The constitution provides for the freedom of religion and worship. It states no one shall be privileged, prejudiced, persecuted, or deprived of rights or exempted from civic obligations or duties because of religious beliefs or practices. The constitution states individuals may not be questioned by authorities about religious convictions or observance, with the exception of gathering statistical information that does not identify individuals, and in such cases individuals may not be prejudiced by refusal to reply. The constitution states churches and religious communities are independent from the state, with the freedom to determine their own organization and to perform their own activities and worship. The constitution affords each religious community the freedom to teach its religion and to use its own media to disseminate public information about its activities. The constitution and the law guarantee the right to conscientious objection on religious grounds.
Religious groups may be organized in a variety of forms that have national, regional, or local character. A denomination may choose to organize as one national church or religious community or as several regional or local churches or religious communities. An international church or religious community may set up a representative organization of its adherents that may be separate from the branch of the church or religious community existing in the country. A registered church or religious community may create subsidiary or affiliated organizations, such as associations, foundations, or federations.
All religious groups with an organized presence in the country may apply for registration with the registrar of religious corporate bodies in the Ministry of Justice. The requirements include the organization’s official name, which must be distinguishable from all other religious corporate bodies in the country; the organizing documents of the church or religious community associated with the group applying for registration; the address of the organization’s registered main office inside the country; a statement of the group’s religious purposes; documentation of the organization’s assets; information on the organization’s formation, composition, rules, and activities; provisions for dissolution of the organization; and the appointment method and powers of the organization’s representatives. How subsidiary or affiliated organizations of registered religious corporations are registered depends on the registration of the churches or religious communities that originated them.
All registered religious groups are considered to be “religious corporations” and receive tax‑exempt status; the right to minister in prisons, hospitals, and military facilities; the right to provide religious teaching in public schools; the right to participate in broadcasting time on public television and radio; and national recognition of religious holidays. The government certifies religious ministers, who receive all the benefits of the social security system. Chaplaincies for military services, prisons, and hospitals are state‑funded positions open to all registered religious groups. A taxpayer may allocate 5 percent of his or her tax payment to any registered religious group.
By law religious groups registered in the country for at least 30 years or internationally recognized for 60 years may obtain a higher registration status of “religion settled in the country.” To show they are established, religions must demonstrate an “organized social presence” for this length of time. These groups receive government subsidies, may conclude “mutual interest” agreements with the state on issues such as education, culture, or other forms of cooperation, and may celebrate religious marriages that have effect in the state legal system. The government has mutual interest agreements with Jewish and Islamic religious bodies and a concordat with the Holy See that serves the same function for the Catholic Church.
Religious groups may also register as unincorporated associations or private corporations, and in that form may receive the same benefits granted to religious corporations. There are no practical differences between associations and private corporations. Unregistered religious groups are not subject to penalties and may practice their religion but do not receive the benefits associated with registration.
The law prohibits employers from discriminating against individuals on the basis of religion and requires reasonable accommodation of employees’ religious practices. Employees are allowed to take leave on their Sabbath and religious holidays, even if these are not nationally observed.
Public secondary schools offer an optional survey course on world religions taught by lay teachers. Religious groups may offer optional religious instruction in schools provided the course is taught by lay teachers and 10 or more students of the faith attend the class. Religious group representatives have the right to approve the course’s instructors. All schools, public and private, are required to accommodate the religious practices of students, including rescheduling tests if necessary.
The law provides for the naturalization of Jewish descendants of Sephardic Jews expelled from the country in the 15th and 16th centuries.
The Commission for Religious Freedom (CLR), established by law, is an independent, consultative body to the parliament and government. It reviews and takes a position on all matters relating to the application of the law on religious freedom, including proposed amendments. It alerts the competent authorities, such as the president, parliament, and the government, to cases involving religious freedom and discrimination, such as restrictions or prohibitions on the right to assembly and the holding of religious services; the destruction or desecration of religious property; assaults against members and clergy of religious groups; incitement of religious discord; hate speech; and violations of the rights of foreign missionaries. The CLR may file formal complaints at the national level with the ombudsman, an official position created by the constitution and supplemental legislation to defend the rights and freedoms of individual citizens, and at the international level with the European Court of Human Rights. The ombudsman has no legal enforcement power, but he or she is obligated to address complaints and provides an alternative remedy for dispute resolution.