The constitution provides for freedom of religion and worship, which may not be violated even if the government declares a state of emergency. It states no one shall be privileged, prejudiced, persecuted, or deprived of rights or exempted from civic obligations or duties because of religious beliefs or practices. The constitution states individuals may not be questioned by authorities about religious convictions or observance, with the exception of gathering statistical information that does not identify individuals, and in such cases individuals may not be prejudiced by refusal to reply. Churches and religious communities are independent from the state, and have the freedom to determine their own organization and to perform their own activities and worship. The constitution affords each religious community the freedom to teach its religion and to use its own media to disseminate public information about its activities. It bars political parties from using names directly associated with, or symbols that may be confused with those of, religious groups. The constitution and the law recognize the right to conscientious objection to military service, including on religious grounds; they require conscientious objectors to perform equivalent alternative civilian service.
Religious groups may be organized in a variety of forms that have national, regional, or local character. A denomination may choose to organize as one national church or religious community or as several regional or local churches or religious communities. An international church or religious community may set up a representative organization of its adherents separate from the branch of the church or religious community existing in the country. A registered church or religious community may create subsidiary or affiliated organizations, such as associations, foundations, or federations.
All religious groups with an organized presence in the country may apply for registration with the registrar of religious corporate bodies in the Ministry of Justice (MoJ). The requirements include providing the organization’s official name, which must be distinguishable from all other religious corporate bodies in the country; the organizing documents of the church or religious community associated with the group applying for registration; the address of the organization’s registered main office inside the country; a statement of the group’s religious purposes; documentation of the organization’s assets; information on the organization’s formation, composition, rules, and activities; provisions for dissolution of the organization; and the appointment method and powers of the organization’s representatives. Subsidiary or affiliated organizations included in the parent group’s application are also registered; if not, they must register separately. The MoJ may reject a registration application if it fails to meet legal requirements, includes false documentation, or violates constitutional rights of religious freedom. In the case where an application is rejected by the MoJ, religious groups may appeal to the CLR within 30 days of receiving the MoJ’s decision.
Religious groups may register as religious corporations and receive tax-exempt status; the right to minister in prisons, hospitals, and military facilities; the right to provide religious teaching in public schools; the right to participate in broadcasting time on public television and radio; and national recognition of religious holidays. The government certifies religious ministers, who receive all the benefits of the social security system. Chaplaincies for military services, prisons, and hospitals are state-funded positions open to all registered religious groups. A taxpayer may allocate 5 percent of his or her tax payment to any registered religious group.
Religious groups may also register as unincorporated associations or private corporations, and in that form may receive the same benefits granted to religious corporations. The process for registering as unincorporated associations or private corporations involves the same procedures as for religious corporations. There are no practical differences between associations and private corporations; the different categories distinguish how the groups are internally administered. Unregistered religious groups are not subject to penalties and may practice their religion, but do not receive the benefits associated with registration.
By law, religious groups registered in the country for at least 30 years or internationally recognized for 60 years may obtain a higher registration status of “religion settled in the country.” To show they are established, religions must demonstrate an “organized social presence” for the required length of time. These groups receive government subsidies, may conclude “mutual interest” agreements with the state on issues such as education, culture, or other forms of cooperation, and may celebrate religious marriages that have effect in the state legal system. The government has mutual interest agreements with Jewish and Islamic religious bodies and a concordat with the Holy See that serves the same function for the Catholic Church.
The law prohibits employers from discriminating against individuals on the basis of religion and requires reasonable accommodation of employees’ religious practices. According to the labor code, employees are allowed to take leave on their Sabbath and religious holidays, even if these are not nationally observed.
Public secondary schools offer an optional survey course on world religions taught by lay teachers. Optional religious instruction is available at government expense if at least 10 students attend the class. Religious groups are responsible for designing the curriculum of the religious classes and providing and training the teachers, who are lay. Private schools are required to offer the same curriculum as public schools but may provide instruction in any religion at their expense. All schools, public and private, are required to accommodate the religious practices of students, including rescheduling tests if necessary.
The law provides for the naturalization of Jewish descendants of Sephardic Jews expelled from the country in the 15th and 16th centuries.
The CLR is an independent, consultative body to parliament and the government, established by law. Its members include representatives of various religious groups in the country, such as the Portuguese Episcopal Conference, the Evangelical Alliance, the Israeli Community, the Islamic Community of Lisbon, the Hindu Community of Lisbon, and the Aga Khan Foundation, as well as laypersons appointed by the MoJ. The Council of Ministers appoints its president. The CLR reviews and takes a position on all matters relating to the application of the law on religious freedom, including proposed amendments. It alerts the competent authorities, including the president, parliament, and others in the government, to cases involving religious freedom and discrimination, such as restrictions or prohibitions on the right to assembly and the holding of religious services; the destruction or desecration of religious property; assaults against members and clergy of religious groups; incitement of religious discord; hate speech; and violations of the rights of foreign missionaries. The CLR may file formal complaints at the national level with the ombudsman, an official position created by the constitution and supplemental legislation to defend the rights and freedoms of individual citizens, and at the international level with the European Court of Human Rights. The ombudsman has no legal enforcement power, but he or she is obligated to address complaints and provides an alternative remedy for dispute resolution.
The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
On March 9, President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa attended an interfaith service at the Lisbon Central Mosque following his swearing-in ceremony. He promised to be a guarantor of religious freedom and cited the right to freedom of worship in the constitution. He urged dialogue and understanding and appealed to the “ecumenical spirit” of all citizens, calling the service a positive example of how religion can unite rather than divide people of diverse backgrounds. Foreign Minister Augusto Santos Silva, Lisbon Mayor Fernando Medina, and former Portuguese President Jorge Sampaio also attended as did representatives from 17 religious groups, including Catholics, Seventh-day Adventists, Anglicans, evangelicals, other Protestants, Greek Orthodox, Mormons, Bahais, Buddhists, Hindus, Jews, Shia Muslims, Sunni Muslims, and Sikhs.
On January 29, parliament recognized Holocaust Remembrance Day with a memorial ceremony, a photo exhibit, and a viewing of the German film “Labyrinth of Lies.” Speakers at the memorial ceremony included Parliamentary President Eduardo Ferro Rodrigues, the Israeli Ambassador, and the president of the Israelite Community of Lisbon. Rodrigues called the Holocaust “the trivialization of evil” and said “It [the Holocaust] will never be the past in terms of the manner in which it challenges us as human beings.” In a unanimous vote, parliament committed to “promote Holocaust memory and education in schools, universities, communities and other institutions so that future generations can…reflect on its consequences in order to avoid future acts of genocide.”
On July 15, Minister of Culture Luis Filipe de Castro Mendes and the Israeli Ambassador attended the inauguration ceremony of the government-funded Interactive Center of Jewish Culture (also known as the “House of Inquisition”) in Monsaraz, operated by the local city hall, which commemorates Jewish history and the 80 Jewish residents of Monsaraz who were victims of the inquisition.
The ACM hosted events, activities, and debates, published books on religion to promote religious tolerance and acceptance, and provided ongoing education for teachers and workers interacting with people of diverse religious backgrounds. On March 2, the ACM sponsored a debate titled “Religion and Ethics in Government and Politics.” On September 21-22, the ACM cosponsored an interreligious dialogue and conference on citizenship and religion with the CLR, Lisbon City Hall, and Lusofona University. Among the speakers were the adjunct minister to the prime minister, the UN Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) chair for religious pluralism and peace, and the assistant secretary general of the Muslim Council of Britain. Among other topics, participants addressed religious freedom concerns with a broad audience.
On November 17, the government issued a decree establishing a Nucleus for Intercultural Dialogue within the ACM, whose goals included promoting the rights and interests of immigrants to ensure their integration, promoting religious dialogue, presenting proposals for training to enhance appreciation of diversity and interreligious dialogue, and promoting research on integration of immigrants and appreciation of diversity and interreligious dialogue.
On September 5, the CLR sponsored a conference debate on “Religious Pluralism and Citizenship” at the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation in Lisbon. Speakers included the new CLR chairman, the minister of justice, constitutional scholars, and representatives of various religious denominations and focused on “Religious Freedom and Portuguese Secularism – The principles of the separation and cooperation between the State and Religious Communities.” At the closing of the conference, 21 churches and religious communities signed a declaration for dialogue, religious tolerance, and peace. Among other obligations and responsibilities, the signatories pledged their commitment to a collaborative dialogue with other religious groups and an appreciation of diversity.
The state-run television channel RTP continued to air a half-hour religious program five days a week, with segments written by different registered religious groups and a weekly half-hour program highlighting activities of different religious groups.
The government naturalized 292 descendants of Jews expelled from the country during the Inquisition, most of whom were from Turkey (50 percent) and Israel (31 percent). The Jewish community in Lisbon or Porto vetted each application, checking existing documentation of the applicants’ ancestors and making recommendations to the government.
In February Porto Mayor Rui Moreira, a descendant of Ashkenazi Jews, cited his election as evidence of an absence of anti-Semitism in the country.