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Portugal - Religion

The country has an area of 35,672 square miles and a population of 10.6 million. Portugal was profoundly Roman Catholic. According to common saying, "to be Portuguese is to be Catholic," and in the 1990s approximately 97 percent of the population considered itself Roman Catholic--the highest percentage in Western Europe. In the 1990s only about one-third of the population attended mass and took the sacraments regularly, but nearly all Portuguese wished to be baptized and married in the church and to receive its last rites.

Portugal was Roman Catholic not only in a religious sense, but also socially and culturally. Although church and state were formally separated during the First Republic (1910-26), a separation reiterated in the constitution of 1976, the two still formed a seamless web in many areas of life. Catholic precepts historically undergirded the society, as well as the polity. The traditional notions of authority, hierarchy, and accepting one's station in life all stemmed from Roman Catholic teachings. Many Portuguese holidays and festivals had religious origins, and the country's moral and legal codes derived from Roman Catholic precepts. The educational and health care systems were long the church's preserve, and whenever a building, bridge, or highway was opened, it received the blessing of the clergy. Hence, although church and state were formally separated, absolute separation was not possible in practice.

By 2010 more than 80 percent of the population above the age of 12 identified with the Roman Catholic Church; however, a large percentage states that it does not actively participate in church activities. Groups that constitute less than five percent of the populace include various Protestant denominations (including 250,000 evangelicals) and non-Christian religious groups (Muslims, Hindus, Jews, Buddhists, Taoists, and Zoroastrians, among others). In addition many of the estimated 200,000 immigrants from Eastern Europe, more than half of whom are from Ukraine, are Eastern Orthodox. The constitution provides for freedom of religion, and other laws and policies contributed to the generally free practice of religion. The government is secular. Other than the constitution, the two most important documents relating to religious freedom are the 2001 Religious Freedom Act and the 1940 concordat with the Holy See.

The 2001 Religious Freedom Act created a legislative framework for religious groups established in the country for at least 30 years or those recognized internationally for at least 60 years. The act provides qualifying religious groups with benefits previously reserved only for the Catholic Church: full tax-exempt status; legal recognition of their marriages and other rites; the right of their chaplains to minister in prisons, hospitals, and military facilities; and respect for their traditional holidays. For example, the act prohibits public-sector employers from discriminating against persons because of their religion, and requires them to reasonably accommodate employees' religious practices. This includes allowing them to take leave on their Sabbath and religious holidays. The government does not observe their holidays officially. The act allows each religious group to negotiate its own concordat-style agreement with the government, although it does not ensure the acceptance of any such agreements.

The Catholic Church maintains a separate agreement with the government under the terms of the 1940 concordat as amended in 2004 to comply with the 2001 Religious Freedom Act. The concordat recognizes the juridical personality of the Portuguese Episcopal Conference. It also allows the Catholic Church to receive a percentage of the income tax that citizens can allocate to various institutions in their annual tax returns. In September 2009 the government established legal provisions to fully implement the 2001 act and the 2004 amendments to the concordat. Chaplaincies for the military, prisons, and hospitals are now state-funded positions open to all legally established religions.

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