sKESTON NEWS SERVICE: 11.00, 4 June 2001.
Reporting on violations of religious liberty and on religion in communist
and post-communist lands.
______________________________________

LITHUANIA: PENTECOSTALS WATCHING PARLIAMENT'S
BAPTIST RULING. Lithuania's Union of Pentecostal Churches is among
Christian minority communities watching closely whether parliament votes
on 14 June to grant the Baptist Union the status of a `recognised' religious
faith (see KNS 25 May 2001). The head of the Pentecostal Union told
Keston News Service on 31 May that the union had prepared an application
for recognition, but might adjust it if necessary. The government recognises
nine faiths as `traditional' and grants them rights denied to other faiths, but
no religious communities have yet acquired the second-tier status of a
`recognised' faith.

LITHUANIA: PENTECOSTALS WATCHING PARLIAMENT'S
BAPTIST RULING

by Felix Corley, Keston News Service

Lithuania's Union of Pentecostal Churches is among Christian minority
communities watching closely whether parliament votes on 14 June to grant
the Baptist Union the status of a `recognised' religious faith (see KNS 25
May 2001). `Our union has prepared the documents for the recognition
application, but we will await what happens with the Baptist Union,' Bishop
Rimantas Kupstys, the head of the Pentecostal Union, told Keston News
Service from the Lithuanian capital Vilnius on 31 May. `Maybe we will see
our parliament requiring something "extra", and we will try to adjust our
papers to that.'

Although the government recognises nine faiths as `traditional' � and grants
them a wide range of rights denied to all other faiths � no religious
communities have yet acquired the second-tier status of a `recognised' faith,
although this grants few rights which third-tier, registered religious
communities do not have. The application from the Baptist Union, lodged in
July 2000 after it was refused status as a `traditional' faith, is the first to
reach parliament, the Seimas, although applications have also been lodged
by the United Methodist Church (in October 1999) and the New Apostolic
Church (in July 2000). Like the Pentecostal Union, the Adventists have also
told Keston they are preparing to lodge an application, although they too are
watching how the Baptist Union application proceeds.

Bishop Kupstys reported that the Pentecostals have operated in Lithuania
since 1912, with the first congregation being registered in 1923. From 1931 -
during the independence period between the wars - the Pentecostal Church
was registered as a country-wide religious community. `After World War II,
because of communist government policy, Pentecostal congregations were
forced to join the Baptist Union of the USSR,' he added. `Pentecostal
congregations were able to form the Pentecostal Union only in 1991 when
Lithuania regained its independence.' The Union now has 20 congregations.

Like most religious minorities, the Pentecostals object to the four-tier system
which, Bishop Kupstys complains, `gives advantages to certain
denominations'. `It is not the business of the state to judge what religious
communities have the right to enjoy a favourable position and which ones
must face disadvantages and undeserved suspicion from our society,' he
added. `We hope getting recognition will improve the situation for us, but
only God knows when Lithuanian society will understand the necessity to
treat people equally. Maybe there will come a time, when this "hierarchical"
system will become only something symbolic and will cease to serve as a
tool for discrimination.'

Like other third-tier religious groups, the Pentecostals are unable to buy land
in their own name for churches, being forced to buy it in the name of
individuals. Bishop Kupstys also complains that his Church's theological
students do not enjoy the same rights as students in theological institutions
of the `traditional' faiths, whose social security contributions - which usually
represent 30% of income � are covered by the state. `Our students have to
pay it themselves in order to get free medical care.' There is also
discrimination over pensions. `Retired ministers from traditional faiths get
bigger pensions than our ministers, who have ministered the same time and
paid the same taxes (in Soviet times income tax for ministers was among the
highest).'

(There is no legal requirement that parliament consider applications for
`recognised' status within six months - correction to KNS 25 May 2001.)
(END)

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