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Poland - Religion

More than 94 percent of the population is Roman Catholic. According to the 2008 Annual Statistical Yearbook of Poland, the formal membership of the listed religious groups includes: 33,699,264 Roman Catholics, 504,150 Polish Orthodox Church members, 53,000 Greek Catholics, 128, 235 Jehovah's Witnesses, 77,500 Lutherans (Augsburg Confession), 23,568 Old Catholic Mariavits, 21,303 Pentecostals, 9,595 Seventh-day Adventists, 18,804 members of the Polish Catholic Church, 4,853 members of the New Apostolic Church, 4,818 Baptists, 4,481 Methodists, 3,510 Lutherans (Reformed), 3,389 registered members of Jewish associations, 2,425 members of the Church of Christ, 2,153 Catholic Mariavits, 1,275 members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons), 915 members of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (Hare Krishnas), and 112 registered members of Muslim associations.

These figures do not account for persons who adhere to a particular faith but do not maintain formal membership. Figures for Jews and Muslims in particular are significantly deflated as a result. Jewish and Muslim organizations estimate their actual numbers to be 30,000-40,000 and 25,000, respectively.

World War II essentially transformed Poland into a state dominated by a single religion. According to a 1991 government survey, Roman Catholicism was professed by 96 percent of the population. The practice of Judaism declined more dramatically than any other religion after the war, but the numbers of adherents of Greek Orthodox, Protestant, and other groups also fell significantly. Although the claim of religious affiliation signified different levels of participation for different segments of society (80.6 percent of professed Catholics described themselves as attending mass regularly), the history of Roman Catholicism in Poland formed a uniquely solid link between nationality and religious belief.

Poland was the only country where the advent of communism had very little effect on the individual citizen's practice of organized religion. During the communist era, the Catholic Church enjoyed varying levels of autonomy, but the church remained the primary source of moral values, as well as an important political force. Of the 4 percent of Poles who were not Roman Catholic, half belonged to one of forty-two other denominations in 1991, and the rest professed no religion. The largest of the nonCatholic faiths was the Polish Autocephalous Orthodox Church. Although Poland returned to its tradition of religious tolerance after the communist era, jurisdictional issues complicated relations between the Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches.

The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and other laws and policies contributed to the generally free practice of religion. The law at all levels protects this right in full against abuse, either by governmental or private actors. Citizens are guaranteed the freedom to practice any faith they choose. Religious groups may organize, select and train personnel, solicit and receive contributions, publish, and meet without government interference. There are no governmental restrictions on establishing and maintaining places of worship. The Criminal Code stipulates that offending religious sentiment through public speech is punishable by a fine or up to a three-year prison term. Citizens have the right to sue the Government for constitutional violations of religious freedom, and legal protections cover discrimination or persecution of religious freedom.

There are 15 religious groups whose relationship with the state is governed by specific legislation that outlines the internal structure of the religious groups, their activities, and procedures for property restitution. There are 149 other registered religious groups that do not have a statutorily defined relationship with the state. All registered religious groups, including the original 15, enjoy equal protection under the law.

There are reports of occasional, nonviolent anti-Semitic incidents and occasional desecrations of Jewish and Roman Catholic cemeteries. According to the Union of Jewish Communities, the Jewish community was estimated at 20,000 persons, including 4,000 registered members. The government publicly criticized anti-Semitic acts, prosecuted offenders, and supported tolerance education. The country has made considerable progress in relations with its Jewish communities. The government consistently supported efforts to promote interfaith dialogue and tolerance, as well as initiatives to combat anti-Semitism. Members of marginal populist and nationalist parties and organizations, however, continued to make some extremist, intolerant, and anti-Semitic statements.

In accordance with the law on education and the concordat with the Vatican, all schools teach religion to students. Students may request to take an ethics class or a personalized religion class if they do not wish to take the standard course. Regulations, however, only require schools to offer such classes if at least seven students have requested them. According to the Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights, students in smaller schools, particularly in rural areas, therefore do not have access to alternate classes. When an alternate class is not available, students may opt to spend the class time in supervised study. Religious education instructors, about half of whom are Catholic clergy or nuns, receive salaries from the state for teaching religion in public schools. Catholic Church representatives are included on a commission that determines which religious instruction books qualify for school use.

Every year there are a number of incidents of vandalism targeted at property associated with Jewish, Muslim, and Christian groups. Most of these incidents are targeted at Jewish groups. The NGO Never Again documented a persistent trend of anti-Semitic chants and paraphernalia among soccer fans throughout the country, both during matches and in public gatherings. Anti-Semitic actions in 2011 included soccer fans displaying a large Jihad Legia (League of Jihad) banner during a match against the Israeli HaPoel Tel Aviv team.



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Page last modified: 09-08-2012 19:41:59 ZULU