The constitution bars the federal government from making any law that imposes a state religion or religious observance, prohibits the free exercise of religion, or establishes a religious test for a federal public office. In August the Australian Capital Territory parliament passed legislation making it a crime to vilify someone based on his or her religion. In January the Victoria state government removed religious instruction from the public school curriculum and allowed students wishing to attend religious classes to do so during lunchtime or before or after school for 30 minutes. The Queensland state government suspended a Bible-based school program while reviewing its use in public schools. The campaign platform of the One Nation Party, which had four senators elected during the July federal elections, included cessation of Muslim immigration and limits on some Islamic practices. The prime minister stated his commitment to an “inclusive multicultural society which is based on mutual respect.” The government continued to run extensive programs to support religious pluralism.
In March approximately 10 youths assaulted three Muslim schoolgirls at a local park in Geelong, Victoria. The attack included both verbal and physical abuse and forcibly pulling off the hijabs of two of the schoolgirls. There were reports of vandalism of places of worship and verbal abuse of Jews and Muslims. A Presbyterian church in Western Geelong was destroyed by fire on April 15, and on May 18 a fire damaged the main mosque in Geelong, which is housed in a former church building. Authorities made no arrests in what they reported may be a series of suspicious fires. Three churches in Geelong had been burned the previous year.
The U.S. embassy and the U.S. consulates general in Melbourne, Perth, and Sydney regularly engaged government officials and a wide range of religious leaders, faith communities, and groups to promote religious freedom. Embassy and consulate general officers at all levels, including the Ambassador, engaged with religious communities and promoted religious tolerance in person and through social media.
Section I. Religious Demography
The U.S. government estimates the total population at 22.9 million (July 2016 estimate). According to the 2011 census, 61 percent of residents are Christian, including 25 percent Roman Catholic and 17 percent Anglican. Buddhists constitute 2.5 percent of the population; Muslims 2.2 percent; Hindus 1.3 percent, and Jews 0.5 percent. Eight percent either did not state a religious affiliation or stated other religious affiliations such as “new age,” “not defined,” or “theism,” while 22.3 percent report having no religious affiliation.
The census indicated indigenous persons constitute 2.5 percent of the population, and that 1 percent of indigenous respondents practice traditional indigenous religions. Among this group, affiliation with a traditional indigenous religion is higher in very remote areas (6 percent) than in all other areas (less than 1 percent). Approximately 60 percent of indigenous respondents identify themselves as Christian and an estimated 20 percent report having no religious affiliation. The remainder either did not state a religious affiliation or stated other religious affiliations.
Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom
The constitution bars the federal government from making any law that imposes a state religion or religious observance, prohibits the free exercise of religion, or establishes a religious test for a federal public office.
There are certain legal limitations on the right to religious freedom, including the necessity of protecting public safety, order, and health, or the fundamental rights and freedoms of others. Individuals who suffer religious discrimination have recourse under federal discrimination laws or through the court system and bodies such as the Australian Human Rights Commission.
The state of Tasmania is the only state or territory whose constitution specifically provides citizens with the right to profess and practice their religion; however, seven of the eight states and territories have laws prohibiting discrimination on the basis of a person’s religion or ethnoreligious background. South Australia is the only state or territory that does not explicitly prohibit discrimination on the grounds of religion. All other states and territories have independent agencies to mediate allegations of religious discrimination. In August the parliament of the Australian Capital Territory passed legislation making it a crime to vilify someone based on his or her religion.
Religious groups are not required to register. To receive tax-exempt status for income or other benefits and an exemption from the goods and services tax (sales tax), however, nonprofit religious groups must apply to the Australia Tax Office (ATO). Registration with the ATO has no effect on how religious groups are treated, apart from standard ATO checks. To receive tax-exempt status, an organization must be a nonprofit entity. An organization’s activities, size, and permanence are some of the factors taken into account when determining its tax-exempt status.
The government permits religious education in public schools, generally taught by volunteers using approved curricula; parents may decide whether their children will attend or not. There is no national standard for approving religious curricula, which happens at state and local levels. Public schools in New South Wales provide secular ethics classes as an alternative for students who do not attend optional scripture classes.
In January the Victoria state government removed religious instruction from the public school curriculum. Students in Victoria can attend religious classes on school grounds for a maximum of 30 minutes per week, but only during lunchtime or in the hours before or after school.
The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
Four senators from the One Nation Party were elected during the July federal elections on a platform which included ceasing Muslim immigration, holding a royal commission on Islam, halting construction of mosques, installing surveillance cameras in mosques, banning wearing of the burqa and niqab in public places, and prohibiting members of parliament from being sworn in under the Quran. In her first senate speech, One Nation Party Leader Pauline Hanson said the country was “in danger of being swamped by Muslims.” Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull disagreed with her views and said “my commitment is to an inclusive multicultural society which is based on mutual respect. The more we respect each other the more secure we become.”
In August an anti-Muslim rally was held in the Melbourne suburb of Melton. Approximately 150 members of nationalist groups attended the rally to oppose the construction of a 75-lot housing development that protestors said was a “Muslim housing estate.” Fifty police officers were present to maintain order and warn against illegal hate speech. The rally was criticized by Federal Opposition Leader Bill Shorten who stated such actions were taking the country “down the wrong path and the wrong direction.”
The government continued to begin each session of parliament with a recitation of a short prayer and then the Lord’s Prayer, as has been the practice since 1901. Participation in the prayers remained optional. The Green Party and other groups called for the practice to end.
In June the federal High Court rejected a request to hear an appeal against the construction of a mosque in Bendigo. The Australian Muslims of Bendigo issued the statement: “we believe the decision is in line with every Australian’s constitutional right to practice their faith.” Premier of Victoria Daniel Andrews welcomed the High Court’s decision. In 2015, local residents opposed decisions providing for the construction of the mosque, reportedly for zoning reasons. Others reportedly opposed the construction of mosques in general.
In April the local council blocked approval for the building of a mosque in southeast Melbourne amid opposition from nationalist groups and local residents. The local government said the mosque should not be built due to its size and because it would not fit in with the local landscape, but critics said the decision represented community and nationalist backlash against Muslims.
In November Orthodox Jews in the northern Sydney suburb of St. Ives won approval to retain an eruv, “a wire cable attached to power poles which extends the private dwelling [in terms of religious practice] to an area encompassing a few blocks or more, giving Orthodox Jews freedom to participate in community activities on the Sabbath.” Several Christians spoke up in defense of the eruv, stating “there is no place for exclusion, discrimination, or anti-Semitism.”
In June the state government of Queensland conducted a review of religious education in state public schools after suspending the long standing Connect curriculum at Windsor State School. The three-year religious education program was said to “solicit” students to become Christians. State Education Minister Kate Jones said the lesson materials “go beyond imparting knowledge of Biblical references, and extend to soliciting children to develop a personal faith in God and Jesus to become a Christian.”
Public and private schools in New South Wales worked to implement the state government’s A$47 million ($34 million) School Communities Working Together program, released in 2015, to help at-risk schools counter “antisocial and extremist behavior.” It included training to assist school staff identify vulnerable young people; specialist support teams; and a telephone hotline for teachers to report such incidents.
The government continued to provide funding for security installations – such as lighting, fencing, and closed-circuit television cameras – and for the cost of employing security guards, in order to protect schools and preschools facing a risk of attack, harassment, or violence stemming from racial or religious intolerance. This funding was available at both government and nongovernment schools, including religious schools.
In Victoria, the parliament was considering an amendment to equal opportunity legislation that would bar faith-based schools and organizations from discriminating against someone because of religious beliefs or activities, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, parental status, or gender identity. Some religious organizations stated they feared the amendment would prevent them from considering adherence to the organization’s religious beliefs when selecting employees.
In May the University of Sydney student union withdrew its threat to deregister a religious organization after Christian, Buddhist, and Muslim groups joined together to advocate for amending the union’s regulations to allow declarations based on faith as a condition of membership and leadership of faith-based groups on campus.
In June Prime Minister Turnbull became the first sitting prime minister to host an iftar and stated “the Australian Muslim community is valued and respected – and it is not confined to a narrow security prism – you are an integral part of an Australian family that rests on the essential foundation of mutual respect and understanding.”
The Australian Multicultural Council continued to provide guidance to the government on multicultural affairs policy and programs. The government’s national multicultural policy, The People of Australia, was based on a government-wide approach to maintaining social cohesion and included religious tolerance as a component. The government provided a range of youth-focused early intervention, outreach, and education programs to promote religious tolerance as well as “deradicalization” programs for prison inmates convicted of terrorism-related offenses.
Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom
In March approximately 10 youths assaulted three Muslim schoolgirls at a local city park in Geelong, Victoria. The attack included both verbal and physical abuse and forcibly pulling off the hijabs of two of the schoolgirls. By the end of the year, no arrests were made.
Religious tolerance advocates and those who opposed the spread of Islam held competing demonstrations in Melbourne during the year. Police made arrests following violence between the groups during protests in May and July.
Arsonists destroyed two places of worship in the state of Victoria, a Presbyterian church in western Geelong on April 15 and the main mosque in Geelong on May 18. The mosque was a refurbished Christian church and police believe the mosque may have been mistakenly targeted as a church. Police said the arson attacks may have been linked to three other church burnings in Geelong since October 2015. Some observers said the royal commission into child sexual abuse may have inspired the attacks against churches (or what were thought to be churches).
The Executive Council of Australian Jewry reported 210 anti-Semitic incidents of threats or abuse during the year, up from 190 the previous year. In September leaflets containing Holocaust-denial material were distributed in several Australian university campuses in Melbourne, Sydney, and Canberra. The leaflets asserted the Holocaust never happened and it was “the greatest swindle of all time.”
Over 300 incidents were reported in the first 12 months of the Islamophobia Register Australia, which was founded in September 2014 as an online resource for victims and witnesses of anti-Muslim attacks. The register was designed to provide a means to report and record incidents of anti-Muslim sentiment to inform the media and public. The figures represented an average of 5.4 incidents per week. A spokesman for the Melbourne Islamic Community stated the register showed an increase in the frequency of anti-Muslim attacks.
An increase in online harassment of Muslims was reported in South Australia, with families and individuals facing a greater frequency of anti-Muslim abuse, particularly following terrorist attacks abroad.
In June vandals burned a car and painted anti-Muslim graffiti outside a Perth mosque during prayer. In the same month, vandals defaced another Perth mosque with graffiti and left a pig’s head outside its main entrance. In July an Adelaide mosque was vandalized with anti-Muslim and Nazi symbols. In April swastikas were painted on a synagogue and on bus stops in a Sydney suburb. Authorities made no arrests in connection with these incidents.
Several nongovernmental organizations continued to promote tolerance and better understanding among religious groups. These included the Columban Centre for Christian-Muslim Relations, the National Council of Churches in Australia, the Australian Council of Christians and Jews, and the Jewish Christian Muslim Association of Australia.
On October 29, the Lebanese Muslim Association in Australia, supported by the Australian Department of Social Services, sponsored the third annual National Mosque Open Day. The goal was to facilitate a greater understanding of Islam and Muslims in the country by opening mosques to the wider public. Thousands of individuals from different faiths visited mosques around the country.
Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement
The U.S. embassy and consulates in Melbourne, Perth, and Sydney met with government officials from the federal and state-level departments of social services and multicultural affairs to promote religious freedom and tolerance programs.
They also engaged a wide range of religious leaders, faith communities, and groups including the Islamic Council of Victoria and the Australia Arab Association of Perth. The embassy and consulates general used social media platforms to increase awareness of U.S. policy and activities supportive of religious freedom through posting and sharing of articles and events.
In June the Consul General in Melbourne hosted a youth iftar. Interfaith attendees included youth and community leaders from throughout the state of Victoria. The event focused on building tolerance through the inclusion of people from other religious groups.
The Consul General in Perth gave an address at the Australia Arab Association’s Multicultural Eid al-Adha events to celebrate diversity.
The constitution provides for freedom of religion and states religion is a personal choice, and all churches and religious organizations have equal rights. Relations with the Roman Catholic Church are determined by an agreement with the Holy See that grants privileges not accorded to other religious groups. Relations with other churches and religious organizations are determined by statutes adopted as a result of agreements between their representatives and the government. The criminal code prohibits public speech that is offensive to religious sentiment, but courts often overturned convictions. The president signed legislation preventing Warsaw public properties, including Jewish-owned properties initially lost during World War II (WW II), from being returned to their precommunist era owners and extinguishing claims after a six-month notice period. According to Jewish and other religious groups, property restitution to religious communities continued to proceed very slowly, with 73 cases resolved out of approximately 3,700 outstanding at the beginning of the year. A prosecutor dropped the investigation of a Catholic priest who referred to Jews as a “cancer” in a sermon commemorating the anniversary of a nationalist political association. The minister of education made comments apparently denying Polish responsibility for the mass killings of Jews at Jedwabne and Kielce during and after WW II, but later stated Poles had committed both attacks. The government announced plans to support a college founded by a Catholic priest who headed the radio station Radio Maryja, which the National Radio and Television Council had previously criticized for broadcasting anti-Semitic remarks.
Protests and demonstrations against immigration often involved anti-Muslim and anti-Semitic messages. The cover of a popular political weekly displayed the dark-skinned hands and arms of three men groping a blonde woman with the caption “Islamic rape of Europe.” In August soccer fans at a train station in Lodz held up a banner with anti-Semitic language and burned Jewish effigies. Vandals targeted Jewish and Catholic religious sites and private property.
The U.S. embassy met with government officials and with representatives of Jewish groups to discuss the state of private and communal property restitution and how to counter anti-Semitism. The Special Envoy for Holocaust Issues met with government officials to discuss property restitution issues and social welfare benefits for Holocaust survivors. The Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism met with officials to discuss Jewish community developments, anti-Semitism, and anti-Muslim issues. The embassy and the consulate general in Krakow sponsored events that promoted interfaith dialogue and religious tolerance.
Section I. Religious Demography
The U.S. government estimates the population at 38.5 million (July 2016 estimate). The Polish government Statistical Yearbook, which accounts for “selected” religious groups, estimates 86 percent of the population is Roman Catholic. Groups together constituting less than 5 percent of the population include atheists and nonbelievers, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Lutherans, Greek Catholics, Pentecostals, and members of the Polish Orthodox Church. Jewish and Muslim groups estimate their numbers to be 20,000 and 25,000, respectively, although some Jewish groups estimate their number could be as high as 40,000. Approximately 10 percent of Muslims are ethnically Tatar.
Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom
The constitution provides for freedom of conscience and religion. It states freedom of religion includes the freedom to profess or to accept a religion by personal choice as well as to manifest that religion, either individually or collectively, publicly or privately, by worshipping, praying, participating in ceremonies, performing rites, or teaching. It states freedom to express religion may be limited only by law when necessary to defend state security, public order, health, morals, or the rights of others. The constitution states “churches and other religious organizations shall have equal rights.” It stipulates the relationship between the state and churches and other religious organizations shall be based on the principle of respect for autonomy and mutual independence. The constitution specifies that relations with the Catholic Church shall be determined by an international treaty concluded with the Holy See and by statute. Relations with other churches and religious organizations shall be determined by statutes adopted pursuant to agreements concluded between their appropriate representatives and the Council of Ministers.
Per the constitution, freedom of religion also includes the right to own places of worship and to provide religious services. The constitution stipulates parents have the right to ensure their children receive a moral and religious upbringing and teaching in accordance with their convictions and their own religious and philosophical beliefs. It states religious organizations may teach their faith in schools if doing so does not infringe on the religious freedom of others. The constitution acknowledges the right of national and ethnic minorities to establish institutions designed to protect religious identity. The constitution prohibits parties and other organizations whose ideology are based on Nazism.
The criminal code outlaws public speech that offends religious sentiment. The law prescribes a fine, typically 5,000 zloty ($1,195), or up to two years in prison for violations.
Specific legislation governs the relationship of 15 religious groups with the state, outlining the structure of their relationship with the state and procedures for communal property restitution. The 15 religious groups are the Roman Catholic Church, Polish Orthodox Church, Evangelical-Augsburg (Lutheran) Church, Evangelical Reformed Church, Methodist Church, Baptist Church, Seventh-day Adventist Church, Polish Catholic Church, Pentecostal Church, the Union of Jewish Communities, Mariavite Church, Old Catholic Mariavite Church, Old Eastern Orthodox Church, Muslim Religious Union, and Karaim Religious Union. Marriages performed by officials from 11 of these groups do not require further registration at a civil registry office; however, the Mariavite Church, Muslim Religious Union, Karaim Religious Union, and Old Eastern Orthodox Church do not have that right. An additional 164 registered religious groups and five aggregate religious organizations (the Polish Ecumenical Council, Polish Buddhist Union, Biblical Society, Evangelical Alliance, and the Council of Protestant Churches) do not have a statutorily defined relationship with the state.
The law provides equal protection to all registered religious groups. In accordance with the law, the government and the Roman Catholic Church uniquely participate at the highest levels in the Joint Government-Episcopate Committee, which meets regularly to discuss Church-state relations.
Religious groups that are not the subject of specific legislation may register with the Ministry of Interior and Administration (MIA), but registration is not obligatory. To register, the law requires a group to submit a notarized application with the personal information of at least 100 citizen members; details about the group’s activities in the country; background about its doctrine and practices; a charter and physical address; identifying information about its leaders; a description of the role of the clergy, if applicable; and information on funding sources and methods of new-member recruitment. If the ministry rejects the registration application, organizations may appeal to an administrative court. Unregistered groups function freely without registration. They may worship freely, proselytize, publish or import religious literature, and bring in foreign missionaries, but have no legal recognition and are unable to undertake certain functions such as own property or hold bank accounts in their name. The 184 registered and statutorily recognized religious groups receive privileges not available to unregistered groups, such as selected tax benefits (they are exempt from import tariffs and property taxes and income tax on their educational, scientific, cultural, and legal activities and their official representatives are also exempt from income and property taxes) and the right to acquire property and teach religion in schools.
Four commissions oversee religious property restitution claims, one each for the Jewish community, the Lutheran Church, and the Orthodox Church, and one for all other denominations. The commissions function in accordance with legislation providing for the restitution to religious communities of property nationalized during or after WW II. The laws on communal property restitution do not address communal properties the government sold or turned over to new private owners after WW II.
On August 17, the president signed legislation preventing Warsaw public properties, including Jewish-owned properties initially lost during WW II, from being returned to precommunist era owners and extinguishing long-dormant claims after a six-month notice period if no claimant steps forward to pursue a restitution case. The Constitutional Court upheld the legislation and the law entered into force on September 17.
In accordance with the law, all public and private schools teach voluntary religion classes. Schools must provide instruction in any of the registered faiths if there are at least seven students requesting it. Each registered religious group determines the content of classes in its faith and provides the teachers, who receive salaries from the state. Students may also request to take an optional ethics class instead of a religion class.
Citizens have the right to sue the government for constitutional violations of religious freedom, and the law prohibits discrimination or persecution on the basis of religion or belief.
The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
The MIA approved the registration of three religious groups during the year: the Christian Zoe Church, the Christian Jordan Community, and the Universal Church of People of God. The MIA rejected an application from the God Church for failing to meet registration requirements. In May a Warsaw administrative court rejected a complaint submitted by the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster after the MIA refused its registration application as a religious group on the grounds that the organization mocked religions. On July 13, the group appealed the Warsaw court’s decision to the Supreme Administrative Court. At the end of the year, the case was still pending.
According to MIA statistics, the religious community property commissions resolved 73 communal property claims out of approximately 3,700 communal property claims pending at the beginning of the year. The commission handling Jewish communal property claims had partially or entirely resolved 2,715 of the 5,554 claims the Jewish community had submitted by its 2002 filing deadline. The commission handling Lutheran property claims had partially or entirely resolved 944 of the 1,200 claims filed by its 1996 filing deadline. The commission handling Orthodox Church restitution had partially or entirely resolved 264 of 472 claims filed by 2005, and the property commission for all other denominations had partially or entirely resolved 84 out of 170 claims.
Critics said the laws on communal property restitution did not address the issue of communal properties to which private third parties had title, and the government left several controversial and complicated cases unresolved. In a number of cases, buildings and residences were built on land that included Jewish cemeteries destroyed during or after WW II. The Jewish community continued to complain that the pace of Jewish communal property restitution was slow.
The government stated the legislation enacted in August exempting the return of Warsaw public properties to their precommunist owners and extinguishing claims after a six-month notice period was intended to end abusive practices in the trading of former property owners’ claims. Critics of the law, including lawyers and members of the Jewish community, argued it fell short of providing just compensation for former owners who lost property as a result of WW II and communist-era nationalization. The World Jewish Restitution Organization (WJRO) issued a statement that expressed disappointment with the Constitutional Court’s ruling upholding the law and reiterated its long-standing appeal for the government to establish a national private property restitution program.
In April the government abolished an interministerial council created in 2013 to counteract racial discrimination, xenophobia, and related intolerance on the basis the council was “inefficient.” Ombudsman Adam Bodnar stated the decision was “shameful” adding, “the council is absolutely necessary amid the increasing number of racially motivated attacks and rising xenophobia.” The council was not specifically tasked with combating discrimination or intolerance towards religious minorities, but in many cases religion and ethnicity were often closely linked. In November the interior ministry liquidated a small human rights team responsible for monitoring racist and xenophobic incidents around the country. According to the interior ministry, the monitoring tasks were taken over by other ministry units.
In June Warsaw prosecutors suspended an investigation into a 2015 case of internet hate speech against Syrian refugees in which some internet users suggested refugees be placed in former Nazi concentration camps and exterminated. Prosecutors stated they could not identify the authors of the hate speech, but the Open Republic Association Against Anti-Semitism and Xenophobia, an NGO, said prosecutors could have made a greater effort to identify the offenders by, for example, eliciting the cooperation of Facebook.
In September the Bialystok district prosecutor’s office discontinued an investigation into Roman Catholic priest Jacek Miedlar for a sermon he gave in April during the 82nd anniversary celebration of the nationalist political association National Radical Camp (ONR). Miedlar referred to Jews as a “cancer which swept across Poland” during his sermon in the Bialystok cathedral, which preceded an ONR march with anti-immigrant slogans. The investigating prosecutor decided Miedlar’s sermon did not incite hatred as it did not stigmatize a particular nationality and “referred to historical content and the Bible, pointed to examples of negative behavior of the representatives of the Jewish community from the time of slavery in Egypt, and generally referring to modern times.” Catholic leaders apologized for allowing ONR use of the cathedral. The Church announced it had banned Miedlar from making public statements after the April sermon.
In a television interview in July Minister of Education Anna Zalewska appeared to deny Polish responsibility for the mass killings of Jews at Jedwabne and Kielce during and after WW II. Jewish organizations and others, including teachers, protested the minister’s remarks calling it “an attempt to tamper with history.” Some called for her dismissal. Government officials, such as Foreign Minister Witold Waszczykowski, described her remarks as unfortunate and misunderstood. In a subsequent print media interview, Zalewska stated Poles had carried out both attacks.
In August the government submitted to parliament draft legislation stating, “Whoever publicly and contrary to the facts assigns the Republic of Poland or the Polish nation the liability or responsibility for the Nazi crimes committed by the Third Reich will face a fine or imprisonment of up to three years.” Government officials stated the legislation was designed to deter public use of phrases like “Polish death or concentration camps,” instead of “concentration camps in occupied Poland during World War II,” because such terms contradict historical truth and harm the country’s good name. At year’s end, the draft legislation was pending in parliament.
According to media reports, on January 29, the government announced plans to support financially a private college founded by Father Tadeusz Rydzyk, head of the Catholic radio station Radio Maryja. The National Radio and Television Council had previously criticized Radio Maryja for broadcasting anti-Semitic remarks. The government reportedly planned to provide 20 million zlotys ($4.8 million) to Rydzyk’s College of Social and Media Culture in Torun, which offered degrees in journalism and other subjects. As of year’s end, media sources reported the government had not allocated the funds to the college despite multiple public statements of support.
In July the leader of the Modern party, Ryszard Petru, who is not Jewish, received a handwritten letter containing profanities and an anti-Semitic death threat signed by “Sniper.” Police did not investigate the threat, as Petru did not file a formal complaint.
Crucifixes continued to be displayed in both the upper and lower houses of parliament, as well as in many other public buildings, including public school classrooms.
On November 11, the country’s Independence Day, Ruling Law, and Justice party leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski stated European civilization was founded on Christian roots and the country needed to be strong in a strong Europe. He quoted his late brother, former President Lech Kaczynski, who once called Christian civilization “the most human-friendly of all that have emerged over history.”
On April 19, President Andrzej Duda honored the Jewish fighters of the WW II Warsaw Ghetto uprising, calling them “heroes who wanted to fight for their freedom.” On July 4, President Duda and the country’s Chief Rabbi attended the 70th anniversary commemoration ceremonies of the Kielce Pogrom – the country’s deadliest outbreak of anti-Jewish violence after WWII – in which approximately 42 people were killed and 40 injured, most of them Jews. The president stated at the ceremony there was no place for anti-Semitism in the country.
In March President Duda visited the government-funded Polin Museum of the History of Polish Jews and stated every young citizen, tourist, Warsaw citizen, and foreigner should visit it. He said the exhibition presented a “republic of friends,” and that the Polish and Jewish nations had lived together for the last 900 years.
The government continued to fund exchanges with Polish participants and U.S. and Israeli Jews to foster dialogue on restitution, the Holocaust, and interfaith issues.
The government is a member of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance.
Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom
According to the Hate Crime Report of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, in 2015, the latest year for which data were available, the Ministry of Interior recorded 50 anti-Semitic hate crimes and incidents compared to 39 in 2014, 42 anti-Muslim hate crimes, and 12 anti-Christian hate crimes compared to 14 in 2014. In 2015, the government recorded 44 incidents of vandalism against Jewish sites, 27 against Muslim sites, and 12 against Christian and other religious sites. The national prosecutor’s office reported that in the first six months of 2016, it investigated 102 hate crimes targeting Jewish persons, compared to 142 cases during the same period in 2015, 250 hate crimes against Muslims (69 in the same period in 2015), and 23 against Christians (22 in the same period in 2015).
On June 26, approximately 20 people attempted to disrupt a religious procession of Greek Catholic and Orthodox Church members marching from a local cathedral to a military cemetery to commemorate Ukrainian soldiers who fought for the country in 1918-1920. On June 27, police charged 20 people with violating the right to public religious practice, punishable by up to two years’ imprisonment. On December 16, the Przemysl local prosecutor’s office indicted 19 persons for malicious disruption of the public performance of a religious act by Greek Catholic Church members. The accused could face a maximum sentence of three years’ imprisonment.
On April 2, approximately a dozen women disrupted a Catholic Mass during the reading of a bishops’ letter calling for a total ban on abortion.
A Pew Research Center survey released in July found 66 percent of the population had negative views about Muslims, up from 56 percent the previous year. The poll found 24 percent of respondents held negative views of Jews.
On August 19, 50 Lodz Widzew sports club soccer fans held a banner over a bridge at a train station in Lodz that read, “19.08., today the Jews got a name. Let them burn,” followed by an obscenity. The fans then burned three Jewish effigies hanging from the bridge. Authorities were investigating but, by year’s end, had taken no action against any of the fans involved.
Between January and April there were at least five anti-immigrant marches, which involved anti-Muslim slogans and banners as well as anti-Semitic messaging, organized by various groups, including the ONR and the National Movement, a bloc of several members of parliament. The marches occurred in several towns, including Bialystok, Gora Kalwaria, Biala Podlaska, Warsaw, and Lodz. The number of participants ranged between several dozen and several hundred, and up to 1,000 in Warsaw. Because religion and ethnicity are often closely linked, it was difficult to categorize many incidents as being solely based on religious identity.
On September 28, the Wroclaw local court began the trial of the man who burned an effigy of an Orthodox Jew during a November 2015 anti-immigrant march in Wroclaw. He was charged with inciting public hatred on religious grounds. On November 21 the court sentenced the man to 10 months’ imprisonment despite the prosecutor’s request for 10 months of community service. At the end of December, the sentence was under appeal.
In June the Wroclaw prosecutor’s office indicted ONR Lower Silesia branch chief Justyna Helcyk for inciting hatred against Muslims and racial minorities during her speech at the ONR’s September 2015 “In Defense of Christian Europe” demonstration in Wroclaw. Prosecutors argued Helcyk’s speech encouraged religious and racially motivated hatred against Muslims and racial minorities.
On February 17, Radio Maryja commentator Stanislaw Michalkiewicz stated, “the Jewish lobby wants to steal 65 billion dollars from Poland” during a broadcast. The National Radio and Television Broadcasting Council sent a letter on July 7 to the head of the Catholic Redemptorist Order in Warsaw, which owned Radio Maryja, criticizing Radio Maryja for broadcasting anti-Semitic remarks, and requested the radio station stop promoting anti-Semitic and discriminatory content. Michalkiewicz continued to broadcast anti-Semitic remarks. On October 20, for example, he stated, “today the mischievous Jews understood what it is about and they transformed themselves into liberals.”
In February the magazine wSieci published an issue with a cover displaying the hands and arms of three dark-skinned men groping a blonde woman wrapped in a European Union flag. The caption read “Islamic rape of Europe.” The cover article cited a series of sexual assaults on hundreds of women in Cologne, Germany on New Year’s Eve, 2015. Critics condemned the cover on social media and a number of international newspapers, such as The Washington Post and the UK’s The Guardian, called it “deeply provocative” and “highly inflammatory.” The NGO Carnegie Europe said the cover was “symptomatic of the radicalization of the Polish public debate during the months of the refugee crisis.”
Groups such as All-Polish Youth, National Rebirth of Poland, Red Watch, and Blood and Honor continued to espouse anti-Semitic views, but authorities were not able to link any of them to specific incidents of violence or vandalism. On April 16, ONR reportedly marched through Bialystok city center shouting, “Zionists will be hanging from the trees instead of leaves.” On September 28, the Bialystok prosecutor’s office announced it had discontinued its investigation into the incident, stating video recordings did not confirm the chants were shouted during the demonstration.
In March The New York Times reported some native Muslim Tatars said they felt threatened by anti-Muslim sentiment toward immigrants and when politicians painted Islam as a threat to the country. According to the report, the Tatars said they also felt threatened by the increasing foreign Muslim population. It cited Dzemil Gembicki, caretaker of the Tatar mosque in Kruszyniany, who said, “We are afraid that the huge group of Muslims from other places may cause us to lose the traditions of Polish Tatars.” Tomasz Miskiewicz, the Mufti of Poland and a Lipka Tatar, said, “Poland is not ready for immigrants.
The Polish Council of Christians and Jews continued regularly to organize conferences and ceremonies to encourage tolerance and understanding, as did a bilateral commission established by the Catholic and Orthodox Churches. In March the town of Gniezno hosted the 10th Gneiezno convention bringing together approximately 500 international and national religious leaders, politicians, academics, and representatives of various Christian, Jewish, and Muslim communities.
On January 17, the Catholic Church celebrated the 19th annual Day of Judaism, which featured numerous events throughout the country, including meetings, lectures at schools, film screenings, and exhibitions. The main celebrations started with a prayer by Christians and Jews at the symbolic grave of Rabbi Zvi Hirsch Kalisher in the Torun Jewish Cemetery, over which Bishop Andrzej Suski from Torun Bishopric and Bishop Mieczyslaw Cislo, the Chairman of the Polish Episcopate Committee for Dialogue with Judaism, and the country’s Chief Rabbi, Michael Schudrich, presided.
The Polish Ecumenical Council, which included seven of the largest Christian denominations outside of the Roman Catholic Church, hosted conferences and interfaith dialogue. In December the council organized an international ecumenical conference centered on the “task of churches” in refugee reconciliation in Europe, which included religious leaders from Ukraine, Belarus, Germany, and Poland. On September 21, President of the Polish Ecumenical Council Bishop Jerzy Sameid signed an appeal for “peace in the world, peace independent of views, origin, or religion,” together with representatives from Buddhist, Muslim, and Jewish religious groups, as well as other Christian groups outside of the council.
On January 26, the Catholic Church celebrated the 16th annual Day of Islam to promote peace among religious groups. The event titled “Christian and Muslims United against Violence on Religious Grounds” included lectures, readings from the Bible and the Quran, and prayers. The Chair of the Polish Episcopate Committee for Dialogue with Non-Christian Religions Bishop Romuald Kaminski, Warsaw-Praga Archbishop Henryk Hoser, and the Muslim Religious Union President Mufti Tomasz Misiewicz all attended the event.
In January Holocaust survivors, politicians, and religious leaders gathered to mark International Holocaust Remembrance Day and to commemorate the 71st anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau extermination camp.
On April 12, Jewish student organization Hillel International announced the opening of its first branch in the country in Warsaw. On June 7, Jewish advocacy organization American Jewish Committee announced it would open a new Central European headquarters in Warsaw.
There were incidents of vandalism targeting property associated with Catholic and Jewish institutions. In February unknown perpetrators destroyed more than 10 tombstones at a Jewish cemetery in Gdansk. In April a regional prosecutor obtained an indictment against two individuals who destroyed 24 tombstones at a Jewish cemetery in the town of Bielsko-Biala in November 2015.
In February three teenagers damaged several sculptures at a Roman Catholic church in Zabrze and attempted to set a fire inside the building. In June the Lipsko local court sentenced an 18-year-old man to one year’s imprisonment (suspended for three years) for vandalizing a Roman Catholic church in Ilza in June 2015.
In February, Grodzisk Mazowiecki municipal authorities took steps to protect a historic Jewish cemetery by signing a land lease agreement with the property owners, Futura G.M., preventing the company from developing a residential complex on the land. Local authorities stated they intend to restore and protect the cemetery to “guarantee respect for those buried there.”
A public library in Katowice held a one-day “Human Library” project in December where a diverse group of volunteers, including an imam, told their stories to individuals who could “borrow” them like books in order to encourage religious tolerance, among other topics. The imam told a media source that he “hopes that the people who [he] met changed some of their negative opinions about Islam and other cultures.”
Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement
The U.S. Ambassador, embassy and Krakow consulate general officers, and visiting U.S. Department of State representatives met with government officials from the foreign affairs, treasury, and interior and administration ministries; the presidential chancellery; parliament; and the city of Warsaw to discuss the state of private and communal property restitution to religious groups and members of religious minorities. In March and October the Special Envoy for Holocaust Issues met with government officials in Warsaw to discuss Jewish community property and private property restitution issues and social welfare benefits for Holocaust survivors. The embassy and the consulate general continued regularly to monitor religious freedom and interfaith relations.
The Ambassador and embassy and consulate general staff met with members of the local Jewish community, and Muslim and Christian leaders, and local NGOs to discuss private and communal property restitution, and measures to combat anti-Semitism and anti-Muslim sentiment.
In September the Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism and representatives from the Department of State’s Office of International Religious Freedom met with the Jewish community in Warsaw, the presidential chancellery, and civil society leaders to discuss Jewish community developments, as well as anti-Semitism and anti-Muslim issues.
The embassy continued to employ exchange programs, meetings with students, and grants to promote religious freedom and tolerance. The embassy signed a cooperative agreement with the Polin Museum of the History of Polish Jews to administer jointly a Holocaust teacher-training program, sending five Polish teachers annually to the United States for training sponsored by the Association of Holocaust Organizations. The embassy also partnered with the Polin Museum of the History of Polish Jews on an exhibit featuring pieces by a U.S. artist, inspired by wooden synagogues in the country. The embassy provided financial and organizational support to Jewish cultural festivals in Warsaw, Krakow, and Bialystok and to a Jewish film festival in Warsaw. The consulate general in Krakow provided financial support to international programs at the Auschwitz Jewish Center for Genocide and Religious Persecution Prevention and the Galicja Museum in Krakow. The consulate provided assistance in coordinating educational programs for staff of the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum.
In the absence of a written constitution, the law establishes the Church of England as England’s state church and the Church of Scotland as Scotland’s national church. The law prohibits “incitement to religious hatred” as well as discrimination on the grounds of religion. A judge sentenced two men, who he stated were influenced by a “bloodthirsty version of Islam,” to life in prison for plotting to kill soldiers, police officers, and civilians in an attack in London inspired by ISIS. The government introduced a national database of individuals governing schools after parents and teachers complained about Muslim infiltration of school boards in Birmingham. Politicians and political parties made anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim statements. The Labour Party completed an internal investigation and public report on anti-Semitism following reports that members were suspended by their party for anti-Semitic or racist remarks. On October 16, parliament’s Home Affairs Select Committee released a cross-party report on anti-Semitism in the United Kingdom (UK), calling on political leaders to combat anti-Semitism. In April police forces in England and Wales began recording “Islamophobia” as a separate category of crime, as it did with anti-Semitic incidents. Following the June 23 vote to exit the European Union (Brexit), Prime Minister David Cameron condemned the “despicable” rise of hate crime incidents throughout the country. The Labour party’s Sadiq Khan became London’s first Muslim mayor.
Governmental organizations reported an increase in religious hate crimes and incidents in England, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland. In March a Sunni Muslim killed an Ahmadi Muslim shopkeeper outside the latter’s store in Glasgow. There were reports of numerous physical and verbal attacks against Muslim and Jewish community members. A university expelled a Christian graduate student after he expressed his opposition to gay marriage on social media because of his Christian beliefs. There were anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim protests, and vandalism of Jewish graves, mosques, and other religious sites.
In support of religious freedom objectives, embassy officials and the U.S. Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom discussed religious intolerance and protection of minorities with members of parliament, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, including the minister for human rights, religious leaders, and representatives of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). Embassy officials held an ongoing dialogue with representatives of the Church of England, and other religious groups about avenues to combat religious intolerance.
Section I. Religious Demography
The U.S. government estimates the population at 64.4 million (July 2016 estimate). Census figures from 2011, the most recent, indicate 59.3 percent of the population in England and Wales is Christian, comprising the Church of England (Anglican), the Church of Scotland (Presbyterian), other Protestant churches, the Roman Catholic Church, and unaffiliated Christian groups. Of the remaining population, 4.8 percent identified themselves as Muslim; 1.5 percent as Hindu, 0.8 percent as Sikh, 0.5 percent as Jewish and 0.4 as Buddhist. Roughly 25 percent of the population consists of nonbelievers. There are approximately 137,000 Jehovah’s Witnesses in England and Wales.
The Muslim community in England and Wales is predominantly of South Asian origin, but also includes individuals from the Arabian Peninsula, the Levant, Africa, and Southeast Asia, as well as a growing number of converts of European descent. Hindus, Sikhs, Jews, and Buddhists are concentrated in London and other large urban areas, primarily in England.
Census figures from Scotland in 2011 indicate 54 percent of the population is Christian, comprising the Church of Scotland (32 percent), Roman Catholic Church (16 percent), and unaffiliated Christian groups (6 percent). The Muslim community comprises 1.4 percent of the population. Other religious groups, which make up less than 1 percent of the population, include Hindus, Sikhs, Jews, and Buddhists. More than 36 percent of the population consists of nonbelievers, with the remainder not providing any information.
Census figures from Northern Ireland in 2011 indicate 41.5 percent of the population is Protestant, 41 percent Catholic, and less than 1 percent various non-Christian religious groups. Approximately 17 percent of respondents did not indicate a religious affiliation.
Census figures from Bermuda in 2010 indicate that out of 22 religious groups, 78 percent of the population identifies with Christianity including 10,100 Anglicans, 9,300 Roman Catholics, 5,500 African Methodist Episcopalians, and 4,300 Seventh-day Adventists. Approximately 2 percent of the population identifies with other religious groups including 600 Muslims, 200 Rastafarians and approximately 100 Jews. Approximately 20 percent did not identify with or state a religious affiliation.
Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom
In the absence of a written constitution, the law establishes the Church of England as England’s state church. Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland do not have state religions. Legislation establishes the Church of Scotland as Scotland’s national church, but it is not dependent on any government body or the queen for spiritual matters or leadership.
As the Supreme Governor of the Church of England, the monarch must always be a member of, and promise to uphold, that Church. The monarch appoints Church of England officials, including lay and clergy representatives, on the advice of the prime minister and the Crown Appointments Commission. Aside from these appointments, the state is not involved in the church’s administration. The Church of Scotland is governed by its General Assembly, which has the authority to make the laws determining how it operates. The General Assembly consists of 850 ministers and clergy members and meets once a year for a week in May.
In England and Wales the law prohibits inciting hatred against a person on the grounds of his or her religion. The law prohibits religiously motivated hate language, and any acts intended to incite religious hatred through the use of words or the publication or distribution of written material. The law defines religious hatred as hatred of a group because of its religious belief or lack thereof. The police are responsible for investigating criminal offenses and for gathering evidence; the Crown Prosecution Service, which is an independent body and the main public prosecution service for England and Wales, is responsible for deciding whether a suspect should be charged with a criminal offense. The maximum penalty for inciting religious hatred is seven years in prison. If there is evidence of religious hostility in connection with any crime, it is a “religiously aggravated offense” and carries a higher maximum penalty than the underlying crime alone. In Scotland the law requires courts consider the impact of religious bias when sentencing.
By law, the General Register Office for England and Wales governs the registration and legal recognition of places of worship in England and Wales. By law, buildings, rooms or other premises can be registered as meeting places for religious worship upon payment of a fee; a record of the registration is then kept by the General Register Office for England and Wales, and the place of worship is assigned a “Worship Number.” Registration is not compulsory, but it gives certain financial advantages and is also required before a place of worship can be registered as a venue for marriages. Registered places of worship are exempt from paying taxes and came claim back 25 percent in donations from the country’s Gift Aid program.
Throughout the country the law requires religious education (RE) and worship for children between the ages of three and 13 in state-run schools, with the content decided at the local level. At age 13, students may choose to stop RE or continue and study two religions rather than one. Nonreligious state schools require the curriculum to reflect “Christian values,” be nondenominational, and refrain from attempts to convert students. The curriculum must also teach the practices of other principal religions in the country. Teachers have the right to decline participation in collective worship, without prejudice, unless they are employed by faith-based schools.
Nonreligious state schools in England and Wales are required to practice daily collective prayer or worship of “a wholly or mainly…Christian character.” All parents have the legal right to request their children not participate in RE and/or collective prayer or worship. Nonreligious state schools are free to hold religious ceremonies as they choose. The law permits sixth form students (generally 16- to 19-year-olds in the final two years of secondary school) to withdraw from worship without parental permission or action.
Only denominational (faith-based) schools in Scotland practice daily collective prayer or worship.
In Bermuda, the law requires students attending public (state) schools to participate in collective worship, characterized by educational officials reciting the Lord’s Prayer, but prohibits worship “distinctive of any particular religious group.” The law allows parents to withdraw their children from participation and allows homeschooling as an approved educational alternative for religious or other reasons. At the high school level, students are offered a course that explores various religions.
The government funded 6,848 “faith schools” in England (34.1 percent of all schools) in 2015. Of these, 4,609 (23 percent) were Church of England, 1,985 (9.9 percent) Catholic, 26 Methodist, 145 “other” Christian, 48 Jewish, 18 Muslim, eight Sikh, four Hindu, two Greek Orthodox, one Quaker, one Seventh-day Adventist, and one United Reformed Church. There were 370 denominational schools in Scotland: 366 Catholic, three Episcopalian, and one Jewish, all of which were government-funded. If a school is not oversubscribed, then the school must offer a place to any child, but if the school is oversubscribed it may use faith as a criterion for acceptance. The government determines whether to establish a faith-based school when there is evidence of demand such as petitions from parents, religious groups, teachers, or other entities. Nonstate faith-based schools are eligible to claim “charitable status,” which allows for tax exemptions.
Almost all schools in Northern Ireland receive state support, with approximately 90 percent of the students attending predominantly Protestant or Catholic schools. Approximately 7 percent of school-age children attend religiously integrated schools with admissions criteria designed to enroll equal numbers of Catholic and Protestant children without the intervention of the state, as well as children from other religious and cultural backgrounds. These integrated schools are not secular, but are “essentially Christian in character and welcome all faiths and none.” RE – a core syllabus designed by the Department of Education, the Church of Ireland, and the Catholic, Presbyterian, and Methodist churches – is compulsory in all government-funded schools, and “the school day shall include collective worship whether in one or more than one assembly.” All schools receiving government funding require RE; however, Catholic-managed schools draw uniquely on the Roman Catholic tradition for their RE while other schools may draw on world religions for their RE.
An estimated 30 sharia councils operate parallel to the national legal system. They adjudicate religious matters. They do not have the legal status of courts, although they have legal status as mediation and arbitration bodies.
The law prohibits discrimination on the grounds of “religion or belief” or the “lack of religion or belief.” The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) is responsible for enforcing legislation preventing religious discrimination. The EHRC researches and conducts inquiries into religious and other discrimination in England, Scotland, and Wales. Members are appointed by the minister for women and equalities. If the commission finds a violation of the law on discrimination it can issue a notice to the violator and seek a court order to enforce the notice. The EHRC receives public funds, but operates independently of the government. The Northern Ireland equivalent to the EHRC is the Equality Commission.
In Northern Ireland the law bans employment discrimination on the grounds of religious belief. In the rest of the UK, the law prohibits any discrimination, including employment discrimination, based on religious belief, unless the employer can show a genuine requirement for a particular religion.
Citing a limited broadcast spectrum, the law prohibits religious groups from holding national radio licenses, public teletext licenses, more than one television service license, and/or radio and television multiplex licenses.
Twenty-six senior bishops of the Anglican Church sit in the House of Lords as representatives of the state Church. Known as the Lords Spiritual, they read prayers at the start of each daily meeting and play a full and active role in the life and work of the upper house.
The law requires visa applicants wishing to enter the country as “ministers of religion” to have worked for at least one out of the previous five years as a minister and to have at least one year of full-time experience or, if their religion requires ordination, at least two years of part-time training following their ordination. A missionary must also be trained as such or have worked previously in this role.
The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
In April a judge sentenced two university students, Tarik Hassane and Suhaib Majeed, to life in prison for plotting to kill soldiers, police officers, and civilians in a drive-by attack in London inspired by ISIS. The judge stated it was deplorable for two British men to be so influenced by the “bloodthirsty version of Islam” presented by ISIS that they would carry out attacks against their fellow citizens. The two were found guilty of conspiracy to murder and preparation of terrorist acts.
In May the government again announced plans to introduce a counter-extremism bill. The bill would include a wide range of measures that would restrict what sponsors called religious extremist actions and behavior. By year’s end, the government had not provided any further detail, or laid out a timetable for implementation. In July parliament’s joint Select Committee on Human Rights published a report advising the government to rethink its counter-extremism strategy; use the existing extensive legal framework against those who promote religious extremism and violence; and introduce new legislation only if it could demonstrate a significant gap in the law. Several organizations, including the Christian Institute and the National Secular Society, expressed concerns that the government’s plans to introduce new orders under the counter-extremism law could target activist groups, including nonviolent figures from the political fringe.
In September as part of its counter-extremism strategy, the Scottish government’s Independent Advisory Group on Hate Crimes published a report on religiously motivated crimes in Scotland. The organization found “facing prejudice and fear remained part of the everyday life of too many people in Scotland, escalating into direct personal violence and threat” particularly during high profile international events such as terrorist attacks committed by ISIS and violence involving Israelis and Palestinians. The report called on the Scottish government to consider whether existing criminal law provided sufficient protections for those at risk of hate crimes, and recommended a public education initiative be undertaken to improve understanding of the nature and extent of hate crimes
The Home Office examined the role of sharia courts operating in the UK, and whether they discriminated against women by legitimizing forced marriages and issuing unfair divorce settlements. It looked at best practices among sharia councils. The Home Office was scheduled to report its findings in 2017.
The House of Commons Home Affairs Select Committee also conducted an inquiry into sharia councils, examining how they operated, how they resolved family and divorce disputes, and how they operated within the British legal system.
The government continued to provide religious accommodations for public servants when possible. Muslim employees of the prison service regularly took time off during their shifts to pray. The military generally provided adherents of minority religious groups with chaplains of their faith. The Chaplaincy Council monitored policy and practice relating to such matters.
In September the government introduced a national database, to which all school governors were required to subscribe, to increase transparency about who governed schools, following criticism and an official independent inquiry of the Department of Education for failing to keep any register of who governed its schools. The government had commissioned the inquiry following allegations from parents and teachers that some Birmingham schools were being infiltrated by fundamentalist Muslims through school board elections, who had replaced moderate staff, driven out staff, undermined head teachers, and interfered in the running of the schools. The official inquiry concluded there had been “coordinated, deliberate and sustained action” by a number of individuals to introduce an “intolerant and aggressive Islamic ethos” into a few schools in the city, and that “there were those who either espoused, sympathized with, or failed to challenge extremist views.”
In November the Scottish government announced a consultation would be held on whether students aged 16 and above could opt out of religious observance in schools. The move followed criticism by the NGO Humanist Society Scotland, which pledged to seek a judicial review of the policy that required all students to attend religious observances unless they had the consent of their parents.
The government required schools to consider the needs of different cultures, races, and religions when setting dress code policy – recognizing and accommodating students who conformed to a particular dress code to manifest their beliefs. This included wearing or carrying specific religious artifacts, not cutting their hair, dressing modestly, or covering their head. Schools were required to balance the rights of individual students against the best interests of the school community as a whole.
On January 5, a Belfast judge acquitted evangelical Pastor James McConnell of charges – improper use of a public electronic communications network and causing a grossly offensive message to be sent by means of a public electronic communications network – for an anti-Islamic sermon he gave in 2014. During his sermon, he described Islam as “heathen,” “satanic,” and “a doctrine spawned in hell.” The Public Prosecution Service brought the case to trial because of the “characterization by McConnell of all Muslims as potential terrorists by virtue of their faith.” The court determined that while the comment was offensive, it did not reach the grossly offensive threshold required by the law for a criminal conviction. Following his acquittal, McConnell stated he was not “out to hurt [Muslims]…but [that he] is against their theology and what they believe in.”
On January 23, political party Britain First recorded and released on social media a video of approximately 20 party members on what they called “a Christian patrol,” walking through what they labelled as an “Islamist hotspot” in Luton. In the video, they handed out newspapers and confronted local Muslims in what Tell MAMA, an NGO countering anti-Muslim hate and bigotry, said was an “intimidating” fashion aimed at “inflaming” tensions. The next day, local Christian leaders handed out roses to Muslims in Luton and denounced the party’s actions. Then-Britain First leader Paul Golding was fined for “wearing a uniform with political objectives.” In May Britain First announced it was to launch a “direct action campaign against Muslim elected officials” targeting “where they live, work, pray.” In the press release, the party stated Muslim politicians were “occupiers” intending to take over the country.
In response to the January confrontation between Britain First and the Muslim community in Luton, Bedfordshire Police applied for an injunction aiming to ban Britain First from every mosque in England and Wales, and which was granted in August. The party’s leaders and supporters were also banned from the town of Luton for “causing community tensions.” Nine days later, Britain First leader Paul Golding and four other party members confronted Muslims outside of a mosque in Cardiff. In November Golding stepped down from his position and was sentenced to eight weeks in jail for actions breaching the injunction.
During the year the Labour Party faced criticism for its members’ anti-Semitic acts and comments. In March the party suspended the membership of Vice-chairman Vicki Kirby in Woking, Surry, for anti-Semitic tweets suggesting Adolf Hitler was a “Zionist God” and that Jews had “big noses.” Labour Member of Parliament (MP) Naz Shah was temporarily suspended in April from the party for comments made on her Facebook page before she became a MP in 2015. Under an outline of Israel which was superimposed on a map of the United States with the headline “Solution for Israel-Palestine conflict – relocate Israel into United States,” Shah commented “Problem solved.” In parliament, Shah “wholeheartedly” apologized for her actions and said she “deeply regretted them.” She wrote separately to the Jewish Chronicle newspaper, “The manner and tone of what I wrote in haste is not excusable. With the understanding of the issues I have now I would never have posted them. I have to own up to the fact that ignorance is not a defence.”
In April former London Mayor Ken Livingstone was suspended from the Labour Party after saying in a radio interview that Hitler supported Zionism. He said, “When Hitler won his election in 1932, his policy then was that Jews should be moved to Israel. He was supporting Zionism – this before he went mad and ended up killing six million Jews.” Livingstone refused to apologize and insisted he was right to say Hitler had, at one point, supported Zionism as a way of “getting rid” of Jewish people from Germany.
Labour Party member Jackie Walker was removed from her post as vice-chairman of campaigning group Momentum on October 3, following remarks in which she criticized Holocaust Memorial Day and counterterrorism security at Jewish schools, although Momentum stated she had not said anything anti-Semitic. Walker was previously suspended from the Labour Party and readmitted in May after saying Jews were the “chief financiers” of the African slave trade.
The Labour Party conducted two inquiries on anti-Semitism during the year following reports of the Labour Party secretly suspending up to 50 members for anti-Semitic remarks or actions during the year and a growing criticism that leader Jeremy Corbyn tolerated anti-Semitism among some supporters within the party.
In April former Director of the human rights NGO Liberty, Shami Chakrabarti, chaired an inquiry into anti-Semitism within the Labour Party. President of the Board of Deputies of British Jews Jonathan Arkush told the Chakrabarti inquiry that the Labour Party’s shift to the left under Corbyn had “emboldened” anti-Semites on the far left to voice their prejudices.
Chakrabarti’s report, issued in June, concluded the Labour Party was not “overrun by anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, or other forms of racism” but said there was an “occasionally toxic atmosphere” and “too much clear evidence of ignorant attitudes” and found evidence of “minority hateful or ignorant attitudes and behaviors festering within a sometimes bitter incivility of discourse.” Chakrabarti made 20 recommendations for the Labour Party to follow, including: banning abusive references to any particular person or group based on actual or perceived physical characteristics and racial or religious tropes and stereotypes; resisting the use of Hitler, Nazi, and Holocaust metaphors, distortions and comparisons in debates about Israeli-Palestinian issues; procedural rule changes to improve the party’s disciplinary process and the adoption and publication of a complaints procedure; the appointment of a general counsel to the Labour Party to give advice on issues including disciplinary matters and to take responsibility for instructing external lawyers. The Chakrabarti report received a largely negative reception from Jewish communities, with many Jewish civil society groups calling it a “whitewash” about anti-Semitism, although some Jewish leaders welcomed the recommendations for Labour Party members to curb anti-Semitic language.
Jewish Labour MP Ruth Smeeth walked out of the press launch of the Labour Party’s report into allegations of anti-Semitism after Corbyn remained silent when one of his supporters accused Smeeth of colluding with the right-wing media. A chief rabbi called Corbyn “offensive” for appearing to compare Israel to ISIS at the same event when Corbyn said, “Our Jewish friends are no more responsible for the actions of Israel or the Netanyahu government than our Muslim friends are for those various self-styled Islamic states or organizations.”
On October 16, the Parliamentary Home Affairs Select Committee published a cross-party report on anti-Semitism, which called on political parties to tackle this “pernicious form of hate,” and focused its criticism on the Labour party and its leader, Jeremy Corbyn. The report stated Corbyn’s “lack of consistent leadership” on anti-Semitism created a “safe space” for those with “vile attitudes towards Jewish people.” “The failure of the Labour party consistently and effectively to deal with anti-Semitic incidents in recent years risks lending force to allegations that elements of the Labour movement are institutionally anti-Semitic,” the report concluded.
The Parliamentary Home Affairs Select Committee’s report also expressed concern at the volume and viciousness of anti-Semitism online, including countless examples directed at parliamentarians. The committee recommended government and political parties adopt an amended definition of anti-Semitism aimed at promoting a zero-tolerance approach while allowing free speech on Israeli and Palestinian issues to continue. The report criticized President of the National Union of Students Malia Bouattia for failing to take seriously the issue of anti-Semitism on university campuses. The report further noted recent surveys showed as many as one in 20 adults in the country could be characterized as “clearly anti-Semitic.” The report also noted a “worrying disparity in police-recorded anti-Semitic crime across the country, with virtually no cases recorded in some police force areas where thousands of Jewish people live.” The committee called on the National Police Chiefs’ Council to investigate what it considered under-reporting, and to provide more support to police forces to correct the disparity.
In October Baroness Jenny Tonge resigned from the Liberal Democrats Party following the party’s decision to suspend her after she chaired a parliamentary event for the Palestinian Return Center, at which one speaker compared Israel to ISIS, while another blamed Jews for the Holocaust. The Palestinian Return Center said the event inside parliament was part of its Balfour apology campaign – which called for the UK government to “officially apologize for its past colonial crimes in Palestine.”
In April police forces in England and Wales began recording anti-Muslim hate crimes as a separate category of crime, as it did with anti-Semitic incidents.
Following the Brexit referendum on June 23, Prime Minister David Cameron condemned the “despicable” rise of hate crime incidents throughout the country. Cameron said “we have a fundamental responsibility to bring our country together” after the vote and these hate crimes and attacks must be stamped out.
In January Trevor Phillips, the former head of the UK’s equality commission, stated Muslims were unlike their non-Muslim neighbors and suggested the country might have to accept they may never integrate into British society, and accused those who promoted the idea that Muslims will eventually change and become more like other Britons of exhibiting the “deepest form of disrespect.”
On May 7, the Labour Party’s Sadiq Khan became London’s first Muslim mayor, defeating his Conservative opponent, who – according to media – attempted to link Khan to religious extremism. “This election was not without controversy and I am so proud that London has today chosen hope over fear and unity over division,” Khan stated in a speech following the election results.
In March Britain’s then-Interior Minister Teresa May confirmed government funding of 13 million pounds ($16 million) for the protection of the Jewish community during the following year. The funding would be put to such uses as providing guards at Jewish schools, synagogues, and other community sites. The government cited the increase in anti-Semitism in the country and in Europe as one factor in its decision to increase funding for the security of Jewish schools and synagogues.
The government is a member of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance.
Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom
There were numerous reports of religiously motivated hate crimes, including physical and verbal attacks against Muslim and Jewish community members, and vandalism against religious sites. Both governmental and civil society organizations reported an increase in religious hate crimes and incidents in England, Wales, and Scotland, and a decrease in Northern Ireland. In March a Sunni Muslim killed an Ahmadi Muslim shopkeeper outside the latter’s store in Glasgow. The killer confessed a religious motivation and was sentenced to life in prison. A university expelled a Christian graduate student after he expressed opposition to gay marriage on social media because of his Christian beliefs.
According to the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), based on data provided by the government, between April 2015 and March 2016 in England and Wales, there were 2,372 anti-Muslim crimes, 1,055 crimes against Christians and other religious groups such as Hindus and Sikhs; and 786 anti-Semitic crimes. In 2015, OSCE said civil society reported 96 violent attacks against Muslims (45 in 2014) and 88 against Jews (83 in 2014), and 73 attacks against Muslim property (30 in 2014) and 152 against Jewish property (152 in 2014). The Home Office reported 4,400 religious hate crimes between March 2015 and March 2016, a 34 percent increase over the previous year (3,293). It reported a sharp rise in hate crimes in England and Wales following the Brexit referendum on June 23. According to figures from the National Police Chiefs’ Council, there was a 41 percent increase in the number of religiously aggravated offenses in the month of July 2016 over the month of July 2015.
From April 2015 to March 2016, the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service reported 581 charges of crimes with “religious aggravation” in Scotland (569 in the previous year). From March 2015 to April 2016, the Scottish government cited 134 anti-Muslim hate crimes (71 in the previous year), 299 charges of anti-Catholic crimes (328 in the previous year), and 141 anti-Protestant offenses (145 in the previous year). There were 50 religiously motivated incidents at Scottish soccer matches from April 2015 to April 2016 (48 in the previous year).
The Police Service of Northern Ireland reported 23 religiously motivated crimes in 2016, up from 20 in the previous year.
The Community Security Trust (CST), an NGO monitoring anti-Semitism, recorded 1,309 anti-Semitic incidents, a 36 percent increase from the previous year. The 1,309 incidents recorded in 2016 included 107 violent anti-Semitic assaults, an increase of 29 per cent from the 87 cases recorded in 2015. The most common single type of incident recorded by the CST in 2016 involved verbal abuse randomly directed at visibly Jewish people in public. In 385 incidents (29 percent of the overall total), the victims were attacked or abused while in public places. In at least 186 of these incidents, the victims were identified as “visibly Jewish,” wearing religious or traditional clothing, or a school uniform or jewelry bearing Jewish symbols. The CST recorded 287 anti-Semitic incidents that involved social media in 2016, comprising 22 per cent of the overall total. Three-quarters of the 1,039 incidents happened in greater London and greater Manchester, the sites of the two largest Jewish communities in the country.
On March 24, Sunni Muslim Tanveer Ahmed killed Ahmadi Muslim shopkeeper Asad Shah outside Shah’s store in Glasgow. Ahmed claimed he killed Shah because he “disrespected the Prophet Muhammad,” and was sentenced to life in prison in August. Following the killing, there was an impromptu vigil outside Shah’s store, held by the local community, which Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon attended. Shortly before his killing, Shah had posted on social media, “Good Friday and very Happy Easter, especially to my beloved Christian nation. Let’s follow the real footstep of beloved holy Jesus Christ and get the real success in both worlds.” It is not known whether Shah’s overtures to the Christian community contributed to his death.
On February 18, Imam Jalal Uddin was killed walking through a children’s playground in Rochdale. Mohammed Hussain Syeedy, 21, of Rochdale was charged with murder and conspiracy to commit murder and found guilty on September 16. His alleged accomplice Mohammed Kadir left the country and was thought to be in Syria, according to court officials. Official reports indicated Uddin may have been targeted for practicing taweez faith healing, a form of Islamic healing in Rochdale’s Bangladeshi community, which ISIS considered to be “black magic.”
On June 14, two men assaulted an Afghan taxi driver in his cab. The driver, who suffered injuries to his head and body, reported the perpetrators said they were attacking him for being a Muslim. Police arrested two people in connection with the crime.
In October a white male assaulted a Muslim woman on London’s Oxford Street, trying to remove her hijab by force after she refused to take it off. Westminster Police were investigating security footage at year’s end. In a separate incident in December an attacker in Chingford dragged a Muslim woman along the pavement by her hijab. She was taken to the hospital. NGO Tell MAMA called the incident “horrific” and said women were being disproportionately targeted in attacks on Muslims. A spokesperson for the NGO said, “For years data collected by us has shown that visible Muslim women are the ones most targeted for street-based anti-Muslim hatred.”
On December 12, a man reportedly stabbed a passenger on a train at Forest Hill station in southeast London before chasing people outside while waving a knife in his hand and shouting, “Who is a Muslim? I want to kill a Muslim.” The victim suffered a punctured lung and wounds to his head and torso. Police identified the suspect as Adrian Brown, 38, and by year’s end was remanded in custody. His next court appearance was scheduled for January 2017. In January three men attacked three Orthodox Jews in London, pelting them with small gas canisters and yelling “Hitler is on the way to you, heil Hitler, heil Hitler!” at them. There were no injuries.
A Muslim human rights lawyer reported receiving death threats after he condemned violence and extremism and called for unity within the Muslim community following the killing of Asad Shah. The lawyer reported receiving death threats by phone in the middle of the night and suffered abuse on social media. Police were investigating the case.
In August a mosque in Rotherham received a letter stating, “Next time it will be a bomb, you Muslim scum, 1488.” NGO Tell MAMA stated the threat was sent by extremist and far-right groups, using the neo-Nazi terminology of 1488. According to the Anti-Defamation League, the “14” represents 14 words of the slogan, “We must secure the existence of our people and a future for white children,” and the “88” stands for “heil Hitler.” The incident was reported to the police and the NGO urged the public of Rotherham to remain vigilant.
A graduate student studying social work was expelled from Sheffield University after voicing opposition to gay marriage in a Facebook discussion. He stated that homosexual activity was contrary to his Christian beliefs and reported suffering religious discrimination from the university. At a university hearing, officials stated he was entitled to his opinion but his comment and beliefs would affect his ability to advance in the social work profession and, therefore, he was expelled from the university. The chief executive from the Christina Legal Centre condemned the ruling and stated, “This is just the latest step in a long line of cases in which professions have been closed off to Christians.”
In March Arsenal soccer fans chanted and shouted anti-Semitic slogans and sang about the Holocaust and Auschwitz in the London Underground on the way to a match. Passengers notified the police but stated they did not adequately respond to the incident.
According to a study published in June by the Scottish Council of Jewish Communities, 32 percent of approximately 300 Jewish respondents living in Scotland voluntarily reported a heightened level of anxiety, discomfort, or vulnerability, even though the survey did not directly ask them such a question. The study’s methodology included focus group discussions and questionnaires. Four in five respondents said the events in the Middle East during the summer of 2014 had negatively affected their experience of being Jewish in Scotland, while 20 respondents (7 percent) said they kept their Jewish identity secret.
In November a protest occurred against a proposed mosque in Bolton. Protest organizer Bruan Morgan said, “Today was about highlighting the corruption of the council, the Islamification of the town, the mosque-building program” and denied the protest was “racist.” According to Tell MAMA, photos showed protesters giving the Nazi salute. The protest and its 100 supporters dispersed after 90 minutes.
In January Muslim women students in Darlington, in northeast England, appealed to MP Jenny Chapman saying that anti-Muslim hatred had increased after the November 2015 Paris attacks. They gave the example of Muslim women wearing veils having been spat upon. Chapman condemned the “disgraceful” incidents and stressed the importance of reporting hate crimes. She stated, “It’s not acceptable and we all need to stand up to this together.”
In February the Muslim Council of Britain opened the doors of 92 mosques across the country to the public in a bid to counter negative stereotypes about Muslims. Thousands of people participated.
In an August convention of Ahmadi Muslims in Afton in Hampshire, Hazrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad, the Worldwide Caliph of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, led a crowd of some 30,000 in a “vow of peace and obedience.” He also stated, “Let it be clear that [terrorists] are not practicing Islam, rather it seems as though they have invented their own hate-filled and poisonous religion.”
On July 27, Heavenly Culture World Peace Restoration of Light, an international organization, hosted the 11th UK World Alliance of Religions’ Peace Office in the London Spirituality Center. Muslim, Sikh, International Society for Krishna Consciousness, Jain, and Buddhist religious leaders gathered to discuss the commonalities within their scriptures in order to spread a message of peace.
On November 15, Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby and UK Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis launched an initiative entitled In Good Faith, which began with an all-day conference for priests and rabbis serving similar local areas in England. The aim was to create relationships between pairs of priests and rabbis and discuss the challenges of creating and sustaining thriving faith communities, combating religious extremism, developments in the Holy Land and implications for interreligious relations, and opportunities to contribute to the common good together. Archbishop Welby acknowledged the Church of England’s own history of intolerance and deep-seated anti-Semitism and stated that he was ready to be answerable and held accountable for both “implicit” and “willful” anti-Semitism.
On August 28, unknown individuals destroyed 13 Jewish graves in Belfast. Police investigated eight youths who knocked over headstones and in some cases used hammers to destroy markers. Officials condemned the incident and local authorities offered assistance to rectify the damage. A senior Jewish community member in Belfast expressed concern to local media outlets that the incident, coupled with anti-Semitic vandalism on other Jewish sites in Belfast and other cities, represented a rise in anti-Semitism in the region.
On July 18, a Bristol court jailed two men and gave suspended sentences to two women who pleaded guilty to religiously aggravated public order offenses in connection with a January 18 incident at Bristol Jamia Mosque in Totterdown, when the perpetrators hung pig meat outside the mosque and shouted insults at those praying inside. After the incident, Chief Inspector Kevin Rowlands said “behavior of this kind is totally unacceptable. Our communities have the right to live and worship peacefully without fear of being targeted for their race or religion.” All four were given a restraining order preventing them from going anywhere within 300 feet of a mosque in England or Wales for 10 years.
In January a man was arrested on suspicion of “racially or religiously aggravated provocation” by Lancashire police after he dumped two pig heads outside an Islamic girls’ school in Lancashire in December 2015. Police labeled the incident as a hate crime against Muslims.
In June Belfast police investigated an arson attack on a Jewish war memorial. Two containers filled with flammable liquid were set on fire next to the memorial. Pastor Paul Burns, of Jewish heritage, from the Adullam Christian Fellowship in Belfast condemned the attack and said Belfast’s Jewish community had been “deeply hurt, deeply alarmed” by the incident. Police treated the incident as a hate crime and were investigating the case at year’s end.
In September an object was thrown at the central mosque in Edinburgh, causing minor fire damage to a door. A 28-year-old man was charged with arson aggravated by religious and racial prejudice.
On September 5, the Belfast Islamic Center was defaced with paint. Police were investigating the incident as a hate crime. The Alliance Party and Sinn Fein Party both condemned the vandalism and called for help identifying the perpetrators.
Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement
The Ambassador and other embassy representatives and the U.S. Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom discussed religious freedom, intolerance, and protection of minorities with members of parliament, and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, including Minister for Human Rights Baroness Joyce Anelay, religious leaders, and representatives of NGOs.
In March the Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism met with the UK Special Envoy for Post-Holocaust Issues, Jewish community leaders, and civil society entities to discuss best practices to combat anti-Semitism. The embassy worked with the Tony Blair Faith Foundation Roundtable to host a discussion with the Special Envoy on countering rising religious hatred.
In September the embassy hosted a roundtable on hate crimes and hate speech, to which participants from the Muslim and Jewish community attended with Home Office, Foreign Office, Ministry of Justice, and Crown Prosecution Service representatives. Participants shared successes and ideas for improving society’s education of religious tolerance, as well as ideas for how the government and social media companies could prevent the spread of religiously motivated hate speech.
The Ambassador and other embassy representatives and the U.S. Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom discussed religious intolerance and protection of religious minorities with religious leaders, and representatives of NGOs, including CST and Tell MAMA.
Embassy and consulates general officials engaged Muslim audiences, including student and youth groups, in a series of talks and discussions about the portrayal of Muslims and anti-Muslim sentiment in the media, and underscored the importance of religious tolerance. The Ambassador hosted a meeting with Muslim teens to discuss Muslim integration in the country. Separately, the embassy hosted a viewing of the film My Son, the Jihadi. More than 100 people, including a mix of Muslim civil society members and journalists, attended the event.
In November the Consul General in Edinburgh hosted an interfaith Thanksgiving dinner attended by representatives of the Muslim, Jewish, Sikh, and Bahai communities. A consulate officer discussed U.S. support for the work of Scottish religious leaders bringing together communities across all faith traditions.
The consulate general in Belfast gathered religious leaders on Religious Freedom Day, January 16, to discuss challenges in their communities. Catholic, Presbyterian, Church of Ireland, Methodist, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, and Sikh leaders participated.