The constitution does not explicitly address religious freedom, but the Charter of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms, a supplementary constitutional document, guarantees freedom of religious conviction and the fundamental rights of all regardless of their faith or religion. It states every individual has the right to change religion or faith; to abstain from religious belief; and to freely practice religion, alone or in community, in private or public, “through worship, teaching, practice, or observance.” The charter defines religious societies, recognizing their freedom to profess their faith publicly or privately and to govern their own affairs, independent of the state. It stipulates conscientious objectors may not be compelled to perform military service and that conditions for religious instruction at state schools shall be set by law. The charter states religious freedom may be limited by law in the event of threats to “public safety and order, health and morals, or the rights and freedoms of others.”
The law states the MOC Department of Churches is responsible for religious affairs. While religious groups are not required by law to register with the government and are free to perform religious activities without registering, they have the option to register with the MOC. The law establishes a two-tiered system of registration for religious groups. The MOC reviews applications for first- and second-tier registration with input from other government bodies, such as the Office for Protection of Private Data, and outside experts on religious affairs. The law does not establish a deadline for the MOC to decide on a registration application. Applicants denied registration can appeal to the MOC to reconsider its decision and, if again denied, to the courts.
To qualify for the first (lower) tier, a religious group must present the signatures of at least 300 adult members permanently residing in the country, a founding document listing the basic tenets of the faith, and a clearly defined structure of fiduciary responsibilities. First-tier registration confers limited tax benefits, including exemptions from a tax on the interest earned on current account deposits and taxes on donations and members’ contributions, and establishes annual reporting requirements on activities, balance sheets, and use of funds.
For second-tier registration, a group must have been registered with the Department of Churches for 10 years, have published annual reports throughout the time of its registration, and have membership equal to at least 0.1 percent of the population, or approximately 10,700 persons. The group must provide this number of signatures as proof. Second-tier registration entitles religious groups to government subsidies. In addition, only clergy of registered second-tier religious groups may perform officially recognized marriage ceremonies and serve as chaplains in the military and at prisons. Prisoners who belong to unregistered religious groups or groups with first-tier status may receive visits from their own clergy, outside of the prison chaplaincy system.
Religious groups registered prior to 2002 have automatic second-tier status without having to fulfill the requirements for second-tier registration.
There are 38 state-registered religious groups; 16 groups are first tier and 22 are second tier.
Unregistered religious groups are free to assemble and worship but may not legally own property. The law provides unregistered groups the option of forming civic associations to manage their property.
The law authorizes the government to return to 17 religious groups (including the FJC) land and other property confiscated during the communist era and still in the government’s possession, the total value of which is estimated to be approximately 75 billion koruna ($3.59 billion). It also sets aside 59 billion koruna ($2.83 billion) for financial compensation for lands that cannot be returned, to be paid over 30 years to 17 second-tier religious groups, including the Roman Catholic Church, FJC, Evangelical Church of Czech Brethren, and Hussite Church, that received state subsidies prior to the enactment of the restitution law. Using a mechanism prescribed by law based on an agreement among the religious groups concerned, the government allocates slightly more than 79 percent of the financial compensation to the Catholic Church. Religious groups had a one-year window, which ended in 2013, to make restitution claims for confiscated land and other property, which the government is processing. If the government rejects a property claim, the claimant may appeal the decision in the courts. The law also contains provisions for phasing out direct state subsidies to second-tier religious groups over a 17-year period, ending in 2029.
The law permits second-tier registered religious groups to apply through the MOC to teach religion in state schools; 11 of the 22 second-tier groups have applied and received permission. The teachers are supplied by the religious groups and paid by the state. If a state school does not have enough funds to pay for its religious education teachers, teachers are paid by parishes or dioceses. Although the law makes religious instruction in public schools optional, school directors must provide instruction in the beliefs of one of the 11 approved religious groups if seven or more students of that religious group request it, in which case the school provides the religious instruction only to the students who requested it.
The government does not regulate instruction in private schools.
The penal code outlaws denial of Nazi, communist, or other genocide, providing for prison sentences of six months to three years for public denial, questioning, approval of, or attempts to justify the genocide committed by the Nazis. The law also prohibits the incitement of hatred based on religion and provides for penalties of up to three years’ imprisonment.
Foreign religious workers must obtain long-term residence and work permits to remain in the country more than 90 days. There is no special visa category for religious workers; foreign missionaries and clergy are required to meet the conditions for a standard work permit.
The law designates January 27 as Holocaust Remembrance Day.
The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
The MOC did not register any religious groups during the year. Registration applications by Theravada Buddhists in May and the Priestly Fraternity of St. Pius X in 2016 remained pending at year’s end. In January the ministry rejected PGJ’s registration application on grounds of what it characterized as abuse of personal information, incitement of hate, and the primarily for-profit character of the group’s activities. In February the group appealed the decision to the MOC. In September Minister of Culture Daniel Herman upheld the rejection. Following that decision, PGJ appealed to the municipal court in Prague. PGJ said it expected the court to begin hearing the case in early 2018.
In February the Lions of the Round Table – Order of the Lands of the Czech Crown – appealed in court against the MOC’s rejection of its first-tier registration application in May 2016. The case was pending at year’s end. In June the Community of Buddhism in the Czech Republic appealed to the MOC, asking it to reconsider its decision in May to halt the group’s 2016 registration application. The MOC rejected the appeal in December. In December 2016, the Cannabis Church appealed in court the MOC’s halting of its registration procedure. The case remained pending at year’s end. The MOC said it had halted the applications of both these groups because they had not provided sufficient information in their registration applications as required by law.
The government provided 17 second-tier religious groups with approximately 3.4 billion koruna ($162.8 million), with approximately 1.3 billion koruna ($62.25 million) given as a subsidy and 2.1 billion koruna ($100.6 million) as compensation for communal property in private and state hands that would not be returned to churches. Five of the 22 second-tier groups declined all state funding. While accepting the state subsidy, the Baptist Union opted not to accept the compensation for unreturned property. The MOC provided 4.0 million koruna ($192,000) in grants for religiously oriented cultural activities in response to applications from a variety of religious groups.
PGJ leader Jaroslav Dobes and PGJ member Barbora Plaskova remained in immigration detention in the Philippines, where they had been seeking asylum since 2015. International arrest warrants issued by Czech authorities for Dobes and Plaskova remained outstanding, as criminal proceeding against Dobes and Plaskova for alleged sexual abuse remained pending in the Zlin Regional Court.
In January the Prague 10 District Court ruled in favor of a state nursing school which a former Muslim student had sued in 2013 for discrimination because the school barred her from wearing a hijab during classes. The court ruled there was no evidence of discrimination. In September the appellate senate of the Prague Municipal Court upheld the ruling. The appellate court found the school’s prohibition did not constitute discrimination because it applied to all head coverings and not just to hijabs.
The government addressed hundreds of religious communal property restitution cases, restituting property to 17 religious groups during the year. These included claims of the Roman Catholic authorities and other religious groups concerning property seized during the communist era. Although the government returned most Catholic churches, parishes, and monasteries in the 1990s, much of the land and forests the Church had previously owned remained in state possession and were being returned in the framework of 2012 restitution legislation. Between January and March the government settled 735 claims with religious groups for agricultural property and 106 claims for nonagricultural property. As of March 31, there were 65 agricultural and 120 nonagricultural property claims that had not been adjudicated. At that time, there were also 1,203 pending lawsuits religious groups had filed in the courts to appeal government restitution decisions.
In August the South Moravian Regional Court in Brno overturned a decision by the municipal court that had ruled in February in favor of the Brno Jewish Community (BJC), holding that it had legal title to a property in possession of the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs. The ministry had appealed the municipal court’s decision to the regional court. In reaction to the revocation by the regional court, the BJC appealed to the Supreme Court. The appeal was pending at year’s end. The BJC filed its claim in 2013 based on church restitution legislation, and the ministry rejected the claim in 2014.
The MOI continued to cooperate with the Jewish community on protection of Jewish sites in Prague and across the country.
In January the MOC designated as items of cultural heritage 12 tombstones and tombstone fragments originally from a former Jewish cemetery in Prostejov that the MOC designated as a cultural monument in 2016. The Prostejov local mayor supported a local petition against privately funded efforts to restore the Prostejov cemetery, which the Nazis had destroyed, and which the city later converted into a public park. In November 2016, 10 percent of the city’s voters signed the petition. According to the petition and the mayor, the park provided needed access to a nearby school and residential parking; according to the national media, planners said the reconstruction would not restrict access or impede parking. Soon thereafter, anti-Semitic statements appeared in social media, and a local tabloid, Prostejovsky vecernik, characterized the dispute as an Orthodox Jewish attack on the city. In February Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka appointed his chief advisor, Vladimir Spidla, to mediate the dispute, which was continuing at year’s end.
President Milos Zeman and Prime Minister Sobotka continued to make public statements against Muslim immigration. For example, in September President Zeman stated at a press conference after meeting with his German counterpart that Muslim culture was not compatible with European culture. He stated integration of Muslims into national society was “practically impossible.” In August Prime Minister Sobotka told the Austrian newspaper Die Presse, “We do not want any more Muslims in the Czech Republic.” In June citing “the aggravated security situation and the dysfunctionality of the whole [relocation] system,” Interior Minister Milan Chovanec announced the government had approved a decision to halt acceptance of refugees under the EU’s refugee relocation program. At the time, the country had accepted 12 of approximately 2,700 refugees, whom the EU had allotted to the country and many of whom came from Muslim-majority countries.
In September Tomio Okamura, the leader of the opposition FDD, and other members of the party leadership issued a public statement calling for a ban on Islam as “an ideology incompatible with freedom and democracy.” The party ran on an anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant platform, posting billboards reading, “No to Islam” before October parliamentary elections. The party won more than 10 percent of the vote.
In May the government approved the annual Strategy to Combat Extremism, which outlined tasks for various ministries, such as the MOI, Ministry of Justice, Ministry of Education, and MOC, in fighting extremism, including religiously motivated extremism. The document outlined primary strategic goals, including better communication with the public regarding extremist activities and MOI countermeasures, education programs at schools, crime prevention, specialized training for law enforcement to counter extremism, and assistance to victims of crimes, especially victims from minority groups. The MOI continued to monitor the activities of groups and political parties espousing anti-Semitic views, including National Democracy, National Revival, and the Workers’ Party of Social Justice.
In April Deputy Chairman of the Senate Jaroslav Kubera and Minister of Culture Herman sponsored and participated in an annual march and concert against anti-Semitism, which opened the 14th Culture against Anti-Semitism Festival. Approximately 750 people attended the event.
At year’s end the government was continuing to review the 2016 applications of 92 Chinese Christians on grounds of religious persecution in China.
The government funded religiously oriented cultural activities, including the 2017 Night of Churches in several cities, the annual National Pilgrimage of St. Wenceslaus, the Culture against Anti-Semitism Festival, the 2017 Hussite Festival, and the 13th International Festival of Sacral Music, as well as a series of ecumenical services that included Romani religious music.
The country is a member of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance.