Italy: Liguria approves 'anti-mosque' laws limiting construction of religious buildings

The Italian region of Liguria has passed a controversial set of regulations that restrict the freedom to construct new religious buildings in its territory. The laws do not specifically limit the building of mosques, but opponents have claimed the new piece of legislation unfairly targets Muslims living in the peninsula.

Islam is the only major religion that does not have official status in Italy. Local media have dubbed the proposals, put forward by the Northern League party, as "anti-mosque laws".

The regulations give greater power to regional authorities to decide the location and criteria that must be respected for the construction of religious buildings. Municipalities will be able to hold consultative referendums on whether new religious buildings can be built in their jurisdiction or not.

Critics, including member of the Cinque Stelle party and the Democratic Party (PD), said the laws were anti-constitutional, the Corriere Della Sera newspaper reported.

Marco Scajola, city planning assessor in Liguria, rejected the criticism and claimed the new legislation will put in place "clear rules, without overstepping municipalities and citizens". He was quoted by local media as saying: "Respecting the general characteristics of Liguria's landscape is a merit, not a fault."

Some analysts have pointed out the new laws might be incompatible with Liguria's municipal charter, which forbids consultative referendums for issues that involve "single individuals or specific group of people".

Similar draft laws were proposed in the Veneto and Lombardy regions. Earlier this year, the country's Constitutional Court rejected the proposed laws put forward in Lombardy, claiming they were unconstitutional.

The bill tried to subject those who wanted to build a place of worship for faiths not officially recognised by the state, including Islam, to an exhaustive list of restrictions.

However, the court ruled regional legislators could not introduce regulations "that obstruct or compromise freedom of religion".

There are four official mosques in Italy, with the one in Rome being Europe's largest. However, Muslims in Italy – estimated to be 1.6 million – have been creating so-called "independent Islamic centres", usually in private residences or buildings rented from local authorities where they gather to pray.