The constitution forbids establishment of a state religion, guarantees equality of religious groups, and calls for separation of religion and state. It prohibits incitement of religious hatred, calls upon the government to promote religious diversity and tolerance, and establishes a provision for asylum for religious refugees. The law banning incitement of discrimination, hatred, or violence against an individual or group on grounds of religion carries penalties ranging from one to 10 years in prison, depending on the type of offense.
There are laws granting special treatment to seven religious groups defined as “traditional” by the government. These are the SOC, the Roman Catholic Church, the Slovak Evangelical Church, the Reformed Christian Church, the Evangelical Christian Church, the Islamic community, and the Jewish community. The Islamic community is divided between the Islamic Community of Serbia, with its seat in Belgrade, and the Islamic Community in Serbia, with its seat in Novi Pazar. Religious education is only offered in public schools for the seven traditional groups. Government laws on property ownership and social welfare distinguish between registered and unregistered religious groups. The law treats unregistered religious groups as informal groups, which do not receive any of the legal benefits registered religious groups receive.
The seven traditional religious groups recognized by law are automatically registered in the Register of Churches and Religious Communities. In addition to these groups, the government grants traditional status, solely in Vojvodina Province, to the Diocese of Dacia Felix of the Romanian Orthodox Church, with its seat in Romania and administrative seat in Vrsac in Vojvodina.
There are 17 “nontraditional” religious groups registered: the Seventh‑day Adventist Church; the Evangelical Methodist Church; The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter‑day Saints (Mormons); the Evangelical Church in Serbia; the Church of Christ’s Love; the Spiritual Church of Christ; the Union of Christian Baptist Churches in Serbia; the Nazarene Christian Religious Community; the Church of God in Serbia; the Protestant Christian Community in Serbia; the Church of Christ Brethren in Serbia; the Free Belgrade Church; the Jehovah’s Witnesses; the Zion Sacrament Church; the Union of Seventh‑day Adventist Reform Movement; the Protestant Evangelical Church Spiritual Center; and the Evangelical Church of Christ.
The law does not require registration of religious groups, but only grants value‑added tax refunds and property tax exemptions to registered groups. Only registered religious groups may build new places of worship. Registered religious groups are also exempt from paying administrative taxes and filing annual financial reports. The law authorizes the government to provide social and health insurance and fund retirement plans for clerics from registered religious groups.
Registration requirements include submission of the following: the names, identity numbers, and signatures of at least 100 members; the group’s statutes and a summary of its religious teachings, ceremonies, religious goals, and basic activities; and information on sources of funding. The law prohibits registration if an applicant group’s name includes part of the name of an existing registered group. The Ministry of Justice maintains the Register of Churches and Religious Communities and responds to registration applications. The Directorate for Cooperation with Churches and Religious Communities handles other procedural issues and conducts outreach to religious groups.
Students in primary and secondary schools are required to attend classes in one of the seven traditional religions or an alternative civic education class. Parents choose which option is appropriate for their child. The curriculum taught in the religion classes varies regionally, reflecting the number of adherents of a given religion in a specific community. The Commission for Religious Education appoints religious education teachers. The commission is comprised of representatives of traditional religious groups, the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology, and the Directorate for Cooperation with Churches and Religious Communities. The Islamic Community of Serbia’s representative participates in the work of the commission, while representatives of the Islamic Community in Serbia do not.
The law recognizes restitution claims for religious property confiscated in 1945 or later for registered religious groups only. The private property restitution law permits individual claims for properties lost by Holocaust victims during World War II, but religious groups may not claim property confiscated prior to 1945. Legally registered endowments can apply for restitution. Religious communities who were beneficiaries of seized endowments can apply for restitution of their benefits.