What Changes in the Freedom of Conscience May Follow the President’s Liquidation of the State Committee on Nationalities and Religions?
However, the newly created State Registration Service of Ukraine will now register religious organizations.
Control over spheres of international relations and the protection of national minorities of Ukraine was also transferred from the State Committee on Nationalities and Religions to the Ministry of Culture. Mykhailo Kulyniak, who headed the Ministry of Culture and Tourism of Ukraine until it underwent its transformation, was elected by the president to head the new ministry.
Among other things, President Yanukovych entrusted the government “to decide in accordance to the law matters regarding the liquidation of the National Expert Commission of Ukraine on Matters of Public Moral.” The duties of the mentioned Commission are stipulated in Law of Ukraine “On the Protection of Public Moral.”
The mentioned changes are part of the president’s administrative reforms, which are meant to optimize the systems of state governance and costs in maintaining state institutions. However, it is important to look at how these changes may affect the religious situation, the activity of the church and believers in the context of the current legislation in Ukraine.
Article 30 of the Law of Ukraine “On Freedom of Conscience and Religious Organizations” foresees the duties of the state body of Ukraine in religious affairs. The law defines that the main task of this body is the state policy of religion and churches.
In addition, according to the law, the state body in religious affairs assumes the following duties:
- at the request of religious organizations, promotes agreement with state agencies and provides necessary assistance in matters requiring action by these agencies;
- promotes understanding and tolerance between religious organizations of difference denominations;
- registers the statutes (regulations) of religious centers, departments, monasteries, religious brotherhoods, missions and spiritual educational institutions;
- provides advice to state agencies in application of legislation on freedom of conscience and religious organizations;
- provides contact and coordination with appropriate agencies of other states;
- facilitates the participation of religious organizations in international religious movements, forums, business contacts with international religious centers and foreign religious organizations;
- provides religious expertise with representatives of religious organizations and experts in religious affairs.
All the mentioned duties that were carried out by the State Committee on Nationalities and Religions will now be executed by the Ministry of Culture of Ukraine, except for registering statutes (regulations) of religious organizations, which according to the presidential decree will be fulfilled by the State Registration Service of Ukraine along with the registration of civil and charitable organizations.
At the same time, under Article 14 of the law, registration of statutes (regulations) of religious organizations is under the control of the state body in matters of religion, oblast, Kyiv and Sevastopol city state administrations, and in the Republic of Crimea, the Government of the Republic of Crimea.
Thus Decree No. 1085/2010 contradicts the current Law of Ukraine “On Freedom of Conscience and Religious Organizations,” namely in the part of about transferring the duty in registering statutes (regulations) of religious organizations to the State Registration Service of Ukraine. This, in turn, may lead to amendments to this law that have not been properly worked on and that lack coordination with the religious community.
However, the All-Ukrainian Council of Churches and Religious Organizations and other interdenominational unions have repeatedly fought against making any changes to the Law on the Freedom of Conscience and Religious Organizations. In their view, the legislative process in the present context may restrict religious freedom in Ukraine.
It should be noted that the central bodies of executive power that are liquidated or reorganized according to presidential decree will continue to fulfill their duties until the administrative reforms are completed. Furthermore, the Cabinet of Ministries of Ukraine has two months to rework the project on regulations of the reorganized central bodies of executive power and to submit proposals for amending acts of the legislation.