Freedom of religion in Bulgaria

The constitution provides for freedom of religion, and other laws and policies contributed to the generally free practice of religion. However, the constitution designates Eastern Orthodox Christianity as the "traditional" religion, exempting it from having to register in court as required for all other religious groups.

The government generally respected the religious freedom of registered religious groups. There were some concerns that the government did not proactively intervene to prevent societal abuses. There also were continuing reports of intolerance from police and local authorities during the reporting period.

There were continued reports of societal abuses or discrimination based on religious affiliation, belief, or practice. Discrimination, harassment, and general public intolerance of some religious groups remained an intermittent problem. There was an increasing number of anti-Semitic incidents and vandalism against mosques.

Religious demography

The country has an area of 42,855 square miles (110,990 km2) square miles and a population of 7 million. Eighty-five percent of the population identifies itself as Orthodox Christian. Orthodox Christianity, Hanafi Sunni Islam, Judaism, and Catholicism are generally understood as holding a historical place in the country's culture. Muslims comprise the largest minority, estimated at 13 percent. Groups that constitute less than 5 percent of the population include Catholics, Armenian Christians, Jews, evangelical Protestants, and others. There are 107 registered religious groups in addition to the Bulgarian Orthodox Church (BOC).

Some religious minorities are concentrated geographically. The Rhodope Mountains (along the country's southern border with Greece) are home to many Muslims, including ethnic Turks, Roma, and "Pomaks" (descendants of Slavic Bulgarians who converted to Islam under Ottoman rule). Ethnic Turkish and Roma Muslims also live in large numbers in the northeast of the country and along the Black Sea coast. More than half of the country's Roman Catholics are located in the region around Plovdiv. The majority of the country's small Jewish community lives in Sofia, Rousse, and along the Black Sea coast. Protestants are more widely dispersed throughout the country. Areas with large Roma populations tend to have some of the highest percentages of Protestants.

According to a 2005 report of the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences, only 50 percent of the six million citizens who identify themselves as Orthodox Christians participate in formal religious services. The same survey found that 90 percent of the country's estimated 70,000 Catholics regularly engage in public worship. Approximately 30 percent of Catholics belong to the Eastern Rite Uniate Church. The majority of Muslims, estimated to number 750,000, are Sunni; 50,000 are classified as Shi'a. The Jewish community is estimated at 3,500 and evangelical Protestants at 50,000. The report also noted that more than 100,000 citizens practice "nontraditional" beliefs. (Orthodox Christianity, Hanafi Sunni Islam, Judaism, and Catholicism are generally understood to be "traditional" faiths.) Forty percent of these "nontraditional" practitioners are estimated to be Roma.

Statistics reported by the Council of Ministers Religious Confessions Directorate reported slightly different figures, listing nearly 1 million Muslims and 150,000 evangelical Protestants, as well as 20,000 to 30,000 Armenian Christians and approximately 3,000 Jews.