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Department Seal 2000 Annual Report on International Religious Freedom:

Released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor
U.S. Department of State, September 5, 2000


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

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

Both government policy and the generally amicable relationship among religions in society contribute to the free practice of religion. Issues relating to religion that arise stem from formal state recognition (to facilitate access by ministers of religion to public hospitals and prisons, or to link religious ceremonies to civil registration of marriages), state financial support for religion, and state involvement with the teaching of religion in the public schools. The Catholic Church's historic and continuing predominant role in society leads to controversy when church teaching is perceived as instruction to Catholic legislators on matters of public policy.

The U.S. Government discusses religious freedom issues with the Government in the context of its overall dialog and policy of promoting human rights.

Section I. Government Policies on Freedom of Religion

Legal/Policy Framework

The 1947 Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the Government respects this right in practice. The Government at all levels generally protects this right in full, and does not tolerate its abuse, either by governmental or private actors.

Prior to the Constitution's adoption, Italy's relations with the Catholic Church were governed by a 1929 Concordat, which established Catholicism as the country's state religion. A 1984 revision of the Concordat formalized the principle of a secular state but maintained the principle of state support for religion--support that also could be extended, if requested, to non-Catholic confessions. A special law ("intesa") enacted in 1984 granted specific benefits to the Waldensian Church. Similar laws (which involve lengthy procedures to obtain) extended similar benefits to the Adventists and Assembly of God (1988), to Jews (1989), and to Baptists and Lutherans (1995). In March 2000, the Government agreed to legislation that would establish two new intesas--with the Buddhist Union and Jehovah's Witnesses. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Mormons) filed a request for an intesa in 1998; an organization formed in 2000 that represents a coalition of Muslim organizations announced in April that it would seek an intesa. An intesa grants ministers of religion automatic access to state hospitals, prisons, and military barracks, allows for civil registry of religious marriages, facilitates special religious practices regarding funerals, and exempts students from school attendance on religious holidays. If the religious community so requests, an intesa can provide for a state subsidy through tax revenue collection--a privilege that some religious communities initially declined but later requested. Religious Demography

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, immigration--both legal and clandestine--continues to add large groups of non-Christian residents, mainly Muslims from North Africa, South Asia, Albania, and the Middle East, who now number an estimated 1 million. Buddhists include some 40,000 Europeans and 20,000 Asians. There are approximately 80,000 Scientologists. There are approximately 30,000 Waldensians, and 20,000 Mormons, largely concentrated in Rome and northern cities. A declining Jewish community of about 30,000 maintains synagogues in 21 cities.

Missionaries or religious workers do not encounter problems but must apply for appropriate visas prior to arriving in Italy.

The revised Concordat of 1984 accorded the Catholic Church certain privileges. For example, the Church may select Catholic-religion teachers in the public schools, whose salaries are paid by the State. The "hour of religion" class that public schools teach is optional, and students not interested in this course are free to study other subjects or, in certain cases, to leave school early. Whereas Catholic priests once taught catechism, church-selected religion teachers may be either lay or religious, and their instruction may include material relevant to non-Catholic faiths. However, problems may arise in small communities where information about other faiths and numbers of non-Catholic communicants are limited.

While Roman Catholicism is no longer the state religion, its role as the dominant one occasionally gives rise to problems--some overt, others subtly societal. Declining enrollment in Catholic schools led church officials to seek government aid, despite the 1947 Constitution's prohibition against State support for private schools. A 1999 legislative formula that provided means-tested support for students from poorer families (enrolled either at private or state schools) nonetheless drew papal criticism for being "inadequate." The Church criticized municipal and national authorities who granted permission for a gay "pride week" to be held in Rome (in Jubilee Year 2000) and demanded that the event, which the Church considers offensive to its teaching on homosexuality, be postponed. Following a March 2000 European Parliament vote in favor of granting homosexual couples the same legal rights as married ones, the Vatican Pontifical Council for the Family called on Italian legislators "and particularly Catholic members of Parliament" to oppose such legislation. The continuing presence of Catholic symbols, such as crucifixes, which may be found hanging on courtroom or government office walls, has drawn criticism and has been the object of lawsuits. In April 2000, the Court of Cassation ruled in favor of a school teacher who asserted that crucifixes should not be present at voting sites maintained by a secular state.

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.

Forced Religious Conversion of Minor U.S. Citizens

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.

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.

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