Non-profit status of religious organizations discussed in Kyiv
On Wednesday, September 20, a roundtable discussion was held dedicated to "Peculiarities of the legal status of religious organizations in the legal framework of Ukraine: non-profit statu"”. The event was organized by the Department of Foreign Relations of the Patriarchal Curia of the UGCC in Ukraine, reports RISU correspondent Dmytro Horyevoy.
Opening the meeting, the head of the Department, Olexa Petriv, noted that the purpose of the round table was to discuss changes to the Tax Code of Ukraine, which compel religious organizations to re-register their charters. According to the results of the discussion, the priest proposed to draw a joint document and send it to the legislators to take into account the position of the Churches in the decision-making.
Father Oleksa believes that the changes introduced reveal misunderstanding by the legislators of the nature of the Church and religious organizations. The purpose of the Church is not to earn money or make a profit. Different types of civic organizations need to be differentiated, the religious organizations being not identical with other associations of citizens. The priest noted that a year ago, Bill 5050 was passed, which partly removed the issue. Father Oleksa formulated his request to deputies to support Bill 6696, which at the legislative level establishes the non-profit status of religious organizations.
Archbishop Yevstraty (Zorya) presented the position of the UOC-KP. He believes that the opponents of this bill want to impose taxes on churches and religious organizations. The hierarch reminded that the practice of taxation of the Church was used under communist rule. “And what happened to the USSR?” he asked rhetorically. The hierarch also notes that when joining the Council of Europe, Ukraine committed itself to restitute the church property. However, it has not yet fulfilled this promise. The Kyiv Patriarchate understands the complexity of the issue and does not require the state to return the property, but considers it necessary to abolish the mandatory re-registration of the charters of religious organizations.
Only Yuriy Miroshnichenko was present on behalf of lawmakers from the opposition bloc. He considers the existing procedure for registration of religious organizations to be discriminatory. The MP is also confident that religious organizations are not profitable in their legal nature, and the additional indication of this also in the statute is just the evidence of discrimination. To the question of those present when it will be possible to adopt Bill 6696, the MP could not give a precise answer, because the current session was so overloaded with a bunch of bills that introduce reforms in the medical, pension and judicial sectors. However, he promised that he will discuss this with his fellow parliamentarians on September 21 during a four-day prayer breakfast to make a corresponding appeal to the Parliament’s administrative office.
The need to abolish redundant bureaucratic obstacles in the activities of religious organizations was supported by Andriy Yurash, Director of Department for Religious Affairs and Nationalities of the Ministry of Culture. He disagrees with some comments and evaluations of the speakers, but in general supports the need for adoption of Bill 6696. Moreover, the Department, together with the functioning council, suggested creating a “single-window system” for religious organizations. That is, a single-window system will be set up in state agencies, making it possible to resolve any issues and obtain documents for the activities of a religious community. At present, the draft amendments were submitted to the AUCCIRO, and then the project will be submitted to the Parliament.
The official from the Ministry of Culture has also noted that Ukraine is currently one of the most liberal legislation in the religious sector. The Law of Ukraine “On Freedom of Conscience and Religious Organizations” is a guarantor of securing rights and freedoms of citizens. Europe can only dream of those rights and freedoms that exist in Ukraine, Mr. Yurash has said, referring to religious freedom. He has also reported that as of September 1, 2017, about 40% of the communities were laready re-registered, and another 20-22% filed documents, that is, by the end of the year, more than half of the religious organizations in Ukraine will have necessary amendments in place. So, the situation is not as critical as it is being depicted.
The Department head also noted some difficulties that arise when re-registering the charters. When the community simply inserts the necessary paragraph concerning the non-profit status, this is normal and there is no misunderstanding about this. However, when the charters are submitted having the entire philosophy of state-church relations in Ukraine changed, which is contrary to the relevant Law, then, respectively, the Ministry of Education or the Regional State Administration would refuse to register such a document. Moreover, the refusal must be reasoned and motivated, which takes time from officials, and as a result, the process of re-registration of 35 thousand is developing slower.
Andriy Yurash agrees that with regard to religious communities, some discrimination is taking place, but in his opinion, it is more likely to be a positive discrimination. That is, religious organizations have more rights and freedoms than ordinary non-governmental organizations.
Archpriest Oleksandr Bakhov, Chair of the Legal Department of the UOC-MP (MP), supported the previous speakers in the need for the adoption of Bill 6696. The priest also said that his confession faced problems in registering its charters and accused the Ministry of Culture of this. As reported, a proceeding concerning the non-registration by the state body of the agencies of this denomination is ongoing involving the UOC-MP. Father Oleksandr believes that such actions will negatively affect the image of Ukraine in the international arena.
The idea of streamlining documents of religious organizations was also supported by Igor Saletsky, Chair of the Department for Nationalities and Religions of Vinnytsia Oblast State Administration. The official approves the idea of a “single window” for the execution of the relevant documents, since very often local tax authorities require communities to have unnecessary documents, the necessity of which is not provided for by law. He also emphasized that most of the problems do not concern the procedure of re-registration, but with the inclusion in the Register of non-profit organizations.
Representatives of the Roman Catholic Church in Ukraine Fr. Yustyn (Mishchenko) and Marina Pyankova regretted that the Ministry of Culture and the RSA did not register the charters if they had outlined the structure of the denomination. Officials refer to the Civil Code, which states that a legal entity (and each religious organization is a legal entity) cannot be deprived of the right to own real estate. Representatives of the Church appeal to the Household Code, which specifies the right of religious organizations to have their own hierarchical structure.
Already at the end of the round table, on the sidelines, the parties argued about these issues. It should be noted here that the most specific law (Article 8) recognizes the hierarchical structure, which consists in canonical and organizational subordination, but not in property matters.
Lawyer of the Spiritual Administration of Muslims of Ukraine Tetyana Khomchenko urged everyone to act more resolutely, not stopping only on public statements. Mrs. Tatiana suggested issuing more appeals, petitions, documents to the authorities, and not limited to declaring their own position.
Maxym Vasin, Executive Director of the Institute of Religious Freedom, has reminded the audience that the problem is not only the non-profit status, but also the compulsory notarization of the documents of religious organizations. He has stressed the need to pass Bill 6642, which aims to abolish this provision, which will help religious communities to simplify the re-registration procedure. It is now a three-component process: registration with the Ministry of Education or the Regional State Administration, the state registrar and notary certification. He suggests that Parliament simplifies these all procedures not at the level of charters, but at the level of law, having prescribed in the law special conditions for religious communities, so that the latter did not have to undergo a re-registration procedure at all. Since it is not beneficial to the State itself, as it is very expensive, time-consuming and difficult. The expert suggests that if the state fails to do this, then a part of the communities may refuse registration at all, and then the state will not be able to know how many religious communities it has, since some of them will be in the shadow.
In the near future, the participants of the round table are planning to draw a joint statement to the MPs asking them to consider the aforementioned bills to facilitate the functioning of religious organizations.