of Southern Bahia, said, “The most visible facet of religious intolerance has been in incidents of the Umbanda and Candomble terreiros while the attacks on the indigenous groups remain covered up.”  Pimental also said, “Incidents of religious intolerance against shamanic believers are rarely registered, because many times they involve the elderly, who speak Portuguese poorly and aren’t accustomed to leaving their villages.”

In September Wicca Priestess Alana Morgana said she had been receiving death threats since the spread of rumors, including allegations she was involved in abductions and child sacrifices.  An origin for the rumors may have been an unauthorized video posted online on August 13 showing Morgana and other Wiccans participating in a religious ceremony in Rio de Janeiro State.  Morgana submitted a letter to local police requesting the removal of the video from the internet.  She stated this was the first time in 30 years she had suffered religious reprisals.  Media reported police continued to try to identify those who sent the death threats.

According to media reports, in May heavily armed drug traffickers raided a Candomble terreiro in Cordovil, a neighborhood in the city of Rio de Janeiro.  According to the State Commission to Combat Religious Intolerance, they forced Didi Yemanja, the priestess on site, to leave the terreiro and expelled her from the community.  The alleged traffickers said, “She knew she was not allowed to have an Afro-Brazilian terreiro in the neighborhood.”  After the assailants expelled the religious leader, they remained near the terreiro to prevent other practitioners from entering.  Yemanja said for a few months prior to the incident, Candomble practitioners faced discrimination when wearing religious clothing in public in the neighborhood.  Yemanja said she decided not to press charges against the aggressors for fear of reprisals.

According to media reports, on May 18, unidentified individuals spray-painted messages on the walls of the Jewish Israelite Society of Pelotas building, telling the Jewish community to “wait” for an “international intifada”; they also attempted to set fire to the building but caused only minor damage.  This was the third incident to occur at this synagogue during the year.  In response to the incident, President of the Jewish Federation of Rio Grande do Sul Zalmir Chwartzmann said, “We will not tolerate this kind of attitude; an attack of this magnitude is an offense against the democratic state of law, against freedom of expression and religion, as well as a warning that hate speech is passing from theory to practice, importing a conflict that is not Brazilian and putting our entire society at risk.”

According to media reports, in July a group of unidentified individuals attacked a Candomble terreiro in Buzios in Rio de Janeiro State.  Practitioners were inside when a group of individuals threw stones at the building, damaging the roof but not hurting anyone inside.  Rio de Janeiro State police opened an investigation, which continued through the end of the year.

Media reported that in May a group of vandals entered the Spiritist Center Caboclo Pena Branca terreiro in Baixada Fluminense, setting fire to some areas of the terreiro, destroying sacred objects, and spray-painting messages such as “get out of here macumbeiros (witches)” and “this is no place for macumba (witchcraft).”  Followers of Afro-Brazilian religions said these terms were derogatory when nonpractitioners used them.

In September the Jewish Israelite Federation of Rio de Janeiro reported that individuals spray-painted a swastika on a wall of a residence decorated with a mezuzah in the Zona Sul area of the city.  They said police were trying to identify the attackers.

According to media, on October 4, individuals vandalized the Church of Our Lady of Aparecida in the center of Teodoro Sampaio in Sao Paulo State.  The assailants spray painted “God is gay” on the walls of the church.  According to media, police identified two female suspects, but it was unclear whether police detained anyone.

Media reported that on October 17, police arrested two individuals suspected of vandalizing the Sao Pedro da Serra chapel in Nova Friburgo, Rio de Janeiro State.  Police used security camera footage to identify the men who spray-painted swastikas.  A third individual turned himself in to police authorities.

Between January and June SDH’s nationwide Dial 100 human rights hotline registered 210 complaints related to cases of religious intolerance.  The number of complaints during the comparable period of 2017 was 169.

According to the Bahia State Secretariat, there were 47 cases of religious intolerance in the state during the year, compared with 21 cases in 2017.

As of September the Sao Paulo Secretariat of Justice registered 5,290 reports of religious intolerance in the state.  All of the reports were of “verbal harassment” and were under police investigation as cases of defamation, libel, or slander.  The Brazilian National Movement against Religious Intolerance, created in 2016, sent 13 cases to the Public Ministry of Sao Paulo for further legal proceedings.  These cases involved followers of Afro-Brazilian religions, who said they were subjected to slurs such as “son of Satan” or “Satan’s envoy.”

The Mato Grosso do Sul State Secretariat of Justice and Human Rights and the coordinator of racial equality reported the number of cases of religious intolerance in the state increased 800 percent compared with 2017.

According to the State Secretariat for Human Rights, in Rio de Janeiro there was a 51 percent increase in incidents of religious intolerance from 2017 to 2018.  From January until the first week of December, there were 103 incidents of religious intolerance, compared with 68 incidents during the same period in 2017.  According to the State Secretariat for Human Rights, African religious groups experienced the greatest number of incidents, with 31 percent of complaints involving practitioners of Candomble, 26 percent other African religions, and 17 percent Umbanda.  The municipalities with the highest record of incidents were Rio de Janeiro, Nova Iguacu, and Duque de Caxias – with 49 percent, 10 percent, and 7 percent of incidents occurring in these municipalities, respectively.  Marcio de Jagun, president of the Council for the Defense and Promotion of Religious Freedom, said, “The increase in cases of religious intolerance can be attributed to three factors:  the creation of a service in which society trusts, societal understanding that religious discrimination is a punishable crime, and increased aggression in religious confrontations.”

In January the Parana State chapter of the NGO Collective of Negro Entities (CEN) signed a technical cooperation agreement with the Center for Legal Practice at University Positivo and the state’s Public Defender’s Office for the provision of legal counsel in cases of religious intolerance and racism.  CEN also formed a group of researchers with expertise on the Umbanda and Candomble religions.  The research group said it would produce articles on terreiros and the religious impact of laws and public policy.

Media reported that on August 19, the Seventh-day Adventist Church, with support from the Brazilian Bar Association in the Federal District (DF), Regional Psychology Council, Religious Diversity Parliamentary Front of the DF Legislative Assembly, and DF Religious Diversity Committee, organized the first Freedom Circuit run in Brasilia.  The objective of the event was to promote respect, tolerance, and understanding of religion.  More than 100 individuals from various religious faiths participated, during which organizers collected signatures in support of a local bill to combat religious intolerance in public schools in the Federal District.

On September 16, the NGO Commission to Combat Religious Intolerance organized the 11th Annual Walk in Defense of Religious Freedom at Copacabana beach in Rio de Janeiro.  Organizers estimated the event drew approximately 70,000 practitioners from diverse religious and nonreligious backgrounds, including Muslims, Jews, Christians, Buddhists, and atheists.

The religious freedom commissions of chapters of the Brazilian Bar Association (OAB) across the country remained active throughout the year.  OAB Recife organized a panel presentation on Citizenship, Human Rights, and Religious Freedom on April 12.  OAB Bahia hosted an event called “Islamophobia” in Brazil on May 10.  OAB Ceara held a workshop on religious freedom on May 22.  OAB Sao Paulo hosted its sixth State Congress on rights and religious liberty on May 25, as well as a discussion on Religious Freedom and Economic Development on September 6.

The Jewish Museum of Sao Paulo, built on the remains of Beth-El Synagogue, one of the oldest synagogues in the city, was under construction during the year.  Funding for the museum was raised primarily through private investors and the local community.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

In October embassy officials engaged the Ministry of Human Rights’ coordinator for religious diversity, discussing the status of state religious diversity committees and plans for a potential conference on respect for religious diversity and attending the launch of the ministry’s religious diversity campaign.  In February embassy officials attended the event commemorating the Federal District’s third annual Day to Combat Religious Intolerance.  In December an embassy official discussed with Public Defender Luis Fausto the increase in societal intolerance of African religions and the importance of applying the law to protect the religious freedom of these groups.

Rio de Janeiro consulate officials visited an Afro-Brazilian terreiro in Duque de Caxias, in the metropolitan area of Rio de Janeiro, to speak with Conceicao D’Lisa, a priest and leader of a Candomble terreiro.  U.S. officials met with sociologist Christina Vital from the Institute for Religious Studies to learn about attacks on the terreiros of practitioners of Afro-Brazilian religions in the state.

In March Sao Paulo consulate officials visited the site of the city’s Jewish Museum under construction on the remains of one of the city’s oldest synagogues, to discuss the museum’s development and issues affecting the Jewish community.

Sao Paulo consulate officials met with several evangelical Protestant leaders in the months leading up to the October elections – discussing the leaders’ views on the participation of religious groups in the political process and their priorities from a religious perspective.

In September Rio de Janeiro consulate officials visited the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God (IURD) Cathedral (also known as the Templo da Gloria do Novo Israel) to learn about the IURD denomination in the state.  They also discussed the IURD’s active participation in the October elections, including that of Rio Mayor Marcelo Crivella, an IURD bishop.  In June a Rio de Janeiro consulate official met with one of the country’s prominent evangelical leaders and televangelists, Assemblies of God pastor Silas Malafaia, to discuss religious priorities and preferences in the elections.

In September a Rio de Janeiro consulate official met with Father Antonio Augusto Dias Duarte, the head of family and youth outreach for the Catholic Archdiocese of Rio de Janeiro, to discuss the religious vote and the Church’s position on addressing the elections and political issues from the pulpit.

France

Executive Summary

The constitution and the law protect the right of individuals to choose, change, and practice religion.  The president and other government officials again condemned anti-Semitic, anti-Muslim, and anti-Christian acts, and the government continued to deploy 7,000 security forces to protect sensitive sites, including religious ones.  In June the government thwarted an attempted extremist plot to attack Muslims.  In April authorities expelled an Algerian imam because of his radical preaching in Marseille.  The government denied an Algerian Muslim woman citizenship after she refused to shake the hands of male officials.  The government announced a 2018-2020 action plan to combat hatred, including anti-Semitism, and a nationwide consultation process with the Muslim community to reform the organization and funding of Islam within France.  In July the interior minister announced expansion of a “precomplaint” system designed to facilitate reporting of crimes, to include anti-Semitic acts.  The government continued to enforce a ban on full-face coverings in public and the wearing of “conspicuous” religious symbols in public schools.  President Emmanuel Macron stated his intent to “fight against Salafism and extremism,” which he described as “a problem in our country.”  In May the UN special rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism said the government treated Muslims as a “suspect community” through the application of counterterrorism laws and called the government closure of mosques a restriction on religious freedom.

Religiously motivated crimes and other incidents against Jews and Muslims occurred, including killings or attempted killings, beatings, threats, hate speech, discrimination, and vandalism.  The government reported 1,063 anti-Christian incidents, compared with 1,038 in 2017, most of which involved vandalism or other acts against property.  According to government statistics, there were 100 crimes targeting Muslims, including an attack against Muslim worshippers outside a mosque, a 17 percent decrease compared with the 121 in 2017.  The government also reported an additional 51 acts against Muslim places of worship or cemeteries.  There were 541 anti-Semitic crimes, consisting of physical attacks, threats, and vandalism, an increase of 74 percent compared with the 311 incidents recorded in 2017.  Anti-Semitic incidents included the killing of a Holocaust survivor, an acid attack against a rabbi’s baby, and threatening letters against Jewish groups citing the killing of the Holocaust survivor.  Violent anti-Semitic crimes totaled 81, compared with 97 in 2017.  A student leader at the University of Paris (the Sorbonne) generated considerable debate after wearing a hijab on national television.  According to a poll conducted by the French Institute of Public Opinion (IFOP) in February, 43 percent of respondents thought Islam was not compatible with the values of the republic.

The U.S. embassy, consulates general, and American Presence Posts (APPs) discussed religious tolerance, anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim acts, the role of religious freedom in combating violent extremism, and cooperation on these issues with officials at the Ministries of Interior and Foreign Affairs and with the country’s Ambassador-at-Large for Human Rights and Holocaust Issues.  The Ambassador, embassy, consulate, and APP officials met regularly with religious communities and their leaders throughout the country to discuss religious freedom concerns and encourage interfaith cooperation and tolerance.  The embassy sponsored projects and events to combat religious discrimination and advance tolerance.  The embassy funded a visit to the United States for four nongovernmental organization (NGO) directors on an exchange program that included themes of interfaith cooperation and religious tolerance.  It also sponsored the participation of three imams at a conference in Rabat focused on building interfaith relationships.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 67.4 million (July 2018 estimate).  According to the most recent study by the National Institute for Demographic and Economic Studies, conducted in 2008 and published in 2010, 45 percent of respondents aged 18-50 reported no religious affiliation, while 43 percent identified as Roman Catholic, 8 percent as Muslim, 2 percent as Protestant, and the remaining 2 percent as Orthodox Christian, Buddhist, Jewish, or other.

A poll conducted in March by the private firm Opinionway found 41 percent of respondents older than 18 years identify as Catholic, 8 percent Muslim, 3 percent Protestant, 1 percent Buddhist, and 1 percent Jewish; 43 percent said they have no religious affiliation.

According to a survey conducted in March by the Catholic Institute of Paris and St. Mary’s Catholic University in the United Kingdom, 64 percent of young people aged 16-29 in France declared themselves without a religion compared with 23 percent who said they were Catholic and 10 percent who said they were Muslim.

The MOI estimates 8-10 percent of the population is Muslim.  The Muslim population consists primarily of immigrants from former French colonies in North and sub-Saharan Africa and their descendants.  According to a Pew Research Center study published in November 2017, Muslims number 5.72 million, 8.8 percent of the total population.

According to a 2017 Ipsos study published in Reforme, a Protestant online news daily, there are an estimated 600,000 Lutheran, 600,000 evangelical, and 800,000 nondenominational members in the Protestant community.  Many evangelical churches primarily serve African and Caribbean immigrants.

A 2016 report by Berman Jewish Data Bank estimated there are 460,000-700,000 Jews, depending on the criteria chosen.  According to the study, there are more Sephardic than Ashkenazi Jews.

The Buddhist Union of France estimates there are one million Buddhists, mainly Chinese and Vietnamese immigrants and their descendants.  Other religious groups estimate their numbers as follows:  Jehovah’s Witnesses, 120,000; Orthodox Christians, most of whom are associated with the Greek or Russian Orthodox Churches, 80,000-100,000; The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 66,000; Church of Scientology, 45,000; and Sikhs, 30,000.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

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

The law, as well as international and European covenants which France adheres to, protects the freedom of individuals to choose, change, and practice their religion.  Interference with freedom of religion is subject to criminal penalties, including a fine of 1,500 euros ($1700) and imprisonment of one month.  Individuals who are defendants in a trial may challenge the constitutionality of any law they say impedes their freedom of religion.

Laws increase the penalties for acts of violence or defamation when they are committed because of the victim’s actual or perceived membership or nonmembership in a given religious group.  Penalties for acts of violence that courts determine are religiously motivated are three to five years’ imprisonment and fines of 45,000-75,000 euros ($51,600-86,000), depending on the severity of the victims’ injuries.  For religiously motivated acts of public defamation, the penalties are one year’s imprisonment and/or a fine of 45,000 euros ($51,600).  The government may expel noncitizens for inciting discrimination, hatred, or violence against a specific person or group of persons based on religion.

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

Religious groups must apply at the local prefecture (the administrative body representing the central government in each department) for recognition as an association of worship and tax-exempt status.  Once granted, the association may use the tax-exempt status nationwide.  In order to qualify, the group’s sole purpose must be the practice of religion, which may include religious training and the construction of buildings serving the religious group.  Among excluded activities are those purely cultural, social, or humanitarian in nature.  The government does not tax associations of worship on donations they receive.  If the prefecture determines an association is not in conformity with its tax-exempt status, however, the government may change that status and require the association to pay taxes at a rate of 60 percent on past, as well as future, donations until it regains tax-exempt status.  According to the MOI, 109 Protestant, 100 Catholic, 50 Jehovah’s Witness, 30 Muslim, and 15 Jewish associations have tax-exempt status.

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

Counterterrorism legislation grants prefects in each department the authority to close a place of worship for a maximum of six months if they find comments, writings, or activities in the place of worship “provoke violence, hatred or discrimination or the commission of acts of terrorism or praise such acts of terrorism.”  The management of the place of worship has 48 hours to appeal the closure decision to an administrative court.  Noncompliance with a closure decision carries a six-month prison sentence and a fine of 7,500 euros ($8,600).  The core provisions of the legislation will expire at the end of 2020 unless renewed by parliament.

The law prohibits covering one’s face in public places, including public transportation, government buildings, and other public spaces, such as restaurants and movie theaters.  If police encounter a person in a public space wearing a face covering such as a mask or burqa, they are legally required to ask the individual to remove it to verify the individual’s identity.  Police officials may not remove it themselves.  If an individual refuses to remove the garment, police may take the person to the local police station to verify his or her identity.  Police may not question or hold an individual for more than four hours.  Refusing a police instruction to remove a face-covering garment carries a maximum fine of 150 euros ($170) or attendance at a citizenship course.  Individuals who coerce another person to cover his or her face on account of gender by threat, violence, force, or abuse of power or authority are subject to a fine of up to 30,000 euros ($34,400) and may receive a sentence of up to one year in prison.  The fine and sentence are doubled if the person coerced is a minor.

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

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

Public schools are secular.  The law prohibits public school employees and students from wearing “conspicuous religious symbols,” including the Muslim headscarf, Jewish skullcap, Sikh turban, and large Christian crosses.  Public schools do not provide religious instruction, except in Alsace-Moselle and overseas departments and territories.  In Alsace-Moselle, religious education is compulsory in public primary and secondary schools, although students may opt for a secular equivalent with a written request from their parents.  Religious education classes are taught by members of the faiths concerned and are under the control of the respective churches.  Elsewhere in mainland France, public schools teach information about religious groups as part of the history curriculum.  Parents who wish their children to wear conspicuous religious symbols or to receive religious instruction may homeschool or send their children to a private school.  Homeschooling and private schools must conform to the educational standards established for public schools.

By law, the government subsidizes private schools, including those affiliated with religious organizations.  In 98 percent of private schools, in accordance with the law, the government pays the teachers’ salaries, provided the school accepts all children regardless of an individual child’s religious affiliation.  The law does not address the issue of religious instruction in government-subsidized private schools or whether students must be allowed to opt out of such instruction.

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

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

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

Government Practices

On June 23, the General Directorate for Internal Security (DGSI) arrested 10 men linked to a suspected far-right extremist plot to attack Muslims, according to media reports.  The suspects were arrested in the Paris and southwestern regions and on the island of Corsica and charged with criminal association with a terrorist enterprise.  Among the detainees was a retired police officer whom investigators considered the head of the network.  The suspects, who were previously unknown to authorities, reportedly had an “ill-defined plan to commit a violent act targeting people of the Muslim faith,” according to a source close to the investigation.  LCI TV reported the group was planning to “target radical imams, Islamist inmates released from prison, and veiled women chosen at random in the streets.”  In a June 24 statement, Interior Minister Gerard Collomb hailed the arrests and welcomed “DGSI’s constant commitment to the protection of the French people from any violent action, no matter where it comes from.”

In January investigating magistrates dismissed the court case against Lebanese-Canadian academic Hassan Diab, who was charged with bombing a synagogue in Paris during Sabbath prayers in 1980, killing four and injuring 40.  The magistrates said they found the evidence against Diab inconclusive and ordered his release.  Prosecutors appealed Diab’s discharge, and on October 26, the Paris Appeals Court requested additional expert testimony before ruling.  The court had not issued a ruling by year’s end.  Diab was extradited from Canada in 2014.

On July 10, a senate report stated authorities had closed four places of worship under the counterterrorism law between November 1, 2017 and June 8.  On December 13, the newspaper La Voix du Nord reported the prefect of the North Department applied the counterterrorism law to close the As-Sunnah prayer room in Hautmont for six months.  According to a statement issued by the prefecture, the prayer room’s activities and the ideas disseminated there “provoke violence, hatred, and discrimination, and praise acts of terror,” and the prefecture closed the prayer room “with the sole purpose of preventing the commission of acts of terrorism.”

On April 20, authorities expelled Algerian imam El Hadi Doudi, the leader of the Salafist As-Sounna Mosque in Marseille, to Algeria.  This decision followed the closing of As-Sounna for six months by the Bouches-du-Rhone Prefecture in December 2017 because of what it stated was Doudi’s radical preaching, which, according to press reports, inspired attendees to join ISIS.  According to authorities, sermons at the As-Sounna Mosque, sometimes disseminated via internet, preached in favor of armed jihad and the death penalty for adulterers and apostates, and used insulting or threatening terms towards Jews.  The As-Sounna Mosque, which had approximately 800 worshippers for its Friday prayers before its closure, was one of 80 places of Islamic worship in Marseille.  The mosque did not reopen after the six-month closure, because, according to the Marseille online newspaper Marsactu, the city of Marseille invoked its legal “preemption right” to take possession of the site.  According to a report in Le Parisien newspaper in May citing an interior ministry source, the purposed of the preemption was to prevent the mosque from reopening, while according to a report in La Provence newspaper citing a source in the Marseille municipality, the city acquired the property for purposes of urban renewal.

In an April 12 interview, President Macron stated his intent to “fight against Salafism and extremism,” which he described as “a problem in our country.”  In September Interior Minister Collomb stated that since 2017, the country had expelled 300 radical imams.

On May 16, the prefect of the Herault Department closed a small Muslim prayer room in in a townhouse in Gigean, which the authorities said they had considered a Salafist “reference point” for six months.  According to the prefectural decree posted on the townhouse, the prayer room was “an influential place of reference of the Salafist movement, advocating a rigorous Islam, calling for discrimination, hatred and violence against women, Jews, and Christians.”  Information as to whether the prayer room reopened after the six-month period was unavailable at year’s end.

The government continued to deploy 7,000 security forces throughout the country to protect sensitive sites, including vulnerable Catholic, Jewish, and Muslim sites and other places of worship.  On March 30, NGO Human Rights Without Frontiers reported the government deployed 70,000 law enforcement personnel from March 31 until April 7 to protect places of worship during Easter celebrations.

In April authorities denied an Algerian woman citizenship for refusing to shake hands with male officials at a French nationalization ceremony in the Department of Isere in the Auvergne-Rhone-Alpes Region due to her religious convictions.  The country’s top administrative court, the Council of State, ruled there were sufficient grounds to do so since the woman’s refusal “in a place and at a moment that are symbolic, reveals a lack of assimilation,” and that the decision was not detrimental to her freedom of religion.

On September 4, a court in Nanterre fined the Union of Clichy Muslim Association (UAMC) 17,000 euros ($19,500) for organizing Friday street prayers on 34 occasions without first informing city or prefecture officials of its plans.  The UAMC had been conducting the street prayers as a protest in front of the mayor’s office in Clichy-la-Garenne, after the town declined to renew the UAMC’s lease on a space it had been using as a mosque and expelled the group from the site in 2017.  The UAMC had rejected as inadequate an alternative space offered by the town.

According to the Ministry of Justice, as of August 2017 the penitentiary system employed the following number of chaplains:  695 Catholic, 347 Protestant, 224 Muslim, 76 Jewish, 54 Orthodox Christian, 170 Jehovah’s Witness, and 19 Buddhist.  In detainee visiting areas, visitors could bring religious objects to an inmate or speak with the prisoner about religious issues but could not pray.  Prisoners could pray in their cells individually, with a chaplain in designated prayer rooms, or, in some institutions, in special apartments where they could receive family for up to 48 hours.

On June 19, the administrative court of Nice ordered the Mayor of Cannes to refund a fine levied on a woman for violating an “anti-burkini order” at the beach.  In August 2016, municipal police had fined the woman and told her she could not remain at the beach while wearing a burkini.  After the terrorist attack in Nice in 2016, Cannes and several other coastal cities banned burkinis on the beaches.  However, later that same year, the Council of State ruled that these decrees were illegal.

On August 10, the UN Human Rights Committee (UNHRC) criticized a 2014 Supreme Court ruling upholding the 2008 dismissal of a woman from a private nursery in the town of Chanteloup-les-Vignes for refusing to remove her veil at work.  The council stated that prohibiting a person from wearing a headscarf in the workplace interfered with her right to manifest her religion.

On October 23, the UNHRC found the country violated the human rights of two women by fining them for wearing niqabs in two separate cases in 2012.  The committee received the complaints in 2016 and issued the decisions in the two cases concurrently.  The government had 180 days to report to the committee action taken to respond to the violation and to prevent similar violations in the future.  On October 23, the government issued a statement declaring “the total legitimacy of a law [prohibiting concealment of the face in public spaces] whose goal is to uphold the conditions for living together harmoniously while fully exercising one’s civil and political rights,” and adding, “Everyone is free to appear in public wearing clothing that expresses a religious conviction, so long as it allows the face to be seen.”  The statement cited a ruling by the country’s Constitutional Court that the law complied with the constitution and a European Court of Human Rights ruling that the law did not infringe upon freedom of conscience or religion and was not discriminatory.  In its statement, the government said it would convey its views in a follow-up report to the UNHRC.

On December 11, the senate adopted a resolution reaffirming the importance of the 2010 law prohibiting the concealment of the face in public spaces and calling on the government to maintain the legal framework “relative to the wearing of the full-face Islamic veil in the public space.”

UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism Fionnuala Ni Aoilain expressed concern that counterterrorism legislation enacted in 2017 restricted freedom of religion, movement, and expression in the country.  After a weeklong visit in May, Ni Aoilain said, “the scope of these measures constitutes a de facto state of qualified emergency in ordinary French law.”  She said the government treated Muslims as a “suspect community” through the “broad application” of counterterrorism law and called the closure of mosques a restriction on religious freedom.

Pursuant to the 2014 agreement between France and the United States on Compensation for Certain Victims of Holocaust-Related Deportation from France Who Are Not Covered by French Programs, the United States established the Holocaust Deportation Claims Program.  Under the agreement, which entered into force on November 1, 2015, France provided a lump sum of $60 million to the United States for distribution to eligible claimants.  At year’s end, payments to claimants from this fund totaled $30,028,500.

Speaking on March 19 at the National Museum of the History of Immigration in Paris, Prime Minister Edouard Philippe announced the broad outlines of a three-year national action plan, covering the 2018-2020 period, to combat racism and anti-Semitism in the country, with a strong focus on countering online hate content.  Accompanied by seven other ministers and the head of the Interagency Delegation to Counter Racism, Anti-Semitism and Anti-LGBT Hatred (DILCRAH), Philippe stated the action plan would have four key targets:  countering online hate content; improving victim protection services; anti-racism education; and developing new areas of mobilization against hate.

The plan would encompass specific measures, including:  advocating for an EU-level law to require social media platforms to more quickly remove hate content on their servers; imposing heavy fines on social media companies that failed to remove hate content within 24 hours; increasing the capacity and staffing of the government’s Pharos online platform to register and remove online hate content; creating a national anti-racism prize named after Ilan Halimi, a young Jewish man killed in 2006, to recognize the efforts of youth fighting racism and anti-Semitism; and launching a campaign to increase awareness of racism in sport.  The prime minister said a three-person committee would develop the details of the action plan and submit it to the government for review and implementation.

In a July 5 speech before the Representative Council of Jewish Institutions in France (CRIF), then-Interior Minister Collomb announced the extension of law enforcement’s online “precomplaint” system to racist and anti-Semitic acts in order to facilitate action and “prosecute anti-Semitic offenders even more effectively.”  The system previously was restricted to property crimes.  Grievants may submit their identity and contact information, the location of an incident, and other relevant facts on a government website and, after filling out the precomplaint, go to a police station to sign and validate the complaint to initiate an investigation.

On May 15, the Observatory for Secularism, a body comprised of 15 senior civil servants, parliamentarians, legal experts, and intellectuals who advise the government on the implementation of the “principle of secularism,” released its fifth annual report evaluating secularism in schools, public spaces, and hospitals.  According to the report, the subject of secularism remained a sensitive one, although “direct attacks on secularism” were not widespread.  The report stated there was a need for training and education to overcome “deep ignorance” of the law.

President Macron delivered his New Year’s greetings to the country’s religious communities at the Elysee Presidential Palace on January 4.  He welcomed two representatives each from Catholic, Protestant, Orthodox, Muslim, Jewish, and Buddhist groups.  Prime Minister Philippe and then-Interior Minister Collomb also attended.  Macron’s speech focused mainly on secularism, which he underlined as a fundamental pillar of the country, before highlighting the essential place for religion in society and the importance of teaching theology.  The president hailed the role played by Christian charitable organizations in assisting refugees while recalling the “ethical tension” between the right of asylum and “the reality of our society, its capacity to welcome.”  Macron also said he would meet religious community leaders on a regular basis behind closed doors to consult on various topics.  He cited the need to “structure” Islam in the country and to train imams to fight radicalization.  “I will help you,” he said.

On June 12, then-Interior Minister Collomb attended an iftar hosted by the French Council of the Muslim Faith (CFCM), the official government structure responsible for relations with the country’s Muslim community.  Collomb, whose ministry oversees government relations with religious communities, strongly defended secularism and stated the government “will never accept … the stigmatization of a religion” nor “to reduce Islam to Islamism.”  He said the country must focus on the preventing radicalization, training for imams, sources of financing of mosques, and structuring the administration of Islam in the country.  “It is up to the Muslims of France to address these issues in the long-term,” he said.  Attendees at the event included Muslim community leaders, interfaith leaders, other government officials, and ambassadors.

On June 25, then-Minister Collomb announced a nationwide consultation process with the Muslim community to reform the organization and the funding of Islam in the country.  Prefects in each department would hold listening sessions with local representatives from the Muslim community on issues related to institutional representation, financing of Islamic places of worship, and training of imams.  He stated the dialogue would strive to include all the diversity of the Muslim community, including younger and female voices, as well as civil society members, according to an administrative circular he sent to prefects.  The government said it expected to release the results of the dialogue in 2019.

Speaking before the Conference of Catholic Bishops of France (CEF) on April 9, President Macron said he supported “repairing” ties between the state and the Catholic Church.  Macron was the first sitting president to speak at a CEF event.  He stated the Catholic Church should engage in the political debate on key issues important to the Church, such as treatment of migrants, possible legislative changes concerning bioethics, and medically assisted reproduction for single women and lesbian couples, and generally encouraged Catholics to engage more in politics.  His appearance generated criticism from left-wing politicians, including Jean-Luc Melenchon, Alexis Corbiere, and Olivier Faure, who said it flouted the strict separation of church and state mandated by the law on secularism.

President Macron met with Pope Francis at the Vatican on June 26 to discuss immigration and other challenges facing Europe.  The Vatican described the meeting as “cordial” and said it highlighted the “good existing bilateral relations” between the two nations.  Speaking later to the press, Macron described the meeting as “intense” and said he told Pope Francis that the “progressive way to handle the migrant crisis was through a true policy of development for Africa.”

On January 9, Prime Minister Philippe, then-Interior Minister Collomb, Justice Minister Nicole Belloubet, and government spokesperson Benjamin Griveaux attended a memorial ceremony outside a Paris kosher supermarket, where two years earlier a gunman had killed four Jews and held 15 other people hostage.  Former President Francois Hollande and former Prime Ministers Manuel Valls and Bernard Cazeneuve also attended the event.

On July 22, Prime Minister Philippe held a ceremony in Paris honoring the victims of the Velodrome d’Hiver roundup of July 1942 in which 13,000 French Jews, including 4,000 children, were deported to extermination camps.  “There is one area in which we must do better, that of the restitution of cultural property,” stolen during the Nazi occupation, Philippe said.  A Ministry of Culture report submitted in April to Culture Minister Francoise Nyssen criticized the current policy of restitution as inefficient and lacking ambition, coordination, leadership, and visibility.  As a result, the Commission for the Compensation of the Victims of Spoliation was to examine all cases of restitution and transmit its recommendations to the prime minister, according to an official statement released by the Ministry of Culture.  In addition, the Ministry of Culture said it would take a more active role in the search and restitution of stolen properties.  The report identified 2,008 cultural works with no identified owner.

Recalling his plan to fight racism and anti-Semitism launched in March, Prime Minister Philippe reiterated his “absolute desire to change French law and European law to remove hate content on the internet, to unmask and punish its authors.”

President Macron and government ministers condemned anti-Semitism and declared support for Holocaust education on several occasions including the March 7 annual CRIF dinner; the March 19 commemoration of the sixth anniversary of the killings of three Jewish children and their teacher by Mohammed Merah in Toulouse; the April 30 Holocaust Remembrance Day commemoration; and the June 1 French Judaism Day observance.

In a November 9 Facebook post, Prime Minister Philippe announced the number of anti-Semitic acts committed in the first nine months of the year rose by 69 percent compared to the same period in 2017.  Philippe did not quote the exact numbers of anti-Semitic acts or their nature, such as physical attacks, threats, or vandalism.  Underlining that his announcement coincided with the 80th anniversary of the Kristallnacht pogrom by the Nazis against Jews, PM Philippe wrote, “Every aggression perpetrated against one of our citizens because they are Jewish echoes like the breaking of a new crystal…. We are very far from being finished with anti-Semitism.”  Referencing Elie Wiesel’s “danger of indifference,” Philippe pledged the government would not be indifferent and recalled recent acts taken to combat anti-Semitism.  Acts he cited included toughening of rules against hate speech online; mobilizing a national rapid-response team from the Ministry of Education and DILCRAH to support teachers reporting cases of anti-Semitism; and the trial use of a network of investigators and magistrates specifically trained in the fight against hate acts, which could later be extended nationwide.

On December 20, Education Minister Jean-Michel Blanqer announced the launch of an online platform that teachers could use to report cases of anti-Semitism and racism to the education ministry.

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

As part of an established exchange program, the government continued to host the visit of 30 Moroccan, 120 Algerian, and 151 Turkish imams to promote religious tolerance and combat violent extremism within Muslim communities.  The imams’ countries of origin paid their salaries.  During Ramadan, when there was an increased number of worshippers, between 250 and 300 imams came to France temporarily.

On June 11, the Diocese of Vannes moved a 25-foot-tall statue of Saint Pope John Paul II from public land in Ploermel in Brittany to a Catholic school in the same town.  In 2017, the Council of State had ruled the statue could remain on public land but ordered the removal of the cross on the statue within six months because it violated the law separating church and state.  Rather than removing the cross, the diocese elected to move the entire statue to Church-owned land.  Some Christians and politicians criticized the decision, calling it another example of efforts to erase the country’s Christian heritage.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

According to the latest government estimates available, the MOI reported registered crimes targeting Muslims (threats or violence) totaled 100, down from 121 in 2017; there were an additional 45 acts of vandalism against Muslim places of worship and six acts of desecration against Muslim cemeteries.  The reported anti-Semitic crimes (threats or violence) increased to 541, compared with 311 in the previous year.  Despite an overall increase resulting from a significant rise in threats, violent acts against Jews fell from 97 to 81.  Anti-Semitic threats rose from 214 in 2017 to 358, and acts of vandalism totaled 102.  The government also reported 1,063 anti-Christian incidents, most of which involved vandalism or other acts against property, compared with 1,038 in 2017.  The government did not provide a detailed breakdown of anti-Muslim or anti-Christian acts registered during the year.

On March 23, Holocaust survivor Mireille Knoll, aged 85, was found dead in her Paris apartment.  An autopsy revealed she had been stabbed at least 11 times before being burned in a fire, which was ruled to be arson.  Authorities arrested two individuals in connection with the killing and placed them in pretrial detention.  The Paris prosecutor’s office was investigating the killing as a hate crime.  After the incident, thousands of people participated in a “white march,” a silent gathering to commemorate the victim, in Paris.  On May 27, President Macron stated Knoll was “murdered because she was Jewish.”

In February unknown individuals placed acid in the stroller of a rabbi’s baby daughter in Bron.  The child suffered burns on her back and legs.  According to an ongoing police investigation, anti-Semitic motives were involved.

In March police arrested four teens suspected of beating a Jewish boy with a stick and taking his kippah outside a synagogue north of Paris.  The suspects reportedly called the boy and his siblings “dirty Jews.”

On August 24, a man attacked two male worshippers with a bicycle chain as they were leaving a mosque in the town of Lens, near Calais.  The Mayor of Lens, Sylvain Robert, condemned the attack in a statement.  According to the mayor, during his court hearing, the accused cited “ideological and racist” justifications for his act.  On September 26, the Lens Court sentenced the accused to an 11-month prison sentence for aggravated assault, referencing the racist nature of the attack.

In July a psychiatric evaluation of Kobili Traore, charged with killing his 65-year-old Jewish neighbor, Sarah Halimi, in 2017, determined Traore was not responsible for his actions and therefore unable to stand trial.  Authorities were planning to conduct a third psychiatric evaluation of Traore, who remained incarcerated at year’s end.  On February 27, reversing a previous decision, the judge presiding over the case added the charge of anti-Semitism as a motive for the crime.  The magistrate made this decision after hearing testimony from Traore.  In a statement, CRIF hailed the judge’s decision and expressed “satisfaction” and “relief.”

Authorities scheduled a new trial for March 2019 in Paris Criminal Court for Abdelkader Merah on the charge of complicity in the killing by his brother, Mohammed Merah, of seven persons outside a Jewish school in Toulouse in 2012.  In November 2017, prosecutors appealed the 2017 acquittal of Abdelkader Merah on the complicity charge; the court had convicted him on the lesser charge of criminal terrorist conspiracy.

By year’s end authorities had not set a date for the trial of five individuals arrested in November 2017 and charged with carrying out an attack on a Jewish family in Livry Gargan earlier that year.

On July 6, a court in Val-de-Marne sentenced three young men who carried out a rape and robbery of a Jewish couple in the Paris suburb of Creteil in 2014.  Abdou Salam Koita and Ladje Haidara, who committed the rape, were present in court.  Houssame Hatri, who made anti-Semitic slurs during the attack, remained at large and was convicted in absentia.  The three, who were sentenced to eight, 13, and 16 years in prison, respectively, bound and gagged their victims before carrying out the rape and stealing jewelry and bank cards.  “Jews do not put money in the bank,” one of them reportedly said.  During the attack Hatri also reportedly said that the attack was “for my brothers in Palestine” before suggesting the perpetrators should “gas” their victims.  Two accomplices received sentences of five and six years in jail.

On June 29, the Paris prosecutor’s office opened an investigation into anti-Semitic letters received by at least six Jewish associations, including CRIF.  The letters, signed by “The Black Hand,” were posted June 18 and referred to the killing of Mireille Knoll, according to press reports.  The letters read in part, “Dear Jews, you bitterly mourn the death of an old Jew murdered for her money.  We think you pay little for the number of crimes you commit every day.  Enjoy it, because the day of punishment will come.”

In December the European Union’s Agency for Fundamental Rights (EU-FRA) released its second survey of Jewish experiences and perceptions of anti-Semitism.  EU-FRA targeted Jewish populations through community organizations, Jewish media, and social networks; 3,869 individuals who identified themselves as Jewish residents of France responded to the online survey.  Twenty-two percent said they had witnessed other Jews being physically attacked, insulted, or harassed in the previous 12 months, and 27 percent reported being harassed over the same period.  One-fifth of respondents said they had felt discriminated against because of their religion or belief; 93 percent thought anti-Semitism had increased over the previous five years.

The annual report of the National Consultative Commission on Human Rights, an advisory body to the prime minister, released in March, included the results of a poll conducted in November 2017 by the Ipsos Institute, a research and consulting company, involving face-to-face interviews with a representative sample of 1,003 residents over the age of 18.  According to the poll, 38.2 percent of the respondents (2 percent fewer than in 2016) believed Jews “have a particular relationship with money,” and 19.7 percent thought Jews had too much power in the country.  The same poll found 29.5 percent of respondents had a negative image of Islam and 43.9 percent (2.1 percent fewer than in the previous year) of them considered it a threat to national identity.  The report also cited what it said was persistent societal rejection of Islamic religious practices, such as of prayer and women wearing a veil.  According to the report, there was a decrease in anti-Semitic and racist acts compared with 2016, “despite a general context favorable to the rejection of the other, notably marked by terrorism, the arrival of migrants, unemployment, the importance of security issues reported in the media, and the rise in populism in Europe.”

In May Maryam Pougetoux, aged 19, the leader of the Sorbonne chapter of the French National Students’ Union, set off a debate by wearing a hijab on national television.  Laurent Bouvet, a secularist and member of Le Printemps Republicain (Repulican Spring), a group created to defend secularism, stated in a Twitter post, “We aren’t hunting anyone but merely pointing to the inconsistency” of Pougetoux wearing a hijab, arguing it contradicted her support for abortion rights and other “feminist principles.”  Then-Interior Minister Collomb called her appearance “shocking,” while Marlene Schiappa, the junior minister for gender equality, said she saw in Pougetoux’s act a “form of promotion of political Islam.”  Hijabs are permitted on college campuses.

According to media reports, on June 28, a judge fined a tobacco shop owner in the town of Albi 1,000 euros ($1,100) for refusing goods and services to a Muslim woman who was wearing a jilbab.  The woman had come to the merchant’s store to pick up a parcel she had delivered there.  The woman’s face was visible when she presented her identity card to the shop owner, and she offered to remove her veil in a setting where no men were present, according to reports.  The judge also ordered the shop owner to pay to each of the four women who accompanied the plaintiff to the store 800 euros ($920) for moral damages and 500 euros ($570) for legal fees, as well as 800 euros ($920) in damages each to the International League against Racism and Anti-Semitism and the Movement Against Racism and Friendship Between Peoples, and one euro ($1) to the Collective Against Islamophobia in France (CCIF).

On Easter Monday (April 2), unidentified individuals vandalized the church of Fenay, near Dijon.  According to the parish priest, the attackers broke the door of the sacristy with an ax, then threw down and trampled the consecrated hosts.  “This is a deliberate act of desecration,” said the priest, who filed a complaint, according to press reports.  The investigation continued at year’s end.

On January 26, unknown individuals painted a large swastika at the entrance to the Council of Europe in Strasbourg.

On June 17, Strasbourg celebrated the 11th anniversary of its interfaith dialogue initiative, which continued to bring together religious leaders from Protestant, Jewish, Catholic, Muslim, Hindu, and Buddhist faiths.

In July, for the second consecutive year, young Christians and Muslims from across the country, Europe, North Africa, sub-Saharan Africa, and the Middle East participated in a three-day “weekend of friendship” event at the Taize Ecumenical Community in the Department of Saone-et-Loire.  The approximately 200 participants addressed a series of questions from the organizers on prayer, religious freedom, and fasting.

In December 80 civil society representatives from 25 countries attended the ninth annual Muslim-Jewish Conference in Paris, exchanging best practices and discussing ways to combat anti-Semitism and anti-Islamic sentiment.  The organizers said interfaith dialogue was more important than ever and committed to supporting Jewish and Muslim communities in the country and around the world.

The Council of Christian Churches, composed of 10 representatives from the Protestant, Catholic, Orthodox, and Armenian Apostolic Churches, continued to serve as a forum for dialogue.  One observer represented the Anglican Communion on the council.  The council met twice in plenary session and twice at the working level.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

The U.S. Ambassador and other staff from the U.S. embassy, consulates general, and APPs discussed issues pertaining to religious freedom and tolerance with relevant government officials, including at the religious affairs offices of the Ministries of the Interior and Foreign Affairs.  Topics discussed included religious tolerance, anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim acts, the role of religious freedom in lessening violent extremism, the BDS movement, Holocaust-related compensation, and bilateral cooperation on these issues.

In June embassy and visiting U.S. government officials met MFA Ambassador-at-Large for Human Rights Francois Croquette regarding the 2014 Agreement on Compensation for Certain Victims of Holocaust-Related Deportation from France Who Are Not Covered by French Programs between France and the United States.

The Ambassador met in Paris with Grand Rabbi of France Haim Korsia, Rector of the Grand Mosque of Paris Dalil Boubakeur, Apostolic Nuncio Monsignor Luigi Ventura, Rector of Notre-Dame Cathedral of Paris Patrick Chauvet, CRIF president Francis Kalifat, and Joel Mergui of the Central Consistory (the leading Jewish institution administrating Jewish religious affairs), to discuss their views on religious freedom and tolerance.  In these meetings, the Ambassador stressed the U.S. government’s commitment to promoting freedom of religion, the benefits of interfaith dialogue in promoting peace and countering radicalization, and the importance of collectively countering anti-Semitism and anti-Muslim sentiment.

Staff from the embassy, consulates general, and APPs met regularly with religious community leaders, activists, and private citizens throughout the country to discuss issues of discrimination and to advocate tolerance for diversity.  Embassy officials discussed religious freedom, anti-Semitism, anti-Muslim sentiment, and interfaith dialogue and tolerance with senior Christian, Muslim, and Jewish representatives and NGOs such as Coexister and AJC Europe.  They also hosted meetings with CRIF, the Consistory, the CFCM, Catholic priests, and Protestant representatives working on interfaith dialogue.

The Ambassador and embassy officials engaged regularly with senior Israeli embassy representatives on efforts and best practices to counter anti-Semitism in France.  U.S. embassy officials closely monitored and reported on anti-Semitic incidents in the country and the official government position on the BDS movement.

In September the embassy hosted a conference in partnership with the German Marshall Fund on inclusive leaders, including those promoting interfaith collaboration and dialogue, from NGOs Coexister, Sparknews, The Next Level, and the Ariane de Rothschild Fellowship, which focused on developing leaders and creating stronger networks across sectors, including interfaith relations.

The embassy awarded small grants to various NGOs across the country to support projects that aimed to advance religious tolerance and integration.  One grant for $17,500 to Coexister was to fund a documentary film based on the group’s 2019-2020 Interfaith World Tour, a yearlong voyage around the globe centered on the theme of material and immaterial religious heritage and designed to observe interfaith initiatives and gather best practices to share with youth organizations across the country.

In April the embassy identified and funded the travel of three imams to the two-day conference for European imams in Rabat organized by the U.S. NGO Civilizations Exchange and Cooperation Foundation (CECF) in partnership with the U.S. embassy in Rabat and the Imam Training Center in Rabat.  The conference focused on interfaith relationship building, radicalization prevention, and countering violent extremism in each imam’s home community.

In April the embassy funded a program in the United States for four NGO leaders.  Representatives from Parle-moi d’Islam (Speak to Me about Islam), focused on the prevention of youth radicalization, Coexister, which promotes diversity, social cohesion, and peaceful coexistence across faiths, and the Hozes Institute, dedicated to training imams in French language and culture, participated.  The program included meetings with the Islamic Community Center of Phoenix and with a panel of female religious leaders in New York City that examined how U.S. religious groups function in the context of a democratic society and illustrated U.S. approaches to interfaith dialogue.

On September 28, the Consulate General in Strasbourg hosted an interfaith lunch to discuss issues affecting religious communities, including the separation of church and state, state funding of religion, and the official status granted to four religions (Catholic, Lutheran, Reformed, and Judaism) in Alsace-Moselle by the Alsatian Concordat of 1801.

On September 19, staff from APP Bordeaux joined faith leaders, elected Bordeaux officials, members of the academic community, and various social organizations at a gathering to promote interfaith dialogue and support nondiscrimination initiatives.  As part of the event, participants attended a screening of the short-film “Ramdam,” produced by Bordeaux-based film director Zangro, which depicted the trials and tribulations of a fictional imam living in Mont-de-Marsan.

Spain

Executive Summary

The constitution protects freedom of religion and states the government shall consider the religious beliefs of society and form cooperative relations with the Roman Catholic Church and other religious faiths.  The government has a bilateral agreement with the Holy See that grants the Catholic Church additional benefits not available to three other groups with which the government has agreements:  Protestants, Muslims, and Jews.  Groups without agreements may register with the government and receive some benefits.  Various politicians and civil society actors continued to criticize compulsory religious education, which is under the control of regional governments.  The Ministry of Justice’s (MOJ) 2017 annual report on religious freedom cited concerns regarding unequal treatment of religious groups, different financing of religious assistance, difficulties in opening places of worship, proselytizing, and providing spiritual services in public institutions, and the inability of the state to respond to religiously motivated incidents.  Between January and September the government granted citizenship to approximately 4,000 descendants of Jews expelled in 1492.  Muslims, Jews, and especially Buddhists reported problems with cemetery access.  Leaders of other religious groups said the state allowed citizens to allocate part of their taxes to the Catholic Church or its charities but not other religions.  The government continued outreach to Muslims to combat religious discrimination and promote integration.

There were incidents of assaults, threats, incitement to violence, other hate speech, and vandalism against Christians, Muslims and Jews.  The nongovernmental organization (NGO) Observatory for Religious Freedom and Conscience (OLRC) reported 142 religiously motivated incidents – including two assaults – in the first nine months of the year, 20 more than in the same period in 2017.  Of the 142 cases, 65 percent were against Christians.  The Ministry of Interior (MOI) documented 103 hate crimes with religious motivations in 2017, compared with 47 in 2016.  The NGO Citizens’ Platform against Islamophobia reported 546 anti-Muslim incidents in 2017, of which hate speech on the internet accounted for 70 percent.  The MOJ reported 43 hospitals throughout the country denied treatment to Jehovah’s Witnesses who refused blood transfusions.  Christians, Muslims, and Jews reported increased hostility against them in media.

U.S. embassy and consulate officials met regularly with the MOJ’s Office of Religious Affairs, as well as with regional governments’ offices for religious affairs and with religious leaders who participated in the governmental Pluralism and Coexistence Foundation (the Foundation).  Topics discussed included anti-Semitic, anti-Muslim, and anticlerical sentiment, the failure of some regional governments to comply with legal requirements to treat religious groups equally, concerns about societal discrimination against religious minorities, access to religious education and cemeteries for religious groups, and pensions for clergy.  In January the embassy hosted religious leaders for a discussion on religious freedom and equality in the country.  In June the Ambassador hosted an iftar focused on strengthening government engagement with, and inclusion of, the Muslim community.  In May the Consulate General in Barcelona organized an iftar where Muslim leaders and public officials discussed ways of promoting religious freedom and tolerance.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 49.3 million (July 2018 estimate).  According to a survey conducted in April by the governmental Center for Sociological Research, 67.4 percent of respondents identified themselves as Catholic and 2.6 percent as followers of other religious groups.  In addition, 15.6 percent described themselves as “nonbelievers” and 12.2 percent as atheists; the remaining 2.3 percent did not answer the question.

The (Catholic) Episcopal Conference of Spain estimates there are 32.6 million Catholics.  The Federation of Evangelical Religious Entities (FEREDE) estimates there are 1.7 million Protestants, 900,000 of whom are immigrants.  The Union of Islamic Communities of Spain (UCIDE), the largest member organization of the Islamic Commission of Spain (CIE), estimates there are 1.9 million Muslims, while other Muslim groups estimate a population of up to two million.  According to the MOJ’s 2017 report on religious freedom, citing estimates by religious groups, the Federation of Jewish Communities of Spain (FCJE) estimates there are 45,000 Jews; the Episcopal Orthodox Assembly stated in 2014 there were 1.5 million Orthodox Christians; the Jehovah’s Witnesses report 188,000 members; the Federation of Buddhist Communities estimates there are 85,000 Buddhists; and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Church of Jesus Christ) cites 57,000 members.  Other religious groups include Christian Scientists, other Christian groups, Baha’is (12,000 members), Scientologists (11,000 members), and Hindus.  The autonomous communities of Catalonia, Andalusia, and Madrid and the autonomous cities of Ceuta and Melilla in North Africa contain the highest percentage of non-Christians, nearly 50 percent in the latter two cities.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution prohibits discrimination based on religion and guarantees freedom of religion and worship for individuals and communities; it allows limits on expression if “necessary to maintain public order.”  According to the Foundation, reasons would include overcrowding in small facilities or public spaces.  The Foundation provides funding in support of activities and projects that promote cultural, educational, and social integration among religious denominations that have a cooperation agreement with the state.  The Foundation also promotes dialogue and rapprochement among religious groups and the normalization of religion in society.  A law restricts unauthorized public protest, but authorities have not used it or the constitutional limits on expression against religious groups.

The constitution states no one may be compelled to testify about his or her religion or beliefs.  The constitution also states, “No religion shall have a state character,” but “public authorities shall take into account the religious beliefs of Spanish society and consequently maintain appropriate cooperative relations with the Catholic Church and other denominations.”  The Catholic Church is the only religious group explicitly mentioned in the constitution.

The government does not require religious groups to register, but registering confers religious groups with certain legal benefits.  Groups registered in the MOJ’s Registry of Religious Entities have the right to autonomy; may buy, rent, and sell property; and may act as a legal entity in civil proceedings.  Registration entails completing forms available on the MOJ’s website and providing notarized documentation of the foundational and operational statutes of the religious group, its legal representatives, territorial scope, religious purposes, and address.  Any persons or groups have the right to practice their religion whether or not registered as a religious entity.

Registration with the MOJ and notorio arraigo (“deeply rooted” or permanent) status allows groups to establish bilateral cooperation agreements with the state.  The government has a bilateral agreement with the Holy See, executed in part by the Episcopal Conference.  The government also has cooperation agreements with FEREDE, CIE, and FCJE.  These agreements are legally binding and provide the religious groups with certain tax exemptions, the ability to buy and sell property, open a house of worship, and conduct other legal business; grant civil validity to the weddings they perform; and permit them to place teachers in schools and chaplains in hospitals, the military, and prisons.  Groups with cooperation agreements are also eligible for independently administered government grants.

The agreement with the Holy See covers legal, educational, cultural, and economic affairs; religious observance by members of the armed forces; and the military service of clergy and members of religious orders.  The later cooperative agreements with FEREDE, CIE, and FCJE cover the same issues.

Registered groups who wish to sign cooperative agreements with the state must acquire notorio arraigo status through the MOJ.  To achieve this status, groups must have an unspecified “relevant” number of followers; a presence in the country for at least 30 years; and a “level of diffusion” that the MOJ considers demonstrates a “social presence” but is not further defined.  Groups must also submit documentation demonstrating the group is religious in nature to the MOJ’s Office of Religious Affairs, which maintains the Register of Religious Entities.

The Episcopal Conference deals with the government on behalf of the entire Catholic community.  Per the state’s 1979 agreement with the Holy See, individual Catholic dioceses and parishes are not required to register with the government.  In addition to FEREDE, CIE, and FCJE, the Jehovah’s Witnesses, Federation of Buddhist Communities (FCBE), Church of Jesus Christ, and Orthodox Church are registered religions with notorio arraigo status.  New religious communities may register directly with the MOJ, or religious associations may register on their behalf.

If the MOJ considers an applicant for registration not to be a religious group, the group may be included in the Register of Associations maintained by the MOI.  Inclusion in the Register of Associations grants legal status but offers no other benefits.  Registration itself simply lists the association and its history in the government’s database.  Registration as an association is a precursor to requesting that the government deem the association to be of public benefit, which affords the same tax benefits as charities, including exemption from income tax and taxes on contributions.  For such a classification, the association must be registered for two years and maintain a net positive fiscal balance.

The government funds religious services within the prison system for Catholic and Muslim groups.  Examples of religious services include Sunday Catholic Mass, Catholic confession, and Friday Islamic prayer.  The cooperation agreements of FCJE and FEREDE with the government do not include this provision; these groups provide religious services in prisons but at their own expense.  Other religious groups registered as religious entities with the MOJ may provide services at their own expense during visiting hours upon the request of prisoners.

The Regions of Madrid and Catalonia have agreements with several religious groups that have accords with the national government.  These regional agreements permit activities such as providing religious assistance in hospitals and prisons under regional jurisdiction.  The central government funds these services for prisons and the military, and the regional governments fund hospital services.  According to the MOJ, these subnational agreements may not contradict the principles of the federal agreements, which take precedence.  The Catalan government has agreements with Catholics, FEREDE, and CIE.  The Madrid Region has agreements with Catholics, FEREDE, FCJE, and CIE.

The government guarantees religious workers of groups with cooperative agreements with the state access to refugee centers, known as foreign internment centers, so that these groups may provide direct assistance, at the groups’ expense, to their followers in the centers.  According to the MOJ, other religious practitioners may enter the internment centers upon request.

Military rules and prior signed agreements allow religious military funerals and chaplain services for Catholics, Protestants, Jews, and Muslims, should the family of the deceased request it.  Other religious groups may conduct religious funerals upon request.

The government recognizes marriages performed by all religious communities with notorio arraigo status.

Religious groups must apply to local governments for a license to open a place of worship, as with other establishments intended for public use.  Requirements for licenses vary from municipality to municipality.  The MOJ states documentation required is usually the same as for other business establishments seeking to open a venue for public use and includes information such as architectural plans and maximum capacity.  Religious groups must also inform the MOJ after opening new places of worship.

Local governments are obligated to consider requests for use of public land to open a place of worship.  If a municipality decides to deny such a request after weighing factors such as availability and value added to the community, the city council must explain its decision to the requesting party.

As outlined in agreements with religious groups, the government provides funding for salaries for teachers of Catholic and, when at least 10 students request it, Protestant and Islamic classes in public schools.  The Jewish community is also eligible for government funding for Jewish instructors but has declined it.  The courses are not mandatory.  Those students who elect not to take religious education courses are required to take an alternative course covering general social, cultural, and religious themes.  The development of curricula and the financing of teachers for religious education is the responsibility of the regional governments, with the exception of Andalusia, Aragon, the Canary Islands, Cantabria, and the two autonomous cities of Ceuta and Melilla, which leave the curricula and financing of education to the national government in accordance with their individual regional statutes.

Autonomous regions generally have the authority to develop the requirements for religious education instructors and certify their credentials, although some choose to defer to the national government.  For example, prospective instructors must provide personal data, proof that the educational authority of the region where they are applying to work has never dismissed them, a degree as required by the region, and any other requirement as stipulated by the religious association to which they correspond.  The religious associations are required to provide a list of approved instructors to the government.  MOE-approved CIE guidelines stress “moderate Islam” in worship practices, with emphasis on plurality, understanding, religious tolerance, conflict resolution, and coexistence.  CIE also requires instructors to have a certificate of training in Islamic education.

Catholic clergy may include time spent on missions abroad in calculations for social security, and claim retirement pension credit for a maximum of 38.5 years of service.  Protestant clergy are eligible to receive social security benefits, including health insurance and a government-provided retirement pension with a maximum credit of 15 years of service, but pension eligibility requirements for these clergy are stricter than for Catholic clergy.  The law allows Protestant clergy to count towards retirement time worked prior to 1999, the date of a prior decree, only if these clergy adjusted their status in 1999, and does not allow Protestant clergy to claim retirement credit for time worked abroad.  Protestant clergy must also pay unfunded pension contributions in one lump sum rather than via monthly salary deductions, as Catholic clergy do.  Clergy from the Russian Orthodox Church, CIE, and Jehovah’s Witnesses are also eligible for social security benefits.  The benefits for clergy from these groups depend on the specific terms of separate social security agreements that each of these groups negotiated with the state.

The penal code definition of hate crimes includes acts of “humiliation or disrespect” against victims because of their religion, with penalties of one to four years in prison.  Under the penal code, it is a crime to prevent or disrupt religious services and to offend, scorn or blaspheme religious beliefs, ceremonies, or practitioners.  Those who do not profess any religion or belief are also protected under the penal code.  By law, authorities may investigate and prosecute criminal offenses committed by neo-Nazi groups as “terrorist crimes.”  Genocide denial is a crime if it incites violent attitudes, such as aggressive, threatening behavior or language.

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

Government Practices

According to the MOJ’s report on religious freedom, the Church of Jesus Christ and the FCBE both said they were unable to conclude agreements with the government and therefore were excluded from the benefits available to the Catholic Church and the three other religious groups with such agreements.  The Church of Jesus Christ said it had been trying unsuccessfully for years to obtain an agreement, and the FCBE expressed regret that the state had for many years denied agreements to other religious groups with notorio arraigo status.

Some religious minorities, such as FEREDE, FCJE, and the Church of Jesus Christ, called for improved and equal access for religious groups providing spiritual services at public institutions, such as hospital, prisons, and the military.  FEREDE also sought government reimbursement for the cost of providing such services, in the same way the government did for the Catholic Church.  FEREDE welcomed the state’s decision to house Protestant chapels and ministers in some military bases, although it criticized the lengthy delays and lack of attention the issue received from the government.  FCJE, CIE, and FEREDE welcomed the decision to allow religious observance in prisons but also considered it necessary to standardize prisoners’ access to religious services so that it would be on a par with other basic services.

According to the MOJ’s report on religious freedom, several groups cited local government restrictions on their ability to proselytize or manifest their faith in public spaces.  FEREDE stated municipalities often imposed fines or other sanctions on members who distributed religious pamphlets or engaged in other religious activities in public areas, although the central government owned the land.  According to FEREDE, there was a growing tendency of local authorities to silence religious groups and expel them from the public space.  Jehovah’s Witnesses cited 37 municipalities where there were unresolved issues involving restrictions on the use of public spaces for religious activities.  The Church of Jesus Christ said its missionaries had occasionally encountered restrictions in posting placards in public or establishing booths at public fairs.

In September authorities detained and questioned actor Willy Toledo after he refused to appear in court to respond to allegations of offending religion for making insulting remarks in 2017 about God and the Virgin Mary.  In May and June Toledo had refused to answer questions before a judge about the charges, which were filed by the Spanish Association of Christian Lawyers, and said he would continue to “make mockery.”  The lawyers’ association reportedly broadened its complaint against Toledo to incitement to hatred after he said, “Ultra-Catholics should disappear from the face of the earth,” and, according to the association, justified crimes against Catholic clergy during the Spanish Civil War by stating on television, “The churches and priests must have done something to be burned.”

In March Member of Parliament Enric Bataller of the Compromis Party introduced a bill to remove from the penal code the crime of offending religion.  According to the draft bill, the existing provision of the code contradicted “the constitutional rights that guarantee freedom of expression and the nonconfessional character of the state.”

Several religious groups, especially Protestant ones, said burdensome and unequal regulations remained a principal obstacle to religious groups seeking licenses or permits for places of worship.  For example, FEREDE Executive Secretary Mariano Blazquez cited a requirement in several municipalities that there be at least 500 meters (1640 feet) separating one place of worship from another, which disproportionately affected non-Catholic denominations due to the prevalence of Catholic churches.  Groups said other restrictions, such as requirements that religious centers maintain the same level of acoustic insulation as nightclubs, were excessively expensive and technically difficult to fulfill.

According to the MOJ, Protestant groups built 197 new places of worship in the country between December 2017 and December 2018, bringing the total to 4,238, or 58.5 percent of all non-Catholic places of worship.

Other religious groups cited similar concerns in the government’s report on religious freedom.  CIE stated municipal urban planning restricted the opening of places of worship in city centers, forcing them to move to city outskirts.  Jehovah’s Witnesses cited long delays of up to one year after approval of construction for a place of worship until authorities issued a permit to begin work.

According to the MOJ’s report on religious freedom, Muslim and Buddhist communities reported problems with accessing and establishing cemeteries.  FCBE said no Buddhist cemeteries or specific places to deposit remains according to Buddhist tradition existed in the country, and there was no interest on the part of municipalities to address the issue.  CIE expressed the need for a place of burial in each one of the Balearic and Canary Islands.  In addition, CIE reported only the autonomous communities of Andalucia and Valencia and the autonomous cities of Ceuta and Melilla allowed coffinless burials.  The European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) stated the country had 28 public cemeteries with specific plots for Muslims.

The Jewish community also cited a need to obtain more space in cemeteries, where it could carry out burials in accordance with Jewish customs.  Despite existing agreements between FCJE and Valencia and Alicante under which the cities were to provide Jewish cemeteries, the projects remained pending at year’s end.

In May pamphlets featuring People’s Party Leader in Catalonia and former Badalona Mayor Xavier Garcia Albiol, in which Garcia Albiol called for blocking the construction of an Islamic prayer room in the Artigues neighborhood of Badalona, circulated in the city.  Then-Badalona Mayor Dolors Sabater said her administration was considering charging Garcia Albiol with a hate crime but did not do so.

FCJE Director Carolina Aisen said implementation of the law allowing descendants of Sephardic Jews expelled from the country in 1492 to gain citizenship continued to run smoothly.  According to Aisen, who said she met monthly with the MOJ to discuss progress, 4,000 Sephardi descendants obtained citizenship between January and September, and approximately 18,000 Sephardis had started the application process.  The bulk of applicants continued to come from Venezuela; others came from Israel, other countries in Latin America, and the United States.  The Jewish community said burdensome financial and administrative requirements, such as a requirement to self-fund a trip to the country for the personal interview, reduced the response to the law.  Aisen said the sharp rise in applications for citizenship was likely due to concerns the law would expire in 2019.

The FCJE estimated there were very few survivors of the Holocaust residing in the country and said this was why the government only considered restitution on a case-by-case basis.  The FCJE reported no restitution cases during the year.

The MOJ’s report on religious freedom cited complaints by several religious groups, including the Catholic Church, FEREDE, FCJE, and CIE, about obstacles to providing religious education and the integration of religious teachers in schools.  The Catholic Church said some autonomous communities failed to provide students or their parents sufficient information on the possibility of pursuing religious studies, or placed barriers to the teaching of such classes, in violation of the government’s accord with the Holy See.  FEREDE stated many localities did not offer Protestant classes, and parents often were unable even to request such classes.  After protracted efforts by the Protestant community, according to the report, the autonomous community of La Rioja began to offer religious classes for Protestants in schools, as did Huesca Province; however, the autonomous community of Valencia had not responded to the requests for such classes by more than 700 students.

Religious groups said there was also a continuing lack of information on classes or enrollment options for students.  CIE cited a similar lack of information and enrollment options for students and reported that only six autonomous communities and Ceuta and Melilla had Islamic studies educators, despite the existence of eligible instructors in every region.  In the Basque Country, there were reports some schools had called in parents to discourage them from seeking Islamic classes for their children.

There were no Jewish classes in public schools, and FCJE reported schools were usually unaware of Jewish holidays provided for in the accord between FCJE and the state.  The Church of Jesus Christ proposed the right of religious education in public schools be extended to all religious groups with notorio arraigo status, not just to groups with agreements with the state.

In February the Education Commission of the national parliament approved a nonbinding resolution introduced by members of the Valencia-based Compromis Party and Together We Can (Unidos Podemos), a coalition of left-wing political parties, calling on the government to eliminate religion from the public school curriculum.  The draft resolution, which parliament did not vote on, also called for the repeal of the government’s agreements with the Holy See and with other religious groups.

In June the Regional Parliament of Navarre approved a nonbinding resolution calling on the federal government to “denounce the accords between Spain and the Holy See,” with a view to establish a secular education system in public schools.

In July the Federation of Associations of Fathers and Mothers of Students in the Province of Castellon (FAMPA) said it was receiving complaints from parents of students in schools selected to teach Muslim students classes on Islam.  FAMPA head Silvia Centelles said the organization had always favored doing away with teaching religion in classes and that parents said they could not understand how education officials could be in favor of teaching “the Islamic religion in classes, a religion that denigrates women and relegates them to second-class status.”

In January the Workers’ Commissions (Comisiones Obreras), the country’s largest labor union, called for the elimination of religion from public schools and an education “free of the dogmatism of the Catholic Church.”  In February the teachers’ union of Castilla La Mancha called for a reduction in class hours dedicated to teaching religion to the minimum required by law until national norms were changed towards establishing secular public schools.  According to a statement by the union, religion as a subject matter was neither a science nor an art and did not merit inclusion in public schools; rather it served to spread Catholic doctrine and only distorted the normal functioning of students’ education, taking beliefs from the private to the public space, where they did not belong in a nonconfessional society.

Holocaust education in secondary school curricula continued to expand in accordance with an MOE mandate contained in two existing royal decrees.  The subject was included in fourth-year compulsory geography and history class and first-year contemporary world history class.  In 2017, the FCJE signed an agreement with the MOE to train teachers on the Holocaust, Judaism, and anti-Semitism.

In December the state-supported cultural center Centro Sefarad Israel organized a trip to Berlin for approximately 15 Spanish teachers to learn about the Wannsee Conference, the meeting at which Nazi officials planned the Holocaust.  The trip included lectures and a tour of a concentration camp.  Centro Sefarad Israel organized dozens of lectures and courses throughout Spain on anti-Semitism and the Holocaust, bringing speakers from around the world to speak to groups of teachers and other instructors.

Despite a 2017 Supreme Court ruling making government pension eligibility requirements for Protestant clergy the same as those for Catholic priests, no Protestant clergy had yet begun receiving a government pension because the ruling was not retroactive.  FEREDE asked the government to issue a royal decree to allow retired Protestant clergy to collect pensions from their time in service prior to 1999 and to allow survivor benefits for spouses and children of clergy.

The Catholic Church remained the only religious entity to which persons could voluntarily allocate 0.7 percent of their taxes.  Other religious groups were not listed on the tax form as potential recipients of funds.  Several religious groups, including Protestants, Muslims, Buddhists, and members of the Church of Jesus Christ, continued to express their desire to have their groups included on the tax form so they could be eligible to receive the 0.7 percent allocation from taxpayers.  The tax designation yielded 267.8 million euros ($307 million) in donations to the Catholic Church during the year, according to news reports.

Representatives of FEREDE, CIE, and FCJE stated they did not receive all of the benefits to which they were entitled under their cooperative agreements with the government.  As an example, they cited their inability to make use of the same tax allocation financing system that the Catholic Church used.

Many religious groups, such as FEREDE, CIE, and FCJE, said that they relied on government funds, provided through the Foundation, to cover their administrative and infrastructure costs.  According to the MOJ’s report on religious freedom, CIE indicated its interest in changing the Foundation’s system of assigning funds that supported Islamic communities so that funds could be used to support several communities that stopped receiving other forms of assistance.  FCBE, which is not a participant in the Foundation, said that it did not receive any public funding and expressed its desire to receive such assistance in the future.  FEREDE proposed the government increase tax deductions for donations to religious groups so that these groups could better self-finance their operations.  Religious representative bodies, such as FEREDE, CIE, and FCJE received funding from the Foundation to cover administrative and infrastructure costs.  During the year FEREDE received 356,000 euros ($408,000), FCJE received 169,362 euros ($194,000), and CIE received 255,000 euros ($292,000).  The Foundation also provided 120,000 euros ($138,000) in small grants to dozens of local religious associations for educational and cultural projects aimed at promoting religious integration.

In May the regional government of Navarre became the first of the 17 autonomous communities to endorse the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel, approving a nonbinding declaration calling on the central government to “support any initiative promoted by the international BDS campaign” and “suspend relations with Israel until that country stops its criminal and repressive policies against the Palestinian population.”  The measure did not stipulate any actions the Navarre government should take in support of BDS other than its appeal to the central government.

As of June approximately 100 local, municipal, or provincial governments had passed resolutions supporting the BDS movement, including Valencia, the country’s third largest city, although court rulings had voided more than a dozen of these resolutions after the attorney general for hate crimes began investigations in 2017 to determine possible criminal responsibility of municipalities that supported the BDS movement.  For example, in June the High Court in the province of Asturias found that the city of Castrillon’s policy of boycotting Israel was unconstitutional.  In August the municipalities of Sagunto and Villarrobledo reversed prior statements in support of BDS after the local NGO Action and Communication on the Middle East threatened a lawsuit.  The NGO Lawfare Project said that, as of June, its litigation fund had secured 58 court victories against BDS campaigns in the country.

In December the interagency Religious Freedom Advisory Committee, led by Minister of Justice Dolores Delgado, held plenary and standing committee sessions to review issues pertaining to religious freedom in the country.  The committee reviewed the status of religious freedom, noted issues of concern, and approved the MOJ’s 2017 report on religious freedom.  The committee comprised representatives from various government offices, academics, and religious leaders from the Catholic Church, FEREDE, FCJE, CIE, Church of Jesus Christ, Federation of Buddhist Communities, and Orthodox Church.  The committee had seven working groups to address specific religious issues, including approval of the MOJ’s annual report on the status of religious freedom in the country.

The city of Barcelona continued to implement its “Plan of Action against Islamophobia.”  As part of the plan, the city’s Office for Nondiscrimination launched a communications campaign in partnership with Muslim communities to sensitize the population to anti-Muslim sentiment and its impact.  The city hall led training events on human rights and diversity, including religious tolerance, to municipal employees, as well as to more than 1,500 children.  The office also provided legal, social, and psychological assistance to victims of discrimination, including religious discrimination.

In August the Foundation signed an agreement with the Madrid municipal police to protect the religious freedom of members of the police force by coordinating on research and development of new methodologies to manage a religiously diverse police force.

According to the MOJ’s report on religious freedom, FEREDE and FJCE again called for greater neutrality on the part of the national and local governments in conducting official activities.  They cited the organization of Catholic state funerals and the participation of government officials in acts or ceremonies of a particular religious group as evidence of a lack of neutrality.

In May the Rioja Provincial Parliament approved a nonbinding resolution calling on the provincial government to give proof of institutional secularism as a “public reflection of real neutrality and respect for diverse religious beliefs.”  In particular, the resolution asked the government to ensure that public ceremonies in which members of the provincial executive branch participated were secular.

In May the Barcelona High Court upheld the 2017 conviction and six-month prison sentence of Barcelona bookstore owner Pedro Varela for intellectual property crimes for selling Mein Kampf without authorization.  Varela was released on two-year’s probation after serving one month of his sentence.  Authorities continued to investigate Varela on charges of selling books promoting religious hatred or discrimination, and his bookstore remained closed.

Movement Against Intolerance, a nonreligiously affiliated NGO that compiles instances of religiously motivated hate crimes, criticized government and religious leaders for not working together to combat all forms of religious intolerance.  Director Esteban Ibarra again stated authorities should apply the criminal code pertaining to religiously motivated crimes more widely and that public prosecutors and police remained unprepared to combat religious intolerance.  Ibarra also pointed to a lack of preventive education in schools.  In addition, FEREDE proposed the government create a hotline for victims of religious persecution and hate crimes.

According to Ibarra, anti-Semitism and anti-Muslim sentiment were on the rise, partly due to the actions of some members of political parties on the far left and right, such as Podemos and Vox.  Ibarra said that, although membership in ultra-right parties remained small, such parties had gradually expanded their online and public presence over the previous year, including through public meetings, marches, and statements in the press.  Ibarra stated the support for BDS policies among some members of parties like Podemos contributed to the further isolation of Israel and an increase in anti-Semitism.

During an appearance on Catalan public television, Bel Olid, a writer and activist affiliated with the far-left CUP (Catalan Popular Unity Candidacy) Party, encouraged participation in the March 8 International Women’s Day demonstrations by calling for the burning of the Episcopal Conference for being sexist and patriarchal.

The Foundation provided training on preventing anti-Islamic sentiment and other religious discrimination and organized an event with the Canada Foundation and the Spanish Federation of Municipalities and Provinces on reducing violent religious extremism.  The Foundation hosted a seminar with members of the Baha’i Faith on preventing violent radicalization.

According to the MOJ’s report on religious freedom, FEREDE asked the government to adjust its visa policies for foreign religious workers in recognition that spouses and minor children might accompany Protestant clergy.

The Office of Religious Affairs continued to maintain an online portal for information on registered minority religious groups to aid new immigrants or citizens moving into a community to find his or her locally registered religious community and place of worship.  The MOJ stated the tool provided no personally identifiable information and complied with the information protection law.

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

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

According to the Observatory for Religious Freedom and Conscience (OLRC), there were 142 incidents that it described as violating religious freedom in the first nine months of the year, 20 more than in the same period in 2017.  Of the incidents, 92 targeted Christians (including 79 against Catholics), 10 were against Muslims, five against Jews, and 35 classified as against all faiths.  There were two incidents of violence, 33 attacks on places of worship, 42 cases of harassment, and 65 cases of public marginalization of religion.  As described in the report, many incidents had political as well as religious motivations.  Some involved protests of government actions perceived as favoring or disfavoring religious groups or were declarations or resolutions by civil society groups or political parties calling for the cessation of religion classes in schools, a strict separation of religion and state, or a renegotiation of the government’s agreement with the Holy See.

The MOI reported 103 hate crimes based on religious beliefs or practices and, separately, six motivated by anti-Semitism in 2017, the most recent year for which data were available, compared with 47 and seven such crimes, respectively, in 2016.  Half of the anti-Semitic crimes and 43 percent of the other religiously motivated crimes reported in 2017 occurred in Catalonia.  The MOI’s report did not cite specific examples or provide a breakdown of religiously motivated incidents by type of crime.

The Citizens’ Platform against Islamophobia reported 546 anti-Muslim incidents in 2017.  The NGO said that, because its methodology had changed, this figure should not be compared to the 573 incidents in 2016.  Of the total reported cases, which it said represented “only the tip of the iceberg,” 386 incidents were media or internet based, while 48 percent comprised verbal insults or derogatory statements against Islam and Muslims.  Incidents occurred most often in Catalonia (51), Andalucia (22), Valencia (20) and Madrid (17).  The NGO said it believed the large number of incidents in Catalonia was related to August 2017 terrorist attacks.  The government characterized these attacks as “jihad terrorism.”  According to the NGO, the targets were Muslims and Islam in general, women (21 percent), children (7 percent), and mosques (7 percent).  The most frequent type of incidents after online hate speech, it reported, was discrimination against women wearing hijabs, at 21 percent.

According to the OLRC report, in one violent incident in March, a Moroccan man attacked and insulted a Moroccan woman in Lorca because of what he said was her attire and demeanor in public.  The woman reportedly suffered minor injuries.  Police arrested the suspected perpetrator, who had allegedly threatened the woman on other occasions.  In the other violent incident OLRC cited, in August police arrested two men described as leftist extremists after they allegedly attacked a group of youths wearing t-shirts of a Catholic university in Murcia.  One of the attackers hit a youth on the head with a bottle, causing an ocular hemorrhage.

In August in Mataro, Barcelona Province, the Civil Guard detained two Moroccan men allegedly involved with recruiting individuals to join ISIS.  According to press reports, the detainees had posted on the internet that their objective was “to kill all Jews.”

The attacks against places of worship the OLRC report cited included not only vandalism, but also threats and incitement to violence.  In one, ISIS disseminated a message to followers and sympathizers containing a picture of the Church of the Holy Family in Barcelona with the words, “If you don’t have a weapon, you have a truck or a knife.”

The MOJ’s report on religious freedom cited 43 hospitals throughout the country that refused to treat Jehovah’s Witnesses who declined to consent to blood transfusions.  The report stated that many hospitals denied treatment even for minor procedures and made no effort to identify a physician within the hospital or another medical facility willing to treat the patient.  If a physician was willing to operate on or treat a Jehovah’s Witness, hospital administrators sometimes hindered the ability of these physicians to provide medical services to that patient.  If another medical facility willing to treat a Jehovah’s Witness were found, hospitals sometimes refused to transport the patient to the other facility.  The problem, according to the report, was most serious in smaller cities, where alternative medical options were limited.

In March according to press reports, neighborhood associations and others in the Barcelona district of Nou Barris called on authorities to stop the daily harassment of dozens of persons using a mosque located there.  According to a district representative, neighbors opposed to the mosque banged pots and pans in protest every night, and on Fridays and weekends, members of far-right groups from outside the district came to harass and insult persons leaving the mosque.  A member of the local Muslim community called on authorities to provide security, as did the priest of a Catholic Church in the neighborhood, who said, “They [Muslims] should have the same right that we have.”

In May a Barcelona court issued preliminary measures restricting seven members of the far-right National Democracy Party from communicating with or coming within 300 meters (1000 feet) of the Nou Barris mosque.  Additionally, the court shut down their social media accounts from which it said they spread their hate speech.  Authorities accused the perpetrators of vandalism, coercion, and incitement of hate against the Muslim community after having systematically perpetrated hostile actions against this community since March 2017.

In September a group of women protesters, some of them topless and wearing masks, surrounded Catholic Bishop of San Sebastian Jose Ignacio Munilla as he was entering a church to celebrate Mass.  In March another group of women protesters stripped in front of the Good Pastor Cathedral in San Sebastian, protesting remarks the bishop had made about feminism.

According to the ECRI report on the country, the Jewish community stated anti-Semitism was increasing in the media, and ignorance about Jews created opportunities for anti-Semitic sentiment.  ECRI said frequent use of expressions such as “Islamic terrorism” and “Jihadist terrorism” in the press contributed to a rise in anti-Islamic sentiment and negatively influenced public perception of Muslims.

According to the MOJ report on religious freedom, FEREDE stated offenses and acts of incitement of hatred against Christianity were growing, although many incidents were not reported, and when they were, authorities did not always impute a religious motive to them.  The FCJE cited continued anti-Semitism in mass media, and particularly in social media, by anonymous accounts.  The Catholic Church reported increased instances of offensive speech against Catholicism, its priests, and the religious beliefs of its members, which, according to the Church, exceeded the normal scope of freedom of expression or opinion.  The CIE cited particular concerns over societal discrimination against Muslim women, especially those wearing the hijab, in the workplace and schools and at swimming pools and beaches.  CIE also reported growing hate speech against Islam, Muslims, and refugees, many of whom were Muslim, on social media, as well as increased incidents of vandalism against mosques.  Each group called on the government to improve its response and provide better protection to places of worship.

In June authorities in the Canary Islands arrested a Moroccan national for disseminating hate speech in social media against the Jewish community.

In December the European Union’s Agency for Fundamental Rights (EU-FRA) released its second survey of Jewish experiences and perceptions of anti-Semitism.  EU-FRA targeted Jewish populations through community organizations, Jewish media, and social networks; 570 individuals who identified themselves as Jewish residents of Spain responded to the online survey.  Seventeen percent said they had witnessed other Jews being physically attacked, insulted, or harassed in the previous 12 months, and 32 percent reported being harassed over the same period.  Twenty-six percent of respondents said they had felt discriminated against because of their religion or belief; 73 percent thought anti-Semitism had increased over the previous five years.

In March police found an incendiary device, described as akin to a Molotov cocktail, on the window of a Catholic church in Cordoba.  Reportedly, the fuse had been lit, but the device did not explode.  A similar incident occurred in June when a group broke windows at the Autonomous University of Madrid and threw incendiary devices at the chapel.  Also in June unknown individuals started a fire in the Catholic Basilica of Santa Maria in the city of Elche.  Persons inside the church put out the fire before it spread.

In July vandals ransacked a Catholic church in the town of Adrados in Leon Province, causing damages that residents estimated might exceed 30,000 euros ($34,400).  Authorities detained two suspects.

In July vandals painted swastikas on the walls of the Great Mosque of Valencia, hung up the mask of a pig, and wrote graffiti and signs reading “No Moors” and “Stop Islam, Stop Jews.”

In March unidentified individuals painted “Moors Get Out” and a target at the entrance to a mosque in Hernani, Guipozkoa Province.  The head of the Islamic Federation of the Basque Country, Aziz Messaoudi, spoke out against the vandalism, stating, “One cannot toy with the social peace of our society of Euskadi, because that is the red line we cannot cross.”

In February unknown individuals scrawled on the front of the Greater Synagogue of Barcelona, “Get Out of Our Land.”  The synagogue is one of the oldest in Europe.

In March unidentified persons painted graffiti linking Jews to the Illuminati on the Holocaust Monument in Oviedo.

Press reported that in March on International Women’s Day, far-left feminists scrawled graffiti on Catholic churches in several cities throughout the country, including Madrid, Seville, Granada, Cordoba, and La Coruna.  The graffiti criticized the Catholic Church, religion, or “the patriarchy” or was pro-abortion.  One read, “The church that best illuminates is the one that burns.”

In January a graffito reading “Muslims Not Welcome” was scrawled on a wall near the M30 Mosque in Madrid.  The graffito was signed with the initials “DNJ,” which, according to press reports, corresponded to the youth wing of National Democracy, a far-right political party without representation in the national or regional parliaments.

In May a Madrid court prosecuted Melisa Dominguez, the leader of the neo-Nazi group Hogar Social Madrid, for a hate crime in connection with an incident involving the M30 Madrid Mosque in March 2016.  Dominguez was accused of throwing flares at or near the mosque and posting signs near it that contained hate speech.  Dominguez’ trial was ongoing at year’s end.

In September the UNESCO Association for Interreligious Dialogue (AUDIR), a Catalan NGO comprised of members of multiple religious groups, organized the third of its “Night of Religions” in Barcelona, in which more than 30 religious centers representing 15 different faiths shared their religious traditions with the public.  AUDIR continued to implement the project “Building Bridges,” in which 40 youths from different faiths attended courses on interfaith dialogue, among other subjects.  As part of the program, the participants visited places of worship in their neighborhoods.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

U.S. embassy and consulate representatives met regularly with the MOJ, MOI, regional officials, and politicians to discuss anti-Semitism, anti-Muslim sentiment, anticlericalism, and concerns about societal discrimination against religious minorities.  Issues discussed included access to permits for places of worship and to religious education, cemeteries and burial, pensions, religiously motivated hate crimes and hate speech, and public statements and campaigns to promote tolerance.  They also raised these issues with religious leaders who participated in the Foundation.

Embassy officials met and communicated with leaders of CIE, FEREDE, FCJE, the Federation of Buddhist Communities, Scientologists, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and other religious and civil society members, including imams of local mosques, Muslim youth leaders, NGOs, and business leaders in Madrid, Barcelona, and Melilla.  Embassy and consulate officials heard the concerns of community members regarding discrimination and the free exercise of their religious rights, including anti-Semitism, anti-Muslim sentiment, lack of religious education, and access to permits for places of worship.

To celebrate Religious Freedom Day in January, the embassy invited representatives from several faiths and the coordinator of the coexistence pact – a group of Catholic, Protestant, and Jewish representatives, and academics and psychologists, which included as one of its goals the promotion of religious tolerance – for a discussion on the state of religious freedom and equality in the country.  During the discussion, the Ambassador underscored U.S. commitment to religious freedom and asked how the embassy could assist religious leaders in promoting these goals.

In February and March the Ambassador met with leaders of the (Catholic) Episcopal, Evangelical, Islamic, and Jewish federations to solicit recommendations on increasing religious freedom in Spain.

In June the Ambassador hosted an iftar to highlight the work of young Muslim leaders to an audience of Muslim activists, government officials, and Arab diplomats.  A series of follow-on meetings with embassy officers provided opportunities for the youth leaders to share insights about the challenges they faced and ideas for strengthening U.S. efforts to help the Muslim community address those challenges.

In May the Consulate General in Barcelona organized an iftar that gathered leaders of the Muslim community in the region, including its younger generation, as well as regional public officials, law enforcement, and academics.  Guests agreed on the need to improve actions aimed at promoting cultural and religious diversity in the region and to combat stereotypes.

The embassy continued its engagement with a group of young Muslim leaders who had taken part in embassy-sponsored visits to the United States.  The embassy assisted the group with organizing community forums in several cities to discuss issues, including freedom of worship, religious tolerance, the role of media in spreading their messaging, and prevention of radicalization in Muslim communities.

Turkey

Executive Summary

The constitution defines the country as a secular state.  It provides for freedom of conscience, religious belief, conviction, expression, and worship and prohibits discrimination based on religious grounds.  The Presidency of Religious Affairs (Diyanet), a state institution, governs and coordinates religious matters related to Islam; its mandate is to promote and enable the practice of Sunni Islam.  The government continued to limit the rights of non-Muslim minorities, especially those not recognized under the government’s interpretation of the 1923 Lausanne Treaty, which includes only Armenian Apostolic Orthodox Christians, Jews, and Greek Orthodox Christians.  The government continued to treat Alevi Islam as a heterodox Muslim “sect” and not to recognize Alevi houses of worship (cemevis), despite a Supreme Court of Appeals ruling in November that cemevis are places of worship.  The government did not recognize the right to conscientious objection to military service.  Religious minorities reported bureaucratic and administrative impediments to religious freedom remained, including the prevention of governing board elections for religious foundations, which manage many activities of religious communities.  The government continued to restrict efforts of minority religious groups to train their clergy, the Greek Orthodox Halki Seminary remained closed, and the Diyanet announced plans to construct an Islamic educational center on the same island as the shuttered seminary.  Religious minorities reported experiencing difficulties resolving land and property disputes, operating or opening houses of worship, and obtaining exemptions from mandatory religion classes in schools.  The legal challenges of churches whose lands the government previously expropriated continued; some members of the churches said they still did not have access to many of their properties.  The government provided security support for religious minority communities, returned some previously expropriated properties, including 56 to the Syriac community, and paid for the renovation and restoration of some registered religious properties.  Following the July 2016 coup attempt, the government arrested more than 80,000 individuals with alleged ties to Muslim cleric and political figure Fethullah Gulen – whom the government blamed for the attempted putsch – including U.S. citizen and Pastor Andrew Brunson.  In October a court in Izmir convicted Brunson of supporting a terrorist group but suspended his sentence, allowing him to depart the country.

Alevis expressed concern about continued anonymous threats of violence and the arrest of members of an Alevi association on charges of supporting a terrorist organization.  ISIS and other actors continued to threaten Jews, Protestants, and Muslim groups in the country.  Anti-Semitic discourse continued, as some progovernment news commentators published stories and political cartoons seeking to associate the 2016 attempted coup plotters and the economic difficulties of the country with the Jewish community.  Anti-Semitic rhetoric, especially on social media, peaked during periods of heightened tension in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, according to social media analysis.

The Charge d’Affaires, visiting senior U.S. officials, and other embassy and consulate officials continued to engage with government officials and emphasize the importance of respect for religious diversity and equal treatment under the law.  Embassy and consulate representatives and visiting U.S. government officials urged the government to lift restrictions on religious groups, make progress on property restitution, and address specific cases of religious discrimination.  Embassy and consulate officials also met with a wide range of religious community leaders, including those of the Greek Orthodox, Jewish, Armenian Apostolic Orthodox Christian, Protestant, Alevi, and Syriac Orthodox communities, to underscore the importance of religious freedom and interfaith tolerance and to condemn discrimination against members of any religious group.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 81.3 million (July 2018 estimate).  According to the Turkish government, 99 percent of the population is Muslim, approximately 77.5 percent of which is Hanafi Sunni.  Representatives of other religious groups estimate their members represent 0.2 percent of the population, while the most recent published surveys suggest approximately 2 percent of the population is atheist.

Alevi foundation leaders estimate Alevis comprise 25 to 31 percent of the population; Pew Research Center reporting indicates five percent of Turkish Muslims state they are Alevis.  The Shia Jafari community estimates its members make up 4 percent of the population.

Non-Muslim religious groups are mostly concentrated in Istanbul and other large cities as well as in the southeast.  Exact figures are not available; however, these groups self-report approximately 90,000 Armenian Apostolic Orthodox Christians (including migrants from Armenia); 25,000 Roman Catholics (including migrants from Africa and the Philippines); and 16,000 Jews.  There are also approximately 25,000 Syrian Orthodox Christians (also known as Syriacs); 15,000 Russian Orthodox Christians (mostly immigrants from Russia who hold residence permits); and 10,000 Baha’is.

Other groups include fewer than 1,000 Yezidis; 5,000 Jehovah’s Witnesses; 7,000 members of Protestant denominations; fewer than 3,000 Chaldean Christians; and up to 2,000 Greek Orthodox Christians.  There also are small, undetermined numbers of Bulgarian Orthodox, Nestorian, Georgian Orthodox, Ukrainian Orthodox, Syriac Catholic, Armenian Catholic, and Maronite Christians.  The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints estimates its membership at 300 individuals.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution defines the country as a secular state and provides for freedom of conscience, religious belief, conviction, expression, and worship.  It stipulates individuals may not be compelled to participate in religious ceremonies or disclose their religion, and acts of worship may be conducted freely as long as they are not directed against the “integrity of the state.”  The constitution prohibits discrimination on religious grounds and prohibits exploitation or abuse of “religion or religious feelings, or things held sacred by religion” or “even partially basing” the order of the state on religious tenets.

The constitution establishes the Diyanet, through which the state coordinates religious matters.  According to the law, the Diyanet’s mandate is to enable and promote the belief, practices, and moral principles of Islam, with a primary focus on Sunni Islam; educate the public about religious issues; and administer mosques.  The Diyanet operates under the Office of the President, with its head appointed by the president and administered by a 16-person council elected by clerics and university theology faculties.  The Diyanet has five main departments, called high councils:  Religious Affairs, Education, Services, Publications, and Public Relations.  While the law does not require that all members of the council be Sunni Muslim, in practice this has been the case.

There is no separate blasphemy law; the penal code provides punishment for offenses related to “provoking people to be rancorous and hostile,” including showing public disrespect for religious beliefs.  The penal code prohibits religious leaders such as imams, priests, and rabbis from “reproaching or vilifying” the government or the laws of the state while performing their duties.  Violations are punishable by prison terms of one month to one year, or three months to two years if the crime involves inciting others to disobey the law.

The law criminalizes “insulting values held sacred by a religion,” interfering with a religious group’s services, or defacing its property.  Insulting a religion is punishable by six months to one year in prison.

Interfering with the service of a religious group is punishable by one to three years in prison; defacing religious property is punishable by three months to one year in prison; and destroying or demolishing religious property is punishable by one to four years in prison.  Because it is illegal to hold religious services in places not registered as places of worship, in practice, these legal proscriptions apply only to recognized religious groups.

The law prohibits Sufi and other religious-social orders (tarikats) and lodges (cemaats), although the government generally does not enforce these restrictions.

Military service is obligatory for males; there is no provision for conscientious objection.  Those who oppose mandatory military service on religious grounds may face charges in military and civilian courts and, if convicted, are subject to prison sentences ranging from two months to two years.

Although registration with the government is not mandatory for religious groups to operate, it is required to request legal recognition for places of worship.  Gaining legal recognition requires permission from the municipalities for the construction of a new place of worship.  It is against the law to hold religious services at a location not recognized by the government as a place of worship; the government may fine or close the venues of those violating the law.

A 1935 law prohibits the establishment of foundations based on the religion or ethnicity of members but grants exemptions to foundations existing before the enactment of the law.  These longstanding foundations belong to non-Muslim Turkish citizens; 167 of them continue to exist, the majority of which are associated with the Greek Orthodox, Armenian Orthodox, and Jewish communities.  A religious group may apply to register as an association or foundation provided its stated objective is charitable, educational, or cultural rather than religious.

The General Directorate of Foundations (GDF), under the Ministry of Culture and Tourism, regulates the activities and affiliated properties of all foundations, and it assesses whether they are operating within the stated objectives of their organizational statute.  There are several categories of foundations, including those religious community foundations existing prior to the 1935 law.

If a foundation becomes inactive, the government may petition the courts to find the foundation no longer operational and transfer all its assets to the state.  Only a court order may close a foundation of any category, except under a state of emergency, during which the government may close foundations by decree.  The state of emergency instituted in 2016 ended in July.

A foundation may earn income through companies and rent-earning properties, as well as from donations.  The process for establishing a foundation is lengthier and more expensive than that for establishing an association, but associations have fewer legal rights than foundations at the local level.

Associations by definition must be nonprofit and may receive financial support only in the form of donations.  To register as an association, a group must submit an application to the provincial governor’s office with supporting documentation, including bylaws and a list of founding members.  In addition to its bylaws, a group must obtain and submit permission from the Ministry of the Interior as part of its application if a foreign association or nonprofit organization is listed as a founding member; if foreigners are founding members of the group, the group must submit copies of their residence permits.  If the governorate finds the bylaws unlawful or unconstitutional, the association must change the bylaws to meet the legal requirements.  Under the law, the governorate may fine or otherwise punish association officials for actions deemed to violate the organization’s bylaws.  Only a court order may close an association, except under a state of emergency, during which the government may close associations by decree.  The civil code requires associations not to discriminate on the grounds of religion, ethnicity, or race.

By law, prisoners have the right to practice their religions in prison; however, not all prisons have dedicated places of worship.  The government provides Sunni Muslims mesjids (small mosques) in larger prisons and provides Sunni preachers; Alevis and non-Muslims do not have clerics from their own faiths serving in prisons.  According to the law, prison authorities must allow religious groups to offer books and other materials that are a part of the prisoner’s faith.

The constitution establishes compulsory religious and moral instruction in public and private primary, middle, and high schools, with content determined by the Ministry of National Education’s Department of Religious Instruction, which as of July falls under the authority of the Office of the Presidency.  Religion classes are two hours per week for students in grades four through 12.  Only students who marked “Christian” or “Jewish” on their national identity cards may apply for an exemption from religion classes.  Atheists, agnostics, Alevis or other non-Sunni Muslims, Baha’is, Yezidis, or those who left the religion section blank on their national identity card are not exempt from the classes.  Middle and high school students may take additional Islamic religious courses as electives for two hours per week during regular school hours.

According to the labor law, private and public sector employers may not discriminate against employees based on religion.  Employees may seek legal action against an employer through the Labor Court.  If an employee can prove a violation occurred, the employee may be entitled to compensation of up to four months of salary in addition to the reversal of the employment decision.

New national identity cards, which the government began distributing at year’s end, contain no specific section to identify religious affiliation.  National identity cards issued in the past, which continue in circulation, contained a space for religious identification with the option of leaving the space blank.  These old cards included the following religious identities as options:  Muslim, Greek Orthodox, non-Orthodox Christian, Jewish, Hindu, Zoroastrian, Confucian, Taoist, Buddhist, No Religion, or Other.  Baha’i, Alevi, Yezidi, and other religious groups with known populations in the country were not options.

The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, with one reservation regarding Article 27, which states individuals belonging to ethnic, religious, or linguistic minorities “shall not be denied the right to enjoy their own culture, to profess and practice their own religion, or to use their own language.”  The reservation asserts the right “to interpret and apply the provisions of Article 27 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights in accordance with the related provisions and rules of the Constitution of the Republic of Turkey and the Treaty of Lausanne of 24 July 1923 and its Appendixes.”

Government Practices

A state of emergency instituted after the July 2016 coup attempt ended in July, although parliament passed a law codifying many of the expanded powers shortly afterward.  The government continued to blame the coup attempt on Muslim cleric and political figure Fethullah Gulen and his followers, whom it designated the “Fethullah Terror Organization.”  Since the coup attempt, police arrested more than 80,000 individuals for allegedly having ties to the Gulen movement, according to a statement by Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu in April.

The government also continued to detain foreign citizens in relation to the coup attempt, including U.S. citizen and Christian pastor Andrew Brunson.  On October 12, the Second Heavy Penal Court of Izmir convicted Brunson on charges of support for a terrorist group and sentenced him to just over three years.  Initially detained in October 2016, Brunson remained in detention until his release to house arrest on July 25 as his trial continued.  In July the public prosecutor broadened the investigation in the case to include Brunson’s wife and 65 additional individuals, including other U.S. citizens.  The indictment referenced “Christianization” activities related to his alleged crimes.  The court suspended his sentence to time served and lifted his travel ban, thereby allowing him to leave the country after nearly two years in custody.  Brunson immediately departed the country.  Brunson was one of several U.S. citizens detained under the state of emergency; the other cases did not involve religious figures.

The indictment of Brunson included The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the list of religious groups that allegedly participated in conspiracies against the state.  In April The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints stated that for safety reasons it would remove its volunteers and international staff from the country, a policy Church leadership said continued through the end of the year.

Alevi groups expressed concerns about detentions of their members, which the groups said were arbitrary.  In March authorities in Erzincan detained 16 members of the Alevi Pir Sultan Abdal Cultural Association, including the vice chairman, on charges of providing support to a terrorist organization.  Local representatives of the association said they were detained because of their work to protect and promote the Alevi faith.  A court later ordered the arrest of eight of them, including the vice chair.  In August a court indicted all 16 individuals for “inciting hatred among the public” and “membership in a terrorist organization.”  In December 12 of the 17 defendants were convicted and sentenced to between two and six and one-half years in prison.

In July authorities denied the request of former Republican People’s Party (CHP) Member of Parliament, Eren Erdem, to see an Alevi cleric (dede) while in Silivri prison, where he remained detained at year’s end on terrorism charges.  Erdem’s lawyer said the decision was a violation of his client’s right to have weekly access to a cleric.  The next hearing was scheduled for January 2019.

The trial of 13 individuals charged with conspiracy to commit a large-scale assault on an Izmit Protestant church and assassinate its pastor in 2013 continued throughout the year.  In November a judge again postponed the next hearing until March 2019 pending the result of an investigation of two local security officials allegedly involved.

In July an Istanbul criminal court accepted an indictment from the Chief Prosecutor’s Office bringing charges of insulting religious values, sometimes referred to locally as “blasphemy charges,” against actress Berna Lacin for her post on Twitter about the alleged number of rapes in Medina.  The tweet was in response to calls by the Grand Union Party, families of victims, and some newspapers to reinstate capital punishment for child abuse crimes following a wave of molestation reports in media.  “If capital punishment was a solution, the city of Medina would not be breaking records in rape cases,” Lacin said in her post.  In the indictment, the prosecutor said Lacin insulted people’s religious values and went beyond what is permissible under the freedom of expression.  Following the first hearing in November, the court postponed the trial until February 2019.

In January the governor’s office in Adana, with the approval of the Interior Ministry, temporarily banned the activities of Furkan Foundation, a Sunni organization that describes itself as a social and religious civil society group.  Police arrested 45 members of the foundation, including its president, on charges that included founding a criminal organization and supporting terror.  In July authorities issued a decree permanently closing the foundation on national security grounds.  The case continued at year’s end.

In December, following a 2017 government regulation allowing female military personnel to wear headscarves, the Council of State, the country’s highest administrative court, rejected a petition calling for the reinstatement of the ban.

In September the military implemented a one-time paid deferment option that closed November 3 under which individuals born before January 1, 1994 could pay a fee instead of performing full military service; however these individuals must complete 21 days of basic military training.

During the year, 68 Jehovah’s Witnesses faced prosecution as conscientious objectors to military service.  Jehovah’s Witnesses officials stated the government continued to subject conscientious objectors from their community “to unending call-ups for military duty, repeated fines, and threats of imprisonment.”

Some Protestants and other minority community members expressed concern that some indictments submitted by prosecutors and inquiries by police officials indicated certain religious public speech and activism, including proselytism, were regarded with suspicion.  Some of these groups said they subsequently decided to conduct fewer public engagements to avoid anticipated pressure from authorities.  Proselytization remained legal at year’s end.

In May some students and parents in Viransehir District of Urfa complained a school principal had threatened female students they would fail their classes unless they covered their hair.  The Ministry of Education started an investigation of the case, which continued at year’s end.

In February the broadcast sector regulatory body Radio and Television Supreme Council (RTUK) fined TV8, a private station, more than one million Turkish lira (TL) ($189,000) for broadcasting a song performed during a talent show that contained lyrics referring to God as “Father.”  The report prepared by the council members said the lyrics were against the fundamentals of Muslim faith and claimed referring to God as “Father” was a Christian and Jewish tradition.

The government continued to interpret the 1923 Lausanne Treaty, which refers broadly to “non-Muslim minorities,” as granting special legal minority status exclusively to three recognized groups:  Armenian Apostolic Orthodox Christians, Jews, and Greek Orthodox Christians.  The government did not recognize the leadership or administrative structures of non-Muslim minorities, such as the patriarchates and chief rabbinate, as legal entities, leaving them unable to buy or hold title to property or to press claims in court.  These three groups, along with other minority religious communities, had to rely on independent foundations they previously organized, overseen by separate governing boards, to hold and control individual religious properties.  Members of religious communities said the inability to hold elections for foundation governing boards remained an impediment to managing their affairs.  In 2013, the government repealed regulations dealing with the election of foundation board members, which prohibited subsequent elections from taking place.  Without the ability to hold new elections, governing boards lose the capacity to manage the activities and properties of the community and run the risk of the foundations becoming inactive without newly elected leadership.

The government continued not to recognize the ecumenical patriarch as the leader of the world’s approximately 300 million Orthodox Christians, consistent with the government’s stance that there was no legal obligation for it to do so.  The government’s position remained that the ecumenical patriarch was only the religious leader of the country’s Greek Orthodox minority population.  The government continued to permit only Turkish citizens to vote in the Ecumenical Patriarchate’s Holy Synod or be elected patriarch, but continued its practice of granting citizenship to Greek Orthodox metropolitans under the terms of the government’s 2011 stopgap solution to widen the pool of candidates to become the next patriarch.  The Istanbul Governorate, which represents the central government in Istanbul, continued to maintain that leaders of the Greek Orthodox (Ecumenical Patriarchate), Armenian Apostolic Orthodox, and Jewish communities must be Turkish citizens, although coreligionists from outside the country in some cases had assumed informal leadership positions in these groups.

The Armenian Apostolic Patriarchate and the Ecumenical Patriarchate continued to seek legal recognition, and their communities operated as conglomerations of individual religious foundations.  Because the patriarchates did not have legal personality, associated foundations controlled by individual boards held all the property of the religious communities, and the patriarchates had no legal authority to direct the use of any assets or otherwise govern their communities.

In February the Istanbul governor’s office denied a 2017 application by the elected trustee of the Armenian Patriarchate to hold a patriarchal election, stating the patriarchate had not met the required conditions for an election.  The governor’s office also said it considered all decisions by the trustee null and barred any election as long as the incumbent patriarch was alive.  Incumbent Patriarch Mesrob II remained unable to perform his duties since 2008, because of his medical condition, and an acting patriarch continued to fill the position.  In July President of the Spiritual Assembly of the Armenian Patriarchate Bishop Sahak Masalyan wrote a letter to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan requesting help in overcoming bureaucratic hurdles to holding the patriarchal election.  There was no response by the year’s end.

A majority of Protestant churches continued to report bureaucratic difficulties in registering as places of worship.  Consequently, they continued to be registered as church associations and had to meet in unregistered locations for worship services.  According to the Protestant community, there were six foundations (four existing before the passage of a foundation law in 1935), 36 associations, and more than 30 representative offices linked with these associations.

In May President Erdogan promised to grant legal status for Alevi cemevis as part of his election platform for the presidential elections, but he took no steps to do so after winning re-election on June 24.  At year’s end, the government still had not legally recognized cemevis as places of worship.

In November the Supreme Court of Appeals ruled that cemevis are places of worship and therefore they should receive the same benefits as Sunni mosques, such as being exempt from paying utility bills.  In a similar case in 2015, the Supreme Court gave the same judgment.  Since then, Alevis have called on the government to comply with the ruling.  A European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) decision in 2014 serves as the basis for court decisions in favor of recognition for individual cemevis.  Alevi representatives, however, said they remained concerned about the lack of a comprehensive solution and the fact the government had not implemented this ruling nationwide by year’s end.  Most municipalities continued to waive utility bills only for Sunni Muslim mosques.  Several municipalities led by the opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) and Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), however, recognized cemevis and waived their utility bills.  In March the head of the Diyanet stated mosques were the places of worship for both Alevis and Sunnis.

According to Protestant groups, many local officials continued to impose zoning standards on churches, such as minimum space requirements, that they did not impose on mosques.  Local officials required Protestant groups to purchase 2,500 square meters of land (27,000 square feet) to construct churches, even for small congregations.  Officials did not apply this requirement to Sunni Muslim congregations, which they permitted to build mosques in malls, airports, and other smaller spaces.  The Protestant groups said they again had not applied for permits to build any new churches during the year, in part because of the zoning requirements.

By year’s end, the government had not addressed the May 2016 ECHR ruling that Turkey had violated the religious freedom of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Izmir and Mersin by refusing to provide them appropriate places of worship and thereby directly interfered with the community’s freedom of religion.

According to Jehovah’s Witnesses, five municipalities denied requests made by Jehovah’s Witnesses to obtain a religious facility location on municipal zoning maps throughout the year.  Thirty-four different municipalities had denied 96 requests in recent years.  Local governments did not permit zoning for any Kingdom Halls in the country.

Religious communities continued to challenge the government’s 2016 expropriation of their properties damaged in clashes between government security forces and the U.S. government-designated terrorist group Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK).  The government expropriated those properties for its stated goal of “post-conflict reconstruction.  For the second straight year, the government had not returned or completed repairs on any of the properties in the historic and ancient Sur District of Diyarbakir Province, including the Kursunlu Mosque; Hasirli Mosque; Surp Giragos Armenian Church; Mar Petyun Chaldean Church; Protestant Church; and the Armenian Catholic Church.  Of these two Islamic and four Christian sites, the government began restoration of one of the Christian sites.  In September 2016, the GDF began restoring the expropriated Armenian Catholic Church; the restoration remained in progress at the end of the year, and the church was not accessible for public use.  The government said the Ministry of Culture would coordinate the restoration of some properties held by the government, and the GDF would restore properties it owned; however, no additional restorations occurred by the end of the year.  In April the Council of State, the top administrative court, issued an interim decision to suspend the expropriation of Surp Giragos Armenian Church.  The church remained closed and these cases continued at year’s end.  During the year, the government did not pay restitution and compensation to the religious groups for the expropriation of property damaged in fighting with the PKK.

In May the government returned 56 properties in Mardin to the Syriac community through an omnibus bill passed by parliament.  According to media reports, the properties were among 110 Syriac properties turned over to government entities in 2014 amid changes to the zoning plans that went into effect without the knowledge of the community.  Following the decision, the Mor Gabriel Foundation received the returned properties, and its chair, Kuryakos Ergun, explained to media outlets that while the decision brought joy to the community, there were still disputes over additional monasteries, churches, cemeteries, and their adjacent land.

The government did not return any additional properties it had seized in previous decades by year’s end.  From 2011, when the compensation law was passed, through 2013, when the period for submitting compensation applications expired, the GDF received 1,560 applications from religious minority foundations that sought compensation for seized properties.  Because the period for submitting new applications expired in 2013, no new applications were filed during the year.  In previous years, the GDF returned 333 properties and paid compensation for 21 additional properties.  The GDF had rejected the other applications pending from 2011; it said the applications did not meet the criteria as outlined in the 2011 compensation law.  The Greek Orthodox, Armenian Orthodox, Jewish, Syrian Orthodox, Bulgarian Orthodox, Georgian Orthodox, Chaldean, and Armenian Protestant communities, which had previously submitted applications for the return of properties, continued to say these unresolved claims, submitted from 2011 until 2013 were an issue for their communities.  Due to their legal status, recognized religious foundations were eligible to receive compensation for their seized properties, but religious institutions and communities without legally recognized foundations were not.

Throughout the month of Ramadan, for the fourth year the government’s religious television channel Diyanet TV broadcast a daily recitation of Quranic verses from the Hagia Sophia, which was secularized and transformed into a museum in 1935.  The Hagia Sophia was an Orthodox church and cathedral of the Byzantine Empire from 537-1453, and a mosque from 1453-1931.  In June then head of the Diyanet Mehmet Gormez gave a special interview from the Hagia Sophia while the Muslim call to prayer was broadcast from its minarets.  In September the Constitutional Court rejected on procedural grounds an appeal from a private association to allow regular Muslim prayers to take place in the Hagia Sophia.

Religious communities, particularly Alevis, raised concerns about several of the government’s education policies.  At year’s end, the government continued not to comply with a 2013 ECHR ruling that found the government’s compulsory religion courses in public schools violated educational freedom.  The ECHR denied the government’s appeal of the ruling in 2015 and upheld the Alevi community’s legal claim that the government-mandated courses promoted Sunni Islam and were contrary to the community’s religious convictions.  Authorities added material on Alevism to the religious course curriculum in 2011 after the ECHR decision, but Alevi groups stated the material was inadequate and in some cases incorrect.

In December a group of students at a public high school in Istanbul’s Kadikoy District protested their school administration for being pressured by “Islamist students supported by school principals” to attend “religious conversations” in their spare time.  The school administration started an investigation of students who participated in the protests according to media reports.  Egitim-Is, an education sector union, criticized the school administration and contended the government handed secular schools over to religious groups.

Some secular individuals, Alevis, and others continued to criticize the Ministry of National Education’s extensive July 2017 revision of the school curriculum.  The criticisms focused on increased Sunni Muslim content in the textbooks and cuts to some material on reforms enacted by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the secularist founder of the Republic of Turkey.  The new curriculum included the Islamic concept of jihad in textbooks and omitted the theory of evolution, among other changes.  In September Alevi associations and foundations in Izmir protested compulsory religion classes and issued a press statement that criticized the education policies for ignoring Alevi citizens.

In January the Diyanet issued a memorandum to its local directorates for Sunni preachers to provide seminars for middle school students on “moral values,” including martyrdom.  With the approval of the governor’s office, five schools in Canakkale were included in the program.

The teachers’ union Egitim-Sen applied to the Council of State, which hears cases seeking to change administrative policies of the government, to end a “moral values” education protocol.  The council did not rule on the request by year’s end.  In December 2017, the Ministry of National Education signed a three-year protocol with the Islamist Hizmet Foundation to provide “moral values” education across the country during regular school hours.  Egitim-Sen stated that holding such programs during school hours would force students to attend and criticized the ministry for allegedly devolving its duties to an organization with links to an illegal religious group.  In January a group of parents in Izmir’s Buca District petitioned to obtain information on the courses provided by the foundation and said students were given Quran classes and not “moral values” education.  In response, the school canceled the classes the same month.

Some school textbooks continued to contain language critical of missionaries.  One recommended eighth-grade textbook entitled History of the Turkish Republic Reforms and Ataturkism listed missionary activities in a section titled “National Threats.”

In September the National Education Ministry issued a regulation allowing separate classrooms for girls and boys in multi-program high schools.  Egitim-Sen and secularist groups criticized the decision as undermining secular education in the country.  Officials from the Ministry of Education denied allegations the change was a step towards creating single gender classrooms in all schools.  Multi-program schools bring regular, technical, and vocational high schools together in less populated areas where the requirement for the minimum number of students for each program cannot be met.

Secular education proponents continued to criticize publicly the assignment of Diyanet employees to university dormitories as an example of greater religious influence on the education system.  In September 2017 the Diyanet announced a plan to expand and make permanent a pilot program launched in 2016 to assign Diyanet employees, including imams, to university dormitories operated by the government in every province.  The Diyanet stated the officials would provide “moral guidance” to address the “moral values” problems in the dorms, and provide the Diyanet’s provincial mufti with performance reviews every six months.

Non-Sunni Muslims said they continued to face difficulty obtaining exemptions from compulsory religious instruction in primary and secondary schools and often had to choose from electives concerning different aspects of Sunni Islam, particularly if their identification cards listed their religion as “Muslim.”  The government said the compulsory instruction covered a range of world religions, but some religious groups, including Alevis and members of Christian denominations, stated the courses largely reflected Hanafi Sunni Islamic doctrine and contained negative and incorrect information about other religious groups, such as some educational texts referring to the Alevi beliefs as mysticism.

Members of other minority religious groups, including Protestants, also said they continued to have difficulty obtaining exemptions from religion classes.  Some sources said that because schools provided no alternative for students exempted from the compulsory religious instruction, those students stood out and as a result could face additional social stigma.

The government continued to provide funding for public, private, and religious schools teaching Islam.  It did not do so for minority schools recognized under the Lausanne Treaty, except to pay the salaries for courses taught in Turkish, such as Turkish literature.  The minority religious communities funded all their other expenses through donations, including from church foundations and alumni.

The government continued to permit the Greek Orthodox, Armenian Orthodox, and Jewish religious community foundations to operate schools under the supervision of the Ministry of National Education.  Children of undocumented Armenian migrants and Armenian refugees from Syria could also attend.  Because the government continued to legally classify migrant and refugee children as “visitors,” however, they were ineligible to receive a diploma from these schools.  The curricula of these schools included information unique to the cultures of the three groups and teachable in the minority groups’ languages.  According to members of the Syriac Orthodox community, which has operated a preschool since 2014, the community was still unable to open additional schools due to financial reasons.  The government did not grant permission to other religious groups to operate schools.

The government continued to limit the number of students admitted to public secondary schools and assigned tens of thousands of students to state-run “imam hatip” religious schools based in part on their entrance exam scores, proximity, and other admissions factors.  The government continued to convert many nonreligious public schools to imam hatip schools, citing demand, and students and families reported this created a geographic hurdle for those who preferred to attend secular public schools.  Enrollment in the imam hatip schools increased to more than 1.3 million students, up from approximately one million in 2015.  Since the 2016 coup attempt, the government has closed at least 1,065 private schools, many affiliated with the Gulen movement or related groups, on antiterror grounds.  The government converted some of these private schools to imam hatip schools.

Many public buildings, including universities, maintained small mosques in which Muslims could pray.  In June 2017, the Ministry of National Education issued a regulation requiring every new school to have an Islamic prayer room.  The government continued to deny Alevis the right to establish similar places of worship in government buildings that did not contain places of worship for non-Sunnis.  Alevi leaders reported the approximately 2,500 to 3,000 cemevis in the country were insufficient to meet demand.  The government continued to state that Diyanet-funded mosques were available to Alevis and all Muslims, regardless of their school of religious thought.

In January the Ministry of National Education allowed distribution in schools of a book containing text from an Islamic association that insulted Jews and Alevis.  The book described Alevis as atheists and asked students “not to become like Jews.”

The government continued to provide training for Sunni Muslim clerics while restricting other religious groups from training clerics inside the country.  Because of the lack of monastic seminaries within the country, the Greek Orthodox and Armenian Orthodox Patriarchates remained unable to train clerics.  Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I repeatedly called on the government to allow the Halki Seminary to re-open as an independent institution to enable training of Greek Orthodox clerics in the country.  A 1971 Constitutional Court ruling prohibited the operation of private institutions of higher education and led to the seminary’s closure.  According to the Ecumenical Patriarch, the continued closure interrupted a tradition of instruction dating back centuries to the historical roots of the school as a monastery.  In July the Diyanet announced plans to open an Islamic educational center on the same island as the shuttered seminary.

The government continued not to authorize clerics of religious groups designated as non-Islamic to register and officiate at marriages on behalf of the state.  Imams received this authority in November 2017.  Some critics continued to state that the law ignored the needs of other religious groups by solely addressing the demands of some within the Sunni Muslim majority.

The Diyanet regulated the operation of all registered mosques.  It paid the salaries of 109,332 Sunni personnel at the end of 2017, the most recent year for which data was available, compared with 112,725 in 2016.  The government did not pay the salaries of religious leaders, instructors, or other staff belonging to other religious groups.  In January 2016 the Ombudsman Institution responded to an appeal by the Boyacikoy Surp Yerits Mangants Armenian Church Foundation, issuing an advisory opinion that the Diyanet should pay priests’ salaries.  The chief ombudsman said he supported “eliminating unjust treatment by amending relevant regulations.”  By year’s end there still had been no action on this issue.

The government continued to provide land for the construction of Sunni mosques and fund their construction through municipalities.  According to the Diyanet’s most recent published statistics, early in the year, there were 88,021 mosques in the country.  Although Alevi groups were able to build new cemevis, the government continued to decline to provide financial support for their construction.

In April Diyanet President Ali Erbas described deism as heresy in an interview and said no Turkish citizen would follow such a “heretical and superstitious” philosophy.

In September a teacher in Arnavutkoy district of Istanbul said a meal prepared by an Alevi could not be eaten.  Upon complaints by Alevi students and associations, the Education Directorate dismissed the teacher the same month.

The government continued to permit annual and other commemorative religious worship services at religiously significant sites previously converted to state museums, such as St. Peter’s Church in Antakya, St. Nicholas’ Church near Demre, St. Paul Church near Isparta, and the House of the Virgin Mary near Selcuk.  The Ecumenical Patriarchate again cancelled an annual service at Sumela Monastery near Trabzon because of its continuing restoration and held the ceremony at an alternative site.  In September the acting Armenian patriarch led a Mass at the historic Armenian Ahtamar Church near Van.  The minister of tourism and culture also attended.  Authorities had canceled annual services starting in 2015 due to security concerns caused by clashes between the Turkish military and the PKK.

In July the assembly of the GDF passed a decision that allowed allocation of places of worship under GDF ownership to different religious minorities free of charge.  With the decision, previously expropriated churches and synagogues could be reopened for use by religious minorities.  Following passage of the resolution, Sacre Coeur, a Jesuit church built in 1910 in Istanbul, was allocated for use of the Syriac Catholic community.  Mar Yuhanna Church in Hatay, formerly a Syriac church that was no longer in use, was also allocated for use of the Greek Orthodox Church Foundation in Hatay.  The GDF renovated and reopened Mar Yuhanna in 2017.

Renovations concluded in May on a church in Bursa.  In April 2017, then Deputy Prime Minister Veysi Kaynak announced government funds would renovate the church.  The church remained open for religious services during the renovation.  Roman Catholic, Orthodox, and Turkish Protestant congregations continued to share the building, owned by the GDF for more than 10 years.  In June a local court in Bursa approved the application by the Protestant community in Bursa to start a foundation.  In September the foundation applied to the GDF for long-term use of the church, which all denominations would continue to use.  At year’s end the government had not responded to its request.

Government funding for dailies and weeklies published by minority communities increased from 150,000 Turkish Lira (TL) ($28,400) in 2017 to TL 200,000 ($37,900) in 2018.

According to media reports, multiple government officials made anti-Semitic statements during a pro-Palestinian rally in May, including drawing parallels between the Israeli government and Hitler.  In November President Erdogan referred to the head of Open Society Foundations George Soros as “the famous Hungarian Jew,” adding, “This is a man who was assigned to divide nations and shatter them.”  In August Muharrem Ince, CHP’s presidential candidate in the June elections, posted a tweet criticizing Erdogan and the ruling party, “You are the ones whose services have earned you the Jewish Courage Prize and who deem the award worthy of yourselves,” alluding to Erdogan’s 2005 receipt of the Courage to Care Award from the Anti-Defamation League.  Ince later apologized.

Ankara University hosted an event to commemorate Holocaust Remembrance Day on January 25, in collaboration with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.  Ambassador Volkan Bozkir, chairman of the parliamentary foreign relations commission, attended.  The Ministry of Foreign Affairs also issued a written statement commemorating the event.  In February the government again commemorated the nearly 800 Jewish refugees who died aboard the Struma, a ship that sank off the coast of Istanbul in 1942.  The Governor of Istanbul, MFA representatives, Chief Rabbi Ishak Haleva, other members of the Jewish community, and members of the diplomatic community attended the commemoration.  Speakers at the commemoration emphasized the importance of not forgetting such tragedies to preventing future atrocities.

Muslim, Jewish, and Christian religious leaders again joined representatives from various municipalities in Istanbul for a public interfaith iftar in June and exchanged messages of coexistence and tolerance.

In January President Erdogan presided over the reopening ceremony of the Sveti Stefan Bulgarian Orthodox Church after a seven-year restoration with funding mainly from the Istanbul Municipality.  Then Prime Minister Binali Yildirim and Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borisov also attended the ceremony.

In April the governor of Batman District opened Mor Aho Syriac Orthodox Monastery in Gercus District for cultural site visits after two years of renovation.

In September President Erdogan sent a message to the Jewish community celebrating Rosh Hashanah and said “religious diversity is part of Turkey’s wealth.”  In December the Jewish community celebrated the conclusion of Hanukkah with a ceremony at a public park in Istanbul’s Nisantisi neighborhood in which members of the community, local officials, and members of the diplomatic community took turns lighting a menorah.  President Erdogan also released a statement noting the country had always attached great importance “to our citizens living together in peace without facing any discrimination…and to the freedom of religion and faith,” and wished the community peace on the holiday.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

Alevis expressed concern about continued anonymous threats of violence and the arrest of members of an Alevi association on charges of supporting a terrorist organization.  ISIS and other actors continued to threaten Jews, Protestants, and Muslim groups in the country.  Some progovernment news commentators published stories and political cartoons seeking to associate the 2016 attempted coup plotters and the economic difficulties of the country with the Jewish community.

Members of the Jewish community continued to express concern about anti-Semitism and threats of violence throughout the country, although there were no incidents of violence reported during the year.  According to the community, the government continued to provide the community with extensive security against a possible attack by ISIS, based on previous threats and attacks.  Jewish community members said the government measures were helpful and that the government was responsive to requests for security.

Anti-Semitic rhetoric, especially on social media, peaked during periods of heightened tension in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  According to a 2018 report on hate speech by the civil-rights organization, Hrant Dink Foundation, there were 427 published instances of anti-Semitic rhetoric between January and April.  The foundation’s hate speech monitoring project consistently reported anti-Semitic statements and commentary in media during the year that attributed conspiratorial plots, negative characteristics, and “fascist beliefs” to Jews and other groups.

In January a columnist in daily Dirilis Postasi argued that the Middle East was a victim of “Jewish and Christian terror.”  In March a columnist in the progovernment Takvim daily claimed “crusader Christians and Zionist Jews” were in an alliance to undermine Turkey’s progress.  In June a columnist in a local newspaper in Ankara called for boycotting “all Jewish goods” to undermine the economy of Israel.

Several Christian places of worship experienced acts of vandalism and received threats.  In February a group of attackers threw a smoke bomb into the courtyard of Santa Maria Catholic Church in Trabzon.  Police detained five individuals following the occurrence and released them after taking statements.  In March a man fired a gun at the same church.  Police took him into custody after he fled the scene.

In April local press quoting police sources reported that an individual suffering from mental disorders vandalized the Surp Takavor Armenian Church in Istanbul’s Kadikoy District.  Vandals dumped garbage in front of the church’s main gate and wrote “This country is ours.” on the walls.  The Kadikoy municipality issued a written statement condemning the occurrence and reported that the gate was cleaned by municipal workers.

In October representatives of the Turkish Orthodox Church, a small nationalist organization not recognized by any of the other autocephalous Orthodox Churches, filed an official complaint against Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I and members of the Synod following their decision to grant autocephaly to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church.  In its complaint, the Turkish Orthodox Church stated that the autocephaly decision “incited hatred and enmity among the public, abused their religious authority, involved activity against fundamental national interests, and provoked war against the country.”  The prosecutor office did not take action on the complaint at year’s end.

In July TV8 blurred the crucifix necklace of a U.S. singer when her picture appeared on the screen.  Many social media users and some newspapers criticized the channel for being disrespectful.

In July a columnist in the Turkiye daily stated in his column that non-Sunnis were heretics and they would burn in hell.  Also in July another columnist for the Star daily said non-Sunni scholars in theology faculties were “heretics” and should not be part of the faculty.

In June the Syriac Orthodox community reached an agreement with the Roman Catholic community to build a second church in Istanbul to accommodate its growing population.  The Syriac Orthodox community to date had only one church in Istanbul to serve an estimated local population of 17,000 to 20,000.  Because the land offered by the Istanbul municipality to the Syriac Church Foundation to build a second church previously belonged to the Roman Catholic Church, the Regional Board for the Preservation of Cultural Heritage required a written agreement between the two communities before the project could proceed.

Various nationalist Islamic groups continued to advocate for transforming some former Orthodox churches, including Istanbul’s Hagia Sophia museum, into mosques.  In May approximately 2,500 individuals gathered outside Hagia Sophia to participate in the morning prayer in celebration of the anniversary of the Ottoman conquest of Istanbul, an annual gathering organized by the Islamist Anatolian Youth Association.  After the prayer, the group called for reopening the museum as a mosque.  The campaigns intensified after the Hagia Sophia of Trabzon, a 12th-century Byzantine church that had been operating as a museum for the previous 50 years, was converted into a mosque in 2013.

In June the Jewish community again hosted an iftar at the Grand Edirne Synagogue for hundreds of participants, including Muslims and Christians.  On June 6, then Deputy Prime Minister Hakan Cavusoglu attended a joint iftar dinner hosted by the religious minority communities in Istanbul.  Speakers at the iftar underlined Turkey’s history of coexistence and referred to pluralism as “richness.”

According to Turkish polling firm Konda, 40 percent of respondents in a poll conducted during the year accepted the idea of having a son or daughter-in-law of a different religion, compared with 30 percent in 2008.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

The Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom, Charge d’Affaires, other U.S. embassy and consulate officials, and other visiting U.S. officials regularly engaged with government officials throughout the year, including at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Diyanet, and GDF.  They underscored the importance of religious freedom, interfaith tolerance, and condemning hateful or discriminatory language directed at any religious groups.  Among other issues, they urged the government to implement reforms aimed at lifting restrictions on religious groups, raised the issue of property restitution and restoration, and discussed specific cases of religious discrimination.  Senior U.S. government officials continued to view the Hagia Sophia as a site of extraordinary significance and to support its preservation in a manner that respects its complex history.  They raised the issue with government officials and emphasized that the Hagia Sophia is a symbol of peaceful coexistence, meaningful dialogue, and respect among religions.  Senior U.S. officials and official visitors urged the rapid restitution of church properties expropriated in Diyarbakir and Mardin and expressed appreciation for those returned.

The President, Vice President, and the Secretary of State publicly called for the immediate release of Andrew Brunson on multiple occasions.  In August the U.S. government imposed Global Magnitsky sanctions on the ministers of interior and of justice for playing leading roles in the organizations responsible for the arrest and detention of Brunson; those sanctions were lifted in November following Brunson’s release.  Senior U.S. government officials, the Charge d’Affaires, and embassy staff visited Brunson while in detention and under house arrest.

The Secretary of State and other senior U.S. government officials continued to urge government officials to reopen the Greek Orthodox seminary in Halki.

In January the Charge d’Affaires attended a Holocaust Remembrance Day ceremony at Ankara University with senior government officials and the leadership of the country’s Jewish community, which was well received in local media.

Senior U.S. embassy and consulate officials regularly engaged with a wide range of religious community leaders to hear and address their concerns, visit their places of worship, and promote interreligious dialogue.  Officials from the embassy and consulates met with members of the Greek Orthodox, Jewish, Armenian Apostolic Orthodox Christian, Armenian Protestant, Armenian Catholic, Protestant, Alevi, Syriac Orthodox, Syriac Catholic, Roman Catholic, Chaldean, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and Baha’i Faith communities, among others, throughout the country.  The embassy and consulates utilized Twitter and Facebook to emphasize the importance of inclusion of religious minorities, including messages under hashtags such as #DiniÖzgürlükGünü and #ReligiousFreedomDayIsEveryday on designated days for recognizing and underscoring U.S. commitment to religious freedom and human rights.