The constitution establishes a secular state and protects freedom of religion, conscience, and belief. It also mandates the separation of religion and state. The constitution prohibits discrimination based on religious affiliation and inciting hatred or “disaffection” against any religious group. Religious groups must register with the government. A law on education permits noncompulsory religious instruction in schools owned and operated by various religious denominations. Church leaders reiterated their stance of political neutrality after the military cautioned Methodist Church leaders to desist from making calls for a Christian state. The trial of the senior management of a leading newspaper that published a letter to the editor that the government characterized as antagonistic towards the country’s Muslim community continued at year’s end.
In December vandals damaged a Hindu temple; a police investigation continued at year’s end. According to the daily newspaper, the Fiji Sun, a proliferation of anti-Muslim comments in December generated nationwide controversy after an Indian cleric posted on Facebook how he was celebrating the Prophet Muhammad’s birthday in the country. Bahais celebrated the faith’s bicentennial in October with several interfaith gatherings across the islands.
Embassy officials held meetings with senior Ministry of Foreign Affairs officials, in addition to Christian, Hindu, and Muslim religious leaders, with the aim of encouraging and maintaining an active interfaith dialogue. The embassy used social media to highlight the Ambassador’s actions respecting the country’s religious diversity.
Section I. Religious Demography
The U.S. government estimates the total population at 921,000 (July 2017 estimate). According to the 2007 census, approximately 64.5 percent of the population is Christian, 28 percent Hindu, and 6.3 percent Muslim. The largest Christian denomination is the Methodist church, which comprises approximately 34.6 percent of the population. Other Protestant denominations account for 10.4 percent of the population, Roman Catholics 9.1 percent, and other Christian groups 10.4 percent. There are small communities of Bahais and Sikhs.
Religious affiliation runs largely along ethnic lines. According to the 2007 census, most iTaukei (indigenous Fijian) citizens, who constitute 57 percent of the population, are Christian. The majority of the country’s traditional chiefs belong to the Methodist church, which remains influential among indigenous people, particularly in rural areas where 49 percent of the population lives. Most Indian Fijians, who account for 37 percent of the total population, are Hindu, while roughly 20 percent are Muslim and 6 percent Christian. Approximately 60 percent of the small Chinese community is Christian. The small community of mixed European and Fijian ancestry is predominantly Christian.
Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom
The constitution establishes a secular state and protects freedom of religion, conscience, and belief. The government may limit these rights by law to protect the freedoms of others, or for reasons of public safety, order, morality, health, or nuisance. The constitution also mandates the separation of religion and state. Citizens have the right, either individually or collectively, in public and private, to manifest their religion or beliefs in worship, observance, practice, or teaching. The constitution prohibits discrimination based on religious affiliation, and laws make inciting hatred or “disaffection” against religious groups a criminal offense. The constitution provides that individuals may not assert religious belief as a reason for disobeying the law. The constitution places limits on proselytizing on government premises and at government functions.
By law, religious groups must register with the government through trustees who may then hold land or property for the groups. To register, religious bodies must submit applications to the registrar of titles office. Applications must include names and identification of the trustees, signed by the head of the religious body to be registered, a copy of the constitution of the proposed religious body, land title documents for the land used by the religious body, and a registration fee of 2.30 Fiji dollars ($1.14). Registered religious bodies may receive an exemption from taxes after approval from the national tax agency, on the condition they operate in a nonprofit and noncompetitive capacity. By law, religious bodies that hold land or property must register their houses of worship, including their land, and show proof of title. There is no mention in the law of religious organizations that do not hold land.
Permits are required for any public meeting on public property, outside of regular religious services and houses of worship, organized by religious groups.
There is no required religious instruction under the law. Private or religious groups sometimes own or manage school properties but the Ministry of Education administers and regulates the curriculum. The law allows religious groups the right to establish, maintain, and manage places of education, whether or not they receive financial assistance from the state, provided the institution maintains educational standards prescribed by law. The law permits noncompulsory religious instruction in schools, enabling schools owned and operated by various religious denominations but receiving government support to offer religious instruction. Schools may incorporate religious elements, such as class prayer, as long as they do not force teachers to participate, and students may be excused should their parents request it. The government provides funding and education assistance to public schools, including schools owned and operated by religious organizations, on a per pupil basis. Some schools maintain their religious and/or ethnic origin, but they remain open to all students. According to the law, the government ensures free tuition for primary and secondary schools.
The country is not party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
While senior Methodist church leaders reported improved relations with the government over the past two years, at times the prime minister continued to criticize the church in parliament for what he characterized as support for the majority opposition political party. Since religion, ethnicity, and politics are closely linked, it was difficult to categorize the government’s actions as being solely based on religious identity.
On April 27, the Republic of Fiji Military Forces issued a media statement warning the Methodist church that an April 22 report by church administrators to the Ministry of Indigenous Affairs calling for the country to become a Christian state, could spark societal tension. Shortly thereafter, senior church leaders, including the Methodist church president, distanced themselves from the report and reassured the prime minister of the church’s political neutrality. Heads of other Christian faiths and the head of an interreligious organization comprised of Christians, Muslims, and Hindus also publicly affirmed their nonpolitical stance.
The Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions amended the charges against three staff members of the Fiji Times newspaper and the author of a letter to the editor, from violating the decree that prohibits publishing articles that incite and cause dislike, hatred, and antagonism toward any community, to sedition. Sedition carries a lower maximum imprisonment term of seven years. The charges stemmed from a letter to the editor published in 2016 in the Fiji Times’ indigenous language edition that prosecutors originally said incited communal antagonism against the Muslim community. The trial, postponed from December 5, is scheduled for April 2018. The court granted the postponement to allow the two accused men the opportunity to seek legal counsel after they were left without representation when the state subpoenaed their counsel to become a state witness.
Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama continued to emphasize religious tolerance during public addresses at home and overseas, stating the country is a multifaith nation with religious freedom guaranteed in the constitution.
Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom
On December 16, vandals broke into a Hindu temple in Nadi and desecrated the property with graffiti and painted racial slurs. Police officers were still investigating the case at year’s end.
In December a proliferation of anti-Muslim comments generated nationwide controversy after an Indian cleric posted on Facebook how he was celebrating the Prophet Muhammad’s birthday in the country. On Facebook, people stated concerns about the perceived increase of Muslim influence in the country. According to the Fiji Sun, a former acting director of public prosecutions criticized such anti-Muslim discourse during an annual attorney general’s conference.
Bahais celebrated the faith’s bicentennial in October by hosting several interfaith gatherings.
The Catholic Church, Anglican and Methodist churches, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon) and Seventh-day Adventist Church, as well as Hindu and Muslim groups operated numerous schools, including secondary schools, which were eligible for government subsides based on the size of the student population.
Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement
U.S. embassy officials emphasized the importance of religious tolerance in meetings with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Embassy officials met with Christian, Muslim, and Hindu religious leaders to discuss the importance of respect for religious freedom as a universal human right. For example, embassy officials met with the Methodist church’s head of communications in June to discuss the importance of religious pluralism.
The embassy used social media to highlight the Ambassador’s actions respecting the country’s religious diversity.
The constitution prohibits religious discrimination “without an acceptable reason,” and provides for the right to profess and practice a religion, to express one’s convictions, and to decline to be a member of a religious community. The law prohibits breaching the sanctity of religion, which includes blaspheming against God, defaming or desecrating to offend what a religious community holds sacred, and disturbing worship or funeral ceremonies. Religious communities must register to receive government funds. Jewish and Muslim community leaders continued to express concern about a law banning certain types of animal slaughter, including slaughter carried out in accordance with Jewish and Muslim traditions. Some politicians again made negative remarks against Muslims in social media. The Ministry of Education and Culture again awarded 80,000 euros ($96,000) in grants to religious organizations to promote interfaith dialogue. In November a district court ruled in favor of a police proposal to ban the Nordic Resistance Movement (Vastarantaliike or PVL), widely characterized as neo-Nazi, and its activities. On September 6, Prime Minister Juha Sipila and parliamentary party chairs issued a joint statement that condemned terrorism, violence, and hate speech related to religion.
Members of immigrant minority religious communities reported encountering societal discrimination, including in the workplace and when searching for employment. The nondiscrimination ombudsman’s office received 34 complaints of religious discrimination from January to June, compared with 23 cases during the same period in the previous year and 37 cases during all of 2016. The website Magneettimedia and the PVL continued to post anti-Semitic content online that advocated discrimination against persons based on their religion. The PVL made statements, particularly on its website, promoting discrimination or violence against persons based on their religion. The Finnish Ecumenical Council established a dialogue with the immigration service regarding best practices for interviewing Muslim asylum seekers who had recently converted to Christianity.
U.S. embassy staff met with various ministry officials to discuss government support for religious freedom and interfaith dialogue, religious instruction in schools, and the rights of conscientious objectors. Embassy staff also met with religious leaders from the Jewish and Muslim communities to discuss concerns about the law banning certain forms of animal slaughter and the government guidelines discouraging male circumcision. They also discussed the state of religious freedom with these communities as well as with other religious minority groups, researchers, and the Finnish Ecumenical Council.
Section I. Religious Demography
The U.S. government estimates the total population at 5.5 million (July 2017 estimate). The government statistics office and the Ministry of Education and Culture estimate approximately 72 percent of the population belongs to the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland (ELC), 1.1 percent to the Finnish Orthodox Church, and 25.3 percent do not identify as members of any religious group. Census results combine the other minority religious communities, including Muslims, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Roman Catholics, Muslims, Pentecostals, Seventh-day Adventists, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons), Jews, and the Free Church of Finland, which together account for 1.6 percent of the population.
Although there are no accurate statistics, according to a 2016 estimate from the Ministry of Education and Culture, there are approximately 65,000 Muslims, of whom approximately 80 percent are Sunni and 20 percent Shia. With the exception of Tatars, most Muslims are immigrants or descendants of immigrants who arrived in recent decades from Somalia and North Africa, Iraq, Afghanistan, the Balkans, Syria, Turkey, and Iran.
Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom
The constitution bars discrimination based on religion “without an acceptable reason.” It stipulates freedom of religion and conscience, including the right to profess and practice a religion, to express one’s convictions, and to be a member or decline to be a member of a religious community. It states no one is under the obligation to participate in the practice of a religion. The law criminalizes the “breach of the sanctity of religion,” which includes blaspheming against God, publicly defaming or desecrating to offend something a religious community holds sacred, and disturbing worship or funeral ceremonies. Violators are subject to fines or imprisonment for up to six months. Authorities have rarely applied the law, most recently in 2009.
The law explicitly prohibits religious discrimination and prescribes a nondiscrimination ombudsman responsible for supervising compliance with the law. The ombudsman investigates individual cases of discrimination and has the power to levy fines on violators, offers counseling and promotes conciliation, and lobbies for legislation, among other duties and authorities. Individuals alleging discrimination may alternatively pursue legal action through the National Non-Discrimination and Equality Tribunal or through the district court system. The decisions of the tribunal and the district court system may be appealed to the higher Administrative Court.
Individuals and groups may exist, associate, and practice their religion without registering with the government. In order to be eligible to apply for government funds, however, religious groups must register with the Patent and Registration Office as a religious community. To register as a community, a group must have at least 20 members, have as its purpose the public practice of religion, and be guided in its activities by a set of rules. A registered religious community is a legal entity that may employ persons, purchase property, and make legal claims. Nonprofit associations, including registered and unregistered religious groups, are generally exempt from taxes. According to the Ministry of Education and Culture, there are approximately 130 registered religious communities, most of which have multiple congregations. Persons may belong to more than one religious community.
All citizens who belong to either the ELC or Orthodox Church pay a church tax, collected together with their income tax payments. Congregations collectively decide the church tax amount, now set at between 1 to 2 percent of member income. Those who do not want to pay the tax must terminate their ELC or Orthodox congregation membership. Members may terminate their membership by contacting the official congregation or the local government registration office, either electronically or in person. Local parishes have fiscal autonomy to decide how to use funding received from taxes levied on their members.
Registered religious communities other than the ELC and Orthodox Church are also eligible to apply for state funds. The law states registered religious communities that meet the statutory requirements (a minimum of 20 members and the ability to collect fees) may receive an annual subsidy from the government budget in proportion to the religious community’s percentage of the population.
The ELC is required to maintain public cemeteries and account for the spending of government funds. Other religious communities and nonreligious foundations may maintain their own cemeteries. All registered religious communities may own and manage property and hire staff, including appointing clergy. The law authorizes the ELC and Orthodox Church to register births, marriages, and deaths for their members in collaboration with the government Population Register Center. State registrars do this for other persons.
Parents may determine their child’s religious affiliation if the child is under 12 years of age. The parents of a child between the ages of 12 and 17 must pursue specific administrative procedures with their religious community and the local population registration officials to change or terminate religious affiliation.
All public schools provide religious teaching in accordance with students’ religion. All classes may include information about ethics and world religions. Schools must provide religious instruction in religions other than the Lutheran faith if there is a minimum of three pupils representing that faith in the municipal region, the religious community in question is registered, and the students’ families belong to the religious community. Students who do not belong to a religious group or belong to a religious group for which special instruction is not available, may study ethics. Students age 18 or older may choose to study either the religious courses pertaining to their religion or ethics. If a student belongs to more than one religious community, the parents decide in which religious education course the student participates.
Religious education focuses on familiarizing students with their own religion, other religions, and general instruction in ethics. Although teachers of religion must have the required state-mandated training for religious instruction, the state appoints them and they are not required to belong to any religious community. The National Board of Education provides a series of textbooks about Orthodox and Lutheran Christianity, Catholicism, Judaism, and Islam, as well as a textbook on secular ethics.
The government allows conscientious objectors to choose alternative civilian service instead of compulsory military service; only Jehovah’s Witnesses are specifically exempt from performing both military and alternative civilian service. Other conscientious objectors who refuse both military and alternative civilian service may be sentenced to prison terms of up to 173 days, one-half of the 347 days of alternative civilian service. Regular military service ranges between 165 and 347 days.
The law bans certain types of animal slaughter, requiring that animals be stunned prior to slaughter or be killed and stunned simultaneously.
The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
In March the National Police Board filed a suit against the PVL with the Pirkanmaa District Court. According to national broadcaster Yle, the police accused the PVL of being “violent and racist” and aimed to outlaw the group and ban it from demonstrating, recruiting, or disseminating material. Court proceedings began on August 29. On November 30, the court ruled in favor of the police. It was the first such court-ordered ban on an organization since the 1970s. The PVL appealed the ruling, and the appeal remained pending at year’s end.
The Helsinki police created a 10-person unit with a mandate specifically to address crimes that involved infringements of the right of individuals to practice their religion. Nationwide, municipal police departments designated and trained 42 officers to become anti-hate crime instructors, and the National Bureau of Investigation created five new positions to investigate hate speech online.
According to the Ministry of Defense, there were 38 objectors to both military and alternative civilian service during 2016, the most recent year for which complete statistics were available. The ministry did not indicate how many of these individuals objected to service for religious reasons.
Leaders of the Jewish and Muslim communities continued to raise concern about the long-standing ban against certain types of animal slaughter, which they said prevented them from killing the animals in a religiously prescribed manner. Because the animals could not be slaughtered in a religiously approved manner domestically, members of these communities imported meat at higher prices. Government officials stated a provision in the law allowing simultaneous stunning and slaughter of animals was meant to accommodate religious slaughter.
Ministry of Social Affairs and Health guidelines discouraged circumcision of males, including through dialogue with religious communities, and continued to withhold public healthcare funding for such procedures. In its guidelines, the ministry stated that nonmedical circumcision of boys should only be performed by licensed physicians, a child’s guardians should be informed of the risks and irreversibility of the procedure, and it should not be carried out on boys old enough to understand the procedure without their consent. There was no formal legislation prohibiting circumcision of boys and no criminal liability for individuals who did not follow the ministry’s guidelines. Religious communities, including members of Muslim and Jewish communities, expressed disagreement with the guidelines; however, the ministry stated it had not received any protest from religious representatives regarding the requirement that only a licensed doctor perform circumcision.
There were at least two incidents in which politicians made discriminatory remarks aimed at Muslims on social media. In January a district court in Jyvaskyla found Member of Parliament Teuvo Hakkarainen (from the opposition Finns Party) guilty of incitement of racial hatred for a post he wrote on Facebook in 2016 that stated, “All Muslims are not terrorists but all terrorists are Muslims.” The court ordered Hakkarainen to pay a 1,160 euro ($1,400) fine and required him to remove the Facebook post. On multiple occasions, Juusi Halla-aho, Chair of the Finns Party, posted public comments on his Facebook profile criticizing Muslims in the country.
According to a September reporting by Yle, more than 400 (mostly Lutheran) priests signed a petition requesting the immigration service consult with them during the asylum application process regarding applicants who had converted to Christianity (Yle estimated in July that several hundred Muslim asylum seekers had converted to Christianity in “recent years”). The priests stated they feared asylum applicants who converted to Christianity while in the country could face persecution if returned to some majority-Muslim countries of origin. Additionally, media reports and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) raised concerns that some officials at the immigration service who conducted asylum interviews lacked adequate knowledge about the converts’ religions. The Finnish Ecumenical Council, an organization that described itself as aiming to promote unity among Christian denominations, established a dialogue with the Finnish Immigration Service on this issue, which it characterized as “constructive.”
News reporting and NGOs also stated there was a need for improved interpreting services for asylum seekers, particularly during interviews that included religious terminology. In response, the immigration service published press releases in June and July titled “How does converting to Christianity affect asylum applications?” and “Converting to Christianity will not automatically result in the granting of asylum.” The press releases highlighted the country’s commitment to freedom of religion and stated officials examined each asylum application individually.
The government again allocated 114 million euros ($136.85 million) to the ELC and 2.5 million euros ($3 million) to the Orthodox Church. The Ministry of Education and Culture allotted 524,000 euros ($630,000) to 28 religious organizations for various projects.
In May the Ministry of Education and Culture awarded a total of 80,000 euros ($96,000) to promote interfaith dialogue. Four organizations received funding for their projects: The National Forum for Cooperation of Religions in Finland (CORE); Filoksenia, an organization promoting cultural tolerance; Fokus, an interfaith and intercultural organization; and Ad Astra, a multicultural organization for youth.
Prime Minister Juha Sipila and all of the parliamentary party chairs signed a joint statement on September 6 that condemned terrorism, hate speech, including speech motivated by discrimination against religion, and violence.
The government is a member of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance.
Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom
From January through June (the latest period for which data were available), the nondiscrimination ombudsman’s office received 34 complaints of religious discrimination, compared with 23 complaints during the same period in 2016. The number of complaints for all of 2016 was 37. According to a police report on hate crimes in 2016, police recorded 149 suspected hate crimes related to religion or belief – 14 percent of all hate crimes – compared with the 133 cases recorded a year earlier. Anti-Muslim sentiment accounted for slightly less than half of the 2016 incidents. In the announcement for the 2016 hate crime statistics, the report’s authors stated the increase in hate speech incidents in 2016 might have been greater if the police had had more resources to address the rapid rise in hate speech online.
The PVL made statements promoting discrimination or violence against persons based on their religion and maintained an active online presence through its website and social media. The second priority of its political platform read, “With all means possible work towards reconquering power from the global Zionist elite.” The PVL continued to post anti-Semitic content on its social media pages and published other online materials glorifying Adolf Hitler. The PVL wrote on its homepage Vastarinta.com it was “a news site that stands out and dares to challenge the old, often Jewish-owned and/or -controlled mass media empires.” In April the site published the article “Who brought Muslims to Europe?” stating Jews brought Muslims to Europe and asserting that Finns must become informed about racial violence against white persons and diseases spread by Muslim immigrants. Based on its social media posts, the group appeared to have organized small-scale training camps and rallies throughout the country. The PVL had local branches in Helsinki, Turku, Tampere, Pori, Jyvaskyla, and Oulu, with an estimated 200 people taking part in its activities and events. In October 200 PVL members marched in the city of Tampere to protest a court case underway in which the prosecutor’s office was seeking to outlaw the PVL as an organization that advocated violence. On Independence Day, December 6, the PVL again organized a march though Helsinki. With approximately 450-500 participants, the march was significantly larger than the PVL’s 2016 Independence Day march, which attracted 150 participants.
The Soldiers of Odin maintained an active online presence, but the group’s public activities were limited. According to local and international media reports, leaders of the Soldiers of Odin said they organized the group in response to a security threat posed by incoming asylum seekers. Reuters reported members of the group blamed “Islamist intruders” for an increase in crime and carried signs with slogans such as “Migrants not welcome.” The group’s Facebook page included language reading “No more [expletive] mosques.” The Soldiers of Odin’s main activities included voluntary street patrols.
Minority religious communities continued to report discrimination. According to Deputy Non-Discrimination Ombudsman Rainer Hiltunen, representatives of Muslim immigrant communities continued to report workplace discrimination, such as in hiring decisions. According to law enforcement officials, members of Muslim communities in Helsinki worried about becoming targets of racist or xenophobic attacks.
According to the European Union (EU) Agency for Fundamental Rights’ Second European Union Minorities and Discrimination Survey, 38 percent of 198 Muslims surveyed in the country, all of whom had sub-Saharan African backgrounds, believed religious discrimination was very or fairly widespread in the country. Thirteen percent said they believed they had experienced discrimination because of their religion in the previous five years. Because religion and ethnicity are often closely linked, it was difficult to categorize many incidents as being solely based on religious identity. The same EU survey found 45 percent of Muslim respondents from sub-Saharan Africa in the country reported harassment due to their ethnic or immigrant background at least once in the previous year, the second-highest percentage among 15 EU countries surveyed. On the other hand, the Muslim respondents reported the highest sense of attachment to the country of (4.6 points out of five) of any of the 15 countries surveyed.
The website Magneettimedia, known for its anti-Semitic content, continued to post discriminatory statements online. In May and July it posted articles entitled “Zionist bank cartel damages Finnish mining industry” and “International drug trafficking in the hands of the Jewish elite” respectively. The former owner of Magneettimedia, Juha Karkkainen, continued to publish anti-Semitic editorials in the newspaper KauppaSuomi, a periodical available through his large chain of department stores. An editorial from April stated, “In the Finnish school system the most important ‘anti-racist’ authority has for decades been the Jew Karmela Liebkind. The primary source of Liebkind’s race theories is the ‘anthropologist’ Israel Ehrenburg [sic], who later in life changed his name to Ashley Montagu – a name attracting considerably less attention. The legacy of Israel Ehrenburg is eroding the Finnish education system not only through Karmela Liebkind but also through UNESCO.”
Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement
U.S. embassy staff met with officials from the Ministry of Education and Culture, Ministry of Justice, Ministry for Foreign Affairs, parliament’s Human Rights Center, and the nondiscrimination ombudsman’s office to discuss the promotion of religious freedom. Embassy staff discussed religious intolerance, religious instruction in schools, the rights of conscientious objectors, and restrictions on ritual animal slaughter.
Embassy staff met with religious leaders, including representatives from the Jewish and Muslim communities, the Finnish Ecumenical Council, and other minority religious groups, as well as researchers focusing on religious communities, to discuss the state of religious freedom in the country. Topics discussed with members of the Jewish and Muslim communities included their shared concerns about the impact of the ban against certain types of animal slaughter on their religious practices and the government guidelines discouraging ritual male circumcision. Embassy staff also discussed anti-Muslim discrimination with members of the Muslim community.
Embassy staff posted on social media to highlight how the U.S. celebrated Religious Freedom Day on January 16.
The embassy hosted a video conference in May between high-level national police officials and U.S. law enforcement colleagues on effective community policing programs. Among the subjects covered were how to increase religious literacy among officers and how to cope with xenophobic and other hate crimes, including those based on religion.
The constitution and the law protect the right of individuals to choose, change, and practice their religion. The president and other government officials condemned anti-Semitic, anti-Muslim, and anti-Christian acts, and the government deployed 7,000 security forces to protect sensitive sites, including religious ones. On November 1, the government ended the state of emergency in place since 2015. The government replaced it with legislation allowing prefects to close down a place of worship for up to six months if they found it promoted violence, hatred, discrimination, or terrorism. The government reported 11 of 19 Muslim religious sites it had closed over the previous two years remained closed. Jehovah’s Witnesses representatives said government authorities had interfered with their proselytizing activities in 20 cases. The government continued to enforce a ban on full-face coverings in public and the wearing of “conspicuous” religious symbols in public schools. The government announced a national plan to combat anti-Semitism.
There were crimes and other religiously motivated incidents against Jews, Muslims, and Christians, including killings or attempted killings, beatings, threats, hate speech, and vandalism. The Ministry of Interior (MOI) registered 121 anti-Muslim crimes, consisting of threats or violence, a 35 percent decline from 2016; anti-Semitic hate crimes fell by 7 percent to 311. The government, however, reported an increase in violent hate crimes against both Muslims and Jews: anti-Muslim violent hate crimes increased to 72 from 67 in 2016, while anti-Semitic violent hate crimes rose to 97 from 77 in 2016. In one incident involving the killing of a Jewish woman, Jewish groups criticized the government’s delay in filing an indictment and initially excluding anti-Semitism as a motive. Jehovah’s Witnesses cited five incidents of physical assault against their members, four of which involved injuries. According to an Ipsos poll, 22 percent of respondents thought Jews had too much power in the country, and 46 percent thought Islam was a threat to national identity. Attacks on religious sites declined to 978, an 8 percent drop from 2016.
The U.S. embassy, consulates general, and American Presence Posts (APPs) discussed religious tolerance, anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim acts, the role of religious freedom in combating violent extremism, and cooperation on these issues with officials at the Ministries of Interior and Foreign Affairs and with the country’s Ambassador-at-Large for Human Rights and Holocaust Issues. U.S. officials met regularly with religious communities and their leaders throughout the country to discuss their religious freedom concerns and encourage interfaith cooperation and tolerance, often hosting events, such as a reception by the Ambassador for faith leaders and an iftar by the Charge d’Affaires, to discuss these topics. The embassy sponsored projects and events to combat religious discrimination and advance tolerance. The embassy also funded visits to the United States for government officials, religious leaders, and nongovernmental organization (NGO) directors on three different programs that included themes of interfaith cooperation and religious tolerance.
Section I. Religious Demography
The U.S. government estimates the total population at 67.1 million (July 2017 estimate). The French government does not maintain official statistics on religious affiliation, but government studies occasionally provide estimates. As a result, statistics on religious affiliation are intermittently available and the statistical results can be inconsistent, depending on what criteria survey organizations use.
According to the most recent study by the National Institute for Demographic and Economic Studies, conducted in 2008 and published in 2010, 45 percent of respondents aged 18-50 reported no religious affiliation, while 43 percent identified as Roman Catholic, 8 percent as Muslim, 2 percent as Protestant, and the remaining 2 percent as Orthodox Christian, Buddhist, Jewish, or other.
A 2012 poll by the private firm Conseil, Sondage et Analyse found 56 percent of respondents older than 18 years identify as Catholic.
According to an Ipsos study published in the Protestant online news daily Reforme on October 26, 57.5 percent of respondents identify as Catholic, 3.1 percent as Protestant, 3.5 percent with other religions, 35 percent with no religion, and 1 percent preferred not to respond. The report estimated there are 600,000 Lutheran, 600,000 evangelical, and 800,000 nondenominational members in the Protestant community. Many evangelical churches primarily serve African and Caribbean immigrants.
The MOI estimates 8-10 percent of the population is Muslim. The Muslim population consists primarily of immigrants from former French colonies in North and sub-Saharan Africa and their descendants. According to a Pew Research Center study published in November, Muslims comprise 8.8 percent of the total population, numbering 5.72 million persons.
A 2016 report by Berman Jewish Data Bank estimated there are 460,000-700,000 Jews in the country, depending on the criteria chosen. According to the study, there are more Sephardic than Ashkenazi Jews.
The Buddhist Union of France estimates there are one million Buddhists in the country, mainly Chinese and Vietnamese immigrants and their descendants. Other religious groups estimate their numbers as follows: Jehovah’s Witnesses, 120,000; Orthodox Christians, most of whom are associated with the Greek or Russian Orthodox Churches, 80,000-100,000; The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons), 66,000; Church of Scientology, 45,000; and Sikhs, who are largely concentrated in the Parisian suburbs, 30,000.
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 respect all beliefs. The law provides for the separation of religion and state and guarantees the free exercise of religious worship except to maintain public order.
The law, as well as international and European covenants, which carry the force of law in the country, protects the freedom of individuals to choose, change, and practice their religion. Interference with the freedom of religion is subject to criminal penalties, including a fine of 1,500 euros ($1,800) and imprisonment of one month. Individuals who are defendants in a trial may challenge the constitutionality of any law they say impedes their freedom of religion.
Laws increase the penalties for acts of violence or defamation when they are committed because of the victim’s actual or perceived membership or nonmembership in a given religious group. Penalties for acts of violence that courts determine are religiously motivated are three to five years’ imprisonment and fines of 45,000-75,000 euros ($54,000-$90,000), depending on the severity of the victims’ injuries. For religiously motivated acts of public defamation, the penalties are one year’s imprisonment and/or a fine of 45,000 euros ($54,000). The government may expel noncitizens for inciting discrimination, hatred, or violence against a specific person or group of persons based on religion.
Although the law does not require it, religious groups may apply for official recognition and tax-exempt status. Religious groups may register under two categories: associations of worship, which are exempt from taxes; and cultural associations, which normally are not exempt. Associations in either category are subject to fiscal oversight by the state. An association of worship may organize only religious activities, defined as liturgical services and practices. Although not tax-exempt, a cultural association may engage in for-profit as well as nonprofit activity and receive government subsidies for its cultural and educational operations. Religious groups normally register under both of these categories. For example, Mormons perform religious activities through their association of worship and operate a school through their cultural association.
Religious groups must apply at the local prefecture (the administrative body representing the central government in each department) for recognition as an association of worship and tax-exempt status. Once granted, the association may use the tax-exempt status nationwide. In order to qualify, the group’s sole purpose must be the practice of religion, which may include religious training and the construction of buildings serving the religious group. Among excluded activities are those purely cultural, social, or humanitarian in nature. The government does not tax associations of worship on donations they receive. If the prefecture determines an association is not in conformity with its tax-exempt status, however, the government may change that status and require the association to pay taxes at a rate of 60 percent on past, as well as future, donations until it regains tax-exempt status. According to the MOI, approximately 109 Protestant, 100 Catholic, 50 Jehovah’s Witnesses, 30 Muslim, and 15 Jewish associations have tax-exempt status.
The law states “detained persons have the right to freedom of opinion, conscience, and religion. They can practice the religion of their choice…without other limits than those imposed by the security needs and good order of the institution.”
On October 18, parliament passed counterterrorism legislation to succeed the state of emergency law, which had been in effect since 2015 and expired on November 1. The legislation incorporated several provisions of the emergency law. In particular, it grants prefects (representatives of the central government) in each department the authority to close a place of worship for a maximum of six months if they find comments, writings, or activities in the place of worship “provoke violence, hatred or discrimination or the commission of acts of terrorism or praise such acts of terrorism.” The management of the place of worship has 48 hours to appeal the closure decision to an administrative court. Noncompliance with a closure decision carries a six-month prison sentence and a fine of 7,500 euros ($9,000).
The law prohibits covering one’s face in public places, including public transportation, government buildings, and other public spaces, such as restaurants and movie theaters. If police encounter a person in a public space wearing a face covering such as a mask or burqa, they are legally required to ask the individual to remove it to verify the individual’s identity. Police officials may not remove it themselves. If an individual refuses to remove the garment, police may take the person to the local police station to verify his or her identity. Police may not question or hold an individual for more than four hours. Refusing a police instruction to remove a face-covering garment carries a maximum fine of 150 euros ($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 30,000 euros ($36,000) and may receive a sentence of up to one year in prison. The fine and sentence are doubled if the victim is a minor.
By law, the government may not directly finance religious groups to build new places of worship. The government may, however, provide loan guarantees or lease property to groups at advantageous rates. The law also exempts places of worship from property taxes. The state owns and is responsible for the upkeep of most places of worship, primarily Catholic, built before 1905. The government may fund cultural associations with a religious connection.
There are three classes of territories where the law separating religion and state does not apply. Because Alsace-Lorraine 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. Local governments in the region may also provide financial support for constructing religious buildings and paying the salaries of local religious leaders. The overseas department of French Guiana, which is governed under 19th century colonial laws, may provide subsidies to the Catholic Church. Other overseas departments and overseas territories, which include island territories in the Caribbean and the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian Oceans, and several sub-Antarctic islands, may also provide funding for religious groups. This provision also applies to the portion of Antarctica the government claims as an overseas territory.
Public schools are secular. The law prohibits public school employees and students from wearing “conspicuous religious symbols,” including the Muslim headscarf, Jewish skullcap, Sikh turban, and large Christian crosses. Public schools do not provide religious instruction, except in Alsace-Lorraine and overseas departments and territories. Public schools, however, do 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 in school may homeschool or send their children to a private school. Homeschooling and private schools must conform to the educational standards established for public schools.
By law, the government subsidizes private schools, including those affiliated with religious organizations. In 98 percent of private schools, in accordance with the law, the government pays the teachers’ salaries, provided the school accepts all children regardless of an individual child’s religious affiliation. The law does not address the issue of religious instruction in government-subsidized private schools or whether students must be allowed to opt out of such instruction.
Missionaries from countries not exempted from entry visa requirements must obtain a three-month tourist visa before traveling to the country. All missionaries wishing to remain longer than 90 days must obtain long-duration visas before entering the country. Upon arrival, missionaries must provide a letter from their sponsoring religious group to apply to the local prefecture for a temporary residence card.
The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
Summary paragraph: The government reported deploying 7,000 security forces to provide reinforced security throughout the country at sensitive sites, including religious ones. At year’s end, 11 of 19 Muslim religious sites the government had deemed “radical” and closed over the previous two years, remained closed. The Collective Against Islamophobia in France (CCIF), a French Muslim NGO, said the state of emergency the government ended on November 1 had disproportionately targeted Muslims, and the law that replaced it made the discrimination permanent. The government continued to enforce the ban on full-face coverings in public. The city of Lorette added “headscarves” to the list of banned clothing by bathers in a public swimming pool, and immigration authorities required a U.S. citizen to remove her headscarf to enter the country. Jehovah’s Witnesses reported 20 incidents in which authorities interfered with the door-to-door religious proselytizing of its members. The mayor of Clichy-la-Garenne, a suburb of Paris, did not renew the lease on a city-owned space used as a mosque and encouraged its members to use a new mosque the city had helped open in May 2016. The members of the closed mosque protested the mayor’s decision by praying in front of city hall. The military increased the number of Muslim chaplains by 25 percent, to 270. The president and other government officials condemned anti-Semitic, anti-Muslim, and anti-Christian acts and “Islamist extremism.” In October the prime minister announced a national plan to combat anti-Semitism. Authorities expelled a Swiss Muslim preacher, saying he posed a risk to public order.
According to statistics released by Interior Minister Gerard Collomb and Defense Minister Florence Parly on September 14, the government deployed 7,000 security forces throughout the country to protect sensitive sites, including vulnerable Catholic, Jewish, and Muslim sites and other places of worship.
The Paris public prosecutor’s office concluded there was “sufficient evidence” against Lebanese Canadian academic Hassan Diab to justify a trial. Authorities charged Diab with bombing a synagogue in Paris during Sabbath prayers in 1980, killing four persons and injuring 40 others. The prosecutor’s decision meant the court would decide on whether Diab was in fact in the country at the time of the attack, according to media reports on December 13. An investigating magistrate was scheduled to make the final decision on whether the case would go to trial on charges of murder, attempted murder, and destruction of property as part of a criminal conspiracy. On November 14, according to media reports, Paris’ Court of Appeals extended his pretrial detention for another six months.
On February 1, then-Interior Minister Bruno Le Roux issued a statement crediting a decline in reports of religiously motivated incidents in 2016 to the results of the government’s action plan to fight racism, anti-Semitism, and all forms of discrimination linked to origin or religion. Le Roux cited the effectiveness of measures for protection of places of worship introduced in January 2015 and the successful mobilization of the country’s institutions, especially its schools, after the attacks of 2015 and 2016. According to Le Roux, “Faced with racism, anti-Semitism, anti-Muslim and anti-Christian acts, we must not relax the guard, on the contrary … we continue, and will always continue to fight against those absolutely intolerable acts which tarnish the Republic.”
According to the Ministry of Justice, as of May the penitentiary system employed the following number of chaplains: 700 Catholic (compared with 690 in 2016), 350 Protestant (349 in 2016), 270 Muslim (217 in 2016), 50 Jewish, and 50 Orthodox Christian. The most recent figures from other groups were from January 2015, when there were 111 Jehovah’s Witness and 10 Buddhist chaplains, and 50 from other religious groups. In the general detainee visiting area, any visitor could continue to bring religious objects to an inmate or speak with the prisoner about religious issues but could not pray. Policies remained in place allowing prisoners to pray individually in their cells, with a chaplain in designated prayer rooms, or, in some institutions, in special apartments where they could receive family for up to 48 hours.
Jehovah’s Witnesses officials reported 20 cases of authorities interfering with the community’s public proselytizing. In all of these instances, the Jehovah’s Witnesses continued with their proselytizing. In nine of the incidents, according to Witnesses, local police and mayors banned the community’s public proselytizing. For example, on June 20, in the region of Bourgogne-Franche-Comte, a mayor prohibited Witnesses from preaching door-to-door, saying he was concerned about the security of the town’s citizens. The group’s lawyer wrote to the mayor, stating the law did not prohibit such activity, and the Witnesses continued their religious activity. In two other occurrences, municipalities enacted ordinances prohibiting or restricting door-to-door proselytizing. In the nine other cases, town mayors and local police required Jehovah’s Witnesses to obtain authorization for door-to-door proselytizing and to show their identity cards as soon as they arrived in the community. For example, on April 15 in Saint-Ambroix, Centre-Val de Loire, according to Jehovah’s Witnesses, the Gendarmerie asked them to obtain authorization from the mayor to participate in their door-to-door canvassing. The mayor also stated he did not want the Witnesses to proselytize within his community. The lawyer for the Witnesses wrote to the chief of staff of the Gendarmerie and to the mayor, stating the activities of the Jehovah’s Witnesses were legal. Neither the mayor nor the Gendarmerie responded.
On October 6, the administrative appeals court of Nantes ruled the annual installation of a nativity scene in the hall of the General Council of the Vendee was a festive “local cultural use” of more than 20 years and thus did not violate the principle of secularism. In November 2016, the Council of State, the country’s highest administrative court, had ruled nativity scenes were permissible in town halls and other public buildings if the intent was “cultural, artistic, or festive.”
On June 16, an American citizen said security agents at Nice Airport required her to remove her headscarf, despite her objections, in order to enter the country. The woman said authorities held her in an airport security room until she consented to removing her headscarf in front of a female security agent. In response to the incident, French Ambassador to the United States Gerard Araud said the woman should take legal action to allow a French court to assess her charges of harassment based on her religious identity. The Nice border police office and Nice Airport authorities declined to comment on the incident. The woman reportedly filed suit in a French court, according to media reports.
According to media reports, the city of Lorette issued rules prohibiting full-body swimwear and veils that partially or totally concealed the face at a new public outdoor swimming pool opened on June 23. The rules required a woman to wear a one-piece or two-piece bathing suit to access the pool. According to media outlets, Aldo Oumouden, the Spokesperson for the Grand Mosque in the nearby city of Saint Etienne, said, “The mayor does not realize that this decision will further increase stigma. It is not only unnecessary but also devastating for community harmony.”
On October 6, the MOI reported that, since November 2015, authorities had closed 19 mosques or prayer rooms it deemed “radical” under the state of emergency, 11 of which remain closed.
In November 2016, the Council of State upheld a lower court’s decision to allow the town of Clichy-la-Garenne near Paris not to renew a lease for a space the Union of Clichy Muslim Associations (UAMC) was using as a mosque, according to media reports. The UAMC refused to vacate the space and continued to use it until March. On March 22, town officials changed the locks to the space, and worshipers could no longer enter it, according to press reports. During a March 24 demonstration against the closure, media outlets reported one of the imams of the former mosque said, “We demand from the mayor a dignified [prayer] space and a durable solution.” Mayor Remi Muzeau said he planned to transform the closed prayer space into a library and told the UAMC and worshippers they could use a new 1,500-square-meter (16,000 square-foot) Muslim cultural and religious center, opened in May 2016, near the old location, run by a different Muslim association. The UAMC, however, stated the new space was too far from the town center, could not accommodate a sufficient number of worshippers, and was not easily reachable via public transportation, although the city established a bus stop in front of the mosque.
Throughout the year, according to media reports, the UAMC led street prayers on Fridays in front of city hall to protest the mayor’s decision not to renew the lease. On November 10, media reported approximately 100 lawmakers, singing the national anthem and wearing tricolor sashes of office, marched on a street and disrupted approximately 200 Muslim men from praying in a road. Police kept the two sides apart and made no arrests. Valerie Pecresse, President of the Ile-de-France Regional Council and a protest organizer, said, “Public space cannot be taken over in this way.” Mayor Muzeau stated, “I want to assure the tranquility and freedom of the people of my city,” and called on the government to “ban street prayers.” On November 19, Interior Minister Gerard Collomb, referring to the November 10 incident, stated, “We will prevent street praying,” but added, “Muslims must have a place to pray.”
On October 25, the Council of State ordered the removal of a cross from a 25-foot-tall statue of Saint Pope John Paul II on public land in Ploermel, a town in Brittany. The court ruled the statue could remain but the cross must be removed within six months because it violated the religion-state separation law. The National Federation of Free Thought, a grouping of humanist associations, and two residents of the town brought the case to court. Some Christians and politicians criticized the decision, calling it another example of efforts to erase the country’s Christian heritage.
In August a Dijon administrative court ruled that schools must provide an alternative to pork school lunches in the interest of Muslim and Jewish children who do not eat pork. The Muslim Legal Defense League (LDJM) had brought the case against a town council in the Burgundy region that stopped providing a choice for school lunches in 2015. The LDJM stated the town’s decision to stop providing nonpork meals was “illegal, discriminatory, and a violation of freedom of conscience and religion.” The administrative court stated it did not accept the LDJM’s argument about religious freedom but considered the “greater interest of the child.” The judge stated the town previously had provided alternative nonpork meals since 1984 “with no argument whatsoever.”
In March a primary school in the town of Malicornay in the central part of the country suspended a teacher after he reportedly read Bible passages to his students. A group of parents requested an investigation to determine if the teacher was attempting to proselytize his students or violating the country’s secular principles.
The CCIF stated the state of emergency in effect until November 1 had disproportionally targeted Muslims, conflating fighting terrorism with promoting anti-Muslim policies. In response to the legislation succeeding the state of emergency, the CCIF issued a statement on November 2 saying the new security legislation made the abuses permitted under the state of emergency a permanent element of the law.
On April 7, the Observatory for Secularism, a body comprised of 15 senior civil servants, parliamentarians, legal experts, and intellectuals who advise the government on the implementation of the “principle of secularism,” released its fourth annual report evaluating secularism in schools, public spaces, and hospitals. The report urged media and elected representatives to cover religious matters responsibly and not sensationalize them. The Observatory also recommended greater financial transparency for religious associations.
On December 21, President Macron received leaders of major religious communities to discuss secularism, theology degrees in universities, and the placement of religious chaplains in hospitals, the military, schools, and prisons. Protestant and Jewish representatives stressed the importance of welcoming migrants.
On January 5, at an annual New Year’s meeting with religious leaders, then- President Francois Hollande thanked a group of seven religious leaders, including Christian, Muslim, Jewish, and Buddhist leaders, for calling for unity following a difficult year marked by terrorist attacks in Nice and Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray. Hollande warned of the threat of radicalization from traditional and online platforms and said it was necessary “to eliminate at the outset any amalgam between the religion of peace practiced by the Muslims of France and the odious uses of Islam by the assassins sponsored by Da’esh.” He also praised the work of religious-inspired organizations that brought “solidarity with the most deprived and also with the migrants who reach our soil after having survived terrible ordeals.”
On October 2, at an annual event celebrating the Jewish New Year at the country’s largest synagogue, Prime Minister (PM) Edouard Philippe announced a new national plan (2018-2020) to combat anti-Semitism. According to PM Philippe, the government would work closely with civil society and Jewish organizations to develop and implement the plan. He stated “a sustainable fight against anti-Semitism” must use all available preventive tools, including convention of the country’s largest Jewish umbrella organization, the culture and education. He said the plan would address online anti-Semitic activities and postings such as those that had “overrun social media.” On December 10, at the eighth Representative Council of Jewish Institutions of France (CRIF), PM Philippe said the government was protecting 822 Jewish schools in the country, as well as religious sites.
On March 10, the Republican Party (LR) published on Twitter an anti-Semitic caricature of then-presidential candidate Emmanuel Macron showing him with a long hooked nose, wearing a top hat, and using a sickle to cut a cigar. The image resembled anti-Semitic propaganda from World War II (WWII), when the country’s Vichy government collaborated with the Nazis and their deportation and extermination of Jews, according to media reports. After heavy criticism, the LR removed the tweet. A day after the tweet, LR presidential candidate Francois Fillon denounced the “unacceptable” cartoon, saying he would not tolerate dissemination of caricatures with markers of “anti-Semitic propaganda” and calling it “totally contrary to our values.” Then-president of the NGO International League Against Anti-Semitism and Racism Alain Jakubowicz also condemned the tweet, saying, “It is absolutely terrifying. I don’t know if I want to scream, cry, or give up.” Macron filed a complaint in March against the LR for publishing the tweet; however, the Paris prosecutor abandoned the case on June 13 on grounds the case was an “insufficiently characterized offense.” Although the LR launched an internal investigation, the identity of the publisher remained unknown.
On April 25, the Paris Criminal Court fined Mayor Robert Menard of Beziers 2,000 euros ($2,400) for inciting hatred and discrimination by making anti-Muslim comments. The court convicted Menard for comments he made in a September 2016 interview when he stated the number of Muslim children in Beziers was “a problem” and for tweeting in the same month his regret at witnessing “the great replacement,” an allusion to a term used by writer Renaud Camus to describe the country being overtaken by foreign-born Muslims. The fine was higher than the 1,800 euros ($2,200) initially sought by the public prosecutor. The court also ordered the mayor to pay damages of up to 1,000 euros ($1,200) to each of the seven antiracism organizations that had originally filed the suit against him.
On January 9, then-Minister of Interior Le Roux attended a memorial ceremony outside a Paris kosher supermarket, where two years earlier a gunman had killed four Jews and held 15 others hostage.
Former President Hollande, President Macron, and government ministers on many occasions condemned anti-Semitism and declared support for Holocaust education. These occasions included the February 22 annual CRIF dinner; the March 19 commemoration of the fifth anniversary of the killings of three Jewish children and their teacher by Mohammed Merah in Toulouse; the April 30 Holocaust Remembrance Day commemoration; the June 1 French Judaism Day observance; and the July 21 anniversary of the Velodrome d’Hiver roundup of Jews during WWII. At the July 21 event, President Macron said, “We will never surrender to the messages of hate; we will not surrender to anti-Zionism because it is a reinvention of anti-Semitism.”
On September 13-14 in Paris, government officials and their Israeli counterparts held their third annual bilateral working group meeting to review efforts and best practices to counter anti-Semitism in France. Ambassador-at-Large for Human Rights François Croquette led the country’s delegation, which included the head of the Interagency Delegation to Counter Racism, Anti-Semitism, and Anti-LGBT Hatred (DILCRAH) and Ministry of Education and CRIF representatives.
On June 20, President Macron and Interior Minister Collomb attended an iftar hosted by the CFCM. At the event, President Macron met with CFCM leaders Ahmet Ogras and Anouar Kbibech, as well as Rector of the Great Mosque of Paris Dalil Boubakeur. In his remarks, President Macron, the first president to attend a CFCM iftar since 2007, said the country must counter individuals who twisted the Muslim faith to justify terrorist acts, better integrate Muslims, and strive to train imams domestically to ensure they represented and conveyed values of the country. Macron encouraged the CFCM’s leaders to focus on increased dialogue with the different domestic Muslim communities. He also praised what he called the strong cooperation among the MOI, CFCM, and DILCRAH in countering anti-Muslim hate crimes.
As part of an established exchange program, the government continued to host 30 Moroccan, 120 Algerian, and 151 Turkish imams to work temporarily in the country to promote religious tolerance and combat violent extremism within Muslim communities, according to the latest available data published in a 2016 French Senate report. The report said the imams’ countries of origin paid their salaries.
On October 2, PM Philippe said the government would not question the practice of ritual slaughter. His announcement followed the creation of a commission formed by Muslim and Jewish community leaders in 2016 to protect the practice of religious slaughter, which they said was under threat.
On April 8, authorities expelled Swiss Muslim preacher Hani Ramadan for posing a serious threat to public order, according to an MOI statement. Authorities escorted him from the eastern city of Colmar, where he was participating in a conference, to the Swiss border. The statement said Ramadan had in the past adopted behavior posing a threat to the country and that “the forces of law and order … will continue to fight ceaselessly against extremism and radicalization.” Press reports said authorities had cancelled several of Ramadan’s conferences in the country during the year, notably in Roubaix in January.
In March Mayor of Montpellier Philippe Saurel joined Mayors United against Anti-Semitism, an international initiative calling on municipal leaders to publicly address and take concrete actions against anti-Semitism. As members of this initiative, mayors “pledge to pursue a zero-tolerance policy on anti-Semitism, ensure that anti-Semitic incidents are thoroughly investigated, raise public awareness of the problem, and make the physical security of Jewish communities a priority.” Other participating cities in the country included Paris, Toulouse, Strasbourg, Bordeaux, Nice, Sarcelles, and Nancy.
In June the government announced the Pithiviers train station would become a Holocaust educational and memorial site. The station was the country’s first concentration camp during WWII, housing approximately 3,500 Jews in May 1941 before their deportation to Nazi death camps.
The government is a member of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance.
Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom
Summary paragraph: There were crimes and other religiously motivated incidents against Christians, Jews, and Muslims, including killings, attempted killings, other violence, hate speech, and vandalism. In one incident in which a Muslim man defenestrated and killed a Jewish woman, Sarah Halimi, Jewish groups criticized the government’s delay in filing an indictment and initially excluding anti-Semitism as a motive. Other violent incidents included the killing of a Jewish woman, a home invasion where a Jewish family was beaten and threatened with death, five separate assaults against Jehovah’s Witnesses, assaults against two Jewish brothers, and an attempt to drive a car into a group of people gathered in front of a mosque. According to the MOI, anti-Muslim and anti-Semitic crimes declined during the year, but violent crimes increased against both groups.
The MOI reported that total registered anti-Muslim crimes (threats or violence) declined 35 percent, to 121 from 185, in 2016, while total registered anti-Semitic crimes (threats or violence) fell 7 percent, to 311 from 335. Despite the overall decline, due to a significant drop in threats, there was an upsurge in violent crimes compared with 2016. Violent acts against Jews increased from 77 to 97, and those against Muslims rose from 67 to 72. Anti-Semitic threats dropped from 258 in 2016 to 214, and anti-Muslim threats fell from 118 to 49.
In October the National Observatory against Islamophobia (ONCI), a part of the CFCM, cited “institutional discrimination against Muslims in schools, by the police, and by local authorities” as cause for concern. The CCIF stated victims were “reticent” to report anti-Muslim acts due to lack of confidence in the justice system. According to ONCI, the decline in reported anti-Muslim incidents did not mean anti-Muslim sentiment in the country had decreased. The CFCM cautioned against equating the decrease in reported acts with increased tolerance for Muslims.
On April 4, a French Malian man, Kobili Traore, killed his 65-year-old Jewish neighbor, Sarah Halimi. Neighbors heard Traore beating Halimi while reciting the Koran and shouting “Allahhu akbar” (“God is great”) and calling her Satan before throwing her from the third-story window of her apartment. On July 10, authorities arrested Traore and charged him with voluntary homicide and forcible confinement. On September 27, the prosecutor added the charge of anti-Semitism to the indictment. CRIF and the NGO National Bureau for Vigilance against Anti-Semitism (BNVCA) criticized the prosecutor for the delay in filing an indictment and not including anti-Semitism as a motive for the murder from the beginning. The case continued at year’s end.
On November 2, a criminal court in Paris found Abdelkader Merah, brother of Mohamed Merah, who killed seven persons in 2012, including a rabbi and three children outside a Jewish school in Toulouse, guilty of criminal terrorist conspiracy in connection with the 2012 killings. The court sentenced him to 20 years in prison. The court’s panel of judges found Abdelkader Merah not guilty of complicity in the killings, a charge for which the prosecution was seeking life in prison. The court also sentenced another individual in the case, Fettah Malki, to 14 years in prison for criminal association in a terrorist operation and weapons charges. Lawyers of the victims’ families, according to media reports, said they were satisfied with the verdicts; however, some family members were disappointed the court did not find Abdelkader Merah complicit in the murders.
On September 7, four men and one woman took part in an attack on a Jewish family in Livry Gargan, a northern suburb of Paris. They confined, beat, and threatened to kill the family of three, according to BNVCA. Following the attack, Interior Minister Collomb issued a statement saying, “everything will be done to identify and arrest those who carried out this cowardly attack [which] appears directly linked to the victims’ religion.” Judicial sources reported authorities arrested and detained five individuals, a 50-year-old male with a criminal record, three younger males, and a 19-year-old female, on November 28. On December 1, authorities charged them with armed robbery, illegal detention, and extortion with violence, motivated by the religious affiliation of the victims.
In October BNVCA reported to the Ministry of Education that students at a public school in Paris had assaulted a 10-year-old girl on several occasions because she was Jewish. After one assault, the girl was taken to a hospital with contusions to her stomach and rib cage, requiring 10 days to recover. Ministry of Education officials met with the mother to discuss the incident. BNVCA said the girl was transferring to another school.
On February 21, unidentified assailants assaulted two yarmulke-wearing brothers in Bobigny, a northeastern suburb of Paris. The two victims, aged 29 and 17, said their attackers yelled anti-Semitic insults and forced them to stop their vehicle in front of a cafe, from where other individuals came out to join the assailants. According to the preliminary investigation, one of the assailants attacked the victims with a hacksaw, injuring the hand of the elder brother. The younger brother suffered an injury to the shoulder. The two victims filed a complaint against the unidentified assailants, who remained at large. The investigation continued at year’s end.
Jehovah’s Witnesses officials reported five separate incidents in which individuals kicked, punched, or slapped members. On February 18 in Montagnac, Occitanie, a man invited a Witness who was proselytizing door to door onto his property and kicked him in the back twice, injuring him and causing him to lose two days of work. On February 20, in the town of Sens, a woman slapped an 87-year-old Witness distributing religious literature from a mobile cart. The Witness sustained injuries to her face, requiring three days of medical treatment. The victims filed criminal complaints in all five incidents. Police dismissed two of the cases and were investigating the three others at year’s end.
On June 29, police arrested a man who attempted to drive his car over roadside barriers into a group of people gathered in front of a mosque in the Paris suburb of Creteil. According to the Paris Police Prefecture, a man tried several times to drive through the cones and barriers protecting the mosque and, failing to get through, fled the scene. No one was injured. The 43-year-old driver had previously received psychological counseling. The press reported the man said he wanted to “avenge the [terrorist attacks on the] Bataclan and the Champs-Elysees.” Interior Minister Collomb issued a statement of solidarity with the Muslim community and said the “exact motives” of the attacker were under investigation.
In June authorities upheld the charge of anti-Semitism in the indictment against five assailants for an attack committed in 2014 against a young Jewish couple in Creteil. One of the five attackers was charged with rape and another with complicity in the rape; other charges against the five suspects included theft or attempted theft, extortion and false imprisonment with a weapon, or complicity.
On March 14, the European Court of Justice ruled a company could prohibit an employee from wearing a religious symbol if it had an internal rule banning the wearing of “any political, philosophical or religious sign.” The decision was a final ruling in a case involving a Muslim woman the firm Metropole had dismissed in 2009 for failing to remove her headscarf when meeting with clients.
The annual report of the National Consultative Commission on Human Rights, an advisory body to the prime minister, released in March, included the results of a poll conducted in October 2016 by the Ipsos Institute, a research and consulting company, involving face-to-face interviews with a representative sample of more than 1,000 residents over the age of 18. According to the poll, 35 percent of the respondents believed Jews “have a particular relationship with money,” and 22 percent thought Jews had too much power in the country. The same poll found 31 percent of respondents had a negative image of Islam and 46 percent of them considered it a threat to national identity. The report also cited what it said was persistent societal rejection of Islamic religious practices, such as prayer and women wearing a veil. According to the report, there was a decrease in anti-Semitic and racist acts and a slight rise in tolerance, “despite an environment favorable to the rejection of the other, notably marked by terrorism and the arrival of refugees.”
According to Israeli news outlet Ynetnews, 3,500 French Jews moved to Israel in 2017, compared with 5,000 in 2016.
On November 7, according to media reports, a female dentist in the town of Grigny (southwest of Lyon), refused to treat a female patient wearing a veil. The doctor reportedly also told the patient she would refuse to treat the patient’s daughter at an appointment scheduled for November 9, even though the daughter was not wearing a veil. The patients reported the dentist’s behavior to SOS Racism, a collection of NGOs dedicated to countering racism, and the dentists’ association.
In March one of the writers of the popular Bondy blog, Mehdi Meklat, was discovered to be the author, under the pseudonym Marcelin Deschamps, of anti-Semitic tweets, including, “Bring on Hitler to kill the Jews,” tweeted during the Cesars, the French equivalent of the Oscars ceremony.
On March 19, the interfaith community held events in Toulouse and Montauban to commemorate Jewish and military victims killed by Mohammed Merah in 2012. Then-Interior Minister Le Roux attended the ceremony and said “the Republic will not forget” the victims.
The MOI reported a drop of 8 percent in incidents directed against religious buildings and graves during the year, the first decline since the government began collecting such data in 2008. The overall number of incidents was 978, compared with 1,057 in 2016. Incidents against Christian sites fell by 8 percent, to 878 (949 in 2016), those against Muslims sites declined by 15 percent, to 72 (85), and those against Jewish sites increased by 22 percent, to 28 (23).
In August unknown individuals vandalized a plaque commemorating victims from the Children’s Home of Izieu, who were deported to Auschwitz in 1944. President Macron condemned the “shameful and cowardly act that won’t go unpunished.”
In September a juvenile court in Alsace sentenced five youths, who had vandalized a Jewish cemetery in 2015 when they were aged 15-17, to eight to 18 months in prison and 140 hours of community service. Shortly after issuing its decision, the court suspended the prison sentences. The defendants destroyed more than 300 graves and damaged a Holocaust memorial.
In November vandals defaced a plaque in a park in the Paris suburb of Bagneux commemorating Ilan Halimi, a Jew whom a gang kidnapped, tortured, and killed in 2006. The plaque was covered with anti-Semitic graffiti, including “Hitler,” a swastika, and “Free Fofana,” a reference to the leader of the gang that carried out the killing. Interior Minister Collomb called the vandalism “cowardly and odious,” and promised “everything will be done to identify the perpetrators.”
Jehovah’s Witnesses officials reported 11 cases of vandalism and arson at their houses of worship. Between March 15 and 23, vandals repeatedly damaged two Kingdom Halls in Bordeaux, spraying oil on the facade, tagging the buildings with graffiti, and attempting to set them on fire. The vandals also damaged cars belonging to Jehovah’s Witnesses. The local Witness association and the car owners filed a criminal complaint for each incident. The complaints for all nine cases of vandalism were pending at year’s end.
On April 23, authorities charged a woman with vandalizing a religious bas-relief at a Catholic church in Rennes-le-Chateau in Languedoc. After psychiatrists judged her mentally competent, she was arrested, tried, and convicted. On November 24, a Carcassonne criminal court sentenced the defendant to a two-month suspended prison term and ordered her to pay 17,718 euros ($22,000) in fines for the damage.
On August 19, unidentified individuals vandalized a Catholic church in Marseille for a second time with graffiti and swastikas. District Mayor Bruno Gilles condemned the act of vandalism and said authorities might file charges.
An Ipsos study commissioned by the Catholic media group Bayard cited a new category of believers: “committed Catholics,” persons who did not necessarily attend church but identified with the Catholic Church through philanthropy, family life, or social involvement. According to the study, this group comprised 23 percent of the country’s population.
On April 26, the Coordination of Associations of Muslims in Strasbourg organized a series of interfaith roundtables in that city on the topic “Citizenship: Education for Living Together.” Participants included local representatives of religious communities and associations, representatives of the city and local councils, and Anouar Kbibech, then-president of CFCM. Representatives of religious communities said French citizenship was a shared bond among the country’s diverse religious groups. The participants discussed the need to teach the region’s primary and secondary school students about the history and practices of Judaism, Christianity, Islam, and Buddhism, the major religions in the country.
On May 13, the CFCM hosted a symposium entitled “Being Female in France Today,” which brought together Muslim leaders, scholars, and local activists to discuss religious issues, secularism, and Islam. Participants debated about societal and workplace discrimination that targeted Muslim women, the role of media in perpetuating stereotypes, and the need for more visible, credible Muslim female voices in the media. Some expressed frustration with the lack of opportunities for women to speak for themselves. For example, they said that when controversy broke out in 2016 over the conservative women’s bathing garment known as the “burkini,” most commentators invited to speak about the issue on television and radio were men.
On May 21, Strasbourg celebrated the tenth anniversary of its interfaith dialogue initiative. The initiative, launched at the request of the regional government, continued to bring together religious leaders from Protestant, Jewish, Catholic, Muslim, Hindu, and Buddhist faiths to promote interfaith dialogue and to “foster friendship and a better understanding of others.”
In June the Conference of Catholic Bishops’ National Service for Relations with Islam again hosted an annual interfaith event with Muslims leaders from throughout the country. According to the bishops, the purpose of the event was to maintain regular contacts with Muslim associations and promote religious tolerance and understanding between Catholics and Muslims.
On November 5, Christian, Muslim, and Jewish organizations and individuals convened in Marseille as part of an initiative promoting interfaith tolerance and understanding. At the gathering, youth from the different communities played sports together. From November 10-12, Jewish and Muslim community leaders engaged in interfaith dialogue through visiting mosques and synagogues. According to organizers, these interreligious initiatives sought to facilitate communication, religious tolerance, and understanding among the communities.
The Council of Christian Churches, composed of 10 members from the Protestant, Catholic, Orthodox, and Armenian Apostolic Churches, continued to serve as a forum for dialogue. One observer represented the Anglican Communion on the council.
Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement
The U.S. Ambassador, Charge d’Affaires, and other staff from the U.S. embassy, consulates general, and APPs discussed issues pertaining to religious freedom and tolerance with relevant government officials, including at the religious affairs offices of the Ministries of the Interior and Foreign Affairs. In March and August the Charge d’Affaires met with Ambassador-at-Large for Human Rights and Holocaust Issues Francois Croquette. Topics discussed included religious tolerance, anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim acts, the role of religious freedom in lessening violent extremism, and bilateral cooperation on these issues.
The U.S. Ambassador hosted an interfaith reception with leaders of local religious organizations and interfaith groups in January. The reception welcomed local imams, rabbis, and priests, as well as leaders of religious associations and civil society representatives, to promote interfaith dialogue and tolerance and highlighted the vital role of freedom of religion in democratic and prosperous societies.
The Charge d’Affaires hosted an iftar in June attended by leaders of Muslim, Jewish, and Christian communities at which she emphasized U.S. support for interfaith dialogue, religious tolerance, and nondiscrimination. In her remarks, the Charge d’Affaires stressed the iftar represented “the importance of tolerance, dialogue, and friendship.” In September the Charge d’Affaires attended a Yom Kippur observance with the Jewish community, where he stressed the importance of religious freedom, tolerance, and the importance of countering anti-Semitism.
The Charge d’Affaires met in Paris with Grand Rabbi of France Haim Korsia, Rector of the Grand Mosque of Paris Dalil Boubakeur, the Rector of Notre-Dame Cathedral of Paris Patrick Chauvet, CRIF president Francis Kalifat, president Joel Mergui of the Central Consistory (the leading Jewish institution administrating Jewish religious affairs), and CFCM president Ahmet Ogras and vice president Anouar Kbibech, as well as with religious leaders in other parts of the country, to discuss their views on religious freedom and tolerance. Through these meetings, the Charge d’Affaires stressed the United States government’s commitment to promoting freedom of religion, the benefits of interfaith dialogue in promoting peace and countering radicalization, and the importance of collectively countering anti-Semitism and anti-Muslim sentiment.
Staff from the embassy and the consulates general and APPs met regularly with religious community leaders, activists, and ordinary 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 private citizens, senior Christian, Muslim and Jewish representatives and NGOs. They also hosted meetings with CRIF, the Consistory, the CFCM, and Catholic priests working on interfaith dialogue. As part of embassy engagement with Muslim community contacts outside of Paris, embassy officials traveled to Rennes in March, Toulouse in September, and Strasbourg in October and December.
On March 24, APP Rennes and embassy officials met with members of two Rennes-based Islamic cultural organizations to discuss the status of the Muslim community in the Brittany region. The conversations focused on the organizations’ outreach efforts to the local community, as well as challenges the organizations have faced, such as limited access to prayer space, resistance from neighbors to the construction of new mosques, and concerns about the conflation of terrorism and Islam.
In October staff from the APP in Bordeaux took part in a panel discussion on the separation of church and state as part of the City Hall of Bordeaux’s annual “Two Weeks of Equality” series. The year’s topic focused on managing diversity and nationalism. In November as part of outreach programs around an American speaker on inclusion in sports, APP Bordeaux staff met with Jewish and Muslim youth leaders to discuss the possibility of supporting youth sports initiatives to unite religious communities.
The embassy awarded small grants to various NGOs across the country to support projects that aimed to advance religious tolerance and integration. One program worked to help integrate children of newly arrived immigrants from different ethnic and religious backgrounds into the social fabric of the country through storytelling and local social engagement. Another program, a documentary film project, explored issues of diversity, inclusion, and religious tolerance in schools in the Marseille, Rennes, and Paris regions.
In March the embassy coordinated the visit of a Los Angeles city government delegation that exchanged best practices with religious leaders, NGO representatives, local government (the mayor of Sevran), and local police representatives on fostering integration and inclusion in minority communities.
The embassy organized and funded visits for two groups of government officials, religious leaders, and NGO representatives to the United States on building community resilience to radicalization and violent extremism and youth outreach programs that included elements of interfaith dialogue. The first program included sessions on interfaith dialogue and higher education, faith-based outreach for immigrants and refugees, and interfaith models for community building. The second program included interfaith activities focusing on youth as a primary topic.
The constitution provides for “complete freedom of religion,” separation of church and state, and equality for all regardless of religion. It prohibits persecution based on religion. Laws and policies grant the Georgian Orthodox Church (GOC) privileges not accorded to any other religious group, including legal immunity for the GOC patriarch and a consultative role in education. Ruling party amendments to the constitution generated controversy for appearing to limit freedom of religion on national security grounds. Parliament later re-amended the controversial amendments to the constitution’s religious freedom language to address civil society and international expert concerns of potential limitations on freedom of religion. The government investigated seven cases involving alleged crimes committed due to religious intolerance. Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and the Public Defender’s Office (PDO) continued to report a lack of effective investigations into crimes motivated by religious hatred, which remained a problem. The PDO reported, however, it only received three cases of violence based on religious intolerance during the year, representing a downward trend. Some NGOs and minority religious groups continued to report both national and local government resistance to minority religious groups’ construction of buildings for religious purposes. For example, Muslim representatives cited delays and a lack of transparency involving local government decisions about mosque expansion or construction in Batumi. Some religious organizations and NGOs criticized the State Agency on Religious Issues (SARI, also known as the State Agency for Religious Affairs) for functioning nontransparently, failing to promote the separation of church and state, practicing favoritism toward the GOC in restitution of buildings confiscated by the state in the Soviet era, and inadequately addressing acts of religious intolerance and discrimination in favor of the GOC in public schools. SARI dispensed the government’s compensation for “the material and moral damages inflicted upon religious groups during the Soviet period” and functioned as its consultative body on religious property issues.
Restrictions continued on religious activities in the regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, which remained outside the control of the central government. According to a SARI report, GOC clergy were unable to conduct religious services in both South Ossetia and Abkhazia. In January, while clearing the way for a training ground in Abkhazia, Russian troops bulldozed a church and a nearby cemetery in Tsebelda Village. On October 17, South Ossetia’s de facto “Supreme Court” banned Jehovah’s Witnesses as an extremist organization. The ban on Jehovah’s Witnesses continued in Abkhazia.
There were reports of vandalism and violence against religious minorities. Jehovah’s Witnesses reported 10 physical assaults on its members. Representatives of minority religious groups continued to report widespread societal belief that minority religious groups posed a threat to the GOC and to the country’s cultural values. The NGO Media Development Foundation (MDF) documented at least 92 instances of religiously intolerant remarks in national media.
The U.S. Ambassador and other embassy officials continued to meet regularly with senior government officials, including SARI leadership, the prime minister’s adviser for human rights and gender equality, and the president’s adviser for minority issues, to encourage dialogue between the government and minority religious groups. The Ambassador met with the GOC Patriarch several times to stress the importance of the GOC’s role in promoting religious diversity and tolerance. The Ambassador and other embassy officials traveled throughout the country to meet with minority religious groups, and the embassy sponsored the participation of four GOC representatives in a program in the United States on religious freedom and interfaith issues.
Section I. Religious Demography
The U.S. government estimates the total population at 4.9 million (July 2017 estimate). According to the 2014 census, GOC members constitute 83.4 percent of the population, followed by Muslims at 10.7 percent and members of the Armenian Apostolic Church (AAC) at 2.9 percent. According to the census, Roman Catholics, Yezidis, Greek Orthodox, Jews, growing numbers of “nontraditional” religious groups such as Baptists, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Pentecostals, the International Society of Krishna Consciousness, and individuals who profess no religious preference constitute the remaining 3 percent of the population.
There is a strong correlation between ethnicity, religious affiliation, and region of residence. Most ethnic Georgians affiliate with the GOC. A small number of mostly ethnic Russians are members of several Orthodox groups not affiliated with the GOC, including the Molokani, Staroveriy (Old Believers), and Dukhoboriy (Spirit Wrestlers). Ethnic Azerbaijanis are predominantly Shia Muslims and form the majority of the population in the southeastern region of Kvemo-Kartli. Other Muslim groups include ethnic Georgian Muslims in Adjara and Chechen Kists in the northeast, both of which are predominantly Sunni. Ethnic Georgian Sunni Muslims, originally from Adjara, migrated to Samtskhe-Javakheti in the 1980s. Ethnic Armenians belong primarily to the AAC and constitute the majority of the population in Samtskhe-Javakheti.
According to a census reportedly conducted in 2011 by the de facto government of Abkhazia, there are 241,000 residents of Abkhazia. A survey reportedly conducted in 2003 by the de facto government listed 60 percent of respondents as Christian, 16 percent Muslim, 8 percent atheists or nonbelievers, 8 percent followers of the pre-Christian Abkhazian religion, and 1 percent Jehovah’s Witnesses, Jews, or adherents of other religions. The remaining 7 percent list no preference.
According to a 2015 census reportedly conducted by the de facto government of South Ossetia, there are 53,000 residents of South Ossetia. Estimates indicate the majority of the population practices Christianity, followed by Islam and the “Right Faith,” a revival of the pre-Christian ethnic Ossetian religion.
Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom
The constitution prohibits persecution based on religion and prohibits compelling anyone to express his or her opinion about religion. The constitution also prohibits public and political associations that create religious animosity. The law provides for freedom of religious belief, denomination, and conscience, including the right to choose and change religious affiliation.
The constitution recognizes the special role of the GOC in the country’s history, but stipulates the GOC shall be independent from the state, and relations between the GOC and the state shall be governed by a constitutional agreement (also called a concordat). The concordat grants rights not given to other religious groups, including legal immunity for the GOC patriarch, exemption of GOC clergy from military service, and a consultative role in government, especially in education. The concordat states some of its provisions require additional legislation before they may be implemented, including the GOC’s consultative role in education.
A religious group may register with the government’s National Agency of the Public Registry (NAPR) as a Legal Entity of Public Law (LEPL) or as a nonprofit organization, both of which offer essentially the same benefits, including legal recognition when conducting activities, partial tax exemptions, and the right to own property and open bank accounts. Unregistered religious groups may conduct religious activities but do not receive the legal status or benefits conferred on registered groups.
To acquire LEPL status, the law requires religious organizations to register with the government. To register, organizations must have historic ties to the country and recognition from Council of Europe member states as a religious organization. In addition, an organization registering for LEPL status must submit to the NAPR information regarding its objectives and procedures and a list of its founders and governing body. The civil code defines the activities and rights of denominations registered under LEPL status. Groups registering as nonprofit religious organizations do not have to demonstrate historic ties to the country or recognition by Council of Europe members but must submit to the NAPR similar information on their objectives, governing procedures, and names of founders and members of their governing body.
The tax code does not consider religious activities to be economic activities, and grants registered religious groups’ partial tax exemptions for donations. Religious groups other than the GOC, however, pay profit tax on the sale of religious products, value added taxes on the provision or importation of religious products, and taxes on activities related to the construction, restoration, and maintenance of religious buildings.
Religious groups, except for the GOC, also pay property tax. According to the law on state property, no religious organization registered as an LEPL, except the GOC, may acquire nonagricultural state property through a direct sale. A denomination registered as a nonprofit organization may purchase state property. The law also grants the GOC the right to acquire state-owned agricultural land free of charge, while other religious groups must pay for land.
The criminal code prohibits interference with worship services, persecution of a person based on religious faith or belief, and interference with the establishment of a religious organization, although the code provides no definition for “establishment.” Violations are punishable by fines, imprisonment, or both. Violations committed by a public official are considered abuses of power and are punishable by fines or longer terms of imprisonment if committed by force or arms or by insulting the dignity of a victim. In cases of religious persecution, the perpetrator may face imprisonment for up to three years depending upon the use or threat of violence, his or her official position, and damages caused. In cases of unlawful interference in the right to perform religious rituals involving the use or threat of violence, offenders may face imprisonment for up to two years; in cases where the offender holds an official position, offenders may face up to five years in prison. Interference in the establishment of a religious organization is punishable by fine, correctional work for up to one year, or imprisonment for up to two years.
By law, the Chief Prosecutor’s Office (CPO) prosecutes human rights violations involving religious intolerance. The CPO’s human rights unit monitors the protection of religious freedom, while the PDO serves as the country’s human rights ombudsman and monitors complaints of restrictions on religious freedom. The PDO’s Tolerance Center coordinates the PDO’s Council of Religions and Ethnic Minorities, carries out educational activities, and monitors and analyzes cases of religious and ethnic discrimination and xenophobia.
SARI distributes the government’s compensation to Islamic, Jewish, Roman Catholic, and AAC religious organizations registered as LEPLs for “the material and moral damages inflicted upon them during the Soviet period.” According to SARI, its mandate is to promote and ensure a peaceful coexistence based on principles of equality and tolerance. According to its website, SARI’s stated responsibilities include researching the existing religious situation and reporting to the government; preparing recommendations and draft legal acts for the government; and serving as a consultative body and intermediary for the government in disputes arising between religious associations. SARI also issues recommendations to relevant state institutions on the construction of religious buildings, determination of their locations, and transfer of such properties to religious organizations.
Although the law states public schools may not be used for religious indoctrination, proselytizing, or forcible assimilation, the concordat accords the GOC the right to teach religious studies in public educational institutions and authorizes the state to pay for GOC religious schools. The law states students may pursue religious study and practice religious rituals in schools “of their own accord” to receive e religious education, but only after school hours. The law includes no special regulations for private religious schools. Outside instructors, including clergy, may only attend or direct student religious education or activities if students invite them to do so; school administration and teachers may not be involved in this process.
The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
Summary paragraph: During the year, the ruling party passed amendments to the constitution that generated controversy for appearing to limit freedom of religion on national security grounds. Parliament later re-amended the controversial amendments in response to civil society and international expert concerns of potential limitations to freedom of religion. The changes were expected to go into effect in 2018. Although the CPO reported it had investigated seven cases involving crimes potentially based on religious intolerance, similar to previous years, NGOs and the PDO stated the government was ineffective in its investigation of crimes motivated by religious hatred. NGOs and minority religious groups continued to express concern over government actions, at both the national and local levels, including resisting the construction of places of worship for minority religious groups and showing what they said was favoritism toward the GOC in the restitution of buildings confiscated by the state in the Soviet era. They also criticized SARI’s distribution of compensation funds for Soviet-era damages. Despite reported government resistance, there were some court rulings favoring the right of minority religious groups to build places of worship and schools. The GOC continued to be the only religious group allowed to have chapels in prisons. As part of the government’s human rights action plan, SARI organized activities and taught courses on religious nondiscrimination for members of the national and local governments and law enforcement. Some NGOs and the PDO said the government inadequately addressed acts of religious intolerance and discrimination favoring the GOC in public schools.
During the year, the ruling party, Georgian Dream (GD), proposed a series of constitutional amendments that included changes to the constitution’s article on the freedom of belief and conscience. The proposed amendments allowed the government to “interfere” in religious affairs based on national security. In its review of the draft amendments, the Council of Europe’s European Commission for Democracy Through Law (Venice Commission) stated that, according to the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR), “the State cannot use the need to protect national security as the sole basis for restricting the exercise of the right of a person or a group of persons to manifest their religion.” NGOs and local religious organizations also said the amendments posed a potential threat to religious freedom. In September parliament adopted the amendments, in a one party vote, to the constitution’s article on freedom of religion and belief. In November parliament reinitiated a new constitutional amendment process, including a correction to the language on freedom of religion more in line with the constitution’s language prior to the September amendments. NGOs approved of the new language that removed permission for the government to interfere in religious affairs based on national security. Parliament held its first two votes on the November amendments in December and was expected to hold its final vote in 2018. Similar to the initial amendment process, parliament approved the changes without opposition support.
The ECtHR ruled the government violated a religious freedom clause of The European Convention on Human Rights during a religiously motivated mob’s violent raid on a Jehovah’s Witnesses annual convention in 2001. After negotiations failed, the case was brought to the ECtHR in 2005. The ECtHR ruled there had been a breach of the right of the Jehovah’s Witnesses to practice their religion freely in meetings. The government agreed to pay 800 euros ($960) per plaintiff and 2,000 euros ($2,400) collectively to the Jehovah’s Witnesses as a group.
The CPO investigated seven cases involving alleged religiously motivated hate crimes during the year. Of the seven cases, one involved beating, four persecution, one damage or destruction of property together with persecution, and one abuse of official authority. According to the CPO, three of the cases of persecution were prosecuted for crimes based on religious intolerance; none of the seven cases was terminated.
As part of the government’s human rights action plan, SARI developed and taught courses on religious tolerance to more than 200 participants from the Ministry of Internal Affairs and local law enforcement and civil service officials.
The NGO Tolerance and Diversity Institute (TDI) again stated there was a lack of effective investigation into crimes motivated by religious hatred. The PDO’s December report stated it received three accounts of violence on the ground of religious intolerance during the year, which the PDO said showed a downward trend in such crimes. The PDO noted, however, that cases from previous years remained largely unresolved.
According to NAPR’s website, it approved two religious organization registration requests and denied two other requests submitted during the year. NAPR stated it denied the registration requests because they did not comply with the regulations. NAPR’s website did not specify how many registration requests it received and which religious organizations it denied registration. According to NAPR’s website, 46 religious organizations were registered as LEPLs.
Most prisons reportedly continued to have GOC chapels but no areas for nondenominational worship. According to SARI, Roman Catholic, AAC, Baptist, Muslim, and Jewish groups, services remained available upon request in the military and in prisons. According to the Tolerance Center, non-GOC religious organizations continued to face government resistance when attempting to obtain construction permits for churches. The center continued to attribute the resistance to what it termed a general societal bias in favor of the GOC.
According to TDI, although the law provides for equal treatment for applicants seeking construction permits, representatives of religious minority groups were often subject to discrimination. Construction permits are issued by local self-governing bodies, and according to TDI, “often due to the discriminatory approaches of municipalities toward religious minorities, the latter face obstacles.” TDI also noted the “problematic role” of SARI in the process, which “without a legitimate purpose and legal basis” interfered with the authority of local self-governance.
The AAC continued to request restitution of five churches in Tbilisi and one in Akhaltsikhe, all of which had been registered as state property and claimed by both the AAC and the GOC. The AAC reported it operated 57 churches in the country but did not own any of them. The AAC petitioned SARI for ownership and/or right of usage of 20 of the churches in 2015 and for the remaining churches during the year. SARI’s response remained pending at year’s end.
NGOs and some Muslim community leaders stated the government continued to exert influence over the NGO All Muslims of All Georgia (AMAG), including the appointment of AMAG religious leaders.
Muslim community members said there was a lack of government transparency around government decisions on mosques and their construction. The Muslim community continued to dispute the government’s ownership of mosques in Kvemo Kartli, Adigeni, and Adjara. Muslim community leaders and local and central government authorities remained unable to reach a mutually agreeable solution to address overcrowding in the state-owned mosque in Batumi.
In May the SARI commission, created in 2014 to resolve the ownership dispute over a religious building in the village of Mokhe in Samtskhe-Javakheti, recommended transfer of ownership of the building to the National Agency for Cultural Heritage Preservation and the provision to the local community of an alternative plot of land to construct a mosque. Local Muslims claimed ownership of the building as a 20th century mosque, while the GOC also claimed ownership as the site of a former GOC church. At year’s end construction of the new mosque continued; however, according to a SARI report, the disputed building had been fenced off and protected as a cultural heritage monument. The PDO stated the SARI commission failed to accomplish its goal of establishing the origin and ownership of the building.
The government continued to pay subsidies for the restoration of religious properties it considered national cultural heritage sites. The Ministry of Culture and Protection of Monuments allocated 977,344 lari ($374,000) during the year for the restoration of religious monuments, including 156,000 lari ($59,800) for design drafts and 821,344 lari ($315,000) for rehabilitation, conservation, and infrastructure development.
In June the Supreme Court said it would not review the Kutaisi Court of Appeal’s September 2016 ruling that residents of Kobuleti had discriminated against Muslims in 2014 by nailing a pig’s head to the front door of a planned Muslim boarding school and by erecting a cross near the property. The court ruled the individuals involved in the vandalism were obligated to provide compensation. In April the Kutaisi Court of Appeals upheld the lower court’s decision not to rule on whether the Ministry of Internal Affairs had engaged in discriminatory behavior toward Muslims in the 2014 incident when it did not stop the actions of the Kobuleti residents. The EMC appealed the court’s decision to the Supreme Court, which had not decided whether to hear the case by year’s end. At year’s end, the boarding school had not opened.
NGOs continued to report cases of religious discrimination in schools, including incidents involving the promotion of GOC theology in religion courses, GOC prayers conducted in classrooms, and the display of icons and other religious symbols in schools, despite the law’s prohibition of proselytization. The Ministry of Education’s general inspection department continued to be responsible for dealing with complaints of inappropriate teacher behavior. According to a TDI report, while the law governing general education provides for religious neutrality and nondiscrimination, religious education in public schools persisted.
According to TDI, the Constitutional Court admitted part of a case in February submitted by a group of religious organizations alleging discrimination by the government in transferring state property to the GOC. The case was originally submitted in August 2016 by the Union of All Muslims of Georgia (an NGO), Evangelical Baptist Church of Georgia, Pentecostal Church of Georgia, Evangelical Lutheran Church of Georgia, and Redeemed Christian Church of God in Georgia (represented by the Tbilisi Free University Law Clinic and TDI).
In July the Constitutional Court held its main hearing on an October 2015 case submitted by the Caucasus Apostolic Administration of Latin Rite Catholics, Evangelical Baptist Church of Georgia, Union of All Muslims of Georgia, Pentecostal Church of Georgia, Trans-Caucasian Union of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, Word of Life Church of Georgia, Holy Trinity Church, and Church of Christ to obtain equal tax status for all religious organizations. The court had previously postponed deliberations in 2016, reportedly due to the absence of a relevant expert. TDI, which represented the claimants along with the Constitutional Law Clinic of the Free University, said the court had not ruled on the case by year’s end.
The government distributed 25 million lari ($9.58 million) to the GOC in compensation for “material and moral damages” inflicted upon it during the Soviet period. In addition, in accordance with a 2014 parliamentary resolution allowing the government to compensate Islamic, Jewish, Roman Catholic, and Armenian Apostolic religious organizations registered as LEPLs, SARI disbursed compensation funds totaling 4.5 million lari ($1.72 million) to those four religious groups in coordination with the Ministry of Finance. NGOs continued to question the criteria the government used to select the four denominations and to criticize the exclusion of other religious groups.
SARI reported the year’s government disbursements as follows: 2.75 million lari ($1.05 million) to the Muslim community, represented by the AMAG; 550,000 lari ($211,000) to the RCC; 800,000 lari ($307,000) to the AAC; and 400,000 lari ($153,000) to the Jewish community. In making the disbursements, SARI again stated the compensation was “partial and of symbolic character,” and stated the government continued to take into account levels of damage and “present day negative conditions” of denominations during the selection process.
There was no progress in the government’s investigation into two November 2015 shooting incidents at the Jehovah’s Witnesses Kingdom Hall in Vazisubani, a Tbilisi suburb. No individuals were harmed in either incident. According to Jehovah’s Witnesses, the Kingdom Hall in Vazisubani suffered damage in December 2015. Local police were notified and criminal proceedings initiated. None of these three cases were resolved by year’s end.
Abuses by Foreign Forces and Nonstate Actors
Abkhazia and South Ossetia remained outside the control of the central government, and reliable information from those regions continued to be difficult to obtain. According to the de facto “constitution” adopted in Abkhazia, all persons in these regions are equal before the law regardless of religious beliefs and everyone enjoys freedom of religion. Forming associations or parties aimed at sowing religious discord is forbidden.
According to media sources in South Ossetia, the de facto “Supreme Court” issued a decision outlawing Jehovah’s Witnesses, while the de facto government in Abkhazia continued to impose a ban on the group. The de facto government was also reportedly considering the introduction of legislation to impose fines from 50,000 to 100,000 rubles ($860 to $1,700) on individuals renting property to religious groups.
According to media and online accounts, religious figures in Abkhazia made efforts to make the region’s churches autocephalous, although some local religious officials wished to resubordinate the GOC churches in the region to the Russian Orthodox Church, while others wished to resubordinate the churches to the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople. In November the GOC and the Russian Orthodox Church announced a working group to address these divisions.
The de facto authorities in Abkhazia’s Gali District reportedly did not permit GOC clergy to travel to Abkhazia to conduct religious services, and ethnic Georgians were unable to attend services in their own language. According to a SARI report, the district’s ethnic Georgian population was obliged to travel to Georgian-controlled territory to celebrate religious holidays.
According to a SARI report, no monitoring of religious monuments in South Ossetia could be conducted, and the status of most monuments in the territory was unknown.
In January Russian military units in Abkhazia reportedly destroyed a 19th century church and cemetery in order to construct a Russian military firing range.
Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom
The Jehovah’s Witnesses reported continued interference with their religious activity, including 10 physical assaults. On April 5, according to the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ country report, two Jehovah’s Witnesses were sharing their religious beliefs when a man came out of his yard, verbally insulted and physically assaulted them, and threatened to rape them. The Witnesses fled the scene. After the individual followed them, swearing and shouting “sectists” and “satanists,” the victims called police.
Criminal proceedings continued in connection with the 2016 attack on two female Jehovah’s Witnesses who were sharing Bible verses in Alexandre’s Garden in Tbilisi. Court hearings also continued at year’s end.
Representatives of minority religious groups continued to report what they termed a widespread societal belief that minority religious groups posed a threat to the GOC and to the country’s cultural values. Minority religious communities, including Muslims, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Catholics, and Protestants, continued to report resistance to their establishing places of worship and religious schools.
In July thousands of individuals marched through downtown Tbilisi to call for an end to illegal immigration, including from some predominantly Muslim countries; greater restrictions on granting residency permits to foreigners; a ban on foreign funding of civil society organizations; and the implementation of a more restrictive immigration law. Organizers of the march were a loose alliance of leaders of several nationalist groups, including a former deputy state minister for diaspora issues under the Georgian Dream government.
From January to October, the most recent period for which data was available, the MDF documented at least 92 instances of religiously intolerant statements on television, online, and in printed media by media representatives, political parties, clergy, public organizations, and others. The instances included 49 “Islamophobic” or “Turkophobic” statements related to the construction of new mosques, four anti-Catholic statements, 24 statements against Jehovah’s Witnesses, two against the Evangelical Baptist Church of Georgia, one against Armenians, and six against other religious groups. For instance, some statements included references to Muslims as terrorists and pedophiles.
Jehovah’s Witnesses reported two cases of damage to their property and vandalism. On June 17, at a Jehovah’s Witnesses Kingdom Hall, members found insulting inscriptions in English on a window, and also a cross painted upside down and a swastika painted on the facade of the building. The incident was reported to police, who started an investigation.
Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement
The Ambassador and other U.S. embassy officials regularly met with officials from the government, including SARI, the prime minister’s adviser on human rights and gender equality, and the president’s adviser on national minorities to advocate for freedom of religion for all. They also continued to meet with the PDO and with officials in its Tolerance Center on these issues.
Embassy staff continued to meet with NGOs concerned with religious freedom issues, including the Center for Development and Democracy, EMC, TDI, and 21st Century Union, as well as with religious community leaders, to promote religious tolerance and the integration of religious minorities into society.
The Ambassador and other embassy officials met with leaders from traditional and nontraditional denominations. They also visited the Pankisi Gorge, Akhalkalaki, Kvemo Kartli, and Adjara regions on several occasions to meet with local religious leaders from the Sunni Muslim, Armenian Apostolic, and Shia Muslim communities. In the meetings, embassy officials advocated for interfaith understanding, dialogue, respect, and the peaceful coexistence of all religions.
The Ambassador met with GOC Patriarch Ilia II on multiple occasions. In their meetings, the Ambassador stressed the importance of the church’s role in promoting religious diversity and tolerance.
In September the embassy sponsored the participation of four GOC representatives in a program in the United States on religious freedom and interfaith issues. The visit included topics related to U.S. laws on the separation of church and state, religious freedom, religious property ownership, and interreligious dialogue. In March embassy officials visited the Muslim community in Mokhe to learn more about the community’s religious freedom concerns. In April embassy officials visited the predominantly Muslim region of Khulo and the Kobuleti boarding school to hear the communities’ religious freedom concerns.
The constitution prohibits religious discrimination and provides for freedom of faith and conscience and the practice of one’s religion. The country’s 16 states exercise considerable autonomy on registration of religious groups and other matters. Unrecognized religious groups are ineligible for tax benefits. The federal and some state offices of the domestic intelligence service continued to monitor the activities of certain Muslim groups, and authorities shut down a Berlin mosque for what they said were its links to terrorism. 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, particularly for teachers and courtroom officials. North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW) became the last state to grant the Jehovah’s Witnesses public law corporation (PLC) status, which makes religious groups eligible for public subsidies and other benefits. While some senior government leaders continued to condemn anti-Semitism and anti-Muslim sentiment, some politicians from the Alternative for Germany (AfD) Party again made anti-Muslim and anti-Semitic statements. A report commissioned by parliament found Jews felt increasingly threatened and recommended establishing a federal commissioner on anti-Semitism. Rhineland-Palatinate announced it would establish an anti-Semitism commissioner to take office in early 2018, the first such state-level position in the country, and federal government officials indicated support for appointing one at the federal level. The interior minister said the burqa contradicted European custom. The government accepted the definition of anti-Semitism by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA).
There were reports of multiple anti-Semitic, anti-Muslim, and anti-Christian incidents. These included assaults, verbal attacks, threats, discrimination, and vandalism. Most anti-Christian incidents involved actions by Muslim migrants against migrant converts. In September migrants stabbed a Christian convert, and in January a court sentenced a man to life in prison for killing his Christian roommate in 2016 after expressing regret he could not kill more Christians. Jews expressed security concerns after widespread protests in December, some of which were anti-Semitic. In response to the protests, senior government officials condemned anti-Semitism, and some politicians warned Muslims not to engage in it. A survey by the Universities of Bielefeld and Frankfurt found three quarters of Jews felt anti-Semitism had increased. According to nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), most anti-Semitic incidents were carried out by right-wing groups, but a study by Indiana University and the University of Potsdam for the American Jewish Committee (AJC) pointed to the potential for anti-Semitism among Muslim migrants. Another cited anti-Semitism among Muslim students in Berlin schools. In March two men attacked and kicked a Muslim girl, and a speaker at a protest against a mosque called the Prophet Muhammad a pedophile. A European Union (EU) survey reported 16 percent of Muslims said they had experienced religious discrimination during the previous five years. There were demonstrations expressing anti-Muslim and anti-Islamic sentiment and to protest radical Islam. The Roman Catholic Church and the Protestant Church in Germany (EKD) continued to oppose the COS and some other religious groups publicly.
The U.S. embassy and five consulates general monitored the government’s responses to incidents of religious intolerance and expressed concerns about anti-Semitic, anti-Christian, and anti-Muslim acts. Embassy representatives met regularly with the Commissioner for Relations with Jewish Organizations and anti-Semitism Issues at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA). In February the Charge d’Affaires hosted a gathering of 100 religious, community, and government leaders to discuss ways to promote religious tolerance and condemn anti-Semitism. The embassy also hosted a meeting with members of the diplomatic community to review best practices in efforts to promote religious freedom. The embassy and consulates general maintained a dialogue with a broad spectrum of religious communities and human rights 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 80.6 million (July 2017 estimate). Unofficial estimates and figures provided by religious groups indicate approximately 30 percent of the population is Roman Catholic, and 27 percent belongs to the EKD – a confederation of Lutheran, Reformed (Calvinist), and United (Prussian Union) Protestant regional churches. Other Protestant denominations (including the New Apostolic Church, Baptist communities, and nondenominational Christians) combined account for less than 1 percent of the population. Orthodox Christians represent almost 3 percent of the population.
According to government estimates, 5.5 percent of the population is Muslim, of which 65 percent is Sunni, 12.5 percent Alevi, and 5.6 percent Shia; the remainder identifies simply as “Muslim.” According to intelligence officials, there are approximately 11,000 Salafist Muslims in the country. According to the Ministry of the Interior, approximately 25 percent of Muslims are recent immigrants; between 2011 and 2015, an estimated 1.2 million refugees immigrated from predominately Muslim countries. Estimates of the Jewish population vary widely; the Central Council of Jews estimates it at 250,000, and the religious NGO REMID at 100,000. According to REMID, groups that together constitute less than 1 percent of the population include Buddhists (270,000); Jehovah’s Witnesses (222,000); The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons) (40,000); Hindus (100,000); Yezidis (100,000); Sikhs (15,000); and COS (5,000-10,000). Approximately 36 percent of the population either have no religious affiliation or are members of unrecorded religious groups.
Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom
The constitution (also known as the basic law) prohibits discrimination on the basis of religious opinion and provides for freedom of faith and conscience and the freedom to profess a religious or philosophical creed and to practice one’s religion. The constitution also prohibits an official state church. It stipulates people shall not be required to disclose their religious convictions or be compelled to participate in religious acts. The constitution states religious instruction shall be part of the curriculum in public schools and that parents have the right to decide whether children shall receive religious instruction. It recognizes the right to establish private denominational schools. The constitution guarantees the freedom to form religious societies and states that groups may organize themselves for private religious purposes without constraint. It allows registered religious groups with PLC status to receive public subsidies from the states and to provide religious services in the military, at hospitals, and in prisons.
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. Religious groups applying for tax-exempt status must provide evidence through their statutes, history, and activities that they are a religious group.
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 (averaging 9 percent of income tax) that each state collects on its behalf, separately from income taxes, but through the state’s tax collection process. PLCs pay fees to the government for the tithing service, but not all groups utilize the service. PLC status also allows for 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, for example, requiring employees in hospitals, kindergartens, or NGOs run by a religious group be members of that group. State governments subsidize institutions with PLC status providing public services, such as religious schools and hospitals.
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, EKD, Bahais, Baptists, Christian Scientists, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Jews, Mennonites, Methodists, Mormons, Salvation Army, and Seventh-day Adventists. Ahmadi 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.
According to a ruling by the Federal Constitutional Court, general headscarf bans for teachers at public schools are a violation of religious freedom, but implementation is left to the states to determine if special circumstances apply. For example, Bavaria and Saarland render decisions on a case-by-case basis. NRW changed its laws to enable headscarf-wearing women to work as teachers. Schleswig-Holstein, Hamburg, and Bremen do not prohibit headscarves for teachers. A law in Berlin bans visible signs of religious affiliation for police, lawyers, judges, law enforcement staff, and primary and secondary public school teachers. The Berlin law permits teachers at some categories of institutions, such as vocational schools, to wear headscarves. Other states use other laws to restrict religious attire in certain circumstances.
In May the state of Baden-Wuerttemberg passed a law that prohibits judges, state prosecutors, and judicial trainees from wearing religious symbols such as kippahs and headscarves in court. Jurors are exempt from the law.
In April the federal parliament approved a law which prohibits civil servants and soldiers from wearing a full-face veil; the law took effect in June. The law further specifies that faces of all individuals must be visible during identity checks.
In August the Lower Saxony state parliament unanimously approved banning full face veils for teachers and students at schools in the state.
The federal criminal code prohibits calling for violence or arbitrary measures against religious groups or their members or inciting hatred against them. It also prohibits assaulting the human dignity of religious groups or their members by insulting, maliciously maligning, or defaming them. The federal criminal code prohibits disturbing religious services or acts of worship. Infractions are punishable by up to five years in prison and a fine. The law bans Nazi propaganda, Holocaust denial, and fomenting racial hatred.
All states offer religious instruction and ethics courses in public schools. Religious communities with PLC status (or a special agreement with the state that grants them this right despite the lack thereof) appoint religion teachers and work with the states to set the basic curriculum 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 state to state) express an interest. The states of Bavaria, Baden-Wuerttemberg, Hesse, Lower Saxony, NRW, Rhineland-Palatinate, and Saarland also offer some religious instruction in Islam. 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.
The law permits the federal government to characterize “nontraditional” religious groups 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 the government must remain neutral towards a religion and can 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.
Some federal and state laws affect religious practices. Federal animal protection laws prohibit the killing of animals without anesthesia, including when part of halal and kosher slaughter practices, although some exceptions exist. For example, pursuant to a federal administrative court decision, 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 requiring slaughter without anesthesia.
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.
Legislation barring hate speech, including religiously motivated hate speech, in social media, became effective on October 1. The law requires operators of social networks, including Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, to delete or block “obviously illegal content” within 24 hours after notification or, in more complex cases, within seven days. Operators must name a representative in the country who can react to complaints within 48 hours. Operators who fail to comply systematically are subject to fines of up to 50 million euros ($60 million).
The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
Summary paragraph: A report commissioned by the federal parliament stated Jews in the country felt increasingly threatened. The report also recommended establishing a federal commissioner on anti-Semitism. In December senior government officials from the two largest political parties expressed support for creating such a position, and Rhineland-Palatinate announced it would establish an anti-Semitism commissioner at the state level in early 2018. Police established “anti-Muslim” and “anti-Christian” as separate categories of hate crime; anti-Semitic hate crime already had its own category. Authorities continued to monitor the COS and some Muslim groups and closed a Berlin mosque they linked to terrorism. In February NRW became the final state to grant the Jehovah’s Witnesses PLC status. The COS continued to report instances of government criticism and employment discrimination. In Bavaria, a preschool/kindergarten dismissed a COS member after the state government threatened to withhold public funding, and a Munich museum dismissed a long-time employee after his COS membership became public. A court upheld the dismissal of a Muslim caregiver in Mannheim for refusing to wash male patients due to her religion. Various courts upheld restrictions on wearing religious garb or symbols at schools and in courtrooms or for safety reasons, but a Berlin labor court awarded monetary damages to two teachers not hired because they wore headscarves. Some senior government officials condemned anti-Semitism and anti-Muslim sentiment. The interior minister said burqas contradicted European custom. AfD politicians used anti-Muslim and anti-Semitic rhetoric, including during the national election campaign in August and September. One AfD leader called the Holocaust Memorial in Berlin “a monument of shame,” and the party’s election platform included a section titled “Islam Is Not Part of Germany.” The state of Berlin initiated cooperation on Holocaust education with Israel’s Yad Vashem. The federal government accepted the IHRA’s definition of anti-Semitism, and state governments continued to provide funds to support Jewish organizations and synagogues and other properties.
In April an “Independent Experts Group on Antisemitism,” composed of scientists and NGO representatives, constituted by the federal parliament in December 2014, presented its report on current developments in anti-Semitism in the country. The report stated Jews had felt increasingly threatened during the previous five years, and this could possibly be due to the growing centrality of social media as platforms for hate speech and anti-Semitic rhetoric. It also stated Jews were increasingly concerned for their safety due to everyday experiences of anti-Semitism, such as “provocations, vulgar comments, threats, and insults” which they seldom reported, and that law enforcement often did not recognize such incidents as anti-Semitic. The report cited concern about anti-Semitism by Muslims, especially among refugees and migrants. It did not provide statistics about anti-Semitic incidents. It called for improved documentation and punishment of anti-Semitic crimes, better advisory services for those affected by anti-Semitism, and a federal commissioner on anti-Semitism. The government had not implemented the report’s recommendations by year’s end.
In December Federal Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere told the media he supported the establishment of an anti-Semitism commissioner, and the Deputy Chairman of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU) caucus in the parliament, Gitta Connemann, said that she and CDU parliament caucus Chairman Volker Kauder supported the idea of establishing an anti-Semitism commissioner right after the formation of the next government. In December Integration and Migration Commissioner Aydan Ozoguz of the Social Democratic Party (SPD) also expressed support for the position’s creation.
In December Rhineland-Palatinate Minister President Malu Dreyer announced her state would establish an anti-Semitism commissioner in early 2018, the first such state-level position in the country. Dreyer said the decision was a clear signal the country would not tolerate an increase in anti-Semitic crimes.
Beginning in January police added “anti-Muslim” and “anti-Christian” as separate categories of hate crime to their criminal statistics. “Anti-Semitism” was already a category of hate crime.
In February NRW granted the Jehovah’s Witnesses PLC status, giving the group PLC status in all 16 German states.
In April NRW granted PLC status to a Hindu Temple based in Hamm.
According to reports from the federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (OPC) – the domestic intelligence service – and state OPCs and COS members, the federal and state OPCs in Baden-Wuerttemberg, Bavaria, Berlin, Bremen, Hamburg, Lower Saxony, NRW, and Thuringia continued to monitor the activities of the COS, reportedly by evaluating Scientology publications and members’ public activities to determine whether they violated the constitution. According to the OPC’s 2016 report, “Scientology aspires to a society without general and fair elections and rejects the democratic legal system.” At least four major political parties (the CDU, the Christian Social Union (CSU), the SDP, and the Free Democratic Party (FDP)) continued to exclude Scientologists from party membership.
Federal and state OPCs continued to monitor a number of Muslim groups, including Salafist movements, ISIS, Hezbollah, Hamas, Hizb ut-Tahrir, Tablighi Jama’at, and Milli Gorus. The website of the NRW OPC stated the Muslim Brotherhood “rejects democracy.” According to the federal OPC, the Muslim Brotherhood had more than 1,040 members in the country. The federal OPC 2016 report also stated the Milli Gorus Islamic Community, an organization of the Turkish diaspora, undertook reforms and had become “less connected to extremism.” As a result, the report stated the group’s members “are no longer to be classified as belonging to the extremist scene.” The group’s membership dropped significantly from approximately 31,000 in 2013 to an estimated 10,000, possibly in response to these reforms, according to the report.
Groups under OPC observation said the monitoring could trigger police investigations, and their status as meriting OPC scrutiny implied they were extremist and constrained their ability to apply for publicly funded projects.
In February authorities shut down the “Fussilet 33” mosque in Berlin, which they called a center for radicalizing Muslims and collecting funds for terrorist activities. More than 400 police officers took part in 24 raids connected to activities at the mosque. Anis Amri, who carried out a bombing attack on a Berlin Christmas market in December 2016, had reportedly frequented the mosque.
In January the Osnabruck Administrative Court in Lower Saxony rejected a teacher’s claim for compensation after the Lower Saxony school department withdrew her job offer in 2013 upon learning she intended to teach wearing a headscarf. The administrative court found the department’s 2013 decision could not have taken into account a later verdict by the Constitutional Court that a general headscarf ban for teachers contradicted the constitution.
In March a female Muslim caregiver from Mannheim in the state of Baden-Wuerttemberg was fired from her job because she refused to wash men due to her religious principles. She filed a lawsuit against her employer at the Mannheim labor court; the court found she had violated her work contract and her dismissal was justified.
In April a school in Berlin instructed a teacher not to wear a necklace with a cross when in the school, citing the state law prohibiting public school teachers from wearing religious symbols at work. The woman removed the cross from her necklace.
A May decision by the higher administrative court in the state of Hesse confirmed that judicial trainees were not permitted to wear headscarves while appearing in public courts. In July the Federal Constitutional Court confirmed the Hesse court decision, stating the prohibition was a “temporary infringement” on religious freedom.
In May federal Interior Minister de Maiziere told the media he believed it appropriate for churches to play a role in religious freedom discussions: “I would like to see churches become involved in controversial issues … including what an enlightened European Islam should look like and where religious freedom ends.” In the same interview, he said the burqa “contradicts our European customs of showing the face.”
In July a judge of the Luckenwalde local court in Brandenburg ordered a Syrian refugee to remove her headscarf while attending a court hearing about her divorce. The woman’s lawyer challenged the order, stating his client was not a civil servant and the law barring headscarves in court therefore did not apply to her. In August the judge was dismissed from the case for bias; the new judge, the director of the court, allowed the woman to wear a headscarf.
In September an administrative court in Mannheim in Baden-Wuerttemberg ruled that a Sikh from Konstanz must wear a helmet when riding a motorcycle and that the man’s religious freedom to wear a turban was not of greater importance than ensuring the safety of all road users. The man had sued the city of Konstanz for denying him an exception on religious grounds.
In Berlin, three female teachers filed separate lawsuits accusing Berlin schools of not hiring them because they wore headscarves. In February one defendant received 8,680 euros ($10,420) after the Berlin labor court concluded the school had violated equal opportunity laws. In July the Berlin labor court awarded the second defendant 7,000 euros ($8,400). The third case was pending. The schools had invoked the Berlin law prohibiting teachers from wearing religious symbols at work. The labor court said it would consider the law and the merits of each lawsuit on a case-by-case basis.
The federal government provided 6.0 million euros ($7.2 million) and 2.5 million euros ($3.0 million), respectively, in support of the Augsburg and Luebeck synagogues and 2.0 million euros ($2.4 million) for the enlargement of the Chabad Lubawitsch Jewish educational center in Berlin. The federal government and the state of Saxony provided 3.7 million euros ($4.4 million) for the renovation of the Goerlitz synagogue. According to the Federal Agency for Civic Education, the construction of mosques was usually financed by Muslim organizations and associations themselves.
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 provided 10 million euros ($12 million) annually to help maintain Jewish cultural heritage, restore the Jewish community, and support integration and social work. In addition, the federal government provided financial support to the Institute for Jewish Studies in Heidelberg, the Rabbi Seminar at the University of Potsdam, and the Leo Baeck Institute, an international research group on the history and culture of German Jewry.
State governments provided funds to Jewish communities and organizations in various amounts, for such purposes as the renovation and construction of synagogues. The federal government continued to cover 50 percent of maintenance costs for Jewish cemeteries. State and local police units continued to provide security for synagogues and other Jewish institutions.
In May Stuttgart Airport opened a prayer booth that featured 300 prayers from various religions in 65 languages.
In May the University of Essen-Duisburg, NRW, in response to a Muslim student group’s appeal for a prayer room, established “a room of silence” open to students of any religion at both its campuses for a trial period of several years.
Unlike Catholic, Protestant, and Jewish groups, the Muslim community did not have a sole representative body to work with states to plan curricula for religious education classes. Some states, such as Baden-Wuerttemberg, formed advisory councils with representation from several Muslim groups to assist in planning the curriculum for Islamic classes. The Alevi Muslim community continued to offer separate religious lessons in schools in seven federal states for approximately 1,500 students.
In February an administrative court in Muenster, NRW, upheld a 2012 lower court ruling against the Jewish community in Essen for its refusal to allow a non-Jewish woman to be buried in a local cemetery. The woman and her Jewish husband had purchased a burial plot together at the cemetery, which later changed its statutes to restrict burials only to Orthodox Jews.
The COS continued to report governmental discrimination. “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.
According to a COS spokesperson, in the summer a preschool/kindergarten in Munich dismissed a nurse who was a member of the COS after the city government announced it would cut the kindergarten’s public funding due to the employee. The COS reported the House of Art, a public art museum in downtown Munich, dismissed a long-time employee in March after his COS membership became publicly known. The COS reported the former employee filed a complaint at the Munich labor court. Information on the status of the case was unavailable at year’s end. The media reported the House of Art began using sect filters for new employees in April.
The COS said firms owned or operated by its members also suffered discrimination. According to the COS, some of its members who suffered discrimination refrained from taking legal action because they felt a trial would be time-consuming and because they feared being stigmatized and losing business contracts.
Opposition parties, internet companies, and civil rights groups criticized the law restricting online hate speech. At a parliamentary hearing in March, eight out of 10 experts testifying about the law raised constitutional concerns, particularly the provision assigning responsibility for deciding on the legality of content to content operators. Although operators could refer difficult cases to an independent commission for adjudication, critics said details on the commission or the process remained unclear. They stated the uncertainty and the high fines for noncompliance would lead to “overblocking” out of an abundance of caution and thus would limit freedom of expression.
In January Bjorn Hoecke, the AfD’s state leader in Thuringia, denounced the Holocaust Memorial in Berlin as a “monument of shame.” The comment sparked national debate about anti-Semitism and free speech. Then-SPD party leader and Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel said, “Hoecke despises the Germany I am so proud of. Never, never, ever must we leave the demagogic comments by Hoecke without objection.” A member of parliament from the Left Party filed legal charges against Hoecke that the Dresden public prosecutor’s office dropped in March. Hoecke received some criticism from within his party but remained an active member. Leaders of the CDU/CSU, SDP, Greens, and Left Party denounced the remarks.
In April deputy AfD chairman Albrecht Glaser said during a speech at an AfD party convention in Oestrich-Winkel, Hesse that “Islam is a construct that neither knows nor respects religious freedom itself…Who treats a basic right in this manner needs to be excluded from this basic right.” Glaser was elected to parliament in September, and the AfD caucus nominated him as its candidate for vice president of parliament. According to parliamentary procedure, normally each party in parliament is allotted at least one vice presidential position. In this case, however, all other parties expressed concerns about Glaser’s nomination due to his remarks on Islam, and he failed to get the necessary majority of parliamentary votes in three ballots in October. At year’s end, the AfD’s vice presidential position in parliament remained unfilled.
In its election platform for the September federal parliamentary elections, the AfD called for abolishing Islamic theology at universities and Islamic classes at schools. One section of the party platform was titled, “Islam is not part of Germany.” Justice Minister Heiko Maas commented that parts of the AfD election platform violated the constitution.
In September just after the federal parliamentary elections, the Central Council of Jews expressed fears about the success of the AfD and its entry into the federal parliament for the first time. The council’s president said, “A party that tolerates right-wing extremist thinking in its ranks and incites hatred against minorities … will now be represented in parliament and nearly all state legislatures … I expect our democratic forces to expose the true nature of the AfD and its empty, populist promises.”
During the final federal cabinet meeting before the September elections, the government officially acknowledged the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism: “Anti-Semitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of anti-Semitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.” The Central Council of Jews welcomed this decision as an important step towards combating anti-Semitism. The Ministry of Interior stated on its website that it hoped the definition would be used to educate teachers, police, and legal experts. Interior Minister de Maiziere stated, “We Germans are particularly vigilant when our country is threatened by an increase in anti-Semitism. History made clear to us, in the most terrible way, the horrors to which anti-Semitism can lead.”
During festivities that celebrated the 100th anniversary of a synagogue in Augsburg, Bavaria in June, Federal President Frank-Walter Steinmeier called upon Germans to fight anti-Semitism. He stated anti-Semitism was present not only as demagogic slogans but also in side conversations between intellectuals, adding that one should not accept “immigrants from Muslim countries importing their concepts of the enemy.”
In June Berlin announced it would become the 11th state to cooperate on Holocaust education with the Yad Vashem World Holocaust Remembrance Center in Israel. Berlin Senator for Education Sandra Scheeres said anti-Semitism and right-wing extremism were issues in Berlin schools and vowed to send 20 teachers to Israel annually for training on Holocaust education. State officials were to develop new teaching materials jointly with Yad Vashem’s International School for Holocaust Studies.
In April the Cologne Labor Court in NRW dismissed a lawsuit brought by two imams against the Turkish Islamic Union for Religious Affairs (DITIB). A Turkish ministerial decree in 2016 had ordered the imams to leave their positions and return to Turkey. The court found the government of Turkey employed the imams and the DITIB was therefore not liable.
In May Foreign Minister Gabriel hosted a meeting of 100 religious leaders from 53 countries to establish “long-term and trusting relations between religious representatives around the globe” and to “showcase positive examples of active peace work by religious communities,” according to the foreign ministry’s website.
The country is a member of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance.
Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom
Summary Paragraph: There were numerous anti-Semitic, anti-Muslim, and anti-Christian incidents, including physical and verbal attacks, death and other threats, online hate speech, arson, burglary, and vandalism. In December Jewish representatives expressed security concerns following protests, some of which were anti-Semitic, about the U.S. decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. In response to the protests, senior government officials condemned anti-Semitism, and some politicians warned Muslims not to engage in anti-Semitism. According to a preliminary government report to parliament, police recorded 1,453 anti-Semitic crimes during the year. An NGO stated anti-Semitism was “latently present” in society, and an academic study found 75 percent of Jews felt anti-Semitism had increased over the previous five years. Civil society groups said most anti-Semitic incidents were carried out by right-wing groups, but they cited growing concern over potential anti-Semitism by Muslim groups. The federal OPC report categorized 31 violent incidents in 2016 as “anti-Semitic motivated by right-wing extremism.” One NGO study found widespread anti-Semitism among recent Middle Eastern immigrants, and another cited anti-Semitism among Muslim students in Berlin. In many anti-Christian incidents, Muslim migrants acted against migrant converts. In September migrants stabbed a Christian convert twice. In January a court sentenced a man to life in prison for killing his roommate after writing he was sorry he could not kill more Christians. In March two men kicked a Muslim girl. In July a speaker at a protest against a proposed mosque called the Prophet Muhammad a pedophile. An EU survey found 16 percent of Muslims reported experiencing religious discrimination over the previous five years. PEGIDA (Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the West) continued to organize weekly demonstrations against immigration and expressing anti-Muslim sentiment. There were demonstrations against what participants called radical Islam. DTIB reported 115 attacks on mosques in 2016. The Catholic Church and the EKD continued to oppose the COS publicly.
In September two Muslim migrants in Berlin attacked a Christian convert from Afghanistan. After asking him why he had changed his religion, the attackers tore off the convert’s cross necklace, repeatedly punched him in the face, and stabbed him twice in the upper body. The state prosecution office launched an investigation, which was ongoing at year’s end.
In March two men attacked a 14-year-old Syrian girl standing at a bus stop in Hoerstel in NRW. They asked her if she was Muslim, tore off her headscarf, pushed her to the ground and kicked her. The suspects fled by car. At year’s end, police had not reported any arrests in the case.
In January the district court in Freiburg, Baden-Wuerttemberg, convicted a man of the 2016 killing of his roommate, a Christian, and sentenced him to life in prison. Three days before the crime, the man had written a text saying he was sorry he could not kill more Christians.
In September the public prosecutor in Dresden filed charges in connection with the bombing of a mosque in 2016. The investigation identified the suspect as one of the speakers at a 2015 PEGIDA demonstration. There were no injuries in the bombing. The suspect remained in police custody at year’s end.
In April the local court in Dusseldorf, NRW fined a refugee 400 euros ($480) for threatening to kill another refugee living in the same shelter because he had converted from Islam to Catholicism, according to press reports. He appealed the judgment to the regional court.
In September the media reported an Afghan refugee fled his shelter in Berlin after Muslim refugees threatened him when he said he was not fasting during Ramadan because he was Christian. As the man fled, other refugees reportedly shouted they would kill him if he came back. The man reportedly found shelter in a church.
In June Berlin Muslims opened a mosque that organizers said they hoped would bring “modern and liberal Muslims” together. One of the main organizers received death threats for opening the mosque. Police officers were investigating and provided protection to the organizer.
In December Jewish representatives expressed security concerns following protests in various cities about the U.S. decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and said they had increased security at synagogues and Jewish schools. In Mulheim, NRW in December, the Jewish community cancelled a Hanukkah event, citing security concerns. In December the head of the Thuringia OPC, Stephan Kramer, told Der Spiegel magazine that many Jews no longer felt safe to show they were Jewish.
According to preliminary statistics the government provided to parliament in response to a specific request by a member, the police recorded 1,453 anti-Semitic crimes during the year, including 32 cases of violence, 160 cases of property damage, and 898 cases of hate speech.
The media widely reported one case of a Jewish woman who in March removed her son from a high school, which reportedly had a large proportion of Turkish and Arab students, after months of bullying and physical violence. The school told media it would report the attacks to the police. The London-based Jewish Chronicle stated the case highlighted concerns of parents and educators about anti-Semitic harassment of Jewish students, particularly by children of Arab and Turkish descent. The newspaper quoted Aaron Eckstaedt, principal of the privately run Moses Mendelssohn Jewish High School in Berlin, as saying the school received six to 10 applications every year from parents wanting to move their children out of schools where they experienced anti-Semitic harassment. According to Eckstaedt, in most cases families complained about the relative lack of response to the problem from state schools. The media also cited a report by Deutschlandfunk Radio, which featured Jewish teachers from throughout the country who said they were afraid to identify themselves as Jewish to students. According to the report, one teacher said a student told him that if he saw a Jew he would “immediately kill him.” The teacher added, “And he meant it.”
In December police arrested a man after he harassed a Jewish restaurateur outside his Israeli restaurant in Berlin. The man told the restaurateur, “everything is about money with you,” and “No one will protect you … you can all go to the gas chamber.” Commenting on the incident, head of the Central Council of Jews Josef Schuster said the “disgusting attack brings home the point that ant-Semitism has become mainstream, where it is expressed openly and bluntly.” According to press reports, an online video of the incident was viewed more than 600,000 times. Police released the suspect and were conducting an investigation at year’s end.
The Catholic Church and the EKD continued to oppose COS publicly. “Sect commissioners” of the EKD and the Catholic Church investigated “sects and cults” and publicized what they considered to be the dangers of these groups. EKD “sect commissioners” warned the public about what they said were the dangers posed by the COS, the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification (Unification Church), Bhagwan-Osho, Transcendental Meditation, and Universal Life. “Sect commissioners” continued to produce print and internet literature portraying these groups unfavorably.
In April head of the Central Council of Jews Schuster told the media he did not think a general headscarf ban was compatible with the constitution. Government employees should “be able to wear religious symbols as long as they come to neutral decisions and act neutrally,” he added.
In July two separate groups in Sulzbach, Saarland, Burgerinitiative “Sulzbach wehrt sich” (Citizen’s Initiative “Sulzbach Fights Back”) and Die Freien Wahler Sulzbach (The Free Voters Sulzbach) protested the construction of a planned mosque by the Muslim Community Saarland, a group with approximately 60 members that was monitored by the OPC. At one of the protests, a speaker called the Prophet Muhammad a pedophile and advocated the closing of borders and against construction of the mosque “so that Sulzbach remains a German village.”
An AJC nonrepresentative survey of 27 Berlin teachers at 21 schools – conducted in 2015-16 with the support of the Berlin State Senate and presented in July during a joint press conference of the AJC and Berlin Education Senator Sandra Scheeres – found some Muslim students acted as “moral guardians,” who rebuked other Muslim students for secular views and pressured them to adopt Islamic dress and a conservative religious image. These “guardians,” whom the survey stated were trained by Salafists, also monitored teachers’ statements. One third of the teachers surveyed reported conflict between the religious beliefs of some students and basic democratic values. Teachers reported cases of pupils crossing out Israel in maps and atlases.
A study by the Bertelsmann Foundation released in August stated that, although Muslims in the country had higher employment rates than in other western European countries and approximately the same employment rate as non-Muslim Germans, in part because of a strong economy, devout Muslims faced discrimination in the labor market. According to the study, it was more difficult for these Muslims to find jobs that matched their qualifications, and their salaries were lower than those of nonpracticing Muslims.
According to a survey released by the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights in September, 16 percent of Muslims in Germany stated they had experienced discrimination because of their religion over the previous five years. Discrimination appeared to have a racial as well as a religious component, as Muslims of Turkish origin reported experiencing much lower levels of discrimination for any reason (33 percent over the previous five years and 18 percent over the previous 12 months) than Muslims from sub-Saharan Africa (65 percent and 50 percent, respectively). In addition, 8 percent of Muslims from sub-Saharan Africa said they had experienced physical violence over the previous 12 months due to their ethnic or immigrant background, the highest rate of any Muslim group in the 15 EU countries surveyed. Muslims’ feeling of attachment to the country was just below the average for the countries surveyed, 4.0 on a five-point scale.
In April a bus driver in Emden, Lower Saxony, refused to let a pregnant woman wearing a full-face veil onto his bus on three occasions, citing “security concerns.” Local authorities were examining the case, according to the city spokesperson.
In April Patrick Siegele, head of the Anne Frank Center in Berlin and a member of the Independent Experts Group on anti-Semitism, told parliament right-wing individuals were the biggest source of anti-Semitism in the country, although Muslims were often portrayed as the main source of anti-Semitism. Participants at a December conference of Jewish researchers, journalists, activists, and artists in Berlin expressed similar views and cited annual interior ministry statistics that attributed the “vast majority” of anti-Semitic crimes to right-wing offenders.
According to a study issued in April titled “Jewish perspectives on Anti-Semitism,” by Professors Andreas Zick of the University of Bielefeld and Julia Bernstein of the Frankfurt University of Applied Sciences, approximately 75 percent of Jews felt anti-Semitism had somewhat or strongly increased over the previous five years. The same percentage of respondents, however, said they felt at ease in the country. A 2016 study by Leipzig University found more than 10 percent of respondents agreed that Jews had too much influence, and 9.5 percent agreed with the statement that “Jews use bad tricks more than other people to reach their aims.”
A joint study by Indiana University and the University of Potsdam for the AJC, which consisted of interviews with 68 refugees from Syria and Iraq in December 2016, stated that “anti-Semitic ways of thinking and stereotypes were very widespread” among new arrivals from Syria and Iraq, participants had inaccurate views of the Holocaust, and almost all of the interviewed immigrants had “a fundamentally negative image of Israel and questioned its right to exist.” The study concluded that imported anti-Semitic ideologies created “a potential for anti-Semitic acts that could be mobilized by radicalization or political activity.” The study cited the need for further research through representative polling.
In a report on anti-Semitism during the period 2016-17, the NGO the Amadeu Antonio Foundation wrote, based on its own work and its review of studies of other organizations such as the Friedrich-Ebert-Foundation and Hamburg University, that anti-Semitism was latently present in society as a whole and that AfD voters were four times more likely to agree with anti-Semitic statements than were voters of parties then represented in the federal parliament. The most common anti-Semitic acts, according to the foundation, were threats and hate speech, much of it online.
The U.S. decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in early December prompted at least a dozen demonstrations in front of U.S. diplomatic facilities and smaller demonstrations elsewhere across the country. Protesters numbered from several hundred to well over a thousand. According to press reports, some participants burned Israeli flags, displayed Hamas symbols, and chanted anti-Semitic slogans. For example, some protesters chanted in Arabic, “Jews, remember Khaybar, the army of Muhammad is returning,” a reference to a battle in which Muslims defeated Jews in the year 628. Police detained a number of protesters. The government reacted swiftly to condemn anti-Semitic actions and language at several of these events. Chancellor Merkel told the press on December 11 she condemned “this violation of fundamental principles of the rule of law” and expressed opposition to “any form of anti-Semitism.” Speaking at the Israeli embassy, President Frank-Walter Steinmeier expressed dismay that anti-Semitism had not yet been overcome in the country, and said he was “shocked and shamed” by the acts and sentiments. Foreign Minister Gabriel, Justice Minister Maas, and Interior Minister de Maiziere also publicly condemned anti-Semitism. Government spokesman Steffen Seibert said, “One has to be ashamed when hatred of Jews is put on display so openly on the streets of German cities.”
In response to the demonstrations, other political leaders directed warnings at Muslim protesters. Parliamentarian and head of the CDU youth organization Paul Ziemak told the media that Muslim organizations should accept Israel’s right to exist and pledge to combat anti-Semitism or they would lose the possibility to apply for public funding. Green party cochair Cem Ozdemir warned migrants not to participate in anti-Israel protests. CDU parliamentarian Armin Schuster told the media that foreigners living in the country should be extradited if they burned Israeli flags.
According to the Central Council of Muslims (ZMD), political parties increasingly distanced themselves from Islamic associations because they were concerned that foreign nations and organizations could influence Muslims with money and by sending radical imams to mosques in the country. In September the council published 30 questions of interest to Muslims and answers by the political parties, as a decision-making tool for Muslim voters in the federal elections.
PEGIDA continued to organize weekly demonstrations in Dresden. Amid calls to curb immigration, PEGIDA supporters regularly expressed anti-Muslim sentiments during the rallies. Journalists reported being pushed and threatened when reporting on the demonstrations. The number of participants at PEGIDA marches remained constant at approximately 1,500-2,000 protesters per rally, according to several media reports.
In May a women’s march in Hamburg to protest radical Islam and right-wing extremism had 300 participants instead of the 3,000 organizers said they expected. According to press reports, some organizations planning to participate in the event cancelled their participation after organizers published on their website, “We do not think that emancipation and feminism are compatible with a headscarf.”
In June approximately 1,000 persons gathered in Cologne under the theme “Not With Us – Muslims and Friends Against Violence and Terror” to condemn terrorism, hate, and violence in the name of Islam. The ZMD in Germany, the Turkish Community in Germany, and various organizations from political parties, labor unions, charities, and churches supported the demonstration.
In April DITIB reported 115 attacks on mosques in 2016, the most recent year for which data were available, compared with 99 from the previous year. In 2016, there were six cases of arson (seven in 2015), 16 threatening letters (nine in 2015), 24 cases of burglary and vandalism (21 in 2015), six of incitement to hatred (13 in 2015), eight of damage to property (0 in 2015), and 10 of depositing pig heads or pork meat (three in 2015).
In February residents of the neighborhood of a Bosniak mosque in Bielefeld, NRW, called the fire brigade after they heard windows being smashed and saw fire coming from inside the building. There were no injuries. An arson investigations by police was in progress at year’s end.
In May pig carcasses were discovered at the site of Erfurt’s Ahmadiyya Muslim community’s future mosque. Thuringia Minister of State Bodo Ramelow called the attack “disgusting” and tweeted the attackers had “no respect for issues of belief and freedom of religion.” State security was investigating at year’s end.
In June unidentified vandals spray painted several gravestones in a Jewish cemetery in Gotha, Thuringia, with swastikas and Nazi slogans. The mayor and members of the city council publicly condemned the crimes and ordered the cleaning of the gravestones. Police officers were investigating at year’s end.
In June the NGO RIAS reported that unidentified individuals vandalized multiple gravesites at a cemetery in Stahnsdorf, Brandenburg. The vandals placed insults on an information slab at the gravesite of actor Joachim Gottschalk, who had refused to separate from his Jewish wife and child under the Nazi regime, and demolished the flower decoration at a Jewish gravesite. Police officers were investigating at year’s end.
The media reported some refugees had chosen to convert to Christianity but stated reliable numbers on this issue were not available. Deutschlandfunk Radio cited Thomas Schirrmacher, a sociologist of religion, as stating in February that the EKD, Protestant churches that were not part of EKD, and the Catholic Church had each seen approximately 1,000 conversions – more than during all of the previous 50 years, he said. Deutschlandfunk linked this to the rising number of refugees. It also stated “sects” used refugees’ fear of deportation to promote conversions and incentivized them by offering accelerated baptism, free lunch, and transportation costs.
A pastor at the Dreieinigkeits Church in Berlin said he baptized 500 refugees in 2016, and he believed his congregants were being baptized for legitimate reasons; not simply to gain protected status. He stated at his church the baptism class was a serious months-long commitment. According to the pastor, more than 90 percent of the church’s converts were former Shia Muslims, some of whom converted to Christianity prior to arriving in the country.
In March social workers from the Central Council of Jews, the Central Welfare Office for Jews in Germany, and the ZMD met to discuss the integration of refugees through education. At the conference, Central Council of Jews head Schuster said despite differences, Jewish and Muslim communities often faced similar challenges as minorities needing the support of society, particularly “in times of growing anti-Semitism and Islamophobia.”
Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement
The U.S. embassy and the five consulates general continued to closely monitor the government’s responses to incidents of religious intolerance. The embassy officers regularly met with the MFA Commissioner for Relations with Jewish Organizations and anti-Semitism Issues, expressed concern about anti-Semitism in the country and discussed issues such as accepting the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism.
Embassy and consulate general representatives met with members and leaders of numerous local and national religious and civil society groups about their concerns related to freedom of worship. Topics of discussion with Jewish groups included concerns of anti-Semitism being imported by refugees into the country. Embassy and consulate general representatives also discussed issues pertaining to religious freedom and tolerance with the Roman Catholic, Protestant, and Evangelical Churches; COS; ZMD; Association of Islamic Cultural Centers; Coordination Council of Muslims in Germany; Alevi Muslims; Council of Religions Frankfurt; Konrad Adenauer Foundation; and human rights NGOs.
The U.S. embassy and consulates general sponsored eight state-level education policymakers on a visit to the United States to learn how NGOs counter radicalization and violent extremism, including anti-Semitism. Another U.S.-sponsored program involved the participation of two individuals to study programs to advance minority rights. The program included a meeting with the Coalition Against Hate Crimes – an organization started by the AJC. A former participant of U.S. government-funded leadership exchange programs, Sawsan Chebli, a senior official in Berlin’s city government and daughter of Palestinian refugees, founded a working group against anti-Semitism at the Berlin Senate in November and publicly called for Muslims to speak up against anti-Semitism.
The Charge d’Affaires gave remarks on tolerance, nondiscrimination, and respect for ethnic and religious diversity at an embassy reception to mark Hanukkah, in advance of an annual menorah lighting ceremony in central Berlin. The embassy and consulates general supported programs in support of religious tolerance, such as Jewish Cultural Days in Halle, Jewish Week in Leipzig, and Yiddish Summer in Weimar. These events featured music, dancing, film screenings, exhibitions, and speakers that raised awareness about the Jewish community and culture.
In February the Charge d’Affaires hosted a gathering of religious and ethnic community leaders to discuss interreligious understanding. The Charge d’Affaires encouraged the approximately 100 guests to promote religious tolerance and condemn anti-Semitism. In addition to government leaders, guests included representatives from various levels of the Muslim, Christian, Bahai, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormon, and Jewish communities, as well as selected government, law enforcement, and NGO representatives engaged in integration, countering rightwing extremism, and combating anti-Semitism. Leaders of Turkish and Arab descent in business, politics, and civil society also participated, as did minority youth leaders. Participants stated it was the only event of its kind in the country. A particular focus was on religious organizations and civil society NGOs that were committed to managing the refugee situation in Berlin.
On October 27 – International Religious Freedom Day – the embassy hosted members of the Berlin diplomatic community to discuss religious freedom and share best practices in engaging the host government and religious groups to promote religious freedom in the country.
In connection with the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, the Charge d’Affaires visited national exhibits in May in Weimar and Eisenach, both in Thuringia. There he discussed with several religious leaders, including Heinrich Bedford-Strohm, chairman of the EKD, the importance of religious diversity and tolerance. He also attended the October 31 ceremony in Wittenberg to commemorate the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther posting his 95 Theses.
In May the Hamburg Consul General hosted the “Young Islam Conference,” a dialogue forum for young people of all faiths, to hear their concerns about anti-Muslim sentiment and discuss interfaith dialogue.
The constitution states freedom of religious conscience is inviolable and provides for freedom of worship with some restrictions. The constitution recognizes Greek Orthodoxy as the “prevailing religion.” The law prohibits offenses against “religious peace,” including blasphemy and religious insult, punishable by prison sentences of up to two years. The government continued enforcing the blasphemy laws, leading to the arrests of at least five citizens in four separate cases. The constitution prohibits proselytizing, and no rite of worship may “disturb public order or offend moral principles.” At least 28 different religious communities are officially registered with the government under various laws, and a 2014 law outlines the procedures for other groups to obtain government recognition. Religious groups without legal recognition are able to function but may face administrative difficulties and additional tax burdens. The Greek Orthodox Church and, to a lesser extent, the Muslim minority of Thrace and the Catholic Church receive some government benefits not available to other religious communities. A court granted legal recognition to the Ethiopian Orthodox Christian community. The government granted a permit for the first time for a polytheistic group to operate a house of prayer. Some members of the Thrace Muslim community opposed the government’s appointment of muftis, advocating that the community elect them. The government amended a series of laws to allow private citizens and municipal authorities to apply for permits to operate crematory facilities for those whose religious beliefs do not permit burial in Greek cemeteries; to allow Muslim students in primary and secondary schools to be absent from school on Islamic religious holidays; and to establish an administrative committee for a mosque in Athens. The law also allowed for the descendants of deceased Greek Jews born in the country prior to May 9, 1945 to obtain Greek citizenship. The government improved the process for mosque modifications in Thrace. Jehovah’s Witnesses said, the government did not approve their requests to be exempted from military service in several instances. The criminal trial of 69 members and supporters of the Golden Dawn (GD) political party, widely considered anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim, continued. They were charged with multiple attacks, including several against Muslim migrants, from 2011 to 2014. GD members of parliament (MPs) continued to make anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim comments. The government continued to fund Holocaust education programs and commemorate Greek Holocaust victims.
Media reports of incidents of anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim discrimination and hate speech continued, including some directed at immigrants. Jehovah’s Witnesses continued to report incidents of discrimination by some private citizens while preaching or when distributing information material in Athens and in other cities. There were reports of vandalism against religious properties, including Holocaust memorials and a Greek Orthodox church. Police launched investigations and made some arrests; however, the prosecutor had not filed charges in these cases by the end of the year.
The U.S. Ambassador, visiting U.S. officials, and other embassy and consulate representatives met with officials and representatives from the Ministry of Education, Research, and Religious Affairs, including the minister of education and the secretary general for religious affairs. They confirmed minority communities could apply for and establish houses of worship, learned about government initiatives that affect the Muslim minority in Thrace and immigrants, and expressed concern about anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim acts and rhetoric. Embassy officials also engaged the archbishop of the Greek Orthodox Church and other metropolitans, as well as members of the Muslim, Jewish, Catholic, Bahai, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons), and Jehovah’s Witness communities to promote religious tolerance and encourage interfaith dialogue. The embassy sponsored two international exchange participants for a program on minority migrant integration and tolerance. The embassy promoted religious tolerance through the Ambassador’s remarks via social media, including his remarks at the Conference on Religious Pluralism and Peaceful Coexistence in the Middle East.
Section I. Religious Demography
The U.S. government estimates the population at 10.8 million (July 2017 estimate), of whom it estimates 98 percent are Greek Orthodox, 1.3 percent Muslim, and 0.7 percent other religions. According to a 2015 poll by Kappa Research Firm, a local private research firm, 81.4 percent of the population self-identifies as Greek Orthodox, 2.9 percent identifies with other religious groups, and 14.7 percent is atheist.
Muslims constitute a number of distinct communities including, according to the Council of Europe’s European Commission Against Racism and Intolerance, approximately 100,000-120,000 individuals in Thrace descending from the Muslim minority officially recognized in the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne. According to local religious leaders and migrant activists, approximately 150,000 Muslim immigrants and foreign workers from Southeastern Europe, South Asia, Southeast Asia, the Middle East, and North Africa continue to reside mostly in and around Athens, clustered together based on their countries of origin. Additionally the UN High Commissioner for Refugees estimated that approximately 49,000 recently arrived migrants and asylum seekers remained in the country at year’s end – mostly from Muslim-majority countries.
Other religious communities report that their members combined constitute between 3 and 5 percent of the population. These include Old Calendarist Orthodox, atheists and agnostics, Roman Catholics, Protestants, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Jews, members of polytheistic Hellenic religions, Scientologists, Bahais, Mormons, Sikhs, Seventh-day Adventists, Buddhists, and members of the International Society of Krishna Consciousness (ISKON).
Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom
The constitution recognizes Greek Orthodoxy as the “prevailing religion.” The constitution states freedom of religious conscience is inviolable and provides for freedom of worship under the protection of the law with some restrictions. The constitution prohibits proselytizing, and no rite of worship may “disturb public order or offend moral principles.” The constitution allows prosecutors to seize publications that offend Christianity or other “known religions.” The law prohibits offenses against “religious peace,” including blasphemy and religious insult, which are punishable by prison sentences of up to two years. Blasphemy cases may be brought before civil and criminal courts. Development of religious conscience among citizens is listed as one of the goals of state education according to the constitution. Greek Orthodox priests and government-appointed muftis and imams in Thrace receive their salaries from the Greek government but are not considered to be state officials.
The constitution stipulates ministers of all known religions shall be subject to the same state supervision and the same obligations to the state as clergy of the Greek Orthodox Church. It also states individuals shall not be exempted from their obligations to the state or from compliance with the law because of their religious convictions.
The Greek Orthodox Church, the Jewish community, and the Muslim minority of Thrace have long-held status as official religious legal entities. The Catholic Church, the Anglican Church, two evangelical Christian groups, and the Ethiopian, Coptic, Armenian Apostolic, and Assyrian Orthodox Churches automatically acquired the status of religious legal entities under a 2014 law. The same law also provides for groups seeking recognition to become religious legal entities under civil law. The recognition process involves filing a request at the civil court, providing documents proving the group has open rituals and no secret doctrines, supplying a list of 300 signatory members who do not adhere to other religious groups, demonstrating that there is a leader who is legally in the country and is otherwise qualified, and showing that their practices do not pose a threat to public order. Once the civil court recognizes the group, it sends a notification to the Secretariat General for Religions.
With legal status, the religious group may legally transfer property and administer houses of prayer and worship, private schools, charitable institutions, and other nonprofit entities. Some religious groups have opted to retain their status as civil society nonprofit associations that they acquired through court recognition prior to the 2014 law. Under this status, religious groups may operate houses of prayer and benefit from real estate property tax exemptions, but they may face administrative and fiscal difficulties in transferring property and operating private schools, charitable institutions, and other nonprofit entities.
The law allows religious communities without status as legal entities to appear before administrative and civil courts as plaintiffs or defendants.
A religious group that has obtained at least one valid permit to operate a place of prayer is considered a “known religion” and thereby acquires legal protection, including a tax exemption for property used for religious purposes. Membership requirements for house of prayer permits differ from the requirements for religious legal entities. The granting of house of prayer permits is subject to approvals from local urban planning departments attesting to the compliance of a proposed house of prayer with local public health and safety regulations, and the application requires at least five signatory members of the group. Once a house of worship receives planning approvals, a religious group must submit a file including documents describing the basic principles and rituals of the religious group, as well as a biography of the religious minister or leader; the file must be approved by the Ministry of Education, Research, and Religious Affairs. The leaders of a religious group applying for a house of prayer permit must be Greek citizens, European Union nationals, or legal residents of the country and must possess other professional qualifications, including relevant education and experience. A separate permit is required for each physical place of worship.
The 1923 Treaty of Lausanne gives the recognized Muslim minority of Thrace the right to maintain mosques and social and charitable organizations (auqafs). Government-appointed muftis are allowed to practice sharia and render religious judicial services in the area of family law for those members of the Muslim community in Thrace who opt to use the services of a mufti instead of civil courts. The government, in consultation with a committee of Muslim leaders, appoints three muftis in Thrace to 10-year terms of office, with the possibility of extension. Civil courts in Thrace routinely ratify the family law decisions of the muftis. The muftis also appoint imams to serve in the community’s mosques.
The law protects an individual’s right to predetermine his or her form of funeral service and burial location in the presence of a notary. Individuals are allowed to designate the location and the method of funeral service under conditions that relate to public order, hygiene, or moral ethics, as well as a person responsible for the execution of funeral preferences. On July 28, the parliament amended existing legislation to allow private citizens and municipal authorities to apply for permits to operate crematory facilities to benefit those whose religious beliefs do not permit burial in Greek cemeteries. On October 18, the parliament passed an amendment changing the use of land in Eleonas region, in central Athens, thus paving the way for the construction by the local municipality of a crematory facility.
All religious groups are subject to taxation on their property used for nonreligious purposes. Property used solely for religious purposes remains exempt from taxation, as well as municipal fees, for groups classified as religious legal entities or “known religions.”
A law passed by parliament on August 8 exempts monasteries on the peninsula of Mount Athos from paying pending property tax on any properties owned inside or outside Mount Athos.
Home schooling is not permitted for children. The law requires all children to attend nine years of compulsory education in state or private schools and one year of compulsory preschool education in accordance with the official school curriculum. Greek Orthodox religious instruction in primary and secondary schools is included in the curriculum. School textbooks focus mainly on Greek Orthodox teachings; however, they also include some basic information on some other “known” religions – ones the courts define as having “open rituals and no hidden doctrines.” Students may be exempted from religious instruction upon request, but parents of students registered as Greek Orthodox in school records must state the students are not Greek Orthodox believers in order to receive the exemption. There are no private religious schools, although certain foreign-owned private schools and individual churches may teach optional religious classes on their premises, which students may attend on a voluntary basis. The law provides for optional Islamic religious instruction in public schools in Thrace for the recognized Muslim minority and optional Catholic religious instruction in public schools on the islands of Tinos and Syros.
A law passed on August 4, effective for the 2017-2018 school year, enables members from the Muslim minority and Catholic communities who teach in state schools to retain these positions if they are also called to serve as muftis or bishops. The law also provides for excused absences for Muslim students in primary and secondary school for Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha and the following day.
The government operates secular Greek-Turkish bilingual schools and two Islamic religious schools in Thrace. The law in Thrace provides for Islamic religious instructors to teach Islam to the Muslim minority in Greek-language public schools in lieu of mandatory twice weekly Greek Orthodox religious courses. Muslim students in Thrace wishing to study the Quran may also attend after-hours religious classes in mosques.
The law establishes an annual 0.5 percent quota for admission of students from the recognized Muslim minority to universities, technical institutes, and civil service positions. Two percent of students entering the national fire brigade school and academy should be from the Muslim minority in Thrace. On February 14, the parliament amended existing legislation to standardize and simplify the certification process for teaching staff from the Muslim minority in Thrace.
The law provides for alternative forms of mandatory service for religious conscientious objectors in lieu of the nine-month mandatory military service. Conscientious objectors are required to serve 15 months of alternate service in state hospitals or municipal and public services.
The law prohibits discrimination and criminalizes hate speech on the grounds of religion. Individuals or legal entities convicted of incitement to violence, discrimination, or hatred on the basis of religion, among other factors, may be sentenced to prison terms of between three months and three years and fined 5,000 to 20,000 euros ($6,300 to $24,000). Violators convicted of other crimes motivated by religion may be sentenced to an additional six months to three years, with fines doubled. The law criminalizes approval, trivialization, or malicious denial of the Holocaust and “crimes of Nazism” if that behavior leads to incitement of violence or hatred, or has a threatening or abusive nature towards groups of individuals. The National Council against Racism and Xenophobia, an advisory body under the Ministry of Justice, Transparency, and Human Rights, is charged with preventing, combating, monitoring, and recording racism and intolerance and protecting individuals and groups targeted on several grounds, including religion. The National Commission for Human Rights, comprised of government and nongovernmental organization (NGO) members, serves as an independent advisory body to the government on all human rights issues.
An amendment passed by the parliament on March 28, allows the descendants of deceased Greek Jews born in the country prior to May 9, 1945 to obtain Greek citizenship.
The law requires all civil servants, including cabinet and parliament members, to take an oath before entering office; individuals are free to take a religious or secular oath in accordance with their beliefs. Witnesses in trials must also take oaths before testifying in court, and can also select between a religious and a secular oath in both civil and criminal cases.
The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
Summary paragraph: The government continued enforcing the blasphemy laws, leading to the arrests of at least five citizens in four separate cases. All blasphemy cases during the year related to statements against Orthodox Christianity. Charges against six of the organizers of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Intersex (LGTBI) group Thessaloniki Pride for malicious blasphemy were dropped, but the case remained open as authorities continued to search for the individuals who created the artwork cited in the complaint. A soccer player was suspended for several games because he “cursed the divine.” An appeals court annulled the sentence of a blogger convicted in 2014 of “habitual blasphemy and offense of religion.” The criminal trial of 69 party members and supporters from the GD political party, widely considered anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim by scholars, media, and other observers, on charges including murder, membership in a criminal organization, conspiracy, weapons possession, and racist violence, continued through the end of the year. Some of the victims were Muslim migrants. A court granted legal recognition to the Ethiopian Orthodox Christian community. The government approved, for the first time, a permit to operate a prayer house for the Supreme Council of Ethnic Greeks (YSEE). Two religious groups – an Old Calendarist and an evangelical Christian – applied to courts seeking legal recognition. Religious groups without religious entity status and no house of prayer permits were still able to function as registered nonprofit civil law organizations. The government continued to provide funding and other benefits to the Greek Orthodox Church and, to a lesser extent, the Muslim community of Thrace and the Catholic Church. Muslim leaders continued to criticize the lack of Islamic cemeteries outside of Thrace and the absence of a mosque in Athens. Deputy Foreign Minister Ioannis Amanatidis issued a statement on May 25 supporting the opening of an Athens mosque. GD MPs made anti-Semitic references, portraying Jewish individuals as those with the most decision-making and economic power.
In January police announced the arrest of two individuals in Epirus who each accused the other of committing multiple crimes, including malicious blasphemy. In April police in Volos reported that a suspect refused to comply with police instructions. He was charged with resisting arrest, insulting an officer, and malicious blasphemy, and sentenced to a 17-month suspended prison sentence, only to be served if he repeats the offense within three years. According to police statistics, another individual in central Greece was charged with malicious blasphemy in March; additional details were not available in this case. In May, according to local press reports, coast guard officials in Rafina charged a 17-year-old with resisting arrest, criminal threats, physical injury to an officer, and malicious blasphemy. In February a soccer player was suspended for four games by the soccer association in northern Greece because he “cursed the divine.” On March 2, an appeals court annulled the 10-month sentence of a blogger convicted in 2014 of “habitual blasphemy and offense of religion” for creating a satirical page on social media mocking a dead Orthodox monk who was later proclaimed a saint. The acquittal was the result of a legal provision that cleared a backlog of misdemeanor offenses committed up until March 31, 2016.
According to research conducted by the Greek Helsinki Monitor (GHM), in 2016 the Hellenic (national) Police opened 254 cases for malicious blasphemy involving 328 defendants, 312 of whom were Greeks and 16 foreigners. The Hellenic Police arrested 159 of these suspects; in the vast majority of cases, malicious blasphemy was not the only charge. Additionally, in 2016 police opened 43 cases for disturbing the religious peace; 46 individuals were arrested in these cases.
In October, according to GHM, authorities dropped malicious blasphemy charges against the organizers of Thessaloniki Pride after concluding that the group was not responsible for producing the poster cited in the case. In 2016 Metropolitan of Kalavryta Amvrosios and five private citizens had filed separate police complaints for malicious blasphemy and offending religion against a group of six individuals involved in the organization of the Thessaloniki Pride. The complaint centered on an unofficial version of the 2016 Thessaloniki Pride poster, which featured an artistic depiction of Jesus on a cross with the text, “He was crucified for us too.” At the end of the year, the case remained open and had been referred to the cyber police to identify the creators of the poster.
The criminal trial of 69 GD party members and supporters, including 18 of its current and former MPs, continued through the end of the year, with the examination of witnesses. The charges were related to a string of attacks, including against Muslim migrants and Greeks; they included murder, conspiracy, weapons possession, and membership in a criminal organization.
On April 12, the media reported that the national police took precautionary measures to protect the three Coptic churches in Athens following attacks against Copts in Egypt. Measures included adding undercover police, frequent patrolling around the churches’ locations, and contacting the churches’ leaders to urge them to establish direct communication with police if they noticed something unusual or suspicious.
Early in the year a court granted legal recognition to the Ethiopian Orthodox Christian community as a religious entity. Two religious groups – an Old Calendarist and an evangelical Christian – applied to courts seeking legal recognition as religious entities. Rulings for these two applications were pending at year’s end.
Religious groups without religious entity status and no house of prayer permits, including Scientologists and the ISKCON, were still able to function as registered nonprofit civil law organizations. The government did not legally recognize weddings conducted by members of those religious groups, whose only option was a civil marriage.
The government approved permits for 18 houses of prayer, including the first prayer house for the YSEE, a polytheistic group revering the ancient Hellenic gods. The government did not deny any applications for permits during the year. The government granted 12 permits to Jehovah’s Witnesses. It also granted a permit to a group of Muslims from Bangladesh and three permits to Pentecostals. The government revoked one permit at the request of a small religious community that no longer wished to operate its house of prayer. There were no pending applications at year’s end.
The government continued to provide funding for religious leaders’ salaries and other benefits to the Greek Orthodox Church and, to a lesser extent, to the Muslim community of Thrace and the Catholic Church. The government also supported seminars for teachers to raise awareness of the Holocaust among students and funding for educational visits for students to Auschwitz.
The government continued to provide direct support to the Greek Orthodox Church, including for religious training of clergy and funding for religious instruction in schools. Greek Orthodox priests continued to receive their salaries from the state. Some Greek Orthodox officials stated this direct support was given in accordance with a series of legal agreements with past governments, and in exchange for religious property previously expropriated by the state. The Ministry of Education and Religious Affairs continued to partially fund retirement pensions of Orthodox monks and monitor vocational training for Orthodox clergy.
The government continued to state that Muslims not part of the recognized minority created by the Treaty of Lausanne were not covered by that treaty and therefore did not have the rights related to it, such as the right to bilingual education, special quotas for university entry and jobs in the public sector, the optional use of sharia in family and inheritance matters, and optional Islamic religious classes in public schools.
Some members of the Thrace Muslim community continued to object to the government’s practice of appointing muftis, pressing for direct election of muftis by the Muslim community. The government continued to state that government appointment was appropriate because the muftis had judicial powers and the constitution requires the government to appoint all judges. Academics and activists said the ability of courts in Thrace to provide judicial oversight of muftis’ decisions was limited by the lack of translation of sharia into Greek and lack of familiarity with sharia in general. On November 13, the prime minister announced the government’s plans to make the use of sharia in Thrace optional and consensual by all parties. The Ministry of Education, Research, and Religious Affairs subsequently issued a draft legislative amendment and an explanatory framework. The bill was approved in principle by the relevant parliamentary committee on December 21 and scheduled for a plenary vote after the end of the year.
On November 13, the media reported that a Thessaloniki Misdemeanor Court convicted the unofficial mufti in Xanthi of impersonating a public authority and an unofficial local imam of disturbing the peace for unlawfully and violently preventing the official mufti from performing the funeral service for a Muslim soldier in Glafki village in 2016. The sentences were suspended for three years, only to be served if the defendants commit a repeat offense during this time. The defendants appealed the decision.
On March 28, the minister for education, research and religions issued a decision establishing a working group on the upgrading and modernization of the muftiates in Thrace. The group comprised four employees of the Ministry of Education, Research and Religious Affairs – three from the Directorate for Religious Administration under the Secretariat General for Religions and one from the General Directorate of the ministry’s Financial Services. The minister tasked the working group with drafting an analytical report on the existing situation and compiling recommendations for operational improvements. The decision also called for assistance from other individuals, including the head of the Directorate for Minority Education and the school advisor for the minority program in minority schools, a member of the Muslim minority. The group was granted full access to all archives, information, books, and financial data kept in the muftiates, with guarantees to respect data protection laws.
Some members of the Muslim minority in Thrace continued to criticize the appointment by the government, rather than the election by the Muslim community, of members entrusted with the administration of the auqafs, which oversee endowments, real estate, and charitable funds of the minority community. Muslim leaders also continued to criticize the lack of Muslim cemeteries outside of Thrace, stating this obliged Muslims to transport their dead to Thrace for Islamic burials. They also continued to state that municipal cemetery regulations requiring exhumation of bodies after three years because of shortage of space contravened Islamic religious law. Several MPs supported the Muslim leaders’ complaints. On May 19, 34 MPs from the ruling political party SYRIZA submitted a question in the parliament asking about the delayed implementation of a 2016 decision by the Holy Synod of the Greek Orthodox Church, which had been made at the request of the government, to grant 20,000 square meters (215,000 square feet) inside an existing cemetery at Schisto, in greater Athens, for the burial of Muslims. The MPs also inquired about the status of a similar government proposal to the Holy Synod for the granting of land inside the cemetery of Evosmos, in Thessaloniki. At least three sites continued to be used unofficially on an ad hoc basis for the burial of Muslim migrant and asylum seekers on Lesvos Island, in Schisto, and near the land border with Turkey in Evros.
At year’s end, there were still no crematories in the country. In 2016, three municipalities – Athens, Thessaloniki, and Patras – had initiated the process to establish crematories by searching for suitable land and seeking approval of the necessary municipal committees. The cities of Athens and Patras reportedly had identified suitable plots of land. The latter had also requested the issuance of a presidential decree pre-certifying the land transfer as constitutional in an effort to deter potential legal complaints.
The Ministry of Education, Research, and Religious Affairs continued to have three Islamic experts assigned to offer religious services in camps hosting Muslim refugees and migrants in the region of central and eastern Macedonia. The three included an imam from Xanthi, the director of one of the two Islamic religious schools in Thrace, and a scholastic expert in Islamic law and studies. Government authorities again issued directives to managers of reception facilities hosting migrants and refugees, instructing them to alter food distribution times and the type of food served to allow Muslims to observe the Ramadan fast.
A law passed by parliament on May 30 provided for the establishment of an “administrative committee for the Athens Islamic Mosque” as a nonprofit legal entity under private law, supervised by the minister of education, research and religions. Media and government sources reported progress on the construction of an official mosque in Athens, originally expected to be completed in August, but the mosque was not operational at year’s end. GD held protests against the mosque in January and throughout the year. MP Ilias Panagiotaros said at the January rally that GD would step up protests, and that “this mosque will not have a good end.”
Deputy Foreign Minister Amanatidis issued a statement on May 25 supporting the opening of the Athens mosque, commenting that such a measure would allow Greeks and other EU Muslims to perform their religious duties unhindered. He encouraged to vote in favor of the draft education bill with provisions for the operation of the mosque, which he said would enhance the country’s international image with respect to human rights. Passed on May 25, the law provided for the establishment of a seven-member administrative committee for the Athens Mosque as a nonprofit legal entity under private law, to be supervised by the minister of education, research, and religions and to include at least two Muslim community representatives. Committee members were officially named on August 21 and began their work soon after. The administrative committee was tasked with selecting the imams who will preach at the mosque, de-conflicting requests from various communities to use the space, and overseeing the general administration of the property.
On September 8, the Migration Ministry transferred 82 Yazidi Kurds from the Yiannitsa Migrant Center to an all-Yazidi migrant camp located at a former agricultural training facility in Serres. Yazidis at Yiannitsa had stated Syrian Sunni Arabs were harassing them because of the Yazidis’ religious beliefs. According to the NGO The Liberation of Christian and Yazidi Children, as of September 7, there were 2,535 Yazidis migrants in the country, with the majority living in an open air camp at the base of Mount Olympus.
On April 3, the Ministries of Education, Research, and Religious Affairs; Environment and Energy; and Culture and Sports issued a joint circular codifying the process for construction, expansion, repair, and demolition of existing or new mosques in Thrace. The government stated this codification was necessary to provide an accessible, transparent, unified, and coherent framework. Some religious groups, including Muslims, reiterated complaints from previous years that the house of prayer permit process – for example, requirements that buildings used for prayer have fire exits – constrained freedom of religion by making it difficult to find a suitable location.
Central and local government authorities continued to provide public space free of charge to groups of Muslims whose members requested places of worship during Ramadan and for other religious occasions.
On June 27, following discussions between the Ministry of Education, Research and Religious Affairs and the Greek Orthodox Church, the Standing Holy Synod of the Church of Greece approved guidelines provided by the ministry in 2016 on religious instruction. According to the guidelines, religious education should not be based solely on the official textbook, which primarily covers Greek Orthodox doctrine. The government stated students needed to become more familiar with other religions present in the country and the world. Some Greek Orthodox Church leaders had objected to the new guidelines, stating the government was disrespectful to the constitution and to the faith of the majority of the country’s citizens.
The government continued to provide funding to the Muslim minority in Thrace to select and pay salaries of teachers of Islam in state schools and the salaries of the three official muftis and some imams, in accordance with Greece’s obligations under the Lausanne Treaty. It also continued to fund Catholic religious training and teachers’ salaries in state schools on the islands of Syros and Tinos, as well as to fund awareness raising activities and trips for non-Jewish students to Holocaust remembrance events, and for Holocaust education training for teachers.
Some leaders of the recognized Muslim minority continued to press for fully bilingual kindergartens in Thrace, modeled after the already operating bilingual primary schools. Government authorities historically asserted that Greek-language kindergartens helped students to better integrate into the larger society, and that kindergarten classes are not mentioned in the Lausanne Treaty. In response to the Muslim community’s concerns, the Institute for Educational Policy, an agency supervised by the minister for education, research, and religious affairs, announced in March a plan to fund, under a pilot project, assistant teachers in kindergarten classrooms fluent in the child’s native language to facilitate the children’s integration into school life. This program had not yet begun at year’s end.
Some religious groups and human rights organizations continued to state the discrepancy between the length of mandatory alternate service for conscientious objectors (15 months) and for those serving in the military (nine months) was discriminatory. Jehovah’s Witnesses reported that in several instances, government committees, tasked with examining requests for exemption from military service as conscientious objectors on religious grounds, denied requests for unbaptized members of their community. The committees, consisting of two army officials, one psychologist, and two academics, decided that unbaptized individuals, despite studying the Bible and attending sessions jointly with Jehovah’s Witnesses, “are not yet ready to fully embrace their teachings.” The committees ordered the immediate conscription of those individuals into the armed forces and did not allow the applicants to defend their cases in person to the committee.
The Union of Atheists filed a complaint on August 1 with the Data Protection Authority and the ombudsman objecting to the listing of students’ religion on school transcripts; the inclusion of religion in the administrative school databases and university records; and the need for parents to officially declare and justify their request to have their children exempted from religion classes. The union argued that religious and philosophical beliefs constitute sensitive personal data and should not be recorded.
GD MPs, as well as the GD official website and weekly newspaper, continued making references to conspiracy theories portraying Jewish individuals as those with the most decision-making and economic power. On October 5, GD MP Elias Panagiotaros stated during an interview on the web-based television channel “Eleftheri Ora” that nonperforming business and household loans in the country would be administered by a company headed by the President of the Jewish Community in Athens, whom he incorrectly categorized as the President of the Central Board of Jewish Communities in Greece (KIS). Panagiotaros also said the company was successful because of the Jewish community’s connections to the minister of finance.
There continued to be numerous instances of anti-Semitism online. In May the European Jewish Press estimated there were at least 48 active anti-Semitic blogs in the country and called GD, which had issued more than 30 cases of anti-Semitic speeches and multiple anti-Semitic articles, “one of the most dangerous neo-Nazi parties in Europe.”
On July 18, the secretaries general for human rights and for religious affairs each independently referred the case of an excommunicated Old Calendarist monk, Father Kleomenis, to the public prosecutor, the racist crimes department of the police, and the cybercrime police department for investigation. The monk had posted a video on July 17 on social media showing him in front of the Jewish Martyrs Holocaust Monument in Larissa, cursing the Jews, denying the Holocaust, spitting, kicking, and throwing eggs at the monument, and calling for its destruction. The Holy Synod of the Greek Orthodox Church and the local Metropolitans of Larisa and Tyrnavos issued statements disassociating themselves from Kleomenis and condemning his actions. The Municipality of Larissa also issued a statement denouncing the attack. On July 19, the prosecutor in Larissa filed charges against Kleomenis and three more individuals for vandalizing the Holocaust memorial and for violating the law against racism.
On May 2, GHM announced it had filed a lawsuit against Greek Orthodox Metropolitan Bishop Seraphim of Piraeus on hate speech grounds. GHM’s lawsuit also referred to legislation about “aggravating” conditions when a “state official” commits a hate speech offense. The lawsuit was in response to a statement Seraphim publicized on the official website of the Archdiocese of Piraeus on April 28, in which he complained he had been selected by the Holy Synod of the Church of Greece to light the holy light of Easter at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem, but that he was replaced because Israel declared him as persona non grata. In the statement, he quoted the Protocols of the Elders of Zion and referred to Freemasonry and other organizations as “the arms used by Zionism to secure infiltration and state manipulation.” He accused Israel of interfering with the Church’s issues. The KIS denounced Seraphim’s statement.
On January 26, the minister of education, research, and religious affairs, the president of the Jewish Museum of Greece, and the president of Yad Vashdem cosigned a memorandum of understanding regarding the implementation of programs on the teaching of Holocaust. One program entailed a July 9-12 seminar for 39 public high school teachers. The seminar was organized by the Olga Lengyel Institute for Holocaust Studies and Human Rights in cooperation with the Jewish Museum of Greece, under the auspices of the Ministry of Education, Research, and Religious Affairs.
On January 27, the minister for education, research, and religious affairs unveiled in a school in Athens an honorary plaque in memory of the Greek Jewish children killed in concentration camps during World War II. During the German occupation, German troops had ordered the school’s closure, and the pupils, along with their parents, had been arrested and sent to concentration camps in central Europe. Also on January 27, the Department for Preschool Education of the University of Thessaly, the local Jewish community, and the Piraeus Bank Foundation organized an event entitled “Approaching the Holocaust in the School and in the Museum.”
The head of the central board of Jewish communities, David Saltiel, welcomed the amendment passed in March allowing all descendants of deceased Greek Jews, mostly Holocaust survivors, to apply for citizenship as “a moral victory” and a “fresh step forward in the recognition of the history of the Holocaust and of Greek Jews.” The GD, the fourth largest party in the parliament, voted against the legislation.
On January 21, opposition MP Adonis Georgiadis posted on social media the following announcement: “In the past I’ve coexisted with and tolerated the views of people who showed disrespect to Jewish co-patriots, and for this reason I feel the need to apologize to the Jewish Community. I feel even sorrier for supporting and promoting the book of Kostas Plevris, which is insulting for the Jews. The Holocaust of the Jewish people constitutes the greatest disgrace of our contemporary culture and its sacrifice strengthened democracy, anti-racism, and the belief in the equality and freedom of nations.”
The Secretariat General for Religious Affairs funded in May an annual commemorative trip to Auschwitz for 82 high school students and 10 teachers from schools throughout the country. The students took part in a contest organized by the Ministry of Education, Research, and Religious Affairs, which involved producing a video on “The Kid and the Holocaust.” Participating schools were from the Athens, Thessaloniki, Chania, Arcadia, Aetoloakarnakia, and Evrytania regions.
On March 22, the minister for education, research, and religious affairs issued a statement expressing his sorrow for the damages caused to a mosque of historic significance in Thrace from a fire. The minister committed to take steps for the prompt investigation of the fire’s causes and to restore the mosque. Although no official report was made public, firefighters on the scene told local press that electric welding during restoration likely caused the fire.
The Inter-Orthodox Center of the Greek Orthodox Church organized a training program under the auspices of the Ministry of Education and funded by the German government entitled, “Getting to know and teaching Judaism through the coexistence of Christians and Jews in Greece.”
On September 8, in the garden of a former middle school in Thessaloniki and the location of the cultural foundation of the National Bank of Greece, a metal commemorative plate was placed in memory of 40 Jewish students sent to concentration camps in 1943.
On September 27, the Aristotle University Law School, the Aristotle University School of Theology, and the Religious Studies Institute of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople organized a conference on “Church and the Constitution: The issue of Constitutional Reform.” Participants discussed Greek Orthodox Church relations with the state, including whether constitutional reform should encompass continued reference to Orthodox Christianity as the official and dominant religion; whether the state should be involved with administrative matters of the Greek Orthodox Church; whether state officials should appoint priests or determine their number; and whether the Church should be involved with civil issues it opposes, such as the cremation of the dead.
From October 19-21, the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, in cooperation with the Ministry of Education, Research, and Religious Affairs, the Jewish community in Thessaloniki, the Holocaust Memorial of the Jews in Skopje, and the Memorial de la Shoah in Paris, organized a training seminar on Holocaust education. The seminar, entitled “The Holocaust as a Starting Point: Comparing and Sharing” involved 40 teachers.
On October 29 and 30, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs organized for the second time an international summit on the protection of religious communities and civilizations in the Middle East, hosted by the minister of foreign affairs, with the participation of the Archbishop of Athens and all Greece, several Greek Orthodox metropolitans, representatives of Jewish, Catholic, Protestant communities from abroad, and two Muslim muftis from Thrace.
Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom
Summary paragraph: Incidents of anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim discrimination and hate speech, including against immigrants, continued. The Racist Violence Recording Network and the GHM reported several incidents of vandalism against religious property, including Holocaust memorials and a Greek Orthodox church. Jehovah’s Witnesses reported instances of societal discrimination when preaching or while distributing and displaying information and religious material in public. On October 23, hundreds of demonstrators, including members of parents and ecclesiastical associations, theologians, and clergy, nuns, and monks, gathered outside the Ministry of Education, Research, and Religious Affairs to protest against the reforms to the government-mandated religious course. The protestors objected to five new chapters referring to Judaism and Islam.
Police statistics for 2016, the most recent year available, showed 84 potentially racially motivated incidents, 24 of which were believed to be linked to the victim’s religion. On September 28, the Ministry of Education published a report on acts against religious sites in 2016. According to the report, there were 209 incidents against Christian sites including vandalism, robberies, and arson attacks. The previous year the ministry recorded 147 such incidents. All targeted Greek Orthodox churches and cemeteries, except one incident against a Catholic site.
The report also recorded five incidents of vandalism against Jewish sites and one against a Muslim site.
The linking of “international Zionism” with alleged plans for the “country’s Islamization,” that was related to the ongoing construction of an official mosque in Athens, continued on ultranationalist blogs. During a May 21 protest, a group of Old Calendarist Orthodox followers, opposing the building of the mosque, chanted anti-Islamic and anti-Semitic slogans such as, “Islam out” and “Resist the plans of Jewish Zionists who want you servants in the world empire of the anti-Christ.”
On May 3, the Heinrich Boell Foundation, in cooperation with the Seat for Jewish Studies at the Aristotle University in Thessaloniki, presented a study on anti-Semitism in Greece. The study showed that despite the small percentage of Jews in the country (approximately 0.05 percent) vandalism recorded against Jewish monuments and sites was proportionally higher than vandalism directed at other religious groups. The study found more than six out of 10 Greeks held anti-Semitic attitudes. Sixty-five percent of respondents in the study’s questionnaire “agreed” or “absolutely agreed” with the statements “Jews have been using the Holocaust to receive better treatment from the international decision-making centers” and “Israel treats Palestinians exactly like Nazis did the Jews.” When asked whether “Jews enjoy much greater power in the world of business,” more than 92 percent of respondents “agreed” or “absolutely agreed.” According to the findings, 64.3 percent of those surveyed believed that the proposed Holocaust Museum in Thessaloniki should be built by private funding, while 72.1 percent of respondents believed a Pontian (Greek-Russian) refugee museum should be built with government funding. The survey also indicated a large percentage of individuals were indifferent to the concept of a Holocaust museum and 11.3 percent opposed the idea altogether. The mayor of Thessaloniki said he was concerned about how to ensure future operating costs, given societal indifference to and rejection of the project.
Some metropolitan bishops of the Greek Orthodox Church made anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim statements and statements against Jehovah’s Witnesses in public letters and on social media, while others said Catholicism was heresy. On June 15, in a letter addressed to Metropolitan of Argolida, the Metropolitan of Gortynia in the Peloponnese stated Orthodox followers believed that Catholicism and ecumenism were heresies and that Christians should stay away from Jehovah’s Witnesses.
The KIS continued to voice concerns about anti-Semitic comments by some journalists in the media and some Greek Orthodox Church leaders. The KIS also reiterated its concerns that political cartoons and images in the media mocked political controversies through the use of Jewish sacred symbols and comparisons to the Holocaust or through drawing parallels among “Jews,” “Zionists,” and “Nazis,” equating the first with the latter. On May 16, the KIS denounced journalist and cartoonist Stathis (Stavropoulos) for his May 10 article published on the news site “enikos.gr.” The article, entitled “In Bloody Ink,” stated it is impossible to criticize Israel because doing so would be interpreted as anti-Semitism. The article included a cartoon depicting Israel killing free opinion.
On an Alpha television channel morning show on January 12, journalist Dimos Verykios stated, “Global finance is concentrated in three centers: they are actually dominating the planet. One center is the banks, the global banking system. Through this banking system, two main centers are ruling the game. One of these centers is the Jewish lobby, powerful, extremely powerful in America and elsewhere! In all big deals, one will meet a Jew! Or a Mason!”
Academics, activists, and journalists stated the Greek Orthodox Church continued to exercise significant social, political, and economic influence. Members of non-Orthodox religious groups reported incidents of societal discrimination, including being told by Orthodox followers that they were “heretics” or “not truly Greek.” Jehovah’s Witnesses reported incidents of societal discrimination while preaching or when distributing informational and religious material in Athens and in other cities. In five separate cases, the excommunicated Old Calendarist monk, Father Kleomenis, attacked and completely destroyed Jehovah’s Witnesses’ information carts. Kleomenis’ partners filmed the incidents for later posting on social media. The Jehovah’s Witnesses in response asked for police intervention. Charges were pending but no hearing had taken place by year’s end.
On March 30, the KIS reported vandalism of the Holocaust monument in Arta, western Greece, noting that the incident happened “only a few days after the remembrance events organized by the municipality of Arta for the deportation and extermination of the city’s Jews in the Nazi concentration camps.”
On June 27, an anarchist group called “Nuclear FAI-IRF” set fire to Saint Basil Church in central Athens. In its statement claiming responsibility, the group cited “the sexism that the Church perpetuates, the Church’s opposition to homosexuality, and the fact that Christianity treats bodily satisfaction and sexuality as non-sacred” as reasons for the attack. The group also stated it “deliberately targeted a profitable business, as the Church owns land and untaxed wealth which is hidden behind charities to supposedly promote its humanist profile.” On August 3, anarchists threw paint on the exterior walls of Saint Basil Church and broke the windows of the nearby Zoodochou Pigi Church. There was no government reaction to any of these incidents. The main opposition party, New Democracy, issued a statement accusing the government of treating anarchists in a lenient way.
On July 7, human rights activists reported on social media that unknown perpetrators had vandalized the Athens Holocaust monument by writing with a marker “Hi, my name is death!” On July 11, police reported the arrest of four male individuals for shattering the marble facade of the Holocaust monument in Kavala in the northern part of the country on March 30. By April 5, the city of Kavala had restored the monument. The city of Kavala, government officials, including the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and various political parties condemned the attack.
On September 15, the media reported on the application filed by a parent in Mytilene, Lesvos, requesting his child be exempted from the teaching of certain chapters of the restructured course of religious teaching in the official curriculum. The parent listed five chapters referring to Judaism and Islam, stating that the content “did not match his family’s religious beliefs” and objecting to the teaching of “prayers from other religious traditions” to his child. According to media, several parents in other schools also filed similar requests, and they returned the course’s new folder and book to the Ministry of Education, Research and Religious Affairs as “unacceptable.” On October 23, hundreds of demonstrators, including members of parents and ecclesiastical associations, theologians, clergymen, nuns and monks, gathered outside the headquarters of the Ministry of Education, Research, and Religions to protest against the new way the religious course was taught, arguing it was unconstitutional, anti-Orthodox, and antipedagogical.
On September 24, vandals desecrated a large banner advertising a cultural event in Thessaloniki entitled “Sacred Places” and bearing the symbols of the Jewish star, Muslim crescent, and Christian cross. The banner was spray-painted with the slogan “Jews Out,” and the Jewish star was ripped in half. The perpetrator was not identified by year’s end.
On December 1, unknown vandals stripped the inscriptions from two of the panels on the Athens Holocaust memorial. The secretary general for religious affairs and the city of Athens “’strongly condemned the attack.”’ The city of Athens said it would contribute to the monument’s restoration.
Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement
The Ambassador, visiting officials, and embassy and consulate representatives met with officials and representatives from the Ministry of Education, Research, and Religious Affairs, including the minister of education and the secretary general for religious affairs. They discussed access for minority communities to establish houses of worship, and government initiatives that affect the Muslim minority in Thrace and immigrants. U.S. officials expressed concerns about anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim acts and rhetoric.
On September 7, the Consul General in Thessaloniki visited a new Yazidi Kurd migrant camp in Seres, in which the government segregated the Yazidis from other migrant groups for their protection.
Embassy officials met with religious leaders, including the archbishop and other representatives of the Greek Orthodox Church, as well as members of the Catholic, Muslim, Jewish, Bahai, Mormon, and Jehovah’s Witness communities to promote interfaith dialogue, religious tolerance, and diversity, as well as to express concern about anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim acts and rhetoric. Through these meetings, the embassy monitored the ability of religious minority groups to freely practice their religion and the extent of societal discrimination against both indigenous religious minorities and newly arrived migrants from religious minorities. The embassy sponsored two participants for a U.S. government exchange program on minority migrant integration and tolerance. The embassy also promoted religious tolerance via social media, using several platforms to promote the Ambassador’s remarks at the Conference on Religious Pluralism and Peaceful Coexistence in the Middle East, in which he emphasized tolerance, cultural and religious pluralism, and peaceful coexistence.
The Ambassador met with representatives from the Greek Orthodox Church, including Patriarch Bartholomew, Metropolitan Anthimos of Thessaloniki, Metropolitan Anthimos of Alexandroupolis, Metropolitan Iakovos of Lesvos, Metropolitan Markos of Chios, Metropolitan Dorotheos of Syros, and Deputy Metropolitan of Rhodes Ioannis. In all meetings with religious leaders and other members of the communities, the Ambassador discussed the role of the Greek Orthodox Church in responding to the needs of 49,000 asylum-seekers, mostly from Muslim-majority countries, remaining in Greece. The Ambassador also discussed with Greek Orthodox leaders the importance of religious tolerance and dialogue.
In March an embassy official met with Greek Orthodox and Catholic leaders on the island of Syros to emphasize the importance of interfaith dialogue and religious tolerance. On August 17, the Ambassador met separately with the local Orthodox Metropolitan and the former Roman Catholic Bishop in Syros, discussing the communities’ peaceful coexistence and mutual acceptance.
On July 10, the Ambassador delivered opening remarks on the Holocaust in Greece to 39 public school teachers at a seminar on teaching about the Holocaust. In his remarks he emphasized tolerance. The Ministry of Education, in cooperation with the Olga Lengyel Institute for Holocaust Studies, organized the seminar.
The Ambassador also met with representatives from the Athens and Thessaloniki Jewish communities, and the president and curator of the Jewish Museum in Athens, to discuss preserving Jewish history in Greece, combating anti-Semitism, and other concerns of the community. On January 27, the Ambassador laid a wreath at the Holocaust Monument in Athens in honor of the Day of Commemoration of the Greek-Jewish Martyrs and Heroes of the Holocaust.
The Thessaloniki Consul General participated in Holocaust Memorial ceremonies in Larissa, a wreath-laying in Hortiatis village, the National Day of Remembrance of the Greek Victims of the Holocaust in Thessaloniki, the Memorial Holocaust Walk in Thessaloniki, and a Holocaust Memorial event at the Thessaloniki Synagogue. On April 24, the Thessaloniki Consul General and her staff briefed members of the Jewish community and others about the killing by the Nazis of David Tiano, a Greek staff member of the consulate, and the need to never forget the Holocaust. She highlighted the new Human Rights and Holocaust Memorial Museum to break ground in 2018. In June the Thessaloniki Consul General attended a dinner to honor the longest living Thessalonikian Jew, Heinz Kounio, who survived the concentration camps.
In September the Thessaloniki Consul General attended a panel discussion at an exhibition which highlighted mixed religious communities that have coexisted throughout history. In her remarks, the Consul General highlighted the importance of societal respect of the freedom to worship.
On October 30, the Ambassador delivered introductory remarks for a video message from the special advisor for religious minorities in the Near East and South/Central Asia at the Second Athens International Conference on Religious and Cultural Pluralism and Peaceful Coexistence in the Middle East. In his introduction, the Ambassador highlighted the role religious freedom plays in combatting instability, human rights abuses, and religious extremism. The special advisor’s videotaped remarks further commented on the importance of protecting religious diversity.
The constitution provides for freedom of religion, including freedom of worship and the free expression of all beliefs. The constitution recognizes the distinct legal personality of the Catholic Church. Non-Catholic religious groups must register with the Ministry of Government in order to enter into contracts or receive tax-exempt status. In April a court found the former mayor of San Juan La Laguna, Antonio Adolfo Perez y Perez, guilty of seeking to force out a community of ultraorthodox Jews in 2014 and sentenced him to one year in prison. Mayan spiritual leaders said the government continued to limit their access to some Mayan religious sites, including some located in national parks and in other protected areas where the government charges entrance fees. Non-Catholic groups, including The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, stated that some municipal-level authorities still discriminated against them in processing permit approvals and in local tax collection.
Some Catholic clergy continued to report threats and harassment against them because of their association with environmental protection work. Some Mayan religious groups reported land owners continued to limit their access to Mayan religious sites on private property.
The U.S. embassy regularly held meetings with government officials from the executive and legislative branches in addition to leaders of religious groups to discuss issues of religious freedom, including threats against Catholic clergy, and the reported lack of access to Mayan spiritual sites. Embassy officials emphasized the value of tolerance and respect for religious diversity in meetings with various civil society and religious groups. In December the embassy posted on Facebook a note on the importance of appreciating freedom of religion, including the right to worship and freedom of conscience.
Section I. Religious Demography
The U.S. government estimates the total population at 15.5 million (July 2017 estimate). According to a 2015 survey by ProDatos, approximately 45 percent of the population is Catholic and 42 percent Protestant. Approximately 11 percent of the population professes no religious affiliation. Groups that together constitute less than 3 percent of the population include Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims, Jews, and adherents of the Mayan, Xinca, and Afro-Indigenous Garifuna religions.
Christian groups include the Full Gospel Church, Assemblies of God, Central American Church, Prince of Peace Church, numerous independent evangelical Protestant groups, Baptists, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons), Episcopalians, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Lutherans, Presbyterians, Russian Orthodox, and Seventh-day Adventists.
Catholics and Protestants are present throughout the country, with adherents among all major ethnic groups. According to leaders of Mayan spiritual organizations, as well as Catholic and Protestant clergy, many indigenous Catholics and some indigenous Protestants practice some form of syncretism with indigenous spiritual rituals, mainly in the eastern city of Livingston and in the southern region.
Approximately 1,500 Jews and 1,200 Muslims of mostly Palestinian origin reside primarily in Guatemala City.
Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom
The constitution provides for freedom of religion, including the free expression of all beliefs and the right to practice a religion or belief, in public and private. The constitution recognizes the distinct legal personality of the Catholic Church.
The constitution does not require religious groups to register for the purpose of worship, but non-Catholic religious groups must register for legal status in order to conduct activities such as renting or purchasing property and entering into contracts, and to receive tax-exempt status and tax exemptions for properties used for worship, religious education, and social assistance. To register, a group must file a copy of its bylaws, which must reflect an intention to pursue religious objectives, and a list of its initial membership, with at least 25 members, with the Ministry of Government. The ministry may reject applications if the group does not appear to be devoted to a religious objective, appears intent on undertaking illegal activities, or engages in activities that appear likely to threaten public order. All religious groups must obtain the permission of the respective municipal authorities for construction and repair of properties and for holding public events, consistent with requirements for nonreligious endeavors.
The constitution protects the rights of indigenous groups to practice their traditions and forms of cultural expression, including religious rites. The law permits Mayan spiritual groups to conduct religious ceremonies at Mayan historical sites on government-owned property.
The criminal code penalizes violation of the freedom of religious celebration and sentiment and the desecration of burial sites or human remains; however, charges are seldom filed under these laws.
According to the constitution, no member of the clergy of any religion may serve as president, vice president, government minister, or as a judge.
A Catholic priest and a nondenominational pastor serve as prison chaplains.
The constitution permits, but does not require, religious instruction in public schools. There is no national framework for determining the nature or content of religious instruction. In general, public schools have no religious component in the curriculum. Private religious schools are allowed and can be found in all areas of the country.
The government requires foreign missionaries to obtain tourist visas, which authorities issue for renewable periods of three months. After renewing their tourist visas once, foreign missionaries may apply for temporary residence for up to two years.
The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
In April a court found the former mayor of San Juan La Laguna, Antonio Adolfo Perez y Perez, guilty of threatening to expel a community of ultraorthodox (Haredi) Jews in 2014 and sentenced him to one year in prison.
Although the law permits Mayan spiritual groups to conduct religious ceremonies at Mayan historical sites on government-owned property, some Mayan leaders stated the government continued to limit their access to some religious sites and require them to pay to access the sites. The government maintained that there were no limitations to access; however, anyone seeking access to the sites must pay “processing fees.” Many Mayan religious and archeological sites are national parks or protected areas where the national government charges admission fees to all visitors. According to leaders from the Committee on the Designation of Sacred Sites, practitioners of Mayan spirituality generally were generally only able to obtain free access to sites only if they were accredited and issued an identification card by certain indigenous organizations as spiritual guides and had received written permission from the culture ministry 15 days before the scheduled ceremony/religious practice. Mayan leaders stated that written permission included long paperwork completed in Spanish. They said the process was difficult and expensive because it required travel to the capital, as well as fluency in Spanish, which many indigenous persons do not speak. The Presidential Commission against Discrimination and Racism (CODISRA), however, said it provided interpreters upon request to facilitate the process. Mayan advocates stated they should have access, within reasonable parameters, to all sacred sites (an estimated 2,000 locations on both public and private land).
Missionaries continued reporting they chose to remain on tourist visas to avoid what they called a complicated procedure to apply for temporary residence.
The Ministry of Education continued to consult with religious groups on a national values program called Living Together in Harmony (Vivamos Juntos en Harmonia) that integrated the groups’ shared values, such as honesty, fraternity, responsibility, and respect, without citing religion or religious teachings, into school curricula.
Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom
Some Catholic clergy continued to report threats and harassment against them because of their association with environmental protection work. Some private owners of land in locations, such as in Tikal National Park, considered sacred by Mayan religious groups, including caves, lagoons, mountains, and forests, continued to deny access to Mayans, according to Mayan spiritual groups.
Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement
U.S. embassy officials regularly met with the human rights ombudsman, CODISRA, and members of congress to discuss religious freedom issues, including threats against Catholic clergy and the reported lack of access for Mayans to Mayan spiritual sites.
U.S. embassy officials met with leaders of major religious groups and representatives of faith-based nongovernmental organizations to discuss the importance of religious diversity. Embassy officials continued outreach to religious leaders, including the Catholic archbishop’s offices; the Evangelical Alliance (the largest organization of Protestant churches, representing more than 30,000 individual churches); the Jewish community; representatives from the Commission for the Designation of Sacred Places for the Maya, Xinca, and Garifuna communities; and other organizations to strengthen understanding of religious freedom issues.
In December the embassy posted on Facebook a note on the importance of appreciating freedom of religion, including worship, in addition to emphasizing the right of all individuals to follow their conscience in how they pray.
The constitution states the state is secular, prohibits religious discrimination, and provides for the right of individuals to choose and profess their religion. The Secretariat of Religious Affairs (SRA) continued to issue weekly themes for inclusion in Friday sermons at mosques and Sunday sermons in churches. Although the SRA did not control sermons at every mosque and church, its inspectors were present in every region and responsible for ensuring that mosque and church sermons were consistent with SRA directives.
A land dispute between Christian and Muslim communities in Upper Guinea resulted in conviction of eight individuals for inciting riots and for the arson of a church.
The Ambassador met several times with the secretary of religious affairs and the grand imam of Conakry. He also met with the grands imams of Labe and Kankan. Each time, he delivered messages of religious tolerance and reconciliation among religious groups. The embassy hosted several iftars with Muslim and other religious leaders throughout the country, conveying each time the importance of religious freedom and interfaith harmony.
Section I. Religious Demography
The U.S. government estimates the total population at 12.4 million (July 2017 estimate). According to the SRA, approximately 85 percent of the population is Muslim, 8 percent is Christian, and 7 percent adheres to indigenous religious beliefs. Much of the population incorporates some indigenous rituals into its religious practices. Muslims are generally Sunni; however, Sufism is also present. Christian groups include Roman Catholics, Anglicans, Baptists, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Seventh-day Adventists, and several evangelical groups. There is a small Bahai community. There are also small numbers of Hindus, Buddhists, and adherents of traditional Chinese religious beliefs among foreign residents.
Muslims constitute a majority in all four regions of the country. Christians are most numerous in Conakry, large cities, the south, and the eastern Forest Region. Adherents of indigenous religious beliefs are most prevalent in the Forest Region.
Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom
The constitution states the state is secular, prohibits religious discrimination, and provides for the right of individuals to choose and profess their religious faith. It recognizes the right of religious institutions and groups to establish and manage themselves freely. It bars political parties that identify with a particular religious group. These rights are subject only to “those limits that are indispensable to maintain the public order and democracy.”
By law, the SRA must approve all religious groups. Groups must provide a written constitution and application to the SRA along with their address and a fee of 250,000 Guinean francs (GNF) ($28). The SRA then sends the documents to the Ministry of Territorial Administration and Decentralization for final approval and signature. Once approved, the group becomes an officially recognized religion. Each registered religious group must present to the government a report on its affairs every six months. Registration entitles religious groups to value-added tax (VAT) exemptions on incoming shipments and select energy subsidies.
Unregistered religious groups are not entitled to VAT exemptions and other benefits. By law, the government may shut down unregistered groups and expel foreign group leaders. There is limited opportunity for legal appeal of these penalties.
Religious groups may not own radio or television stations.
The compulsory primary school curriculum does not include religious studies.
The imams and administrative staff of the principal mosque in Conakry and the principal mosques in the main cities of the four regions are government employees. These mosques are directly under the administration of the government. Other mosques and some Christian groups receive government subsidies for pilgrimages.
The SRA secretary general of religious affairs appoints six national directors to lead the Offices of Christian Affairs, Islamic Affairs, Pilgrimages, Places of Worship, Economic Affairs and the Endowment, and Inspector General. The SRA is charged with promoting good relations among religious groups and coordinates with other members of the informal Interreligious Council, which is composed of Muslims and members from Catholic, Anglican, and other Protestant churches as well as the SRA.
The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
The SRA continued to issue mandatory weekly themes for inclusion in Friday sermons at mosques and Sunday sermons in churches. The stated purpose of the weekly guidance was to harmonize religious views in order to prevent radical or political connotations in sermons. Although the SRA did not monitor sermons at every mosque and church, its inspectors were present in every region and responsible for ensuring that mosque and church sermons were consistent with SRA directives. Clerics whom the SRA judged to be noncompliant were subject to disciplinary action. Discrepancies were often reported in the various sermons at mosques and other Islamic events, but the SRA had difficulty imposing disciplinary sanctions. The new secretary general met the imams of the capital, as well as leaders of communal and regional leagues, aiming to warn imams for any breach of the principles of Islam; he said imams who speak about politics, attack the president, or preach division between citizens would be subject to sanctions.
Saudi Arabia increased the country’s quota of pilgrims to 9,000 from 6,000 in 2016 and limited the age of travelers to Mecca to under 70. The SRA facilitated and organized the travel of 7,000 pilgrims who each paid approximately 40 million GNF ($4,400) toward the cost of travel.
The government subsidized the travel of Christians on pilgrimages to the Holy Land, Greece, and Italy, providing 3.5 billion GNF ($389,000) compared to 2 billion GNF ($222,000) in 2016. The government decided in 2016 to rotate the benefits to different Christian groups in each subsequent year with Anglicans, Catholics, and Adventists receiving support for their 2017 pilgrimages.
According to the SRA, several unregistered religious groups operated freely but did not receive the tax and other benefits received by registered groups. The small Jehovah’s Witnesses community reportedly proselytized from house to house without interference, although neither it nor the Bahai community requested official recognition. Some groups stated they preferred not to have a formal relationship with the SRA.
Islamic schools were prevalent throughout the country and remained the traditional forum for religious education. Some Islamic schools were wholly private, while others received local government support. Islamic schools, particularly common in the Fouta Djalon region, taught the compulsory government curriculum along with additional Quranic studies. Private Christian schools, which accepted students of all religious groups, existed in Conakry and most other large cities. They taught the compulsory curriculum but did not receive government support and held Christian prayers before school.
The government allocated free broadcast time on state-owned national television for Islamic and Christian programming, including Islamic religious instruction, Friday prayers from the central mosque, and church services. Muslim programs received more broadcast time, while different Christian groups received broadcast time on Sundays on a rotating basis. The government permitted religious broadcasting on privately owned commercial radio.
The General Secretariat of Religious Affairs, through the National Directorate of Christian Affairs, initiated for the first time a conference of Christian religious leaders. The conference aimed to bring Christians of different denominations together to improve working relations and share information related to the work of churches and missions in the country. Another goal was to get the different Christian denominations to agree on a common program of awareness and prayer within the framework of the strengthening of national unity, which continued to be an important theme in the country.
Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom
In some parts of the country such as the middle and the upper regions, particularly strong familial, communal, cultural, social, or economic pressure discouraged conversion from Islam.
Members of the Bahai Faith again reported being discriminated against and shunned by their families because of their religious beliefs.
In March in Dabadou, Upper Guinea, a land conflict between Muslims and Christians about the ownership of a parcel of land adjacent to the local Catholic church resulted in physical altercations between the communities, injuring 11, and the burning of the church. Security forces arrested 18 individuals, including three women, in connection with the damage. In April the court charged eight of those arrested with “destruction of public buildings, intentional assault, and obstruction of the free exercise of religion.” Most of the sentences were six months suspended with the payment of a fine of 500,000 GNF ($56).
In the city of Labe in Middle Guinea, Islamic intrafaith rivalries between the majority Tidjani and the minority Wahhabi communities continued to exist, but according to French-language media, local religious and administrative authorities largely resolved these local conflicts by peaceful means.
The Kalima Catholic Mission still had not begun construction of a church despite authorization by the government in 2015. The Muslim community reportedly continued to lobby against the project. Religious authorities of both sides continued to work on resolving this issue.
Many Muslim students not enrolled in private Islamic schools received religious education at madrassahs, some of which were associated with mosques and others supported by local communities. Unlike the Islamic schools, the madrassahs did not teach the compulsory primary school curriculum. Although the government did not recognize the madrassahs or require them to register, it allowed them to operate freely. They focused on Quranic studies and instruction was in Arabic rather than French. Funds from Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and other Gulf states supported some madrassahs. Most students in madrassahs also attended public or private schools teaching the compulsory curriculum, which did not include religious studies.
In February The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints opened a new branch in Conakry.
Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement
The Ambassador met several times with the secretary of religious affairs and the grand imam of Conakry. He also met with the grands imams of Labe and Kankan. Each time, he delivered messages of religious tolerance. In addition, he organized an iftar that brought together religious leaders and senior politicians from the ruling coalition and the opposition to underscore religious tolerance.
Embassy officials consulted closely with the SRA and religious leaders, including the grand imams of Conakry, Kankan, and Labe; Catholic and Anglican bishops; and Islamic and Christian clergy. Embassy officers advocated for religious tolerance. Embassy officials also participated in several iftar celebrations nationwide to promote good relations and mutual understanding among religious groups and to relay a message of respect for religious freedom and national reconciliation, including religious acceptance, among groups.
The constitution provides for freedom of religion and worship, including the right to choose and change one’s religion. The government continued to limit the number of visas for foreign representatives of religious groups based on historical trends, the relative size of the group, and the president’s discretion. Religious groups continued to report, however, that the government’s visa quotas allotted to them did not adversely affect their activities because the visa limitation rule was applied infrequently.
There were no reports of significant societal actions affecting religious freedom.
The U.S. embassy hosted an interfaith forum on November 15 to highlight and promote tolerance among various religious groups, including the Muslim, Christian, Rastafari, and Hindu communities. A panel of religious leaders shared ways in which their respective faiths promoted their beliefs while adhering to religious tolerance principles. Embassy officials joined the Ministry of Social Cohesion on several occasions throughout the year at interfaith and religious events. To promote religious tolerance, U.S. embassy officials attended events hosted by Muslim and Hindu communities, including Eid and Diwali celebrations. Embassy officials used these activities to speak on acceptance, tolerance, and harmony in a multifaith cultural context. The embassy amplified its activities through discussions on social media about religious tolerance.
Section I. Religious Demography
The U.S. government estimates the total population at 738,000 (July 2017 estimate). According to the country’s 2012 census, 64 percent of the population is Christian, 25 percent Hindu, 7 percent Muslim (mainly Sunni), and less than 1 percent belong to other religious groups. Among Christians, Pentecostals comprise 23 percent of the national population; Roman Catholics, 7 percent; Anglicans, 5 percent; Seventh-day Adventists, 5 percent; Methodists, 1 percent; and other Christians, 21 percent. The 21 percent includes Christians who belong to the Assembly of God Church, Church of Christ, and African Episcopal Methodist Zion Church, among others. Groups that together constitute less than 1 percent of the population include Rastafarians and Bahais. An estimated 3 percent of the population does not profess a religious affiliation.
The membership of most religious groups includes a cross section of ethnic groups, although nearly all Hindus are of Indian descent and most Rastafarians are of African descent.
Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom
The constitution provides for freedom of religion and worship, including the right to choose and change one’s religion. An unenforced law prescribes a prison term of one year for a blasphemous libel conviction; however, the law exempts religious expression made in “good faith and decent language.”
There is no official system for formal registration of a religious group, but to receive government recognition, all places of worship must register through the deeds registry. The deeds registry requires an organization to submit a proposed name and address for the place of worship, as well as the names of executive group members or congregation leaders. Once formally recognized, a place of worship falls under legislation governing nonprofit organizations, allowing the organization to conduct financial operations, buy property, and receive tax benefits in its name.
Foreign religious workers require a visa from the Ministry of Citizenship. Religious groups seeking to enter an Amerindian village for the purpose of proselytizing must apply for and obtain the permission from the village council. An application to a village council must include the name of the group, the names of its members who will be going to the village, their purpose, and estimated date of arrival.
There are both public and private religiously affiliated schools. Private schools are operated entirely by private groups and are not funded by the state. Students of private schools must pay fees to attend, and the state does not control those fees. Religious education is compulsory in all private schools with a religious affiliation. All students attending a private school of religious affiliation must participate in religious education, regardless of a student’s religious beliefs. There is no religious education in public schools, whether religiously affiliated or not. Most public schools’ religious affiliations are Anglican or Methodist.
The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
Created in 2015, the government’s Ministry of Social Cohesion’s mandate includes promoting interfaith harmony and respect for diversity. In February President David Granger said the state was responsible for ensuring social cohesion and interfaith harmony is not left to chance, the main reasons his government had established the ministry. In March the ministry held several “harmony villages” across the country to promote tolerance of various cultures and ethnic and religious identities. In May the ministry launched a five-year strategic plan to promote social cohesion.
Representatives of the Rastafarian community said that a law criminalizing the possession of 15 grams or more of marijuana infringed on their religious practices. A representative of the Rastafari Council said some members of his community faced extra scrutiny from law enforcement officials who believed Rastafaris carried marijuana on their person. According to the same representative, the Rastafari community perceived they were employed at lower rates than other citizens. The council petitioned the government to legalize the use of small amounts of marijuana for religious purposes, but authorities reportedly did not consider the proposal, saying that reviewing drug legislation was not a state priority at that time. On August 17, the Alliance For Change, a faction of the coalition government, said that it would advance the concerns of the Rastafarian group at parliament.
The government continued to maintain regulations limiting the number of visas for foreign representatives of religious groups based on historical trends, the relative size of the group, and the president’s discretion; however, religious groups continued to report the visa quotas the government allotted to them did not adversely affect their activities, as the visa limitation rule was rarely applied.
In March foreign Christian missionaries proselytized in some urban public schools. Representatives of the Hindu community stated that proselytizing in public schools is unconstitutional and the government should denounce it. In April the government stated that proselytizing in public schools is prohibited, and it disciplined the administrators of three public schools for permitting religious proselytizing by the foreign Christian missionaries in the three schools.
The Guyana Defense Force (GDF) continued to coordinate with civilian religious groups to provide military personnel with access to religious services. Leaders of the three major religious groups – Christian, Hindu, and Muslim – conducted prayer services and counseling on GDF bases.
Government representatives met with leaders of various religious groups to promote social cohesion and discuss tolerance of diversity. Government officials also participated regularly in the observance of Christian, Muslim, and Hindu religious holidays throughout the year.
In February the president, first lady, and government ministers participated in an interfaith ceremony, whose stated purpose was to celebrate the country’s religious freedom and diversity.
The government continued to declare holy days of the country’s three major religious groups as national holidays.
Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom
There were no reports of significant societal actions affecting religious freedom. Interfaith efforts conducted by the Inter-Religious Organization of Guyana led to oral pledges to promote social cohesion and respect for ethnic and religious diversity.
Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement
U.S. embassy officials joined the Ministry of Social Cohesion on several occasions throughout the year at interfaith and religious events. After these events, embassy officials engaged in social media discussions on religious tolerance in the country’s pluralistic society.
On November 15, in observance of United Nation’s International Day of Tolerance, the embassy convened a panel of Muslim, Christian, Rastafari, and Hindu representatives to highlight and promote tolerance among various religious groups. The panel comprised leaders from the Central Islamic Organization, Council of Churches, Rastafari Council, and Pandits Council, representing local Hindu temples. The audience, which included civil society leaders and members of various faith communities, engaged with panelists and made comments on the role that religious tolerance played in the country. The panelists pledged to hold regular interreligious dialogues and continue collaborating on humanitarian projects to maintain their peaceful coexistence. Embassy representatives met with representatives of the Hindu, Muslim, and Christian religious groups and discussed issues relating to religious tolerance. Embassy representatives attended various religious events hosted by the Muslim and Hindu communities. Embassy officials also attended interfaith functions hosted by the government to support and advance religious tolerance and inclusion. At these events, embassy officials spoke on acceptance, tolerance, and harmony in a multifaith cultural context. The embassy amplified its activities through discussions on social media about religious tolerance.