Although Ukrainian legislation does not distinguish between the religious majority and the minority, there is still a human factor, - expert opinion
According to Maksym Vasin, the Law of Ukraine "On Freedom of Conscience and Religious Organizations" has not been significantly revised since 1991 (with the exception of changing the procedure for registering religious organizations as legal entities in 2019) and needs to be improved in the context of the overall development of Ukrainian legislation and the transformation of the model of state-church relations towards greater cooperation.
In addition, many practical issues remain within the competence of local self-government bodies, whose decisions often reflect the interests of the religious majority. Given all that, it is at the local level that religious minorities may experience difficulties in exercising their rights to the full and may not always find support from local authorities in comparison with representatives of the religious majority.
Equality of all citizens before the law, regardless of their religious affiliation, is enshrined in the Constitution of Ukraine (Articles 21 and 24), as well as in the laws of Ukraine "On Freedom of Conscience and Religious Organizations" and "On the Principles of Preventing and Countering Discrimination in Ukraine". All of them also guarantee the right to freedom of religion and criminal liability for restrictions on such a right and discrimination on religious grounds.
Despite this, there may be difficulties for communities of believers from among the smaller religious ones:
- first, because of the human factor, when individual officials put forward increased demands on them;
- secondly, through certain legislative provisions that restrict the constitutional rights of religious citizens in their content or create grounds for discrimination against them – for example, in the sphere of implementing the constitutional right to replace the performance of military duty with alternative (non-military) service if the performance of military duty contradicts the religious beliefs of a citizen;
- third, in some cases, state or local authorities are objectively unable to provide the same amount of opportunities for all religious organizations: both for the faiths of the religious majority and for religious minorities. This applies to the same rights to rent and purchase premises or land plots, the inability to ensure the appointment of military priests (chaplains) in the Armed Forces of Ukraine and other military formations of representatives of all religions and confessions, the lack of providing military personnel, employees and patients of medical institutions, staff and prisoners in penitentiary institutions with the opportunity to eat in accordance with their religious beliefs etc.
The process of obtaining state registration for certain religious organizations is also often a complex process. Accordingly, the only way for such communities to practice their faith remains to operate without the status of a legal entity.
This, in turn, makes it impossible for such organizations to acquire ownership of property, enjoy the special legal status that registered non-profit religious organizations have, develop their own religious network and hierarchical structure of a religious association of their confessional direction, and defend their rights in court when, for example, it is a matter of property issues.
In accordance with these comments, Maksym Vasin provided several recommendations as to the necessary changes in legislation that may apply not only to religious minorities.
1. Develop and adopt comprehensive amendments to the procedure for state registration of religious organizations with the status of a legal entity and the procedure for making changes to information about them in the Unified State Register of legal entities, individual entrepreneurs and public formations.
2. Develop and adopt comprehensive amendments to the law of Ukraine "on alternative (non-military) service".
3. Develop and adopt amendments to the Land Code of Ukraine.
4. Work out the issue of providing military personnel, employees and patients of medical institutions, staff and prisoners in penitentiary institutions with the opportunity to eat in accordance with their religious beliefs (vegetarian, kosher, halal menu).
5. Pay attention to the issue of religious clothing and headdresses when developing requirements for the appearance of representatives of different professions, in order to remove barriers to access to these types of professional activities of representatives of religious minorities as much as possible.
For more information – read the full version of the briefing note.