Religious groups reported registration requirements limited operation of minority religious groups. Religious groups also reported problems obtaining the restitution of previously confiscated properties. The Greek Catholic Church, in particular, was unable to obtain restitution of many of its churches and other properties. A number of minority religious groups were concerned about government implementation of laws regarding religious instruction in schools.
The government neither approved nor denied any applications for religious association status during the year. Since the implementation of the religion law in 2006, the State Secretariat for Religious Affairs approved the applications of 23 religious groups to register as religious associations. The government said no religious association had petitioned for recognition as a religion since the implementation of the law.
Many religious groups stated they viewed the membership requirements for a religious association as discriminatory because these requirements were more burdensome than for other types of associations. Religious organizations without religion status, such as the Bahais, continued to criticize as discriminatory the minimum membership requirement for acquiring religion status, as well as the three‑tier system.
Bahai representatives said the number of adherents of some recognized religions was much lower than the 0.1 percent of the population required by the law and advocated amending this provision of the religion law so the required minimum number of members would be equal to that of the recognized religion with the lowest number of members. Bahai leaders stated that, because the Bahai Faith did not have formal religion status, the State Secretariat for Religious Affairs did not notify its leadership about the secretariat’s consultations with recognized religions regarding proposed amendments to legislation affecting religious affairs.
In Sibiu in June and August, police fined Jehovah’s Witnesses 150 lei ($36) for distributing leaflets in the streets, which they classified as unauthorized street vending and advertising. The group challenged the fines in court; in one case, the court cancelled the fine and decided to give an admonition; two others were still pending at the end of the year.
Non‑Orthodox religious groups continued to face difficulty in accessing cemeteries and in obtaining land to establish cemeteries. In Pesceana, authorities and local Romanian Orthodox priests continued to deny access to the local public cemetery to Greek Catholic priests and community members despite a 2006 court ruling allowing them access. The Orthodox Church, seeking to become the owner of the cemetery, initiated a local lawsuit in 2012. The lawsuit is ongoing. Local authorities and the Orthodox Church continued to deny the Greek Catholic Church access to the Romanian Orthodox cemetery in Sapanta. Bahai leaders emphasized the need to amend the religion law to include provisions for the burial of those who do not belong to one of the recognized religions.
Politicians, including former president Traian Basescu, criticized the government’s May decision to allocate an 11,000‑square‑meter piece of land in Bucharest to the Muslim community for the construction of a mosque. The former president called the mosque “a risk to national security,” and nationalist organizations (e.g., the New Right) sponsored street protests. Media reported some criticism from these nationalist organizations came from suspicion of the motives of Turkey, which was financing the mosque and had been underwriting similar construction and renovation throughout the region.
In November parliament passed legislation granting priority to property restitution cases brought by Holocaust survivors, lowered the burden of proof for owners who were forced to “donate” their properties during World War II and the communist era and, in order to maintain continuity of ownership, recognizes existing Jewish federations as rightful “inheritors” of communal property forfeited during the Holocaust and afterward. In December the constitutional court struck down the new legislation due to a legal challenge by the president over other, unrelated parts of the legislation. The government was pursuing reintroducing the measure.
In many cases, minority religious groups such as the Greek Catholics were unable to gain restitution of confiscated properties – primarily churches and some schools – in accordance with the law. Claimants said some local authorities opposed restitution or consistently delayed providing information about claimed properties to the Special Restitution Commission (SRC) of the National Authority for Property Restitution, thereby obstructing the restitution process despite laws stipulating fines for such delays. From January 1 to September 30, the SRC approved the restitution of eight buildings to religious denominations, and rejected 604 other claims. In six cases, the SRC approved the allocation of financial compensation.
According to Greek‑Catholic sources, courts delayed hearings on many restitution lawsuits filed by the Greek Catholic Church and asked the Greek Catholic Church to pay judicial fees, a requirement they said was not consistent with the law. The Orthodox Church filed appeals or change of venue requests that delayed resolution of some lawsuits. In a number of cases, courts ruled against the restitution of Greek Catholic churches, although the Greek Catholic Church had produced ownership deeds, on the grounds the Greek Catholic Church had a smaller number of adherents than did the Orthodox Church.
In May the Greek Catholic Church resumed the use of a church in the village of Crucisor, Satu Mare County, after winning a multi‑year lawsuit for the right to use it.
In June the High Court of Cassation and Justice made its final ruling in favor of the Orthodox Church in a 2009 restitution lawsuit regarding a former Greek Catholic church in Sapanta, Maramures County, on the grounds of the small number of Greek Catholic believers who would use the church. The court said the majority religion should determine the church’s denomination.
Representatives of the Greek Catholic Church stated local officials continued to support the Romanian Orthodox Church in restitution cases and discriminated against the Greek Catholic Church. In Bixad, Satu Mare County, the Greek Catholic Church was unable to enforce an earlier government decision from 1992, and a final court ruling that restored to it buildings and land belonging to a former Greek‑Catholic monastery there which, during communism, had been in the possession of the state. This resistance continued despite the fact that in other counties when the Greek Catholics had requested, and been granted, a change of jurisdiction in order to receive fair hearings, tribunals rejected the Orthodox Church’s challenge to the ruling. The resistance included a subsequent 2013 lawsuit from the Satu Mare County Council also claiming ownership of the buildings. On December 8, a court ruled against the county council, saying the council chairman did not have the council’s authorization to file the suit. The suit remains pending.
On September 16, the SRC rejected the restitution of a building housing the Batthyaneum Library and an astronomical institute to the ethnically Hungarian Roman Catholic Church in Alba Iulia, despite a 16‑year‑old government emergency order returning the building and a 2012 ruling by ECHR ordering the government to remedy the situation. The government said it denied the restitution request because the library was not owned by the ethnically Hungarian Roman Catholic Church at the time of the original takeover.
In May the Reformed Church filed a complaint with the ECHR regarding a November 2014 ruling of the Ploiesti Court of Appeals to renationalize a school the Church received in 2002. The Ploiesti Court also sentenced three members of the Restitution Commission to three‑year suspended sentences for aggravated abuse of office against the public interest. The ruling stated the school did not belong to the Reformed Church, despite communist confiscation documents citing the Church as the owner.
The Greek Catholic Church stated local authorities did not grant construction permits for places of worship, even though there were no apparent legal grounds for denying them. The Greek Catholic Church attributed the delayed issuance of permits to pressure from the Orthodox Church.
Local authorities also failed to enforce court rulings restoring land to the Greek Catholic Church in Valcau de Jos, Sapanta, Poieni, Morlaca, Bologa, Salonta, and other localities. In Cordos, the local authorities did not respond to the Greek Catholic Church’s request for the restitution of land.
Media alleged that the high percentage of children who opted for religion classes – more than 90 percent in the 2015‑2016 school year – was the result of manipulation and pressure by the Orthodox Church and by school directors who declined to offer parents any alternatives to the classes.
Minority religious groups said the ROC was treated as the national church, although it did not formally have this status. In public speeches, some politicians and the media equated Romanian Orthodoxy with national identity, suggesting followers of other religions lacked patriotism.
According to several religious groups, all military chaplains continued to be ROC priests with the exception of one Roman Catholic priest and one pastor from the Evangelical Alliance.
Minority religious groups, including the Seventh‑day Adventist Church and the Greek Catholic Church, continued to report authorities generally allowed only the ROC an active role in annual opening ceremonies at schools and other community events and, in most cases, did not invite other religious groups to attend such ceremonies. Greek Catholic priests from Transylvania continued to report they were never invited to official local events.
The Bucharest Court of Appeals, on May 4, upheld a Bucharest Tribunal Court ruling disbanding the All for the Country political party, reportedly because of its pro‑fascist doctrine and its use of symbols from the Legionnaire Movement, an ultra‑nationalist, anti‑Semitic movement that was in power in 1940‑41 and a major participant in the killings of Romanian Jews. The ruling was final.
The government continued to implement the recommendations of the International Commission on the Holocaust in Romania (Wiesel Commission) Report and to cooperate with the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM) in promoting Holocaust education in school curricula. The Ministry of Education provided written materials and maintained a website with a guide for teaching about the Holocaust. The government commemorated National Holocaust Remembrance Day in October with a series of events organized by the government‑established Elie Wiesel National Institute for the Study of the Holocaust in Romania (Wiesel Institute), including a wreath‑laying ceremony at the Holocaust Memorial in Bucharest. Participants and speakers included the president, the president of the parliament’s chamber of deputies, and the president of the Knesset. Some schools nationwide also commemorated National Holocaust Remembrance Day.
The government included teaching about the Holocaust in history courses in the seventh, eighth, 10th, and 12th grades. During the 2015‑16 school year, 110 high school classes – out of a total of 1,576 throughout the country – opted for the optional course History of the Jews – The Holocaust. The Ministry of Education sponsored national and international seminars on teaching Holocaust history, as well as a national school competition on The Memory of the Holocaust, and provided additional educational resources to combat anti‑Semitism. On February 13 and 14, the Wiesel Institute and the teaching staff in Bacau sponsored a training course on teaching the Holocaust in schools. In October the Wiesel Institute and the Friedrich Ebert Foundation sponsored a seminar, “Toward an Active Democracy – Against Right‑Wing Extremism,” in Predeal.
In June parliament amended the law banning Holocaust denial and anti‑Semitism to prohibit symbols of the Legionnaire Movement, or its paramilitary arm, the Iron Guard.
The government is a member of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance.
In January President Klaus Iohannis awarded the National Order of Faithful Service to seven Holocaust survivors from Romania for their suffering in the Nazi camps at Auschwitz‑Birkenau.