The constitution states that a person’s freedom to profess and spread religious beliefs may be limited only when necessary to protect health, safety, public order, or the fundamental rights and freedoms of others.
The Criminal Code prohibits discrimination based on religion and provides for up to two years in prison for violations. The code penalizes interference with religious ceremonies of “traditional” religious groups by imprisonment or community service, and penalizes inciting religious hatred by imprisonment of up to three years.
It is unlawful to make use of the religious teachings of churches and other religious groups, their religious activities, and their houses of prayer for purposes that contradict the constitution or the law. The government may temporarily restrict freedom of expression of religious belief during a period of martial law or a state of emergency, although it has never invoked this right.
There is no state religion. The law defines religious groups as religious communities; religious associations, which are comprised of at least two religious communities under common leadership; and religious centers, which are higher governing bodies of religious associations.
By law the government recognizes as “traditional” those religious groups able to trace their presence in the country back at least 300 years. The law lists nine “traditional” religious groups: Roman Catholic, Greek Catholic, Evangelical Lutheran, Evangelical Reformed, Russian Orthodox, Old Believer, Jewish, Sunni Muslim, and Karaites. Traditional religious groups may perform marriages that are state-recognized, establish joint private/public schools, provide religious instruction in public schools, and receive annual government subsidies. Their highest ranking leaders are eligible to apply for diplomatic passports, their clergy and theological students are exempt from military service, and they may provide military chaplains. The state provides minimal social security and healthcare insurance contributions to religious leaders and members of monastic orders of the traditional religious groups. Traditional religious groups are not required to pay social and health insurance taxes for clergy and members of monastic orders who work at monasteries.
Other (nontraditional) religious associations may be granted state recognition if they are “backed by society” and their instruction and rites are not contrary to the country’s laws and morality. Religious associations may apply to the Ministry of Justice (MOJ) for state recognition if they have been officially registered in the country for at least 25 years. It is necessary for parliament to grant this status upon recommendation from the MOJ. The Evangelical Baptist Union of Lithuania and the Seventh-day Adventist Church are the only state-recognized nontraditional religious groups.
Recognition entitles nontraditional religious groups to perform marriages and provide religious instruction in public schools. Unlike traditional groups, however, they are not eligible for annual subsidies from the state budget, and their clergy and theological students are not exempt from military service. Nontraditional groups are eligible for public funds from municipalities for cultural and social projects. The law provides recognized nontraditional religious groups with legal entity status, but they do not qualify for certain social security and health care contributions.
The MOJ handles official registration of religious communities and associations. Traditional religious communities and associations need only establish their ties to their recognized traditional groups. The law does not require traditional religious groups to register their bylaws.
Nontraditional groups must submit an application to the MOJ’s Department of Registers, providing a statement describing their religious teachings and a founding statement signed by no fewer than 15 adult citizen members. Upon approval of its application, a religious community is registered as a legal entity with the State Enterprise Center of Registers. Traditional religious communities and associations are registered free of charge, while nontraditional communities pay a fee of 107 litas (LTL) ($38). As of November 1, there were 1,097 traditional and 186 nontraditional religious associations, centers, and communities officially registered in the Register of Legal Entities.
Official registration is a prerequisite for opening a bank account, owning property, and acting in a legal or official capacity as a community. The law allows all registered religious groups to own property for use as prayer houses, homes, and other functions, and permits construction of facilities necessary for religious activities.
Unregistered communities have no legal status or state privileges; however, the constitution allows them to worship and seek new members.
The Interministerial Commission to Coordinate Activities of Governmental Institutions that Deal with Issues of Religious, Esoteric, and Spiritual Groups coordinates investigations of religious groups if there is a concern a group’s actions may be inconsistent with the principles of a democratic society, human rights, and fundamental freedoms.
The Journalist Ethics Inspectorate investigates complaints under a law that bars publishing material that “instigates war, national, racial, religious, social, and gender hatred.” The inspectorate may levy administrative fines on newspapers under administrative law or refer cases for criminal prosecution.
The law permits registered groups to apply to the MOJ for the restitution of religious property owned before June 19, 1948. In 2012, the government approved a process through which religious communities could register property nationalized but not confiscated by the Soviets. Following receipt of such claims, the ministry conducts an investigation. If the ministry determines the claim is legitimate, it drafts a resolution officially returning the property to its original owner.
A compensation fund for Jewish-owned property nationalized under totalitarian regimes is designed to support Jewish educational, religious, scientific, cultural, and healthcare projects with public benefits. Pursuant to the law, the government is committed to disburse LTL 128 million ($45.1 million) over the course of the decade ending March 1, 2023 to the Foundation for the Disposal of Good Will Compensation for the Immovable Property of Jewish Religious Communities.
The constitution establishes public educational institutions as secular. The law permits and funds religious instruction in public schools for traditional and other state-recognized religious groups. Parents may choose either religious instruction or secular ethics classes for their children. Schools decide which of the traditional religious groups will be represented in their curricula on the basis of requests from parents for children up to age 14, after which students present the requests themselves.
There are 30 private religious schools with ties to Catholic or Jewish groups, although students of different religious groups may attend these schools. All accredited private schools (religious and nonreligious) receive funding from the Ministry of Education and Science through a voucher system based on the number of pupils. This system covers only the program costs of school operation. Founders generally bear responsibility for covering capital outlays; however, the Ministry of Education and Science funds capital costs of traditional religious private schools where there is an international agreement to do so. To date, the Catholic Church is the only religious group with such an international agreement. Under this accord, the government funds both the capital and operating costs of private Catholic schools.
The Office of the Equal Opportunities (OEO) Ombudsperson adjudicates complaints of discrimination based on religion directed toward state institutions, educational institutions, employers, and product and service sellers and producers.
The parliamentary ombudsperson examines whether state authorities properly perform their duties to serve the population. The law on the parliament ombudsperson specifically includes religious beliefs within the purview of the office. The OEO and parliamentary ombudspersons may investigate complaints, recommend changes to parliamentary committees and ministries regarding legislation, and recommend cases to the prosecutor general’s office for pretrial investigation.
While there is some overlap between the OEO and parliamentary ombudspersons, the OEO ombudsperson has greater authority to hear complaints about individual acts of religious discrimination.