“Freedom of Religion and National Identity: World Experience and Ukrainian Problems”
Victor Bondarenko, head of the National Committee on Religious Matters of Ukraine, delivered a report on the topical issues of legislative provisions on freedom of conscience at an international conference entitled “Freedom of Religion and National Identity: World Experience and Ukrainian Problems,” which opened in Kyiv on 21 October 2002. This was done a day before the new legislative bill “On the Amendments to the Law on Freedom of Conscience and Religious Organizations” had been submitted to the Ukrainian Parliament for consideration.
Bondarenko enumerated the problems that can be solved only if the law “On Freedom of Conscience and Religious Organizations” is improved. These problems are connected with granting the church the status of a legal entity, the introduction of a mechanism by which different churches could take turns at holding services in the same church, the expansion of the restitution of church property, and the development of religious education and control over the observance of this law. He also noted that “the time has already come for Ukrainian churches to receive the status of a legal entity.” In addition, Bondarenko denied all accusations of intentionally increasing the number of religious organizations. “Today, we are not taking any concrete steps to restrict or expand the activities of any religious organizations,” said Bondarenko. In addition, Bondarenko refused to exclude a norm according to which churches will have to take turns at holding services in the same church building that does not belong to any particular church, as for instance, St. Sophia Cathedral in Kyiv. He noted that the state should not interfere, because religious communities can reach an agreement by themselves. Bondarenko also believes that the state should provide financial support to religious communities. According to him, “all the property that has been confiscated from the church because of all sorts of juridical misunderstandings should be returned to the legitimate owners.” Concerning control over the enforcement of religious legislation, Bondarenko thinks that “it should be taken by the National Committee on Religious Matters and not by the local administrations, as is happening today.” According to Bondarenko, religious education should develop on the basis of “the consolidation of secular and religious education and the realization of the church’s moral potential among children and youth.” Among the drawbacks of the new legislative bill, Bondarenko named the absence of a mechanism for state accreditation of religious educational institutions. He promised that all the proposals submitted by religious organizations would be taken into account.