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

Although Roman Catholicism is dominant, it is not the state religion, and the law prohibits discrimination based on religion. The Catholic Church receives direct benefits from the State through income tax revenues as taxpayers may request that 0.3 percent of their income tax payments be allocated to the Catholic Church or to "other" charities, including two religions (the Waldesian Church and Jehovah's Witnesses).

In 1993 recently elected parliamentarians objected to the traditional 1909 oath of loyalty to the "Holy Gospels." Although they eventually swore as required, the parliamentarians contended that it violated Article 9 of the European Convention and brought suit in the European Court of Human Rights. Following this objection, Parliament changed the law in 1993 to permit a choice between the traditional oath and one in which the reference to the Gospels was replaced by "on my honor." On February 18, 1999, the European Court found the requirement that Members of Parliament swear their loyalty to the "Holy Gospels" violated religious freedom. However, its ruling also implicitly endorsed the revised 1993 legal formulation. The Court also noted that the traditional ("Holy Gospels") oath is still mandatory for other offices, such as the Captain Regent or a member of the Government; however, to date, no elected Captain Regent or government member has challenged the validity of the 1909 oath. The country does not provide statistics on the size of religious groups and there is no recent census data providing information on religious membership; however, it is estimated that over 95 percent of the population are Catholic. There are also small groups of Jehovah's Witnesses and adherents to the Baha'i Faith (who organize small, active missionary groups), some Muslims, and members of the Waldesian Church.

There are no private religious schools; the school system is public and is financed by the State. Public schools provide Catholic religious instruction; however, students may choose without penalty not to participate.

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

Amicable relations exist between the religious communities, and government and religious officials encourage mutual respect for differences.

Roman Catholicism is not a state religion but it is dominant in society, as most citizens were born and raised under Catholic principles that form part of their culture. These principles still permeate state institutions symbolically; for example, crucifixes may be found hanging on courtroom or government office walls. They also affect societal lifestyles independently of individual compliance with Catholic precepts (such as strictures on divorce).

Section III. U.S. Government Policy

The U.S. Consulate General in Florence 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