Greece

Last Updated 13 October 2020

Greece is a unitary parliamentary republic on the edge of the Balkan Peninsula, often regarded as the birthplace of democracy in Europe and a catalyst to western civilisation. The country has seen steady economic, social and legal changes in recent years with leftist government attempts towards secularisation of the country. However, Greek Orthodox privilege still exists and is still prevalent across the country and religion is still firmly woven into the fabric of major institutions. Financial crisis and the rise of far-right politics have been significant factors in the past several years.

 
Systemic Discrimination
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Constitution and government

The constitution, other laws and policies protect freedom of thought, conscience and religion. Article 3 of the constitution states that ‘the prevailing religion in Greece is that of the Eastern Orthodox Church of Christ’, recent governments have proposed for this Article to be amended to one emphasising ‘religious neutrality’.1hri.org/docs/syntagma/artcl25.html#A3

Freedom of speech and press are protected under Article 14, ‘every person may express and propagate his thoughts orally, in writing and through the press in compliance with the laws of the State’. However the “blasphemy” law was abolished only in 2019. Suggestions of reintroducing the provision were scrapped following public outcry.2https://greece.greekreporter.com/2019/11/12/greece-scraps-reinstatement-of-blasphemy-law-following-public-outcry/
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Orthodox Privilege

The government financially supports the Orthodox Church; for example, the government pays for the salaries and religious training of clergy, finances the maintenance of Orthodox Church buildings, and exempts from tax Orthodox Church’s revenues from properties it owns.

Whilst state sponsorship of the Greek Orthodox religion is still entrenched, recent leftist governments have taken steps toward disestablishment of the Orthodox church.

The former government of Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras proposed changes to significantly reduce the role of the Orthodox Church in the public sector. The government announced to ‘free up’ 10,000 civil service roles occupied by the clerics of the church, however they would continue to pay the salary of clerics with a subsidy of €200 million annually.3secularism.org.uk/news/2018/11/greece-takes-major-step-towards-disestablishment-of-orthodox-church The government also proposed to introduce the concept of ‘religious neutrality’ to the Constitution in an attempt to remove privilege from religions. These changes and proposals were highly criticised by religious conservatives who criticized the government for their lack of faith.4religionnews.com/2019/01/18/greeks-bridle-at-historic-deal-to-split-orthodox-church-from-state/

Education and children’s rights

Orthodox religious instruction in primary and secondary schools, at government expense, remains mandatory for all students during their 12 years of compulsory education. Although students may exempt themselves for reasons of “conscience”, in practice public schools offer no alternative activity or non-Orthodox religious instruction for these children.

Until 2019, references to the student’s religious affiliation and citizenship were stated on school leaving certificates. As per decisions of the Data Protection Authority and the Supreme Administrative Court, this requirement has been removed. In addition there is no longer a mandatory reference to the non-Orthodox religion of child students who seek exemption from religious education, as they can now invoke reasons of conscience.

Family, Community and Society

Religion was and still is often assumed in Greek society with polls supporting the prevalence of the Eastern Orthodox religion. A 2005 poll revealed that 96.6% of the census were Orthodox Christian and only 2% identified as atheist. However, a more recent poll (2015) showed that this had changed significantly to 81.4% Orthodox Christians and 14.7% non-religious.

Despite a rise in non-religion, the Orthodox faith is still embedded in many activities and traditions of local communities, all the way up to the President of the Republic who, although an atheist, had to take a religious oath prescribed by the Constitution on the assumption of office in 2020. However, since 2019, the choice between making a religious oath or a civil affirmation in criminal proceedings has been abolished; all citizens now make a civil affirmation.

However, religion is still registered in civil registries of births, marriages, civil partnerships, and deaths.5https://humanistfederation.eu/greece-and-cyprus-only-european-states-registering-religion-in-birth-certificates-first-ever-ehf-third-party-intervention-in-ecthr-related-case/ The registration of religion in birth certificates is the object of an application communicated to Greece by the EctHR in 2020 (Papanikolaou v. Greece).6http://hudoc.echr.coe.int/eng/?i=001-201478

Freedom of expression, advocacy of humanist values

Greece is a free country with an open and vigorous parliamentary democracy, according to Freedom House, however “[o]ngoing concerns include corruption, discrimination against immigrants and minorities, and poor conditions for undocumented migrants and refugees.”7freedomhouse.org/report/freedom-world/2019/greece

The rise of the far-right in recent years is cause for concern and has resulted in harassment and acts of violence or hatred.

In October 2019, humanists protested the harassment through parliamentary procedures of Panayote Dimitras, a human rights activist associated with Greek Helsinki Monitor and Humanist Union of Greece, by the president of a far-right nationalist party.8humanists.international/2019/10/nationalist-party-president-harassing-humanist-activist-in-greece/

Blasphemy law abolished in 2019

After a number of high-profile blasphemy cases and international criticism, the “blasphemy” law was abolished in 2019.9end-blasphemy-laws.org/2019/06/greece-quietly-drops-blasphemy-laws-new-criminal-code/

Article 198 of the Greek Penal Code stated that “1. One who publicly and maliciously and by any means blasphemes God shall be punished by imprisonment for not more than two years; 2. Anyone, except as described in par.1, who displays publicly with blasphemy a lack of respect for things divine, is punished with up to 3 months in prison.”

Article 199 declared similar provisions against anyone who “blasphemes the Greek Orthodox Church or any other religion tolerable in Greece”, imprisonable for up to two years.

The ‘blasphemy’ law had been actively used to persecute individuals and groups for portraying, mocking or insulting the Orthodox religion in the form of art or on social media outlets.

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