The constitution guarantees freedom of religious belief and affiliation, as well as the right to change religious faith or to refrain from religious affiliation. The constitution states the country is not bound to any particular faith and religious groups shall manage their affairs independently from the state, including in providing religious education and establishing clerical institutions. The constitution guarantees the right to practice one’s faith privately or publicly, either alone or in association with others. It states the exercise of religious rights may only be restricted by measures “necessary in a democratic society for the protection of public order, health, and morals or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.”
The law requires religious groups to register with the Department of Church Affairs in the Ministry of Culture in order to employ spiritual leaders to perform officially recognized functions. Clergy from unregistered religious groups do not officially have the right to perform weddings or to minister to their members in prisons or government hospitals. Unregistered groups may not establish religious schools.
To register as a religious group or church, the law as of the end of the year requires 20,000 adult members, either citizens or permanent residents, to submit an “honest declaration” attesting to their membership, knowledge of the articles of faith and basic tenets of the religion, personal identity numbers and home addresses, and support for the group’s registration to the Ministry of Culture. The law makes no distinction between churches and religious groups, but recognizes as churches those groups calling themselves churches.
Registration confers the legal status necessary to perform economic functions such as opening a bank account or renting property, and civil functions such as presiding at burial ceremonies. The 18 registered churches and religious groups are: the Apostolic Church, the Bahai Community, The Brotherhood Unity of Baptists, Seventh-day Adventists, Brotherhood Church, Czechoslovak Hussite Church, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons), Evangelical Church of the Augsburg Confession, Evangelical Methodist Church, Greek Catholic Church, Christian Congregations (Krestanske zbory), Jehovah’s Witnesses, New Apostolic Church, Orthodox Church, Reformed Christian Church, Roman Catholic Church, Old Catholic Church, and Central Union of Jewish Religious Communities. Registered groups and churches receive annual state subsidies; some of these groups have less than 20,000 members, as they registered before this requirement came into effect.
The Department of Church Affairs of the Ministry of Culture oversees relations between religious groups and the state and manages the distribution of state subsidies to religious groups and associations. The ministry may not legally intervene in the internal affairs of religious groups or direct their activities.
A group without the 20,000 adult adherents required to obtain status as an official religious group may seek registration as a civic association, which provides the legal status necessary to carry out activities such as operating a bank account or entering into a contract. In doing so, however, the group may not call itself a church or identify itself officially as a religious group as the law governing registration of citizen associations specifically excludes religious groups from obtaining this status. In order to register a civic association, three citizens are required to provide their names, addresses, the name and goal of the organization, the organizational structure, executive bodies, and budgetary rules.
A concordat with the Holy See provides the legal framework for relations between the government and the domestic Catholic Church and the Holy See. Two corollaries cover the operation of Catholic religious schools, the teaching of Catholic religious education as a subject, and Catholic priests serving as military chaplains. An agreement between the government and 11 of the 17 other registered religious groups provides similar status to those groups. The unanimous approval of the existing parties to the agreement is required for other religious groups to obtain similar benefits.
All public elementary school students must take a religion or an ethics class, depending on personal or parental preferences. Individual schools and teachers decide what material to teach in each religion class. Although the content of the courses in most schools is Catholicism, parents may ask a school to include teachings of different faiths. Private and religious schools define their own content for religion courses. In both public and private schools, religion class curricula do not mention unregistered groups or some of the smaller registered groups, and unregistered groups may not teach their faiths at schools. Teachers from a registered religious group normally teach about the tenants of their own faith, although they may teach about other faiths as well. The government pays the salaries of religious teachers in public schools.
The law requires public broadcasters to allocate airtime for registered religious groups but not for unregistered groups.
The law does not allow burial earlier than 48 hours following death, even for religious groups whose traditions mandate an earlier burial.
The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
In November parliament approved legislation, initiated by the Slovak National Party (SNS), to increase the registration requirement for new organizations seeking registration as religious groups to 50,000 adherents, beginning in 2017. On December 20, President Kiska vetoed the law, stating its supporters had failed to demonstrate an increased risk of fraudulent attempts to register religious groups, which the SNS had cited as the main justification for the bill. He also said its supporters had not explained why the existing 20,000-member requirement was insufficient. Kiska further stated most currently registered religious organizations in the country, which would keep their registered status under the new law, would not meet the new 50,000 person criteria. In addition, he said the 50,000 requirement was disproportionate when compared to registration requirements in other European Union member states. Parliament planned a vote for early 2017 to seek to override the president’s veto.
Most political parties supported the new law out of explicit concern over Islam, including the largest party represented in parliament, Direction – Social Democracy (Smer), which campaigned on an avowedly anti-Muslim platform for the March parliamentary elections. In January Smer Prime Minister Robert Fico stated the only way to minimize the risks of events similar to the attacks by Muslims in Paris and Germany was to “prevent the creation of a unified Muslim community” in the country. In May Fico told the media Islam had “no place” in the country and he did not want “several tens of thousands of Muslims here who could push through their things.” Smer’s coalition partners also supported the new law. In September SNS Chair Andrej Danko stated support for the increase in the registration requirement was justified because “demographic developments cannot be guessed” and conflicts around the construction of mosques “needed to be prevented.”
Opposition parties also expressed anti-Muslim views. In July Richard Sulik, the leader of Freedom and Solidarity (SaS) – the second largest political party in parliament and the largest opposition party – placed a post on Facebook saying Islam was “in contradiction with our culture” and “a direct threat to our civilization.” During the election campaign, Marian Kotleba, governor of the Banska Bystrica region and leader of the People’s Party Our Slovakia (LSNS) – which described itself as a party based on national, Christian, and social principles in opposition to the “criminal ‘democratic’ system” – criticized Prime Minister Fico for not “taking a harder line” against Muslims and refugees. In the November parliamentary debate over the new law, two LSNS parliamentarians labelled Islam a “pedophilic system” and said stricter registration requirements were needed to prevent the infiltration of non-Christian religious groups.
Up until the parliamentary vote in November, local NGOs, including the Center for Research on Ethnicity and Culture (CVEK), continued to advocate for removal of the previous 20,000-member requirement for registration of religious groups, saying the other legal requirements for registration were sufficient to prevent the registration of groups whose activities were unconstitutional. The NGOs stated the religious groups most disadvantaged by the registration requirements were those associated with new immigrant communities, such as the Muslim community, which remained unregistered due to an inability to meet the 20,000-member requirement.
The registration application of the Christian Fellowship remained unresolved as of the end of the year. The Ministry of Culture continued to consider additional expert opinion over whether to reverse its 2007 rejection of the original application. The rejection had been based on expert opinion saying the group promoted hatred toward other religious groups and was therefore ineligible for registration.
The government provided approximately 40 million euros ($42.1 million) in annual state subsidies to the 18 registered religious groups. A large portion of the government subsidy to the registered religious groups continued to be used to pay clergy and was allocated to the groups based on the number of their clergy. Government discussions with stakeholders about changes in the model to be used for the funding of religious groups continued throughout the year.
NGOs and unregistered religious groups continued to report the existing legal provisions for registration made it difficult for unregistered groups to enter the public discourse, and continued to limit their ability to alter negative public attitudes toward smaller religious organizations.
In the absence of registration, the Muslim community remained unable to employ an imam formally. Muslim community leaders continued to report prisons and detention facilities frequently prevented their spiritual representatives from gaining access to their adherents. Members of the Muslim community also reported the lack of official registration made obtaining the necessary construction permits for prayer rooms and religious sites more difficult, although there was no law prohibiting unregistered groups from obtaining such permits.
The Ministry of Culture continued its cultural grant program allocating money for the upkeep of religious monuments.
The Islamic Foundation in Slovakia reported a continued increase in anti-Muslim rhetoric by members of the ruling coalition and opposition members of parliament throughout the year. Some government officials continued to portray Muslims, particularly migrants, as potential threats to national security, culture, and society.
LSNS party members openly campaigned against Muslims in the election and praised the fascist-era government, which had deported tens of thousands of Slovak Jews to Nazi death camps. LSNS candidates also vowed to promote “Christian values” and obtained the support of three Catholic priests during the elections. In September during a parliamentary debate on climate change, a parliamentarian from the LSNS party stated he disagreed with the terms “economic and climate migration,” saying the European migration crisis was instead “an organized Muslim invasion.”
In August the director of the Nation’s Memory Institute (UPN) dismissed its historian, Martin Lacko, who had openly supported the LSNS party and participated in events celebrating the World War II-era fascist state. The UPN, a public institution established by the government, continued to provide access to previously undisclosed records of the regimes ruling the country from 1939 to 1989, but Jewish community leaders continued to criticize the organization for reportedly downplaying the role of prominent World War II-era figures in supporting anti-Semitic policies.
In March the media reported Milan Mazurek, an LSNS member elected to parliament, had written a social media post in 2015 saying the Holocaust was a “fairy tale” and praising Hitler.
In June the Ministry of Interior published a statement, adopted by the Committee for the Elimination of Racism, Xenophobia, Anti-Semitism, and Other Forms of Intolerance, calling for an end to online hate speech. The committee – a part of the Government Council on Human Rights and National Minorities, an advisory body to the government made up of civil society and government representatives – said online hate speech often resulted in physical violence.
On September 9, Prime Minister Fico, Speaker of Parliament Andrej Danko, and other senior-level leaders commemorated the Day of the Victims of the Holocaust and of Racial Violence at the Holocaust Memorial in Bratislava.
On January 26, Prime Minister Fico attended the opening of the country’s first museum dedicated to the Holocaust, built on the grounds of a former concentration camp in Sered. The government provided 2.5 million euros ($2.63 million) to support the museum’s construction.