The constitution stipulates full freedom of conscience and religious worship, subject to restrictions in the interest of public safety, order, morality, health, or protection of the rights and freedoms of others. It prohibits discriminatory treatment based on creed. The constitution establishes Roman Catholicism as the state religion.
The law allows criticism of religious groups, but the criminal code prohibits incitement of religious hatred, with violators subject to imprisonment of six to 18 months. It also prohibits the disturbance of “any function, ceremony, or religious service of any religion tolerated by law” carried out by a minister of religion, both in places of worship and in areas accessible to the public. The penalty for violators is up to six months in prison or more if the disturbance results in “serious danger.” If the disturbance involves any act amounting to a threat or violence against a person, punishment is imprisonment for a period of six months to two years.
The criminal code prohibits individuals from wearing “masks or disguises” in public, unless explicitly allowed by law; there is no specific reference – or exception – to coverings worn for religious reasons. Violations are subject to a reprimand, a fine of 23-1,165 euros ($26-$1,300), or a jail sentence of up to two months.
On May 29, parliament enacted a bill legalizing cremation and making provisions for licensing, conditions for cremation, and the creation of a national cremation register listing the entities licensed to perform cremations.
The government does not require religious groups to be registered. A religious group has the option to register as a voluntary organization with the Office of the Commissioner for Voluntary Organizations. To qualify for registration, the organization must be nonprofit, autonomous, and voluntary; provide a resolution letter signed by all its committee or board members requesting registration; provide its authenticated annual accounts and annual report; and pay a 40-euro ($45) registration fee. The law does not provide registered groups with tax deductions or exemptions, but allows them to engage in “public collections” without obtaining any further authorization. It also makes them eligible to receive grants, sponsorships, and financial aid from the government and the Voluntary Organizations Fund, an entity financed through the government and the European Union (EU). The minister of education appoints the governing council of the fund, which includes members from voluntary organizations and a government representative.
Religious groups not registered as voluntary organizations with the Office of the Commissioner for Voluntary Organizations do not receive funding from the government or the Voluntary Organizations Fund, and must obtain approval from the commissioner of police to carry out public collections. Approval is not required for collections from members or congregants. Groups that do not register as voluntary organizations otherwise have the same legal rights as registered groups.
All registered and unregistered religious groups may own property, including buildings. Groups using property for a particular purpose, including religious worship, must obtain a permit for that purpose from the Planning Authority. All religious groups may organize and run private religious schools, and their clergy may perform legally recognized marriages and other religious functions.
The constitution states the Catholic Church has “the duty and the right to teach which principles are right and which are wrong.” The constitution and law make Catholic education compulsory in public schools; the state, rather than the Catholic Church, provides the course teachers, who may be non-Catholic. Students, with parental consent if the student is under the age of 16, may opt out of these classes and instead take an ethics course, if one is available. If a school does not offer an ethics course, students may still opt out of the religion class.
Students may enroll in private religious schools. The law does not regulate religious education in private schools. The law does not allow homeschooling for religious or other reasons except for physical or mental infirmity.
The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
The Planning Authority again failed to make a decision on a 2017 application by the Russian Orthodox Church of St. Paul the Apostle to build a new church in Kappara. According to media reports, in 2018 the Planning Authority postponed a decision for six months while it analyzed the proposal, following opposition from nearby residents and the manager of a nature reserve adjacent to the proposed site.
The government continued its practice of not enforcing the legal ban on face coverings or disguises, including those worn for religious purposes.
The Ministry for Education and Employment offered ethics as an alternative to religious lessons in an increasing number of public schools. All students in training to become primary school teachers were receiving training in the teaching of ethics. During the year, 2,686 students in public schools, and 4,031 students in all schools, accounting for 7.1 percent of all students nationwide, were enrolled in ethics classes.
The government again did not introduce voluntary Islamic religious education as an after-school program in state primary or secondary schools despite statements in the previous two years that it was considering doing so. In December the Ministry of Education stated it was continuing its discussions with the Muslim community on this issue.
On February 7, in celebration of the World Interfaith Harmony Week, members of the Jewish, Christian, Muslim, and other faith communities in the country signed a declaration of friendship and solidarity under the auspices of then president Marie-Louise Coleiro Preca. The declaration stated that religious harmony is an essential contributor to unity, and signatories resolved to nurture it through dialogue, cooperation, and mutual support when required; religious diversity is a powerful source of societal strength and enrichment; and all communities have the duty to educate children in their faith and should have access to dignified places of worship. The signatories also pledged to encourage dialogue among youth because “the strength of their friendships will be the most effective safeguard of interfaith harmony,” and called on national authorities and community leaders to combat violence, intimidation, hate speech, and extremism. Coleiro Preca, who also signed the declaration, said it was the result of successful interfaith dialogue that took place in a series of forums during her presidency. She cited in particular an interfaith meeting at the presidential palace in October 2018.
On May 8, newly elected President George Vella hosted a first interfaith roundtable at the San Anton Palace. Attendees included members of the following faith communities: Roman Catholic, Ahmadiyya Muslim, Baha’i, Buddhist, Bulgarian Orthodox, Coptic Orthodox, Eritrean Orthodox, Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo, Russian Orthodox, Serbian Orthodox, Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople, Church of Scotland, Evangelical Lutheran, Greek Catholic, Hindu, Jewish, Methodist, Muslim, Seventh-day Adventist, and Syro-Malabar Catholic. The president invited all participants to keep a close relationship with his office, pledged to maintain an open dialogue with them, and cited the importance of strong partnership among interfaith communities.