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U.S. Department of State
Annual Report on International Religious Freedom for 1999

Released by the Bureau for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor
Washington, DC, September 9, 1999


Section I. Freedom of Religion

The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the Government respects this right in practice.

The Government subsidizes several religions through tax revenue collection. Taxpayers who choose to do so can donate a percentage of their income tax payment to the Roman Catholic, Adventist, Waldensian, Baptist, and Lutheran Churches, the Assembly of God or the Jewish community. Other religious groups, including Buddhists and Muslims, have initiated the procedures necessary to obtain this benefit. While the procedures are lengthy and, in these cases, began respectively in 1993 and 1991, it is anticipated that the Buddhists and one Muslim organization will complete the process in 1999.

An estimated 85 percent of native-born citizens are nominally Roman Catholic. Jehovah's Witnesses form the second largest denomination among such citizens, numbering some 400,000. However, if immigrants are counted, the country's second largest religious community is Islam--an estimated 1 million persons. The Buddhist community includes 50,000 persons and there are an estimated 35,000 Jews. A collective total of about 80,000 persons belong to smaller religious groups, most of whom tend to be concentrated in particular cities. Missionaries or religious workers do not encounter problems in Italy but must apply for appropriate visas abroad prior to arriving in Italy.

Roman Catholicism is not the state religion but it is the dominant one, in the sense that most citizens were born and raised under Catholic principles, which form part of their culture. Symbols of these principles still permeate some major state institutions. For example, crucifixes may be found hanging on courtroom or government office walls. Catholic principles affect private lifestyles, independently of actual individual compliance with Catholic precepts (such as strictures on birth control and divorce). Italy's formal relations with the Roman Catholic Church are governed by the terms of its 1929 Concordat with the Vatican.

Public schools provide an optional "hour of religion." However, whereas priests once taught catechism, students today encounter lay or religious teachers who offer an academic course on religion--for those students whose parents want them to have it. Those not interested in this course are free to study other subjects or, in certain cases, to leave school early. Provision is made to accommodate the dietary requirements of Jewish and Muslim students who eat at school, and absence to celebrate their own religious holidays is accepted.

Nontraditional religious groups are free to practice their beliefs and proselytise, provided they respect public order and general moral standards. In August 1997, the Court of Cassation annulled a lower court decision that Scientology was not a religion, finding that the lower court was not competent to rule on what constitutes a religion. The Court of Cassation further found that the issue of whether Scientology constitutes a religion must be readdressed by another court of appeal, in accordance with criteria established by the Constitutional Court.

There was no change in the status of respect for religious freedom during the period covered by this report.

There were no reports of religious detainees or prisoners.

There were no reports of the forced religious conversion of minor U.S. citizens who had been abducted or illegally removed from the United States, or of the Government's refusal to allow such citizens to be returned to the United States.

Section II. Societal Attitudes

The overall tone for interconfessional relations is set by religious and government officials who, by word and practice, encourage mutual respect for differences. In view of the negative aspects of the nation's Fascist past, government leaders acknowledge and pay tribute to Jews victimized by the country's 1938 racial laws. Then-President Oscar Luigi Scalfaro, ministers, and top parliamentary officials attended a January 28, 1999 presentation in the Chamber of Deputies of a book on the background to, and consequences of, these racial laws.

Section III. U.S. Government Policy

The U.S. Embassy discusses religious freedom issues with the Government in the overall context of the promotion of human rights.

[End of Document]

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Revised last: 10-09-1999