International Religious Freedom Report
Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor

The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the Government generally respects this right in practice.

There was an improvement in the status of respect for religious freedom during the period covered by this report. In April 2001, the Portuguese Parliament passed the Religious Freedom Act, which provides recognized religions with benefits previously reserved for the Catholic Church. The bill exempts the Catholic Church, which maintains a special status under a (revised) 1940 "Concordata" between the Government and the Vatican. The Concordata itself is coming up for amendment in order to be consistent with the new Religious Freedom Act, a process that is expected to be completed by 2003. However, the benefits of this Act will be extended only to religious groups that have been established in the country for 30 years or recognized internationally for at least 60 years.

The generally amicable relationship among religions in society contributed to religious freedom.

The U.S. Government discusses religious freedom issues with the Government in the context of its overall dialog and policy of promoting human rights.

Section I. Religious Demography

The country has a total area of 35,672 square miles and the population is an estimated 10 million. More than 80 percent of the population above the age of 12 identify with the Roman Catholic Church, yet a large percentage state that they do not actively participate in church activities. About 4 percent identify with various Protestant denominations (including about 250,000 Evangelists) and about 1 percent with non-Christian religions. Less than 3 percent state that they have no religion.

Non-Christian religions include about 35,000 Muslims (largely from Portuguese Africa, ethnically sub-Saharan African or South Asian), approximately 700 Jews, and very small number of Buddhists, Taoists, and Zoroastrians. There is also a Hindu community of about 7,000 persons also exists, which largely traces its origins to South Asians who emigrated from Portuguese Africa and the former Portuguese colony of Goa in India. Many of these minority communities are not organized formally.

Brazilian syncretistic Catholic Churches, which combine Catholic ritual with pre-Christian Afro-Brazilian ritual, such as Candomble and Umbanda, also operate in small numbers, as do the Seventh-Day Adventists, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Mormons), and Orthodox Christians. The Igreja Universal do Reino de Deus (the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God), a proselytizing church that originated in Brazil, also exists. The Church of Scientology has approximately 200 active members, primarily in the Lisbon area.

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

Section II. Status of Religious Freedom

Legal/Policy Framework

The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the Government generally respects this right in practice. The Government at all levels generally protects this right in full and does not tolerate its abuse, either by governmental or private actors.

Portugal is a secular state. Other than the Constitution, the two most important documents relating to religious freedom are the 2001 Religious Freedom Act and the 1940 Concordata (as amended in 1971) between Portugal and the Holy See.

In 2001 the country took a step toward ensuring religious freedom to a population that has become more diverse in recent years. In April 2001, the Parliament passed the Religious Freedom Act. This law does not apply to the Catholic Church, which maintains a separate agreement with Portugal under the terms of the Concordata. In order to comply constitutionally with the Religious Freedom Act, the Government has begun negotiations with the Vatican to once again amend the Concordata. This process should be complete by 2003. In the interim, the current Concordata remains in force.

The Religious Freedom Act creates a legislative framework for religions established in the country for at least 30 years, or those recognized internationally for at least 60 years. The Act provides qualifying religions with benefits previously reserved for the Catholic Church: full tax-exempt status, legal recognition for marriage and other rites, chaplain visits to prisons and hospitals, and respect for traditional holidays. It allows for each religion to negotiate--but with no guarantee of acceptance--it's own Concordata-style agreement with the Government.

The Act also establishes an independent consultative commission within the Justice Ministry that will oversee the application of the Act. However, some religions resent the fact that the Catholic Church, although exempt from the Act, will have membership on the Commission. Chief chaplaincies for the military, prisons, and hospitals remain state-funded positions for Roman Catholics only.

The Government takes active steps to promote interfaith understanding. Most notably 5 days a week the state television channel (Radiotelevisao Portuguesa 2) broadcasts "A Fe dos Homens"--"The Faith of Man"--a half-hour program consisting of various segments written and produced by different religious communities. The Government pays for the segments and professional production companies are hired under contract to produce the segments. The concept behind "The Faith of Man" originated in 1984, when minority religious communities began to request broadcast time on Radiotelevisao Portuguesa (RTP) television. In 1997 arrangements for such broadcasts were regularized and formalized and the program was initiated. Religious communities send delegates to a special television commission, which determines the scheduling of segments. The television commission has operated on the general rule that religious communities eligible for the program are those that have been operating for at least 30 years in the country or at least 60 years in their country of origin.

The Catholic Church owns a radio station called Radio Renascenca (Radio Renaissance), which has one of the country's highest market shares, yet less than 10 percent of it programs have religious content. The Diocese of Leiria-Fatima is seeking funding to establish a cable television station.

Public secondary school curriculums include an optional course called "religion and morals." This course functions as a survey of world religions and is taught by a lay person. It can be used to give instruction on the Catholic religion; however, the Catholic Church must approve all teachers for this course. Other religions may set up such a course if they have 10 or more children in the particular school. There are about 100 such non-Catholic programs in the country. Under the new Act, each religion may approve the course's respective instructor. The Catholic Church states that it would prefer this course to be obligatory.

Under the Concordata, major Catholic holidays also are official holidays. Seven of the country's 16 national holidays are Catholic holidays. These 7 holidays do not negatively impact other religious groups. The Papal Nuncio is always the dean of the diplomatic corps.

Restrictions on Religious Freedom

Government policy and practice contributed to the generally unrestricted practice of religion. However, the Church of Scientology, although recognized as a religious association since 1986, does not benefit from the Religious Freedom Act, as it has not been established in the country for 30 years or recognized internationally for 60 years, as required under the law. The Church's leaders claim that they suffer no discrimination or opposition in the country. However, they are concerned that exclusion from the benefits accorded under the Act will have a negative impact on their ability to practice their faith.

There were no reports of religious detainees or prisoners.

Forced Religious Conversion

There were no reports of forced religious conversion, including of minor U.S. citizens who had been abducted or illegally removed from the United States, or of the Government's refusal to allow such citizens to be returned to the United States.

Improvements and Positive Developments in Respect for Religious Freedom

The passage of the Religious Freedom Act and a variety of activities in different parts of the country indicate that there is a growing recognition of the need to reach out to minority religions.

In September 2000, Lisbon City Hall sponsored a 3-day conference entitled "Oceans of Peace: Dialogs between Religions and Cultures", whose goal was to promote mutual understanding and communication among religions. In addition to carrying through with the plan to illuminate Lisbon's mosque and rename its street "Rua da Mesquita"--Mosque Street--Lisbon City Hall has provided matching funds for completion of the mosque. The municipality also is providing matching funds for the restoration of Lisbon's 19th century synagogue, considered a building of historic significance.

In February 2001, Belmonte, an isolated town in northeastern Portugal, dedicated its first Jewish cemetery in 500 years. The town's Jewish community practiced its faith in secret, from the time of the Inquisition until 1981. Although the 200-member Jewish community makes up only 5 percent of the city's population, Belmonte City Hall contributed to the cemetery's construction. The town plans to open a Jewish museum by 2002.

Section III. Societal Attitudes

There are amicable relations among the various religious communities. Many communities conduct "open houses" or sponsor interfaith education seminars.

The residents of the Azores archipelago, although overall traditionally very Catholic, are also quite tolerant of other faiths. Both Mormon and Baptist missionaries are active on the islands. They are well treated and participate in Azorean social life.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy

The U.S. Government discusses religious freedom issues with the Government in the context of its overall dialog and policy of promoting human rights.

U.S. Embassy representatives have discussed issues and problems of religious freedom with government officials, members of the National Assembly, broadcasting executives, and leading religious figures. These contacts are ongoing.

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