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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.

There is no state religion nor does the State register religions or sects. However, based on the Concordat of 1801, when the country was under Napoleonic rule, some churches receive financial support from the State. The Constitution specifically provides for state payment of the salaries of clergy. Currently, after negotiated agreements with the Government, the following churches receive such support: Roman Catholic; Greek and Russian Orthodox; Jewish; and Protestant denominations. The conventions were signed October 31, 1997, by the Minister of Religion and the church representatives and adopted into law on July 10, 1998. Applications for financial support from the Anglican Church and the Muslim community have been under consideration for 2 years and are in the final stages of review; no application for such support has been refused to date. Several local governments maintain sectarian religious facilities.

The country is historically Roman Catholic, and Catholicism remains the predominant faith. According to a 1979 law, the Government may not collect or maintain statistics on religious affiliation, but over 90 percent of the population are estimated to be Catholic. The Lutheran and Calvinist churches are the largest Protestant denominations. There is a considerable range of other creeds represented in small numbers; the number of professed atheists is believed to be very small. The largest group of foreigners is from Portugal (58,000 in a total population of 430,000); most Portuguese are Roman Catholic.

There are no significant foreign missionary groups. Many groups described as "sects" have representations in the country (largely for financial reasons). They are expected to obey the law, but their activities have not become significant political or social issues.

There is a long tradition of religious education in public schools. A convention signed on October 31, 1997 by the Minister of National Education and the Roman Catholic Archbishop governs religious instruction. In accordance with this convention, religious instruction is a local matter, coordinated at the communal level between representatives of the Church and communal authorities. Government-paid lay teachers provide instruction (totaling 2 school hours) at the primary school level. Parents and pupils may choose between instruction in Roman Catholicism or an ethics course; requests for exemption from religious instruction are addressed on an individual basis. The Roman Catholic, Lutheran, and Calvinist Churches have an agreement for the provision of instruction in the Protestant religions within the overall framework of religious instruction in the school system. There are oral agreements between Catholics and Protestants at the local level to provide religious instruction to Protestant students, as required, during school hours. Protestant instruction is available on demand, and provision of instruction in other faiths may develop in response to demand.

The State subsidizes private religious schools. All private, religious, and nonsectarian schools are eligible for and receive government subsidies. The State also subsidizes a Catholic seminary.

There are no government-sponsored ecumenical activities.

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

In general there are amicable relations between the religious communities. The Roman Catholic, Protestant, and Jewish faiths work well together on an ecumenical basis. Differences among religious faiths are not a significant source of tension in society.

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