The constitution stipulates there is no state religion and provides for the right of individuals to choose freely any religion or belief, to profess their religion and perform religious practices, individually or with others, in private or in public, and to practice and teach their beliefs. It states no one may compel another person (or be compelled) to choose or profess any religion or belief. The constitution allows limits on the freedom to profess and spread religious beliefs when necessary to protect health, safety, public order, or the fundamental rights and freedoms of others. It restricts freedom of expression if it incites religious hatred, violence, or discrimination. It stipulates religious belief may not serve as justification for failing to comply with laws.
The constitution acknowledges the freedom of parents or guardians to oversee the religious and moral education of their children without interference and stipulates public education shall be secular, although schools may provide religious instruction at the request of parents. The constitution grants recognition to “traditional” religious groups and provides for recognition of other religious groups if they have support in society and their teachings and practices do not conflict with law or public morals. It states the status of religious groups shall be established by agreement or law and recognized religious groups shall be free to carry out their activities as long as they are not in conflict with the constitution or laws.
The Journalist Ethics Inspectorate investigates complaints under a law that bars publishing material that instigates hatred, including religious hatred. The inspectorate may levy administrative fines on newspapers under administrative law or refer cases for criminal prosecution.
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.
The law defines religious groups as 1) religious communities, 2) religious associations, which are comprised of at least two religious communities under common leadership, and 3) religious centers, which are higher governing bodies of religious associations.
By law the government recognizes as “traditional” those religious groups able to trace back their presence in the country 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 Karaite Jews. 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 social security and healthcare insurance contributions for clergy, religious workers, and members of monastic orders of the traditional religious groups. Traditional religious groups are also not required to pay social and health insurance taxes for clergy and members of monastic orders.
Other (nontraditional) 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. Parliament votes whether 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. The law provides recognized nontraditional religious groups with legal entity status, but they do not qualify for certain social security and health care contributions by the state.
The MOJ handles official registration of religious communities, associations, and centers. Traditional and recognized nontraditional religious communities and associations need only establish their ties to their recognized groups. The law does not require traditional religious groups to register their bylaws; it does not specify if nontraditional groups must do so.
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 32 euros ($35). As of November 1, there were 1,107 traditional and 187 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. All registered groups are eligible for public funds from municipalities for cultural and social projects.
Unregistered communities have no legal status; however, the constitution allows them to conduct worship services and seek new members.
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 recognized religious groups by imprisonment or community service, and penalizes inciting religious hatred by imprisonment of up to three years.
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 what the commission perceives to be “principles that stress respect for human freedom of expression and freedom of religion.”
The law permits registered groups to apply to the MOJ for the restitution of religious property owned before June 19, 1948. Some religious properties were confiscated and redistributed by the Soviet Union. Other properties remained intact but were nationalized, often serving as museums. Religious communities can register property nationalized but not confiscated by the Soviet Union to establish a claim. Following receipt of such a claim, 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 disbursing 37 million euros ($40 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, a public institution that oversees the fund and is governed by national and international Jewish leaders.
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 private schools of traditional religious groups where the government has signed an agreement with a religious group to do so. To date the Catholic Church is the only religious group with such an 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 against 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 discrimination 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.