Freedom of Religion in Israel

Israel's legal system provides for freedom for all religious groups.

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Adapted with permission from the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

The question as to whether freedom of religion in all its aspects is adequately protected in any society can be answered by a careful examination of the relevant doctrines and practices of its legal system. There are significant sources for the protection of religious liberty in Israeli law. There have also been various efforts to incorporate religious norms or restrictions that reflect religious sources into the law of the land and an evaluation of these is part of any investigation of Israel's adherence to principles of freedom of conscience and religion. 

Religious Liberty

The Palestine Mandate of 1922 [in which Britain controlled the area that is now considered Israel proper, territories under the Palestinian Authority, and Jordan] contained a number of provisions ensuring freedom of religion and conscience and protection of holy places, as well as prohibiting discrimination on religious grounds. Further, the Palestine Order in Council of that same year provided that "all persons ... shall enjoy full liberty of conscience and the free exercise of their forms of worship, subject only to the maintenance of public order and morals." It also lays down that "no ordinance shall be promulgated which shall restrict complete freedom of conscience and the free exercise of all forms of worship." These provisions of the Mandate and of the Palestine Orders in Councils have been recognized in the Israeli legal system and are instructive of Israeli policy in safeguarding freedom of conscience and religion. 

dome of the rock

Dome of the Rock
in Jerusalem

Israel's Declaration of Independence, promulgated at the termination of the British Mandate in 1948, is another legal source that guarantees freedom of religion and conscience, and equality of social and political rights irrespective of religion. Although the Declaration itself does not confer any legally enforceable rights, the High Court has held that "it provides a pattern of life for citizens of the State and requires every State authority to be guided by its principles."

Freedom of Worship and Conscience

To support the fundamental existence of the right of freedom of conscience and religion, the courts have also relied on the fact that Israel is a democratic and enlightened state. In one significant court decision, Justice Moshe Landau stated: 

"The freedom of conscience and worship is one of the individual's liberties assured in every enlightened democratic regime." In dealing with questions of religious freedom, as well as other human rights, the courts have also resorted to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Political and Civil Rights that reflect "the basic principles of equality, freedom and justice which are the heritage of all modern enlightened states." In doing so, the courts have required that two conditions be met: that the principle in question is common to all enlightened countries, and that no contrary domestic law exists. In this regard, Justice Haim Cohn has said: 

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Prof. Shimon Shetreet

Shimon Shetreet is a law professor at Hebrew University of Jerusalem and was the Minister of Religious Affairs in the Yitzhak Rabin government (1992-96).