| Religious Freedom Ranking:
3.5 out of 5 stars: Needs Improvement
Lithuania, formerly part of the Soviet Union, joined NATO and the European Union in 2004. The country is historically Catholic. Even during Soviet rule Catholicism remained an important part of the lives of Lithuanian citizens. Currently, with a population of 3.33 million people, 80.2 percent of Lithuanians are Roman Catholic. The second largest church in the country is the Eastern Orthodox Church. Approximately four percent of the population belongs to it. The country also has 27,000 Old Believers (Russian Orthodox practitioners who do not accept the church’s seventeenth century reforms), 20,000 Lutherans, 7,000 members of the Evangelical Reformed church, and 4,000 Jews. There are also 2,700 Sunni Muslims and 300 Greek Catholics in the country. One of the countries’ oldest religions is the Karaites, a religion often considered to be a branch of Judaism. They have their own language and use the Hebrew alphabet. The government of Lithuania considers Karaites to be a distinct ethnic group. There are approximately 250 Karaites in the country. Less than five percent of the population belongs to what the government considers non-traditional religious groups. Included in this category are the Full Gospel Word of Faith Movement, Pentecostals, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Baptists, Seventh-day Adventists, Mormons, Unificationists, and the New Apostolic Church.
The Constitution of Lithuania provides for religious freedom. In 1995 the Law on Religious Communities was passed. According to Article 5, nine religious communities recognized as a part of Lithuania’s historical, spiritual and social heritage have been declared "traditional" religions. By law, to be recognized as a traditional religion a religious group must be able to trace their history within the country back 300 years. These religious communities - Latin Rite Catholics, Greek Rite Catholics, Evangelical Lutherans, Evangelical Reformers, Orthodox, Old Believers, Jews, Sunni Muslims, and Karaites - are eligible for government assistance. The Hasidic Chabad Lubavich community has been seeking unsuccessfully to be recognized as a traditional religion. Traditional religions do not need to register with the government. Non-traditional religious groups are required to register. This has resulted in a four-tiered system consisting of traditional religions, State-recognized religions, registered groups and non-registered groups. Registered groups do not receive government benefits but have legal status to rent property, maintain bank accounts, etc. Non-registered groups have no legal status.
In 2000, following concern raised about the growth of "sects," the government established a commission to ascertain whether new religious movements were acting in accordance with the law. The commission consists of representatives from the Ministries of Justice, Interior, Education, Health, and Foreign Affairs, the General Prosecutor's office, and the State Security Department. The minister of Justice appoints a chairperson and the commission is charged with coordinating the activities of the various agencies with regard to religious groups.
After Lithuania gained independence in 1990, the government began returning property that was taken during the Nazi occupation and Soviet rule. The law grants every religious group equal opportunity to receive returned property. However, the return of Jewish property has been slow and contentious. In 2009 the government instituted a bill on the return of Jewish property stating that they would provide $45.5 million (in U.S. dollars) as compensation for property that was taken. The government states that this is 30 percent of the value of Jewish property that was nationalized.
While the government generally respects religious freedom, there are reports of societal abuse of it. There are a number of reports of anti-Semitic acts of vandalism and comments in the media. However, these anti-Semitic comments seem to be trending downward. The Prosecutors office heard 105 reports in 2008, 51 in 2009, and 18 in 2010.
2011 U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom Report on Lithuania
Lithuania - New World Encyclopedia
Lithuania Country Profile