Issue 8, Articles 5-6, 2 August 2000

Immediate reporting on violations of religious liberty and on religion in
communist and post-communist lands.

RESTRICTIVE PROPOSED LAW (2 August). With representatives of both
registered and unregistered faiths unwilling to speak on behalf of any but their
own groups and with the government adamant about dealing only with
registered religious groups, it appears unlikely that the interests of
unrecognised religious groups will make any impact on the future shape of the
proposed new law on religion. Many registered and unregistered groups accept
the proposed ten-year waiting period for registration as a necessary safeguard
from ´┐Żundesirable sects´┐Ż.

REQUIREMENTS (2 August). Under laws passed in the early 1990s, the
Czech republic established a minimum membership for registration and agreed
to subsidise the wages of registered church clergy. Religious groups already
registered by the Communists were automatically registered under the new law
of 1991. According to the Ministry of Culture, the motivation behind the new
proposed law is twofold: to expand and more clearly define the provisions for
registration and to liberalise the registration process in order to accommodate
smaller religious groups.

Wednesday 2 August 2000

by Kazi Stastna, Keston News Service

The draft of the `theses' on which the proposed new Czech law on religion is to
be based (see separate KNS article), makes it clear that some of the stricter
conditions of the proposed system for regulating religious groups are intended
to make it easier to separate `renowned' religions, such as the Anglican Church,
Islam or Hinduism, from `undesirable sects' prior to registration. This has
struck a chord with many registered and even some unregistered groups and led
to a wider acceptance of the proposed 0.2 per cent minimum of the resident
population and ten-year waiting period as a necessary safeguard. `It would be
problematic if, say, the Orthodox Church and a sect had the same status,'
Bishop DUSAN HEJBAL of the Old Catholic Church told Keston News
Service on 26 July.

But although many are quick to identify `sects' as a danger and admit that it is
fear of `sects' that has driven much of the proposed legislation, few are able to
point to concrete experiences that justify this fear.

TOMAS KRAUS, the executive director of the Federation of Jewish
Communities who sat on the expert commission which drafted the theses, sees
the fear of `sects' as having influenced the whole draft process. `To be very
frank, I think it is justified,' he told Keston on 27 July, but when pressed could
not point to specific examples of their activity other than young Scientologists
distributing literature in metro stations. However, he expressed faith in the
opinion of experts who have identified such actions as dangerous. `I don't
know. I didn't check, but I trust these people,' he declared. `Of course, it is not
good that the historical faiths which are not established on this territory, which
are not traditional here, like the Muslims, are also in the same position,' he

Similarly, asked on 28 July which concrete experiences in the Czech Republic
had caused this fear of `sects', the director of the Department of Churches
JANA REPOVA told Keston: `Where do fears of sects stem from in England
or France? It's the same. We're not any different than people in Austria,
Germany, France or England. Ask yourself what reasons they have in England,
and they'll be the same here.'

Some unrecognised faiths, meanwhile want to distance themselves from what
they regard as undesirable companioins who are also unregistered. This desire
has prevented some of the religious groups aiming for state recognition from
forming any consolidated opposition to the government proposal. `We did not
want to form a group with someone who doesn't have that good a public
reputation,' ANTONIN VALER of the Hare Krishna community told Keston
on 27 July.

The response of unregistered religions to the government proposal has thus
been uncoordinated and largely non-existent.

There has also been little solidarity from some of the smaller registered
religious groups. Even representatives of the Jehovah's Witnesses, who have
recently been formally asked by the Department of Churches to clarify their
stance on blood transfusions, a move that has been taken by some as the first
step in an official re-examination - and possible revocation - of their
registration, did not see the concerns of unregistered groups as in any way
connected with their own direct interests. `We don't have any reason to stand
up for another religious group,' the spokesman and legal representative of the
Jehovah's Witnesses LUBOMIR MULLER told Keston in a telephone
interview on 26 July. `If it concerned us we would comment on it. Currently, it
does not concern us.'

With representatives of registered churches not willing to speak on behalf of
any but their own faiths and with the government adamant about dealing only
with legally registered religious groups - thus not granting any representation
on the commission to unrecognised groups - it is hard to see the interests of
unrecognised religious groups making any impact on the future shape of the
proposed new law. (END)

Wednesday 2 August 2000

by Kazi Stastna, Keston News Service

With the adoption by the Czech government of `theses' on which the proposed
new law on religion will be based (see separate KNS article), registration
requirements for religious groups are likely to become more demanding.

Certain requirements already exist, however. The main law on religion,
308/1991, which was adopted in July 1991 by the Federal Assembly of what
was then still Czechoslovakia, designates registered religious organisations as
legal entities and grants them the right to operate in the public sphere -
including the right to enter prisons, schools, the army, social and health care
facilities, and to perform marriage ceremonies.

The second law, 161/1992, was adopted in March 1992 by the Czech National
Council as a supplement to 308/1991, and specifies the minimum number of
members required for registration, which in the original federal law was left up
to the Czech and Slovak councils respectively. The Czech National Council set
this minimum at 10,000, except in the case of member churches of the World
Council of Churches, for which it was set at 500.

KAREL MACHOTKA, the head of the registration division of the Department
of Churches, told Keston on 25 July that the original limit suggested in 1992
had been much lower, between 200 and 300. Parliamentary records show that
the figure of 3,000 had also been suggested by deputies at the time the law was
being debated but was outvoted in favour of 10,000, which at the time was
equal to the Slovak minimum (which today stands at 20,000).

Financing of religious groups is governed by a third law, 218/1949, adopted in
1949 under the Communist regime, which sees the wages of the clergy of all
registered churches subsidised by the state in proportion to the number of
members. Plans are also underway to reform this law, but since church
financing is connected to the unresolved question of property restitution, the
Department of Churches has decided to postpone drafting a new law in this

Although it is often described as one of the most atheist nations in the world,
with some 39 per cent of the population claiming no religious affiliation in the
last 1991 census, there are currently 21 registered religious groups in the Czech
Republic: Roman Catholic, Russian Orthodox, Greek Orthodox, Czechoslovak
Hussite, Baptist, Apostolic, New Apostolic, Czech Unitarian, Methodist, Old
Catholic, Evangelical Church of the Augsburg Confession, Lutheran
Evangelical, Silesian Evangelical, Seventh-Day Adventist, Brethren,
Evangelical Church of Czech Brethren, the Brethren Union (Moravians), Jesus
Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Mormons), the Federation of Jewish Communities,
the Christian Corps, and the Jehovah's Witnesses.

Of these, the largest is the Roman Catholic Church, with roughly 4 million
members, according to the 1991 census, followed by the Evangelical Church of
Czech Brethren and the Czechoslovak Hussite Church, each with around
200,000 members.

A number of faiths and religious communities are active without official state
recognition, including Islam, the Anglican Church, Hare Krishna, the
Unification Church, the Church of Scientology, several Buddhist schools and
the Word of Life.

Most of the 21 registered churches had been acknowledged by the stateprior to
1989, with the official recognition of some, such as the Orthodox Church, the
Old Catholic Church or the Evangelical Church of Czech Brethren, dating back
to the Austro-Hungarian Empire. When the new law was adopted in 1991,
these already recognised churches were exempted from the new conditions and
were automatically registered.

Only two of the currently registered religious groups received their registration
under law 308/1991: the Jehovah's Witnesses in 1993, with current
membership estimated between 15,000 to 16,000, and the Lutheran Evangelical
Church in 1995, with 10,000 members according to the 1991 census. The
Unification Church is currently appealing the 1999 rejection of its registration

Although throughout the nearly nine years that it has been in existence,
provisions of the religion law have been criticised from various camps, in its
introduction to the theses of the proposed new law the Culture Ministry's
Department of Churches denies that the current law is at all discriminatory and
outlines the motivation behind the new law as twofold: to expand and more
clearly define the provisions for registration and to liberalise the registration
process in order to accommodate smaller religious groups seeking registration.

Copyright (c) 2000 Keston Institute. All rights reserved.