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

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: 

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.

Evangelical Protest Against New Religious Law in Bulgaria

November 15, 2018 by  
Filed under Featured, Missions, News

Christian Greetings,

On November 11, 2018 all evangelical protestant churches in Bulgaria, along with representatives of the Catholic Church and other Christian communities, joined together before the Bulgarian Parliament in the capital Sofia in an open protest against a new religious law. The government restrictions imposed by this new religious bill, which will be voted soon is outlined below. Also included with this email is the open letter by the president of the Bulgarian Evangelical Alliance to evangelical organization around the globe for their prayers and support.

(1) Funding which does not originate from Bulgaria will become illegal

(2) All sermons / messages must be preached in Bulgarian only. Using other languages in a sermon will be illegal (as funny as this may sound though it is now a serious legal matter, the bill makes no provisions for the Pentecostal faith the practice of which includes speaking in other tongues)

(3) Preachers / speakers must have mandatory Bulgarian education (exact level of education is not specified in the bill)

(4) Sermons cannot be against any legally established formulations i.e. governmental issues, political establishment, gender and lifestyle definitions. Preaching against other faiths will be considered extreme/fanatic characterization

(5) Buildings, except specifically registered for liturgical purposes (i.e. temple, sanctuary, etc.), cannot be used for church services. Church services cannot be held in homes or private properties

(6) Minors (individuals under the age of 18) cannot be evangelized / proselytized

(7) New church registration cannot be obtained legally through a court any longer. They will be a subject of local municipalities only after approval from the government Directorate of Religious Affairs and must have a minimal membership of 300 people

(8) Open air events are subject to points (3), (4) and (6) above. They can be held only on special holidays after an explicit permit from the local government. The use of sound systems is explicitly forbidden

(9) Government subsidizing for pastoral salaries remains unclear for faith confessions under 1% of the general population. Currently, all evangelical denominations in Bulgaria do not add to even 1% of the population

(10) If the legal provision is accepted on November 16, 2018, it will include fines under the new law as following: 5,000-10,000 Euros for first offense, 10,000-20,000 Euros for second offense, of buildings and banning of the entire denomination.

Sincerely,

Dony K. Donev, D.Min.

Read more here

Rodney Howard-Browne in the Church of God Ministry Center in Bulgaria

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

The Bulgarian Church of God Celebrates its 90th Anniversary

November 5, 2018 by  
Filed under Featured, Missions, News, Research

Excerpt from “Spirit-Empowerment of the Poor in Spirit: Dr. Nicholas Nikolov and the Establishment of the Bulgarian Assemblies of God in 1928” presented at the Missions & Intercultural Studies Interest Group, 47th Annual Meeting of the Society for Pentecostal Studies (Lee University, 2018)

In 2018, the Pentecostal Union in Bulgaria is celebrating 90 years since its establishment. The organization of the Bulgarian Assemblies would have been impossible without the leadership of Dr. Nicholas Nikolov. But while Nikolov successfully fulfilled the mission set by the American Assemblies of God, the larger part of Bulgaria’s young Pentecostal movement remained unregistered and mainly underground. Recently published intelligence reports by the Communist Regime propaganda placed the beginnings of the Bulgarian Church of God in 1922-1924 – much earlier than the separation from the officially organized Pentecostal churches. The establishing meeting of the Bulgarian Pentecostal Union in 1928 simply reaffirmed the already existing division among Bulgarian Pentecostals and the beginning of the Bulgarian Church of God. The year 2018 rightly marks its 90th anniversary

Unregistered Pentecostal Churches and the Underground Bulgarian Church of God 

The larger majority of Pentecostal churches in Bulgaria remained reluctant to join the Pentecostal Union with particular skepticism toward registering with the government in 1928. Many perceived the new organization with 20 members led by Nikolov as betraying the original Pentecostal message brought by Zaplishny and Voronaev. As the older Pentecostals in the country saw it, a young man sent from America, took a dozen of believers and formed a new organization – nothing others have not done before him.

Almost immediately a prophetic word was given to Spas Stefanov,[1] in whose Sofia home Pentecostal meetings were held. The prophecy was from the book of Isaiah 8:10-12:  Say ye not, a confederacy[2] [union], to all them to whom this people shall say, a confederacy [union]; neither fear ye their fear, nor be afraid.

No more than a fortnight later, the largest recorded earthquake in Bulgaria occurred and was immediately seen as divine confirmation; especially when taking under account, that its epicenter in Chirpan, and the close-by Plovdiv and Mirichlery, were renowned cities of Pentecostal Evangelical work at the time. The effect was much like the Great Earthquake of San Francisco during the Azusa Street Revival. Another confirmation to the prophecy was seen during the following winter when the Black Sea froze right at the headquarters of the newly established Pentecostal Union in Bourgas.

With a confirmed prophecy in hand, the majority opposing the new organization was lead by the seven presbyters ordained personally by Dionisey Zaplishny during his first visit in Bulgaria. They accented on the leadership and gifts of the Spirit in the unregistered (free) churches without manmade organization and order. Most of the groups that united around them were in Northern Bulgaria in the cities of Pleven, Lovetch, Etropole, Vratsa, Vidin, Montana, Nikopol, Troyan, and village churches near Ruse, Razgrad and Yambol. Presbyter Stoyan Tinchev formed and led the largest group among them, which grew into an underground movement during the Communist Regime and formed the Church of God in Bulgaria.

Boris Grozdanov, who held direct communication and was personally visited by Swedish Pentecostal evangelist Axel B. Lindgren, led groups in Verdikal/Bankya near Sofia, Pernik (both places visited often by Zaplishney) and Razlog.[3] Many more were located in Southern Bulgaria, between Stara Zagora and the Turkish border at Malko Tarnovo, led by Ivan Broshovsky of Yambol.

[1] Father of pastor Toma Spasov, who was sentenced and deported in the 1980s by the Communist Regime with two other Church of God pastors for leading unregistered underground churches.

[2] Translated in the Bulgarian Bible as “union” and resembling the newly established Pentecostal Union.

[3] Letter from Lindgren instructed him to hold the pure teaching and stay out of organized religion. Recorded December 14, 1930 in Protocol 14 of Minutes of the Executive Committee of the Evangelical Pentecostal Churches in Bulgaria (Personal archive of the author).

Recommended Reading:

  1. Autobiography of Pastor Dionisey Zaplishny (cir. 1927)
  2. Dinko Zhelev, former president of the Bulgarian Pentecostal Union (personal archives)
  3. Diulgerov, D.V. (with statistical data submitted by Dr. Nicolas Nikolov) in Annual Publication of the Theological Faculty at Sofia University – Sofia, 1932
  4. Donka Kinareva: Family Chronicles by J. Markov (unpublished)
  5. Joseph Gourbalov, Birth and Early Historical and Theological Development of the Baptist Movement in Bulgaria, 2002
  6. Letter from Axel B. Lindgren to Boris Grozdanov (April 10, 1930)
  7. National Archive Records, Ruse – Bulgaria (Archive collection, F319K)
  8. Nikolov, Nicolas and Martha. Ministerial files, personal papers and family correspondence (1924-28)
  9. Paul Gourbalov, Birth and Development of the Evangelical Pentecostal Movement in Bulgaria (manuscript)
  10. Travel Diary of Marry Zaplishna (cir. 1924)

Religion Funding Law “Sad Reminder of Communist Past”

October 25, 2018 by  
Filed under Featured, Missions, News

The leaders of Bulgaria’s three biggest political parties have drafted a bill on religious affairs that, if passed, would spell disaster for the country’s minority Catholic and Protestant Churches. Not only would the new law cut off State subsidies to confessions such as these that represent less than 1% of the population, but both funding from overseas and permissions for foreigners to celebrate religious services would be suspended as well, leaving the Catholic Church “in a very difficult situation”, in the opinion of Christo Proykov, Greek Catholic Bishop of Sofia and President of the Bulgarian Bishops.

As Radio Bulgaria reported last week, the bill – sponsored by the conservative GERB, the Bulgarian Socialist Party, and the ethnic Turkish Movement for Rights and Freedoms – seeks to “prevent interference of foreign countries, institutions and persons into religions and religious affairs”. The real target of the draft law, though, is theagents of radical Islam, for which reason “placing all confessions under the same common denominator is an act of discrimination”, according to Atanas Slavov, Professor of Law at the University of Sofia.

In an interview with SIR, Proykov also called the draft legislation “discriminatory” and said it would “place some confessions in a privileged position to the detriment of others… left without vital financial support, especially donations from abroad”. Specifically, the only religions to benefit from the new proposal would be Orthodoxy and Islam, which represent 60% and 8% of the population respectively, compared to the Catholics, at 0.66%, and Protestants, at 0.87%. Beyond the funding, too, the stipulation that foreigners who wish to celebrate religious services be authorized by the Directorate of Religious Affairs “further complicates the situation”, according to Proykov, “as the majority of Catholic priests in Bulgaria are not Bulgarian citizens, and all priests, including Bulgarians, have completed their academic studies abroad because in Bulgarian there are no faculties of Catholic theology”.

“We cannot strip a confession of its rights just because it represents a minority”

Even though they would benefit from the new law – and that to the tune of some 7.5 million and 5 million euros in 2019, respectively – the Orthodox and the Muslims have also expressed reservations about the legislation, with Orthodox spokesman Father Nikolay Georgiev going so far as to hint at his denomination possibly sponsoring the Catholic Church in the future. “We cannot strip a confession of its rights just because it represents a minority”, said Georgiev. In the meantime, Slavov has urged politicians “to reflect” before making a final decision, recalling that “reaching a balance between national security and religious rights requires serious dialogue”, a point that requires even more attention now that Bulgaria holds the rotating presidency of the Council of the European Union.

Revealing himself to be “deeply worried” by the“dangerous and infelicitous” draft legislation, Proykov added: “The legislative proposal is a sad reminder of a bygone Communist past, which we believed would no longer return”. “The text of the draft law on religious communities has many controversial aspects that fail to take into account the particularities of each confession”, lamented the Bishop of Sofia.

New Bill of Religions Bans Foreign Support for Churches in Bulgaria

October 15, 2018 by  
Filed under Featured, Missions, News

The first draft of the changes on the new controversial Law of Religion were voted in last week by the Bulgarian Parliament. The bill that was first passed with a vote of 136:2 bans all foreign donations of any kind to churches and religious communities in Bulgaria. This includes donations from both organizations and persons from outside of Bulgaria. In return, the government proposes to subsidize salaries for the clergy to denominations that represent over 1% of the population. This includes only the Bulgarian Orthodox Church and the Muslim confession.

As it stands, the bill excludes all Protestant churches, which represent less than 1% of Bulgaria’s population. Virtually all of them are not self-supported and exist with the help of foreign sponsorships. These include aid received for ongoing charges and utilities for auditoriums, education, youth work, home missions, benevolence, publications and more. Many ministers are also supported with funding from abroad in a direct way, which the new bill on religions basically outlaws and bans. Virtually all Protestant schools in Bulgaria, many which are already on standby due to financial difficulties, will be shut down until proper permits are issued. Receiving such permits will not be easy as virtually no protestant school has received a permit from the Bulgarian Ministry of Education since 1944, and current Protestant Schools have existed on the grounds of tolerance and special permits via the Directorate of Religious Affairs.

The bills further exclude interjection with foreign missionaries who: (1) do not speak Bulgarian language and (2) do not have a formal education degree issued in Bulgaria. The will be further excluded by the legal procedure in place that will disallow their work to be supported from persons or organizations outside of Bulgaria.

The two bill drafts – one submitted by GERB, BSP (socialists) and DPS political parties, and the other one by the United Patriots – proposed amendments to the Religious Denominations Act of 2002. The changes united the ruling and opposition, but triggered criticism by the believers due to direct interference of the state in the salaries of clerics and ownership of church properties. The allocated subsidies by the state are seen as insufficient and highly controversial as government control over the funding of all churches. The bill further insists on banning all church donations from abroad as a government regulation and control.

The controversial provisions in the draft law will be subject to clarification by several appointed committees before voted at a second final reading by the Bulgarian Parliament. Churches across Bulgaria have petitioned against the new changes in the Law of Religion as they constitute:

  • Limitations on freedom of religion and speech
  • Merge church and state
  • Establish government control over preaching
  • Ban any missionary work and preaching in a foreign language
  • Halt international support for religious organizations
  • Removes meeting form rented closed properties
  • Legalizes discrimination on basis of religion and faith convictions

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