UKRAINE: Draft Law to Increase State Control Over Religious Organisations.

by Anna Vassilyeva, Keston News Service, 8 August 2001

The new draft Ukranian law on religion introduces, as well as new registration requirements (see KNS 8 August 2000), new provisions covering religious property, religious education and the religious activity of foreign citizens. The need to adopt a new law arose from the creation of a new legal framework following the adoption of the Ukranian Constitution in 1996.

In many ways the draft follows the provisions of the law of Ukraine "On freedom of conscience and religious organisations" adopted in 1992 with subsequent amendments. The text of the draft law stresses the equality of religions before the law with no distinction between the "traditional or historic religions", while emphasising adherence to "recommendations of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe", But the draft also strengthens the power of the state over religious organisations.

Although, at the recommendation of the board of experts of the Supreme Rada, a number of harsh provisions have been excluded from the current draft, for example the issue of certificates to clergy (Article 14 of the first version) - which it has been decided is an "internal matter for religious organisations" – the latest version introduces new provisions compared to the current law with regard to registration (see KNS 8 August 2000), church property, religious education and the religious activity of foreign citizens.

 The draft aims to prevent both the division of the property of congregations in cases of changes of jurisdiction, which happened in forming an independent Orthodox Church (see KNS 25 July 2001), and the defection of congregations together with their property to newly formed or altered jurisdictions. Unlike the present law and affirming Bondarenko's conviction that there can be no redistribution of property, Article 9 "Religious congregations" states in paragraph 2 that change of jurisdiction "does not entail a loss of the rights or obligations of a particular religious congregation".

In order to establish more state control over the transfer of religious property between denominations, the process of which will be regulated by the state, a new provision is introduced (Article 21, paragraph 3) under which in the case of ceasing the activity of a religious organisation "the property in its ownership, other than property connected with religious worship, may by decision of a court be transferred without payment to the ownership of the state", while "property connected with religious worship may be transferred to other religious organisations". The article does not specify the procedure for choosing which religious organisation should receive the property, apparently leaving the choice to the CRA.

Two new provisions in the sphere of religious education (Article 9) are designed to allow the teaching of religious disciplines not connected with the carrying out of rituals (paragraph 3) on a voluntary basis and also to permit religious organisations to create educational establishments (paragraph 4) "and also to conduct the teaching of religion in other forms using for this purpose premises that they own or that are provided for their use".

With regard to the international contacts of religious organisations, Article 25, paragraph 3 states that "foreigners and persons without citizenship who are in accordance with the law temporarily resident in Ukraine (but not representatives of foreign organisations invited to Ukraine for an appropriate period by religious organisations) do not have the right to interfere in the worship or other canonical activity of religious organisations" or "to preach religious intolerance or to insult the feelings of citizens of Ukraine or foreigners or persons without citizenship ., in connection with their religious convictions", although they do have the right to profess their faith individually or collectively.

A draft of the law was rejected on 29 May at its first reading by the Supreme Rada and it is unclear when this draft will be discussed. (END)