NEW LAW on RELIGION VOTED in BULGARIA

January 5, 2019 by  
Filed under Events, Featured, Missions, News

After eight street protests in the last two months, Evangelical Christians gathered in front of Bulgaria’s Parliament praying for God’s intervention in the legislative process voted on December 21st. On its last work day for the year, the National Assembly of Bulgaria voted amendments in the nation’s Religious Denominations Act effective January 1, 2019. A number of problematic provisions were pulled out of the draft following local protests and international pressure. The final draft voted in excluded most of the original amendments pushed at first reading in early October allowing the government to interfere in heavy ways into church affairs.

Those problematic articles are now dropped from the law! They included a number of disconcerting restrictions, including

  • impeding clergy training;
  • strict filtering of international donations to churches;
  • limitations on sermon content;
  • restraining liturgy to designated buildings;
  • obstructing non-Bulgarians’ ministry;
  • membership of 3,000 for legal registration;
  • and allowing special privileges to religious groups over one percent of the population.

After the seventh rally, held on a snowy Sunday, December 16th, Bulgarian Christians assumed voting would be postponed until after New Year, and called off the protests for Christmas. A sudden push by the Parliament, however, moved the vote date to December 20, 2018 right after a letter by Fredrik Sundberg Principal Administrator of the Department for the Execution of Judgments of the European Court of Human Rights, who reminded Bulgarian politicians that:

“Having examined the different version of the draft Bill […] the Department considers that certain provisions could, if adopted, undermine the execution of the above mentioned judgements which are currently under the supervision of the Committee of Ministers; thus, placing them in a situation at odds with the obligations of Bulgaria under Articles 9 and 11 of the Convention.”

As a result, during the meeting of the parliament’s Committee of Religious Denominations and Human Rights, its chairman Krasimir Velchev unexpectedly changed his mind and pushed a decision to scratch off the 3,000 members requirement for judicial registration of a religious group. Even though the Committee had expressed an unyielding determination to promote this provision, the correspondence from the Council of Europe quickly changed their mind. A day later, the Religion Denominations Act was presented for deliberations on the floor of the House. A few articles were voted in on Thursday, and the rest on Friday, December 21st. Almost all of the provisions that were protested against were dropped to include the following into the new legislation that is now effectively operational as follows:

(1) Each church is to maintain and submit to the government a detail list of all ministers operating within its government registration. It is unclear how churches, which refuse government registration, will continue to operate

(2) Buildings owned and used for religious purposes (liturgy, worship service) must be registered into a national registry before receiving any tax deductions

(3) It is unclear if and how will churches with rented auditoriums, which account for roughly some 70% of the Bulgarian congregations, will report to the goverment or use any tax deductions

(4) Worship services allowed outside of designated building are limited on the use of loudspeakers and PA systems

(5) Foreigners can hold services only after informing the state Directorate of Religious Affairs about their activity in Bulgaria

The final draft of the Religion Denominations Act envisages state subsidy for officially registered denominations on the basis of the number of self-identified followers in the most recent census. The state also assumes paying salaries to their active ministers using taxpayers money. Based on this, the Orthodox Church will receive annually between  $10-25 million and  the Muslim confession about $350,000. At this time, subsidizing Evangelical churches is not included in the government budget.

By accepting state subsidy, the two largest religious groups in Bulgaria are entering a season of dependence on secular government. No state should ever interfere with church affairs. No religious community should ever be placed in a state of financial dependency under the authority of the secular state. Will the Eastern Orthodox denomination and the Muslim religion be able to shake off political influences? Will they have the courage to stand up for justice and speak up for the truth?

2019

January 1, 2019 by  
Filed under Featured, Missions, News

A word from the man who prophesied the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989

December 30, 2018 by  
Filed under Events, Featured, Missions, News, Video

Merry Christmas from all of us

December 25, 2018 by  
Filed under Featured, News

New Bill on Religion in Bulgaria Goes to a Final Vote

December 20, 2018 by  
Filed under Events, Featured, Missions, News, Publication

A government committee met in Bulgaria today to decide any last changes in the new legislation on religion and churches in Bulgaria. The bill will be then brought before the Parliament for a final vote this Friday, December 21, 2018 before it becomes an official law. In its current draft, the legislation infringes harsh restrictions on religious freedom and evangelical believers, which will disrupt church services right before Christmas.

Protestant protests will continue all day on Friday before the Bulgarian Parliament in the snowy weather. Should the legislation be voted in to become an official law, Christians will be forced to continue their peaceful protesting and prayer marches in order to defend their religious freedom and right of expression.

Council of Europe and the European Union Report (video)

United Nations report on Government Restrictions of Religious Freedom in Bulgaria

UPDATE: Christians in Bulgaria continue to protest over new law

CBN: Evangelical Christians Praying Against a Serious Threat in Bulgaria

Christianity Today: Bulgaria Considers Religious Restrictions

DayStarTV: RELIGIOUS FREEDOM UNDER ATTACK IN BULGARIA

Read more here: 

ALL BOOKS CHRISTMAS SALE

December 15, 2018 by  
Filed under Books, Featured, News

Since 2011, we have authored over two dozen books related to our ministry and mission work in Eastern Europe. As several of the prints are now almost exhausted and second/third editions and several new titles are under way, we are releasing all currently available editions in a Christmas sale through the month of December. All titles are available at up to 30% off and Amazon offers free shipping and extra savings for bundle purchases.

books

PRAY for BULGARIA: Past Month of Evangelical Protests Recap

December 10, 2018 by  
Filed under Featured, Missions, News

  • Vote on the new legislation is now postponed for 2019, however several committees still need to approve any new changes 
  • After 7 street protests since November, evangelicals call off protests for the holidays with one last stand on December 16, 2018
  • The situation in Bulgaria was reported to the Venice Commission of the Council of Europe 
  • The case of Bulgaria was presented before the European Parliament (at the end of video below)
  • Attention to religious freedom in Bulgaria was called at the United Nations 70th Anniversary of the Human Rights Declaration (at the end of video below)

 

International Association FOR THE DEFENSE OF RELIGIOUS LIBERTY

Association internationale POUR LA DÉFENSE DE LA LIBERTÉ RELIGIEUSE

UNITED NATIONS PERMANENT REPRESENTATIVE IN GENEVA, NEW YORK & VIENNA In Participatory Status with the COUNCIL OF EUROPE in Strasbourg, EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT in Strasbourg & Brussels, and with O.S.C.E.

Founder: Dr Jean NUSSBAUM. President: Mr. Mario BRITO

Honorary Committee Former Presidents:

  • Mrs Eleanor ROOSEVELT,
  • Dr Albert SCHWEITZER,
  • Paul Henry SPAAK,
  • René CASSIN,
  • Edgar FAURE,
  • Léopold Sédar SENGHOR,
  • Mrs Mary ROBINSON.

President of the Honorary Committee: H.E. Dr ADAMA DIENG, The Under-Secretary-General, Special Adviser of the Secretary General of the UN on Prevention of Genocide.

Secretary General: Dr LIVIU OLTEANU | www.aidlr.org

UNITED NATIONS GENEVA – PALAIS DES NATIONS, ROOM XVII, ON 30 OF NOVEMBER 2018 OHCHR – ELEVEN ‘FORUM ON MINORITY ISSUES, ITEM 3

STATEMENT DELIVERED By DR. LIVIU OLTEANU, the Secretary General of the International Association for the Defense of Religious Liberty from Switzerland on ‘RELIGIOUS FREEDOM LAW’ OF BULGARIAN PARLIAMENT

Madame Chairperson

The UN Special Rapporteur on Minority Issues,

Excellencies,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

At the 70th Anniversary of UDHR, first of all I want to thank to the UN, for what is doing in favor of human rights, peace and minorities.

I’m Dr. Liviu Olteanu, the Secretary General of the International Association for the Defense of Religious Liberty (AIDLR) from Switzerland, founded in 1946, organization which received the special support of Eleanor Roosevelt, the first president of our Honorary Committee.

Ladies and gentlemen,

I want to underline from very beginning that we don’t defend a religion, but we defend the PRINCIPLE of freedom of religion or belief for all people.

We live in times with insecurity and crisis. According to Antonio Guterres UN Secretary General “around the world we see how ‘religion’ is being manipulated to justify incitement to violence”. Adama Dieng, Special Adviser of the UN Secretary General on Genocide Prevention, stresses too: “religious minorities, migrants and refugees are often used by parties by fueling divisions”.

Recent years, we have witnessed the spread of violent extremism, which misuses religion to justify discrimination against religious minorities, or creating laws based on ‘national security’; sometimes and in some countries, these laws are used as pretext against religious minorities as Muslims, Jews, Christians, not respecting their dignity and rights.

In these days, Bulgarian Parliament prepares a law on religious freedom – and if the law will be voted – it can affect the religious minorities as: Evangelicals, Baptists, Seventh-day Adventists, Pentecostals, Catholics, Jews, Muslims and others. I appreciate Bulgaria and Bulgarians – a nice country with wise and wonderful people.

I ask the UN Special Rapporteur on Minorities, the European Union, all European countries to use all diplomatic tools asking urgently Bulgaria, to adequate the prepared draft of ‘religious freedom law’ according the UDHR art 18, the ICCPR art 18, and the EU’ Guidelines on religious freedom.

I ask Bulgarian Parliament listening the voices of religious minorities, correcting the draft law, and giving up to all proposed restrictions on religious freedom.

I thank and I congratulate Bulgaria for the attention can give to the future ‘law of religious freedom’, in the way that future law can be according the international laws.

Excellencies,

I wish to Member States, to all of you, a blessed 2019 with peace, security, happiness and love for the Other, our neighbor !

Together, let us make the difference!

Thank you Madame Chairperson.

A Non-Governmental Organization accredited to the United Nations ECOSOC Committee, in Participatory Status with the Council of Europe and the European Parliament Headquarters: Schosshaldenstrasse 17, CH-3006 Berne, Switzerland; Phone +41 (0)76 316 07 29; Fax +41 (0)31 359 15 66 Offices : Rue Belliard 4-6, 8, 1040 Brussels, Belgium; Phone + 32 250 298 42

LATEST from BULGARIA: Freedom of religion is a fundamental right of all European Union citizens

December 5, 2018 by  
Filed under Events, Featured, Missions, News

  • Second vote on the proposed legislation was postponed for December, 2018 though current draft still infringes harsh restrictions on religious freedom
  • Protestant protests have continued for over a month in several cities on November 11, 18, 25, December 2 and now scheduled for December 9, 2018

SOURCE: Evangelical Focus – SOFIA, December 2018

Members of the European Parliament (MEP’s) of the European Christian Political Movement have expressed their concern towards the proposed legislation titled “Bill for the Amendment and Supplement of the Law on Religions” currently progressing through the National Assembly, Bulgaria’s Parliament.

On November 27, the MEP’s said they were “uncertain about the proposed law that has the potential to significantly interfere with religious freedom in Bulgaria”. “In recent weeks, they have been made aware of a growing disquiet from a broad range of Christian communities in Bulgaria regarding the possible negative impact of this proposed law on Christian life”, said the movement of European politicians formed by committed Christians faith.

In their letter to Bulgarian Prime Minister, Boyko Borisov, the members of the ECPM wrote: “Freedom of religion and belief is considered a fundamental right of all EU citizens and a pillar of European democracy. We thoroughly believe that the wellbeing of Bulgarian people and development of Bulgarian society is your uttermost priority. Our experience from the nations we represent shows that respect for the principle of non-discrimination of Christians of every denomination always results in a harmonious and prosperous society.”

The organisation encourages the Bulgarian legislators to “take these arguments into account and consider necessary steps that will safeguard the rights of religious minorities living in Bulgaria”. The letter was sent to the President of the European Parliament, Antonio Tajani, with a plea for intervention in this matter too.

COUNCIL OF EUROPE ADDRESSED BY ADF AND BULGARIAN CHURCHES

Two days later, On November 29, advocacy group ADF International and a coalition of Bulgarian churches “filed a formal request with the Secretary General of the Council of Europe that he initiates a review of a proposed Bulgarian Law on Religious Denominations currently being debated in the Bulgarian Parliament”, the group said. “The Venice Commission, an advisory body of the Council of Europe, would carry out the review”. Lorcán Price, Legal Counsel for ADF International, added: “Nobody should be deprived of their fundamental right to religious freedom. As the European Court of Human Rights has ruled in the past, the government should not engage in ‘picking favourites’ when it comes to churches”.

LATEST DEVELOPMENTS IN BULGARIA

On December 1, the Bulgarian Evangelical Alliance (BEA) issued the following statement summarizing the situation at that point:

The Bulgarian Evangelical Alliance continues to express concern in regards of the Religious Denominations Act amendments planned by the Parliament. Earlier this year, two drafts were coined out and later merged into one proposed legislation. It contained a number of disconcerting restrictions, including impeding clergy training; strict filtering of international donations to churches; limitations on sermon content; restraining liturgy to designated buildings; obstructing non-Bulgarians’ ministry; membership of 300 for legal registration; allowing special privileges to religious groups over one percent of the population.

The lawmakers’ initiative triggered a massive public outcry. Every faith group in Bulgaria issued a statement of objection. The BEA and communities like Catholics, Seventh-Day Adventists and Evangelical denominations mobilized church members for public protests on November 11, 18 and 25. These peaceful vigils were called “prayer rallies” and were held in a dozen Bulgarian towns. The third protest, the largest so far having some 3,000 people in Sofia, was covered by every media in the country. The Evangelical rallies were accompanied by statements of groups of academicians and public figures, as well as by several legal rights associations.

After a Parliamentary workgroup deliberated on Oct.14, some of the initial proposals were withdrawn. Two days later, a new version of the amendments was published on the Bulgarian Parliament’s webpage. In the new document, the lawmakers had conceded some initial provisions like restricting worship only to designated buildings, filtering international sponsorship, limiting foreigners’ ministry, disallowing religious schools. However, other problematic provisions remained.

The Nov.16 version of the draft increased tenfold the threshold for registering a religious group: at least 3,000 members! This is an act of discrimination against minority groups. Apparently, the lawmakers’ intention is to severely cut the number of legal faith groups in Bulgaria (currently, 183 registered religions in the country). Even though there was an oral commitment that this article would not be used with reverse force, there is another one according to which a legally recognized religion might lose its registration if it fails to abide by the new requirements. A prominent installment is the provision that a private real estate could automatically become property of the religion using it by a prescriptive right. Once again, clergymen and missionaries wishing to be involved in liturgy or worship will have to register with the state or else risk penalty.

Ten days after the first meeting of the workgroup, a second one was held on Nov.23. Representatives of various religious groups were invited. The lawmakers made more oral promises for concessions, including: dropping the requirement for registration to 200 members; rewriting the text so that it would not have a reverse strength; canceling the prohibition of worship outside designated buildings. Once again, no written record was provided of the group’s deliberations. No document was submitted into Parliament documenting these concessions. Instead, it was made clear that every preliminary version of the proposed legislation would enter parliamentary deliberations. This understanding leads us to be seriously concerned that some of the commitments taken during the workgroup discussions may in fact be ignored by MPs during the bill’s final voting.

The BEA also expresses anxiety regarding the procedure of how the new legislation was handled by Bulgarian lawmakers. Whereas the normal logic of new legal instalments would mean first a consultation with the religious groups affected, and only then submitting the bill for reading at Parliament, in this instance our decision makers adopted a reverse series of steps. First, two new drafts (with different agendas) were pushed in Parliament; then they were factitiously united into one bill with amendments; and only then was a work group of interested parties invited to the table to discuss provisions that were completely unacceptable, before submitting the document for 2nd reading by MPs.

By this point, BEA concerns have been shared and reiterated by a number of European and global religious and legal rights entities, including

  • the World Evangelical Alliance, the European Evangelical Alliance,
  • international denominational bodies (Methodist, Baptist, Pentecostal, Assemblies of God, and others),
  • the Conference of European Churches,
  • the USCIRF,
  • Advocates Europe,
  • Transform Europe Network,
  • Norway’s Stefanus Alliance and Helsinki Committee,
  • the European Christian Political Movement,
  • ADF International, etc.

On Tuesday, Nov.27, a week prior to its 17th general assembly in Brussels, the European Christian Political Movement sent a letter to Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov. The address expressed uncertainty “about the proposed law that has the potential to significantly interfere with religious freedom in Bulgaria.” The letter was also sent to Antonio Tajani, President of the European Parliament, with a plea for intervention.

On Nov.29, ADF International and a coalition of Bulgarian churches filed a request with the Secretary General of the Council of Europe to initiate a review of the proposed Religious Denominations Act. The Venice Commission, an advisory body of the Council of Europe, has been involved to carry out a review of the legislation.

The BEA appeals on the common sense of the Bulgarian authorities. The freedoms of belief, word, and meeting are fundamental rights. We remind our politicians that in a free and democratic society they are called to defend fundamental rights, rather than introduce arbitrary and dubiously motivated restrictions. By claiming these freedoms and upholding the dignity of the Bulgarian nation, we urge the Parliament to withdraw all proposed amendments to the Religious Denominations Act.

BULGARIAN PASTOR WILL SPEAK AT EU PARLIAMENT EVENT

This week, a board member of the Bulgarian Evangelical Alliance will tak part in an event at  the European Parliament in connection to celebrating 70 years since the signing of “The Universal Declaration for Human Rights”, back on December 10, 1948. Reverend Daniel Topalski will attend the sessions planned for December 4-6 in the European Parliament. He will take part in a panel discussion on basic human rights, and he will use the opportunity to speak up about the situation in Bulgaria. Pastor Topalski is head of the Methodist Church in Bulgaria, and a representative of the BEA in the EEA.

ADF International: Churches in Bulgaria appeal to the Venice Commission

December 1, 2018 by  
Filed under Featured, Missions, News

SUMMARY

  • Bulgarian churches seek to challenge proposed restrictions on religious activity
  • Coalition requests review by Venice Commission of the Council of Europe

SOFIA (29 November 2018) – Today, ADF International and a coalition of Bulgarian churches filed a formal request with the Secretary General of the Council of Europe that he initiates a review of a proposed Bulgarian Law on Religious Denominations currently being debated in the Bulgarian Parliament. The Venice Commission, an advisory body of the Council of Europe, would carry out the review. The proposed law requires newly registered denominations to have at least 3,000 members before they can gain legal rights, discriminating against smaller minority groups. Additionally, preachers, clergymen, and any foreigners wishing to participate in worship would have to register with the state or else risk penalties.

“Nobody should be persecuted or experience harassment because of their faith. The new law on religion in Bulgaria restricts religious minorities from assembling freely for worship, engaging in theological education, and receiving funds from outside Bulgaria. If adopted, it would stifle the missionary and spiritual activity of foreign citizens,” said Viktor Kostov, a Sofia based allied lawyer of ADF International representing the Bulgarian churches.

Fundamental threat to religious freedom in Bulgaria

“We have repeatedly requested that the MPs behind the bill amend or remove the worst aspects of the law without success. The proposed law represents a fundamental attack on freedom of religion in our country. As the Parliament has not acted to protect the rights of minority religions, we were left with no option but to seek a review of this law’s compatibility with international law. We have directly called on the National Assembly to adjourn further votes on this legislation until this has taken place,” said Mr. Kostov.

Request made for review by European advisory body

With the assistance of ADF International, a global human rights organization, the coalition of Bulgarian churches represented by Mr. Kostov made an appeal to the Secretary General of the Council of Europe to refer the proposed law to the Venice Commission. The Commission is an advisory body on constitutional matters which is tasked with helping Member States bring their legal structures in line with European standards.

“The European Convention on Human Rights secures the right of the people of Bulgaria to worship freely without unjustified interference. This request calls for urgent attention to the proposed Bulgarian law,” said Lorcán Price, Legal Counsel for ADF International.

“This latest proposed law will interfere with the right of Bulgarian churches to conduct their business without burdensome regulation and restrictions. Nobody should be deprived of their fundamental right to religious freedom. As the European Court of Human Rights has ruled in the past, the government should not engage in ‘picking favourites’ when it comes to churches,” said Price.

Call for action: Help the Bulgarian church stop the government bill restricting religious freedom

November 30, 2018 by  
Filed under Featured, News

How can you help:

  • Share with your church for prayer
  • Forward this email to your denominational overseer or state representative
  • Share on social media and add the “Pray for Bulgaria” banner to your profile by clicking on the following link: https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=496782854163381

After a month of protesting in front of the Bulgarian parliament, this week the Bulgarian church is bracing for the new legislation on religious freedom proposed by Parliament. The second and final vote on this highly restrictive law is scheduled to take place without any further discussions. Since the legal provision was proposed by three political groups, there is no one in parliament to oppose it and except a miracle occurs it will enter in power immediately.

If this restrictive bill becomes part of the law religion in Bulgaria, virtually ALL protestant evangelical churches will be required to register ANEW with the government. Currently, a new church registration with the Sofia capital court takes 6-8 weeks. IF ALL 178 denominations in Bulgaria have to register again at the same time, the court will be overwhelmed with the extra work and may take months to issue new registrations. Since a new registration will require the denomination to have a minimum of 3,000 members, an extra time for gathering membership lists will be required as well. To initiate a registration, the court must receive membership roll of 3,000+ signed with their names, addresses and social security numbers (!)

  • WHILE registrations are pending, all buildings and otherwise properties of each denomination will be in a legal limbo. Under the new law, the old legal entity of the church cannot own properties. At the same time, the new church entity cannot own properties until registered anew. Thus ALL church properties remain without an owner and thus CANNOT be OPERATED as a church, temple or sanctuary for services and meetings until Sofia capital court examines, deliberates, approves and hopefully rules in favor of each new registration.
  • MINISTERS under the new legislation cannot minister in open air meetings. Yet at the same time, until receiving a new court registration they cannot legally minister in the current church buildings either. Even upon obtaining a new registration, a list of church buildings and active ministers will have to be approved to the Directorate of Religious Affairs for a final expert approval.
  • Support for both ministers and churches from outside of Bulgaria will remain under highly restrictive guidelines in limited amounts, government taxation and various agencies’ oversight. This proposes a major problem to some 90% of evangelical churches in Bulgaria, which rent auditoriums since not owning their own buildings and relay on international support to pay for the high operational cost.

Finally, there is the question of religious education in Bulgaria. Only religious groups who represent over 1% of Bulgaria’s seven million population will be allowed to have their own religious schools. All evangelical Protestants in Bulgaria do NOT represent over 1% of the population of the country. Under the new legislation, as it stands, they will NOT be able to operate their own schools. For example, the Church of God college and seminary in Bulgaria has been already inactive since 2009. If this current legislation passes and remains active for even a decade, a whole generation of Bulgarian ministers will have no opportunity to obtain any Bible education and ministerial training whatsoever; which basically guarantees the permanent decapitation of the evangelical movement in Bulgaria.

IF the new bill becomes part of the law by the end of November, it will make it virtually impossible for evangelical churches to hold services on the following Sunday.

For this reason, many evangelicals in Bulgaria are set to hold a three-day national fast and yet another (forth) open air protest on Sunday as they may not be legally permitted to meet for a church service under the new law.

ACT NOW:

  • Share with your church for prayer
  • Forward this email to your denominational overseer or state representative
  • Share on social media and add the “Pray for Bulgaria” banner to your profile by clicking on the following link: https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=496782854163381

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