Criticism of changes in Ukrainian law on church jurisdiction


Verkhovna Rada adopted draft No. 4128-D without discussion with churches

Institute of Religious Liberty, 17 January 2019


The Ukrainian parliament hastily adopted draft law No. 4128-D without considering it on second reading, ignoring numerous comments by churches and experts.


At its session on 17 January, the Verkhovna Rada decided to adopt a new version of draft law No. 4128-D immediately as law, without a second reading, and as a result it introduced a new procedure for registration of religious organizations without conducting any consultations with them, the Institute of Religious Liberty reports.


On the third attempt, 229 deputies voted for the draft law, specifically, 86 from the Bloc of Petro Poroshenko fraction, 65 from the People's Front, 17 from the Radical Party fraction, 16 from the Self-Help fraction, 9 from the Fatherland fraction, and 5 from the People's Will group. At the same time, the Opposition Bloc fraction and the Regeneration Party group did not support this initiative.


The adopted law makes additions to article 8, 14, and 18 of the Ukrainian law "On freedom of conscience and religious organizations," introducing new requirements for registration and reregistration of religious organizations, and also creating a "single window" for submission of documents.


One of the greatest problems of the adopted law is the introduction of a new reregistration of religious organizations with the requirement of submitting lists of all believers who participated in a general meeting of the religious community. This is connected with the rule of the adopted law about the necessity of bringing the charters of all religious communities into compliance with the new law within one year from the moment of its taking effect. At the same time, such reregistration will cost believers considerable expense since each signature on the new version of the charter and on the protocol of the general meeting of the religious organization must be notarized for a fee.


On the eve of voting, a list of substantive comments on draft law No. 4128-R was sent to the chairman of the Verkhovna Rada, the leadership of the relevant committee, and the parliamentary fractions, but the members of parliament ignored it. Appeals calling for revising the law on second reading were sent to the Verkhovna Rada by the chairman of the board of the Institute of Religious Liberty, Alexander Zaets, the president of the Association of Jewish Religious Organization of Ukraine, the chief rabbi of Kiev and Ukraine, the chairman of the All-Ukrainian Council of Churches and Religious Organization, Yakov Dov Blaikh, and other churches and religious organizations.


It is significant that during an address from the rostrum of parliament, the chairman of the Committee on Affairs of Culture and Spirituality, Nikolai Kniazhitsky, declared that appeals with comments on draft No. 4128-D were allegedly fakes and contain baseless criticism of the proposed changes.


It should be noted that a revised version of draft law No. 4128-D appeared on the website of the Verkhovna Rada only the night before the day of voting (authors N. Kniazhitsky, I. Podoliak, V. Elensky). Despite this, back before the publication of the text of the draft law, the committee considered it at a session on Wednesday and recommended to parliament that it be adopted immediately as law, without a second reading and without conducting consultations with the religious community and experts.


Among the principal 16 substantive comments on the adopted law, the following should be emphasized:


* The provision of the law that "a decision concerning change of jurisdiction and the introduction of corresponding changes into the charter are made by no fewer than two-thirds of the number of members of the religious community" will be impossible to implement in practice in those religious communities that do not have registered membership and in which the functions of general meetings are fulfilled by parish councils or other similar bodies;


* The requirement of the law that "a decision regarding the change of jurisdiction and the introduction of corresponding changes into the charter are certified by the signatures of members of the respective religious community attending such general meetings" will be impossible to implement in practice in numerous religious communities with dozens, hundreds, or thousands of members, inasmuch as their signatures will have to be certified by notary, which presupposes the payment of a fee for certifying each signature;


* The requirement of the law to submit for registration along with the new version of the charter of a religious community also a list of the participants of the general meeting is, on one hand, an unjustified interference of the state in the internal affairs of a religious community and a violation of the right of believers to confidentiality regarding their religious views and, on the other hand, an extremely aggravating condition for maintaining the status of a legal entity;


* The requirement, without an alternative, for monasteries, religious brotherhoods, missions, and ecclesiastical academic institution to submit documents confirming the right of ownership or use of premises by the address indicating their location is an unjustified aggravating impediment for their religious activity;


* The requirement of the draft law to submit "an original or properly certified copy of the version of the charter in effect on the date of the submission of document" cannot be fulfilled by those religious organizations whose charters were published by the state registration body in an electronic version on the website of the Ministry of Justice without presenting a certified original.


After the voting, a number of people's deputies registered in parliament a draft of resolution No. 4128-D-P regarding repeal of the decision of the Verkhovna Rada adopting draft law No. 4128-D as a whole as law. (tr. by PDS, posted 21 January 2019)

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