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  • 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every year for their first ten years, and only then gain the rights of a religious association (Church), has also been revoked.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.

  • September 2017: The status of legal entity denied to the Latvian Autonomous Orthodox Church

In 1994, the Latvian Orthodox priest-monk Viktors Kontuzorovs (b.1944) left the Latvian Orthodox Church and joined the Russian autonomous Orthodox Church. Over the past 23 years, the Latvian autonomous Orthodox Church has tried to gain registration as an “Orthodox Church”. This demand for official registration was unsuccessful since the Section 7(3) of the Law on Religious Organisations (1995) states that only one religious association can be registered to represent a particular denomination, thus prohibiting the registration of two different religious associations for the Orthodox Church. The refusal to register the Latvian autonomous Orthodox Church has lead to a religious freedom issue. On July 19, 2017, the Constitutional court of Latvia started to examine a case regarding the Administrative District Court’s decision to dismiss the application of the Latvian Autonomous Orthodox Church for entering the Register of Religious Organisations, and thus to deny this organisation the status of a legal entity and, therefore, to prohibit its congregations from establishing a religious association, i.e. Church. In the court’s view, the contested norms unreasonably restrict the religious organisation’s right to freedom of religion and association, which is guaranteed by the Latvian Constitution. The Constitutional Court has requested the parliament of the Republic of Latvia to submit by 19 September 2017 a written reply, presenting the facts of the case and legal substantiation.

D 28 September 2017    AAnita Stasulane

CNRS Unistra Dres Gsrl

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