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Janvier-mars 2021

  • January-March 2021 : Religion in the national census and national funding of religious groups

From February 15 to March 31 2021, an online census has been conducted in Slovakia. In this census, the first one in a decade, 86% of the population of Slovakia have been enumerated. The first phase of self-enumeration was followed by a phase of assisted enumeration for those who could not carry out the electronic registration themselves due to lack of computer skills and/or Internet access. Due to the pandemic, the period assigned for completing the assisted census has been prolonged until October 31st, 2021. Census questions included an inquiry about the citizens’ religious affiliation and this gave rise to a political conflict between factions with conflicting worldviews. It was mainly due to the validity of a new law regarding governmental financial assistance for the church from 2019, which states that the amount of funding allocated for church financing depends on the number of Slovak citizens declaring affiliation with the given church. An increase or drop of 10% reflects in a 10% decrease of funding for the registered denominations applying for financial assistance. In the course of the campaign before and during the census, several registered churches, most of all the Roman Catholic church, called on the population to confirm their affiliation with the church where they practice their religion or in which they were baptised. For this purpose, the Catholic Church addressed the public by its first Pastoral Letter of 2021 as well as in several media outlets. In their second Pastoral Letter issued in February, the Catholic bishops talked about census assistance offered to those without access to modern technologies. Secular circles expressed concerns about the possibility that the church may be directly influencing the population by encouraging the public to register their church affiliation, thus tampering with the impartiality and objectivity of collected data.

Ethos, an NGO of secular humanists (sekularisti.sk), led a campaign encouraging the public to check the box “without religion“ as a way of highlighting the contested method of church funding. In addition to gradual financial separation of state and church, they want to achieve a decrease of funds for direct church support. They also criticized the – failed – efforts of the Catholic Church to join the Central Census Commission.

Simultaneously, a campaign was led by groups of believers from the Catholic Church and the Evangelical Church of Augsburg Confession (Lutherans) for checking the option “other“ while verbally indicating Catholic, Evangelical (Lutheran), or Christian affiliation as a way of expressing their disapproval of methods of church funding.
The campaign of groups rejecting the idea of direct church funding peaked in the common statement entitled “Let’s Finish November 1989 (Giving Freedom to Churches)“, bringing together Christian group activists, secularists, an eccentric group called Alcohol’s Witnesses and the SaS liberal political party. They critically challenged the churches that encourage their non-practicing members to confirm their affiliation with their church in the census, and stated their opposition to the funding of churches by the state.

Smaller religious communities released various campaigns to motivate their believers to register their faith in the national census to strengthen their negotiation position with the state. For the first time, Islam was offered as an option. NGO Islamská nadácia published various internet newspaper articles trying to encourage Slovak Muslims to claim their faith, even if there are afraid of possible social stigma. Slovak Jews are another small religious community that was motivating their sympathizers to enter Judaism as their faith. They are attemps to slow the secularization of Slovak Jews. During the last census 2011, only 1999 of Jews of a total number around 5000 claimed to be religious. Miro Žiarslav Švický, a prominent Slovak Neopagan leader, also heavily promoted the necessity of claiming the Pagan faith under the moniker “rodné duchovno” (Native Faith) during February and March 2021. One of the main arguments was strengthening the negotiation position of the unregistered Žiarislav’s Neopagan religious group with the state.

  • January 2021 : Clergy ranked among critical infrastructure workers during the pandemic

- January 20th : In his official statement, the Minister of Healthcare included in the groups receiving priority in the vaccination process members of the clergy who, according to the Ministry of Healthcare, visit medical institutions and assisted living facilities where they work in close proximity with vulnerable and high-risk groups. This statement included priests among essential frontline workers during the COVID-19 pandemic.

- January 25th : Anna Záborská, member of parliament for the OĽANO party, launched an amendment request to include the clergy among healthcare professions. According to her amendment proposal, spiritual service would be included in medical care. A wave of criticism from the ranks of medical and healthcare professionals resulted in the amendment proposal to be withdrawn.

  • February 2021

- Conference of Slovak Bishops against gender equality

As part of commenting on the proposed European guidelines on adequate minimal wage in the European Union, the Conference of Slovak Bishops (Catholic bishops) requested to leave out the words “gender equality“ and recommended for the Slovak Republic not to ratify the Convention of the International Labor Organisation on the elimination of violence and harassment in the workplace from 2019. The Convention recognises foremost the right of everyone to a work environment free from violence and harassment.

- End to coverage for abortions for women over 40 due to health-related reasons

Minister of Healthcare Marek Krajčí issued a regulation stating that women over 40 years of age having an abortion will not be covered by health insurance if requesting the procedure based on their private decision. The Minister explained that he intended to end discrimination of women based on age. Abortion is covered by health insurance for all women in the case of medical risks. Previously, however, pregnancy was considered as a medical risk for women over 40 years of age and abortion was, thus, covered by health insurance for them regardless of its motive. From now on, women over 40 will be in the same situation as younger women : if the abortion is not for medical reason, it will not be covered by health insurance and they will have to pay for the termination of pregnacy. The regulation came into effect on March 1st. Those who are against this new policy stress that it will limit access to interruption of pregnancy for woman from poor backgrounds.

- Court trial with Slovak Neopagan Jaroslav Reborn Pagáč was delayed to May 2021

The trial of Jaroslav “Reborn” Pagáč, which started in the year 2018, continued in February. The Slovak Slavic Neopagan and musician was accused of propagation and distribution of extremist symbols, together with Jakub Škrabák and Michal Buchta. They are all connected in various ways to the nationalist politic party Ľudová strana – Naše Slovensko (ĽSNS). Explicitly, Pagáč was charged with the use of symbols such as a spinning wheel (kolovrat), a black sun, the rune of life, and the rune of death. If Slovak Neopagan was declard to be guilty, he would go to prison for four years. The case raised much attention among Slovak antifascists (who produced various blogs trying to connect him with the Slovak ultra-right scene) and Slovak Neopagans (who see his charge as an attack against his religious beliefs).

  • March 2021

- Invitation of Pope Francis to visit Slovakia
March 8th : Pope Francis has expressed his intention of travelling to Slovakia. Zuzana Čaputová, President of the Slovak Republic, had invited Pope Francis to Slovakia during her visit to the Vatican in December 2020.

- Attempted ratification of a ban of adoption by same-sex couples
March 17th : Voting took place on a proposed bill to include the sentence “parents are solely a father – a man and a mother – a woman“, and to “ban“ a third gender as well as adoptions of children by same-sex couples.

- Protests against the closing of churches
Chairman of the Anton Tunega Foundation’s Executive Board, ex-chairman of the Christian Democratic Movement and former Commissary of the European Union Ján Figeľ stated that the banning of public worship services violates constitutional and international law. For this reason, he called on the government to amend the rules in order to allow citizens to exercise their right to freedom of religion or religious belief and its expression. He also made a motion to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg as well as to the Attorney General of the Slovak Republic to submit this motion to the Constitutional Court of the Slovak Republic. According to Figeľ, the constitutional law does not allow the government to prohibit public worship services, which means the closing of churches.

He also refers to the constitution explicitly confirming religious freedom as a fundamental human right. Similarly, the European Convention on Human Rights guarantees a free collective exercise of religious freedom. The Head of the Conference of Slovak Bishops, Stanislav Zvolenský, made a similar statement saying that executive power in the country is limiting religious freedom in an inadequate way, addressing his standpoint to Minister of Finance and appointed Minister of Healthcare Eduard Heger of the OĽANO party, who soon after replaced the previously elected premier, Igor Matovič, in the office of Prime Minister.

According to the Conference of Slovak Bishops, on March 30 Eduard Heger promised to submit a proposal for adequately guaranteed access to individual spiritual care despite the curfew in place. He also expressed a desire to look for a solution in terms of resuming religious services with the participation of worshippers as early as possible while observing relevant safety and health standards and regulations.
As the head of the Conference of Slovak Bishops said on April 12, Slovak bishops are encouraging congregants to return to their parish churches upon the easing of anti-pandemic measures while observing health and safety guidelines. Masses and religious services are likely to resume in the upcoming days or weeks, admitting limited participation of worshippers.

From April 19, the lockdown in Slovakia was reduced and some shops, services and schools were open for public respecting the hygienic restrictions. Religious services started to be open for public with restrictions of the number of people per square meter of churches and spiritual places. Religious services have an exception from obligation for participants to have a negative COVID-19 test that the other common activities are obliged to respect.

D 27 avril 2021    AMichal Puchovský AMiroslav Tížik

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