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General overview

Legal Status of Religious Communities

The establishment of religious communities and organizations, i.e. religious communities, is free. However, they need to be registered, when the community is established or terminates its (...)

The establishment of religious communities and organizations, i.e. religious communities, is free. However, they need to be registered, when the community is established or terminates its activity, with the administrative authority competent for interior affairs where the community has its seat.

The Law explicitly prohibits abuse, for political purposes, of religious communities and their institutions, as well as of religious activities or religious feelings. It also prohibits prevention or obstruction of the practice of religious ceremonies and manifestation of religious feelings, under penalty of sanctions. It is also prohibited to force someone to enlist in a religious community or to participate in a religious ceremony.

Religious ceremonies may be performed in churches, temples, official premises, at cemeteries, and at private places, without authorization. Authorization from the competent authority is only required to perform religious ceremonies outside the mentioned premises. The Criminal Code includes the criminal offence of violation of freedom of worship and practice of religious ceremonies (Art. 161), as one of the criminal offences against individual and civil freedoms and rights.

See: Law on the Legal Status of Religious Communities (Official Gazette of SRMNE 9/77 and 26/77).
Source: Initial Report on the Implementation of the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, 2012, p. 38-39.

D 18 July 2016    ANikola B. Šaranović

Recent legislative reframing (2015)

The Government of Montenegro at its session held on 26 June 2014 considered the Information on the need for adoption of the Proposal of the Law on Freedom of Religion, due to the fact that the (...)

The Government of Montenegro at its session held on 26 June 2014 considered the Information on the need for adoption of the Proposal of the Law on Freedom of Religion, due to the fact that the applicable law from 1977 was adopted in the earlier socio-political system: “So, an objective need for the creation of the new normative act has been recognized, primarily due to the fact that Montenegro in 2006 regained its independence. Such fact is one of the crucial gudelines in the perspective of drafting the new Law, which determines a different approach in the sphere of regulation of the legal position and rights and obligations of religious communities in the constitutional-legal frame of Montenegro” (see information on the need for drafting the law on freedom of religion).

The Government adopted the Draft Law on 3 July 2015, and after public discussion submitted it to the Venice Commission and ODIHR for opinion.

D 18 July 2016    ANikola B. Šaranović

State-Religion relations

While guaranteeing the freedom of association in Article 53 (the freedom of political, trade union and other association and action, without approval, by the registration with the competent (...)

While guaranteeing the freedom of association in Article 53 (the freedom of political, trade union and other association and action, without approval, by the registration with the competent authority, shall be guaranteed. No one shall be forced to become a member of an association. The state supports political and other associations, when there is a public interest to do so), the Constitution deals with collective aspect of the freedom of religion, i.e. with the status of churches and religious associations in the legal order of Montenegro, in the Article 14 “Separation of the religious communities from the State“, which reads as follows: „Religious communities shall be separated from the state. Religious communities shall be equal and free in the exercise of religious rites and religious affairs. ”
Although, in the former Constitution from 1992, it was additionaly stated that “the State shall offer material assistance to religious communities”, the fact that such paragraph does not exist in the current Constitution, does not mean that there is no constitutional basis for this kind of cooperation. In fact, it is contained in the article related to the freedom of association: “The state supports political and other associations, when there is a public interest to do so. ”
Although the principle of separation is enshrined in the Constitution, Montenegro does not belong to the model of strict separation. This can be seen at the sub-constitutional level, where the system of cooperative separation appears in various ways, and primarily through several agreements concluded in the past five years: Fundamental Agreement between Montenegro and the Holy See, June 24, 2011; Agreement governing the relations of mutual interest between the Government Montenegro and the Islamic community in Montenegro, January 30, 2012; Agreement governing the relations of mutual interest between the Government of Montenegro and the Jewish community in Montenegro, January 31, 2012. Although the vast majority of the population of Montenegro belongs to Orthodox religion, such an agreement hasn’t (yet) been signed with the Orthodox church.

State funding of religion
The State provides financial support to religious communities through co-funding of the contributions for pension, social and health insurance of priests. It also invests in the protection and maintenance of sacred objects and places, in particular those that have the status of cultural monuments. The State provides financial support to religious events and cultural activities of religious communities. Religious communities manage their own property and may raise charity funds for religious purposes, which they manage themselves.
In accordance with Article 14 of the Constitution of Montenegro, Article 23 of the Law on the Legal Status of Religious Communities, and Article 41 of the Law on State Administration, the criteria for awarding financial assistance to religious communities have been adopted on 27 May 2013 (amended on 19 February 2015).

See Law on the Legal Status of Religious Communities (Official Gazette of SRMNE 9/77 and 26/77)
Source: Initial Report on the Implementation of the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, 2012, p. 38-39.

D 18 July 2016    ANikola B. Šaranović

Constitutional frame

Religion is directly mentioned 19 times in eight articles of the Constitution of Montenegro: Separation of the religious communities from the State (art. 14), Temporary limitation of rights and (...)

Religion is directly mentioned 19 times in eight articles of the Constitution of Montenegro: Separation of the religious communities from the State (art. 14), Temporary limitation of rights and liberties (Art. 25), Right to asylum (Art. 44), Freedom of thought, conscience and religion (Art. 46), Objection of conscience (Art. 48), Prohibition of censorship (Art. 50), Prohibition of operation and establishment (Art. 55), Protection of identity (Art. 79). The most important of them, in which fundamental freedom of religion is guaranteed, titled Freedom of thought, religion and conscience (Art. 46), reads as follows:
“Everyone shall be guaranteed the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, as well as the right to change the religion or belief and the freedom to, individually or collectively with others, publicly or privately, express the religion or belief by prayer, preaches, customs or rites.
No one shall be obliged to declare their own religious and other beliefs.
Freedom to express religious beliefs may be restricted only if so required in order to protect life and health of the people, public peace and order, as well as other rights guaranteed by the Constitution.”
Forum internum of this freedom is absolutely safeguarded, while its expression in forum externum can be subject to limitations on grounds listed in Art. 46, par. 3. These limitations, according to Art. 24, can be imposed “only by the law, within the scope permitted by the Constitution, to the extent necessary in an open and democratic society in order to satisfy the purpose for which the limitation has been permitted”. During the proclaimed state of war or emergency, religion cannot be a ground for limitation of human rights (Art. 25).
As an organic part of this freedom, the Constitution separately guarantees objection of conscience, stipulating in Article 48 that “everyone shall have the right to objection of conscience and that no one shall be obliged, contrary to own religion or conviction, to fulfill a military or other duty involving the use of arms”.
Religion appears explicitly as a protected object in the constitutional norms which regulates prohibition of cenzorship and prohibition of operation and establishment, of which former allow competent court to “prevent dissemination of information and ideas via the public media only, among other things, if so required in order to prevent propagating of religious hatred or discrimination (Art. 50), and latter stipulates that „the operation of political and other organizations... instigating ... religious and other hatred and intolerance shall be prohibited” (Art. 55).
Religion is also directly mentioned in article related to the right of asylum, which allows foreign nationals reasonably fearing persecution on the ground of religion to request asylum in Montenegro (44).
Religious identity is particularly protected as a part of minority rights, so that persons belonging to minority nations and other minority national communities shall be guaranteed the right to exercise, protect, develop and publicly express religious particularities, and to establish and maintain contacts with the citizens and associations outside of Montenegro, with whom they have common religious beliefs (Art. 79).
One should also mention constitutional norms in which religion is not directly, but certainly is substantially, regarded. The first norm is inward-oriented: “Direct or indirect discrimination on any grounds shall be prohibited” (Article 8 Prohibition of discrimination). The second norm is outward-oriented: “The ratified and published international agreements and generally accepted rules of international law shall make an integral part of the internal legal order, shall have the supremacy over the national legislation and shall apply directly when they regulate relations differently than the national legislation” (Article 9 Legal order). This article represents the door through which international conventions in the field of human rights (The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the European Convention on the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms with additional protocols..) are entering (and becoming part of) the legal order of Montenegro, placed above legislation, in the hierarchy of legal acts, and below the Constitution, which is the highest legal act of the State.

D 18 July 2016    ANikola B. Šaranović

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