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Moldovan Draft Religion Law Threatens Fundamental Rights

"Represent[s] a Serious Setback for Religious Freedom in Moldova"

 

Contact: Kevin Fahey, Institute on Religion and Public Policy, 202-835-8760, Fahey@religionandpolicy.org

 

WASHINGTON, Feb. 5 /Christian Newswire/ -- The Expert Committee on Legislation and Implementation of the Institute on Religion and Public Policy today sent a letter to Marian Lupu, Chairman of the Parliament of the Republic Moldova, "express[ing] our concern regarding certain provisions in the draft Law on Religious Cults ('Religion Law').

 

In the letter, Institute President Joseph K. Grieboski and Expert Committee Chair William C. Walsh point out a number of serious violations of fundamental rights under the current draft of the law.

 

Some of the provisions in the draft Religion Law are too broad and vague, thereby vesting unbridled discretion in officials on fundamental matters relating to religious freedom. For example, Article 6 part 2 of the draft Law, which prohibits individuals from belonging to more than one religious denomination simultaneously, is problematic under international human rights standards. Freedom of thought, conscience and religion includes the freedom to choose and to change one's religion without coercion by the State or by religious institutions into which one was born or received or which one joined.

 

The letter points out, "International instruments mandate that the State may only impose limitations on manifestations of religion or belief, not on an individual's rights within the forum internum to have or adopt a religion. The 'core' right to hold beliefs or opinions is 'untouchable': no one may be punished or subjected to adverse treatment merely on the basis that he or she holds particular (religious or other) opinions or beliefs, or on the basis of mere membership in a religious organization.   Indeed, no one may be forced to reveal his or her beliefs.  Only acts arising out of one's beliefs ( i.e. only "manifestations" of beliefs) may be subjected to limitations." 

 

"Article 14 of the draft Law requires registered religious denominations that have ecclesiastic institutions of justice to submit the regulations of these institutions for approval by the State," the letter goes on to point out. "Such a provision will inevitably entangle the State in religious matters outside of the government's proper sphere."

 

"Article 28 of the draft Law requires each religious denomination to "have a central organ which will represent it." This requirement may violate the congregational structuring of a religious organization that reflects key elements of its belief that must be respected," as the European Court noted in Metropolitan Church of Bessarabia v. Moldova.

 

"Articles 25 and 26 of the draft Law allow the Ministry of Justice to request that a court suspend and liquidate the activities of registered religious denominations or of their component parts carrying out activities which the Ministry claims derogates from statutory purposes or contravene the law, including this legislation. Likewise, Article 21 allows the Ministry of Justice to request the court to prohibit the activity of the component part of the respective religious denomination if documents submitted by the component part do not correspond to the provisions of the draft Law."

 

Grieboski and Walsh emphasized that, "[t]he law's allowance for such harsh remedies as suspension, liquidation and prohibition of activities for relatively minor deficiencies represents an unnecessary infringement on the right of religious denominations and religious organizations to freedom of religion."

 

The letter concluded, "As Chairman of the Parliament, you must ensure that Moldova's laws promote and uphold religious freedom rather than discriminate against minority religious groups. We respectfully urge the further consideration of the draft Religion Law, including amendment of provisions violating international norms and limiting freedom of religion."

 

Copies of the letter are available at the Institute's website at www.religionandpolicy.org.