The constitution provides for equality of rights regardless of religion, and freedom of conscience and religious expression. It prohibits incitement of religious hatred. According to the constitution, religious communities shall be equal under the law and separate from the state; they are free to publicly conduct religious services and open and manage schools and charitable organizations under the protection and assistance of the state.
The Catholic Church receives state financial support and other benefits established in four concordats between the government and the Holy See. These agreements allow state financing for salaries and pensions of some religious officials associated with religious education through government-managed pension and health funds. These agreements also stipulate state funding for religious education in public schools. The law stipulates the same rights and benefits as those specified for the Catholic Church in the concordats with other registered religious communities that have concluded agreements with the state.
The law defines the legal position of religious communities and determines eligibility for government funding and tax benefits; registered religious communities are exempt from taxes on the purchase of real estate, the profit/capital gains tax, and taxes on donations. According to the law, a religious community which was previously active as a legal entity before enactment of the current law need only submit its name, the location of its headquarters, information about the office of the person authorized to represent it, and the seal and stamp it uses to register. To register as a religious community, a religious group without prior legal status must have at least 500 members and have been registered as an association for at least five years. To register as an organization, a group submits a list of its members and documentation outlining the group’s activities and bylaws and describing its mission to the Ministry of Administration. Nonregistered religious groups may operate freely but without tax or other benefits. A contractual agreement with the state, which grants a registered religious community eligibility for further funding and benefits, defines the community’s role and activities and provides for collaboration with the government in areas of joint interest, such as education, health, and culture.
The state recognizes marriages conducted by registered religious communities that have concluded agreements with the state, eliminating the need for civil registration. Marriages conducted by registered communities that have not concluded agreements with the state, or by nonregistered religious groups, require civil registration. Registered religious communities that have not concluded agreements with the state and nonregistered religious groups may not conduct religious education in schools or access state funds in support of religious activities, including charitable work, counseling, building costs, and clergy salaries; however, they may engage in worship, proselytize, own property, and import religious literature. Only registered religious communities, with or without agreements with the state, may provide spiritual counsel in prisons, hospitals, and the military.
There are 54 registered religious communities, including the Catholic Church, SOC, Bulgarian Orthodox Church, Christian Adventist Church, Church of Christ, Church of God, Croatian Old Catholic Church, Evangelical Church, Macedonian Orthodox Church, Pentecostal Church, Reformed Christian Church, Union of Baptist Churches, Seventh-day Adventist Reform Movement, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons), Union of Pentecostal Churches of Christ, Coordination of Jewish Communities in Croatia (an umbrella group of nine distinct Jewish communities), Jewish Community of Virovitica, Bet Israel (a Jewish group), and the Islamic Community of Croatia. Besides the Catholic Church, 19 religious communities have agreements with the state.
Public schools must offer religious education, although students may opt out without providing specific grounds. The Catholic catechism is the predominant religious text used. Other religious communities that have agreements with the state may also offer religious education classes in schools if there are seven or more students of that faith. Eligible religious communities provide the instructors and the state pays their salaries. Private religious schools are eligible for state assistance.
The law does not allow citizens whose property was confiscated during the Holocaust era to seek compensation or restitution, as it excludes the period of 1941-45 from claims. The law also does not allow noncitizens to file new property claims, since a legal deadline for such claims expired in 2003 and has not been renewed.
The ombudsman is a commissioner of the parliament responsible for the promotion and protection of human rights and freedoms, including religious freedom. The ombudsman examines citizens’ complaints pertaining to the work of state bodies, local and regional self-government, and legal persons vested with public authority. The ombudsman can issue recommendations to government agencies regarding human rights and religious freedom practices, but does not have authority itself to enforce compliance with recommendations.
The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
The ombudsman reported continued obstacles encountered by Jehovah’s Witnesses regarding their right to health care in accordance with their religious beliefs. The ombudsman stated that in 2016, the latest year for which figures were available, there were 22 cases in which 14 state healthcare institutions denied surgery to Jehovah’s Witnesses who refused blood transfusions because of their religious beliefs. The Jehovah’s Witness community reported having to use its own finances to send patients to different hospitals for procedures, including hospitals outside of the country. The ombudsman’s 2016 report made recommendations for the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Labor to improve hospital procedures and policies in order to provide adequate health care to patients in accordance with their religious beliefs.
Representatives of the SOC reported the government did not resolve any of its outstanding property restitution cases during the year, including claims for land in Osijek County and properties in Vukovar, Vinkovci, and Epharchy Osijecko-Poljska.
On August 17, the Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs issued a statement noting the government was engaged in dialogue with representatives of minorities and was committed to promoting tolerance, solidarity, and cooperation among minority and religious groups.
According to the Office of the Commission for Relations with Religious Communities, the Catholic Church received 299.5 million kuna ($48.1 million) in government funding during the year for salaries, pensions, and other purposes, compared to 285.7 million kuna ($45.9 million) in 2016. The government offered funding to other religious communities that had concluded agreements with the state, a portion of which was based on their size, in addition to funds provided to support religious education in public schools (all offered on an opt-in basis), as well as the operation of private religious schools. The government provided 20.6 million kuna ($3.31 million) to these groups, the same amount as the previous year.
On April 23, Prime Minister (PM) Andrej Plenkovic and other government ministers attended the annual official commemoration for victims of the WWII-era Jasenovac death camp. For the second year in a row, Jewish and Serb (largely Orthodox) leaders announced they would not participate in the official ceremony, but would hold separate commemorations. The leaders cited dissatisfaction with the government’s lack of response to a veterans group’s placement of a plaque, in November 2016, bearing the Ustasha-era salute “Za dom Spremni” (“For the Homeland, Ready,” ZDS) near the site of the camp. Following the boycott, PM Plenkovic said he regretted the placement of the plaque and that it was the lasting task of the government to develop a tolerant and democratic society. In September President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic and PM Plenkovic both condemned the plaque, and the government relocated it to a veterans’ cemetery in the nearby town of Novska; the government did not make a determination on the legality of the use of the controversial Ustasha salute.
In March PM Plenkovic announced the creation of a special council, the Council for Dealing with Consequences of the Rule of Non-Democratic Regimes. According to the PM, the council would provide the government with legal and institutional recommendations regarding the use of symbols of totalitarian regimes during and after WWII, to include ZDS, that would be used for eventual legislation on the issue. The government directed the council, which consisted of legal experts, academics, and historians, to issue its recommendations by March 2018.
In January PM Plenkovic attended a traditional Orthodox Christmas reception organized by the Serb National Council (SNV) in Zagreb. He stated his government’s policy was one of stability, tolerance, dialogue, settlement of outstanding issues, and good relations with all minorities in the country. When he visited the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial in January, he committed to fight “any form of hatred, racism, and Holocaust denial” and said the country would continue to promote “values of mutual respect, understanding, and tolerance.”
On August 24, President Grabar-Kitarovic bestowed the Order of Ante Starcevic, a national decoration, upon the leader of the Islamic Community of Croatia, Mufti Aziz Efendi Hasanovic. Hasanovic was recognized for his contribution to the building of the contemporary state and promotion of religious liberties, tolerance, and human rights, as well as for his engagement in interreligious and intercultural cooperation. During the ceremony, the president stated Muslim citizens were included in all spheres of social life on an equal footing. The president emphasized the successful interreligious dialogue between the Christian majority and Muslim minority, commending the role of the Islamic Community of Croatia.
Members of the Islamic community reported they cooperated with the government to provide religious and cultural instruction to soldiers before they deployed to Muslim countries, particularly Afghanistan. The Mufti of Croatia, Aziz Hasanovic, accompanied President Grabar-Kitarovic on state visits to majority-Muslim countries.
The Office of the President continued to maintain a special advisor for Holocaust issues.
The country is a member of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance.