The constitution and the law protect the right of individuals to choose, change, and practice religion. On October 2, President Emmanuel Macron unveiled a broad set of policies to combat “Islamist separatism,” which he described as a “methodical organization” to create a “countersociety” in which Islamists impose their own rules and laws on isolated communities, and defend state secularism against radical Islam. Among the measures in a draft law to be taken up by parliament, which Macron said were directed against radical Islamists that undermined French values rather than at Muslims broadly, were ending foreign financing of imams and abolishing unaccredited schools. On November 2, Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin announced the government had closed 43 mosques for extremism since May 2017. Catholic Church officials criticized government COVID-19 restrictions that, they said, inordinately affected religious groups. In May, the country’s highest administrative court ordered an end to the ban on religious gatherings, calling freedom of worship a fundamental right. In November, the same court denied an appeal by Catholic bishops to overturn a new government prohibition on masses after a new wave of COVID infections. In June, the Constitutional Council invalidated core provisions of a law against online hate speech that parliament had enacted in May as part of the government’s plan to combat racism and anti-Semitism. In June, the European Court of Human Rights ruled the government had violated the free speech rights of Palestinian activists advocating for the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel. In January, demonstrators in Paris protested a 2019 court ruling that the killer of a Jewish woman, Sarah Halimi, in 2017 was not criminally responsible. Jewish groups protested the Paris prosecutor’s decision not to charge a man with anti-Semitism after he painted swastikas on a landmark Paris street. President Macron and other government officials condemned anti-Semitic, anti-Muslim, and anti-Christian acts, and the government continued to deploy security forces to protect religious and other sensitive sites.
There were instances of religiously motivated crimes and other abuses, including killings, attempted killings, assaults, threats, hate speech, discrimination, and vandalism. On October 29, a Tunisian man killed three Christian worshippers in a church in Nice. In October, a teenage Chechen Muslim refugee beheaded teacher Samuel Paty after he showed his class cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad in a discussion on freedom of expression. In September, a Pakistani man stabbed two persons outside the former offices of the Charlie Hebdo magazine, shortly after the magazine had republished cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad. Although 2020 statistics on anti-Christian incidents were not yet available, most incidents involved vandalism or arson of churches and cemeteries. The French Council of the Muslim Faith (CFCM) reported 235 incidents targeting Muslims, compared with 154 in 2019. The Jewish Community Protection Service (SPCJ) reported 339 anti-Semitic incidents – a decrease of 50 percent compared with the 687 in 2019 – including a violent assault on a Jewish man and desecration of Jewish cemeteries. In October, authorities charged two women with assault and racist slurs for stabbing two women wearing Islamic headscarves. A January survey for the American Jewish Committee (AJC) found 70 percent of Jewish respondents said they had been the targets of at least one anti-Semitic incident in their lifetimes. In the same survey, 47 percent of Jewish and non-Jewish respondents (and two-thirds of Jews) said the level of anti-Semitism in the country was high.
The U.S. embassy, consulates general, and American presence posts (APPs) discussed religious tolerance, anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim acts, the role of religious freedom in combating violent extremism, and cooperation on these issues with officials at the Ministries of Interior and Foreign Affairs and the Interministerial Delegation to Fight Against Racism, Anti-Semitism and Anti-LGBT Hate (DILCRAH). The Ambassador designated combating anti-Semitism as one of four key “pillars” of enhanced embassy outreach. The Ambassador 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. 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 roundtable events 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 67.8 million (midyear 2020 estimate).
Because the government does not collect religious or ethnic data on the population, there is no official count of the numbers of persons belonging to different religious groups. A report released in January by the Observatory for Secularism, a government-appointed commission, based on a poll conducted in cooperation with polling company Viavoice, presented estimated figures of persons who identify as part of a religion or feel tied to a religion. According to the report, whose figures are consistent with other estimates, 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. The observatory’s 2019 report estimated there are 140-150 thousand Jehovah’s Witnesses and 150-300 thousand Hindus. In a separate question about religious belief, 35 percent said they are believers, 29 percent nonbelievers or atheist, 17 percent agnostic, and 12 percent indifferent. Most observers, including the observatory in its 2019 report, estimate the number of Muslims in the country at three to five million.
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 ($1,800) 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 ($55,200-$92,000), 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 ($55,200). The government may expel noncitizens for inciting discrimination, hatred, or violence against a specific person or group of persons based on religion.
Although the law does not require it, religious groups may apply for official recognition and tax-exempt status. Religious groups may register under two categories: associations of worship, which are exempt from taxes; and cultural associations, which normally are not exempt. Associations in either category are subject to fiscal oversight by the state. An association of worship may organize only religious activities. 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 representing the central government in each department) for recognition as an association of worship and tax-exempt status. In order 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. According to the Ministry of Interior, 109 Protestant, 100 Catholic, 50 Jehovah’s Witness, 30 Muslim, and 15 Jewish associations have 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. Under the law, the Church of Scientology has the status of a secular and not a religious association. Parliamentary reports (most recently in 1996) have labelled Scientology as a “cult,” and multiple Scientology officials have been convicted of crimes in the country.
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 ($9,200). On December 17, parliament voted for the extension of the legislation until the end of July 2021.
The law prohibits covering one’s face in public places, including public transportation, government buildings, and other public spaces, such as restaurants and movie theaters. If police encounter a person in a public space wearing a face covering such as a mask or burqa, they are legally required to ask the individual to remove it to verify the individual’s identity. 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 ($180) or attendance at a citizenship course. Individuals who coerce another person to cover his or her face on account of gender by threat, violence, force, or abuse of power or authority are subject to a fine of up to 30,000 euros ($36,800) 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 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 the Islamic headscarf, Jewish skullcap, Sikh turban, or Christian cross. The prohibition applies during working hours and at the place of employment.
By law, the government may not directly finance religious groups to build new places of worship. The government may, however, provide loan guarantees or lease property to groups at advantageous rates. The law also exempts places of worship from property taxes. The state owns and is responsible for the upkeep of most places of worship, primarily Catholic, built before 1905. The government may fund cultural associations with a religious connection.
The law separating religion and state does not apply in three classes of territories. Because Alsace-Lorraine (currently comprising the departments of Haut-Rhin, Bas-Rhin, and la Moselle and known as Alsace-Moselle) was part of Germany when the law was enacted, Catholics, Lutherans, Calvinists, and Jews there may choose to allocate a portion of their income tax to their religious group. Pastors, priests, and rabbis of these four recognized faiths in Alsace-Moselle receive a salary from the Interior Ministry, and the country’s President, with the agreement of the Holy See, appoints the Catholic bishops of Metz and Strasbourg. 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 the 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 opt for a secular equivalent with a written request from their parents. 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 or send their children to a private school. Homeschooling and private schools must conform to the educational standards established for public schools.
By law, the government subsidizes private schools, including those affiliated with religious organizations. In 98 percent of private schools, in accordance with the law, the government pays the teachers’ salaries, provided the school accepts all children regardless of 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 entry 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 law criminalizes the 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.
During his October 29 emergency visit to Nice, shortly after a Tunisian national entered the Basilica of Notre Dame and stabbed three Catholic worshippers to death, President Macron offered his condolences to the country’s Catholics and urged people of all religions to unite and not “give in to the spirit of division.” In a November 7 national memorial, Prime Minister Jean Castex paid tribute to the three victims. Castex said, “We know the enemy. Not only is he identified, but he has a name: It is radical Islamism, a political ideology that disfigures the Muslim religion by distorting its texts, its dogma, and its commands.” He concluded, “We will not allow the France that we love to be disfigured.”
On October 19, Interior Minister Darmanin ordered a six-month closure of the mosque in Pantin, a suburb of Paris, following the October 16 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 had posted on social media calls to retaliate against Paty for showing the cartoons. The mosque appealed the Minister’s decision before the Montreuil administrative court, which on October 27, validated the government’s decision to close the mosque. The court ruled authorities had committed no “serious and manifestly illegal violation of fundamental freedoms” in temporarily closing the mosque “for the sole purpose of preventing acts of terrorism.”
On August 30, Junior Minister for Citizenship Marlene Schiappa reported that since February 2018, when it launched a nationwide program to counter “Islamism and communitarianism,” the Ministry of Interior had closed 210 restaurants and cafes (mostly kebab restaurants), 15 places of worship, 12 cultural establishments, and four schools. According to Schiappa, those establishments, which the government did not specifically identify, “were gathering places to organize Islamist separatism.” Independent online investigative website Mediapart requested the list of closed sites through the Administrative Documents Access Commission (Commission d’acces aux documents administratifs, CADA), an independent government agency providing administrative documents and public records. In December, CADA upheld the Ministry of Interior’s decision not to make public specific names of institutions.
On November 2, Interior Minister Darmanin announced at the National Assembly that the government had closed 43 mosques since May 2017. The Ministry of the Interior reported that, as of December 29, it was in the process of investigating for closure 76 mosques, including 16 in the Paris region, because of suspected separatism. The al-Kawthar Mosque in Grenoble reopened in August 2019 after the legal maximum closure period of six months.
On February 18, President Macron, together with his Ministers of Interior, Housing, Youth, and Sports, visited the eastern city of Mulhouse to introduce a plan, which would require parliamentary approval, to fight “Islamist separatism.” Macron said “political Islam” had no place in the country and stressed national unity. He proposed specific measures, including an end to the practice of foreign-financed imams, referring to the 300 imams whom foreign governments had sent to the country, adding they would be replaced by French-trained imams. According to Macron, the strategy aimed to reduce Islamist influence in sensitive neighborhoods and to abolish structures, such as unaccredited schools that paralleled or replaced government structures and undermined state secularism. In public schools, Macron proposed abolishing foreign language and culture programs taught by individuals appointed and/or funded by foreign governments. Macron also announced the reinforcement of oversight of foreign-funded religious sites.
Further to his February announcement, on October 2, President Macron introduced the outlines of a draft law that he said aimed to counter “Islamist separatism.” The government introduced the full draft law in December, and parliament was scheduled to consider it in 2021. Macron reaffirmed state secularism, calling it “the cement of a united France,” and said, “What we must attack is Islamist separatism.” Macron stated that all religious practice must comport with the law. He said, “Islam is a religion … that is being infected by radical impulses,” adding, “External influences … have pushed these most radical forms,” citing their effect on Wahabism, Salfafism, and the Muslim Brotherhood. Macron described Islamic separatism as a project “…serving as a pretext for teaching principles which are not in accordance with the Republic’s laws,” in which Islamists impose their own rules and laws on isolated communities and negate national “principles, gender equality, and human dignity.” Macron stated his campaign targeted radical Islamists and not Islam or Muslims and that he offered an “inclusive message” to millions of Muslims who were integrated “full citizens.” He added, “Our challenge today is to fight against this abuse that some perpetrate in the name of religion, by ensuring that those who want to believe in Islam are not targeted.”
Prior to this speech, President Macron, Prime Minister Castex, and Interior Minister Darmanin held consultations with the CFCM on September 16, 25, and 26 to present the government’s plan. The CFCM stated it was in agreement with the President’s measures.
Jehovah’s Witness officials reported one case in which authorities interfered with proselytizing during the year. On February 8, municipal police in Erstein, Bas-Rhin Department, citing a municipal decree, prohibited Jehovah’s Witnesses from engaging in door-to-door activity. Jehovah’s Witnesses sent a letter to the mayor, referencing the laws recognizing their right to proselytize, but did not indicate they received a response.
Between March 16 and May 11, the government implemented a nationwide lockdown because of the COVID-19 pandemic that included a ban on religious gatherings and worship and door-to-door proselytizing. While the government lifted restrictions on freedom of movement on May 11, it extended the ban on gatherings in places of worship – except for funerals which it limited to 20 persons – and gatherings with more than 10 persons until June 2. The Catholic Church was the most vocal in expressing opposition to these measures.
On April 28, after then-Prime Minister Edouard Philippe told the National Assembly religious services would not resume before June 2 (although churches remained open for individual prayer), the Bishop’s Council of the Catholic Church responded that the continuing measures did not incorporate its proposal to resume religious services with social distancing measures in place. On April 30, then-Interior Minister Christophe Castaner met with Archbishop Eric de Moulins Beaufort, president of the Conference of Bishops of France, to discuss Catholic concern. Bishop of Nanterre Matthieu Rouge publicly criticized the government’s restrictions, which he said fell disproportionately on religious groups, stating that many shops and some museums were allowed to reopen on May 11. He called the delay for churches a sign of “anti-clericalism” or “anti-Catholic orientation” in the presidency. While expressing disappointment with the restrictions, Archbishop de Moulins Beaufort said Catholic officials would “adapt.”
In a May 18 ruling, the Council of State – the country’s highest administrative court – ordered the government to lift within eight days the ban on religious meetings, calling it a “disproportionate measure.” The council, responding to a lawsuit brought by NGOs and individuals, said such a ban on freedom of worship caused “serious and manifestly illegal damage.” The council highlighted that the government had previously authorized public gatherings of up to 10 persons in other settings and that a complete and total ban on worship was “disproportionate to the objective of preserving public health.” The ruling stipulated freedom of worship was a fundamental right that “includes among its essential components the right to participate collectively in ceremonies, in particular in places of worship,” and that the government’s decree “constitutes a serious and manifestly unlawful interference with it.” On May 23, the government issued a decree allowing services to resume.
On April 21, President Macron held a virtual meeting with religious leaders to thank them for implementing COVID-19 safety measures and celebrating religious holidays, including Easter, Passover, and Ramadan, “without gatherings” and to express the need to continue the collaboration.
On April 19, armed police interrupted a Mass at Saint-Andre de l’Europe, a Catholic church in Paris, to enforce social distancing. The police did not fine the priest or others involved with having the Mass go forward. The Mass had been scheduled to be broadcast later that weekend. Paris Archbishop Michel Aupetit said police entered the church armed, an act he described as generally not permissible unless there was a threat to public order. He compared the COVID-19 climate to the World War II occupation of France.
Police fined the priest of Saint-Nicolas-du-Chardonnet, a church under the authority of the Society of St. Pius X, 135 euros ($170) for conducting an Easter Vigil Mass with approximately 40 attendees.
On October 30, authorities reintroduced measures restricting freedom of movement, religion, and worship to combat a second wave of COVID-19 infections. Places of worship remained open for individual prayer during the second nationwide lockdown, but authorities did not permit worship services, only authorizing funeral services attended by a maximum of 30 persons and weddings attended by a maximum of six persons. Five bishops announced on November 2 they had lodged appeals with the Council of State to demand the ban on masses be lifted, stating that the most recent COVID-19 restrictions violated freedom of worship and were disproportionate in relation to other COVID-19 lockdown measures. On November 7, the Council of State rejected the bishops’ appeal. The ruling judge stated churches remained open, despite not being able to hold services, and that Catholics could go to a church near their homes, provided they carried the necessary paperwork. Priests were also allowed to visit persons in their homes, and chaplains to visit hospitals. The judge also stated current rules would be the subject of review by the government by November 16 to evaluate their pertinence and proportionality. On November 26, Prime Minister Castex announced only 30 persons at a time would be allowed at prayer services inside places of worship and with stringent sanitary measures.
In October, members of the Church of Scientology reported that the Court of Montreuil overturned the 2019 municipal decree by the mayor’s office in Saint-Denis, just outside Paris, refusing a permit allowing the Church to renovate a building it had purchased in the municipality for the purpose of converting it into its headquarters and a training center. According to the Scientologists, the court found that “the mayor had exercised his powers for a purpose other than the preservation of the safety and accessibility of the premises.” The court ordered the government to pay the Church of Scientology damages (amount as-yet unspecified). The municipality of Saint-Denis announced its intention to appeal the decision, and the case was pending at year’s end.
A May 10 article in The Washington Post reported that “many Muslims, religious freedom advocates, and scholars see a great deal of irony” that the French ban on face coverings such as burqas remained in effect despite the country’s adoption of mask requirements due to the COVID-19 pandemic. During the year, there were no reports of police enforcing the face covering ban or of protests or public comment concerning the ban by Muslim groups. French media rejected the premise of the article. Newspaper Le Figaro, for example, called it “a misunderstanding and a mistake,” adding that the “antiburqa” ban did include exceptions for health, professional, or legislative requirements and that COVID-19 mask requirements were compatible with the law.
In a December 3 interview, Interior Minister Darmanin said the country had deported 66 radicalized foreign Islamists since the end of September. The 66 were part of a list of 231 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. Darmanin also traveled in early November to Morocco, Italy, Tunisia, Malta, and Algeria to meet counterparts and discuss means to reinforce cooperation to fight terrorism and the return of their suspected radicalized nationals. 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.
The government maintained the deployment of security forces throughout the country to protect sensitive sites, including vulnerable Catholic, Jewish, and Islamic sites and other places of worship. Following the October 29 terrorist attack at the Notre Dame Basilica in Nice, President Macron announced an increase, from 3,000 to 7,000 troops across the country, in domestic counterterrorism patrols under the Ministry of Defense’s Operation Sentinel. On October 30, Defense Minister Florence Parly told the Defense Council the deployment would focus on protecting schools and places of worship.
On September 25, following a terrorist attack in which two persons were wounded in a stabbing near the former headquarters of satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo, Interior Minister Darmanin announced the kosher supermarket that was targeted by a coordinated attack after the Charlie Hebdo massacre in January 2015 “will now be permanently guarded.” Darmanin also announced he had ordered extra protection of Jewish sites for Yom Kippur. On September 27, Darmanin visited a synagogue in Boulogne-Billancourt, a western suburb of Paris. During the visit, he said, “Jews remain the target of Islamist attacks,” adding that the government had mobilized more than 7,000 police and soldiers to protect Jewish places of worship on Yom Kippur.
On December 16, the Special Criminal Court delivered its verdict on the terrorism trial related to the January 2015 terrorist attacks, finding all 14 defendants guilty of providing support to the three deceased terrorists who carried out the attacks against Charlie Hebdo, police in Montrouge, and a kosher supermarket. They received sentences ranging from four years to life in prison. The court dropped terror qualifications for six of the defendants, convicting them instead of providing material support without knowledge of the terrorist intent. Three of the defendants, including Hayat Boumeddiene (the wife of one of the shooters, Amedy Coulibaly) were tried in absentia. At least one defendant expressed his intent to appeal the court’s decision.
On October 29, following investigative work by the Ministries of Culture and Foreign Affairs and the Louvre and d’Orsay Museums, the government restituted to the heirs of Marguerite Stern seven paintings stolen by the Nazis in Paris during World War II.
At year’s end, the Paris Appeals Court had not issued a ruling in the case of Lebanese-Canadian academic Hassan Diab, who was charged with bombing a synagogue in Paris during Sabbath prayers in 1980, killing four persons and injuring 40. In 2018, investigating magistrates dismissed the court case against Diab and ordered his release. Prosecutors appealed the case’s dismissal, and the Paris Appeals Court requested additional expert testimony before ruling. Upon his release, Diab returned to Canada, where he remained at year’s end.
On October 13, during a meeting with administrators of the guidelines in the country’s schools and colleges, Education Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer promised to support teachers, pupils, and parents who exposed breaches of the country’s law on secularism in schools, including wearing religious symbols. His comments came after the Ministry of Education reported 935 infringements of the secularism law between September 2019 and March 2020. Middle schools for 11- to 15-year-olds accounted for 45 percent of incidents, while primary schools accounted for 37 percent. More than 40 percent of violations were in the form of religiously motivated insults or other verbal aggression, while 15 percent involved the wearing of religious symbols, such as a crucifix, veil, or turban.
According to the Ministry of Justice, the penitentiary system employed Catholic, Protestant, Muslim, Jehovah’s Witness, Jewish, Orthodox Christian, and 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.
The government continued to implement its 2018-20 national plan to combat racism and anti-Semitism, which had a strong focus on countering online hate content. The government said it would assess the results of the plan in 2021. On June 18, the Constitutional Council invalidated core provisions of a new law against online hate speech, adopted by parliament on May 13, that was part of the 2018-20 plan. The “Avia Law,” introduced at the direction of then-Prime Minister Philippe, required online platforms to remove, within 24 hours, material they determined to be hateful content based on race, gender, disability, sexual orientation, and religion; language trivializing genocide or crimes against humanity; and content deemed sexual harassment. Social media companies faced fines up to 1.25 million euros ($1.53 million) if they failed to remove the content within the required timeframes. The Constitutional Council ruled these provisions of the law infringed on freedom of speech and were “not appropriate, necessary, and proportionate.” Parliamentary committees were drafting replacement legislation at year’s end.
On June 10, the European Court of Human Rights ruled 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 economic discrimination. The group had distributed leaflets calling for a boycott of Israeli products as part of the BDS movement in 2009 and 2010. While France’s highest court, the Court of Cassation, had upheld the conviction, the European court ruled the activists’ actions were forms of political expression, protected by the human rights convention. In a final judgment on September 11, the court ordered the government to pay a total of 101,000 euros ($124,000) in damages to the group. The government had three months to appeal the court’s decision or make the payment but did not do either. At year’s end, the fine remained unpaid.
On January 4, several thousand demonstrators gathered in Paris and a number of other cities to protest the December 2019 court ruling that deemed Kobili Traore “criminally not responsible” for Sarah Halimi’s killing in 2017 because he was under the influence of cannabis at the time of the attack. On January 23, during his visit to Israel, President Macron criticized the Paris Appeals Court ruling. In a January 27 statement, Chantal Arens, the senior judge of the Court of Cassation, and Prosecutor General Francois Molins responded to Macron, stating, “The independence of the justice system, of which the president of the Republic is the guarantor, is an essential factor in the functioning of a democracy.” At year’s end, Traore was held in a psychiatric hospital. The case was pending at the Court of Cassation.
On September 17, prosecutors opened an investigation into the song lyrics of Freeze Corleone, a rapper who was accused by several officials and organizations of promoting anti-Semitism. Paris prosecutor Remy Heitz said Corleone was being investigated for “inciting racial hatred” based on the content of his songs and videos posted online. Frederic Potier, the interministerial delegate (head) of DILCRAH, had earlier reported the rapper to the public prosecutor’s office after identifying what he characterized as nine illegal passages in his music. In his lyrics, Corleone declared that he “arrives determined like Adolf in the 1930s,” that he does not “give a damn about the Shoah,” and that “like Swiss bankers, it will be all for the family so my children can live like Jewish rentiers.”
On July 28, police arrested Alain Bonnet, also known as Alain Soral, on charges of incitement of hatred against Jews and actions that “endanger the fundamental interests of the Republic” after comments he made on his website, Equality and Reconciliation. At the end of September, the Paris Appeals Court sentenced Soral to pay 134,400 euros ($165,000) to the International League against Racism and Anti-Semitism (LICRA) as punishment for releasing Salvation Through The Jews, a work by Leon Bloy (died 1917) that the court found to be anti-Semitic. On October 6, the court sentenced Soral to a 5,400 euro ($6,600) fine for blaming Jews for the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in the United States. Soral was convicted four times in 2019, following previous violations for Holocaust denial, anti-Semitic insults, and publishing an anti-Semitic video.
The Paris prosecutor’s October 14 decision to prosecute a man for vandalism rather than anti-Semitism for spray-painting dozens of large red swastikas along Paris’s landmark Rue de Rivoli the weekend of October 10-11 sparked protests among members of the Jewish community. The prosecutor’s office stated there was no legal basis for charging the man with a crime aggravated by religious or racial hatred and that “the damage was committed without specifically targeting buildings identified as being linked to the Jewish community.” In a tweet, the Representative Council of Jewish Institutions in France (CRIF) expressed “total incomprehension,” asking, “How can you spray 20 swastikas without being prosecuted for anti-Semitism?” Dorothee Bissacia-Bernstein, the lawyer representing LICRA in the case, tweeted after the decision, “Major moment of indignation and anger yes. Stupefaction.” Leader of the far-left France Unbowed Party Jean-Luc Melenchon criticized the “lamentable” decision. The suspect, a man from the country of Georgia, remained in pretrial detention. His trial was rescheduled and remained pending at year’s end.
On January 27, on International Holocaust Remembrance Day and the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, Jean-Michel Blanquer, Minister of National Education and Youth, and Armin Laschet, German Plenipotentiary for Cultural Affairs under the Franco-German Cooperation Treaty, visited the Shoah Memorial in Paris. In public remarks, they stated the fight against racism and anti-Semitism was and would remain a priority of educational cooperation between the two countries.
On January 9, then-Interior Minister Castaner, then-Justice Minister Nicole Belloubet, and then-Junior Minister for the Interior Laurent Nunez attended a CRIF-organized memorial ceremony outside a Paris kosher supermarket, where five years earlier a gunman had killed four Jews and held 15 other persons hostage.
On July 10, Interior Minister Darmanin attended the Shabbat service at the Great Synagogue of Paris. “The Jews of France had to suffer many unspeakable acts. Attacking the Jews of France, is attacking the Republic,” he said at the end of the visit.
On July 19, Secretary of State for the Armed Forces Genevieve 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. “There is no space for ambiguity, the Velodrome d’Hiver roundup is an issue belonging to France,” Darrieussecq said in her statements, adding, “Two dangers lie in wait for us and must constantly be fought: oblivion and hatred. It is because the Nation knows where it comes from, looks at its past without ambiguity, that it will be intractable in the face of racism, anti-Semitism, and discrimination.”
President Macron and government ministers condemned anti-Semitism and declared support for Holocaust education on several occasions, including a February 19 visit to the Shoah Memorial; the March 19 commemoration of the eighth anniversary of the killings of three Jewish children and their teacher by Mohammed Merah in Toulouse; the April 30 Holocaust Remembrance Day commemoration; and the June 1 Judaism Day observance. On April 26, as the country held private or virtual ceremonies (because of COVID-19 restrictions) for the thousands of persons deported to Nazi death camps during World War II, President Macron tweeted, “Seventy-five years on, we have not forgotten.” On the same day, 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 July 26, Interior Minister Darmanin participated in a tribute for Father Jacques Hamel, the Catholic priest killed in an attack for which ISIS claimed responsibility at his church in Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray in 2016. In his remarks, Darmanin said Father Hamel was “killed by the Islamist barbarism,” and “killing a priest is like trying to assassinate a part of the nation’s soul.”
On July 29, Interior Minister Darmanin visited Douaumont Cemetery at the Verdun battlefield to pay tribute to Muslim soldiers who died for the country during World War I. Speaking in front of the graves, he warned against “any deviation of the spirit … that evokes the purported incompatibility between the fact of [religious] belief and being a republican.” He added, “The [French] Republic does not prefer any religion, does not combat any religion.”
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the government postponed the visit of 30 Moroccan, 120 Algerian, and 151 Turkish imams whom it has regularly hosted to promote religious tolerance and combat violent extremism within Muslim communities.
The country is a member of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance.
Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom
The CFCM reported 235 registered incidents targeting Muslims, compared with 154 in 2019. The Jewish Community Protection Service (SPCJ) reported a total of 339 anti-Semitic incidents, of which 295 were threats and 44 violent acts, compared with 687 total incidents in the previous year. Statistics on anti-Christian incidents were not yet available; most of these incidents involved vandalism of churches and cemeteries.
On October 29, a man entered the Basilica of Notre Dame in the southern city of Nice and killed three Catholic worshippers with a knife. Local press reported one of the two women killed was “practically decapitated.” Municipal police intervened, shooting and seriously injuring the attacker. The attacker, according to local press reports, said, “Allahu Akbar (God is great),” repeatedly as he was being arrested and taken to the hospital. The man was identified as Brahim Aouissaoui, an asylum seeker from Tunisia who entered France in early October. The national counterterrorism prosecutor’s office was treating the attack as a terrorist incident. The investigation was ongoing at year’s end.
On October 16, an 18-year-old Muslim Russian refugee of Chechen ethnicity, Abdoullakh Anzorov, beheaded a French middle-school teacher, Samuel Paty, in the Paris suburb of Conflans-Sainte-Honorine. Paty had shown his students Charlie Hebdo’s 2012 cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad as part of a lesson on freedom of expression; Paty advised students they could turn away if they did not want to see the images. Police shot and killed Anzorov soon after Paty’s killing and charged 10 other persons, including an imam, with assisting him. President Macron visited the school where Paty had worked, calling the incident “a typical Islamist terrorist attack” and stating that “our compatriot was killed for teaching children freedom of speech.”
On October 18, media reported two women stabbed two other women wearing Islamic headscarves and tried to rip off their veils near the Eiffel Tower in 2019. The women were charged with assault and racist slurs. The main suspect was placed in pretrial detention while the second was released on bail, legal sources reported.
On August 6, two men shouted anti-Semitic insults and assaulted a Jewish man, stole his watch, and beat him unconscious in the hallway of his parents’ apartment building in Paris. Justice Minister Eric Dupond-Moretti tweeted, “I know the immense emotion that besets the entire Jewish community. It is the emotion of the whole nation and of course mine.” Authorities charged the two men with violent theft motivated by religious reasons and placed them in pretrial detention on August 28. At year’s end, a trial had not been scheduled, and the two men remained in detention.
In January, a 16-year-old student in the Lyon region received death threats and withdrew from school due to security concerns after she posted a vulgar anti-Islam video that led to national controversy. The student appeared on television and defended her right to blaspheme, saying her comments came in response to a vulgar online attack on her sexual orientation by a Muslim. The government provided her police protection, and President Macron defended her, telling newspaper Le Dauphine Libere that children needed to be “better protected” against “new forms of hatred and harassment online,” adding, “The law is clear: we have the right to blaspheme, to criticize, to caricature religions.” In the ensuing public debate, however, public personalities and officials made a range of statements criticizing the girl for hate speech or defending her right to free speech and French secularism. Abdallah Zekri, general delegate of the CFCM, told Sud Radio that he was against the death threats, but that “who sows the wind, shall reap the whirlwind.” CFCM president Mohammed Moussaoui, in the CFCM’s official response, said, “Nothing can justify” death threats.” Then-Justice Minister Belloubet, in comments she later acknowledged as “maladroit,” called the death threats unacceptable but characterized the video as “an attack on freedom of conscience.”
On May 14, the Paris prosecutor indicted the two suspects in the 2018 killing of Holocaust survivor Mireille Knoll on charges including intentional homicide and targeting the victim based on religion. On July 10, investigative judges affirmed the prosecution of the suspects on charges of murder “of a vulnerable person, committed because of the victim’s religion.” The two individuals remained in pretrial detention and a trial date had not been set at year’s end.
Authorities charged a man with “extortion on account of religion” with aggravated circumstances following an August 26 incident in Strasbourg in which an individual assaulted a young artist hired by the city to decorate a public building for wearing a t-shirt with “Israel” printed on it. After ordering the artist to leave the site, the assailant stole a spray-paint can and wrote on the pavement, “Interdit aux juifs et aux salopes” (“Jews and sluts forbidden”). Both the victim and a local Jewish association filed a complaint. On November 30, the Strasbourg Criminal Court sentenced the assailant to six-months’ imprisonment and ordered him to pay 500 euros ($610) in compensation to the victim and 1,000 euros ($1,200) to antiracist groups that had also filed a lawsuit.
On May 26, Agence France Presse and other media reported security forces arrested a man, identified only as Aurelien C., in the central city of Limoges. The security forces said they suspected the man, a former member of both the military and the Yellow Vest protest movement, was planning an attack against the Jewish community. On social media, Aurelien C. had posted white supremacist conspiracy theories and both anti-Semitic and anti-Islamic comments, while glorifying terrorists such as the 2019 Christchurch and 2011 Oslo attackers. On May 12, the Antiterrorism National Prosecutor’s Office reportedly began investigating him for “association of criminal terrorist wrongdoers.” In his home, investigators reportedly found incendiary tools that could be used as mortars. He had researched when Jewish religious sites would reopen in his town. Aurelien C. had previously been arrested in December 2018 and convicted of illegal arms possession.
In September, two men carried out an armed robbery against a man wearing a Star of David in a suburb of Paris and called him a “dirty Jew.” The victim was reportedly an Arab convert to Judaism. One of the robbers, identified only as Mohammed, received a one-year jail sentence.
Also in September, a court in Brest sentenced a man to two months in prison for calling a woman at an office where the man collected his welfare check a “dirty Jewess” and performing a Nazi salute in December 2019.
Jehovah’s Witnesses officials reported six incidents during the year. In one case, they reported a man punched a Jehovah’s Witness in the face while he was evangelizing in Le Petit Quevilly, a suburb of Rouen, on March 1. Jehovah’s Witnesses filed a complaint with police. At year’s end, authorities had not filed charges.
The Jewish Agency for Israel reported in June approximately 2,000 persons began the process of emigrating to Israel in the previous month, compared with 200 in May 2019.
On January 20, the AJC released a poll conducted by the French Institute of Public Opinion (IFOP) in partnership with the Fondapol think tank. The survey, which polled 505 French Jews between October 14 and November 19, 2019, found that 70 percent said they had been the target of at least one anti-Semitic incident in their lifetime, 64 percent had experienced anti-Semitic verbal abuse at least once, and 23 percent had suffered physical abuse on at least one occasion; 10 percent said they had been attacked several times. The poll found 37 percent refrained from using visible Jewish symbols, 25 percent avoided revealing their Jewish identity in the workplace, and 52 percent had considered leaving the country permanently. Overall, 44 percent said the situation for French Jews was worse than a year earlier, 11 percent said it was better, and 42 percent said it was unchanged. Among respondents aged 18-24, 84 percent had been the target of at least one anti-Semitic act, 79 percent had experienced verbal abuse, and 39 percent had suffered physical aggression. Jews self-identifying as “religious” felt the most vulnerable; 74 percent said they had been a target of at least one act of verbal abuse. Anti-Semitic incidents occurred most frequently on the street and in schools. Fifty-five percent said they had been insulted or threatened, and 59 percent said they had been physically abused on the street. In schools, 26 percent said they had suffered physical abuse and 54 percent had experienced verbal abuse. In the workplace, 46 percent said they had experienced anti-Semitic verbal abuse.
The poll also questioned 522 non-Jewish citizens. Of this total sample of 1,027 Jewish and non-Jewish persons, 73 percent (and 72 percent of Jewish respondents) considered anti-Semitism a problem that affected all of society; 47 percent (and 67 percent of Jews) reported the level of anti-Semitism in the country was high, while 27 percent (and 22 percent of Jews) said it was low. Fifty-three percent of non-Jews, but 77 percent of Jewish respondents, said they had the feeling that anti-Semitism in the country was increasing.
A poll of youths conducted by IFOP, carried out on September 4-9 and released on September 13, showed 87 percent of respondents had heard about the Holocaust and 95 percent had heard about the gas chambers; 80 percent reported learning these facts at school. One in 10 students said it was impossible to teach about the Holocaust in their class (among the reasons cited was a refusal by some students to listen to the lesson), and 21 percent cited criticisms from other students during lessons about the subject. The survey also revealed the influence of Holocaust denial on online video platforms and social media networks; nearly one in three (29 percent) respondents said they had already read or viewed content questioning the existence of the Holocaust. Of these, 57 percent had encountered denial theories on YouTube and 40 percent on Facebook.
In February, the Pew Research Center published findings on attitudes towards democratic principles, such as regular elections, free speech, and free civil society, as well as religious freedom, in 34 countries, based on interviews it conducted in its Spring 2019 Global Attitudes Survey. According to the findings, 52 percent of French respondents considered religious freedom to be “very important” but ranked it the lowest of their priorities for democratic principles among the nine tested.
The annual report of the National Consultative Commission on Human Rights, an advisory body to the Prime Minister, released on June 18, included the results of an Ipsos poll conducted in November 2019 and involving face-to-face interviews with a representative sample of 1,323 residents over the age of 18. The results were almost identical to a poll Ipsos conducted a year earlier. According to the more recent poll, 34.2 percent (1.8 percent fewer than in 2018) of respondents believed Jews “have a particular relationship with money,” and 18.6 percent (1.4 percent fewer than the previous year) thought Jews had too much power in the country. The poll found 35.5 percent (29 percent in 2018) of respondents had a negative image of Islam, and 44.7 percent (44 percent in the previous year) considered it a threat to national identity. The commission’s report again cited what it said was persistent societal rejection of Islamic religious practices, such as women wearing a veil (45.5 percent).
In June, during an antiracism protest in Paris attended by 15-20,000 persons, a video of at least one man repeatedly shouting “Dirty Jews” at a counterprotesting white identity group went viral. Israeli newspaper Haaretz cited CRIF as stating that anti-Semites had infiltrated the protest, “using a noble cause, the fight against racism, to spread hatred against Jews and Israel.” According to the report, CRIF President Francis Kalifat asked, “How can this type of incitement be shouted again and again without people reacting and demanding that those people leave?”
According to press reports, April Benayoum, runner-up in the 2021 Miss France competition, became the subject of “a torrent” of anti-Semitic comments on social media after revealing that her father was Israeli during the televised competition on December 19. One message read, “Hitler forgot about this one.” On December 20, Interior Minister Darmanin tweeted that he was “deeply shocked” and promised law enforcement would investigate the incidents. Others, including the International League Against Racism and Anti-Semitism, the Israeli embassy in Paris, and the Representative Council of Jewish Institutions, also denounced the comments. The Paris Prosecutor’ Office opened an investigation on December 21.
Facebook confirmed on August 3 it had banned French comedian Dieudonne M’Bala from its platforms for repeatedly violating its policies by posting anti-Semitic comments and for his “organized hatred.” In June, YouTube also banned Dieudonne, who had more than one million followers on Facebook and 36,000 on Instagram. Elisabeth Moreno, the Minister in Charge of Gender Equality, Diversity, and Equality of Opportunities welcomed the bans, tweeting, “All forms of speech inciting hatred and racism must be banned on social media.” Dieudonne was convicted multiple times for hate speech, including anti-Semitism. In October, in contravention of COVID-19 confinement orders, Dieudonne held an unauthorized gathering near Strasbourg attended by approximately 300 supporters, where he repeated the same anti-Semitic comments and spread disinformation relating to Jews about the pandemic.
The Jewish Telegraphic Agency cited other instances of disinformation blaming Jews for COVID-19. For example, in March, a caricature of a Jewish former Health Minister, Agnes Buzyn, showing her poisoning a well, was shared tens of thousands of times on social media. Alain Soral posted on YouTube that the virus was being used by “the luminary community, which we are forbidden to name … to weaken French people by the sheer weight of the death toll.” According to the agency, Soral’s post was viewed 406,000 times. The same report cited Marc Knobel, a historian with CRIF, as stating, “…the coronavirus pandemic is a reminder that Jews will be blamed whenever there’s an epidemic, be it today or 1347.”
On January 5, vandals damaged several headstones, burial vaults, and a memorial to a young child deported to Auschwitz at the oldest Jewish cemetery in the country, located in Bayonne. The cemetery contained Jewish burial sites dating to the late 17th century. The president of the Bayonne/Biarritz Jewish community condemned the desecrations, stating, “When it comes to attacking the dead, I don’t think there is anything more cowardly.”
On August 7, unknown persons set fire to the Omar Mosque in Bron, a suburb of Lyon. President of the regional CFCM Kamel Kabtane denounced the act. He had said previously the country trivialized anti-Muslim speech and acts. Regional and religious leaders, such as Interior Minister Darmanin and Mohammed Moussaoui, President of the Union of Mosques of France, expressed solidarity against the suspected arson and stated the country was experiencing a “rise of hatred.” They called for the creation of a parliamentary commission to investigate and address these issues.
A fire broke out at the Essalam Mosque in the city of Lyon on August 12, only days after the suspected arson at the Omar Mosque in Bron. The mayor of Lyon’s 2nd Arrondissement, Pierre Oliver, condemned the burning of the mosque, which a preliminary investigation suggested was also the result of arson. Hackers also changed the website link to the Essalam Mosque on the Google Maps site to a pest control site.
On April 15, the president of the Turkish Cultural Association (ACTS) of Saint-Etienne discovered a death threat written on the association door that he called “clearly Islamophobic.” Saint-Etienne Mayor Gael Perdriau expressed support for all ACTS members. The mayor highlighted the group’s societal contributions, including a recent donation of masks to nursing staff at the local teaching hospital.
On January 19, unknown individuals in Bordeaux and Talence defaced eight churches and two Catholic schools with graffiti. Several of the “tags” referred to pedophilia. Archbishop of Bordeaux Jean Paul James expressed his “profound sadness in the face of such acts,” condemned “this form of violence against Christians,” and offered to support “those who felt injured by these … obscene insults.” A police investigation was ongoing.
On April 22, members of the far-right group Generation Identitaire projected pictures denouncing calls to prayer onto the facade of the Grand Mosque of Lyon. The text read, “Lyon, Strasbourg, Marseille, Germany, Spain. Stop! The song of the muezzin will not resonate in Europe. Generation Identitaire.” The group claimed responsibility on Twitter. Marine Le Pen, president of the National Rally Party, had also publicly complained to the Interior Ministry about the Grand Mosque of Lyon’s daily broadcasts of the calls to prayer.
The hashtag #sijetaitunjuif (If I were a Jew) trended on Twitter France on May 18 before the company took it down, following condemnation by officials and Jewish and antihate organizations. The hashtag originated with six coordinated individual users and was amplified by other users and groups who deployed it with anti-Semitic smears and references to the Holocaust. The author of one of the original tweets, a 16-year-old boy, told media outlet BFM he had posted the material “to see if people would defend Jews.” Twitter France told BFM it took the hashtag off its list of trending topics for violating the company’s hate speech rules.
On June 23, anti-Semitic graffiti and drawings were found on campaign posters for Lyon Metropolis President David Kimelfeld. Also on June 23, anti-Muslim stickers were found on campaign posters of Nordine Gasmi, the Vaudais Independent Party mayoral candidate, in nearby Vaulx-en-Velin. Kimelfeld denounced the graffiti, and local Member of Parliament Thomas Rudigoz called the anti-Semitic tags “despicable,” saying they recalled dark times in the country’s history.
In the early hours of July 26, a mosque in the southwestern French city of Agen was vandalized with graffiti that included a swastika and obscene messages. Interior Minister Darmanin tweeted supported for Agen’s Muslim community and condemned “hateful actions that are contrary to the values of the Republic.” Agen Mayor Jean Dionis du Sejour denounced the vandalism as “absolutely unacceptable … insulting [and] senseless.”
Anti-Islam graffiti was discovered on September 2 on the walls of a mosque in the southwestern city of Tarbes, according to media reports. The incident occurred on the opening day of the trial for the 2015 Paris terror attacks. Interior Minister Darmanin tweeted, “These acts have no place in our Republic.” Regional officials, including the president of the Occitanie Region and the prefect of the Hautes-Pyrenees Department, also publicly condemned the act. Mayor of Tarbes Gerard Tremege visited the site and said he was “outraged by these heinous acts of desecration.” The CFCM also expressed “firm condemnation” and “full solidarity and total support to the faithful and officials of the mosque.”
On October 2, the Association of Jewish Students tweeted a video of a kosher restaurant in the 19th Arrondissement of Paris that had been vandalized with many swastikas and the words “Hitler was right” spray-painted on furniture and walls.
The Nour El Mohamadi Mosque in central Bordeaux was vandalized on October 14 and October 20. Unknown individuals broke exterior windows and defaced it with graffiti that included Celtic crosses and the phrase “Mahomet = Lache” (Mohammed = Coward). Interior Minister Darmanin asked local authorities to put the mosque under police protection, stating on Twitter, “Such actions are unacceptable on the soil of the Republic.” A police investigation was ongoing at year’s end. Mosque Vice President Abdelaziz Manaa noted a recent increase in anti-Muslim hostility: “There are people who insult us from the street … but now, we feel that it is getting worse. We’ve never had insults against the Prophet.”
On January 10, Jehovah’s Witnesses filed a complaint with police after they found a graffito, “God kills,” on the door of a Kingdom Hall in Paris on January 10. At year’s end, law enforcement had not identified any suspects.
On April 17, the Angouleme criminal court found an 18-year-old man guilty of, but not responsible for, desecrating numerous graves in a Christian cemetery in Cognac in 2019. A psychiatric evaluation of the man before his trial concluded his judgment was impaired at the time of the incident. The court ordered his emergency hospitalization in a specialized center following the verdict.
Authorities closed the case against Claude Sinke, who died on February 26, before the case could go to trial. Sinke was arrested and charged with attempted murder after he allegedly shot and injured two Muslim men and set fire to the door of a mosque in Bayonne in 2019.
At year’s end, there was no information available on the status of a case involving four men arrested in 2019, who were part of a larger group of approximately 10 men alleged to have beaten and robbed a Jewish driver for a ride-sharing company. At the time, authorities said they considered the anti-Semitic nature of the attack to be an aggravating circumstance.
Authorities were still investigating a case from 2019 in which they charged a man with attempted murder and degrading a place of worship after he crashed his car into a mosque in Colmar. According to some press reports, the man was diagnosed with schizophrenia, which might lead to dismissal of the case.
On September 9, the G9, a Lyon-based interfaith group, founded following terrorist attacks in 2015 with the aim of promoting understanding among religious groups and fighting against violent extremism, wrote an open letter with calling for fraternity after multiple acts of vandalism at places of worship. In the letter, entitled “More than ever determined to work for the Common Good,” the G9 challenged citizens and authorities to be vigilant and create strong connections wherever possible.
The Council of Christian Churches in France, composed of 10 representatives from the Protestant, Catholic, Orthodox, and Armenian Apostolic Churches, continued to meet four times a year, twice in plenary session and twice at the working level.
Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement
The Ambassador designated combating anti-Semitism as one of four key “pillars” of enhanced embassy outreach. Coupled with the embassy’s broad campaign supporting religious freedom, the Ambassador and other staff from the embassy, consulates general, and APPs actively pursued opportunities to engage on fighting anti-Semitism and bolstering religious freedom and tolerance with relevant government officials, including at the religious affairs offices of the Ministries of the Interior and Foreign Affairs and DILCRAH. Topics discussed included religious tolerance, anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim acts, the role of religious freedom in lessening violent extremism, the BDS movement, Holocaust-related compensation, and bilateral cooperation on these issues.
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, anti-Semitism, anti-Muslim sentiment, and interfaith dialogue and tolerance with senior Christian, Muslim, and Jewish representatives and NGOs such as Coexister and AJC Europe. They also hosted meetings with representatives from CRIF, the Israelite Central Consistory of France (the main Jewish administrative governance body), the CFCM, and the Paris Great Mosque, Catholic priests, and Protestant representatives working on interfaith dialogue.
The Ambassador and embassy personnel engaged regularly with senior Israeli embassy representatives on efforts and best practices to counter anti-Semitism in the country. Embassy officials closely monitored the official government position on the BDS movement and anti-Semitic incidents. In February, senior embassy officials visited the Quatzenheim Jewish cemetery in Alsace, where vandals had desecrated 90 Jewish graves with anti-Semitic images and slogans in 2019. The local newspaper covered the visit to the cemetery with local leaders, and the embassy amplified the event on its social media platforms to bring visibility to the issue and to publicly express U.S. support for the fight against anti-Semitism.
While much of the embassy’s planned outreach was curtailed or significantly affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, the embassy, APPs, and consulates general continued to reach out to religious communities, especially through virtual programs.
The embassy continued to support Coexister, a local association promoting interfaith dialogue and social cohesion, with funding assistance for the association’s Interfaith World Tour. Four young interfaith representatives concluded an eight-month world tour in 2019-20 to meet with interfaith leaders in 18 countries, including the United States. The team was producing a documentary film about the tour to be used for presentations at French public schools and conferences with the aim of deepening awareness of, and interest in, international initiatives on interfaith dialogue.
A new embassy-supported program against extremism and anti-Semitism with local NGO Insitut Hozes (founded by a past participant in an embassy-sponsored exchange program in the United States) began on December 28 to support interfaith “boot camps” to create shared experiences for Jewish and Muslim teenagers in the Paris suburbs, groups that rarely have opportunities to interact. The aim is for the groups to then work together to organize community service activities and act as a force of positive change in their communities.
In May, an embassy-sponsored webinar engaged civil society leaders, including those representing religious minorities, on combating religiously and ethnically motivated terrorism, as well as discrimination and violence targeting religious and ethnic minorities.
In July, the embassy organized a virtual encounter between representatives of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum and Holocaust memorials and museums around France to share best practices in engaging young people on the lessons of the Holocaust.
The consulate general in Strasbourg hosted a meeting in February with senior embassy officers for local government, law enforcement, religious, and civil society leaders to discuss collaboration opportunities to fight growing anti-Semitism across the region. Breakfast was followed by a visit of one of the embassy officers with local community leaders to the Quatzenheim Jewish cemetery, where vandals had desecrated and painted swastikas on gravestones in 2019.
In the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic (March-April), the consulate general in Strasbourg consulted with the Jewish Consistory to assess growing disinformation among extremist groups that the Jewish population had caused the pandemic. In September, the consulate general hosted an interfaith lunch with key local government, civil society, and religious authorities to discuss the continued rise in anti-Semitic acts in the eastern part of the country, as well as issues of radicalization and violent extremism among the Muslim community.
In September, the APP in Lyon invited five religious leaders of the G9 group to discuss their collective editorial in national newspaper Le Parisien after two mosques and one Christian library in the region were vandalized that same month. During the meeting, the APP representative discussed the concerns of local Muslim, Jewish, and Christian leaders over President Macron’s proposed antiseparatism measures, particularly related to the issue of foreign trained imams.
The made-for-television film “RAMDAM,” supported by APP Bordeaux and written with an imam and a past embassy-sponsored visitor to the United States, aired on French television in May. The fictional film, showcasing the daily stories, struggles, and triumphs of a local imam, blended humor, compassion, and current topics aimed at presenting a more nuanced view of Muslim communities.
In April, the Consul General in Marseille attended an online commemoration ceremony in memory of the persons deported from the Camp des Milles internment camp during WWII. In August, the new Consul General visited the Camp des Milles, where she laid a wreath and spent the day touring the site with its director, meeting with survivors and local residents.
In September, the APP in Rennes hosted a meeting with regional representatives of the Jewish and Muslim communities, as well other civil society representatives. The Principal Officer facilitated an exchange of ideas and perspectives on the impact of current issues, including the COVID-19 epidemic, on different communities. Jewish and Muslim representatives reiterated their commitments to maintaining their positive existing relationships and ongoing dialogue on areas of shared interest.
The embassy regularly amplified messages from the Secretary of State and Department of State on religious freedom via embassy social media platforms in French and in English. The embassy also complemented information supplied by the Department of State with original content in French, for example by marking the International Day of Religious Freedom and condemning antireligious, mostly anti-Semitic acts, such as the killing of Samuel Paty. Embassy social media outreach highlighted the importance of religious freedom as a core American value and demonstrated how France and the United States worked together on the issue.
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. Federal and some state offices of the domestic intelligence service continued to monitor the activities of certain Muslim groups and mosques. Authorities also monitored the Church of Scientology (COS), which reported continued government discrimination against its members. Certain states continued to ban or restrict the use of religious clothing or symbols, including headscarves, for some state employees. Senior government leaders continued to condemn anti-Semitism and anti-Muslim sentiment and acts. In September, Chancellor Angela Merkel described anti-Semitism as an attack on the dignity of individuals that “must be fought decisively” – ideally with education, but with the full strength of the criminal law system when necessary. Government officials responded to revelations of right-wing, anti-Semitic chat groups within police and the military by demanding investigations and dismissing those involved. Two additional state governments appointed anti-Semitism commissioners for the first time, bringing the total number of states with such commissioners to 15 (out of 16), in addition to the federal Jewish life and anti-Semitism commissioner. In October, the government announced it would increase social welfare funding for Holocaust survivors by 30.5 million euros ($37.4 million) in 2021 and provide an additional 564 million euros ($692 million) over the next two years to help Holocaust survivors cope with the burdens of the COVID-19 pandemic.
During a Sukkot celebration for students at the Hohe Weide Synagogue in Hamburg on October 4, a man wearing a military-style uniform struck a Jewish student in the head with a shovel, leaving the victim with a serious head injury. Police arrested the attacker, and a criminal trial was pending. Authorities including Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, Minister of Justice Christine Lambrecht, and Hamburg Mayor Peter Tschentscher condemned the attack. There were numerous reports of anti-Semitic, anti-Muslim, and anti-Christian incidents. These included assaults, verbal harassment, threats, discrimination, and vandalism. Federal crime statistics for 2019 cited 2,032 anti-Semitic crimes during the year, an increase of 13 percent from 2018. Seventy-two of those crimes involved violence. Federal crime statistics attributed 93.4 percent of anti-Semitic crimes in 2019 to the far right. In November, Federal Commissioner for Jewish Life in Germany and the Fight against Anti-Semitism Felix Klein stated anti-Semitism was emerging as a common theme among groups of widely differing political backgrounds that were gathering to protest pandemic lockdown measures. From mid-March to mid-June, the Research Center for Information on Anti-Semitism (RIAS), which is partially government-funded, registered anti-Semitic incidents at 123 separate demonstrations against restrictions to prevent the spread of COVID-19. The head of the Central Council of Jews said to the media in May that right-wing protesters were using anxieties stirred up by the pandemic to spread anti-Semitic conspiracy theories on the internet. Demonstrations also occurred expressing anti-Muslim sentiment.
The U.S. embassy and five consulates general assessed the government’s responses to incidents of religious intolerance; expressed concerns about anti-Semitic, anti-Muslim, and anti-Christian acts; and advocated for more law enforcement and other resources to prevent violent attacks on religious communities. A senior embassy official met with the federal commissioner for global freedom of religion at the Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development in September. Consuls General met with state-level government representatives and anti-Semitism commissioners. The embassy and consulates general maintained a dialogue with a broad spectrum of religious communities and human rights nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) on their concerns about religious freedom and on ways to promote tolerance and communication among religious groups.
Section I. Religious Demography
The U.S. government estimates the total population at 80.2 million (midyear 2020 estimate). 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 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 the most recent government estimates, approximately 5.7 percent of the population is Muslim, of which 75 percent is Sunni, 13 percent Alevi, and 7 percent Shia; the remainder includes Alawites (70,000), Ahmadis (35,000), and Sufis (10,000). Intelligence officials estimate there are approximately 12,150 Salafi Muslims in the country. Estimates of the Jewish population vary widely; the Central Council of Jews estimates it at 94,771, 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.
The General Act on Equal Treatment has been in force since August 2006. The purpose of the act is to prevent or stop 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. 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 ($61.3 million). Unlawful content includes actions illegal under existing 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 court decisions have 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 pre-1919 Germany, 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. Ahmadi Muslim groups have 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.
According to a 2015 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. Berlin’s Neutrality Law bans visible signs of religious affiliation for police, lawyers, judges, and law enforcement staff but, as of 2020, not for primary and secondary school teachers. In Lower Saxony, 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 ($74) fine.
According to federal law, religious groups may appoint individuals with special training to carry out circumcision of males under the age of 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 Protestant Church 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.
In January and again in July, the Baden-Wuerttemberg Free Democratic Party (FDP) requested an examination of whether Jehovah’s Witnesses fulfilled the conditions for PLC status in that state. In both instances, the state education ministry affirmed there was no reason to revoke the status. In August, the FDP’s speaker for religious affairs once again urged the ministry to review the group’s eligibility for PLC status due to its prohibition of blood transfusions for children. Jehovah’s Witnesses have held PLC status in all states since 2017.
In March, the federal government established a cabinet committee to combat right-wing extremism and racism. The committee drew up a catalog of 89 concrete measures, many of which aim at combating anti-Semitism. The federal government stated it would provide more than one billion euros ($1.23 billion) for the projects between 2021 and 2024.
In June, Federal Family Minister Franziska Giffey launched a network to provide government resources and foster connections between educational institutions and research centers working to combat anti-Semitism. The federal government stated it would support a new anti-Semitism competence center with two million euros ($2.5 million) over the next four years.
In July, more than 60 scientists, academics, writers, and artists wrote to Chancellor Angela Merkel warning of an “inflationary, factually unjustified, and legally unfounded use of the term anti-Semitism.” They expressed concern about the suppression of “legitimate criticism of Israeli government policy” and castigated Federal Commissioner for Jewish Life in Germany and the Fight against Anti-Semitism Felix Klein for distracting attention from “real anti-Semitic sentiments.”
In September, speaking at the 70th anniversary of the Central Council of Jews in Germany Chancellor Merkel spoke of her “grave concern” over the increasingly open expression of anti-Semitism in the country. She described anti-Semitism as an attack on the dignity of individuals that “must be fought decisively” – ideally with education, but with the full strength of the criminal law system when necessary.
In September, the NRW interior ministry suspended 29 police officers for participating in a right-wing extremist chat group, and some faced criminal investigation. The group shared extremist propaganda, including photographs of Adolf Hitler. The interior ministry also ordered an inspection of the affected police station, and it created a new position to specifically monitor right-wing extremism across the NRW police force.
In April, the NRW commissioner for anti-Semitism published the first NRW anti-Semitism report, which indicated 310 anti-Semitic crimes were registered in NRW in 2019, of which 291 were motivated by right-wing ideologies. The crimes ranged from verbal abuse to physical injury; all cases resulted in criminal investigations. In June, the NRW commissioner announced she was establishing an office to monitor and independently investigate anti-Semitic crimes that would allow victims to report anonymously in part in an effort to increase the reporting of cases.
During the year, Schleswig-Holstein and Hamburg established state-level anti-Semitism commissioner positions, leaving Bremen as the only state without one. The responsibilities and functions of the position vary by state but generally include developing contacts with the Jewish community, collecting statistics on anti-Semitic incidents, and designing education and prevention programs. In 2018, Federal Anti-Semitism Commissioner Klein urged all states to establish anti-Semitism commissioners because the distribution of powers in the country’s federal system provided the states with greater authority to combat anti-Semitism.
In February, the Frankfurt general prosecutor’s office established a commissioner for combating anti-Semitism. In addition to evaluating anti-Jewish aspects of crimes, the person will serve as point of contact for domestic and foreign authorities.
In January, Hesse inaugurated a new office for reporting anti-Semitic incidents as part of a 2019 state initiative to establish a more comprehensive approach to countering online hate speech and harassment.
In February, the Bremen Senate extended its cooperation with the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial to police officers trained at the College of Public Administration. Among other activities, Yad Vashem teaches a course to police trainees on the history of the Jewish community in Bremen. The course brings trainees to main historical Jewish community sites as well as to the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. Yad Vashem also led trips to the Warsaw ghetto and to Israel; 18 trainees joined the trip to Israel.
More than 1,000 artists signed an open letter against the 2019 Bundestag decision to designate the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement as anti-Semitic, calling it a restriction of the right to boycott, a violation of democratic principles, and encouragement of a “climate of censorship.” They joined concerns by the heads of some German cultural institutions who argued the resolution might hinder their work. Numerous Bundestag members rejected the accusations, stating the resolution by no means banned dialogue or criticism. They also said that no tax funds should be used for BDS initiatives. State Minister for Culture Monika Gruetters said, “It is part of the Federal Republic of Germany’s raison d’etre to protect Israel’s right to exist. It follows that the federal government does not actively support organizations or projects that question Israel’s right to exist, even within the framework of cultural funding.”
In July, rap musician Farid Bang collaborated with Duesseldorf Mayor Thomas Geisel on a video promoting COVID-19 distancing measures. The state commissioner for anti-Semitism in NRW criticized the choice due to what he described as Bang’s frequently misogynistic, anti-Semitic, and violent lyrics, saying “This would be a wrong sign for Jewish life in this country.” The story received national publicity, and the video was taken down after one week.
In July, the Federal Constitutional Court confirmed a six-month prison sentence for Sascha Krolzig, federal chairman of the far-right party Die Rechte (The Right). Krolzig published an article calling a prominent member of the Jewish community an “insolent Jewish functionary” and praising the “exemplary and reliable men of the Waffen-SS.” Krolzig was convicted for sedition in February, based on inciting hatred against Jews and the use of National Socialist vocabulary.
In July, the Moenchengladbach public prosecutor’s office brought sedition charges against a man suspected of distributing the anti-Semitic manifesto of the 2019 Halle synagogue attacker online. The case was pending as of December.
In August, Lower Saxony’s Jewish community expressed concern after police officer Michael F. from Hanover, who was responsible for designing the security plans for Lower Saxony’s Jewish synagogues and community centers, drew parallels between restrictions to limit the spread of COVID-19 and National Socialism during his speech at a demonstration against the restrictions. The officer was suspended from duty in August. “Anyone responsible for the safety evaluations of Jewish facilities in the police force must be above reproach, not indulging in some abstruse, conspiracy-theoretical nonsense,” said Franz Rainer Enste, the state’s anti-Semitism commissioner.
In February, NRW Minister-President Armin Laschet visited Israel and expressed assurances that Germany would take decisive action against anti-Semitism, racism, and extreme right-wing violence. He said, “I am ashamed that 75 years after the liberation of Auschwitz we are experiencing this again in Germany.” Upon his return, Laschet received the Israel Jacobson Prize from the Union of Progressive Jews in Germany in recognition of his contribution to liberal Judaism and the strengthening of Jewish life in NRW.
In May, Bavarian Justice Minister Georg Eisenreich and Anti-Semitism Commissioner Ludwig Spaenle presented anti-Semitism guidelines for legal workers to help better identify anti-Semitic incidents.
According to reports from the federal Office for Protection of the Constitution (OPC – domestic intelligence agency) and Scientology members, the federal and state OPCs in Baden-Wuerttemberg, Bavaria, Berlin, Bremen, Hamburg, Lower Saxony, NRW, and Saxony-Anhalt continued to monitor the activities of the COS, reportedly by evaluating Scientology 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 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. The COS said the government also discriminated against firms owned or operated by its members.
At the September session of the United Nations Human Rights Council, the President of the European Office of the Church of Scientology for Public Affairs and Human Rights requested Germany stop using “sect filters” and called on the president of the Human Rights Council to launch an investigation into the religious freedom violations that, he said, the country’s executive powers continue to perpetrate against Scientologists.
Following the country’s April 30 ban on all Hizballah activities, police raided mosques in Berlin, Bremen, and NRW. Police had previously placed the mosques under surveillance due to what they stated were their pro-Hizballah sympathies and links with extremist groups. In May, police searched the official rooms of the al-Mustafa community in Woltmershausen in Lower Saxony as well as the private residences of community leaders, alleging a close association of al-Mustafa with Hizballah.
Federal and state OPCs continued to monitor numerous Muslim groups, including the terrorist groups ISIS, Hizballah, and Hamas as well as groups such as Turkish Hizballah, Hizb ut-Tahrir, Tablighi Jama’at, Millatu Ibrahim, the Islamic Center Hamburg, the Muslim Brotherhood, Milli Gorus, and various Salafist movements. Hamburg opposition parties and civil society actors continued to advocate an end to Hamburg’s formal relationship with the “Islamic Center,” which they described as an important Iranian regime asset.
In May, the OPC in Saxony reported it was monitoring two mosques that it said were dominated by Salafists.
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.
Germany assumed the rotating presidency of the Council of the European Union in July, and consistent with its commitment to prioritize the fight against anti-Semitism, it organized an online conference November 18 on combating anti-Semitism and hate speech, and two weeks later, the council unanimously approved a declaration mainstreaming the fight against anti-Semitism across all policy areas. The council also published the largest survey ever conducted among European Jews on their perceptions and experiences of anti-Semitism.
In August, the federal labor court awarded a Muslim computer scientist approximately 5,200 euros ($6,400) in compensation for religious discrimination. In 2017, the plaintiff had insisted on wearing her headscarf in class as part of an interview for a position in the public school service and was subsequently denied a job. The rejected applicant said this was religious discrimination and sued for compensation under the General Equality Act. The Berlin Labor Court dismissed the claim, but the Berlin-Brandenburg Regional Labor Court upheld it, referring to a ruling by the Federal Constitutional Court in 2015 that stated that rejection of female applicants wearing headscarves must be justified by a concrete threat to the peace of the school. Berlin appealed but lost at the Federal Labor Court, which saw the Berlin position as “a disproportionate interference with freedom of religion.” The court called upon Berlin to amend its neutrality law that forbids civil servants from wearing religious clothing and symbols.
In February, the Federal Constitutional Court ruled that a Muslim law clerk could be prohibited from wearing a headscarf during court proceedings. In its ruling, the court said the judiciary’s obligation to observe complete neutrality outweighed the clerk’s freedom of religion rights. The clerk sued Hesse state in 2017 for not permitting her to follow court proceedings from the bench, lead courtroom sessions, or take evidence from witnesses while she was wearing a headscarf.
In May, the Lower Saxony state parliament amended the law to prohibit judges and prosecutors from wearing religious symbols or clothing in the courtroom. State Justice Minister Barbara Havliza said that it was necessary in view of the increasing diversity in society and important for the perceived neutrality of the judiciary.
In April, the Rhineland-Palatinate state government forbade students in primary and secondary schools from full-face veiling at school (i.e., wearing a niqab or burqa). In July, Baden-Wuerttemberg did the same. For both states, the ban on full covering did not apply in higher education. Teachers in both states had already been forbidden from full-face veiling at school.
In February, an administrative court in Hamburg overturned a school’s ban on niqabs, ruling that state law does not allow educational authorities to impose such a ban. The court said the 16-year-old who challenged the ban had the right to “unconditional protection” of her freedom of belief. The Hamburg state minister of education said he would seek to change the law, because “only if students and teachers have a free and open face can school and lessons function.”
In September, the Higher Administrative Court in Muenster overturned a 2018 decision by an administrative court which banned a local mosque’s outdoor amplification of the call to prayer in the town Oer-Erkenschwick. Local residents said this was a noise disturbance. In its ruling, the Muenster court compared the call to prayer with the sound of church bells. During the COVID-19 lockdown, some mosques in NRW received temporary permission to conduct calls to prayer via loudspeaker.
In June, the Lower Saxony Higher Administrative Court ruled a Muslim teacher denied employment for wearing a headscarf could assert a claim for compensation through the General Equal Treatment Act.
In February, a district court ordered a fitness studio in Oststeinbek to compensate a Muslim client 1,000 euros ($1,200). The studio had prohibited the woman from exercising with a headscarf, citing insurance reasons. The woman brought legal action based on the General Equal Treatment Act.
In September, the Karlsruhe Labor Court ruled the Protestant Regional Church in Baden discriminated against an atheist applicant who had unsuccessfully applied for a secretarial position in 2019. The court ordered the Church to pay compensation of 5,000 euros ($6,100) for illegally asking the applicant about her religious beliefs.
According to a May survey of state-level education ministries, 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 have added Islamic religious instruction.
In October, the Conference on Jewish Material Claims against Germany (also known as the Jewish Claims Conference) and the government announced an increase of 30.5 million euros ($37.4 million) in government funding for social welfare services for Holocaust survivors, raising the yearly contribution from 524 million euros ($642.9 million) in 2020 to 554.5 million euros ($680.4 million) in 2021. The government also agreed to provide an additional 564 million euros ($692 million) over the next two years to help financially struggling Holocaust survivors during the COVID-19 pandemic.
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 ($15.9 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.
According to the Humanistic Union, an independent civil liberties organization, total state government contributions during the year to the Catholic Church and the EKD totaled approximately 570 million euros ($699.4 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.
In July, the Federal Supreme Court rejected the appeals of seven men who had been fined by a lower court in 2019 for wearing yellow vests marked “Sharia Police” and patrolling the streets of Wuppertal in 2014 looking for “non-Muslim” behavior. They had been charged with wearing uniforms as expressions of a common political opinion. A regional court acquitted them in 2016, but the Federal Constitutional Court reversed the acquittal in 2018.
The government continued the German Islam Conference dialogue with Muslims in the country. The dialogue’s 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. The conference held a video discussion on imam training with Interior Minister Horst Seehofer on November 10. Participants discussed initiatives to promote imam training, including imam employment in congregations, religious instruction in public schools, and pastoral care in public institutions, especially prison and military chaplaincies. The Interior Minister discussed the Independent Expert Group on Anti-Muslim Hostility, established in September, which focuses on distinguishing between criticism of religion and hostility toward Muslims.
In May, the Bundestag unanimously approved a bill authorizing rabbis to serve as military chaplains, performing pastoral services for the approximately 300 Jewish soldiers in the Bundeswehr (federal army). The Bundesrat, the chamber representing the federal states, also approved the bill in July. The selection of up to 10 rabbis was scheduled to begin in autumn. The country’s Conference of Orthodox Rabbis welcomed the action as “an important signal, especially in times…when there is again fertile ground for anti-Semitism, hate from the far right, and conspiracy theorists.” The federal government also said it was developing plans to authorize Muslim chaplains for the approximately 3,000 Muslims serving in the Bundeswehr, but the Central Council of Muslims Chair Aiman Mazyek said in a July interview that the government had not yet taken any concrete steps. In December, the state of Baden-Wuerttemberg appointed police rabbis for the first time in its history, one for the Jewish Religious Community of Wuerttemberg, and one for the Baden region. Their tasks included raising awareness of Jewish issues among police officers.
The country is a member of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance and held the organization’s chairmanship during 2020.
Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom
During a Sukkot celebration for students at the Hohe Weide Synagogue in Hamburg on October 4, an individual wearing a military-style uniform struck a Jewish student in the head with a shovel, leaving the victim with a serious head injury. Police arrested the attacker, a 29-year-old male with Kazakh roots residing in Berlin. Authorities, including Foreign Minister Maas, Minister of Justice Lambrecht, and Hamburg Mayor Tschentscher, condemned the attack. The case was awaiting court prosecution at year’s end.
On December 21, the gunman who attacked the Halle synagogue and killed two individuals on Yom Kippur 2019 was sentenced to life imprisonment with subsequent preventative detention. The court found the attacker “severely guilty” of two counts of murder; 51 counts of attempted murder for his attack on the synagogue; several counts of attempted murder for his attack on a kebab shop, bystanders, and police officers; incitement; Holocaust denial; grievous bodily harm; and negligent physical injury. The verdict cited the attacker’s lack of remorse and expressed desire to reoffend as support for issuing the maximum sentence.
There were numerous reports of anti-Semitic, anti-Muslim, and anti-Christian incidents, including assaults, verbal harassment, threats, discrimination, and vandalism. According to Ministry of Interior federal crime statistics, there were 2,032 anti-Semitic crimes committed during 2019 (the most recent statistics available), including 72 incidents involving violence. This represented a 13 percent increase from the 1,799 anti-Semitic crimes reported in 2018, of which 69 were violent.
The federal OPC’s annual report stated the number of violent right-wing anti-Semitic incidents increased from 48 in 2018 to 56 in 2019. In May, Interior Minister Seehofer stated, “Right-wing extremism, racism, and anti-Semitism…continue to represent the greatest threat to security in Germany. We have every reason to proceed with the greatest vigilance here.” According to the report, membership in right-wing extremist parties such as the neo-Nazi National Democratic Party increased from approximately 5,500 persons in 2018 to 13,330 in 2019. The report noted, however, this rise was entirely due to the reclassification of the right-wing populist Alternative for Germany Party’s youth organization as well as its far-right faction formerly known as “The Wing” as extremist.
In May, the Ministry of Interior presented its annual report on politically motivated crime, which stated there were 41,177 such crimes in 2019, a 14.2 percent increase from 2018. Police registered 8,585 crimes motivated by racism or xenophobia, which encompasses religion, a 5.8 percent increase.
RIAS, to which victims may report anti-Semitic incidents independent of filing charges with police, reported 1,253 incidents in the states of Berlin, Brandenburg, Bavaria, and Schleswig-Holstein in 2019. RIAS reported 410 anti-Semitic incidents in Berlin in the first six months of 2020, comparable to the 404 incidents over the same period in 2019, despite the stringent COVID-related restrictions on public life. This included 26 incidents involving violence or threatened violence (down from 33), 58 examples of anti-Semitic propaganda, and 301 examples of malicious behavior, such as giving the Nazi salute. RIAS used categories different from official police statistics and included anti-Semitic incidents that did not rise to the level of a criminal offense. According to RIAS, the largest motivating factor for anti-Semitic attacks was right-wing political ideology.
From mid-March to mid-June, RIAS registered anti-Semitic incidents at 123 separate demonstrations against restrictions to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Incidents included positive references to Nazis, including comments by protest organizer Attila Hildmann that Adolf Hitler was “a blessing” in comparison to Angela Merkel and the use of anti-Semitic conspiracy myths, including the assertion that Jews were responsible for unleashing the virus.
Lower Saxony’s government recorded 172 anti-Semitic crimes in 2019, up from 127 in 2018. The Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania government counted 34 such crimes for the first half of 2020, up from 18 during the same time period in 2019. Alexander Rasumny of RIAS attributed the increase to two factors: first, he said, every attack potentially triggers another attack, and second, the culture of political and social debate had become more “brutalized” in Germany than in other countries.
In 2019 (most recent data available), the Ministry of Interior registered 950 incidents targeting Muslims and Muslim institutions, such as mosques or community centers. This was an increase from the 910 incidents in 2018. The ministry classified 90.1 percent of these incidents as right-wing extremism. Other recorded incidents included online hate speech against Muslims, hate mail, and aggressive behavior in the street.
A Hildesheim resident was arrested on June 5, suspected of planning attacks against Muslims and mosques, according to prosecutors. Police found weapons at his apartment and “data files with radical right-wing contents.” 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.” The Celle prosecutor general’s office brought charges against the 21-year-old defendant on suspicion of incitement and of preparing a serious act of violence endangering the state. His trial began in December and was continuing at year’s end.
The Ministry of Interior counted 128 anti-Christian incidents in 2019, including 16 cases involving violence. The ministry classified 30 percent of these incidents as motivated by right-wing ideology and 21 percent as motivated by left-wing ideology.
In March, the NRW Department of the Interior released information showing the number of politically motivated attacks on Jews, Muslims, and Christians rose significantly in 2019. Offenses against Jews quintupled since 2018, from seven to 35, attacks against Muslims almost tripled from 15 to 42, and offenses against Christians more than doubled from four to nine. A total of 42 suspects were identified, the vast majority of whom were German citizens and had right-wing backgrounds.
In January, a boy found a homemade explosive device near the access area of the Mittelbau-Dora concentration camp memorial site in Thuringia. Due to the proximity to the memorial, the State Security Service was also involved in the investigation, which was ongoing at year’s end.
On July 9 in downtown Munich, four individuals followed Chief Rabbi Shmuel Aharon Brodman and shouted insults at him. Brodman called police, who were unable to locate the perpetrators. The offenders reportedly insulted the rabbi in English and spoke among themselves in Arabic. Bavaria’s Anti-Semitism Commissioner Spaenle expressed concern that several eyewitnesses had not intervened on the rabbi’s behalf.
In July, as yet unidentified suspects left severed pig heads in front of the Islamic Cultural Center in Greifswald on two separate occasions. As of December, police were investigating.
According to media reports, women who wore the hijab continued to face employment discrimination.
In October, a Brandenburg road construction company rejected an applicant because he was a practicing Muslim. The managing director sent the applicant a rejection notice in which he wrote, “Islam is not compatible with the constitution.” He confirmed this with the local public media, adding “I cannot employ practicing Muslims because there would be unrest.” Brandenburg police told the applicant that he could report an offense like this, because denying employment on the basis of an applicant’s religion contravenes the General Equal Treatment Act.
On January 4, the Leipziger Volkszeitung reported that local construction companies had 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. One businessman said he had lost orders in the past after his involvement in the construction of a mosque was made public.
There were several reported incidents of arson in churches. In three separate incidents in February, March, and May, unknown individuals set fire to church bulletins, a Bible, and an altar at a church in Krefeld. Unknown individuals damaged a window in a church in Neuenkirchen while attempting to start a fire in August. In September, unknown persons broke a window and unsuccessfully attempted to set a church on fire in Wolgast. Police began investigations of all the cases, which were pending as of December.
In July, unknown perpetrators desecrated a memorial site for the survivors of the Mittelbau-Dora concentration camp. No suspects could be identified, and investigations by local authorities were ongoing as of December.
In February, unknown persons vandalized a mosque in Emmendingen, Baden-Wuerttemberg with swastikas and rightwing slogans. Local police said they believed the incident was related to a series of similar acts of vandalism in February.
In April, a restroom in a Jewish-owned restaurant in Frankfurt was vandalized with anti-Semitic and Nazi images. As of December, state police were investigating.
In August, an Israeli-owned bar in Berlin was attacked by arsonists, according to police. A RIAS representative said the bar had been a target of anti-Semitic attacks in the past. In the incident, graffiti including a Star of David and numbers linked to the slogan of the Hitler Youth organization were found in the bar. As of December, police were investigating the incident.
In January, police arrested two individuals in the vandalism of a Jewish cemetery in the town of Geilenkirchen. The police stated the pair knocked over more than 40 gravestones in the cemetery and defaced some of the graves with blue paint.
In June, unknown individuals vandalized Alevi Muslim graves in Ludwigsburg, Baden-Wuerttemberg. As of December, local police were investigating.
In October, a piece of parchment inscribed with verses from the Torah was removed from its case at the Tiferet Israel synagogue’s doorpost in Berlin, defaced with swastikas, and replaced. Foreign Minister Maas tweeted, “It simply hurt to see something so disgusting” and called for the crime to be solved quickly and those responsible punished. As of December, state police were investigating.
In April, unknown individuals damaged the door and windows of the Turkish-Islamic Union for Religious Affairs (DITIB) mosque in Cologne. The same night, vandals smashed the windows of a DITIB administrative building in Cologne. Local politicians condemned the act. Cologne Mayor Henriette Reker said she rejected all kinds of violence against religious facilities. As of December, police were investigating.
In August, an accomplice in a 2019 incident in which a bloody pig’s head, plastic bags filled with blood, right-wing extremist slogans, and swastikas were found in front of the Arrahman Mosque in Moenchengladbach, was sentenced to eight months’ probation. As of December, the main suspect’s trial was still pending.
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 these 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 May, the University of Duisburg-Essen, Bielefeld University, and the Mercator Foundation published a joint study on the attitudes of young people in NRW towards Islam. The study concluded that, although the majority of young people supported diversity, rejected discrimination, and had knowledge about Islam, stereotypes and prejudice remained widespread.
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 previous years. Approximately 300 to 400 supporters continued to join PEGIDA rallies, even after the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. The demonstrations were approved by authorities contingent upon participants adhering to mask and social distancing requirements. Amid calls to curb immigration, PEGIDA supporters regularly expressed anti-Muslim sentiments during the rallies, including by carrying posters expressing opposition to women who wear religious head coverings.
On December 14, the Dresden District Court fined PEGIDA’s founder and organizer, Lutz Bachmann, 4,200 euros ($5,200) for incitement and slander. Bachmann had denounced Muslims as “murderer Muslims” and “rapist Muslims.”
After the Dresden City Council’s October, 2019 declaration of a Nazi emergency, mainstream parties as well as grassroots organizations worked together to counteract right-wing extremism. The Dresden chapters of the CDU, the SPD, and the Greens formally formed a cross-party alliance against the extreme right in February.
In April and May, some protesters at demonstrations against COVID-19 restrictions in Stuttgart and Berlin wore yellow Stars of David to indicate their opposition to mandatory vaccines, equating the anti-COVID lockdown to Nazi-era persecution of Jews. Josef Schuster, head of the Central Council of Jews, said to the media on May 11 that right-wing protesters were using anxieties stirred up by the pandemic to spread anti-Semitic conspiracy theories and other far-right preaching on the internet. Federal Anti-Semitism Commissioner Klein said anti-Semitic sentiments were regularly part of protests against the government’s COVID-19 restrictions. In June and July, respectively, Munich and Wiesbaden banned the Star of David symbol at COVID-19 protests. Ahead of a November protest in Frankfurt, the city banned the display of the Star of David alongside slogans such as “unvaccinated,” “vaccination sets you free,” “Dr. Mengele,” or “Zion.”
On August 1, a rally supported by neo-Nazi groups drew more than 20,000 protesters in Berlin to demand an end to coronavirus restrictions. The rally was called a “Day of Freedom” by its organizers, the Stuttgart-based Querdenken 711 (“Thinking Outside the Box”) group. According to RIAS observers, some participants displayed anti-Semitic slogans, while others compared the government’s anti-COVID restrictions to Nazi regulations. Police charged the rally organizer for failure to comply with social distancing rules.
An estimated 23 churches continued to use bells bearing Nazi symbols and inscriptions. In January, a Protestant church in Thuringia replaced a bell with Nazi symbols after the Association of Protestant Churches in Central Germany (EKM) agreed to replace all such bells. The EKM also offered financial support to local churches to cover the cost of new bells.
In February, seven students at a police academy in Baden-Wuerttemberg were expelled for exchanging chat-group messages that included anti-Semitic and Nazi content.
From late 2018 through 2020, more than 85 threatening letters with right-wing extremist content, sometimes including anti-Semitic content, were sent to politicians, journalists, and other prominent figures. 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. Personal, nonpublic data gained from police computers appeared in some letters. In September, a Frankfurt police officer was arrested in connection with the case. Investigations continued as of year’s end.
In February, one week after a man killed nine persons with migrant backgrounds at two shisha bars (hookah lounges) in Hanau, a mosque in Hanau received an anonymous threatening letter that made direct reference to the attack. As of December, police were investigating.
In February, mosques in Essen, Unna, Bielefeld, and Hagen received bomb threats by email and were evacuated. No bombs were detected. A DITIB representative said the anonymous bomb threats were signed by the right-wing Kampfgruppe 18 group and were politically motivated.
In February, the Pew Research Center published its findings on attitudes towards democratic principles, such as regular elections, free speech, and free civil society, as well as religious freedom, in 34 countries, based on interviews it conducted in its Spring 2019 Global Attitudes Survey. According to the findings, 72 percent of German respondents considered religious freedom to be “very important,” ranking it in the middle of their priorities for democratic principles among the nine tested.
Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement
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, although due to the COVID-19 pandemic, online and remote engagements often substituted for face-to-face meetings and special events related to religious freedom issues. Embassy and consulate officials met regularly with a wide variety of federal and state parliamentarians to discuss religious freedom issues.
Embassy and consulate representatives met with members and leaders of numerous local and national religious and civil society groups about their concerns related to tolerance and freedom of religion. Topics of discussion with Jewish groups included concerns about what they characterized as the growing acceptability of anti-Semitism throughout the country and concern that right-wing groups have exacerbated anti-Semitism. Embassy and consulate representatives also discussed issues pertaining to religious freedom and tolerance with the Catholic, Evangelical, and other Protestant churches; the Central Council of Muslims; the Association of Islamic Cultural Centers; the Central Council of Jews in Germany; the Coordination Council of Muslims in Germany; the World Uyghur Congress; Alevi Muslims; Jehovah’s Witnesses; and human rights NGOs.
On January 27, the Leipzig Consul General participated in a Holocaust commemoration event hosted by the local Jewish community and the Friedrich Ebert Foundation in Erfurt, Thuringia. He discussed the consulate’s efforts to educate local youth on the Holocaust, for example by planning to bring a Simon Wiesenthal Center exhibition on Jewish history to Leipzig.
The embassy and consulates worked closely with Jewish communities, especially in eastern Germany, to provide small grants in support of programs promoting religious tolerance to leading NGOs countering violent extremism related to religion and anti-Semitism.
In August, the consulate in Leipzig supported the 20th 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, the concerts and workshops took place outdoors in public spaces in Weimar, Erfurt, and Eisenach, attracting a broader audience than usual.
In February, consulate officers in Duesseldorf met with the chief administrator of the Jewish Community in Cologne. The discussion focused on the experience of the Jewish community across the country and public outreach planning for the 2021 festival “1700 Years of Jewish Life in Germany.”
On December 4 and 5, the embassy organized a virtual teacher academy on “Jewish-American Life and Culture” that engaged German and American experts with 70 teachers from across the country. The program offered tools and content for the classroom to elevate coursework that combats anti-Semitism beyond a simple recounting of history. The conference reached an indirect audience of hundreds of teachers and approximately 10,000 to 14,000 of their students nationwide.
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. For example, on the one-year anniversary of the attack on the Halle synagogue, the embassy published a statement on its social media accounts that said “we remember the victims of this senseless tragedy, and stand firm in our resolve to confront, condemn, and stop anti-Semitism and right-wing extremism.” The postings reached large audiences.
The constitution protects freedom of religion and the right of religious communities to establish their own institutions. It specifies the state and the Roman Catholic Church are independent, with their relations governed by treaties, including a concordat granting the Church a number of specific privileges and benefits, and financial support. Twelve other religious groups have accords granting many of the same benefits in exchange for a degree of government monitoring. Religious groups must register to request an accord. Unregistered religious groups operate freely but are not eligible for the same benefits as groups with accords, although they may apply separately for benefits. The Muslim community, which does not have an accord, continued to experience difficulties acquiring permission from local governments to construct mosques. From March 8 to May 18, the government banned public gatherings, including all religious services in all places of worship, due to the coronavirus pandemic. The Italian Catholic Bishops Conference objected to these COVID-19 measures, and the government allowed the Catholic Church to resume services outdoors starting on May 10 and other religious groups on May 18. On February 10, a Rome court convicted and sentenced 24 persons to up to three years and 10 months in prison for racial and ethnic hate speech, defamation, and threats against Jews, migrants, and some public figures. Politicians from several political parties again made statements critical of Islam. On January 20, League Party leader Matteo Salvini said the large numbers of immigrants from Muslim majority countries had increased anti-Semitism in the country. On June 6, Jewish Member of Parliament Emanuele Fiano reported he had received an envelope in the mail containing an image of Adolf Hitler and subtitled “In the Oven.” The President of the Senate appointed 25 members to an extraordinary committee to fight intolerance, anti-Semitism, and hate crimes, as proposed by Senator for Life and Holocaust survivor Liliana Segre and approved by parliament in 2019. In July, the European Court for Human Rights ruled as admissible an appeal by the president of a Bangladeshi cultural association in Milan, who was sentenced to prison and fined in 2019 for hiring a construction company to convert a storage site into a place of worship without prior local government approval. The case marked the first time a court imposed criminal rather than administrative penalties for this type of violation. The Court of Cassation (the country’s highest court of appeal) suspended the prison sentence and fine associated with this case following the appeal.
There were reports of anti-Semitic incidents, including harassment, discrimination, hate speech, and vandalism. The nongovernmental organization (NGO) Anti-Semitism Observatory of the Jewish Contemporary Documentation Center Foundation (CDEC) recorded 224 anti-Semitic incidents during the year, compared with 251 in 2019 and 181 in 2018. Of the incidents, 117 involved hate speech on social media or the internet. The press reported examples of anti-Semitic graffiti and posters, including depictions of swastikas on walls, anti-Semitic stereotypes, and praise of neo-Nazi groups in cities such as Rome, Pavia, and Forli. The private research center STATISTA reported an estimated 15.6 percent of Italians believed the Holocaust never happened. While there was no official government data from institutions or public agencies on anti-Muslim incidents, local and European NGOs reported several physical attacks and verbal harassment against Muslims, especially involving hate speech. The NGO Vox Diritti reported 67,889 tweets, representing 59 percent of the total mentioning Islam, containing negative messages against Muslims during the year, compared with 22,532, or 74 percent of the total, in 2019.
Representatives from the U.S. embassy and consulates general met with national and local government officials to encourage respect for religious freedom and equal treatment for all faiths during the year. They also discussed efforts to integrate new migrants – many of whom were Muslim, Orthodox, or Hindu – and second-generation Muslims living in the country, and the prospect for an accord between the government and Muslim communities. In October, the Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom and other senior officials met with religious leaders and government officials to advance priority issues, including the fight against anti-Semitism and anti-Muslim sentiment and regional and local rules that impede the establishment of new places of worship. Embassy, consulate, and senior Department of State officials met with religious leaders and civil society representatives to promote interfaith dialogue and awareness, social inclusion, the empowerment of faith groups through social media, and the mobilization of youth leaders among faith groups. In September, embassy officials met with the national coordinator for the fight against anti-Semitism, the president of the Union of Italian Jewish Communities (UCEI), and Rome Jewish community leaders to discuss how to support their efforts to counter anti-Semitism among self-defined far-right groups and civil society. The embassy and consulates general consulted with the country’s Jewish communities and concerned authorities to develop the Department of State’s Justice for Uncompensated Survivors Today (JUST) Act Report for the country, which was published on July 29. The report highlighted the government’s commitment to the Terezin Declaration and its goals and objectives as well as areas where the government had not followed through with a government commission’s recommendations to identify survivors of targeted persecution in World War II or their heirs who are entitled to unclaimed property. The embassy also worked with the Commission for the Preservation of America’s Heritage Abroad to engage on issues surrounding a development that could affect a Jewish cemetery in Mantua. The embassy and consulates continued to use their social media platforms to acknowledge major Christian, Muslim, and Jewish holidays as well as to amplify initiatives that promote religious freedom and interfaith dialogue at the local level.
Section I. Religious Demography
The U.S. government estimates the total population at 62.4 million (midyear 2020 estimate). According to a 2019 study (the most recent available) conducted by IPSOS, an independent research center, 69 percent of the population identifies as Catholic, and another 12 percent does not participate in religious activities. The IPSOS study indicates non-Catholic Christian groups account for approximately 16 percent of the population and include Eastern Orthodox, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Assemblies of God, the Methodist and Waldensian Churches, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Church of Jesus Christ), the Union of Pentecostal Churches (UCP), and several other smaller Protestant groups, including other evangelical Christian groups. According to the national branch of the Church of Jesus Christ, there are approximately 26,000 adherents in the country. According to national newspaper La Repubblica, most followers are in Lombardy, Sicily, and Lazio Regions. According to government officials, non-Christian religious groups that together account for less than 10 percent of the population include Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Baha’is, Buddhists, Sikhs, the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON), and Ananda Marga Pracaraka Samgha, an Indian spiritual movement.
The UCEI estimates the Jewish population numbers 28,000. According to the legal counsel of the Italian Federation of Progressive Judaism (FIEP), FIEP has a prayer room in Milan and between 500 and 600 members, including Jews who are registered and unregistered in the local communities. The country’s progressive Jews are organized into four congregations in Rome, Florence, and Milan.
A 2019 report on immigration released by independent research center IDOS estimated 1.73 million Muslims – approximately 3 percent of the population – live in the country. According to the Ministry of Interior (MOI) and the national agency for statistics, the Muslim population includes native-born citizens, immigrants, and resident foreigners, but most of its growth comes from large numbers of immigrants from Eastern Europe, Africa, the Middle East, and South Asia, the majority of whom live in the north. Moroccan- and Albanian-origin Muslims make up the largest established groups, while Tunisia and Pakistan are increasingly prominent sources of Muslims arriving as seaborne migrants. The MOI reports Muslims are overwhelmingly Sunni.
Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom
The constitution states all citizens are equal before the law regardless of religion and are free to profess their beliefs in any form, individually or with others, and to promote them and celebrate rites in public or in private, provided they are not offensive to public morality. According to the constitution, each religious community has the right to establish its own institutions according to its own statutes as long as these do not conflict with the law. The constitution stipulates the state may not impose special limitations or taxes on the establishment or activities of groups because of their religious nature or aims. The constitution specifies the state and the Catholic Church are independent of each other, and treaties, including a concordat between the government and the Holy See, govern their relations.
Insults against religions or against their followers in public are considered an administrative offense punishable by a fine ranging from 51 to 309 euros ($63-$380). The penal code punishes other public offenses to religion, such as offenses against objects used for religious rites or offenses expressed during religious ceremonies, with a fine of up to 5,000 euros ($6,100) or a prison sentence of up to two years. Those who destroy or violate objects used for religious ceremonies may be punished with up to two years in prison.
The constitution states all religious groups are equally free, and relations between the state and non-Catholic groups, including state support, are governed by agreements (“accords”) between them. Relations between the state and the Catholic Church are governed by a concordat between the government and the Holy See. Representatives of a non-Catholic faith requesting an accord must first submit their request to the Office of the Prime Minister. The government and the group’s representatives then negotiate a draft agreement, which the Council of Ministers must approve. The Prime Minister then signs and submits the agreement to parliament for final approval. Twelve groups have an accord: The Confederation of Methodist and Waldensian Churches, Seventh-day Adventists, Assemblies of God, Jews, Baptists, Lutherans, Church of Jesus Christ, Orthodox Church of the Constantinople Patriarchate, Italian Apostolic Church, Buddhist Union, Soka Gakkai Buddhists, and Hindus.
The law provides religious groups with tax-exempt status and the right to recognition as legal entities once they have completed the registration process with the MOI. Legal registration is a prerequisite for any group seeking an accord with the government. A religious group may apply for registration by submitting to a prefect, the local representative of the MOI, an official request that includes the group’s statutes; a report on its goals and activities; information on its administrative offices; a three-year budget; certification of its credit status by a bank; and certification of the Italian citizenship or legal residency of its head. To be approved, a group’s statutes must not conflict with the law. Once approved, the group must submit to MOI administrative monitoring, including oversight of its budget and internal organization. The MOI may appoint a commissioner to administer the group if it identifies irregularities in its activities. Religious groups that are not registered may still operate legally as cultural associations and obtain tax-exempt status, legal recognition of marriages, access to hospitals and prisons, and other benefits, but those benefits are more easily obtained if a group has an accord with the government. The Catholic Church is the only legally recognized group exempted from MOI monitoring, in accordance with the concordat between the government and the Holy See.
An accord grants clergy automatic access to state hospitals, prisons, and military barracks; allows for civil registry of religious marriages; facilitates special religious practices regarding funerals; and exempts students from school attendance on religious holidays. Any religious group without an accord may request these benefits from the MOI on a case-by-case basis. An accord also allows a religious group to receive funds collected by the state through a voluntary 0.8 percent of personal income tax set-aside on taxpayer returns. Taxpayers may specify to which eligible religious group they would like to direct these funds.
National law does not restrict religious face coverings, but some local authorities impose restrictions. Regional laws in Liguria, Veneto, and Lombardy prohibit the wearing of burqas and niqabs in public buildings and institutions, including hospitals.
The concordat with the Holy See provides for the Catholic Church to select teachers, paid by the state, to provide instruction in weekly “hour of religion” courses taught in public schools. The courses are optional, and students who do not wish to attend may study other subjects or, in certain cases, leave school early with parental consent. Church-selected instructors are lay or religious, and the instruction includes material determined by the state and relevant to both Catholics and non-Catholic religious groups. Government funding is available for only these Catholic Church-approved teachers. If a student requests a religion class from a non-Catholic religious group, that group must provide the teacher and cover the cost of instruction; it is not required to seek government approval for the content of the class. Some local laws provide scholarship funding for students to attend private, religiously affiliated schools, usually but not always Catholic, that meet government educational standards.
Schools are divided into “state-owned,” “state-equivalent,” and private categories. The “state equivalent” category includes public (municipal, provincial, regional, or owned by another public entity) and some private schools, which may be religiously affiliated. All state-equivalent schools receive government funding if they meet criteria and standards published every year by the Ministry of Education. The funding is released through the regional offices for education. Most private schools are run by religious entities and may not issue certificates or diplomas. Private school students must take final annual exams in “state-owned” or “state-equivalent” schools.
Since 2019, Lombardy regional law has prohibited local authorities from dividing burial plots by religious belief.
According to law, hate speech, including instances motivated by religious hatred, is punishable by up to four years in prison. This law also applies to denial of genocide or crimes against humanity.
All missionaries and other foreign religious workers from countries that are not EU members or signatories of the Schengen Agreement must apply for special religious activity visas before arriving in the country. An applicant must attach an invitation letter from his or her religious group to the application.
The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
On March 8, the government temporarily banned public gatherings, including all religious services in all places of worship, due to the coronavirus pandemic. Following an April 26 statement by the Italian Catholic Bishops Conference rejecting the government measures as limiting religious freedom, the government allowed the Catholic Church to resume services outdoors starting May 10. The Catholic bishops highlighted the difference between the government’s responsibility “to adopt health provisions” and the Catholic Church’s “to organize activities of the Christian community in full autonomy, respecting the provisions decided [by the government].” On May 15, the government signed agreements with representatives of Muslim, Jewish, and other religious communities authorizing the resumption of religious services outdoors on May 18.
On February 10, a Rome court convicted 24 persons belonging to an association called Stormfront to up to three years and 10 months in prison for racial and ethnic hate speech, defamation, and threats against Jews, migrants, and some public figures. In 2011, the group had established a forum on the U.S. website of the same name promoting white nationalist and supremacist ideologies and published a list of Jewish communities, schools, shops, and restaurants, including addresses and telephone numbers, appealing to its members “to act as they like” based on that information.
Interviewed by Israeli daily Israel Ya-Yom on January 20, League Party leader Salvini stated that “the presence of large numbers of migrants coming from Muslim countries provokes an increase in anti-Semitism also in Italy.” The Union of the Islamic Communities in Italy (UCOII) issued a press statement expressing “concerns regarding Salvini’s statement, which ascribes the causes of social hate against minorities to Muslims and thus lays the ground for hate and Islamophobia. Anti-Semitism is equal to Islamophobia.” The UCOII’s press statement contained a list of types of discrimination that many Muslims faced, including difficulties in opening new places of worship.
On June 6, Member of Parliament Emanuele Fiano, a member of the Jewish community, announced in a Facebook post that he had received an envelope containing an image of Adolf Hitler and subtitled “In the Oven.”
On February 6, the President of the Senate appointed 25 members to an extraordinary committee to fight intolerance, anti-Semitism, and hate crimes, as proposed by Senator for Life and Holocaust survivor Liliana Segre and approved by parliament in 2019.
According to the FIEP’s legal counsel, because relations between the government and the country’s Jews are governed by an accord between the state and UCEI, the UCEI defined the terms of Jewish identity and practice in the country. According to the counsel, the growth of progressive Judaism in the country continued to encounter resistance from the largely orthodox UCEI. For example, the UCEI continued not to recognize progressive Jewish rabbis, who were therefore ineligible for Italian visas and residence permits, could not perform marriages having civil validity, and whose congregations were ineligible for government financial benefits.
On December 30, parliament passed the budget law for 2021 that amended a 1955 law on compensation to Holocaust survivors, Jewish victims of persecution, and their heirs to facilitate access to a 500 euro ($610) per month government benefit. The amendment simplified procedures to obtain the benefit, easing the requirement of proving that discrimination occurred. The budget law also allotted 6.5 million euros ($7.98 million) to modify a shopping center project in Mantua, including changes solicited by Jewish rabbis to prevent desecration of a Jewish cemetery there. The Jewish community had lobbied for both provisions in the budget.
According to leaders of the Rome Islamic Cultural Center, the government again did not make significant progress on an accord despite ongoing dialogue with Muslim religious communities. The MOI continued to recognize as a legal religious entity only the Cultural Islamic Center of Italy, which administers the Great Mosque of Rome. The government recognized other Muslim groups only as nonprofit organizations.
Regional governments and Muslim religious authorities continued to recognize five mosques, one each in Colle Val d’Elsa (in Tuscany), Milan, and Rome, and two in the Emilia-Romagna Region, in Ravenna and Forli, respectively. In addition, local governments continued to recognize many sites as Muslim places of worship, although these were not considered full-fledged mosques by Muslim authorities because they lacked minarets or other key architectural features.
According to weekly magazine Panorama, there were also an estimated 800 to 1,200 unofficial, informal places of worship for Muslims in 2019 (the most recent figure), known colloquially as “garage” mosques. According to the press, authorities allowed most to operate, but they did not officially recognize them as places of worship.
According to media reports, Muslim leaders stated they had difficulties acquiring permission from local governments to construct mosques. Local officials, who were entitled to introduce rules on planning applicable to places of worship, continued to cite lack of zoning plans allowing for the establishment of places of worship on specific sites as a reason for denying construction permits.
On October 14, the Association of Muslims of Bergamo, Lombardy Region, announced a judge had ruled that the regional government’s acquisition in 2018 of a former chapel that the association intended to turn into a mosque was discriminatory and the chapel should be returned to the Muslim community. The Muslim community bought the chapel at auction in 2018 from the main public hospital in Bergamo, which was owned by regional authorities. After the purchase, the governor, a member of the League Party, required the association to sell it back under a law allowing public authorities to buy assets deemed to be of cultural significance.
On July 1, the Lombardy Regional Administrative Court ruled that the municipality of San Giuliano Milanese excessively limited the constitutional principle of religious freedom after it denied in 2019 the use of two separate venues by a Muslim community and an evangelical Christian church. Following the ruling, the Muslim and evangelical Christian communities were able to use their sites as places of worship.
On July 15, the lawyer of Abu Hanif Patwery, president of the Bangladesh Cultural and Welfare Association, announced the European Court for Human Rights had ruled as admissible Patwery’s appeal against a 2019 conviction for violating Milan city regulations. Patwery was convicted because his group contracted a company to convert a storage site into a place of worship without prior local government approval. His lawyer argued that the conviction violated freedom of religion because the Lombardy region, including Milan, had adopted laws that de facto prevented Muslims from building new mosques. The Court of Cassation had sentenced him in 2019 to six months in prison and the payment of a 9,000-euro ($11,000) fine, the first time that a court imposed criminal rather than administrative penalties for this type of violation. Both the sentence and the fine were suspended following the appeal.
On September 14, the Council of State, the country’s highest administrative court, ruled that the 2019 order by the municipality of Monfalcone blocking the conversion of a former supermarket into a mosque was legitimate. The municipality had concluded that the building was inappropriate for religious services due to structural reasons. A local Muslim association had purchased the facility in 2017 and requested authorization to reconvert it into a mosque in 2019.
On November 26, the city of Pisa decided not to appeal a July 1 ruling by the Tuscany regional administrative court which annulled city council plans in 2019 to prevent the Pisa Islamic Association from building a mosque on land it had purchased. Pisa city officials had stated at the time that the lot was not large enough for the planned building, while a local imam said the city council had always been hostile to the mosque’s construction. On September 24, the local office for the preservation of cultural and environmental assets approved the mosque’s construction, rejecting an appeal by Mayor Michele Conti. Construction had not begun by year’s end.
According to media, on August 3, the MOI expelled an Egyptian imam in San Dona di Piave, near Venice, for expressing extremist views in his sermons. In a statement, the MOI said the imam “was a follower of an Islamic religious orientation based on orthodox Salafism” and also had ties to extremist elements.
In January, the MOI announced that for reasons of state security it had deported a Moroccan imam back to his home country because of what it said was his support for ISIS and its leadership.
On February 7, the Milan City Council published a zoning plan authorizing two Buddhist temples, seven evangelical Christian churches, three Orthodox churches, four Islamic places of worship (a designation determined by Islamic authorities in the country), and seven Catholic churches. Only places of worship authorized in the zoning plan have legal status; the new places of worship would be in addition to 25 existing places of Islamic and approximately 100 evangelical Christian churches in Milan.
On September 20, the Forza Nuova (New Force) association, commonly characterized as far-right, staged a rally against the establishment of a temporary facility to host Muslim worshippers in an area used as parking lot in Milan. Both the League Party and New Force opposed the decision to establish the temporary facility to celebrate Eid al-Adha.
Local governments continued to rent out public land at discounted rates to non-Muslim religious groups, usually Catholic, for constructing places of worship. Government funding also helped preserve and maintain historic places of worship, which were almost all Catholic.
On June 3, a member of the municipal council of Fiumicino, Senator William De Vecchis, publicly opposed a local Bangladeshi Muslim association’s proposal to establish an Islamic cemetery with up to 16,000 burial places because it did not take in account other local citizens’ wishes and he did not want his municipality to bury Muslims from other municipalities.
In June, Catholic bishops challenged proposed legislation that would include sexual orientation, gender identity, as well as gender-based hate crimes and hate speech under an existing law that makes discrimination, violence, or incitement to violence based on someone’s race or religion a crime punishable by up to four years in prison. The bishops stated the proposed legislation could criminalize the Catholic Church’s teaching on homosexuality. The president of the Conference of Italian Bishops, Cardinal Gualtiero Bassetti, said the bill would limit “personal freedom, educational choices, the way of thinking and being, the exercise of criticism and dissent,” adding that “there are already adequate safeguards with which to prevent and repress any violent or persecutory behavior” towards sexual minorities. The bill was approved by the Chamber of Deputies in November and was awaiting Senate action at year’s end.
In September, some leaders of the Italian Evangelical Alliance expressed their longstanding concerns regarding the 2012 opinion of the Council of State on the implementation of the 1929 law on religious freedom requested by the government. In particular, the alliance objected to the council’s recommendation to recognize only the ministers of religious groups meeting two criteria: reliability and morality, and having a community of at least 500 followers. The alliance representatives said they considered this requirement discriminatory against minority religions whose communities had a limited number of members.
Politicians from several parties, including the League Party, Brothers of Italy, and Casa Pound, a political association widely considered to be far-right, again made statements critical of Islam.
In a January interview with Israeli daily Israel Hayon regarding anti-Semitism in Europe, League Party leader Salvini said “the massive presence of migrants coming from Muslim countries is spreading anti-Semitism in Italy as well.” In July, in response to Turkey’s plans to reconvert the Hagia Sophia Museum, which was a church until 1453 and a mosque from 1453 until 1935, back to a mosque, Salvini said in a tweet “the arrogance of certain types of Islam is incompatible with the values of democracy, freedom, and tolerance of the West.”
Authorities investigated instances of hate speech against Silvia Romano, an Italian aid worker kidnapped by Islamic militants in Kenya in 2018 and released in May. Romano converted to Islam during her captivity. On May 13, League Party MP Alessandro Pagano referred to her as “a new terrorist, because al-Shabaab [is a terrorist organization].” Chamber of Deputies Vice President Mara Carfagna immediately censured his comment, stating that “it is unacceptable to characterize Silvia Romano as a terrorist [in this assembly].”
On April 17, the Court of Cassation ruled against the city of Milan for prohibiting the Union of Atheists, Agnostics, and Rationalists from circulating materials on the grounds that it would have offended all religions. The court stated that “10 million Italians have a good life without God.” The court reiterated the need to respect not only all faiths but also the right not to embrace any faith and the freedom of conscience, to include the right to promote atheism.
On September 12, the Casa Pound and New Force groups organized a rally in Milan during which Veneto Fronte Skinhead leader Stefano Odorico spoke about the “Islamic danger,” concluding that “there will be one day in which we will off the invaders of our country.”
On January 27, Holocaust Remembrance Day, President Sergio Mattarella hosted a ceremony to commemorate the liberation of the Auschwitz concentration camp and stressed the need to remain vigilant against “the virus of discrimination, hate, abuse of power, and racism.”
On January 27, Mayor Virginia Raggi organized a commemoration in Rome to honor two Holocaust survivors and stated that “preserving the memory helps build a better future and avoid the mistakes of the past.”
The city of Rome continued to foster collaboration among the Jewish community, Waldensian Evangelical Church, the Islamic Cultural Center of Italy, and the Italian Buddhist Union to promote better understanding and awareness of different faiths, primarily among students. Cultural events and presentations in public schools to increase awareness of religious diversity were significantly reduced compared with previous years due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The government is a member of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance.
Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom
During the year, the CDEC recorded 224 incidents of anti-Semitism, compared with 251 in 2019. Reports of anti-Semitic incidents published on CDEC’s website included discrimination, verbal harassment (particularly at soccer matches and other sporting events), online hate speech, and derogatory graffiti. Internet and social media hate speech and bullying were the most common forms of anti-Semitic incidents according to CDEC, which continued to operate an anti-Semitism hotline for victims of, and witnesses to, anti-Semitic incidents.
The national police’s Observatory on Security against Acts of Discrimination (OSCAD) reported 448 discriminatory crimes in 2019 (the latest available data), of which 92 were based on religious affiliation and 216 on ethnicity, compared with 360 in 2018. OSCAD defined discriminatory crimes as crimes motivated by ideological, cultural, religious, and ethnic prejudices. For example, on April 16, middle school students assaulted a classmate belonging to a Jewish family in the gym, yelling “when we will grow up we will reopen the Auschwitz [camp] and put all [expletive] Jews in the ovens.”
In its periodic review of social media posts, independent NGO Vox Diritti reported 8 percent of all monitored tweets (104,347) contained anti-Semitic messages during the year, compared with 7 percent of all tweets monitored in 2019 (15,196). Many anti-Semitic tweets came from accounts based in Rome, Milan, and Turin. The NGO said spikes in tweet traffic correlated with the national celebration of the Liberation from the Fascist regime and the birthday of Holocaust survivor and Senator for Life Liliana Segre. On September 9, the president of UCEI, Noemi Di Segni, said anti-Semitism was on the rise, especially online. On November 24, an unknown Facebook user published a cartoon denying the Holocaust. A study sponsored by National Coordinator on Anti-Semitism Milena Salterini and conducted by the Catholic University of Milan identified 104,347 tweets posted during the year from Italy-based accounts containing anti-Semitic comments. Approximately 900 of those tweets released between March and May included insults and conspiracy theories alleging “Jewish financial interests” exploited the COVID-19 pandemic for financial gain.
According to a Pew Research Center study, the most recent of its kind and published in October 2019, 55 percent of Italians had negative opinions of Muslims and 15 percent had negative opinions of Jews. Negative opinions of Muslims were prevalent among the least educated (57 percent) and elderly (66 percent).
A Vox Diritti study of intolerance on social media showed that 59 percent of all monitored tweets regarding Islam over a six-month period in 2020 were negative, compared with 74 percent of those monitored over a three-month period in 2019. According to political observers, the decrease in anti-Muslim messaging was in part due to a change in the country’s leadership. Most anti-Muslim tweets originated in Northern regions. There was an observed spike in negative tweets after Silvia Romano, an Italian national who had been kidnapped in Kenya, returned home and told press she had converted to Islam while she was held captive.
In February, the Pew Research Center published findings on attitudes towards democratic principles, such as regular elections, free speech, and free civil society as well as religious freedom, in 34 countries based on interviews it conducted in its Spring 2019 Global Attitudes Survey. According to the findings, 61 percent of Italian respondents considered religious freedom to be “very important,” ranking it among the highest of their priorities for democratic principles of the nine tested.
The private research center STATISTA reported that an estimated 15.6 percent of the population believed the Holocaust never happened. In its Italy 2020 Report, the private Eurispes Institute of Political, Economic, and Social Studies reported nearly 16 percent of respondents believed the Holocaust was a myth, while 16 percent of respondents said the number of Holocaust victims had been “exaggerated.” Of those sampled, 47.5 percent considered recent acts of anti-Semitism in the country to be a “dangerous resurgence of the phenomenon,” while 37.2 percent viewed the recent acts as “bravado carried out for provocation” or as a “joke.”
As in previous years, the press reported examples of anti-Semitic graffiti and posters, including depictions on walls of swastikas, anti-Semitic stereotypes, and praise for neo-Nazi groups. These appeared in Rome, Milan, Pisa, and other cities, especially after International Holocaust Memorial Day on January 27. On September 15, authorities discovered graffiti depicting a Star of David with the text “equal to virus.” On February 10, authorities found graffiti depicting a Star of David with the text “Jude” (“Jew” in German) on a door of a private residence in Turin.
On February 7, individuals painted swastikas on the door of a house where Jewish concentration camp survivor Arianna Szoreny had lived in San Daniele del Friuli. As a gesture of solidarity, local residents overpainted the swastikas with hearts and held a small demonstration on February 8 to protest the anti-Semitic graffiti. On January 30, four members of the municipal council of the same town received a letter that read “after 75 years … a Jew is always a Jew,” a reference to municipal celebrations of the anniversary of the Allied forces’ defeat of Nazi Germany, according to media reports. Media reported authorities were investigating the graffiti and the letters. Later, regional president Massimiliano Fedriga condemned the graffiti and letter.
On August 4, Daniele Belotti, a member of the Chamber of Deputies affiliated with the League Party, wrote to the Bergamo bishop Francesco Beschi to express opposition to a Catholic bishop’s recommendation that local priests support Eid al-Adha celebrations. Belotti said the Catholic Church should defend Christian identity and “contain” Islamic practices, including the slaughter of animals.
The FIEP reached limited agreements with some local Jewish communities to permit religious practices, such as circumcision.
On January 16, as anti-Semitic speech increased, the Catholic Church marked its 31st annual Day of Jewish-Christian Religious Dialogue with a discussion between Rome’s chief rabbi and a Catholic priest, according to the Catholic News Agency.
Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement
Representatives from the embassy and consulates general met with representatives of the Presidency of the Council of Ministers, the MOI, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the national coordinator for the fight against anti-Semitism, and local government officials in Rome, Naples, Milan, Florence, and Venice to discuss the establishment of new places of worship requested by religious groups, relations between the government and Muslim religious communities, the prospect for an accord between the government and Muslim communities, and anti-Semitic incidents. During these meetings, embassy and government officials also discussed the integration of asylum seekers and migrants, many of whom were Muslim, Orthodox (including Romanian, Russian, and Bulgarian Orthodox), or Hindu.
The embassy and consulates general and visiting Department of State officials met with the Muslim, Christian and Jewish communities to stress the importance of interfaith dialogue and to share U.S. best practices regarding education, integration of second-generation Muslims, and social media networking.
In October, the Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom and other senior officials visited Rome and met with a wide range of religious leaders and government officials, including at the Rome Cultural Islamic Center, the Italian Evangelical Alliance, and at the Prime Minister’s Office, to advance priority issues including the fight against anti-Semitism and anti-Muslim sentiment and regional and local rules that impede the establishment of new places of worship.
Embassy and consulate general officials continued to meet with representatives of civil society groups, including Catholic-affiliated Caritas and Sant’Egidio, as well as with Catholic, Muslim, and Jewish leaders in cities throughout the country. U.S. officials urged the social inclusion of immigrants, many of whom were Muslim, as well as dialogue among various religious groups, and monitored groups’ ability to practice their religion freely.
Embassy officials met with the government coordinator on anti-Semitism, the president of UCEI, and Rome’s Jewish community leaders and civil society representatives to discuss how to support their efforts to counter anti-Semitism. The embassy and consulates general consulted with Jewish communities and concerned authorities to develop the Department of State’s JUST Act report for the country, which was published on July 29. The report highlighted the government’s commitment to the Terezin Declaration and its goals and objectives and areas where the government had not followed through with a government commission’s recommendations to identify survivors of targeted persecution in World War II or their heirs who are entitled to unclaimed property. The report engendered appreciation and positive feedback from the country’s Jewish communities for spotlighting the issue. The embassy also worked with the Commission for the Preservation of America’s Heritage Abroad to engage on issues surrounding a development that could affect a Jewish cemetery in Mantua.
The embassy and consulates continued to use their social media platforms to acknowledge major Christian, Muslim, and Jewish holidays as well as amplify initiatives that promote religious freedom and interfaith dialogue at the local level. They also retweeted Department of State statements and tweets on the International Religious Freedom Act and related topics.
The constitution provides for freedom of religion. It states religion is a personal choice, and all churches and religious organizations have equal rights. A concordat with the Holy See defines relations with the Roman Catholic Church. Statutes and agreements determine relations between the government and 14 other religious groups. The law prohibits public speech offensive to religious sentiment. In July, the government moved to invalidate the registration of the Reformed Catholic Church for recognizing same-sex marriage after registering the group earlier in the year. Municipal authorities in the town of Jaslo proceeded with construction of a road running through what the Rabbinical Commission for Cemeteries identified as a Jewish cemetery and, after uncovering several graves, exhumed the bodies and reburied them in another cemetery over the opposition of the commission. The government decided 22 religious communal-property restitution cases out of 2,938 outstanding cases, compared with 151 cases decided in 2019. During the national presidential campaign, President Andrzej Duda and governing Law and Justice Party (PiS) Chairman Jaroslaw Kaczynski, as well as opposition politicians, expressed opposition to restitution for Jewish heirless property claims arising from the Holocaust era. Government-controlled media used anti-Semitic rhetoric during the presidential campaign in the spring and summer. Some opposition parliamentarians made anti-Semitic comments during the year. Senior government officials participated in Holocaust remembrance events.
The government investigated 370 religiously motivated incidents in 2019 (the most recent data available), compared with 429 in the previous year. There were 182 anti-Semitic, 112 anti-Muslim, and 76 anti-Catholic incidents. Civil society groups said the figures were not comprehensive. Although statistics for 2020 were unavailable, there were reports of assault against Roman Catholic priests and vandalism against Roman Catholic and Jewish sites during the year. On October 25, abortion rights demonstrators disrupted masses and vandalized Catholic churches throughout the country following a ruling by the Constitutional Court that banned abortions in certain circumstances. Authorities recorded 22 cases of disruption of Mass and 79 of vandalism associated with the ruling. Online anti-Semitic speech continued, particularly during the presidential campaign.
The U.S. Ambassador, other embassy and consulate general staff, and visiting U.S. officials discussed with government officials antidiscrimination, the status of private property restitution, and countering anti-Semitism. In January, the Secretary of the Treasury led a U.S. government delegation to the commemoration of the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau and the U.S. Secretary of State announced a contribution of $2 million to the Auschwitz-Birkenau Foundation. In May, October, and December, the Special Envoy for Holocaust Issues met virtually with representatives of the Jewish community, academics, and civil society activists to discuss anti-Semitism, Holocaust remembrance and education, and other issues of importance to the Jewish community. The Ambassador and other embassy and consulate general staff also met with Christian, Jewish, and Muslim leaders to discuss property restitution, Holocaust remembrance and education, proposed legislation restricting religious slaughter, and the communities’ concerns over intolerance, anti-Semitism, and anti-Muslim sentiment. The embassy and the consulate general in Krakow engaged with Jewish and Muslim leaders on countering anti-Semitism and anti-Muslim sentiment and sponsored exchanges, roundtables, cultural events, and education grants promoting interfaith dialogue and religious tolerance.
Section I. Religious Demography
The U.S. government estimates the total population at 38.3 million (midyear 2020 estimate). The 2020 Polish government statistical yearbook, which publishes the membership figures for religious groups that voluntarily submit the information for publication, reports almost 85 percent of the population identifies as Roman Catholic. The next largest religious groups are the Polish Orthodox Church, with approximately half a million members (religious groups report that the number of Orthodox worshippers doubled since 2014 as a result of an influx of migrant Ukrainian workers), and Jehovah’s Witnesses, with approximately 116,000 members. Other religious groups include Lutherans, Pentecostals, the Old Catholic Mariavite Church, the Polish National Catholic Church, Seventh-day Adventists, Baptists, Church of Christ, Methodists, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the International Society for Krishna Consciousness, and Buddhists. Some Jewish groups estimate there are 20,000 Jews, while other estimates, including by Chief Rabbi of Poland Michael Schudrich, put the number as high as 40,000. Muslim groups estimate there are 25,000 Muslims, mostly Sunni. Approximately 10 percent of Muslims are ethnic Tatars, a group present in the country for several hundred years.
Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom
The constitution provides for freedom of conscience and religion. It states freedom of religion includes the freedom to profess or to accept a religion by personal choice as well as to manifest that religion, either individually or collectively, publicly or privately, by worshipping, praying, participating in ceremonies, performing rites, or teaching. It states freedom to express religion may be limited only by law when necessary to defend state security, public order, health, morals, or the rights of others. The constitution states, “Churches and other religious organizations shall have equal rights.” It stipulates the relationship between the state and churches and other religious organizations shall be based on the principle of respect for autonomy and mutual independence. The constitution specifies that relations with the Roman Catholic Church shall be determined by an international concordat concluded with the Holy See and by statute, and relations with other churches and religious organizations by statutes adopted pursuant to agreements between representatives of these groups and the Council of Ministers.
According to the constitution, freedom of religion also includes the right to own places of worship and to provide religious services. The constitution stipulates parents have the right to ensure their children receive a moral and religious upbringing and teaching in accordance with their convictions and their own religious and philosophical beliefs. It states religious organizations may teach their faith in schools if doing so does not infringe on the religious freedom of others. The constitution acknowledges the right of national and ethnic minorities to establish institutions designed to protect religious identity. The constitution prohibits parties and other organizations with programs based on Nazism or communism.
The criminal code outlaws public speech that offends religious sentiment. The law prescribes a fine, typically 5,000 zloty ($1,300), or up to two years in prison for violations. The same penalties apply for malicious disruption of religious services.
By law, anyone who publicly assigns the “Polish state or nation” responsibility or joint responsibility for Nazi crimes committed by the Third Reich during World War II (WWII) may be sued by the Institute of National Remembrance and relevant nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), fined, and/or forced to retract the offending statement and pay compensation to the state or a charity.
Specific legislation governs the relationship of 15 religious groups with the state, outlining the structure of that relationship and procedures for communal property restitution. The 15 religious groups are the Roman Catholic Church, Polish Orthodox Church, Evangelical-Augsburg (Lutheran) Church, Evangelical Reformed Church, Methodist Church, Baptist Church, Seventh-day Adventist Church, Polish National Catholic Church, Pentecostal Church, the Union of Jewish Communities in Poland, Mariavite Church, Old Catholic Mariavite Church, Old Eastern Orthodox Church, Muslim Religious Union, and Karaim Religious Union. Marriages performed by officials from 11 of these groups do not require further registration at a civil registry office; however, the Mariavite Church, Muslim Religious Union, Karaim Religious Union, and Old Eastern Orthodox Church do not have that right. An additional 168 registered religious groups and five aggregate religious organizations (the Polish Ecumenical Council, Polish Buddhist Union, Biblical Society, Evangelical Alliance, and Council of Protestant Churches) do not have a statutorily defined relationship with the state.
The law states that relations between the state and all churches and other religious unions are based on respect of freedom of conscience and religion. This includes separation of churches and other religious unions from the state; freedom to perform religious functions; equality of all churches and religious unions, no matter how their legal situation is regulated; and legal protections for churches and other religious groups within the scope defined by the law.
In accordance with the law, the government and the Roman Catholic Church participate in the Joint Government-Episcopate Committee, cochaired by the Minister of Interior and Administration and a bishop, currently the Archbishop of Gdansk, which meets regularly to discuss Catholic Church-state relations. The government also participates in a joint government-Polish Ecumenical Council committee, cochaired by a Ministry of Interior and Administration (MIA) undersecretary and the head of the Polish Ecumenical Council (an association composed of seven denominations and two religious associations, all of them non-Roman Catholic Christian), which meets to discuss issues related to minority Christian churches operating in the country. In addition, there are separate joint committees consisting of government representatives and representatives of the Evangelical Alliance, the Lutheran Church, and the Orthodox Church.
Religious groups not the subject of specific legislation may register with the MIA, but registration is not obligatory. To register, the law requires a group to submit a notarized application with the personal information of at least 100 citizen members; details about the group’s activities in the country; background on the group’s doctrine and practices; a charter and physical address; identifying information about its leaders; a description of the role of the clergy, if applicable; and information on funding sources and methods of new member recruitment. If the ministry rejects the registration application, religious groups may appeal to an administrative court. By law, the permissible grounds for refusal of an application are failure to meet formal requirements or inclusion in the application of provisions that may violate public safety and order, health, public morality, parental authority or freedom, and rights of other persons.
Unregistered groups may worship, proselytize, publish, or import religious literature freely, and bring in foreign missionaries, but they have no legal recognition and are unable to undertake certain functions such as owning property or holding bank accounts in their name. The 188 registered and statutorily recognized religious groups and organizations receive other privileges not available to unregistered groups, such as selective tax benefits – they are exempt from import tariffs, property taxes, and income tax on their educational, scientific, cultural, and legal activities, and their official representatives are also exempt from income and property taxes – and the right to acquire property and teach religion in schools.
Four commissions oversee communal religious-property restitution claims submitted by their respective statutory filing deadlines: one each for the Jewish community, Lutheran Church, and Orthodox Church, and one for all other denominations. The commissions function in accordance with legislation providing for the restitution to religious communities of property they owned that was nationalized during or after WWII. A separate commission overseeing claims by the Roman Catholic Church completed its work in 2011. The MIA and the respective religious community each appoint representatives to the commissions.
The law states decisions by the commission ruling on communal property claims may not be appealed, but the Constitutional Tribunal ruled in 2013 that parties could appeal commission decisions in administrative courts. Religious representatives on the joint commissions stated that (contrary to prior information) parties have appealed final decisions by the commissions. The law does not address communal properties the government sold or turned over to new private owners after WWII.
There is no comprehensive national law governing private property restitution. Members of religious groups, like other private claimants, may pursue restitution through the courts.
The law authorizes Warsaw city authorities to resolve expeditiously longstanding restitution cases affecting properties in Warsaw being used for public purposes. Warsaw city officials must post a notification of specific public properties for a six-month period during which original owners of the property must submit their claims. At the end of the six-month period, Warsaw city authorities may make a final determination on the disposition of the property, either declaring the property shall remain public and not be subject to any future claims, or returning the property or monetary compensation to the original owner. As of October, amendments to the law established new grounds outside claimants’ control on which Warsaw city authorities must refuse the return of properties.
In accordance with the law, all public and private schools teach voluntary religion classes. Schools at all grade levels must provide instruction in any of the registered faiths if there are at least seven students requesting it. Each registered religious group determines the content of classes on its faith and provides the teachers, who receive salaries from the state. Students may also request to take an optional ethics class instead of a religion class; the ethics class is optional even if students decline to take a religion class.
Citizens have the right to sue the government for constitutional violations of religious freedom, and the law prohibits discrimination or persecution based on religion or belief.
The constitution recognizes the right to conscientious objection to military service on religious grounds but states such objectors may be required to perform alternative service as specified by law.
The human rights ombudsman is responsible for safeguarding human and civil freedoms and rights, including the freedom of religion and conscience, specified in the constitution and other legal acts. The ombudsman is independent from the government and appointed by parliament.
The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
In January, the MIA approved the registration of the Christian Church of the Full Gospel – Camp of God and the Reformed Catholic Church in Poland. On July 14, Prosecutor General Zbigniew Ziobro filed a motion with the MIA to invalidate the registration of the Reformed Catholic Church, arguing the Church failed to meet several requirements. On September 15, the MIA ruled the Church’s registration invalid. The MIA said registering the Church, the only registered group that recognizes same-sex marriages, violated the constitution, which defines marriage as “a union of a woman and a man.” The Church and the ombudsman stated the MIA’s decision was inconsistent with the constitutional provision providing for the autonomy and independence of religious organizations in relations with the state. According to the ombudsman, the prosecutor general’s intervention following the registration of a religious group was unprecedented. On October 5, the Reformed Catholic Church filed a motion with the MIA requesting it reverse its September 15 ruling. On December 4, the MIA upheld its previous decision. At year’s end, the Church remained registered and retained options for appeal to an administrative court.
According to MIA statistics, the religious community property commissions resolved 22 communal property claims during the year, out of approximately 2,938 pending claims by religious groups, compared with 151 claims resolved the previous year. At year’s end, the commissions had partially or entirely resolved a total of 2,863 of the 5,504 total claims by the Jewish community deemed valid by the commission (the commission had previously dismissed 40 as invalid), 981 of 1,182 claims by the Lutheran community, 375 of 472 claims by the Orthodox Church, and 90 of 170 claims by all other denominations.
Critics continued to point out the laws on religious communal property restitution do not address the issue of disputed communal properties now privately owned, leaving several controversial and complicated cases unresolved. These included cases in which buildings and residences were built on land that included Jewish cemeteries destroyed during or after WWII. The Jewish community continued to report the pace of Jewish communal property restitution was slow, involved considerable legal expense, and often ended without any recovery of property or other compensation for claimants. For example, a case for restitution of the old Jewish cemetery in the city of Kalisz remained unresolved after 20 years. Religious representatives of other commissions also reported considerable delays in resolving cases, which they attributed to the actions of government officials sitting on the commissions.
During the year, Warsaw city authorities continued implementing a 2015 law with the stated purpose of ending abusive practices in the trading of former property owners’ claims. Legal experts expressed concern that the law limited the ability of claimants to reclaim property unjustly taken from their lawful owners during the WWII and communist eras, including from Jews and members of other religious minorities. In November, Warsaw city authorities stated that since the 2015 law entered into force, the city had resolved approximately 352 dormant claims filed before 1950, which included the rejection of 135 restitution claims against public properties. These included schools, preschools, a park, a police command unit site, a hospital, and city-owned apartment houses. There was no information available on the identity of those claiming prior ownership or how many of them belonged to religious minority groups.
A special government commission continued to investigate accusations of irregularities in the restitution of private property in Warsaw. In 2019, the Justice Ministry published a report on the commission’s operation between 2017 and 2019. According to the report, the commission overturned restitution decisions for 56 properties and ordered the recovery of improper compensation in the amount of almost 100 million zloty ($26.93 million). There was no information available on how many of these cases involved claims by members of religious minorities. Several NGOs and lawyers representing claimants, including lawyers representing Holocaust survivors or their heirs, stated the commission had a negative effect on private property restitution cases, as administrative and court decisions had slowed in response to the commission’s decisions.
On April 15, during a parliamentary debate on citizen-initiated legislation to protect property from heirless property claims (the “Stop 447” bill), opposition Confederation Member of Parliament (MP) and former presidential candidate Krzysztof Bosak described the bill as “the first step towards the protection of Polish property from unjustified Jewish property claims.” He also criticized the government’s response to the U.S. Justice for Uncompensated Survivors Today (JUST) Act. PiS opposed the proposed legislation, arguing it was unnecessary because the Ministry of Treasury automatically assumes ownership of heirless property. Parliament sent the draft legislation to committee, where it remained at year’s end. PiS MPs said they voted to send the legislation to committee to “respect” the voice of citizens who submitted their signatures for the legislation.
Restitution became a topic of the presidential election campaign. On July 8, President Andrzej Duda stated the government would not pay damages for heirless property and said he would not accept any law that would privilege any ethnic group over others. He continued, “If someone wants compensation, please turn to those who caused World War II.” On July 9, PiS Chairman Kaczynski said opposition Civic Platform presidential candidate Rafal Trzaskowski’s comments years earlier that discussion on the issue of compensation for Jewish property was required indicated he did not have a “Polish soul, Polish heart, [or] Polish mind.” Kaczynski stated that PiS and President Duda were a guarantee that the country would not pay such compensation. Trzaskowski said on July 6 he would not sign a bill to provide heirless property restitution.
In June, reports in the government-controlled public media during the presidential campaign drew accusations of anti-Semitism from the domestic and international Jewish community and others. On June 15, state-run television TVP ran a story in which journalists stated the main challenger to the incumbent president would use public funds to “compensate Jews” with respect to private property restitution, should he be elected. The story also said the candidate’s approach to restitution “was not based on Poland’s interests,” and that it included images of Israel, a well-known American Jewish businessman, the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp, and money falling out of a bag.
On June 16, American Jewish Committee Central Europe Acting Director Sebastian Rejak sent a letter to the Media Ethics Council, a journalist-led media watchdog, stating that public television coverage could “incite hatred and contempt towards Jews in the world and Polish Jews.” On June 17, the Media Ethics Council responded, echoing Rejak’s concerns and identifying other pre-election TVP broadcasts that it found problematic. The organization said the broadcasts were in breach of the Media Ethics Charter and stated, “Inciting anti-Semitism, racism, and hatred towards minorities is not in the interests of the country.”
On June 18, Chief Rabbi Schudrich and the Union of Jewish Communities in Poland released a joint statement that said, “Public media should educate and integrate, not divide,” and, “We must all speak against the use of anti-Semitism or hatred of any other group for political purposes.” On June 29, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe issued a first-round presidential election assessment that said public television had become “a campaign tool for the incumbent,” with reporting that had “clear xenophobic and anti-Semitic undertones.”
On July 31, opposition Confederation Party MP Grzegorz Braun said when commenting on the release of the U.S. JUST Act Report that the U.S. Department of State “serves as a bodyguard to Jewish blackmailers,” and he called the report “an attempt to force the Polish state…to create a precedent for [the benefit] of the Jews.” Braun said it was time for the lower house of parliament to adopt previously submitted citizen-initiated legislation banning heirless property restitution. Braun stated his country’s government was misinforming the public by downplaying the “serious threat” of such attempts.
On February 19, the Rabbinical Commission for Cemeteries, led by Chief Rabbi Schudrich, called for the immediate blocking of the construction of a road outside the town of Jaslo, stating the road went through a Jewish cemetery. Local authorities disputed that the area was part of the cemetery, but while preparing the ground for construction, workers had uncovered several graves. Despite the chief rabbi’s request, Jaslo authorities directed the exhumation of the bodies on June 12. On the same day, the chief official of Jaslo County, Adam Pawlus, held a town meeting and informed those present that the exhumations took place over the objections of the commission because, “We act in accordance with Polish law, because we live on Polish soil, and we do not interfere with matters which are dealt with in Israel.” Upon authorization from the chief official of Podkarpackie Province Ewa Leniart, and against the objections of the commission, the remains were reburied on October 27 in a nearby cemetery for WWII victims.
On February 27, opposition Confederation Party MP Janusz Korwin-Mikke said, “As a result of the pogroms [against Jewish people], the strongest and the most gifted [Jews] survived…The Jews are a power because they had pogroms.” He added, “There are even theories that rabbis deliberately provoke pogroms precisely so that Jews survive, and then there is natural selection.”
On January 22, independent Member of the European Parliament Sylwia Spurek shared on social media an image likening the meat industry to the Holocaust. The image contained cows at a slaughterhouse wearing striped uniforms and yellow stars.
On January 28, the Warsaw local prosecutor’s office indicted an artist who in July 2019 initiated an online sale of rainbow-colored pendants of the Virgin Mary in the shape of a vagina. The artist was charged with offending religious sentiment by publicly desecrating an object of religious worship, for which she could face up to two years in prison. At year’s end, a trial had not been scheduled, and the artist was not in detention.
In April, the Walbrzych regional prosecutor’s office filed charges against a man who posted anti-Semitic comments on the internet in 2018. According to the prosecutor’s office, the man incited hatred on national grounds, offended Jewish people, and publicly praised the Holocaust by arguing that the killing of Jews during WWII was a positive development. If convicted, the man faced up to three years in prison. At year’s end, there was no further information on the status of the case.
On July 1, the Plock local prosecutor’s office issued a statement announcing the indictment of three persons for offending religious sentiment in 2019 by creating and posting on various sites in the city of Plock posters of the icon of the Black Madonna of Czestochowa with her halo painted in the colors of the rainbow flag. Some posters were allegedly placed on trash cans and portable toilets. In 2019, police had detained and subsequently released one of the three persons covered by the indictment. If convicted, the accused could face up to two years in prison. Their trial was scheduled for early 2021.
On December 3, the Czestochowa district prosecutor’s office announced it had indicted a man for offending religious sentiment by using an icon of the Black Madonna of Czestochowa with her halo painted in the colors of the rainbow flag during the Equality March in Czestochowa in 2019. Once tried, and if convicted, the accused could face up to two years in prison.
In August, following a two-year investigation that reportedly began after authorities blocked an international concert scheduled to take place on Hitler’s birthday in 2018, prosecutors filed charges of promoting fascism against 13 persons, including two leaders of neo-Nazi group Blood and Honor and a former employee of the Gdansk regional branch of TVP.
On July 30, the Warsaw district prosecutor’s office opened an investigation into the placement of rainbow flags on several Warsaw monuments, including an historic statue of Jesus outside of a church, as a desecration of monuments and offense to religious sentiment. In December, prosecutors discontinued the investigation because they could not identify the perpetrators.
In September, media reported the government awarded a grant to create a “Digital Library of National Thought” – an online collection of books and other works published before WWII by Polish nationalist politicians. Some of the publications, for example a book by Stanislaw Piasecki, editor in chief of a right-wing weekly magazine, contained anti-Semitic content, including some that the library recommended for reading on its social media page.
In September, the lower house of parliament approved legislation endorsed by PiS Chairman Kaczynski that would include a ban on the religious slaughter of animals for export, while continuing to allow it for domestic production of halal and kosher meat. Chief Rabbi Schudrich and Mufti of the Muslim Religious Union Tomasz Miskiewicz met with parliamentary leaders to express concerns about the legislation. The upper house of parliament voted to weaken the ban, and on November 1, Minister of Agriculture Grzegorz Puda announced the legislation would be withdrawn and replaced. Legislators did not introduce new legislation by year’s end.
Crucifixes continued to be displayed in both the upper and lower houses of parliament, as well as in many other public buildings, including public school classrooms.
In January, President Duda and other political and religious leaders joined Holocaust survivors to mark International Holocaust Remembrance Day and commemorate the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau. In his remarks, Duda said, “Distorting the history of WWII, denying the crimes of genocide and the Holocaust, as well as an instrumental use of Auschwitz to attain any given goal, is tantamount to desecration of the memory of the victims whose ashes are scattered here. The truth about the Holocaust must not die.” Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki participated in separate commemorations in Berlin, where he also spoke out against Holocaust denial and distortion.
On January 14, President Duda hosted a New Year’s meeting for representatives of various churches, religious unions, and national and ethnic minorities. He stated that all participating communities in the event had their place in the country, and he cited their cooperation and openness to dialogue, “brotherhood,” and a “good coexistence.”
On March 24, the National Day of Poles Rescuing Jews – a national holiday introduced in 2018 to honor Polish citizens who risked their lives to save Jews during the Nazi occupation – President Duda called Poles who saved Jews “heroes of the Republic” and cited their example of “respect and solidarity towards all people and nations co-creating the Republic of Poland.”
On April 19, Prime Minister Morawiecki laid a wreath in front of the Warsaw Ghetto Heroes Monument to commemorate the 77th anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising.
On June 8, Deputy Prime Minister Piotr Glinski and the mayor of Krakow signed a letter of intent to establish a new museum – the Krakow-Plaszow Concentration Camp Memorial Site – to commemorate all victims of the former Nazi concentration camp located in Krakow. The museum was scheduled to open on January 1, 2021. Under the agreement, the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage and Krakow city authorities each agreed to provide the museum with one million zloty ($269,000) in subsidies per year, and to spend 25 million zloty ($6.73 million) each to modernize the commemoration site and purchase equipment for the museum.
On June 15, President Duda commemorated the 80th anniversary of the first transport of Poles to Auschwitz. The President laid flowers at the site where the first trainload of prisoners arrived at the camp. In his address he called for remembrance, stating, “We never forget, lest anything like this ever happen again.”
A musical on divergent Polish-Jewish narratives of the Holocaust titled “Letter from Warsaw” continued its run in Warsaw, with financial support from the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage. The musical tells the story of a family of American Jews that rediscovers its Polish-Jewish roots when informed they are the remaining heirs of unclaimed property in Warsaw.
The government is a member of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance.
Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom
The national prosecutor’s office reported that during 2019, the most recent period for which data was available, prosecutors investigated 370 religiously motivated incidents, compared with 429 in 2018. The report cited investigations into 182 anti-Semitic, 112 anti-Muslim, and 76 anti-Roman Catholic incidents. Data from 2018 did not break down incidents by religious groups targeted, but in 2017 there were investigations into 112 anti-Semitic, 328 anti-Muslim, and 66 anti-Roman Catholic incidents. The NGO Never Again Association and religious groups stated government tracking of religiously motivated incidents was not comprehensive or systematic.
Although 2020 statistics were not available, there were several physical attacks against Roman Catholic priests and incidents involving the disruption of religious services in Roman Catholic churches around the country. There were also cases of desecration of Roman Catholic, Jewish, and other religious sites, such as churches, temples, and cemeteries.
On October 30, a man who participated in an abortion rights demonstration physically and verbally attacked a man at a gasoline station in the town of Mysliborz. The attacker hit the victim in the face and abdomen. Reportedly, when the attacker found out the victim was a priest, he pursued him and hit him again in the face and head. Prosecutors charged him with insult, physical assault, and engaging in violence on the grounds of religious affiliation. At year’s end, the man was not in detention, and his trial had not been scheduled.
On January 8, the Wroclaw District Court began the trial of a man who stabbed a priest in front of a church in Wroclaw in 2019. Authorities held the man in detention at least until December. The case was pending before the court at year’s end.
On July 31, the Warsaw prosecutor’s office indicted a man on charges of public incitement to murder a priest, hatred on the grounds of religious differences, and insulting followers of the Catholic Church. While participating in a Mr. Gay Poland event in Poznan in 2019, the man had simulated cutting the throat of an effigy of Krakow Archbishop Marek Jedraszewski, who had previously criticized “LGBT ideology.” At year’s end, the man’s trial had not been scheduled.
On July 17, prosecutors indicted a man, who stated he was a bishop representing the United Ecumenical Catholic Church, on charges of offending religious sentiment. If convicted, he could face up to two years in prison. The man dressed as a priest and held what many observers described as a mock Roman Catholic Mass during Warsaw’s Equality Parade in 2019. At year’s end, his trial had not been scheduled.
On October 25, participants of abortion rights demonstrations disrupted Sunday services around the country and painted graffiti on church exteriors, following an October 22 ruling by the Constitutional Court that banned abortions for abnormalities of the embryo or fetus. The MIA said police recorded 22 cases of disrupting masses and 79 cases of exterior vandalism of Catholic churches related to the court ruling. Police detained 76 persons in relation to the incidents. Additional cases of vandalism against Catholic churches around the country took place in late October and early November.
On November 27, the Krakow Regional Court initiated a criminal trial against an IKEA human resources manager for dismissing one of the company’s employees in 2019 after the employee posted quotes from the Bible on the company’s intranet website stating that homosexuality was scandalous and an abomination and gay men would be punished with death. Prosecutors said the manager violated the provision in the criminal code that penalizes anyone who restricts others from exercising their rights because of their religious affiliation. Several dozen NGOs protested the prosecution, stating the human resources manager had acted against workplace discrimination. On November 10, a labor branch of the Krakow Regional Court began trying a labor dispute case brought against IKEA by the dismissed employee.
In February, the Pew Research Center published findings on attitudes towards democratic principles, such as regular elections, free speech, and free civil society, as well as religious freedom, in 34 countries, based on interviews it conducted in its Spring 2019 Global Attitudes Survey. According to the findings, 76 percent of Polish respondents considered religious freedom to be “very important,” but ranked it eighth in priority out of nine democratic principles tested.
According to a poll of public opinions on the Roman Catholic Church conducted by the Warsaw-based Center for Public Opinion Research (CBOS) in December, 41 percent of residents had a favorable opinion of the Church, a drop of eight percentage points since September, while 47 percent had a negative view, an increase of six points from three months earlier. The result was the first time since 1993 that negative views of the Church exceeded positive views in a CBOS poll. Experts on the Catholic Church and the media provided two reasons for the decline in support: the October 22 ruling on abortion (which some attributed to the Church’s influence over the governing party) and perceptions the Church had insufficiently responded to a series of recent sex abuse scandals. The poll found a strong correlation with views of the Church and political affiliation; 82 percent of PiS supporters viewed the Church favorably, while only 13 percent of supporters of the opposition Civic Coalition did so. In another poll of views on the Catholic Church carried out by the pollster IBRiS in November for the newspaper Rzeczpospolita, 35 percent of respondents expressed a positive view of the Church. Among those aged 18-29, nine percent viewed the Church positively, 47 percent viewed it negatively, and 44 percent had neutral views.
The Institute for Catholic Church Statistics reported that in 2019, the most recent year for which data was available, 37 percent of residents attended Sunday Mass regularly, compared to a post-communist high of 50 percent in 1990.
In February, the Wroclaw prosecutor’s office sent three indictments to the Wroclaw District Court against former Roman Catholic priest Jacek Miedlar, charging him with incitement to hatred and Holocaust denial for statements he made in 2017 and 2018 and for publicly offending in 2018 the late Tadeusz Mazowiecki, the first noncommunist prime minister of the country since 1946. At year’s end, Miedlar’s trial had not been scheduled. Authorities arrested Miedlar in December 2019 and charged him with incitement of hatred against Jews before releasing him the same day.
In January, a man placed wooden crosses on tombstones and hung clothes on graves in the Jewish cemetery in Sopot. The town’s mayor, Jacek Karnowski, visited the cemetery and criticized the vandalism.
In mid-March, unknown perpetrators painted a swastika and a neo-Nazi symbol on a plaque commemorating the local Jewish community and Jewish residents of Szczecin who were killed during WWII in the Belzec extermination camp. Police said they declined to open an investigation because the symbols were cleaned from the plaque before their arrival.
On April 14, a man threw stones at and broke the windows of a synagogue in Wroclaw. The man also shouted neo-Nazi slogans and made neo-fascist gestures. Police detained a suspect on April 17 and charged him with promoting a totalitarian regime and public insult on national, religious, and racial grounds. There was no further information on the case at year’s end.
On June 10, unknown perpetrators defaced a recently renovated wall around the Jewish cemetery in the city of Tarnow with an anti-Semitic inscription. Police were still investigating at year’s end.
On November 11, a coalition of groups, including the National Radical Camp and All-Polish Youth, both of which human rights groups have described as extremist and nationalist, again led an annual Independence Day march. Unlike in previous years, there were no reports of the use of anti-Semitic or white supremacist slogans during the event.
On June 23, Independence Units, a group widely described as far-right, organized a demonstration in front of the presidential palace in advance of President Duda’s June 24 meeting with President Trump in Washington. Participants in the event urged President Duda to protest the U.S. JUST Act and any restitution claims from Jewish organizations during his meeting with President Trump. Approximately 30 people demonstrated under the slogan, “Mr. President – we will not pay! Pass it on to President Trump!” Other banners included messages such as, “No to claims!” and “We won’t be robbed of $300 billion.” Two Confederation Party MPs participated – Grzegorz Braun and Dobromir Sosnierz.
On December 17, the Szczecin branch of the national prosecutor’s office indicted two men on charges of planning a terrorist attack against Muslims and an Islamic religious site. A third man was indicted for illegal possession of explosives. The indictments followed a November 2019 Internal Security Agency operation that uncovered materials for the production of explosives, weapons, and ammunition in an apartment in Warsaw. According to the spokesperson for the Special Services Coordinator, the men were planning an attack against an unspecified Islamic religious site in the country and to use poisonous substances in an attack against specific individuals. According to the spokesperson, the indicted men expressed extreme right-wing views, and their motive was to stop “Islamization” of the country. At year’s end, the trial had not been scheduled.
In a January interview with the German daily Die Welt, Chief Rabbi Schudrich stated Poland was a safer place for Jews to live in than some other European countries. Schudrich said anti-Semitism existed in the country, but that it was not expressed in physical attacks (against individuals).
On January 26, the Catholic Church celebrated the 20th Annual Day of Islam with the stated purpose of promoting peace among religious groups. The Church hosted an event titled “Christians and Muslims in the Service of Universal Brotherhood” in Warsaw, which included discussions, readings from the Bible and Quran, and prayers.
On October 13, as part of the 6th Congress of Christian Culture, the Lublin Roman Catholic diocese, in cooperation with local authorities and the John Paul II Catholic University of Lublin, organized a debate on “Jewish and Christian inspirations for dialogue.” The event took place in a Catholic church in Lublin, with the participation of then-Director of the Jewish Historical Institute Pawel Spiewak and Archbishop of Lodz Grzegorz Rys.
The Polish Council of Christians and Jews organized a joint online Catholic and Jewish prayer meeting to encourage tolerance and understanding on the October 18 Jewish holiday of Simchat Torah.
Human Library projects, funded by European Economic Area grants and coordinated by NGOs Diversja Association and Lambda Warsaw, continued in several cities and towns around the country, including Cieszyn, Katowice, Lodz, Warsaw, Zamosc, and Zory. The projects involved a diverse group of volunteers, including representatives of Roman Catholic, Jewish, Muslim, and other religious groups, who told their stories to individuals who could “borrow” them like books. The stated intent of the project was to foster greater tolerance in general, including religious tolerance.
Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement
The Ambassador, officers from the embassy and consulate general in Krakow, and visiting U.S. Department of State representatives met with government officials from the foreign affairs and justice ministries and parliament to discuss private property restitution, anti-Semitism, and antidiscrimination.
On January 27, the U.S. Secretary of State announced a contribution of $2 million to the Auschwitz-Birkenau Foundation. The foundation received the contribution on October 1 and will use it to preserve former concentration camps in the Auschwitz-Birkenau area.
Also on January 27, the Secretary of the Treasury led the U.S. government delegation to the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau. The Ambassador, the Deputy Administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development, the Acting Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs, the Special Envoy for Holocaust Issues, and the Deputy Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism were part of the delegation. The Treasury Secretary said in his remarks, “The United States and all other countries must work together to fight for all religious freedoms, justice for the Jewish people, and combating anti-Semitism wherever it appears. We must be committed to honoring the history of the Holocaust so these atrocities never occur ever again to any people anywhere in the world.”
The Ambassador and embassy and consulate general staff met with members and leaders of the local Jewish, Muslim, and Christian communities to discuss issues of concern, including private and communal property restitution, proposed legislation restricting religious slaughter, and the communities’ concerns regarding intolerance, anti-Semitism, and anti-Muslim sentiment.
In January, the USAID Deputy Administrator attended a roundtable on protecting religious and ethnic minorities hosted by the American Jewish Committee.
In January, the USAID Deputy Administrator, the Special Envoy for Holocaust Issues, and the Deputy Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism met in Krakow with Chief Rabbi Schudrich and representatives of the local Jewish community to discuss anti-Semitism, relations between Jews and non-Jews in the country, and other issues of importance to the Jewish community.
On October 22, the Special Envoy for Holocaust Issues and embassy officials participated virtually in the annual meeting of the International Committee of the Auschwitz-Birkenau Foundation. The Special Envoy commended the foundation’s renewed efforts to preserve the former concentration camps at Auschwitz-Birkenau and to expand virtual education programs during the COVID-19 pandemic. In May, October, and December, the Special Envoy held virtual meetings with representatives of the Jewish community, academics, civil society activists, and others to discuss the level of anti-Semitism in the country, Holocaust remembrance and education, and the general condition of the Jewish community in the country.
On November 16 and 17, the U.S. Department of State and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs partnered to host from Warsaw a virtual Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom. The Secretary of State and Foreign Minister Zbigniew Rau provided opening remarks for the event, which included a dialogue between representatives of civil society and religious groups.
In April, the Ambassador participated in the March of the Living Virtual Plaque Project, which substituted for the annual in-person commemorative walk between the former concentration camp sites around Auschwitz-Birkenau. The Ambassador’s online message honored Holocaust victims.
To commemorate the 77th anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising that began on April 19, 1943, the Ambassador used the embassy’s social media accounts to express solidarity with the annual “Daffodils” social and educational program conducted online by the POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews. The program aims to educate the public about the uprising by handing out thousands of paper daffodils on Warsaw streets in remembrance of the Jews who fought and died in the uprising.
Throughout the year, the Ambassador and embassy used social media to call for respect and tolerance for all religions, underscore religious freedom as a fundamental pillar and value of a strong democracy, condemn violence based on religious beliefs, and highlight U.S. government support for combating anti-Semitism and protecting places related to the Holocaust.
In June and July, staff from the consulate general in Krakow participated in the Krakow Jewish Community Center’s Virtual Ride for the Living by pledging to bike, run, or walk 60 miles (the distance between the gates of Auschwitz-Birkenau and Krakow), in tribute to Holocaust memory and to celebrate the rebirth of Jewish life in Krakow.
The embassy continued to sponsor exchange programs, award grants, participate in conferences, and financially support educational and cultural events to promote religious freedom and tolerance. Highlights included continued embassy support for the “Letter from Warsaw” musical on divergent Polish-Jewish narratives of the Holocaust, Krakow’s Jewish Culture Festival, and support for a new music program promoting Poland’s Jewish heritage. The embassy highlighted its support of these initiatives on social media.
On September 7, an embassy officer addressed 40 Polish educators competitively selected to attend the eight-week online course, “Teaching about the Holocaust and Human Rights through Art,” organized by the New York-based Olga Lengyel Institute for Holocaust Studies and Human Rights, in collaboration with the POLIN Museum in Warsaw and the Yad Vashem Institute in Israel. In his remarks, the embassy officer highlighted the importance of education in combating racism and discrimination based on faith or ethnicity.
The embassy once again cosponsored the annual educational conference for Polish teachers organized by the POLIN Museum, which took place online in November. The embassy financially supported the participation of two U.S. speakers at the conference on “Emotions and History: How to Talk about Difficult Topics at School,” with a focus on methods of teaching the history of WWII and the Holocaust. In virtual remarks, the Ambassador commended the teachers for their dedication and said, “Education is the foundation of understanding and acceptance – and it is the best antidote against stereotypes, racism, and bigotry against Jews and all minorities around the world.”
The embassy also provided support to individuals and organizations that sought to deepen public understanding of the country’s Jewish heritage, including financial support of a documentary project chronicling non-Jewish rescuers of Jewish memory in the country and financial support for a virtual reality-delivered cultural program to promote the 100th anniversary of the Dybbuk, a Yiddish-language play which touches on the role, culture, and history of Jews in the country.
The consulate general in Krakow provided grant funding for educational and cultural projects connected to the promotion of religious freedom or combating anti-Semitism. In June and July, the consulate supported the 30th iteration of Krakow’s Jewish Culture Festival, which comprised over 60 online events, presenting contemporary Jewish culture.
In August, the consulate general in Krakow funded an intensive one-week online course led by the Auschwitz Jewish Center. The course targeted a select group of high school teachers and NGO activists and focused on teaching about anti-Semitism and implementing antidiscrimination training in the classroom.
In January, the consulate general in Krakow partnered with a U.S. artist to support “Cities of Peace Auschwitz,” a peacebuilding initiative involving local artists and scholars in the creation of a collaborative mural to honor the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau. The Consul General delivered opening remarks at the mural’s unveiling on January 28.
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. The Emergency Coronavirus Bill was amended in March in response to concerns from Muslim and Jewish advocacy groups that the bill would permit cremation of COVID-19 victims “against the wishes of the deceased.” In January, the Welsh government announced plans to make relationships, sexuality, and religion a mandatory part of the curriculum for all students over the age of five by 2022. In September, Conservative Member of Parliament (MP) Rehman Chishti resigned from his position as the Prime Minister’s Special Envoy for Religious Freedom. Conservative MP Fiona Bruce was appointed his successor in December. In July, Imam Qari Asim, the Deputy Chair of the government’s Anti-Muslim Hatred Working Group, was appointed independent advisor to propose a working definition of Islamophobia. On the one-year anniversary of the March mosque attacks in Christchurch, New Zealand, the government announced that funding for the Places of Worship Scheme, which provides physical security measures to Muslim, Christian, Sikh, and Hindu places of worship, would double from the previous year to 3.2 million pounds ($4.37 million) in 2020-2021. In April, the government provided 14 million pounds ($19.13 million) via a nongovernmental organization (NGO) to provide security at Jewish institutions, including schools and synagogues. In January, the Scottish government announced 500,000 pounds ($683,000) to fund security at places of worship. In January, the government renewed its commitment to the founding principles of the 2000 Declaration of the Stockholm International Forum on the Holocaust (Stockholm Declaration). To mark International Holocaust Memorial Day and the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau, the UK government announced a one-million pound ($1.37 million) grant to the Auschwitz-Birkenau Foundation to help preserve the site of the former concentration camp. The main political parties and party members continued to face numerous accusations of religious bias. The Conservative Party faced allegations of anti-Muslim incidents, with the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) submitting a dossier of 150 cases of alleged anti-Muslim incidents by party members to the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC). The party announced it would conduct a review into how complaints were handled and the EHRC accepted the party’s terms of reference for the investigation, but the MCB criticized the scope of the inquiry. In October, the EHRC released a report calling on the Labour Party to reform its handling of allegations of anti-Semitism within the party. In light of his negative reaction to the report, Jeremy Corbyn was suspended from both the wider Labour Party and the Parliamentary Labour Party and was forced to sit as an independent MP, a first for a former leader. While his wider-party membership was later reinstated in November, he continued to serve as an independent MP. In December, the Labour Party published a plan to implement the EHRC’s recommended reforms.
The government reported a 5 percent decline (from 8,566 to 7,203 offenses) in religiously motivated hate crimes in England and Wales in the 2019-2020 period compared to the same period one year prior. This was the first period of decline in religiously motivated hate crimes since 2012-2013. Where the perceived religion of the victim was recorded (in 91 percent of cases), 50 percent (3,089 offenses) of religious hate crime offenses targeted Muslims, and 19 percent (1,205 offenses) targeted Jews. The annual report of the NGO Community Security Trust (CST) recorded 1,668 anti-Semitic incidents during the year, an 8 percent decline from 2019, yet still the second-highest ever annual figure recorded by the organization. Among the incidents were 97 assaults and three incidents classified as “extreme violence.” (Due to privacy laws, CST did not provide details on cases of extreme violence.) There were a further 1,399 incidents of nonviolent abusive behavior. CST recorded 634 anti-Semitic online incidents, a 9 percent decline from the previous year. In September, the NGO Tell MAMA (Measuring Anti-Muslim Attacks), which monitors anti-Muslim activity, released its annual report for 2018. The report disclosed 3,173 reports of anti-Muslim hate incidents in 2018, including 1,891 recorded by police. This was the highest number since the NGO’s founding in 2011. Several religiously motivated conspiracy theories surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic circulated online. According to a report by the Henry Jackson Society think tank, anti-Semitic conspiracy theories included claims that Jews used global lockdowns to “steal everything.” Both Jewish and Muslim communities were vilified by media commentators such as Katie Hopkins, who alleged that Muslims were flouting lockdown restrictions and spreading COVID-19 by continuing Friday prayers at mosques.
U.S. embassy and consulate staff engaged with government officials, political parties, and religious groups to advance religious freedom issues, with a strong emphasis on digital engagement and use of social media in response to COVID-19 pandemic restrictions. In May, the Ambassador, along with the Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom, gave remarks at virtual iftars, which were part of the largest such series in the UK, entitled #RamadanatHome. In June, the Ambassador hosted a virtual meeting with representatives of the Jewish community, and separately, with Labour Leader MP Sir Keir Starmer, to discuss the Labour Party’s plan to confront the issue of anti-Semitism within the party. In April, the Ambassador spoke to the Chief Rabbi of the United Synagogues to extend his best wishes for Passover and to show support for the British Jewish communities during the COVID-19 pandemic. Similarly, in May, the Ambassador called Dr. Ahmad al-Dubayan of the Central London Mosque to commemorate Ramadan and discuss how the Muslim community was faring, given COVID-19 pandemic restrictions on gatherings. In December, a senior embassy official delivered remarks and conducted a virtual candle lighting in honor of Diwali, in partnership with the Hindu Forum of Europe. In January, a senior embassy official represented the United States at the UK’s Holocaust Memorial Day Commemoration Ceremony marking the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau and met with Trustees of the Holocaust Day Memorial Trust. To mark National Religious Freedom Day in January, the consulate general in Belfast hosted an interfaith dialogue. Throughout the year, the embassy’s social media messaging on international religious freedom reached approximately 400,000 persons.
Section I. Religious Demography
The U.S. government estimates the total population at 65.8 million (midyear 2020 estimate). 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 identified 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 in the 2011 census, and 7 percent chose not to answer. Jehovah’s Witnesses estimate there are 137,000 members in the country, and the Baha’i community estimates it has more than 7,000 members.
According to the 2019 British Social Attitudes survey, an annual survey conducted by the independent National Center for Social Research, 52 percent of those surveyed UK-wide described themselves as having no religion, 12 percent as Anglican, 7 percent as Catholic, and 9 percent as belonging to non-Christian religious groups. The survey showed 6 percent of individuals identified as Muslim, less than 0.5 percent as Jewish, and 3 percent as “other non-Christian.”
The Muslim community in England and Wales is predominantly of South Asian origin, but it 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 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 part of 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 indicate 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.
In his 2019 ‘Sectarianism in Northern Ireland’ report, Ulster University Professor Duncan Morrow found there is a “clear statistical trend towards a change in the religious minority-majority structure of Northern Ireland.” His research illustrates 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 time period. Morrow’s analysis of 2011 census figures 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. Professor Paul Nolan of Queen’s University Belfast stated based on current statistical trends, there will be a Catholic majority in Northern Ireland by 2021, when the next census will be conducted.
Census figures from Bermuda in 2010 cite 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. 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 Queen for spiritual matters or leadership.
The Human Rights Act 1998 protects freedom of thought, conscience, and religion. It 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 the Church’s administration. The Church of Scotland is governed by its General Assembly, which has the authority to make the 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. Northern Ireland Humanists continues to run a campaign to repeal blasphemy laws originating from the 1888 Law of Libel Amendment Act and the 1819 Criminal Libel Act, which remain in force in the region. 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.”
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.
Blasphemy is an offense under common law in Scotland. It is a crime against public order and decency and has two aspects: whether an individual’s spoken or written words against God or religion occurred, and the words are spoken or written with intent to cause disorder. The law relates only to Christianity and is punishable by fines or imprisonment or both. The law requires courts to consider the impact of religious bias when sentencing.
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 ($40) 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 a quarter. The law only applies in England and Wales and does not cover the Church of England or in 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 reflect “Christian values,” be nondenominational, and refrain from attempts to convert students. It must also teach the practices of other principal religions in the country. Students and teachers, unless they are employed by faith-based schools, may decline participation in collective worship, without prejudice. 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. 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 events, including Christmas and Easter. Parents may make the decision to opt out their children from this requirement, but children may not make this decision themselves.
In Bermuda, the law requires students attending state schools to 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.
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 with admissions criteria designed to enroll equal numbers of Catholic and Protestant children without the intervention of the state, as well as children from other religious and cultural backgrounds. Students of different faiths are able to attend Protestant or Catholic schools but tend to gravitate toward the integrated schools. These integrated schools are not secular but 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, “The school day shall include collective Christian worship whether in one or more than one assembly.” All schools receiving government funding must teach RE; however, students may request to 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 EHRC – a body sponsored by the Department of Education’s Government Equalities Office – is responsible for enforcing legislation prohibiting religious 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 commission finds a violation, it may issue a notice to the violator and seek a court order to enforce the notice. 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.
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 them 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.
The law requires visa applicants wishing to enter the country as “ministers of religion” to have worked for at least one of the previous five years as a minister and to have at least one year of full-time experience or, if their religion requires ordination, at least two years of part-time training following their ordination. A missionary must also be trained as such or have worked previously in this role.
The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
On March 23, Muslim and Jewish advocacy groups issued statements in response to proposed burial measures in the Emergency Coronavirus Bill ahead of its debate in the House of Commons. The draft bill allowed designated local authorities to disregard the section of public health legislation designed to “prevent a local authority from being able to cremate a body against the wishes of the deceased.” Religious groups, including the Muslim Engagement and Development advocacy group and the Board of Deputies of British Jews, strongly criticized the bill, which they said would give medical professionals the ability to override the religious beliefs of the deceased and their families in regard to the treatment of their body after death. Labour MP Naz Shah proposed an amendment to the bill intended “to ensure if local authorities reach their capacity, they do not proceed to cremate the deceased from faith backgrounds automatically” without appropriate consultation. In response, the government agreed to amend the bill to reflect Shah’s concerns, negating the need for a vote.
On January 21, the Welsh government announced that relationships, sexuality, and religion will be compulsory for all children over the age of five as part of the new “Curriculum for Wales Framework,” being developed and refined before use in schools in 2022. On March 12, Education Minister Kirsty Williams announced the establishment of a Relationships and Sexuality Education (RSE) working group to agree on topics to be covered by schools and to prepare detailed guidance on the proposed changes. The working group includes key stakeholders, teachers, teachers unions, and faith organizations, and is cochaired by the government and regional consortia. Religious objections include concerns that children will be taught values that contradict their parents’ beliefs or religion, such as LGBTQI+ relationships, constituting an erosion of parental rights. Expressing concerns surrounding the lack of detail on what will be in the RSE curriculum and at what age children will learn various aspects, religious groups stated that young children should be allowed a childhood free of “sexualization.” Humanists UK and the National Secular Society supported ending of the right to withdraw children from classes, in principle. They argued that religious worldviews must be taught impartially before the right to withdraw is removed.
In September, MP Rehman Chishti resigned from his position as the Prime Minister’s Special Envoy for Freedom of Religion or Belief, which he had held for one year. Chishti said his resignation was not related to differing views on religious freedom, but instead on his opposition to economic legislation dealing with internal markets. Conservative MP Fiona Bruce was appointed to the role in December. Bruce is also vice chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Freedom of Religion or Belief. Groups including Humanists UK and the Council of Christians and Jews expressed concerns over Bruce’s previous support of mandatory prayer in schools and hope that the government would not pursue a Christians-only agenda.
In July, Imam Qari Asim, Deputy Chair of the government’s Anti-Muslim Hatred Working Group, was appointed independent advisor to propose a working definition of Islamophobia after an existing definition came under question for potentially undermining freedom of speech. The Anti-Muslim Hatred Working Group was established in 2012 to develop and implement proposals to address anti-Muslim sentiment in the country. The group 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 Anti-Muslim Hatred Working Group did not agree on a working definition by year’s end. Separately, the London Metropolitan University became the first UK university to adopt the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on British Muslims’ working definition of Islamophobia in November. The APPG’s definition states, “Islamophobia is rooted in racism and is a type of racism that targets expression of Muslimness or perceived Muslimness.”
On February 25, the All-Party Parliamentary Humanists Group (APPHG) published a report entitled “Time for Reflection: A report of the All-Party Parliamentary Humanist Group on religion or belief in the UK Parliament.” The report called for parliamentary prayers to be replaced with a “time for reflection”; for the House of Commons Speaker to consider introducing additional forms of religious and pastoral support alongside that already provided by the Anglican chaplain; and for an end to automatic seats in the House of Lords for Anglican bishops. The report highlighted the exclusive nature of “Prayers,” a parliamentary tradition to open the day’s proceedings, which also serves as a way to obtain a seat for the day, since these are not formally reserved. The report argued that MPs who chose not to participate in the religious prayers could miss out on seats in the parliamentary chambers for key debates including during the Prime Ministers Questions and the Budget sessions. The report also revealed details of nine cases in which bishops in the House of Lords changed the outcomes of votes, including two votes that directly benefited the Church of England.
Timed to coincide with the one-year anniversary of the Christchurch, New Zealand mosque attacks, on March 15, the government’s Home Office announced that during 2019-2020, the Places of Worship Scheme provided 1.6 million pounds ($2.19 million) to fund physical security measures at 27 mosques, 13 churches, five Sikh gurdwaras, and four Hindu temples. This was the highest level of funding for the scheme since it was established in 2016. The government announced that funding for the period covering March 2020-2021 would be doubled to 3.2 million pounds ($4.37 million).
The government simultaneously launched an eight-week public consultation period, from March 15 to June 28, to improve the government’s response to religiously motivated hate crimes at places of worship. Consultation results were not published at year’s end.
On April 1, the Home Office granted the CST 14 million pounds ($19.13 million) for the Jewish Community Protective Security Grant to cover protective security at Jewish institutions, including schools and synagogues.
In 2019, the government simplified the application system for the Places of Worship security funding scheme by commissioning a central contractor to install physical security measures. Applicants were no longer required to show they had already experienced a hate crime, and became eligible to apply if they showed they were vulnerable to hate crime. Associated faith community centers were also eligible to apply. The Chair of the Anti-Muslim Hatred Working Group welcomed the developments and said, “The simplified process will hopefully make it even easier for mosques to improve their security and will go some way in building community confidence.”
In January, the Scottish government announced 500,000 pounds ($683,000) of funding for security at places of worship. Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf and Communities Secretary Aileen Campbell announced the new scheme on Holocaust Memorial Day during a visit to a synagogue in Glasgow. Yousaf said the government was committed to ensuring “safety and security for our faith communities” and he hoped the “scheme will provide reassurance to all faith communities and their places of worship that hate crime and prejudice will not be tolerated.”
On January 19, the government renewed its commitment to the founding principles of the 2000 Declaration of the Stockholm International Forum on the Holocaust (Stockholm Declaration). As part of the commemorations to mark the 20th anniversary of the Stockholm Declaration, and to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Nazi concentration and extermination camps, Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon, Minister for Human Rights, represented the country at an International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) meeting held to adopt a renewed commitment. Lord Ahmad said, “It is important that we reaffirm our collective commitment to combatting prejudice and intolerance, and pledge to the victims and survivors of the Holocaust that they will never be forgotten.”
On January 27, to coincide with International Holocaust Memorial Day, the government announced a one-million pound ($1.37 million) grant to the Auschwitz-Birkenau Foundation endowment fund to help preserve the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp. In a statement, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said, “The government is supporting the Auschwitz-Birkenau Foundation because we must never forget history’s darkest moment, and we must educate future generations so it can never be repeated.” Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick said, “The UK stands shoulder to shoulder with our Jewish countrymen and women.” Separately, the City of London committed 300,000 pounds ($410,000) to the Auschwitz-Birkenau Foundation to support the preservation of the gas chambers, crematoria, barracks, and other exhibits.
In January, the royal family and members of the cabinet marked Holocaust Remembrance Day via social media. Additionally, Prince Charles delivered a speech at the World Holocaust Forum at Yad Vashem, Jerusalem, on January 23. At the event to mark 75 years since the liberation of Auschwitz, Prince Charles warned, “Hatred and intolerance still lurk in the human heart” and, with lessons of the Holocaust still “searingly relevant,” he called on the 40 world leaders in attendance to be “fearless in confronting falsehoods” and violence.
The Holocaust Memorial Day Trust hosted a remembrance service at which Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Prince William spoke. The Prime Minister said, “I feel a deep sense of shame that here in Britain – in 2020 – we seem to be dealing with a resurgence of the virus of anti-Semitism – and I know that I carry responsibility as Prime Minister to do everything possible to stamp it out.” He also committed to constructing the National Holocaust Memorial and Education Centre, which was announced in 2015 but remains in planning stages. The Scottish Parliament, National Assembly for Wales, and cities and towns across the United Kingdom also hosted Holocaust Memorial Day events, with many focusing on this year’s theme, “Stand Together,” to promote interfaith engagement.
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 size of the prison and the religious composition of the prisoner population. Prison service regulations stated that “…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. During the year, the Armed Forces Chaplaincy Policy Board reviewed how chaplain services were provided to minority religious groups and was considering the use of suitable chaplains in the reserve forces.
In January 2019 (the latest data 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.
The Conservative Party faced allegations of anti-Muslim sentiment. In March, the MCB submitted a dossier of 150 cases to the EHRC that catalogued alleged anti-Muslim incidents attributed to members of the Conservative Party, increasing pressure on the EHRC to launch a formal investigation. The dossier was in addition to 150 cases submitted in 2019, making a total of 300 cases. The submission catalogued evidence of what the MCB stated were anti-Muslim comments and actions by hundreds of party activists, local councillors, MPs, and advisors to the Prime Minister. Examples include MP Sally Ann Hart, who in 2017 posted on Facebook a claim by an anti-Islamist activist that a women’s march had been hijacked by the Muslim Brotherhood to promote the “Muslim agenda.” Hart publicly apologized for her comments.
In May, the EHRC dropped plans for an inquiry into “Islamophobia” in the Conservative Party after the party announced it would conduct its own review of how complaints were handled. On May 12, the party established the terms of reference for the investigation, which were formally supported by the EHRC. The party confirmed that the review would examine the “nature and extent” of complaints of anti-Muslim statements by party members since 2015 and would also consider what sanctions could be taken against members who quit the party before being investigated. Furthermore, the investigation would consider allegations of discrimination relating to all “protected characteristics” in the 2010 Equalities Act, including not only religion, but also age, race, sexual orientation, and disability.
The MCB criticized the scope of the inquiry. On May 12, MCB Secretary General Harun Khan said, “By restricting the terms to an inquiry merely into the complaints received, the party is choosing to summarily dismiss all the issues of the toxic culture of racism that have been raised by the Muslim Council of Britain.” MP Amanda Milling, Co-Chairman of the Conservative Party, said that having the terms of reference agreed upon was a positive step forward. She said the party is “committed to this investigation, to ensure that any abuse that is not fit for public life is stamped out.”
In September, a YouGov poll commissioned by the Hope Not Hate political action group found that 47 percent of Conservative Party members surveyed in July believed Islam is “a threat to the British way of life.” The poll of 1,213 Conservative Party members found that more than 33 percent believed that Islamist terror attacks reflected a widespread hostility towards Britain among the Muslim community, and that 58 percent thought “there are no-go areas in Britain where Sharia Law dominates and non-Muslims cannot enter.” However, 53 percent of those asked thought it was wrong to blame all Muslims for the actions of a violent minority. Former Conservative Party Chair Baroness Warsi said, “This latest poll is further evidence that the party has a real and serious issue with racism directed at Muslims.”
Media reported in October that Rakhia Ismail, the former ceremonial mayor of the London district of Islington, resigned from the Labour Party and joined the Conservative Party, citing the anti-Muslim sentiment she experienced within Labour as her reason for leaving.
In January, all five Labour Party leadership candidates signed the “Ten Pledges to End the Anti-Semitism Crisis,” a document prepared by the Board of Deputies of British Jews. The 10 pledges included an agreement to resolve outstanding cases, to reform the party disciplinary process to ensure complaints were properly handled, and to engage the British Jewish community on a way forward. The move was criticized by the left-wing paper Morning Star and far-left Labour members, who said it was wrong for an outside body to interfere in the party’s leadership election. In a parallel deputy leadership contest, two candidates – Shadow Justice Secretary Richard Burgnon and Shadow Equalities Minister Dawn Butler – refused to sign the declaration.
After winning the Labour Party leadership election on April 4, Sir Keir Starmer used his victory speech and his first op-ed as leader in The Sunday Times to apologize publicly to the British Jewish community concerning previous allegations of anti-Semitism on the part of Labour Party leaders and members. On April 7, both Starmer and newly elected deputy leader Angela Rayner held a virtual meeting with representatives of Jewish community organizations to discuss ways to repair the party’s relationship with the British Jewish community. In a joint statement, the Board of Deputies of British Jews, the NGO CST, and Jewish Labour welcomed Starmer’s commitment, describing it as a “good start,” and praising him for achieving “in four days more than his predecessor did in four years.” Starmer also outlined a plan to rid the party of anti-Semitism and rebuild trust between Labour and the Jewish community.
In July, newly appointed Labour Party General Secretary David Evans formally apologized and settled a defamation case brought by seven whistle-blowers who appeared in a 2019 BBC Panorama documentary accusing the party of mishandling cases of anti-Semitism. The whistleblowers had previously sued the Labour Party for attempting to undermine their reputations after it released a statement referring to them as “disaffected former staff” with “personal and political axes to grind.”
In October, the EHRC completed an 18-month investigation and published its final report into complaints of anti-Semitism within the Labour Party. The report found the party had allowed “unlawful harassment,” political interference in the party’s complaints process, and a lack of education and training for staff handling the complaints process. Targeted recommendations included commissioning an independent process to handle anti-Semitism complaints; implementing clear rules and guidance to prohibit and sanction political interference in the complaints process; publishing a comprehensive policy and procedure setting out how anti-Semitism complaints will be handled; commissioning and providing education and training for all individuals involved in the anti-Semitism complaints process; and monitoring and evaluating improvements to ensure lasting change. In addition to the targeted recommendations that the EHRC has a legal mandate to enforce, the commission urged changes to both the party culture and its processes.
The EHRC report heavily criticized the former party leadership under Jeremy Corbyn and found that the party breached the Equality Act by committing “unlawful harassment” in several cases in which Labour MPs were found to have used “anti-Semitic tropes and suggesting that the complaints of anti-Semitism were fakes or smears.” A case cited in the report involved former London Mayor Ken Livingstone, who said “the Israel Lobby,” which aimed “to undermine Corbyn’s leadership,” was responsible for allegations of anti-Semitism against fellow Labour MP Naz Shah. Livingstone later resigned from the party. The EHRC found a further 18 “borderline cases” involving local councillors, election candidates, and branch officials. It also noted several incidents of political interference by the Leader of the Opposition’s Office in addressing complaints of anti-Semitism. The EHRC’s report provided recommendations, and the watchdog requested that the Labour Party submit an implementation plan.
During a press briefing following the release of EHRC’s report, Labour Party leader Starmer said an action plan would be submitted to the EHRC before year’s end, apologized formally to the Jewish community and Jewish Labour party members, and provided assurances that Labour accepted the report without qualification. Former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn released his own statement decrying anti-Semitism, but he suggested the findings of the report were “dramatically overstated for political reasons” by opponents and media. Party leaders subsequently suspended Corbyn from the Labour Party and removed him from the Parliamentary Labour Party, forcing him to sit as an independent MP – a first for a former leader. Corbyn contested the suspension and his wider-party membership was subsequently reinstated, but he continued to sit as an independent MP at year’s end.
British Jewish organizations and some Labour figures welcomed the EHRC report, while expressing concern about existing conditions within the Labour Party. The Campaign Against Antisemitism said, “The EHRC’s report utterly vindicated Britain’s Jews, who were accused of lying and exaggerating, acting as agents of another country, and using their religion to ‘smear’ the Labour Party.” In December, Labour published the anticipated action plan for tackling anti-Semitism within its ranks. The plan was developed within six weeks of the EHRC report’s publication and sent to Parliament on December 10, after the National Executive Committee, Labour’s ruling body, unanimously agreed. The plan commits the party to establish an independent complaints process by December 10, 2021 and to deal with the backlog of existing anti-Semitism complaints. Labour also committed to establish an advisory board of Jewish members and develop educational material on anti-Semitism. The EHRC approved the plan before publication.
In January, Conservative Party Councillor in Dudley, Colin Elcock, was suspended indefinitely from the party and was removed from the Conservative Group of councillors after tweeting that Islam was “domination not integration,” and asking if people in Iran were “all on the dole.” Council leader Patrick Harley described the comments as “inappropriate” but did not rule out a return for Elcock.
Also in January, media criticized Dominic Cummings, the Prime Minister’s chief of staff, for approving the publication of a cartoon in 2006 that depicted the Prophet Muhammad with a bomb under his turban on The Spectator website at a time when he had “overall responsibility” for the website. In February, Andrew Sabisky, an advisor to the Prime Minister, resigned after media uncovered a 2014 book review of Tatu Vanhanen’s Ethnic Conflicts, in which Sabisky questioned whether the growing Muslim population in the UK should be met with violent resistance.
On February 3, The Jewish Chronicle reported that a Labour member was expelled from the party for accusing television presenter Rachel Riley of “prostituting” her Jewish heritage. Bob James, from North Wales, was suspended from the party in March 2019 over a series of tweets aimed at Riley that included the claim that her campaign against anti-Semitism under Corbyn was “poisoning the memory of your ancestors.” He also tweeted, “Judaism is a religion but what Israel does in the name of God is pure Satanic.” The Jewish Chronicle commended Steve Cooke, a member of the Stockton North Labour Party and a party political education officer, for being “instrumental in demanding the party launch an investigation into Mr. James’s conduct.” According to the article, during the disciplinary process, it emerged that James had been subject to an earlier complaint over social media posts in which he said, “Israel is using the Holocaust as an excuse for murder.” A party source confirmed that James had been expelled and commented, “Under the previous administration, some complaints weren’t dealt with adequately,” and “Since Jennie Formby became General Secretary [in 2018], we’ve used a comprehensive, central complaints system.”
In late June, the Labour Party removed MP Rebecca Long-Bailey from her position as Shadow Education Secretary for tweeting her support for an interview that contained anti-Semitic rhetoric. Individuals described as party moderates praised Long-Bailey’s dismissal, but those characterized as more leftist within the party criticized the move.
In August, Care NI, a Christian charitable organization, stated that since 2015, 601 cases of criminal damage to religious buildings had occurred in Northern Ireland, one every three days. Care NI called for the Places of Worship security scheme to be introduced in Northern Ireland, the only region of the UK where it did not apply.
The Northern Ireland Humanists group continued to publicly call for the repeal of the region’s blasphemy laws, passed in 1891 and 1888. All major political parties supported repeal except for the Democratic Unionist Party, the largest party in the Northern Ireland Assembly, which stated, “Anti-discrimination and hate crime legislation did not provide adequate protection for Christians.”
During the year, the Scottish Parliament agreed to support the principles of the Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Bill, and the legislature’s Justice Committee was scrutinizing and amending the legislation at year’s end. The bill would repeal Scotland’s blasphemy laws. However, the National Secular Society warned that the replacement legislation risked creating a more wide-ranging definition of blasphemy, describing the bill as a “de facto clampdown on freedom of expression.”
In June, Northern Ireland Justice Minister Naomi Long announced that new hate crime legislation, including measures covering hate crimes based on religion, would not be brought forward for at least two years. An independent review into hate crime legislation, including religious hate crime, concluded in November, with 34 recommendations made to improve support for victims, widen the range of protections, as well as opportunities for restorative justice. Northern Ireland Justice Minister Long welcomed the review report, stating the recommendations will help to strengthen and update Northern Ireland’s hate crime legislation.
In July, the Christian Institute, a nondenominational Christian charity dedicated to the “furtherance and promotion of the Christian religion in the United Kingdom,” criticized the hate crime legislation review and said the report would propose extending the definition of hate crime to apply to religious practitioners opposed to same-sex marriage ceremonies. In September, the Northern Ireland Office confirmed that legislation passed in July providing for religious same-sex marriages also included equality law protections, which shield religious bodies and officiants from charges of discrimination against same-sex couples should they refuse to officiate.
In July, the legal regulations required to hold the next census in England and Wales on March 21, 2021 were passed into law. Humanists UK raised concerns, arguing that “What is your religion?” is a leading question, as it presumes respondents have, or should have, a religion. Humanist UK’s Director of Public Affairs and Public Policy Richy Thompson said, “We are hugely disappointed that the ONS [Office for National Statistics], despite its own admission that the Census religion question is leading, has chosen to continue with it for the 2021 Census.” He said “Census data is used across the country to determine religion or belief provision in public services; from school places, to hospital services, to the provision of public services.” Humanists UK conducted a public outreach campaign to ensure that individuals identifying as nonreligious understood they should mark the “no religion” box when responding.
Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom
According to Home Office figures for the 12 months ending in March, there were 6,822 recorded offenses of religiously motivated hate crimes in England and Wales, a 5 percent decrease from the previous year (7,203 in 2018/19). This marked the first decrease in religious hate crimes since the year ending March 2013, when there was a 1 percent drop. There was no breakdown by type of crime. Where the perceived religion of the victim was recorded (in 91 percent of cases), 50 percent (3,089 offenses) of religious hate crime offenses targeted Muslims, and 19 percent (1,205 offenses) targeted Jews. Of the other offenses where perceived religion was recorded, 9 percent (531 offenses) targeted Christians, 3 percent (202 offenses) Sikhs, and 2 percent (114) Hindus. According to Tell MAMA, a national project that records anti-Muslim hate crimes, figures rose sharply in March 2019 immediately following the mosque shootings in Christchurch, New Zealand. Tell MAMA recorded 95 incidents in the week following the attack; in a typical week the total was 30-35.
In Scotland, the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS) reported 660 religiously motivated crimes in the 12 months ending in March, a 24 percent increase from the 529 crimes recorded in the same period in 2018-19. 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 15 religiously motivated hate crimes committed in 41 incidents during 2019-20, a decrease from 22 crimes reported in the previous period. The PSNI additionally reported 622 sectarian crimes, described as religion being among the motivating factors, in 640 incidents during 2019-20.
The CST recorded 97 violent anti-Semitic assaults during the year, a 39 percent decrease from the 158 reported in 2019. The report noted that this was unsurprising, given that COVID-19 pandemic restrictions greatly reduced social interactions. An additional three incidents were classified by CST as “extreme violence,” meaning the incident involved potential grievous bodily harm or a threat to life, compared to one such recorded incident in 2019. There were 72 incidents of damage and desecration of Jewish property; 1,399 incidents of abusive behavior, including verbal abuse, graffiti, social media, and hate mail; 85 direct anti-Semitic threats; and, 12 cases of mass-mailed anti-Semitic leaflets or emails. Of the 72 incidents of damage and desecration of Jewish property, 45 (63 percent) involved damage to the homes and vehicles of Jewish people, compared to 53 percent in 2019. All of the listed totals were lower than those recorded over the same period in 2019. Approximately two-thirds of the 1,668 anti-Semitic incidents were recorded in the Greater London and Greater Manchester administrative regions – which are home to the two largest Jewish communities in the UK. The CST recorded 941 anti-Semitic incidents in Greater London, a decrease of 1 percent compared with 2019. The CST recorded a decrease of 31 percent in anti-Semitic incidents in Greater Manchester. The CST reported that the decrease in reported incidents was likely correlated with COVID-19 pandemic restrictions, but might also be due to lapses in information sharing between CST and the Greater Manchester Police. CST observed a broader geographical spread of anti-Semitic incidents in 2020 than in 2019. Elsewhere in the UK, CST recorded at least one anti-Semitic incident in 42 of the 43 national police regions. Several of the incidents were reported to CST by police via a national data-sharing agreement.
In July, Heshmat Khalifa, a trustee of the country’s largest Muslim charity, Islamic Relief Worldwide, stepped down after media reported his Facebook postings from 2014 and 2015 described the President of Egypt as a “pimp son of the Jews,” and Israeli authorities as “grandchildren of monkeys and pigs.” The entire board of the organization resigned in August when media reported that Khalifa’s successor, Almoutaz Tayara, and senior director Tayeb Abdoun had also posted anti-Semitic and pro-Hamas content online. Following the revelations, the Charity Commission initiated a compliance review that was ongoing at year’s end.
An attacker stabbed the muezzin of the London Central Mosque during prayers at the mosque premises on February 20. The victim survived the attack and was treated for non-life threatening wounds. London’s Metropolitan Police confirmed the attack would not be treated as a terror-related incident. The assailant, Daniel Horton, was apprehended by worshippers until police arrived. Witnesses to the attack said the assailant had been praying behind the muezzin before the attack and that he had attended the mosque previously. In response to the attack, the Muslim Council of Britain stated, “It is deeply concerning that this has happened. Given other recent attacks elsewhere, many Muslims are on edge.” Prime Minister Johnson tweeted that he was “deeply saddened,” and that his “thoughts are with the victim and all those affected.” Mayor of London Sadiq Khan announced that the Metropolitan Police would be “providing extra resources in the area,” adding, “Every Londoner is entitled to feel safe in their place of worship.” On October 12, Horton, who had converted to Islam and had been attending the mosque in recent years, pleaded guilty to charges of wounding with intent and possession of an offensive weapon. No motive has been established for the stabbing; however, when arrested, Horton told police officers, “This is not a religious attack and is not a racist attack.”
In January, a 17-year-old from northeast England was sentenced to six years and eight months for planning terrorist acts between October 2017 and March 2019, becoming the youngest person in the UK to be convicted for this crime. In November 2019, following a six-week trial, he was found guilty of planning terrorist acts, disseminating a terrorist publication, possessing an article for a purpose connected to terrorism, and three counts of possessing documents useful to someone preparing acts of terrorism. During his sentencing, the court heard of his “admiration” for Adolf Hitler and fixation on the Columbine high school massacre. His attorneys argued that the defendant was autistic, citing a psychiatric assessment in which a doctor stated that the defendant’s “cognitive age was significantly affected by his disability.” At sentencing, the judge described the defendant as a “highly intelligent” boy who had “contempt for Jewish people, black people, gay people, and disabled people.” The teenager was also sentenced to five years’ parole after his release.
On October 2, the Birmingham Crown Court convicted a 17-year-old of plotting neo-Nazi terrorist acts between April and September 2019. The individual, who was a member of the neo-Nazi group Feuerkrieg Division, was found guilty for researching how to create a firearm capable of “smashing heads.”
On January 13, a Muslim woman was assaulted outside a youth center in East London. The assailants physically assaulted the victim and pulled her hijab while shouting anti-Muslim slurs. The assault was reported to Tell MAMA and the Metropolitan Police.
On January 16, a teenager who was found guilty of committing an anti-Semitic attack on a bus in March 2018 was sentenced to a four-month youth rehabilitation program, ordered to write a letter of apology to the victim, and fined 100 pounds ($140) in compensation to the victim. The incident took place on a bus in Muswell Hill, North London, when the adolescent was 14 years old. The youth lit the victim’s hair on fire, and when confronted by the victim, asked, “Are you Jewish? You can’t be Jewish because you don’t have horns. Do Jews keep money under their caps?” The teenager also threatened to beat up the victim and destroy his laptop. The teenager pled guilty to racially and religiously aggravated common assault at Highbury Corner Youth Court. He expressed remorse and was required to complete eight hours of “activities” and one-to-one behavioral sessions with educational staff.
In August, a man in a pub in Leeds was recorded making anti-Semitic comments to a Jewish student. The victim, Danielle Greyman, said the altercation began over COVID-19 pandemic regulations on social distancing when the man questioned, “Are you Jewish?” Greyman then began recording on her cell phone. The man, Stephen Smith, appeared on video saying the victim “looks like a Jew,” that he is “German,” and then said, “We should have gassed the lot of you.” A spokesman for West Yorkshire police told press police were summoned to the pub following “a report of a hate crime.” In September, the UK Lawyers for Israel reported Smith received a criminal caution and was required to “attend offence related sessions” to address his behavior.
On January 23, several Jewish pedestrians were verbally abused in Stamford Hill, North London. The incident, in which a man screamed “Hitler did a great job in Auschwitz by killing all the Jews,” was reported by Stamford Hill Shomrim, the Jewish volunteer neighbourhood patrol.
Throughout the year, several “sticker” campaigns targeted Armagh in Northern Ireland and Liverpool in the northwest of England. On January 30, the PSNI responded to calls complaining of anti-Islam stickers in Armagh. The stickers depicted a skull and crossbones that included the phrase “No Islamic Takeover,” followed by an email address and website for the Neo-Nazi group “Combat 18.” In February, stickers allegedly from the “Hundred-Handers” white supremacist group were placed around St. Helens, near Liverpool. The stickers, found in public spaces including a bus station, featured captions such as “This is our land,” “No to Halal,” other anti-Muslim messages and anti-Semitic messages. Local police stated that the incident was being investigated as a racially aggravated hate crime. In August, Hope Not Hate stated that Sam Melia, a former member of a number of far-right organizations who had become a supporter of the government-proscribed organization National Action, was behind “Hundred Handers,” which it said “was an anonymous network seeking to provide a faceless avenue for far-right activism.” In October, similar stickers were found on street furniture across Liverpool. The stickers included anti-Semitic messaging such as “Britain is under occupation,” written across a Star of David and, “They are sexualising your CHILDREN.”
Several religiously motivated conspiracy theories surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic circulated online. According to a report by the Henry Jackson Society think tank, anti-Semitic conspiracy theories included claims that Jews used global lockdowns to “steal everything,” that Jewish public leaders used the crisis “to test the population’s willingness to comply,” and that Israel had developed a vaccine but was withholding it from other nations. Both Jewish and Muslim communities were vilified by media commentators such as Katie Hopkins, who alleged that Muslims were flouting lockdown restrictions and spreading COVID-19 by continuing Friday prayers at mosques. In July, the independent government advisory Commission for Countering Violent Extremism published a report in the wake of increased accounts of extremists exploiting the crisis to sow division among religious groups in the UK. The commission found that British far right activists and neo-Nazi groups were promoting antiminority narratives by encouraging users to deliberately infect minority groups, including Jewish and Muslim communities.
In late January, venues in Liverpool, Newcastle, Sheffield, Birmingham, Newport, Milton Keynes, and London cancelled events associated with U.S. evangelical Christian preacher Franklin Graham’s tour. The Scottish Event Campus in Glasgow cancelled his appearance following pressure from its primary shareholder, Glasgow City Council. Referencing what they said was Graham’s preaching against Islam and LGBTQI+ people, Green Party Member of the Scottish Parliament Patrick Harvie commented that for “Glasgow’s biggest publicly owned venue” to provide a “platform of hatred” would be “an offence against the values that make this city so great.” An online petition started by a Church of Scotland minister stated that hosting the preacher would “have the real potential of alienating a large number of the population that they serve.” The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (BGEA) then began legal proceedings against the venue, stating that the decision discriminated against the preacher’s Christian following. The BGEA asked the Glasgow Sheriff Court to grant an interim order requiring the venue to hold the event; however, the venue refused to respond and the court case did not proceed.
In January, Port Vale Football Club (FC) soccer player Tom Pope was widely criticized on social media for posting an anti-Semitic tweet predicting the course of a hypothetical Third World War: “We invade Iran then Cuba then North Korea then the Rothchilds [sic] are crowned champions of every bank on the planet – the end.” Port Vale FC published the following statement from Pope: “Following the reaction to my response on Twitter about the Rothschilds, I was unaware of any link between the Rothchild [sic] family and the Jewish community. If I have caused offence to anyone, I’d like to apologise enormously as this was never my intention.” The UK Footballing Association (FA) found Pope guilty of an aggravated breach of its regulation on abusive speech and sentenced him to a six-game ban and a 3,500-pound ($4,800) fine.
In July, music artist Wiley made a series of anti-Semitic comments on Twitter, including: “Listen to me Jewish community Israel is not your country I’m sorry….The Star of David that’s our thing.… Some people have gotten too comfortable on lands that don’t belong to them”; “There are 2 sets of people who nobody has really wanted to challenge #Jewish & #KKK;” and “Jewish people are the law….Work that out.” His tweets were widely criticized, and Twitter’s initial lack of action was followed by a 48-hour boycott of the platform by many leading journalists and politicians. Wiley’s tweets were reported to the Metropolitan Police as potential hate speech, and both Twitter and Facebook banned him for violating policies on hateful content. The rapper’s Jewish then-manager, John Woolf, later “cut ties” and said he no longer represented the artist. Wiley later rejected the claims of anti-Semitism, saying, “My comments should not have been directed to all Jews or Jewish people.” He went on to apologize for “generalizing” and said he wished to “apologise for comments that were looked at as anti-Semitic.”
In October, women’s lifestyle magazine Grazia fired its “Diversity Champion,” author and blogger Stephanie Yeboah, for posting anti-Semitic comments. Yeboah tweeted on the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau: “There have been bigger and more horrific genocides. They happened to brown people, though, so I guess it doesn’t matter, huh?” Other tweets included, “Every Jew has an attic but not every attic has Jews,” and “AUSCHWITZ Gas Chamber Music LMAO SMH.” Yeboah issued an apology that suggested her intention was to “highlight the lack of visibility surrounding many genocides,” but she acknowledged she “ended up diminishing the seriousness of the tragedies that the Jewish community have faced.”
In late August, sectarian rioting between Catholic and Protestant groups took place in Glasgow. A police officer was left with hearing loss and burns after being struck by a firework thrown during the rioting. On October 13, a Protestant man was sentenced to 16 months in prison for throwing the projectile, which was intended to disrupt an Irish Republican march.
In July, the Sikh Federation withdrew a threat of legal action against the Scottish government after receiving assurances that Sikhs would be listed as a distinct ethnic group on Scotland’s 2022 census. According to the Sikh Federation, the push for designation of Sikhs as an ethnic group was motivated by the fact that “ethnic group categories defined in the census” are used by public bodies in different sectors in Scotland to meet their legal duties under “equalities legislation,” whereas religious group categories are not.
On January 26, a swastika and a Celtic cross were painted on a Caribbean food shop in Greenwich, in southeast London, while another Celtic cross, the Star of David, and the word “Jews” were written across the facade of a Barclay’s bank half a mile away. The leader of Greenwich Council, Danny Thorpe, condemned the “totally appalling and horrific” messages, adding that local residents were “worried and upset” but that the community would come together. The Greenwich council quickly removed the graffiti, and the Metropolitan Police opened an investigation. On February 4, more than 150 members of the local community staged a rally against anti-Semitism and racism. One of the organizers told the local newspaper that the incident was not “just an attack on the Jewish and West Indian communities, it is an attack on all of us.”
COVID-19 pandemic regulations greatly limited opportunities for interfaith collaboration from March through the end of the year. In January, faith and belief communities came together to commemorate International Holocaust Remembrance Day and the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau.
The Chelsea FC hosted a Holocaust Remembrance reception on January 15 to unveil a commemorative mural painted on the Chelsea stadium by British-Israeli street artist Solomon Souza commemorating soccer players imprisoned in Auschwitz. The event brought together prominent members of the Jewish community, parliamentarians, and players and leading figures from the Chelsea organization. In January, Chelsea became the first sports team in the world to formally adopt the IHRA working definition of anti-Semitism. Five other Premier League clubs subsequently adopted the IHRA definition: West Ham United, Crystal Palace, Bournemouth, Burnley, and Brighton.
Throughout the year, a number of universities adopted the IHRA definition; however, several from the Russell Group, which represents 24 leading UK universities, fell short of adopting the working definition in its entirety, despite pressure from the government to do so before the year’s end. In September, freedom of information requests submitted by the Union of Jewish Students found that only 29 of 133 higher education institutions had done so. In October, Secretary for Education Gavin Williamson wrote to vice chancellors stating it was “frankly disturbing” that not all had adopted the IHRA definition and accused them of “dragging their feet.” Williamson warned that the Office for Students could take regulatory action against the noncompliant, which could include suspending funding streams. Speaking to the House of Commons Education Select Committee in October, Universities Minister Michelle Donelan said she wanted “every university to adopt this definition.” An end-of-year tally by the Union of Jewish Students found that 48 of the 133 higher education institutions had adopted the IHRA definition.
In commemoration of the 75th Anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau, The Holocaust Memorial Day Trust ran a school project entitled “75 Memorial Flames.” The trust encouraged schools, organizations, and community groups to submit designs featuring a flame. More than 300 groups from across the country registered for the project, which aimed to bring persons from all backgrounds together to remember the six million Jews killed in the Holocaust. Seventy-five memorial flames were chosen by an expert panel of artists, Holocaust survivors, and the CEO of the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust, Olivia Marks-Woldman. Of the final 75 designs, only one was from a Jewish school.
The Board of Deputies of British Jews hosted a roundtable discussion in January, bringing together representatives from across the Jewish community to meet Dolkun Isa, the President of the World Uyghur Congress. The Board of Deputies Vice-President Amanda Brown said, “In the week that we are marking International Holocaust Memorial Day,” it is “intolerable that the Uyghur Muslims are being persecuted on this scale.” She added, “It is the responsibility of all of us in the Jewish community to stand up and make our voices heard in their support.”
On March 3-5, the Churches Together in Britain and Ireland, an interfaith organization, hosted a two-day interreligious conference entitled “Towards a Christian Theological Understanding of Inter-religious Participation: Challenges, Risks, and Opportunities.” The conference focused on situations in which members of faith communities cross the boundaries between their traditions to engage in the practices of other traditions, or to share in ritual activity with members of other faiths. In September, representatives from the Catholics Bishops Conference said that a number of interfaith initiatives occurred during the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown. These consisted mainly of information sharing, in addition to working together to ensure that charitable efforts continued throughout the pandemic.
Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement
Embassy and consulate staff engaged with government officials, political parties, and religious groups to advance religious freedom issues, with a strong emphasis on digital engagement and use of social media, in response to COVID-19 pandemic restrictions. In June, the Ambassador spoke with Labour Leader Sir Keir Starmer to discuss the party’s plan to confront anti-Semitism. Throughout the year, embassy officials met counterparts from the Foreign, Commonwealth, and Development Office; the Special Envoy for Post-Holocaust Issues, Lord Sir Eric Pickles; the government’s Independent Special Advisor on Anti-Semitism, Lord Mann; and the Honorary President of the Conservative Friends of Israel, Lord Polak, in addition to Members of Parliament and advisors.
Embassy officials regularly met with representatives from a wide variety of religious groups and initiated engagement with organizations such as Humanists UK in an effort to broaden understanding of and messaging on freedom of religion and belief.
Staff from the consulate general in Belfast maintained regular contact with a wide range of religious leaders in Northern Ireland, conducting regular visits to diverse places of worship, as well as convening formal and informal gatherings to discuss religious freedom, tolerance, and the shared societal challenges faced by their communities.
On January 27, a senior embassy official represented the United States at the UK’s Holocaust Memorial Day Commemoration Ceremony, held to mark International Holocaust Remembrance Day and the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau. The official met with current and past Trustees of the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust. The Ambassador also used social media to mark the date.
In April, the Ambassador had a telephone conversation with Chief Rabbi of the United Synagogues, Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis, to pass on his best wishes for Passover and to show support for local Jewish communities during the difficult time of the COVID-19 pandemic. In May, the Ambassador called Ahmad al-Dubayan, Director General of the London Central Mosque, to commemorate Ramadan, discuss how the local Muslim community was coping with COVID-19 pandemic restrictions, and to underline the U.S. commitment to promoting religious freedom.
In June, the Ambassador hosted a virtual meeting with representatives of Jewish community organizations to discuss the Labour Party’s plan to confront the issue of anti-Semitism within the party.
In May, the Ambassador and Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom gave remarks during a virtual iftar co-hosted by the Naz Legacy Foundation as part of its #RamadanAtHome series, the largest virtual iftar series in the UK. Other speakers included prominent faith leaders from the Muslim, Jewish, and Catholic communities, as well as the Church of England. Approximately 19,000 viewers viewed the Ambassador’s remarks on the importance of promoting international religious freedom on platforms including Zoom, Facebook, and British Muslim TV. Aggregate audience figures for #RamadanAtHome totaled 76,700 livestream viewers, and globally more than 300,000 watched highlight videos on social media.
In December, a senior embassy official delivered remarks at a virtual Diwali celebration convened by the Hindu Forum of Europe. He said that despite “being faced with the difficulties of COVID-19, we saw people across our communities roll up their sleeves and get to work…to find new ways to celebrate.” The senior embassy official said that the continuation of celebrations this year was a powerful reflection of the real spirit of Diwali, the spirit that light triumphs over darkness, and that such celebrations are “a reminder for all faiths – and none – that even during the darkest times, we will continue to find light and hope and joy in each other.” The senior official also conducted a virtual candle lighting. The event included remarks from interfaith and secular leaders from across Europe. To mark National Religious Freedom Day, the Ambassador tweeted a quote from the President. The consulate general in Belfast hosted an interfaith dialogue on January 16. The event convened a diverse group of Northern Ireland’s religious leadership representing the region’s Catholic, Protestant, Buddhist, Jewish, Hindu, and Islamic communities to discuss shared concerns. Participants welcomed the U.S. initiative fostering interfaith dialogue.
To mark International Religious Freedom Day on October 27, the embassy created and tweeted a video highlighting the U.S. commitment to the promotion of religious freedom. The video included remarks made by the President and the Secretary of State. The video was viewed 3,285 times and was displayed on social media feeds more than 20,493 times.