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Georgian Patriarchate objects to a draft law on religious confessions legal status

By Mzia Kupunia
Wednesday, July 6
The Georgian Patriarchate has called on the Georgian lawmakers to suspend the process of adopting a law on bringing a status of legal entities of public law to several religious faiths in Georgia, calling the adoption of the draft law with the first hearing an “unexpected action.” “As it is known for the public, the status of the Orthodox Church and a constitutional agreement was a subject of wide discussions for years and an international expertise was also conducted on this issue. Georgian Church has never been against and has always supported granting a status to other religions existing in Georgia, however this process has never continued, i.e. the government has not set up a state commission which would study the issue,” the statement of the Georgian Patriarchate reads.

According to the amendments passed with the first hearing at the Georgian Parliament on July 1, five religious faiths in Georgia: Armenian Apostolic Church, Roman Catholic Church, Evangelical Baptist Church, as well as Muslim and Jewish communities will be registered as legal entities of public law. Now these confessions are registered as private entities of public law in Georgia. Receiving a legal status has been a long time demand of the religious confessions existing in Georgia.

During the Parliamentary debates on July 1, some opposition MPs objected to granting legal status to some of the confessions named in the list. “It is absolutely acceptable to give legal status to traditional confessions in Georgia, however, when we are talking about such confessions, which cannot be called traditional and which have nothing to do with our country’s history and has no links with our country’s fate, many questions arise,” Nika Laliashvili of the Christian-Democratic Movement said during debates. He called on the authorities to be “maximally restraint” when taking “such decisions.”

Laliashvili raised one more issue related to the legal status of religious confessions in Georgia. “It would be important to know whether our friendly states, let’s say Armenia has started discussing the issue of giving legal status to Georgian Church in Armenia? Is this issue on the agenda in Azerbaijan?” the MP said. Georgian Patriarchate has also raised this question in its recent statement. “It should be noted that the status of our church and taking care of Georgian orthodox churches has not been raised in other states till now,” the statement reads “against this background it is absolutely unclear the adoption of such an important document without public discussions. We think that it is necessary to stop the procedure of adopting the law and public debates should be conducted in order to establish a common public opinion and reach a consensus with the Orthodox Church, as far as the majority of the country’s population is orthodox Christian.”

Georgia’s ruling party lawmakers have dismissed the concerns over religions groups’ legal status in the country, saying that it will not shatter Georgian Orthodox Church's special status in the country. “There is a very special rule in force between the Georgian Orthodox Church and the Georgian State – a constitutional agreement. As for the status of other traditional churches and religious communities, when we were adopting the constitutional agreement, all confessions supported us to give a supreme status to the Georgian Orthodox Church. It was also said [in the agreement] that the issue of other confessions would also have arisen,” National Movement’s Gigi Tsereteli said.

One of the initiators of the draft law, MP Lasha Tordia answered the claims of the opposition and the Patriarchate about the Georgian Church’s status in neighbouring countries, saying that the Georgians side discussed the issue of the Georgian Church’s status in Armenia during the Armenian Patriarch’s visit to Georgia last month. “The Georgian government will continue working in order for Armenia to receive same regulations that will be adopted in Georgia,” he told 24 Saati newspaper.

The Armenian Apostolic Church has welcomed the start of the process of granting legal status to the Armenian Church in Georgia. “There is no doubt, that before this decision the Georgian government, the Georgian Church and the society recognized the existence of the Armenia church in the country, however this law will give us a big advantage in terms of restoring our property rights on the churches which now belong to the Georgian Culture Ministry,” Head of the Georgian Diocese of the Armenian Apostolic Church, Bishop Vazgen Mirzakhanyan said, according to Armenian news agencies.