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Executive Summary

The constitution guarantees freedom of religion and prohibits discrimination on the grounds of religion. It references Jesus Christ and God and stipulates the state shall respect religion. On December 21, President Michael Higgins signed a law entering into force in January 2020 which ends the prohibition on blasphemy after it was eliminated from the constitution following a 2018 referendum. Beginning with the 2019-20 school year, the government barred “national” (publicly funded, primary) Catholic schools from making admission decisions based on students’ religion; other national religious schools could continue to do so if they are oversubscribed. The national police announced in April it would allow male Sikh and female Muslim members of the force to wear, respectively, turbans and hijabs on the job. There were reports some school authorities in national Catholic schools gave preferential treatment to students for participating in religious activities and told parents that, contrary to law, their children could not opt out of religion classes. Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) continued to urge the government to adopt hate crime legislation, including for religiously motivated crimes, and improve monitoring of such incidents. In October the government launched a public consultation on hate speech as part of a planned update of the criminal law prohibiting incitement to hatred. In October police introduced a working hate crime definition that included religiously motivated crime. In December the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) cited a high level of hate crime in the country, including against women wearing headscarves in public, and called on the government to make a “clear time-bound commitment” to reform its legal framework on hate crime. President Higgins and other senior government officials participated in the national Holocaust Day Memorial commemoration.

In May media reported two separate attacks on Muslim men in Limerick during Ramadan in which a total of three men were beaten and hospitalized. Media reported in August teenagers pushed a Muslim girl to the ground and forcibly removed her hijab in Dublin. A group in Dublin worked to establish a network of safe spaces in the city for Muslim women encountering harassment. The Workplace Relations Commission (WRC), an independent statutory body, reported from January to June it received 15 complaints of employment discrimination based on religion. A European Commission (EC) survey on perceptions of discrimination published in September found 42 percent of respondents believed discrimination on the basis of religion or belief was widespread in the country. In January another EC survey reported that 69 percent of residents believed anti-Semitism was not a problem in the country. In July a mosque was vandalized in Galway. In August Church of Ireland Archbishop of Dublin Michael Jackson wrote an open letter to imams and other Muslim leaders in the city, expressing sorrow and solidarity with victims of attacks in the country targeting Muslims.

U.S. embassy officials discussed issues of discrimination and integration of religious minorities into the community with members of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, the Department of Justice and Equality, the Department of Education and Skills, and the police. Embassy officials met with religious groups and NGOs to discuss their concerns over religious tolerance, secularism, and religion in the national school system.

South Korea

Executive Summary

The constitution provides for religious freedom and prohibits discrimination based on religion. In December the National Assembly passed legislation outlining alternative service options for conscientious objectors, although individuals who refused to serve or undertake alternative service continued to face up to three years imprisonment. The government ceased detaining, charging, or imprisoning new cases of conscientious objectors, but prosecutors continued to appeal “not guilty” verdicts of some Jehovah’s Witnesses who had been tried previously, and cases against 935 conscientious objectors whose trials began before the court’s decision were still pending at year’s end. Members of Christian groups prevented an initiative to create a comprehensive antidiscrimination bill that would specifically include religious affiliation and sexual orientation as protected classes. Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and human rights attorneys providing assistance to asylum seekers stated immigration officials fabricated statements made by Yemeni Muslim asylum seekers to make it more difficult for them to qualify for refugee status. The Korean Falun Dafa Association said government-affiliated performance venues in Seoul and Busan blocked a Falun Gong-affiliated performance troupe from performing to avoid conflict with the Chinese government.

The National Human Rights Commission of Korea (NHRCK) reported 13 cases alleging religious discrimination during the year, compared with 21 in 2018. According to media, in January 30,000 persons from civil society organizations and religious groups gathered in Seoul to demand the Christian Council of Korea (CCK) be shut down for corruption and for running coercive religious conversion programs. In July a group of NGOs and scholarly organizations sent an open letter to President Moon Jae-in calling on him to put an end to coercive conversion in the country. Muslims, particularly Yemenis who arrived in 2018 as asylum seekers, continued to report incidents of discrimination, including in employment. Some critics of President Moon used derogatory words associated with Islam to denigrate him and his supporters.

The U.S. Ambassador and other embassy officers engaged with senior government officials on issues related to religious freedom, including the treatment of Yemeni Muslim refugees and conscientious objectors and the continuing refusal of government-affiliated venues to book a Falun Gong performance troupe. The Ambassador and embassy officials met with leaders of the Anglican, Baptist, Buddhist, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Muslim, and Jewish communities to discuss areas of concern, including trials of conscientious objectors, anti-Muslim sentiment, and freedom of expression, and to underscore the U.S. commitment to religious freedom. The embassy used social media to highlight the Ambassador’s outreach to different religious communities and U.S. support globally for religious freedom.


Executive Summary

The constitution protects “the freedom to practice one’s religion alone or in the company of others” and prohibits discrimination based on religion. The government continued funding for a program aimed at combating racism and reducing hate crimes, including those motivated by religion, and provided additional funding for the upcoming two years for educational efforts aimed at combating prejudiced views, including anti-religious views, in schools. Christian organizations stated the Migration Agency denied asylum to refugees who converted to Christianity while in the country and feared religious persecution in their home countries. The Migration Agency announced in March it would grant refugee status to Uighur Muslims from China’s Xinjiang Autonomous Region as well as any other Muslim minority group members in response to “far-reaching state repression.” The government gave funding to 46 religious groups in 2018, compared with 44 in 2017, and facilitated revenue collection for 17 of them. The prime minister and other politicians condemned anti-Semitism and other religious intolerance. In May Prime Minister Stefan Lofven said, “Wherever anti-Semitism exists, and whatever form it takes, it must be exposed and combated.” Several political parties proposed prohibiting students and teachers from wearing a hijab in school and the nonmedical circumcision of boys. All of the political parties represented in parliament except the Christian Democrats proposed bans on establishing new independent religious schools. There were some reports of anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim remarks by members of the Sweden Democrats and other political parties. In July the Equality Ombudsman (DO) initiated an inquiry after Bromolla municipality banned prayer during working hours. In August the Moderate Party called for a government study to consider introducing a ban on headscarves in schools for students under 12. On August 27, during a speech at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs annual memorial lecture in honor of Raoul Wallenberg, the Swedish diplomat who saved thousands of Jews from the Holocaust in Hungary, Prime Minister Lofven said “[When] Jews, Muslims, and Christians are attacked for their beliefs, when politicians in Europe and Sweden try to score points by creating fear and separation between people – then, we regular people – must search for that inner compass that was so strong with Raoul Wallenberg.” Prime Minister Lofven announced in May Sweden will host a high-level international forum in October 2020 on remembrance of the Holocaust and addressing contemporary anti-Semitism. The announced goal of the forum, which comes 20 years after the Stockholm International Forum on the Holocaust and the establishment of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA), is to promote the IHRA and reaffirm the Declaration of the Stockholm International Forum on the Holocaust.

A Jewish doctor reported ongoing anti-Semitic harassment at the New Karolinska Hospital (NKS). The DO opened three inquiries into the hospital’s actions concerning the doctor’s claims; all were ongoing at year’s end. In November a popular investigative news television program aired an episode on the NKS case that was largely dismissive of the doctor’s allegations. In August an imam was convicted of hate speech made in Arabic during a 2017 demonstration in central Helsingborg in which he called Jews “the progeny of the monkeys and pigs.” A web survey from the Inizio polling institute published in June with 1,001 respondents showed that over half of the respondents, who were not limited to Jewish individuals, felt anti-Semitism had increased over the past five years. Mosques were regularly vandalized, according to Muslim leaders. According to the findings of a European Commission on perceptions of discrimination in each European Union (EU) member state, 56 percent of respondents believed discrimination on the basis of religion or belief was widespread in the country, while 42 percent said it was rare; 80 percent would be comfortable with having a person of a different religion than the majority of the population occupy the highest elected political position in the country.

The Ambassador, the Charge d’Affaires, and other U.S. embassy representatives continued to meet with the Ministries of Justice and Culture, the Swedish Agency for Support to Faith Communities (SST), parliament, police, and local government on religious freedom issues, supporting government efforts to improve security for religious groups, and highlighting threats to members of some religious minorities, including immigrants. The Ambassador hosted a Thanksgiving dinner for religious freedom advocates and SST. Embassy officials spoke about religious tolerance with Christian, Jewish, and Muslim representatives, including Uighur Muslims, in Malmo, Gothenburg, and Stockholm. Social media highlighted visits by the Charge d’Affaires and other embassy representatives to a museum exhibit in Stockholm and Visby featuring portraits of Holocaust survivors. The embassy sponsored a priest from the Stockholm Cathedral for a September exchange program in the United States on advancing interfaith relations.

International Religious Freedom Reports
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U.S. Department of State

The Lessons of 1989: Freedom and Our Future