Ukrainian Orthodox seek international support against proposed law


RIA Novosti, 29 April 2016


The chairman of the Department of External Church Relations (OVTsS) of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow patriarchate (UPTsMP), Metropolitan of Luhansk and Alchevsk Mitrofan, sent letters to European rights advocacy international organizations, to the representations of leading rights advocacy organizations that have offices in Ukraine, and to the embassies of major countries of the European Union in Kiev regarding a draft law that was registered in the Verkhovna Rada about the status of religious organizations.


Position of the church


The Information and Education Department of the UPTs reports that in his letters he outlines the position of the UPTs regarding the draft law "On the special status of religious organizations whose administrative centers are located in a state that is recognized by the Ukrainian Verkhovna Rada as an aggressor state," which was registered in the Verkhovna Rada. In the letters, Metropolitan Mitrofan points out in particular that this draft law substantially restricts the right to freedom of worldview and religious confession, contains signs of discrimination, and divides citizens of Ukraine on the basis of religious identity. Adoption of this draft law may lead to new conflicts in the public and religious environment of our country and will also negatively impact the international image of Ukraine.


Commenting on this legislative initiative, the OVTsS of the UPTs noted that on 23 April, during a meeting of members of the All-Ukrainian Council of Churches and Religious Organizations with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, representatives of the principal confessions of Ukraine presented to the head of state a request that all changes introduced into legislation in the sphere of freedom of conscience and religious confession will be made exclusively on the condition of preliminary consultations and discussions with the religious community. The president responded positively to this request and promised to give pertinent instructions to competent bodies. As the UPTs noted, that draft law also should go through discussion and be coordinated with the confessions that are members of the All-Ukrainian Council of Churches and Religious Organizations.


The church mentioned that attempts at such intervention of representatives of the government in church affairs, specifically to liquidate, stop activity, or rescind registration have already occurred in the recent past. In particular, in early 2014 during the events of the Maidan, representatives of the previous government, specifically the Ministry of Culture of Ukraine, threatened "to stop the activity" and rescind the registration of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church. Also back in late 2014 there were attempts by several representatives of the deputy corps to put pressure on our church with the formulation "religious organization whose administrative center is located outside the borders of Ukraine." At the time, the Chief Scientific Expert Administration of the apparatus of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine in its conclusion called attention to the fact that such steps are anticonstitutional and violate international norms relative to the interference of the state in affairs of religious organizations.


"We are now witnesses of attempts to continue this policy, when they wish to provide the Ukrainian Orthodox Church 'special status,' about which the initiators of the draft law have already spoken publicly, despite the fact that the text of the draft law does not give the name of the confession," the communication notes.


Controversial bill


The draft law "On the special status of religious organizations whose administrative centers are located in a state which has been recognized by the Verkhovna Rada as an aggressor state" has been registered in the Verkhovna Rada. The Ukrainian parliament has previously recognized Russia as an aggressor state by its decision. According to the draft of the document, such religious organizations will have to conclude an agreement regarding "the special status of these organizations" within a three-month period.


These agreements will include the obligation to respect the sovereignty, territorial integrity, and laws of Ukraine and also respect other religious organizations. On its part, the government in this agreement will guarantee the rights and unhindered activity of religious organizations within the bounds of existing legislation. The agreement will have to be concluded with a central agency of the executive branch, which implements government policy in the sphere of religion. According to the regulations of the Ministry of Culture of Ukraine, such policy is carried out by that agency.


In addition, in accordance with the draft law, the appointment of the central and regional administrations of such religious organizations will proceed by coordination of the respective candidacies with the central agency of the executive branch that implements state policy in the sphere of religion. Also such organizations must coordinate with the authorities an invitation to Ukraine of foreign religious leaders for performing jurisprudential activity. The draft law also gives the state the right to stop the activity of such a religious organization in the event of violation by it of Ukrainian legislation or establishment of the fact "of cooperation with representatives of militant terroristic groupings." (tr. by PDS, posted 29 April 2016)

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