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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 Constitution establishes Roman Catholicism as the state religion, and declares that the authorities of the Catholic Church have "the authority to teach which principles are right and which are wrong." The Government grants subsidies to Roman Catholic schools. Religious schools are eligible for state subsidies, only the Roman Catholic Church has organized a parallel school system. Many governmental policies, such as a ban on divorce, reflect the teachings of the Catholic Church.

The overwhelming majority of citizens (approximately 95 percent) are Roman Catholic. While some political leaders diverge from Catholicism, most of the country's political leaders also are Roman Catholic.

Most congregants at the local Protestant churches are not Maltese; many British retirees live on Malta, and vacationers from many other nations compose the remainder of such congregations. Recently an indigenous Christian fundamentalist movement has begun to develop; it remains small and consists of a group of about 400 citizens, but it is growing rapidly. Jehovah's Witnesses and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints also have an active missionary presence. The island has one Muslim mosque and one Jewish congregation.

Since 1991 churches of all kinds (not just the Roman Catholic Church) have had similar legal rights: religious organizations can own property such as buildings, and their ministers can perform marriages and other functions.

While religious instruction in Catholicism is compulsory in all state schools, the Constitution establishes the right not to receive this instruction if the student (or guardian, in the case of a minor) objects.

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 Roman Catholic Church makes its presence and its influence felt in everyday life. However, converts from Catholicism do not face legal or societal discrimination, and relations between the Catholic Church and other Christian denominations generally are characterized by respect and cooperation.

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. Whenever possible, the Embassy advocates continued observance of basic human rights such as freedom of expression and freedom of religion. Both the Embassy's private discussions with government officials and its informational programs for the public consistently emphasize these points.

[End of Document]

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Revised last: 11-09-1999