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  • June 2019 : Amendments to the Law on the Latvian Orthodox Church

On June 6, 2019, the Parliament of the Republic of Latvia (Saeima) supported amendments to the Law on the Latvian Orthodox Church which determines that only a citizen of the Republic of Latvia who has permanently resided in the country for no less than 10 years can become the head of the Orthodox Church, or a metropolitan, a bishop, or be a candidate for these positions.

Until now, the statutes of the Latvian Orthodox Church determined that the head of the Church, the metropolitans, and the bishops, must be citizens of the Republic of Latvia who have resided in Latvia for a prescribed period. These requirements have now been fixed in a law of the Republic of Latvia. The annotation to the draft law explains that these amendments were needed to ensure the self-determination and self-ruling rights of the Latvian Orthodox Church, and to respect its position on the demands which could be made concerning the Church personnel.

The chairman of the Human Rights and Public Affairs Committee which is responsible for the progress of the draft law emphasized that the determination of citizenship and residential criteria for officials in such a religious organizations, where the leadership is located outside of Latvia, will allow for the strengthening of the autonomy of the organization and the capacity to disassociate itself from potential foreign influence. This, in turn, would strengthen the Latvian state and public security.

In reviewing the submitted draft law on amendments to the Law on the Latvian Orthodox Church, the Saeima (Legal Affairs Office) had asked that it would not be advanced for further review, as the necessity and proportionality of this restriction on rights was not sufficiently justified. However, the amendments were considered a matter of urgency, with 79 members voting in favour and nobody voting against. There were no debates, objections or proposals, as a representative of the Latvian Orthodox Church had previously expressed support for the amendments at a meeting of the Human Rights and Public Affairs Committee.

The current Latvian Orthodox Church’s Metropolitan of Rīga and all Latvia, Aleksander (born in 1939), fulfils the new legal requirements. The amendments were adopted as a matter of urgency, taking into account events in Estonia : after the death of the Estonian Orthodox Church’s leader Metropolitan Kornelius, Metropolitan Jevgeni, who was nominated by the Moscow Patriarchate, was elected in his place. In contrast to the leader of the Latvian Orthodox Church, the Estonian Metropolitan had criticized the Constantinople Patriarchate’s decision on the independence of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church.

  • February 2019 : A Turning Point in the Operations of Latvia’s Religious Organizations

The religious situation in Latvia is changing in a similar way as it is in Estonia and Ukraine. In Estonia, there have been two Orthodox churches since the mid-1990s : one is under the jurisdiction of the Constantinople Patriarchate, while the other is led by the Moscow Patriarchate. Similar processes have also taken place recently in Ukraine.

Latvijas Pareizticīgā autonomā baznīca [Latvian Orthodox Autonomous Church] addressed the Register of Enterprises of the Republic of Latvia, requesting to be registered as a religious organization. The request was rejected, as the Law on Religious Organizations (Section 7, 3) prescribes that congregations from one denomination can only form one religious association (Church) in Latvia. As the Orthodox denomination is already registered in Latvia as a religious association (Church), the registration of another religious community as an Orthodox Church is illicit.

The Latvian Orthodox Autonomous Church turned to the courts and the matter ended up in the Constitutional Court, which then assessed whether believers had the right to choose the denomination or Church to which they wish to belong, or whether they did not have this right. This is an important legal question, as questions of human rights and religious freedom are affected. The Latvian Orthodox Autonomous Church requested that the Constitutional Court recognized its legal continuity, as it has been a registered religious organization even before Latvia’s occupation (1940), and demanded to enter as a legal person in the register of religious organizations and their institutions.

The 2018 judgement is an important turning point in the operations of Latvia’s religious organizations, as the Constitutional Court recognized that the norm in the Law on Religious Organizations, which forbids the founding of more than one religious association (Church) within the framework of one denomination, did not correspond with the Constitution of Latvia (Satversme). The requirement that new religious associations, which commence operations in Latvia for the first time and do not belong to previously registered religious associations (Churches), have to be reregistered every year for their first ten years, and only then gain the rights of a religious association (Church), has also been revoked.

In Latvia, the issue of the degree to which the state should be regulating the life of religious associations (Churches), so as not to breach Article 99 of the Constitution of Latvian (Satversme) on the separation of the Church and State, has arisen. Several members of the Parliament (Saeima) have expressed the position that the State should be very reticent on the desire to go into detail in the regulation of religious organizations, as this could border on interference in the life of the Church. In looking at amendments to the Law on Religious Organizations, the legislature will be forced to respond on the location of this boundary in the near future. In February 2019, the Latvijas juristu apvienība [Latvian Bar Association] held a discussion on whether any changes would take place in the operation of religious organizations after this judgement, and if so, of what kind.

Source : Latvijas Vēstnesis.

D 25 juin 2019    AAnita Stasulane

CNRS Unistra Dres Gsrl

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