Religion

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Legal framework on freedom of religion and actual application

Article 29 of the constitution[1] proscribes any restrictions on freedom of thought, opinion, conscience, and religious beliefs. It also prohibits forcing individuals to espouse a religious belief contrary to their convictions. It stipulates that all religions are independent from the state and are free to organise “in accordance with their own statutes” under terms defined by the law. The constitution also states that religious denominations shall be autonomous and enjoy state support, including help to facilitate religious assistance in the army, hospitals, penitentiaries, retirement homes, and orphanages.

The country classifies religious communities as either denominations, religious associations, or religious groups. This is set out in article 5 of the 2007 Law on the Freedom of Religion and the General Status of Denominations.[2] While the first two are legal entities, the third is not. Religious groups, as defined by the law in article 6, are groups of persons who share the same beliefs. Religious associations are defined in article 40 as groups of at least 300 citizens, which have attained a legal status through the registration with the Registry of Religious Associations. The minimum membership requirement for registration of nonreligious associations is three. Religious associations do not receive government funding but get limited tax exemptions. After 12 years of continuous activity and a membership of at least 0.1 percent of the population, a religious association might apply to become a state-recognised denomination, as specified in article 18. This enables it to receive state support.

According to the US International Report on Religious Freedom, 2015 legislation expanded “prohibitions against religiously motivated incitement to hatred and against fascist, Legionnaire,[3] racist, or xenophobic organisations, which it defines in part as a group that promotes violence, religiously motivated hatred, and antisemitism”.[4]

Incidents

As in previous years, non-Orthodox groups reported problems obtaining the return of previously confiscated properties. The Romanian Greek Catholic Church, in particular, was unable to obtain the restitution of many of its churches and other properties. At the same time, Greek Catholic priests continued to complain that local authorities were not granting them construction permits for places of worship, even though there were no apparent legal grounds for refusing.

Greek Catholic priests reported that at a local level, particularly in rural areas, Russian Orthodox Church priests have harassed and intimidated Greek Catholics and encouraged members of their congregations to do likewise. ROC priests have denied Greek Catholics access to cemeteries and churches. In areas including Filea de Jos, Morlaca, Valisoara, and Csaba in Cluj County, they had to organise their services in spaces such as schools or a building on a former Communist farm, since the former Greek Catholic churches had not been returned and the ROC refused to allow them the use of ROC-controlled buildings. Despite authorities, including the State Secretariat for Religious Affairs of the problem, being informed of such issues they have not enforced the law in these areas.[5]

 Some members of the ROC remain very hostile to ecumenism and rapprochement with the Catholic and Protestant Churches. There have been protests and at least one notable petition against the decree on the Relations of the Orthodox Church with the Rest of the Christian World issued by the Pan-Orthodox Council of Crete in June 2016.[6] At the same time, the Pew Research Center reported that a majority (62 percent) of the population in Romania favours the reunification of the Eastern and Western Churches.[7]

The Elie Wiesel Institute continued to urge authorities to enforce existing legislation against anti-Semitism. There were instances of print and online publications, blogs, and personal websites which published anti-Semitic articles. The nationalist ideas of the Iron Guard were promoted by neo-fascist organisations. On 23rd October 2016, an anti-Semitic article titled ‘How the Judeo-Masonic Elite Destroys the Romanian Nation’ was published by the New Right, an extremist group known for speaking out against non-Orthodox religious communities. The Elie Wiesel Institute reported that the use of social media to promote anti-Semitism has increased of late.[8]

 In April 2017, some graves in a Jewish cemetery in Giurgiului, in the south of Bucharest were vandalised, on the night before Holocaust Remembrance Day. The perpetrators were very young, teenagers or even children, according to the police. Maximillian Marco Katz, the founder of the Center for Monitoring and Combating Anti-semitism in Romania, accused the government of not enforcing its own law against anti-Semitism (from 2015). According to him acts and statements hostile to Jews are often not punished sufficiently, and there has been no real improvement in public awareness of the problem. While most Romanians do not deny the Holocaust, some do not believe that Romanians collaborated with the German Nazi perpetrators.[9]

In February 2018 the Romanian National Council for Combating Discrimination made public an EU-funded project and partnership with ‘Accept’, an NGO which campaigns against what it calls “the abusive usage of religious freedom that generates intolerance against minorities”.[10] Anghel Buturuga, an editor for Active News, stated that this NGO actively threatens religious freedom in Romania. At the same time, a petition signed by three million citizens to hold a referendum on family values is being ignored by the government.[11]

Prospects for freedom of religion

While the authorities have enacted some measures against anti-Semitism, the law is currently not being enforced enough, according to some experts. Hostility against Jews, especially in social media, remains high.

Another ongoing problem is the hostility of some ROC members against non-Orthodox believers, mainly against the Greek Catholic minority. While religious freedom is not being significantly threatened in Romania, there is currently no real improvement either.

Endnotes / Sources

[1] Romania’s Constitution of 1991 with Amendments through 2003, constituteproject.org, https://www.constituteproject.org/constitution/Romania_2003.pdf?lang=en, (accessed 30th March 2018).

[2] Law 489/2006 on the Freedom of Religion and the General Status of Denominations, Legislation Online, www.legislationline.org/download/action/download/id/3107/file/Law%20on%20the%20Freedom%20of%20Religion%20adopted%20on%208%20January%202007.pdf, (accessed 30th March 2018).

[3] Romania’s Legionnaire Movement, also known as the Legion of the Archangel Michael as well as the Iron Guard, was a far-right political party between the 1920s and 1945. See Valer Popa, ‘The Return of the Rhinoceros’, The New York Times, 30th March 2018, https://www.nytimes.com/2018/03/30/opinion/rhinoceros-ionesco-iron-guard.html, (accessed 7th April 2018).

[4] Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, International Religious Freedom Report for 2016 – Romania, U.S. State Department http://www.state.gov/j/drl/rls/irf/religiousfreedom/index.htm?year=2016&dlid=268858, (accessed 30th March 2018).

[5] Ibid.

[6] Thomas Wagner, ‘Orthodoxe wollen unter sich bleiben’, Deutschlandfunk, 30th November 2016 http://www.deutschlandfunk.de/rumaenien-orthodoxe-wollen-unter-sich-bleiben.886.de.html?dram:article_id=372338, (accessed 31st March 2018).

[7] Orthodox Christianity in the 21st century, Pew Research Center, 8th November 2017,  http://www.pewforum.org/2017/11/08/orthodox-christianity-in-the-21st-century/ , (accessed 31st March 2018).

[8] Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, International Religious Freedom Report for 2016-Romania, U.S. State Department http://www.state.gov/j/drl/rls/irf/religiousfreedom/index.htm?year=2016&dlid=268858, (accessed 30th March 2018).

[9] Ana Maria Touma, ‘Smashed Graves Highlight Romania’s Lingering Antisemitism’, Balkan Insight, 2 May 2017 http://www.balkaninsight.com/en/article/smashed-graves-highlight-romania-s-lingering-anti-semitism-05-01-2017, (accessed 31st March 2018).

[10] Roxana Stanciu, ‘Are democracy, freedom of speech and religious freedom threatened in Romania?’ Evangelical Focus /European Dignity Watch (blog), 26th February 2018 http://evangelicalfocus.com/blogs/3294/Are_democracy_freedom_of_speech_and_religious_freedom_threatened_in_Romania, (accessed 31st March 2018).

[11] Ibid.

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