KESTON NEWS SERVICE: 20.00, 13 July 2001.
Reporting on violations of religious liberty and on religion in communist
and post-communist lands.
______________________________________

LITHUANIA: BAPTISTS ACHIEVE RECOGNISED STATUS. On 12 July
Lithuania's parliament, the Seimas, finally approved the Baptist Union�s
application for `recognised' status, the second rank under the complex and
controversial four-tier system governing state recognition of religious
organisations. It is exactly a year since the application was lodged. `My first
reaction was that I couldn't believe it,' the Union's executive secretary told
Keston News Service. `Everything had been going so slowly.' An official at
the Justice Ministry told Keston that �the door is now more open than it was�
for other groups to gain recognised status.

LITHUANIA: BAPTISTS ACHIEVE RECOGNISED STATUS

by Felix Corley, Keston News Service

Lithuania's Baptist Union has expressed surprise and pleasure that the
country's parliament, the Seimas, has finally approved its application for
`recognised' status, the second rank under the complex and controversial
four-tier system governing state recognition of religious organisations. `My
first reaction was that I couldn't believe it,' the Union's executive secretary,
Linas Andronovas, told Keston from Klaipeda on 13 July. `Everything had
been going so slowly.' He reported that only the day before the vote the
Union had been preparing a letter of complaint to senior officials over foot-
dragging in the application, which was lodged in parliament exactly a year
ago.

Parliament had been due to consider the application on 14 June, but for
reasons that remain mysterious consideration was postponed (see KNS 22
June 2001).

At its final plenary session yesterday (12 July), the Union's application (No.
IXP-390) was approved with 45 deputies in favour and two against, with
three abstentions. (As of 13 July, the decision still had not been posted on
the parliament's website.) The Baptist Union thus becomes the first religious
community to be given this status. Andronovas maintains there had been
opposition to approval of the application from the parliamentary education
committee.

`Recognised' status, although originally intended to grant greater rights than
those available to groups who simply have `registered' status, currently
confers no significant greater rights. `It gives only three extra advantages,'
Andronovas reported. `We will not have to pay social and health insurance
contributions for clergy and other employees, our clergy and theological
students will be exempt from military service and we will get VAT
exemption on services like electricity, telephone and heating. But the major
rights are unchanged.' He points out that the Baptist Union will still be
denied the right to teach religion in schools or buy land to build churches
(ownership has to be registered in an individual's name). He believes Baptist
churches may still not be able to recover VAT on individual purchases,
although he says the `ambiguity of the laws' makes it difficult to establish
this.

The Baptist Union is keen that the original intention of the 1995 religion law
should be adhered to. Officials of the Justice Ministry interpret that law as
giving the nine `traditional' faiths only an honorific status, while conferring
the same rights on `traditional' and `recognised' faiths. `I hope very much
that in the autumn the Seimas will proceed to amendments to grant second-
rank churches and denominations equal rights with those of traditional
faiths,' the Baptist Union's legal adviser, Arnoldas Matijosius, told Keston
from Vilnius on 13 July. Andronovas also confirmed that `this is one
direction we will be working in,' although he expressed some scepticism that
parliament would approve such a change, despite support for the move from
the Ministry of Justice.

Four other Protestant groups - the United Methodist Church, the New
Apostolic Church, the Pentecostal Union and the Adventist Church � are
seeking `recognised' status. All have been watching the Baptist Union
application closely. Asked whether the Baptist Union decision would affect
the applications of these other groups, Donatas Glodenis of the Justice
Ministry believed it would. `It will not help directly, as parliament's decision
concerned only the Baptist Union,' he told Keston from Vilnius on 13 July,
`but the door is now more open than it was. Once the first group gained
recognised status, it has made it easier for others to acquire it.'

Despite being present in Lithuania for more than 150 years, the Baptists
were refused `traditional' status last year by parliament's human rights
committee without a parliamentary vote, although they continue to desire
this status. (END)

Copyright (c) 2001 Keston Institute. All rights reserved.