The constitution provides for freedom of religion, including freedom of 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 authorities may not question individuals about their religious convictions or observance, except to gather statistical information that does not identify individuals, and 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 perform their own activities and worship. The constitution affords each religious community the freedom to teach its religion and 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.
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, Evangelical Alliance, Jewish Community of Lisbon, Islamic Community of Lisbon, Hindu Community of Lisbon, and 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. The CLR alerts the competent authorities, including the president, parliament, and others in the government, of 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 on 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 authority, but he or she is obligated to address complaints and provide an alternative remedy for dispute resolution.
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 establish 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 in 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 included, they must register separately. The MOJ may reject a registration application if it fails to meet legal requirements, includes false documentation, or violates the constitutional right of religious freedom. In the case where the MOJ rejects an application, 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. Registered groups receive the right to minister in prisons, hospitals, and military facilities; provide religious teaching in public schools; participate in broadcasting time on public television and radio; and receive national recognition of religious holidays. The government certifies religious ministers, who receive all the benefits of the social security system. According to the law, 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, which allow them to 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 the groups’ internal administration. 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 based on the number of their members; 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 are recognized by 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.
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. 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 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.
The ACM, an independent government body operating under the guidelines of the Presidency of the Council of Ministers, has a statutory obligation to advocate religious tolerance, including the “promotion of dialogue, innovation, and intercultural and interreligious education” and “combating all forms of discrimination based on color, nationality, ethnic origin or religion.”
The law provides for the naturalization of Jewish descendants of Sephardic Jews expelled from the country in the 15th and 16th centuries.
The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
The government reported that, in the first 10 months of the year, it approved the naturalization of 4,026 Sephardic descendants of Jews expelled from the country during the Inquisition and rejected 27 applications, out of 20,955 new applications submitted. Since the beginning of this program in February 2015, 47,560 applications have been submitted: 9,711 have been approved, 31 have been rejected, and 37,818 remained pending at year’s end. Beneficiaries of the program included persons from Israel, Brazil, Turkey, Argentina, and the United States.
Representatives of some religious minorities, such as evangelical Christians, Muslims, and Jehovah’s Witnesses, said the Catholic Church received privileges not available to other religious groups. For example, most prisons, state and private hospitals, and military services designated Catholic priests to provide chaplaincy services, while other religious groups did not. Other concerns were that hospitals and prisons did not comply with Muslim dietary needs, and hospitals performed blood transfusions on Jehovah’s Witnesses in violation of a tenet of their faith. In May CLR Chairman Jose Vera Jardim said there were no serious grievances from religious groups about their treatment in hospitals and prisons, and the special needs of minority groups were protected on a case-by-case basis. He said hospitalized Muslims could request a special diet, for example. Regarding the Jehovah’s Witnesses, Jardim said transfusions were administered only in life or death emergency situations. The government covered the costs of religious assistance to non-Catholics in hospitals, prisons and the military, but there were no official statistics on the percentage of chaplaincies each religious group held.
According to High Commissioner for Migration Pedro Calado and ACM Coordinator of Intercultural Dialogue Cristina Rodrigues, the ACM’s Interfaith Dialogue Group (IDG), which includes representatives from 14 religious groups, published educational material on religious acceptance that was distributed for teachers to use in schools around the country. The IDG also published a guide to religious and spiritual groups present in the country, which it updated during the year.
During the year, the ACM also trained 224 police personnel and prison guards to promote better understanding of and respect for different religious traditions.
In July the IDG organized a meeting in Castelo Novo, where 19 youths from eight religious communities – Seventh-day Adventist, Catholic, evangelical Christian, Anglican, Baha’i, Ismaili, Hindu, and Church of Jesus Christ – were challenged to reflect on the current world situation and debate intercultural and interreligious ideas. The focus of lectures and debates was centered on the importance of religious freedom, respect for differences, and the willingness to conduct a dialogue for peace. There were also opportunities to socialize and share experiences and values, including an evening of music, poetry, and other forms of religious and cultural expressions.
In May the ACM organized an event, “Out of Doors,” to promote interreligious dialogue that featured workshops, musical performances, and other activities hosted by members of religious communities, including Anglicans, Catholics, evangelical Christians, Baha’is, Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims, and Sikhs.
In September the ACM held a day-long Citizenship and Religion Congress focused on interreligious dialogue, which brought together political leaders, representatives of various religious denominations, and international guests to discuss challenges facing various religious communities in the country, share best practices, and promote dialogue and cooperation among them.
The state-run television channel RTP continued to broadcast a half-hour religious program five days a week and a separate weekly half-hour program, with segments for both written by registered religious groups.
On December 4, Portugal became a full member of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance.