Lithuania

Last Updated 6 September 2021

Lithuania, a country in north-eastern Europe, is a parliamentary representative democratic republic with a multi-party system. In March 1990, it declared independence from the Soviet Union.1https://www.britannica.com/place/Lithuania/Independence-restored The country is a member of the EU, and NATO.

According to a population census conducted in 2011, the majority (77%) of the population identifies as Catholic, while around 6% of the population stated that they did not belong to any religious community. 2https://eacea.ec.europa.eu/national-policies/eurydice/content/population-demographic-situation-languages-and-religions-44_en

 
Systemic Discrimination
Free and Equal

Constitution and government

The Constitution and other laws and policies protect freedom of thought, conscience and religion, as well as freedom of opinion and expression. These rights are generally respected in practice.

The Constitution provides that a person’s freedom to profess and propagate a religion may be limited only when necessary to protect health, safety, public order, or the fundamental rights and freedoms of others.

Article 43 of the Lithuanian Constitution states that “there shall not be a State religion in Lithuania.”3https://www.wipo.int/edocs/lexdocs/laws/en/lt/lt045en.pdf In practice however, several aspects of political life in Lithuania raise questions about this claim to secularism.

“Traditional” privilege

Lithuania formally distinguishes between “traditional” and other religions and beliefs. Article 5 of the 1995 Law on Religious Communities and Associations states that there are nine “traditional religious communities and associations existing in Lithuania, which comprise a part of Lithuania’s historical, spiritual and social heritage: Roman Catholic, Greek Catholic, Evangelical Lutheran, Evangelical Reformed, Russian Orthodox, Old Believer, Judaist, Sunni Muslim and Karaite.”4https://e-seimas.lrs.lt/portal/legalAct/lt/TAD/TAIS.385299?jfwid=16j6tpgu6w

Other (non-traditional) religious associations may be granted state recognition “if they are backed by society and instruction and rites thereof are not contrary to laws and morality.”

By law these “traditional” religious groups enjoy benefits not available to others, including secular and non-religious groups, such as government funding determined proportionally, based on the number of believers recorded by the Department of Statistics. There is in fact no legal basis to support these payments to religious groups, who may use the funds at their discretion, with no duty to report to the State on how the money is spent.5https://www.cambridge.org/core/services/aop-cambridge-core/content/view/E792DBAA94811AA92AE7D746ED4B9BEF/S0748081420000090a.pdf/the-legal-notion-of-traditional-religions-in-lithuania-and-its-sociopolitical-consequences.pdf

Other privileges afforded to “traditional” religions include the right to teach religion in private or public schools, and the right to register marriages. The law allows all registered religious groups to own property for prayer houses, homes, and other uses and permits construction of facilities necessary for their activities.6http://grease.eui.eu/wp-content/uploads/sites/8/2019/10/Lithuania-Report.pdf

Education and children’s rights

Article 40 of the Constitution establishes public educational institutions as secular.7https://www.wipo.int/edocs/lexdocs/laws/en/lt/lt045en.pdf However, the law permits and funds religious instruction in public schools for “traditional” and other state-recognized religious groups. Parents may choose either religious instruction or secular ethics classes for their children. Schools decide which of the traditional religious groups will be represented in their curricula on the basis of requests from parents for children up to age 14, after which students present the requests themselves.8https://www.15min.lt/en/article/politics/legal-experts-say-compulsory-religious-education-would-run-counter-to-lithuanian-constitution-526-315657

The number of wholly private religious schools is relatively small. There are 30 schools with ties to Catholic or Jewish groups, although students of different religious groups often attend these schools.9https://www.state.gov/reports/2020-report-on-international-religious-freedom/lithuania/ Catholic private schools receive the benefit of so-called ‘environmental’ funds from the State, under the 2011 Law on Education. These funds cover administrative costs, as well as heating, electricity and water expenses. Public educational institutions are not guaranteed these funds and must compete for these financial resources.10https://repository.mruni.eu/bitstream/handle/007/16517/5443-12355-1-SM.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y

In 2016, the Minister of Education, Science and Sport approved a sex education programme. Representatives of the Catholic Church and its main organizational body, Lithuania’s Bishops Conference, were consulted during the design of the programme, which ended up adopting a family and abstinence-oriented approach towards sex education, as opposed to following science-backed recommendations from the WHO.11https://repository.mruni.eu/bitstream/handle/007/16517/5443-12355-1-SM.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y

Family, community and society

Gender equality and LGBTI+ rights

The Catholic Church exerts a strong influence over Lithuanian politics, culture and society. Catholic priests are involved in most social councils and committees that provide input on State policy relating to ethics, education, and even reproductive rights. The Bishops Conference takes part in policy debates and rallies against abortion, sex education and LGBTI+ rights, and is involved in designing national family planning policy.12https://www.awid.org/sites/default/files/atoms/files/feminists_on_the_frontlines_-_confronting_catholic_fundamentalisms_-_former_soviet_union_-_lithuania.pdf

In June 2008, with the support of the Catholic Church, Parliament passed the National Family Policy Concept bill, which recognizes only those families that are based on the marriage of a man and a woman. According to the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA), in the period between 2012 and 2018, the Lithuanian Parliament considered nine openly homophobic and/or transphobic legislative initiatives seeking to limit the rights and freedoms of LGBTI+ people. Lithuania remains one of a few jurisdictions in the European Union without any legal recognition of same-sex relationships. Moreover, the intense public debate around the anti-LGBTI+ legislative proposals has created a hostile atmosphere for LGBTI+ people in Lithuania.13https://tbinternet.ohchr.org/Treaties/CCPR/Shared%20Documents/LTU/INT_CCPR_NGO_LTU_31394_E.pdf

Though currently legal, a proposal to ban abortion is debated in Parliament every year. The Draft Law, entitled Protection of the Embryo in the Prenatal Phase, would see abortion being legal only where there is danger to the mother’s life or health and for pregnancies resulting from rape or incest.14https://www.liberties.eu/en/stories/abortion-ban-lithuania-human-rights-committee-parliament/14543

Freedom of expression, advocacy of humanist values

Freedom of expression and of the press is guaranteed by law and respected in practice.

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