The constitution guarantees freedom of conscience and religion. It stipulates there is no official religion, says the state is neutral in matters of belief, recognizes the equality and independence of religious groups, and prohibits discrimination based on religion. The government has agreements with the Sunni Muslim and Bektashi communities, the Catholic and Orthodox Churches, and the Evangelical Brotherhood of Albania (VUSH), a Protestant umbrella organization, pertaining to recognition, property restitution, and other arrangements. The law stipulates the faith communities will receive financial support from the government, but the government’s agreement with the VUSH under the law does not specifically designate it to receive such funding. The government legalized 137 mosques during the year compared to six the previous year. Religious groups reported some progress on the hundreds of outstanding claims for government restitution or return of property seized during the communist era, and that the Agency for the Treatment of Property (ATP) met with them to begin reconciling lists of property claims. VUSH leaders stated their churches continued to have difficulties in acquiring land to construct places of worship and continued to face problems over tax payments. The prime minister announced a pilot project involving 10 schools aimed at promoting religious tolerance in secondary schools as a means of countering violent extremism.
The Interreligious Council, which is meant to function as a forum for the leaders of the country’s religious communities to discuss common concerns, did not meet as it had in previous years. Pope Francis held an audience in Rome with the head of the global Bektashi community headquartered in Tirana, the first such audience for any religious leader from the country with the pope.
U.S. embassy officials continued to urge government officials to accelerate its handling of long-standing religious property claims and to return to religious groups the buildings, land, and other property confiscated from them during the communist era. The embassy expanded its civic education program, in which students of several religious educational institutions carried out projects celebrating religious diversity. The embassy also worked with the religious communities and nongovernmental actors to discourage violent extremism related to religion among youth and to promote religious tolerance.