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. Prime Minister Scott Morrison planned to introduce new religious freedom laws to “safeguard personal liberty,” while at the same time protect religious schools, charities, and individuals from discrimination, causing a national debate around existing exceptions to antidiscrimination laws for religious schools. Legislation was not introduced by the end of the year. The political platform of the One Nation Party, which had two senators in the federal parliament, included cessation of Muslim immigration and limits on some Islamic practices. Katter’s Australian Party, which had one senator and one representative in the federal parliament, included Christian values and a Muslim immigration ban in its platform. The Catholic Church rejected a recommendation by a royal commission that priests be obliged to report evidence of pedophilia heard in confession. The Church accepted the commission’s recommendation on compensation to victims of sexual abuse by its personnel. In December a Catholic cardinal was found guilty of five counts of “historical child sexual offenses.”
Christian advocacy groups continued to report harassment of group members and protesters at conferences. Studies continued to show that Muslims received verbal and physical harassment. Anti-Semitic acts, including harassment and vandalism, continued within the country.
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 Charge d’Affaires, engaged with religious communities and promoted religious tolerance in person and through social media.
Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom
The constitution bars the federal government from making any law imposing a state religion or religious observance, prohibiting the free exercise of religion, or establishing a religious test for a federal public office.
The right to religious freedom may be limited only when deemed necessary to protect public safety, order, health, or morals 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.
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 curricula approved in accordance with government criteria in each state; parents may decide whether or not their children will attend. There is no national standard for approving religious curricula, which happens at the state and local levels.
The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
In September Prime Minister Scott Morrison called for new religious freedom laws to “safeguard personal liberty.” Legislation was not introduced but caused a debate within the country. The prime minister said he planned draft legislation for early next year. According to a December 12 article in The Australian newspaper, elements of the planned legislation included taking steps to protect religious schools, charities, and individuals from discrimination; requiring education departments to make clear to parents how to remove a child from religious instruction at school; and moving to abolish statutory or common law offenses of blasphemy in all jurisdictions. The Catholic Archbishop of Sydney said that there had been attempts to penalize those who support traditional marriage and that legislation was necessary, among other things, because “lately there has been a hard-edged secularism that wants to stamp out religion from public life.”
In October the prime minister stated the country would ban religious schools from expelling lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender (LGBT) students. The opposition leader gave support to the plan and also proposed that religious schools lose the right to fire gay staff. A group of Anglican schools wrote to members of parliament saying changes in the exemption to the country’s antidiscrimination law that currently allows religious schools not to have LGBT teachers would undermine their faith’s core values and that “until such time as religious freedom is codified in legislation, the exemptions should remain.” Legislation was not introduced by the end of the year, and parliament referred the issue to the Australian Law Reform Commission for review.
The One Nation Party had two senators in the federal parliament and maintained a platform calling for stopping Muslim immigration and admission of Muslim refugees, banning the burqa and niqab in public places, installing surveillance cameras in all mosques, and prohibiting members of parliament from being sworn in under the Quran. Katter’s Australia Party had one senator and one member in the House of Representatives who maintained a platform calling for a country based on Christian values and for a ban on Muslim immigration.
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 Australian Greens and other groups continued to call for the practice to end.
In July the Catholic Church rejected the 2017 recommendation of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse that priests be required to report evidence of pedophilia heard in the confessional or face prosecution. Australian Catholic Bishops Conference President Archbishop Mark Coleridge said the Church was committed to both child safety and the seal of the sacrament of confessional. The Church accepted a commission recommendation that it compensate each victim of child abuse by Church personnel up to 150,000 Australian dollars ($106,000).
In December Cardinal George Pell was found guilty of five charges of “historical child sexual offenses” by a Melbourne court. Pell maintained his innocence. He faced an additional trial for alleged similar actions in Ballarat.
The Victoria State Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission received 172 complaints on the grounds of religion (approximately 2.4 percent of total discrimination complaints) in the last three years.
In July a judge in the Victoria Supreme Court refused to allow a woman to wear a niqab in the court’s public spectator gallery during her husband’s trial on terrorism. The judge offered the woman the option of viewing the proceedings live from another place in the building.
The government continued to provide funding for security installations – such as lighting, fencing, 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.
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, continued to be 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. Effectiveness of the programs was a point of debate throughout the country.
Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom
In March posters were found around Sydney calling for the execution of Jewish and gay persons. According to press reports, New South Wales antidiscrimination law required police to prove an offender committed a crime by instruction of another person, resulting in no charges being filed against those accused of hanging the posters.
In August the Queensland Times newspaper reported on numerous incidents of college parties involving neo-Nazi themes and anti-Semitic costumes, which were condemned by the Australian Union of Jewish Students. In June Charles Sturt University students attended a “politically incorrect” themed party at a pub wearing Ku Klux Klan gowns and hoods as well as Nazi uniforms.
In August a rugby sports commentator publicly told his audience that Muslims “lack a common interest” with other citizens and said Muslims were “colonizing” the country.
The Q Society – a self-proclaimed “Islam-critical” organization – continued to fundraise and listed two members of parliament as patrons as well as contributors to a 2014 documentary opposing halal certification. The group, which said it had more than 1,000 members in the country and held monthly meetings in each state, advocated for a moratorium on immigration from Afghanistan, Lebanon, Syria, and Iraq.
Incidents of violence and threats against Muslims were reported. According to a report on the web site Islamophobia Register Australia, in September a Muslim couple leaving a restaurant in Mortdale, New South Wales, attempted to defend themselves when a man and woman shouted at and physically assaulted them. A passing fire brigade intervened, assuming the Muslim couple had instigated the situation, but a witness came to the couple’s defense, at which point the attackers fled. In November in Keysborough, Victoria, reportedly two Muslim girls, ages 14 and 10, were crossing a parking lot when a car quickly reversed, almost hitting them, after which the driver shouted, “Speak English, you terrorists,” and drove away.
The Executive Council of Australian Jewry reported 366 anti-Semitic incidents of threats or abuse during the year, up from 230 in the previous year. According to the council, a group called the Antipodean Resistance accounted for 36 percent of all reported anti-Semitic incidents, including placing posters, graffiti, and murals in public places, and one serious incident of vandalism. In one case, pig entrails were placed at the door of a federal member of parliament’s office in Sydney.
Christian advocacy groups continued to report harassment of group members and protesters at conferences. Group leaders received threats, in some cases resulting in security requirements to keep their identities concealed.
A June press report detailed the difficulties former Muslims faced when they chose to change faiths, including harassment, especially at home, and often being forced to hide their change of faith.
The constitution provides for freedom of conscience and the right of all individuals to freely profess, practice, and propagate religion; mandates a secular state; requires the state to treat all religions impartially; and prohibits discrimination based on religion. It also states citizens must practice their faith in a way that does not adversely affect public order, morality, or health. Nine of the 29 states have laws restricting religious conversions. Some human rights groups stated that these laws fostered hostility against minority communities. There were reports by nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) that the government sometimes failed to act on mob attacks on religious minorities, marginalized communities, and critics of the government. Some senior officials of the Hindu-majority Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) made inflammatory speeches against minority communities. Mob attacks by violent extremist Hindu groups against minority communities, especially Muslims, continued throughout the year amid rumors that victims had traded or killed cows for beef. According to some NGOs, authorities often protected perpetrators from prosecution. As of November, there were 18 such attacks, and eight people killed during the year. On June 22, two Uttar Pradesh police officers were charged with culpable homicide after a Muslim cattle trader died of injuries sustained while being questioned in police custody. In a separate incident, a court in Jharkhand sentenced 11 individuals, including a local BJP official, to life in prison for beating to death a Muslim, whom his killers believed to be trading in beef. On July 17, the Supreme Court said violence in the name of “cow vigilantism” was unacceptable and the onus of preventing such incidents lay with the states. Attacks on religious minorities included allegations of involvement by law enforcement personnel. On January 10, Jammu and Kashmir police arrested eight men, including four police personnel, in connection with the kidnapping, gang rape, and killing of an 8-year-old girl. The men allegedly kidnapped the victim, took her to a nearby temple, and raped and killed her in an effort to drive her nomadic Muslim community out of the area. In September Uttar Pradesh authorities suspended three police officers after videos surfaced of them abusing a Hindu woman in Meerut for reportedly consorting with a Muslim man. The central and state governments and members of political parties took steps that affected Muslim practices and institutions. The government continued its challenge in the Supreme Court to the minority status of Muslim educational institutions, which affords them independence in hiring and curriculum decisions. Proposals to rename Indian cities with Muslim provenance continued, most notably the renaming of Allahabad to Prayagraj. Activists said these proposals were designed to erase Muslim contributions to Indian history and had led to increased communal tensions.
There were reports of religiously motivated killings, assaults, riots, discrimination, vandalism, and actions restricting the right of individuals to practice their religious beliefs and proselytize. According to Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) data presented in the lower house of parliament on February 6, communal incidents increased by 9 percent from 2015 to 2017, with 822 incidents resulting in 111 deaths and 2,384 injuries in 2017. Authorities often failed to prosecute perpetrators of “cow vigilante” attacks, which included killings, mob violence, and intimidation. On July 21, a group attacked and killed Rakbar Khan, a Muslim dairy farmer from Haryana, while he was transporting two cows at night. In December an estimated 300 persons, angered by reports of cows being slaughtered in the area, set fire to the police station in Chigrawati and killed a police officer. An 18-year-old protester was also killed in the violence. A mob assaulted two Muslim men, killing one, in Madhya Pradesh’s Satna District on May 17, alleging they were slaughtering a bull. Police arrested four assailants and filed a complaint alleging cow slaughter against the injured survivor. On January 20, a Christian pastor was found dead at his residence in Tamil Nadu. Members of his congregation alleged he had been murdered, and that he had been a victim of frequent past harassment by Hindu fundamentalist organizations. According to the NGO Persecution Relief’s 2017 Annual Report released in January, there were 736 incidents of persecution against Christians in 2017 compared to 348 in 2016. Tradition and social custom continued to deny entry to women and members of Dalit communities (former untouchables) into many places of worship. In December the Shiv Sena Party published an editorial calling for government to curb the growth of the country’s Muslim population through such measures as compulsory family planning for Muslims. On September 28, the Supreme Court overturned a ban on females aged 10 to 50 years from entering the Hindu Sabarimala temple in Kerala, a move that, according to media, sparked political controversy across the country.
Senior U.S. government officials underscored the importance of respecting religious freedom and promoting tolerance throughout the year with the ruling and opposition parties, civil society and religious freedom activists, and religious leaders belonging to various faith communities. In March a U.S. expert discussed racial and ethnic tolerance with audiences in Chennai and Mumbai. In June the Ambassador and the visiting U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations stressed the importance of religious freedom during interactions with multiple religious leaders in Delhi. In almost every visit the Ambassador made in India, he engaged with religious communities, including representatives of the Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Jain, Jewish, Muslim, and Sikh faiths. In August the Department of State Senior Bureau Official for South and Central Asian Affairs visited India and convened a roundtable with senior leaders representing a number of faith groups to exchange views on religious freedom and tolerance. In December the Department of State Special Advisor for Religious Minorities met with government officials, religious minority groups, and civil society representatives in Delhi and Lucknow to discuss the challenges faced by religious minorities in India.
Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom
The constitution mandates a secular state and provides for freedom of conscience and the right of all individuals to profess, practice, and propagate religion freely, subject to considerations of public order, morality, and health. It prohibits government discrimination based on religion, including with regard to employment, as well as any religion-based restrictions on individuals’ access to public or private facilities or establishments open to the general public. The constitution states religious groups have the right to establish and maintain institutions for religious and charitable purposes, manage their own affairs in religious matters, and own, acquire, and administer property. It prohibits compelling anyone to pay taxes to promote or maintain any specific religion. National and state laws make freedom of religion “subject to public order, morality, and health.” The constitution stipulates the state shall endeavor to create a uniform civil code applicable to members of all religions across the country.
Federal law empowers the government to ban religious organizations that provoke intercommunal tensions, are involved in terrorism or sedition, or violate laws governing foreign contributions.
Nine of the 29 states have laws restricting religious conversion: Arunachal Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha, Rajasthan, and Uttarakhand. The legislation in Rajasthan, passed in 2008, was reviewed by the central government to ensure its provisions were in alignment with existing national laws and the constitution, and has not yet received the approval from the country’s president that is required for the law to go into effect. In March Uttarakhand became the latest state to pass an anti-conversion law, making it a non-bailable offense. The law came into effect in April and was strengthened in August with the addition of provisions that allow the state to cancel the registration of institutions involved in forced conversions. Only five states have implemented rules that are required for these laws to be enforced.
Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, and Uttarakhand prohibit religious conversion by the use of “force,” “allurement,” or “fraudulent means,” and require district authorities be informed of any intended conversions one month in advance. Himachal Pradesh and Odisha maintain similar prohibitions against conversion through “force,” “inducement,” or “fraud,” and bar individuals from abetting such conversions. Odisha requires individuals wishing to convert to another religion and clergy intending to officiate in a conversion ceremony to submit formal notification to the government. Violators, including missionaries and other religious figures who encourage conversion, are subject to fines and other penalties, such as prison sentences of up to three years in Chhattisgarh and up to four years in Madhya Pradesh if the converts are minors, women, or members of government-designated, historically disadvantaged groups (known as Scheduled Castes or Scheduled Tribes). Gujarat mandates prior permission from the district magistrate for any form of conversion and punishes forced conversions with up to three years’ imprisonment and a fine up to 50,000 rupees ($720). In Himachal Pradesh, penalties include up to two years’ imprisonment and/or fines of 25,000 rupees ($360). Punishments for conversions involving minors, Scheduled Caste or Scheduled Tribe members, or in the case of Odisha, women, may consist of jail sentences rather than fines.
According to the Supreme Court, converting from Hinduism to another religion ordinarily “operates as an expulsion from the caste” since caste is a structure affiliated with Hindu society. Societal definitions of caste affiliation are determinative of a person’s eligibility for government benefits.
Under Andhra Pradesh and Telangana law, authorities may prohibit proselytizing near another religion’s place of worship. Punishment for violations may include imprisonment for up to three years and fines up to 5,000 rupees ($72).
The federal penal code criminalizes “promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion” and “acts prejudicial to maintenance of harmony,” including acts causing injury or harm to religious groups and members. The penal code also prohibits “deliberate and malicious acts, intended to outrage religious feelings of any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs.” Violations of any of these provisions are punishable by imprisonment for up to three years, a fine, or both. If the offense is committed at a place of worship, imprisonment may be for up to five years.
There are no requirements for registration of religious groups, although federal law requires religiously affiliated organizations to maintain audit reports on their accounts and a schedule of their activities, and to provide these to state government officials upon request.
A federal law regulates foreign contributions to NGOs, including faith-based organizations. Organizations with “definite cultural, economic, educational, religious, or social programs” must receive a federal government certificate of registration to receive foreign funds. The federal government may also require that certified organizations obtain prior permission before accepting or transferring foreign funds. The federal government may reject an application for a certificate of registration or a request for prior permission to transfer funds if it judges the recipient to be prejudicially affecting “harmony between religious, racial, social, linguistic, regional groups, castes, or communities.”
The constitution states any reference to Hindus in law is to be construed as containing a reference to followers of Sikhism, Jainism, and Buddhism, meaning they are subject to laws regarding Hindus, such as the Hindu Marriage Act. Subsequent legislation continues to use the word Hindu as a blanket category that includes Sikhs, Buddhists, Baha’i, and Jains, but clarifies these are separate religions whose followers are included under the legislation.
Federal law provides minority community status to six religious groups: Muslims, Sikhs, Christians, Parsis, Jains, and Buddhists. State governments may grant minority status to religious groups that are minorities in a particular region and designate them as minorities under state law. Minority status makes these groups eligible for several government assistance programs. The constitution states the government will protect the existence of religious minorities and encourage conditions for the promotion of their individual identities.
Personal status laws determine rights for members of certain religious communities in matters of marriage, divorce, adoption, and inheritance based on religion, faith, and culture. Hindu, Christian, Parsi, Jewish, and Islamic personal status laws are legally recognized and judicially enforceable. Personal status issues not defined for a community in a separate law are covered under Hindu personal status laws. These laws, however, do not supersede national- and state-level legislation or constitutional provisions. The government grants autonomy to the All India Muslim Personal Law Board and the Parsi community to define customary practices. If the law board or community leaders cannot offer satisfactory solutions, the case is referred to the civil courts.
Federal law permits interfaith couples to marry without religious conversion. Interfaith couples, and all couples marrying in a civil ceremony, are required to provide public notice 30 days in advance – including addresses, photographs, and religious affiliation – for public comment. Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists, Sikhs, or Jains who marry outside their religions, however, face the possibility of losing their property inheritance rights under those communities’ personal status laws.
The law recognizes the registration of Sikh marriages. There are no divorce provisions for Sikhs under personal status laws. Other Sikh personal status matters fall under Hindu codes. Under the law, any person, irrespective of religion, may seek a divorce in civil court.
The constitution prohibits religious instruction in government schools; the law permits private religious schools.
Twenty-four of the 29 states apply partial to full restrictions on bovine slaughter. Penalties vary among states, and may vary based on whether the animal is a cow, calf, bull, or ox. The ban mostly affects Muslims and members of other Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes. In the majority of the 24 states where bovine slaughter is banned, punishments include imprisonment for six months to two years and a fine of 1,000 to 10,000 rupees ($14 to $140). Rajasthan, Punjab, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, and Jammu and Kashmir penalize cow slaughter with imprisonment of two to 10 years. The law in Gujarat mandates a minimum 10-year sentence (the punishment for some counts of manslaughter) and a maximum sentence of life imprisonment (the punishment for premeditated murder of humans) for killing cows, selling beef, and illegally transporting cows or beef.
The National Commission for Minorities, which includes representatives from the six designated religious minorities and the National Human Rights Commission, investigates allegations of religious discrimination. The Ministry of Minority Affairs may also conduct investigations. These bodies have no enforcement powers, but launch investigations based on written complaints by plaintiffs charging criminal or civil violations and submit their findings to law enforcement agencies for action. Eighteen of the country’s 29 states and the National Capital Territory of Delhi have state minorities commissions, which also investigate allegations of religious discrimination.
The constitution allows for a form of affirmative action for Scheduled Caste or Scheduled Tribe communities, and the “Other Backward Class,” a category for groups deemed to be socially and educationally disadvantaged. Since the constitution specifies only Hindus, Sikhs, or Buddhists shall be deemed a member of a Scheduled Caste, the only means through which Christian and Muslim individuals may qualify for affirmative action benefits is if they are considered members of the “backward” classes due to their social and economic status.
The government requires foreign missionaries to obtain a missionary visa.
The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
On June 22, the government charged two police officers with culpable homicide after a Muslim cattle trader, Mohammad Salim Qureshi, died of injuries sustained while being questioned by police in Bareilly, Uttar Pradesh. The accused officers were suspended following a police inquiry.
On May 11, a Muslim youth died in a police shooting and a Hindu shopkeeper died in his burning shop following communal clashes in Maharashtra’s Aurangabad city. These events followed allegations that authorities were conducting a civic crackdown on illegal water connections in a discriminatory manner, possibly triggered by the removal of water connection of four Muslim residents. In the immediate aftermath of the violence, in which seven officers were injured, Aurangabad police arrested 14 persons. With families of both victims alleging partisan policing and video footage of the clashes receiving wide coverage on social media, police ordered an investigation.
A court in Jharkhand sentenced 11 individuals, including a local BJP official, to life in prison for beating to death Alimuddin Ansari, a Muslim, in June 2017. Ansari’s killers said they believed he was trading in beef.
On August 13, the Supreme Court ordered Uttar Pradesh authorities to reinvestigate and submit a report on the June 18 killing of Qasim Qureshi, a Muslim cattle trader attacked by a mob while transporting cows through Harpur. The order came after multiple online videos surfaced casting doubt on the initial police report, which described the assault as an incident of “road rage.” In one video, a bloodied Qureshi is seen refuting claims that he was transporting the cows for slaughter. Police arrested and filed murder charges against nine individuals in connection with the attack.
On April 20, the Gujarat High Court acquitted former Gujarat Minister of State for Women and Child Development Maya Kodnani and upheld the conviction of former Bajrang Dal leader Babu Bajrangi related to the 2002 Naroda Patiya communal riots in Gujarat. Kodnani had been charged with provoking a Hindu mob. Bajrangi was accused and convicted of criminal conspiracy, collecting weapons, and leading a violent mob. In March the Supreme Court stated it would not give the Gujarat government further extensions to meet its request for a status report on disciplinary action taken against police officers convicted in the gang rape of a pregnant 19-year-old woman, Bilkis Bano, during the 2002 riots. On June 25, the Gujarat High Court sentenced P. Rajput, Rajkumar Chaumal, and Umesh Bharwad to 10 years of imprisonment for their involvement in a mob that killed 96 Muslims during the 2002 riots, reversing the judgment of a lower court. The court upheld the acquittals of 29 others in the case.
On April 1, Hyderabad police arrested four Christians for “hurting religious sentiments” for handing out Christian tracts during an Easter procession. Christian news website World Watch Monitor said the charges against Rayapuri Jyothi, Meena Kumari, Mahima Kumari, and Bagadam Sudhakar were spurious, and came following a complaint from activists of the Hindu nationalist organization Hindu Jana Shakti. Authorities released the individuals on bail on April 3. According to other news reports, however, the police also filed charges against four activists of the Hindu Jana Shakti in the same case, charging them with “outraging the modesty” of the Christian women and forcing them to wear the traditional Hindu vermilion mark on their foreheads.
The NGO Alliance Defending Freedom India (ADFI) stated authorities pursued charges against members of the minority Christian community in several states under religious conversion laws.
On September 12, police in Uttar Pradesh’s Jaunpur District charged 271 Christians with “spreading lies about Hinduism” and allegedly drugging people to try to convert them to Christianity. The police action came after a local Hindu group filed a complaint with the court alleging the Christians refused to stop conducting Sunday prayer services and spread misinformation about Hinduism. Deputy Police Superintendent Anil Kumar Pandey said the individuals were “accused of various criminal offenses like fraud, defiling places of worship, and prejudice against national integration.”
On January 10, Jammu and Kashmir police arrested eight Hindu men, including four police personnel and a retired government official, in connection with the kidnapping, gang rape, and killing of 8-year-old Asifa Bano. The victim belonged to a Muslim tribal community in Kathua District and was kidnapped while grazing her horse in a meadow. The men allegedly took Bano to a nearby Hindu temple where they drugged and raped her over the course of several days. According to media reports, the men raped and murdered Bano to drive her nomadic Muslim community out of the area. The Jammu High Court Bar Association joined several Hindu groups and two BJP state government ministers in a protest to demand the release of the accused, saying it was an anti-Hindu move by police and prosecutors in the Muslim-majority state. On May 7, the Supreme Court ordered the transfer of the trial to Punjab’s Pathankot District. The two state BJP ministers who attended the rally supporting the suspects resigned their positions.
In September Uttar Pradesh authorities suspended three police officers after video surfaced of one of the officers slapping a Hindu woman for reportedly consorting with a Muslim man while two other officers taunted her. Media reported police were dispatched to rescue the interfaith couple, both medical college students, whom members of a Hindu nationalist organization had attacked in protest of so-called “love jihad,” a term used to accuse Muslim men of converting Hindu women by seducing them.
On December 9, police in Bakhitayrpur village, Patna District, Bihar State, arrested and detained a local Christian pastor for attempted forced conversions after he showed a film about Jesus. Local residents reportedly tried to stop the pastor from showing the film and said they wanted him removed from the village. According to media reports, the police detained the pastor but did not arrest him, and told him to return to his home village and not return to Bakhitayrpur.
In May the Global Council of Indian Christians (GCIC) reported police in Uttar Pradesh arrested Rev. Gyan Singh and another Pentecostal Christian in the village of Bugauliya Block, Basti District for forced conversions. Police told GCIC that they would release the two without charges. In June authorities arrested an Uttar Pradesh pastor, Dependra Prakash Maleywar, after he was accused of the forced conversion of 16 persons. Police originally arrested Maleywar after a local Hindu activist accused him of an assault against some activists of the Bajrang Dal Hindu group. A judge ordered Maleywar to 14 days of judicial custody pending investigation; after a week, authorities released him on bail. Police in Jharkhand arrested Dalu Soren, a Christian veterinarian, on October 16, after a 13-year-old girl’s father filed a complaint charging forced conversion.
According to the website AsiaNews and Catholic media outlet Crux, four men attacked a Catholic priest, Vineet Vincent Pereira, who was conducting a prayer service in Ghohana, Uttar Pradesh on November 14. The four attackers were allegedly members of a Hindu group trying to “reconvert” Hindus who had earlier changed their religious beliefs. After the attack, police took Pereira into protective custody, but charged him the next day with rioting and unlawful assembly. The attackers were not charged.
In October Hyderabad police arrested well-known Muslim preacher Brother Imran after he allegedly made derogatory remarks against the Shia community and another Islamic group. According to the complainants, Imran tried to create “communal animosity” and outraged the feelings of the Shia community, resulting in tension in the area. He was released on bail and the court had not taken up his case by year’s end.
On August 27, a special court in Ahmedabad, Gujarat sentenced Farooq Bhana and Imran Sheru to life imprisonment and acquitted three others accused of setting fire to the Sabarmati Express train on February 28, 2002, that killed 59 Hindu pilgrims and led to large-scale intercommunal riots in the state of Gujarat in 2002. By year’s end, courts convicted 33 suspects in the case and eight remained at large.
In its World Report covering 2018, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said the government failed to “prevent or credibly investigate” mob attacks on religious minorities, marginalized communities, and critics of the government. At the same time, according to HRW, some BJP officials publicly supported perpetrators of such crimes and made inflammatory speeches against minority communities, which encouraged further violence. According to HRW, mob violence against minority communities amid rumors that they traded or killed cows for beef, especially Muslims, by extremist Hindu groups continued throughout the year. As of November, there had been 18 such attacks, and eight people killed during the year.
On December 15, police in Assam arrested two men who vandalized a Catholic church and a grotto in the village of Chapatoli. Police stated they believed the two to be responsible for the desecration of the church’s crucifix and for toppling a statue.
In June media reported Arunachal Pradesh’s BJP Chief Minister Pema Khandu announced that his government would repeal the state’s 40-year-old anti-conversion law.
On September 18, media reported a village council in Haryana passed a decree urging Muslim residents to adopt Hindu names, refrain from such actions as growing beards or wearing traditional skullcaps, and avoid praying in public. The announcement reportedly came a month after police arrested Yamin Khokkar, a Muslim villager, whom local authorities accused of illegally slaughtering a calf. Subsequent media reports stated the village council denied it passed the decree.
According to NGO sources, authorities reportedly denied three U.S. citizens entry under non-missionary visas due to concerns they intended to engage in missionary activity, although the U.S. citizens denied that this was their intention.
On April 21, Bharat Singh, a BJP Member of Parliament from Uttar Pradesh, said, “Christian missionaries are a threat to the unity and integrity” of the country and the opposition Congress Party is “controlled by them [Christian missionaries].” The president of the GCIC, citing a survey by news channel NDTV, stated that hate speech by BJP representatives had increased by 490 percent since 2014.
In August Catholic bishops in Jharkhand sent a memorandum to the state governor in response to perceived harassment and intense scrutiny of Christian organizations by government agencies after allegations emerged regarding a baby-selling scandal in a home for unwed mothers run by the Missionaries of Charity (MOC) in Ranchi. Church leaders said the crackdown on the MOC by the Jharkhand government was a ploy to discredit the organization as part of the state government’s anti-Christian agenda.
On June 21, authorities transferred a regional passport official in Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh, after he reportedly refused to issue passports to an interfaith couple. Media reported the official harangued Tanvi Seth for not adopting her husband’s surname, then later suggested her spouse, Mohammad Anas Siddiqui, convert to Hinduism. The Ministry of External Affairs intervened after Seth went public with their story on social media. Authorities issued the couple passports a day later.
On June 11, Hyderabad police charged a member of the Telangana legislative assembly, T. Raja Singh of the BJP, for making hateful and derogatory remarks against Muslims and the Quran. The police arrested him on charges of promoting enmity between different groups. This was the 19th case filed against Singh. In a live Facebook video session, Singh allegedly demanded a ban on the Quran, stating that its verses called for killing Hindus.
On February 7, BJP Member of Parliament Vinay Katiyar said Muslims had “no business” staying in India. Speaking to a media organization, Katiyar said Muslims should instead settle in Bangladesh and Pakistan since they were responsible for the partition of India.
On July 31, the government of Assam published the final draft of the National Register of Citizens (NRC), a document intended to define individuals with a claim to citizenship in a state that experienced an influx of foreigners in 1971. Authorities excluded more than 4 million individuals from the list, many of them Bengali-speaking Muslims. The Supreme Court continued to oversee an appeals process at year’s end for those excluded. The Citizenship (Amendment) Bill of 2016 that would allow certain Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi, and Christian (but not Muslim) migrants from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, and Pakistan to become citizens continued to face strong criticism and was not taken up by the upper chamber of parliament during the year.
In January the Supreme Court ordered a newly-constituted Special Investigation Team (SIT) of law enforcement officials to assess 186 cases related to anti-Sikh riots in Delhi and Punjab in 1984. In July media reports suggested the SIT failed to begin its work due to a member refusing to participate in its proceedings.
In April the central government removed its proposed ban on selling cattle for slaughter in animal markets that had been suspended by the Supreme Court. Observers expressed concern the ban would most negatively impact Muslims, who dominate the country’s quarter trillion rupee ($3.58 billion) buffalo meat export industry. Observers noted an increase in cow vigilantism hurt members of the Muslim, Dalit, and Adivasi communities who were economically dependent on the cattle trade and leather industries. On July 17, the Supreme Court said violence in the name of cow vigilantism was unacceptable and the onus of preventing such incidents lay with the states. The court ordered all state governments to designate a senior police officer in every district to prevent mob violence, ensure that the police act promptly against attackers, and asked the legislature to consider enacting a new penal provision to deal with mob violence by self-styled cow protectors and provide deterrent-level punishment to offenders.
On July 8, Union Minister Jayant Sinha came under public scrutiny after embracing individuals convicted of killing a Muslim trader in Jharkhand in 2017. The eight men who met with Sinha were convicted of murder in the killing of Alimuddin Ansari, who they said was transporting beef. Social commentators criticized Sinha, particularly for not speaking about the victim or about justice for his surviving family members. Following the public backlash, he issued statements condemning violence and vigilantism.
On October 12, the Supreme Court stayed an order of the Uttarakhand High Court directing a blanket ban on fatwas by Islamic religious bodies. The court acted in response to a rape victim’s complaint about a village council banishing her family from the village.
On September 19, the government issued an executive order to fine and imprison men who practice “triple talaq” – via which a Muslim man can divorce his wife instantly by saying the work “talaq” (Arabic for divorce) three times. Muslim women’s groups have been central to efforts to end the practice, which is outlawed in many Muslim majority countries. In 2017 the Supreme Court ruled that the practice was unconstitutional and inconsistent with Islamic law and urged parliament to draft a new provision. The current executive order is scheduled to lapse if its provisions are not enacted into law by parliament before national parliamentary elections are held in 2019.
On August 28, the Punjab government passed an amendment to the federal penal code punishing the intentional desecration of certain religious texts – the Guru Granth Sahib (the Sikh holy book), the Bible, the Quran, and the Bhagwad Gita – with life imprisonment. Media reports criticized the amendment as “excessive” and noted its potential misuse by authorities to restrict freedom of expression and silence political opponents. As of September 25, the proposed amendment was under review by the central government, which must approve state-specific amendments to federal law.
On July 6, Gujarat became the third state, along with Maharashtra and West Bengal, to grant the Jewish community minority status, providing members with “benefits of welfare schemes formulated for religious minority communities within the jurisdiction” of the state.
The government continued its challenge, dating from 2016, of the Supreme Court ruling regarding the minority status of Muslim educational institutions that affords these institutions independence in hiring and curriculum decisions. The central government continued to state that Aligarh Muslim University was a central university set up under an act of parliament, and therefore should not be considered a minority institution.
State and local jurisdictions submitted 25 proposals to the MHA during the year to rename cities across India, mirroring a similar trend of renaming train stations, islands, and roads that previously had British or Islamic names. According to AsiaNews and Reuters, BJP leaders in Uttar Pradesh decided to rename some cities that “sounded too Islamic.” In October Uttar Pradesh changed the name of Allahabad to Prayagraj. In November authorities changed the name of the Faizabad District to Ayodhya, the place where Hindus believe Lord Ram was born. Activists said these proposals were designed to erase Muslim contributions to Indian history and had led to increased communal tensions.
The Supreme Court in March overturned a 2017 Kerala High Court order that annulled the marriage of a Hindu woman and a Muslim man based on third-party allegations that she was forcibly converted to Islam, despite her denials.
Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom
In September Rajasthan police charged three men with murder in connection with the killing of Rakbar Khan, a Muslim dairy farmer from Haryana. On July 21, a group of cow vigilantes attacked Khan while he was transporting two cows at night. Authorities suspended a senior police officer after he reportedly took four hours to transport a still conscious Khan to a local hospital four kilometers (2.5 miles) away. Doctors declared Khan dead on arrival. The attack occurred in the same district, Alwar, where in April 2017 a mob killed Muslim dairy farmer Pehlu Khan on suspicion of cow smuggling.
In December a crowd estimated at more than 300, reportedly angered by reports of cows being slaughtered in the area, killed a police officer at the police station in Chigrawati when he tried to calm them. An 18-year-old protester was also killed. The mob set fire to the police station and several cars. Police arrested four men in the killing and reportedly were searching for 23 others at year’s end.
A mob assaulted two Muslim men, killing one, in Madhya Pradesh’s Satna District May 17, alleging the duo were slaughtering a bull. Police arrested four assailants and filed a complaint alleging cow slaughter against the injured survivor, who denied the charge.
On January 20, Christian pastor Gideon Periyaswamy of Maknayeem Church in Kancheepuram, Tamil Nadu, was found dead at his residence. Members of his congregation alleged he had been murdered and that he had previously been a victim of frequent harassment by Hindu fundamentalist organizations.
On November 1, Hindu priest D. Satyanarayana died in a hospital in Hyderabad due to injuries sustained in the city of Warangal on October 26. Muslim Imam Syed Sadiq Hussain allegedly assaulted the priest during an argument over the use of a loudspeaker in the temple where the deceased worked. The police charged the imam with murder and trespassing and placed him in custody pending trial.
In February media reported Ankit Saxena, a 23-year-old Hindu man, was killed on a busy road in Delhi, allegedly by family members of a Muslim woman he was courting. Authorities arrested the woman’s parents, uncle, and minor brother, who reportedly objected to the interfaith relationship, and filed charges against the family in May.
Media data project IndiaSpend stated there were eight deaths related to cow vigilantes as of year’s end, and 31 total incidents of cow vigilantism. According to the data, 73 percent of victims were Muslim. In 2017, there were 108 victims and 13 deaths in 43 incidents, and in 2016, 67 victims and 9 deaths in 30 incidents. While Muslims constituted 60 percent of the victims in 2017, they were 42 percent in 2016, with 34 percent being Dalits.
In September authorities arrested Catholic bishop Franco Mulakkal for the rape of a nun of the Missionaries of Jesus order in Kerala between 2014 and 2016. The government released the bishop on bail in October; the trial was set for 2019. The Vatican temporarily relieved him of his duties. Media reported a majority of Christians appeared to support the bishop and questioned the nun’s accusations, while others expressed support. During the summer prior to the bishop’s arrest, nuns of the Missionaries of Jesus protested and led rallies, calling for the authorities to take action.
In March media reported that members of Hindu nationalist organization Bajrang Dal chopped off the finger of a Muslim woman, Roshan Bi, and attacked her son Farzan Saiyed in Chhatral town in Gujarat when they did not follow warnings to restrict their cattle grazing only to Muslim neighborhoods. Saiyed later died from his injuries. Police arrested five assailants following community protests.
On March 12, according to several sources, Hindu supporters of a BJP member of parliament attacked a Catholic hospital and roughly handled nurses and nuns in Ujjain, Madhya Pradesh. The supporters were reportedly motivated by an ownership dispute over the land on which the hospital is located. Several nurses were injured in the attack. The parliamentarian, Chitamani Malviya, made claims against the hospital in 2015 and then again in January. The hospital and church disputed his claims. Using two bulldozers and armed with weapons, a crowd of nearly 100 people broke down a section of hospital wall, damaged the electrical supply and generator unit, and disconnected the water connection to the hospital, which has approximately 200 beds. According to the reports, church authorities contacted top government officials during the attack, but police did not respond. Police filed a report on the incident two days later.
According to AsiaNews, in February a group of Hindus attacked and beat a Pentecostal Christian pastor for conducting allegedly “forced conversions” in West Champaran District, Bihar. The missionary was on a bus with 13 other Pentecostals when a Hindu on the bus, reportedly upset with discussion of Christian beliefs that he overheard, alerted fellow Hindus at the next bus station. When the bus arrived, the Hindus reportedly beat the pastor and another member of the group, both of whom were transported to the hospital. Police initially declined to register a complaint, but later agreed to take statements from the pastor and other members of his group.
On July 23, media reported members of a Hindu nationalist organization attacked Sahil Khan, a Muslim man registering his marriage to a Hindu woman, outside a court in Ghaziabad, Uttar Pradesh. A mob reportedly dragged Khan out of the court and beat him in the street before damaging his car. Police filed charges against two individuals in connection with the attack.
According to AsiaNews, on December 16 in Tamil Nadu, a crowd of approximately 150 individuals attacked a group of 16 Christians singing Christmas carols.
Media reported that on May 24, a Sikh police officer, Gagandeep Singh, reportedly prevented a mob in Ramnagar, Uttarakhand, from lynching a Muslim youth after local residents allegedly found him meeting with a Hindu woman in a temple. Video of the event showed officer Singh taking several blows as he shielded the Muslim youth from the crowd. The crowd accused the young Muslim of “love jihad.” Police later arrested and filed charges against five of the attackers. Following his actions, Singh received death threats and was put on leave for his own protection.
ADFI reported members of Hindu nationalist groups attacked Christian leaders and their ministries, mainly in rural communities, under the pretext the Christians were practicing forced conversions, and 15 churches were closed due to concerns about ensuring the security of the churches. The government was working to reopen the churches at year’s end. ADFI also stated a pastor was assaulted in Fatehpur while conducting a Sunday service, and a mob protested the singing of Christmas carols by members of 35 different churches that came together in a Catholic church in Varanasi.
The Religious Liberty Commission of the Evangelical Fellowship of India (EFI-RLC) documented 325 cases of violence and attacks against Christians and churches during the year, compared with 351 in 2017 and 247 in 2016. Its 2018 report tracked incidents in which Christians were targeted for violence, intimidation, or harassment, and noted over 40 percent of the documented incidents occurred in Uttar Pradesh, with a significant rise between September and December. Churches were allegedly targeted by Hindu nationalist groups claiming “conversions through force or fraud” resulting in disrupted worship services, harassment of pastors and worshippers, and the arrest or detention of pastors and lay Christians. Twelve percent of the incidents were reported in Tamil Nadu.
The NGO Prosecution Relief reported 477 incidents of violence against Christians in its 2018 annual report, compared with 440 in in 2017. The organization also stated that the state of religious affairs was worsening in the country, as perpetrators of religious violence were often not prosecuted. The most common form of persecution was “threats, harassment, and intimidation.” According to the NGO, such incidents increased by 118 percent over 2017.
Media reported on January 24, unidentified persons in Nagarkurnool District in Telangana burned several copies of a Telugu translation of the Bible after forcing a group of Christian activists from Gideons International to give them the copies they were planning to distribute.
On February 6, the MHA presented data in the lower house of parliament showing a 9 percent increase in incidents of religious violence from 2015 to 2017. In 2017, there were 822 incidents, resulting in 111 deaths and 2,384 injuries.
In February the first public display of “ghar-wapsi” (reconversion activities facilitated by Hindu organizations for those who had left Hinduism) in Kolkata took place when the organization Hindu Samhati featured 16 members of a Muslim family who were “reconverted to Hinduism” at a public rally. Hindu Samhati founder Tapan Ghosh said he had organized similar events previously for quite some time but decided to showcase the “reconverted” people in public as “the time was right.”
International Christian Concern (ICC) documented 10 attacks on Christians in the lead-up to Easter. On April 5, ICC reported Hindu nationalists attacked a prayer gathering in the Vakel village of Bastar district in Chhattisgarh, injuring six Christians. On April 6, ADFI reported 17 anti-Christian incidents by Hindu nationalist groups within or close to Hyderabad on its World Watch Monitor website.
A crowd waving orange flags of Hindu nationalists attacked a church during a Sunday service in Naubasta, Kanpur District in Uttar Pradesh, on December 2, demanding the pastor and congregation stop the service and close down the church immediately. Police at the scene asked the Christians to leave and then dispersed the demonstrators, who threatened to return the following week. Two days before the incident a police inspector informed the pastor he was being charged with “forced conversions” following a complaint filed against him. Following the incident, police declined to accept formal complaints from the pastor or his community about the disruption of the church service.
The Times of India newspaper and other media reported that on March 25, police in Nirmal District, Telangana, used measures, including caning and teargas, to control tense crowds after individuals allegedly pelted a local mosque with stones and threw a saffron flag into the mosque during a procession to celebrate the Hindu Sri Rama Navami festival. A senior police official and a constable were injured in clashes with protesters. The police imposed the section of the criminal code that restricts assembly of more than four persons for three consecutive days to bring the situation under control. A media report quoted the district police chief as stating that six activists of the Hindu Vahini and three Muslim protesters were arrested.
On June 3, Archbishop of Goa and Daman Filipe Neri Ferrao in his annual pastoral letter called upon Catholics to fight social injustice and the trend of “mono-culturalism,” which attempted to dictate how Indians “eat, dress, live, and even worship.” In response, Surendra Jain, a leader of the Hindu nationalist group Vishwa Hindu Parishad, said the country’s Christian churches “conspire with the Vatican to destabilize the current elected government” of the BJP. According to AsiaNews, “Jain further said the Vatican not only denigrates the Hindus all over the world but also India as a nation and the Indian churches are acting as puppets in their [i.e., the Vatican’s] hands.” Jain also criticized the section of the letter in which Ferrao wrote of “the trampling of human rights in India.”
In June media reported that Aman Khan, a Muslim software engineer in Pune, Maharashtra, filed a complaint with the labor commissioner alleging his supervisor forced him to resign after he saw Khan praying in the office.
According to media reports, in July Hindu groups in Jharkhand’s Latehar District forced Christian families out of their village after they refused to renounce their religion. The reports stated that the families were “living in fear” and did not return because the local authorities were unable or unwilling to help.
In August a group of Hindus from Bajrang Dal, the youth wing of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, attacked and damaged a Pentecostal church in Bihar, accusing the church of forced conversions. The church said this was a “false accusation.”
Media reported on August 25, South Indian singer O.S. Arun withdrew from participation in a Christian Carnatic Music Concert in Chennai after Tamil Nadu-based Hindu organization Rashtriya Sanathana Seva Sangam called the Hindu artists associating with the event “traitors” to the Hindu faith and threatened any Hindu singer singing Christian hymns.
In October the India Today newspaper conducted a “sting operation” on Hindu nationalist organization Sanatan Sanstha, in which two representatives of the organization allegedly made confessions about their involvement in attacks conducted outside cinemas in Maharashtra in 2008 over the “objectionable” depiction of Hinduism in certain films and dramas.
Several acts of vandalism targeting Christian sites and symbols occurred during the year. In March a sculpture of the Virgin Mary was found headless in a grotto dedicated to her in a church in Aligondo, Odisha. Vandals attacked another Catholic church in Odisha the night before Easter Sunday, setting fire to a room storing sacred objects. On April 10, a crowd estimated at approximately 500 persons threw stones at a Christian retreat center in Neyyattinkara in Kerala, shattering windows and entrance doors. On the night of March 31, unknown individuals in Punnamoodu, Alappuzha District vandalized an Orthodox church hall, breaking windows and kicking down a door.
Media reported on March 11 that a Pentecostal church in Madurai, Tamil Nadu, was vandalized and copies of the Bible were burned, allegedly by members of a Hindu group. According to the GCIC, multiple churches in the state of Tamil Nadu experienced acts of vandalism during the year.
Tradition and social custom continued to deny entry to women and Dalits into many places of worship. On September 28, the Supreme Court overturned a ban on females aged 10 to 50 years from entering the Hindu Sabarimala temple in Kerala. According to media, the ruling sparked political controversy across the country. On May 1, media reported a Dalit woman was turned away from Sri Kamatchi Sameta Boodanadheeswarar temple in Puducherry when she tried to enter the temple during a festival. A group of people surrounded the woman and insisted she leave and visit “the temple of her community.”
Members of Hindu nationalist groups and the BJP filed a complaint against the administrators of the Sri Ranganathaswamy Temple in Tamil Nadu for allowing a group of Catholic nuns, who were part of a tourist group, to visit the site in May. According to the complaint, the presence of nuns in their religious attire in a Hindu place of worship offended Hindu believers and mocked the temple’s sanctity.
In its official newspaper, the Shiv Sena, a Hindu nationalist regional party, stated the country’s Muslim community had too many children and “needs a family planning policy.” The paper’s December 4 editorial said the policy was needed to “ensure stability in the country and maintain national security.” It added, “the population of Indian Muslims is proliferating at the speed of a bullet train. Implementing family planning on them is the only solution.”
After flooding in Kerala, a Hindu religious figure, Chakrapani Maharaj, called for disaster aid to be provided only to those who avoid eating beef. Maharaj said the floods were caused by the gods’ outrage at the consumption of beef, which he described as “the sins of the beef eaters.” Other press reports stated, however, that unlike Maharaj, most of the country was very supportive of helping all those in Kerala who needed assistance.
In March a publisher included Adolf Hitler in a children’s book on world leaders. Annushu Juneja, a publishing manager for the B. Jain Publishing Group, said Hitler was featured because “his leadership skills and speeches influenced masses.” Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, said in a statement, “Adolf Hitler? This description would bring tears of joy to the Nazis and their racist neo-Nazi heirs.” The publisher subsequently discontinued sales of the book.
The constitution provides the right to manifest religion or belief in worship, observance, practice, or teaching, either individually or in community with others, and either in public or in private. The law prohibits discrimination based on religious belief. In response to 2017 media reports that a little-used blasphemous libel law was still in the statutes, the minister of justice proposed in March to repeal the law as part of broader amendments to the criminal code. In July a long-running dispute over the teaching of religious education in schools was relocated from the Human Rights Review Tribunal (HRRT) to the High Court. Advocates for secular education had complained that provisions of the law authorizing religious instruction in state schools were inconsistent with the more recent Bill of Rights Act. The High Court did not make a decision during the year. In September the Ministry of Education released draft guidelines on religious instruction in state primary and intermediate schools to help clarify the legal obligation of the schools’ boards of trustees when allowing religious instruction. The Catholic and Anglican Churches asked the government to broaden the terms of reference of a commission on child abuse in institutions of care to include faith-based institutions.
The government-funded Human Rights Commission (HRC) received 65 complaints of discrimination based on religious belief for 2017-18. In July after media reported on anti-Semitic posters and leaflets in two cities, the New Zealand Jewish Council said anti-Semitism was increasing, particularly online.
The ambassador, as well as embassy and consulate general officers, continued to meet with the government and representatives of various religious groups throughout the country to discuss religious freedom and the role of religion in society. The embassy supported religious tolerance through activities such as the ambassador’s attendance at the UN Holocaust Memorial Day service in Wellington in January. In March the embassy sponsored a Holocaust-themed exhibition appearing in schools. In August the ambassador met with Auckland Sikh and Muslim leaders, discussing among other things, interreligious cooperation on trafficking in persons.
Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom
The constitution, comprising several basic laws, states that religious expression is “subject only to such reasonable limits prescribed by law as can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society.” The constitution provides the right to manifest religion or belief in worship, observance, practice, or teaching, either individually or in community with others, and either in public or in private. The law prohibits discrimination based on religious belief. According to the law, religious practices may not breach the peace.
The government does not require the licensing or registration of religious groups; however, for a religious group to collect money for any charitable purpose, including the advancement of its religion, and obtain tax benefits, it must register with the Department of Internal Affairs as a charitable trust. The registration must provide the rules of the organization showing it is a nonprofit organization and a list of officers free from conflict of interest who will not put their own interests above the organization. There is no fee.
The law provides that “teaching in every state [public] primary school must, while the school is open, be entirely of a secular character.” A public primary school may close, including during normal school hours, for up to one hour per week, up to a total of 20 hours per year, to devote to religious instruction or religious observance, to be conducted in a manner approved by the school’s board of trustees. If a public primary school provides religious instruction or observes religious customs, it must allow students to opt out. Religious instruction or observance, if provided, usually takes place outside normal school hours. Public secondary schools may provide limited religious instruction and observances within certain parameters that ensure they do not discriminate against anyone who does not share that belief.
Individuals may file complaints of unlawful discrimination, including on the basis of religious belief, to the HRC. The HRC’s mandate includes assuring equal treatment of all religious groups under the law, protecting the right to safety for religious individuals and communities, promoting freedom of religious expression and reasonable accommodation for religious groups, and promoting religious tolerance in education. In the event a complaint is not resolved satisfactorily with the assistance of HRC mediation, the complainant may proceed to the HRRT. The tribunal has the authority to issue restraining orders, award monetary damages, or declare a breach of the Human Rights Act through a report to parliament. Conduct prohibited by the Human Rights Act (e.g., workplace discrimination) may also be prosecuted under other applicable laws. In addition to the HRC dispute resolution mechanism, a complainant may initiate proceedings in the court system; in exceptional circumstances, HRRT cases may be relocated to the High Court.
The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
In March the minister of justice proposed repeal of the blasphemy law, which carries a penalty of up to one year in prison, as part of broader amendments to the criminal code. As of the end of the year, a parliamentary committee was considering the amendments. In 2017, government ministers and religious leaders expressed surprise when the press reported there was such a law, which had last been used in an unsuccessful prosecution in 1922.
In July a long-running dispute over the teaching of religious education in schools was relocated from the HRRT to the High Court. The Secular Education Network (SEN) said many schools ignored legal restrictions on religious instruction. Unlike previous complaints targeting individual school boards, the SEN stated the HRC had not appropriately taken action against “state-sanctioned religious bias” by the Ministry of Education, or against alleged conflict between those sections of the Education Act authorizing religious instruction in state schools and the right of protection from discrimination due to religious beliefs in the more recent Bill of Rights Act. The court took no decision during the year.
In September the Ministry of Education released draft guidelines on religious instruction in state primary schools to help clarify boards of trustees’ legal obligations when allowing religious instruction, and to help trustees develop best practices regarding how to offer religious instruction. The draft guidelines provide guidance on how to enable the closure of schools during delivery of religious instruction in a way that reduces the possibility of discrimination.
In February the government announced the creation of the Royal Commission of Inquiry into the Historical Abuse of Children in State Care, for those youth who had been in detention centers, psychiatric hospitals, and orphanages. The royal commission, the highest level of government inquiry, is focusing on physical, sexual, and emotional abuse and neglect, and systemic bias based on race, gender, or sexual orientation during the period 1950 to 1999. After lobbying from Catholic and Anglican Church leaders, the government broadened the mandate of the royal commission to include faith-based institutions.
The New Zealand First Party, a government coalition partner, proposed the Respecting New Zealand Values Bill, which would require immigrants to agree to keep several “New Zealand values,” including freedom of religion. Critics said some of the values listed in the bill were anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim, including one that would prohibit campaigning against alcohol consumption. The prime minister said the ruling Labour Party would not support the bill.
Historically, every parliamentary session had begun with a Christian prayer, but in February the new speaker of the house allowed a nondenominational blessing.
Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom
The HRC received 65 complaints of unlawful discrimination on the grounds of religious belief or lack of religious belief during 2017-18, compared with 69 complaints during 2016-17.
In July a New Zealand Jewish Council spokesperson told reporters that anti-Semitism was increasing, with hate speech towards Jews particularly prevalent in social media. Responding to reports of anti-Semitic posters and leaflets distributed in Auckland and Dunedin, the council elaborated that anti-Semitic activity in the country seemed to have increased recently, including graffiti, verbal abuse, and desecration of headstones, but especially anti-Jewish sentiment in social media.
In March an Auckland secondary school student stated that his school did not allow him to wear a spaghetti colander for his school identity photograph, contrary to his religious beliefs. The student is a member of the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, otherwise known as Pastafarianism, which is a legally recognized religion in the country. The student stated that he contacted the HRC over the incident but had accepted the school’s decision for the time being.
The constitution provides for freedom of religion and belief and prohibits discrimination on the basis of religion. The government does not require religious groups to register; however, registered groups receive tax-exempt status. In September Rastafarians welcomed a Constitutional Court ruling that declared unconstitutional a ban on marijuana cultivation and personal consumption by adults in private homes. Throughout the year, religious groups and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) continued to express concerns that two separate draft laws, one requiring religious groups to register with the government and the other criminalizing, defining, and punishing hate crimes and speech, could potentially infringe on religious freedom and freedom of speech.
On May 10, three men attacked the Imam Hussain Mosque, a Shia mosque, located in Durban, in what many stated they believed was a sectarian attack. The assailants stabbed two worshippers, cut the throat of another, and set parts of the mosque on fire, leaving one dead. In July police discovered five explosive devices around Durban. Police affidavits stated the 11 men arrested in connection with the devices and the mosque attack had links to ISIS. The South African Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD) recorded 62 anti-Semitic incidents during the year, compared with 44 in 2017. Numerous individuals made anti-Semitic comments throughout the year.
The U.S. consulates in Durban and Cape Town coordinated with several U.S. government agencies to offer workshops on social cohesion and peaceful religious coexistence to local audiences including government officials, law enforcement, NGOs, civil society organizations, religious leaders, academics, and representatives of refugee and immigrant communities. U.S. government officials met with religious groups and NGOs, including Muslim, Hindu, Christian, and Jewish representatives, to gauge and discuss issues of religious freedom, including cases of anti-Semitism and anti-Muslim sentiment, and a proposed draft bill that would require religious institutions to register with the government in order to operate.
Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom
The constitution provides for freedom of religion and belief, including the right to form, join, and maintain religious associations. It prohibits religious discrimination and specifies freedom of expression does not extend to advocacy of hatred based on religion. The constitution permits legislation recognizing systems of personal and family law to which persons professing a particular religion adhere. It also allows religious observances in state or state-supported institutions, provided they are voluntary and conducted on an equitable basis. These rights may be limited for reasons that are “reasonable and justifiable in an open and democratic society based on human dignity, equality, and freedom” and takes account of “all relevant factors.” Cases of discrimination against persons on the grounds of religion may be taken to Equality Courts, the South African Human Rights Commission, and the Constitutional Court. The constitution also provides for the promotion and respect of languages used for religious purposes, including, but not limited to, Arabic, Hebrew, and Sanskrit.
The constitution allows for the presence and operation of the Commission for the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Cultural, Religious, and Linguistic Communities (CRL) with the mission of fostering the rights of communities to freely observe and practice their cultures, religions, and language. The CRL is an independent national government institution whose chair is appointed by the president and whose commissioners include members of the clergy, scholars, and politicians, among others.
The law does not require religious groups to register; however, registered religious and other nonprofit groups may qualify as public benefit organizations, allowing them to open bank accounts and exempting them from paying income tax. To register as a public benefit organization, groups must submit a nonprofit organization application, including their constitution, contact information, and list of officers and documentation stating they meet a number of prescribed requirements that largely ensure accounting and tax compliance, to the provincial social development office. A group registers once with the local office but their status then applies nationwide. Once registered, the group must submit annual reports on any changes to this information, important achievements and meetings, and financial information, as well as an accountant’s report.
The government allows but does not require religious education in public schools but prohibits advocating the tenets of a particular religion.
The law allows for marriages to be conducted under customary law; however, it applies only to “those customs and usages traditionally observed among the indigenous African people” and may be performed by all religious groups and their leaders.
The constitution grants detained persons visitation rights with their chosen religious counselor.
The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
In September the Constitutional Court, the country’s highest court, declared unconstitutional a ban on marijuana cultivation and personal consumption by adults in private homes. The court upheld a lower court ruling from 2017. Since 2002, the Rastafarians had called for the drug, colloquially known as dagga, to be declared lawful on religious grounds. Jeremy Acton, the head of the Dagga Party of South Africa, brought the court case.
Several groups, including the Southern Africa Catholic Bishops’ Conference, the nonprofit Christian organization Freedom of Religion South Africa (FORSA), and the International Institute for Religious Freedom, stated their continued opposition to a 2016 CRL legislative proposal requiring religious groups to register, stating it would restrict their religious freedom. The proposal would require religious groups to register formally with the government and would create a peer review council, consisting of representatives from various religious groups, which would grant organizations and individual religious leaders’ permission to operate. Accredited umbrella organizations for each religious group would recommend the licensing of institutions and individual members of the clergy. Another recognized umbrella organization would then either approve or decline licensing the institutions. The groups in opposition stated the proposal’s intent to regulate all religious organizations was unconstitutional and unnecessary because existing laws could be used to address governmental concerns of improper religious activities, such as feeding congregant’s snakes and dangerous substances. In January the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs announced that every comment it had received from the religious community opposed the CRL proposal. The committee recommended a national consultative conference, where a full discussion could take place on the issues in the CRL proposal. The committee also suggested a code of ethics. No member of the committee recommended that the CRL proposal be forwarded for adoption by parliament.
According to the media, the legislative proposal was prompted by the CRL’s 2016 investigation that revealed some independent church leaders instructed their congregations to eat live snakes, expose their faces to insect repellant, drink gasoline, and pay large sums of money to receive blessings and miracles. The CRL also found that some religious organizations failed to adhere to tax rules and demonstrated a lack of financial transparency. Opponents of the proposal stated the CRL based its investigation and subsequent report that justified the recommendation for legislation on generalizations about alleged abuses. Opponents further stated that the supporting evidence upon which the CRL based its investigation consisted of an inadequate number of interviews with religious groups. The Council for the Protection and Promotion of Religious Rights and Freedoms – established to oversee the process drawn up by religious and civil organizations that define religious freedoms, rights, and responsibilities of citizens – described the report’s proposals as “the fruit of a poisonous tree.” The proposal remained with the parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs at year’s end.
In May the Department of Justice introduced to parliament a hate crimes and hate speech bill that would criminalize any action or statement motivated by bias or hatred towards an individual based upon a number of categories, including his or her ethnic, national, religious, or sexual identity; health status; employment status or type; or physical ability. The bill would provide law enforcement officials and courts increased authority to arrest, punish offenders, and would mandate prison sentences of up to three years for first-time offenses. The Department of Justice invited public commentary on the draft bill in 2017 and received more than 77,000 responses from individuals, religious groups, and other organizations. Opponents to the bill, including religious figures, media representatives, and civil society and NGOs, argued the bill’s definition of hate crimes and speech was too vague and could potentially restrict freedom of religion and speech. FORSA expressed concern that the bill’s provisions were “over-broad and unconstitutional” and could punish churches and Christians who spoke out against homosexuality; sexual identity is among the categories covered in the legislation. The Hate Crimes Working Group, a network of civil society groups, stated that existing laws adequately addressed hate speech and the bill, if passed, could have unintended consequences. The draft legislation was expected to be debated in parliament in early 2019, according to media reports.
Twin brothers Brandon Lee Thulsie and Tony Lee Thulsie continued to await trial on charges of contravening the Protection of Constitutional Democracy Against Terror and Related Activities. The brothers, along with two others who were alleged to have links to ISIS, were arrested in 2016 for allegedly planning to set off explosives at the U.S. Embassy in Pretoria and Jewish institutions in the country. The case continued at year’s end.
In August the Western Cape High Court in Cape Town ordered the state to pass legislation that recognizes Islamic marriages. The Women’s Legal Centre (WLC) successfully argued that the failure of legislation to recognize Islamic marriages degraded Muslim women’s rights. The Association of Muslim Women of South Africa and the United Ulama Council of South Africa opposed the WLC case, stating it violated freedom of religion by singling out Islam. The court found that marriage was given “a seal of constitutional significance” and that the only reasonable way the state could fulfill its constitutional obligations would be by enacting legislation that recognized Islamic marriages. The court gave the government 24 months to pass the legislation; otherwise, all marriages validly concluded under sharia would be dissolved according to the existing legislation.
In September several Muslim pupils at Jeppe Girls School in Johannesburg were charged with “misconduct for repeated dress code infringements” for wearing hijabs without formally asking permission. The Gauteng Education Department launched an investigation into the matter. School officials agreed in principle to amend the school’s code of conduct to allow for religious headwear. The girls’ families retained counsel, who said that if the school attempted to hold a planned hearing on the “defiance and disregard” the school officials said the pupils had shown, they would sue for religious discrimination.
Some prominent individuals and politicians were quoted throughout the year making anti-Semitic statements. Economic Freedom Fighters political party leader Julius Malema stated at a media briefing in August, “There’s a group of white right wingers who are being trained by Jews in Pretoria to be snipers.”
In February African National Congress Western Cape legislator Sharon Davids accused the Democratic Alliance party of fabricating the Cape Town water crisis in order to obtain desalination contract kickbacks from what she referred to as the “Jewish mafia.”
In February the Democratic Alliance party instructed deputy provincial chair nominee and Women’s Network provincial leader Shehana Kajee to apologize for a 2013 online post in which she called for the Muslim community to “go on the attack” against non-Muslims in the name of Islam.
Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom
On May 10, assailants attacked the Shia Imam Hussain Mosque in Verulam, north of Durban, in what many stated they believed was a sectarian attack. The assailants entered the mosque during midday prayers, stabbed the imam and a worshipper, cut the throat of a man who attempted to help the two being attacked, and set a section of the mosque on fire. The victim whose throat was cut later died of his injuries. According to police, the motives behind the targeting of the mosque remained unknown. Representatives of the KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) Muslim community pointed to growing anti-Shia rhetoric – from some of KZN’s Muslim leaders, local analysts, and community members – as fomenting hate and divisions between majority Sunni and minority Shia Muslims. In July police discovered five explosive devices around Durban. Police affidavits stated the 11 men arrested for the mosque attack and the explosive devices were linked to ISIS. The investigation remained ongoing at year’s end.
In June a man killed two worshippers and wounded two others during prayers at the Sunni Malmesbury Mosque near Cape Town. Police responding to the incident killed the attacker, who was described by authorities as a Somali national. The motivation for the attack remained unclear, according to a local news channel.
In a Friday sermon in March at the Masjid Al Furqaan in Cape Town, Sheikh Riyaad Fataar, Deputy President of the Muslim Judicial Council, said the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem was “slipping from the hands of the Islamic nation…because the plans of the Jews are moving [ahead]…There is a new page coming that is going to exclude the Zionists from that page.” The SAJBD stated anti-Semitism increased after South Africa recalled its ambassador to Israel in May following the deaths along the Gaza border of 52 Palestinians in clashes with Israeli security forces.
In June the SAJBD filed a criminal complaint against three individuals it accused of using anti-Semitic and threatening hate speech. Muhammad Hattia, Tameez Seedat, and Matome Letsoalo made disparaging remarks on social media, including “The #Holocaust Will be like A Picnic When we are done with all you Zionist Bastards” (Letsoalo), and “Hitler [expletive] he should’ve killed you all” (Hattia). The SAJBD withdrew the charges against Hattia and Seedat after they met with SAJBD and said they showed “remorse” and “anguish.” Letsoalo did not apologize but instead created additional Twitter accounts.
In June a man arriving at Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg shouted at fellow passengers on a flight from Tel Aviv, “Jews are wicked.” The man said he had been denied entry into Israel and returned to South Africa. The incident was filmed in the baggage claim area by a passenger who had just arrived in Johannesburg on the flight.
In August the South African Human Rights Commission ruled that Tony Ehrenreich, former Western Cape Secretary of the Congress of South African Trade Unions, was guilty of hate speech for a Facebook post in which he said, “If a woman or child is killed in Gaza, then the Jewish board of deputies, who are complicit, will feel the wrath of the people of South Africa with the age old biblical teaching of an eye for an eye.”
In November pro-Palestinian groups and supporters of the academic and cultural boycott of Israel called for the withdrawal of seven professors from Israeli universities from participation in a December conference at the University of Stellenbosch titled “Recognition, Reparation, Reconciliation: The Light and Shadow of Historical Trauma.” The conference chair, Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela, issued a statement defending the participation of the Israeli scholars, but she later posted a letter to delegates on the conference website stating the scholars had “rescinded their participation” after discussion. The media and others, however, stated conference organizers had withdrawn their invitations.
The SAJBD recorded 62 anti-Semitic incidents during the year, compared with 44 during 2017. The incidents included verbal threats and intimidation, verbal abuse, abusive communications, and graffiti/offensive slogans.
In June in Cape Town, several Islamic leaders, both Sunni and Shia representatives, signed the “Cape Accord,” a document meant to encourage peace and unity and to eradicate extremism in the country. The document also emphasized a tolerance of differences among Muslims and a call not to escalate intrafaith hostilities.
The constitution provides for freedom of thought, conscience, and religion, including the freedom to change religion. The law recognizes four religions: Buddhism, Islam, Hinduism, and Christianity. The constitution and other laws give Buddhism the “foremost place” among the country’s religious faiths and commit the government to protecting it while respecting the rights of religious minorities. According to representatives of religious minority communities and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), government officials at the local level continued to engage in systematic discrimination against religious minorities, especially Muslims and converts to “free” (nondenominational and evangelical) Christian groups. Local government officials and police reportedly responded minimally or not at all to numerous incidents of religiously motivated violence against Muslim and Christian minorities. There were some reports of government officials being complicit in physical attacks on and harassment of religious minorities and their places of worship. In March the government declared a 10-day nationwide state of emergency, restricted social media access, and arrested more than 100 persons in response to anti-Muslim riots in Kandy District in which mobs attacked Muslim civilians, shops, homes, and mosques, resulting in at least two deaths, 28 injured, and extensive property damage to Muslims’ houses, shops, and mosques. According to the media, in February the government deployed police after at least five persons were wounded and several shops and a mosque damaged in anti-Muslim riots in Ampara District. Evangelical and nondenominational Christian churches continued to state police harassed them and local government officials often sided with the religious majority in a given community. Activists reported that on April 29, a group of Buddhists and Hindus forcibly entered the Sunday service of the Apostolic Church in Padukka in Colombo and threatened congregants. Police demanded the Christians stop the worship service immediately. According to activists, on July 8, a group of villagers and Buddhist monks disrupted a Living Christian Assembly service in Sevanapitiya, Polonnaruwa, stating it was a Hindu-majority village. The police ordered the Christian group to stop holding services. At year’s end, the government had not formally registered any free Christian groups as religious organizations. Local police and government officials reportedly continued requiring places of worship to obtain approval to conduct religious activities, citing a 2011 government circular that was no longer in effect. Police and local officials continued to cite a 2008 government circular to prohibit the construction of or to close down Christian and Muslim places of worship, despite the Ministry of Buddha Sasana and Religious Affairs (Ministry of Buddha Sasana) determining in May that the circular only applied to Buddhist facilities.
Attacks on religious minorities continued. As of October the National Christian Evangelical Alliance of Sri Lanka (NCEASL) documented 74 incidents of attacks on churches, intimidation of and violence against pastors and their congregations, and obstruction of worship services. According to civil society groups, social media campaigns targeting religious minorities fueled hatred and incited violence. Buddhist nationalist groups such as the Bodu Bala Sena (BBS, Buddhist Power Force) continued to promote the supremacy of the ethnic Sinhalese Buddhist majority and denigrate religious and ethnic minorities, especially via social media during the Kandy riots in March. Civil society organizations continued efforts to strengthen the capacity of religious and community leaders to engage in peacebuilding activities through district-level interreligious reconciliation committees that were created following the end of the civil war in 2010 between the predominantly Buddhist Sinhalese majority and the Tamil minority (mainly Hindu with a significant Christian minority).
The U.S. embassy repeatedly urged political leaders to defend religious minorities and protect religious freedom for all, emphasizing the importance of religious minorities in the national reconciliation process. Embassy personnel met often with religious and civic leaders to foster interfaith dialogue. The U.S. government also funded multiple foreign assistance programs designed to build on global best practices in interfaith and interreligious cooperation, dialogue, and confidence building. In March the Special Advisor for Religious Minorities attended a conference led by the Religious Freedom Institute and engaged with the government and civil society leaders. He met with religious and community leaders and senior government officials to discuss religious freedom. The Ambassador publicly condemned the anti-Muslim violence in Kandy in March.
Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom
According to the constitution, every person is “entitled to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion,” including the freedom to choose a religion. The constitution gives citizens the right to manifest their religion or belief in worship, observance, practice, or teaching, both in public and in private. The constitution accords Buddhism the “foremost place” among the country’s religious faiths and requires the government to protect it, although it does not recognize it as the state religion. A 2003 Supreme Court ruling determined the state is constitutionally required to protect only Buddhism, and other religions do not have the same right to state protection. The same ruling also held that no fundamental right to proselytize exists or is protected under the constitution.
In 2017 the Supreme Court determined the right to propagate one’s religion is not protected by the constitution.
The law recognizes four religions: Buddhism, Islam, Hinduism, and Christianity. There is no registration requirement for central religious bodies of these four groups. New religious groups, including groups affiliated with the four recognized religions, must register with the government to obtain approval to construct new places of worship, sponsor religious worker (missionary) visas/immigration permits, operate schools, and apply for subsidies for religious education. Religious organizations may also seek incorporation by an act of parliament, which requires a simple majority and affords religious groups state recognition.
The government adheres to a 2008 ministerial circular, introduced by the Ministry of Buddha Sasana, requiring all groups, regardless of their religion, to receive permission from the ministry to register and construct new places of worship. In June 2017, a Supreme Court ruling effectively upheld the registration requirements. In May the Ministry of Buddha Sasana ruled that the 2008 circular on registration and construction of religious facilities only applied to Buddhist religious sites. According to some legal experts, however, there is no explicit basis in national law for compulsory registration of places of worship with the state.
Specific government ministers are responsible for addressing the concerns of each major religious community. Departmental and ministerial assignments are based on the religion of the respective incumbent minister and change when a new minister of a different faith takes office – a customary political tradition that has spanned the past several governments.
Religion is a compulsory subject in both public and private school curricula. Parents may elect to have their children study Buddhism, Islam, Hinduism, or Christianity, provided sufficient demand (at least 15 students) exists within the school for the chosen subject. Students may not opt out of religious instruction. All schools teaching the Sri Lankan Ordinary Level syllabus must use the Ministry of Education curriculum on religion, which covers the four main religions and is compulsory for the General Certificate Education Ordinary Level exams (equivalent to U.S. grade 12). International schools not following the Sri Lankan Ordinary Level syllabus are not required to teach religious studies.
Matters related to family law, including divorce, child custody, and property inheritance, are adjudicated either under customary law of the ethnic or religious group in question or under the country’s civil law. Religious community members, however, report the practice varies by region, and numerous exceptions exist. Sharia and cultural practice typically govern marriages and divorces of Muslims while civil law applies to most property rights. According to civil society groups in the Northern Province, civil law governs marriages while the Thesawalamai (Hindu) customary law often governs the division of property. Civil law also governs most marriages of Sinhalese and Tamils of various religions, including mixed marriages or those of individuals who claim no religious affiliation.
The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
On March 6, the government imposed a nationwide 10-day state of emergency, restricted access to social media, and deployed hundreds of police following several days of anti-Muslim attacks in Kandy District that left two dead and 28 injured. According to media reports, Sinhalese Buddhist nationalist gangs perpetrated the violence, which reportedly began after a group of Muslim men in the town of Digana was accused of killing a Sinhalese Buddhist over a traffic dispute. The Muslim Council of Sri Lanka said rioters thoroughly damaged 33 houses, partially damaged 256 houses, and destroyed 163 shops and 47 vehicles. In addition, a number of mosques were damaged in various locations. Police arrested more than 100 persons. According to some local activists and the media, however, police did not intervene in a timely fashion to stem the rioting. On March 17, the Terrorism Investigation Division arrested Amith Weerasinghe, leader of Maha Sohon Balakaya, a Sinhalese Buddhist nationalist group, in connection with the Kandy riots. The Kandy High Court released Weerasinghe and five others on bail on October 29. As of year’s end, police had made no more arrests, but many cases remained pending.
NCEASL said free Christian groups continued to state police and local government officials were complicit in physical attacks on and harassment of religious minorities and their places of worship. Christian groups said officials and police often sided with the religious majority in a given community.
Christian religious freedom media outlets reported that, according to NCEASL, in October a group of unidentified persons abducted a pastor in Avissawella and held him for 24 hours. The pastor was returning home by motorbike when a police officer flagged him down. The media outlets stated the group beat him and administered electric shocks, threatened him, and told him to stop his religious worship activities in the area.
According to media reports, on February 27, the government deployed police to contain the situation after an anti-Muslim riot in Ampara District in the Eastern Province left at least five persons wounded and several shops and a mosque damaged. The attack occurred after a group of Sinhalese accused a Muslim shop owner of incorporating “sterilization pills” into food. The online news outlet thehindu.com reported President Maithripala Sirisena said such incidents were detrimental to reconciliation in the country, and that Rajavarothiam Sampanthan, leader of the opposition Tamil National Alliance party, condemned the attacks and called for “stern action” against the perpetrators. Siraj Mashoor, a political activist based in Ampara District, told the media the police response was “rather slow.”
On April 29, according to local activists, a group of approximately 20 persons, including local Buddhists and Hindus, forcibly entered the Apostolic Church, Padukka, located in Colombo, during the Sunday service and threatened congregants. Multiple individuals struck a female congregant and the owner of the home in which the church meets. Police intervened and brought the attackers and congregants to the police station in Padukka. According to members of the congregation, the police officer in charge demanded the Christians stop their religious worship activities immediately and told the others to file a complaint against the Christians if they continued. He also reportedly scolded the pastor’s wife in what activists described as derogatory language and refused to accept a complaint regarding the assault on the owner of the premises.
On July 8, according to NGO reports, a mob from the surrounding villages and four Buddhist monks forcibly entered a Living Christian Assembly church in Sevanapitiya, Polonnaruwa. One of the Buddhist monks pushed the pastor aside, physically assaulted a congregant, and seized two Bibles that were in the church and took them away. The victims reportedly stated the mob claimed that Sevanapitiya was a Hindu-majority village and the pastor would not be allowed to enter the village and conduct services. Later that day, according to NGO reports, the police officer-in-charge of the Welikande Police Station and a Buddhist monk came to the church and ordered the Christian group to stop holding services there. The incident occurred on land under the jurisdiction of the Mahaweli Development Authority, which reportedly often prohibits unregistered congregations from worshiping on state land under its control without prior permission from officials.
In two separate instances in March and July the government paid compensation to the victims of 2014 anti-Muslim riots in Aluthgama, in which, according to media reports, four persons died, 80 were injured, and 200 houses and 73 commercial buildings were damaged. As of year’s end, some court cases were pending.
The Department of Christian Religious Affairs launched a public awareness campaign to encourage local congregations of nondenominational groups to register as religious organizations in 2016, but at year’s end the government had not registered any new groups because a political decision on whether or not the ministry would register these groups was still pending, according to officials. Instead, unregistered free Christian groups continued to incorporate as commercial trusts, legal societies, or NGOs to engage in financial transactions, open bank accounts, and hold property. Without formal government recognition via the registration process, however, nondenominational churches said they could not sponsor religious worker visas for visiting clergy and faced restrictions on holding meetings or constructing new places of worship. According to free Christian groups, they experienced two major difficulties in complying with local officials’ registration requirements. First, rural congregations often could not obtain deeds to land due to the degradation of hard copy Land Registry documentation and incomplete land surveys. Second, without the consent of the majority of the local community or the local Buddhist temple, local councils often opted not to approve the construction of new religious buildings. Church leaders said they repeatedly appealed to local government officials and the ministry responsible for Christian religious affairs for assistance, with limited success.
According to members of the Christian groups in question, local authorities sometimes demanded Christian groups stop worship activities or relocate their places of worship outside the local jurisdiction, ostensibly to maintain community peace. Local police and government officials reportedly continued to cite a 2011 government circular requiring places of worship to obtain approval to conduct religious activities. The Ministry of Buddha Sasana, however, revoked the 2011 circular in 2012. Police also reportedly cited the 2008 circular on construction of religious facilities to prohibit, impede, and close down Christian and Muslim places of worship.
According to Christian and Muslim civil society groups, official harassment often happened in concert with harassment by local Buddhist monks and Buddhist nationalist organizations. According to civil society sources, on January 12, the pastor of Jesus Evangelical Church in Kallady, Batticaloa received a letter from the Verugal divisional secretary instructing the pastor to cease conducting worship activities at his residence due to opposition from the villagers.
According to local sources, on January 19, the government land officer in the Ampara District Secretariat demanded the pastor of an Assemblies of God church stop worship activities immediately. The land officer reportedly said the pastor had no constitutional right to engage in religious activities and the regulations of the Mahaweli Development Authority superseded constitutional protections afforded residents of other parts of the country. The sources stated government officials threatened to seize the church’s land and tried to coerce the pastor into signing a letter promising not to hold Christian services at the site. The pastor, however, refused to sign. Later that same day, the pastor met with the additional district secretary (ADS), who he said forcibly took the pastor’s mobile phone to ensure that he would not record their conversation. The ADS then reportedly reiterated the statements of the land officer and demanded the pastor stop conducting prayer meetings at his personal residence. When the pastor refused, the ADS called a Buddhist monk in the area and told him the monks could now decide on a course of action.
According to NCEASL, on October 7 and 14, a crowd led by a Buddhist monk threatened a pastor of the Assemblies of God in Bulathkohupitiya in Kegala District and his family during Sunday worship services. The monk demanded the pastor produce evidence of the church’s registration and a list of its congregants. Police officers from the Bulathkohupitiya police station reprimanded and dispersed the crowd, stating everyone had the right to practice their religion freely. The officer-in-charge, however, requested the pastor refrain from filing a formal complaint and convened a meeting on October 15 among all parties. The pastor stated that during the meeting two Buddhist monks, the Bulathkohupitiya divisional secretary, and a neighbor living next to the church premises demanded the pastor stop holding services in the church. The pastor, however, refused to comply and the police said he would need to attend another meeting at a later date. The case remained pending at year’s end.
Civil society groups and local politicians continued to state the construction of Buddhist shrines by Buddhist groups and the military in the predominantly Hindu and Muslim Northern and Eastern Provinces constituted religious intimidation, as some shrines were built in areas with few, if any, Buddhist residents. According to local politicians in the north, the military sometimes acted outside its official capacity and aided in the construction of Buddhist statues.
According to civil society reports, on September 5, local residents resisted an attempt by a group of Buddhists to place a statue of Buddha on Kurunthur Mountain in Kumilamunai, Mullaitivu. The Buddhists stated there was an ancient Buddhist connection to the mountain. Local residents said the mountain had only ever had a Hindu temple and disputed the historical existence of any Buddhist temple. On October 5, Buddhist monks told the Mullaitivu Magistrate Court an official Buddhist archeological site was located on the site and requested the court permit construction of a shrine there. The court refused to grant permission. The government’s Archaeological Department told the court it had deputized local Buddhist monks to carry out an archeological site survey since the Archaeological Department was short of funds.
According to the Jehovah’s Witnesses community, the group continued to have difficulty obtaining approval to build houses of worship. Local government officials cited the 2008 circular and forwarded all new Kingdom Hall construction applications to the Ministry of Tourism Development and Christian Affairs. According to Jehovah’s Witnesses, during the year the ministry did not issue any approvals for building applications, even when local authorities had no objections.
Jehovah’s Witnesses said that the Madampe Chilaw local council in Puttalam District, Northwestern Province, rejected an application to build a Kingdom Hall, stating “the approval cannot be granted as this can cause religious disharmony in the area.” The Jehovah’s Witnesses filed a complaint with the Human Rights Commission. At a meeting convened by the Human Rights Commission on August 9, the council said the proposed building site was located in an area that had experienced violent clashes between Christians and Buddhists, and offered to approve a building application on a different piece of land. The matter remained unresolved at year’s end.
On September 11, the Cabinet of Ministers approved a proposal submitted by the minister of Hindu religious affairs to enact legislation banning animal sacrifices at places of worship. The bill, which was pending in parliament at year’s end, would prohibit the sacrifice of any animal, including birds, on the premises of or within a Hindu temple.
Although religious education remained compulsory in state-funded schools, not all schools had sufficient resources to teach all four recognized religions, and according to civil society groups, some students were forced to study religions other than their own. Government schools frequently experienced a shortage of teachers, sometimes requiring available teachers to teach the curriculum of a faith different from their own.
Religious schools continued to receive state funding for facilities and personnel and to be under the purview of the central government and/or provincial ministry of education. While the law requires government and semigovernment schools, some religiously affiliated, to accept students of all faiths, there were some reports of schools refusing students admission on religious grounds. According to human rights groups, in August the principal of a Catholic school in Wattala refused to admit a child to school because she was a “non-RC (other than Roman Catholic) Christian.”
Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom
Because religion, language, and ethnicity are closely linked, it was difficult to categorize many incidents as being solely based on religious identity.
According to civil society groups, social media campaigns targeting religious minorities fueled hatred and incited violence. According to press reports and civil society, Buddhist nationalist groups such as the BBS continued to promote the supremacy of the ethnic Sinhalese Buddhist majority and denigrate religious and ethnic minorities, especially via social media.
Civil society observers expressed concern the rhetoric of the BBS and other Buddhist nationalist groups incited societal actors to commit acts of violence against members of religious minority groups. Instigators of the violence in the March Kandy riots used social media to mobilize anti-Muslim crowds.
The NCEASL documented 74 cases of attacks on churches, intimidation of and violence against pastors and their congregations, and obstruction of worship services during the year, compared with 97 cases in 2017.
The Jehovah’s Witnesses community reported discrimination and abuse against members of their community. According to Jehovah’s Witnesses, on February 28 in Nikaweratiya, Northwestern Province, two Buddhist monks approached two female adherents at a bus stop and asked to see their identity cards. The monks reportedly also took pictures of the women, forcibly took literature from one of the women’s bags, and threatened to strip them and eject them from the area. According to Jehovah’s Witnesses, at a subsequent police inquiry on March 5, the monks arrived with a crowd of more than one hundred who “behaved in a very frenzied manner,” causing the women to fear for their personal safety. Subsequently police told the owner of the house where Jehovah’s Witnesses meetings took place to stop allowing meetings to be held on her property. A legal case concerning the matter was pending at year’s end.
According to members of the Jehovah’s Witnesses community, on January 10, two adherents were returning from religious teaching when a Buddhist monk named Saddarathne, whom the Jehovah’s Witnesses identified as the chief monk of the Shrawasthipura Buddhist Temple, approached and intimidated them while recording a video. Saddarathne then reportedly assaulted one of them with a staff. Police arrested the monk on January 27 and released him on bail. The case remained unresolved at year’s end.
On March 26, an NGO reported unidentified individuals threw stones at the Lighthouse Church at Pupuressa in Kandy, damaging its roof. On March 28, the pastor lodged a complaint at the Gampola Police Station. No suspects were arrested.
According to NGO sources, on October 21, a crowd of approximately 100, including a Hindu priest and the chairman of a Hindu temple, issued death threats and verbally abused a Christian pastor and congregants of the Foursquare Church in Batticaloa. The Hindu priest reportedly stated the church was located on land belonging to the temple. The landowner, who had leased the land to the church, later produced his title deed to the land in question. The pastor stated police admonished the Hindu priest and the chairperson of the temple for their actions and threatened to arrest them if they disrupted the Christian worship activities in the future.
According to civil society sources, on October 20, the coordinating secretary to the chief minister of Uva Province ordered an Assemblies of God pastor in Badulla District to attend an official meeting. When the pastor arrived at the meeting, three villagers demanded the pastor stop construction of a church and attempted to persuade the coordinating secretary to support them. The official, however, affirmed the pastor’s right to carry out his religious worship activities.
Civil society organizations continued efforts to strengthen the capacity of religious and community leaders to lead peacebuilding activities through district-level interreligious reconciliation committees, consisting of religious and civic leaders and laypersons from different faith traditions and ethnicities. The National Peace Council of Sri Lanka created these committees in 2010 following the end of the civil war, fought between the predominantly Buddhist Sinhalese majority and the primarily Hindu and Christian Tamil minority.
The number of Christian groups worshiping in “house churches” (i.e., outside formally designated places of worship) grew.
The Jehovah’s Witnesses online news outlet JW.org reported that from July 6 to July 8, more than 14,200 Jehovah’s Witnesses from seven countries met in Colombo for the first “Be Courageous” Special Convention ever held in the country. At the convention, participants discussed religious issues, baptized individuals, and attended activities highlighting Sri Lankan culture.
According to the Asia Evangelical Alliance, from July 17 to July 20, a group of 22 lawyers and academics from the South Asia region held the South Asia Legal Consultation, entitled “Defending Religious Freedom,” in Colombo. Deputy Secretary General of the World Evangelical Alliance Godfrey Yogarajah and Director of the Asian Evangelical Alliance’s Religious Liberty Commission Yamini Ravindran were among the participants. Among the topics discussed were common trends, challenges, and strategies to promote religious freedom in the region.
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. The government updated the 2016 Hate Plan and committed to spending 1.5 million pounds ($1.92 million) on educational programs to challenge discriminatory beliefs. The Home Office published an independent review of the application of sharia in England and Wales that included recommendations for legislative changes to bring the treatment of Muslim religious marriages into line with those of other faiths, an awareness campaign highlighting the benefits of civil registration for religious marriages, and a proposal for the government to regulate sharia councils. The main political parties faced numerous accusations of religious bias. Religious and civil society groups, the media, and others accused Conservative Party politicians, including former Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, of anti-Muslim sentiment, and a number of Labour Party politicians, including leader Jeremy Corbyn, faced repeated accusations of anti-Semitism. The Scottish government launched an “Anti-Hate” campaign in an effort to erase sectarianism. The government, a member of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) since 1998, adopted the IHRA’s full working definition of anti-Semitism. In 2017 the London Assembly, Scottish government, and Welsh government also adopted the IHRA’s definition. During the year, the Conservative, Labour, and Liberal Democrat Parties adopted the IHRA definition, but the Green Party’s ruling body decided against it. The Scottish National Party (SNP) did not clarify whether it has adopted the definition.
The government reported similarly high numbers as the previous year in religiously motivated hate crimes and incidents in England, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland. Community Security Trust (CST), a nongovernmental organization (NGO) monitoring anti-Semitism, recorded 1,652 anti-Semitic incidents during the year, the highest it had ever recorded in a single year and an increase of 16 percent, compared with 1,414 incidents in 2017. There were multiple incidents of violence, arson, threats, and vandalism against religious groups. There were incidents of religiously motivated hate speech against Muslims, Jews, and Christians. Such incidents included the assault on and threatening of a man because of his Muslim beliefs, an assault on two female Jewish protesters outside a political event, attacks and vandalism on Sikh temples and mosques, and a postal campaign encouraging members of the public to “Punish a Muslim.” A number of interfaith initiatives were launched, including the “21 for 21” project, which attempts to identify leaders for the 21st century, seven each from the Christian, Muslim, and Jewish communities.
U.S. embassy officials engaged with and sponsored speakers to visit religious groups. The embassy recognized October 27 as International Religious Freedom Day on its social media channels, including tweets from the embassy’s account highlighting the International Religious Freedom Act, the 2018 Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom, and the statement of the U.S. Secretary of State on the importance of promoting religious freedom and defending vulnerable minorities. On October 29, the Ambassador joined Home Secretary Sajid Javid, Mayor of London Sadiq Khan, Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis, and other religious and political leaders at a memorial at a North West London Jewish center for the victims of the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting. The Ambassador joined other speakers in calling for unity against religious hatred.
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.
The Human Rights Act 1998 protects freedom of thought, conscience, and religion. It states, “Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief and freedom, either alone or in community with other and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief, in worship, teaching, practice and observance.” The Human Rights Act reaffirms the European Convention of Human Rights, Article 9, which guarantees freedom of thought, conscience, and religion, subject to certain restrictions that are “in accordance with law” and “necessary in a democratic society.”
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.
In England and Wales, 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 to 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. The law also states buildings, rooms, or other premises may be registered as meeting places for religious worship upon payment of a fee; the General Register Office for England and Wales keeps a record of the registration, and the place of worship is assigned a “worship number.” Registration is not compulsory, but it provides certain financial advantages and is also required before a place of worship may be registered as a venue for marriages. Registered places of worship are exempt from paying taxes and benefit from participating in the country’s Gift Aid program. Gift Aid allows charities to claim back the 25 percent basic rate of tax already paid on donations by the donor, boosting the value of a donation by a quarter.
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. Specialist schoolteachers, rather than religious groups, teach the syllabus. Parents may request to exempt their children from RE. At age 13, students themselves may choose to stop RE or continue, in which case they study two religions. Nonreligious state schools require the RE curriculum to reflect “Christian values,” be nondenominational, and refrain from attempts to convert students. It must also teach the practices of other principal religions in the country. Students and, unless they are employed by faith-based schools, teachers may decline participation in collective worship, without prejudice.
Nonreligious state schools in England and Wales are required to practice daily collective prayer or worship of “a wholly or mainly…Christian character.” Schoolteachers lead these assemblies; however, parents have the legal right to request their children not participate in collective prayer or worship. 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. Nonreligious state schools are free to hold other religious ceremonies as they choose.
In Scotland only denominational (faith-based) schools practice daily collective prayer or worship; however, religious observance is compulsory in all Scottish schools. Religious observance is defined as “Community acts which aim to promote the spiritual development of all members of the school’s community.” Examples of religious observance include school assemblies and events to recognize religious events, including Christmas, Easter, and Holocaust Memorial Day. Parents can make the decision to opt out their children from this requirement, but children may not make this decision themselves.
In Bermuda the law requires students attending state schools to participate in collective worship, characterized by educational officials as reciting the Lord’s Prayer, but prohibits worship “distinctive of any particular religious group.” At the high school level, students are required to take a course that explores various religions until year 9 (ages 11-14); in years 10 and 11 (ages 15-16), courses on religion are optional.
There are two faith-based private schools in Bermuda that operate from kindergarten through high school. One follows the guidance of the North American division of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. The other follows principles of the Catholic Church.
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. If a faith-based 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. 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 students attending 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. Students of different faiths are able to attend Protestant and Catholic schools but tend to gravitate toward the integrated schools. 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, Church of Ireland, and Catholic, Presbyterian, and Methodist Churches – is compulsory in all government-funded schools, and “the school day shall include collective Christian worship whether in one or more than one assembly.” All schools receiving government funding must teach RE; however, students may request to opt out of the classes and collective worship. Catholic-managed schools draw uniquely on the Roman Catholic tradition for their RE, while other schools may draw on world religions.
An estimated 30 sharia councils operate parallel to the national legal system. They adjudicate Islamic religious matters, including religious divorces, which are not recognized under civil law. Participants may submit cases to the councils on a voluntary basis. The councils do not have the legal status of courts, although they have legal status as mediation and arbitration bodies. As such, rulings may not be appealed in the courts.
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) – a body sponsored by the Department of Education’s Government Equalities Office – is responsible for enforcing legislation prohibiting religious discrimination. The EHRC researches and conducts inquiries into religious and other discrimination in England, Scotland, and Wales. The minister for women and equalities appoints the members. If the commission finds a violation, it may issue a notice to the violator and seek a court order to enforce the notice. The EHRC receives government funds but operates independently. The Northern Ireland equivalent to the EHRC is the Equality Commission.
In Northern Ireland the law bans discrimination on the grounds of religious belief only in employment; however, schools may discriminate on the grounds of religion when recruiting teachers. In the rest of the country, 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, which would allow them to offer multiple channels as part of a single bundle of programming.
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 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 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 the Autumn Budget, Chancellor Phillip Hammond announced 1.7 million pounds ($2.18 million) of new funding to support Holocaust education. The money was earmarked for coordinating Holocaust survivors’ visits to schools and student visits to concentration camps. The Treasury is designated to work with the Holocaust Education Trust to distribute the funds. This funding is in addition to the 50 million pounds ($64.02 million) committed to support the UK Holocaust Memorial and Learning Centre and Holocaust Memorial, due to be built next to Parliament.
On October 16, the Home Office and the Department for Housing, Communities, and Local Government updated the government’s 2016 Hate Crime Plan. The updated plan includes more than 1.5 million pounds ($1.92 million) of new funding for educational programs to challenge discriminatory beliefs among young persons. The plan also extended the Places of Worship Security Funding Scheme from three to four years. During the year, the scheme provided grants to nine churches, 22 mosques, two Hindu temples, and 12 Sikh gurdwaras. Additional new measures include a Law Commission review into hate crime; a nationwide public awareness campaign; specialist training for police call handlers on how to support hate crime victims; an upgrade of the reporting website, True Vision; and roundtables hosted by government ministers on anti-Semitism and anti-Islamic sentiment.
On May 31, a committee led by Lord Bracadale (Alastair Campbell, former Scottish judge) provided to Scottish ministers the final report of the Independent Review of Hate Crime Legislation that was tasked in January 2017. The report found adequate provisions under existing law for religion as a “protected characteristic.”
In September the Scottish government together with Police Scotland launched a “Letters from Scotland” advertising campaign to raise awareness of hate crimes and encourage persons to report them. The Catholic Church criticized the Scottish government for not directly addressing sectarian hate crimes in the campaign.
The government continued to provide religious accommodation for employees when it considered such accommodation feasible. Muslim employees of the prison service regularly took time off during their shifts to pray. The prison service recognized the rights of prisoners to practice their faith while in custody. The pastoral needs of prisoners were addressed, in part, through chaplains paid for by the Ministry of Justice, rather than religious groups. All chaplains worked as part of a multifaith team, the size and breakdown of which was determined by the size of the prison and the religious composition of the prisoner population. Prison service regulations stated that “chaplaincy provision must reflect the faith denomination requirements of the prison.”
The military generally provided adherents of minority religious groups with chaplains of their faith. At year’s end, there were approximately 240 recruited chaplains in the armed forces, all of whom were Christian. The armed forces also employed five civilian chaplains as full-time civil servants to care for their Buddhist, Hindu, Sikh, Jewish, and Muslim recruits. The Armed Forces Chaplaincy Policy Board was reviewing provision of chaplaincy for personnel of these religions and considering employing suitable chaplains in the reserve forces.
In February the Home Office published an independent review into the application of sharia in England and Wales. The review, commissioned in October 2015 and launched in May 2016, provided three recommendations. The independent review panel recommended amendments be made to the Marriage Act 1949 and the Matrimonial Act 1973. These changes would “ensure that civil marriages are conducted before or at the same time as the Islamic marriages, in line with Christian and Jewish marriages in the eyes of the law.” The review stated the closure of sharia councils was not a viable option. Sharia councils are predominantly used by Muslim women seeking a religious divorce, in some cases because their religious marriages were never registered civilly, rendering civil divorce unavailable to them. The report also recommended the introduction of awareness campaigns, educational programs, and other similar measures to “encourage communities to acknowledge women’s rights in civil law, especially in areas of marriage and divorce.” The report also proposed the creation of a body that would set up the process for councils to regulate themselves. This regulation would require sharia councils to accept and implement a code of practice established by the regulatory body.
The Home Office responded to the independent panel’s recommendations stating, “We will not be taking forward the review’s recommendation to regulate sharia councils. Sharia law has no jurisdiction in the UK, and we would not facilitate or endorse regulation, which could present councils as an alternative to UK laws.”
As of January 2017 there were 6,814 state-funded faith-based schools in England. Of these, 6,177 were primary schools (ages three through 11), representing 37 percent of all state-funded primary schools, and 637 secondary schools (ages 11 through 16), representing 19 percent of all state-funded secondary schools. Church of England schools were the most common type among primary schools (26 percent); Roman Catholic schools were the most common at secondary level (9 percent). Additionally, at the primary and secondary levels, there were 26 Methodist, two Greek Orthodox, one Quaker, one Seventh-day Adventist, one United Reform, 145 other Christian, 48 Jewish, 27 Muslim, 11 Sikh, and five Hindu state-funded schools. There were 370 government-funded denominational schools in Scotland: 366 Catholic, three Episcopalian, and one Jewish. The government classified schools with links to the Church of Scotland as nondenominational.
On the centenary of the legislation that brought Catholic schools into Scotland’s state education system, in June First Minister Nicola Sturgeon announced a 450 percent increase to 127,000 pounds ($163,000) in funding for a Catholic teaching program so that more individuals could acquire a Catholic Teaching Certificate allowing them to teach at a Catholic school.
The government continued to require schools to consider the needs of different religious groups when setting dress codes for students. This included wearing or carrying specific religious artifacts, not cutting hair, dressing modestly, or covering the head. Guidance from the Department of Education required schools to balance the rights of individual students against the best interests of the school community as a whole; it noted schools could be justified in restricting individuals’ rights to manifest their religion or beliefs when necessary, for example, to promote cohesion and good order.
In April the Department of Education dropped plans to require providers of out-of-school education to register with local authorities, following a reported personal intervention by the Archbishop of Canterbury. The proposals, which aimed to safeguard children from the risk of extremism, would have subjected religious organizations to government regulations and inspections. The plans would have affected Christian Sunday schools and Muslim madrassas. Groups including the Evangelical Alliance, Christian Institute, and Christian Concern expressed their opposition to the proposals. The Department of Education received approximately 18,000 responses during its three-month consultation period (November 2015-January 2016), many of which were from faith groups stating concern over the proposed regulation.
In January press reported that a North London coroner withdrew a special arrangement for the Jewish community in October 2017. Under the arrangement in effect since January 2015, the remains of Jews who died at home in North London could be sent directly to a specified funeral home, rather than a public mortuary. Coroner Mary Hassell stated that a North London synagogue and burial society had made one of her officers feel bullied and persecuted during a previous postmortem examination. In response, Stamford Hill’s Adath Yisroel Synagogue and Burial Society said the policy was “unlawful” and called for Hassell’s removal. Religious groups brought a legal challenge, and in April the High Court declared Hassell’s policy unlawful and ordered her to change it. In July Hassell made a public apology and requested input from religious groups in crafting a new policy.
In Scotland, a law that criminalized religious hatred where it was connected to soccer matches was repealed on April 20. New charges that would previously have been reported under that law would henceforth be reported as a different offense with a religious aggravation. All ongoing charges under the former law were amended to reflect the change in statutes.
In August a Scottish judge blocked the deportation of a Malaysian Christian woman on religious grounds after she stated she had come to the country to flee Islamist persecution. The presiding Judge Lady Clark held that the woman’s life would be in danger if she were to return to Malaysia.
In May the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) wrote an open letter to the chairman of the Conservative Party demanding an inquiry into “Islamophobia” within the party. In the letter, the MCB asked the party to launch an independent inquiry, publish a list of incidents, institute an education program, and make a public commitment to stamp out bigotry. The letter named Conservative Member of Parliament (MP) Bob Blackman as “fostering Islamophobia.” It listed examples of politicians who had “liked” or reposted anti-Muslim social media posts and pages or had ties to anti-Muslim and far-right groups. In August a petition demanding an independent inquiry into “Islamophobia” in political parties reached more than 30,000 signatures in two days. The petition asked the parliament to adopt the steps proposed by the MCB.
In June two Conservative councilors were suspended following allegations of anti-Muslim comments on social media. Councilor Linda Freedman of Barnet in North London appeared to express support for the detention of Muslims on Twitter. Councilor Ian Hibberd of Southampton posted derogatory comments under a photograph of a fellow councilor wearing Sikh religious dress.
In August former Foreign Secretary and Conservative MP Boris Johnson wrote an opinion piece in The Telegraph newspaper in which he compared fully veiled Muslim women to “letter boxes” and “bank robbers.” Johnson faced criticism from a range of voices within his party, the opposition, and civil society. Prime Minister and leader of the Conservative Party Theresa May and the chairman of the Conservative Party, Brandon Lewis, both called on Johnson to apologize for his comments. Labour Party Shadow Equalities Minister, MP Naz Shah, labeled the comments as “ugly and naked Islamophobia.” The chairman of the Conservative Muslim Forum accused Johnson of “pandering to the far right.” In December an independent panel cleared Johnson of breaking the Conservative Party’s code of conduct. The panel found that while his comments could be considered provocative, it would be “unwise to censor excessively,” adding that Conservative Party rules do not “override an individual’s right to freedom of expression.”
The Labour Party and its leader, Jeremy Corbyn, faced further allegations of anti- Semitism. The CST recorded 148 incidents during the year that were examples of, or related to arguments over, alleged anti-Semitism within the Labour Party. In April the Labour Party was internally investigating 90 cases of anti-Semitism among its members. In April Corbyn wrote an article published in the London Evening Standard newspaper stating that the number of cases of anti-Semitism over the past three years represented less than 0.1 percent of Labour’s membership. In response, BBC Reality Check calculated that from 2015 to 2018, there were more than 300 complaints regarding anti-Semitism in the party, approximately half of those leading to expulsions. In March press reported that in 2012, Corbyn showed support for a mural depicting “Jewish bankers playing monopoly on the backs of the poor.” In response, two major Jewish groups – the Jewish Leadership Council and the Board of Deputies of British Jews – wrote an open letter to the Labour Party and organized a demonstration in Parliament Square. Corbyn later apologized, saying he did not properly look at the picture before arguing that the art should not be removed. Labour MPs joined the British Jewish community in a 2,000-person protest against anti-Semitism within the party.
In April Labour expelled a party member for heckling a Jewish MP at the launch of an anti-Semitism report in 2016. Former Labour Party member and activist Marc Wadsworth accused MP Ruth Smeeth of working “hand-in-hand” with the right-wing newspapers. Wadsworth was expelled two years later by the party’s National Constitution Committee for breaching party rules.
In May former London Mayor Ken Livingstone announced his resignation from the Labour Party after being suspended by the party for two years over allegations of anti-Semitism. The Labour Party first suspended Livingstone in 2016 after he said in a radio interview that Hitler had supported Zionism and announced in March that his suspension had been extended following another formal investigation over anti-Semitism. He continued to dispute the allegations.
In July Labour MP Naz Shah was appointed Shadow Minister for Women and Equalities. In 2016 Shah lost the party whip position and was barred from party activity for three months following comments on Facebook in which she appeared to liken Israeli policies to those of Hitler and suggested Israel should be moved to the United States. In January 2017, following a meeting with the Bradford Board of Deputies, a leading Jewish organization, its president, Jonathan Arkush, supported her, saying, “[Shah] is one of the only people involved in Labour’s anti-Semitism crisis who has sought to make amends for her actions, and for this we commend her and now regard Naz as a sincere friend of our community.”
In December Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt ordered an independent, global review of the persecution of Christians of all nationalities. The Foreign Office review was to be led by Bishop of Truro Philip Mountstephen and was to make recommendations to the government to better support those under threat. The review was due by April 21 (Easter) 2019.
The government, a member of the IHRA since 1998, adopted the full working definition of anti-Semitism in 2016, and the Crown Prosecution Service used it to assess potential prosecutions for anti-Semitic hate crimes. In 2017 the London Assembly, Scottish government, and Welsh government also adopted the IHRA’s definition. In July the Conservative Party adopted the IHRA definition and amended its code of conduct to include an interpretive annex on discrimination, which refers to the IHRA definition. The Liberal Democrats Party adopted the definition in September. The Guardian newspaper reported that the Green Party’s ruling body discussed adopting the definition as part of an internal review but decided against it. The SNP did not clarify whether it had adopted the IHRA definition, but a spokesperson pointed out that the Scottish government, which is ruled by the SNP, adopted the definition in 2017.
Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom
According to Home Office figures for the 12 months ending in March, there were 8,336 religiously motivated hate crimes recorded in England and Wales – 9 percent of total hate crimes – a 40 percent increase over the 5,949 crimes in the previous year. There was no breakdown by type of crime. Home Office statisticians said the increase likely reflected both a genuine rise in hate crime and ongoing improvements in crime recording by the police. Figures rose sharply in March 2017 and March 2018; however, police record crime data on a UK financial year basis (April-March), and there are commonly “increases” in March of each year as police reconcile their annual data. There was also a sharp increase in religiously motivated hate crime in June 2017, which the Home Office linked to the ISIS terrorist attacks in May and June.
In July Tell MAMA, a national project that records anti-Muslim hate crimes, released its annual report for 2017. The report showed the highest number of anti-Muslim incidents since its launch in 2012. In 2017 Tell MAMA recorded a total of 1,330 reports, of which 1,201 were verified as being anti-Muslim in nature. More than two-thirds (839) of the verified incidents, a 30 percent increase compared with 2016, did not occur online. Online reports accounted for one-third of the total incidents in 2017, a 16.3 percent increase from the previous year. Consistent with previous years, incidents that were not online took place within public areas such as parks and shopping areas. Public transport was the second most common place for incidents to take place. The report stated there was “a sharp increase in hate crime in June 2017 following terrorist attacks in May and June.”
In November Tell MAMA released its interim report for the first six months of 2018. During this time, a total of 685 incidents were reported, of which 608 were verified as being anti-Muslim. Of the total number of incidents, 65.9 percent (401) were offline, or street-based, and 34 percent (207) occurred online. The report noted 59.9 percent (124) of the online incidents took place on Twitter, 23.6 percent (49) on Facebook, and the rest on platforms including YouTube and Instagram. Abusive behavior formed the majority of incidents that were not online, and accounted for 45.3 percent (182) records. More than half the victims were Muslim women, accounting for 58 percent (233) of incidents where gender data was available.
In Scotland the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service reported 642 religiously motivated crimes in the 12 months ending in March, a 5 percent decrease (678 in the previous year). The most recent figures included 319 anti-Catholic crimes (384), 174 anti-Protestant crimes (165), 115 anti-Muslim crimes (113), and 21 anti-Semitic crimes (23). Cases did not add up to the total number reported as some of the crimes related to conduct that targeted more than one religious group. In the year ending in March, court proceedings commenced in 85 percent of cases.
The Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) reported 41 religiously motivated hate crimes committed in 38 incidents during 2017-18, a 46 percent increase from the previous period. The PSNI cited 52 other religiously motivated incidents in the same period that did not constitute crimes, an increase of 31 over the previous year.
The CST recorded 1,652 anti-Semitic incidents during the year – the highest in a calendar year. For the 2018 calendar year, incidents targeted Jewish public figures (82, compared with 18 in 2017), Jewish schools (40), synagogues (66), Jewish homes (130), and Jewish community organizations, communal events, or commercial property (221). The CST categorized 122 incidents as assaults. Almost three quarters of the incidents occurred in the main Jewish centers of greater London and greater Manchester, 950 and 145, respectively. The CST recorded 384 incidents of anti-Semitism on social media, constituting 23 percent of the overall total of incidents, an increase of 54 percent, compared with 249 in 2017.
According to CST, the sustained high levels of anti-Semitic incidents reported may have resulted in part from improvements in information collection, including better reporting from victims and witnesses as a result of growing communal concern about anti-Semitism; an increase in the number of security guards (many of whom the government funded through a CST-administered grant to provide security at Jewish locations); and ongoing improvements to CST’s information sharing with police forces around the country. While CST stated there was no clear trigger event, months in which the CST recorded a higher number of incidents correlated with the political and media debate over allegations of anti-Semitism within the Labour Party. The CST recorded 148 incidents that were examples of, or linked to, the Labour Party. The CST also stated that higher monthly totals in April and May might have been partly influenced by reactions to violence on the Gaza-Israel border. According to the CST, this sustained high number of anti-Semitic incidents suggested a longer-term phenomenon in which persons with anti-Semitic views appeared to be more confident expressing their views. The CST stated that identifying the ethnicity or religious beliefs of anti-Semitic offenders was difficult, since many incidents involved brief public encounters or, in the case of online statements, no face-to-face contact at all. The CST received a description of the ethnic appearance of an offender in 30 percent (502) of the 1,652 incidents reported. Of these, 60 percent (300) were described as white – European; 15 percent (73) as Black; 13 percent (64) as South Asian; and 9 percent (44) as Arab or North African; and 4 percent (18) as white – South European.
In January the Chelsea Football Club (FC) announced a new campaign to raise awareness of anti-Semitism and its consequences, after fans chanted anti-Semitic abuse at a game in late 2017. Days after Chelsea FC announced its initiative to combat anti-Semitism by its fans, in February some of its supporters were caught singing anti-Semitic songs during a game. In April Chelsea FC sent a delegation of 150 staff and supporters to Auschwitz for the annual March of the Living, a trip described by Chelsea FC’s chairman, Bruce Buck, as “important and effective.” In October Chelsea FC owner Roman Abramovich announced plans to continue the initiative by sending anti-Semitic supporters on educational trips to Auschwitz, rather than banning them from attending games. Buck told The Sun, “This policy gives them a chance to realize what they’ve done, to make them want to behave better.” On October 10, Chelsea FC previewed a film at the Houses of Parliament aimed at raising awareness of the consequences of anti-Semitism, through interspersing images of offensive chants and social media posts alongside images from the Holocaust. The club’s website states, “We are just trying to make a dent in the anti-Semitism in this world. Over time, we hope to make a real contribution for good to society.”
Paul Golding and Jayda Fransen, respectively the leader and deputy leader of Britain First, a nationalist party widely described as far right, appeared separately in court in January in response to charges lodged in November 2017 over their allegedly inciting hatred with anti-Islamic remarks made at the “Northern Ireland against Terrorism” rally, held in Belfast in August 2017. The pair were due in court in April 2018, but the trial was postponed after they were imprisoned in England for similar crimes. As of year’s end, no date had been set for the trial to resume.
In March the leaders of Britain First were jailed over anti-Muslim hate crimes. In May 2017 authorities charged them with causing religiously aggravated harassment in connection with a trial of four Muslim men, at least three of whom were migrants from Afghanistan, accused of gang-raping a 16-year-old girl. Authorities stated that during the trial of the four men, Britain First leaders Paul Golding and Jayda Fransen had distributed leaflets, posted videos, and harassed individuals who they believed were associated with the accused rapists. On October 17, Golding and Fransen were found guilty of “religiously aggravated harassment,” Golding on one charge and Fransen on three. Golding was sentenced to 18 weeks in prison and Frasen to 36 weeks. Facebook deleted the pages of Britain First in the following days, stating the posts had “crossed the line and became hate speech designed to stir up hatred against groups in our society.”
In September the Local Government Commissioner for Standards suspended independent Belfast Councilor Jolene Bunting for four months after she helped Britain First deputy leader Jayda Fransen send a video message from the lord mayor’s chair. In the video, Fransen referred to a speech she gave in August 2017, where she made anti-Muslim comments. In addition to the PSNI investigation of the incident, the local government commissioner was investigating 14 other complaints, including comments she made about Islam.
In March an individual sent letters promoting “Punish a Muslim Day” to mosques in England and Wales, South Asian Members of Parliament, and members of the government, including Prime Minister May. Similar letters, sent in 2016, targeted former Prime Minister David Cameron and Queen Elizabeth II. In 2017 similar letters were sent to mosques around the country. The letters assigned points to specific acts of violence, from awarding 25 points for removing a Muslim woman’s headscarf to 1,000 points for bombing a mosque. Politicians from across the political divide condemned the letters. Following an Urgent Question raised by MP Yasmin Qureshi in the House of Commons, Home Office Minister MP Victoria Atkins called on Muslims to report this letter, or similar communications, to the police. The minister also confirmed the government would revise its Hate Crime Action Plan by introducing new measures, including a wide-ranging law commission review into hate crime, increased funding for places of worship, and the launch of a new public awareness campaign. In June David Parnham, a local government employee from central England, was arrested following fingerprint and DNA evidence. In October Parnham pleaded guilty to creating and sending the letters with the intention of terrorizing Muslims; Parnham faced a potential life sentence.
In March staff at a Belfast library received “threatening phone calls” following an event planned to mark the birth of Belfast-born former Israeli President Chaim Herzog. The Israeli ambassador attended the event organized by the Northern Ireland Friends of Israel, which occurred without incident. Following the event, former First Minister of Northern Ireland Arlene Foster called for political parties in the region to unite against anti-Semitism.
In April the Glasgow High Court sentenced Connor Ward of Banff to life imprisonment for planning terror attacks against mosques. In October Ward appealed his conviction, which the Edinburgh Court of Criminal Appeal rejected on December 13.
In April a group calling itself “Generation Sparta” distributed anti-Muslim leaflets in the lower Ravenhill Road area of Belfast, warning against the “Islamification” of Northern Ireland and calling for Catholics and Protestants to unite against the “common threat” of “fanatical Islamists.” Belfast City Councilor Jolene Bunting defended the incident, which was widely condemned by political parties and was being investigated by the PSNI.
In April a court in Airdrie fined Mark Meechan, who posted online videos of a pet dog taught to perform Nazi salutes, 800 pounds ($1,000). Meechan recorded his partner’s dog responding to statements such as “gas the Jews” and “sieg heil” by raising its paw. Meechan posted these videos on YouTube in 2016. Meechan reacted to the verdict saying, “It’s the juxtaposition of having an adorable animal react to something vulgar that was the entire point of the joke.”
In May police investigated two incidents of anti-Semitic graffiti at Mearns Castle High School in the suburbs of Glasgow. Mearns Castle is a receiving high school for Calderwood Lodge, Scotland’s only Jewish primary school.
In June a man was jailed for threatening to “slit a Muslim’s throat” on Twitter. Twitter users reported Rhodenne Chand to police after they said they feared he would carry out his threat. Chand told police he was “venting” in the wake of the ISIS-inspired terrorist attacks in Manchester and London. He had written 32 tweets between the Manchester Arena bombing and his arrest in June 2017, including wanting to “slit Muslim’s throat.” West Midlands police said some of Chand’s tweets, which had since been taken offline, encouraged violence against Muslims and called for mosques to be attacked. Upon his arrest, Chand told officers he “felt disgusted at himself for writing the posts.” Chand was jailed for 20 months.
In June supporters of English Defence League founder Tommy Robinson – real name Stephen Yaxley-Lennon – performed Nazi salutes at a violent protest in London. Demonstrations against Robinson’s jail sentence took place in various cities across the country. In London a man was filmed repeatedly saluting while holding a banner with anti-Muslim messaging. In Belfast, another supporter was photographed displaying the Nazi salute. Robinson was serving a 13-month sentence in prison, but a court of appeals overturned the verdict in August and ordered a retrial. In October the judge, retrying Robinson for contempt of court, referred the case to the attorney general, stating that in the current setting, lawyers would not be able to perform an appropriate cross-examination of the testimony and evidence given by Robinson in his own defense. By referring the case to the attorney general, Robinson’s contempt charges could be heard in an adversarial setting, in which a lawyer could present evidence and question witnesses to make the case. Robinson was released on bail. The attorney general had responsibility for deciding whether to send the case to the High Court or drop the contempt proceedings. There was no timeline for the decision to be made, and the case remained pending at year’s end.
Police were investigating a video showing England football fans making Nazi salutes during the World Cup in June. The video showed two fans performing a Nazi salute and singing a fascist chant while in a bar.
In July an individual spat on a Scottish priest twice as he spoke to parishioners outside a Catholic church in Glasgow. Another man carrying a pole then further insulted and lunged at the priest. The Orange Walk parade, an annual march held by the Protestant fraternal order Orange Order, was passing by at the time of the incident. Police Scotland investigated the incident; the Grand Orange Lodge of Scotland said none of its members was responsible. Later, police charged a 24-year-old man with aggravated assault linked to the incidents. The attack drew condemnation from all sides of the political debate. In August in Glasgow, the Council banned the Orange Order from walking past the church. Police Scotland welcomed the move to reroute the parade.
In August two women, Emma Storey and Lois Evans, were convicted of assaulting a man because of his Islamic beliefs near Middlesborough in northeast England. The two women held and beat the victim while shouting that they hated Muslims. Evans threatened to kill the victim. The court was shown footage of the assault, filmed on Storey’s cell phone. Storey was sentenced to three years and four months, and Evans was sentenced to two years and eight months in prison.
In August an individual set fire to the doors of the Guru Nanak Gurdwara, a Sikh temple in Edinburgh, causing smoke damage to the temple. The gurdwara is situated in a former church and is the only Sikh center in the Scottish capital, serving a community of more than 500 Sikhs. The Church of Scotland released a short statement expressing its “deepest sympathy” to Edinburgh’s Sikh community. Police arrested a 49-year-old man who had “issues with religion” in connection with the attack.
In August, in Birmingham, armed police were called to two mosques after perpetrators smashed windows using a “heavy-duty catapult” during evening prayers. The attacks, reportedly led worshippers to believe they were under attack by a gunman. No arrests were made.
In September a Swansea FC fan was banned from games for three years and sentenced to a 12-month probation period for making a Nazi salute during a game against Tottenham Hotspur FC. Tottenham’s Director Jon Reuben captured the salute on camera.
In October ITV Tyne Tees discovered a Facebook group named “Bishop Auckland Against Islam” and reported it to Durham police. The Facebook group featured posts praising acts of violence against Muslims, with suggestions that Muslims should be killed for their religious beliefs. Facebook removed the page.
In October attackers beat and kicked two female Jewish protesters outside a “Corbyn, Antisemitism, and Justice for Palestine” event hosted by a pro-Corbyn group in Islington, North London. One of the protesters was pulled to the ground and kicked repeatedly in the head by two women. The victim sustained minor head injuries. The protesters were asked by their attackers to cease filming the doorway to the event and were reportedly shouting “shame on you” as the women turned to enter the venue. It was not clear if the attackers were attending the Corbyn-hosted event.
In October police investigated a possible hate crime in Newtownards by a group dressed as Ku Klux Klan members, including an image posted on social media of the group in a threatening pose outside the town’s Islamic Centre. In 2017 a pig’s head was placed outside the same center.
Numerous individuals expressed complaints concerning an article in The Sunday Times newspaper in October by Rod Liddle for suggesting that British Islamists should “blow themselves up” in East London. The Independent Press Standards Organisation confirmed that it was processing the complaints but did not provide further information. Labour MP Anna Turley called the article “deeply insulting,” and Tell MAMA accused Liddle of Islamophobia.
In November a young boy required hospitalization after he was punched in the eye and grabbed by the mouth by a couple on a bus in Wales after his mother told them she was born in Israel. According to a bystander, the couple appeared to be intoxicated, and the man used “verbal anti-Semitic abuse” when he found out she was Israeli. Police were searching for the perpetrators.
In December the Arsenal Football Club investigated allegations of anti-Semitic behavior by fans during a game against Tottenham, including offensive chants and gestures.
In December the European Union’s Agency for Fundamental Rights (EU-FRA) released its second survey of Jewish experiences and perceptions of anti-Semitism. EU-FRA targeted Jewish populations through community organizations, Jewish media, and social networks; 4,731 individuals who identified themselves as Jewish residents responded to the online survey. Twenty-four percent said they had witnessed other Jews being insulted, harassed, or physically attacked in the previous 12 months, and 25 percent reported being harassed over the same period. Seventeen percent of respondents said they had felt discriminated against because of their religion or belief; 88 percent thought anti-Semitism had increased over the previous five years.
A number of interfaith organizations operated in the country, including Faith Matters, the Inter Faith Network, and Interfaith Scotland. Various interfaith efforts took place throughout the year. In May Muslim leaders ran a full-page advertisement in The Daily Telegraph newspaper condemning anti-Semitism. Leaders of groups including Faith Matters, the Association of British Muslims, and Tell MAMA signed the advertisement. The advertisement read, “We understand that many in our country empathise with the Palestinians and their right to a sovereign state. However, we must be ever vigilant against those who cynically use international issues to vilify Jews or promote anti-Semitic tropes.” The Board of Deputies of British Jews praised the advertisement, tweeting, “Incredible solidarity…. Thank you. Together we will defeat the twin evils of anti-Semitism and anti-Muslim hate.” A week earlier, the Board of Deputies joined Tell MAMA in condemning Islamophobia following the release of its annual report.
In March Interfaith Glasgow won third prize in the UN World Interfaith Harmony Week for its program, “Friendship, Dialogue, Cooperation: Exploring Crucial Elements of Interfaith Harmony.” The group promotes positive engagement between persons of different religious traditions in Scotland’s most religiously diverse city.
In July Christian, Muslim, and Jewish groups joined to launch the “21 for 21” interfaith collaboration. The project, in collaboration with three media outlets – The Jewish News, The Church Times, and Muslim TV – was termed a “search for 21 leaders for the 21st century.” Seven Christians, seven Jews, and seven Muslims were to be chosen from a range of nominees. Winners would be presented with prizes at a reception at Lambeth Palace, the official residence of the Archbishop of Canterbury.
In September local chapters of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Association and the Quakers in Peterborough in Cambridgeshire organized an interfaith conference.
In October the Anglican Diocese of Oxford extended an invitation to a Muslim scholar to preach at a Eucharist service. In response to criticism, a spokesperson for the Diocese of Oxford said the imam “is not the first person from another faith community to be invited to preach the University Sermon. His presence on Sunday reflects the strong commitment of the Church, university, and other faith communities to interfaith engagement.”
In November Interfaith Scotland celebrated Scottish Interfaith Week through a series of events and competitions, including a launch event focused on women of faith in the suffragette movement and creative competition targeted at school students and local communities.