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Concerns expressed over amendments proposed to the Law on Freedom of Conscience

07.07.16

The religious community in Ukraine have criticized some aspects of amendments proposed to the Law on Freedom of Conscience and Religious Organizations in draft law No. 4128.  Particular concern was express about the changes to how religious communities are to change their subordination

The Institute for Religious Freedom reports that the representatives of different faiths were addressed by Andriy Yurash, Director of the Department for Religions and Nationalities to the Minister of Culture.  He asserted that the draft Law met the OSCE and Venice Commission standards of religious freedom, however the religious representatives provided a number of critical comments to this initiative.

Archpriest Mykolai Danylevych, Deputy Chair of the Department for External Church Relations of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriarchate), believes that the proposed amendments do not simplify the transition of Orthodox communities from one jurisdiction to another, but on the contrary, “will provoke more conflicts.”

Secretary of the Holy Synod of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Kyiv Patriarchate, Archbishop Yevstratii (Zorya) believes that discussion of this bill on the merits will increasingly improve its content. While the original wording raised concerns, the wording of the relevant Committee can be supported. He proposed to hold committee hearings in Parliament, which invited all interested persons to take account of all views and improve the proposed initiative.

Fr. Oleksa Petriv, mitered archpriest of the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church says that the best way to settle the problems of changing affiliation by religious communities will be to sum up the current lawsuits by the Supreme Court of Ukraine. He said the wording of the Committee is much better than the original text. However, he expressed concerns to decision-making procedure to change the religious community’s subordination to another religious center, because this issue is too important to make decisions by simple majority.

According to Ihor Rudzik, secretary of the Ukrainian Lutheran Church, the most problematic in draft Law # 4128 is an innovation regarding the "self-identification" of the person as the basis for his/her recognition of a member of a religious community with the right to voting.

This approach completely disregards internal guidelines of the evangelical churches, which provide certain membership criteria, including baptism and confirmation.

These concerns have been supported by Dr. of Law Gennadii Bilorytskyi, legal counsel to Chief Rabbi of Kyiv and Ukraine. According to him, the draft Law # 4128 will make possible the ordinary raiding by criminals who will be able to create pseudo religious communities for acquisition of buildings or lands of real religious communities.

According to him, the legitimacy of statutory procedures and existing governing bodies of religious communities are questioned, and after that the criminals will have opportunity to take advantage of the so called "self-identification" with the religious community of any outman. Therefore, the proposed changes indicate the state intervention into internal self-regulation of every religious community.

“It will annihilate religious freedom in Ukraine. No religious community will remain unaffected by these legislative changes, ” concluded the Ukrainian Jewish Union representative.

Other religious figures did not yet express their attitude to this legislative initiative.

As IRF reported, the draft Law # 4128 was elaborated by the Expert Council under the Ministry of Culture of Ukraine and submitted to the Parliament by a group of MPs (Yelensky, Voytsehovska, Kyshkar etc.) without consulting with the Ukrainian Council of Churches and Religious Organizations.

On 1 June 2016, the Parliamentary Committee on Culture and Spirituality considered the draft Law and decided to recommend that Parliament adopt it at first reading in the version proposed by the Committee. However, the wording proposed by the Committee has not been published on the Parliament website for a month.

Besides this the Ukrainian Council of Churches and religious organizations has criticized the adopted amendments to the Tax Code of Ukraine, which require for mandatory re-registration of the statutes of all non-profit organizations till the end of 2016. Otherwise all of them, including religious organizations, should pay taxes from all donations like commercial enterprises.