I. Historical Background
With papal support, Portugal reached independency in 1143. This laid out the groundwork for a strong connection between State and Church. The Reformation had nearly no influence on Portugal. In 1822, the first Constitution ruled that “the religion of the Portuguese nation is Roman Catholic”. Only foreigners were allowed a different denomination. The Constitution of 1826 guaranteed that nobody was to be persecuted due to his confession, as long as the State religion was respected and morality was not offended. Since the Republic revolution in 1910, the principle of the separation of State and Church is accepted, followed by the admission of the freedom of conscience and religion. When Salazar came to power, the balance between State and Church in the Constitution stayed untouched. This balance was disturbed by constitutional amendments in the period between 1935 and 1971: The Roman Catholic Church became once more the religion of the Portuguese. But a Concordat, which induced privileges for the Roman Catholics between Portugal and the Holy See, had more influence than the Constitution. This Concordat was partly valid up until December 2004. The main differences were resolved by the Constitution of 1976 and the Law of Religious Liberty. Furthermore, there exists a new Concordat since 2004, which can be seen as important step towards reaching the aim of securing equal rights to all religious communities.
II. Religious affiliation today (Social facts)
According to the latest census (2001), more than 85 % of the Portuguese population (11 million) declared themselves as Roman Catholic. Additionally, big cities, e.g. Lisbon or Porto, accommodate other religious communities like Orthodox, Jehovah’s Witnesses, several Protestant churches, Muslims, Jews, Hindus and a number of newcomers, such as the Maná Church and the Universal Church of God’s Kingdom. Some of them, mainly the newcomers, were declared as sects and suffer disadvantages, which is indeed contrary to the constitutional principles.
III. Basic Categories of the System
The basic categories of the system are formed by the liberty of conscience and freedom irrespective of faith. The separation of State and Church includes that state bodies have to be neutral towards religious questions. Despite those basics, the principle of total equality between the religious communities is not completely achieved and the principle of separation is interpreted in a way that is not entirely strict.
IV. Cultural and social exercise of functions
Over the years, the Catholic Church in Portugal has been one of the most important centres of culture. Nowadays, the Catholic Church is the owner of a reputable university and several private schools. Moreover, it holds a radio station. Consequently, the influence of other Churches or religious communities is incommensurable. But every religious community has a right to propagate their religious aims via radio and TV.
V. Legal basics
The most important sources of the Portuguese law concerning the religious communities are the Constitution and the Law of Religious Liberty of 2001 (LRL). They include the equal treatment of all the religious communities, the right to organize the community, to found churches and schools and to offer religious education. The question, whether public schools were still obliged to offer religious education, has been a matter of an impassioned debate for the past 25 years. Due to the separation of State and Church, it is now accepted that there could not be any obligation. After decisions of the Constitutional Court, the Catholic Church itself is allowed to offer religious education at public schools for pupils, who want to join the classes.
Besides, the Roman Catholic Church enjoys privileges that are guaranteed in Art.58 LRL: The Concordat between Portugal and the Holy See remains in force in addition to other laws concerning the Catholic Church. As an international contract, the Concordat can superpose the LRL, but has to be constitutional. Moreover, articles of the LRL about churches and religious communities are not applicable on the Catholic Church.