Political party campaigns to make Orthodox Christianity official religion
By Eter Tsotniashvili
Tuesday, April 15
The Christian Democratic Party began gathering signatures in Tbilisi yesterday in support of making Georgian Orthodox Christianity an official religion.
The party says declaring Orthodox Christianity as an official religion will protect the Georgian Church.
Leading Christian Democratic Party member Giorgi Akhvlediani told reporters yesterday that the party will gather at least 200 000 signatures to petition parliament to amend the constitution.
“That Orthodox religion is fundamental to our country should be officially confirmed by the constitution,” Zaza Gabunia, a leader of the Christian Democratic Party’s youth wing, told the paper. He said the party isn’t pushing for Georgian Orthodox to be a state religion, because government would then be able to interfere in the Church’s affairs.
Party leaders say the constitution needs to guarantee the independence and inviolability of the Church. Gabunia, echoing other party leaders, says they have the support of spiritual figures in the Church, though have not consulted the Patriarch.
But a spokesman for the Patriarchate said there is already an agreement with the government which makes the Patriarch and the Church untouchable. The spokesman said the Patriarchate sees no need to amend the constitution.
Article nine of the Georgian constitution recognises the “special role” and independence of the Orthodox Church.
“The state shall declare complete freedom of belief and religion, as well as shall recognise the special role of the Apostle Autocephalous Orthodox Church of Georgia in the history of Georgia and its independence from the state,” the article reads.
The Christian Democratic Party would like to change the wording to: “The official religion of Georgia is Christian Orthodoxy, which is traditionally the religion professed by the Georgian nation. The state protects the Georgian Autocephalous Orthodox Church and cares for strengthening its role in society.”
The Christian Democratic Party justifies the change by pointing to the recent demolition of some churches.
In Adjara, the local government ordered a church under construction to be pulled down in 2007.
Local leadership said the construction was illegal, but the government allowed the church to be built after popular protest.
In a February interview, party founder Giorgi Targamadze took care to emphasize that the Christian Democratic Party is political, not religious.
“…For us the Church and all other traditional institutes in our society are very important. But at the same time, it’s very important to separate the Church’s function in the society and the state’s function,” he told the Messenger.