Latvia

Last Updated 15 July 2021

Latvia is a parliamentary republic, and member of the European Union, with close likes to Estonia and Lithuania.  It has a substantial Russian-speaking population. It has a population of 1.9 million, 31% of whom are unaffiliated with any religious group. The largest religious group, estimated to account for 37% of the population, are Lutheran.1https://www.state.gov/reports/2020-report-on-international-religious-freedom/latvia/

 
Severe Discrimination
Systemic Discrimination
Mostly Satisfactory
Free and Equal

Constitution and government

According to Article 99 of the 2014 Latvian Constitution,2https://likumi.lv/ta/en/en/id/57980

“Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. The church shall be separate from the State.”

Although there is no state religion, the law provides eight religious groups with rights and privileges denied to other religious groups, and non-believers. The eight are Lutherans, Catholics, Orthodox Christians, Old Believers, Baptists, Methodists, Seventh-day Adventists, and Jews.3https://likumi.lv/ta/id/184625-latvijas-evangeliski-luteriskas-baznicas-likums; https://likumi.lv/ta/id/184626-latvijas-pareizticigas-baznicas-likums; https://likumi.lv/ta/id/159066-latvijas-vecticibnieku-pomoras-baznicas-likums; https://likumi.lv/ta/id/159067-rigas-ebreju-religiskas-draudzes-likums; https://likumi.lv/ta/id/158622-septitas-dienas-adventistu-latvijas-draudzu-savienibas-likums; https://likumi.lv/ta/id/157893-latvijas-baptistu-draudzu-savienibas-likums; https://likumi.lv/ta/id/66742-par-latvijas-republikas-un-sveta-kresla-ligumu; https://likumi.lv/ta/id/158398-latvijas-apvienotas-metodistu-baznicas-likums

These groups are a part of the government’s Ecclesiastical Council, which (chaired by the Prime Minister) advises the government on religious matters. There is no equivalent provision for non-religious people. These groups have the right to officiate at marriages without obtaining a civil marriage license.4https://www.state.gov/reports/2020-report-on-international-religious-freedom/latvia/

Religious privilege

Although the government does not require religious groups to register, the law accords registered religious groups several rights and privileges, including legal entity status for owning property and conducting financial transactions, as well as tax benefits for donors. Registration allows religious groups to hold services in public places such as parks or public squares.5https://likumi.lv/ta/en/en/id/36874 Non-religious groups cannot register or secure these benefits.6https://www.state.gov/reports/2020-report-on-international-religious-freedom/latvia/

Education and children’s rights

Public schools by default teach general ethics and religions in Latvia class in primary school.7https://www.skola2030.lv/lv/biezak-uzdotie-jautajumi/vai-sakumskola-vairs-nav-etikas-un-kristigas-macibas?fbclid=IwAR1taAfx5cYgz32GnKmwKq9AqZiVQh8iyzEnyd_alPzUYkFVNaAmaHU67_A However, students can opt-in to state- funded religion class specialized in one of the Christian denominations privileged by the state.8https://likumi.lv/ta/en/en/id/36874

The Center for Educational Content at the Ministry of Education reviews the content of the classes to verify that they do not violate the right to freedom of conscience. After third grade, religion subjects are then taught within elective ethics and social science classes.9https://www.state.gov/reports/2020-report-on-international-religious-freedom/latvia/

According to Section 6 of the Law on Religious Organizations,10https://likumi.lv/ta/en/en/id/36874

“The schools for national minorities under the management of the State and local governments, observing the wishes of students or the parents or guardians thereof may also provide religious teachings typical to the relevant national minority in accordance with the procedures specified by the Ministry for Education and Science.”

The Education Law11https://likumi.lv/ta/en/en/id/50759 was amended in 2015 to oblige schools to provide ‘moral’ education that mirrors constitutional values, especially regarding marriage and family (see Section 10). This means children would not be taught that LGBTI+ relationships and families are entitled to equal protection under the law.12https://www.hrw.org/news/2015/06/23/dispatches-double-speak-latvia A law that came into effect in January 2017 enabled the firing of teachers found to be “disloyal to the state.”13https://www.refworld.org/category,COI,,,LVA,5bcdce2f13,0.html

Family community and society

LGBTI+ rights

Same-sex relationships are legal. However, same-sex marriage in Latvia has been prohibited by Article 110 of the Constitution since 2006. LGBTI+ persons in Latvia face widespread discrimination, stigmatization and intolerance14https://ilga.org/state-sponsored-homophobia-report; https://www.state.gov/reports/2020-country-reports-on-human-rights-practices/latvia/ Most recently, in April 2021, a young paramedic reportedly died after being the victim of a homophobic arson attack.15https://www.euronews.com/2021/04/30/gay-latvian-man-dies-after-homophobic-attack-campaigners-say Critics have argued that the historical influence of the Christian churches, and their ongoing opposition to equality for same-sex couples, has contributed to the intolerance faced by members of the LGBTI+ community.16https://www.tvnet.lv/7233153/par-slepkavibas-meginajumu-tukuma-atbildiba-jauznemas-latvijas-politikiem-un-baznicai; https://konservativie.lv/2020/11/19/arhibiskaps-janis-vanags-gimenes-jedziens-nav-bezformigs-ka-udens/; https://www.lsm.lv/raksts/zinas/latvija/stankevics-viendzimuma-attiecibas-nav-saskana-ar-dieva-planu.a103625/

Freedom of expression, advocacy of humanist values

The Constitution grants everyone the right to freedom of expression, which includes the right to freely receive, keep and distribute information and to express his or her views (Article 100). Censorship is also prohibited under the Constitution.

Media freedom

The government generally respects freedom of the press. However, the US State Department indicates that NGOs have reported concerns relating to a lack of transparency in media ownership. Concerns over media independence are exacerbated by the challenges local media outlets face to compete with mass media, according to the Latvian Association of Journalists. Some municipalities provided funding to local newspapers in exchange for editorial control, or even published their own newspapers to drive independent competitors out of business.17https://www.state.gov/reports/2020-country-reports-on-human-rights-practices/latvia/

However, according to Reporters Without Borders’ World Press Freedom Index 2020,18https://rsf.org/en/latvia the Latvian parliament has “passed a law banning regional and local municipal authorities from publishing news in the same way as the media, thereby satisfying long-standing demands by the media for an end to this form of unfair competition.”

References

References
1, 4, 9 https://www.state.gov/reports/2020-report-on-international-religious-freedom/latvia/
2 https://likumi.lv/ta/en/en/id/57980
3 https://likumi.lv/ta/id/184625-latvijas-evangeliski-luteriskas-baznicas-likums; https://likumi.lv/ta/id/184626-latvijas-pareizticigas-baznicas-likums; https://likumi.lv/ta/id/159066-latvijas-vecticibnieku-pomoras-baznicas-likums; https://likumi.lv/ta/id/159067-rigas-ebreju-religiskas-draudzes-likums; https://likumi.lv/ta/id/158622-septitas-dienas-adventistu-latvijas-draudzu-savienibas-likums; https://likumi.lv/ta/id/157893-latvijas-baptistu-draudzu-savienibas-likums; https://likumi.lv/ta/id/66742-par-latvijas-republikas-un-sveta-kresla-ligumu; https://likumi.lv/ta/id/158398-latvijas-apvienotas-metodistu-baznicas-likums
5, 8, 10 https://likumi.lv/ta/en/en/id/36874
6 https://www.state.gov/reports/2020-report-on-international-religious-freedom/latvia/
7 https://www.skola2030.lv/lv/biezak-uzdotie-jautajumi/vai-sakumskola-vairs-nav-etikas-un-kristigas-macibas?fbclid=IwAR1taAfx5cYgz32GnKmwKq9AqZiVQh8iyzEnyd_alPzUYkFVNaAmaHU67_A
11 https://likumi.lv/ta/en/en/id/50759
12 https://www.hrw.org/news/2015/06/23/dispatches-double-speak-latvia
13 https://www.refworld.org/category,COI,,,LVA,5bcdce2f13,0.html
14 https://ilga.org/state-sponsored-homophobia-report; https://www.state.gov/reports/2020-country-reports-on-human-rights-practices/latvia/
15 https://www.euronews.com/2021/04/30/gay-latvian-man-dies-after-homophobic-attack-campaigners-say
16 https://www.tvnet.lv/7233153/par-slepkavibas-meginajumu-tukuma-atbildiba-jauznemas-latvijas-politikiem-un-baznicai; https://konservativie.lv/2020/11/19/arhibiskaps-janis-vanags-gimenes-jedziens-nav-bezformigs-ka-udens/; https://www.lsm.lv/raksts/zinas/latvija/stankevics-viendzimuma-attiecibas-nav-saskana-ar-dieva-planu.a103625/
17 https://www.state.gov/reports/2020-country-reports-on-human-rights-practices/latvia/
18 https://rsf.org/en/latvia

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