In October the government initiated a trial after a 15-year investigation in which it charged the Church of Scientology with illegal practice of medicine, fraud, organized criminal activity, and violation of privacy laws. The trial concluded on December 11, with a verdict expected in 2016.
Although it did not grant Buddhism recognition, the government continued to provide subsidies to Buddhist groups, reportedly to facilitate building the institutional capacity required for formal recognition as a “non-confessional philosophical community.”
The Hindu community’s request for recognition with the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) remained pending. According to a member of the executive board of the Hindu Forum, the nonprofit organization that submitted the request on behalf of the Hindu community, the forum met every several months with the MoJ to plan the administrative details of Hinduism’s eventual recognition. The board member said it had recently submitted a budget to the MoJ that should permit it to receive prerecognition capacity-building funding of the sort that Buddhism had received. An academic report stated the Hindus’ initial request did not specify whether they sought recognition as a religion or as a nonconfessional philosophical community. The forum later specified it sought recognition as a religion.
The government imposed or permitted restrictions affecting members of minority religious groups, including a ban on Muslim women and girls wearing headscarves in many schools and public sector jobs requiring interaction with the public.
Individual public schools had the right to decide whether to impose a ban on religious attire or symbols such as headscarves. Many public schools had policies restricting headscarves. At least 90 percent of public schools sponsored by the francophone community continued to ban headscarves. Virtually all Flemish public schools continued to ban headscarves, and only four Brussels public schools allowed the headscarf. Private employers were able to ban religious attire such as headscarves if they believed such attire would interfere with the performance of an employee’s duties. Employers also could justify such restrictions based on a written company policy of “religious neutrality.”
The Council of State, ruling in response to an injunction brought by a group of students in 2014, overturned a ban on headscarves by the council of the Flemish Community Education Network for the 2013-2014 school year. Despite the ruling, schools in the network continued to prohibit women and girls from wearing a head covering until reaching a certain age or completing a certain level of education.
On October 15, the Council of State overruled a ban in the bylaws of the Royal Athenaeum School of Saint Trond on students wearing headscarves. The decision said there is no reason to “sabotage religious liberty” in school.
On May 30, a school in Brussels barred Muslim female students from entering because their long skirts allegedly constituted an “ostentatious” display of religious affiliation. The girls protested and remained outside the school. The police asked the girls to leave. The school principal attributed the ban to the deputy mayor of Brussels.
In September Antwerp banned the wearing of full-body swimsuits with head coverings (known as “burkinis”) in public swimming pools, citing “hygienic concerns.” Responding to an official complaint sponsored by the ICEO that the rule discriminated against Muslims and lacked scientific evidence, the Antwerp city council member responsible for diversity said, “Hygienic or not, I simply do not want burkinis in our swimming pools.”
Some city and town administrations continued to withhold approval, or were slow to approve, construction of new mosques and Islamic cultural centers. The city council of Fleron rejected a proposal for the construction of a mosque amid a local series of anti-Muslim incidents including verbal harassment and vandalism.
The Ministry of Justice allocated approximately 100 million euros ($109 million) for clergy salaries and other financial support for recognized religious groups. Catholicism, the largest denomination in terms of number of clergy, recognized places of worship, and adherents, received the most financial support from the various levels of government. Furthermore, municipalities dedicated more money to the maintenance of local Catholic Church buildings – often for cultural or historical reasons – than to the construction or maintenance of other places of worship. Catholicism received 85 percent of the total available funding for religious groups, followed by secular humanism (8 percent) and Protestantism (2.5 percent). Muslims received 2 percent of the funding. Some Muslim observers stated the distribution of government subsidies did not account for the actual number of practicing believers and, therefore, the actual level of services required for imams and mosques.
In November the Flemish regional government announced it would officially recognize approximately 50 already existing mosques, paving the way for them to receive federal subsidies. Until this action, only 28 mosques had official recognition in Flanders.
In January during a commemoration at the Great Synagogue of Brussels of the 70th anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi death camps, Prime Minister Charles Michel stated that “Shoah has no equivalent in history. It is [sic] an industrial, planned, methodic murder, against the very nature of mankind, that meant to deny part of humanity to be part of it. It was 70 years ago. It was yesterday. I wish to reaffirm here the condemnation of this ever unforgivable crime. I’m also here to express the solidarity of the government to your community, again hit by anti-Semitic hatred …” Michel added, “A  survey within the EU shows that in Belgium, 40 percent of the Jews consider leaving the country. The fight against anti-Semitism is a failure. I refuse you feeling forced to make that choice. No Belgian can be forced to leave the country. Belgium without Jews would no longer be Belgium. Europe without Jews would no longer be Europe…[W]e must fight anti-Semitism more robustly…When an anti-Semitic act is perpetrated in Belgium, the Belgian society as a whole is under attack.”
Other senior politicians made several statements condemning anti-Semitism and committing to protect the Jewish community. Antwerp Mayor Bart De Wever denounced Belgian collaboration during WWII, and Prime Minister Michel vowed to commit additional government funds to ensure the security of the Belgian Jewish community. The prime minister also said, “Anti-Semitism is unacceptable. I want a zero tolerance policy on it.” The mayor of Brussels, Yvan Mayeur, condemned the killings of four people at the Jewish Museum in 2014 and said, “Brussels is Jewish because all Jews have their place in Brussels.”
The government is a member of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance.