Lebanon’s population is estimated to include just over 4 million Lebanese nationals, an estimated 450,000 Palestinian refugees, more than 1,017,000 registered Syrian refugees (September 2016) and an unknown number of unregistered Syrian refugees. There are 18 officially recognised religious groups, of which 12 are Christian. The ethnic and religious balance of the population is a sensitive issue and no official census has been conducted since 1932, so there is no official data on the relative percentages of the different groups. It is estimated that Christians constitute 25%-39% of Lebanese nationals within Lebanon (the Lebanese diaspora, larger than the population within Lebanon, includes a greater percentage of Christians). Registered Christian churches are Catholic (Maronite, Chaldean, Greek, Latin, Armenian and Syriac), Greek Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox (Armenian Apostolic, Syriac and Coptic), Syriac Church of the East and Protestant.
Lebanon’s constitution affirms the principle of non-discrimination, requires that the State respects all religions and creeds, and guarantees the free exercise of religious rites provided that public order is not disturbed. The constitution provides for the proportionate distribution of political power among recognised groups according to a system which provides equal representation for Christian and Muslim communities. Each recognised religious group administers its own court system with jurisdiction over family law matters. Citizens may change their official religious registration to any of the 18 recognised religions by applying to the head of the religious group they wish to join. In February 2009 the Interior Minister granted all Lebanese citizens the right to remove references to their religion on Civil Registry Records, though human rights groups continue to call for a civil personal status code to replace the current confessional-based system under which inter-confessional marriages cannot be conducted in Lebanon (though are recognised if conducted abroad).
Lebanon acceded to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) on 3rd November 1972. The ICCPR upholds the right to freedom of religion, including the right to hold a religion of one’s choice and the right to manifest that religion (Article 18). It also upholds the rights of minorities and the principle of non-discrimination. Lebanon’s accession to the ICCPR was made without reservation.
Christians generally enjoy good standing in society and a high degree of religious freedom. Some discern growing political pressure against Christian communities, which reflects the demographic trend whereby Christians constitute a diminishing proportion of Lebanon’s population. There is also concern about greater vulnerability to extremist groups, especially through spill-over of the Syrian conflict into Lebanon. Within Christian communities, some who join Evangelical churches from Catholic or Orthodox churches are reluctant to change their religious registration on their identity cards for fear of harassment from their families. There is typically stronger family and societal pressure against those who choose to leave Islam, in extreme cases leading to violent responses from family members.