Disagreement of experts as a guarantee of religious freedom

On Friday at the round-table discussion “Church and politics” religion researches, journalists, representatives of religious organizations and experts-lawyers were trying to save religious organizations from political struggle and other temptations to break the law. Of course in the future, since the last election campaign was commonly characterized by the illegal participation of religious organizations and their officials in the political struggle from both sides. Attempts to work out mutual recommendations of experts were lost in the diversity of proposals, though everyone agreed that church’s participation in politics LIKE THAT is not good either from the viewpoint of morality, or from the viewpoint of law.

The round-table discussion was organized by the Ukrainian association of religion researches, association of religious freedom and a range of partner organizations and establishments supported by the Renaissance International Foundation and may have gathered all interested in the religion-state relations in this country. Intrigue to usual conversations about the way of amending (or leaving as it is as a version) the law “About the liberty of conscience and religious organizations” was added by the vagueness regarding that very spiritual body of the state – the State committee for religions. That’s why experts had enough to be discussed… in the absence of at least one representative of the “dead” body.  

Stanislav Pkhidenko and Refat Chubarov, deputies of the profile committee of the Supreme Rada didn’t impress the present with anything new or revolutionary. Though Mr. Stanislav complained that no one consulted with the Committee of the Supreme Rada of Ukraine before liquidating the State committee for religions. The same complaints were expressed by the representatives of the All-Ukrainian council of churches…

Generally all speakers came to the conclusion that the State committee compromised itself not reacting to the active participation of certain religious organizations in the political struggle. As it is known, representatives of the State committee for religions referred post factum to the absence in the Law “About the liberty of conscience and religious organizations” of corresponding norms, justifying their inactivity throughout elections (we already wrote about it earlier). However, the officials of the State committee for religions could warn religious organizations about their illegal activity, and in case of continuation of non-statute activity – to take off registration. Completely according to the law, if to read it attentively. Unfortunately it wasn’t done…    

Attempts of community to stimulate the state bodies to keep up to the law gave no results. Particularly, in their claim in November 2004, before the second round of the elections of the President of Ukraine, representatives of law-defending organizations singled out regarding the participation of religious organizations in the political agitation: “We are indignant at the inactivity of the Central election committee, Prosecution and other state bodies regarding gross violations of legislation and international standards…” At that time nothing changed – the abovementioned bodies for some reason didn’t awake and discerned.

Oleksander Zayets from the Institute of religious freedom remembered how in 1999 the president contender Vasyl Onopenko spoke at a big Protestant’s meeting in Kyiv. He just spoke, without direct agitation, and right after that the reaction of the power followed – the community-organizer received a written warning and remembers about this experience hitherto. Thus, in 2004 it is about the lack political will to use the law by the politicians responsible for policy in the domain of religion. Thoughts also were expressed that “horses are not to blame” and the state itself made churches to support the president contender, nevertheless, as the professor Kolodny said, summarizing: “No one heard any apologies from the religious organizations and no one saw any attempts to look into these occurrences in the churches.”

There was given publicity to various proposals in respect of the way of defense of religious organizations from direct participation in political activity. In opinion of Hennadiy Druzenko it’s necessary to fundamentally change the system of relations state-church from the lobby-administrative ones to transparent-legal. Mr. Yelensky noted three necessary conditions for preventing this fact: radical power transformation, church’s views changes and society’s maturity, which will not allow breaking the law either to the state or to church.

Also a sign of good form of the speaking experts was to say a few words regarding the profile law and necessity of existence of a special body responsible for the state-religious relations. It’s easy to guess that there were more views than experts. Particularly, Mr. Yelensky was worried with the fact that the lack of the State committee for religions or any other special body will considerably strike the minorities and will strengthen the regional practice of the power’s favour to the dominating confession what runs counter to the equality of all before the law. In his opinion, there is no one strong point in the cancellation of this body.

At the end of the pleasant conversation there was an appeal to formulate common proposals of the round table discussion to be implemented in practice, but right after the first question the views of the present split and the idea remained an idea. What to do, Ukraine is multi-confessional and multi-expert… Perhaps that’s why the religious freedom in Ukraine provided almost the best way.     

Yaroslav Hordiyevych

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