The government granted first-tier registration to two religious groups and rejected three, while a number remained pending. Efforts at the local level to ban Muslim women from wearing headscarves were termed discriminatory by government officials and, in at least one case, abandoned. The president and other political figures made anti-Islamic statements. Some government figures made anti-Semitic statements, but others held rallies against anti-Semitism.
The government rejected the applications filed in 2013 by the Hussite Church of Jan Zizka of Trocnov and the Christian Church of Free Friars for first-tier registration because the groups did not submit all required documents for registration. The government also rejected the 2013 application of the Ukrainian Orthodox Greek-Catholic Church on grounds the church professed intolerance against other Ukrainian Orthodox denominations. The Czech Orthodox Church (Ceska Ortodoxni Cirkev) withdrew its application. The Order of the Guardians of the Crown and Sword of the Iron and Golden King appealed the rejection of its application earlier in the year that was based on its failure to provide the signatures of the minimum 300 adherents. The appeal was pending at year’s end.
The MOC registered the Oasis Church in October and Josef Zezulka’s Society in December. Applications by the Czech Orthodox Church (Ceska Pravoslavna Cirkev) and the Church of All Saints were pending at year’s end.
A group called “NO to Islam in the Czech Republic” submitted a petition of 25,000 signatures to the parliament asking the government not to grant the Muslim community second-tier registration, for which the community had not applied.
The government continued to provide subsidies to religious groups with second-tier registration and to sponsor religiously oriented cultural activities, including the Night of Churches, Hussite Festival, and a celebration of 600 years of Jewish presence in Teplice.
Four second-tier religious groups – the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons), Christian Congregations, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and the New Apostolic Church – declined to receive state financial support as a matter of principle and an expression of independence.
Religious groups received approximately 3.5 billion koruna ($157 million) from the government. The government paid approximately 1.4 billion koruna ($63 million) as a contribution to 17 second-tier religious groups and 2.1 billion koruna ($94 million) as part of compensation for communal property in state hands that would not be returned to churches. While accepting the state contribution, the Baptist Union opted not to accept the compensation. The MOC provided 3 million koruna ($134,000) in grants for religiously oriented cultural activities in response to applications from a variety of religious groups.
Several government institutions attempted to ban Muslim women and girls from covering their hair while at school or work. The city of Teplice considered an ordinance banning Muslim women from covering their faces, but dropped the idea after checking with the Ministry of Interior (MOI). The MOI stated such an ordinance violated the Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms.
The High School for Nursing, in Prague, prohibited women from wearing headscarves in class. Following the prohibition, at least two female students left the school. One, a Somali woman, submitted a complaint to the Ministry of Education’s Ombudsman of Education, who in August described the ban as discriminatory. The minister for education agreed, but also said he did not believe that any changes to school codes were required. In October President Milos Zeman announced his own opposition to Muslim women wearing headscarves in hospitals and schools, calling the practice of wearing hijab a “slippery slope” towards wearing a burqa.
The government continued to address outstanding religious communal property restitution cases. These included Jewish claims dating to the period of the Nazi occupation during World War II, and claims of the Roman Catholic authorities and other religious groups concerning property seized during the communist era. Although the government had returned most Catholic churches, parishes, and monasteries in the 1990s, most land and forests previously owned by the Catholic Church remained in state possession as laid out in restitution legislation.
In accordance with restitution legislation, the Brno Jewish community resubmitted a claim for a property possessed by the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs. The ministry stated it did not believe the community had owned the title to the property, and rejected the claim. The government had previously returned nearly all of the state-owned property claimed by the Federation of Jewish Communities.
The Ministry of Education canceled its participation in a program to study how Islam was portrayed in schools following a campaign on social media by the “NO to Islam in the Czech Republic” group. Although the ministry removed its sponsorship from the project, it did not prevent individual schools from implementing the study’s recommendations on best practices to teach Islam, and several schools did.
President Zeman, along with a small number of other politicians, made several public statements equating Islam with terrorism. His remarks at the Israeli National Day Celebration in May were reported in the press. President Zeman did not retract any of his statements or change his positions.
In March Minister of Justice Helena Valkova stated during an interview with news server Echo24, “not that much happened” during the Nazi occupation. Politicians from the TOP 09 party and the Civic Democratic Party said her statement was insensitive, offensive to all victims of the occupation, and a denial of the suffering by the Jewish community. Valkova apologized for her statement. Some government leaders said Echo 24 had taken her statement out of context.
The MOI continued to monitor the activities of right-wing groups espousing anti-Semitic views, shut down unauthorized rallies, and pursue Holocaust-denial investigations and prosecutions.
In April Deputy Chairman of the Senate Premysl Sobotka and Lord Mayor of Prague Tomas Hudecek sponsored and participated in an annual march against anti-Semitism. In September Sobotka, Deputy Chairwoman of the Senate Standing Committee on Media Daniela Filipiova, and Minister of Culture Daniel Herman organized a rally in the senate against anti-Semitism.
In July police charged two men over the publication of a book of selected speeches of Adolf Hitler. The men were acquitted in September when a court ruled they had not advocated anti-Semitic hate speech, only published the speeches.
The government is a member of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance and the ESLI, which is based in Prague.