The constitution provides for the inviolable right to creed and opinion, but declares Islam the state religion and prohibits state institutions from engaging in behavior incompatible with Islamic morality; other laws, policies, and practices restrict religious freedom. The law provides for freedom of belief and opinion and permits citizens to establish institutions, the aims of which include the protection of fundamental liberties. The law criminalizes “offending the Prophet Muhammad.” The law also prohibits discrimination on the basis of religion and guarantees state protection for non-Muslims and for the “toleration and respect of different religions.” Government officials assert the ordinance is designed to apply to non-Muslims the same constraints imposed on Muslims, including stipulating that religious rites must comply with the law and respect public order, morality, and the rights and basic freedoms of others. The ordinance also outlines registration requirements for non-Muslim religious groups.
The law requires religious groups to register with the government prior to conducting any religious activity. The National Commission for Non-Muslim Religious Groups, a government entity, is responsible for facilitating the registration process for all non-Muslim groups. The Ministry of Religious Affairs (MRA) presides over the commission, composed of senior representatives of the ministries of national defense, interior, and foreign affairs, the presidency, the national police, the national gendarmerie, and the governmental National Consultative Commission for the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights (CNCPPDH). The MRA instructs employees of the agencies making up the National Commission for Non-Muslim Religious Groups to enforce Ordinance 06-03 (which prohibits religious discrimination) fairly, and prohibits “manipulation” influenced by the employees’ own beliefs. Individuals and groups who believe they are not being treated fairly by the MRA may address their concerns to the CNCPPDH, but in practice, this avenue of recourse rarely is used.
The Ministry of Interior (MOI) has the sole authority to grant association rights to religious and nonreligious groups. The law requires the ministry to provide a receipt for the application and timely response when associations apply for registration, but provides the government broad discretion in registration decisions. The law also provides applicants limited opportunities to appeal. The law prevents associations, religious or otherwise, from receiving funding from political parties or foreign entities. The government only registers religious groups at the national level that are present in at least one-quarter of the provinces. The Roman Catholic Church is officially recognized as a major non-Muslim religious group. The Protestant Church of Algeria – a federation of approximately 27 smaller Protestant Churches – also is registered with the government; however, the law requires that the churches comprising the federation also request official approval on an individual basis.
The law stipulates that all structures intended for non-Muslim collective worship must be registered with the state; any modification of such structures must have prior government approval, and collective worship must take place only in structures exclusively intended and approved for that purpose.
The government may shut down any religious service that takes place in private homes or in secluded outdoor settings without official approval, although this is not always enforced. The law specifies the manner and conditions under which non-Muslim religious services may take place. The decree specifies a request for permission to observe special non-Muslim religious events must be submitted to the relevant wali (governor) at least five days before the event and the event must occur in buildings accessible to the public. Requests must include information on three principal organizers of the event, its purpose, the number of attendees anticipated, a schedule of events, and its planned location. The organizers also must obtain a permit indicating this information and present it to authorities upon request. Under the decree, the wali can request that the organizers move the location of an event or deny permission for it to take place if it is deemed a danger to public order.
The constitution prohibits non-Muslims from running for the presidency. Non-Muslims may hold other public offices and work within the government.
According to the MRA, female government employees are allowed to wear the hijab (woman’s headscarf), crosses, and the niqab (Islamic veil covering the face). Nevertheless, authorities discourage some female government employees, such as police officers and hospital employees, from wearing head and face coverings that may complicate the performance of their official duties.
The family code, which draws on sharia (Islamic law), treats women as minors under the legal guardianship of a husband or male relative, regardless of the woman’s age. The family code prohibits Muslim women from marrying non-Muslim men unless the man converts to Islam, although this regulation is not always enforced. The code does not prohibit Muslim men from marrying non-Muslim women, but it prohibits men from marrying a woman of a non-monotheistic religious group. Following 2005 revisions to the family code, women no longer need the consent of a male guardian to marry and revisions to the nationality code allow women to transmit Algerian nationality to their children. Under the law, children born to a Muslim father are considered Muslim regardless of the mother’s religion. In divorce rulings, the court normally awards custody of the children to the mother, but she may not take them out of the country without the father’s authorization. Non-Muslim religious groups may suffer in inheritance claims when a Muslim family member lays claim to the same inheritance.
The MRA provides financial support to mosques and pays the salaries of imams. Imams are hired and trained by the state. Muslim services, with the exception of daily prayers, can take place only in state-sanctioned mosques. The law also provides for a small sum to non-Muslim religious leaders for their salaries, health care, and retirement benefits, though the amount is significantly smaller than that provided to imams; some non-Muslim religious leaders in recent years have received this compensation.
The penal code states that only government-authorized imams can lead prayer in mosques and penalizes anyone other than a government-designated imam who preaches in a mosque with fines of up to 100,000 dinars ($1,282) and prison sentences of one to three years. Harsher punishments of fines as high as 200,000 dinars ($2,563) and prison sentences of three to five years exist for any person, including government-designated imams, who act “against the noble nature of the mosque” or in a manner “likely to offend public cohesion.” The law does not specify which actions would constitute such acts. The government may prescreen and approve sermons before they are delivered publicly during Friday prayers, but more often it provides preapproved sermon topics.
If a ministry inspector suspects an imam’s sermon is inappropriate, he can summon the imam to a “scientific council” composed of Islamic law scholars and other imams who assess the sermon’s correctness. The government can relieve an imam of duty if he is summoned multiple times. The government also monitors activities in mosques for possible security-related offenses and prohibits the use of mosques as public meeting places outside of regular prayer hours.
Conversion and apostasy are not illegal. The government permits missionary groups to conduct humanitarian activities as long as non-Muslims do not proselytize.
Under Ordinance 06-03, proselytizing by non-Muslims is a criminal offense and carries a maximum punishment of one million dinars ($12,816) and five years’ imprisonment for anyone who “incites, constrains, or utilizes means of seduction tending to convert a Muslim to another religion; or by using to this end establishments of teaching, education, health, social, culture, training…or any financial means.” Making, storing, or distributing printed documents or audiovisual materials with the intent of “shaking the faith” of a Muslim may also be punished in this manner, but the government does not always enforce these restrictions.
The ministries of religious affairs, foreign affairs, interior, and commerce must approve the importation of non-Islamic religious writings. Citizens and foreigners may legally import personal copies of non-Islamic religious texts, such as the Bible. The government prohibits dissemination of any literature portraying violence as a legitimate precept of Islam.
The government and private contributions from local Muslims fund mosque construction as well as the preservation of some churches, particularly those of historical importance.
The 28 members of the MRA educational commission develop the educational system for teaching the Quran. The commission establishes policies for hiring teachers at the quranic schools and ensures all imams are well qualified and follow governmental guidelines aimed at countering violent extremism.
The ministries of national education and religious affairs strictly require, regulate, and fund the study of Islam in public schools. Religious education, which focuses on Islam but includes information on Christianity and Judaism, is mandatory at the primary and secondary school levels. Christian leaders express concern that requests by non-Muslims to opt-out of the Islamic-based courses would result in societal abuse or discrimination. The Ministry of National Education requires that private schools bring their curricula in line with national standards, particularly regarding the teaching of Islam and the use of Arabic as the primary language of instruction, or risk being closed.