US religious freedom report notes pending requests in Slovenia

Washington – The US Office of International Religious Freedom published its 2021 religious freedom report on Thursday, noting religious communities’ concerns in Slovenia about several loopholes and pending requests, including those related to halal meals, male circumcision and a lack of certain religious staff in the military.

One new religious group was registered in Slovenia in 2021, so there are now 55 of them, the largest of which is the Catholic Church (some 70% of the population), followed by the Islamic Community of Slovenia (5%), Serbian Orthodox Church and Evangelical Church, reads the segment of the 2021 Report on International Religious Freedom that focuses on Slovenia.

The report cites the results of a study by the Slovenian NGO Peace Institute that were published in October and found that 41% of respondents who identified as religious minorities reported experiencing discrimination based on their faith. Orthodox Christians and Muslims reported the highest number of incidents.

The Office notes a number of Slovenia’s laws that enshrine the freedom of religion and the right of individuals to express their religious beliefs, mandate Holocaust education in schools and ban provoking religious hatred and diminishing the significance of the Holocaust.

Incidents that are or could be based on religious hatred targeted various religious communities in 2021, including the Muslim, Jewish and Catholic communities, with the Office highlighting media reports about ex-PM Janez Janša’s Twitter posts about “a Jewish American businessman that were criticized as antisemitic”. This is mainly in reference to Janša’s tweet in October 2021 that suggested that many members of the European Parliament are George “Soros’s puppets”, and was later deleted.

“Muslims continued to ask the government to provide halal meals in public institutions such as schools and hospitals,” reads the report, noting that the Muslim community’s request to provide for areas in cemeteries dedicated to Muslim graves and allow gravestones to face Mecca remained under review at year’s end.

Male circumcision is legal, but “some hospitals, acting on a nonbinding opinion by the government’s Commission for Medical Ethics, refused to perform the procedure” last year, says the report, noting that this forced Muslims and Jews to travel abroad for this.

The vice chair of the Jewish Community of Slovenia expressed concern regarding what he described as negative attitudes towards Jews, particularly among leftist citizens, but noted that this likely “stemmed more from sympathy towards Palestinians and opposition to Israeli policies than from pure antisemitism”.

Some minority religious communities continued to report the government did not provide space or staff to provide spiritual care in hospitals, prisons, and the military, despite requests.

“The Slovenian Armed Forces (SAF) employed full-time Catholic and Protestant clergy to provide religious services, but no imams, Orthodox priests, or rabbis.” The head of the Serbian Orthodox Church thinks the lack of Orthodox clergy is due to the shortages of qualified Orthodox priests in the country “rather than to inadequate government support”, whereas Muslim community leaders noted their requests for this had not been granted so far.

A SAF source said that the army would in future address religious personnel issues.

“Representatives of the Catholic, Orthodox, Muslim, and Protestant communities continued to report productive relations among members of different religious groups,” the report notes.