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2-6 Human Rights: Freedom of Religion


This article is from the Bulgaria FAQ, by Dragomir R. Radev radev@tune.cs.columbia.edu with numerous contributions by others.

2-6 Human Rights: Freedom of Religion

The Constitution provides for freedom of religion; however, the
Government restricts this right in practice. The ability of a number of
religious groups to operate freely continued to come under attack, both
as a result of government action and because of public intolerance. The
Government requirement that groups whose activities have a religious
element register with the Council of Ministers remained an obstacle to
the activity of many religious groups. Dozens of articles in a broad
range of newspapers depicted lurid and inaccurate pictures of the
activities of non-Orthodox religious groups, attributing suicides of
teenagers and the breakup of families to their activities.

The Government refused visas and residence permits for foreign
missionaries, and some came under physical attack in the street and in
their homes. Members of the Mormon church reported continued acts of
harassment and assault, including some perpetrated by the police
themselves. The police response was indifferent despite the expressed
concern of the Government about such cases.

In February the Supreme Court ruled that a mother and supporter of the
nonregistered community of Christ's Warriors be denied parental custody
of her 4-year-old son because she had taken the boy to religious
meetings of the community. The court grounded its decision on
"educational qualities" claiming that "it is obvious that the child's
presence at such a public place is harmful to his mind and his health as
a whole."

At the Department of Theology of Sofia University, all students have
been required to present a certificate of baptism from the Orthodox
Church, and married couples to provide a marriage certificate from the
Orthodox Church, in order to enroll in the Department's classes.

Authorities initiated an investigation of the case of the April 1994
shooting death of Yordan Tsolov, an Orthodox priest in Surnitsa, about
which charges of police complicity were raised by a human rights
organization and the press in 1994.

Several religious groups appealed the denials of their registration by
the Council of Ministers under a 1994 amendment to the Families and
Persons Act. Most of the appeals were denied by the Council of
Ministers. Following the Supreme Court's April decision to affirm the
Council's denial of registration to the "Word of Life" group, the press
reported that the group was banned and that the police would seek out
and stop religious gatherings of the group, even if held in private
homes. Some observers made credible charges that the police sought to
break up meetings of non-Eastern Orthodox religious groups which were
denied registration.

The Constitution designates Eastern Orthodox Christianity as the
"traditional" religion. A number of major religious bodies, including
the Muslim and Jewish communities, receive government financial support.
There was no evidence that the Government discriminated against members
of any religious group in restituting to previous owners properties that
were nationalized during the Communist regime. For most religious
groups which were able to maintain their registration, there were no
restrictions on attendance at religious services or on private religious
instruction. A school for imams, a Muslim cultural center, university
theological faculties, and religious primary schools operated freely.
Bibles and other religious materials in the Bulgarian language were
freely imported and printed, and Muslim, Catholic, and Jewish
publications were published on a regular basis. However, during
compulsory military service most Muslims are placed into labor units
where they often perform commercial, military, or maintenance work
rather than serve in normal military units. The mainly ethnic-Turkish
Movement for Rights and Freedoms (MRF) protested this practice (see
Section 5).

A significant proportion of Muslims considered the current Government's
approval of the statutes of the Muslim faith and its registration of a
new Chief Mufti and new head of the Supreme Theological Council, all
developed at a November 1994 Islamic conference, to be government
interference in the affairs of the community. A rival Chief Mufti,
elected at an alternative Islamic conference in March, appealed the
Government's actions unsuccessfully to the Supreme Court.

The schism which opened in the Orthodox church in 1992 persisted.


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