Ukrainian Churches Oppose Amendments To Freedom Of Conscience Law
The bill “On the Amendments to the Law on Freedom of Conscience and Religious Organizations,” which was submitted to the Ukrainian Parliament by the Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine, was the subject of a round-table discussion on 9 October 2002. Representatives of the Ukrainian Orthodox churches of the Kyivan and Moscow Patriarchates, the Ukrainian Greek and Roman Catholic churches, the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church and the Ukrainian Evangelical Church, as well as representatives of the public discussed the bill. The participants of the discussion reached the conclusion that several provisions of this bill do not meet international legal norms and also restrict existing religious rights and freedoms. They agreed that the bill should be returned to the Cabinet for further improvement.
The government submitted a bill “which does not conform to the spirit of democracy,” said Volodymyr Stretovych, national deputy of Ukraine and head of the “Christian People’s Union” party. The resolution passed at the meeting states that, according to article 15 of the bill, the amount of founding members necessary to register the statutes of a religious organization will increase, compared to the current law “On Freedom of Conscience and Religious Organizations,” from 10 to 25. “Even though the bill allows religious communities to function without registration, the above provision will seriously complicate the existence of small religious communities, since they will be stripped of their right to rent buildings for worship, land areas for construction, and so on,” says the resolution. In addition, the authors of the resolution claim that the bill “is inconsistent and has many controversial points, which might lead to problems during its implementation.” In particular, in their estimation articles 1, 8, and 9 contain ambiguous definitions of such notions as church, religious organization, religious community and religion. It was also pointed out that the Cabinet of Ministers did not take into account the proposals and remarks made by a working group at the National Committee on Religious Matters, which consisted of representatives of Ukrainian religious organizations. “Therefore, participants of the round-table discussion consider that, if it is passed, this bill will limit the right of every person to freedom of conscience and religion in Ukraine. It will aggravate the situation in the religious sphere and give respective state bodies and officials additional opportunities to interfere in the legal activities of religious organizations, which is extremely dangerous,” states the resolution.