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Forum18 – Romania ‘s draft religion law, discussion of which in parliamentary committees is set to resume next week, is intended to become law by the end of 2005. As well as being concerned about the law’s three-tier system of state recognition (see F18News 6 October 2005, religious minorities have told Forum 18 News Service of their concerns about the undefined powers which the law gives the state and the privileges the law gives the highest status religious communities.

Under the new law, all 18 faiths recognised by the government as “religious denominations” will receive the highest level of status. They are: the Romanian Orthodox Church, the Serbian Orthodox diocese, the Roman Catholic Church, the Greek Catholic Church, the Old Rite Christian (Orthodox) Church, the Reformed (Protestant) Church, the Christian Evangelical Church, the Romanian Evangelical Church, the Evangelical Augustinian Church, the Lutheran Evangelical Church-Synod Presbyterian, the Unitarian Church, the Baptist Church, the Pentecostal Church, the Seventh-day Adventist Church, the Armenian Apostolic Church, Judaism, Islam, and Jehovah’s Witnesses (whose status as a denomination was confirmed after long legal battles in May 2003).

Under the draft law, only “recognised religious denominations” or “cults” have the right to provide religious education in public schools, establish their own religious schools, or receive financial support from the state. Article 13 paragraph 3 of the draft Article 13 paragraph 3 prescribes punishment only for those who obstruct the religious practice of members of the recognised denominations. Unrecognised communities enjoy no such protection.

In a bizarre proposal, only religious denominations and the lesser category of religious associations will be allowed to call themselves “church”. “In our culture it is important to have the title ‘church’,” pastor Lucian Chis, head of the Federation of Autonomous Christian Churches, told Forum 18 from Timisoara . “If you don’t, you’re treated not as a church but as a ‘sect’. This is a problem, as lots of churches don’t have 300 members.” But Agafatei of the State Secretariat insists any group can call itself a church, although not in law without legal status.

The River of Revival Pentecostal church thinks that dividing religious communities up in this way “does not respect the Romanian Constitution, which guarantees absolute equality between people, regardless of religion.”

The state has great but undefined powers in deciding which religious communities should gain this status. Article 5 states that religious associations can only gain the status of denomination if they guarantee “durability and stability.” The Jehovah’s Witnesses are concerned that such undefined criteria are open to the “whimsical excesses of the state” and could lead to “discriminatory interpretation.” Baptists are among the religious communities which oppose the time limit of 12 years before a community can start to apply for recognition.

River of Revival Pentecostal church also notes that the new law would not allow religious communities with fewer than 300 members to gain legal status. Such newly-founded communities, it complained to Forum 18 News Service, “cannot promote their identity, having no right to purchase property, to build churches or to have paid staff or ministers”. The church added that the registration system with different categories of religious communities with differing rights “may lead to discrimination and persecution”…[Go To Full Story]