International Religious Freedom Report 2006
Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor

The constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the Government generally respected this right in practice.

There was no change in the status of respect for religious freedom during the period covered by this report, and government policy continued to contribute to the generally free practice of religion. There is no state religion; however, the Catholic Church enjoys some privileges, stemming from its sovereign status and its historical political authority, not available to other religious groups.

The generally amicable relationship among religious groups in society contributed to religious freedom. The Catholic Church's influential role in society has led to controversy when church teachings have appeared to influence Catholic legislators on matters of public policy. Increasing immigration has led to some anti-immigrant sentiment; for the country's many Muslim immigrants, religion has served as an additional factor differentiating them from native-born citizens.

The U.S. government discusses religious freedom issues with the Government as part of its overall policy to promote human rights.

Section I. Religious Demography

The country has an area of 116,347 square miles, and its population was approximately 58.5 million. An estimated 87 percent of native-born citizens were nominally Catholic, but only 20 percent regularly participated in worship services. According to numbers reported by the communities, members of Jehovah's Witnesses formed the second largest Christian denomination among native-born citizens, numbering approximately 231,000 adherents, followed by members of the Assembly of God (78,000), Methodists and Waldesians (27,000), and Mormons (22,000).

However, immigration- both legal and illegal-continued to add large groups of non-Christian residents, mainly Muslims, from North Africa, South Asia, Albania, and the Middle East. Of 2.9 million legal immigrants, an estimated 1 million were Muslim, primarily Sunnis. There were approximately 75,000 Hindus. Buddhists included approximately 40,000 adherents of European origin and 20,000 of Asian origin. According to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, during the period of German occupation in World War II, Nazi officials deported approximately 8,000 Jews from the country to Auschwitz-Birkenau and other Nazi camps. Almost 2,000 Jews were deported from Rhodes, an Aegean Sea island that had been part of the country before the war. Approximately 7,600 of those deported were killed. Because Italian authorities obstructed the deportations and because many Italian Jews succeeded in hiding or escaped southward to Allied-occupied areas of the country, more than 40,000 Jews survived the Holocaust in the country. The country's Jewish community, during the period covered by this report, numbered approximately 30,000, and maintained synagogues in twenty-one cities. Other significant religious communities included Orthodox churches, small Protestant groups, the Baha'i Faith, and South Asian Hindus. Polls conducted in 2003 showed that approximately 14 percent of the population considered themselves to be either atheists or agnostics.

Section II. Status of Religious Freedom

Legal/Policy Framework

The constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the Government generally respected this right in practice. The Government at all levels sought to protect this right in full and did not tolerate its abuse, either by governmental or private actors.

Prior to the constitution's adoption in 1947, the country's relations with the Catholic Church were governed by a 1929 Concordat, which resolved longstanding disputes stemming from the dissolution of the Papal States and established Catholicism as the country's state religion. A 1984 revision of the Concordat formalized the principle of a secular state but maintained the practice of state support for religion- support that also could be extended, if requested, to non-Catholic confessions. In such cases, state support is to be governed by legislation implementing the provisions of an accord (intesa) between the Government and the religious confession. An intesa grants ministers of religion automatic access to state hospitals, prisons, and military barracks; allows for civil registry of religious marriages; facilitates special religious practices regarding funerals; and exempts students from school attendance on religious holidays. If a religious community so requests, an intesa may provide for state routing of funds, through a voluntary check-off on taxpayer returns, to that community, a privilege that some communities initially declined but later requested. The absence of an intesa does not affect a religious group's ability to worship freely; however, the privileges granted by an intesa are not always granted automatically, and a religious community without an intesa does not benefit financially from the voluntary check-off on taxpayer returns.

In 1984, the first such accord granted specific benefits to the Waldesian Church. Similar accords, which are negotiated by the Prime Minister's Office and require parliamentary approval, extended similar benefits to the Adventists and Assembly of God (1988), Jews (1989), and Baptists and Lutherans (1995). In 2000, the Government signed accords with the Buddhist Union and Jehovah's Witnesses; however, these intese did not receive parliamentary ratification before that government left office in 2001. The Government initiated negotiations with the Mormons (2000), the Orthodox Church of the Constantinople Patriarchate (2000), the Apostolic Church (2001), Hindus (2001), and Soka Gakkai, or Japanese Buddhists (2001). The Government chose to complete work on pending requests and submit all such accords-including those previously signed with the Buddhist Union and Jehovah's Witnesses-to Parliament as a single package. However, Parliament's term ended in April 2006 without considering either the pending intese or omnibus religious freedom legislation, which incorporated provisions contained in other laws. Divisions among the country's Muslim organizations, as well as multiple Muslim immigrant groups, have hindered that community's efforts to seek an intesa.

The revised Concordat of 1984 accorded the Catholic Church certain privileges. For example, the Church is allowed to select Catholic teachers, paid by the state, to provide instruction in "hour of religion" courses taught in the public schools. This class is optional, and students who do not wish to attend are free to study other subjects or, in certain cases, to leave school early. While in the past this instruction involved Catholic priests teaching catechism, church-selected instructors now may be either lay or religious, and their instruction is intended to include material relevant to non-Catholic religious groups. Problems may arise in small communities where information about other religious groups and numbers of non-Catholic communicants is limited. The constitution prohibits state support for private schools; however, declining enrollment in Catholic schools has led Catholic Church officials, as operators of the country's most extensive network of private schools, to seek government aid.

While Catholicism is no longer the state religion, its role as the dominant religion occasionally gives rise to problems. In 2004, Parliament passed legislation favored by the Vatican that equates an embryo with a human life, prohibits the use of donated sperm for artificial insemination, restricts the production of embryos, and limits scientific research on embryos. The legislation drew support from Catholic legislators across the political spectrum, while secular conservatives and Communists joined to oppose it. In January 2005, Camillo Ruini, president of the Italian Bishops' Conference, urged Catholics to abstain from voting for four referenda to abolish parts of the new fertility law; this sparked strong reactions from some leftist leaders who accused the Catholic Church of inappropriate interference in the political process. The June 2005 referenda failed when only 26 of the required 50-plus percent of the population voted. The low turnout reflected a variety of factors, including Church opposition, the ambivalence of most secular politicians, and voter apathy on a summer weekend. In past years, Catholic politicians joined Pope John Paul II and other church officials (including Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who has since been elected Pope Benedict XVI) in asserting that the draft European Constitution should include language recognizing Europe's Christian heritage.

The continuing presence of Catholic symbols, such as crucifixes, in courtrooms, schools, and other public buildings, has drawn criticism and has led to a number of lawsuits. Judicial decisions reflected public opinion; in a recent poll, 80 percent of Italians supported the presence of crucifixes in public buildings, and another nine percent supported them if they did not offend others. In January, a Muslim who threw a crucifix out of a window in his mother's room in a public hospital was sentenced to eight months in jail under a Fascist-era law that prohibits affronts to the Catholic religion; he was not expected to serve jail time as the courts suspend sentences of less than three years for first-time misdemeanors. In February, the Council of State, the national Appeals Court for administrative cases, rejected a request made by a mother to remove crucifixes from her children's classrooms; the Court determined that the presence of religious symbols in public buildings is not discriminatory as they epitomize high civil values. In April 2005, a court ruled that crucifixes do not have to be removed from polling stations, as requested by the president of a small Islamic association. In December 2004, the Constitutional Court ruled that, based on a technicality, a 1928 regulation that provides for the display of crucifixes in public classrooms is constitutional. A mother in Venice, who asked that the crucifixes be removed, brought the case. In March 2005, Interior Minister Pisanu argued publicly that the crucifix was a symbol of great value that represented two thousand years of civilization and culture.

Muslim women are free to wear the veil in public offices and schools; however, there were occasional reports of objections to women wearing a burqa (a garment that completely covers the face and body). In August 2004, a woman in Drezzo was fined for wearing a burqa under a seldom-used 1931 law that forbids persons from hiding their identity.

In view of the negative aspects of the country's fascist past, government leaders routinely acknowledge and pay tribute to Jews victimized by the country's 1938 racial laws.

In January 2004, Prime Minister Berlusconi created a new "Inter-Ministerial Commission to Combat Anti-Semitism" to ensure strong, uniform responses to any anti-Semitic acts by the police and local/federal government officials. In December 2004, the Government hosted, with the Anti-Defamation League, an international conference on anti-Semitism.

National, regional, and local authorities organize annual educational initiatives and other events to support National Holocaust Remembrance Day on January 27. In 2004, the country acted as Chair of the International Task Force on Holocaust Education and the Ministry of Education organized an international conference to train teachers on the Shoah. In January 2005, Prime Minister Berlusconi attended ceremonies to commemorate the sixtieth anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, and the Speaker of the Italian Senate, Marcello Pera, addressed the special session of the UN General Assembly commemorating the liberation of Nazi death camps with remarks on the importance of acknowledging and combating continued anti-Semitism. In January 2006, the mayor of Rome announced approval of a plan for a museum dedicated to the Shoah; work is scheduled to begin in the fall of 2006. In 2003, Parliament approved the creation of a National Holocaust Memorial Museum in Ferrara; construction had not begun at the end of the period covered by this report.

Missionaries or religious workers do not encounter problems but must apply for appropriate visas prior to arriving in the country.

Restrictions on Religious Freedom

Government policy and practice contributed to the generally free practice of religion. In March 2006, Abdul Rahman, an Afghan citizen under threat of death because he converted to Christianity, arrived in the country to accept the Government's offer of asylum.

There were no reports of religious prisoners or detainees in the country.

Forced Religious Conversion

There were no reports of forced religious conversion, including of minor U.S. citizens who had been abducted or illegally removed from the United States, or of the refusal to allow such citizens to be returned to the United States.


There were no violent anti-Semitic attacks in the period covered by this report, but public opinion surveys indicated that anti-Semitism was growing in the country. According to pollsters, this trend was tied to, and in some cases fed by, widespread opposition to the Israeli government and popular support for the Palestinian cause. In 2005, there were some incidents of Israeli diplomats being heckled at public events. Small-scale graffiti (swastikas) were found in major cities. Following a display of anti-Semitic banners and Nazi symbols at a soccer match in January 2006, the offending fans' team was disciplined. The minister of interior called the incident "an unbearable attack against the victims of Nazism and Fascism" and declared that public authorities would enforce laws prohibiting the display of slogans or symbols exalting political violence, racism or xenophobia in sports stadiums. In April 2006, on the anniversary of the country's liberation from Nazism and Fascism, pro-Palestinian demonstrators took an Israeli flag from Jewish Brigade representatives and burned it.

On May 16, 2006, forty Jewish graves (of approximately 6 thousand) in Milan were vandalized. The tombstones were knocked over and broken but there were no signs of anti-Semitic slogans or Nazi symbols. The attack was immediately condemned by leaders of both the center-left and center-right; Milan's chief rabbi called the incident serious and without precedent. The police opened an investigation and speculated in the press that the vandals might have been drunken revelers.

Section III. Societal Abuses and Discrimination

The generally amicable relationship among religious groups in society contributed to religious freedom. Religious and government officials continued to encourage mutual respect for religious differences. In March 2006, Rome's Chief Rabbi paid a first-ever visit to Rome's main mosque; a reciprocal visit was being scheduled.

Increasing immigration from Eastern Europe, Africa, China, and the Middle East was altering demographic and cultural patterns in communities across the country and led to some anti-immigrant sentiment. For the country's Muslim immigrants, religion serves as an additional factor differentiating them from native-born citizens. During the election campaign, some Catholic politicians and community leaders contributed to popular reaction by emphasizing the perceived threat posed by immigrants to the country's "national identity."

Some members of the Northern League political party, a minority member of the governing coalition, asserted that practices present in many Islamic societies, notably polygamy, Islamic family law, the role of women, and the lack of separation between religion and state, rendered many Muslim immigrants incompatible for integration into society. In February 2006, Northern League Minister for Reform Roberto Calderoli went on television wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with controversial cartoons mocking the Prophet Muhammad. Following violent reactions, including an attack on the country's consulate in Bengazhi, Libya, Prime Minister Berlusconi called for and received Calderoli's resignation.

In November 2005, Interior Minister Pisanu established a sixteen-member Islamic Consultative Council comprised of Italian and immigrant Muslims designed to open dialogue on how to improve the lives of moderate Muslims. The Council met three times in 2006 to offer advice to the Government on immigration, housing, education, employment, and related policies. At the same time, the Government continued a crackdown on illegal immigration and deportations of suspected Muslim extremists. During the reporting period, it expelled thirteen Muslims, including Turin-based Imam Bouchta Bouriki, on terrorism-related charges.

In December 2004, the minister of equal opportunity created a new national Office to Combat Racial and Ethnic Discrimination to monitor and prevent discrimination and assist victims with legal assistance. The office established a hotline to receive complaints and began a public relations effort to discourage ethnic, racial and religious discrimination.

Government units provide funds for the construction of places of worship as well as public land for their construction, and they help preserve and maintain historic places of worship that shelter much of the country's artistic and cultural heritage. In 2001, the Campania regional administration approved the request for approximately $3.1 million (2.6 million euros) to build a mosque in Naples despite the absence of a formal intesa between the state and the Muslim confession. Construction had not yet begun at the end of the period covered by this report.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy

The U.S. government discusses religious freedom issues with the Government as part of its overall policy to promote human rights.