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U.S. State Department reviews condition of religious freedom in Georgia

By Tatia Megeneishvili
Friday, October 16
The US Department of State has published the International Religious Freedom Report for 2014. The report, posted on the Department’s official webpage, reviews the state of religious freedom in Georgia in 2014.

According to the report, despite the fact that the constitution provides the freedom to religion and separates it from the state, the law favors the Georgian Orthodox Church and creates unequal conditions for other religious minorities.

“The constitution provides for the freedom of religion and the separation of church and state; however, laws and policies favor the Georgian Orthodox Church (GOC), granting it privileges not accorded to any other religious group,” reads the report.

The report also states that in order to acquire the status of a Legal Entity of Public Law (LEPL), or of a non-commercial religious organization, the law requires religious organizations to register with the government. To register, an organization must have historic ties to Georgia and recognition from the Council of Europe member states as a religious organization, but the law does not stipulate who determines what constitutes “historic ties.”

Meanwhile, eight religious organizations appealed to the Constitutional Court. They demand the abolition of the laws that discriminate against them in the payment system.

“The Tax Code of Georgia frees the Orthodox Church from number of taxes, while such benefits for other religious organizations are limited. Although religious minorities were asking to eliminate the aforementioned discrimination, the problem remains unresolved,” reads the statement released by the religious minorities in Georgia.

The religious organizations which have signed the appeal are: the Latin Catholic Caucasus Apostolic Administration, the Evangelical Baptist Church of Georgia, the Georgian Muslims Union, Evangelical Faith Church, the Trans-Caucasus Union of the Seventh Day Adventist Church, Word of Life Church, Holy Trinity Church, the Church of Christ.

The interests of the organizations will be defended by the Free University of Tbilisi and the Tolerance and Diversity Institute (TDI).