LATVIA: Five Years and Five Attempts Bring Registration Victory.

by Felix Corley, Keston News Service, 30 October 2002

Five years after first lodging an application for registration and on the fifth attempt the Christian Science community in the Latvian capital Riga finally achieved registration on 16 October. "It is hard to say why the whole process took so long," the community's lawyer, Gatis Senkans, told Keston News Service from Riga on 28 October. He complains that despite the fact that the community was registered in Latvia during the independence period brought to an end by the Soviet occupation of 1940, the government's Religious Affairs Board has declined to give the community the status of a "traditional faith". "Last April we asked the Religious Affairs Board why not, but it has given us no answer," Senkans complained.

However, Ringolds Balodis, the head of the Religious Affairs Board, insists that he has to be governed by the wording of the 1995 religion law, which says that only groups that had a registered religious union before 1995 could obtain that status. "I can do only what the law says," he told Keston from Riga on 30 October. The lesser status the Christian Science community has been granted will require annual re-registration for the next nine years.

The Christian Science Church has faced difficulties registering in Latvia because of its teachings (see KNS 3 October 2000). Founded in the nineteenth century by the American Mary Baker Eddy, the Church teaches that spiritual healing through prayer is a reality and is usually the first choice in cases of illness. However, the Church does not forbid members to seek medical treatment and they are free to choose whichever form of treatment they need.

Senkas complained that the registration had been held up by the Doctors' Association. "Each time the Christian Scientists applied for registration the Doctors' Association blocked it," he reported. "They said the group's doctrine or practice might complicate people's health or harm their interests." Senkans said he had written to the Doctors' Association in August arguing that under the law the association did not have the competence to assess the Christian Scientists' approach to spiritual healing. He said the association had written back in early September recognising this and withdrawing its previous opposition to the Christian Scientists' registration. Balodis confirmed to Keston that the association had written to say it had no right to intervene in the registration process. Senkans complains that the Doctors' Association "did not act correctly". "It should have known that it did not have the competence."

Inesa Gloudina, the head of the 25-strong Riga Christian Science community, told Keston on 28 October her community had achieved its aim. "We're very happy about the registration. We can now act openly." She said that although the community has functioned for the past decade, it could not publicise its activity and did not have legal status.

But she remained unhappy that the community could only achieve registration as a new group. She recalled that a community was founded in Riga in 1909 and by the time of the Soviet annexation of Latvia there were two communities in the city. She said most Christian Scientists had been exiled to Siberia by Stalin. "Unfortunately the law doesn't recognise this truth that we have been here for nearly 100 years," she told Keston. "But we have no other option." (END)