Religious Freedom in Belgium (from the 2011 International Religious Freedom Report of the US Department of State)
The constitution and other laws and policies protect religious freedom and, in practice, the government generally respected religious freedom. The government did not demonstrate a trend toward either improvement or deterioration in respect for and protection of the right to religious freedom. Muslim women in particular faced increased restrictions on head coverings, most notably in the form of a newly enacted “burqa ban.” Additionally, conditions were not optimal for groups officially designated as “sects” or “cults.” The government retained the authority to monitor religious groups. Religious and political leaders continued to call for reforms in the way religious groups are recognized and financed and to further the dialogue between recognized and non-recognized religious groups. Despite these efforts, no significant reforms have been enacted.
There were reports of societal abuses or discrimination based on religious affiliation, belief, or practice, most notably of Muslims in the labor and housing markets, and in their derogatory or negative portrayal in the news and popular media. Eighty-four percent of all cases of religious discrimination reported to the authorities involved discrimination against Muslims. There is likewise growing societal acceptance of limitations on the wearing of headscarves in certain public sector jobs involving contact with the public and in schools.
The U.S. government actively engaged government officials, civil society, and religious groups in an effort to monitor developments and raise awareness about the U.S. government’s views on the most significant questions of religious freedom in the country, particularly with respect to discrimination against Muslims.
Section I. Religious Demography
The government does not collect or publish statistics on religious affiliation.
In a 2011 report, the King Baudouin Foundation said the religious affiliations of the population were as follows: 50 percent Roman Catholic, 32 percent no affiliation, 9.2 percent atheist, 5 percent Muslim, 2.5 percent other Christian, 0.4 percent Jewish, and 0.3 percent Buddhist.
According to a 2007 report, larger non-recognized religious groups who do not receive funds from the state include Jehovah’s Witnesses with 23,701 baptized and 50,000 “churchgoers”; The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons) with 4,000 members; Seventh-day Adventists with 2,000; Hindus with 5,000; Sikhs with 3,000; Hare Krishnas with 1,500; and the Church of Scientology with 200 to 300 members. Experts consider these statistics to be accurate still.
Belgium became independent from the Netherlands in 1830; it was occupied by Germany during World Wars I and II. The country prospered in the past half century as a modern, technologically advanced European state and member of NATO and the EU. Tensions between the Dutch-speaking Flemings of the north and the French-speaking Walloons of the south have led in recent years to constitutional amendments granting these regions formal recognition and autonomy.
This modern, open, and private-enterprise-based economy has capitalized on its central geographic location, highly developed transport network, and diversified industrial and commercial base. Industry is concentrated mainly in the more heavily-populated region of Flanders in the north. With few natural resources, Belgium imports substantial quantities of raw materials and exports a large volume of manufactures, making its economy vulnerable to volatility in world markets, yet also able to benefit from them. Roughly three-quarters of Belgium’s trade is with other EU countries, and Belgium has benefited most from its proximity to Germany. In 2010 Belgian GDP grew by 2.1%, the unemployment rate rose slightly, and the government reduced the budget deficit, which had worsened in 2008 and 2009 because of large-scale bail-outs in the financial sector. Belgium’s budget deficit decreased from 6% of GDP to 4.8% in 2010, while public debt was just under 100% of GDP. Belgian banks were severely affected by the international financial crisis with three major banks receiving capital injections from the government. An ageing population and rising social expenditures are mid- to long-term challenges to public finances.