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. A Melbourne court affirmed the right of a Sikh student to wear a religious turban to a Christian school even though the turban was not consistent with the school’s obligatory uniform. The political platform of the One Nation Party, which had four senators in the federal parliament, included cessation of Muslim immigration and limits on some Islamic practices. Parliament passed legislation legalizing same-sex marriage on December 7. Former Prime Ministers John Howard and Tony Abbott expressed concern prior to passage that the legislation provided inadequate protection of religious freedom. The attorney general said current law provided adequate protections for religious freedom. The prime minister stated in his July National Security Statement that the country’s national identity is defined by a commitment to a shared set of values, including freedom and democracy, rather than by reference to issues such as religion or race. The government continued to run extensive programs to support religious pluralism.
In April a Greek Orthodox Christian wearing a large cross reportedly was beaten by men of “Middle Eastern appearance.” The attackers reportedly ripped the crucifix off his neck and stomped on it. In May the president of the Australian Human Rights Commission, an independent statutory organization, said “there is consistent evidence that Muslims are subject to higher rates of racism than pertains for all other racial and religious groups within the Australian community … the headscarf has become a lightning rod for attacking Muslim women. The Muslim community is disproportionately subject to ‘hate speech’ and discrimination in employment and the delivery of goods and services.” The Australian Christian Lobby organization said its activities were disrupted during the period preceding a national federal government-run postal survey on same-sex marriage by threats of violence.
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 I. Religious Demography
The U.S. government estimates the total population at 23.2 million (July 2017 estimate). According to the 2016 census, 52.1 percent of residents are Christian, including 22.6 percent of residents who are Roman Catholic and 13.3 percent Anglican. Buddhists constitute 2.4 percent of the population, Muslims 2.6 percent, Hindus 1.9 percent, and Jews 0.4 percent. An additional 9.6 percent either did not state a religious affiliation or stated other religious affiliations such as “new age,” “not defined,” or “theism,” while 30.1 percent reported no religious affiliation.
The 2016 census indicated indigenous persons constitute 2.8 percent of the population. The most recent breakdown for indigenous population remained the 2011 census, which estimated that 1 percent of indigenous respondents practice traditional indigenous religions. Among this group, affiliation with a traditional indigenous religion is higher in very remote areas (6 percent) than in all other areas (less than 1 percent). Approximately 60 percent of indigenous respondents identify as Christian, and an estimated 20 percent report having no religious affiliation. The remainder either did not state a religious affiliation or stated other religious affiliations.
Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom
The constitution bars the federal government from making any law that imposes a state religion or religious observance, prohibits the free exercise of religion, or establishes a religious test for a federal public office.
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 approved curricula; parents may decide whether their children will attend or not. 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 a Melbourne court ruled that a Christian school that accepted half of its pupils from non-Christian families could not reasonably exclude a five-year-old Sikh boy from attending classes on account of his parents’ belief that he should wear a turban. The court said the parents and school were free to negotiate appropriate new agreements to the school’s uniform code, possibly including and not limited to colors of all clothing worn, but that the boy’s turban worn for religious reasons could not be excluded.
The One Nation Party had four senators in the federal parliament and maintained a platform calling for ceasing 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. In August One Nation Party leader and federal Senator Pauline Hanson wore a burqa in the senate chamber and called on the government “to ban the burqa.” Attorney General George Brandis immediately rejected the call and called Hanson’s action a “stunt.”
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 September three men from the United Patriots group were convicted of inciting contempt and ridicule of Muslims following a 2015 event protesting the construction of a mosque in Bendigo, located 90 miles from Melbourne. They were each fined $2,000 Australian dollars ($1,600). Construction on the mosque began in August.
The Victorian State Government Multicultural Commission published a report in December 2016 on the debate over construction of the mosque in Bendigo. The study concluded that the Bendigo Muslim community faced abuse. Muslim children reported being bullied at school, and women wearing the hijab said they were shouted at by people passing by in their cars. The commission said it hoped the findings of the report could help other regional cities better engage their Muslim communities.
In New South Wales (NSW), a Muslim organization called the Women of Hizb ut-Tahrir said Muslim men were permitted to strike a disobedient wife as long as it was soft and “symbolic.” The women faced backlash for their video post from the NSW police commissioner and Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce, who said, “If you want to beat up your wife, you can’t become a citizen of this nation.”
The government continued to provide funding for security installations –lighting, fencing, closed-circuit television cameras, and others – 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, was based on a government-wide approach to maintaining social cohesion and included religious tolerance as a component. The government provided a range of youth-focused early intervention, outreach, and education programs to promote religious tolerance as well as “deradicalization” programs for prison inmates convicted of terrorism-related offenses.
Former Prime Ministers John Howard and Tony Abbott expressed concern that the proposed legislation to legalize same-sex marriage provided inadequate protection of religious freedom. The attorney general said current law provided adequate protections for religious freedom. Parliament passed legislation legalizing same-sex marriage on December 7.
A multiparty group of legislators in Victoria did not allow a vote on legislation introduced in 2016 that would protect LGBTI students, employees, and job seekers at faith-based schools.
Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom
In April a 30-year-old Greek Orthodox Christian wearing a large cross outside his clothing reportedly was beaten on a train in Western Sydney by a group of young men of “Middle Eastern appearance.” The attackers reportedly ripped the crucifix off his neck and stomped on it while uttering a religious profanity.
In May the president of the Australian Human Rights Commission, an independent statutory organization, said “there is consistent evidence that Muslims are subject to higher rates of racism than pertains for all other racial and religious groups within the Australian community … the headscarf has become a lightning rod for attacking Muslim women. The Muslim community is disproportionately subject to ‘hate speech’ and discrimination in employment and the delivery of goods and services.”
The Australian Christian Lobby organization said its April conference in Sydney was disrupted and it was forced to cancel an earlier conference in Sydney due to threats of violence during the period preceding a national postal survey on same-sex marriage. The national headquarters of the Australian Christian Lobby organization in Canberra was severely damaged by a car explosion and fire attack in December 2016. The attacker told police that he opposed religion and the organization’s views on sexuality.
In September an employee in Canberra who opposed same-sex marriage due to her Christian beliefs was fired by her employer for posting on her personal social media page that she intended to vote against the measure to legalize same-sex marriage in the national postal survey.
In June a group of female Muslim students attending a career expo at the Perth Convention and Exhibition Centre were reportedly made to leave the event because other participants felt threatened by their wearing of hijabs in the aftermath of the May 22 Manchester bombing.
According to media reports, an academic study published in February using data gathered in 2015 and 2016 found Australians less anti-Muslim than most commentators had previously stated. According to the study’s interpretation of a survey, 9 percent of respondents showed “high or very high Islamophobia,” while nearly 70 percent of respondents showed low or very low levels.
The Q Society – a self-proclaimed “Islam-critical” organization – held fundraising dinners in February headlined by two members of the federal parliament. The group’s leaders said that “there is more support than ever across Australia and the world for the Islam-critical Movement.” The Q Society opposed halal certification programs and construction of mosques and advocated for a moratorium on immigration from Afghanistan, Lebanon, Syria, and Iraq. The group said it had more than 1,000 members in the country and held monthly meetings in each Australian state.
In August a group called the Antipodean Resistance posted fliers at three Melbourne universities and the Australian National University in Canberra. The fliers featured anti-immigrant and anti-Semitic messages, including, “Stop the Hordes” and “Reject Jewish Poison.” Political leaders and educators denounced the fliers. The group also said it placed swastika stickers at the University of Sydney.
In August swastikas and racist graffiti were found inside the University of Sydney Business School and the International Student Lounge. The graffiti was removed the same day, and the university said it was working with police to identify the perpetrators.
In August three men were charged with a December 2016 firebomb attack on an Islamic community center in Melbourne in which the words “Islamic State” were scrawled on the building. The blaze destroyed the building, which was a center of worship for the Shia community. Police stated that these anti-Shia acts were “inspired” by the Islamic State. All three were charged with engaging in a terrorist attack, an offense that can carry a sentence of life in prison.
The Executive Council of Australian Jewry reported 230 anti-Semitic incidents of threats or abuse during the year, up from 210 in the previous year. In May paper slips and leaflets containing content that denied the occurrence of the Holocaust were distributed on cars and noticeboards across the University of Western Australia campus.
Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement
The U.S. Embassy in Canberra and Consulates General in Melbourne, Perth, and Sydney met with government officials from the federal and state-level departments of social services and multicultural affairs to promote interfaith understanding and tolerance programs.
U.S. officials, including the Charge d’Affaires, engaged a wide range of religious leaders, faith communities, and groups, including the Islamic Council of Victoria and the Australia Arab Association of Perth. The embassy and consulates general used social media platforms to increase awareness of U.S. policy and activities supportive of religious freedom through posting and sharing of articles and events.
The Consulate General in Melbourne hosted its eighth annual Youth Iftar and welcomed Muslim and non-Muslim guests from political, legal, sports, government, entertainment, educational, and faith backgrounds. The dinner facilitated young leaders in meeting a diverse group of people for discussions including religious diversity.
A representative from the Consulate General in Perth gave an address at the Australia Arab Association’s Multicultural Eid al-Adha events to celebrate diversity.
Members of the Consulate General in Sydney attended interfaith dinners hosted by leaders of Sydney’s Lebanese Muslim community to discuss tolerance and inclusion.
The constitution provides for freedom of religion and states that religion is a personal choice, and all churches and religious organizations have equal rights. An agreement with the Holy See determines relations with the Roman Catholic Church and grants it privileges not accorded to other religious groups. Statutes adopted because of agreements between the government and other churches and religious organizations determine relations with those groups. The criminal code prohibits public speech offensive to religious sentiment. The Supreme Administrative Court dismissed an appeal that, if successful, would have led to the deregistering of the Union of Progressive Jewish Communities in Poland. The government made a final determination on 60 communal property restitution cases involving claims by religious communities during the year, out of approximately 3,600 outstanding. The leader of the governing Law and Justice Party (PiS) met with Jewish groups after they wrote to him expressing concerns over growing anti-Semitism. Parliament asked the interior minister to respond after Muslim groups wrote to the speaker of the lower house asking him to protect the Muslim minority. The interior minister ordered an investigation after Holocaust survivor groups discovered that a 1999 video of naked people laughing and playing tag in a concentration camp gas chamber had been filmed in the former Nazi Stutthof concentration camp. PiS members made statements against Muslim migrants, and one party parliamentarian tweeted an anti-Semitic comment. The PiS leader denounced anti-Semitism, and President Andrzej Duda said the country had a duty to speak out about the extermination of its Jewish population by the Nazis during WWII.
According to government figures from 2016, which civil society groups said were not comprehensive, anti-Muslim incidents almost doubled to 360 compared with 2015, while anti-Semitic incidents declined by 23 percent to 160. Jewish groups reported an increase in anti-Semitic incidents during the year but did not cite figures. In June German Muslim students reported harassment in Lublin, and the Muslim Cultural Center in Warsaw cancelled an open house after online threats. A Pew Research Center poll found two thirds of respondents held negative views of Muslims, and a Warsaw University study reported a rise in anti-Semitic attitudes in the country. In November some marchers chanted Nazi and anti-Semitic slogans at a nationalist Independence Day march attended by tens of thousands of persons in Warsaw. In April some participants chanted anti-Muslim slogans at a demonstration in Warsaw by several hundred supporters of a group widely described as extremist. In March a group burned an effigy of a Jewish woman in Warsaw. There were incidents of vandalism at Jewish, Muslim, Catholic, and Protestant sites.
The U.S. embassy and visiting U.S. government representatives met with government officials and representatives of Jewish groups to discuss the status of private and communal property restitution and anti-Semitism. The Ambassador appealed to extend the provisions of draft private property restitution legislation to cover American citizens and Holocaust victims, survivors, and their heirs. The Ambassador, other embassy staff, and visiting U.S. government delegations raised concerns with government officials that draft legislation criminalizing the attribution of Nazi Third Reich crimes to the Polish state or nation could undermine free speech and media freedom, and inhibit discussion of the Holocaust. The embassy and consulate general in Krakow engaged with Jewish and Muslim leaders on countering anti-Semitism and anti-Muslim sentiment and sponsored events, including exchange programs, roundtable discussions, cultural events, and education grants, that promoted interfaith dialogue and religious tolerance.
Section I. Religious Demography
The U.S. government estimates the population at 38.5 million (July 2017 estimate). The Polish government Statistical Yearbook, which publishes the membership population for religious groups that voluntarily submit the information for publication, reports that 86 percent of the population is Roman Catholic. The next largest religious groups are the Polish Orthodox Church, which reports just over half a million members, and the Jehovah’s Witnesses, which reports more than 120,000 members. Other religious organizations include Lutherans, Pentecostals, the Old Catholic Mariavite Church, the Polish Catholic Church, Seventh-day Adventists, Baptists, Church of Christ, Methodists, Latter-day Saints, Hare Krishnas, and Buddhists. Jewish and Muslim groups estimate their numbers to be 20,000 and 25,000, respectively, although some Jewish groups estimate their number could be as high as 40,000. Approximately 10 percent of Muslims are ethnic Tatars, a group that has been present in the country for several hundred years. A Central Statistical Office February survey reported 92.8 percent of citizens aged 16 years or older identify as Roman Catholic and 1.4 percent as belonging to other denominations, including Orthodox (0.7 percent), Jehovah’s Witnesses (0.3 percent), or other Protestant groups (0.2 percent). Just over 3 percent reported no religious identification, and less than 0.1 percent identified with non-Christian religions.
Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom
The constitution provides for freedom of conscience and religion. It states freedom of religion includes the freedom to profess or to accept a religion by personal choice as well as to manifest that religion, either individually or collectively, publicly or privately, by worshipping, praying, participating in ceremonies, performing rites, or teaching. It states freedom to express religion may be limited only by law when necessary to defend state security, public order, health, morals, or the rights of others. The constitution states “churches and other religious organizations shall have equal rights.” It stipulates the relationship between the state and churches and other religious organizations shall be based on the principle of respect for autonomy and mutual independence. The constitution specifies that relations with the Catholic Church shall be determined by an international treaty concluded with the Holy See and by statute, and relations with other churches and religious organizations by statutes adopted pursuant to agreements between representatives of these groups and the Council of Ministers.
According to the constitution, freedom of religion also includes the right to own places of worship and to provide religious services. The constitution stipulates parents have the right to ensure their children receive a moral and religious upbringing and teaching in accordance with their convictions and their own religious and philosophical beliefs. It states religious organizations may teach their faith in schools if doing so does not infringe on the religious freedom of others. The constitution acknowledges the right of national and ethnic minorities to establish institutions designed to protect religious identity. The constitution prohibits parties and other organizations whose ideologies are based on Nazism.
The criminal code outlaws public speech that offends religious sentiment. The law prescribes a fine, typically 5,000 zloty ($1,400), or up to two years in prison for violations.
Specific legislation governs the relationship of 15 religious groups with the state, outlining the structure of that relationship and procedures for communal property restitution. The 15 religious groups are the Roman Catholic Church, Polish Orthodox Church, Evangelical-Augsburg (Lutheran) Church, Evangelical Reformed Church, Methodist Church, Baptist Church, Seventh-day Adventist Church, Polish National Catholic Church, Pentecostal Church, the Union of Jewish Communities, Mariavite Church, Old Catholic Mariavite Church, Old Eastern Orthodox Church, Muslim Religious Union, and Karaim Religious Union. Marriages performed by officials from 11 of these groups do not require further registration at a civil registry office; however, the Mariavite Church, Muslim Religious Union, Karaim Religious Union, and Old Eastern Orthodox Church do not have that right. An additional 165-registered religious group and five aggregate religious organizations (the Polish Ecumenical Council, Polish Buddhist Union, Biblical Society, Evangelical Alliance, and Council of Protestant Churches) do not have a statutorily defined relationship with the state.
The law provides equal protection to all registered religious groups. In accordance with the law, the government and the Roman Catholic Church participate in the Joint Government-Episcopate Committee, co-chaired by the minister of interior and administration and a bishop, currently the Archbishop of Gdansk, which meets regularly to discuss Catholic Church-state relations. The government also participates in a joint government-Polish Ecumenical Council committee, co-chaired by a Ministry of Interior and Administration (MIA) undersecretary and the head of the Polish Ecumenical Council (an association composed of six denominations and two religious associations, all of them non-Roman Catholic Christian), which meets to discuss issues related to minority Christian churches operating in the country.
Religious groups that are not the subject of specific legislation may register with the MIA, but registration is not obligatory. To register, the law requires a group to submit a notarized application with the personal information of at least 100 citizen members; details about the group’s activities in the country; background about its doctrine and practices; a charter and physical address; identifying information about its leaders; a description of the role of the clergy, if applicable; and information on funding sources and methods of new member recruitment. If the ministry rejects the registration application, organizations may appeal to an administrative court. By law, the permissible grounds for refusal of an application are failure to meet formal requirements or inclusion in the application of provisions that may violate public safety and order, health, public morality, parental authority or freedom and rights of other persons. Unregistered groups may worship, proselytize, or publish or import religious literature freely and bring in foreign missionaries, but they have no legal recognition and are unable to undertake certain functions such as own property or hold bank accounts in their name. The 185 registered and statutorily-recognized religious groups receive privileges not available to unregistered groups, such as selective tax benefits – they are exempt from import tariffs and property taxes and income tax on their educational, scientific, cultural, and legal activities, and their official representatives are also exempt from income and property taxes – and the right to acquire property and teach religion in schools.
Four commissions oversee communal religious property restitution claims, one each for the Jewish community, the Lutheran Church, and the Orthodox Church, and one for all other denominations. The commissions function in accordance with legislation providing for the restitution to religious communities of property they owned and that was nationalized during or after WWII. The law does not address communal properties the government sold or turned over to new private owners after WWII. A separate commission overseeing claims by the Catholic Church completed its work several years ago. The MIA and the respective religious community each appoint representatives to the commissions. The law states decisions by the commission ruling on communal property claims may not be appealed, but the Constitutional Tribunal ruled in 2013 that parties could appeal commission decisions in administrative courts. There have been no reports of parties filing such appeals.
The law authorizes Warsaw city authorities to expeditiously resolve long-standing restitution cases affecting Warsaw properties now being used for public purposes. Warsaw city officials must post a notification of specific public properties for a six-month period during which original owners of the property must submit their claims. At the end of the six-month period, Warsaw city authorities may make a final determination on the disposition of the property, either declaring that the property shall remain public and not be subject to any future claims, or returning the property or equal compensation to the original owner.
In accordance with the law, all public and private schools teach voluntary religion classes. Schools must provide instruction in any of the registered faiths if there are at least seven students requesting it. Each registered religious group determines the content of classes in its faith and provides the teachers, who receive salaries from the state. Students may also request to take an optional ethics class instead of a religion class; the ethics class is optional even if students decline to take a religion class.
Citizens have the right to sue the government for constitutional violations of religious freedom, and the law prohibits discrimination or persecution on the basis of religion or belief.
The constitution recognizes the right to conscientious objection to military service on religious grounds but states such objectors may be required to perform alternative service as specified by law.
The human rights ombudsman is responsible for safeguarding human and civil freedoms and rights, including the freedom of religion and conscience, specified in the constitution and other legal acts. The ombudsman is independent from the government, and appointed by the parliament.
The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
Summary paragraph: The Supreme Administrative Court dismissed an appeal that, if successful, would have led to the deregistering of the Union of Progressive Jewish Communities in Poland. Warsaw city authorities began implementing a private property law, specific to that city, that observers said could extinguish potential claims by private individuals, including Jews and members of other religious minorities, of public properties seized in WWII or the communist era. The government made a final determination on 60 communal property claims of religious groups during the year, out of approximately 3,300 cases pending. Then-Interior Minister Mariusz Blaszczak ordered a follow-up investigation after Holocaust survivor groups determined a 1999 video of naked persons laughing and playing tag was recorded in the gas chamber of the former Nazi Stutthof concentration camp. PiS members made statements criticizing Muslim migrants, and one party member wrote an anti-Semitic comment on his Twitter account. Some government officials called for the resignation of the human rights ombudsman after he said on television that the nation had taken part in implementing the Holocaust. President Duda stated the country had a duty to speak out about the extermination of Jews, and the leader of PiS denounced anti-Semitism.
On April 3, the Supreme Administrative Court dismissed an appeal of the court’s own 2014 decision reversing a lower court ruling that would have led to the deregistration of the Union of Progressive Jewish Communities in Poland (Beit Polska). The appeal had been brought by another Jewish organization which had filed the original deregistration.
The MIA approved the registration of one religious group during the year, the Evangelical Methodist Church in the Republic of Poland.
According to MIA statistics, the religious community property commissions made a final determination (“resolved”) on 60 communal property claims during the year, out of approximately 3,300 pending communal property claims by religious groups. The commission handling Jewish communal property claims had partially or entirely resolved 2,770 of the 5,554 claims the Jewish community had submitted by its 2002 filing deadline. The commission handling Lutheran property claims had partially or entirely resolved 946 of the 1,200 claims filed by its 1996 filing deadline. The commission handling Orthodox Church restitution had partially or entirely resolved 264 of 472 claims filed by the 2005 deadline, and the property commission for all other denominations had partially or entirely resolved 87 of 170 claims.
Critics continued to state the laws on religious communal property restitution did not address the issue of disputed communal properties now privately owned, and the government left several controversial and complicated cases unresolved. For example, in a number of cases, buildings and residences were built on land that included Jewish cemeteries destroyed during or after WWII. The Jewish community continued to report the pace of Jewish communal property restitution was slow, involved considerable legal expense, and often ended without any recovery of property or other compensation for claimants.
The European Shoah Legacy Institute, an independent think tank that monitored restitution issues, stated in April that Poland was the only country in the EU that had not established a comprehensive restitution regime for private property taken during the Holocaust or the communist era.
Warsaw city authorities began implementing the 2015 law that critics stated might extinguish potential claims by private individuals, including Jews and members of other religious minorities, on public properties seized in WWII or the communist era. By year’s end, the city had listed 63 public properties for which the six-month public notification period had expired. No individuals submitted prior ownership claims for 54 of the 63 public properties. Of the nine other properties for which individuals did submit prior ownership claims, the city refused four and was still reviewing the remaining five claims at year’s end. The city determined that the 58 properties for which there were no claims or for which it rejected prior ownership claims would remain public property and would not be subject to any future claims. The public properties involved included schools, preschools, a park, and a police command unit site. There was no information available as to the identity of the prior ownership claimants or whether any belonged to religious minorities.
In June a special government commission formed during the year under Deputy Justice Minister Patryk Jaki to investigate accusations of irregularities in restitution of private property in Warsaw called Warsaw Mayor Hanna Gronkiewicz-Waltz and other officials to testify on several occasions. Waltz refused to appear before the commission and questioned its authority. One of the cases about which the commission called Waltz involved a property for which her husband’s family received compensation and was reported as formerly owned by a Jewish Holocaust victim. The mayor’s husband returned the compensation paid to him as required by a December 22 ruling of the commission, which required all beneficiaries of the property to return a total of more than 15 million zloty ($4.3 million) to city authorities.
On October 11, the Ministry of Justice announced comprehensive private property restitution draft legislation that would block any physical return of former properties, whether the properties were currently privately or publicly owned, provide compensation of 20-25 percent of the property’s value at the time of taking in cash or government bonds, and set a one-year claims filing period. The legislation drew intense media coverage and public scrutiny. Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and advocacy groups expressed concern the legislation would exclude foreign potential claimants, many of whom were Holocaust survivors or their heirs. At year’s end, the justice ministry had not submitted the draft legislation to the Council of Ministers (cabinet) for review and approval before sending to parliament.
In February the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage financed the restoration of 21 historic gravestones at the Jewish cemetery in Warsaw.
In December parliament voted to allocate 100 million zloty ($28.7 million) to restore the Warsaw Jewish Cemetery, and the Ministry of Culture transferred the funds to the Cultural Heritage Foundation, which was to oversee the restoration project in cooperation with the Warsaw Jewish Community. Warsaw Jewish Community president Anna Chipczynska stated the donation was “the most important gesture of the Polish state aimed at protecting Jewish heritage.”
By year’s end, draft legislation was pending in parliament that made it a crime punishable by up to three years in prison to attribute to the nation or the state any responsibility for Nazi crimes or war crimes or other crimes against peace or humanity. Government officials stated the legislation was designed to deter public use of phrases like “Polish death or concentration camps,” instead of “Nazi German concentration camps in occupied Poland during World War II.” These officials said the former contradicted historical truth and harmed the country’s good name. Critics stated the law would violate freedom of expression, stifle academic freedom, harm Holocaust remembrance, and strain relations with Israel and Jewish communities around the world.
Crucifixes continued to be displayed in both the upper and lower houses of parliament, as well as in many other public buildings, including public school classrooms.
In October President Duda signed into law a bill creating the National Freedom Institute – Center for Civil Society Development to support NGOs, including Catholic and other religiously affiliated groups. In response to a request by the human rights ombudsman, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s (OSCE) Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights issued an opinion on the law. The OSCE office stated the legislation was discriminatory because it contained language focused on Christian heritage and “nurturing Polishness,” which might imply that “associations focusing on these issues may receive preferential treatment as opposed to other religious or believer communities or organizations.”
On August 4, the Union of Jewish Communities sent a letter to PiS Chairman Jaroslaw Kaczynski expressing deep concern over increased anti-Semitic attitudes, hate speech, and violent behavior, which it said left the group fearing for Jews’ future in the country, and asking for intensified government action. On November 17, Kaczynski met with Jewish community leaders to discuss their concerns. He stated he had been shocked upon hearing of recent anti-Semitic incidents and promised to help set up a meeting between Jewish community representatives and then Interior and Administration Minister Blaszczak.
In June the Muslim Religious Union, Muslim League, Muslim Association of Cultural Education, and Association of Muslim Students in Poland sent a written appeal to Sejm (lower house of parliament) Speaker Marek Kuchcinski to take actions to protect the Muslim minority. The letter stated negative references to Islam in media and political debate reinforced anti-Muslim attitudes and might increase anti-Muslim behavior. On September 21, the Sejm Committee on National and Ethnic Minorities reviewed the letter and asked the minister of internal affairs and administration to provide it with information on the scale of the problem and government actions to address it. At year’s end, the committee was waiting for a detailed response from the ministry.
On December 1, then-Interior and Administration Minister Blaszczak requested prosecutors review a 1999 video, “Game of Tag,” showing naked men and women playing tag and laughing in the gas chamber of the former Nazi Stutthof concentration camp, located approximately 22 miles east of Gdansk. In November several groups, including the Simon Wiesenthal Center and the Organization of Holocaust Survivors in Israel, wrote in protest to President Duda, asking who had authorized the video, what rules of conduct existed at the site, and whether the government had conducted an investigation of the circumstances surrounding the making of the video.
Piotr Tarnowski, the director of the state-run Stutthof Museum and Memorial, said one of his predecessors had given permission for the video based on a different script. An Israeli lawyer who helped identify the site where the video was recorded, David Schonberg, told the BBC that more important than the video itself was the “apparent indifference” to it in Poland.
Member of the European Parliament and PiS member Ryszard Czarnecki said on June 6, following a terrorist attack in London, that officials needed to protect the country from terrorist attacks by barring the entry of Muslim migrants. He added that the children of Muslim migrants, many of whom were European citizens, often carried out terrorist attacks after being trained by ISIS.
On June 8, in reference to a music festival in the country whose organizer said it was open to migrants in Germany, PiS posted on its official Twitter account, “Do you really want to have an event in Poland with the participation of Muslim immigrants?” and encouraged people to retweet the message.
On August 2, PiS member Bogdan Rzonca tweeted, “I wonder why there are so many Jews among those performing abortions, despite the Holocaust.” Several politicians, including a PiS deputy Sejm speaker, condemned the statement. Rzonca later apologized.
In June Human Rights Ombudsman Adam Bodnar acknowledged on state-run television channel TVP Info that his nation took part in the Holocaust, saying, “there is no doubt that the Germans were responsible for the Holocaust, but many nations took part in its implementation. Among them – and I say this with regret – the Polish nation.” Some government officials called for his resignation, and Deputy Foreign Minister Jan Dziedziczak called Bodnar’s comment “scandalous.” Bodnar later said he had meant “some Poles had committed crimes against Jews.”
On January13, President Duda hosted a holiday meeting with Jewish community leaders, including Chief Rabbi of Poland Michael Schudrich. The president said he was extremely pleased Jewish culture was reviving and that so many Poles supported this resurgence. He added that the Jewish and Polish people had coexisted in the country for more than a thousand years, and Jews had contributed greatly to the development of the country’s culture and science.
In August Krystyna Pawlowicz, a PiS Member of Parliament, wrote on Facebook that the government should seek help for its claim for German reparations from “the best American Jewish law firms.”
On September 18, PiS leader Kaczynski denounced anti-Semitism as a dangerous phenomenon expressed through hostility toward Israel and praised the state of Israel at a ceremony honoring Poles who had protected Jews during the Holocaust.
In February the government’s Institute of National Remembrance published online what it described as the most complete list of Auschwitz extermination camp Nazi SS commanders and guards. The institute said it hoped some of the persons listed could still be brought to justice.
On June 15, then-Prime Minister Beata Szydlo attended and spoke at the 77th anniversary of the first deportation of Poles to Auschwitz at a ceremony at the site of the Nazi death camp.
On October 11, President Duda hosted a 75th anniversary commemoration of the establishment of the Zegota Council to Aid Jews. The council was an underground organization established for rescuing Jews in the German-occupied part of the country during WWII.
On November 15, speaking at the opening of the Jewish Historical Institute’s new exhibition on the Warsaw Ghetto’s Underground Archive, President Duda stated, “Our duty is to speak the truth about the extermination of Jews.” Historian and social activist Emanuel Ringelblum, who gathered documentary evidence of life in the Warsaw Ghetto and the fate of Jews under the Nazi occupation, created the archive in 1940.
On July 3-7, the Grodzka Gate-NN Theatre Center in Lublin, a local government institution that worked to preserve Jewish heritage in the city, held the first international reunion of Jewish Lublin residents and their descendants as part of a celebration of the 700th anniversary of the city’s founding. The gathering included a conference, workshops, and artistic events. Before WWII, Jews constituted one third of Lublin’s population.
On December 12, parliament hosted a ceremony in which newly sworn-in Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki lit a candle in a “hanukiah,” or nine-branched candelabra, with Rabbi Shalom Stambler from the Chabad community in honor of the first night of the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah.
The government continued to fund exchanges with national participants and U.S. and Israeli Jews to foster dialogue on restitution, the Holocaust, and interfaith issues.
The government is a member of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance.
Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom
Summary paragraph: According to national prosecutor figures, which religious groups and NGOs said were not comprehensive, prosecutors investigated 582 religiously motivated incidents in 2016. Anti-Muslim incidents almost doubled to 363, compared with the previous year, while anti-Semitic incidents declined by 23 percent, to 160. Jewish groups reported an increase in anti-Semitic incidents during the year, without citing figures. In June German Muslim students reported Lublin residents spat on and threatened them, and the Warsaw Muslim Cultural Center cancelled an open house after online threats. A Pew survey found two thirds of respondents held negative views of Muslims, and a Warsaw University study reported a rise in anti-Semitic attitudes. An Independence Day march in Warsaw in November, in which tens of thousands of persons participated, included some Nazi and anti-Semitic symbols and chants, although the main slogan was “We want God.” Participants at a march in April in Warsaw chanted anti-Muslim slogans. Various groups, one of which recorded itself burning an effigy of a Jewish woman in Warsaw, continued to espouse anti-Semitic views. On October 7, up to a million Catholics prayed the rosary for the country and the world along the country’s borders. Some participants cited fear of Islam as among the reasons they joined in the prayers. A Catholic bishop apologized to the Jewish community on the 76th anniversary of the Jedwabne pogrom, and the Catholic Church again organized a Day of Islam and a Day of Judaism to promote interreligious harmony. Vandals targeted Jewish, Muslim, Catholic, and Protestant sites.
The national prosecutor’s office reported that during 2016, the most recent period for which data were available, prosecutors investigated 582 religiously motivated incidents. The report cited 363 anti-Muslim incidents, almost double the 192 recorded in 2015, while anti-Semitic incidents decreased by 23 percent, to 160 from 208. Prosecutors investigated 59 incidents against Christians, compared with 52 in 2015. The NGO Never Again and religious groups stated government tracking of religiously motivated incidents was not systematic; police, prosecutors, and the MIA all kept their own sets of numbers, which did not agree with each other.
On June 28, German Muslim students visiting Holocaust memorials in the east of the country told a German radio station they were yelled at, spit on, and threatened by residents of Lublin during their trip.
On June 13, the Muslim Cultural Center in Warsaw canceled an open house after nationalist websites posted hostile comments and threats against it. The open house was part of the nonprofit Civic Education Center’s “Four Corners of Warsaw – Young Tour Guides in a Multicultural Capital” program, in which Warsaw high school students presented information on Islam and the Warsaw mosque to help combat negative stereotypes and prejudices. Organizers decided to cancel the event out of safety concerns for the students, but they promised to organize a similar event at a different time, which would ensure participants’ safety. Also in June the imam of the Poznan mosque received threats via email and social media after several websites posted a manipulated video falsely showing the imam saying, “If Islam wins, Christians will have to pay a ransom.” The Poznan deputy mayor stated he would ask police to enhance security around the mosque.
Members of the Warsaw Jewish Community and the Union of Jewish Communities of Poland described an increase in anti-Semitic incidents during the year, including hostile phone calls to community centers, vandalism of offices, attempted forced entry of community property, and a fake bomb that a tour group’s security team found at a Jewish cemetery in Warsaw.
A coalition of groups widely considered extremist, including National Radical Camp (ONR) and All-Polish Youth – Mlodziez Wszechpolska (MW) – organized an Independence Day march in Warsaw on November 11 under the slogan, “We want God.” While many of the tens of thousands of marchers carried Polish flags without signage, some participants displayed large signs reading, “White Europe of brotherly nations” and “Clean Blood,” and Celtic crosses and banners depicting a far-right symbol from the 1930s. These participant also chanted, “Sieg Heil,” “Pure Poland,” and “Jews out of Poland.” One participant interviewed on TVP television said he was taking part in the demonstration “to remove Jewry from power.” A smaller counterprotest took place at the same time. The two demonstrations were largely peaceful, but there was one report of extremist participants pushing and kicking several women who were holding a “Stop Fascism” banner and chanting antifascist slogans. Police arrested 45 counterprotesters and none of the participants in the main march.
The Israeli foreign ministry issued a statement describing the march as dangerous and “instigated by extremists and racists,” and calling on the Polish government to take action against the organizers. One march participant was quoted in the press as saying he was not a fascist and was marching to honor those who had fought for the country’s freedom. He estimated 30 percent of the marchers had extremist views, while the rest were “walking peacefully, without shouting any fascist slogans.”
Following the march, President Duda stated, “There is no room for … anti-Semitism in our country.” PiS leader Kaczynski said the country’s traditions had nothing to do with anti-Semitism and stated that unfortunate incidents at the march were probably a provocation designed to harm the country’s image. Then-Interior Minister Blaszczak stated he did not see the racist signs and praised the patriotism of marchers who displayed Polish flags, calling it “a beautiful sight.”
Deputy Prime Minister Piotr Glinski called for an investigation into whether the far-right signs violated the law. On November 20, the Warsaw prosecutor’s office announced that it was launching an investigation into “public propagation of fascism and calls for hatred” during the march.
On March 24, 12 persons from Poland, Belarus, and Germany killed a sheep and chained themselves together naked to the main gate of the Auschwitz former Nazi death camp. The demonstrators stated it was an anti-war protest. They were charged with insulting a memorial site and killing an animal. On October 17, the Oswiecim local court began a trial of the 12 demonstrators, which continued at year’s end.
On August 21, the Przemysl local court sentenced 20 persons to between four and 10 months of community service for disrupting the June 2016 religious procession of Greek Catholic and Orthodox Church members marching to commemorate Ukrainian soldiers who fought for Poland from 1918 to 1920.
On January 30, the Warsaw North City Center prosecutor’s office indicted one person for disrupting a Catholic Mass during the reading of a letter by the Polish episcopate calling for a total ban on abortion in April 2016.
According to a survey the Center for Social Opinion Research issued in February, anti-Semitic attitudes declined; 26 percent of respondents reported holding negative attitudes towards Jews, compared with 37 percent in 2016. On the other hand, the 2017 Polish Prejudice Survey by the Warsaw University Prejudice Research Center found an increase in anti-Semitic attitudes, with 43 percent reporting they would not accept a Jew as a close family member, compared with 30 percent in 2016; 27 percent reported they did not want Jewish neighbors, compared with 14 percent in 2016.
A Pew Research Center survey released in July found 66 percent of the population had negative views about Muslims, unchanged from the previous year. According to an Ipsos poll in May commissioned by TVP public television, 46 percent of respondents strongly opposed accepting Muslim refugees into the country, while 4 percent strongly supported it. Another 27 percent said Muslim refugees should probably not be admitted, while 19 percent said they probably should be.
In January approximately 50 non-Jews donned kippahs at a restaurant in Warsaw, the Foksal Cafe, to condemn anti-Semitism and demonstrate solidarity with the Jewish community. The event was in response to unsigned social media posts, which also generated online debate, stating that a bartender at the restaurant had ejected two customers for discussing Israel on New Year’s Day. The restaurant’s management said the customers had been ejected for engaging in anti-Christian speech about the Virgin Mary while under the influence of alcohol.
On April 29, several hundred supporters of ONR marched through Warsaw to mark the 83rd anniversary of the group’s founding before WWII. During the march, some participants shouted anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant slogans such as “no Islam, terrorists, Muslims in our country.” According to a member of NGO Never Again, police took no action against the demonstration and forcibly removed a group of counterprotesters who had sat down in front of the ONR marchers.
In October Never Again reported the Kielce district court began proceedings in a criminal defamation case against one of its members, Anna Tatar, editor of the group’s magazine. Organizers of the annual Eagle’s Nest music festival, which Never Again said featured extremist bands, Nazi salutes, and the use of Celtic crosses, alleged Tatar had defamed them in a 2016 interview when she said, “during the Eagle’s Nest festival fascist ideas are promoted, and such events must not take place in Poland.” If convicted, Tatar could face up to one year in prison. At year’s end, the court proceedings were ongoing.
On March 21, a group of Warsaw residents celebrating the first day of spring burned an effigy of what they referred to as “a Jewish woman” and posted a videotape of it online. In the video’s comments section, the group wrote that the puppet “symbolizes what is ugly, cold, and bad.” One of the participants added the comment, “this mug, this big nose, so well-known in Polish history.”
On April 13, the Wroclaw Appellate Court reduced a first-instance court sentence of Piotr Rybak from 10 to three months’ imprisonment. The court had convicted Rybak of public incitement to hatred on religious grounds for burning an effigy of an Orthodox Jew during a 2015 anti-immigrant demonstration in Wroclaw.
The National-Social Congress, an association of groups widely described as extremist, invited a prominent American activist, who described himself as an identitarian and whom CNN called a white nationalist, to speak at a November 10 conference titled, “The Future of Europe; the Vision of the Demise of the West,” on the eve of the country’s Independence Day celebrations. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a statement on October 26, strongly protesting the visit as promoting intolerance, including anti-Semitic ideas, and stating such ideas contradicted the law. After the MIA Office of Foreigners issued a five-year Schengen zone entry ban on the invitee at the request of the country’s Internal Security Agency and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the invitee cancelled his trip.
Groups such as National Rebirth of Poland and Blood and Honor continued to espouse anti-Semitic views, but authorities did not link any of them to specific incidents of violence or vandalism.
On March 2, Stanislaw Michalkiewicz, a commentator on Radio Maryja, run by a conservative Catholic group, said on his regularly scheduled broadcast that young people were rejecting the “stinky legends” told to them by Jewish communists and looking for their roots and real heroes.
On April 28, the Wroclaw prosecutor’s office discontinued the investigation into ONR Lower Silesia branch chief Justyna Helcyk for inciting hatred against Muslims and racial minorities during her speech at the ONR’s 2015 “In Defense of Christian Europe” demonstration in Wroclaw. Prosecutors decided Helcyk’s speech did not constitute hate speech.
On February 27, the Lublin district court sentenced five men to suspended prison sentences of between six and eight months for public offense and incitement to hatred for hanging anti-Semitic posters around the city of Lublin between 2012 and 2014. One of the convicted men was a former worker of the state museum on the site of the Majdanek German Nazi concentration camp.
On October 7, the Catholic feast of Our Lady of the Rosary and the anniversary of the Christian victory over the Ottoman Turks at the 16th century naval battle of Lepanto, up to a million Catholics recited the rosary and prayed along the country’s international borders “to save Poland and the world.” On its website, the Solo Dios Basta (Only God Suffices) Foundation, a Catholic lay organization that organized the event, attributed the Lepanto victory to the recital of the rosary, “that saved Europe from Islamization.” At a Mass during the event broadcast by Radio Maryja, Archbishop of Krakow Marek Jedraszewski called on believers to pray “for the other European nations to make them understand it is necessary to return to Christian roots … ” Archbishop of Poznan Stanislaw Gadecki told private radio broadcaster RMF, “the key objective of this manifestation is to pray for peace.” According to press reports, organizers stated that the prayers were not directed against any group, but some persons cited fears of Islam among their reasons for participating.
In August private television station Republika TV adapted the “Arbeit macht frei” (“Work sets you free”) sign above the gates of Auschwitz into a parody illustration featuring a “Reparations set you free” slogan for a story about the call by some lawmakers for Germany to make reparations to the country for its losses in WWII. The Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum criticized the broadcast, writing on its Twitter account, “the primitive manipulation of painful symbols shows the moral level and understanding of history by its authors.”
On July 10, Catholic Bishop Rafal Markowski, head of the Polish Bishops’ Conference’s Council for Religious Dialogue and the Polish Episcopate Committee for Dialogue with Judaism, issued an apology at the ceremony marking the 76th anniversary of the Jedwabne pogrom, in which the town’s Jews were killed by their Catholic neighbors.
In June the Raoul Wallenberg Foundation, an international NGO, recognized the Church of All Saints in Warsaw as a “House of Life” for helping Jews during WWII. In a letter to participants in the ceremony, President Duda described Poles who risked their lives to help Jews as “the nation’s heroes.”
In January Holocaust survivors, politicians, and religious leaders gathered to mark International Holocaust Remembrance Day and to commemorate the 72nd anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau extermination camp.
There were incidents of vandalism targeting property associated with religious sites.
In December the Union of Jewish Communities in Poland reported a Jewish cemetery in the eastern town of Siemiatycze had been desecrated. Construction workers found human remains on a privately owned commercial lot located within the original boundaries of the cemetery and immediately adjacent to the current boundaries of the cemetery. Although the law requires construction activities to cease immediately and the police to be contacted in such circumstances, the dirt and human remains were removed from the site and construction initially continued. An initial review indicated local and regional authorities had not followed correct procedures in approving the construction permit for the site. Local prosecutors opened an investigation, which was continuing at year’s end.
On August 31, Maszewo village police announced an investigation into possible desecration of a burial site after reports a building contractor had bulldozed an old Jewish cemetery in the town and turned up human remains. The land where the cemetery had been located was added to a local register of protected sites prior to its purchase for development, but the owner stated she had not been aware of this designation prior to finding the human remains.
On August 5, unknown perpetrators vandalized a Protestant church with offensive graffiti in the northern town of Biala Piska.
On July 12, unknown perpetrators damaged a religious figure standing outside a Roman Catholic church in Warsaw.
In November unknown attackers smashed approximately a dozen windows at a mosque and Muslim cultural center in Warsaw. Imam Youssef Chadid blamed the attack on a “not very friendly” atmosphere in the country that he said misrepresented Islam. The imam appealed to the government to speak out against attacks on Muslims. Police were investigating the crime at year’s end.
On January 17, the Catholic Church celebrated the 20th annual Day of Judaism, which featured numerous events throughout the country, including meetings, lectures at schools, film screenings, and exhibitions. The main celebrations took place in Kielce and included prayers in front of monuments commemorating Holocaust victims, a theological discussion conducted by Catholic bishops and rabbis, and a religious service in Kielce Cathedral. Former and current Chairman of the Polish Episcopate Committee for Dialogue with Judaism – Bishops Mieczyslaw Cislo and Rafal Markowski – and Chief Rabbi Schudrich participated in the religious service.
On January 26, the Catholic Church celebrated the 17th annual Day of Islam with the stated purpose of promoting peace among religious groups. The Church hosted an event titled “Christians and Muslims – the Addressees and Tools of God’s Mercy” in Bialystok, which included discussions, readings from the Bible and the Quran, and prayers. Chair of the Polish Episcopate Committee for Dialogue with Non-Christian Religions Bishop Henryk Ciereszko and representatives of the Bialystok Muslim religious community attended the event. On September 24, the Joint Council of Catholics and Muslims organized a conference celebrating the 20th anniversary of the establishment of the council, an association made up of lay members of their religions, who described their main role as promoting interreligious dialogue and respect for various religions and cultures.
The Polish Council of Christians and Jews continued to organize annual conferences and ceremonies, including the Day of Judaism in the Catholic Church and “Close Encounters of Christians and Jews” to encourage tolerance and understanding, as did a Catholic and Orthodox Churches bilateral commission.
The Polish Ecumenical Council hosted conferences and interfaith dialogue. For example, on October 29, the Lublin branch of the council co-organized an international ecumenical congress titled Lublin – City of Religious Agreement 2017, which focused around a debate about different Christian traditions and their attitude towards ecumenism. On November 25, the council organized an ecumenical women’s conference in Warsaw, which gathered more than 30 women from eight different Christian churches.
Human Library projects, funded by European Economic Area grants and organized by the Citizens for Democracy Foundation, continued in various cities, including Olsztyn, Krakow, and Lodz. Under the project, a diverse group of volunteers, including representatives of various religious groups, told their stories to individuals who could “borrow” them like books. The stated intent of the project was to foster greater tolerance, including religious tolerance.
On March 27, the Jewish advocacy organization American Jewish Committee held an opening celebration for its new Central European headquarters in Warsaw.
A Central Statistical Office February survey found nearly 95 percent of Poles identified themselves as religious, and half attended religious gatherings on a weekly basis.
Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement
The U.S. Ambassador, other embassy and Krakow consulate general officers, and visiting U.S. Department of State representatives met with government officials from the interior, foreign affairs, and treasury ministries; the presidential chancellery; parliament; and the city of Warsaw. They discussed the state of private and communal property restitution to religious groups and members of religious minorities. They also appealed to the government to extend the provisions of draft private property restitution legislation to cover American citizens and Holocaust survivors and their heirs, who would otherwise be unable to make restitution claims if the legislation were enacted in its unchanged form.
In February the U.S. Special Envoy for Holocaust Issues met with government officials in Warsaw to discuss Jewish community property and private property restitution issues and social welfare benefits for Holocaust survivors. He visited the southern part of the country and met with Jewish community members to discuss restitution of Jewish cemeteries. He also visited the Auschwitz-Birkenau Museum and discussed Holocaust education programs and outreach. He later visited Krakow’s historic Jewish quarter and attended a Shabbat dinner at the Jewish Community Center.
On several occasions, the Ambassador and visiting senior U.S. government officials raised concerns with government and parliamentary officials about the draft legislation pending in parliament that would make it a crime to attribute to the Polish nation or state any responsibility for Third Reich crimes.
The Ambassador and other embassy and consulate general staff met with members of the local Jewish community and Muslim and Christian leaders, to discuss private and communal property restitution, and the communities’ concerns over rising anti-Semitism and anti-Muslim sentiment. In March the Ambassador spoke at the gala celebration of the opening of the American Jewish Committee’s Central European office in Warsaw. He highlighted the revival of Jewish life in the country and U.S. government support for Holocaust education, measures to counter anti-Semitism, and cultural exchanges in support of religious freedom and tolerance. On April 24, embassy and consulate general staff marched in the International March of the Living, an annual educational program that brought individuals from around the world to the country to study the history of the Holocaust. On June 22, the Ambassador participated in the Ride for the Living, a cycling event in which participants biked from the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum to the Krakow Jewish Community Center to celebrate and support the revival of Jewish life in the country.
The embassy continued to employ exchange programs, student roundtables, and grants for education and cultural events to promote religious freedom and tolerance. On October 8-9, an embassy grant supported a “Teaching about genocide” conference organized by the POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews. The conference was part of a cooperative agreement between the embassy and the museum to select and send teachers and educators on a Holocaust teacher-training program in the U.S. More than 180 teachers from various cities attended the event. The embassy funded the travel of four Polish teachers to the U.S. for training it organized with the POLIN museum and sponsored by the Association of Holocaust Organizations. The embassy provided financial and organizational support to Jewish cultural festivals in Warsaw, and Bialystok to promote interreligious understanding and tolerance. The consulate general in Krakow provided financial support to international programs at the Auschwitz Jewish Center for Genocide and Religious Persecution Prevention and the Galicja Museum in Krakow. The consulate general also hosted an international speaker from the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, who engaged audiences on teaching about the Holocaust.
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 stepped up security for Muslims and said it would spend 13.4 million pounds ($18.1 million) over the following year to protect Jewish sites. The government outlawed groups Scottish Dawn and National Socialist Anti-Capitalist Action (NS131) as aliases for banned neo-Nazi group National Action. The Labour Party adopted new rules on anti-Semitism after the party came under criticism for anti-Semitic rhetoric by some of its members at the party’s annual conference. The Labour Party extended the suspension of former London Mayor Ken Livingstone for saying Hitler had supported Zionism. Jewish leaders issued a manifesto calling on the government to take steps to promote religious freedom and tolerance and ensure the rights of the Jewish community. The government adopted the working definition of anti-Semitism of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA).
The government reported significant increases 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, reported 767 anti-Semitic incidents in the first six months of the year, a record high for that period. Incidents included 80 assaults. The 1,346 anti-Semitic incidents CST recorded in 2016 was a record for a calendar year. London police reported significant increases in anti-Muslim attacks, to 1,260 in the year through March 2017, compared with 343 in the same period just four years earlier. Tell MAMA, an NGO fighting anti-Muslim sentiment, cited a rise in anti-Muslim crimes following terrorist attacks and after the EU Brexit referendum. There were multiple incidents of violence, arson, threats, and vandalism against religious groups. In June a man killed one Muslim and injured several others when he drove his vehicle into a group of worshippers leaving a mosque. Muslims were also victims of an acid attack and a stabbing. According to a National Union of Students survey, more than a quarter of Jewish students were afraid of becoming victims of an anti-Semitic attack. Another survey by two Jewish groups reported low levels of anti-Semitism, although 30 percent of respondents either held an unfavorable view of Jews or endorsed at least one of seven anti-Semitic statements in the survey. There were incidents of religiously motivated hate speech against Muslims, Jews, and Christians.
U.S. embassy and Department of State officials engaged with multiple Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) representatives and officials at the Ministry of Defense, as well as with Church of England leaders and civil society to assess common goals of engaging religious minority populations at risk of radicalization and building religious tolerance. The Consulate General in Edinburgh hosted an interfaith Thanksgiving dinner with representatives of the Muslim, Christian, Buddhist, and Bahai communities in which participants discussed ways to promote religious tolerance in their communities.
Section I. Religious Demography
The U.S. government estimates the population at 64.8 million (July 2017 estimate). Census figures from 2011, the most recent, indicate 59.3 percent of the population in England and Wales is Christian, comprising the Church of England (Anglican), the Church of Scotland (Presbyterian), other Protestant churches, the Roman Catholic Church, and other Christian groups. Of the remaining population, 4.8 percent identified as Muslim; 1.5 percent as Hindu, 0.8 percent as Sikh, 0.5 percent as Jewish, and 0.4 as Buddhist. Approximately 25 percent of the population reported no religion, and 7 percent chose not to answer. The Jehovah’s Witnesses estimate there are 137,000 members in the country, and the Bahai community estimates there are more than 7,000 members in the country.
According to the 2017 British Social Attitudes survey, an annual survey of approximately 3,300 persons throughout the country conducted by the National Center for Social Research, an independent, nonprofit social research agency, 53 percent of the population describes itself as having no religion, 15 percent as Anglican, 10 percent as Catholic, and 6 percent as belonging to non-Christian religions.
The Muslim community in England and Wales is predominantly of South Asian origin, but it also includes individuals from the Arabian Peninsula, the Levant, Africa, and Southeast Asia, as well as a growing number of converts of European descent. Hindus, Sikhs, Jews, and Buddhists are concentrated in London and other large urban areas, primarily in England.
Census figures from Scotland in 2011 indicate 54 percent of the population is Christian, comprising the Church of Scotland (32 percent), Roman Catholic Church (16 percent), and other Christian groups (6 percent). The Muslim community comprises 1.4 percent of the population. Other religious groups, which together make up less than 1 percent of the population, include Hindus, Sikhs, Jews, and Buddhists. Persons not belonging to any religious group make up 36.7 percent of the population, and the remainder did not provide information on religious affiliation.
Census figures from Northern Ireland in 2011 indicate 41.5 percent of the population is Protestant – consisting of the Presbyterian Church of Ireland (19 percent), Church of Ireland (14 percent), the Methodist Church in Ireland (3 percent), and other Protestant groups (6 percent) – and 41 percent Roman Catholic. Less than 1 percent of the population belongs to non-Christian religious groups, and approximately 10 percent professes no religion; 7 percent did not indicate a religious affiliation.
Census figures from Bermuda in 2010 cite 22 religious groups in the population of 71,000; 78 percent identifies as Christian, including 16 percent Anglican, 15 percent Roman Catholic, 9 percent African Methodist Episcopal, and 7 percent Seventh-day Adventist. Approximately 2 percent identifies with other religious groups, including approximately 600 Muslims, 200 Rastafarians, and 120 Jews. Approximately 20 percent did not identify with or state a religious affiliation.
Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom
In the absence of a written constitution, the law establishes the Church of England as England’s state church. Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland do not have state religions. Legislation establishes the Church of Scotland as Scotland’s national church, but it is not dependent on any government body or the queen for spiritual matters or leadership.
As the supreme governor of the Church of England, the monarch must always be a member of, and promise to uphold, that Church. The monarch appoints Church of England officials, including lay and clergy representatives, on the advice of the prime minister and the Crown Appointments Commission. Aside from these appointments, the state is not involved in the Church’s administration. The Church of Scotland is governed by its General Assembly, which has the authority to make the laws determining how it operates. The General Assembly consists of 850 ministers and clergy members and meets once a year for a week in May.
In England and Wales the law prohibits 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 can 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 school teachers, 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.” School teachers 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.
In Bermuda the law requires students attending state schools to participate in collective worship, characterized by educational officials reciting the Lord’s Prayer, but prohibits worship “distinctive of any particular religious group.” 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.
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 the 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. These integrated schools are not secular, but are “essentially Christian in character and welcome all faiths and none.” RE – a core syllabus designed by the Department of Education, the Church of Ireland, and the Catholic, Presbyterian, and Methodist churches – is compulsory in all government-funded schools, and “the school day shall include collective 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 can issue a notice to the violator and seek a court order to enforce the notice. The EHRC receives government funds and must account for its use of those funds, but it 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 out of the previous five years as a minister and to have at least one year of full-time experience or, if their religion requires ordination, at least two years of part-time training following their ordination. A missionary must also be trained as such or have worked previously in this role.
The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
Summary Paragraph: The government stepped up protection for Muslim communities following a June attack outside a mosque and said it would spend 13.4 million pounds ($18.1 million) to protect Jewish sites in the following year. The government banned two groups whose names it said were aliases of previously banned neo-Nazi group National Action, and police arrested 11 of their members. The government instructed prosecutors to treat online hate crimes, including religiously motivated ones, as seriously as other crimes and coauthored a guide for victims and witnesses of anti-Muslim, anti-Semitic, and other hate crimes. The House of Commons ended its examination of the role of sharia councils without issuing a report of its findings. In September the Labour Party adopted new rules against anti-Semitism after the founder of Jewish Voice for Labour, Naomi Wimborne-Idrissi, chaired an event where a speaker said people should be allowed to question whether the Holocaust happened. The Labour Party extended the suspension of former London Mayor Ken Livingstone for saying Hitler had supported Zionism. Jewish leaders issued a “Ten Commandments” manifesto calling on the government to take steps to promote religious freedom and tolerance and defend Jewish practices, culture, and heritage. Political leaders responded to the manifesto by expressing support for the Jewish community and pledging to combat anti-Semitism, intolerance, and extremism. The government adopted the IHRA’s working definition of anti-Semitism.
In March Home Secretary Amber Rudd said the government would provide 13.4 million pounds ($18.1 million) to protect Jewish sites during the coming year. She said Jews had been identified as a “legitimate and desirable target,” and called anti-Semitism a “deplorable form of hatred.”
Police forces around the country stepped up protection for Muslim communities in following the June 19 attack on Muslim worshippers outside a Finsbury Park mosque, and the government assigned more officers to patrol near churches, mosques, and synagogues. Home Secretary Rudd pledged the extra resources would remain in place for as long as needed.
In June the Scottish government responded to a report on religiously motivated crimes that its Independent Advisory Group on Hate Crimes issued in 2016. The Scottish government accepted the recommendations in the report, which included the development of clearer terminology and definitions related to hate crimes and prejudice, as well as a public education program to improve understanding of the nature and extent of hate crimes. The report had found “facing prejudice and fear remained part of the everyday life of too many people.”
On August 21, the Crown Prosecution Service issued new guidance to prosecutors to treat online hate crimes, including religiously motivated ones, as seriously as face-to-face hate crimes. The guidance did not require changes to existing laws. The move followed an unprecedented number of anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim hate crimes in the previous year.
In August the Crown Prosecution Service and the Department of Communities and Local Government coauthored a guide for victims and witnesses of hate crimes, particularly those motivated by anti-Semitic or anti-Muslim sentiment, with CST and Tell MAMA. The guide aimed to protect the rights of victims and explained the processes and procedures for reporting these crimes and how statutory bodies, such as the police and Crown Prosecution Service, worked with victims.
In September Home Secretary Rudd banned the Scotland-based Scottish Dawn group and National Socialist Anti-Capitalist Action (NS131) under the antiterror laws, and police arrested 11 of their members. The government said it had identified their names as aliases of the previously banned neo-Nazi group, National Action. Members or anyone found supporting the group could face up to 10 years’ imprisonment. Rudd stated, “National Action is a vile…anti-Semitic group which glorifies violence and stirs up hatred…I will not allow them to masquerade under different names.” On September 13, three alleged members of National Action – two British soldiers, Lance Corporal Mikko Vehvilainen and Private Mark Barrett, and a civilian, Alexander Deakin – appeared in court charged with terror offenses.
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. As of 2007 there were approximately 280 recruited chaplains in the armed services, all of whom were Christian, but the armed forces retained civilian chaplains to care for their Buddhist, Hindu, Sikh, Jewish, and Muslim recruits. The Chaplaincy Council monitored policy and practice relating to such matters.
The House of Commons Home Affairs Select Committee continued its inquiry into the role of sharia councils, examining how they operated within the legal system and resolved disputes and whether they discriminated against women by legitimizing forced marriages or issuing unfair divorce settlements. It also looked at best practices among sharia councils; however, due to disruption caused by the snap general election in June, the committee closed the inquiry early and did not issue a report on its findings. In parallel, The Home Office conducted its own inquiry and was expected to issue a report in early 2018.
As of January there were 6,813 state-funded faith schools in England. Of these, 6,176 were primary (ages 3 through 11) schools (37 percent of all state-funded primary schools), and 637 secondary (ages 11 through 16) schools (19 percent of all state-funded secondary schools). Church of England schools were the most common type among primary schools (26 percent of all primaries); Roman Catholic schools were the most common at secondary level (9 percent). Additionally, at either the primary or secondary level, 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.
In August a campus serving both Catholic and Jewish primary school children opened in East Renfrewshire, Scotland. The East Renfrewshire council built the joint campus, which brought together Catholic St Clare’s Primary and the Jewish Calderwood Lodge, to address an increasing demand for Catholic education.
The government continued to require schools to consider the needs of different religions 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 Church of England said parents should not be allowed to withdraw their children from religious education classes. Derek Holloway, the Church’s lead on RE policy, stated students “must learn about other religions and world views so that they know how to get along with people from different backgrounds and beliefs,” and those withdrawing children from RE lessons wanted to “incite religious hatred.”
In September the Labour Party adopted new rules against anti-Semitism and other forms of hate speech, including “Islamophobia.” According to the new rules, “no member of the Party shall engage in conduct which…is prejudicial, or in any act which…is grossly detrimental to the Party.” The change was approved by 98 percent of voters and was expected to make it easier for the party to expel members who breached the new rules. The Jewish Labour Movement (JLM), a formal party affiliate comprised of Labour-supporting members of the Jewish community, proposed the change, backed by Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn.
The Labour Party made the rule change after Naomi Wimborne-Idrissi, founder of the group Jewish Voice for Labour, a network for Jewish members of the Labour Party which describes itself as “standing for rights and justice for Jewish people…and against wrongs and injustice to Palestinians and other oppressed people,” chaired a side event at the party’s annual conference in September. At that event, a speaker compared Zionists to Nazis and said people should be allowed to question whether the Holocaust happened, and participants cheered calls for Jewish and pro-Israel groups to be expelled from the party. During the same meeting, Michael Kalmanovitz of the “International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network” called for the JLM and the Labour Friends of Israel (LFI) to be expelled, stating, “What are JLM and LFI doing in our Party? It’s time we campaigned to kick them out.”
Deputy Labour Leader Tom Watson said the side event had “nothing to do with the official Labour Party Conference,” and that he was sure the party would investigate the allegations made. Watson added that he would attempt to reassure colleagues in the JLM that the Party had no tolerance for anti-Semitism. Jeremy Newark, JLM’s chair, told Sky News, “[Labour] allowed their meeting to become an arena for what effectively amounts to a call for Jews and Jewish groups to be purged from the party.” Labour’s shadow health secretary, Jon Ashworth, called for members who made “disgusting” anti-Semitic comments to be expelled from the party. In response to these events, EHRC Chief Executive Rebecca Hilsenrath said, “Anti-Semitism is racism, and the Labour Party needs to do more to establish that it is not a racist party.”
During a hearing in April Labour’s National Constitutional Committee extended the suspension of former London Mayor Ken Livingstone for another year, until April 27, 2018. The Labour Party first suspended Livingstone in April 2016 after he said in a radio interview that Hitler had supported Zionism.
In January the Labour Party readmitted Ilya Aziz , a counselor in the city of Nottingham, after suspending him in May 2016 for calling for Jews in Israel to “relocate” to America.
In June a Labour Party election campaign banner in Bristol superimposed a Star of David as an earring on Prime Minister Theresa May, provoking accusations that Labour had tapped into anti-Semitic sentiment. A designer of the banner, Nina Masterson, told the press the earring referenced May’s support of Israel and was not anti-Semitic.
In July Member of Parliament (MP) John Mann, leader of the All-Party Parliamentary Group Against Anti-Semitism, called for action to be taken against “racists,” following the publication of a report written by pro-Israel blogger David Collier and funded by Jewish Human Rights Watch citing links between the Scottish Palestinian Solidarity Campaign and anti-Semitism in Scotland. The report stated there was a correlation between anti-Semitism and anti-Israel attitudes. Jewish Human Rights Watch commissioned the report in 2016 after protestors at a festival in Edinburgh celebrating Israeli culture chanted, “No to Brand Israel.”
In May the Board of Deputies of British Jews, representing Jews in the country, issued a manifesto in the form of “10 Commandments” to the government. The manifesto had the professed aim of informing policymakers about the most important interests and concerns of the Jewish community. The manifesto asked policy makers to: oppose extremism and hate crime, including anti-Semitism and anti-Muslim hatred; promote good relations among all communities; defend the right to a Jewish way of life, including kosher meat, religious clothing, circumcision, and accommodation for holy day observances; support efforts to remember the Holocaust and prevent any future genocide; advocate a permanent solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; promote peace projects and resist boycotts; affirm the importance of faith schools; support religiously sensitive youth and social care services; promote a just and sustainable future; and celebrate and support Jewish heritage and cultural institutions. The manifesto also highlighted that in 2016, the country recorded the highest number of anti-Semitic incidents since 1984.
Leaders of the Conservative, Labour, Liberal Democrat, and Scottish National Parties all delivered responses to the manifesto. Prime Minister May cited the Conservative Party’s “zero-tolerance” approach to anti-Semitism and efforts to counter extremism and committed to delivering a Holocaust Memorial and Learning Center in London. She also denounced the Boycott, Divest, and Sanction movement against Israel. Labour leader Corbyn said, “We should all be deeply troubled by the rise of anti-Semitic, Islamophobic, and other racially motivated hate crimes,” and stated his intention to work with the Jewish community to tackle discrimination. Liberal Democrats Leader Tim Farron reiterated his party’s opposition to hate crime and proposed increasing money spent on policing. Scottish National party leader Nicola Sturgeon emphasized the importance of a safe and thriving Jewish community in Scotland and the collective responsibility to ensure there was no place for anti-Semitism in Scotland.
On December 12, 2016, the government adopted the IHRA working definition of anti-Semitism, which included examples of discourse that could be considered anti-Semitic. This definition was subsequently adopted by the Labour Party, the National Union of Students, the Scottish and Welsh governments, several local authorities, and used by the Crown Prosecution Service when assessing potential prosecutions for anti-Semitic hate crime.
The government is a member of the IHRA.
Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom
Summary Paragraph: The government reported charges of religiously motivated crimes in the most recent 12-month periods for which data were available increased by 35 percent in England and Wales, to 5,949, by 16 percent in Scotland, to 673, and by 32 percent in Northern Ireland, to 29. CST reported 767 anti-Semitic incidents in the first six months of the year, a record high for that period. Police reported anti-Muslim incidents in London rose to a record high of 1,260 in the 12 months ending in March, a 367 percent increase from four years earlier. Home Secretary Rudd said figures suggested more than half of those experiencing hate because of their religion were Muslim. Incidents targeted Muslims, Jews, and Christians and included a killing and attempted killings, physical attacks, threats, attempted arson, and hate speech. A survey by CST and a Jewish research group found low rates of anti-Semitism, although 30 percent of respondents held at least one anti-Semitic attitude. There were multiple incidents of vandalism against Muslim and Jewish sites.
According to Home Office official figures for the 12 months ending in March, there were 5,949 religiously motivated hate crimes recorded in England and Wales – 7 percent of total hate crimes – a 35 percent increase over the 4,400 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. Police reported an increase in racially or religiously aggravated offenses in March, possibly connected with the March 22 terrorist attack on Westminster Bridge in London.
Relying on Home Office statistics, Tell MAMA cited a rise in racially and religiously motivated crimes in England and Wales following the EU referendum and the terrorist attacks on Westminster Bridge, Manchester Arena, and London Bridge in the first half of the year. The number of these aggravated crimes peaked at 6,000 in June, according to Tell MAMA, following a sustained spike after the Westminster Bridge terror attack. The number increased somewhat, immediately following the Finsbury Park mosque attack; however, the Home Office Report stated this was likely a continuation of the sustained increase after the London Bridge attack two weeks earlier. The number of reported crimes decreased shortly after the Finsbury Park attack.
In Scotland the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service reported 673 religiously motivated crimes in the 12 months ending in March, a 16 percent rise (581 in the previous year). The most recent figures included 384 anti-Catholic crimes (299), 165 anti-Protestant crimes (141), 113 anti-Muslim crimes (134 in the previous year), and 23 anti-Semitic crimes (18). 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.
The Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) reported 29 religiously motivated hate crimes committed in 21 incidents during the 12 months ending in September, an increase of seven from the previous reporting period. PSNI cited 21 other religiously motivated incidents in the same period that did not constitute crimes, the same number as in the previous 12 months.
Anti-Semitism and anti-Semitic hate crimes continued to rise. CST recorded 767 anti-Semitic incidents across the country in the first six months of the year, a record high for January-June and a 30 percent increase from the 589 incidents recorded during the same period in 2016. The total of 1,346 incidents in 2016 was the highest CST recorded in a calendar year. Through June CST had recorded 100 or more anti-Semitic incidents for 15 consecutive months. For the January-June period, incidents targeted Jewish public figures (16), Jewish schools (22), synagogues (35), Jewish homes (51), and Jewish cemeteries (four). CST categorized 80 incidents as assaults, a 78 percent increase from the previous year. Three quarters of the incidents, 425 and 145 respectively, occurred in the main Jewish centers of greater London and greater Manchester. CST characterized 74 percent of reported incidents as “abusive behavior,” including 142 involving verbal abuse on social media.
According to CST, the increase in 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.
According to a July report by the NGO Campaign Against Antisemitism (CAA), there were 1,078 anti-Semitic hate crimes in 2016, an increase of 44 percent from two years earlier. There were 105 violent crimes reported, according to CAA, only one of which resulted in prosecution. In total, authorities prosecuted only 15 cases, leading to 17 convictions. CAA called for specific training and guidance on anti-Semitic hate crime for police and prosecutors, appointment of a senior officer in each police force with responsibility for overseeing responses to anti-Semitic crimes, and a requirement for the Crown Prosecution Service to record and regularly publish details of cases involving anti-Semitism and their outcomes, as police forces were already required to do.
Police recorded a continuing increase in anti-Muslim hate crimes. According to The Guardian newspaper, London police recorded 1,260 anti-Muslim crimes in the 12 months ending in March, compared with 1,109 in 2015-16 and 343 incidents over the same period four years earlier. According to Shahid Malik, chairman of Tell MAMA, following the Brexit vote, there was an “explosion of anti-Muslim hate both online and on our streets, with visibly Muslim women being disproportionately targeted by cowardly hatemongers.” The Guardiancited Home Secretary Rudd as stating that figures suggested more than half of those who experienced hate because of their religion were Muslim.
The Guardian reported the number of anti-Islamic crimes in Manchester increased fivefold in the week after the May 22 terrorist bombing of the Manchester arena, with 139 crimes reported to Tell MAMA, compared with 25 in the previous week. Police statistics, according to The Guardian, indicated reported anti-Muslim crimes in June, the month after the bombing, increased to 224, compared with 37 a year earlier. According to the BBC, Wasim Chaudhry, the Manchester police’s lead officer for hate crime, Muslims underreported hate crimes because of privacy and other concerns. On June 7, London Mayor Sadiq Khan stated police would take a “zero-tolerance approach” to hate crimes.
In August Tell MAMA, CST, the Crown Prosecution Service, and the Department for Communities and Local Government published a Hate Crime Guide to help those affected. The guide provided guidance on navigating the criminal justice system, reporting or reacting to hate crimes, and understanding the court system. The organizations repeatedly stated that as levels of reported hate crimes, including religiously motivated ones, continued to grow, the need for collaborative efforts to educate and inform those affected became increasingly important.
In September Scottish NGO Victim Support Scotland (VSS) said stakeholders should undertake a collaborative approach to tackle hate crime. VSS said tackling hate crime should mirror the approach to dealing with public health issues, where organizations worked together to support victims and their communities. VSS added there could be an overlap between racial and religious hate crimes; for example, anti-Muslim and anti-Semitic incidents could contain elements of both racial and religious prejudice and it was not always clear whether a victim had been targeted because of their race or religion. The VSS also stated the mixed motivation for hate crimes was relevant to those of an Irish background in Scotland. While the police would define such crimes as “sectarian,” the victims might not define themselves as being a victim of a religiously motivated hate crime.
In June authorities charged Darren Osborne, 47, with the terrorism-related murder of Makram Ali, 51, and attempted murder. Osborne was accused of driving his van into a group of Muslim worshipers outside a mosque in Finsbury Park in north London on June 19, while yelling, “I’m going to kill all Muslims…” Osborne’s trial was set for January 2018.
On April 1, individuals attacked a 17-year old Kurdish-Iranian at a Croydon bus stop after forcing him to admit he was an asylum seeker. The attackers chased, punched, and kicked the teenager until he was unconscious, leaving him with a fractured skull and a blood clot in the brain. The Guardian reported police arrested 17 persons in connection with the investigation. According to press reports, on November 9, three of the attackers were convicted of violent disorder, and three other individuals were acquitted of the same charge. A seventh defendant pled guilty before the start of the trial. Local MP Gavin Barwell said he was “appalled” by the incident, calling the attackers “scum.” Labour Leader Corbyn tweeted he was “absolutely shocked at the attack.”
In London on June 21, a man threw acid on two Muslim cousins, Jameel Muhktar and Resham Khan, while they sat in a car stopped at a traffic light in Beckton. Both suffered severe burns to the face and body; Muhktar was initially placed in an induced coma. Authorities treated the attack as a hate crime and charged John Tomlin with grievous bodily harm. On November 27, Tomlin pled guilty to the charges on the first day of his trial. His sentencing hearing was scheduled for January 2018.
In September a man stabbed Dr. Nasser Kurdy, an orthopedic surgeon and imam, as he arrived at the Altrincham Islamic center in greater Manchester for evening prayers. Kurdy suffered a noncritical stab wound in the neck, which required stitches. Authorities treated the incident as a hate crime and charged Ian Anthony Rooke with unlawful and malicious wounding with intent to cause grievous bodily harm and possession of a lethal weapon. Rooke’s trial was scheduled for March 2018.
In November a male attacker pushed a Muslim woman to the ground and pulled off her hijab. The police treated the incident as a racially or religiously aggravated hate crime.
On December 5, Marek Zakrocki, a supporter of the Britain First Party, was convicted of dangerous driving. On June 23, after shouting “white power” and giving a Nazi salute, he drove a van over the curb at Kamal Ahmed, who was standing in front of an Indian restaurant. When arrested in Harrow that evening, Zakrocki was carrying a knife and a Nazi coin and stated he was “going to kill a Muslim.” Zakrocki was remanded into custody, and a sentence hearing was scheduled for January 2018.
On May 9, police arrested a man waving a meat cleaver and threatening customers and staff at two kosher stores in North London.
In July police arrested a man armed with two knives when he attempted to enter a London synagogue.
In June unidentified individuals in a car threw a bag of vomit at two Muslim women wearing hijabs in another car in Blackburn.
In Manchester in November a woman shouted “black scumbag” and other epithets at a Muslim woman wearing a headscarf and spat in the face of the Muslim woman’s young son.
Sufia Alam, manager of the Maryam Center at the East London Mosque, said Muslim women reported being verbally abused on buses following the June attack at the London Bridge, including one whom an individual grabbed around the throat at a bus stop, and others whom persons verbally abused, spat on, or threatened with attack. He described the abuse as “part of the course of being a Muslim in the UK today.”
In August a man threw glass bottles and yelled, “Hitler was a good man” at two teenage Jewish girls in London.
In London on January 20, unknown individuals pelted a group of Jewish pedestrians with eggs as they returned home from Shabbat evening services.
In January St. Clare’s School in Handsworth prohibited a four-year-old Muslim girl from wearing a headscarf at school because it went against the school’s uniform policy. The city council said because the school was faith-based, it was within its rights to insist on a particular dress code.
In Surrey on June 24, suspects used hostile language against a group of Muslims who had just visited a mosque, then pushed and rocked the vehicle in which the group was travelling. East Surrey Superintendent Clive Davies said a thorough investigation was underway to identify the suspects and stepped up patrols in the area.
In June members of the Sikh Sewa Organization, a Sikh group that provided food to the homeless, said they had to flee the site where they were working at Piccadilly Gardens in Manchester after members of the English Defense League, a group professing opposition to “global Islamification,” became abusive.
Police investigated two arson attacks on kosher restaurants in Prestwich, a Jewish area of Manchester. Shortly before midnight on June 2, two men approached the Ta’am restaurant and threw a milk carton filled with gasoline and a lit rag at the premises. On June 6, offenders forced open a window in JS Restaurant and poured accelerant inside and lit it. No one was hurt in either incident, as both restaurants were closed at the time of the attacks. Both restaurants reopened.
CST, which worked closely with police to help reassure and protect Jewish communities, increased security patrols in greater Manchester and the surrounding area following the Manchester and London terror attacks.
According to a National Union of Students survey of students conducted from November 2016 to February 2017, 26 percent of Jewish university students were fairly or very worried about being physically attacked, and 28 percent said they had been subjected to abuse on social media or other communication channels. Two thirds said they believed they had been targeted due to their religion, and the same proportion reported difficulties with classes and exams being scheduled on Jewish holidays. Almost half reported difficulties accessing kosher food on campus.
A joint study issued in September by the Institute for Jewish Policy Research (JPR) and the CST found not more than 2.4 percent of the country’s population held strong anti-Semitic views, while another 3 percent could be termed “softer” anti-Semites. According to the survey, 4 percent believed violence was often or sometimes justified against Jews, compared with 7.5 percent who felt violence was often or sometimes justified against Muslims. Approximately 30 percent of the population held an unfavorable view of Jews or endorsed at least one of seven anti-Semitic statements in the survey. The presence of anti-Semitic and anti-Israel attitudes were two to four times higher among Muslims than among the general population, but most Muslims disagreed with or were neutral about the seven anti-Semitic statements presented to them. The report concluded the levels of anti-Semitism in the country were among the lowest in the world. The findings came from the largest and most detailed survey of attitudes towards Jews and Israel ever conducted in the country. The JPR’s researchers questioned 5,466 persons, including 995 Muslims, face-to-face and online in 2016-17.
In April Micheline Brannan, Chair of the Scottish Council of Jewish Communities, filed a complaint with the Scottish Parliament’s Presiding Officer over an incident at Holyrood’s Cross-Party Group on Palestine (CPG), a parliament-organized gathering of interested parties to discuss the issue of Palestine. Brannan stated the treasurer of the CPG, Philip Chetwynd, described her and her colleagues as “representatives of Zionist organizations” and “ideological terrorists” and asked them to leave the meeting. Other CPG members rejected the call for their ouster.
In August University of Glasgow rector and human rights lawyer Aamer Anwar, a Muslim, received hate mail and abusive tweets after he was interviewed on television following a Barcelona terrorist attack, where he narrowly avoided being hit by a van. Anwar said one of the messages was from former leader of the English Defense League Tommy Robinson, who called him “a lawyer for ISIS terrorist Aqsa Mahmood,” while another read, “shame he didn’t get hit by the van.” Anwar said he had received death threats in 2016 after condemning ISIS and extremism and calling for unity in the Muslim community following the killing of a Muslim shopkeeper in Glasgow.
In August Cayman Islands news media reported a local activist, Kerry Tibbetts, had launched a campaign to replace the newly appointed governor of the territory, Anwar Bokth Choudhury, a Muslim, scheduled to take office in 2018. Tibbetts reportedly said the FCO was insensitive in appointing a non-Christian to the job. Also in August, according to the Cayman News Service, the local Christian community largely rejected the offer of a Toronto-based imam from the Ahmadiyya Muslim community, Aizaz Khan, to meet and discuss religion while he visited on vacation. According to the report, Khan said some Christians called him “scum.”
Community organizing group Citizens UK, chaired by former Attorney General Dominic Grieve, released a report in July, “Missing Muslims: Unlocking British Muslim potential for the benefit of all,” that recommended the British Muslim community appoint British-born and trained imams instead of foreign born ones and take a stronger stance against persecution of other faiths, including anti-Semitism and attacks against other branches of Islam. A racial equality think tank, Runnymeade Trust, agreed with the report’s findings and expressed hope it would stimulate debate. Leading website for Islamic and current affairs Islam21c.com criticized the report, stating there was “nothing radical or new about it” and only involved persons (Muslim and non-Muslim) who shared a particular establishment thinking and a stereotypical agenda about “Muslims as a problem community.”
In March two street preachers in Bristol who told Muslims their God “did not exist” and called a crowd of shoppers “animals” were fined 330 pounds ($450) each and ordered to pay court costs of 3,372 pounds ($4,600) after being convicted of a religiously aggravated public order offense.
In September Chelsea soccer club sports fans sang a song about Alvaro Morata, a player on the team, that included an anti-Semitic slur reportedly directed against Chelsea rival Tottenham Hotspur, which has a large Jewish fan base. Morata told Chelsea supporters to “respect everyone,” and the club condemned the song, stating it would impose a life ban on any fans found guilty of joining in anti-Semitic songs.
Britain First, a nationalist party widely described as far-right, organized a “Persecuted Patriots Rally” in Bromley on November 4 to “show solidarity” with its leaders, Paul Golding and Jayda Fransen. In May authorities charged the leaders 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 said that, during the trial of the four men, Golding and Fransen had distributed leaflets, posted videos, and harassed individuals whom they believed were associated with the accused rapists. Approximately 50 Britain First supporters turned out; they were outnumbered by a counterprotest organized by groups including Unite Against Fascism. Golding and Fransen appeared before Medway magistrates on October 17 and pled not guilty. Their case was adjourned to 2018.
Barbara Fielding-Morris, an independent candidate for parliament in the June general election, posted anti-Semitic comments on a blog from September 2016 to February, praising Hitler for trying to “clear” Germany of Jews and accusing Jews of being “cowardly.” Fielding-Morris pleaded not guilty to three counts of incitement of hatred. A hearing was set for February 2018.
In September a gasoline bomb thrown at the central mosque in Edinburgh caused a minor fire and damage to a door. Police charged 29-year-old Thomas Conington with arson aggravated by religious and racial prejudice. Conington was convicted in June and sentenced to a minimum prison term of three years and nine months.
In October Tell MAMA reported an attack on Shia gravestones in the Pleasington Cemetery in Blackburn. The NGO said the desecration of Shia gravestones in a cemetery where other Muslim headstones were not touched showed anti-Shia hatred.
In June individuals defaced the Thornaby mosque in Stockton-on-Trees with anti-Muslim graffiti. The words “Muslim Cowards” were found spray-painted on the outside of the mosque. Police investigated the incident as a hate crime but did not charge anyone. Members of the Stockton-on-Trees community helped remove the graffiti, and the mosque organized a community day to clear up misconceptions about Islam.
On August 24, a severed pig’s head was left on the doorstep of an Islamic center in Newtownards, Northern Ireland. The wall of the building was also vandalized with anti-Muslim graffiti, which the PSNI investigated as a hate crime. Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) MP for Strangford Jim Shannon and other local politicians condemned the incident.
On September 25, the Inverary Community Center in East Belfast was targeted with graffiti containing swastikas and stating, “No Muslims, No Blacks” and a severed pig’s head. The Belfast City Council, which owned the center, quickly removed the messages. DUP MP for East Belfast Gavin Robinson described the attack as “appalling.”
In December 2016, individuals spray painted the words “Saracen go home” and “Deus Vult,” a Latin phrase associated with the Crusades meaning “God wills it,” on the walls of a mosque in Cumbernauld, Scotland. Police treated the vandalism as a hate crime; they made no arrests.
In February the Jewish community in Belfast held a rededication ceremony for 13 graves that unidentified vandals had destroyed in 2016. The Belfast Lord Mayor and representatives from the two largest Unionist parties attended the ceremony.
On January 21, unidentified vandals threw a brick with images of swastikas and anti-Semitic messages through the window of a Jewish home in the Edgware district of London. On the same day, unidentified individuals defaced the personal property of a Jewish resident in Mill Hill in London with swastikas.
On March 17, a Belfast mural honoring the life of Lieutenant Colonel John Henry Patterson was defaced with the words “scum” and “Nazi.” Patterson was an Irish Zionist who commanded a volunteer force known as the Jewish Legion during World War I. The PSNI treated the incident as an anti-Semitic hate crime.
According to press reports, members of St. Editha’s Church in Tamworth, Staffordshire, England, discovered anti-Christian messages on the walls and doors of the church in July. Messages said “God has failed” and “Deliver us from evil.” Police stop-searched and interviewed two teenagers in connection with the incident.
There were a number of interfaith efforts throughout the year. In January a London synagogue raised money to house a Muslim refugee family in the synagogue. In March an estimated 1,500 Jews participated in the Sadaqa Day of Muslim-led social action, according to British newspaper Jewish News. Muslims in turn participated in Mitzvah Day, the sister initiative to the Muslim event. Muslims and Jews collaborated on 15 joint Sadaqa Day and Mitzvah Day projects. Also in March Muslim youth, police officers, and hundreds of others linked hands on Westminster Bridge in honor of those who died in the Westminster terror attack. Children held signs which read, “Islam says no to terror.”
Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement
In March U.S. embassy and Department of State officials engaged with multiple FCO and Ministry of Defense representatives to assess common goals for engaging religious minority populations at risk of radicalization, building religious tolerance, and preventing recruitment by violent extremist groups.
The embassy facilitated three two-way exchange programs during the year to bring together religious leaders, police officers, academics, local government representatives, and Home Office officials to discuss issues surrounding religious tolerance and combating the risk of violent extremism among members of religious minorities and to share best practices. Partnered cities included London and Los Angeles, Birmingham and Denver, and Manchester and Boston. Participants from each city visited their partner city before hosting a delegation in return.
The Consulate General in Belfast invited religious leaders on April 3 to discuss challenges in their communities, including those pertaining to religious freedom and tolerance. Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, and Muslim leaders participated.
On November 20, the Consulate General in Edinburgh hosted an interfaith Thanksgiving dinner. Consulate general staff and representatives of the Muslim, Christian, Buddhist, and Bahai communities discussed the importance of collective group efforts to promote religious tolerance in their specific communities, and how to include and recruit the next generation to work for religious freedom.