The constitution states “all persons in Malta have full freedom of conscience and enjoy the free exercise of their respective mode of religious worship.” Citizens have the right to sue the government for violations of religious freedom. These protections also apply in cases of religious discrimination or persecution by private individuals or by public officials in the performance of their duties.
The constitution establishes Roman Catholicism as the state religion and declares the authorities of the Catholic Church have “the duty and the right to teach which principles are right and which are wrong.”
Persons convicted of vilification of the Catholic religion or “any other cult tolerated by law” are liable to imprisonment of one to six months or one to three months, respectively. The government interprets “any other cult” to mean other religious groups.
The government does not require religious groups to be registered or licensed. A religious group has the option of registering as a voluntary organization with the Office of the Commissioner for non-governmental organizations. The law does not provide these groups with tax reductions or exemptions, but allows registered organizations to make collections without obtaining any further authorization and to receive grants, sponsorships, and financial aid from the government and the Voluntary Organizations Fund.
All religious groups have similar legal rights. Religious groups may own property, including buildings and may organize and run private religious schools; their religious leaders may perform marriages and other functions.
The constitution makes Catholic religious education compulsory in all state schools. While the law does not specify classes must be taught by teachers who are members of the Catholic Church, the constitution states such a requirement would not contravene its provisions on discrimination. There are constitutional and legal provisions allowing a student to be exempted from the instruction at a parent’s or guardian’s request.
Enrollment in private religious schools is permitted. The law does not regulate religious education in private schools. The law allows homeschooling only in rare cases, such as chronic illness.
On June 24, authorities amended the law on marriage to recognize the supremacy of the state over ecclesiastical authorities in deciding court cases involving marriage, divorce, and annulment.