The following text is taken by permission from Frank Cranmer’s “Notes on Church and State . . .” – see this introductory note.
The Belgian Constitution provides that–
Freedom of worship, public practice of the latter… are guaranteed‘ (Article 19).
The State does not have the right to intervene either in the nomination or in the installation of ministers of any religion whatsoever (Article 21).
The State awards remuneration and pensions to religious leaders; those amounts required are included in the budget… (Article 181).
In addition, Article 20 of the present Constitution guarantees freedom from religion as much as freedom of religion:
No-one can be obliged to contribute in any way whatsoever to the acts and ceremonies of a religion, nor to observe the days of rest.
However, the State recognises and finances certain religious groups and ‗life stances‘: Roman Catholics (law of 8 April 1802), Protestants (law of 8 April 1802), Anglicans (law of 4 March 1870), Jews (law of 4 March 1870), Muslims (law of 19 July 1974), and Orthodox (law of 17 April 1985). Since 5 May 1993 non-confessional organisations have been recognised on an equal footing with the others. Rik Torfs suggests that though there are six recognised religions, the Roman Catholic Church is primus inter pares (Torfs 2005: 15), citing as evidence its role in the funeral of King Baudouin in 1993 – though it should be remembered that Baudouin was devout Roman Catholic who, with the agreement of the Government, abdicated for two days in 1990 so as to avoid having to give Royal Assent to a measure liberalising the abortion laws.
Initially, the Roman Catholic Church, the Protestant Churches and the Jews benefited from Article 181. The Anglican Church was later added by King Leopold I – presumably because he was a lifelong Anglican who regarded the resident Church of England clergyman in Brussels as the ‗Royal Chaplain‘! The provision authorises State funding (the traitement) for the salaries and pensions of representatives of those organisations that are recognised by law, including those that offer moral services based on a non-confessional ideology. In addition, faith communities may appoint army and prison chaplains who are paid by the State. (Torfs 2005: 15).
In 2010 the Federal Government paid €105.8 million to the recognised religious groups – which included €17.4 million to non-confessional organisations and €4.9 million to Islamic religious groups. (IRFR 2010: Belgium). Local and central government also support faith education and the construction and maintenance of religious buildings. According to the Justice Ministry, in 2009 the Federal Government paid the traitement to 2,712 Catholic priests, 118 Protestant/Evangelical ministers, 48 Orthodox priests, 12 Anglican priests, 33 rabbis, 285 lay consultants and 23 Muslim imams including clerical staff of the Muslim Executive. According to the research institute of the Inter-University Centre for Permanent Education, total outlays by all levels of government (excluding expenditure on religious education) amounted to €240.1 million in 2008. With pensions and tax waivers included, the total subsidy amounted to €320.6 million. 85 percent of all budget outlays for religion went to the Roman Catholic Church. (IRFR 2010: Belgium).
In 2009 the Justice Minister announced a financial reform to encompass both recognised and non-recognised religions and deal with anomalies regarding salaries, retirement age and retirement pay for ministers of the faiths that receive Government support. A working group would report on the matter by I October 2010 but, at the time of writing, no further information is available on the issue. At 4
the same time, the Government agreed to finance more parish assistants for the Roman Catholic Church to help compensate for the dwindling number of priests. (IRFR 2009: Belgium).
Since July 2001, the regional governments rather than the Government of Belgium have been responsible for the “material organisation” of recognised religions. (Torfs 2005: 11).