- May 2016 : Leaders of Latvia’s Christian denominations criticize the Istanbul Convention
The Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence (the so-called “Istanbul Convention”) was adopted by the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe in 2011. On April 29, 2016, the leaders of Latvia’s Christian denominations released an open letter about the Istanbul Convention, which pointed out that the Convention in its current form is not acceptable, as it contains significant faults, which "permit tendentious, ideological interpretations – including ones, which also have no connection with the eradication of violence.” The leaders of Latvia’s Christian denominations consider that the Istanbul Convention does not deal with the true causes of violence, but opens up opportunities to force a social gender-ideology based social transformation project on Latvia, which would be inconsistent with the Latvian constitution.
The Church representatives pointed out that the convention does not take a stance against the promotion of violence in the media or pornography, where females are treated as objects in the most degrading way. Also, the convention does not address the issue of the excessive use of alcohol or drugs, which is the main reason for violence within families and in the community, and the convention does not protect from violence children who have been conceived (abortion). The Church leaders invited politicians to do whatever is necessary to eliminate the real causes of violence within the family, and as a consequence to combat violence, which is directed at women.
The Latvian government supported the signing of the Istanbul Convention, but to the degree that it is not in conflict with the constitution. The constitution defines that marriage is a union between a man and a woman, while the convention also mentions gender in the sense of a social theory. The Istanbul Convention was signed by the Minister of Social Affairs of Latvia on 18 May 2016, but it will need to be ratified in the Latvian Parliament (Saeima).
- February 2016 : Latvia is planning to introduce a law banning the wearing of face coverings in public places
In August 2015, Raimonds Vējonis, the President of the Republic of Latvia expressed support for discussions on the wearing of Muslim head-dress in public places in Latvia. His invitation came a week after Estonia’s Social Defence Minister Marguss Cahkna revealed a proposal to ban the wearing of Muslim head-dress and other clothing which covers the face, in public places, in Estonia.
Members of Latvia’s Regional Alliance Party came up with a draft law On the Regulation of Persons Covering their Faces in Public Places. This initiative failed to achieve support of the majority in the Saeima in September : Only 29 members voted in favour, 8 were against, while 45 parliamentarians abstained from voting on the consideration of the draft law.
In November 2015, the Cabinet of Ministers reviewed the report On the Possibility of Introducing a Ban on the Wearing of Face Coverings in Public Places and asked the Ministry of Justice to evaluate the need for the ban. The Ministry informed the government that, bearing in mind Latvia’s laws, the experience of other countries in introducing a similar ban, as well as an evaluation of case law from the European Human Rights Court, a country has the right to implement a ban on the wearing of face coverings in public places. Therefore, the Ministry of Justice acknowledged that this kind of ban could be provided by Latvian law. The government agreed that the Justice Ministry should draft the necessary law.
The draft law foresees the introduction of restrictions in relation to the wearing of a head-dress which covers the face in public places, except in places of worship of religious organizations, prayer rooms and spaces where religious activities are taking place, or at closed private events held in a public place. In a similar way, the restriction does not apply to the private property of individuals, where an owner can determine the regulations and procedures of use of the property. In the annotation to the draft law, the Justice Ministry stated that, bearing in mind the framework of democratic countries and economic factors, the trend for people to migrate cannot be avoided and is a part of our daily lives. However, even in these conditions, a harmonious and united state society, as well as the characteristic traditions, culture, and way of life of the particular state should be preserved. As a consequence, the type of environment which provides for the integration in Latvian society of a person newly arrived in the country should be created in Latvia, as well as unimpeded mutual communication between the members of society.
On 26th February 2016, the Justice Ministry released a draft law about the restriction on wearing face coverings in public places, and invited the public to express their views on it. A month of public consultations took place and the Justice Ministry received 21 opinions. Eight persons supported the draft law, pointing out that the covering of the face did not conform to Latvian traditions and culture, and stated their desire to be able to see the people with whom they are communicating. Thirteen persons did not support the draft law, basing their decision on the following arguments : (1) the restriction on the wearing of face coverings is an unjustified encroachment on human rights, (2) the principle of proportionality was not observed in the development of the draft law, (3) such a restriction promotes division in society and the isolation of Muslim women from the community, (4) it is discriminatory, does not conform to democratic principles and will create many problems of application. The opinions of Muslim congregations vary : five Muslim congregations indicated that the draft law does not affect their rights, whereas two Muslim congregations did not support the draft law.
A survey conducted by TNS Latvia in March 2016 revealed that the majority (77%) of Latvia’s inhabitants aged from 18 to 55 years supported the draft law (42% - definitely yes ; 35% - more likely, yes), but 16% did not support it (11% - more likely, no ; 5% - definitely no).
The Ministry of Justice is evaluating the results from the public consultations and is continuing to work on the draft law.
- January 2016 : Scientology in Latvian schools
In January 2016, the Latvian media announced the Church of Scientology’s attempts to penetrate schools in Latvia. Already in the summer of 2014, information was provided that representatives from this movement had sent the brochure The Way to Happiness, written by Scientology founder Ron Hubbard, to hundreds of schools in Latvia. Having analysed the contents of the brochure, experts from Latvia’s Ministry of Education and Science acknowledged that it wasn’t suitable for the education and development of children. They claimed it wasn’t educational, and was misleading. Despite this, at a number of schools the leadership has not taken this conclusion into account, and is currently collaborating with the Laimes kalve [the Forge of Happiness] Association, which is connected with one of the Church of Scientology’s branches – Way to Happiness Foundation International, an international organization which provides lectures from its representatives for schoolchildren.
According to Latvian law, representatives from any kind of profession or organization can be invited to schools, as long as their lectures aren’t in conflict with the education standard of Latvia. A school’s leadership is obliged to undertake this evaluation. As explained by a school’s leadership, the topics of the lectures provided by Way to Happiness Foundation are mainly connected with the prevention of dependence, motivation to learn, solving conflict, and achieving competence. As a consequence, in their view, the lectures don’t have a destructive nature, and lecturers from the association are allowed to present lectures in schools. Representatives of the association have lectured children as young as ten, and claim that across Latvia, about 2,000 pupils have heard them.
It is not just Latvia’s schools that are within the sphere of interest of the Church of Scientology. The Laimes kalve association regularly participates in city festivals, in the annual Izglītība [Education] exhibitions, and also presents lectures to city council employees.