The constitution states all citizens are equal before the law regardless of religion, and each religious community has the right to establish its own institutions according to its own statutes so long as these do not conflict with the law. The constitution specifies that the state and the Catholic Church are independent of each other; Italy considers the Holy See to be a sovereign state and uses a concordat to govern relations. The constitution allows legally recognized non-Catholic religious groups to request an accord (intesa) with the government.
Representatives of a non-Catholic faith requesting such an accord must first submit their request to the Office of the Prime Minister. The government and the group’s representatives then negotiate a draft agreement, which the Council of Ministers must approve. The prime minister then signs and submits the agreement to parliament for final approval. Once the parliament approves the implementing legislation, the accord governs the relationship between the government and the religious group, including state support. Non-Catholic groups with an accord include the Confederation of Methodist and Waldensian Churches, Seventh-day Adventists, Assemblies of God, Jews, Baptists, Lutherans, Mormons, Orthodox Church of the Constantinople Patriarchate, the Italian Apostolic Church, the Buddhist Union, and Hindus. The government continues to negotiate an accord with the Jehovah’s Witnesses. Negotiations remain suspended with the Soka Gakkai, a Japanese Buddhist group.
The law provides religious groups, regardless of whether they have an accord, with tax-exempt status and the right to recognition as legal entities as long as they have completed a registration process with the Ministry of Interior (MOI). A religious group may apply for recognition of its legal status by submitting to a prefect, a local representative of the MOI, a request including the group’s statute, a report on its goals and activities, the disposition of its administrative offices, a three-year budget, certification of its credit status by a bank, and certification of the Italian citizenship or residency of its representative. If approved, the MOI is then obliged to monitor the religious group. The MOI may appoint a commissioner to administer the group if it identifies irregularities in the group’s activities. Legal recognition is a precondition for any group seeking an accord with the government.
An accord grants clergy 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. Any religious group without an accord may request these benefits from the MOI on a case-by-case basis. An accord also allows a religious group to receive funds collected by the state through a voluntary 0.8 percent set-aside on taxpayer returns.
The government provides permits and public land for constructing places of worship. Government funding also helps preserve and maintain historic places of worship, sheltering much of the country’s artistic and cultural heritage.
The government allows the Catholic Church to select teachers, paid by the state, to provide instruction in “hour of religion” courses taught in the public schools. The courses are optional, and students who do not wish to attend can study other subjects or, in certain cases, leave school early with parental consent. Church-selected instructors are either lay or religious, and the instruction includes material relevant to non-Catholic religious groups. Government funding is available only for these Catholic Church-approved teachers. If a student requests a religion teacher from a non-Catholic religious group, that group must cover the cost of instruction. Some local laws provide scholarship funding for students to attend private, religiously affiliated schools meeting government educational standards.
The Italian Islamic Confederation (CII) and the Union of Islamic Communities of Italy (UCOII) are the two largest networks of Muslim congregations and places of worship. A limited agreement between the CII and the government allows it to receive the support of foreign governments for its activities. The secretary general of the CII is a member of the Moroccan Ministry of Religious Affairs and heads the Great Mosque of Rome, the largest mosque in Italy. UCOII and the CII compete for political support and influence at the local and national level.
The law considers insults against any divinity to be blasphemy, a crime punishable by a fine ranging from 51 euros ($62) to 309 euros ($376), although the law is not generally enforced. Holocaust denial is a crime punishable by up to four years in prison. A seldom-cited law forbids individuals from hiding their identities, and an antiterrorism law requires persons to show their faces in public for security reasons. An antiterrorism decree penalizes those who attempt to hide their identity with up to two years’ imprisonment. There are no restrictions on wearing the hijab in public.
Missionaries and other religious workers must apply for special religious activity visas before arriving in the country.