KESTON NEWS SERVICE: 20.00, 22 June 2001.
Reporting on violations of religious liberty and on religion in communist
and post-communist lands.
______________________________________

I. LITHUANIA: `BATS MORE IMPORTANT THAN BAPTISTS'. In the
wake of an as yet unexplained decision by parliament not to discuss the
Baptist Union's application for `recognised' status on 14 June, the Baptists'
lawyer has accused parliament of making time for 36 other draft legal acts,
including ratification of the Agreement on the Conservation of Bats in
Europe, while failing to find time for their application. `Bats are more
important than religious freedom,' Arnoldas Matijosius complained to
Keston News Service from Vilnius on 22 June. However, an official of
parliament has insisted to Keston that consideration `has not been abolished',
although no new date has been fixed.

II. LITHUANIA: JUSTICE MINISTRY RECOMMENDS EXTENDING
`RECOGNISED' FAITHS' RIGHTS. Although no faith - including the
Baptist Union - has yet succeeded in obtaining the status of a `recognised'
faith (see separate KNS article), the second-ranking category in Lithuania's
complex and controversial four-tier system, new proposals from the Ministry
of Justice would grant any faiths that obtain this status the same rights and
privileges accorded to the eight `traditional' faiths, Keston News Service has
learnt.

I. LITHUANIA: `BATS MORE IMPORTANT THAN BAPTISTS'

by Felix Corley, Keston News Service

In the wake of an as yet unexplained decision by parliament not to discuss
the Baptist Union's application for `recognised' status on 14 June, the
Baptists' lawyer has accused parliament of making time for 36 other draft
legal acts, including ratification of the Agreement on the Conservation of
Bats in Europe, while failing to find time for their application. `Bats are
more important than religious freedom,' Arnoldas Matijosius complained to
Keston News Service from Vilnius on 22 June. However, an official of
parliament has insisted to Keston that consideration `has not been abolished',
although no new date has been fixed.

Matijosius claimed that parliament, the Seimas, changed its mind over the
scheduled discussion of the application in the plenary session on 14 June
(see KNS 25 May 2001) within 24 hours. He telephoned the parliamentary
human rights committee on 12 June and was assured by the committee
secretary that the application would be discussed. `Yet next morning I
received an e-mail from the very same committee declaring that this item is
excluded from the parliamentary agenda, without further explanations.
Phone conversations with committee members are very difficult as I have to
drag each and every word from them.' He claims the Baptists have received
only a `vague apology'. `We are not so much concerned about our individual
case, but rather about the totalitarian thinking which prevails among human
rights committee leaders.'

Although politicians have been preoccupied with the choice of a new
government following the resignation of Rolandas Paksas as prime minister
on 20 June, Matijosius rejects claims that parliament has no time to discuss
the Baptists' application.

Keston was unable to reach any members or officials of the parliamentary
human rights committee on 22 June to learn why consideration was
abandoned. `I have been unable to find out why parliament did not consider
the issue,' Neringa Morozaite, assistant to the deputy chair of parliament
Gintaras Steponavicius, told Keston from Vilnius on 22 June. But she
insisted that the Baptist Union was likely to gain `recognised' status.
`Opinions are quite optimistic. The human rights committee backed the
move in May, so I think there will be no problem for the application to be
accepted.'

Under Lithuanian law it is parliament which rules on religious organisations'
status. As Baptists have been present in Lithuania for more than 150 years,
the Union applied to parliament for `traditional' status in November 1998,
the status that grants the most rights in Lithuania's controversial four-tier
system. Parliament then passed the application to the Ministry of Justice and
the State Security Department for their assessments. Eventually the human
rights committee rejected the application before it reached the floor of
parliament.

The Baptists then applied to parliament in July 2000 for `recognised' status,
despite still desiring recognition as a `traditional' faith. Gediminas
Dalinkevicius, chair of the Human Rights Committee, presented it to
parliament only on 20 February of this year. The application was considered
by the human rights committee on 16 May, which decided to pass the
application to the full parliament.

In a letter of April 2000 to the Protestant Alliance, Dalinkevicius had
rejected Baptist claims that denial of status as a `traditional' faith represented
a restriction on Baptists' civil rights or obstructed their activity. `Granting
exceptional status is a certain privilege, giving a church some hope to
receive state support, and when such status is not granted it is not
discrimination,' he wrote.

The Union subsequently complained several times to parliament and the
government about what it considered the unfair application of VAT laws,
attempts to tax the incomes of ministers of `non-traditional' faiths, and
restrictions on granting residence permits and `humiliating' treatment of
foreign Protestant missionaries, including those from the United States and
Ukraine, by immigration officials. Although some of these issues have been
resolved after joint Protestant complaints, the Baptist Union remains
unhappy about other privileges enjoyed by `traditional' faiths to which it is
denied access - such as the right to buy land to build churches. However, if
parliament approves recommendations from the Ministry of Justice to the
parliamentary human rights committee (see separate KNS article), should the
Baptists obtain `recognised' status they would then achieve the same
privileges and rights as `traditional' faiths.

Two other Protestant groups - the United Methodist Church and the New
Apostolic Church - have already applied for `recognised' status, while two
others - the Pentecostal Union and the Adventist Church � are awaiting the
outcome of the Baptist Union application (see KNS 4 June 2001). (END)

II. LITHUANIA: JUSTICE MINISTRY RECOMMENDS EXTENDING
`RECOGNISED' FAITHS' RIGHTS

by Felix Corley, Keston News Service

Although no faith - including the Baptist Union - has yet succeeded in
obtaining the status of a `recognised' faith (see separate KNS article), the
second-ranking category in Lithuania's complex and controversial four-tier
system, new proposals from the Ministry of Justice would grant any faiths
that obtain this status the same rights and privileges accorded to the eight
`traditional' faiths, Keston News Service has learnt.

Donatas Glodenis, senior official of the section of registers at the justice
ministry, told Keston by telephone from Vilnius on 22 June that the
parliamentary human rights committee had asked his ministry at the
beginning of June to clarify the legal position over the differences between
`traditional' and `recognised' faiths. In its response, signed by deputy justice
minister Paulius Koverovas, the justice ministry reaffirmed its earlier view
that both `traditional' and `recognised' faiths should have exactly the same
rights. `Recognition is a legal status, while traditional is an honorary label,'
Glodenis explained. `This is the correct interpretation of the 1995 law on
religious communities and associations, which didn't distinguish between
traditional and recognised faiths. This is what the letter defined.'

Keston has been unable to obtain a copy of the justice ministry's letter.
Glodenis declined to make a copy available, describing it as an `internal'
document between the government and parliament that would not be
published.

It remains unclear whether parliament will take up the recommendations in
the letter that laws that grant differing rights and privileges to the two
categories be amended to bring them into line with the ministry's
interpretation of the 1995 law. `This would entail amending a whole series of
laws,' Glodenis declared. `Just one example is the law on education, which
grants traditional faiths the right to teach their faith in state schools but does
not extend this right to recognised faiths.'

Keston was unable to reach any members or officials of the parliamentary
human rights committee on 22 June to find out if parliament is likely to
amend any laws to meet the recommendations of the justice ministry. (END)

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