Prohibition of Discrimination

VII. Discrimination on the Ground of Religion

Article 26 of the Constitution declares that freedom of thought, conscience and religion, shall not be restricted.[1] The Law on Religious Communities and Associations provides that all persons, regardless of their professed religion, religious beliefs or relationship with religion, are equal before the law. Direct or indirect restrictions of their rights and freedoms, as well as direct or indirect privileges, are prohibited.[2]

Religious communities and associations in Lithuania are divided into two core groups – traditional and other (non-traditional) religious communities and associations.[3] There is also a third category of "state-recognized" religious associations.[4] Various laws have granted more rights to traditional religious communities than to religious communities that are seen as non-traditional – for example, the faith of traditional religious communities may be taught in public schools,[5] the state pays social security and health insurance contributions on behalf of the clergy of traditional religion,[6] and interference with religious rites amounts to a criminal offense only when rites of state-recognized religious associations are concerned.[7] In some cases, the differentiation of religious communities may also lead to the discrimination of their members – for example, they do not have the same ability to raise their children according to their own beliefs in public schools as parents belonging to a traditional faith, despite the fact that this is provided for by the Constitution.[8]

Various laws have granted more rights to traditional religious communities than to religious communities that are seen as non-traditional – for example, the faith of traditional religious communities may be taught in public schools, the state pays social security and health insurance contributions on behalf of the clergy of traditional religion, and interference with religious rites amounts to a criminal offense only when rites of state-recognized religious associations are concerned.

It should be noted that members of non-traditional religious communities identify the abolition of the practice of differentiating religious communities into traditional and non-traditional ones as the top priority in the fight against discrimination based on religion in Lithuania.[9]

One important aspect of religious freedom is the right of parents to educate their children in accordance with their religion or beliefs. At the beginning of 2013, the Electoral Action of Poles faction within Parliament proposed a draft law that infringed upon the rights of some parents by requiring compulsory religious education in school. The initial draft of the Law on Education that was submitted to Parliament provided that classes on the faith of traditional religious communities or associations were compulsory in schools providing primary and basic education.[10] The parliamentary Committee on Legal Affairs found that the proposed draft law was contrary to Article 40(1) of the Constitution, which provides that state and municipal educational institutions are secular in nature.[11] Religious studies in these institutions are taught at the request of the parents.

The Minister of Education and Science,[12] the Lithuanian School Students' Union[13] and even the chairman of the Lithuanian Bishops' Conference[14] have all criticized the draft law for being contrary to the Constitution. Given the unanimous rejection of the bill, its initiators submitted a revised draft, retaining the right of parents to select religious studies or ethics classes for their children but at the same time providing that knowledge of the fundamentals of religions is a compulsory part of ethics programmes.[15] The explanatory memorandum to the revised bill stated that it would be appropriate to include the compulsory teaching of the fundamentals of religion in ethics classes – in other words, to give children whose parents had chosen a non-confessional moral education programme for them the chance to at least become familiar with the fundamentals of religion and faith.[16]

Lithuanian Electoral Action of Poles claimed that the proposed programme would "teach not only about Christian religions, which are dominant in Lithuania, but also the fundamentals of other religions, especially the monotheistic faiths, Judaism and Islam",[17] at the same time implying that the primary objective of the programme did not change even after the draft was revised.

Based on the contents of explanatory memorandum, the inclusion of the topic of the "fundamentals of religion" in the ethics programme basically attempts to circumvent the parents' decision on the religious education for their children, as well as the constitutional provision stating that state and municipal educational institutions are secular in nature. It should be noted that the Parliament's Legal Department found that the revised law could potentially contravene the Constitution,[18] but the Committee on Legal Affairs did not support this assessment.[19] The revised bill will be put to the vote in Parliament in 2015.

During the reported period, the Equal Opportunities Ombudsperson's Office investigated a complaint by the residents of the Foreigners Registration Centre concerning the meals given at the Centre, which ignored the religious beliefs of its residents (Muslims were given pork despite the fact that Islam prohibits eating this kind of meat). During the investigation, it was found that, out of the 157 foreigners residing in the Centre at 1 December 2013, 55 (or 35%) were Muslim. Considering that a large group of people found its ability to eat according to their religious beliefs restricted, it was decided that these people were discriminated against for their religious beliefs.[20] The Equal Opportunities Ombudsperson proposed to the Ministry of the Interior to revise the provisions in the Conditions and Procedure for Temporarily Placing Foreigners in the Foreigners' Registration Centre in order to ensure that meals organized at the Centre took into account the religious beliefs of its residents.

At the beginning of 2014, the Ministry of the Interior laid down a provision stipulating that, should persons placed in the Centre refuse to eat certain food products because of their religious beliefs, that product shall be replaced by a different one, without going against the approved physiological nutritional standards.[21] Currently foreigners are allowed to choose from these meals –"traditional (includes pork)" or "vegetarian (contains no meat)". This means that persons of the Islamic faith who do eat meat are in all cases forced to choose the vegetarian option, which is why this solution is not a proper implementation of the principle of non-discrimination on the ground of religion.

Findings and Recommendations

  • The problems associated with the differentiation of religious communities, with distinguishing between "traditional" and "non-traditional" ones, are still poorly understood by the public, which is why it is necessary to educate the public about religion, religious freedom and religious minorities.
  • The distinction between "traditional" and "non-traditional" religious communities found in the law allows for discriminating against religious associations and individuals on the basis of religion, and as such it is worth considering the abolition of the distinction.
  • It is vital to remove manifestly unreasonable instances of unequal treatment of religious communities found in the law, and to provide equal protection to the religious rites of all religious communities under Article 171 of the Criminal Code.
  • It is necessary to reject the revised draft Law on Education as infringing upon the right of parents to educate their children according to their religious beliefs, including the right to have no religion.
  • To ensure the residents of the Foreigners' Registration Centre are allowed to eat in accordance with their religious beliefs, without restricting their options solely to "traditional (contains pork)" and "vegetarian (contains no meat)" meals.

[1] The Constitution, 25 October 1992, http://www3.lrs.lt/pls/inter3/dokpaieska.showdoc_l?p_id=465070

[2] Law on Religious Communities and Associations, 4 October 1995, No. I-1057, Article 3, http://www3.lrs.lt/pls/inter3/dokpaieska.showdoc_l?p_id=363706

[3] Law on Religious Communities and Associations, 4 October 1995, No. I-1057, Article 5 and 11, http://www3.lrs.lt/pls/inter3/dokpaieska.showdoc_l?p_id=363706

[4] Law on Religious Communities and Associations, 4 October 1995, No. I-1057, Article 6, http://www3.lrs.lt/pls/inter3/dokpaieska.showdoc_l?p_id=363706

[5] Law on Education, 25 June 1991, No. I-1489, Article 31, http://www3.lrs.lt/pls/inter3/dokpaieska.showdoc_l?p_id=458774

[6] Law on State Social Insurance Pension, 18 July 1994, No. I-549, Article 2, http://www3.lrs.lt/pls/inter3/dokpaieska.showdoc_l?p_id=465633; Law on Health Insurance, 21 May 1996, No. I-1343, 6 str. 4 d., http://www3.lrs.lt/pls/inter3/dokpaieska.showdoc_l?p_id=478640

[7] Law on the Approval and Entry into Force of the Criminal Code, 26 September 2000, No. VIII-1968, Article 171, http://www3.lrs.lt/pls/inter3/dokpaieska.showdoc_l?p_id=111555&p_tr2=2

[8] The Constitution, 25 October 1992, Article 40(1), http://www3.lrs.lt/pls/inter3/dokpaieska.showdoc_l?p_id=465070

[9] Milda Ališauskienė, Donatas Glodenis, "Challenges to Religious Diversity in Lithuania: Prospects for Religious Minorities", 2013, p. 45-46, http://religija.lt/sites/default/files/issukiai_religinei_ivairovei-alisauskieneglodenis-a4.pdf

[10] Draft Law Amending Articles 31(1),31(2) and 31(3) of the Law on Education, 4 March 2013, XIIP-313, http://www3.lrs.lt/pls/inter3/dokpaieska.showdoc_l?p_id=443812&p_tr2=2

[11] Conclusion of the Committee on Legal Affairs on the draft Law Amending Articles 31(1),31(2) and 31(3) of the Law on Education, 20 March 2013, http://www3.lrs.lt/pls/inter3/dokpaieska.showdoc_l?p_id=444732

[12] Mindaugas Jackevičius, "D.Pavalkis Will Not Allow Teaching Religion by Force", delfi.lt, 5 March 2013, http://www.delfi.lt/news/daily/education/dpavalkis-prievarta-tikybos-mokytis-neleis.d?id=60833059

[13] Lithuanian School Students' Union, LSSU position on the draft Law Amending Articles 31(1), 31(2) and 31(3) of the Law on Education, 4 March 2013, http://www.moksleiviai.lt/files/pozicijos/pozicija_del_tikybos_privalomojo_dalyko_ivedimo.pdf

[14] "EAPL efforts to establish compulsory religious education were opposed by both the Prime Minister and the Lithuanian Bishops' Conference", bernardinai.lt, 13 March 2013, http://www.bernardinai.lt/straipsnis/2013-03-13-llra-siekiui-ivesti-privaloma-tikybos-mokyma-priestarauja-ir-premjeras-ir-lietuvos-vyskupu-konferencija/97173

Draft Law Amending Articles 31(1),31(2) and 31(3) of the Law on Education, 23 May 2013, XIIP-313(2), http://www3.lrs.lt/pls/inter3/dokpaieska.showdoc_l?p_id=449207&p_tr2=2

[16] Explanatory Memorandum to the draft Law Amending Articles 31(1),31(2) and 31(3) of the Law on Education, 23 May 2013, http://www3.lrs.lt/pls/inter3/dokpaieska.showdoc_l?p_id=449209

[17] "Having received criticism over compulsory religious education, poles will now propose teaching about religion", delfi.lt, 21 March 2013, http://www.delfi.lt/news/daily/education/sukritikuoti-del-privalomo-tikybos-mokymo-lenkai-siulys-mokyti-religijos.d?id=60959681

[18] Conclusion of the Legal Department on the draft Law Amending Articles 31(1),31(2) and 31(3) of the Law on Education, 29 May 2013,

[19] Conclusion of the Committee on Legal Affairs on the draft draft Law Amending Articles 31(1),31(2) and 31(3) of the Law on Education, 29 May 2013, http://www3.lrs.lt/pls/inter3/dokpaieska.showdoc_l?p_id=449604

[20] Equal Opportunities Ombudsperson's Office, Activity Report 2013, pub. 2014, p. 38-43, http://www.lygybe.lt/download/303/lygi%C5%B3%20galimybi%C5%B3%20kontrolieriaus%20tarnybos%20veiklos%202013%20m.%20ataskaita.pdf

[21] Order No. 1V-42 of the Minister of the Interior "On the Amendment of Order No. 1V-340 of the Minister of the Interior "On the Approval of the Plan for the Conditions and Procedure for the Temporary Placement of Foreigners in the Foreigners' Registration Centre", dated 4 October 2007"', dated 31 January 2014, https://www.e-tar.lt/portal/lt/legalAct/8e67fc008a6b11e3adad91663975b89f