U.S. Department of State Annual Report on International Religious Freedom for 2000 - Portugal

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.

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 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.

In recent years, minority religious groups, particularly evangelical Christians, have called for an updated law on religious freedom to replace the 1971 law. In April 2000, Communist and left bloc deputies in the Parliament introduced a bill that would have ended not only the special privileges enjoyed by the Catholic Church, but also the tax breaks, religious instruction in schools, and other privileges enjoyed by all religions. The bill was defeated, as expected. A second bill was introduced by the governing Socialist Party and was debated during the spring. The Socialist bill would preserve religious instruction in schools and continue tax breaks for religious bodies, allowing taxpayers to dedicate half a percent of their taxes to religious projects. Religious communities would have to have been present in the country for at least 30 years to qualify for these benefits. This bill has wide support, and the only controversy is over whether the country should first pass a new religious freedom law such as this one and then renegotiate the Concordat with the Vatican, or whether it should first renegotiate the Concordat and then pass a new religious freedom law. As of mid-2000, the first approach appeared to have greater support. The Catholic Archbishop of Lisbon endorsed the Socialist bill; however, noting the important historical role that the Catholic Church has played in the country. The Archbishop did not express a view as to which should come first, the bill or a new Concordat, calling them separate issues. Prior to the Pope's visit to Portugal and the shrine of Fatima in May 2000, the country's Catholic bishops met to compile their recommendations to the Vatican on revisions to the Concordat.

Religious Demography

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

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.

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.

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

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.

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

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."

In May 2000, the Islamic center in Lisbon hosted visiting Nobel Peace Prize winner and East Timorese bishop Ximenes Belo at a special prayer for East Timor. The event was covered by the Portuguese press, and attended by government officials, leaders from the country's other religious communities, and members of the diplomatic corps. In 2000 the municipality also revealed plans to light the Islamic center mosque at night (as are other prominent landmarks in Lisbon), and to rename its street "Rua da Mesquita" – the street of the mosque.

Also in 2000, a project was begun in the Azores to restore the old synagogue in Ponta Delgada, which was constructed in 1836 and abandoned 60 years ago. This project is the culmination of 15 years of lobbying by the Azores Synagogue Restoration Committee, and is supported by both the regional government of the Azores, the Portuguese-American community, and universities in both countries. The synagogue is not to be used for worship (the number of Jews in the Azores is virtually zero) but is to serve as a monument to the country's Jewish heritage. In April 2000, the Portuguese National Heritage Association commemorated International Monuments Day at the synagogue.

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 in the overall context of the promotion of human rights. These contacts are ongoing.

This report is submitted to the Congress by the Department of State in compliance with Section 102(b) of the International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA) of 1998. The 2000 Report covers the period from July 1, 1999 to June 30, 2000

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