The constitution guarantees freedom of religion as well as the right to change one’s religion. It specifies there is no state religion, and the constitution guarantees equality and freedom of all religious communities in religious activities and affairs. It states the declaration of one’s beliefs is not obligatory, and all persons are guaranteed the freedom to express their religion in public and private, alone or collectively, through prayer, preaching, custom, or rites. The constitution states freedom to express religious beliefs may be restricted only if required to protect the life and health of the public, peace and order, or other rights guaranteed by the constitution. It exempts conscientious objectors from military service.
The constitution prohibits the operation of organizations that instigate religious hatred and intolerance and stipulates courts may block the dissemination of information and ideas via public media to prevent propagation of religious hatred or discrimination. It recognizes the right of members of minority national communities, individually or collectively, to exercise, protect, develop, and express “religious particularities;” establish religious associations with the support of the state; and establish and maintain contacts with people and organizations outside of the country who share the same religious beliefs. The law forbids “the abuse of religious communities or their religious sites for political purposes.”
The law prohibits discrimination, including on religious grounds. It is a crime to cause and spread religious hatred, which includes the mockery of religious symbols or the desecration of monuments, memorial tablets, or tombs. Violators may receive prison sentences ranging from six months to 10 years if their violations result from an abuse of position or authority or lead to violence or if the courts determine the consequences are detrimental to the coexistence of people, national minorities, or ethnic groups.
The law provides a basic framework for recognition of religious groups and their relationship with the state. Religious groups must register with local police within 15 days of their establishment to receive the status of a legal entity, although there is no penalty specified for failing to do so. The police must then file this registration with the Ministry of Interior, which maintains a register of all religious organizations in the country. To register, a religious group must provide its name and organizing documents, the names of its officials, and the addresses of the group’s headquarters and of the locations where religious services will be performed. Registration entitles groups to own property, hold bank accounts in their own name, and receive a tax exemption for sales of goods or services of up to 18,000 euros ($19,600) directly related to their religious activities.
There are 19 active religious groups in the country, including the SOC, the MOC, the Islamic Community of Montenegro (ICM), and the Roman Catholic Church. The other recognized religious communities are the Church of Christ’s Gospel, Catholic Mission Tuzi, Christian Adventist Church, Evangelistic Church, Army Order of Hospitable Believers of Saint Lazar of Jerusalem for Montenegro, Franciscan Mission for Malesija, Biblical Christian Community, Bahai Faith, Montenegrin Community, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter‑day Saints (Mormons), and the Buddhist, Protestant, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and Jewish communities. All except the SOC are registered.
The government has agreements with the Islamic and Jewish communities and the Holy See that further define their legal status and regulate their relationship with the state. For example, in the agreement with the Holy See, the government recognizes Catholic canon law as the Church’s legal framework and also outlines the Church’s property rights. The agreements also establish commissions between the three religious communities and the government. There is no similar agreement with the SOC or the MOC.
The Directorate for Relations with Religious Communities within the Ministry of Human and Minority Rights (MHMR) regulates relations between state agencies and religious groups, and is charged with protecting the free exercise of religion and advancing interfaith cooperation and understanding.
The law allows religious groups to conduct religious services and rites in churches, shrines, and other designated premises, but requires approval from municipal authorities for such activities at any other public locations.
The criminal code prescribes a fine or up to two years’ imprisonment for restricting an individual’s freedom to exercise a religious belief or membership in a religious group, or for preventing or obstructing the performance of religious rites. The code also provides for a fine or a maximum of one year in prison for coercing another person to declare his or her religious beliefs. Any government official found guilty of these crimes may receive a sentence of up to three years in prison.
By law religion is not taught in public primary or secondary schools.
The law provides prisoners with the right to conduct religious practices and have contact with clergy. Prisoners may request a diet conforming to their religious customs.