KESTON NEWS SERVICE: 20.00, 25 May 2001.
Reporting on violations of religious liberty and on religion in communist
and post-communist lands.
______________________________________

I. LITHUANIA: WILL BAPTISTS ACHIEVE STATE-
RECOGNISED STATUS? Having been refused recognition as a
`traditional' faith under Lithuania's complex four-tier system, despite
existing in the country of at least 150 years, the Baptist Union is hoping
parliament will next month grant them the status of a `recognised' faith.
However, many Baptists and members of other minority faiths accuse the
government of granting unfair privileges to the nine `traditional' faiths, so
that even if the Baptists achieve second-ranking status they will still be
denied key rights - such as the right to buy land to build churches.

II. LITHUANIA: CONTROVERSY SURROUNDS FOUR-TIER
RELIGIOUS STATUS. Lithuania's minority faiths are unhappy at the
four-tier system of government recognition of religious groups, arguing
that it discriminates against legitimate faiths. They regard the
forthcoming decision on whether to grant the Baptist Union, which has
existed in Lithuania for at lest 150 years, second-ranking status (see
separate KNS article) as a test of the state's commitment to religious
liberty. The law grants `traditional' status to nine faiths - Roman Catholic,
Greek Catholic, Lutheran, Reformed, Russian Orthodox, Old Believer,
Jewish, Sunni Muslim and Karaite - without explaining how and why
these groups were chosen. `Although it is not officially stated anywhere,
the criterion for being a traditional religion used when preparing the law
on religious communities and associations was that the community has to
have a presence in Lithuania for 300-400 years,' the justice ministry has
said.

LITHUANIA: WILL BAPTISTS ACHIEVE STATE-
RECOGNISED STATUS?

by Felix Corley, Keston News Service

Having been refused recognition as a `traditional' faith under Lithuania's
complex four-tier system, despite existing in the country of at least 150
years, the Baptist Union is hoping parliament will next month grant them
the status of a `recognised' faith. However, many Baptists and members
of other minority faiths accuse the government of granting unfair
privileges to the nine `traditional' faiths (see separate KNS article), so
that even if the Baptists achieve second-ranking status they will still be
denied key rights - such as the right to buy land to build churches.

Under Lithuanian law it is parliament which rules on religious
organisations' status. The Baptist Union application was considered by
the parliamentary human rights committee on 16 May, which decided to
pass the application to the full parliament, which is due to debate and
vote on the application on 14 June. Public debate has also been initiated
via the parliamentary website, where ordinary citizens can give their
views. `As of today, the absolute majority of views are in favour of the
application,' Linas Andronovas, Executive Secretary of the Baptist
Union, told Keston News Service by telephone on 22 May. `There are 47
in favour, only nine against.'

The Union first applied to parliament, the Seimas, for `traditional' status
on 8 November 1998. 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. In a letter of 9 June
2000, signed by committee chairman Emanuelis Zingeris, the committee
cited a justice ministry recommendation that the Baptists be given the
status of a `recognised' faith. `They gave no reasons why we were
rejected,' Andronovas complained. `It was just stated that the committee
decided the application should not be taken further.'

Donatas Glodenis, senior official of the section of registers at the justice
ministry, attributes the rejection to the unwritten rule that religious
groups need to have been present for three or four centuries to be eligible
for `traditional' status. `Obviously, the Baptists do not match the
criterion, for they have existed in Lithuania for 150 years.'

The Baptists then applied to parliament on 31 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, despite a legal requirement
that such an application should be considered within six months. `We're
puzzled as to why it has taken so long,' Andronovas declared. He
speculated that one reason for the delay could be that the procedure has
never been used before. `If the Baptists are granted state recognition, they
would be the first group to attain such status,' Glodenis told Keston from
Vilnius on 23 May.

Keston sent written questions on 22 and 23 May to Gediminas
Dalinkevicius, chair of the parliamentary human rights committee, and
Gintaras Steponavicius, deputy chair of parliament and a member of the
human rights committee, asking why the Baptists had been refused
traditional status and whether they would get recognised status, but both
failed to respond. Reached by telephone on 25 May, Steponavicius
promised to send his responses, adding that he believed parliament would
grant the Baptists recognised status. Dalinkevicius was unavailable by
telephone on 25 May. (END)

LITHUANIA: CONTROVERSY SURROUNDS FOUR-TIER
RELIGIOUS STATUS

by Felix Corley, Keston News Service

Lithuania's minority faiths are unhappy at the four-tier system of
government recognition accorded to religious groups, arguing that it
discriminates against legitimate faiths even if they have existed in the
country for at least three centuries. They regard the forthcoming decision
on whether to grant the Baptist Union second-ranking status (see separate
KNS article) as a test of the state's commitment to religious liberty,
especially as applications by two other religious communities are
pending, while another is about to lodge an application.

Article 5 of the 1995 law on religious communities and associations
granted `traditional' status to nine faiths - Roman Catholic, Greek
Catholic, Lutheran, Reformed, Russian Orthodox, Old Believer, Jewish,
Sunni Muslim and Karaite - without explaining how and why these
groups were chosen. `Although it is not officially stated anywhere, the
criterion for being a traditional religion used when preparing the law on
religious communities and associations was that the community has to
have a presence in Lithuania for 300-400 years,' Donatas Glodenis, senior
official of the section of registers at the justice ministry, told Keston
News Service from Vilnius on 23 May.

The second level - as a `recognised' faith - was originally intended to give
similar rights to those enjoyed by `traditional' faiths. `The law foresaw a
state recognition procedure for religious associations that have become a
part of Lithuania's social, historical and spiritual heritage. When the
religion law was adopted, the rights of recognised religious associations
were equal to those of traditional associations, or, rather, there was a two-
tier system: the upper level included state recognised "traditional" and
"other" religious associations, and the lower level included other "non-
traditional" associations and communities. What mattered was not the
traditional/other divide but the state-recognised/other divide.'

Glodenis recounts that subsequent developments changed the original
scheme. `Later, different legal acts were adopted that envisioned certain
privileges (like land ownership) to traditional religious associations; thus,
suddenly, a system was created made up of three tiers: traditional, other
state recognised and non-traditional. I think that was a mistaken
interpretation of the constitution and the law - it is mistakenly supposed,
that state recognition means that the state recognises religious
associations to be traditional, while in reality it was not so in the religion
law.'

At present the third level - that of registered faiths - grants few specific
rights and differs little from groups in the fourth category - those
operating without any status with the state. Religious communities say
acquiring registration is not difficult. `All you need is fifteen members,
and you apply to the Ministry of Justice,' one Protestant leader told
Keston. `If your statute does not contradict the law registration is easy.'

A constitutional court ruling of 13 June 2000 declared that once obtained,
`traditional' status was `irrevocable'. The same ruling defended granting
extra rights to `traditional' and other `recognised' faiths, declaring that
`without limiting the rights guaranteed for all churches and religious
organisations, additional rights for traditional churches and religious
organisations may also be ensured by law which are not enjoyed by
churches and organisations which are not traditional'.

Religious communities without `traditional' status are at a disadvantage.
`There are important restrictions, including on the right to buy land, the
right to teach one's children in public schools, the right to pay the same
rates for water, electricity and telephone, and to speak on national TV
and radio,' Arnoldas Matijosius, a Vilnius-based lawyer who has been
handling the Baptist Union's recognition application, told Keston on 22
May. `If any religion is younger than 300 years on Lithuanian soil,
generally any law can discriminate against its followers. Unfortunately,
that is supported by constitutional jurisprudence.' Linas Andronovas,
Executive Secretary of the Baptist Union, concurred. `In 1995 it was said
recognised groups would be equal to traditional groups, but step by step
all privileges have been whittled away. The only privilege now is that the
government pays social security payments for clergy.'

Glodenis declined to discuss whether such discriminatory treatment was
in accord with Lithuania's international human rights commitments and
commitments as a member of the Council of Europe.

Glodenis reported that the United Methodist Church applied to the
Seimas for state recognition on 5 October 1999 (the ministry
subsequently asked for and obtained clarification of its history and
practices), while the New Apostolic Church applied for this status on 28
July 2000. Asked if these two applications are likely to be successful,
Glodenis responded: `The justice ministry has not completed the
conclusions, so we cannot state our position yet. The ministry has to
research the roots and historical heritage of a particular association, its
teachings, position in society, etc. That takes time. Currently, the
ministry is preparing a conclusion regarding the Methodists. The
preparation of the conclusion on the New Apostolic Church is still
pending, since the ministry does not have the capacity it needs to do all
the work connected with religion.' An Adventist official told Keston on
25 May that his Church is also preparing to submit an application for
state recognition later in the summer, though he said the Church was
concerned `because if we are denied we have to wait another 10 years
before we can try again'.

Asked whether it was not unfair that parliament should rule on whether
religious groups should gain `traditional' or `recognised' status rather than
an independent court or the justice ministry, Glodenis declined to
comment. `Since the Seimas has not yet decided on the state-recognition
of any religious community, I cannot comment on its possible biases.'

Few officials seem able to explain why non-traditional faiths should not
be allowed full rights, such as to buy land. `That restriction is based on
provision 2.1.3 in the Constitutional Law on the procedure of acquiring
ownership of land provided for in article 47, paragraph 2 of the
constitution. It is worded positively, listing all the groups that can own
land for non-agricultural use, but in a way that excludes the non-
traditional religious groups.'

Glodenis indicated that the justice ministry did believe recognised faiths
should also have the right to buy land. He cited a ministry letter of 8 May
to the Adventists explained the provision in the constitutional law to
mean that not only traditional, but also other state recognised religious
associations could own land. `However, the justice ministry does not
have a right to officially interpret the constitution and laws,' he noted.
Adventist leaders told Keston that although buildings can be registered in
the name of the church, the land itself has to be registered in the name of
individuals.

Some minorities believe the length of time a group has been present in
Lithuania should be a factor in determining state recognition, although
insisting there should be no discrimination. `We would like to see a
system that honours the presence of groups with long histories in
Lithuania, yet which allows for equal privileges for all religious bodies,'
David Markay, the Methodists' District Superintendent, told Keston on
24 May. `The Methodist Church and other denominations are helping to
address social problems through the formation of Christian congregations
and in providing medical help, economic development, drug and alcohol
prevention programmes, and educational seminars. Hopefully, over time,
such activities will help ease an understandable caution towards non-
Catholic groups, to see that other church groups are also contributing
positively to Lithuanian society.'

Gediminas Dalinkevicius, chair of the parliamentary human rights
committee, and Gintaras Steponavicius, deputy chair of parliament and a
member of the human rights committee, failed to respond to Keston's
written enquiries as to whether the four-tier system did not discriminate
against religious groups which did not have `traditional' status and
whether such discrimination did not violate Lithuania's international
human rights commitments, including those as a Council of Europe
member. (END)

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