Right to Freedom of Expression, Association and Religion

VII. Freedom of Religion

The insufficient knowledge and acceptance of religious diversity is an acute social problem in Lithuania. Without understanding the religious diversity present in Lithuania, the media is unable to properly carry out its role as a mediator – that is, to inform a public housing roughly 60 different faiths represented by their own religious communities.

The relations between the dominant religious organization in Lithuania and the State has recently shown that secularism (or separation) is weakening, with a stronger connection being felt between the secular and ecclesiastical authorities.

Even though religious diversity is an everyday reality in modern society – according to the census carried out in Lithuania in 2011, the country's residents belonged to 59 religious communities[1] – the representation of this diversity, despite certain efforts, is still a serious challenge for the media.[2] It still adheres to stereotype and identifies the religious life of the Lithuanian public with the life of one particular religious community:[3] the public space is most often concerned with the Roman Catholic Church, when research indicates that one in five Lithuanian residents does not consider himself to be its adherent, and that religious diversity exists even within the Catholic community.[4] 

In addition, instead of clearly presenting religious organizations and their views to the public and spreading objective information about religion to the public,[5] the media quite often overlooks its statutory duties when representing the religious diversity of Lithuania:  when providing information on traditional religious communities, it portrays them more positively, with information on new religious movements or non-traditional religious communities being presented more negatively. [6]

According to the 2013 US international report on religious freedom, Lithuania guarantees the freedom of religion, with the exception of certain symptoms of anti-Semitism, and state institutions respect that freedom.[7] On the other hand, the study of religious minorities and their representatives in the same year revealed that the main factors driving discrimination on the basis of religion in Lithuania were the Catholic Church (52%), the media (43%) and legal regulations limiting the opportunities available to the communities of minority religions in society (32%).[8] 

For example, in secular general education institutions, choice is limited to the study of the faith of traditional religious communities or the study of ethics;[9] institutions not only do not provide alternatives for studying the faiths of non-traditional religious communities, but lack broader education on religion. As such, the freedom to choose a person's religion is not fully guaranteed.

The relations between the dominant religious organization in Lithuania and the State has recently shown that secularism (or separation) is weakening, with a stronger connection being felt between the secular and ecclesiastical authorities. This also impacts on public opinion with respect to religious minorities – society is more willing to accept traditional or state-recognized religious communities, while non-traditional religious communities, despite being legally registered, are still identified with sects.[10]

The fondness that individual MPs feel for traditional religious communities or to one of them in particular – namely, the Roman Catholic church – was reflected in the initiatives of the legislature: the amendment to the Law on Education proposed compulsory religious classes;[11] the amendment to the Law on State Social Allowances sought a three-fold increase in state social allowance payments to retired clergymen of traditional religious communities.[12]  In addition, the fact that over the years only traditional religious communities received funding from the national budget[13] shows that church and state have become entwined, establishing an even bigger hierarchy between traditional and non-traditional religious communities.

When Parliament was considering amendments to the Law on Provision of Information to the Public at the end of 2014, which sought to change the system of self-regulation of the media,[14]  it was suggested that a representative from the Lithuanian Bishops' Conference be included among the founding members of the Public Information Ethics Commission,[15] slated to replace the existing Ethics Commission of Journalists and Publishers. After Parliament did not accept this proposal, the amendment to the Law on Provision of Information to the Public was not adopted immediately,[16] with the Opposition even managing to block the voting procedure.[17] 

Findings and Recommendations 

  • The public and the media know too little about the religious diversity that surrounds us. This situation could be changed by implementing a discipline in formal education and training institutions that is based not on the preaching of a particular faith, but rather grounded in the history of religions, religious sociology, religious psychology and knowledge from other branches of science.
  • Initiatives of the legislature in 2013-2014 demonstrated an increasing closeness between the Catholic Church and the State and a corresponding weakening of secularism. It is necessary to ensure a legal framework that can ensure that people of all faiths are able to equally enjoy their freedom of religion.

[1] Results of the 2011 resident and home census, 25 October 2013, http://statistics.bookdesign.lt/

[2] Lithuanian Union of Journalists, "Journalists that participated in the seminar on religious diversity in Lithuania found out a lot", 2 December 2013, http://www.lzs.lt/lt/naujienos/aktualijos_354/archive/p102/zurnalistai_dalyvave_seminare_apie_religiju_ivairove_lietuvoje_suzinojo_daug_naujo.html

[3] New Religions Research and Information Centre, "Religious diversity in Lithuanian media", 2014, http://www.religija.lt/straipsniai/religija-visuomene-religijos-laisve/paskelbtas-straipsniu-rinkinys-religine-ivairove-lietuvos-ziniasklaidoje

[4] Milda Ališauskienė, Donatas Glodenis, "Challenges to religious diversity in Lithuania: perspectives of religious minorities", 2013, http://www.religija.lt/straipsniai/tyrimai-analize-nuomones/paskelbta-studija-issukiai-religinei-ivairovei-lietuvoje-religiniu-mazumu-perspektyva

[5] Law on Provision of Information to the Public, 2 July 1996, No. I-1418, Articles 22(d)(7) and 22(d)(8), http://www3.lrs.lt/pls/inter3/dokpaieska.showdoc_l?p_id=478453&p_tr2=2

[6] Gintarė Markauskaitė, Milda Ališauskienė, "Representation of religious diversity in Lithuanian online media", 2014 m., http://vddb.library.lt/obj/LT-eLABa-0001:J.04~2014~ISSN_2029-4573.N_5_1.PG_65-83

[7] US Embassy in Lithuania, International Religious Freedom Report 2013 (Lithuania), 28 July 2014, http://vilnius.usembassy.gov/lithuanian_index/ambasados-naujienos/2013-m.-tarptautin-ataskaita-apie-tikjimo-laisv

[8] Milda Ališauskienė, Donatas Glodenis, "Challenges to religious diversity in Lithuania: perspectives of religious minorities", 2013, p. 57, http://www.religija.lt/straipsniai/tyrimai-analize-nuomones/paskelbta-studija-issukiai-religinei-ivairovei-lietuvoje-religiniu-mazumu-perspektyva

[9] Law Amending the Law on Education, 17 March 2011, No. XI-1281, Article 31, http://www3.lrs.lt/pls/inter3/dokpaieska.showdoc_l?p_id=395105&p_tr2=2

[10] Milda Ališauskienė, Donatas Glodenis, "Challenges to religious diversity in Lithuania: perspectives of religious minorities", 2013, p. 38-41, http://www.religija.lt/straipsniai/tyrimai-analize-nuomones/paskelbta-studija-issukiai-religinei-ivairovei-lietuvoje-religiniu-mazumu-perspektyva

[11] Draft Law Amending Article 31(1)-(3) of the Law on Education, 4 March 2013, No. XIIP-313, http://www3.lrs.lt/pls/inter3/dokpaieska.showdoc_l?p_id=443812&p_tr2=2

[12] Draft Law Supplementing Article 7 of the Law on State Social Allowances, 11 June 2013,  No. XIIP-688, http://www3.lrs.lt/pls/inter3/dokpaieska.showdoc_l?p_id=450550&p_tr2=2

[13] Law Institute of Lithuania, "Problems with the exercise of the right to privacy, to the freedom of thought, conscience and religion and to self-expression", 2013, http://www.teise.org/data/Teises_i_privatuma_uztikrinimo_problemos.pdf

[14] Draft Law Amending Articles 3, 31, 41, 43, 46, 49 and 50 of and Including Article 46(1) in Law No. I-418 on Provision of Information to the Public, 27 October 2014, No. XIIP-1243(5),

http://www3.lrs.lt/pls/inter3/dokpaieska.showdoc_l?p_id=485975&p_tr2=2

[15] Proposal No. XIIP-1243(5) "On the Draft Law Amending Articles 3, 31, 41, 43, 46, 49 and 50 of and Including Article 46(1) in Law No. I-418 on Provision of Information to the Public", 6 November 2014, No. XIIP-1243(5), http://www3.lrs.lt/pls/inter3/dokpaieska.showdoc_l?p_id=486889

[16] Stasys Gudavičius, "There will be no bishops in the ethics institution being formed", vz.lt, 25 November 2014, http://vz.lt/article/2014/11/25/kuriamoje-ziniasklaidos-etikos-institucijoje-kunigu-nebus

[17] Šarūnas Černiauskas, "Circus in Parliament over the inclusion of bishops in media monitoring", delfi.lt, 20 November 2014, http://www.delfi.lt/verslas/media/seime-cirkas-del-vyskupu-itraukimo-i-ziniasklaidos-kontrole.d?id=66449366