Religious freedom still a thorny issue in Romania

Religious freedom still a thorny issue in Romania

Denisa Maruntoiu

The main religion in the country is Orthodoxism.

The Romanian government continues to differentiate between recognized and unrecognized religions, as well as registration and recognition requirements continuing to pose obstacles to minority religions, a U.S. State Department report points out.
“Minority religious groups also continued to credibly claim that low-level government officials impeded their efforts at proselytizing and interfered with other religious activities. The Romanian government continued to differentiate between recognized and unrecognized religions, as well as registration and recognition requirements continued to pose obstacles to minority religions.”
This is the key conclusion of the International Religious Freedom Report 2006, released by the U.S. State Department on Friday. The report describes the status of religious freedom in each of the 195 countries around the world, including Romania, during the period from July 2005 to July 2006.
According to the report, although the government proposed a new law on religious freedom that remained under debate in Parliament, many domestic NGOs, international organizations and religious groups criticized the draft law, expressing concern that the draft law, if passed, would institutionalize discrimination against many religious minorities and create impediments for many such groups to obtain official recognition as a religion.
“The government still had not passed legislation to return to the Greek Catholic community the churches and church property transferred by the communists to the Orthodox Church in 1948, nor had it shown any inclination to do so by the end of the period covered by this report,” the document states.
Other problems denounced in the report detail that some minority religions continued to complain of lengthy delays in the process of granting construction permits, which they claimed were based on their status as minority religions.
Nevertheless, the report also acknowledges some reforming measures, stating that although restitution of religious property continued to be slow, several important buildings were restituted to religious denominations after the passage of property legislation in July 2005.
“In February 2006, the government approved new regulations related to religious assistance in penitentiaries, which allow the free access of all religious groups to prisons,” the report adds.
However, the U.S. report draws attention on the fact that the Romanian government did not adopt a new religion law to replace communist era legislation.
“The Parliament continued to debate a government-sponsored draft law on religious freedom since its September 2005 introduction. Although seemingly an improvement over previous proposals, civil society and international organizations, such as the Council of Europe’s Venice Commission, criticized its limitations. The government did not consult with non-recognized religions regarding the draft law,” the report points out.
Turning to restrictions on religious freedom, the study underlines that there is no law against proselytizing, nor is there a clear understanding by the authorities of what activities constitute proselytizing.
“Although proselytizing is protected by law, several minority religious groups, which include both recognized and unrecognized religions, made credible complaints that low-level government officials and Romanian Orthodox clergy impeded their efforts to proselytize, interfered in religious activities, and otherwise discriminated against them,” says the report.
Moreover, according to the report, minority religions continued to encounter difficulties in obtaining construction permits at local level. Thus, the Jehovah’s Witnesses reported that, in some localities, mayors and municipal councils obstructed their plans to build places of worship by illegally conditioning permits on the agreement of all neighbors in the area or claiming that only certain types of construction can be built in a particular district, according to the report.
Another issue denounced by the study is that several minority religious groups complained that local authorities and Orthodox priests prevented religious activities from taking place, even when the groups had been issued permits.
No less important is that the report highlights that only the eighteen recognized religions are entitled to hold religion classes in public schools.
“While the law permits instruction according to the faith of students’ parents, some minority recognized religious groups complained that they were unable to have classes offered in their faith in public schools,” the report states.

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