International Religious Freedom Report (2009)

2009 International Religious Freedom Report

Romania

The Constitution and the law provide for freedom of religion. While the Government generally respected religious freedom in practice, some restrictions adversely affected the rights of some religious groups.
There was no change in the status of respect for religious freedom by the Government during the reporting period. Minority religious groups complained less frequently than in prior years that low-level government officials impeded their efforts at proselytizing and interfered with other religious activities. The Government continued to differentiate between recognized and unrecognized religious groups, and registration and recognition requirements continued to pose obstacles to minority religious groups. Restitution of Greek Catholic properties seized by the Communist-era government in 1948 and transferred to the Romanian Orthodox Church also remained a problem. The Greek Catholic Church was the only denomination outlawed under Communist rule whose churches were confiscated and given to another denomination. The Government continued to make progress in recognizing the history of the Holocaust in the country. Some minority religious groups continued to allege that local authorities created delays in granting construction permits based upon religion.

There were reports of societal abuses or discrimination based on religious affiliation, belief, or practice. There were cases in which some Romanian Orthodox clergy showed hostility toward non-Orthodox church members, criticized proselytizing by Protestant and other religious groups, opposed the burial of believers of other religious groups in confessional or even public cemeteries, and opposed missionary activity. In general, the Orthodox Church continued to refuse to return the Greek Catholic churches that it received in 1948. The Orthodox Church often used its influence to put pressure on small groups and government officials to its own advantage.

The U.S. Government discusses religious freedom with the Government as part of its overall policy to promote human rights. The Embassy continued to raise concerns with officials about the failure of the Government to ensure the full restitution of religious properties, including Greek Catholic churches. The Embassy also strongly encouraged the Government's efforts to recognize the history of the Holocaust in the country, including implementing the recommendations in the 2004 Wiesel Commission Report, training teachers to teach the history of the Holocaust in the country, erecting a Holocaust memorial, and commemorating the national Holocaust Remembrance Day.

Section I. Religious Demography
The country has an area of 91,699 square miles and a population of 21.7 million. According to the 2002 census, Romanian Orthodox believers (including the Orthodox Serb Bishopric of Timisoara) constituted 86.8 percent of the population, Roman Catholics 4.7 percent, and Greek Catholics less than 1 percent. While the Government stated that the census results were accurate, the Greek Catholic Church claimed that its church membership was undercounted in the official census and estimated that its adherents constituted 3.6 percent of the population. The following religious groups are also present in the country: Old Rite Russian Christian (Orthodox) Church, Protestant Reformed Church, Christian Evangelical Church, Romanian Evangelical Church, Evangelical Augustinian Church, Lutheran Evangelical Church, Unitarian Church of Romania, Baptist Church, Apostolic Church of God (Pentecostal Church), Seventh-day Adventist Church, Armenian Church, Judaism, Islam, Jehovah's Witnesses, the Baha'i Faith, the Family (God's Children), The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons), the Unification Church, the Methodist Church, the Presbyterian Church, Transcendental Meditation, Society for Krishna Consciousness, and Zen Buddhism.

Most religious groups are dispersed throughout the country, although a few religious communities are concentrated in particular regions. Old Rite members (Lippovans) are located in Moldavia and Dobrogea. Most Muslims are located in the southeastern part of the country. Most Greek Catholics reside in Transylvania, but there are also Greek Catholics in Bucharest and in the Banat and Crisana regions. Protestant and Catholic believers tend to reside in Transylvania, but many also are located around Bacau. Orthodox and Greek Catholic ethnic Ukrainians live mostly in the northwestern part of the country. Orthodox ethnic Serbs are primarily in Banat. Armenians are concentrated in Moldavia and the south. Members of the Protestant Reformed, Roman Catholic, Unitarian, and Lutheran churches from Transylvania are virtually all ethnic Hungarians.
Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal/Policy Framework
Although the Constitution provides for freedom of religion, the Government exercises considerable influence over religious life through laws and decrees. Government registration and recognition requirements continued to pose obstacles to minority religious groups.
The Government observes Christmas and Orthodox Easter as national holidays. Members of other recognized religious groups that celebrate Easter on a different date are entitled by law to have an additional holiday.
There is no law against proselytizing, nor is there a clear definition of what activities constitute proselytizing.
The total number of officially recognized religions remains low. Under the provisions of the 2006 religion law, the Government implemented a three-tier system of recognition: grupari religioase (which are not legal entities), religious associations, and religions.
Gruparile religioase are groups of people who share the same beliefs but do not receive tax exemptions or support from the state.
Religious associations are legal entities that do not receive government funding, must be registered as such in a religious association registry, and receive only limited tax exemptions. This section of the religion law has engendered some confusion, since it confers tax exemptions "according to the Fiscal Code." However, the Fiscal Code itself does not address the issue of tax exemptions for religious associations. Unrecognized groups are not permitted to engage in profit-making activities. In order to register, religious associations must have 300 citizen members and must submit members' personal data, while the membership requirement for registration of any other type of association is three members. Religious associations are entitled to receive religion status if they have 12 years of continuous religious activity in the country and a minimum membership of 0.1 percent of the population (approximately 22,000 persons).

The 2006 religion law recognizes the same 18 religions that had this status prior to its adoption: the Romanian Orthodox Church, Orthodox Serb Bishopric of Timisoara, Roman Catholic Church, Greek Catholic Church, Old Rite Russian Christian (Orthodox) Church, Reformed (Protestant) Church, Christian Evangelical Church, Romanian Evangelical Church, Evangelical Augustinian Church, Lutheran Evangelical Church, Unitarian Church, Baptist Church, Pentecostal Church, Seventh-day Adventist Church, Armenian Church, Judaism, Islam, and Jehovah's Witnesses. Recognized religious groups are eligible for state support according to their representation in the census. Additionally, they have the right to establish schools, teach religion classes in public schools where they have a sufficient number of adherents, receive government funds to build places of worship, pay clergy salaries with state funds and subsidize clergy's housing expenses, broadcast religious programming on radio and television, apply for broadcasting licenses for denominational frequencies, have cemeteries, and enjoy tax-exempt status.
The law entitles religious communities to bury, without restriction, their believers in the cemeteries of other religious groups in localities where they do not have their own cemetery and there are no communal (public) cemeteries.

Under the religion law, the state-provided budget is determined by the number of adherents of each recognized religious community in the most recent census and "the religion's actual needs" (an ambiguous provision). Some minority religious groups, such as the Greek Catholics, claimed that the census significantly undercounted members of their community.
The law governing the rights of foreigners, revised in 2003, introduced a long-stay visa for religious activities. Visa requirements include approval by the Ministry of Culture and Religious Affairs, submission of evidence that the applicants represent a religious organization legally established in the country, certification of medical insurance, and a criminal record review. The law provides for up to five years of visa extensions. There are penalties for any foreigner who stays without a visa, but such penalties do not appear to be linked to religious activities.
The Government permits, but does not require, religious instruction in public schools. Attendance in religion classes is optional. To opt out of religion classes, students must submit a request in writing. The 18 recognized religions are entitled to hold religion classes in public schools, but only if their adherents constitute a certain proportion of the student population. The law permits instruction according to the religious affiliation of students' parents. The Constitution and the 2006 religion law allow the establishment of confessional schools subsidized by the state.
The law forbids public authorities from asking individuals to specify their religious affiliation for any reason related to their interactions with the state.

In 2005 the Government amended legislation governing property restitution with the expressed aim of expediting restitution, simplifying restitution procedures, and broadening the scope of restitution. This law also covers the restitution of farm and forest land and other real estate to ethnic communities and addresses restitution to religious communities.

The 2005 amended law also introduced fines for officials who hinder the restitution process, and created a Property Fund to compensate claimants with shares of stock for properties (farm and forest land included) that cannot be returned in kind. However, the Property Fund was not listed on the stock exchange by the end of the reporting period. A 2007 ordinance provides for cash payments in lieu of restitution of up to approximately $215,000 (500,000 RON), paid over a two-year period. Claims over $215,000 are to be paid in cash and stock in the property fund.

Under the amended restitution law, church buildings used by public institutions (such as museums, schools, and hospitals) are to remain in tenants' hands for a period of three or five years, depending on the function of the public institution, during which time they are to pay rent to the churches. The majority of church properties belong in this category. This law does not address the Greek Catholic churches, which were confiscated under Communist rule in 1948 and handed over to the Orthodox Church; the 2005 amendments stated that the matter would be addressed in separate legislation, which was not adopted during the reporting period. A national joint Orthodox and Greek Catholic committee, set up by government decree in 1990 to resolve the situation of former Greek Catholic churches, proved ineffective, and this effort effectively ended in 2004. A 2005 law permits the Greek Catholic Church to resort to court action whenever the bilateral dialogue regarding the restitution of churches with the Orthodox Church fails. While this law enables the many restitution lawsuits to proceed, the law itself does not restitute properties to the Greek Catholic Church, and effective implementation of court decisions remained problematic.

A 2004 law, as amended by the 2005 legislation, provides for the restitution of all buildings that belonged to ethnic communities and were confiscated between September 6, 1940, and December 22, 1989. As in the case of religious properties, buildings used for the "public interest" would remain in the hands of the present users for either three or five years, depending on the current use of the structure. At the request of the Jewish community, the law extended the period of the confiscation of properties to include the time period between 1940 and 1944, when the pro-Nazi government seized a large number of Jewish properties.

Ministry of Justice regulations provide for unrestricted access of recognized religions and religious associations to any type of detention facilities, even if their assistance is not specifically requested. The National Administration of Penitentiaries can bar access by representatives of a religious group only if it can provide solid proof that the presence of the group in question would endanger the security of the detention facility. The regulations also forbid any interference by the management of penitentiaries with religious programs and forbid the presence of management representatives at meetings between representatives of any religious group and prisoners. Distribution of religious publications is not subject to any restriction. Prison representatives in charge of religious assistance may not be priests or representatives of any religious community.

The law entitles recognized religious groups to have military clergy trained to render religious assistance to conscripts.
Local permits are required in order to build places of worship, similar to other types of construction.
A 2006 law to combat anti-Semitism bans fascist, racist, and xenophobic organizations and includes the persecution of Roma in addition to Jews in its definition of the Holocaust. There have been no convictions under the law.

The International Commission on the Holocaust in Romania (Wiesel Commission) Report (2004) made recommendations aimed at increasing public awareness of events that occurred in the country during the Holocaust. The recommendations included government reversal of the previous rehabilitation of Nazi war criminals, establishment of a national Holocaust Remembrance Day, construction of a national Holocaust memorial and museum in Bucharest, and enforcement of legislation making Holocaust denial a crime. In addition, the Commission recommended the comprehensive inclusion of the accurate history of the Holocaust in school curricula and textbooks.
During the reporting period, the Orthodox Church increased pressure on parliamentarians to support a draft law stipulating that the restitution of land and other properties should be in direct proportion to the number of believers -- a law that would, in effect, legitimize to a great extent the Communists' decision to give Greek Catholic properties to the Orthodox Church. The draft remained under debate in Parliament. Several human rights NGOs and the Greek Catholic Church have complained that state authorities have not answered their criticisms of the draft law. The Orthodox Church opined that because the two churches are recognized religions, the state should help them settle the dispute. In response, the Greek Catholic Church countered that the patrimonial dispute between the two churches cannot be resolved by a unilateral draft law that ignores domestic and international law and legalizes abuses committed under Communist rule. The Greek Catholic Church believes that the state has the moral duty to restitute by law the properties confiscated by the Communists in 1948.

Restrictions on Religious Freedom
The Government generally respected religious freedom in practice. During the reporting period, no religious association attempted to acquire religion status because of the restrictive legal requirements. Since the religion law became effective, 10 religious groups received approval from the State Secretariat for Religious Affairs to register as religious associations.
The Baha'is criticized the provision in the religion law requiring 300 members and their personal data for registration as a religious association, arguing that it is not only discriminatory but also against the law, which forbids authorities from asking individuals to declare their religious affiliation. The Baha'is also expressed concern about the lack of provisions regarding the burial of individuals belonging to unrecognized religious groups.

In June 2008 representatives of the Reformed, Lutheran, Unitarian, Greek Catholic, and Hungarian Baptist churches complained to the EU Commission in Brussels, arguing that the religion law discriminates against minority religious groups and, despite the constitutional provision guaranteeing religious freedom, the state unjustly favors the Orthodox Church. The minority religious groups further complained that the Greek Catholic Church has not received back its churches; students belonging to minority religious groups do not have equal access to religious education; the Orthodox Church receives disproportionately large funds and sizeable properties from the state; and the state does not sanction the Orthodox Church's actions that are against the principle of dialogue, i.e., destruction of properties that should be restituted, hate speech on state television, and discrimination against minority religious groups in public schools and the media. No response had been given at the end of the reporting period.
According to the State Secretariat for Religious Affairs, the state budget for 2009 allocated $35 million (105.838 million RON) to recognized religions for the construction and repair of churches. The Parliament distributed about two-thirds of this amount to 816 churches. This amount was allocated in direct proportion to the number of believers for each religion as identified in the 2002 census, with the Orthodox Church receiving the largest share. Minority religious groups continued to complain that the Government delayed disbursement of the granted funds, which did not give them enough time to spend the funds for their intended purpose by the end of the calendar year, by which time any unspent funds must be returned to the state.
Some minority religious groups continued to report that local authorities for unjustified reasons opposed granting them construction permits for places of worship. The Greek Catholic Church continued to complain that the local authorities consistently opposed granting them a construction permit for a new church in Sapinta (Maramures County), where the local parish bought a piece of land in 2003.
In contrast with previous reporting periods, minority religious groups did not complain that local authorities and Orthodox priests prevented some religious activities from taking place.
Few politicians sponsor bills and measures that would displease the Orthodox Church. As 2008 and 2009 were electoral years, parties and politicians drafted laws that many perceived as favorable to the Orthodox Church as the majority church. For example, in April 2009 the Parliament passed a law increasing subsidies for the salaries of the clergy. In February 2009 the Parliament allocated a larger part of the state budget for 2009 to clergy salaries and earmarked a sizeable amount of money to 816 churches for construction and repair works, a move criticized by the Romanian Humanist Association, an NGO advocating for freedom of religion and separation of church and state. In October 2008 the Parliament amended a prior law and barred the investigation of possible ties between members of the clergy and the Securitate (a Romanian intelligence service during the Communist period) by a specialized body, the National Council to Study the Securitate Archives (CNSAS), unless their denomination specifically requests it.
Generally, local officials tended to be tolerant toward minority religious groups, but there were incidents in which they were pressured or intimidated by Orthodox clergy. In some instances local police and administrative authorities demonstrated a passive attitude towards stopping the harassment of minority religious groups (see Section III). In addition, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints reported that there were cases when the police told them not to do missionary work in several locations.
In Pesteana a Greek Catholic community established in 2005 continued to face discrimination and harassment. Tensions also continued because of a lawsuit between the Orthodox Church and the Greek Catholic Church regarding the latter's access to the local cemetery. At the end of February 2009, the Appellate Court in Pitesti ruled that the Greek Catholic priest can celebrate religious services in the cemetery only for those who die as Greek Catholic believers, and not for their relatives who died as members of the Orthodox faith. The Greek Catholics expressed dissatisfaction with the ruling.
The Greek Catholic Church complained that state authorities did not adequately respond to their complaints regarding restitution of properties or about discriminatory attitudes by local officials. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints complained about problems and lengthy delays in obtaining visas for members of the Church residing in Moldova.
In contrast to previous reporting periods, minority religious groups, including both recognized and unrecognized religious groups, complained less frequently that low-level government officials impeded their efforts to proselytize, interfered in religious activities, and otherwise discriminated against them.
Recognized minority religious groups continued to charge that public schools sometimes refused to offer classes on their religious beliefs. In addition, minority religious groups continued to report that at some festivities in public schools, officials required all students to attend Orthodox religious services. Similar official conduct requiring attendance at Orthodox religious services within the military was also reported.
Some minority religious groups also complained that authorities generally allowed the Orthodox Church to have an active role in opening ceremonies in schools and on other occasions, but that other religions were underrepresented.
An Orthodox religion textbook published in 2006 by the Ministry of Education with the coordination of the then-State Secretary for Religious Affairs continued to generate complaints and dissatisfaction among minority religious groups. The book describes the emergence of the Greek Catholic Church in the 18th century as the result of "Catholic proselytizing" and describes the Jehovah's Witnesses, Baha'is, and Mormons as sects "representing a genuine threat to the society." A chapter in the religion textbook alleged that sects proselytize using such means as brainwashing, bribing, blackmailing, and exploiting the poor. While the Government stated that the textbook had been withdrawn, the Baha'is reported that they ordered it from a publishing house from the officially-approved list of textbooks for the 2008-09 school year and received the same textbook including the offensive text.
According to minority religious groups, the military clergy comprised only Orthodox priests, with the exception of one representative of the Roman Catholic Church and one from the Evangelical Alliance (Baptist), a situation the Reformed and Greek Catholic Churches perceived as discriminatory.
Minority religious groups continued to complain of a lack of provisions to provide for the free access of religious groups to state-owned media.
In many cases, religious minorities have not succeeded in regaining possession of properties that were confiscated under Communist rule. Many properties returned to religious denominations contained government offices, schools, hospitals, or cultural institutions that require relocation, and lawsuits and protests by current occupants have delayed restitution of the property to rightful owners. Although some progress was made during the reporting period, the pace of restitution was extremely slow, and the large majority of religious property restitution cases remained unresolved. In many cases local authorities refused to turn over restituted properties in which county or municipal governments had an interest and challenged in court the decisions of the Special Restitution Commission, the section within the National Authority for Property Restitution responsible for restituting religious and ethnic communal property. There were complaints that the local authorities consistently delayed providing information about the claimed properties to the Special Restitution Commission, thereby obstructing the restitution process, despite fines stipulated by the 2005 legislation for such delays. There were many complaints that the Property Fund, which should provide compensation in stock, was not listed on the stock exchange.
The Special Commission for Restitution started its activity in 2003 and by the end of the reporting period had restituted to recognized religious groups 1,364 buildings out of a total of 14,716 applications. Another 343 cases were approved to receive compensation and 368 cases were denied.
Since 2003 the Special Restitution Commission returned only 125 of the 6,723 properties other than churches that the Greek Catholic Church claimed under the restitution legislation, and decided to grant compensation in 25 additional cases. The Church has also received approximately 65 of the 80 properties that were restituted by government decree in 1992, but mostly only on paper. For example, according to Greek Catholic reports, the Greek Catholic Church still could not take possession of three schools in Cluj for various reasons, including ongoing lawsuits with the present tenants. In Bucharest, the mayor's office consistently blocked the restitution of a separate property, according to the Greek Catholic Church.
The Government continued to avoid adoption of legislation regarding the restitution of Greek Catholic churches by the Orthodox Church, which had received them from the Communist state in 1948. According to a spokesperson for the Orthodox Church, the Greek Catholic Church has received, either through negotiation or in court, 152 of the 2,600 churches and monasteries it owned in 1948. During the reporting period, according to Greek Catholic sources, the Greek Catholic Church received only four churches from the Orthodox Church. Restitution of existing churches was an important matter to both denominations because residents were likely to attend the local church regardless of whether it was Greek Catholic or Orthodox. This had financial consequences because the number of members of a church is directly linked to the corresponding share of the state budget allocated for recognized religious groups.
Courts delayed hearings on many lawsuits filed by the Greek Catholic Church, and the lawsuits were often impeded by appeals by the Orthodox Church, as well as by the transfer of the cases to different courts. For example, in Sisesti, Maramures County--where a lawsuit over the former Greek Catholic church has been underway for 16 years--the High Court of Cassation and Justice decided that the lawsuit should start anew from the lowest court level. The lawsuit was in progress at the end of the reporting period, with the Orthodox Church asking for compensation if the court decided to return the church to the Greek Catholic Church. Meanwhile, the Greek Catholic congregation there continued to hold religious services in the open air. Despite these problems, the Greek Catholic Church received an increased number of favorable court rulings during the reporting period. A communiqué released by the Orthodox Church on February 13, 2009, expressed concern regarding the restitution of churches, priests' houses, and cemeteries to the Greek Catholic Church by courts. The communiqué mentioned that there were 106 ongoing lawsuits nationwide, 26 in Bihor County alone, and that Orthodox believers perceive the return of these properties as unjust. In response, the Greek Catholic Church emphasized that it reclaimed in court only those properties that had been its own and had been confiscated by the Communist regime. The Greek Catholic Church stated that since 1989 it had received via court rulings 21 of the 2,588 churches confiscated in 1948.
Historical Hungarian churches, including Roman Catholic as well as Protestant churches (Reformed, Evangelical, and Unitarian), have received a low number of their confiscated properties from the Government. Approximately 80 percent of the buildings confiscated from Hungarian churches continued to be used as public buildings. Of approximately 3,000 buildings, 33 were restituted by government decrees; however, Hungarian churches could not take possession of all of them because of lawsuits and the opposition of current occupants. The Roman Catholic Church had still not received the Batthyanaeum Library, despite a 2003 court ruling. The Church filed a complaint with the European Court of Human Rights in 2003, and a decision was pending at the end of the reporting period. The Roman Catholic Church and the Special Commission for Restitution remained unable to identify a solution for the restitution of the building. Full restitution of the Roman Catholic Bishop's palace in Oradea remained impeded by the slow pace of repair and construction work at the new location of the Tarii Crisurilor Museum, which had not relocated from the palace. From 2003 until the end of the reporting period, the Special Commission for Restitution issued restitution decisions for 844 of the approximately 2,700 buildings claimed by Hungarian churches, rejecting 62 claims; however, Hungarian churches did not regain physical possession of many of these approved properties. The Unitarian Church won separate lawsuits regarding three buildings in Cluj and took actual possession of two of them. The Cluj mayor's office continued to delay signing the documents for the third building under various pretexts.
In the 1990s, the Government decreed the return of 42 buildings to the Jewish community. The community took partial or full possession of most of them, with only one case still pending. In many cases restitution was delayed by lawsuits. In Iasi, 18 land claims of the Jewish community remained unresolved, including a 51-hectare plot of land that the prefect divided and distributed to other persons. In this case, the county's land restitution commission decided to give different plots in compensation for the one that was sold, but the National Agency of State Domains challenged this in court. The Jewish community won the lawsuit, but at the end of the reporting period it had received only a plot of approximately six hectares. Discussions continued with the National Agency of State Domains to identify plots of land to compensate for the ones that were no longer available. By the end of the reporting period, the Special Restitution Commission processed 331 of approximately 1,900 claims and approved 53 cases for restitution and 107 cases for compensation. The users of 10 of the buildings challenged the restitution decisions in court. The Jewish community won seven lawsuits and took over six of the buildings in question. The community lost one lawsuit and two others were in progress at the end of the reporting period. The Jewish community complained about restitution legislation flaws and difficulties in obtaining documents from the archives, as well as about the length of the compensation procedures.
Another frequent problem with restitution was a refusal by the occupant to return a property or pay rent for occupancy. The nominal owner could still be held liable for payment of property taxes in such cases.
The Greek Catholic Church also complained that, in many regions where it claimed farm and forest lands, local authorities, under the influence of the Orthodox Church, opposed restitution outright or proposed that restitution to all religious denominations be in direct proportion to the number of their believers. The Greek Catholic Church also reported that the Bucharest mayor's office continued to oppose the return of 40,000 square meters of land in Bucharest. In Cluj County, the authorities delayed the restitution of land to the Greek Catholic Church in the localities of Feleacu and Morlaca; meanwhile, local authorities gave the former Greek Catholic land to other individuals or companies. According to Greek Catholic sources, in Budesti, Maramures County, local authorities refused to return farm and forest land to the Greek Catholic Church and proposed instead to give land that had belonged to Jewish victims of the Nazi era. The Greek Catholic Church rejected the proposal. Other areas where local authorities did not restitute former Greek Catholic land include Chiheru de Jos, Maramures County; Rozavlea, Maramures County; Sapanta, Maramures County; Ungheni, Maramures County; Valcau de Sus and Valcau de Jos, Salaj County; Rozavlea, Maramures County; Haieu, Bihor County; Moisei, Maramures County; Tasnad, Satu-Mare County; Nadar, Bihor County; Salistea de Sus, Maramures County; Borsa, Maramures County; as well as in several localities of Resita Greek Catholic Archpresbyteriate.
The lawsuit regarding the restitution of 166,813 of the 192,000 hectares of forest land reclaimed by the Romanian Orthodox Church Fund of Bukovina continued and the case remained pending at the end of the reporting period.
The Adventist Church also complained that lawsuits involving religious issues usually lasted for long periods of time. For example, they cited a 2003 lawsuit, filed against the city hall of Scobinti, Iasi County, where the mayor along with the local Orthodox priest prevented the burial of an Adventist believer in the Adventist rite. No ruling on the case had been issued by the end of the reporting period.
The Baptist Church continued to allege that the Bucharest city hall wanted to expropriate a piece of land owned by the Church for the construction of a shopping center.
The local Muslim community continued to face problems with the burial of its members. Despite repeated promises by the Bucharest mayor's office, during the reporting period the community still did not receive land for the establishment of a Muslim cemetery.
According to Roman Catholic authorities and media reports, the issue of the 19-story building to be constructed within the protection zone around the Roman Catholic Saint Joseph Cathedral in Bucharest, a designated historical monument, remained unresolved. The Church argued that construction of the building might damage the foundations of the cathedral. In 2007 a court in Dolj County issued a ruling suspending construction. On February 27, 2009, the court of Dambovita County ruled in favor of the Roman Catholic Church in a lawsuit challenging the legality of the construction permit. On June 25, 2009, a court of appeals in Ploiesti ruled in favor of the developer, thereby allowing the construction to continue. This generated widespread protests by the Roman Catholic Church, which urged the authorities to find a solution.
A similar situation existed in Constanta, where, during the reporting period, a developer started the construction of an office building several feet from a mosque built in 1869 and believed to be one of the nation's oldest. The mufti's office filed two complaints in court in 2008, asking for the cancellation of the construction permit issued by the Constanta city hall and for suspension of work. According to the mufti's lawyer, rulings on the complaints were repeatedly delayed, and some documents allegedly disappeared from the files.
There were no reports of religious prisoners or detainees in the country.
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 who had not been allowed to be returned to the United States.
Improvements and Positive Developments in Respect for Religious Freedom
Most mainstream politicians continued publicly to denounce anti-Semitism, racism, xenophobia, and attempts to deny the occurrence of the Holocaust in the country.
The Government continued to make progress in its efforts to teach the true history of the Holocaust in the country. Compulsory seventh grade history courses included the Holocaust as a dimension of World War II, and a ninth grade history course had a full chapter on the Holocaust. The Holocaust was taught in connection with World War II in 10th grade; as a specific theme in 11th grade; and in the chapter on national minorities in the 12th grade curriculum. There was also an optional course on "History of the Jews and Holocaust" for the 12th grade. The Government continued to train teachers in Bacau, Cluj, Bucharest, Iasi, and Craiova to teach about the Holocaust. In addition, the teachers received training for programs offered jointly by the Ministry of Education and the Yad Vashem Institute. The Ministry of Education maintained a website that included a guide to assist teachers nationwide who instruct courses on the Holocaust. The Ministry of Education also continued to distribute books and supplementary materials to help teach the Holocaust, and continued to sponsor national and international seminars on the Holocaust and the teaching of its history, as well as national contests regarding the Holocaust.
Between June 26 and 30, 2009, government officials and representatives of the Jewish community participated in the Holocaust Era Assets Conference, held in Prague and Terezin, regarding compensation for Nazi victims and restitution of properties, including sacred and cultural objects, confiscated from Jews during World War II.
In April 2009 the local council of Piatra Neamt decided to withdraw the title of honorary citizen from Marshal Ion Antonescu, following a request by the Elie Wiesel National Institute for the Study of the Holocaust. The title had been given to the Marshal posthumously in 1999. The Antonescu Administration was responsible for the deaths of between 280,000 and 380,000 Jews in the territories under Romanian control during the Holocaust.
On March 3, 2009, after lengthy delays, local authorities issued the construction permit for the erection of a Holocaust memorial in Bucharest, and construction work began in mid-June.
In January 2009 government officials and members of Parliament attended and addressed a series of events commemorating the 1941 pogrom in Bucharest. In accordance with recommendations by the Wiesel Commission, the Government continued to commemorate Holocaust Remembrance Day in October 2008 with a solemn session of the Parliament and events in several cities. The events, many organized in local schools, were attended by officials and key dignitaries.
On September 17 and 18, 2008, the Government sponsored a regional OSCE Conference regarding combating anti-Semitism.
A religion law provision that allows recognized religious groups access to cemeteries belonging to other churches contributed to a slight decrease in the number of conflicts over the access of recognized minority religious groups to cemeteries.
During the reporting period, the State Secretariat for Religious Affairs, jointly with the Conscience and Liberty Association (a nongovernmental organization (NGO) focusing on religious freedom), organized a symposium in Bucharest on religious assistance in the army.
Several religious groups, including Jehovah's Witnesses, the Greek Catholic Church, and the Seventh-day Adventist Church, reported that they enjoyed free access to detention facilities.
Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom
There were reports of societal abuses or discrimination based on religious affiliation, belief, or practice.
During the reporting period, anti-Semitic views and attitudes were expressed by participants during talk show broadcasts by private television stations.
The modern-day incarnation of the Legionnaires (the Legion of the Archangel Michael, also called the Iron Guard, an extreme nationalist, anti-Semitic, pro-Nazi group that existed in the country in the interwar period) continued to republish inflammatory books from the interwar period, and to publish magazines such as Cuvintul Legionar (Legionnaire Word) carrying anti-Semitic articles.
Acts of anti-Semitism, including desecration and vandalism of Jewish sites, continued during the reporting period with no appreciable change in frequency compared to previous reporting periods. The extreme nationalist press and individuals continued to publish anti-Semitic articles. Some groups held public events or made statements with anti-Semitic themes. According to the NGO Center for Monitoring and Combating Anti-Semitism (MCA) in Romania, when such incidents occurred, authorities tended to rule out any anti-Semitic motivation behind the acts of vandalism, blaming them on children, drunkards, or persons with mental disorders. MCA noted that Jewish establishments appear to be targets of choice for the "vandals," and expressed the belief that the investigations are not thoroughly conducted, adding that the recurrence of such acts is encouraged by the lack of prosecutions under the law.
Between April 12 and 14, 2009, 20 tombstones were destroyed in a Jewish cemetery in Botosani. The police started an investigation and identified four school students, between 14 and 16 years of age, who perpetrated the vandalism under the influence of alcohol in an attempt to show off. They were under investigation for desecration of graves at the end of the reporting period.
The Elie Wiesel Institute for the Study of the Holocaust in Romania complained in writing to the General Council of Bucharest about anti-Semitic, pro-Legionnaire events taking place in Bucharest in institutions subordinate to the Council. On March 1, 2009, a Legionnaire book launch took place at a cultural center under the purview of the General Council. In January 2009 the Bucharest History Museum hosted two legionnaire book launches and a conference in which anti-Semitic, Holocaust-denying, and racist views were aired and literature distributed. The Bucharest City Hall answered the complaints by stating that the History Museum merely rented the location to the sponsors of these events.
On October 22, 2008, vandals desecrated 131 gravestones at a Jewish cemetery in Bucharest. A spokesman for the local Jewish community considered this to be an act of vandalism unparalleled in recent times. The President, Prime Minister, and the Ministry of Justice, in separate public statements, condemned all acts of this kind, including acts of anti-Semitism and racism. The police identified four school children, aged between 13 and 15 years, who admitted to having vandalized the cemetery.
There were several cases of unidentified perpetrators who painted swastikas and anti-Semitic graffiti on the fence of a Jewish cemetery in Bucharest in June 2009; on the walls of a building in Bucharest in May 2009; on the memorial of deported Jews in Bistrita in September 2008; on railway electric poles in the railway station in Ploiesti in September 2008; and on the walls of an apartment bloc in Suceava, in which a leading member of the Jewish community lived, in July 2008.
In July 2008 an envelope with anti-Semitic documents arrived by mail at a synagogue in Timisoara. The Jewish Communities Federation filed a complaint, but the perpetrators were not identified.
There were approximately a dozen reported anti-Semitic incidents involving property destruction and vandalism during each of the recent reporting periods, ranging from painting swastikas on buildings, to desecrating graves and cemeteries, to vandalizing synagogues, Jewish-owned buildings, and, in one case, a Torah scroll. In these cases, police sometimes identified perpetrators, but most of them were not prosecuted.
Extremist organizations occasionally held high-profile public events with anti-Semitic themes. On January 10, 2009, a religious service to commemorate two Legionnaire leaders took place at a church in Bucharest, sponsored by the Prof. George Manu Foundation. The New Right Organization continued to sponsor events commemorating legionnaire leaders, including holding such a commemoration in Predeal on September 21, 2008. However, participation in these events is usually limited to small numbers of people. The New Right continued to foster the ideas of the Iron Guard in the media and on the Internet.
During the reporting period, the publications of the extreme nationalist Greater Romania Party (PRM), headed by Corneliu Vadim Tudor, continued to carry statements and articles containing strong anti-Semitic attacks.
In 2007 the President signed a decree withdrawing the Star of Romania medal from PRM leader Corneliu Vadim Tudor, known for making numerous xenophobic and anti-Semitic comments. Tudor challenged the decision in court, and the Bucharest Court of Appeals ruled in his favor in April 2009. The Presidency appealed the ruling and the lawsuit was ongoing at the end of the reporting period.
The Romanian Orthodox Church exercises substantial influence in its dominant role among a majority of the population and policymakers, and Orthodox religious leaders almost exclusively preside over state occasions. In particular, many Orthodox leaders make public appearances with prominent political figures, and religious messages often contain political promises or goals, as well as support for particular political positions.
Romanian Orthodox Church authorities were often intolerant of other religious groups and repeatedly criticized the "aggressive proselytizing" of Protestant, neo-Protestant (Baptist, Pentecostal, Adventist, Romanian Evangelical, and evangelical Christian churches), and other religious groups, which the Church repeatedly described as "sects." This led to verbal conflicts in some cases. Unlike in previous years, there were no reports of physical conflicts during the reporting period.
Minority religious groups alleged that some members of the Orthodox clergy provoked isolated incidents of organized group intimidation, impeded their efforts to proselytize, and interfered in religious activities.
Unlike in previous reporting periods, the press reported fewer cases in which adherents of minority religious groups were prevented by others from practicing their religious beliefs, and local law enforcement authorities did not protect them.
The National Antidiscrimination Council (CNCD), established to curb discrimination of any kind (including on religious grounds), received 15 complaints of discrimination on religious grounds during 2008 and four such complaints through June 30, 2009.
Unlike in previous reporting periods, the Jehovah's Witnesses reported that verbal and physical abuse, in particular by some Orthodox priests, has decreased and that whenever such abuse occurred, the police responded. There were also no reported instances of priests confiscating religious publications of Jehovah's Witnesses.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints reported isolated incidents of harassment of missionaries by residents in several locations.
The Greek Catholic Church, Adventist Church, and Baptist Church continued to complain that Orthodox priests allowed the burial of non-Orthodox believers in confessional or even public cemeteries (often treated as confessional by Orthodox priests in rural areas) only when certain conditions were met; they allowed burials only in isolated sections of the cemetery if non-Orthodox religious services were not used. Such incidents, though in smaller numbers, continued during the reporting period, although the 2006 religion law allows religious groups access to cemeteries belonging to other churches. The Adventist Church reported that in some cases--for example, in Poienesti, Vaslui County, and Dumbrava Rosie, Neamt County--the local Orthodox clergy allowed the burial of Adventist believers in the Adventist rite only after repeated discussions between the Adventist Church and high-ranking Orthodox clergy. The Baptist Church reported that in February 2009 an Orthodox priest did not allow the burial of a Baptist believer in the cemetery of the village of Rosu, Ilfov County, unless the burial took place without a religious service in the Baptist rite. According to the Adventist Church, the authorities failed to implement a provision of the religion law regarding the authorities' obligation to allocate burial land to all religious groups. Moreover, the Baptist and Adventist Churches complained that the authorities failed to answer their requests to receive land for cemeteries. In one case, local authorities reportedly refused to participate in an Adventist Church survey designed to identify public cemeteries under the law.
Orthodox priests also denied access for Greek Catholics to many cemeteries, including in Pesteana, Valcea County; Damuc, Neamt County; Ungheni, Mures County; Vintu de Jos, Alba County; Magina, Alba County; Radesti, Alba County; Telec-Bicaz, Neamt County; and Bicaz-Chei, Neamt County. The Greek Catholic Church mentioned a case in Pecica, Arad County, where the Orthodox priest did not allow the access of the Greek Catholic priest to the cemetery to bury a believer, instead burying her under Orthodox rites. An Orthodox priest also did not allow the Greek Catholic priest to bury a believer in the cemetery of the locality of Salva, Bistrita-Nasaud County.
Relations between the Greek Catholic Church and the Orthodox Archbishopric of Timisoara continued to be amicable and cooperative, with the latter restituting almost all of the Greek Catholic assets during the post-Revolution period. The Orthodox bishoprics of Caransebes and Oradea also continued to have similar positive dialogues with the Greek Catholic Church regarding the restitution of some churches.
For the most part, however, Orthodox leaders opposed and delayed returning churches to the Greek Catholics, upholding the view that places of worship belong to the congregations and not to the religious denomination. In this view, the same religious communities that were Greek Catholic before 1948 and are presently Orthodox are using the churches. The Greek Catholic Church of the eparchy of Lugoj complained that the Orthodox bishopric of Arad, Ienopole, and Halmagiu, which was using more than 90 Greek Catholic churches, continued to refuse to restitute them and to hold alternate religious services. For example, in Silvasul de Sus and Silvasul de Jos, Hunedoara County, the Orthodox Church preferred to keep the former Greek Catholic churches locked instead of returning them.
Over the years the Orthodox Church has repeatedly rejected Greek Catholic requests for alternating services in more than 230 localities. In several localities with two churches (one of which had belonged to the Greek Catholic Church) and only one Orthodox priest, the Orthodox Church has done one of three things: alternates religious services between the two locations, for example in Gheorgheni, Cluj County, Brezoi, Valcea County; keeps the Orthodox church locked and holds their services in the former Greek Catholic church; or establishes a second Orthodox parish in the locality, either a new parish or by splitting an Orthodox parish into two parishes. During the reporting period, the Orthodox Church continued to keep more than 15 former Greek Catholic churches closed, for example, in Salistea de Sus, Maramures County; Calea Mare, Bihor County; and Horoatu Crasnei and Starciu, both in Salaj County. Meanwhile, Greek Catholics held religious services in more than 100 unofficial places, such as in believers' homes and houses of culture.
The Greek Catholic Church did not receive a major cathedral in Gherla, Cluj County, which the late Orthodox Patriarch promised to restitute in 2005, and a cathedral in Baia Mare, Baia Mare County.
In March 2009, in reaction to a call by the Apostolic Nuncio for the restitution of Greek Catholic churches, the Orthodox Metropolitan of Cluj, Alba, Crisana, and Maramures labeled the statement "provocative" and reminded the Nuncio that his position has merely a diplomatic status, which does not entitle him to interfere with church issues.
The Orthodox Church continued to demolish Greek Catholic churches--some of which had been declared historical monuments--in more than 10 localities, half of which were in Cluj County. Authorities did not react to Greek Catholic complaints about the illegal demolition of a Greek Catholic church in Taga, Cluj County, in 2006 and an 18th-century Greek Catholic Church in Badon, Salaj County, in April 2007, as well as the beginning of the demolition of an 18th-century Greek Catholic church in Ungheni, Mures County in May 2008, where the Orthodox Church began by constructing a new church around the Greek Catholic church, entirely surrounding the historic Greek Catholic building. The Orthodox Church stopped the demolition after the Greek Catholic Church obtained a court injunction, but continued construction works.
In Salonta, Bihor County, the Orthodox Church continued to build a new church around the old Greek Catholic church, despite an ongoing lawsuit for the restitution of the church. The Orthodox Church in Salonta also opposed the allocation by the local authorities of a piece of land to the Greek Catholic Church for the construction of a new church.
In April 2009, in Sapanta, Maramures County, under the pretext of renovating the local church (which was Greek Catholic before 1948), the Orthodox Church demolished its steeple, announcing its intention to rebuild it in a different style.  The renovation works are partially funded by the Ministry of Culture.  Greek Catholic sources alleged that the Orthodox Church is doing this in order to destroy the neo-Gothic style of the steeple, which is indicative of its Catholic origin.  The Greek Catholic Church has property deeds for both the church and its cemetery, and also obtained a court injunction to suspend the demolition and construction works. The Orthodox Church observed the injunction, but only for a short period of time and only after it completed the demolition of the steeple. There were also some allegations in the media that the Orthodox priest instigated the population against the Greek Catholic priest, who, as a result, was the target of several physical assaults. The Greek Catholic Church sent letters to the local authorities, the Prime Minister, the Ministers of Culture, Justice, and Administration and Interior, as well as the President, but received no response. While the Greek Catholic Church claimed that the Orthodox Church did not have a demolition permit, the Orthodox Church stated that it had all the approvals required for the restoration works. The Greek Catholic Church further complained that, as a result of these developments, tensions increased in the locality and that the Greek Catholic chapel was vandalized.
In Nicula, Cluj County, the Orthodox Church continued construction which encroached upon the old Greek Catholic church of the historic Monastery of Nicula despite a court order to halt any construction. A decision in a slow-moving lawsuit over the ownership of the monastery remained pending. A similar case was reportedly developing in Orastie, Hunedoara County, where the Orthodox Church continued construction of buildings close to the former Greek Catholic church, presumably with the intention of subsequently demolishing it.
Longstanding tensions persisted between the Orthodox and Greek Catholic Churches in many localities where large numbers of Orthodox congregants switched to the Greek Catholic Church. An example was in Stei, Hunedoara County, where the Orthodox Church continued to deny the Greek Catholics access to their former church, the object of a lawsuit. In the fall of 2008, the Greek Catholic parish in Stei eventually received by court ruling the rectory, restituted in 2004 by a decision of the Special Restitution Commission.
Representatives of minority religious groups credibly complained that Orthodox priests give out most of the religious assistance to hospitals, children's homes, and shelters for the elderly. Charitable activities carried out by other churches in children's homes and shelters were often negatively interpreted as proselytizing.
After the dialogue between the Greek Catholic and Orthodox Churches came to a halt in 2004, disputes between the two religious groups over church property increased in intensity. Greek Catholic communities decided, in many cases, to build new churches because of the lack of progress in restituting their properties either through dialogue with the Orthodox Church or in court; however, their efforts were hampered by the Orthodox Church and, more frequently, the local authorities. Tensions continued in many localities where the Orthodox Church refused to comply with court rulings that ordered restitution of churches to the Greek Catholic Church, such as in Botiz and Bogdan Voda, in Maramures County; Lupsa, Alba County; Vintere and Holod, in Bihor County; and in localities where the Greek Catholic Church began lawsuits for restitution, such as Prunis, Cluj County; Stei, Hunedoara County; Camarzana, Satu Mare County; Vile Satu Mare, Satu Mare County; and Negru, Sanlazar, and Bocsa, in Bihor County. In Valanii de Beius, Bihor County, and Simand, Arad County, after refusing for lengthy periods of time to comply with final court rulings restituting the Greek Catholic churches, the Orthodox Church eventually handed the churches over to the Greek Catholics on April 2 and July 10, 2008, respectively. In Valanii de Beius and Prisaca, where the church was restituted during the reporting period, the two churches will hold alternate religious services until the Orthodox Church builds new churches. Tensions continued in Taga, where the Orthodox Church demolished the old Greek Catholic church in 2006, as well as in Salva, Bistrita-Nasaud County, and Sinca Veche, Brasov County, where the Orthodox priests refused to hand over the rectories, despite decisions restituting them to the Greek Catholic Church.
In Dumbraveni, Sibiu County, the Orthodox Church continued to refuse to enforce a previous court ruling to share a local church with the Greek Catholic Church. Although the Orthodox Church had signed a protocol promising to return the Greek Catholic church after it completed the construction of a new Orthodox church, it continued to refuse to do so after the construction was complete.
A Roman Catholic Csango community, a group that speaks a Hungarian dialect, continued to complain that they were unable to hold religious services in their mother tongue because of opposition by the Roman Catholic Bishopric of Iasi. In October 2008 the presidents of the Romanian and Hungarian parliaments sent a letter to Pope Benedict XVI requesting his support for religious services in Hungarian for this group.
Section IV. U.S. Government Policy
The U.S. Government discusses religious freedom with the Government as part of its overall policy to promote human rights.
The U.S. Government maintained active public outreach on religious freedom. The Embassy maintained close contact with a broad range of religious groups and NGOs in the country, including Muslim groups and other minority religious groups, to monitor and discuss religious freedom. The Ambassador and other embassy representatives regularly met and raised religious freedom concerns with religious leaders and government officials who work on religious affairs.
The Ambassador, Chargé d'Affaires and other embassy officials repeatedly raised concerns about the slow restitution of religious properties, particularly of Greek Catholic churches, with government officials, including the President, Prime Minister, and the Minister of Culture and Religious Affairs. U.S. officials continued to advocate in government circles for fair treatment on property restitution matters, including religious and communal properties, and for nondiscriminatory treatment of all religious groups. The Embassy also specifically raised its concerns with government authorities and with the Orthodox Church over the continuing destruction of the historic Greek Catholic church structures in Ungheni and Sapanta.
Throughout the reporting period, embassy representatives and other U.S. Government officials discussed with government officials at multiple levels the importance of full official recognition of the Holocaust in the country, improvements in Holocaust education in school curricula, and implementation of the 2004 recommendations of the Wiesel Commission. The Embassy supported visiting delegations focusing on matters related to the Holocaust, including the Wiesel Commission members. Embassy personnel and visiting U.S. officials repeatedly discussed the Holocaust in the country with local and international members of the Wiesel Commission and supported its work. Among many other events, embassy officials participated in the commemoration of National Holocaust Day in October 2008. The Embassy also supported the activities of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum and urged Bucharest authorities to approve construction of a Holocaust memorial in the city. The Embassy sponsored a project, titled "Combating Discrimination and Promoting Mutual Respect and Understanding Through Knowing the 20th Century Tragedies, Holocaust and Communism: New Education of the 21st Century," to develop a training course for history teachers in order to increase the number of high schools in which students will have a better understanding of the Holocaust and the history of Jews. The project extended from September 1, 2007 to September 15, 2008.

Retrieved from:http://romania.usembassy.gov/2009_irf_en.html
Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor
International Religious Freedom Report 2009
October 26, 2009