Church-related bills Nos. 4128 and 4511: main points

17.05.2017, 11:39

Yesterday the UOC (MP) was a newsmaker. This denomination launched an extensive information campaign against the two church-related laws, which are scheduled to be considered on Thursday, May 18 (update, May 18: MP didnt have time to debate on law). The believers collected signatures against legislative initiatives, the bishops also gathered the faithful to picket the Parliament. We tried to clarify all the twists and turns of the discussed documents, what they actually said and why the church disliked them.

Explains RISU correspondent Dmytro Horyevoy.

So let's start with Bill 4128 by MP Victor Yelenskyy.

This draft law complements the existing law “On freedom of conscience and religious organizations” with a clause on simplifying the procedure of amendment or reregistration of the charters of religious communities. Thus, the authors propose that the destiny of a parish should be decided by the community of believers themselves, and not the diocese or metropolis leaders. So, it will be possible to make changes on the consent of the majority of the members of the community at parish meetings. The logical question arises then who is a member of such community, because in most parishes there is no fixed membership. The bill specifies that membership is established through self-identification and participation in the religious life of the community.

The main critics of the bill, and these are, in particular, senior bishops of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, the Russian Orthodox Church and representatives of the Opposition Bloc, claim that under this bill any strangers might come to the parish and change the jurisdiction of the community by voting at a parish meeting. However, in principle this cannot happen, because, in order to participate in the meeting, it is necessary, according to the bill, to take part in the religious life of the community, i.e. to be a parishioner.

Moreover, in order that no disputes arose and the vote was not a sham, the Committee on Culture and Spirituality proposed an additional safeguard. Final validity of the general meeting must be recognized by the governing body of the community (the parish council, member meetings, etc.). This rules out any possibility of bringing from sides the ‘tourists’ to vote and move the community to another jurisdiction.

However, numerous negative statements to the media about this bill are more often manipulative because they focus on one point of the bill, and, unfortunately, do not analyze it completely. Metropolitan Onufriy even said that “there is a substitution of concepts and a territorial community is equated with the religious community." Although, as is evident from the text of the bill, the right to participate in the voting on any amendments is provided not according to one’s residence, and but is based on one’s participation in the religious life of the community.

Critics of this document, especially on behalf of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, are concerned that the amendments will enable transitions of parishes of the Moscow Patriarchate to the Kyiv Patriarchate, where it is required by believers. As now they have no necessary legal procedures in place. “The state has no right and will not interfere in the autonomy of a religious community and the procedure to regulate the religious membership remains at the discretion of the community. The main mechanism is that a people should not only identify themselves with the community, but also take an active part in its life. The change lies in the fact that if a majority decide to change jurisdiction, they also receive and religious property,” said Victor Yelenskyy, originator of the document.

The second bill, which caused outcry in the media, is Bill No. 4511. This document sets new terms for the operation of denominations whose centers are in the aggressor country. It introduces signing additional agreements between the state and religious organizations of such denomination. It specifically sets mandatory approval of candidates for higher church offices and the invited religious leaders from foreign government agencies. Also in cases where the community members cooperate with terrorists, the State reserves the right to terminate the activities of such a community.

This bill is criticized for excessive intervention of public authorities in the internal life of denominations. However, its purpose is to protect the national interests of Ukraine through the legislative establishment of a special status of religious organizations, the senior centers of which are located in the aggressor state, which, according to the authors of the bill, creates the possibility for authorized state bodies of Ukraine promptly identify and respond appropriately to the potential destructive impact of external factors using religious factors and impacts on society and violations of the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Ukraine.

As it was previously reported, as stated by one of the co-authors of Bill No. 4511 deputy Dmytro Tymchuk: “All we want from this Church [UOC (MP)] through the said bill - is to make it to commit not to engage in anti-Ukrainian activities in Ukraine.”