Annex IV of the Dayton Peace Agreement, which serves as the country’s constitution, provides for freedom of thought, conscience, and religion, and stipulates no one shall be deprived of citizenship on grounds of religion and all persons shall enjoy the same rights and freedoms without discrimination as to religion. The entity constitution of the Federation states all individuals shall have freedom of religion, including of public and private worship, and freedom from discrimination based on religion or creed. It defines religion as a vital national interest of constituent peoples.
The entity constitution of the RS establishes the SOC as “the church of the Serb people and other people of Orthodox religion.” It guarantees equal freedoms, rights, and duties for all citizens, irrespective of religion, and specifies religious communities shall be equal before the law and free to manage their religious affairs and hold religious services; open religious schools and conduct religious education in all schools; engage in commercial activities; receive gifts; and establish and manage legacies, in accordance with the law.
A state law on religion guarantees freedom of conscience, grants churches and religious communities legal status, and grants them concessions that are characteristic of an NGO (i.e., the rules for registration of religious groups are similar to those of NGOs). The law acknowledges that churches and religious communities serve as representative institutions and organizations of believers, founded in accordance with their own regulations, teachings, beliefs, traditions, and practices. The law recognizes the legal status of four “traditional” religious communities: the IC, the SOC, the Catholic Church, and the Jewish community. The Ministry of Justice (MOJ) maintains a unified register of all religious communities, and the Ministry of Human Rights and Refugees is responsible for documenting violations of religious freedom. A law against discrimination prohibits exclusion, limitation or preferential treatment of individuals based on religion in employment, and the provision of social services in both the government and private sectors
The Bosnia Herzegovina constitution provides for representation of the three major ethnic groups (Bosniaks, Serbs, and Croats) and, by extension, the three largest religious communities, in the government and the armed forces. Parliamentary seats and most government positions are apportioned among the three constituent peoples (Bosniaks, Croats, and Serbs) according to quotas. Those who do not self-identify with one of these three ethnic groups cannot hold one of the proportionally guaranteed government positions, including president, which has the effect of excluding members of minority religious groups, including Jews, from holding these positions.
According to the law, any group of 300 or more adult citizens may apply to register a new religious community or church through a written application to the MOJ. Other legal requirements for registration include the development of a statute defining the method of religious practice and a petition for establishment with the signatures of at least 30 founders. The ministry must issue a decision within 30 days of receipt of the application, and a group may appeal a negative decision to the state-level Council of Ministers. The law allows registered religious organizations to operate without restrictions. The law also stipulates that the ministry may deny the application for registration if it concludes the content and manner of worship may be “contrary to legal order, public morale, or is damageable [sic] to the life and health or other rights and freedoms of believers and citizens.”
A concordat with the Holy See recognizes the public juridical personality of the Catholic Church and grants a number of rights, including forming educational and charitable institutions, carrying out religious education, and official recognition of Catholic holidays. The commission for implementation of the concordat comprises five members from the government and five from the Holy See. A similar agreement exists with the SOC, but a commission for implementation does not yet exist.
The state recognizes the IC as the sole supreme institutional religious authority for Muslims in the country, as well as for Bosniaks and other Muslim nationals who accept the IC as their own, living outside their homeland. According to law, no Islamic group can register with the MOJ, or open a mosque, without the permission of the IC.
The law affirms the right of every citizen to religious education. The law calls for a representative of each of the various officially registered religious communities to be responsible for teaching religious studies in all public and private pre-, primary, and secondary schools and universities. Children from minority religious groups are entitled to religious education only when there are 18 or more students from that religious group in one class. Religious communities train and select their respective religious education teachers. These individuals are employees of the schools in which they teach, but receive accreditation from the religious body governing the curriculum.
The IC, the SOC, and the Catholic Church develop and approve religious curricula across the country. Public schools offer religious education in a school’s majority religion, with some exceptions. Secondary students who do not wish to attend the religion class have the legal right to opt out, as do primary school students at their parents’ request. Many schools offer classes in ethics as an alternative to the ones on religion.
In the Federation’s five Bosniak-majority cantons, primary and secondary schools offer Islamic religious instruction as a twice-weekly course. In cantons with Croat majorities, Croat students in primary and secondary schools attend an elective Catholic religion course twice a week. In the 13 primary and secondary Catholic schools in the Federation, parents can choose either an elective Catholic religion course or a course in ethics. In Sarajevo and Tuzla, primary and secondary students may either opt out or take alternative courses in lieu of religious education classes. Starting with the current school year, the Sarajevo Canton Ministry of Education offers Orthodox and Protestant religious education in addition to classes offered to the Muslim and Catholic communities.