The constitution stipulates there is no state religion and provides for the right of individuals to choose freely any religion or belief, to profess their religion and perform religious practices, individually or with others, in private or in public, and to practice and teach their beliefs. It states no one may compel another person (or be compelled) to choose or profess any religion or belief. The constitution allows limits on the freedom to profess and spread religious beliefs when necessary to protect health, safety, public order, or the fundamental rights and freedoms of others. It restricts freedom of expression if it incites religious hatred, violence, or discrimination. It stipulates religious belief may not serve as justification for failing to comply with laws.
The constitution acknowledges the freedom of parents or guardians to oversee the religious and moral education of their children without interference and stipulates public education shall be secular, although schools may provide religious instruction at the request of parents. The constitution grants recognition to “traditional” religious groups and provides for recognition of other religious groups if they have support in society and their teachings and practices do not conflict with law or public morals. It states the status of religious groups shall be established by agreement or law and recognized religious groups shall be free to carry out their activities as long as they are not in conflict with the constitution or laws.
The law defines religious groups as (1) religious communities, (2) religious associations, which are comprised of at least two religious communities under common leadership, and (3) religious centers, which are higher governing bodies of religious associations.
The law recognizes as “traditional” those religious groups able to trace back their presence in the country at least 300 years. The law lists nine “traditional” religious groups: Roman Catholic, Greek Catholic, Evangelical Lutheran, Evangelical Reformed, Russian Orthodox, Old Believer, Jewish, Sunni Muslim, and Karaite. Traditional religious groups do not need to register with the government. They may perform marriages that are state-recognized, establish joint private/public schools, provide religious instruction in public schools, and receive annual government subsidies. Their highest ranking leaders are eligible to apply for diplomatic passports, their clergy and theological students are exempt from military service, and they may provide chaplains for the military, social care institutions, and hospitals. The state provides social security and healthcare insurance contributions for clergy, religious workers, and members of monastic orders of the traditional religious groups. Traditional religious groups are also not required to pay social and health insurance taxes for clergy and most other religious workers and members of monastic orders.
Other (nontraditional) religious associations may apply to the Ministry of Justice (MOJ) for state recognition if they have been officially registered in the country for at least 25 years. Parliament votes whether to grant this status upon recommendation from the MOJ. The Evangelical Baptist Union of Lithuania, the Seventh-day Adventist Church, and the Pentecostal Evangelical Belief Christian Union are the only state-recognized nontraditional religious groups.
The MOJ handles official registration of religious communities, associations, and centers. Registration of religious communities and associations associated with religious groups is simplified compared to registration of nontraditional religious communities. The former only need to establish their ties to the traditional religious group.
Unrecognized nontraditional groups must submit an application and supporting documentation to the MOJ, including their bylaws describing their religious teachings and governance, minutes of the founding meeting, and a list of the founders, at least 15 of whom must be citizens. Upon approval of its application, a religious community, association, or center is registered as a legal entity with the State Enterprise Center of Registers.
Traditional religious communities and associations are registered free of charge, while nontraditional communities pay a fee of 32 euros ($34). The MOJ may refuse to register a religious group if full data are not included in the application; the activities of the group violate human rights or public order; or statutes or corresponding documents of the group of the same name has already been registered. As of November 1, there were 1,112 traditional and 187 nontraditional religious associations, centers, and communities officially registered in the register of legal entities.
Official registration is a prerequisite for opening a bank account, owning property, and acting in a legal or official capacity as a community. The law allows all registered religious groups to own property for use as prayer houses, homes, and other functions, and permits construction of facilities necessary for religious activities. All registered groups are eligible for public funds from municipalities for cultural and social projects.
Unregistered communities have no legal status; however, the constitution allows them to conduct worship services and seek new members.
Recognition entitles nontraditional religious groups to perform marriages and provide religious instruction in public schools. Unlike traditional groups, however, they are not eligible for annual subsidies from the state budget, and their clergy and theological students are not exempt from military service. The law provides recognized nontraditional religious groups with legal entity status, but they do not qualify for certain social security and health care contributions by the state.
The Interministerial Commission to Coordinate Activities of Governmental Institutions that Deal with Issues of Religious, Esoteric, and Spiritual Groups coordinates investigations of religious groups if there is a concern a group’s actions may be inconsistent with what the commission perceives to be “principles that stress respect for human freedom of expression and freedom of religion.”
The Journalist Ethics Inspectorate investigates complaints under a law that bars publishing material that instigates hatred, including religious hatred. The inspectorate may levy administrative fines on newspapers under administrative law or refer cases for criminal prosecution.
The government may temporarily restrict freedom of expression of religious belief during a period of martial law or a state of emergency, although it has never invoked this right.
The law permits registered groups to apply to the MOJ for the restitution of religious property owned before June 19, 1948. Some religious properties were confiscated and redistributed by the Soviet Union. Other properties remained intact but were nationalized, often serving as museums. Religious communities can register property nationalized but not confiscated by the Soviet Union to establish a claim. Following receipt of such a claim, the ministry conducts an investigation. If the ministry determines the claim is legitimate, it drafts a resolution officially returning the property to its original owner.
A compensation fund for Jewish-owned property nationalized under totalitarian regimes is designed to support Jewish educational, religious, scientific, cultural, and healthcare projects with public benefits. Pursuant to the law, the government is committed to disbursing 37 million euros ($39 million) over the course of the decade ending March 1, 2023 to the Foundation for the Disposal of Good Will Compensation for the Immovable Property of Jewish Religious Communities, a public institution that oversees the fund and is governed by national and international Jewish leaders.
The country has no law for the restitution of heirless private property.
The government allocates funds to traditional religious communities for refurbishing houses of prayer and other needs. Each traditional religion group receives 3,075 euros ($3,240) as a base fund plus a variable component, which depends on the number of believers of each community.
The law permits and funds religious instruction in public schools for traditional and other state-recognized religious groups. Parents may choose either religious instruction or secular ethics classes for their children. Schools decide which of the traditional religious groups will be represented in their curricula on the basis of requests from parents for children up to age 14, after which students present the requests themselves.
There are 30 private religious schools with ties to Catholic or Jewish groups, although students of different religious groups may attend these schools. All accredited private schools (religious and nonreligious) receive funding from the Ministry of Education and Science through a voucher system based on the number of pupils. This system covers only the program costs of school operation. Founders generally bear responsibility for covering capital outlays; however, the Ministry of Education and Science funds capital costs of private schools of traditional religious groups where the government has signed an international agreement with a religious group to do so. To date the Catholic Church is the only religious group with such an agreement, which the government signed with the Holy See. Under this accord, the government funds both the capital and operating costs of private Catholic schools.
The criminal code prohibits discrimination based on religion and provides penalties of up to two years in prison for violations. The code penalizes interference with religious ceremonies of recognized religious groups with imprisonment or community service and penalizes inciting religious hatred with imprisonment of up to three years.
The Office of the Equal Opportunities (OEO) Ombudsperson investigates complaints of discrimination based on religion directed against state institutions, educational institutions, employers, and product and service sellers and producers.
The parliamentary ombudsperson examines whether state authorities properly perform their duties to serve the population. The law on the parliament ombudsperson specifically includes religious discrimination within the purview of the office. The OEO and parliamentary ombudspersons may investigate complaints, recommend changes to parliamentary committees and ministries regarding legislation, and recommend cases to the prosecutor general’s office for pretrial investigation.
While there is some overlap between the OEO and parliamentary ombudspersons, the OEO ombudsperson has greater authority to hear complaints about individual acts of religious discrimination.
The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
On November 3, parliament granted the status of state-recognized religious association to the Pentecostal Evangelical Belief Christian Union, whose application had been pending since 2002. Two applicants for status as a state-recognized religious association continued to await parliamentary approval at year’s end: the New Apostolic Church (pending since 2003), and the United Methodist Church of Lithuania (pending since 2001).
As in past years, the only chaplains offering religious services to military personnel were Roman Catholic.
The government continued to provide restitution or compensation to a number of religious groups, including the Jewish community, for property seized during World War II and by the communist regime. Information on which property the government restored and to which religious groups was unavailable. During the year, the government allocated 3,620,000 euros ($3,815,000) to the Foundation for the Disposal of Good Will Compensation for the Immovable Property of Jewish Religious Communities. Since 2011, the foundation had received a total of 14,480,750 euros ($15,259,000) from the government.
The government provided 697,000 euros ($734,000) to traditional religious groups to reconstruct religious buildings seized during the Nazi or Soviet eras and to support other religious community activities. The Roman Catholic Church received 626,500 euros ($660,000), 90 percent of the total, the Russian Orthodox community 33,000 euros ($34,800), and the remaining 36,000 euros ($37,900) was divided among the Old Believer, Evangelical Lutheran, Evangelical Reformed, Sunni Muslim, Jewish, Greek Catholic, and Karaite communities.
The government worked closely with the Lithuanian Jewish Community regarding activities surrounding the property of the Vilnius Sports Palace, built in the 1970s above part of the Snipiskes Jewish Cemetery. On August 3, the government suspended construction at a site near the location of Snipiskes after workers unintentionally began digging in the buffer zone surrounding the cemetery. Work at the site resumed only after the Lithuanian Jewish Community and Committee for the Preservation of Jewish Cemeteries in Europe determined the cemetery territory had not been damaged. According to the Ministry of Culture and the Lithuanian Jewish Community, preservation of Jewish cemeteries in the country remained inconsistent, often depending on attitudes and actions of individual municipalities.
The government continued to support Jewish educational, cultural, scientific, and religious projects. These projects included youth camps, photo exhibitions, and restoration of wooden synagogues. The interministerial commission to address Jewish issues met in June and in October and provided research on examples of Jewish property restitution from other European countries. The commission did not have funds to disburse for projects.
In March Raimundas Pankevicius, a member of the Conservatives/Christian Democratic Party, went on trial for making anti-Semitic remarks during a meeting of the Panevezys City Council in 2014. Pankevicius was accused of publicly stating Jews shot Jews during World War II in the country. In November the Panevezys Regional Court acquitted Pankevicius.
In January the publication of a book entitled “Musiskiai,” “(Our People)” by coauthors Ruta Vanagaite and Efraim Zuroff, head of the Jerusalem office of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, generated a nationwide public debate about the country’s complicity in the genocide of Jews during the Holocaust. The Jewish community and the media called on the government to publish a list of suspected war criminals by the government’s Genocide and Resistance Research Center. The center compiled the list in 2012, but the government had not disclosed the names or sought to prosecute anyone on it. The director of the center promised to publish the list of names by June 2017.
Government officials and members of parliament participated in events throughout August and September to mark the 75th anniversary of the Holocaust in the country. On August 29, President Dalia Grybauskaite led a ceremony at the mass killing site in Moletai, saying “we must strive to see our future together with the Jewish people.” On September 20, Vilnius Mayor Remigijus Simasius dedicated a street sign in Yiddish and Hebrew on Zydu (Jewish) street. On September 23, Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs Mantvydas Bekesius participated in the dedication of a monument to murdered Jewish children at the Sholom Aleichem Jewish school in Vilnius. On the same day, Defense Minister Juozas Olekas, Vice Chancellor Rimantas Vaitkus, and Vice Foreign Minister Bekesius laid wreaths during the annual commemoration at the Paneriai massacre site outside Vilnius. On September 25, parliament hosted a conference to honor the rescuers of Jews during the Holocaust, and President Grybauskaite held an award ceremony for the rescuers on September 28.
On November 2, Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs Bekesius, Deputy Mayor of Kaunas Simonas Kairys, and the Kaunas Jewish community took part in an event unveiling a monument to commemorate the 5,000 Jews killed at the Seventh Fort in Kaunas in 1941. Bekesius stated, “The words ‘never again’ are neither empty nor declarative …They render an important commitment …to prevent a repeat of the tragedy and to make clear anti-Semitism has no place in Lithuania.”
The government and civil society continued to work together to promote Holocaust education and tolerance in schools with the local Jewish community and NGOs such as the Human Rights Center. Students across the country participated in the Holocaust commemoration events and marches in August and September and a celebration of the 90th anniversary of YIVO Institute, an academic Jewish research institution.
The government is a member of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance.