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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.

Portugal is a secular state. Other than the Constitution, the two most important documents relating to religious freedom are the 1971 Law on Religious Freedom and the 1940 Concordat (as amended) between Portugal and the Holy See. Under this legal regime, the Roman Catholic Church has several privileges not granted to other religions. For example the Catholic Church is completely exempt from the country's value-added tax, whereas other religions only can exempt expenditures related directly to worship. The Catholic Church has exclusive control over the naming of military, prison, and hospital chaplains.

Since 1975 there has been a very liberal regime for recognizing churches. Ministers of all faiths are also permitted to participate in the country's social insurance scheme.

Public secondary school curriculums include an optional course called "religion and morals." This course functions as a survey of world religions and is taught by a lay person. It can be used to give Catholic religious instruction. The Catholic Church must approve all teachers for this course. Other religions can set up such a course if they have 15 or more children in the particular school. There are about 100 such non-Catholic programs in the country.

In recent years, minority religious groups, particularly evangelical Christians, have called for an updated law on religious freedom to replace the 1971 law. In 1999 a new law on religious freedom was drafted and introduced in the National Assembly. However, there had been no vote on the draft law by June 30, 1999. This new law would extend to minority religions more of the privileges enjoyed by the Roman Catholic Church.

The Government takes active steps to promote interfaith understanding. Most notably, 5 days a week state television channel (Radiotelevisao Portuguesa 2) broadcasts "A Fe dos Homens"--"The Faith of Man"--a half-hour program consisting of various segments written and produced by different religious communities. The Government pays for the segments and professional production companies are hired under contract to produce the segments.

The concept behind "The Faith of Man" originated in 1984, when minority religious communities began to request broadcast time on RTP television. In 1997 arrangements for such broadcasts were regularized and formalized and the program was launched. Religious communities send delegates to a special television commission, which determines the scheduling of segments. The television commission has operated on the general rule that religious communities eligible for the program are those that have been operating for at least 30 years in the country or at least 60 years in their country of origin.

The Catholic Church owns a television station, Televisao Independente. Its programming is basically indistinguishable from that of other stations.

More than 80 percent of the population above the age of 12 identify with the Roman Catholic Church. About 2 percent identify with various Protestant denominations, and about 1 percent with non-Christian religions. Less than 3 percent say that they have no religion.

Non-Christian religions include about 25,000 Muslims (largely from Portuguese Africa, ethnically sub-Saharan African or South Asian), a small number of Jews, and very small groupings of Buddhists, Taoists, and Zoroastrians. A small Hindu community also exists, which traces its origins to South Asians who emigrated from Portuguese Africa and the former Portuguese colony of Goa in India. Many of these minority communities are not organized formally.

Brazilian syncretistic Catholic Churches, which combine Catholic ritual with pre-Christian Afro-Brazilian ritual such as Candomble and Ubanda, also operate in small numbers, as do the Seventh-Day Adventists, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, and Orthodox Christians.

Foreign missionary groups (such as the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints) operate freely.

The Igreja Universal do Reino de Deus (the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God), a proselytizing church that originated in Brazil, also exists.

Major Catholic holidays are also official holidays. Seven out of the country's 16 national holidays are Catholic holidays. The Papal Nuncio is always the dean of the diplomatic corps.

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

There are amicable relations among the various religious communities. Many communities conduct "open houses" or sponsor interfaith education seminars. Sunday Mass is broadcast live. The Roman Catholic Church regularly broadcasts its television program, "Seven Times Seventy."

The acquisition of some prominent commercial properties by the Igreja Universal do Reino de Deus attracted some negative comment from editorialists, preservationists, and neighbors.

Section III. U.S. Government Policy

U.S. Embassy representatives have discussed issues and problems of religious freedom with government officials, members of the National Assembly, broadcasting executives, and leading religious figures. These contacts are ongoing.

[End of Document]

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Revised last: 11-09-1999