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Religious freedom. From Letters patent to Agreements with the State

by Michele Lipori

by Michele Lipori. Confronti's Staff.

The feast of religious freedom is celebrated on 17 February in remembrance of the fact that, on the same day in 1848, the then-king of Sardinia Carlo Alberto granted civil rights to people of the Waldensian faith—who until then had been relegated to the so-called Waldensian Valleys which represented for them a sort of “alpine ghetto.”

Through Letters patent—measures that a sovereign could have applied without the approval of any Council—people of Waldensian faith finally acquired civil and political rights. Until then, they were forbidden from attending public schools, from exercising professions (apart from those of doctor or notary—as long as their services were aimed exclusively at their fellow believers, and from owning properties outside the Waldensian Valleys).

However, the Letters patent should be understood as a starting point—not an arrival—on the path to freedom of worship. In a passage of the provision, it is said that:

“The Waldensians are allowed to enjoy all the civil and political rights of our subjects, to attend schools inside and outside universities, and to obtain academic degrees. However, nothing has been innovated regarding the exercise of their worship and the schools they run.” This meant that it was possible for the Waldensians to worship only in some places, formally authorized by the power of the state.

February 17, therefore, became a symbol of a change of policy toward a specific minority that was a prelude to other forms of opening, first in the Savoy State—where the decree that allowed the emancipation of Jewish communities was dated March 29, 1849—and then in what would become the Italian State.

The Constitution and the Agreements

In the Italian State, in particular, four articles of the Constitution regulate the relationship with religions.

Art. 7 – The State and the Catholic Church are, each in its own order, independent and sovereign. Their relations are regulated by the Lateran Treaty, formulated in 1929 and modified in 1984. Amendments to the Treaty, accepted by the two parties, do not require a constitutional revision procedure.

Art. 8 – All religious confessions are equally free before the law.

Religious denominations other than Catholic have the right to organize themselves according to their own statutes, as they do not conflict with the Italian legal systemTheir relations with the State are regulated by law on the basis of agreements (known in Italian as intese, literally “proposals”) with the relevant representatives.

Art. 19 – Everyone has the right to freely profess their religious faith in any form, individual or associated, to promote it and to worship it privately or in public, provided that it is not a question of rites contrary to morality.

Art. 20 – The ecclesiastical character and the purpose of religion or worship of an association or institution cannot be the cause of special legislative limitations, nor of special tax burdens for its constitution, juridical capacity and any form of activity. For “non-Catholic” religions that want to have their own legal personality recognized, it is necessary to contact the prefecture of the province in which their institutions reside, attaching their statute. An essential requirement to have your request approved is compliance with the Italian legal system of the organizational rules and statutory purposes (of public interest). Even the ministers of worship – in order for their acts (celebration of weddings, funerals, etc.) to have legal effect – it is necessary to ask the State for the approval of their appointment.

This procedure therefore serves to establish an agreement between the requesting religion and the Italian state. A procedure that has several stages and involves various actors of the state institution:

– in the first instance, requests are submitted to the opinion of the Directorate General for Religious Affairs of the Ministry of the Interior;

– given that the government will have to express itself, the religious confession must apply through an appeal, to the President of the Council of Ministers, who will entrust the task to the Undersecretary of the Council of Ministers;

– The Undersecretary will make use of the Interministerial Commission for Agreements with Religious Confessions to prepare – in collaboration with the delegation of the Religious Confession which makes the request – a draft of the Understanding on which the Consultative Commission for Religious Freedom will express a preliminary opinion;

– the Agreements must then be initialed by the Undersecretary and the representative of the religious denomination, to be submitted to the Council of Ministers for examination before authorization for signature by the President of the Council.

The Established Agreements to date

  • Union of Methodist and Waldensian Churches (1984)
  • Italian Union of Seventh Day Adventist Christian Churches (1988)
  • Assemblies of God in Italy – Pentecostals (1988)
  • Union of Italian Jewish Communities (1989)
  • Lutheran Evangelical Church in Italy (1993)
  • Baptist Evangelical Christian Union of Italy (1993
  • Sacred Orthodox Archdiocese of Italy and the Exarchate for Southern Europe (2012)
  • Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints – Mormons (2012)
  • Apostolic Church in Italy – Pentecostals (2012)
  • Italian Buddhist Union (2012)
  • Italian Hindu Union Sanatana Dharma Samgha (2012)
  • Italian Buddhist Institute Soka Gakkai (2016)

Ph. © Claudio Schwarz from Unspalsh

Michele Lipori

Michele Lipori

Confronti's Staff

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