Religion in Belgium

Religion in Belgium

A 2006 inquiry in Flanders, long considered more religious than the Brussels or Wallonia regions in Belgium, showed 55% of its inhabitants calling themselves religious while 36% claimed believing that God created the world. [Inquiry by 'Vepec', 'Vereniging voor Promotie en Communicatie' (Organisation for Promotion and Communication), published in Knack magazine 22 Nov2006 p.14 (The Dutch language term 'gelovig' was translated in the text as 'religious', more precisely it is a very common word for believing in particular in any kind of God in a monotheistic sense, and/or in some afterlife.] .

According to the most recent Eurobarometer Poll 2005, [cite web|url=|title=Eurobarometer on Social Values, Science and technology 2005 - page 11|author=European Union|accessdate=2007-05-05|format=PDF]

* 43% of Belgian citizens responded that "they believe there is a God".
* 29% answered that "they believe there is some sort of spirit or life-force".
* 27% answered that "they do not believe there is any sort of spirit, God, or life-force".

The precise figures are in dispute however, as it is unclear how many Belgians who say they believe in a God, can still be called Christians and how many who call themselves "Christian" but refuse the label "Catholic" have severed all links to the Roman Catholic Church, and how many of those have become deists or joined one of the several small protestant churches.

Status of recognized denominations

Roman Catholicism has traditionally been Belgium's majority religion, but by 2004, weekly Sunday church attendance was only about 4 to 8%. The second largest religion practised in Belgium is Islam (3.5%). There are small minorities of Protestants, Orthodox, Anglicans and Jews. Belgian law officially recognizes those denominations, as well as the "secular organizations" (Dutch: "vrijzinnige levensbeschouwelijke organisaties", French: "organisations laïques"). Buddhism is in the process of being recognized under the secular organization standard. Official recognition means that priests (called "counsellors" within the secular organizations) receive a state stipend, and that parents can choose any recognized denomination to provide religious education to their children if they attend an official school [cite web|url=|title=Pedagogical Centre of the Orthodox Church in Belgium, which trains religious education teachers for state and local council schools|accessdate=2008-04-10] .

After attaining autonomy from the federal state level in religious matters, the Flemish regional parliament voted a new Flemish regional decree on recognized religious denominations, installing democratically elected church councils for all recognized religious denominations and made them subject to the same administrative rules as local government bodies - with important repercussions as far as financial accounting and open government are concerned. In 2006, exceptionally, Roman Catholic church councils were still appointed by the bishops they resorted under, as the church still had not decided on the criteria for eligibility and was afraid that candidates may get elected who were merely baptized Catholics. In 2008, however, it was decided that candidates for the election of the church councils only had to prove that they were over 18 and living in the town or village served by the parish church and to state that they were Catholic, so normal elections could take place [cite web|url=|title=History of the Roman Catholic Geel Church Council since 2005 (in Dutch)|author=Kerkfabriek van Geel-het Punt|accessdate=2008-04-10] .

Hinduism and Sikhism also have growing numbers of adherents in Belgium, but are not recognized by the government.


After the Spanish military conquest of 1592, and until the re-establishment of religious freedom in 1781 by the Patent of Toleration under Joseph II of Austria, Roman Catholicism was the only religion allowed (on penalty of death) in the territories now forming Belgium. However, a small number of Protestant groups managed to survive, at Maria-Horebeke, Dour, Tournai, Eupen and Hodimont [cite web|url=|title="De Reformatie in vogelvlucht" or how Flemish protestantism retreated to the North(in Dutch)|author=Frank Rooze (inspector of protestant religious education)|accessdate=2008-04-10] .

Religion was one of the differences between the almost solidly Roman Catholic south and the majority Protestant north of the United Kingdom of the Netherlands, formed in 1815. The union broke up in 1830 when the south seceded to form the Kingdom of Belgium.

Since 1830, Roman Catholicism has also played an important role in Belgium's politics. One example is the so-called "school wars" ("guerres scolaires" in French) between the philosophically left parties (Liberals first, Liberals and Socialists later) and Catholics which took place between 1879 and 1884 and later between 1954 and 1958. Another important controversy happened in 1990 when the Roman Catholic and very religious King Baudouin I refused to officially ratify with his signature an abortion bill that had already been approved by parliament: Prime Minister Wilfried Martens was asked by the King to find a solution, which consisted of having Baudouin declared unfit to fulfill his constitutional duties as a monarch for some days, while Government ministers signed in his place [cite web|url=|title=Belgian King, Unable to Sign Abortion Law, Takes Day Off|author=New York Times, April 5, 1990|accessdate=2008-04-10]

In 2002, the then officially recognized Protestant denomination, the United Protestant Church of Belgium [cite web|url=|title=Website of the United Protestant Church of Belgium (in Dutch)|author=UPCB|accessdate=2008-04-10] , itself the result of mergers in 1839, 1969 and 1979 [cite web|url=|title=Preface to the CACPE bylaws, with the history of Protestantism in Belgium|author=ARPEE/CACPE|accessdate=2008-04-10] (consisting of around 100 member churches, usually with a Calvinist or Methodist past) and the until then unsubsidized Federal Synod of Protestant and Evangelical churches (600 member churches in 2008, but still not including all evangelical and charismatic groups outside the Catholic tradition) together formed the Administrative Council of the Protestant and Evangelical Religion (ARPEE in Dutch, CACPE in French), which is now the accepted mouthpiece of Protestantism in all three linguistic communities. Based on a 2001 survey, charismatic and evangelical associations have claimed a membership as high as 4% of the Belgian population [cite web|url=|title=An evangelical view of the religious situation in Belgium (in Dutch)|author=WEC|accessdate=2008-04-10] .

Freedom of religion

The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the Government generally respected this right in practice. However, government officials continued to have the authority to research and monitor religious groups that are not officially recognized. There were few reports of societal abuses or discrimination based on religious belief or practice. Some reports of anti-Semitic or Islamophobic acts are difficult to ascribe to a primary motivation of ethnicity or religious belief, as they are often inextricably linked. Some reports of discrimination against minority religious groups surfaced, as well.

ee also

*Buddhism in Belgium
*Hinduism in Belgium
*History of the Jews in Belgium
*Islam in Belgium
*Roman Catholicism in Belgium
*Scientology in Belgium
*Sikhism in Belgium
*History of Dutch religion
*Religion by country

*Basilica of the Sacred Heart in Koekelberg
*Holy Corner, a small Ghent ecumenic neighbourhood with four officially recognized churches


External links

* [ Eurel: sociological and legal data on religions in Europe]
* [ Website of the Roman Catholic Bishopric of Mechelen-Brussels (in Dutch and French)]
* [ Website of one of the German-speaking Roman Catholic parishes]
* [ Website of ARPEE/CACPE, which unites UPCB and the Federal Synod (French and Dutch)]
* [ Orthodox Church in Belgium (Dutch, French and Greek)]
* [ Web page with the addresses of the Anglican church in Belgium]
* [ Website of the Muslim Executive Council in Belgium (in French and Dutch, some English)]
* [ Website of the Central Jewish Consistoire in Belgium (in French, no English as of 2008-04-10)]
* [ Buddhist union of Belgium website (in Dutch and French)]
* [ Namaskar] - Hindu Association of Brussels, Belgium

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