Last Updated 21 February 2020

Romania is a semi-presidential republic with a multi-party system, a member of the EU and NATO.

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Constitution and government

The constitution and other laws and policies protect freedom of religion or belief, and freedom of expression and assembly. However, the government strongly favours the Romanian Orthodox Church and places some impediments on the freedom of minority religions and the non-religious to practice and promote their beliefs.

The government formally recognizes exactly eighteen religions. The eighteen, contained as an annex to Law 489/2006 “on religious freedom” begins with the Romanian Orthodox Church and consists mostly of Christian groups and one Unitarian church (numbers 1-15), followed by the Federation of Jewish Communities in Romania (16), “the Muslim religion” (17), and “the Jehovah’s Witnesses religious organization” (18).

Religious privilege

Each of the eighteen recognised religions is eligible for state funding, with no comparable or alternative funding available for secular, Humanist or other philosophical organizations.

Under the religion law, state funding is determined by the number of adherents of each recognized religious community reported in the most recent census and “the religion’s actual needs,” a vague provision leaving room for interpretation. The Romanian Orthodox Church receives the large majority of these funds.

Since 2011, the Secular Humanist Association of Romania, Asociația Secular-Umanistă din România (ASUR) (an Member Organization of the IHEU) has run a popular campaign raising awareness about the opaque and politically biased funding of religion by the state, including the exaggerated state-spending on religious institutions. The campaign included billboards and social-media content remarking on the numbers of institutions of different types across the country: “18,300 churches; 4,700 schools; 425 hospitals”.

During the 2016 elections, some members of the Social-Democrat Party announced that they have the backing of the Orthodox, and the local head of the Church campaigned for candidates. <–lider-judetean-social-democrat–inregistrat-in-timp-ce-povesteste-cum-l-ar-fi-convins-pe-mitropolitul-ardealului-sa-colaboreze-pentru-a-convinge-credinciosii-sa-voteze-psd-si-alde-434467>

Another attack on the separation of church and state was the fact that the Romanian Parliament decided to empower the Orthodox Church with organizing the festivities for Constitution Day – the day Romania celebrated 150 years since its first Constitution and 25 years since its current Constitution. The events took place inside the Patriarchy Palace and the only journalist allowed inside for the entire event were the ones representing the Orthodox Church press trust. <>

Challenging church-state relations

In 2015, Remus Cernea, the only openly humanist member of Parliament (and Honorary President of the Romanian Humanist Association, Asociația Umanistă Română), initiated three propositions meant to reform State-Church relations. The first concerned the public funding of the National Redemption Cathedral, a massive building under construction in Bucharest, for which tens of millions of Euros have been allocated for by the government and local mayors from all over the country, despite the majority of Romanians opposing the public funding of this project. In Bucharest, after the intervention and explicit request by representatives of the Romanian Orthodox Church for further funding from the newly elected mayors (local elections were held in June 2016), at least 3 million Euros were granted in the latter part of 2016.

The second initiative asked for the verification of all religious leaders that have ties with Securitatea, the secret police agency of the Communist regime. Both of these first two initiatives have been rejected by the Romanian Parliament.

The third initiative (also rejected, but with a possibility that it will be resubmitted), is to reform the system through which religious denominations receive public funding. The bill proposes a system somewhat similar to the German model, where every taxpayer can decide to which belief group they want to redirect their taxes. This proposition also includes the end of tax exemptions specific to religions.

Education and children’s rights

The constitution and the law allow the establishment of state-subsidized educational institutions administered by recognized religions.

Public schools conduct religious instruction. The 18 recognized religions are entitled to hold religion classes in public schools. The law entitles students to attend religion classes in their faith irrespective of their number. The religious instruction is based on the religious affiliation of the students’ parents.

Intolerance in schools

In September 2012, the Romanian Secular Humanist Association, Asociația Secular-Umanistă din România (ASUR) (an IHEU member organization), urged the Education Ministry to immediately withdraw from schools all religion textbooks that promote intolerance and to take all necessary steps to prevent religious indoctrination. The association expressed concern about the persistent inclusion of such themes as sin, hell, and the devil in religious textbooks for primary schools. These concerns continue, not least in relation to alleged homophobic preaching.

Again in 2015, humanist groups complained that manuals used in religious classes promote intolerance and focus disproportionately on violence and death. The subject was reported in the press, but the Minister of Education took no action, saying only that the manuals (used in many schools around the country) are not directly authorized by the ministry.

Presumed consent for religious instruction

To be excused from religious instruction classes, students must submit a request in writing, an option that had not been widely publicised before the end of 2014, and which may be socially discouraged. Students were otherwise usually presumed to consent to religious instruction.
However, on 12 November 2014, after a legal case brought by a humanist, Emil Moise, the Constitutional Court ruled that the predominant practice of presumed consent for enrollment in religious instruction is unconstitutional, and given their nature the classes should be run on an opt-in basis.

In February 2015 several NGOs wrote an open letter urging parliament to accept and implement the ruling. In March 2015, the Ministry of Education asked parents to decide if they wanted to opt-in for religious classes. During decision period, the Orthodox Church and its affiliated NGOs conducted a national campaign (including a TV ad run for free on the national television channels as a public interest announcement) in order to convince parents that they must choose religious classes for their children. Many parents reported that teachers and school principals applied pressure to opt in to the religious instruction classes; in some schools parents were told that they must justify any decision to opt out, or students were told that they would not be able to finish the school year if they were ungraded in the religious classes, both of which statements were false. Also, in some cases the school principals told parents that they could not enroll young children in school if they do not sign the request for religious classes. Eventually, the Minister of Education reported that 89.75% of students’ parents opted for their children to take religious classes.

Problems continued in September 2015, when again there were reports of parents and students pressurised into opting in to religion classes, including by the Minister of Education.

Family, community and society

In the 2011 census 86.5% of the population identified themselves as Eastern Orthodox Christians. The number of declared atheists and non-religious citizens increased since the last census, from 0.1% in 2002 to 0.2% in 2011.

The eighteen officially recognized religions have a privileged right to establish schools, teach religion classes in public schools, and receive government funds to build places of worship, partially pay the salaries of clergy, broadcast religious programming on radio and television, apply for broadcasting licenses for denominational frequencies, receive tax-exempt status, and own cemeteries.

There is often a presumption on the part of the church to social entitlements. In one instance, in Piatra Neamț, the church and residents of one neighbourhood were involved in a legal battle over the construction of a new church on a green space between buildings, to which the residents objected. The priest allegedly tried to obtain a construction permit without public consultation and without obtaining signatures from all neighbors (as required by law). In this case the priest, having failed to obtain a permit, filed suit against the neighbors that refused to sign in agreement with the building of his new church. After a two year judicial battle, concluding in September 2016, the local council decided to deny to construction of the church. Similar evasive practices are not uncommon in church construction in the country.

In other cities and villages, priests have sometimes refused to allow the burial of people that were not Orthodox in the public cemetery.

In March 2016, the MP Remus Cernea resubmitted for the third time a civil partnership bill, which would allow both same-sex couples and heterosexual couples to enter a civil partnership, but it was once again fiercely rejected in October 2016.

“Traditional family” as a challenge to individual liberties

Relations between the Romanian Orthodox Church and the Russian Orthodox Church have intensified, with officials of the Churches exchanging visits and creating common grounds on “promoting religious values and defending the traditional family”.

In November 2015 more than 40 religious NGOs of different cults united and formed ”Romania’s Coalition for Family” which grew to become one of the biggest challenges on freedom of thought and human rights in the country. The Coalition for Family began a nationwide campaign to ban same-sex marriage in the Constitution, by defining marriage exclusively as the union between a man and a woman. The Romanian Orthodox Church officially endorsed this campaign along with other denominations and reportedly used its priests to raise signatures to change the Constitution.

During the electoral campaign for the Parliament (to be held on 11 December 2016), one of the biggest parties in Romania, the National Liberal Party, signed a collaboration protocol with the Coalition.

So far, 78 other NGOs have organized themselves in denouncing the practices of the Coalition for Family and to protect the diversity in Romania.

Beside banning gay marriage, other proposals presented by the Coalition for Family include a celibacy tax, the banning of adoption by single parents and the active discouragement of sexual intercourse between unmarried persons.

 ‘Homophobic’ referendum

According to Article 48 of the Romanian constitution, the family “is founded on the freely consented marriage of the spouses”. In October 2018, Romanians were asked to vote on whether they wanted the constitution changed to specify that marriage is restricted to unions between a man and a woman. The referendum followed a citizens’ initiative launched by Coalitia pentru Familie, or the Coalition for Family, which was able to gather 3 million signatures demanding to: “protect the traditional definition of marriage”. The minimum required number of signatures to initiate the process for a constitutional amendment referendum is 500,000.

In order for the referendum to be valid, participation must meet a minimum of 30 percent of the electorate. Despite the support of the powerful Orthodox church and the unusual step by the government of extending the vote to two days instead of one, only 20 percent of registered voters cast their ballots and the referendum failed.

Some commentators saw the referendum as an attempt by the government to divert attention from various corruption scandals surrounding the ruling party.

Freedom of expression, advocacy of humanist values

There is no “blasphemy” law in force. Freedom of expression specifically for religious groups is only restricted to the extent that it “must not infringe upon […] fundamental human rights and liberties” of others. While secularist politics and humanist views often meet vitriolic opposition, there are no formal restrictions on their free expression.

There were concerns about a political push to recriminalise “insult” and “libel” in 2013, repeated again again in 2015.

In January 2016, the two biggest humanist NGOs in Romania initiated a two-year collaboration project aimed at promoting humanist values all across the country. In August 2016 they organised the first Humanist Camp in the country, in October 2016 the first training for humanist parents took place, and in November 2016 they launched The Humanist Blog.

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