Historical and modern constitutional documents provide for freedom of religious belief and affiliation and prohibit religious discrimination. The law prohibits public incitement to hostile acts against religious groups and classifies registered religious groups into one of three categories: religious societies, religious confessional communities, and associations. The 16 groups recognized as religious societies receive the most benefits. Unrecognized groups may practice their religion privately if the practice is lawful and does not offend “common decency.” The Federal Chancellery’s Documentation Center for Political Islam researched, disseminated information on, and organized workshops pertaining to what it described as Muslim extremism. The Jewish Community (IKG) partnered with the government to hold workshops for teachers and personnel working with immigrant and refugee groups to combat antisemitism among the latter groups. In July, parliament amended the law pertaining to Muslims as part of an antiterrorism package providing for stricter annual government monitoring of the finances of mosques and Muslim cultural associations, focusing on financial flows from abroad. The Islamic Religious Authority of Austria (IGGO) opposed the amendment, which it said applied only to the Muslim community, was discriminatory, and interfered with religious freedom. In May, the Documentation Center for Political Islam created a website with an “Islam Map” listing Islamic institutions in the country. Religious and civil society groups criticized the map – and the center for publicizing it – stating it violated data privacy rules and endangered the lives of Muslims in the country by giving right-wing extremist groups the ability to target them. In January, the government presented its strategy to combat antisemitism, which called for enhancing education about Judaism, improving security of Jewish sites, and more-vigorous prosecution of antisemitic crimes, and launched an office in the Federal Chancellery to coordinate the strategy. A survey commissioned by parliament found antisemitism had become more visible during the COVID-19 pandemic and that more than a quarter of respondents agreed with statements that Jews dominated the business world and took advantage of having been victimized by the Nazis. Citing the study, the parliamentary president said the country could not afford to view antisemitism as just a marginal phenomenon.
According to the Ministry of Interior, there were 20 antisemitic and three anti-Muslim crimes reported to police in the first half of the year. For all of 2020, the ministry cited 36 antisemitic and 16 anti-Muslim crimes, compared with 30 and six crimes, respectively, in the previous year. In 2020, the most recent year for which it had data, IGGO reported 1,402 anti-Muslim incidents, one-third more than in the previous year. The IKG reported 562 antisemitic incidents in the first half of the year, more than double the number over the same period in the previous year; there were 585 such incidents in all of 2020. Most incidents involved hate speech, especially on the internet, but there were also incidents of assault. For example, in Vienna in May, a man threw rocks at a Jewish family wearing traditional religious clothing. Government figures, unlike those from the IKG and IGGO, only included incidents in which authorities filed criminal charges. In September, the Brussels-based nongovernmental organization (NGO) Action and Protection League issued the results of its European antisemitism survey, which found that 18 percent of 1,000 respondents ages 18-75 in Austria said they had negative feelings towards Jews.
U.S. embassy representatives met with officials from the Federal Chancellery and the Ministries of Foreign Affairs and Interior to discuss religious freedom, the protection of religious minorities, and measures to combat antisemitism and anti-Muslim sentiment. The Ambassador and Charge d’Affaires met with leaders from the IGGO, IKG, Roman Catholic Church, Lutheran Church, and various Orthodox churches to discuss their relations with the government, instances of discrimination and interreligious dialogue, and the impact on their respective communities of the COVID-19 crisis. In February, the embassy cohosted a virtual live event with the Muslim Youth Organization with an American professor who spoke about the important role of youth in social movements. Embassy officials continued to serve on the advisory board of the Mauthausen Memorial Agency, a governmental agency that promotes Holocaust remembrance. In April, the Charge d’Affaires was interviewed for a Mauthausen Committee video commemorating World War II. In September, the embassy cohosted with a local NGO that focuses on antisemitism and the Holocaust a discussion with a group of Holocaust survivors. In July, embassy staff hosted a lunch with representatives of the Jewish community to discuss Holocaust education. Throughout the year, the embassy used social media platforms to deliver messages about religious freedom.
Section I. Religious Demography
The U.S. government estimates the total population at 8.9 million (midyear 2021). According to religious groups and government estimates, Roman Catholics constitute 55 percent of the population, and Muslims – predominantly Sunni – 8 percent, while approximately 25 percent is unaffiliated with any religion. According to estimates from religious groups, Eastern Orthodox churches (Russian, Greek, Serbian, Romanian, Antiochian, and Bulgarian) constitute 5 percent of the population, and Protestants (Augsburg and Helvetic confessions) 3.2 percent. Groups that together constitute less than 5 percent of the population include Jehovah’s Witnesses, Jews, and other Christian and non-Christian religious groups.
Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom
A combination of historical and modern constitutional documents guarantees freedom of “conscience and creed.” The law provides for freedom of religious belief and the rights of all residents to join, participate in, leave, or abstain from association with any religious community. The law stipulates, “Duties incumbent on nationals may not be impeded by religious affiliation.”
Several constitutional provisions protect religious freedom. The main pillars are historical laws on fundamental rights and freedoms, including religious freedom, and treaties and conventions, such as the European Convention on Human Rights, which form part of the constitution. Antidiscrimination legislation prohibits discrimination on religious grounds. Citizens have the right to sue the government for constitutional violations of religious freedom.
The law prohibits public incitement to hostile acts against a church group, religious society, or other religious group if the incitement is perceivable by “many people,” which an official government commentary on the law and the courts interpret as 30 or more individuals. The prohibition also applies specifically in the case of incitement in print, electronic, or other media available to a broad public. The law also prohibits incitement, insult, or contempt against religious groups, if such action violates human dignity.
The law divides registered religious groups into three officially recognized legal categories (listed in descending order of rights, privileges, and legal responsibilities): religious societies, religious confessional communities, and associations. Members of religious groups not legally recognized may practice their religion at home, “insofar as this practice is neither unlawful nor offends common decency.”
There are 16 recognized religious societies: the Roman Catholic Church; Protestant churches (Augsburg and Helvetic confessions); the IGGO; Old Catholic Church; IKG; Eastern Orthodox Church (Bulgarian, Greek, Romanian, Russian, Serbian, and Antiochian); The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints; New Apostolic Church; Syrian Orthodox Church; Coptic Orthodox Church; Armenian Apostolic Church; Methodist Church of Austria; the Buddhist Community; Jehovah’s Witnesses; Alevi Community in Austria; and Free Christian Churches.
The law grants registered religious societies the right to public practice and independent administration of their internal affairs; to participate in the program requiring mandatory church contributions by church members; to bring religious workers into the country to act as ministers, missionaries, or teachers; and to provide pastoral services in prisons and hospitals. Under the law, religious societies have “public corporation” status, permitting them to engage in several public or quasi-public activities, such as government-funded religious instruction in both public and private schools, which the government denies to confessional communities and associations. The government grants all recognized religious societies tax relief in two main ways: donors do not pay taxes on donations, and the societies receive exemption from property tax for all buildings dedicated to the active practice of religion or administration of such. Additionally, religious societies are exempt from a surveillance charge, otherwise payable when the state provides security to religious groups, and administrative fees for garbage collection and other municipal services. Responsibilities of religious societies include a commitment to sponsor social and cultural activities that serve the common good and – like all religious groups – to ensure their teachings do not violate the law or ethical standards, which the law does not define.
Religious groups seeking to achieve religious society status for the first time must apply for recognition with the Office for Religious Affairs in the Federal Chancellery. Religious groups recognized as societies prior to 1998 retained their status. The government grandfathered in 14 of the 16 recognized religious societies under this provision of the law. To gain recognition as a religious society, religious groups not recognized prior to 1998 must have membership equaling 0.2 percent of the country’s population (approximately 17,700 persons) and have existed for 20 years, at least five of which must have been as a confessional community. The government recognizes Jehovah’s Witnesses and Alevi Muslims as religious societies under these post-1998 criteria. Groups that do not meet these criteria may still apply for religious society status under an exception for groups that have been active internationally for at least 100 years and active as an association in the country for 10 years. Groups sharing a broad faith with an existing society or confessional community, for example Christianity, may register separately as long as they can demonstrate that they have a different theology.
The law allows religious groups not recognized as societies to seek official status as confessional communities with the Office for Religious Affairs. The government recognizes 10 confessional communities: the Baha’i Faith, Movement for Religious Renewal-Community of Christians, Pentecostal Community of God, Seventh-day Adventists, Hindu Community, Islamic-Shia Community, Old-Alevi Community in Austria, the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification, United Pentecostal Community of Austria, and Sikhs.
A recognized confessional community has the juridical standing needed to engage in such activities as purchasing real estate in its own name and contracting for goods and services, but it is not eligible for the financial and educational benefits available to recognized religious societies. Contributions to confessional communities’ charitable activities are tax deductible for those who make them and tax free for the groups receiving them, but the communities are not exempt from property taxes. Confessional communities may provide pastoral care in prisons and hospitals.
To gain government recognition as a confessional community, a group must have at least 300 members and submit to the Office for Religious Affairs its statutes describing the goals, rights, and obligations of members as well as membership regulations, a list of officials, and financing information. A group must also submit a written description of its religious doctrine, which must differ from that of any previously recognized religious society or religious confessional community. The Office for Religious Affairs determines whether the group’s basic beliefs are consistent with public security, order, health, and morals and with the rights and freedoms of citizens. A religious group seeking to obtain confessional community status is subject to a six-month waiting period from the time of application to the chancellery. After this period, groups that have applied automatically receive the status unless the government issues a decree rejecting the application.
Religious groups not qualifying for either religious society or confessional community status may apply to become legal associations, a status applicable to a broad range of civil groups. Some groups organize as associations while waiting for the government to recognize them as confessional communities.
The Church of Scientology and several smaller religious groups, such as Sahaja Yoga and the International Society for Krishna Consciousness, have association status.
According to the law, any group of more than two persons pursuing a nonprofit goal qualifies to organize as an association. Groups may apply to the Ministry of Interior to obtain such status. To become an association, a group must submit a written statement citing its common, nonprofit goal and commitment to function as a nonprofit organization.
Associations have juridical standing, the right to function in public, and many of the same rights as confessional communities, including the right to own real estate and to contract for goods and services. Associations may not offer pastoral care in hospitals or prisons or receive tax-deductible contributions.
Pursuant to the law governing relations between the government and the Roman Catholic Church, the Church is the only religious group to receive government funding for pastoral care it provides in prisons. The law also makes various Catholic holidays official national holidays.
The law governing relations between the government and the IGGO and Alevi Muslim groups stipulates that funding for the day-to-day operations of mosques must be derived from domestic sources, Islamic teachings and practices must not violate federal law (compliance with which is determined by the Office for Religious Affairs), and Islamic institutions should “take a positive stance” toward the state and society. The law provides an explicit legal definition of, and legal protection for, Islamic practices, such as circumcision and preparation of food in conformity with religious rules, and states Muslims may raise children and youth in accordance with Islamic traditions. Muslim groups with at least 300 members and a theology not distinct from a pre-existing Islamic religious society or confessional community are considered cultural communities and fall under the umbrella of the pre-existing, legally recognized Islamic religious society or confessional community. This includes the IGGO and the Alevi Community in Austria, which are both religious societies, or the Islamic-Shia Community and the Old-Alevi Faith Community in Austria, both of which have confessional community status. The law allows for Islamic theological university studies, which the University of Vienna offers.
An amendment to the law pertaining to Muslims passed in July as part of an antiterrorism package provides for stricter annual government monitoring of the finances of mosques and Muslim cultural associations, focusing on financial flows from abroad. The legislation, which entered into force September 1, also allows the Federal Chancellery to request a list of all Muslim officials and associations and makes it easier to close mosques to “protect public security,” with the approval of the IGGO. The IGGO must report changes in Muslim associations, such as changes in by-laws, leadership, and funding to the Office for Religious Affairs, so that authorities have up-to-date information on such associations. The law also empowers Ministry of Interior officials, who already review requests to establish new associations, to scrutinize such requests to ensure that they are not “cover organizations” for religious groups attempting to bypass the transparency requirements for mosques. The antiterrorism package also introduced a new statutory offense banning “religiously motivated extremism.”
Separate laws govern relations between the government and each of the other 14 state-recognized religious societies. The laws have similar intent but vary in some details, since they were enacted at different times over a span of approximately 140 years. As with the Muslim community, a law provides explicit protections for Jewish religious practices, including circumcision and ritual slaughter.
The law bans full-face coverings in public places as a “violation of Austrian values,” with exceptions made only for artistic, cultural, or traditional events, in sports, or for health or professional reasons. Failure to comply with the law is an administrative violation. The law prescribes a 150 euro ($170) fine but does not entitle police to remove the face covering.
In accordance with a Constitutional Court ruling in 2020 that overturned a headscarf ban for children in elementary school, children of all ages may wear headscarves and other head coverings in schools.
The government funds, on a proportional basis, religious instruction for any of the 16 officially recognized religious societies by clergy or instructors provided by those groups for children in public schools and government-accredited private schools. The government does not offer such funding to other religious groups. A minimum of three children is required to form a class. Attendance in the respective religion classes is mandatory for all students who are members of those religious groups unless they formally withdraw at the beginning of the school year; students younger than age 14 require parental permission to withdraw from religion classes. Religious instruction takes place either in the school or at sites organized by religious groups. Some schools offer ethics classes for students not attending religious instruction. Religious education and ethics classes include the tenets of different religious groups as comparative religious education.
The curriculum for both public and private schools includes compulsory antibias and tolerance education, including religious tolerance, as part of civics education across various subjects, including history and German-language instruction.
Holocaust education is part of history instruction and is also part of other courses such as civics.
The Equal Rights Agency, an independent agency falling under the jurisdiction of the Federal Chancellery Minister for Women, Family, Youth, and Integration, oversees discrimination cases, including those based on religion. The agency provides legal counseling and mediation services, and it assists with bringing cases before the Equal Treatment Commission, another independent government agency. In cases where it finds discrimination, the commission makes a recommendation for corrective action. In a case of noncompliance with the recommendation, the case goes to court. The commission may issue expert reports for plaintiffs to present before the court. Only a court may order corrective action and compensation.
The law bans neo-Nazi activity and prohibits public denial, belittlement, approval, or justification “of the National Socialist genocide” or other Nazi crimes against humanity in print, broadcast, or other media.
The law prohibits incitement, insult, or contempt against a group because of its members’ race, nationality, religion, or ethnicity if the statement violates human dignity, and it imposes criminal penalties for violations.
On January 1, a law on hate speech, including religiously motivated hate speech, went into effect requiring online platforms to identify and delete posts that can be classified as hateful or defamatory. It broadens the definition of hate speech to include single offenses, cyberbullying, and photographs taken surreptitiously, for which a person may be prosecuted in court. The law also facilitates means of recourse by allowing individuals subjected to online hate speech to seek redress directly with the relevant communication platform, rather than go through civil courts. It mandates companies to designate a contact person to whom affected individuals and government authorities can send complaints, and it requires platforms to issue annual reports on how they received and processed hate speech complaints. Repeated failure by the platform to comply could lead to fines of up to 10 million euros ($11.34 million). The law applies only to large for-profit communication platforms with more than 100,000 users and revenues of 500,000 euros ($567,000) or more per year. Videos on video-sharing platforms such as YouTube or Facebook are excluded, as they are subject to a separate EU law, but comments on the videos fall under the new law.
The law extends citizenship to direct descendants of Austrian victims of Nazi crimes. Descendants may obtain citizenship by reporting to Austrian consulates. Dual citizenship is also possible.
The law bans certain symbols the government considers extremist, including those pertaining to the Muslim Brotherhood, ISIS, al-Qaida, Hizballah, and the Croatian Ustasha.
The government requires a visa for visitors from non-visa-waiver countries or individuals who would stay beyond 90 days, including religious workers of confessional communities or associations. Foreign religious workers of groups recognized as confessional communities or associations must apply for a general immigrant visa that is not employment or family based and is subject to a quota. Foreign religious workers belonging to religious societies also require immigrant visas but are exempt from the quota system. Religious workers from Schengen or EU-member countries are exempt from all visa requirements.
The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
The IGGO expressed objections to the amendment of the law pertaining to Muslims enacted in July as part of the government’s antiterrorism legislation, stating it was discriminatory and interfered with religious freedom and the internal affairs of the Muslim community. The provisions in the amendment pertained only to Islam. IGGO president Umit Vural said he was also disappointed the government did not engage with the IGGO on the provisions of the amendment. Responding to his criticism, both Justice Minister Alma Zadic and Integration Minister Suzanne Raab stated the new legislation was in no way designed to target a specific religious group. The Office for Religious Affairs stated all religious groups in the country must adhere to the same restrictions concerning foreign funding and violating federal law and that only Islamic groups had violated either of these restrictions.
The Federal Chancellery’s Documentation Center for Political Islam, which was established in 2020, continued its research on what it described as politically motivated Muslim extremism. It stated that it made its research available to the general public to promote awareness of Muslim extremism, pluralism, and religious freedom, while also staging workshops and publishing studies relevant to Muslim extremism. In October, the Federal Chancellery hosted the Vienna Forum on Countering Segregation and Extremism in the Context of Integration, which brought together officials from Austria, Denmark, Belgium, and France as well as experts in the field to find avenues for cooperation on fighting “political Islam.” The four countries agreed to begin joint cooperation projects in fighting radicalization and Islamic extremism, focusing on exchanging best practices and cooperation in research. The Federal Chancellery said it would host the forum annually and seek cooperation with other countries as well.
In May, the Documentation Center for Political Islam created a website featuring an “Islam Map” compiled by the University of Vienna’s Institute for Muslim Theological Studies, listing Islamic institutions in the country, including mosques, Muslim associations, and prayer rooms. The Islam Map had already been available through the university’s website, but it only became widely known publicly after the government posted it to the Documentation Center’s website in June. Religious, political, and civil society groups criticized the map. Green Party integration spokeswoman Faika El-Nagashi called it “the opposite of what integration policy and dialogue should look like on an equal footing,” while IGGO President Umit Vural called it dangerous and said attacks against Muslims rose after the posting of the map. Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn, the head of the Catholic Church in the country, called it “dangerous to give the impression that one of the religious communities is under general suspicion,” and asked why one of the country’s many religious communities was singled out. In June, following the posting of the map, individuals began to use the map to “out” certain locations as Muslim with posters and signs reading or “Beware! Political Islam is here.” The government briefly took the map down in June before reposting it online a few weeks later. Also in June, the Muslim Youth Organization of Austria filed a complaint against the University of Vienna professor who compiled the map, the University of Vienna, and the Documentation Office on Political Islam, stating the map violated data privacy rules.
In January, the Federal Chancellery Minister for the EU and Constitution, Karoline Edtstadler, presented a national strategy to combat antisemitism and established an office in the Federal Chancellery to coordinate measures by all ministries to implement the new strategy. The strategy focused on addressing antisemitism when educating new refugees and establishing security for the Jewish community, guidelines for tracking and prosecuting antisemitic incidents, and standards for EU-wide data comparison. It recommended increasing protection of synagogues, improving education about Judaism in schools and awareness campaigns, more vigorous prosecution of hate speech, and closing loopholes in the law pertaining to right-wing extremist groups and their symbols. Edtstadler stated that combatting antisemitism was a central priority of the government. Vice Chancellor Werner Kogler said the strategy reflected the country’s historic responsibility to combat antisemitism, and he warned against right-wing extremists exploiting protests against COVID-19 restrictions to spread antisemitism. Jewish community president Oskar Deutsch welcomed the strategy, saying it would ensure the security and continuity of Jewish life in the country.
The Federal Office of Sect Issues offered advice to persons with questions about groups that it considered “sects” and “cults.” The office was nominally independent but government funded, and the Minister of Women, Family, Youth and Integration appointed and oversaw its head.
In June, the government declared it had fulfilled the responsibilities of the Arbitration Panel for In Rem Restitution under the Law on the General Settlement Fund for Victims of National Socialism. Parliament unanimously took note of the Final Report of the Arbitration Panel. The Arbitration Panel was established in 2001 under the provisions of the Washington Agreement to decide on applications for in rem restitution of publicly owned property and movable assets for the previous owners and their heirs.
In August, an appellate court in the Styrian provincial capital of Graz ruled that nine police raids against Muslim Brotherhood individuals and associations in 2020 were illegal. The Graz appellate court ruled that raids targeting terrorist financing were illegal because they were not based on probable cause or reasonable suspicion of wrongdoing. The court said there was no evidence that every member of the Muslim Brotherhood was “also a member of or promoted a terrorist organization, in particular Hamas.” Individuals detained in the raids, who were reportedly questioned and released, had told media the raids were “mere guesswork by the police” and that there was no evidence of terrorist financing.
Revenue authorities continued to investigate Islamic associations that they said might have evaded taxes, which would result in the loss of charity status for those associations. At year’s end, authorities had not stripped any Islamic associations of their charity status.
The Federal Office for Foreigner Affairs and Asylum (BFA) continued to refuse to issue or renew residence permits for foreign imams financed by foreign sources. There were no reports that other religious groups faced similar problems in obtaining residence permits for their foreign clerics, as those clerics are not financed by foreign sources according to the BFA.
At year’s end, the Vienna-based, Saudi Arabia-funded King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz International Center for Interreligious and Intercultural Dialogue remained open, despite a foreign ministry announcement in 2019 that it would close the center, consistent with a nonbinding parliamentary resolution calling on it to do so because of Saudi Arabia’s human rights record. In October, Saudi Arabia announced it would move the center to Lisbon, although it did not indicate a timetable for the relocation.
In January, four online platforms, not publicly identified, sought an exemption from the new law on hate speech, stating it should not apply to them because they had offices in Ireland, but the Vienna Commercial Court rejected the claim. Officials in the Ministry for Digital and Economic Affairs and the Federal Chancellery reported companies were complying to varying degrees, and some proceedings to penalize noncompliant companies were underway, but they did not provide details. By year’s end, KommAustria, an independent telecommunications supervisory authority responsible for monitoring compliance with the law, had not levied penalties on any companies.
Following the IKG’s April presentation of its annual report on antisemitic incidents in 2020, EU and Constitution Minister Edtstadler said much remained to be done and that it was important to implement the government’s strategy to fight antisemitism adopted in January. Vice Chancellor Kogler also stated combatting antisemitism remained a major challenge.
In March, Parliamentary President Wolfgang Sobotka presented the results of a survey of citizens commissioned by parliament that found antisemitism had become more visible during the COVID-19 pandemic due to the circulation of conspiracy theories regarding the pandemic’s origin. Of 2,000 persons polled in late 2020, 28 percent agreed with the statement that “Jews today try to take advantage of the fact that they were victims during the Nazi era.” Another 26 percent agreed that “Jews dominate the international business world.” Forty-nine percent of respondents agreed that it was citizens’ “moral responsibility to stand by Jews” in the country. The study’s authors, the Institute for Empirical Social Research and the Demox research institute, said that, despite better efforts to combat antisemitism in the country, a vocal minority exploited public frustration with health and safety restrictions and demonstrations against COVID-19 restrictions as public platforms to make antisemitism more visible and exploit the right to assemble to spread conspiracy theories against Jews. Sobotka praised the study, saying it offered a chance to “grow awareness of the problem of antisemitism, which in turn is the basis for an actual change in the attitudes of Austrians,” adding that the country could not afford to view antisemitism as just a marginal phenomenon in society. Sobotka also criticized opposition Freedom Party (FPOe) Floor Leader Herbert Kickl for his participation at demonstrations in March against COVID-19 restrictions, where Sobotka said right-wing extremists had spread antisemitic messages equating persons affected by COVID-19 restrictions with Holocaust victims. In his speech at a demonstration against COVID-19 restrictions, Kickl accused Israel of “vaccination apartheid.”
The international NGO Anti-Defamation League continued to conduct teacher-training seminars on Holocaust awareness in schools in the country, reaching approximately 100 teachers. School councils and the Ministry of Education, Science, and Research continued to invite Holocaust survivors to talk to school classes about National Socialism and the Holocaust.
In September, Parliamentary President Sobotka presented the restored grave of the Epstein family, a renowned Jewish family that lived in Vienna in the 19th century, at the historic Waehring Jewish cemetery in Vienna to the IKG. Parliament had financed and organized the restoration project. Sobotka stated the cemetery was a “unique memorial for Jewish life in Vienna.”
The Vienna Prosecutor’s Office declined to prosecute the FPOe for incitement after the party posted slogans that equated traditionally dressed Muslims with radical, violent Islamism during Vienna municipal elections in October 2020. The Association of Social Democrat Academics had sought incitement charges against the FPOe.
In May, Education Minister Heinz Fassmann announced the establishment of a research office on right-wing extremism and antisemitism with the Documentation Center of the Austrian Resistance Movement, an NGO that monitors right-wing extremism. The center also provided schools with material for Holocaust education and supported investigations into right-wing extremists.
The government continued to allow headwear for religious purposes in official identification documents, provided the face remained sufficiently visible to allow for identification of the wearer.
According to statistics presented by Foreign Minister Alexander Schallenberg in September, the government granted citizenship to 6,600 descendants of Austrian victims of Nazi crimes, including persons from the United States, Israel, and the United Kingdom.
The city of Vienna continued work on the Campus of Religions, which it financed and launched in 2019. Vienna unveiled the winning design for the campus in September, which contains eight buildings on 2.5 acres of land and is expected to be completed in 2028. The campus is planned as a site where the Catholic, Evangelical, and Orthodox Churches, as well as Sikhs, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, and members of the New Apostolic Church will exercise their own religious activities, while also working together. Its designated function is to serve to promote faith, respect, diversity, and ideological tolerance. Alongside the interfaith University College of Teacher Education of Christian Churches Vienna/Krems, the campus is designed to be a meeting point that encourages dialogue between religions, science, and education, and it will include access for the general public.
The government did not impose any COVID-19 restrictions on religious gatherings, relying on religious organizations to regulate their own gatherings. Religious groups worked with government officials to establish COVID-19 guidelines that mirrored each other, which Catholic and Muslim leaders stated helped create unified restrictions that eliminated confusion and risk among their congregations. There were no reports of widespread dissatisfaction among religious community members about the restrictions.
In October, the country opened its redesigned exhibit at the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum commemorating the victims and acknowledging the role of Austrian perpetrators in the Holocaust.
The government inaugurated the Shoah Wall of Names Memorial in Vienna in November listing the names of the country’s 66,000 Jewish Holocaust victims.
The country is a member of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance.
Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom
According to the Ministry of Interior, there were 20 antisemitic and three anti-Muslim crimes reported to police in the first half of the year. In all of 2020, there were 36 antisemitic and 16 anti-Muslim crimes, compared with 30 and six such crimes, respectively, in 2019. The ministry said its figures included only incidents that were reported to it and in which authorities filed criminal charges, and the ministry attributed all the crimes in the three years to right-wing extremists. Most incidents, according to the ministry, involved hate speech. The ministry did not provide details on any of the incidents.
The IGGO’s Documentation Center on Islamophobia and Anti-Muslim Racism reported that there were1,402 anti-Muslim incidents in 2020 (1,051 in 2019). The 2020 data were the most recent available. In 2015, the first full year in which it collected such statistics, IGGO reported 156 anti-Muslim incidents. The IKG reported 585 antisemitic incidents (550 in 2019) in the same year. From January to June, the IKG recorded 562 incidents, more than twice the 257 in the first half of 2020. Most incidents in 2021 consisted of hate speech or insults on the internet, although there were also 11 cases of violent threats and eight physical assaults. The data were the most recent available. Both groups included incidents regardless of whether they were reported to police or criminal charges were filed. Most 2020 antisemitic and anti-Muslim cases concerned hate speech and insinuations of violence on the internet (1,019 cases), followed by insulting language and property damage. Eight cases involved physical assaults. The IGGO reported men were more likely to experience anti-Muslim behavior on the internet, while Muslim women were more likely to experience it in person in significant part because of their visible face or head coverings.
The IKG reported antisemitic incidents in the first half of the year included eight physical assaults, 58 cases of property damage, 154 mass mailings, and 331 threats. Examples of antisemitic incidents included one in Vienna in May in which a group of teenagers were apprehended for throwing rocks at a Jewish family in traditional clothes, and antisemitic graffiti at the Vienna Jewish Museum in May. The IKG attributed the increase in incidents in part to antisemitic messages at demonstrations against COVID-19 restrictions.
In July, the Ministry of Interior presented its first report on hate crimes. The report listed 1,936 hate crimes between November 2020 and April 2021, primarily directed against persons of a different religion, opinion, or ethnicity. The report stated 309 of the cases were religiously motivated.
In May, two days before the annual event commemorating the liberation of the Mauthausen concentration camp, police disbanded a demonstration against COVID-19 restrictions attended by approximately 30 persons in Mauthausen after the organizer played a Hitler video.
In May, on the International Day against Racism and Violence, the Ministry of Interior reported several antisemitic postings on its Facebook site and launched investigations to identify the authors.
In May, demonstrators chanted “Allahu Akbar” and “Child Murderer Israel” and waved Palestinian flags during an anti-Israel/pro-Palestinian rally in Vienna. The IKG appealed to its members to stay away from the area of the demonstration and warned that the political situation in Israel could pose a threat to Jewish communities in Europe. Police launched investigations into the use of antisemitic slogans during the demonstration, while Integration Minister Raab and then Interior Minister Karl Nehammer warned that the right to assemble should not be abused to make antisemitic statements. Authorities arrested and questioned 11 individuals but released them without filing charges.
In May, the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement against Israel held demonstrations with pro-Palestinian groups to protest Israeli house evacuations in East Jerusalem.
In a video on Twitter that became publicly known in January, Martin Sellner, head of the pan-European nationalist Identitarian movement, widely described as right-wing extremist, called People’s Party member of parliament Martin Engelberg an infamous hypocrite, antipatriotic traitor, despicable person, and “destroyer of the homeland” who has “abandoned any Christian values.” Sellner was reacting to a December 2020 statement in which Engelberg criticized FPOe Parliamentary Floor Leader Kickl for not distancing himself from the Identitarian movement. Sellner also praised Kickl for “taking a stance” against persons like Engelberg. EU and Constitution Minister Edtstadler condemned Sellner’s message as antisemitic and also called upon the FPOe and Kickl to distance themselves from the Identitarian movement. In June, Engelberg obtained an injunction from the Vienna Commercial Court that ruled that Sellner must cease the slanderous statements about Engelberg.
In September, the Brussels-based NGO Action and Protection League issued the results of its European antisemitism survey based on data from December 2019-January 2020. According to the survey, 18 percent of 1,000 respondents ages 18-75 in Austria said they had negative feelings towards Jews, and 26 percent said they would be “totally uncomfortable” or “uncomfortable” with having Jewish neighbors. The survey cited stereotypical statements about Jews and asked respondents the degree to which they agreed or disagreed. The proportion who responded “strongly agree” or “tend to agree” with the following statements were: “The interests of Jews in this country are very different from the interests of the rest of the population” (26 percent); “there is a secret Jewish network that influences political and economic affairs in the world” (30 percent); “Jews have too much influence in this country” (21 percent); “Jews will never be able to fully integrate into this society” (28 percent); “Jews are more inclined than most to use shady practices to achieve their goals” (22 percent); “many of the atrocities of the Holocaust were often exaggerated by the Jews later” (17 percent); “Jews are also to blame for the persecutions against them” (19 percent); “Jews exploit Holocaust victimhood for their own purposes” (40 percent).
At the July presentation of a Council of Europe survey on online hatred against Muslims conducted among Muslim associations in eight European countries, the council’s special representative on antisemitism and anti-Muslim hatred cited the country’s “Islam map” as a negative example fueling discrimination. The study stated the authors of hate postings were usually “anti-migration, right-wing groups, and – especially in Austria – the Identitarian movement.”
A counseling center in Vienna managed by the Society Against Sect and Cult Dangers, an NGO that described itself as an organization working against harm caused by “destructive cults” such as Scientology, continued to distribute information to the general public and provide counseling for former members of such groups. All provinces funded family and youth counseling offices that provided information on “sects and cults.”
In October, the Graz Provincial Court for Criminal Matters convicted a Syrian man of assaulting Graz Jewish Community president Elie Rose in Graz in 2020 and vandalizing the Graz synagogue and a lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex community center. The court sentenced him to three years in prison, stating the man could not be dissuaded from his anti-Jewish sentiments. In response to the attack, the Graz Jewish Community continued to receive additional police protection, and the government continued to provide orientation and values courses on antisemitism for refugees.
According to the IGGO report covering 2020, in June of that year a woman insulted and hit a Muslim woman on the head with a newspaper, causing her hijab to slip off on one side. The woman complained that none of several persons sitting in a nearby sidewalk cafe came to help her. In September 2020, a woman assaulted another woman wearing a headscarf on a city bus in Vienna, spitting on her, pulling on her headscarf, and shouting she should go back to Turkey. Property damage cited in the report included an arson attack against a Somali cultural association and prayer room in Vienna in May 2020.
A report presented in June by the NGO Initiative for Discrimination-Free Education listed a total of 186 cases of discrimination in schools in 2020 (403 cases in 2019), of which it attributed 15 percent to anti-Muslim sentiment and 2 percent to antisemitism. While the NGO said the sharp drop in total discrimination cases was due to the reduced physical presence of students in schools due to COVID-19, the percentage of incidents motivated by anti-Muslim sentiment (approximately 31 percent of total discrimination cases in 2019) and antisemitism (approximately 11 percent of total cases) also dropped significantly. Examples included statements by a physics teacher in Vienna who said in 2020 in front of her Muslim students that Muslims were responsible for a November 2020 terrorist attack in Vienna by a man police identified as an ISIS sympathizer. In another example, a sports teacher suggested to a 12-year-old student who was wearing a headscarf that she should go to another country if she wanted to continue wearing it.
The organizers of the annual May gathering of Croatians and Bosnians in Bleiburg, Austria to commemorate Nazi-allied Croatian troops and civilians killed in 1945 canceled the event after parliament passed a resolution in 2020 prohibiting the event.
In June, a court in the Carinthian provincial capital of Klagenfurt convicted a man of neo-Nazi activity and illegal possession of weapons and sentenced him to a 19-month prison sentence. The man had a Nazi symbol tattoo on his testicles.
In January, the court in Klagenfurt convicted a man of neo-Nazi activity and sentenced him to 24 months in prison, 16 months of which were suspended. The man had performed the Hitler salute in 2019 and had a swastika tattoo.
In January, the Vienna Criminal Court issued a six-month suspended prison sentence on incitement charges for an imam whom it convicted of making antisemitic statements in a sermon in 2018. The imam said, “Allah hates the Jews; they are the worst kuffars (unfaithful).”
Fourteen Christian groups, consisting of the Roman Catholic Church, various Protestant denominations, and eight Orthodox and Old Oriental Churches, continued to meet twice a year within the Ecumenical Council of Churches in Austria to discuss religious cooperation. The Christian groups coordinated with other religious groups and the government to create a unified set of COVID-19 restrictions on all religious services in 2020 and 2021. Baptists and the Salvation Army had observer status on the council. Two permanent working groups on “Religion and Society” and “Media” remained in place.
Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement
The Ambassador, Charge d’Affaires, and other embassy representatives met regularly with government officials – including from the Federal Chancellery’s Office of Religious Affairs; the Federal Chancellery’s Ministry for Women, Family, Youth and Integration; the Division of Dialogue of Cultures at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs; and the Ministry of Interior – to discuss religious freedom and the protection of religious minorities. Topics included the concerns of religious groups, integration of Muslim refugees, cooperation with religious groups in combating terrorism, and measures to combat antisemitism and anti-Muslim sentiment.
The Ambassador and Charge d’Affaires met with religious group representatives from the IGGO, IKG, and Roman Catholic Church to discuss their relations with the coalition government, instances of discrimination, and interreligious dialogue, as well as how their communities were handling the COVID-19 pandemic. Embassy officers also met with religious youth groups, such as the Muslim Youth Organization of Austria and the Jewish Student Association, to discuss issues such as antisemitism and anti-Muslim sentiment. Embassy officers met with Catholic, Jewish, and Muslim leaders to discuss interreligious relations, especially relating to the rise of antisemitism and the government’s strategy combating “political Islam.”
Embassy representatives continued to serve on the International Advisory Board of the Mauthausen Memorial Agency to promote Holocaust remembrance and education.
The embassy continued its engagement with the Muslim Youth Organization of Austria (MJOe) to promote religious dialogue and tolerance both in-person and virtually. In February, the embassy cohosted a virtual live event with the MJOe featuring an American professor who spoke about the important role of youth in social movements. The speaker shared lessons from the U.S. civil rights movement with religiously diverse youth audiences across the country.
In continuing to highlight members of diverse faith groups, the embassy’s Women’s History Month social media campaign featured two Muslim Austrian women, including the president of MJOe, as well as a youth reporter and former participant in an embassy-sponsored exchange program. Their video commentaries were shared across embassy platforms to an audience that is not often exposed either to Muslims or to women from other religious groups.
The embassy also continued to work closely with the Jewish community to promote religious tolerance and fight antisemitism. In April, the Charge d’Affaires was interviewed for a Mauthausen Committee video created as part of World War II commemoration events. In September, together with a local NGO that focuses on antisemitism and the Holocaust, the embassy hosted a discussion with a group of Holocaust survivors. Family stories and personal memories shared during the program are to become part of a podcast project to reach younger audiences. The embassy amplified the event on social media, which garnered attention from several influential Jewish entities in Vienna.
In July, embassy staff hosted an event with representatives of the Jewish community to discuss Holocaust education. In May, the embassy again supported the annual commemoration of the liberation of the Mauthausen concentration camp through messages on its social media channels that focused on the importance of religious freedom and Holocaust remembrance.
The constitution and the law protect the right of individuals to choose, change, and practice religion. On August 24, President Emmanuel Macron signed a lawproviding authorities broader powers to monitor and close down religious organizations and groups they determined to be promoting ideas contrary to French values. Religious groups, including Muslim, Catholic, Protestant, and Christian Orthodox leaders, and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) publicly condemned the law before it was enacted, saying that it “risks undermining fundamental freedoms” such as freedom of worship and of association. Although the law did not specifically mention Islam, critics said it targeted and stigmatized Muslims and that President Macron had initially proposed the law as a means to combat “Islamist separatism.” In January, the government praised Muslim leaders who reached an agreement on a “Charter of Principles for the Islam of France,” affirming the signatories’ adherence to national law and values. Critics of the charter said it was crafted by the government and represented an unconstitutional intervention into religious affairs. The government dissolved by decree several Muslim organizations it accused of “inciting hatred, violence, and discrimination,” and said that it had closed 672 Muslim establishments from February 2018 through October 2021, including 21 mosques since November 2020. On April 14, the Court of Cassation – the country’s highest court of criminal and civil appeal – upheld lower court rulings that cannabis use by the killer of a 65-year-old Jewish woman in 2017 rendered him criminally irresponsible for her death, leading to protests and creation of a parliamentary commission of inquiry into the affair. After President Macron’s announcement that a COVID-19 “health pass” would be required to enter public spaces beginning in August, some protesters wore the yellow Star of David or held signs comparing treatment of nonvaccinated persons to that of Jews during the Holocaust; others protested with antisemitic signs. President Macron and other government officials continued to condemn antisemitic, anti-Muslim, and anti-Christian acts, and the government continued to deploy security forces to protect religious and other sensitive sites. In October, the Senate adopted the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) working definition of antisemitism. In February, the Paris city council adopted the IHRA working definition of antisemitism; in March, the Strasbourg city council rejected it.
There were instances of religiously motivated crimes and other abuses against Christians, Jews, and Muslims, including physical assaults, threats, hate speech, discrimination, and vandalism and the killing in August of a priest in the Loire Region that generated a public outcry. In the latter case, authorities judged the killer mentally unfit and placed him in a psychiatric hospital. Authorities reported registering 1,659 antireligious acts during the year, a 12 percent drop compared with the same period in 2019, when 1,893 acts were reported. (According to the Ministry of the Interior, statistics from 2020, when it recorded 1,386 antireligious acts, were not comparable because of the COVID-19 lockdown.) While the total number of acts reported decreased from 2019, the number of anti-Muslim acts increased by 38 percent to 213, from 154 in 2019 (234 in 2020). Anti-Christian acts decreased 19 percent to 857, from 1,052 in 2019 (813 in 2020), and antisemitic acts fell 14 percent to 589, from 687 in 2019 (339 in 2020). In September, the Brussels-based NGO Action and Protection League issued the results of its European antisemitism survey based on data that was collected in France between February and June 2020. According to the survey, 7 percent of 1,000 respondents ages 18-75 in France said they had negative feelings towards Jews.
Officials from the U.S. embassy, consulates, and American Presence Posts (APPs) discussed religious tolerance, antisemitic and anti-Muslim acts, the role of religious freedom in combating violent extremism, and cooperation on these issues with officials at the Ministries of Interior and Foreign Affairs and the Interministerial Delegation to Fight Against Racism, Antisemitism and Anti-LGBT Hate (DILCRAH). The Charge d’Affaires and embassy, consulate, and APP officials met regularly with religious communities and their leaders throughout the country to discuss religious freedom concerns and encourage interfaith cooperation and tolerance, including engaging Christian, Jewish, and Muslim representatives in Strasbourg, discussions of interfaith dialogue in Rennes, exchanges on antisemitism in Lyon, and raising Holocaust awareness in Marseille. The embassy sponsored projects and events to combat religious discrimination and religiously motivated hate crimes, such as projects bringing together youth of different faiths and a roundtable with religious leaders, and regularly used social media to convey messages highlighting issues pertaining to religious freedom.
Section I. Religious Demography
The U.S. government estimates the total population at 68.1 million (midyear 2021). ccording to a January 2020 report released by the government-appointed Observatory for Secularism, based on a poll conducted in cooperation with polling company Viavoice, approximately 47 percent of respondents identify as Catholic, 3 percent Muslim, 3 percent Protestant, 2 percent Buddhist, 1 percent Jewish, 1 percent Christian Orthodox, and 1 percent other religious groups; 34 percent said they have no religious affiliation and 8 percent preferred not to respond. According to the observatory’s 2019 report, there are 140,000-150,000 Jehovah’s Witnesses and 150,000-300,000 Hindus. In a poll on secularism released in February and conducted with Viavoice, 35 percent of respondents say they are believers, 30 percent nonbelievers or atheist, 14 percent agnostic, and 13 percent indifferent. Most observers, including the observatory in its 2019 report, estimate the number of Muslims in the country at three to five million, or between 4 and 7 percent of the population. According to Church of Scientology leaders, there are approximately 40,000 followers in the country.
A poll by the research firm French Institute of Public Opinion (IFOP) conducted August 24-25 found that 51 percent of respondents said they do not believe in God, and 49 percent said they do. According to the IFOP poll, the highest percentage of believers (58 percent) was found among those 65 years and older and the lowest (45 percent) among those aged 35-49. Other age groups were close to evenly split, with a slight majority of nonbelievers.
Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom
The constitution defines the country as a secular republic and states it “shall ensure the equality of all citizens before the law,” regardless of religion, and shall respect all beliefs. The law provides for the separation of religion and state and guarantees the free exercise of religious worship except to maintain public order.
The law, as well as international and European covenants to which the country adheres, protects the freedom of individuals to choose, change, and practice their religion. Interference with freedom of religion is subject to criminal penalties, including a fine of 1,500 euros ($1,700) and imprisonment for one month. Individuals who are defendants in a trial may challenge the constitutionality of any law they say impedes their freedom of religion.
Laws increase the penalties for acts of violence or defamation when they are committed because of the victim’s actual or perceived membership or nonmembership in a given religious group. Additional penalties beyond those for the underlying crime for acts of violence that courts determine are religiously motivated are three to five years’ imprisonment and fines of 45,000 to 75,000 euros ($51,000-$85,000), depending on the severity of the victims’ injuries. For religiously motivated acts of public defamation, defined as an allegation of fact that affects the honor of a person or body, the penalties are one year’s imprisonment and/or a fine of 45,000 euros ($51,000). The government may expel noncitizens for inciting discrimination, hatred, or violence against a specific person or group of persons based on religion.
The law penalizes hate crimes and hate speech. Provisions in the criminal code cover hate crimes. They criminalize racist, antisemitic, or xenophobic acts, considering them as aggravating circumstances when an offense is committed on the basis of a victim’s membership or nonmembership, true or supposed, in a given ethnic group, nation, race, or religion. When made in public, such as on the internet, hate speech is covered by a special law related to the rights of the press that criminalizes the publication or dissemination of racist remarks, including those directed against persons because of their membership in religious groups. The law covers all means of public expression (speeches, exclamations, threats, writings, printed matter, drawings, engravings, paintings, symbols, images, etc.), and any media permitting wide dissemination to the public. When not made in public, hate speech is covered by the criminal code and punishable by a 1,500 euro ($1,700) fine.
There is no national-level law prohibiting blasphemy, but Alsace-Moselle continues to retain part of an old German code, a remnant from past German annexation of the area, that declares “blasphemy” against Catholics a crime. However, a Ministry of Justice decree states that the antiblasphemy provision may not be applied anywhere in the country.
Although the law does not require it, religious groups may apply for official recognition and tax-exempt status. Religious groups may register under two categories: associations of worship, which are exempt from taxes; and cultural associations, which normally are not exempt. Associations in either category are subject to fiscal oversight by the state. An association of worship may organize only religious activities. Although not tax-exempt, a cultural association may engage in for-profit as well as nonprofit activity and receive government subsidies for its cultural and educational operations. Religious groups normally register under both categories. For example, Catholics perform religious activities through their associations of worship and operate schools through their cultural associations.
Religious groups must apply at the local prefecture (the administrative body, headed by a prefect, that represents the central government in each department) for recognition as an association of worship and tax-exempt status. To qualify as an association of worship, the group’s sole purpose must be the practice of religion, which may include liturgical services and practices, religious training, and the construction of buildings serving the religious group. The association must also engage in public worship and respect public order. Among excluded activities are those that are purely cultural, social, or humanitarian in nature. To apply for tax-exempt status, the association must provide to the prefecture its estimated budget for the year, annual accounts for the previous three years or since the association’s creation, whichever is shorter, a written justification of eligibility for the status, and the number of members of the association. In Paris, the association must have a minimum of 25 members. Once granted, the association may use the tax-exempt status nationwide. The government does not tax associations of worship on donations they receive. If the prefecture determines an association is not in conformity with its tax-exempt status, however, the government may change that status and require the association to pay taxes at a rate of 60 percent on past, as well as future, donations until it regains tax-exempt status. The Ministry of Interior has not provided recent information on the number of associations with tax-exempt status. According to ministry data more than a decade old, there are 109 Protestant, 100 Catholic, 50 Jehovah’s Witness, 30 Muslim, and 15 Jewish associations with tax-exempt status.
The number of cultural associations, many of which are not associated with religious groups, is in the thousands and changes frequently. Cultural associations may be declared using an online form through the government’s public administration website. Cultural associations, even if associated with religious groups, may operate without applying for government recognition, but receiving government recognition exempts them from taxes. The Church of Scientology has the status of a secular and not a religious association.
The law states, “Detained persons have the right to freedom of opinion, conscience, and religion. They may practice the religion of their choice…without other limits than those imposed by the security needs and good order of the institution.”
Counterterrorism legislation grants prefects in each department the authority to close a place of worship for a maximum of six months if they find that comments, writings, or activities in the place of worship “provoke violence, hatred, or discrimination or the commission of acts of terrorism or praise such acts of terrorism.” The management of the place of worship has 48 hours to appeal the closure decision to an administrative court. A place of worship that has been closed may remain closed beyond the six-month maximum if it does not replace its chief cleric and/or management. Noncompliance with a closure decision carries a six-month prison sentence and a fine of 7,500 euros ($8,500). A counterterrorism and intelligence law that parliament enacted on July 22 makes permanent some provisions of a 2017 law on internal security and counterterrorism that had been set to expire July 31. The new law allows authorities to close facilities belonging to places of worship linked to acts of terrorism, rather than only the places of worship themselves, as was previously the case.
The law prohibits covering one’s face, including for religious reasons, in public places, including public transportation, government buildings, and other public spaces, such as restaurants and movie theaters. If police encounter a person in a public space wearing a face covering such as a niqab or burqa, they are legally required to ask the individual to remove it to verify the individual’s identity. According to the law, police officials may not remove it themselves. If an individual refuses to remove the garment, police may take the person to the local police station to verify his or her identity. Police may not question or hold an individual for more than four hours. Refusing a police instruction to remove a face-covering garment carries a maximum fine of 150 euros ($170) or attendance at a citizenship course. Individuals who coerce other persons to cover their face on account of gender by threat, violence, force, or abuse of power or authority are subject to a fine of up to 30,000 euros ($34,000) and may receive a sentence of up to one year in prison. The fine and sentence are doubled if the person coerced is a minor. The law exempts use of face coverings mandated by the authorities, such as masks worn for COVID-19 prevention.
The law prohibits agents of the administration, public services, and companies or associations carrying out public services from demonstrating their religion through visible signs of religious affiliation, such as an Islamic headscarf, Jewish skullcap, Sikh turban, or Christian cross. The prohibition applies during working hours even if the agents are not in their place of employment and at any time at the place of employment.
By law, the government may not directly finance religious groups to build new places of worship, except, as noted below, in Alsace-Lorraine and overseas departments and territories. The government may, however, provide loan guarantees or lease property to groups at advantageous rates. The law also exempts places of worship from property taxes. The state owns and is responsible for the upkeep of most places of worship, primarily Catholic, built before 1905. The government may fund cultural associations with a religious connection.
The Upholding Republican Values law – passed by parliament on July 23, ruled constitutional on August 13 by the Constitutional Court, and signed by President Macron on August 24 – includes measures expanding requirements of neutrality in expression and attire for public servants and private contractors of public services, methods to combat online hate speech, stricter restrictions on homeschooling, increased control of public associations, transparency of religious associations, and enhanced measures against polygamy, forced marriages, and “virginity certificates.” The law requires audits of associations, including those that are religious in nature, that receive foreign funding of more than 153,000 euros ($173,500) per year. The law imposes additional reporting requirements on local religious-based organizations. It modifies a law on policing of religions to include punishing the incitement to discrimination, hatred, or violence with up to five years in prison. The law also increases the punishment for holding political meetings in places of worship and prohibits the organization of campaigning operations for political elections in places of worship. In addition, a judge may forbid anyone convicted of provoking terrorism, discrimination, hate, or violence from entering places of worship. The government may temporarily close places of worship if it finds any activities that incite hatred or violence. The new law expanded the requirements for neutrality, impartiality, and principles of secularism, which previously applied only to government employees, to apply to private contractors for public services. The law also implements a commemorative “secularism day,” to be recognized annually on December 9. In addition, it requires municipalities and departments to inform local prefects three months before concluding a long-term lease with, or providing loans to, places of worship.
The Upholding Republican Values law includes provisions to combat hate speech, including the criminalization of disseminating personal information which could endanger the life of others. Violators may be punished with up to five years in prison and a fine of 75,000 euros ($85,000) if the victim is a public official, a journalist, or a minor. An expedited procedure allows authorities to remove content on mirror sites.
The law separating religion and state does not apply in three classes of territories. Because Alsace-Lorraine (currently comprising the departments of Haut-Rhin, Bas-Rhin, and la Moselle and known as Alsace-Moselle) was part of Germany when the law was enacted, Catholics, Lutherans, Calvinists, and Jews there may choose to allocate a portion of their income tax to their religious group. Pastors, priests, and rabbis of these four recognized faiths in Alsace-Moselle receive a salary from the Interior Ministry, and the country’s President, with the agreement of the Holy See, appoints the Catholic bishops of Metz and Strasbourg. The Prime Minister appoints the Chief Rabbi and the presidents of the Jewish and Protestant consistories (the administrative governance bodies of these groups) in Alsace-Moselle, and the Interior Minister appoints ministers of three Christian Churches (Catholic, Lutheran, and Protestant Reformed Church of Alsace and Lorraine) in the region. Local governments in the region may also provide financial support for constructing religious buildings. The Overseas Department of French Guiana, which is governed under 19th century colonial laws, may provide subsidies to the Catholic Church. Other overseas departments and overseas territories, which include island territories in the Caribbean and the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian Oceans, and several sub-Antarctic islands, may also provide funding for religious groups. This provision also applies to the portion of Antarctica the government claims as an overseas territory.
Public schools are secular. The law prohibits public school employees from wearing visible signs of religious affiliation and students from wearing “conspicuous religious symbols,” including the Islamic headscarf, Jewish skullcap, Sikh turban, and large Christian crosses. Public schools do not provide religious instruction except in Alsace-Moselle and overseas departments and territories. In Alsace-Moselle, religious education regarding one of the four recognized faiths (Catholicism, Lutheranism, Protestant Reformed Church of Alsace and Lorraine, and Judaism) is compulsory in public primary and secondary schools, although students may, with a written request from their parents, opt for a secular equivalent. Religious education classes are taught by laypersons who are trained and nominated by the respective religious groups but are paid by the state. Elsewhere in the country, public schools teach information about religious groups as part of the history curriculum. Parents who wish their children to wear conspicuous religious symbols or to receive religious instruction may homeschool their children or send them to a private school. Homeschooling and private schools must conform to the educational standards established for public schools; however, private schools may permit the wearing of religious symbols on their premises. Under the Upholding Republican Values law, beginning in September 2022, homeschooling will be allowed only for strictly defined reasons, including sickness, disability, intensive sport or artistic training, transient families, or those with geographic constraints. Parents who wish to take their children out of school will be required to get an annual authorization from the local education authority.
By law, the government subsidizes private schools, including those affiliated with religious organizations. In 98 percent of private schools, in accordance with the law, the government pays the teachers’ salaries, provided the school accepts all children regardless of their religious affiliation. The law does not address the issue of religious instruction in government-subsidized private schools. According to the education code, religious instruction is allowed but optional in government-subsidized private schools. Students are not required to attend religion classes, and other activities are available for students who opt out.
Missionaries from countries not exempt from visa requirements must obtain a three-month tourist visa before traveling to the country. All missionaries from nonexempt countries wishing to remain longer than 90 days must obtain long-duration visas before entering the country. Upon arrival, missionaries must provide a letter from their sponsoring religious group to apply to the local prefecture for a temporary residence card.
The country adheres to the nonbinding Terezin Declaration of 2009 – an agreement to remedy the economic wrongs experienced by Jews and other victims of Nazi persecution – and its guidelines and best practices of 2010. The government has laws and mechanisms in place for property restitution and reparation, including for all three types of immovable property: private, communal, and heirless.
The government’s Commission for the Compensation for Victims of Spoliation (CIVS or the “Drai Commission”) is a sovereign and independent administrative body under the authority of the Prime Minister. CIVS recommends and examines reparations to individual victims of the Holocaust or their heirs not previously compensated for damages resulting from antisemitic legislation passed either by the Vichy government or by the occupying Germans. On June 17, the CIVS announced that on its recommendation, Prime Minister Jean Castex had ordered the return to the descendants of Jewish lawyer Armand Dorville 12 works of art acquired by the French State in 1942. At year’s end, the government was working on a draft law to effectively implement this decision.
The law criminalizes the Boycott, Divestment and Sanction (BDS) movement against Israel, treating it as “a provocation to discrimination or hatred or violence towards a person or a group of persons because of their origin or belonging to an ethnic group, a nation, a race, or a determined religion.”
The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
On April 14, the Court of Cassation upheld the Paris Court of Appeals’ decision that Kobili Traore, the killer of Sarah Halimi, a 65-year-old Jewish woman, was unfit to stand trial because his cannabis consumption prior to the killing rendered him psychotic, despite the judges’ opinion that the attack was antisemitic in character. The Court of Cassation’s decision closed the case. According to media reports, Traore continued under psychiatric care where he had been assigned since killing Halimi in 2017 and would remain hospitalized until psychiatrists concluded he no longer represented a danger to himself or others. Lawyers for Halimi’s relatives announced their intention to take the case to the European Court of Human Rights. On April 21, lawyers representing Halimi’s sister announced that she intended to file a criminal complaint against Traore in Israel.
On April 25, media reported that more than 20,000 persons demonstrated at Trocadero Square in Paris to “proclaim determination to continue the fight for Sarah’s memory.” Similar protests were held in several other cities across the country. French political leaders, including President Macron, criticized the court ruling and what he called the loopholes in law exposed by the case. Macron also told daily newspaper Le Figaro that “Deciding to take narcotics and then ‘going mad’ should not, in my view, remove your criminal responsibility,” and said he wanted Justice Minister Eric Dupond-Moretti to introduce a change in the law “as soon as possible.” On July 22, the National Assembly established a parliamentary commission of inquiry into the affair, which was continuing its investigation at year’s end.
On March 15, following the resignation of M’hammed Henniche, the rector (administrator) of a mosque in Pantin, a Paris suburb, and the nomination of a new board of directors, Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin called for the reopening of the mosque, made effective on April 9. In October 2020, Darmanin had ordered a six-month closure of the mosque, following the beheading of teacher Samuel Paty, who had shown his class cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad as part of a lesson on freedom of expression. The mosque’s imam Ibrahim Doucoure had posted on social media calls to retaliate against Paty for showing the cartoons. The Montreuil Administrative Court had validated the government’s decision to close the mosque.
On October 26, Junior Minister for Citizenship Marlene Schiappa reported that, since the end of 2019, as part of a nationwide program to counter “Islamism and communitarianism,” the Ministry of Interior had conducted 23,996 assessments and closed 672 establishments of various kinds, including 22 mosques. According to Schiappa, those establishments, which the government did not specifically identify, “were gathering places to organize Islamist separatism,” which President Macron had previously described as a “methodical organization” to create a “countersociety” in which Islamists impose their own rules and laws on isolated communities.
On October 13, Interior Minister Darmanin announced he had ordered authorities to close a mosque in Allonnes, in the Loire Region, following what he said was evidence the mosque preached radical Islamism. According to the local prefecture, some of its 300 members were linked to radical Islamist movements that “legitimized the use of armed jihad” as well as “hate and discrimination.” In early October, authorities froze the accounts of the two associations running the mosque.
On October 26, Interior Minister Darmanin reported that, following inspections of mosques conducted starting in November 2020, the government suspected 92 of the 2,500 mosques in the country of being radical and had closed 21 of them. On December 12, Darmanin said 36 mosques were removed from the list of those suspected of Islamist separatism after complying with government requests, including dismissing “dangerous” imams and rejecting foreign funding. Darmanin reiterated the mosques suspected of practicing radical Islam represented a very small minority.
In a December 27 decree, Darmanin announced the government administratively closed the mosque of Beauvais, north of Paris, for six months because of the anti-republican sermons of one of its imams. Darmanin accused Imam Islem, born Eddy Lecocq, of dividing society by justifying jihad and using discriminatory language against LGBTQ+ persons and women in his sermons. The mosque’s representative argued that Islem’s comments were taken out of context, calling the closure “unjustified” and the accusations against the imam false. Some members of the Beauvais Muslim community expressed frustration to the press, saying that while the law should apply to this imam, it was unfair that “the whole community was being punished” for his actions.
Contrary to the previous year, Jehovah’s Witness officials did not report any cases in which authorities interfered with proselytizing during the year.
After President Macron’s announcement that a COVID-19 health pass would be required to enter public spaces beginning in August, some protesters wore the yellow Star of David or held signs comparing treatment of nonvaccinated persons to that of Jews during the Holocaust; others protested with antisemitic signs.
With the stated intent to combat the COVID-19 pandemic, the government continued to impose measures limiting the distance between worshippers during religious services. It required places of worship to ensure that there were at least two empty seats between persons unless they were members of the same household and that only one row of seats out of two was occupied. Unlike with other gatherings, the government did not require a COVID-19 health pass to attend religious ceremonies. The Prime Minister’s office told Le Figaro newspaper July 13 that places of worship enjoyed constitutional protections beyond those of other groups because of the fundamental value of the freedom of religion.
On August 24, President Macron signed into law the Upholding Republican Values bill, which the government used to continue closing organizations accused of separatism, including some places of worship. On March 10, leaders of the Catholic, Protestant, and Orthodox Churches in the country issued a public statement expressing their concern about the then draft bill. Catholic Archbishop Eric de Moulins-Beaufort, President of the Bishops Conference of France (CEF), Pastor Francois Clavairoly, President of the Protestant Federation of France, and Metropolitan Emmanuel Adamakis, Metropolitan of the Greek Orthodox Metropolis of France, signed the statement. The statement said that “by its internal logic … this bill risks undermining fundamental freedoms such as freedom of worship, association, teaching and even freedom of opinion.” The three leaders added that “turning its back on the separation [of church and state], the state interferes in the qualification of what is religious” and that the law allowed the state to apply more constraints and controls on religious organizations when the Christian churches believed the procedures necessary to maintain public order already existed. Muslim leaders, also speaking about the bill while in draft, said that, although it did not specifically mention the word Islam, many of its provisions clearly singled out Islam, targeting and stigmatizing Muslims. They also pointed out that President Macron had initially proposed the law as a means to combat “Islamist separatism.” NGOs expressed concern about the increased power of unelected prefects to close associations. Mohammed Moussaoui, president of the French Council of the Muslim Faith (CFCM), said the then draft would increase restrictions on French religious associations, “but in the end it will be beneficial and there will be less suspicion towards donations.” France’s Chief Rabbi Haim Korsia said the then draft law “reminds us of the importance of carrying the values of the republic everywhere, in all spaces, including religious spaces” and gives “legal tools to do what we could not do before.”
In a January 18 meeting with representatives of the CFCM, which until December was the government’s main dialogue partner among groups representing the Muslim community, President Macron praised the CFCM’s adoption of the “Charter of Principles for the Islam of France,” the Elysee (Office of the Presidency) reported. “This is a clear, decisive and precise commitment in favor of the republic,” Macron said, hailing “a truly foundational text for relations between the state and Islam in France.” According to the CFCM, the agreement was reached during a January 16 meeting of the CFCM with Interior Minister Darmanin after weeks of resistance from some CFCM members, who objected to a “restructuring” of Islam to make it compatible with French law and values. Signatories to the charter included the CFCM, the Union of Mosques of France, Gathering of Muslims of France, Great Mosque of Paris (GMP), and the French Federation of Islamic Associations of Africa, Comoros, and the West Indies. Signatories to the charter, composed of 10 articles, vowed to reject attempts to use Islam for political ends, refrain from distributing messages of violence, hate, terrorism, or racism, and educate youth against those who spread such messages; affirmed gender equality and the need to educate believers that certain cultural practices presumed to be Muslim are not part of Islam; and agreed to combat “superstitions and archaic practices” that endanger the lives of victims, recognize Muslims have the right to renounce Islam, and reject racism, antisemitism, and misogynistic acts.
Online news site Middle East Eye published an opinion piece in February that called the charter “the worst violation of the separation of Church and state in the history of the Fifth Republic,” and stating it was crafted by the government, particularly President Macron and Interior Minister Darmanin, and not by Muslims. On January 17, Tareq Oubrou, the Great Imam of Bordeaux, said he deplored that the CFCM produced the charter “under political pressure.”
On November 21, the GMP along with three Muslim federations announced they had set up a National Council of Imams (CNI) aimed at establishing a new certification system for imams in France. The CFCM, which President Macron had instructed in 2020 to establish a new imam certification system to ensure Muslim clerics’ compliance with French republican values, denounced the initiative. The CFCM president, Mohammed Moussaoui, accused the GMP, the Gathering of Muslims of France; the French Federation of Islamic Associations of Africa, Comoros, and the West Indies; and the Muslims of France (former Union of Islamic Organizations in France) of having “taken the organization of Muslim worship hostage.”
On July 23, the Ministry of the Interior and the Loire regional prefecture officially suspended Mmadi Ahamada, the imam of the Attakwa Mosque in Saint-Chamond, for discriminating against women. In Eid al-Adha remarks, the imam said women should “stay home, not show off … and not be too complacent in your language,” nor give in to “corruption and vice.” Interior Minister Darmanin tweeted that he would relentlessly counter those who violated the values of the republic, and said that at his instruction, the Saint-Chamond imam and another imam were fired for “unacceptable sermons.” Darmanin also ordered the Loire prefect to evaluate the Saint-Chamond imam’s renewal of his residency permit. According to media reports, the imam, a citizen of Comoros, could be deported if the permit were not renewed.
On July 15, the government announced the creation of a new Interministerial Committee on Secularism to replace the Observatory for Secularism – an independent public watchdog entity established in 2013 whose members were appointed by the government – that critics from the political right and left said did not crack down hard enough on radical Islam. According to Minister for Citizenship Schiappa, who announced the new committee, it would function under the authority of the Prime Minister’s office and be responsible, as the observatory had been, for coordinating government efforts to protect state secularism, for instance by ensuring no public funding was allocated to nonsecular programs. She stated the committee would also assume responsibility for secularism training for public employees, with the goal of providing such training to all five million employees by 2025. Twelve ministers on the new committee were tasked with coordinating state secularism and tracking the implementation of the Upholding Republican Values law. The committee was also tasked with placing a secularism specialist in each public administration by the end of the year to provide information and mediate on issues relating to religion. It would oversee new powers given to prefects to take legal action against local governments if they implement policies that seem to contradict secularism, for example by allowing women-only sessions in public pools. In her announcement, Minister Schiappa also said that, during the December 9 “Secularism Day,” the Ministry of the Interior would award a “Legality Prize” of 50,000 euros ($56,700) for promoting secularism.
According to media, on October 12, at the request of President Macron, Interior Minister Darmanin summoned CEF President Archbishop de Moulins-Beaufort, after the Archbishop publicly stated that the secrecy of confession was “above the laws of the republic,” sparking outrage among groups of victims of sexual abuse by priests. De Moulins-Beaufort made the comment after a Church-commissioned independent report revealed more than 200,000 cases of sexual abuse by priests over the previous seven decades. After the meeting, Archbishop de Moulins-Beaufort cited “the determination of all bishops, and all Catholics, to make the protection of children an absolute priority, in close cooperation with the French authorities.”
According to the Ministry of Justice, as of 2018, the penitentiary system employed 720 Catholic, 361 Protestant, 231 Muslim, 191 Jehovah’s Witness, 74 Jewish, 54 Orthodox Christian, and 18 Buddhist chaplains. In detainee visiting areas, visitors could bring religious objects to an inmate or speak with the prisoner about religious issues but could not pray. Prisoners could pray in their cells individually, with a chaplain in designated prayer rooms, or, in some institutions, in special apartments where they could receive family for up to 48 hours.
In September, 55 foreign imams and two murshidates (Muslim religious female guides) began year-long assignments at mosques in the country. On September 14, Chemsedine Hafiz, Rector of the Grand Mosque of Paris, announced on social media that his mosque held a welcoming seminar before sending the imams and murshidates to their respective places of assignment. In accordance with a bilateral agreement with Algeria, the government hosted training sessions on secularism and French values for these imams and murshidates.
On September 29, as part of the government’s stated efforts to combat radicalization, Interior Minister Darmanin announced in a tweet the dissolution of the Nawa Center for Oriental Studies and Translation in the southwestern town of Pamiers for reportedly producing Islamist propaganda and legitimizing violence. In its decree, the government cited Nawa publications that called for the “extermination of the Jews,” legitimized violence against LGBTQ+ individuals, and encouraged the punishment of “adulterous women.” In a September 28 interview with Le Figaro, Darmanin said the government was in the process of closing six religious sites and banning another 10 local associations for ties to radical Islam.
In a September 24 ruling, the Council of State, the country’s highest court for public administration issues, approved the authorities’ December 2020 dissolution of the Collective Against Islamophobia in France, an NGO with the stated aim of combating discrimination towards Muslims in the country and providing legal support to victims of discrimination. The government had moved to close the collective in late 2020, following the killing of teacher Samuel Paty by an Islamist.
In a tweet published on October 20, Interior Minister Darmanin announced that, at his request based on the instructions of President Macron, the Council of Ministers had dissolved the Coordination against Racism and Islamophobia, an association created in 2008 and based near Lyon. On its website, the association presented itself as “an initiative aiming at fighting against a continuously growing scourge: Islamophobia.” Darmanin said the association called for “hatred, violence, and discrimination,” and government spokesman Gabriel Attal added it also expressed antisemitism.
In May, President Macron’s ruling La Republique en Marche! (The Republic on the Move!) Party threatened to withdraw its support for a Muslim candidate running in June local elections after she wore a headscarf in a photograph on a campaign flyer. Party chief Stanislas Guerini said wearing “ostentatious religious symbols” in photographs appearing in campaign materials was against the party’s values.
On November 2, the Council of Europe retracted visuals that said, “freedom is in [a] hijab,” from a campaign combating discrimination and anti-Muslim sentiment after the French government rejected the messaging. One advertisement, published the previous week, showed a split image of two women, one wearing a hijab and the other not, alongside the slogan: “Beauty is in diversity as freedom is in hijab.” The split image “deeply shocked me,” Secretary of State for Youth Sarah El Hairy said in a November 2 television interview. “It is the opposite of the values France is standing up for … which is why it was pulled today.” The council suspended the entire promotional campaign on November 3.
On December 21, the Paris Administrative Court upheld the 2020 ruling by the Court of Montreuil overturning a 2019 municipal decree that had refused a permit for the Church of Scientology to renovate a building it had purchased in the municipality of Saint-Denis for the purpose of converting it into its headquarters and a training center. The court ruled that the refusal was a “misuse of power” and ordered the city of Saint-Denis to reexamine the permit request within three months.
According to statistics released by the Ministry of the Armed Forces in March, the government regularly deployed 3,000 military personnel – a number that could rise to 10,000 at times of high threat – throughout the country to patrol vulnerable sites, including Catholic, Jewish, and Islamic sites and other places of worship. Some Jewish leaders requested the government also station armed guards at Jewish places of worship; the government did not do so.
Interior Minister Darmanin called for strengthening security at places of worship ahead of major religious holidays because of the “persistent terrorist threat,” AFP reported on March 17. Darmanin reportedly instructed prefects to pay particular attention to religious “gatherings and services that traditionally bring together large groups of people … and consequently constitute targets with strong symbolism.” Darmanin also called for increasing counterterrorism patrols under the Ministry of the Armed Forces’ Operation Sentinel around vulnerable and symbolic religious sites.
In a September 1 memo to prefects during the Jewish month of Tishrei (September 7-October 6), which includes Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, and several other Jewish holidays, Interior Minister Darmanin asked them to strengthen the security of Jewish places of worship and to ensure maximum police presence due to the “very high level of the terrorist threat.” Counterterrorism patrols under Operation Sentinel could also be deployed around particularly vulnerable sites, according to the memo. The MOI executed similar countermeasures at all Christian churches throughout the country on August 15 for the Day of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
On January 4, according to judicial sources, two of 14 defendants that the Special Criminal Court found guilty in 2020 of supporting terrorists who conducted attacks against satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo and a kosher supermarket in 2015 appealed their sentences. The appeal was scheduled to be heard in September-October 2022.
On March 22, the city of Strasbourg approved 2.56 million euros ($2.90 million) in city funding for the construction of the Milli Gorus Islamic Confederation-sponsored Eyyup Sultan Mosque. In a March 23 Business FM television interview, Minister Darmanin stated that the city’s decision supported foreign interference in the country. He criticized the Milli Gorus Islamic Confederation for what he said was its affiliation with Turkey and for engaging in political Islam and refusing to sign the “Charter of Principles for the Islam of France,” a part of the government’s effort to fight Islamist separatism. Darmanin asked the local prefect to contest the city’s decision before an administrative judge. Mayor Jeanne Barseghian wrote in a letter to President Macron that she had set as conditions for final approval of the funding that mosque project leaders ensure transparency in their financing and subscribe to the values of the republic. The prefect disputed that conditions were set and announced on April 7 that the city’s decision would be contested in administrative court. Further information on the status of the project was unavailable at year’s end.
On January 27, the Paris Court of Appeals ruled that 67-year-old Hassan Diab, the main suspect in the 1980 deadly bombing of the rue Copernic Synagogue in Paris, would have to stand trial, and on May 19, the Court of Cassation upheld that decision. Diab, a dual Lebanese-Canadian citizen, is suspected of having prepared and placed the bomb, which killed three Frenchmen and an Israeli journalist and injured 46 persons. Diab returned to Canada in 2018 after three years in detention in France when judges determined the evidence was insufficient to warrant prosecution. On December 22, Le Figaro reported that Diab’s trial would open in Paris in April 2023, but by year’s end, authorities had not issued an arrest warrant and Diab remained in Canada.
On April 14, the Paris Appeals Court validated the grounds for an investigation of a 1982 terrorist attack against an Israeli restaurant in Paris that left six dead and wounded 22 others. The decision left open the possibility of a trial, judicial sources reported. The court dismissed two challenges relating to a missing signature on a judicial detention document and an attempt to nullify a December 2020 decision to place the suspect under investigation. In December 2020, Norwegian authorities extradited to France a suspect in the case, naturalized Norwegian Walid Abdulrahman Abou Zayed. On December 23, judges decided to keep the suspect in pretrial detention.
On April 16, the Ministry of Education reported 547 infringements of the secularism law in schools between December 2020 and March 2021. Middle schools accounted for 45 percent of incidents, while primary schools accounted for 33 percent and high schools for 22 percent; 32 percent of violations were in the form of religiously motivated insults or other verbal aggression, while 10 percent involved proselytism. According to a report released on December 9 by the ministry, 614 infractions of secularism in schools were reported between September and mid-November in the country’s 60,000 schools, an increase of 12 percent compared to December 2020-March 2021. Incidents cited included insults or other verbal abuse of a religious nature, the wearing of religious symbols, and refusal to take part in school activities.
In February, Education Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer commissioned a report from former school inspector Jean-Pierre Obin on how teachers and headteachers might be better equipped to handle the issue of secularism in schools. The report, published on June 14, described some confusion among pupils and teachers about the meaning of secularism, exacerbated by the case of teacher Samuel Paty, beheaded in 2020. The report also highlighted how the historical roots of the country’s current laws were not always understood. Following the report’s publication, according to Radio France International, Blanquer introduced training programs for teachers and principals on the place of religion in schools so that there would be a common understanding of what secularism entailed and what was and was not allowed. On October 19, 1,000 teachers started the 120- to 150-hour training.
On October 15-16, schools commemorated the first anniversary of the killing of Samuel Paty with a series of ceremonies and screenings of documentaries on freedom of speech. On October 16, Prime Minister Castex unveiled a memorial plaque honoring Paty at the entrance of the Education Ministry. Macron also received Paty’s family at the Elysee Palace.
On February 20, 800 academics signed an open letter in Le Monde calling for Higher Education Minister Frederique Vidal’s resignation for threatening “intellectual repression” by ordering, earlier that month, a “scientific investigation” of “Islamo-leftism” at universities. In a February 21 response, Vidal stated the investigation would be carried out in a “scientific” and “rational” manner. Several officials within the Macron administration, including President Macron, distanced themselves from Vidal’s proposal, affirming their commitment to academic independence. Academics said it was a failed attempt to distract from the more important problem of growing student discontent and poverty caused by COVID-19. Information on the status of the investigation was unavailable at year’s end.
On April 14, the Mayor of Albertville, Frederic Burnier-Framboret, announced he would appeal an April 6 Grenoble Administrative Tribunal decision obliging him to grant a building permit for the Islamic school supported by the Milli Gorus Islamic Confederation, linked to Turkey. According to media reports, Burnier-Framboret’s appeal would rest on an amendment to the Upholding Republican Values law that allows prefects to oppose the opening of out-of-contract schools supported by a foreign state “hostile” to the republic. On December 16, the Lyon Appeals Court approved the mayor’s decision not to grant a building permit for the Muslim school.
On October 5, the Senate passed a nonbinding draft resolution to adopt the IHRA nonlegally binding working definition of antisemitism. The motion, which was sponsored by the Senate’s majority party, the Republicans, with the government’s support, was adopted by a show of hands by all political groups, with one exception, the Communist, Republican, and Citizen and Ecologist Group. Recalling the National Assembly had passed a similar resolution in 2019, Minister Schiappa said she was “happy that the Senate is taking the same approach.” Although the resolution was not legally binding, it would allow for better identification and characterization of antisemitism, she added. In February, the Paris city council adopted the IHRA working definition, while in March, the Strasbourg city council rejected it. Pierre Jakubowicz, a council member who supported the IHRA working definition, said he was dismayed by the latter decision, adding that Strasbourg had been “plagued” by antisemitic outrages during the year.
In March, following a final judgment in 2020 by the European Court of Human Rights that the country had violated Article 10 (freedom of expression) of the European Convention on Human Rights when it convicted a group of 12 pro-Palestinian activists for incitement to discrimination for distributing leaflets calling for a boycott of Israeli goods, the government paid a fine of 380 euros ($430) of pecuniary damage and 7,000 euros ($7,900) in nonpecuniary damage to each activist.
On May 19, Normandy’s public prosecutor opened a formal investigation of what the prosecutor said were racist and anti-Islamic social media posts by the then far-right National Rally candidate for President of the Regional Council, Nicolas Bay. On May 5, Bay – a member of both the Normandy Regional Council and the European Union (EU) Parliament – posted a video calling the Evreux Mosque a hub of “delinquency and terrorism” and saying it was linked to the killing of Samuel Paty. Evreux elected officials denounced the video as a call to violence against Muslims, and the Great Mosque of Paris called for charges against Bay for inciting “racial hatred.” On Facebook, Bay responded that “identity politics and Islamism” were threats to the nation and that the Evreux minaret was not welcome in Normandy.
Various groups initiated multiple petitions seeking action against the government for failing, according to the petitions, to follow the rule of law in dealing with the country’s Muslim population. For example, in January, a coalition of 36 civil society and religious organizations from 13 countries, including the Strasbourg-based European Initiative for Social Cohesion, wrote to the United Nations Human Rights Committee to request that it open formal infringement procedures against the government for “entrenching Islamophobia and structural discrimination against Muslims.” The 28-page document stated that the country’s actions and policies in relation to Muslim communities violated international and European laws.
On March 8, 25 NGOs from 11 different countries signed a letter urging the EU to investigate the French government for “state-sponsored Islamophobia” and imposing what the letter described as the discriminatory Charter of Principles for the Islam of France. According to the signatories, the letter responded to what they said were the government’s efforts to isolate Islamist extremists through the Upholding Republican Values law, which was then under consideration in the Senate. The letter to the European Commission stated that the legislation was inherently discriminatory and that the charter censored free speech in violation of European law.
On May 6, the National Council of Evangelicals of France sent an official report to the United Nations Human Rights Committee, criticizing the Upholding Republican Values law and stating it would restrict freedom of worship.
In an April 20 statement, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe’s General Rapporteur on combating racism and intolerance, Momodou Malcolm Jallow, expressed deep concern that the Upholding Republican Values law stigmatized Muslims and “will serve to further legitimize the marginalization of Muslim women and will contribute to establishing a climate of hate, intolerance, and ultimately violence against Muslims.”
In an October 4 meeting with prefects, Interior Minister Darmanin said the country had deported 72 radicalized foreign Islamists since October 2020 and 636 since 2018. The 72 were part of a list of foreigners on the FSPRT (fichier des signalements pour la prevention de la radicalisation a caractere terroriste) – a list of individuals suspected of radicalization – under orders of deportation. On September 28, Interior Minister Darmanin said he had called on regional prefects to refuse any residence permits for imams sent by a foreign government. According to the Ministry of Interior, approximately 300 imams, or 70 percent of all imams in the country, were trained in foreign countries such as Turkey, Morocco, and Algeria. In 2020, President Macron announced he would gradually end the foreign imam program by 2024, creating instead a program for imams to be trained in France.
On January 27, on International Holocaust Remembrance Day and the 76th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, the Education Ministry invited teachers to take part in special activities and reflect on the Holocaust with students.
On January 10, Interior Minister Darmanin, Justice Minister Dupond-Moretti, Education Minister Blanquer, Armed Forces Minister Florence Parly, government spokesperson Gabriel Attal, and Junior Minister for Gender Equality, Diversity and Equal Opportunities Elisabeth Moreno attended a Representative Council of French Jewish Institutions (CRIF)-organized memorial ceremony outside a Paris kosher supermarket, where six years earlier a gunman had killed four Jews and held 15 other persons hostage.
On July 16, Prime Minister Castex, Junior Minister for Gender Equality, Diversity, an Equal Opportunities Moreno, and Secretary of State for the Armed Forces Genevieve Darrieussecq attended a ceremony at the Izieu Memorial Museum, the site where 44 Jewish children and their six educators were deported to Nazi extermination camps and later killed. Prime Minister Castex issued a call to “fight everywhere and always against the unfulfilled temptations of barbarism.”
President Macron and government ministers continued to condemn antisemitism and declare support for Holocaust education on several occasions, including a February 19 visit to the Shoah Memorial; the March 19 commemoration of the ninth anniversary of the killings of three Jewish children and their teacher by Mohammed Merah in Toulouse; and the April 30 Holocaust Remembrance Day commemoration. On April 25, Secretary of State for the Armed Forces Darrieussecq laid a wreath at the Shoah Memorial and the Memorial of the Martyrs of the Deportation in central Paris.
On April 26, the country held private or virtual ceremonies (because of COVID-19 restrictions) commemorating the thousands of persons deported to Nazi death camps during World War II. On July18, Secretary of State for the Armed Forces Darrieussecq held a ceremony in Paris honoring the victims of the 1942 Velodrome d’Hiver roundup in which 13,000 Jews, including 4,000 children, were deported to extermination camps. At the ceremony, 94-year-old Holocaust survivor Joseph Schwartz expressed anger in a speech at seeing anti-COVID-19 vaccine activists comparing the government’s COVID-19 health pass with the yellow Star of David Jews were forced to wear during World War II.
On July 26, Interior Minister Darmanin participated in a tribute for Father Jacques Hamel, the Catholic priest killed in an attack at his church in Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray in 2016, for which ISIS claimed responsibility. In his remarks, Darmanin said, “The government of the republic commemorates its martyrs, and there is no doubt that Jacques Hamel is one of them,” adding that “Islamist barbarism [touched] all the symbols that make the West and France.” President Macron and Prime Minister Castex also paid tribute to Father Hamel on social media on the same date, the anniversary of his death.
On October 18, Prime Minister Castex met with Pope Francis at the Vatican for celebrations to mark the centenary of the restoration of diplomatic relations between France and the Holy See. At a press conference after the meeting, Castex, in a reference to a report on the sexual abuse of French children by Catholic clergy, said the Church “will not revisit the dogma of the secrecy of the confession,” and emphasized the need to find “ways and means to reconcile this with criminal law, the rights of victims,” adding that “the separation of Church and state is in no way the separation of Church and law.”
On October 26, President Macron and Interior Minister Darmanin participated in the first Economy and Protestantism dinner organized by the Protestant Federation and the Charles Gide Circle, a Protestant association which advocates a “responsible economy.” In his remarks, President Macron stated that the Upholding Republican Values law was important “because we cannot deny [that] … in the name of religions, strategies have been set up that want to separate the republic.” Macron added that he did not mean that the republic and society must separate itself from religion but that every person must be free to believe or not believe. He said he did not accept any speech separating an individual from these rules “on the basis of a religion, a philosophy or anything else. That is the basis of this law.”
On October 26, President Macron, accompanied by Chief Rabbi of France Korsia inaugurated in the village of Medan the first museum dedicated to the “Dreyfus Affair,” which recalls the 1894-1906 period when antisemitism led to the wrongful conviction of Jewish army captain Alfred Dreyfus.
On October 28, Interior Minister Darmanin attended a ceremony marking the repair of the Jewish cemetery of Sarre-Union, where vandals desecrated 269 graves in 2015. “There is no greater duty for the republic than the protection of our Jewish compatriots who have suffered so much,” Darmanin stated.
In June, declared presidential candidate Jean-Luc Melenchon of the France Unbowed Party said that the killing by Mohammed Merah of Jewish schoolchildren and a rabbi in Toulouse in 2012 was “planned in advance” to place blame on Muslims before elections. CRIF President Francis Kalifat condemned Melenchon’s remarks, tweeting they were an obscene attack on the memory of the victims and that Melenchon was pandering to Islamo-leftist voters and conspiracy theories.
On July 16, President Macron became the first president to visit the sanctuary of Lourdes on the same day when, according to believers, in 1858 the 18th and last apparition of the Virgin Mary to Bernadette Soubirous, also known as Saint Bernadette of Lourdes, took place in the cave of Massabielle, a Catholic holy place.
The country is a member of the IHRA.
Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom
The Ministry of Interior reported registering 1,659 antireligious acts during the year, compared with the same period in 2019, when 1,893 acts were reported. (According to the ministry, statistics from 2020, when it recorded 1,386 antireligious acts, were not comparable because of the COVID-19 lockdown.) While the total number of acts reported decreased from 2019, the number of anti-Muslim acts increased by 38 percent to 213, from 154 in 2019 (234 in 2020). Anti-Christian acts decreased 19 percent, to 857, from 1,052 in 2019 (813 in 2020), and antisemitic acts fell 14 percent to 589, from 687 in 2019 (339 in 2020).
On August 9, Emmanuel Abayisenga, a Rwandan asylum seeker, killed Father Olivier Maire, a Catholic priest in Saint-Laurent-sur-Sevre in the Loire Region. Abayisenga was under judicial supervision while awaiting trial for allegedly setting fire to the Nantes Cathedral in 2020. Since the end of his pretrial detention, following an assessment he was mentally unfit to remain in the judicial system, Abayisenga had been staying with the victim. In an August 9 press conference, the regional deputy prosecutor said there was no initial indication of any terrorist motive. Media reported the killing had prompted a strong public outcry; President Macron and Prime Minister Castex both tweeted their condolences, and Minister of Interior Darmanin offered his support to the country’s Catholics. At year’s end, remained in a psychiatric hospital.
On May 29, a group of approximately 10 men jeered, whistled at, and physically attacked Catholics taking part in a procession in Paris commemorating Catholics killed during the 1871 Commune. The perpetrators tore down flags and threw projectiles at the marchers, injuring two of them. Interior Minister Darmanin condemned the attack on social media. Authorities charged one suspect with “aggravated violence” and “violation of religious freedom”. His trial was scheduled for 2022.
In September, press reported that five men beat a Jewish man wearing a kippah on a street in Lyon, after the man confronted them when the group called him “a dirty Jew.” The man sustained minor injuries. Police arrested one suspect, a teenager. There was no further information on the case at year’s end.
On March 29, a Pakistani national in the country illegally attempted to attack with a knife three young Jewish men wearing kippahs as they were leaving a synagogue in Paris during Passover. According to press reports, authorities indicted the man for making a “threat with a weapon” but not for an antisemitic hate crime, reportedly because of insufficient evidence, and then released him. Authorities subsequently deported the man to Pakistan on April 16. The president of the local Jewish community expressed relief at the man’s deportation.
In March, according to press reports, guards at a Jewish school in Marseille overpowered a man with a knife whom they suspected of planning to stab customers at a nearby kosher store and bakery. The guards disarmed the man and police took him into custody. There was no further information on the case at year’s end.
According to media reports, in November, police arrested a teenager who brandished a machete, hurled marbles, and shouted “dirty Jews” in front of a Jewish high school outside Lyon. Police were investigating whether the teenager or his family had ties to terrorism.
On December 1, legal authorities announced the trial of a man known as Aurelien C., whom security forces arrested in 2020 in Limoges because they suspected him of planning an attack on the Jewish community, would begin in Paris in January 2022. Aurelien C, a former member of both the military and the Yellow Vest protest movement, had posted on social media white supremacist conspiracy theories and both antisemitic and anti-Islamic comments, while glorifying terrorists such as the 2019 Christchurch and 2011 Oslo attackers. Investigators reportedly found incendiary tools in his home that could be used as mortars and found evidence he had researched when Jewish religious sites would reopen in his town. Aurelien C. remained in detention at year’s end.
On May 26, a priest at the Toulon Cathedral received a voicemail warning that someone would come to “kill people in the church” and “make the building jump [i.e., explode].” Police secured the cathedral and arrested a minor in Annecy later that afternoon for what they said may have been a prank. The priest and police admonished the public that such jokes were unacceptable, particularly in light of recent attacks on places of worship.
On April 17, authorities deported to Algeria an Algerian food delivery driver whom the Strasbourg Criminal Court had convicted on January 14 of antisemitic discrimination for refusing to transport orders of kosher food to Jewish customers. Interior Minister Darmanin said the courier, who was in the country illegally, was deported after serving his four-month prison sentence.
Jehovah’s Witnesses officials reported 14 incidents during the year. On December 31, a physical attack took place against a Jehovah’s Witness in a parking lot in Pierrefitte-sur-Seine. The individual filed a lawsuit.
According to the Israeli government’s Aliyah and Integration Ministry figures released in October, 2,819 French Jews emigrated to Israel in the first half of the year, compared with 2,227 in all of 2019. According to the same source, approximately 2,220 Jews left France for Israel during the first 11 months of 2020.
On the occasion of the 15th anniversary of the kidnapping, torture, and killing of Ilan Halimi, a young Jewish man, the CRIF commissioned a survey from research firm Ipsos on the perception of antisemitism in France. The survey was conducted between February 5 and 8 with a sample of 1,000 persons over the age of 18. The poll showed at least 74 percent of respondents believed that antisemitism was a widespread phenomenon in the country. The poll also found 56 percent believed antisemitism was more severe than 10 years previously and 88 percent believed that the fight against antisemitism should be a priority for public authorities. According to the poll, 69 percent of respondents were aware of the Ilan Halimi case; 53 percent believed that antisemitism had the same roots as other forms of racist hatred, and 38 percent did not fully understand the meaning of “anti-Zionism” rhetoric.
The annual report of the National Consultative Commission on Human Rights, an advisory body to the Prime Minister, released on July 22, included the results of an Ipsos poll conducted in November 2020 and involving face-to-face interviews with a representative sample of 1,323 residents above the age of 18. The results were similar to a poll Ipsos conducted a year earlier. According to the more recent poll, 47.6 percent (compared with 34.2 percent in 2019) of respondents believed Jews “have a particular relationship with money,” and 21.9 percent (18.6 percent in 2019) thought Jews had too much power in the country. The poll found 46.1 percent (35.5 percent in 2019) of respondents had a negative image of Islam, and 58.9 percent (44.7 percent in 2019) considered it a threat to national identity. The commission’s report again cited what it said was persistent societal rejection of Islamic religious practices, finding, for example, that 68.8 percent of respondents (45.5 percent in 2019) opposed women wearing a veil.
In September, the Brussels-Based NGO Action and Protection League issued the results of its European antisemitism survey based on data that in France was collected between February and June 2020. According to the survey, 7 percent of 1,000 respondents ages 18-75 in France said they had negative feelings towards Jews. Twelve percent said they would be “totally uncomfortable” or “uncomfortable” with having Jewish neighbors. The survey cited stereotypical statements about Jews and asked respondents the degree to which they agreed or disagreed. The proportion who responded “strongly agree” or “tend to agree” with the following statements were – “the interests of Jews in this country are very different from the interests of the rest of the population” (21 percent); “there is a secret Jewish network that influences political and economic affairs in the world” (28 percent); “Jews have too much influence in this country” (21 percent); “Jews will never be able to fully integrate into this society” (13 percent); “Jews are more inclined than most to use shady practices to achieve their goals” (15 percent); “many of the atrocities of the Holocaust were often exaggerated by the Jews later” (12 percent); “Jews are also to blame for the persecutions against them” (28 percent); “Jews exploit Holocaust victimhood for their own purposes” (24 percent).
In a July 25 interview with weekly Le Journal du Dimanche, CRIF President Kalifat condemned the anti-COVID-19 vaccine movement’s use of references to the persecution of the Jews by the Nazis. Kalifat said he was angry at those who “compare the implementation of the COVID-19 health pass, a tool intended to save lives, with the yellow star, which was itself the symbol of discrimination and the death of six million Jews [who] went up in smoke in Nazi crematoria.” Kalifat said the pandemic was a pretext for online conspiracy theories accusing Jews and Israel of introducing the virus to profit from the vaccine.
According to a study by the London-based Institute for Strategic Dialogue, French antisemitic content in online media platforms Twitter, Facebook, and Telegram increased seven-fold in the first two months of the year, compared with the same period in 2020. In addition to frequent antisemitic content related to COVID-19, the study found 55 percent of the content had to do with conspiracy theories about Jews controlling international, financial, political, and media institutions.
On February 1, on the occasion of an official visit to a CEF session by Chief Rabbi of France Korsia, CRIF President Kalifat, and Joel Mergui, then president of the Israelite Central Consistory of France (the main Jewish administrative governance body), the CEF expressed its strong opposition to antisemitism and concern for growing intolerance against Jews in the country. In a statement released to mark the visit, the bishops said their warning of the dangers of rising antisemitism in the country was “all the more urgent” given a “trivialization of violence” raised through hate speech, especially on social media. The bishops also urged “not only Catholics, but also all our fellow citizens to fight vigorously against all forms of political and religious antisemitism in and around them.”
A report covering 2019-20 and issued in December by NGO The Observatory on Intolerance and Discrimination Against Christians in Europe stated that society in the country seemed to be increasingly divided between Christians, secularists, and Muslims, adding that the government’s secularism had resulted in strong pressures on Christians on moral issues in which Christians and secular society have different views, such as marriage, family, education, bioethics, and identity politics. It also said media helped to perpetuate certain stereotypes about Christianity, leading to further division. The NGO expressed concern about what it called a lack of respect for Christianity and a high number of attacks on Christians, churches, and Christian symbols, as well as reports by Christians of feeling Islamic oppression. The report also stated authorities had noticed “the high number of serious attacks against churches, Christian buildings and symbols as well as against some citizens.”
In a report issued in March, NGO European Center for Law and Justice (ECLJ) stated that the overwhelming majority of converts to Christianity from Islam in the country experienced family and community contempt and persecution, most commonly in the form of verbal or physical aggression, threats, harassment, or rejection by members of the Muslim community. ECLJ added that persecution was greater for women and girls who converted from Islam, a significant proportion of whom it said were threatened with being forcibly married, sent to their parents’ country of origin, or sequestered if they did not return to Islam. The report stated that every year, 300 persons of Muslim origin were baptized into the Catholic Church and estimated that twice that number joined Protestant churches, concluding that there were at least 4,000 converts to Christianity from Islam in the country.
In September, religious leaders and other commentators criticized presidential candidate for 2022 Eric Zemmour’s statement that the Nazi-aligned Vichy regime “protected French Jews” during the Second World War. In an October TV interview, Chief Rabbi Korsia called Zemmour, who is of Jewish heritage, an antisemite for his comments doubting the innocence of Alfred Dreyfus, famously exonerated of treason charges in 1906. Zemmour was convicted in 2018 of incitement to religious hatred for making anti-Islamic comments.
On August 27, a fire, suspected to be arson, damaged a Protestant church in Behren-les-Forbach, in the eastern part of the country. On Twitter, Interior Minister Darmanin strongly condemned the arson and expressed his “support to France’s Protestants.” A gendarmerie investigation was ongoing at year’s end.
On April 12, students found a spray-painted crossed-out Star of David with the inscriptions “Death to Israel” and “Kouffar” (“nonbelievers” in Arabic and a pejorative term commonly used to describe Christians and Jews) on the facade of the Institute of Political Sciences, an institute of higher learning, in Paris. The Union of Jewish Students of France called for the institute to take action “to fight the scourge of racist and antisemitic hatred within its walls.” Higher Education Minister Vidal condemned the vandalism “in the strongest possible terms” on social media. At year’s end, authorities had not identified any suspects.
According to media reports, on August 28, neighbors discovered antisemitic slogans, such as “Death to the Jews,” painted on the wall of the cemetery and an adjoining barn in Rouffach, located in Upper Rhine Department. President of the Grand East Region Jean Rottner immediately condemned the incident on Twitter and called for an inquiry.
On August 11, local media in Brittany reported that a monument to French Holocaust survivor and European Parliament president Simone Veil in Perros-Guirec had been defaced three times with excrement and swastikas. On August 24, following a joint investigation conducted by gendarmes and the Central Office for the Fight against Crimes Against Humanity, two men were arrested. The local prosecutor announced on August 26 that the men were formally charged with aggravated degradation, aggravated public insult, and incitement to hatred charges, and were released on bail, with conditions. A trial had not been scheduled by year’s end.
On August 7, antipolice graffiti was discovered on the walls of the Nour El Mohamadi Mosque in central Bordeaux, which was vandalized twice in 2020. A police investigation was ongoing at year’s end.
On April 11, unidentified individuals defaced the Avicenne Muslim Cultural Center in Rennes with anti-Muslim graffiti, prompting a same-day visit by Interior Minister Darmanin and CFCM President Moussaoui. The Rennes prosecutor opened an investigation for vandalism of a religious nature. On April 29, vandals again defaced the Avicenne Muslim Cultural Center and a nearby halal butcher shop with anti-Muslim graffiti referencing a recent Islamist terror attack in Rambouillet, presidential candidate Melenchon, and right-wing monarchist group Action Francaise. Action Francaise denied responsibility for the vandalism. Elected officials and the regional prefect issued statements condemning the vandalism and affirming support for the Muslim community. The CFCM also condemned the incident as “a new and cowardly” provocation.
On December 10, unknown persons vandalized dozens of tombs in the Muslim cemetery in the town of Mulhouse, knocking flowers and ornaments off the graves, according to press reports. Mulhouse Mayor Michele Lutz condemned the vandalism.
On January 4, press reported local officials discovered swastikas and antisemitic graffiti spray painted on the walls of churches in Echouboulains and Ecrennes and the town hall of Vaux-le-Penil. Vandals had painted near-identical graffiti a week earlier on graves at a local cemetery and at a nativity scene in the nearby towns of Fontainebleau and Melun. The prefect of Seine-et-Marne Department and the mayor of Echouboulains condemned the vandalism, and Seine-et-Marne authorities opened an investigation.
On April 17, “The Return of Satan,” “Traitors,” and antisemitic graffiti were scrawled in red paint on the Saint-Sernin Basilica and in surrounding areas in Toulouse. Mayor Jean-Luc Moudenc condemned the vandalism. Local press said they believed far-right agitators could be behind the vandalism to create the impression of a Muslim attack on both Catholics and Jews.
The investigation of the 2020 killing of three Catholic worshippers in the Basilica of Notre Dame in the southern city of Nice continued at year’s end. The suspect in the killings, identified as Brahim Aouissaoui, an asylum seeker from Tunisia who entered the country shortly before the attack, remained in prison. The national counterterrorism prosecutor’s office said it was treating the attack as a terrorist incident.
On November 9, a Paris prosecutor requested a 32-year prison sentence for Yacine Mihoub, convicted of killing Holocaust survivor Mireille Knoll in 2018 and 18 years in prison for his accomplice, Alex Carrimbacus. On November 10, the Paris Criminal Court sentenced Mihoub to life imprisonment, with no possibility of parole before 22 years. Carrimbacus was acquitted of murder but found guilty of theft and sentenced to 15 years in prison. The court ruled the killing was fueled by “a broader context of antisemitism” and “prejudices” about the purported wealth of Jewish people. The victim’s family said the verdict was “just.” On November 15, Mihoub’s lawyer announced his client had appealed the ruling, paving the way for a second trial.
On August 27, the Paris Criminal Court concluded it did not have jurisdiction to hear a case involving two men who in 2020 shouted antisemitic insults and assaulted a Jewish man, stole his watch, and beat him unconscious. The criminal court transferred the case to the Court of Assizes – which hears the most serious criminal cases – because the two men could face more than 15 years in prison on a charge of violent theft motivated by religious reasons. At year’s end, a trial had not been scheduled, and the two men remained in detention.
On July 2, the Seine-Saint-Denis Criminal Court sentenced nine individuals to prison, with sentences ranging from four to 12 years for the violent September 2017 robbery of a Jewish family in Livry-Gargan, a northern Paris suburb. The individuals were convicted of breaking into the home of Roger Pinto, the president of Siona, a group that represents Sephardic Jews, and beating Pinto’s son and wife. The court confirmed the antisemitic nature of the robbery. The Pinto family’s lawyer called the ruling “a victory for the law.” The convicted individuals’ lawyer announced her clients would not appeal the ruling.
On July 8, the Colmar Court of Appeals declared a man accused of attempted murder after crashing his car into a mosque in Colmar in 2019 criminally not responsible for his actions and ordered he be sent to a psychiatric hospital instead.
On July 7, the Paris Criminal Court handed down suspended prison sentences ranging from four to six months to 11 of 13 defendants after they were found guilty of harassing and threatening a 16-year-old student, Mila, online in Lyon in 2020. The 13 defendants represented a variety of backgrounds and religions; one had charges dismissed for procedural reasons, and another was acquitted. The court considered the case a “real business of harassment.” The student’s lawyer told the court Mila had received approximately 100,000 threatening messages, including death threats, rape threats, misogynist messages, and hateful messages about her homosexuality after she posted a vulgar anti-Islam video online. The student said she posted the video in response to a vulgar attack on her sexuality by a Muslim. Mila was also forced to change schools and continued to live under police protection through year’s end. In July, the student met with Chemsedine Hafiz, Rector of the Great Mosque of Paris.
On September 22, four men and four women appeared before the Paris Criminal Court for posting antisemitic tweets against April Benayoum, the runner-up in the 2021 Miss France competition. The eight were tried for “public insults committed because of origin, ethnicity, race, or religion.” Benayoum received numerous antisemitic comments on social media after revealing that her father was Israeli during the televised competition in 2020. Prosecutors requested suspended sentences of two months’ imprisonment. On November 3, a Paris court ordered seven of the eight defendants to each pay fines ranging from 300 to 800 euros ($340-$910). Each of the seven was also ordered to pay one euro ($1.13) in damages to the contestant and to each of several associations involved in combating racism and antisemitism which had joined the plaintiff in the lawsuit. Four of the defendants were also ordered to attend a two-day civic class. The court acquitted the eighth suspect, finding that his tweet did not target Benayoum directly.
On July 2, a Paris court sentenced French comedian Dieudonne M’Bala to four months in prison for “public insult of an antisemitic nature” and “contestation of a crime against humanity” for two 2020 videos regarding the Holocaust. M’Bala appealed the decision.
On May 19, the Paris Court of Appeals condemned writer Alain Soral, commonly described in the press as a right-wing extremist, to four months in prison, with work release during the day, for incitement to religious hatred for blaming the 2019 fire in Notre Dame Cathedral on Jews from Paris. In a separate case, the Court of Cassation on October 26 rejected Soral’s appeal of a 2020 ruling by the Paris Court of Appeals that convicted him for contesting crimes against humanity for his remarks regarding the Holocaust and ordered Soral to pay a fine of 5,000 euros ($5,700) or face imprisonment.
On October 19, a court in Metz sentenced teacher and former National Rally political candidate Cassandre Fristot to a suspended prison sentence of six months for “inciting racial hatred.” Fristot held a placard with antisemitic slogans at an antivaccine protest in August, sparking wide condemnation and prompting Interior Minister Darmanin to ask the Prefect of Moselle to take legal action. The court also ordered Fristot to pay fines of between one and 300 euros ($1.13-$340) to eight out of 13 groups, including CRIF and various NGOs, that joined the case as plaintiffs. Education authorities also suspended Fristot from her teaching position on August 9, pending disciplinary action.
On May 18, the Lyon Criminal Court dropped charges against French-Palestinian activist Olivia Zemor, stating lack of evidence. An Israeli pharmaceutical company had sued Zemor for defamation and incitement to economic discrimination after she posted an article on Europalestine, a pro-Palestinian website, accusing the company of being complicit in “apartheid and occupation.”
According to media, on October 26, a court in Val d’Oise, a region north of Paris, gave an optician a one-year suspended prison sentence for having a harassed a Jewish family returning from synagogue on August 21. The woman repeatedly gave the Nazi salute, shouted “Heil Hitler,” and told the family, “Dirty Jews, you are the shame of France.”
On October 29, the Paris Criminal Court declared Jean-Marie Le Pen, the 93-year-old founder of the National Front party, now known as National Rally, not guilty of charges of inciting racial hatred for comments targeting a Jewish pop singer. Asked in June 2014 about the French singer and actor Patrick Bruel, Le Pen referred to Bruel’s Jewish origins with a pun evoking the Holocaust, stating, “I’m not surprised. Listen, next time we’ll do a whole oven batch!” The court said Le Pen had clearly targeted Jews with his comment but that the statement did not amount to “inciting discrimination and violence.”
According to press reports, in September, the Correctional Tribunal of Toulouse acquitted Mohamed Tatai, the Rector of the Great Mosque of Toulouse, for a sermon he gave in Arabic in 2017 that prosecutors stated was antisemitic. In the sermon, posted on a U.S. website, Tatai said, “The Prophet Muhammad told us about the final and decisive battle: the last judgment will not come until Muslims battle Jews.” The court ruled that Tatai, who said he was mistranslated, had no desire to incite hatred in his sermon. Jewish leaders criticized the ruling. Franck Teboul, the president of the Toulouse chapter of the CRIF, likened the decision to the Court of Cassation’s ruling not to convict the killer of Sarah Halimi, and commented, “…so you tell thousands at a mosque to kill Jews and hide beyond a centuries-old text.” Abdallah Zakri, President of the Observatory for the Fight Against Islamophobia, called Tatai a moderate Muslim who had maintained good relations with Jews and Catholics and said his acquittal would undercut radical fundamentalists.
On January 5, the Correctional Court of Saint-Nazaire ordered a man to pay a 400-euro ($450) fine and complete an internship on citizenship for posting in 2020 on social media, “You want to honor [Samuel Paty]? Go burn down the mosque in [the southern town of] Beziers to send the message that we are sick of it.”
On May 5, the Rhone Mosque Council published a request asking women not to attend mosques for the planned May 13 Eid al-Fitr prayer. Kamel Kabtane, the Rector of the Lyon Great Mosque, said this decision was due to the COVID-19 crisis, and added that the elderly and weak were also advised to stay home. He denied accusations of discrimination that were posted on social media stating individuals were trying to be malicious toward Muslims. Kabtane also said mosques did not have sufficient capacity to hold all worshippers and cited a note from the Ministry of the Interior prohibiting prefects and mayors from renting them larger spaces.
On October 5, the Catholic Church’s Independent Commission on Sexual Abuse in the Church released its report on child abuse committed by Catholic priests, concluding that, not counting deceased victims, priests had abused 216,000 minors in the country between 1950 and 2020. Adding claims against lay members of the Church, such as teachers at Catholic schools, the report said the number of victims might total 330,000. Commission President Jean-Marc Sauve said the abuse was systemic and the Church had shown “deep, total, and even cruel indifference for years.” CEF President Archbishop de Moulins-Beaufort, who had requested the report along with Sister Veronique Margron, President of the Conference of Monks and Nuns of France, expressed “shame and horror” at the findings. The CEF said it would financially compensate victims by selling its own assets or taking on loans if needed and that an independent national commission would be set up to evaluate the claims. In a November 8 statement, CEF leadership recognized formally for the first time that the Church bore “an institutional responsibility” for the abuse and, in what they said was a gesture of penance, prayed on their knees at the sanctuary of Lourdes.
Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement
The Charge d’Affaires and other staff from the embassy, consulates general, and APPs engaged relevant government officials, including at the religious affairs offices of the Ministries of the Interior and Foreign Affairs and DILCRAH, on ways to combat antisemitism and anti-Muslim hatred and strengthen religious freedom. Topics discussed included religious tolerance, antisemitic 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. Embassy officials closely monitored official government positions on antisemitic, anti-Muslim, and anti-Christian incidents.
Staff from the embassy, consulates general, and APPs met regularly in person and virtually 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, antisemitism, anti-Muslim sentiment, and interfaith dialogue and tolerance with senior Christian, Muslim, and Jewish representatives, and NGOs such as Coexister, an organization that promotes interfaith dialogue, and the American Jewish Committee (AJC) Europe. They also hosted meetings with representatives from CRIF, the Israelite Central Consistory of France, the CFCM, the Paris Great Mosque, and Catholic and Protestant representatives working on interfaith dialogue.
The embassy supported for a second year an interfaith program, “Kol Yoom,” with local NGO Institut Hozes. The program conducted interfaith “boot camps” gathering Jewish and Muslim teenagers from different social backgrounds to create shared experiences to foster tolerance and mutual understanding. The groups participated in workshops and community service activities and acted as a force of positive change in their communities. The embassy facilitated an Escape Zoom, an online cooperative game to foster ties between Jewish and Muslim students aged 12-17. In April, the Interfaith Tour documentary, Le Temps des Olives (the Olive Season), was screened online for the group, followed by a discussion of ways to build societal cohesion and fight against hate speech. The documentary portrayed four youths of different faiths from Coexister who conducted an eight-month world tour in 18 countries, funded in part by the embassy, to interview activists, academics, politicians, and interfaith leaders and to research projects to build diverse, inclusive, and sustainable societies.
On May 18, the Charge d’Affaires and the Consul General in Marseille took part in a conference at the Camp des Milles Holocaust Memorial and educational site. They discussed with other participants opportunities to raise Holocaust awareness and increase societal tolerance.
In September, embassy representatives met with Chemsedine Hafiz, Rector of the Grand Mosque of Paris, to discuss religious freedom, anti-Muslim sentiment, societal tolerance, and interfaith dialogue.
In September, the Consul General in Strasbourg hosted an interfaith roundtable with the Council of Europe, the Holy See’s Ambassador to the council, and religious leaders from across the region, including Catholic, Protestant, Anglican, Jewish, and Muslim representatives from Alsace. Participants discussed current challenges presented by social media platforms regarding intolerance and radicalization, and ideas on how to bring interfaith discussion to the international identity of Strasbourg, in partnership with the Council of Europe.
During the year, the Consul General in Marseille held a series of meetings with religious leaders to discuss religious freedom issues. The Consul General met with the Regional Council of the Muslim Faith (CRCM) in the Midi Pyrenees Region and the CRCM spokesperson in Toulouse on February 18, where they discussed preventing violent extremism, the Upholding Republican Values law, and tolerance and acceptance towards Muslims in French and American society. On March 2, she met with the CRIF Marseille president and discussed tolerance and acceptance towards Jews, and Jewish and Muslim cooperation and understanding in Marseille’s northern neighborhoods. In April, she held a virtual iftar with the Muslim community of the Provence-Alpes-Cote d’Azur Region, with attendees from Marseille, Avignon, Nice, and Carpentras at which they discussed the Ramadan traditions of the North African diaspora in Southern France, countering violent extremism in prisons, the Upholding Republican Values law, and the importance of interfaith dialogue in increasing societal tolerance. On May 25, she met with the Vaucluse Jewish community and the CRCM representative for Vaucluse, and visited the Carpentras Synagogue and the Carpentras Mosque. At the synagogue, she and Jewish community representatives discussed how community members were working to preserve their Jewish traditions within their congregation. In the mosque, she and Muslim community representatives discussed how Muslim leaders were helping newcomers integrate into the country, especially with material support for young families and with literacy education.
On October 2-4, an official from the consulate general in Marseille and representatives of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum visited the Camp de Rivesaltes Memorial site in the Pyrenees Orientales Region and met with the memorial’s staff to explore opportunities for cooperation on Holocaust remembrance. The camp was a transit point for deportees who were later sent to Nazi extermination camps.
APP Rennes officials met with Marc Brzustowski and Philippe Strol, respectively Vice President and President of the Rennes synagogue, on September 22 to discuss religious freedom, antisemitism, and opportunities for interfaith dialogue. In October, APP Rennes officials discussed opportunities for interfaith dialogue with local government officials.
APP Lyon officials attended the investiture of the new Grand Rabbi of Lyon and the Auvergne-Rhone-Alpes Region, Daniel Dahan, in October. The Consul spoke with the Grand Rabbi and other Jewish leaders regarding their concerns about the growth of antisemitism in the region.
On November 11, the Second Gentleman of the United States visited the Shoah Memorial in Paris to pay homage to victims of the Holocaust while marking Franco-American resolve to combat contemporary antisemitism. He lit a memorial candle in honor of the 76,000 Jews deported from the country under Vichy rule at the Wall of Names that lists the victims.
The embassy regularly amplified messages from the Secretary of State and Department of State on religious freedom on embassy social media platforms in French and in English. For example, in May and July, it posted remarks by the Secretary on religious freedom as a human right. The Charge d’Affaires also published messages related to religious holidays on his Twitter accounts to highlight the diversity of religions and high-level engagement on religious freedom issues. These included posts on Yom Kippur, Easter, Ramadan, Naw Ruz, and Holi, among others.
The constitution prohibits religious discrimination and provides for freedom of faith and conscience and the practice of one’s religion. The country’s 16 states exercise considerable autonomy on registration of religious groups and other matters. Unrecognized religious groups are ineligible for tax benefits. The federal government banned the Muslim association Ansaar International, stating it financed terrorism, and Hamburg’s intelligence service said it would classify the Islamic Center Hamburg (IZH) as an organization receiving “direct orders from Tehran.” Federal and some state offices of the domestic intelligence service continued to monitor the activities of numerous Muslim groups and mosques, as well as the Church of Scientology (COS). Certain states continued to ban or restrict the use of religious clothing or symbols, including headscarves, for some state employees. A ruling on two German cases by the Court of Justice of the European Union said the needs of employers could outweigh an employee’s right to wear religious clothing and symbols. Senior government leaders continued to condemn antisemitism and anti-Muslim sentiment and acts. In speeches in September and October, then Chancellor Angela Merkel expressed regret that public antisemitism had increased in the country and said Germany would expend great strength to resist it. The first antisemitism commissioner for the state of Hamburg assumed office in July; Bremen remained the only state without such a position.
There were numerous reports of antisemitic, anti-Muslim, and anti-Christian incidents. These included assaults, verbal harassment, threats, discrimination, vandalism, and demonstrations. In separate incidents, two Jewish men were hospitalized after being severely beaten and suffering broken bones in the face. In May, there was an outbreak of antisemitic demonstrations and attacks, some of them violent, as well as vandalism and assaults across the country, during violence in the Middle East. According to figures collected by the Federal Criminal Police Office, as of November 5, there had been 1,850 antisemitic crimes reported during the year, including 35 involving physical violence leading to 17 persons injured. Ministry of Interior crime statistics for 2020, the most recent year for which complete data were available, cited 2,351 antisemitic crimes, an increase of 15.7 percent from 2019, attributing 2,224 (94.6 percent) of them to the far right. Fifty-seven of the antisemitic crimes involved violence. The ministry registered 929 crimes targeting Muslims and Muslim institutions – including 79 against places of worship and 51 involving battery – and 141 anti-Christian crimes, including seven involving violence. The ministry classified most of the perpetrators of anti-Muslim crimes as right-wing extremists; the composition of those acting against Christians was mixed. The partially government-funded Federal Association of Departments for Research and Information on Antisemitism (RIAS) attributed the increase in antisemitic incidents to the large number of demonstrations against measures to contain COVID-19 or to other COVID-related issues, classifying 489 antisemitic incidents as connected to the pandemic. Demonstrations also occurred expressing anti-Muslim sentiment. In September, the Brussels-based nongovernmental organization (NGO) Action and Protection League issued the results of its European antisemitism survey, which found that 10 percent of 1,000 respondents ages 18-75 in Germany said they had negative feelings towards Jews.
In June, then Foreign Minister Heiko Maas and the U.S. Secretary of State launched the U.S.-Germany Dialogue on Holocaust Issues to promote accurate Holocaust education and information and to combat Holocaust denial and distortion and antisemitism. The U.S. embassy and five consulates general assessed the government’s responses to incidents of religious intolerance and met with a wide range of officials at all levels and with federal and state legislators. They expressed concerns regarding antisemitic, anti-Muslim, and anti-Christian acts, and advocated for more law enforcement and other resources to prevent violent attacks on religious communities. Consuls General met with state-level government representatives, including antisemitism commissioners. The embassy and consulates general maintained a dialogue with a broad spectrum of religious communities and human rights NGOs on their concerns regarding religious freedom and on ways to promote tolerance and communication among religious groups. The embassy and consulates worked closely with Jewish communities to support programs promoting religious tolerance and understanding, while countering antisemitism and extremism targeting religion. The embassy utilized virtual and in-person speaker programs and workshops to help preserve accurate Holocaust narratives and expand discussion of religious freedom issues. The Frankfurt Consul General visited Ulm’s Jewish community in June following an attack on a synagogue there. The Charge d’Affaires and the Leipzig Consul General visited Halle, the site of a fatal 2019 attack on a synagogue, where they met with members of the Jewish community to discuss antisemitism, religious tolerance, and Jewish life in the east of the country. The embassy made extensive use of social media to amplify U.S. government messaging and disseminate its own original content advocating religious freedom.
Section I. Religious Demography
The U.S. government estimates the total population at 79.9 million (midyear 2021). Unofficial estimates based on the census and figures provided by religious groups indicate approximately 27 percent of the population is Catholic and 25 percent belongs to the Evangangelische Kirche in Deutschland (EKD) – a confederation of Lutheran, Reformed (Calvinist), and United (Prussian Union) Protestant regional churches. Other Protestant denominations, including the New Apostolic Church, Baptist communities, and nondenominational Christians, account for approximately 2 percent of the population. Orthodox Christians represent 1.9 percent of the population.
According to government estimates published in April, approximately 6.6 percent of the population is Muslim, of which 74 percent is Sunni, 8 percent Alevi, 4 percent Shia, 1 percent Ahmadi, and 1 percent other affiliations such as Alawites and Sufis. The remaining 12 percent of Muslims in the country say they are not affiliated with any of the above groups or are unwilling to disclose an affiliation. Intelligence officials estimate there are approximately 12,150 Salafi Muslims in the country. Estimates of the Jewish population vary widely; the Federal Ministry of the Interior estimates it at 95,000, while other estimates place the number at approximately 190,000 when including Jews who do not belong to a specific Jewish community. According to the secular NGO Religious Studies Media and Information Service (REMID), Buddhists (270,000); Jehovah’s Witnesses (167,000); Hindus (100,000); Yezidis (100,000); members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Church of Jesus Christ) (40,000); Sikhs (10,000-15,000); and members of the COS (3,400) together constitute less than 1 percent of the population. All of REMID’s estimates are based on members who have registered with a religious group. According to the nonprofit Research Group Worldviews Germany, approximately 39 percent of the population either has no religious affiliation or belongs to religious groups not counted in government statistics.
Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom
The constitution prohibits discrimination based on religious opinion and provides for freedom of faith and conscience, freedom to profess a religious or philosophical creed, and freedom to practice one’s religion. It also prohibits an official state church. It stipulates no one shall be required to disclose his or her religious convictions nor be compelled to participate in religious acts. The constitution states religious instruction shall be part of the curriculum in public schools, and parents have the right to decide whether their children receive religious instruction. It recognizes the right to establish private denominational schools. The constitution guarantees the freedom to form religious societies and permits groups to organize themselves for private religious purposes without constraint. It allows registered religious groups with Public Law Corporation (PLC) status to receive public subsidies from the states and to provide religious services in the military, hospitals, and prisons.
A federal law prohibits discrimination on the grounds of race or ethnic origin, gender, religion or belief, disability, age, or sexual orientation.
The federal criminal code prohibits calling for violence, inciting hatred, or taking arbitrary measures against religious groups or their members. Violations are punishable by up to five years in prison. It also prohibits “assaulting the human dignity of religious groups or their members by insulting, maliciously maligning, or defaming them,” specifying a maximum penalty of five years in prison, although prison sentences are rare. The prohibition and penalties apply equally to online speech. In addition, the federal criminal code prohibits insulting a domestic religious organization, its institutions or practices, or the religious beliefs or world views of another person, if doing so could disturb the public peace. Violations are punishable by a fine or up to three years in prison but are rarely prosecuted. The federal criminal code prohibits disturbing religious services or acts of worship, with violators subject to a fine or imprisonment for up to three years. The law bans Nazi propaganda, Holocaust denial, and fomenting racial hatred, specifying a penalty of up to five years’ imprisonment.
By law, social media companies with more than two million registered users in the country must implement procedures to review complaints and remove or block access to illegal speech within seven days of receiving a complaint and within 24 hours for cases considered “manifestly unlawful.” Noncompliance may result in fines of up to 50 million euros ($56.69 million). Unlawful content includes actions illegal under the criminal code, such as defamation of religions and denial of historic atrocities.
The law permits the federal government to characterize “nontraditional” religious groups – such as the COS – as “sects,” “youth religions,” and “youth sects” and allows the government to provide “accurate information” or warnings about them to the public. The law does not permit the government to use terms such as “destructive,” “pseudo-religious,” or “manipulative” when referring to these groups. Several past court decisions ruled that the government must remain neutral toward a religion and may provide a warning to the public only if an “offer” by a religious group would endanger the basic rights of an individual or place the individual in a state of physical or financial dependence.
Religious groups wishing to qualify as nonprofit associations with tax-exempt status must register. State-level authorities review registration submissions and routinely grant tax-exempt status; if challenged, their decisions are subject to judicial review. Those applying for tax-exempt status must provide evidence they are a religious group through their statutes, history, and activities.
A special partnership exists between the states and religious groups with PLC status, as outlined in the constitution. Any religious group may request PLC status, which, if granted, entitles the group to levy tithes (8 percent of income tax in Bavaria and Baden-Wuerttemberg, 9 percent in the other states) on members, who must register their religious affiliation with federal tax authorities. Each state collects the tithes on behalf of the religious community through the state’s tax collection process, separately from and in addition to income taxes. PLCs pay fees to the government for the tithing service, but not all groups with PLC status utilize the service. PLC status also allows for benefits, including tax exemptions (larger than those given to groups with nonprofit status), representation on supervisory boards of public television and radio stations, and the right to special labor regulations. State governments subsidize institutions with PLC status that provide public services, such as religious schools and hospitals. In addition, due to historic “state-church contracts” dating back to before 1919, all state governments except for Bremen and Hamburg subsidize the Catholic Church and the EKD with different yearly amounts.
According to the constitution, the decision to grant PLC status is made at the state level. Individual states base PLC status decisions on a number of varying qualifications, including an assurance of the group’s permanence, size, and respect for the constitutional order and fundamental rights of individuals. An estimated 180 religious groups have PLC status, including Catholics, the EKD, Baha’is, Baptists, Christian Scientists, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Jews, Mennonites, Methodists, the Church of Jesus Christ, the Salvation Army, and Seventh-day Adventists. The Ahmadiyya Muslim Community has PLC status in the states of Hesse and Hamburg; no other Muslim communities have PLC status. The COS does not have PLC or nonprofit status in any state.
Federal animal protection laws prohibit the killing of animals without anesthesia, including as part of halal and kosher slaughter practices. Pursuant to a Federal Administrative Court decision, however, trained personnel may kill animals without anesthesia in a registered slaughterhouse under observation of the local veterinary inspection office if the meat is for consumption only by members of religious communities whose beliefs require slaughtering animals without anesthesia.
On July 6, a federal law took effect that enables authorities to restrict the tattoos, clothing, jewelry, and hair or beard styles of civil servants if this is necessary to ensure the functionality of public administration or fulfill the obligation for respectful and trustworthy conduct. The law specifies that if these symbols are of a religious nature, they may only be restricted if they are “objectively suited to adversely affecting trust in a civil servant’s neutral performance of his official duties.”
According to a ruling by the Federal Constitutional Court, general headscarf bans for teachers at public schools are a violation of religious freedom, but implementation is left to the states, which may determine if special circumstances apply. The states of Bavaria, North-Rhine Westphalia (NRW), and Saarland render decisions on a case-by-case basis. Schleswig-Holstein, Hamburg, Bremen, and Lower Saxony do not prohibit headscarves for teachers. Hesse permits teachers to wear headscarves as long as doing so does not impair “school peace” or threaten perceptions of state neutrality. Rhineland-Palatinate and Baden-Wuerttemberg prohibit teachers from wearing full-face veils (i.e., niqabs or burqas). Berlin bans visible signs of religious affiliation for police, lawyers, judges, and law enforcement staff but not for primary and secondary school teachers. In Lower Saxony and Bavaria, judges and prosecutors may not wear religious symbols or clothing in the courtroom. Other states have laws that restrict religious attire in certain circumstances.
Citing safety reasons and the need for traffic law enforcement, federal law prohibits the concealment of faces while driving, including by a niqab. Infractions are punishable by a 60 euro ($68) fine.
State law in Rhineland-Palatinate and Baden-Wuerttemberg forbids students in primary and secondary schools from full-face veiling at school (i.e., wearing a niqab or burqa). This state ban on full-face covering does not apply in higher education.
According to federal law, religious groups may appoint individuals with special training to carry out circumcision of males younger than six months. After six months, the law states circumcisions must be performed in a “medically professional manner” and without unnecessary pain.
All states offer religious instruction and ethics courses in public schools. Religious communities with PLC status (or those without such status that have concluded a special agreement with the state granting them this right) appoint religion teachers and work with the states to ensure the curriculum is in line with the constitution; the states pay the teachers’ salaries. Most public schools offer the option of Protestant and Catholic religious instruction in cooperation with those Churches, as well as instruction in Judaism if enough students (usually 12, although regulations vary by state) express an interest. Bavaria, Baden-Wuerttemberg, Berlin, Hesse, Lower Saxony, NRW, Rhineland-Palatinate, Saarland, and Schleswig-Holstein also offer some religious instruction in Islam. In most federal states, Muslim communities or associations provide this instruction, while in Bavaria and Schleswig-Holstein, the state does. In Hamburg and Bremen, nondenominational religious instruction is offered for all students by the EKD and the state, respectively.
Students who do not wish to participate in religious instruction may opt out; in some states, those who opt out may substitute ethics courses. State authorities generally permit religious groups to establish private schools as long as they meet basic curriculum requirements. Schooling is constitutionally mandated, and homeschooling, including for religious reasons, is prohibited in all states.
The government provides annual payments to Holocaust victims and their descendants, and regularly expands the scope of these programs to broaden the eligibility requirements.
The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
In May, then federal Interior Minister Horst Seehofer banned the Duesseldorf-based Muslim association Ansaar International and related suborganizations for financing terrorism and opposing the country’s constitutional order. The NRW Office for the Protection of the Constitution (OPC, the state’s intelligence service) had been observing these organizations since 2013. More than 1,000 officers were deployed in 10 states (Baden-Wuerttemberg, Bavaria, Berlin, Brandenburg, Hamburg, Hesse, Lower Saxony, North Rhine-Westphalia, Rhineland-Palatinate and Schleswig-Holstein) to enforce the ban.
In July, Hamburg’s domestic intelligence service announced that, based on new evidence, it would officially classify the IZH as an organization that is not independent, but rather one that “receives and depends on direct orders from Tehran.” The IZH challenged this and previous claims in court; a verdict was pending at year’s end. Hamburg opposition parties and civil society actors continued to advocate an end to Hamburg’s formal relationship with the IZH, which they said was an important Iranian regime asset.
Federal and state OPCs continued to monitor numerous Muslim groups, including the U.S.-designated terrorist groups ISIS, Hizballah, and Hamas, as well as groups such as Turkish Hizballah, Hizb ut-Tahrir, Tablighi Jama’at, Millatu Ibrahim, the IZH, the Muslim Brotherhood, Milli Gorus, and various Salafist movements.
The OPC in Saxony continued to monitor two mosques it said were dominated by Salafists.
According to reports from the federal OPC and COS members, the federal OPC and the OPCs of six states – Baden-Wuerttemberg, Bavaria, Berlin, Bremen, Hamburg, Lower Saxony, NRW, and Saxony-Anhalt – continued to monitor the activities of the COS, reportedly by evaluating COS publications and members’ public activities to determine whether they violated the constitution. At least four major political parties – the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), Christian Social Union (CSU), Social Democratic Party (SPD), and Free Democratic Party (FDP) – continued to exclude Scientologists from party membership. “Sect filters,” signed statements by potential employees to confirm they had no contact with the COS, remained in use in the public and private sectors.
Groups under OPC observation continued to say that OPC scrutiny implied they were extremist and that this constrained their ability to apply for publicly funded projects.
In speeches in September and October, then Chancellor Merkel expressed regret that expressions of public antisemitism had increased in the country and said the country would expend great strength to resist it. At the presentation of a prize for tolerance in September, she stated that support for Jewish life was a special obligation of the government and that the country would not tolerate racism, antisemitism, or hate directed at a group of persons. She also acknowledged a strong increase in antisemitic acts in 2020 and expressed concern that antisemitism was becoming bolder and more open than before.
In August, the federal government announced it would spend an additional 12 million euros ($13.61 million) on research networks focusing on antisemitism between 2021 and 2024, complementing the one billion euros ($1.13 billion) in spending already planned for 89 measures against right-wing extremism, antisemitism, and racism during that period. Then Education and Research Minister Anja Karliczek said the government wanted to invest millions in researching the causes of anti-Semitism in order “to efficiently fight” it, adding that there was reason to worry that the 2,351 cases of antisemitism reported in 2020 were “only the tip of the iceberg and that the unreported number of daily attacks on Jews is substantially higher.”
In July, the Duisburg public prosecutor’s office charged six law enforcement officers with sedition and spreading symbols of unconstitutional organizations by participating in right-wing extremist chat groups with names such as “Alphateam” and “Kunte Kinte.” According to the NRW Interior Ministry, officers exchanged anti-Muslim content in the groups, including praise for the 2019 anti-Muslim attacks at mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand. The groups had been found entered into an officer’s phone in September 2020. Investigations against seven other accused members of the chat groups were dropped due to statutes of limitation or lack of sufficient evidence. Investigations continued in 13 other cases, all involving law enforcement officers. In September, the NRW Interior Ministry’s unit examining police right-wing extremism published its report of conclusions, in which it recommended 18 separate measures to fight right-wing extremism within the police.
In June, Frankfurt prosecutors launched investigations of 20 members of the city’s elite police special forces (SEK) for exchanging right-wing extremist material in a chat group, including material venerating Nazi organizations and expressing hate against minority groups. On August 26, Hesse Interior Minister Peter Beuth dissolved the Frankfurt SEK and announced a statewide reorganization of SEK units. Investigations against a majority of the officers continued at year’s end, but investigations of two superior officers for failing to report the activity were closed. Frankfurt Police president Gerhard Bereswill said in September that parts of the city’s police force would be reformed to address antisemitic tendencies and other discriminatory attitudes within it.
In July, the chair of the Central Council of Muslims in Germany, Ayman Mazyek, and other representatives of the Muslim community said that military chaplains were not available to the estimated 3,000 Muslim soldiers who “put their heads on the line for Germany.” The Ministry of Defense said that the lack of an umbrella organization for Muslims with which the ministry could negotiate made it difficult to appoint imams as chaplains.
In June, the Bundeswehr (military) appointed its first military rabbi, the first of up to 10 rabbis scheduled to serve the 150-300 Jews in the armed forces. The Central Council of Jews in Germany and leading politicians of all major parties welcomed the move.
According to the Rhineland-Palatinate Ministry of Justice, the state employed four Muslim prison chaplains, all of whom are state employees and had to pass a multistep recruitment process. The states of Hesse, Rhineland-Palatinate, and Bavaria also employed Muslim chaplains, according to media reports, and in Lower Saxony, 11 Muslim chaplains worked for the prison system on a freelance basis.
In May, the Stuttgart Administrative Court decided in favor of the Wuerttemberg EKD, ruling that the federal government’s COVID-19 restrictions for areas with high infection rates did not apply to church funerals. The EKD had argued in April that church funerals were religious services, not private events, and should therefore be exempt from the 30-person attendance limit mandated by the COVID-19 regulations. The court also found that the federal regulation constituted an infringement on religious freedom.
Religious groups, including the Coordination Council of Muslims, whose members included the country’s largest Muslim organizations, expressed concern that authorities might restrict civil servants from wearing headscarves or other religious symbols after the law allowing such restrictions in some circumstances came into effect in July.
On March 22-23, then Chancellor Merkel and the minister-presidents (governors) of the 16 states decided the government would ask churches to cancel in-person Easter services on April 4 as part of heightened COVID-19 restrictions during a five-day “quiet period” of no in-person gatherings. According to media reports, the Chancellor and minister-presidents did not consult with church leaders or government advisors on religious affairs before announcing the decision. On March 24, following strong protests by the Catholic Church, the EKD, and business leaders, the federal government withdrew the plan for the quiet period. The government, however, still encouraged churches to avoid in-person Easter services.
In April, NRW Interior Minister Herbert Reul suggested that religious congregations suspend in-person services due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The suggestion followed a COVID-19 outbreak at a church in Euskirchen. Religious groups followed strict social distancing rules for in-person worship but also offered virtual and drive-in services.
Also in April, local officials and mayors across NRW encouraged Muslims to celebrate Ramadan virtually, as large gatherings were prohibited due to COVID-19 regulations. To comply with social distancing regulations, many mosques offered in-person services for smaller numbers of participants, as well as online prayers.
In August, the NRW state government established a reporting office for antisemitic incidents that do not rise to the level of criminal charges. The North Rhein State Association of Jewish Communities temporarily administered the office until the government could establish a new organization.
In March, the city of Cologne established a reporting and documentation office for antisemitic incidents at its National Socialist Documentation Center that it said would coordinate its efforts with similar institutions at the state and national level.
In April, the Hamburg government appointed Stefan Hensel, the local chair of the German Israeli Society (DIG), as the city-state’s first independent antisemitism commissioner. Hensel’s three-year term began on July 1. Hamburg’s largest Jewish congregation, led by Chief Rabbi Shlomo Bistritzky, as well as the smaller Liberal Jewish Community, endorsed the appointment. Hensel stated that he was committed to fighting both antisemitism and anti-Zionism, adding that the city should appreciate Hamburg Jews as modern citizens.
Bremen remained the only state in the country without an antisemitism commissioner. In previous years, the deputy chair of the Jewish community in Bremen said the community preferred to address antisemitism and other issues of concern in an existing forum that included the mayor and president of the legislature.
In August, the government of Baden-Wuerttemberg announced that the annual budget of the state’s antisemitism commissioner would be doubled to more than 2.2 million euros ($2.49 million).
In January, the Baden-Wuerttemberg State Criminal Police Office and the state Interior Ministry announced a new prevention program called “Safe in Religious Communities” aimed at improving communication between law enforcement agencies and religious communities, while giving community representatives tools to safely organize events and identify extremism. Police officers at regional headquarters were trained to act as liaisons to the Jewish and Muslim communities. According to a press release by the Baden-Wuerttemberg government, more religious communities might be added at a later date.
On August 23, Baden-Wuerttemberg Interior Minister Thomas Strobl officially inaugurated the country’s first two police rabbis, Moshe Flomenmann from Loerrach and Shneur Trebnik from Ulm. According to Strobl, the police rabbis would serve as counselors and points of contact for prospective and current police officers, as well as for community members.
In September, the Central Archive for the History of Jews in Germany reopened at a new location in Heidelberg. The federal Ministry of the Interior funded the archive with 900,000 euros ($1.02 million) annually.
On October 7, the Berlin Administrative Court dismissed a lawsuit filed by two supporters of the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement in which they said the Bundestag had infringed upon their fundamental rights when it passed a resolution criticizing the BDS as antisemitic in 2019.
In May, the Moenchengladbach District Court of Appeals overturned a man’s eight-month suspended sentence imposed by a lower court for distributing the antisemitic manifesto of the 2019 Halle synagogue attacker online, and instead fined him 900 euros ($1,000). The court stated it found the defendant’s claims that he had shared the manifesto only to mock its contents to be credible.
In May, the NRW Higher Administrative Court in Muenster rejected an exemption for a woman from Duesseldorf who wanted to drive a car while wearing a niqab. The court cited the law prohibiting drivers from fully covering their face except for the eyes. The decision could not be appealed.
According to a 2020 survey of state-level education ministries, the most recent available, more than 900 schools in the country offered Islamic religious instruction. Almost 60,000 students took part in Islamic religious instruction in the school year 2019-20, an increase of 4,000 from the previous year. Since 2017-18, approximately 35 schools had added Islamic religious instruction.
In May, the NRW Ministry of Education created a new commission to cooperate on Islamic religious instruction in public schools.
In July, the Wiesbaden Administrative Court ruled the Hesse state government had unlawfully ended cooperation with the Turkish-Islamic Union for Religious Affairs (DITIB) on Islamic religious education in public schools in April 2020. The state government appealed the decision in August; the appeal was pending at the end of the year.
In the 2021-22 school year, 364 schools in Bavaria began offering Islamic religion courses, similar to existing religion courses on Christianity and Judaism. All pupils in Bavaria must receive instruction in one of these religions, or an ethics course if courses in their religion are not available. Approximately 100 Muslim instructors were expected to teach approximately 17,000 Muslim pupils, although demand for Islamic religion courses was much higher than 17,000, according to parents, schools, and education ministry officials. Muslim communities complained that the state government, not the religious community, set the curriculum of the course.
In October, Saxony-Anhalt also began offering pupils Judaism instruction for the first time as a pilot project at an elementary school in Magdeburg. Fourteen pupils enrolled in the course.
In April, the Mainz Administrative Court ruled that the 2019 closure of Rhineland-Palatinate’s only Islamic daycare center, the al-Nur center in Mainz, was lawful. State authorities had closed the center, saying it was linked to the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafist organizations.
In May, the Sunni School Council Foundation, which oversees Islamic religious education in Baden-Wuerttemberg public schools, rejected the teaching license of Abdel-Hakim Ourghi, head of the Islamic Theology department at the University of Education in Freiburg. While the foundation cited missing credentials as a reason for its decision, critics, including members of the Muslim community, academics, and politicians, accused it of trying to silence a prominent voice of a liberal interpretation of Islam. The Baden-Wuerttemberg Ministry of Education and Cultural Affairs defended the decision, which could be appealed.
The government continued to subsidize some Jewish groups. Based on an agreement between the federal government and the Central Council of Jews in Germany, the federal government contributed 13 million euros ($14.74 million) to help maintain Jewish cultural heritage and support integration and social work. In addition, the federal government provided financial support to the Institute for Jewish Studies in Heidelberg, the Rabbi Seminar at the University of Potsdam, and the Leo Baeck Institute, an international group researching the history and culture of German Jewry.
State governments continued to provide funds to Jewish communities and organizations in various amounts for such purposes as the renovation and construction of synagogues. The federal government continued to cover 50 percent of maintenance costs for Jewish cemeteries. State and local police units continued to provide security for synagogues and other Jewish institutions.
In March, the Conference on Jewish Material Claims against Germany (also known as the Jewish Claims Conference) and the government announced an agreement to provide transitional payments to surviving spouses of Jewish victims of the Nazis who had been receiving a pension from the government.
In January, the Baden-Wuerttemberg state government signed a contract with the state’s Jewish communities to protect Jewish institutions and combat antisemitism. The contract stipulated the state government would provide funds to protect Jewish facilities totaling one million euros ($1.13 million) in 2021 and 1.17 million euros ($1.33 million) in each of the ensuing three years, as well as 200,000 euros ($227,000) yearly for three years for the construction of a Jewish academy.
On April 22, the Dresden city council voted to establish a museum on the history of Jewish life in the states of Saxony, Saxony-Anhalt, and Thuringia and in Poland and the Czech Republic.
After many years of renovation, the Goerlitz synagogue reopened on July 12. Consecrated 110 years earlier, it had survived the Nazi pogrom of November 1938 (also referred to as Kristallnacht) and been neglected during the German Democratic Republic period. The federal government supported the construction with 2.8 million euros ($3.17 million).
Construction of Frankfurt’s Jewish Academy began in September. The academy, due to open in 2024, would function, according to sponsors, as an intellectual center of Jewish life, philosophy, and culture. The costs of construction, estimated at 34.5 million euros ($39.12 million), was to be shared by the federal government, the state of Hesse, the city of Frankfurt, and the Central Council of Jews in Germany.
In September, the city of Frankfurt and its Jewish community signed an extension to the contract that governs cooperation between them. The contract stipulated the city would provide an additional one million euros ($1.13 million) for the protection and security of the Jewish community, starting with the 2022 fiscal year.
According to media reports and the Humanistic Union, an organization that describes its mission as working to protect and enforce civil rights, including the right to free development of the personality, total state government contributions during the year to the Catholic Church and the EKD totaled approximately 581 million euros ($658.73 million). The union said it calculated its estimate based on budgets of the 16 states. The Humanistic Union advocates the abolition of state church privileges such as faith-based religious education as a regular school subject, collection of church taxes, and other financial aid to religious groups.
On June 16, the country’s first publicly funded Islamic seminary opened in Osnabrueck with a class of 50 students. Five Muslim federations, including the Central Council of Muslims in Germany and the Muslim Community of Lower Saxony, founded the seminary. A commission of their representatives sets the curriculum, which is taught in German. The federal and Lower Saxony governments committed to provide 5.5 million euros ($6.24 million) in funding to the school over five years.
The government continued the German Islam Conference dialogue with Muslims in the country. The dialogue’s stated aim was to improve the religious and social participation of the Muslim population, give greater recognition to Muslims’ contributions to society, and – in the absence of a central organization representing all Muslims in the country – further develop partnerships between the government and Muslim organizations. Among the specific outcomes of the dialogue were the April publication of a large study on Muslim life in the country that included new official estimates of the size of the Muslim population, the first in years; a May conference on young Muslims’ perspectives on issues affecting Islam in the country; the establishment of an Islamic seminary in Osnabrueck in June, including government funding for it; and support for efforts to inform the Muslim community about the COVID-19 pandemic throughout the year.
The country is a member of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance and held the organization’s chairmanship for the year ending March 31.
Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom
There were numerous reports of antisemitic, anti-Muslim, and anti-Christian incidents across the country, including assaults, verbal harassment, threats, discrimination, and vandalism. According to figures collected by the Federal Criminal Police Office, as of November 5, there had been 1,850 antisemitic crimes reported, including 35 involving physical violence leading to 17 persons injured.
In August, a group insulted and severely beat a young Jewish man wearing a kippah while he was sitting in a Cologne park. The victim was hospitalized with broken bones in his face. The two attackers were arrested and released; police investigations into the crime continued at year’s end. Cologne Mayor Henriette Reker, Catholic Archbishop of Cologne Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki, and President of the Jewish Community in Munich and Upper Bavaria Charlotte Knobloch condemned the attack, which police said they suspected was motived by antisemitism.
In Hamburg on September 18, a man and his companion shouted antisemitic slogans before attacking a 60-year-old Jewish man, leaving him hospitalized with potentially lifelong injuries, according to media reports. Hamburg Anti-Semitism Commissioner Stefan Hensel said the attacker and his companions were shouting antisemitic and anti-Israel insults at a pro-Israel vigil in central Hamburg and, when vigil participants asked them to stop, the attacker punched the Jewish man in the face, breaking his nose and cheek bone. Hamburg Deputy Mayor (equivalent to deputy governor) Katharina Fegebank condemned the attack. Police arrested a 16-year-old suspect, Aram A., in Berlin in late September.
In May, during clashes in Gaza and Israel, there was an outbreak of antisemitic demonstrations, some of them violent, as well as vandalism and assaults across the country. On May 10, unknown individuals burned a memorial plaque at the site of the former Duesseldorf synagogue, and on May 11, demonstrators burned Israeli flags in front of synagogues in Bonn and Muenster. Demonstrators also threw stones at the Bonn synagogue. Approximately 180 persons attended an anti-Israel demonstration in Gelsenkirchen May 12, chanting antisemitic insults describing Jews as subhuman. Some made the hand signal of the Grey Wolves, a Turkish right-wing extremist group.
The NRW Interior Ministry reported a total of 77 incidents with antisemitic or anti-Israeli connections (the ministry did not separately categorize antisemitic from anti-Israeli incidents) at pro-Palestinian demonstrations in May, for which it believed at least 125 individuals were responsible; it identified 45 persons by name.
On May 15, 3,500 persons participated in a pro-Palestinian demonstration in the Neukoelln district of Berlin that turned antisemitic. Demonstrators chanted antisemitic slogans and displayed signs equating Israel with the Nazis. According to media reports, participants included members of the Grey Wolves and left-wing extremist groups. After police tried to end the demonstration due to noncompliance with COVID-19 requirements, participants became violent, throwing bottles, stones, and burning objects at police and journalists covering the event. Ninety-three police officers were injured, and 59 persons were arrested for battery, assaulting police, and other charges; police restored order after several hours. Police investigations were underway at year’s end. The then mayor of Berlin, Michael Mueller, condemned the demonstration as “unacceptable.”
In a statement delivered by the federal government spokesman, then Chancellor Merkel condemned the demonstrations and attacks on Jewish institutions as antisemitic abuses of the right to free assembly. They had shown that those involved were not protesting a state or government but expressing hate against a religion and those that belong to it, she said. Federal President Frank-Walter Steinmeier also condemned the demonstrations and attacks, saying that that country “will not tolerate hate against Jews, no matter who it comes from … Nothing justifies threatening Jews or attacking synagogues in our cities.” Then Bundestag President Wolfgang Schaeuble issued a statement that there was “no justification for antisemitism, hate, and violence at the protests,” while acknowledging the existence of antisemitism in the country. Then Interior Minister Seehofer said that attacks on synagogues and spreading antisemitism would be met with the full force of the law. President of the Central Council of Jews in Germany Josef Schuster and Chairman of the Central Council of Muslims Mazyek also condemned the incidents. The president of the Central Council of Jews and the German Conference of Bishops issued a joint press statement warning of growing antisemitism and a “combination of political conflict and religious fanaticism.” Several state-level religious leaders and government officials, including DITIB Hesse Managing Director Onur Akdeniz, Bishop of Limburg Georg Baetzing, and Hesse Antisemitism Commissioner Uwe Becker, spoke out against antisemitic propaganda at the pro-Palestinian demonstrations.
In May, the Hessian State Criminal Police Office arrested a Berlin-based man, identified only as Alexander M., for sending more than 85 threatening letters with right-wing extremist content, sometimes including antisemitic content, to politicians, journalists, and other prominent figures from late 2018 through 2020. Many of the most visible targets were Muslim women. Among the recipients were the heads of the Central Council of Jews in Germany and the Central Council of Muslims in Germany.
In June in Moenchengladbach, two men assaulted a Jewish man, speaking to him in Arabic. Police were investigating but had not identified any suspects at year’s end.
During a September 30 soccer match in Berlin’s Olympic Stadium between 1.FC Union Berlin and Haifa Maccabi – the first time an Israeli team had played in the stadium opened by the Nazis for the 1936 Olympic games – Maccabi supporters reported that some Union supporters threatened them, used antisemitic insults, and threw objects at them. According to press reports, one Union fan also attempted to burn an Israeli flag. 1.FC Union apologized for the flag burning, insults, and physical attacks, all of which it termed antisemitic, and banned one person from attending games in the future. Police were investigating at year’s end.
In April, on Easter Sunday, three unidentified men entered a church in Nidda, Hesse, shouted slogans such as “There is only one God, and that is Allah,” and “Allah is greatest,” and insulted a worshipper attending the church service. The political crimes unit of the Hesse state police investigated the incident as a possible infringement of the free exercise of religion.
In September, a Halle police officer was suspended for repeatedly corresponding with Stephan Balliet, who had attacked the Halle synagogue on Yom Kippur in 2019. The officer wrote Balliet at least 10 letters using a pseudonym and false address and reportedly expressed sympathy for the attacker, while minimizing his crimes, in conversations with colleagues. The police officer had left the force as of October 31, according to newspaper Mitteldeutsche Zeitung.
On June 15, the Erfurt newspaper Thueringer Allgemeine reported that local construction companies had repeatedly declined orders for the construction of a mosque in Erfurt because they feared their involvement would precipitate attacks on their vehicles by opponents of the mosque. Another newspaper reported in 2020 that construction companies had also declined to participate in the mosque construction at that time. Suleman Malik, the spokesman for the Ahmadiyya Muslim community in Erfurt, said the reaction of the construction companies had delayed the construction of the mosque by two years.
In July, according to press reports, the Duesseldorf Hyatt Hotel cancelled the reservation of the Baba Sheikh, the spiritual leader of the Yezidis, and his two companions. The hotel said the cancellation was due to technical issues, apologized for the misunderstanding, and upheld the reservation.
In October, Jewish singer Gil Ofarim reported that hotel staff told him to remove his Star of David necklace during check-in at the front desk of Leipzig’s Westin Hotel. Hotel employees denied doing so and filed a defamation suit against the singer. In response, Ofarim accused employees of filing a false report. Ofarim’s discrimination lawsuit against the hotel was pending at the end of the year. According to the hotel, it conducted its own investigation that exonerated its employees.
Media again reported that women who wore a hijab faced employment discrimination and that discrimination was made easier by the customary practice of requiring photographs as part of job applications. According to one March report, a job seeker who wore a headscarf said that she had to submit 450 applications before she got an interview, while hearing about others who did not wear headscarves and received interviews after four applications.
In June, a man attempted to set fire to the Ulm synagogue, resulting in limited damage to the building. The suspect was a German-born Turkish national who fled to Turkey after the attack. According to Baden-Wuerttemberg authorities, the Turkish government refused to extradite the suspect. Following the incident, nearly 500 persons, including various city and state politicians, attended two separate support vigils, and the Baden-Wuerttemberg state parliament passed a resolution denouncing antisemitism.
In April, an unknown perpetrator shot at the Bochum synagogue and a nearby planetarium. According to police, the attack destroyed windows in both buildings. Police did not rule out an antisemitic motive for the crime. In May, police announced they had surveillance camera footage and issued an appeal to the public to help identify the suspect. The Bochum prosecutor’s office closed the investigation in December, citing insufficient evidence.
On July 24, unknown persons set on fire a banner announcing the construction of a new synagogue in Magdeburg. Police were investigating the case. The state of Saxony-Anhalt earmarked 2.8 million euros ($3.17 million) for the construction of the synagogue, out of a total construction cost of approximately 3.4 million euros ($3.85 million).
In June, a swastika was found painted on the Torah ark in a Jewish prayer room at Frankfurt International Airport. The country’s Orthodox Rabbinical Conference denounced the act of vandalism, saying, “This hatred of Jews must finally stop.”
According to Ministry of Interior federal crime statistics, there were 2,351 antisemitic crimes committed during 2020 (the most recent year for which complete statistics were available), including 57 crimes involving violence. This represented a 15.7 percent increase from the 2,032 antisemitic crimes reported in 2019, of which 73 were violent; federal crime statistics classified 2,224 crimes (94.6 percent) as motivated by far-right ideology. RIAS attributed the increase in antisemitic crimes and incidents to the large number of demonstrations against measures to contain COVID-19 or to other COVID-related issues, and it reported 489 antisemitic incidents connected to the pandemic.
The federal OPC annual report stated that, of the 57 violent antisemitic crimes committed in 2020, 48 were motivated by right-wing extremism, a 14 percent drop compared to 2019, when it reported 56 such crimes. According to the report, membership in right-wing extremist parties such as the neo-Nazi National Democratic Party dropped slightly, from approximately 13,330 persons in 2019 to 13,250 in 2020.
In May, the NRW commissioner for antisemitism published the second NRW antisemitism report, which cited 276 antisemitic crimes (down from 310 in 2019) registered in the state in 2020, of which 254 (down from 291) were motivated by right-wing ideologies. The crimes ranged from verbal abuse to physical injury; all cases resulted in criminal investigations. The NRW commissioner stated that 500 antisemitic incidents were reported to her office, including incidents that did not rise to the level of criminal complaints.
A July study by RIAS based on Jewish residents in the state and other sources found that antisemitism was an everyday experience of Jews in Baden-Wuerttemberg, ranging from mundane to virulent forms. A leading Jewish community representative described antisemitism as “background noise of Jewish life.” The study analyzed 671 antisemitic crimes that occurred in the state between 2014 and 2018. A spokesperson of the state’s youth foundation pointed to an increasing online dimension to antisemitism, stating there were 200 such incidents reported in 2020, and 300 in the first half of 2021 alone.
RIAS, to which victims may report antisemitic incidents regardless of whether they file charges with police, reported 1,437 such incidents in the states of Berlin, Brandenburg, Bavaria, and Schleswig-Holstein in 2020, compared with 1,253 in 2019, an increase of 14.6 percent.
Lower Saxony’s government recorded 189 antisemitic crimes in 2020, down from 212 in 2019. The Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania government counted 73 such crimes in 2020, up from 52 in 2019.
In 2020, the Ministry of Interior registered 929 crimes targeting Muslims and Muslim institutions, including 77 against places of worship and 51 incidents of battery. The ministry classified most of these incidents as having been carried out by right-wing extremists. Other recorded incidents included online hate speech against Muslims, hate mail, and aggressive public behavior against persons who appeared to be Muslim.
The Ministry of Interior counted 141 anti-Christian crimes in 2020, including seven cases involving violence, up from 128 in 2019, an increase of 10 percent. The ministry classified 30 percent of these crimes as motivated by right-wing ideology and 12 percent as motivated by left-wing ideology.
In May, the Ministry of Interior presented its annual report on politically motivated crime, according to which police registered 1,026 crimes motivated by antireligious sentiment.
In January, an unknown person threw stones and paint at St. Luke’s, a confessional Lutheran church in Leipzig, breaking windows and damaging a newly restored mosaic. An anonymous letter claiming responsibility for the attack was posted online; the writer accused Martin Luther of sexism and tyranny and called churches “one of the best targets” for attacks against western morals. At year’s end, police had not identified a suspect.
In April, an unknown man broke the windows of the prayer room of a Hildesheim mosque and entered its courtyard before fleeing. Police arrested and charged a suspect. A trial was scheduled for 2022.
In August, a man assaulted a woman wearing a headscarf at a subway station in Berlin. The unknown assailant beat her severely and tore off her headscarf while shouting xenophobic insults. As she attempted to flee, he knocked her to the ground with his bicycle and left the scene. The woman required hospitalization; the police unit responsible for hate crimes and political violence was investigating the incident at year’s end.
In September, unknown persons threw stones through six windows of what police called “a Muslim institution” in Zwickau, shattering them; media reports called the building a mosque, which had been the target of vandalism in the past. Police had not arrested a suspect at year’s end.
In February, the Hamburg District Court found a man who had assaulted a Jewish student with a shovel in October 2020 guilty of attempted murder and aggravated battery. The court, however, ruled the man was mentally ill and therefore not criminally liable, sentencing him to psychiatric institutionalization. The man, who was wearing a military-style uniform, assaulted the student at a Sukkot celebration at the Hohe Weide Synagogue in Hamburg, leaving him with a serious head injury.
In January, the Hildesheim District Court in Lower Saxony ruled that a Hildesheim resident arrested in 2020 upon suspicion of planning attacks against Muslims and mosques was suffering from a severe mental illness and could not be held responsible for his behavior. It ordered him placed in temporary psychiatric care. Police had found weapons in his apartment, and the suspect had said in an online chat that he wanted to carry out an attack similar to the 2019 mosque attacks in New Zealand and “kill Muslims.”
On June 16, the Bavarian Court of Administrative Appeals ruled in favor of a COS member whose 2018 application for a 500 euro ($570) electric bicycle subsidy was rejected by the city of Munich because she refused to sign a written statement pledging not to employ COS methods or spread COS ideas. The state of Bavaria and some other states and many cities require persons to sign such a declaration before they can accept public employment or government grants. The court ruled that, as a citizen, the plaintiff had a right to the subsidy from the city, just like anyone else.
In July, the Court of Justice of the European Union, addressing appeals in two cases, one from Hamburg and one from Bavaria, ruled that employers could ban employees from wearing headscarves under certain circumstances. Both cases were brought by employees who did not wear headscarves when they started their jobs but decided to do so after returning to work from maternity leave. Their employers refused to allow them to do so, saying that the employees had to project a neutral image to clients. The court agreed with the employers. Muslim organizations and NGOs criticized the verdict, saying it made it difficult for Muslim women to choose a profession.
In September, a trial of two individuals arrested for the vandalism of a Jewish cemetery in Geilenkirchen began. According to police, the pair knocked over more than 40 gravestones in the cemetery and defaced gravestones with blue paint and Nazi symbols in 2019. They were charged with property damage and disturbing the peace of the dead. Prosecutors said both were members of a Neo-Nazi group. The trial started in September and continued at year’s end.
In September, the Moenchengladbach District Court convicted a man of placing a bloody pig’s head, plastic bags filled with blood, right-wing extremist slogans, and swastikas in front of the al-Rahman Mosque in Moenchengladbach in 2019 and sentenced him to four months’ probation.
In October, a man claiming that Christianity is a false religion forcibly removed sacred religious objects from a church in Nordhausen, Thuringia, including its crucifix and a medieval wooden altarpiece, damaging both. Police stated they intended to press charges against the man, whose asylum claim had been denied.
The Catholic Church and the EKD continued to oppose the COS publicly. “Sect commissioners” or “departments on sects and worldview matters” of the EKD and the Catholic Church continued to investigate “sects and cults” and publicize what they considered to be the dangers of those groups. On its website, the EKD Center for Questions of World Views continued to warn the public about what it said were the dangers posed by multiple religious groups, including the COS, the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification (Unification Church), Bhagwan-Osho, Transcendental Meditation, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and Universal Life, and continued to produce literature criticizing the groups.
In September, the Brussels-based NGO Action and Protection League issued the results of its European antisemitism survey based on data from December 2019-January 2020. According to the survey, 10 percent of 1,000 respondents ages 18-75 in Germany said they had negative feelings towards Jews. Fifteen percent said they would be “totally uncomfortable” or “uncomfortable” with having Jewish neighbors. The survey cited stereotypical statements about Jews and asked respondents the degree to which they agreed or disagreed. The proportion who responded “strongly agree” or “tend to agree” with the following statements were – “the interests of Jews in this country are very different from the interests of the rest of the population” (23percent); “there is a secret Jewish network that influences political and economic affairs in the world” (15 percent); “Jews have too much influence in this country” (12 percent); “Jews will never be able to fully integrate into this society” (20 percent); “Jews are more inclined than most to use shady practices to achieve their goals” (15 percent); “many of the atrocities of the Holocaust were often exaggerated by the Jews later” (8 percent); “Jews are also to blame for the persecutions against them” (7 percent); “Jews exploit Holocaust victimhood for their own purposes” (23 percent).
In a nationwide, representative survey conducted for the Alice Schwarzer Foundation, Giordano Bruno Foundation, and WZB Berlin Social Science Center published on June 11, 65 percent of respondents said it was “right” that freedom of religion applied to Muslims as well as Christians, whereas 18 percent said it was “not right” and 17 percent were unsure. When asked whether “Islam is part of Germany,” 44 percent said “yes, but only peaceful, non-radical groups” and 44 percent answered “absolutely not,” excluding all Muslim groups. Only 5 percent said they would completely agree that Islam was part of the country. The survey also showed support for a ban on burqas among the general population had grown to 73 percent, from 56 percent in 2016. Another 17 percent supported a ban in certain situations (32 percent in 2016), and 5 percent were generally opposed to such a ban (8 percent in 2016). Majorities also supported banning headscarves for certain groups: 61 percent supported headscarf bans for public school teachers, 58 percent for public-sector employees, 56 percent for child-care workers, and 53 percent for girls younger than 14 years of age.
In February, Bundestag member Norbert Roettgen removed a social media post and image of a discussion he had held with Muslim students after the post was flooded with anti-Muslim insults. Roettgen said he removed the image to protect the identities of the participants and decried what he described as the anti-Muslim hate the post had exposed.
In September, authorities initially did not allow a woman in Bergheim, Hesse, to cast her vote at a local polling station because she was wearing a headscarf and a medical mask. Poll workers insisted she remove her headscarf to identify herself, stating that the law required that a person’s face not be covered when voting. According to the electoral committee, the scarf only covered the woman’s hair and neck, not her face. The woman protested to city election authorities and was later allowed to vote while wearing the headscarf. The city apologized for the incident.
The far-right group Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the Occident (PEGIDA) continued to organize weekly demonstrations in Dresden, although media reports indicated significantly fewer demonstrators than in years prior to 2020. Approximately 300 to 400 supporters continued to join PEGIDA rallies, even after the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. Participants regularly expressed anti-Muslim sentiments during the rallies, including by carrying posters expressing opposition to women who wore religious head coverings. Authorities approved the demonstrations contingent upon participants adhering to masking and social distancing requirements.
Protesters at demonstrations against COVID-19 restrictions in Berlin, Kassel, Munich and other cities continued to use antisemitic rhetoric, including equating vaccines or the anti-COVID lockdown to Nazi-era persecution of Jews, or asserting that Jews were responsible for unleashing the corona virus. For the year ending on March 17, RIAS registered antisemitic incidents, none of them violent, at 324 separate demonstrations against restrictions to prevent the spread of COVID-19. For example, in March, numerous antisemitic acts, including ones trivializing the Nazi regime and the Holocaust, were reported at a large demonstration against COVID-19 measures in Kassel.
In May, President of the Central Council of Jews in Germany Schuster remarked on the connection between COVID-19 conspiracy theories and antisemitism, saying, “The old antisemitic narrative of the Jewish world conspiracy has been adapted to the current situation.” Federal Commissioner for Jewish Life in Germany and the Fight Against Anti-Semitism Felix Klein also cited the role of the internet, saying, “In times of crisis, people are more open to irrational explanations, including antisemitic stereotypes…. What is new, however, is that…groups that previously had little or nothing to do with each other are now making common cause at demonstrations against the corona measures or on the [inter]net.”
In June, the U.S.-based newspaper The Algemeiner cited a study by the London-based Institute for Strategic Dialogue that found German-language antisemitic posts in major online platforms in January and February had increased 13-fold over the same period a year earlier. According to the report, antisemitic narratives related to COVID-19 were frequent, and the most common narratives, 89 percent of the content, pertained to conspiracy theories about Jews controlling financial, political, and media institutions.
In May, NRW Antisemitism Commissioner Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger and the University of Bielefeld published a study on the influence of rap on antisemitic attitudes in young people. The study found listeners of rap were more likely to have antisemitic and misogynistic views and were more prone to believe in conspiracy theories.
In July, a woman from Cologne was fined 700 euros ($790) for incitement for sharing an antisemitic Facebook post. The woman said she had not read the full text of the post.
Approximately 20 churches continued to use bells bearing Nazi symbols and inscriptions. A church in Berlin removed such a bell, and some churches in other part of the country said they had plans to do so. In June, the Association of Protestant Churches in Central Germany held a conference on the issue; the association also offered financial support to churches under its jurisdiction to cover the cost of new bells.
In October, Cologne Lord Mayor Henriette Reker announced a two-year test phase for Muslim communities to issue calls to Friday prayer using outdoor speakers, if they applied to do so. The call to prayer may only be made between noon and 3 p.m. and is limited to a maximum of five minutes. The volume is to be based on the location of the mosque. Of approximately 35 mosque congregations, two had requested permits by early December.
Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement
In June, the U.S. Secretary of State and then Foreign Minister Maas launched the U.S.-Germany Dialogue on Holocaust Issues to promote accurate Holocaust education and information and to combat Holocaust denial and distortion and anti-Semitism. As part of the dialogue, embassy officials met on a monthly basis with representatives of the country’s foreign ministry, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, and the foundation Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe to develop programs and initiatives.
The U.S. embassy and the five consulates general continued to engage closely with authorities at all levels of government regarding responses to incidents of religious intolerance. Embassy officials met with Federal Commissioner for Jewish Life in Germany and the Fight Against Antisemitism Klein and Ambassador Michaela Kuehler, the country’s Special Representative for Relations with Jewish Organizations, Issues Relating to Antisemitism, International Sinti and Roma Affairs, and Holocaust Remembrance on multiple occasions to discuss antisemitism, the growth in antisemitic incidents and violence, antisemitic conspiracy theories, and Holocaust denial. Consulate officials also met with the commissioners for antisemitism in their districts. Embassy and consulate officials engaged with other local, state, and federal officials to discuss religious freedom issues. These included meetings with state interior ministers, state parliamentarians from the SPD, CDU, and Green party, and mayors. At a meeting in November, the Cologne Consul General and Lord Mayor Henriette Reker discussed Cologne’s pilot program to allow mosques to issue calls to prayer, among other issues.
Embassy and consulate representatives met with members and leaders of numerous local and national religious and civil society groups regarding their concerns related to tolerance and freedom of religion. Among the meetings were ones with President of the Central Council of Jews in Germany Schuster; Abdassamad El-Yazidi, speaker of the Coordination Council of Muslims in Germany; Burhan Kesici of the Islamic Council for the Federal Republic of Germany; Remko Leemhuis, director of the AJC Berlin Lawrence and Lee Ramer Institute for German-Jewish Relations; representatives of the Catholic, Evangelical, and other Protestant Churches; the Central Council of Muslims; the Association of Islamic Cultural Centers; the World Uyghur Congress; Alevi Muslims, and the Ahmadiyya Muslim Jamaat.
Topics of discussion with Jewish groups included concerns regarding what they characterized as the growing acceptability of antisemitism throughout the country, concern that right-wing conspiracy groups had exacerbated antisemitism, and growing antisemitism on the intellectual left.
Topics discussed with Muslim groups and representatives included stereotypes and discrimination against Muslims, socioeconomic and cultural challenges that Muslim residents and immigrants faced in the country, and the training of imams.
In June, the Frankfurt Consul General visited Ulm’s Jewish community following an arson attack on the Ulm synagogue and met Ulm Rabbi Schneur Trebnik, as well as Israelite Religious Community of Wuerttemberg representatives. The visit included a tour of the synagogue and the community center and a discussion on the situation of Ulm’s and Baden-Wuerttemberg’s Jewish community, various forms of antisemitism, and Trebnik’s work as one of the country’s first police rabbis.
Also in June, the Charge d’Affaires and the Leipzig Consul General met with members of the Jewish community in Halle, the site of a fatal 2019 attack on a synagogue, to discuss antisemitism, religious tolerance, and Jewish life in Eastern Germany. The Leipzig Consul General visited the synagogue and laid a wreath at the site of the attack in October.
The embassy and consulates worked closely with Jewish communities, especially in the east of the country, to provide small grants in support of programs promoting religious tolerance to leading NGOs countering violent extremism related to religion and antisemitism. For example, the consulate in Leipzig funded an appearance by a Jewish-American speaker in Halle on Holocaust Remembrance Day as well as a small grant for Jewish Remembrance Week in Goerlitz in November.
The embassy utilized virtual programs in which presenters spoke on ways of preserving and promoting accurate Holocaust narratives in the fight against antisemitism. Four German participants joined a program that showed archivists and museum professionals how to maximize outreach within their fields to counter Holocaust distortions and denial. Participants included 12 staff members from the Arolsen Archives, a center that documents, archives, and researches Nazi persecution, forced labor, and the Holocaust. The consulate in Leipzig also supported October and November presentations in Jena and Weimar by the archives’ exhibit #Stolen Memory, featuring items the Nazi regime stole from Jews.
As a follow-up to a 2020 teacher academy that focused on engaging with teachers about Jewish life in the United States, the embassy expanded its discussion of religious freedom by raising awareness of hidden bias and stereotypes. A workshop on hidden bias as part of a March teacher seminar reached 300 teachers and generated a lively discussion with the presenter, a senior lecturer on North American studies at Leuphana University. In May, the embassy followed up with a film presentation and discussion of the documentary “Bias” with the filmmaker (including additional sessions with the local state police academies) and, in June, a discussion with a U.S historian and American Academy in Berlin fellow.
In August, the consulate general in Leipzig provided financial support to the 21st Yiddish Summer Weimar in Thuringia, one of the world’s leading summer programs for the study and presentation of traditional and contemporary Yiddish culture. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many concerts and workshops again took place outdoors in public spaces in Weimar, Erfurt, and Eisenach, and other smaller towns in Thuringia. The consulate also provided funding for several Jewish cultural events in Halle as part of a series of such events focusing on Jewish culture across the state of Saxony-Anhalt.
The consulate general in Leipzig provided seed money for the establishment of the Fachstelle Globaler Antisemitismus (Global Antisemitism Office) in Dessau-Rosslau, Saxony-Anhalt. This NGO works to educate the public about online right-wing extremism and radicalization.
In October, the embassy and the consulate general in Leipzig cooperated to bring a senior American Jewish Congress official to the country, where he met with Berlin police and NGOs working against antisemitism and spoke on countering antisemitism in Cottbus, Jena, and Leipzig.
The embassy and consulates actively promoted religious freedom and tolerance through their social media channels, utilizing Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram to highlight the engagement of senior embassy officials on the issue. Examples included visits of the Charge d’Affaires to Goerlitz for Jewish Remembrance Week; the meeting in Halle in June of the Charge d’Affaires and the Leipzig Consul General with representatives of NGOs working on tolerance and openness; and meetings with religious community leaders. The embassy and consulates also amplified social media messaging by the President, Secretary of State, and Special Envoy for Holocaust Issues in support of religious freedom on many occasions throughout the year, often with German translations, to highlight U.S. religious pluralism and support for religious freedom.
The embassy and consulates general also created their own content, including greetings from the Charge d’Affaires on Jewish and Muslim holidays, social media posts on the right to freedom of religion, and a statement by the Charge d’Affaires condemning antisemitic vandalism at a memorial site to the Nazi concentration camp in Auschwitz. Public meetings with officials and religious community and public engagements by embassy and consular officials were also accompanied by social media messaging. Religious freedom and tolerance were topics of frequent focus of the embassy’s and consulates’ digital platforms.
The Fundamental Law, the country’s constitution, provides for freedom of religion, including freedom to choose, change, or manifest religion or belief, cites “the role of Christianity” in “preserving nationhood,” and values “various religious traditions.” The Law prohibits religious discrimination and speech violating the dignity of any religious community and stipulates the autonomy of religious communities. There are four tiers of religious groups, all of which may receive state funding and income tax allocations from taxpayers, provided they have concluded cooperation agreements with the state. In January, the government informed the World Jewish Restitution Organization (WJRO) that it was “no longer possible” to pay restitution for heirless Jewish property. The WJRO and the government resumed discussions on the issue in October. The Church of Scientology (COS) said the Data Protection Authority (DPA) raided its office in Budapest and confiscated its files, and the National Tax Authority (NAV) raided the homes of COS members in a criminal case involving alleged tax fraud. The Constitutional Court rejected a COS appeal related to the seizure of documents from the COS office in 2017. In June, a court ordered a newspaper to pay a Member of Parliament (MP) from the Christian Democratic People’s Party compensation and issue an apology for publishing a satirical cartoon of the government’s chief medical officer and the crucified Jesus. The newspaper published the apology but said it had asked the Supreme Court to review the decision. Senior government officials, including Prime Minister (PM) Viktor Orban, continued to make statements in defense of what they called a “Christian Europe” and against Muslim immigration. In September, Orban said present-day migrants were “all Muslims” who changed the cultural identity of Europe. Other politicians made antisemitic and anti-Muslim statements.
The Action and Protection Foundation, which monitors antisemitism, reported 30 antisemitic incidents in 2020, compared with 35 incidents in the previous year. These were six cases of vandalism, one threat, one case of discrimination, and 22 cases of hate speech. In September, the Brussels-based NGO Action and Protection League issued the results of its European antisemitism survey, which found that 13 percent of 1,000 respondents ages 18-75 in Hungary said they had negative feelings towards Jews. Muslim leaders said that physical assaults against Muslims were rare, but verbal insults were frequent, and there were cases of anti-Muslim discrimination. In June, a soccer fan affiliated with Kispest, a Budapest Honved football club, posted a photo on social media with a text that ended, “Heil Hitler.” In September, independent media reported that Kispest Youth, also called Militant Jugend Kispest, painted swastikas and 88 (a common symbol for “Heil Hitler,” as H is the eighth letter of the alphabet) onto buildings in the Kispest district and wore red-white-black shirts with swastikas on photos that were posted on social media.
In meetings and discussions with the government, including officials from the PMO in charge of church and Jewish issues, the Charge d’Affaires and embassy representatives advocated for restitution of heirless Jewish property seized during the Holocaust and discussed provisions of the religion law, including the registration process for religious groups. In June, the Charge d’Affaires dedicated a room in the embassy building to the memory of Carl Lutz, credited with saving the lives of over 62,000 Hungarian Jews. The embassy maintained regular contact with leaders of various religious communities, including the four historical groups, as well as Muslims, the COS, and religious groups that lost incorporated church status in 2011, such as MET, Bet Orim, and Sim Shalom, to understand their concerns. During these discussions, embassy officials discussed the effects of the religion law, antisemitism, and anti-Muslim rhetoric.
Section I. Religious Demography
The U.S. government estimates the total population at 9.7 million (midyear 2021). According to the 2011 national census (the 2021 census was postponed because of COVID-19), which included an optional question on religious affiliation, of the 73 percent of the population that responded, 51 percent identified as Roman Catholic, 16 percent as Hungarian Reformed Church (Calvinist), 3 percent as Lutheran, 2 percent as Greek Catholic, and less than 1 percent as Jewish; 23 percent reported no religious affiliation; and 2 percent said they were atheists. Other religious groups together constituting less than 5 percent of the population include Greek Orthodox, the Faith Congregation (a Pentecostal group), the COS, Russian and other Orthodox Christian groups, other Christian denominations, Buddhists, Muslims, and the Hungarian Society for Krishna Consciousness. The Hungarian Evangelical Fellowship (MET or the Hungarian Evangelical Brotherhood) has approximately 8,500 members, according to a 2013 news report, and the Hungarian Pentecostal Church approximately 9,300 members, according to the 2011 census. Local Jewish organizations estimate approximately 100,000 citizens with Jewish heritage live in the country, primarily in Budapest. Other religious groups are distributed throughout the country.
Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom
The Fundamental Law, the country’s constitution, provides for freedom of conscience and religion, including freedom to choose or change religion or belief, and freedom – alone or in community with others and in public or in private – to manifest religion or belief through religious acts or ceremonies, or in any other way, in worship, practice, and observance. It prohibits religious discrimination, as well as speech “aimed at violating the dignity” of any religious community.
The constitution’s preamble states, “We recognize the role of Christianity” in preserving the nation and “value the various religious traditions” in the country. The constitution stipulates separation between religious communities and the state, as well as the autonomy of religious communities. According to the constitution, the state may, at the request of religious communities, cooperate with them on community goals. A 2020 constitutional amendment states that children must be guaranteed an “upbringing based on values stemming from our country’s constitutional identity and Christian culture.”
Per a 2019 amendment to the 2011 law on religion, the law establishes a four-tier system of, in descending order, “established (or incorporated) churches,” “registered churches” (also called “registered II”), “listed churches” (also called “registered I”), and “religious associations.” The term “church” in the law refers to any religious community, not just Christian ones, and religious groups in any category may use “church” in their official names. All previously incorporated religious groups retained their status in the first tier of the system as established churches. Parliament must approve recognition of churches as established. The Budapest-Capital Regional Court has jurisdiction to rule on applications for registration within the other three categories. Religious groups in all four tiers have legal personality, which grants them legal rights, such as the right to own property.
Religious entities that do not apply for legal status in one of the four tiers are still able to function and conduct worship but are not eligible to receive state funding or income tax contributions from taxpayers. The law states constitutional protection of freedom of religion also applies to unregistered groups.
To qualify for established church status, a religious group must first have registered status and then conclude a comprehensive cooperation agreement with the state for the purpose of accomplishing community goals. The government submits the comprehensive agreement to parliament, which must approve it by a two-thirds majority vote. A registered church becomes an established church from the day parliament approves the comprehensive agreement. Established churches are eligible to benefit from significant state subsidies for the performance of public service activities.
To qualify for registered church status, a religious group must have received tax allocations from an average of 4,000 persons per year in the five-year period prior to the application. This status also requires that the group either have operated as a religious association for at least 20 years in the country, or at least 100 years internationally, or have operated as a listed church for at least 15 years in the country or at least 100 years internationally.
To qualify for listed church status, a religious group must receive tax allocations from an average of 1,000 persons per year in the three-year period prior to the application for status and have operated as a religious association for at least five years in the country or for at least 100 years internationally.
To qualify for religious association status, a religious group must have at least 10 members.
The law allows the government to negotiate individual cooperation agreements with all four tiers of religious groups for the performance of public service activities and support of faith-based activities. The agreements’ duration depends on the status of the religious community, ranging from a five-year maximum for religious associations to 10 and 15 years for listed and registered churches, respectively, and unlimited duration for established churches. These agreements may be prolonged.
Religious groups that agree not to seek state (including personal income tax allocations) or European Union (EU) funding for their religious activities may qualify as registered or listed churches without fulfilling the requirement regarding the number of personal income tax allocations. The applicant religious community must perform primarily religious activities and may not be a criminal defendant or have been convicted of a crime during the previous five years, under sanction for “repeated violation of accounting and management rules,” or considered a national security threat. The court decides whether to grant status as a registered or listed church based on an examination of the criteria above. In reviewing these applications, the court may consult church law, church history, or ecclesiastical or academic experts, and may also seek the opinion of the national security services.
Religious groups that agree not to seek government or EU funding but accept financial support at a later stage must report it to the court within 15 days of the disbursement of the aid. To avoid losing its status or a reclassification to the lower association tier, the religious group has eight days to declare to the court that it has returned the funds, requested cancellation of its religious registration status, or complied with the individual tax allocation requirement to become a registered or listed organization. The religious group or prosecutor’s office may appeal the court’s decision on the status of the group to the Budapest-Capital Court of Appeal.
The law stipulates the minister responsible for church issues, based on information received from the court, shall manage an electronic database of religious groups with legal status, accessible to the public free of charge. The database is publicly accessible at the government’s central webpage, kormany.hu.
The law allows taxpayers to allocate 1 percent of their income taxes to any religious community in any of the four tiers, starting with the 2020 tax year. Religious groups may use these funds as they wish. Only established and registered churches (the two highest tiers) are eligible to receive a state subsidy supplementing the 1 percent tax allocations.
According to the law, the Budapest-Capital Regional Court may dissolve a religious community with legal status – with the exception of established churches – if its activities conflict with the constitution or law or if the court rules its registration should have been denied. Parliament may dissolve an incorporated church if the Constitutional Court finds it is operating in violation of the constitution. If a religious community is dissolved without a legal successor, its assets, after satisfying creditors, become the property of the state and shall be used for public interest activities.
Thirty-two churches have established (previously known as “incorporated”) status. These include the Roman Catholic church; a range of Protestant denominations; a range of Orthodox Christian groups; other Christian denominations such as The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Seventh-day Adventists, and the Salvation Army; three Jewish groups, the Federation of Hungarian Jewish Communities, Unified Hungarian Jewish Congregation (EMIH), and the Hungarian Autonomous Orthodox Jewish Community; two Muslim organizations; a Buddhist umbrella organization; and the Hungarian Society for Krishna Consciousness, the sole Hindu group registered as a church.
By law, the state may neither operate nor establish any institution for controlling or monitoring religious groups. Their doctrines, internal regulations, and statutes are not subject to state review, modification, or enforcement. Copyright law protects their names, symbols, and rites, while criminal law protects buildings and cemeteries.
The constitution establishes a unified system for the Office of the Commissioner for Fundamental Rights (ombudsperson). The ombudsperson investigates cases related to violations of fundamental rights – including religious freedom – and initiates general or specific measures for their remedy. These measures do not have the force of law.
Treaties with the Holy See regulate relations between the state and the Roman Catholic Church, including financing of public services and religious activities and settling claims for property seized by the state during the Communist era. These treaties serve as a model for regulating state relations with other religious groups, although there are some differences in the rights and privileges the state accords to each of the religious groups with which it has agreements. The state has also concluded formal agreements with the Hungarian Reformed Church, Hungarian Lutheran Church, Federation of Hungarian Jewish Communities (Mazsihisz), and four Orthodox churches.
According to the law, established, registered, and listed churches may perform pastoral services in prisons and hospitals. Other laws indicate religious associations may also have the right to provide services at these facilities.
Military and law enforcement personnel may freely practice their religion in private and also at their workplaces if their religious practice does not violate their mandatory service duties. The Roman Catholic, Reformed, and Lutheran Churches, and Jewish congregations (which the government generally calls “historical churches”) may provide chaplain services to the military without seeking permission. Other religious groups must seek permission to offer such services.
Penitentiaries generally allow inmates free practice of religion and provide them with special diets, such as kosher, vegetarian, and pork-free meals. Historical churches may provide pastoral services in prisons without special permission, but other religious groups may do so only within official visiting hours as outlined in individual agreements and with permission from the penitentiary. Similarly, historical churches receive automatic access to patients in hospitals to provide pastoral services, while other groups may do so only under certain conditions, such as providing services only during visiting hours.
One hour per week of education in faith and ethics or general ethics is mandatory through the first eight grades of public school. Parents and students choose between the faith and ethics class offered by an established church of their choosing or a secular ethics course taught by public school teachers. Other religious groups are not entitled to provide religious education as part of the mandatory curricula in public schools but may offer extracurricular, optional religious education in public schools at the request of parents or students. Private schools are not required to offer faith and ethics or general ethics classes.
All religious groups registered in one of the four categories have the right to open their own schools. The state provides a subsidy, based on the number of students enrolled, for employee salaries at all such schools. Only established churches automatically receive a supplementary subsidy for the schools’ operating expenses. Other religious groups may apply for a supplementary operational subsidy, and the Ministry of Human Capacities (MHC) may sign an individualized contract with them to cover these costs.
The law also affords all religious groups with legal status the right to assume operation of public schools if more than 50 percent of the parents and adult students enrolled at the school sign a petition to do so and the MHC approves the change. In these cases, the state may continue to fund the schools. Whether newly established or converted from public status, religious schools are free to conduct their own religious teaching without government input and to make faith education mandatory and not substitutable with an ethics class. The state inspects both religious and public schools every two years to ensure they conform to legal standards.
The constitution prohibits speech that violates the dignity of any religious community. The law prohibits both incitement to violence and incitement to hatred against a religious community or its members, punishable by up to three years’ imprisonment. The law provides a maximum punishment of three years in prison for impeding others through violence or threats from freely exercising their religion or abusing individuals because of their religious affiliation.
Assault motivated by the victim’s actual or presumed religious affiliation is a felony punishable by one to five years in prison. Violence against a member of the clergy is classified as violence against an “individual providing public service” and is also punishable with a prison sentence of one to five years. Any person who engages in preparation for the use of force against any member of a religious community is guilty of a misdemeanor punishable by imprisonment not exceeding two years.
The law prohibits public denial, expression of doubt, or minimization of the Holocaust, genocide, and other crimes against humanity committed by the National Socialist or Communist regimes, punishing such offenses with a maximum sentence of three years in prison. The criminal code makes wearing, exhibiting, or promoting in public the swastika, the logo of the Nazi SS, or the symbol of the Arrow Cross – a fascist, antisemitic party that allied with Nazi Germany – in a way that harms the human dignity or the memory of Holocaust victims a misdemeanor, punishable by five to 90 days’ detention.
The law provides for the lifting of official immunity of an MP who incites hatred against religious groups or publicly denies crimes of the Communist or National Socialist regimes. No MP has been the subject of such a proceeding.
The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
During the year, the government provided 134 billion forints ($410.64 million) to established churches (compared with 216.4 billion forints – $663.15 million – during 2020), of which 91 percent – 122.3 billion forints ($374.79 million) – went to the four historical churches. The Roman Catholic Church received 80 billion forints ($245.16 million), the Reformed Church 34.1 billion forints ($104.50 million), the Evangelical Church 5.2 billion forints ($15.94 million), Mazsihisz 2.2 billion forints ($6.74 million), EMIH 524 million forints ($1.61 million), and the Jewish Orthodox community 260 million forints ($797,000). The religious groups that received the bulk of the government’s financial support used the funds for such activities as building maintenance; public educational and social services; religious instruction and cultural activities; community programs and investments; employee wages, and faith-based activities for citizens living abroad.
According to statistics the tax authority published on September 13, 136 churches and religious groups received 1 percent personal income tax allocations during the year. As in previous years, the churches receiving the most allocations were the Roman Catholic Church, with 740,326 persons contributing 4.3 billion forints ($13.18 million); Hungarian Reformed Church, with 309,825 persons contributing 1.8 billion forints ($5.52 million); and Lutheran Church, with 82,701 persons contributing 508 million forints ($1.56 million). The Hungarian Society for Krishna Consciousness ranked fourth, with 73,890 persons contributing 472 million forints ($1.45 million). MET, which collected 1 percent personal income tax allocations for the first time since the 2011 modification of the religion law, ranked fifth, with 39,815 persons contributing 315 million forints ($965,000). Among Jewish groups, Mazsihisz received the largest allocation.
According to the PMO, during the 2021-2022 school year, churches or church-run higher educational institutions operated 19.6 percent of elementary and secondary schools (compared with 17.1 percent in 2019-20), and religious associations operated 0.4 percent. Churches or church-run higher educational institutions operated 9.2 percent of preschools (with students aged three to seven), compared with 10 percent run by incorporated churches in the previous year, and religious associations operated 0.2 percent. There were 217,169 students – 52.6 percent of whom were in Catholic schools – studying at preschools and elementary and secondary schools operated by churches and religious organizations, compared with 222,944 in the previous year.
Independent media reported in August that the government provided 10 billion forints ($30.64 million) to the preschool development program of the Roman Catholic Church during the year. The government also allotted an additional 3.5 billion forints ($10.73 million) for educational development projects of the Reformed Church and the Catholic Churches.
For the school year beginning in September, the MHC withdrew complementary funding from MET’s educational institutions, attended by approximately 2,200 mostly Roma children.
Works of writers widely viewed as antisemitic, including member of the Arrow Cross Party Jozsef Nyiro and convicted war criminal Albert Wass, remained mandatory reading material in elementary and secondary public schools.
In a program broadcasted by public Kossuth Radio in March, a historian discussed the Numerus Clausus Law of 1920 and stated the law was not about the deprivation of rights, but only the limitation of rights. The law, enacted under Regent Miklos Horthy, capped the number of Jews allowed to attend universities and is regarded by the Jewish community as the first antisemitic law in the country’s interwar period. (Horthy was the leader of the World War II-era Hungarian state. He allied the country with Nazi Germany and deported more than 400,000 Jews to Nazi death camps.)
In January, the first instance Budapest-Capital Regional Court rejected a complaint filed by MP and deputy faction leader of the Christian Democratic People’s Party Imre Vejkey regarding a cartoon by Gabor Papai published by the daily independent Nepszava in 2020. The cartoon showed the chief medical officer, who oversaw the government’s COVID-19 pandemic response, looking at Jesus on the cross and saying, “his underlying conditions caused” his death. According to media commenters, the cartoon satirized what critics viewed as the chief medical officer’s attempt to minimize the number of deaths in the country that were attributable to COVID-19. The appeals court stated on June 3 that the cartoon infringed the plaintiff’s right to human dignity as a member of the Christian community. The ruling also ordered the newspaper to pay 400,000 forints ($1,200) plus court costs to Vejkey and to publish an apology on the front page. The newspaper published the apology on June 25, but it announced on July 2 that it had requested the Supreme Court (Curia) to review the lower court’s decision. At year’s end, there was no information on whether the Supreme Court had agreed to review the case.
On February 5, the Constitutional Court ruled in a seven-year-long case involving the cover page of independent weekly newspaper HVG, entitled “Nagy Haracsony” (a play on words with the terms “Great Christmas” and “great grab-all”). The Constitutional Court ruled that the cover was protected by freedom of speech and was not intended to offend the Christian community.
In February, media reported a local municipality in Budapest did not extend a property use agreement with the town’s only Jewish broadcaster, Heti TV (Weekly TV). The municipality said that due to financial difficulties, it intended to make the space available to bidders. Station founder Peter Breuer criticized the move and the station continued to operate at a new location.
In March, Deputy PM Zsolt Semjen signed a cooperation agreement with the Hungarian Jewish Prayer Association (Zsima), a Jewish organization established in October 2020. The agreement entailed state funding in the amount of 51 million forints ($156,000) annually until 2025.
The COS reported that on April 28, the DPA raided the storage facility of its Budapest mission and seized one-third of its religious files on its members. The DPA confiscated the remaining folders on May 26. These raids were the continuation of the DPA’s 2017 investigation into the COS’s alleged criminal abuse of personal data, in which the DPA seized COS documents at the group’s offices in in Budapest and Nyiregyhaza and fined the COS 40 million forints ($123,000). The Constitutional Court rejected the appeals petition of the Nyiregyhaza COS mission of the DPA’s 2017 seizure of its documents, while a similar appeals petition of the Budapest COS mission remained pending at year’s end.
On May 27, the NAV raided the homes of dozens of COS members in a criminal case involving alleged tax fraud. The NAV took four persons to its headquarters in handcuffs. The COS also reported that the NAV put a lien on the building of the Central Church. According to the COS, its appeals of government decisions to revoke the residence permit of a Russian Ukrainian missionary couple in 2019 and expel a Kazakh missionary in 2020 were unsuccessful and the decisions became final.
The list of religious associations and listed churches was available at a dedicated webpage maintained by the PMO. Court decisions regarding the registration process for registered churches, listed churches, and religious associations were available at the central website of the courts, birosag.hu.
The PMO reported that some religious groups were eligible for a simplified registration procedure. Under the simplified procedure, religious groups did not need to establish the number of persons making income tax allocations to them in prior years or allocations from before 2012, the year when the religion law entered into force. A total of 15 groups reapplied under the simplified procedure. At year’s end, there were 234 groups registered as religious associations and 12 listed as churches, including 10 groups which had had applications pending before the amendment to the religion law entered into force in 2019. According to the PMO, the Budapest-Capital Regional Court rejected two applications, and one remained pending. The two rejected religious groups were registered as religious associations. The number of established churches remained unchanged at 32.
The PMO also stated no religious groups qualified for registered church status during the year because they could not meet the requirement of receiving income tax allocations from an average of at least 4,000 persons per year in the previous five years, a period which could only begin in 2019 or later. The number of registered churches therefore remained zero. MET appealed the Budapest-Capital Regional Court’s decision to register it as a listed church and requested classification as a registered church. That appeals process was ongoing at year’s end.
The Hungarian Civil Liberties Union (HCLU) – or TASZ in Hungarian – an NGO that represented some religious groups deregistered following the 2011 adoption of the religion law that established a new reregistration process and a tiered system for churches, reported it would not continue domestic or international legal challenges after the Constitutional Court in 2020 rejected its petition that the amended religion law was discriminatory and did not sufficiently address concerns related to its 2011 version.
The HCLU continued the monitoring of, and international advocacy for, the enforcement of the 2014 European Court of Human Rights ruling that the religion law violated freedom of religion and caused monetary damages to the deregistered churches. The 2014 judgment required the government to reach an agreement with the applicant churches on the restoration of their status and on just compensation for any damages. The HCLU said it was also assessing whether state financing for certain churches led to their overrepresentation in educational and social institutions, thereby compromising the state’s neutrality in religion.
In February, the NAV debited MET’s bank account for what it said were tax and social security arrears in the amount of approximately 250 million forints ($766,000). MET’s leader, Pastor Gabor Ivanyi, stated MET would be able to pay its outstanding bills if the state would compensate it for damages sustained in 2016-2019 stemming from the group’s loss of church status. The pastor added that losing its established church status had also made MET ineligible to receive a government supplement matching the 1 percent personal income tax allocations from Church members. Separately, in September 2020, MET concluded an agreement with the state-owned utility company to delay payment of outstanding bills until April. The company had threatened to disconnect MET’s institutions from the gas network in 2020 due to nonpayment. MET stated that its deregistration as a state-recognized church in 2011 and state administrative measures against the Church in 2020 and 2021 were a retaliation for MET’s leader and Pastor Ivanyi’s public criticism and questioning of PM Orban’s claims that he governed by Christian principles.
The government concluded a research project it had been conducting for several years regarding the value of Jewish heirless and unclaimed property, but in January, in a letter addressed to the WJRO, the government stated for the first time that its 2007 settlement with the WJRO represented “definitive satisfaction of compensation claims” and that under the constitution adopted by the government in 2011, it was “no longer possible to pay restitution for any abandoned Jewish property, whether in or outside Hungary.” The WJRO disagreed with the government position and sought further negotiations. Discussions between the government and the WJRO on the compensation issue resumed in October, but by year’s end, the government had not proposed a negotiation roadmap or target date.
In April, Mazsihisz announced that two Orthodox Jewish groups, EMIH and the Hungarian Orthodox Jewish Community, had requested the revision of the government-paid restitution annuity for confiscated Jewish properties, and sued Mazsihisz at the Jerusalem Supreme Rabbinical Court. In June, the court (which holds no legal jurisdiction in Hungary), in a nonbinding injunction, called on the government to freeze the payments until new criteria for the division of the annuity were defined. At year’s end, the government had not changed the distribution of the restitution annuity.
According to the COS, the Csongrad County Government Office again failed to act on a certificate of occupancy application by the COS for its headquarters in Budapest. The application had remained pending since 2017, despite a 2017 Budapest Administrative and Labor Court ruling that the county office process the COS’s application by March 2018. The COS said it had received no explanation for the continued delay. An extant court order allowed the COS to continue to use the building.
The Organization of Muslims in Hungary (OMH) reported that the municipality-owned Budapest Funeral Institute provided cemetery space for Muslims, but that Islamic burials required a permit issued by the Hungarian Islamic Community (HIC), the other Muslim organization, for which the HIC charged a fee of approximately 50,000 forints ($150). OMH members expressed concerns about this practice. Other than in the capital, OMH reported there was a limited amount of cemetery space in the city of Pecs. The restoration of the state-owned Yakovali Hasan Mosque in Pecs, ongoing since 2019, remained pending, which prevented the local Muslim community from using the mosque as a place of worship.
On June 10, the renovated Rumbach Synagogue in Budapest – which served as a Jewish deportation point in 1941 – reopened as a place of worship and culture for the first time since the 1950s. The government supported the renovation with 3.2 billion forints ($9.81 million). Senior officials of the World Jewish Congress attended the opening ceremony.
On August 29, a ceremony marked the completion of the renovation of a Mazsihisz-operated Jewish hospital in Budapest. Minister of Human Capacities Miklos Kasler stated at the opening ceremony that the government provided five billion forints ($15.32 million) for the reconstruction of the hospital as part of its efforts to ensure that hospitals run by faith-based groups played a significant role in the national healthcare system. The facility was the only Jewish hospital in the country and served both Jewish and non-Jewish patients, some of whom were Holocaust survivors.
According to the OMH, Muslims serving prison sentences continued to receive meals containing pork meat or pork fat regularly, despite complaints that it violated their religious dietary practices.
On May 1, Fidesz cofounder and media personality Zsolt Bayer wrote in the government-aligned newspaper Magyar Nemzet that the U.S. Secretary of State, who has Hungarian ancestry, was a “rootless Hungarian” and a “rootless American,” which many interpreted as a classic antisemitic trope. Bayer has a long history of antisemitic writings and statements. He has high profile platforms on government-aligned media outlets and received a prestigious government award in 2016.
In June, Laszlo Toroczkai, president of the Mi Hazank (Our Homeland) Party, which is widely described as extreme right and has seats in parliament and in local municipalities, wrote that European nations should stand on their own feet and needed “neither Jews nor Palestinians.” In August, he commemorated the members of Ragged Guard, a paramilitary unit active in the interwar period, whose leader Ivan Hejjas was responsible for killing and robbing hundreds of Jews. On his social media channel, he said in October that certain influential businessmen and politicians with Jewish roots were using the COVID-19 pandemic to create a new world order. In February, the deputy president of the Mi Hazank Party, Elod Novak, gave a speech at an event commemorating Regent Horthy.
In September, the Hungarian Baptist Church signed a cooperation agreement with the government to carry out religious, educational, social, and cultural activities.
On September 12, Prime Minister Orban met with Pope Francis, who celebrated the closing Mass of the International Eucharistic Congress, a week-long gathering of the Roman Catholic Church held in Budapest. Following their meeting, PM Orban wrote on his Facebook page, “I asked Pope Francis not to let Christian Hungary perish.”
At an international conference on antisemitism and Holocaust remembrance on October 13 in Sweden, Minister for Family Affairs Katalin Novak said that [Holocaust] remembrance was “extremely important” for the government. She called for a continuous fight against manifestations of antisemitism.
Government officials continued to make statements in defense of a “Christian Europe” and against Muslim immigration. On September 1, PM Orban stated at the Bled Strategic Forum in Slovenia that present-day migrants were “all Muslims” who changed the cultural identity of Europe. On September 9, he said at the opening of the academic year at the Mathias Corvinus Collegium, a private educational institution, that during the “Muslim flood [of immigrants],” the West was unable to confront its own historical mission. On September 27, Orban stated at a church consecration, “Hungarians can only survive as Christians, and each new church is a bastion in the nation’s struggle for freedom and greatness.” He added that since 2010, there had been 150 new churches built and more than 3,000 churches renovated in the country and in the Carpathian basin (former Hungarian territories currently inhabited by ethnic Hungarians).
On October 14, head of the PMO Gergely Gulyas stated at a government-sponsored conference organized in the framework of the country’s Council of Europe presidency, “In Western Europe, we can no longer speak of Christian democracy in its original and Central European sense.”
In October, Peter Barnabas Farkas, deputy mayor in the town of Ozd and member of the Jobbik Party, resigned from his position after two photos of him from 2018 emerged in which he appeared to be giving a Nazi salute in front of the Holocaust Museum in Poland. Farkas later apologized and visited the Holocaust Memorial Center in Budapest.
On October 23, the anniversary of the 1956 revolution, PM Orban accused the opposition of competing to represent the interests of a certain Jewish-American financier and the EU, who were aiming to “take Hungary from the hands of Mary and place it at the feet of Brussels.”
In November, the Chief Rabbi of EMIH, Slomo Koves, told press that the House of Fates, a proposed new Holocaust museum and education center in Budapest owned by EMIH, would likely be ready to open by 2024. Leading Jewish groups and Holocaust scholars have criticized the museum concept as an attempt to obscure the role of the World War II-era Hungarian state and its leader, Miklos Horthy, in the Holocaust.
In a report on the instrumentalization of antisemitism in European politics issued in February, the Anti-Defamation League, an international NGO, stated the government used coded antisemitism in campaigns – beginning at the end of 2015 – against EU migration policies, following the arrival of more than a million migrants from the Middle East. The report cited what it described as the government’s demonization of a well-known Jewish-American financier of Hungarian origin.
The country is a member of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance.
Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom
In January, the independent online news outlet 444.hu published a documentary about the crimes committed by a group of Hungarian Arrow Cross Party members against Jewish inhabitants of Budapest’s twelfth district during World War II, and about the controversial turul statue erected in the district in 2005. While the statue officially commemorates civilian victims of the Allied bombing and the Soviet siege of Budapest in 1944-45, experts have stated that the turul bird (a large, mythical bird of prey) was a well-known symbol of right-wing extremist groups during the interwar period and that the statue continued to serve as a gathering place for such groups. Historians said in 2019 that the names carved into the statue contain at least 22 Arrow Cross gang members who massacred Jews in Budapest, including current Fidesz district mayor Zoltan Pokorni’s grandfather. In a press conference on February 1, Pokorni, who in 2020 had ordered that his grandfather’s name be removed from the statue, rejected historians’ suggestion that the memorial be turned into one for fallen World War I soldiers. He proposed that the statue remain but that it should include “a very detailed guide” to the turul symbol.
In September, the Brussels-Based NGO Action and Protection League issued the results of its European antisemitism survey based on data from December 2019-January 2020. According to the survey, 25 percent of 1,000 respondents ages 18-25 in Hungary said they had negative feeling toward Jews. Thirty-six percent said they would be “totally uncomfortable” or “uncomfortable” with having Jewish neighbors. The survey cited stereotypical statements regarding Jews and asked respondents the degree to which they agreed or disagreed. The proportion who responded “strongly agree” or “tend to agree” with the following statements were: “the interests of Jews in this country are very different from the interests of the rest of the population” (34 percent); “there is a secret Jewish network that influences political and economic affairs in the world” (39 percent); “Jews have too much influence in this country” (28 percent); “Jews will never be able to fully integrate into this society” (30 percent); “Jews are more inclined than most to use shady practices to achieve their goals” (27 percent); “many of the atrocities of the Holocaust were often exaggerated by the Jews later” (16 percent); “Jews are also to blame for the persecutions against them” (31 percent); “Jews exploit Holocaust victimhood for their own purposes” (39 percent).
The Foundation reported 30 antisemitic incidents in 2020, the most recent data available, compared with 35 in the previous year. These were six cases of vandalism, one threat, one case of discrimination, and 22 cases of hate speech.
In July, Mazsihisz president Andras Heisler presented the results of a 2019-2020 survey prepared by Median independent public opinion pollster and commissioned by Mazsihisz. Heisler stated that while the number of physical attacks and vandalism cases was low compared with Western Europe, hate speech, conspiracy theories, and antisemitism in public life increased between 2019 and 2020, and the Mi Hazank Party, widely described as extreme right, was among the most common perpetrators of antisemitic incidents and hate speech. According to the survey, there were 70 antisemitic incidents in 2020, up from 53 in the previous year. Citing 2019 data, head of the Median public opinion pollster Endre Hann said that 36 percent of Hungary’s adult population could be characterized by some degree of antisemitism, including antisemitic prejudice and attitudes toward Jews.
Muslim organizations stated they did not collect statistical data because, according to one member, they lacked the capacity to do so. However, OMH reported that while physical assaults were rare, verbal insults and hateful emails and phone calls were frequent, in particular against persons wearing headscarves or who had darker skin and spoke a foreign language. For instance, according to OMH, individuals often referred to Muslims as “terrorists” and told them to “get out of here.”
OMH also reported a higher number of online insults on social media during the 20th anniversary of the September 11, 2001 attacks. According to OMH, the majority of the population regarded Muslims with suspicion.
As in previous years, domestic and international extreme-right and neo-Nazi groups marked the anniversary of the breakout attempt by Hungarian and German troops on February 11, 1945, during the Soviet Red Army’s siege of Budapest. Despite COVID-19 pandemic restrictions on public gatherings, approximately 100 persons took part in an organized reenactment hike along the route of the attempted siege-breakers in Budapest. The Hungarian chapter of the international neo-Nazi group Blood and Honor organized the event. Ahead of the event, one of its organizers published an opinion piece in the government-aligned media outlet Magyar Nemzet entitled “Glory to the Heroes.” In the article, the author compared Hungarian and German soldiers who attempted the breakout to the great heroes of Hungarian history.
In June, a soccer fan affiliated with Kispest, a Budapest Honved football club, posted a photo on social media with a text that ended, “Heil Hitler.” In September, independent media reported that Kispest Youth, also called Militant Jugend Kispest, painted swastikas and 88 (a common symbol for “Heil Hitler,” as H is the eighth letter of the alphabet) onto buildings in the Kispest district and wore red-white-black shirts with swastikas on photos that were posted on social media.
In July, TEV reported that swastikas were painted on a company’s building in Szeged and on the pavement in Szolnok. Also in July, a private property in Leanyfalu displayed a picture of Hitler with the text “Ein Volk, ein Reich, ein Fuhrer.” Police initiated an investigation. In 2020, an SS flag was hung from the facade of the same house. Police first dismissed that case, but the prosecutor’s office reopened it as involving public use of a totalitarian symbol. In June, a passerby told two Jewish teenagers in Budapest to “go to Auschwitz,” and in May, a guard at a drugstore in Budapest was fired for calling a customer a “filthy Jew.”
According to press reports, a team of international volunteers was working to restore the neglected Kozma Street Cemetery in Budapest, one of the largest Jewish cemeteries in the world, with an area of 77 hectares (190 acres) and containing approximately 300,000 graves. At midyear, the volunteers had reportedly cleaned up 20 percent of the cemetery.
In October, the Christian-Jewish Council, an informal platform for discussion among Catholic, Lutheran, Reformed, and Baptist Churches and Jewish groups, held a conference on the role of families in religion, with the participation of members of Christian and Jewish groups.
During a visit to the country in September, Pope Francis met with representatives of Christian churches and Jewish communities and said that antisemitism is a “fuse which must not be allowed to burn.”
Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement
In meetings and discussions with the government, including officials from the PMO in charge of church and Jewish issues, the Charge d’Affaires and embassy representatives advocated restitution of heirless Jewish property seized during the Holocaust and discussed provisions of the religion law, including the registration process for religious groups.
The Charge d’Affaires and embassy officials also discussed heirless property restitution with the WJRO.
In June, the Charge d’Affaires dedicated a room in the embassy building to the memory of Carl Lutz, credited with saving the lives of more than 62,000 Hungarian Jews. As a Swiss vice consul, Lutz operated out of the building, likely from the room where the ceremony was held, while Switzerland looked after U.S. property and interests between 1942 and 1945. Members of the Jewish community attended the event, which the embassy also highlighted on its social media accounts.
In August, the Charge d’Affaires delivered a speech at an event commemorating the birth of Swedish diplomat and honorary citizen of the United States Raoul Wallenberg, who saved thousands of Hungarian Jews while serving in Budapest between 1944 and 1945. His speech emphasized the importance of education about the Holocaust and the rejection of antisemitism, and the embassy highlighted it on its social media accounts. In November, the Charge d’Affaires joined the global initiative of the International March of the Living, an international educational program on the history of the Holocaust, to call attention to the anniversary of Kristallnacht, or the Night of Broken Glass, the 1938 Nazi pogrom. In his remarks delivered in front of the Dohany Street Synagogue in Budapest, he highlighted the U.S. commitment to Holocaust remembrance and combating antisemitism, racism, and intolerance.
Embassy officials also facilitated cooperation between U.S. and Hungarian authorities regarding proper handling of Jewish historic artifacts stolen from Jewish communities in the country during World War II, including from Hungary, that were set to be auctioned in the United States.
The embassy maintained regular contact with leaders of various religious communities, including the four historical groups, as well as Muslims, the COS, and religious groups that lost incorporated church status in 2011, such as MET, Bet Orim, and Sim Shalom, to understand their concerns. During these discussions, embassy officials discussed the effects of the religion law, antisemitism, and anti-Muslim rhetoric.
In the absence of a written constitution, the law establishes the Church of England as England’s state church and the Church of Scotland as Scotland’s national church. The law prohibits “incitement to religious hatred,” as well as discrimination on the grounds of religion. In March, the Scottish Parliament passed legislation abolishing blasphemy offenses and extending protection for religious and other vulnerable groups under the offense of “stirring up hatred,” which previously had been applied only to race. In March, the National Secular Society publicly called on Northern Ireland Justice Minister Naomi Long to repeal blasphemy laws in Northern Ireland. At year’s end, parliament had not adopted a working definition of “Islamophobia,” although in September, the government said it would outline steps to achieve a “robust and effective definition.” Under the Places of Worship Scheme, the government provided more than 1.704 million pounds ($2.30 million) to fund increased security at places of worship and associated faith-based, group-run community centers. It also provided 14 million pounds ($18.92 million) from April 2020 to March 2021 via a nongovernmental organization (NGO) to provide security at Jewish institutions, including schools and synagogues. Separately, in May, the Scottish government announced 500,000 pounds ($676,000) of funding for security at places of worship. NGOs continued to call for the Northern Ireland government to introduce the Places of Worship Scheme in Northern Ireland, where it did not currently apply. In April, the Welsh Parliament passed the Curriculum and Assessment Act, permitting sixth-form students (age 16-18) to opt out of Religion, Values, and Ethics (RVE) instruction, which remained compulsory for younger students. In July, the NGO Wales Humanists called on the Welsh government to ensure RVE was taught in an “objective, critical, and pluralistic way.” The main political parties continued to address or face accusations of religious bias. In May, a report published by a former commissioner for the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHCR) found that the Conservative Party received reports of 727 incidents of discrimination from the beginning of 2015 to the end of 2020, two-thirds of which alleged anti-Muslim bias. The Muslim Council of Britain said the report failed to acknowledge “the root causes of this bigotry.” At the Labour Party’s annual conference in September, Labour Party Leader Sir Keir Starmer introduced new rules to address antisemitism within the party, including establishing an independent complaints process. The Board of Deputies of British Jews welcomed the new approach adopted by the party. In April, the Northern Ireland Assembly adopted the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) non-legally-binding Working Definition of Antisemitism. The 2021 census in England and Wales contained the question, “What is your religion?” The NGO Humanist UK, which had unsuccessfully lobbied the government to change the wording, stated this was a leading question and urged participants who did not believe in or practice a religion to select “No religion.”
The government reported an 18 percent decrease in religiously motivated hate crimes: 5,948 offenses in England and Wales between March 2020 and March 2021, down from 6,856 in the same period one year prior. Where the perceived religion of the victim was recorded, 45 percent of religious hate crime offenses targeted Muslims, 22 percent targeted Jews, and 9 percent targeted Christians. Other religious groups targeted included Hindus and Sikhs. In January, the NGO Campaign Against Antisemitism published its Antisemitism Barometer 2020, which found that almost one-fifth of 1,846 Jews surveyed said they felt unwelcome in the country and 44 percent said they did not display visible signs of their Judaism in public due to antisemitism. There were several instances of coronavirus conspiracy theorists appropriating Holocaust imagery. The NGO Community Security Trust’s (CST) annual report recorded 2,255 antisemitic incidents during the year, the highest annual total since CST began its tracking in 1984 and a 34 percent increase over 2020. Among the incidents were 176 violent antisemitic incidents, three incidents classified as involving “extreme violence,” 82 incidents of damage or desecration of Jewish property, and 1,844 incidents of nonviolent abusive behavior, including verbal abuse, graffiti, antisemitic social media posts, and hate mail. According to CST, the record volume was “due to anti-Jewish reactions to the escalation of conflict in Israel and Palestine.” In September, the Brussels-based NGO Action and Protection League issued the results of its European antisemitism survey, which found that 3 percent of 1,000 respondents ages 18-75 in the United Kingdom said they had negative feelings towards Jews. In December, media reported a person was injured in an antisemitic attack by an unknown assailant who allegedly told the victim he “looked Jewish.” The perpetrator reportedly said he wanted to “kill his first Jew.” Home Secretary Priti Patel described the incident as seriously disturbing. Also in December, the Board of Deputies of British Jews criticized the BBC for falsely alleging that victims of a November 29 antisemitic incident in London provoked their attackers with an anti-Muslim slur. The NGO Tell MAMA (Measuring Anti-Muslim Attacks), which monitors anti-Muslim activity, stated in its 2020 annual report (the most recent) there were reports of anti-Muslim hate incidents during that year. According to a 2020 joint study conducted by Newcastle University, Northumbria University, the Economic and Social Research Council, and Tell MAMA, more than two thirds of 111 participants living within the three police force jurisdictions of Cleveland, Durham, and Northumbria said manifestations of anti-Muslim sentiment or anti-Muslim hatred were either a regular or everyday occurrence, and half of those who reported experiencing anti-Muslim sentiment or anti-Muslim hatred said they did not report the incidents to police. In April, the Westminster Magistrates’ Court convicted and sentenced a woman to 18 weeks in prison for Holocaust denial, the first ever case in the country of imprisonment for that charge. In December, the Manchester Crown Court sentenced a man to four years in prison for posting hundreds of antisemitic videos online.
U.S. embassy and consulate staff engaged with government officials, including the Prime Minister’s Special Envoy for Freedom of Religion for Belief, and political parties. Embassy officers discussed freedom of belief and nonbelief issues with religious groups, including the Board of Deputies of British Jews, CST, the Jewish Orthodox Charedi community, and Humanist UK. Staff from the consulate general in Belfast continued to engage with all religious communities in Northern Ireland to discuss ongoing challenges in the region, such as addressing sectarianism and religious intolerance. In January, the Charge d’Affaires took part in the Holocaust Memorial Day virtual campaign #LightTheDarkness. In May, the embassy hosted a virtual interfaith iftar with the Naz Legacy Foundation. Throughout the year, the embassy highlighted the U.S. commitment to the promotion of religious freedom on social media, including on religious holiday occasions. Collectively, these messages reached approximately 110,000 persons.
Section I. Religious Demography
The U.S. government estimates the total population at 66.1 million (midyear 2021). National census figures from 2011, the most recent, indicate 59.3 percent of the population in England and Wales is Christian. Of the remaining population, 4.8 percent identify as Muslim; 1.5 percent Hindu; 0.8 percent Sikh; 0.5 percent Jewish; and 0.4 Buddhist. Approximately 25 percent of the population reported no religious affiliation, and 7 percent chose not to answer. The Baha’i Faith community estimates it has more than 7,000 members.
According to the 2019 British Social Attitudes survey, a survey conducted by the independent National Center for Social Research, 52 percent of those surveyed described themselves as having no religion, 12 percent as Anglican, 7 percent as Catholic, 19 percent as belonging to other Christian groups, and 10 percent as belonging to non-Christian religious groups, of which 6 percent identified as Muslim and 4 percent as other non-Christian, including less than 0.5 percent as Jews. Jehovah’s Witnesses estimate there are 137,000 members in the country.
According to the Boston University 2020 World Religions Database, 67 percent of the country is Christian, 23 percent atheist or agnostic, 6 percent Muslim, 1 percent Sikh, and 1 percent Hindu. Other religious groups together comprise 2 percent, including approximately 278,000 Jews, 200,000 Buddhists, 39,000 Baha’is, 24,000 Jains, and 5,000 Zoroastrians.
The Muslim community in England and Wales is predominantly of South Asian origin, but also includes individuals from the Arabian Peninsula, the Levant, Africa, and Southeast Asia, as well as a growing number of converts of British and other European descent. Hindus, Sikhs, Jews, and Buddhists are concentrated in London and other large urban areas, primarily in England.
Census figures for Scotland in 2011 (the most recent) indicate 54 percent of the population is Christian, comprising the Church of Scotland (32 percent), Roman Catholic Church (16 percent), and other Christian groups (6 percent). The Muslim community constitutes 1.4 percent of the population. Other religious groups, which together make up less than 1 percent of the population, include Hindus, Sikhs, Jews, and Buddhists. Persons not belonging to any religious group make up 36.7 percent of the population, and the remainder did not provide information on religious affiliation.
A 2017 Scottish Social Attitudes Survey found 58 percent of those surveyed did not identify with any religion, 18 percent identified as belonging to the Church of Scotland, 10 percent as Roman Catholic, 11 percent as other Christian, and 2 percent as non-Christian.
Census figures from Northern Ireland in 2011 indicated 41.5 percent of the population is Protestant – consisting of the Presbyterian Church of Ireland (19 percent), Church of Ireland (14 percent), Methodist Church in Ireland (3 percent), and other Protestant groups (6 percent) – and 41 percent Roman Catholic. Less than 1 percent of the population belongs to non-Christian religious groups, and approximately 10 percent professes no religion; 7 percent did not indicate a religious affiliation.
Research conducted at Ulster University in 2019 stated there is a “clear statistical trend towards a change in the religious minority-majority structure of Northern Ireland.” The university’s statistics showed a consistent decline of Protestants in all 26 district council areas of Northern Ireland since 2001, contrasted with an increased Catholic population in 19 of 26 council areas in the same period. Analysis of 2011 census figures conducted at Ulster University also illustrates this trend is likely to continue. Census figures show a Protestant majority in the over-60 age bracket and a Catholic majority in the under-20 age bracket.
Census figures from Bermuda in 2010 cited 22 religious groups in the population of 71,000; 78 percent identifies as Christian, including 16 percent Anglican, 15 percent Roman Catholic, 9 percent African Methodist Episcopal, and 7 percent Seventh-day Adventist. Approximately 2 percent identifies with other religious groups, including approximately 600 Muslims, 200 Rastafarians, and 120 Jews. Approximately 20 percent did not identify with or state a religious affiliation.
Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom
In the absence of a written constitution, the law establishes the Church of England as England’s state church, with the monarch as its head. Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland do not have state religions. Legislation establishes the Church of Scotland as Scotland’s national church, but it is not dependent on any government body or the monarch for spiritual matters or leadership.
The 1998 Human Rights Act states, “Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief, in worship, teaching, practice and observance.” The Human Rights Act reaffirms the European Convention of Human Rights, Article 9, which guarantees freedom of thought, conscience, and religion, subject to certain restrictions that are “in accordance with law” and “necessary in a democratic society.”
As the supreme governor of the Church of England, the monarch must always be a member of, and promise to uphold, that Church. The monarch appoints Church of England officials, including lay and clergy representatives, on the advice of the Prime Minister and the Crown Appointments Commission. Aside from these appointments, the state is not involved in Church administration. The Church of Scotland is governed by its General Assembly, which has the authority to make laws determining how it operates.
Blasphemy and blasphemous libel remain criminal offenses in Northern Ireland under common law. To date, however, there have been no convictions for blasphemy or blasphemous libel there. These laws prohibit “composing, printing or publishing any blasphemous libel or any seditious libel tending to bring into hatred…any matter in Church or State.” The law applies only to Christianity.
In England and Wales, the law prohibits religiously motivated hate speech and any acts intended to incite religious hatred through the use of words or the publication or distribution of written material. The law defines religious hatred as hatred of a group because of its religious belief or lack thereof. Police are responsible for investigating criminal offenses and for gathering evidence; the Crown Prosecution Service, which is an independent body and the main public prosecution service for England and Wales, is responsible for deciding whether a suspect should be charged with a criminal offense. The maximum penalty for inciting religious hatred is seven years in prison. If there is evidence of religious hostility in connection with any crime, it is a “religiously aggravated offense” and carries a higher maximum penalty than does the underlying crime alone.
In March, the Scottish Parliament passed the Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Act, which abolished blasphemy as an offense and criminalized “stirring up hatred” on the basis of, among other things, religion or perceived religious affiliation. The offense of “stirring up hatred” had previously applied only to race.
Northern Ireland does not have specific hate crime laws, but current legislation allows for increased sentencing if offenses are judged to be motivated by hostility based on religion, among other aggravating factors.
By law, the General Register Office for England and Wales governs the registration and legal recognition of places of worship in England and Wales. A representative of the congregation, for example, a proprietor, trustee, or religious head, must complete and submit an application form and pay a fee of 29 pounds ($39) to a local registrar. The General Registrar Office typically provides registration certificates to the local superintendent registrar within 20 working days. The law also states buildings, rooms, or other premises may be registered as meeting places for religious worship upon payment of a fee. The General Register Office for England and Wales keeps a record of the registration, and the place of worship is assigned a “worship number.” Registration is not compulsory, but it provides certain financial advantages and is also required before a place of worship may be registered as a venue for marriages. Registered places of worship are exempt from paying taxes and benefit from participating in the country’s Gift Aid program. Gift Aid allows charities to claim back the 25 percent basic rate of tax already paid on donations by the donor, boosting the value of a donation by one quarter. The law only applies in England and Wales.
The law requires religious education (RE) and worship for children between the ages of three and 18 in state-run schools, with the content decided at the local level. Specialist schoolteachers, rather than religious groups, teach the syllabus. Parents may request to exempt their children from RE, and in England and Wales, students may opt out themselves at age 14, although religious worship continues until students leave school at either age 16 or 18. State schools that are not legally designated as religious require the RE curriculum to be nondenominational and refrain from attempting to convert students. RE instruction must also include the practices of principal non-Christian religions in the country. All schools not designated as religious, whether private or state-run, must maintain neutrality in their interpretation of the RE syllabus and must avoid presenting one faith or belief as greater than another.
State schools in England and Wales that are not legally designated as religious are required to practice daily collective prayer or worship of “a wholly or mainly…Christian character.” Schoolteachers lead these assemblies; however, parents have the legal right to request their children not participate in collective prayer or worship. Teachers, unless they are employed by faith-based schools, may decline participation in collective worship, without prejudice. The law permits sixth form students (generally 16- to 19-year-olds in the final two years of secondary school) to withdraw from worship without parental permission or action. State schools not designated as religious are free to hold other religious ceremonies as they choose.
The government requires schools to consider the practices of different religious groups when setting dress codes for students. This includes wearing or carrying specific religious artifacts, not cutting hair, dressing modestly, or covering the head. Guidance from the Department of Education requires schools to balance the rights of individual students against the best interests of the school community as a whole; it acknowledges schools could be justified in restricting individuals’ rights to manifest their religion or beliefs when necessary, for example, to promote cohesion and good order.
In Scotland, only denominational (faith-based) schools practice daily collective prayer or worship; however, religious observance at least six times per year is compulsory in all Scottish schools. Religious observance is defined as “community acts which aim to promote the spiritual development of all members of the school’s community.” Examples of religious observance include school assemblies and events to recognize religious occasions, including Christmas and Easter. Parents or legal guardians may elect to have their children opt out from this requirement, but students may not make this decision themselves.
In Bermuda, by law, students attending state schools may participate in collective worship, characterized by educational officials as reciting the Lord’s Prayer, but it prohibits worship “distinctive of any particular religious group.” At the high school level, students are required to take a course that explores various religions until year 9 (ages 11-14); in years 10 and 11 (ages 15-16), courses on religion are optional.
There are two faith-based private schools in Bermuda that operate from kindergarten through high school. One follows the guidance of the North American division of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. The other follows principles of the Catholic Church. There is one primary school that follows Islamic principles.
The government determines whether to establish a faith-based school when there is evidence of demand, such as petitions from parents, religious groups, teachers, or other entities. If a faith-based school is not oversubscribed, then the school must offer a place to any child, but if the school is oversubscribed, it may use faith as a criterion for acceptance. Nonstate faith-based schools are eligible to claim “charitable status,” which allows for tax exemptions.
Almost all schools in Northern Ireland receive state support, with approximately 90 percent of students attending Protestant or Catholic schools. Approximately 7 percent of school-age children attend religiously integrated schools that have admissions criteria designed to enroll equal numbers of Catholic and Protestant children as well as children from other religious and cultural backgrounds. Students of different faiths may attend Protestant or Catholic schools but tend to gravitate toward the integrated schools. These integrated schools are not secular but, according to the Northern Ireland Council for Integrated Education, are “essentially Christian in character and welcome all faiths and none.” RE – a core syllabus designed by the Department of Education, Church of Ireland, and Catholic, Presbyterian, and Methodist Churches – is compulsory in all government-funded schools, and by law each school day must include collective Christian worship. All schools receiving government funding must teach RE; however, students may opt out of the classes and collective worship. Catholic-managed schools draw uniquely on the Roman Catholic tradition for their RE, while other schools may draw on world religions.
An estimated 30 sharia councils operate parallel to the national legal system. They adjudicate Islamic religious matters, including religious divorces, which are not recognized under civil law. Participants may submit cases to the councils on a voluntary basis. The councils do not have the legal status of courts, although they have legal status as mediation and arbitration bodies. As such, rulings may not be appealed in the courts.
The law prohibits discrimination on the grounds of “religion or belief” or the “lack of religion or belief” and requires “reasonable” religious accommodation in the workplace for employees. The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) – a body sponsored by the Department of Education’s Government Equalities Office – is responsible for enforcing legislation prohibiting religious and other discrimination. The EHRC researches and conducts inquiries into religious and other discrimination in England, Scotland, and Wales. The Minister for Women and Equalities appoints the members. If the EHRC finds a violation, it has a range of powers at its disposal, including offering guidance or initiating court proceedings, resulting in binding, legally enforceable judgments. The EHRC receives government funds but operates independently. The Northern Ireland equivalent to the EHRC is the Equality Commission.
In Northern Ireland, the law bans discrimination on the grounds of religious belief in employment; however, schools may be selective on the grounds of religion when recruiting teachers. In the rest of the country, the law prohibits any discrimination, including employment discrimination, based on religious belief unless the employer can show a genuine requirement for a particular religion.
There are separate legal regimes for civil marriage and civil partnerships. Civil partnerships are formed when parties sign and register a civil partnership document, with no words required to be spoken. Civil marriages are solemnized by saying a proscribed form of words. In England, Northern Ireland, and Wales, civil partnership ceremonies must be nonreligious. They must not include religious music or readings and must be free of obvious specifically religious connotations. In Scotland, civil partnership ceremonies may be conducted by religious or humanist leaders. Nonreligious belief (humanist) marriages are legally recognized in Scotland and Northern Ireland but not in England and Wales, where “religious” marriages must take place in registered places of worship. In England and Wales, humanists must have a civil marriage alongside any humanist wedding, if they want to be legally married. There are four categories of religious marriage: Church of England and Church of Wales, Jewish, Quaker, and others (e.g., Muslims or Hindus). Anglican marriages must be conducted by a member of the clergy, who registers the marriage. Jewish and Quaker marriages are conducted in accordance with appropriate religious rites and the officiant registers the marriage. Other religious marriages must take place in a registered place of worship, have at least two witnesses present, and include the necessary declarations; a registrar or a person certified by the Registrar General (e.g., the imam) must then register the marriage.
Citing a limited broadcast spectrum, the law prohibits religious groups from holding national radio licenses, public teletext licenses, more than one television service license, and/or radio and television multiplex licenses, which would allow a group to offer multiple channels as part of a single bundle of programming.
Twenty-six senior bishops of the Anglican Church sit in the House of Lords as representatives of the state Church. Known as the Lords Spiritual, they read prayers at the start of each daily meeting and play a full role in the work of the upper house of parliament.
The law requires visa applicants wishing to enter the country as “ministers of religion” to have a certificate of sponsorship for their job from a bona fide religious organization, proof of their knowledge of English, personal savings, and a travel history over the last year. The law defines “minister of religion” as a religious functionary whose main regular duties include leading a congregation in performing the rites and rituals of the faith and in preaching the essentials of the creed. “Minister of religion” includes anyone doing preaching and pastoral work or coming to the country as missionaries or members of religious orders.
The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
In March, the Scottish Parliament passed the Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Act. The legislation, which criminalized “stirring up hatred” on the basis of, among other things, religion or perceived religious affiliation, generated controversy on its way through parliament over its perceived potential effect on free speech. The Scottish Police Federation stated it would force officers to “police what people think or feel,” while Scottish Conservatives said noted author JK Rowling could have “conceivably” faced prosecution for expressing her views on transgender rights. The LGBTQI+ rights organization Stonewall Scotland, however, welcomed the legislation and dismissed these concerns, saying, “Courts and prosecutors should be well versed in the distinction between freedom of expression and incitement to hatred.” The law also abolished blasphemy offenses. The legislation had been significantly amended after legal bodies expressed concerns that the bar for prosecution was too low, while religious groups worried that the expression of certain religious beliefs, such as opposition to same-sex marriage or increased transgender rights, could be considered criminal acts. Scottish government ministers insisted the legislation was fair. Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf said that “robust scrutiny has ensured we have met the right balance between protecting groups targeted by hate crime and respecting people’s rights to free speech.”
In March, the National Secular Society publicly called on Northern Ireland Justice Minister Long to repeal blasphemy laws in Northern Ireland. The Northern Ireland Humanists group also continued to publicly call for the repeal of the region’s blasphemy laws, passed in 1891 and 1888. According to sources, all major political parties supported repeal except for the Democratic Unionist Party, Northern Ireland’s largest political party.
Conservative Member of Parliament (MP) Fiona Bruce, the Prime Minister’s Special Envoy for Freedom of Religion for Belief, continued to work with faith groups and civil society to promote freedom of religion internationally throughout the year, as reflected in the MP’s social media account. In November, Bruce launched the #EndThePersecution campaign, an initiative to raise awareness of persecution faced by Christians and those of other religions or beliefs around the world. Bruce also served as vice chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Freedom of Religion or Belief. At an APPG event in November, Bruce called for “a time for action, to reassert our commitment to advocate to end the persecution for all.”
As of year’s end, parliament had not adopted a working definition of “Islamophobia.” In 2019, the government appointed Imam Qari Asim, the deputy chair of the government’s Anti-Muslim Hatred Working Group, as an independent advisor to propose a new working definition after the government rejected the then proposed working definition. That definition stated, “Islamophobia is rooted in racism and is a type of racism that targets expressions of Muslimness or perceived Muslimness.” At the time, the chair of the National Police Chiefs’ Council said the proposed definition was “too broad… and could be used to challenge legitimate free speech.” During a September parliamentary debate, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Housing, Communities, and Local Government Eddie Hughes said, “We remain committed to there being a robust and effective definition, and we will outline our steps to achieve that in due course.” The government and Muslim groups established the Anti-Muslim Hatred Working Group in 2012 to develop and implement proposals to address anti-Muslim sentiment in the country. It is made up of representatives from Muslim communities, independent experts, academics, and a range of government departments, including the Attorney General’s Office, the Crown Prosecution Service, the Foreign, Commonwealth, and Development Office (FCDO), and the Home Office.
The pastoral needs of prisoners were addressed, in part, through chaplains paid for by the Ministry of Justice, rather than by religious groups. All chaplains worked as part of a multifaith team, the size and breakdown of which was determined by the number of inmates in the prison and their religious composition. Prison service regulations stated, “Chaplaincy provision must reflect the faith denomination requirements of the prison.”
The military generally provided adherents of minority religious groups with chaplains of their faith. There were approximately 240 recruited chaplains in the armed forces, all of whom were Christian. The armed forces also employed five civilian chaplains as full-time civil servants to care for Buddhist, Hindu, Sikh, Jewish, and Muslim recruits.
According to media, most religious groups in Scotland followed that government’s COVID-19 pandemic restrictions; however, in January, a group of 27 cross-denominational church leaders brought an action in Scotland’s civil court, challenging the Scottish government’s forced closure of places of worship during the lockdown. In March, Lord Peter Braid, a judge on the Court of Session, Scotland’s highest civil court, ruled in favor of the church leaders, holding that the Scottish government had overstepped its emergency powers in ordering closure of places of worship. Lord Braid stated the regulations disproportionately interfered with the freedom of religion secured in the European Convention on Human Rights. Church leaders welcomed the decision. Andrea Williams, chief executive of the Christian Legal Centre, said she was “thankful and relieved” the court recognized the regulations as a “dangerous interference.” Lord Braid said his ruling did not mean there could be no circumstances in which restrictions on places of worship were justified. The Scottish government acknowledged the opinion and said it would “carefully consider the findings, its implications, and our next steps.”
Under the Places of Worship Scheme, the government provided 1,704,237 pounds ($2.30 million) for security measures to reduce the risk and impact of hate crimes at places of worship and associated faith group-run community centers at 58 places of worship and community centers, comprising 30 churches (12 in 2020), 9 mosques (27 in 2020), 6 Hindu temples (4 in 2020), 10 Sikh gurdwaras (5 in 2020), and 3 other faith-based group-run centers. In 2020, the government provided 1.6 million pounds ($2.16 million).
The Places of Worship Scheme was open to all faiths apart from the Jewish community, which received 13.5 million pounds ($18.24 million) from a separate government grant administered by CST. According to CST, the grant to the Jewish community, covering April 2020 to March 2021, would have been 14 million pounds ($18.92 million) (compared with 14 million pounds in April 2019-March 2020), but 500,000 ($676,000) pounds carried over unused from the prior time period, as many community buildings were closed for part of the year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The grant funded commercial security guards at Jewish community buildings across the country, with priority placed on schools. The grant to CST did not apply in Northern Ireland.
As of year’s end, the government continued to analyze the results of a 2020 public consultation on measures to improve its response to religiously motivated hate crimes at places of worship.
On May 26, the Scottish government announced it would provide 500,000 pounds ($676,000) to protect places of worship via the Hate Crime Security Fund, the same amount as in 2020. Scottish Social Justice Secretary Shona Robison said, “Places of worship should be places of peace and sanctuary and our faith communities should feel safe and secure when they visit them.” Assistant Chief Constable Gary Ritchie said, “Faith leaders and their congregations should be able to attend worship without fear of crime or persecution.”
The Christian charitable organization Care NI continued to call for the Northern Ireland government to introduce the Places of Worship Scheme in Northern Ireland, where it did not currently apply. According to Police Service of Northern Ireland statistics, there were 123 incidents of criminal damage to religious facilities in Northern Ireland between September 2020 and September 2021.
In March, the government announced an extension to funding available for the Listed Places of Worship Grant Scheme (LPW) until March 2022. The LPW, run by the Department of Digital, Culture, Media, and Sport, and focused on preserving cultural heritage, provided Value Added Tax (VAT) relief on repairs to worship structures, turret clocks, pews, bells and pipe organs, in addition to associated professional fees. All faiths and areas of the UK were eligible for the plan.
In April, the Welsh Senedd (parliament) passed the Curriculum and Assessment Act, permitting sixth-form students (age 16-18) to opt out of RVE instruction, which remained compulsory for younger students. The NGO Wales Humanists stated children who were not yet in the sixth form should also be given a legal right to freedom of religion or belief that extended to determining for themselves whether to participate in worship. From May to July, the Welsh government invited public comments on draft implementing guidance to “provide an opportunity for all practitioners and other stakeholders to offer input,” but it had not released the results of public comments by year’s end. In July, Wales Humanists called on the Welsh government to amend the guidance to ensure RVE was taught in an “objective, critical, and pluralistic way.” The NGO stated the guidance’s definition of “non-religious philosophical convictions” could lead to the “exclusion of humanism in favor of beliefs that should not be covered in RVE” instruction.
According to 2019 data, the latest available, there were 6,802 state-funded, faith-based schools in England, representing 34 percent of all state-funded mainstream schools and serving approximately 1.9 million students. Church of England schools were the most common type among primary schools (26 percent); Roman Catholic schools were the most common at the secondary level (9 percent). Additionally, at the primary and secondary levels, there were 72 “other Christian,” 36 Jewish, 25 Methodist, 14 Islamic, six Sikh, five Hindu, and two multifaith state-funded faith-based schools. There were 370 government-funded denominational schools in Scotland: 366 Catholic, three Episcopalian, and one Jewish. The government classified schools with links to the Church of Scotland as nondenominational.
In July, England amended the Health and Social Care Act of 2008 to mandate that all frontline healthcare workers receive two doses of COVID-19 vaccine by November 1. The amendment did not include an exemption for individuals who objected to vaccination based on religious or philosophical beliefs, but such workers had the option to redeploy to non-frontline roles or go on unpaid leave. Scotland, Northern Ireland, and Wales did not have vaccine mandates.
In March, the England and Wales High Court held that the religious freedom rights of three pagan and Druid protesters at Stonehenge were not infringed when they were convicted of violating restrictions on entry to the stone circle under provisions of the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979 and the Stonehenge Regulations. The court said the “removal of restrictions on access to the stone circle because the appellants turned up and wanted access to the stone circle to protest and exercise religious freedoms would not strike a fair balance between the important rights of the individual appellants and the general interest of the community to see Stonehenge preserved for present and future generations.”
In October, media reported Mary Onuoha, a Christian nurse, sued her former employer, Croydon University Hospital, for harassment, victimization, direct and indirect discrimination, and constructive and unfair dismissal (i.e., being forced to quit), alleging she was intimidated and forced out of her job because she wore a necklace with a Christian cross. Onuoha’s lawyers stated that Croydon Health Services National Health Service Trust violated Onuoha’s freedom to manifest her faith under Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights and the country’s Equality Act. The hospital argued the cross was capable of harboring bacteria or viruses and was therefore an infection risk. The suit was pending at year’s end.
The 2021 Census in England and Wales contained the question, “What is your religion?” Humanists UK, which had unsuccessfully lobbied the government to change the wording, stated this was a leading question and urged participants who did not believe in or practice a religion to select “no religion.” On the group’s website, it wrote, “The results of the Census are used to make decisions about everything from the types of new schools to open to the types of emotional support offered in hospitals, so it really matters. We want people’s answers to reflect what they truly believe.”
Humanist UK stated nonreligious belief marriages, which are legally recognized in Scotland and Northern Ireland, should also receive legal recognition in England and Wales.
Humanist UK said the state should increase the availability of nonpastoral support in prisons and hospitals.
A report commissioned by the Conservative Party and published in May concluded that anti-Muslim sentiment “remains a problem” in the party. The report was authored by former EHRC commissioner Swaran Singh, who analyzed 1,418 complaints regarding 727 separate incidents between 2015-2020. Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who was criticized in 2018 for comparing Muslim women wearing burqas to “letter boxes,” said he was “obviously sorry for any offense taken” to past remarks but did not specifically address his burqa comment. Singh called for the party leadership to publish an action plan to address its failings, recommended that each local party be given equality training, and recommended that the party produce and implement a new code of conduct. The EHRC, which had suspended its own investigation into allegations of anti-Muslim bias in the Conservative Party while Singh’s review took place, said it “would assess the report… and await the Conservative Party’s response on the actions they will take.” The Muslim Council of Britain said that while Singh’s report “rightly recognizes that Islamophobia has been a serious issue” for the Conservatives, it failed to acknowledge “the root causes of this bigotry.”
Media reported in January that two MPs, Sally-Ann Hart, MP for Hastings, and Lee Anderson, MP for Ashfield, voluntarily attended online training sessions organized by the NGO Antisemitism Policy Trust to “give them a greater understanding of what constitutes anti-Jewish racism.” In 2017, Hart posted to social media a link to a YouTube video about the EU that used the image of a prominent Jewish American businessman accused of manipulating European politics. Hart then liked a comment left underneath the video that said “Ein Reich,” a Nazi slogan. She later apologized for these actions. Anderson was an active member of a Facebook group called Ashfield Backs Boris that promoted conspiracy theories concerning the same U.S. businessman. Anderson told media he never posted antisemitic content and left the group after learning of its practices. The Conservative Party investigated both members in 2017 but did not make its findings public.
Media reported in February that among nine individuals appointed to the Labour Party’s new Antisemitism Advisory Board were Mark Gardner, chief executive of CST; Marie van der Zyl, president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, the country’s European Jewish Conference affiliate; Adrian Cohen, a trustee of the Jewish Leadership Council; and Natasha Engel, a trustee of the Antisemitism Policy Trust.
At the Labour Party’s annual conference in September, Labour Party Leader Starmer said the party had “closed the door” on the “dark chapter” of antisemitism by introducing new rules and establishing a fully independent process to handle complaints involving antisemitism. The new rules included prohibiting or sanctioning political interference in the complaints process; publishing a comprehensive policy and procedure setting out how antisemitism complaints would be handled; commissioning and providing education and training for all individuals involved in the antisemitism complaints process; and monitoring and evaluating improvements to ensure lasting change. The party published its plan for a major overhaul in response to the EHRC’s highly critical October 2020 report into Labour’s handling of antisemitism complaints under former Leader Jeremy Corbyn. The Board of Deputies of British Jews welcomed the new approach adopted by the party. Jewish Labour MP Dame Margaret Hodge said the changes brought “enormous relief and immeasurable hope to every Labour Party member who has been a victim of vile anti-Jew hate.” Former Labour MP Dame Louise Ellman, who resigned from the party in 2019 over what she viewed as its inadequate handling of antisemitism, rejoined in September following the rule changes and said she was “confident” Starmer was tackling the issue.
CST recorded 30 incidents connected to specific political parties or their supporters, all linked to the Labour Party. This represented a large decrease from 2020, when 175 of the 180 incidents related to political parties were Labour Party-related. There were also two incidents connected with the country’s withdrawal from the European Union. According to CST, “The issue of alleged antisemitism in the Labour Party has been less prevalent in public discourse and consciousness than it was in 2020, when the leadership change and subsequent suspension of Jeremy Corbyn from the Labour Party inspired a deluge of online vitriol from those who held Jews accountable for the end of Corbyn’s tenure.”
At its fall conference in October, the Green Party of England and Wales formally adopted guidance for dealing with internal disciplinary cases relating to antisemitism. The guidance incorporated both the IHRA non-legally-binding Working Definition of Antisemitism and the Jerusalem Declaration on Antisemitism; the declaration includes a definition and 15 guidelines of what constitutes antisemitism. The party conference also stated, “This motion does not in any way conflict with other policies on, for example, B[oycott] D[ivestment] S[anctions] and freedom of speech, and will not prevent legitimate criticism of the actions of any nation state.” The Board of Deputies of British Jews criticized the Green Party’s decision to adopt both definitions. The board’s vice president, Amanda Bowman, stated that “by adopting a series of contradictory definitions of antisemitism, the Green Party has not helped Jews.” The board called instead for the adoption of the IHRA Working Definition of Antisemitism alone.
In April, the Northern Ireland Assembly adopted the IHRA Working Definition of Antisemitism. A proposal by the Sinn Fein party to remove references to the IHRA and its examples of antisemitism did not pass.
In July, in a letter to Facebook, Twitter, Google, Snapchat, and TikTok, Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media, and Sport Oliver Dowden called on these platforms to adopt the IHRA Working Definition of Antisemitism in response to rising online antisemitism. He wrote, “I would like to strongly encourage you to adopt the definition and consider its practical application in the development of your company’s policies and procedures.”
In January, leaders of multiple faith and belief communities and political leaders from across the country commemorated International Holocaust Memorial Day in a virtual ceremony. Attendees included Prince Charles, Prime Minister Boris Johnson, and the First Ministers of Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland. Media reported Prime Minister Johnson stated the country “can’t get complacent” about antisemitism. Labour Leader Starmer took part in a candle-lighting ceremony “to remember the six million Jews murdered in the Holocaust, along with the other genocides and persecutions that have taken place around the world.” House of Commons speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle held a candle-lighting ceremony for members of parliament, the first ever such event in parliament to mark the day.
Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom
According to Home Office figures for the 12 months ending in March, religious hate crimes fell by 17 percent to 5,948 offenses in England and Wales, down from 6,856 in the previous year; this was the second successive fall in religious hate crimes since a peak of 7,202 offenses in the 12-month period ending March 2019. Where the perceived religion of the victim was recorded, 45 percent of religious hate crime offenses targeted Muslims (2,703 offenses), 22 percent targeted Jews (1,288 offenses), 9 percent targeted Christians (521 offenses), 3 percent targeted Hindus (166 offenses), 2 percent targeted Sikhs (112 offenses), 6 percent targeted members of other religions (373 offenses), and 3 percent targeted individuals professing no religion (174 offenses). In 16 percent of offenses, the targeted religion was not known. Some of these incidents targeted multiple religions.
In January, the NGO Campaign Against Antisemitism published its Antisemitism Barometer 2020, combining two surveys it commissioned that were carried out by King’s College London. The first survey asked 1,853 non-Jewish respondents 12 questions relating to anti-Jewish and anti-Zionist sentiment in December 2020. The report found that 55 percent of respondents did not agree with any of the statements and did not hold antisemitic views; 45 percent agreed with at least one antisemitic statement. The most popular antisemitic statement was “Israel treats the Palestinians like the Nazis treated the Jews,” with which 23 percent of respondents agreed. A separate survey of 1,846 Jewish respondents conducted between November and December 2020 found that there was high confidence in how police handled antisemitic incidents, but low confidence in the courts. Jewish respondents believed almost every political party was more tolerant of antisemitism in 2020 than in 2019. Two-thirds of respondents were “deeply concerned” by the BBC’s coverage of matters of Jewish concern and 55 percent were concerned by its handling of antisemitism complaints. Almost one-fifth of respondents said they felt unwelcome in the country and 44 percent said they did not display visible signs of their Judaism in public due to antisemitism.
In September, the Brussels-Based NGO Action and Protection League issued the results of its European antisemitism survey based on data from December 2019-January 2020. According to the survey, 3 percent of 1,000 respondents ages 18-75 in the United Kingdom said they had negative feelings towards Jews. Four percent said they would be “totally uncomfortable” or “uncomfortable” with having Jewish neighbors. The survey cited stereotypical statements about Jews and asked 1,000 respondents ages 18-75 the degree to which they agreed or disagreed. The proportion who responded “strongly agree” or “tend to agree” with the following statements were – “the interests of Jews in this country are very different from the interests of the rest of the population” (7 percent); “there is a secret Jewish network that influences political and economic affairs in the world” (10 percent); “Jews have too much influence in this country” (6 percent); “Jews will never be able to fully integrate into this society” (5 percent); “Jews are more inclined than most to use shady practices to achieve their goals” (3 percent); “many of the atrocities of the Holocaust were often exaggerated by the Jews later” (3 percent); “Jews are also to blame for the persecutions against them” (2 percent); “Jews exploit Holocaust victimhood for their own purposes” (8 percent).
According to a 2020 joint study conducted by Newcastle University, Northumbria University, the Economic and Social Research Council, and Tell MAMA entitled Islamophobia and Anti-Muslim Hatred in North East England, more than two-thirds of 111 participants living within the three police force jurisdictions of Cleveland, Durham, and Northumbria said manifestations of anti-Muslim sentiment or anti-Muslim hatred were either a regular or everyday occurrence. Eighty-four percent of Muslim respondents said they had directly experienced anti-Muslim sentiment and 33 percent of non-Muslim respondents said they had experienced anti-Muslim sentiment due to being perceived as Muslim. According to the study, anti-Muslim sentiment and anti-Muslim hate most often manifested as verbal abuse, harassment, intimidation, or online abuse, including comments based on incorrect assumptions about someone’s immigration status or ability to speak English. It also included damage to buildings and property owned by Muslims. Individuals encountered anti-Muslim sentiment and anti-Muslim hatred in public places such as supermarkets or public transport systems, as well as in the workplace. According to the study, “Only 22 percent of respondents had reported their experience of Islamophobia to the police. Those who had not reported to police gave diverse reasons, including not being taken seriously by the police… There was also a sense among participants that reporting Islamophobia to the police would be a waste of police time.”
In Scotland, the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS) reported 573 religiously motivated crimes in the 12 months ending in March, a 14 percent decrease from the 660 crimes recorded in the same period in 2019-20. The COPFS cautioned against making direct comparisons with previous data sets due to a change in methodology.
The Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) reported 37 religiously motivated hate crimes committed in 49 incidents during 2020-2021, an increase from 15 crimes reported in 2019-2020. The PSNI additionally reported 792 sectarian crimes, described as religion being among the motivating factors, in 841 incidents during 2020-21, compared with 622 sectarian crimes in 2019-2020.
In December, media reported a person was injured in an antisemitic attack by a man who allegedly told the victim he “looked Jewish.” The perpetrator reportedly said he wanted to “kill his first Jew.” Home Secretary Priti Patel described the incident as seriously disturbing. Stephen Silverman, director of investigations and enforcement at the Campaign Against Antisemitism called it the “most heinous of a considerable number of antisemitic crimes reported that we have reported over the course of Hannukah.” At year’s end, the suspect remained at large.
In December, the Board of Deputies of British Jews criticized the BBC for falsely alleging that victims of a November 29 antisemitic incident in London had provoked their attackers with an anti-Muslim slur. In the incident, a group shouted and spat at a bus containing Jews who were celebrating Hanukkah. The phrase the Jewish individuals uttered in Hebrew, which the BBC reported as being an ethnic slur, actually translated to “Call someone; it is urgent.” On December 30, board president van Der Zyl published an op-ed in which she stated the reporting error “raises serious questions about deep-seated biases within the BBC towards Israelis, and towards Jews in general.”
CST’s annual report recorded 2,255 antisemitic incidents during the year, the highest annual total since CST began its tracking in 1984 and a 34 percent increase from 2020 and a 24 percent increase from 2019. According to CST, the record volume was “due to anti-Jewish reactions to the escalation of conflict in Israel and Palestine,” with incidents in May (661) at the height of the conflict and June (210) accounting for 39 percent of the total 2,255 incidents. CST stated, “It is possible that the relaxing of [COVID-19] regulations, coinciding with a trigger event as emotive as renewed war between Israel and Hamas, provided the opportunity and impetus for a mass release of lockdown-induced frustration.”
CST recorded 173 violent antisemitic assaults during the year, a 78 percent increase from the 97 reported in 2020. CST stated that “in a year during which public interactions were less impacted by pandemic regulations, physical altercations were more common.” Three additional incidents were classified by CST as involving “extreme violence,” meaning the incident involved potential grievous bodily harm or a threat to life, the same number as recorded in 2020. There were 82 incidents of damage and desecration of Jewish property; 1,844 incidents of abusive behavior, including verbal abuse, graffiti, antisemitic social media posts (552 incidents), and hate mail; 143 direct antisemitic threats; and 10 cases of mass-mailed antisemitic leaflets or emails. Of the 82 incidents of damage and desecration of Jewish property, 38 involved damage to the homes and vehicles of Jewish people and 17 to Jewish businesses and organizations. There were 90 incidents glorifying the Holocaust and 17 examples of Holocaust denial. Forty-nine antisemitic incidents contained discourse relating to Islam and Muslims, compared with eight reported in 2020, while 20 of these showed what CST characterized as “evidence of Islamist extremist ideology.” CST stated, “These increases are once again indicative of the distinction between the volume and content of antisemitic expression in the UK when there is an eruption of war in the Middle East, and when no such trigger event occurs.” Approximately two-thirds of the 2,255 antisemitic incidents were recorded in the Greater London and Greater Manchester administrative regions – home to the two largest Jewish communities in the country. CST recorded 1,254 anti-Semitic incidents in Greater London, an increase of 33 percent compared with 2020. CST recorded 284 antisemitic incidents in Greater Manchester, an increase of 86 percent compared with 2020. Elsewhere in the country, CST recorded at least one antisemitic incident in 42 of the 43 national police regions, Suffolk being the exception. Several of the incidents were reported to CST by police under a national data-sharing agreement. CST stated conspiracy theories regarding Jewish influence over global politics, media, finance, and other walks of life continued to drive some antisemitic incidents.
According to CST’s annual report, there were 182 antisemitic incidents during the year at schools across the country, a 59 percent increase over the 54 such incidents in 2020. Ninety-five of these incidents occurred in May at the height of the Israel-Palestine conflict. There were 128 antisemitic incidents at universities across the country, a 191 percent increase over 44 such incidents in 2020. On November 15, CST told The Times that in one incident, a Glasgow University student was told to “go gas herself.” In another, a student was sent a digitally altered picture of her head severed by a guillotine. The University of Bristol and University of Warwick each witnessed 11 incidents – the highest total for any single school. Ten incidents occurred at University College London, nine at the University of Oxford, and eight at the University of Birmingham, where a Jewish student was assaulted in a residence hall. CST told The Times the fact that antisemitic incidents at universities rose for the fourth consecutive year “should ring alarm bells for everyone in the higher education sector.”
Media reported coronavirus conspiracy theorists compared the pandemic to the Holocaust. During an antivaccine rally in London on July 24, Kate Shemirani, a former nurse whom British media describe as a prominent COVID-19 conspiracy theorist, told the crowd to send her the names of doctors and nurses who administered vaccinations. She said, “At the Nuremberg trials, the doctors and nurses stood trial and they hung.” The Royal College of Nursing said Shemirani’s comments were “reprehensible and could put nursing staff at risk.” Metropolitan Police investigated the incident. Shemirani had previously referred to the National Health Service as the “new Auschwitz.” Media reported that on February 3, police in Southwark arrested Piers Corbyn, brother of former Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn, and another man for distributing flyers showing the gates of Auschwitz, with the Nazi slogan “Arbeit macht frei” (“Work makes you free”) changed to “Vaccines are [the] safe path to freedom.” Police charged the two men with “malicious communication and public nuisance.”
In April, media reported the Westminster Magistrates’ Court convicted Alison Chabloz under the 2003 Communications Act of spreading antisemitic materials denying the Holocaust and sentenced her to 18 weeks in prison. She became the first person in the country to be imprisoned for Holocaust denial. Stephen Silverman, director of Investigations and Enforcement at the Campaign Against Antisemitism, which was involved in the trial, said of the outcome, “[This] verdict and sentence finally give the Jewish community justice and protection from someone who has made a vocation out of denying the Holocaust and baiting Jews. It also sends a clear message to those who might be tempted to go down the same path.”
In December, media reported the Manchester Crown Court sentenced Richard Hesketh to four years in prison for posting hundreds of antisemitic videos online between 2018-2020 in what a Greater Manchester Police spokesperson called “a campaign of abuse towards the Jewish community.”
Media reported that on May 4, five worshipers were “pelted with eggs” outside the Ilford Islamic Centre in East London. Iford Islamic Centre director and secretary Ahmad Nawaz said no persons were injured in the “unnerving” attack, but that the community was “always fearful of something like this. This sentiment exists.” Police made no arrests, but they reportedly augmented patrols in the local area.
On May 16, police arrested Abderrahman Brahimi and Souraka Djabouri and charged them with “wounding with intent to cause grievous bodily harm, robbery, and religiously aggravated criminal damage” for their attack on Rabbi Rafi Goodwin, who required treatment in a hospital for cuts to his head and around one eye. On May 17, police said that officers were engaging with local Jewish communities to provide reassurance and updates following the incident.
Media reported that on May 16, London police arrested four men suspected of participating in racially aggravated public order offenses, based on a video appearing to show the men and others in a convoy standing up through sunroofs, waving Palestinian flags, and shouting obscenities and antisemitic insults. The incident, which took place in a Jewish community in North London, followed a 100,000-person march in London on May 15 that culminated in large crowds gathering outside the Israeli Embassy calling for immediate action to de-escalate the situation in the Middle East. Prime Minister Johnson and Labour Leader Starmer condemned the incident. Prime Minister Johnson stated, “There is no place for antisemitism in our society. Ahead of Shavuot, I stand with Britain’s Jews who should not have to endure the type of shameful racism we have seen today.” Starmer said that “there must be consequences” for those involved. Authorities released the men on bail, “pending further inquiries.”
On November 16, religious leaders gathered in Liverpool and urged solidarity in the wake of anti-Muslim attacks that were believed to be in response to a suspected suicide bombing on November 14 when a car exploded outside Liverpool Women’s Hospital. Reports included incidents of attackers pulling off women’s hijabs. Dr. Crispin Pailing, the rector of Liverpool, said the car bombing had “shocked people of every faith – and those of no faith – across the city.” He added, “Terrorism is an indiscriminate act against people of all faiths and backgrounds. It seeks to destroy our lives of peaceful coexistence and disrupt the functioning of society.” Leyla Mashjari, an associate director of Al-Ghazali Multicultural Centre, representing Liverpool’s Muslim community, said, “At this difficult time let us remember that there is more that unites than divides us.” Local police and firefighters distributed leaflets from the group Stop Hate UK that said, “Faith is welcome – hate is not.”
Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement
Embassy and consulate staff engaged with government officials and political parties on religious freedom issues. In December, embassy officers discussed with Conservative MP Bruce, the Prime Minister’s Special Envoy for Freedom of Religion for Belief, the country’s plans to deliver concrete improvements for those persecuted for their faith or belief and to offer support for the United Kingdom-hosted Ministerial to Promote Freedom of Religion or Belief, planned for July 2022.
Embassy officials met regularly with representatives from a wide variety of religious groups and organizations to broaden understanding of and advocacy for freedom of religion and belief. In meetings with the Board of Deputies of British Jews and CST, embassy officers discussed antisemitism in the UK and abroad, as well as the Labour Party’s newly adopted rules on antisemitism. Embassy officers also engaged with organizations in the Jewish Orthodox Charedi community. In meetings with Humanist UK, embassy officers discussed the lack of legal recognition of belief marriage ceremonies in England and Wales, the place of religious teaching in schools, and the provision of nonpastoral care in prisons and hospitals. Staff from the consulate general in Belfast continued to engage with all religious communities in Northern Ireland to discuss ongoing challenges in the region, such as sectarianism and religious intolerance.
In January, the Charge d’Affaires took part in the #LightTheDarkness virtual Holocaust Memorial Day campaign. In May, the Charge also gave remarks at a virtual interfaith iftar the embassy hosted with the Naz Legacy Foundation and recorded a video for a Yom HaShoah event in April. In December, embassy staff attended the London Nativity Exhibit, an event organized by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The embassy highlighted each engagement on social media. To mark the U.S. National Religious Freedom Day in January, the embassy posted messages on Twitter highlighting the U.S. commitment to the promotion of religious freedom. The embassy also posted messages on Twitter on religious holidays throughout the year, including Diwali, Ramadan, Eid al-Fitr, Eid al-Adha, Nowruz, Passover, Hannukah, and Easter. Collectively, these messages reached approximately 110,0000 persons.