|| Religious Freedom Ranking:
3 out of 5 stars: Needs Improvement
Latvia, formerly part of the Soviet Union, joined the European Union in 2004, not long after joining NATO. However, it still suffers from controversy from its Soviet history. During Soviet rule, Latvia saw a wave of Russian-speaking immigrants from Russia and other parts of the USSR. Currently, nearly a quarter of the population speaks Russian. Government reforms in 2004 have restricted the use of Russian in schools. In February 2012 a majority of Latvian voters rejected a proposal that would have made Russian a second official language. The rights of Russian-speaking people in the country have been an issue since the country gained independence.
Latvia has a population of 2.2 million people. The three largest religious organizations in the country are Roman Catholics with 22.7 percent of the population, Lutherans with 19.7 percent, and Orthodox Christians with 16.8 percent. The largest minority religious groups are Baptists, Pentecostals, and evangelical Protestants. Official sources estimate that there are 9,736 Jews in Latvia.
The constitutional law on "The Rights and Obligations of a Citizen and a Person," passed on December 10, 1991, operates as a Bill of rights for Latvia. Article 12 of this law states that "all persons in Latvia are equal under the law regardless of race, nationality, sex, language, party affiliation, political and religious beliefs, social, material and occupational standing and origin." Citizens and non-citizens share the same rights and duties with the exception that non-citizens may not be drafted, vote, run for office, or start political parties. While there is no state religion, Latvia’s government distinguishes between traditional religious groups and new ones. This has resulted in bureaucratic regulations and requirements that are not applicable to traditional religious organizations.
In 1995, the government passed the Law on Religious Organizations which specifies that, while registration is not compulsory, religious organizations may enjoy certain rights and privileges only if they register with the government. Individual congregations register separately. As of 2011, the Justice Ministry had registered 1,135 congregations including 297 Lutheran, 250 Roman Catholic, 119 Orthodox, 92 Baptist, 68 Old Believer Orthodox, 51 Seventh-Day Adventist, 40 evangelical Christians, 14 Jehovah’s Witnesses, 13 Methodist, 12 Jewish, 3 Buddhist, 15 Muslim, 11 Hare Krishna, 3 Mormon and 147 other religious groups. Under the 1995 law, foreign missionaries and evangelists are allowed to hold meetings and proselytize only if religious organizations registered in Latvia invite them to do so. In July 2010, the Latvian government denied the Church of Scientology’s reapplication for registration, ruling that allowing the church to be registered would have a negative impact on society. They had previously put in an application in 2009 and were denied.
The 1996 Law on Religious Organizations reduced the number of people required for a congregation to register from 25 to 10 citizens. It also provided that students in public schools may receive religious education on a voluntary basis only by representatives of the traditional religious groups: Lutheran, Roman Catholic, Orthodox, Old Believer and Baptist organizations. Students at state-supported minority schools may receive education in the religion of the national minority. All other religions are prohibited from providing religious education in state-funded schools.
A New Religions Consultative Council consists of doctors, academics, and an independent human rights ombudsman. The Council has no decision-making authority but advises the government in its policy toward new religious movements.
A Traditional Religion Council meets monthly to promote ecumenical understanding among the major traditional faiths and facilitating dialogue between the government and the various faith communities.
Properties taken during World War II, according to the government, have all been given back to their original owners. However, some members of religious groups, such as Lutherans, Orthodox Christians, and Jews, have claimed that there are still properties that have not been returned. A task force was created in 2008 to investigate these claims but no report has been released as of yet.
A number of anti-Semitic incidents have been reported in Latvia. These incidents include acts of vandalism and comments made in public.
2011 U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom Report on Latvia
Latvia - New World Encyclopedia
Latvia Country Profile- BBC News