Right to practice religion

You have the right to practice your religion whilst you are in prison. This means that you should be allowed to perform the essential rituals and practices prescribed by your religion, which can reasonably be performed in prison, but respecting the order, safety and security of the prison.

Religious practices

There are many ways in which you may practice your religion in prison. These may include:

  • prayers 
  • possessing religious literature and objects
  • a special diet (such as a vegetarian diet)
  • meetings with members of the clergy of your religion
  • the attendance of religious services which are organized in prison

note Bear in mind that the prison administration is not obliged to fulfill the types of demands required by your religion that are excessively difficult to provide.

example If your religion requires a special diet which includes rare and expensive products or complicated methods of preparation, the prison administration may refuse to provide such a diet. 

In Estonia, the Internal Rules of Prisons contain the rules regarding religious practices in prison.

Your duties

Bear in mind that you should respect your fellow inmate’s religious beliefs the same way as they should respect yours. If they do not belong to any religion, you have to respect this as well.

You may not use your religious beliefs to justify a failure to respect your obligations in prison. 

example You will most likely not be allowed to use your religious beliefs as a reason for not observing hygiene requirements in prison. 

Restrictions

Your freedom to practice religion in all of the ways listed above may only be restricted if such restriction is provided under the law, is necessary to protect legitimate interests and is not excessive in your individual case. These legitimate interests may, for example, be the protection of security and good order in prison and the protection of the rights of other inmates etc. The prison administration may prohibit certain practices, but the absolute prohibition on practicing your religion will certainly violate your rights. 

example If your religious rituals include sharp objects or substances that are not allowed in prison for safety reasons, your rights will not be violated if you cannot use them.   

Restrictions must not be applied in an illegally discriminatory manner. A person should not be barred from religious practices just because they are from a less well-known religion or if there are certain prejudices against it in society. 

What human rights violation may there be?

Freedom of religion

If the prison administration unlawfully prohibits, or makes it impossible for you to practice your religion, this may violate your freedom of religion. Your rights will most likely be violated if the prison staff preclude you from performing some religious rituals, without even assessing the risks these rituals may involve, or without giving you reasons for such prohibition.  

Prohibition against discrimination or unequal treatment

If you have been prohibited from practicing your religion when other inmates have had such an opportunity, or a particular restriction is imposed on discriminatory grounds, this may lead to a violation against the prohibition against unequal treatment or discrimination. 

How to complain

If you believe that your rights have been violated, you should complain to the prison administration. Read more about how to complain.

Human Rights Guide

A European platform for human rights education