Bulgarian Police Seizures of Church Properties in Conflict with Religious Freedom Commitments Action Inconsistent with Bulgaria’s OSCE Leadership Position

August 5, 2004 by  
Filed under News

(Washington) – United States Helsinki Commission Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) expressed alarm today over the widespread seizure of church properties in Bulgaria, which currently serves as Chair-in-Office of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. Bulgarian authorities raided more than 200 properties used by the alternative Bulgarian Orthodox synod for more than 10 years.

“I’m deeply distressed that Bulgarian police, with the apparent approval of the state prosecutor’s office, would forcibly seize some 200 churches and church-owned properties,” declared Chairman Smith. “While there may be disputes within the Bulgarian Orthodox Church, it is certainly not the proper role of government to interfere with internal church affairs. Unfortunately, Bulgarian authorities have abandoned neutrality and chosen sides, potentially endangering religious freedom.”

News reports indicate that throughout the day on July 21 Bulgarian police across the country expelled members of the alternative Orthodox synod of Bishop Inokentii, taking control of properties used by the synod. A longstanding church dispute between the Bulgarian Orthodox Church and the alternative synod has existed since they split in 1992.

The raids were discussed with Bulgarian Foreign Minister Solomon Passy, visiting Washington last week in his capacity as Chair-in-Office of the OSCE, in a meeting with Chairman Smith.

“Property issues should be decided by a court, not through legislative fiat or the unilateral actions of a state prosecutor and police,” said Chairman Smith. “Considering that Bulgaria is the current OSCE Chair-in-Office, I urge the Bulgarian Government to end this embarrassment, lead by example, and honor its OSCE human rights commitment toward religious freedom.”

“Bulgarian authorities should stop interfering and reinstate to the alternative synod full control of the properties,” Smith added. “The state should play no role in forcibly reconciling the two Orthodox communities.”

These raids are not the first time that the Bulgarian Government has favored one synod over the other. The December 2002 religion law enumerated detailed characteristics of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church, thereby establishing the synod of Patriarch Maxim above the alternative synod and all other religious communities. The law also laid the groundwork for the seizures by vesting government recognition and property rights with only the Bulgarian Orthodox Church. This provision works to the detriment of the alternative synod, placing it in a precarious and vulnerable position. The United States Helsinki Commission issued a report on the religion law, highlighting this problematic provision and other shortcomings.

The United States Helsinki Commission, an independent federal agency, by law monitors and encourages progress in implementing provisions of the Helsinki Accords. The Commission, created in 1976, is composed of nine Senators, nine Representatives and one official each from the Departments of State, Defense and Commerce.

Bulgaria: Religious Freedom

June 20, 2004 by  
Filed under News

International Religious Freedom Report 2003
Released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor

The Constitution provides for freedom of religion; however, the Government restricts this right in practice for some non-Orthodox religious groups. These restrictions are manifested primarily in a registration process that is selective, slow, and nontransparent. The Government prohibits the public practice of religion by groups that are not registered.
There was no change in the status of respect for religious freedom during the period covered by this report. In December 2002, the Government passed a new law on religion–the Confessions Act. While an improvement over the previous law from 1949, religious and human rights groups have criticized the new law for the preferential treatment given to the Bulgarian Orthodox Church and for provisions that appear to take sides in what many see as an internal Church conflict.

The generally amicable relationship among religions in society contributed to religious freedom; however, discrimination, harassment, and general public intolerance of non-traditional religious minorities remained an intermittent problem. No major incidents were reported during the period covered by this report, and attitudes towards non-traditional groups continued to improve. Tensions between factions within the Bulgarian Orthodox Church and concerns about Islamic fundamentalism continued to receive media coverage.

The U.S. Government raised the issue of religious freedom repeatedly in contacts with government officials and Members of Parliament in the context of its overall dialog of promoting human rights.

Section I. Religious Demography

The country has a total area of 42,855 square miles, and its population is approximately 7.9 million according to a 2001 census. According to the most recent statistics from the country’s National Statistical Institute, approximately 82.6 percent of citizens are Orthodox Christians and approximately 12.2 percent are Muslims, while the remainder includes Roman Catholics, Protestants, Jews, Gregorian-Armenian Christians, Uniate Catholics, and others. Another study used 1998 figures to estimate that 85 percent of the population are Orthodox Christians, 13 percent are Muslims, 1.5 percent are Roman Catholics, 0.8 percent are Jews, and 1 percent are from other religions. A total of 36 denominations are registered officially with the Government, up from 30 in 2002. According to the head of the Parliamentary Committee on Human Rights and Religion, a number of denominations still have pending registration requests with the Sofia Court.

Some religious minorities are concentrated geographically. The Rhodope Mountains (along the country’s southern border with Greece) are home to many Muslims, including ethnic Turks, Roma, and “Pomaks” (descendents of Slavic Bulgarians who converted to Islam centuries ago under Ottoman rule). At the western extreme of the Rhodopes, there are greater numbers of Pomaks, and on the eastern end, more ethnic Turks. Muslim ethnic Turks and Roma also live in large numbers in the northeast of the country, primarily in and around the cities of Shumen and Razgrad, as well as along the Black Sea coast. There are comparatively large numbers of Roman Catholics in Plovdiv, Assenovgrad, and in cities along the Danube River. Eastern Rite Catholic communities are located in Sofia and Smolyan. Many members of the country’s small Jewish community live in Sofia, Ruse, and along the Black Sea coast. However, Protestant groups are dispersed more widely throughout the country. While clear statistics are not available, evangelical Protestant church groups have had particular success in attracting numerous converts from among the ethnic Roma minority, and these churches tend to be the most active denominations in predominantly Roma inhabited areas.

Although no exact data are available on attendance levels, most observers agree that evangelical Protestants tend to participate in religious services more frequently than other religious groups. Members of the country’s Catholic community also are regarded as more likely than members of other faiths to regularly attend religious services.

Missionaries are present in the country, including, for example, representatives of evangelical Protestant churches and more than 100 missionaries from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons).

Section II. Status of Religious Freedom

Legal/Policy Framework

The Constitution provides for freedom of religion; however, the Government restricts this right in practice for some non-Orthodox religious groups.

The Constitution designates Eastern Orthodox Christianity as the “traditional” religion. The Government provides financial support for the Eastern Orthodox Church, as well as for several other religious communities perceived as holding historic places in society, such as the Muslim, Roman Catholic, and Jewish faiths, which also are considered “traditional.” These groups generally benefit from a relatively high degree of governmental and societal tolerance.

A new law on religion, known as the Confessions Act, was approved by Parliament on December 22, 2002. It entered into force 1 week later, replacing an outdated religion law dating back to 1949. Religious and human rights groups have strongly criticized the law for the preferential treatment given to the Bulgarian Orthodox Church and for provisions that appear to take sides in what many see as an internal Church conflict. Under the new law, all religious groups, with the exception of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church, must register with the Sofia Municipal Court before they can practice their beliefs in public. The rather broad influence given to the Religious Denominations Directorate of the Council of Ministers, particularly regarding the Directorate’s exclusive right to give “expert opinions” to the Court regarding registration matters, also has been a cause of concern.

Several drafts of the new law were under consideration in late 2002. The Act was adopted before international legal experts and human rights groups had the opportunity to review the final draft to ensure it was consistent with international standards on religious freedom. Upon review following adoption of the law, legal experts and human rights groups found some provisions in the law to be ambiguous or even contradictory. A review prepared in early 2003 for the Council of Europe highlights that the provisions dealing with the process of registration neither specify the criteria establishing the basis on which the Court should grant registration, nor the grounds on which such registration can be withheld. The Act also fails to specify the consequences of failure to register as a religious community or outline any recourse if a competent court refuses to grant registration. Therefore, the actual impact of the new law will depend to a great extent on how the Act is implemented, including the Sofia Municipal Court’s practices regarding registration. There are reports that some groups have encountered undue delays with their re-registration. Since visas are contingent on re-registration, the Missionary Sisters of Charity and the Salesians reportedly have been denied visas.

For most registered religious groups there were no restrictions on attendance at religious services or on private religious instruction. Four Islamic schools (including a university-level Muslim divinity school), a Muslim cultural center, a multi-denominational Protestant seminary, university theological faculties, and religious primary schools operated freely. Bibles and other religious materials in the Bulgarian language were imported or printed freely, and Muslim, Catholic, and Jewish publications were published regularly.

Optional religious education courses are offered in state-run schools. Following the successful introduction of a program to provide optional Islamic education classes in primary schools in 2002 using a textbook proposed by the Chief Mufti and approved by the Ministry of Education, the Ministry agreed to assist with funding for such courses in 2004. The Chief Mufti’s office reports that in 2002 it funded more than 1,000 students participation in the pilot program. The Ministry announced that approximately 18,000 primary and secondary school students attend religion classes. Evangelical groups have expressed concern that other textbooks designed to be used in public schools for religious education are biased in favor of the Orthodox perspective.

The Government generally has encouraged greater religious tolerance since 1998 by seeking to promote greater understanding among different faiths.

Restrictions on Religious Freedom

The Government restricted religious freedom through a registration process that is selective, slow, and nontransparent. The Government prohibits the public practice of religion by groups that are not registered.

The split within the Bulgarian Orthodox Church between those who support Patriarch Maksim and those who view him as illegitimate because he was selected in 1971 under Communist rule to head that church led to tension between the groups and violence in July 2002. The schism, which began in 1992, continued despite attempts by the Saxe-Coburg-Gotha Government to heal the rift. While many Bulgarians viewed the Government as generally favoring the group headed by Maksim, the Government had stayed formally neutral regarding the leadership status of either Maksim’s “Holy Synod” or the so-called “alternative synod.” However, the new law recognizes Patriarch Maksim as the sole representative of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church. It furthermore prohibits any group or person who has broken off from a registered religious group from using the same name or claiming any properties belonging to that group. Effectively, this prohibits members of the alternative synod from formally registering as the Bulgarian Orthodox Church or from claiming any of the Church property currently under its control.

On July 22, 2002, Stefan Kamberov, a 66-year-old priest associated with the alternative synod, was murdered near the St. Panteleimon Monastery near Dobrinshte. The two synods were in open conflict regarding the control of the monastery. Two suspects with connections to Maxim’s synod (including one priest) have been arrested in connection with the murder, but the case has not yet been brought to trial.

While the observance of religious freedom has improved for some nontraditional groups, other groups have faced official disfavor and been disadvantaged by the Government’s persistent refusal to grant registration. The legal requirement that groups whose activities have a religious element must register with the Sofia Municipal Court remained an obstacle to the activity of some religious groups, such as the Unification Church and the Sofia Church of Christ. Other church groups have successfully registered through the Court, but continued to face some discrimination and antipathy from many local governments.

The Jehovah’s Witnesses are legally registered, and have been recognized since 1998; however, there have been problems between the Jehovah’s Witnesses and some local authorities. The Jehovah’s Witnesses have had a difficult time in Burgas, a city on the Black Sea. The locally elected municipal authorities, responding to public demonstrations against a Jehovah’s Witnesses prayer house being built so close to a public school, used their “public order” powers to stop construction of the prayer house. The case is pending before a court and being appealed to regional authorities. Also Article 21 of the new Confessions Act, which requires religious organizations to register at the national and then the local level, is viewed as likely to exacerbate such problems since certain localities like Burgas have been consistently hostile to non-traditional groups like the Jehovah’s Witnesses.

In some cases, local authorities used the lack of registration as a pretext for interference with some groups and harassed others. Some church groups circumvented the administrative obstacles created by a lack of registration by registering as non-governmental organizations (NGOs). Technically it remained illegal for a church to conduct any religious activities through its NGO-registered organization, although the Government sometimes tacitly allowed such groups to conduct worship as long as they kept a very low profile. There were periodic reports of police using lack of local or national registration as a pretext to confiscate signboards and materials, detain or expel religious workers, and deny visas or residence permits to foreign-national missionaries.

The national Government on some occasions, but not systematically, has stopped local governments from enforcing restrictive municihe Black Sea coast. However, Protestant groups are dispersed more widely throughout the country. While clear statistics are not available, evangelical Protestant church groups have had particular success in attracting numerous converts from among the ethnic Roma minority, and these churches tend to be the most active denominations in predominantly Roma inhabited areas.

Although no exact data are available on attendance levels, most observers agree that evangelical Protestants tend to participate in religious services more frequently than other religious groups. Members of the country’s Catholic community also are regarded as more likely than members of other faiths to regularly attend religious services.

Missionaries are present in the country, including, for example, representatives of evangelical Protestant churches and more than 100 missionaries from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons).

Section II. Status of Religious Freedom

Legal/Policy Framework

The Constitution provides for freedom of religion; however, the Government restricts this right in practice for some non-Orthodox religious groups.

The Constitution designates Eastern Orthodox Christianity as the “traditional” religion. The Government provides financial support for the Eastern Orthodox Church, as well as for several other religious communities perceived as holding historic places in society, such as the Muslim, Roman Catholic, and Jewish faiths, which also are considered “traditional.” These groups generally benefit from a relatively high degree of governmental and societal tolerance.

A new law on religion, known as the Confessions Act, was approved by Parliament on December 22, 2002. It entered into force 1 week later, replacing an outdated religion law dating back to 1949. Religious and human rights groups have strongly criticized the law for the preferential treatment given to the Bulgarian Orthodox Church and for provisions that appear to take sides in what many see as an internal Church conflict. Under the new law, all religious groups, with the exception of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church, must register with the Sofia Municipal Court before they can practice their beliefs in public. The rather broad influence given to the Religious Denominations Directorate of the Council of Ministers, particularly regarding the Directorate’s exclusive right to give “expert opinions” to the Court regarding registration matters, also has been a cause of concern.

Several drafts of the new law were under consideration in late 2002. The Act was adopted before international legal experts and human rights groups had the opportunity to review the final draft to ensure it was consistent with international standards on religious freedom. Upon review following adoption of the law, legal experts and human rights groups found some provisions in the law to be ambiguous or even contradictory. A review prepared in early 2003 for the Council of Europe highlights that the provisions dealing with the process of registration neither specify the criteria establishing the basis on which the Court should grant registration, nor the grounds on which such registration can be withheld. The Act also fails to specify the consequences of failure to register as a religious community or outline any recourse if a competent court refuses to grant registration. Therefore, the actual impact of the new law will depend to a great extent on how the Act is implemented, including the Sofia Municipal Court’s practices regarding registration. There are reports that some groups have encountered undue delays with their re-registration. Since visas are contingent on re-registration, the Missionary Sisters of Charity and the Salesians reportedly have been denied visas.

For most registered religious groups there were no restrictions on attendance at religious services or on private religious instruction. Four Islamic schools (including a university-level Muslim divinity school), a Muslim cultural center, a multi-denominational Protestant seminary, university theological faculties, and religious primary schools operated freely. Bibles and other religious materials in the Bulgarian language were imported or printed freely, and Muslim, Catholic, and Jewish publications were published regularly.

Optional religious education courses are offered in state-run schools. Following the successful introduction of a program to provide optional Islamic education classes in primary schools in 2002 using a textbook proposed by the Chief Mufti and approved by the Ministry of Education, the Ministry agreed to assist with funding for such courses in 2004. The Chief Mufti’s office reports that in 2002 it funded more than 1,000 students participation in the pilot program. The Ministry announced that approximately 18,000 primary and secondary school students attend religion classes. Evangelical groups have expressed concern that other textbooks designed to be used in public schools for religious education are biased in favor of the Orthodox perspective.

The Government generally has encouraged greater religious tolerance since 1998 by seeking to promote greater understanding among different faiths.

Restrictions on Religious Freedom

The Government restricted religious freedom through a registration process that is selective, slow, and nontransparent. The Government prohibits the public practice of religion by groups that are not registered.

The split within the Bulgarian Orthodox Church between those who support Patriarch Maksim and those who view him as illegitimate because he was selected in 1971 under Communist rule to head that church led to tension between the groups and violence in July 2002. The schism, which began in 1992, continued despite attempts by the Saxe-Coburg-Gotha Government to heal the rift. While many Bulgarians viewed the Government as generally favoring the group headed by Maksim, the Government had stayed formally neutral regarding the leadership status of either Maksim’s “Holy Synod” or the so-called “alternative synod.” However, the new law recognizes Patriarch Maksim as the sole representative of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church. It furthermore prohibits any group or person who has broken off from a registered religious group from using the same name or claiming any properties belonging to that group. Effectively, this prohibits members of the alternative synod from formally registering as the Bulgarian Orthodox Church or from claiming any of the Church property currently under its control.

On July 22, 2002, Stefan Kamberov, a 66-year-old priest associated with the alternative synod, was murdered near the St. Panteleimon Monastery near Dobrinshte. The two synods were in open conflict regarding the control of the monastery. Two suspects with connections to Maxim’s synod (including one priest) have been arrested in connection with the murder, but the case has not yet been brought to trial.

While the observance of religious freedom has improved for some nontraditional groups, other groups have faced official disfavor and been disadvantaged by the Government’s persistent refusal to grant registration. The legal requirement that groups whose activities have a religious element must register with the Sofia Municipal Court remained an obstacle to the activity of some religious groups, such as the Unification Church and the Sofia Church of Christ. Other church groups have successfully registered through the Court, but continued to face some discrimination and antipathy from many local governments.

The Jehovah’s Witnesses are legally registered, and have been recognized since 1998; however, there have been problems between the Jehovah’s Witnesses and some local authorities. The Jehovah’s Witnesses have had a difficult time in Burgas, a city on the Black Sea. The locally elected municipal authorities, responding to public demonstrations against a Jehovah’s Witnesses prayer house being built so close to a public school, used their “public order” powers to stop construction of the prayer house. The case is pending before a court and being appealed to regional authorities. Also Article 21 of the new Confessions Act, which requires religious organizations to register at the national and then the local level, is viewed as likely to exacerbate such problems since certain localities like Burgas have been consistently hostile to non-traditional groups like the Jehovah’s Witnesses.

In some cases, local authorities used the lack of registration as a pretext for interference with some groups and harassed others. Some church groups circumvented the administrative obstacles created by a lack of registration by registering as non-governmental organizations (NGOs). Technically it remained illegal for a church to conduct any religious activities through its NGO-registered organization, although the Government sometimes tacitly allowed such groups to conduct worship as long as they kept a very low profile. There were periodic reports of police using lack of local or national registration as a pretext to confiscate signboards and materials, detain or expel religious workers, and deny visas or residence permits to foreign-national missionaries.

The national Government on some occasions, but not systematically, has stopped local governments from enforcing restrictive municipal government decisions, which appear to fall into a gray area of the law. Burgas, Plovdiv, and Stara Zagora are among the municipalities that have reported the greatest number of complaints of harassment of non-traditional religious groups. Some observers note with concern a tendency by certain municipalities to enact regulations preemptively that may be used to limit religious freedom if a perceived need arises.

These restrictive actions appear to be motivated by public intolerance. In November 2001, the city of Kurdzhali refused to issue the Christian Unity Biblical Association a permit for a planned public gathering. A spokesperson for the municipality reportedly justified this decision by stating that the evangelical association preached ideas that were “alien to local people.” In June the Municipal Council in Burgas passed a decision banning Jehovah’s Witnesses from building a prayer hall near a local public school. According to the Chairman of the Council, local residents and the school community protested the construction of the building. The Council’s decision was based on regulations granting it the authority to protect “public order and security.” Central government authorities have made no attempt to appeal the Council’s decision.

Although several municipalities such as Burgas, Plovdiv, Pleven, Gorna Oryahovitsa, and Stara Zagora previously had passed local ordinances that curtailed religious practices, often in contravention of the Constitution and international law, it does not appear that these have been strictly enforced. There were no reported incidents of street-level harassment of religious groups by the authorities during the period covered by this report.

A number of religious groups have complained that foreign missionaries and religious leaders experience difficulties in obtaining and renewing residence visas in the country; the issuance of residence visas appears to be subject to the whim of individual authorities. New amendments to the Law on Foreign Persons, which went into effect on May 1, 2001, have created problems for foreign national missionaries and religious workers. The revised law has no visa category that explicitly applies to missionaries or religious workers, and rules for other categories of temporary residence visa (such as self-employed or business-owner) have been tightened in ways that seem to make it more difficult for religious workers to qualify. This problem has been exacerbated by the fact that key government institutions have not yet developed implementing regulations or procedures to handle their new responsibilities under the law, despite the fact that the new law is in force. American evangelical missionaries in Stara Zagora reported confusion and delays in their visa application process from October 2001 through June 2002, including bureaucrats demanding unexpected fees or bribes. Missionaries therefore may have to limit the time and purpose of their visits to the 30 days accorded to tourists. Human rights groups also have protested the cancellation of residence status of several persons on undisclosed national security grounds, alleging that the action was a pretext for religious discrimination. In one case involving Ahmed Musa, a human rights attorney asserted that the expulsion was motivated by the desire of the police to seize the assets of a religious foundation; however, this allegation has not been confirmed.

The high school curriculum includes a course on religion initiated by the Ministry of Education. The original plan called for a world religion course that avoided endorsing any particular faith; however, members of other religions, especially ethnic Turkish Muslims, maintain that the Bulgarian Orthodox Church receives privileged coverage in the textbooks. The religion course is optional and is not available at all schools.

Following the successful introduction of optional Islamic education courses in 2002, and the expected development of additional courses in 2004, there has been some discussion of requiring pal government decisions, which appear to fall into a gray area of the law. Burgas, Plovdiv, and Stara Zagora are among the municipalities that have reported the greatest number of complaints of harassment of non-traditional religious groups. Some observers note with concern a tendency by certain municipalities to enact regulations preemptively that may be used to limit religious freedom if a perceived need arises.

These restrictive actions appear to be motivated by public intolerance. In November 2001, the city of Kurdzhali refused to issue the Christian Unity Biblical Association a permit for a planned public gathering. A spokesperson for the municipality reportedly justified this decision by stating that the evangelical association preached ideas that were “alien to local people.” In June the Municipal Council in Burgas passed a decision banning Jehovah’s Witnesses from building a prayer hall near a local public school. According to the Chairman of the Council, local residents and the school community protested the construction of the building. The Council’s decision was based on regulations granting it the authority to protect “public order and security.” Central government authorities have made no attempt to appeal the Council’s decision.

Although several municipalities such as Burgas, Plovdiv, Pleven, Gorna Oryahovitsa, and Stara Zagora previously had passed local ordinances that curtailed religious practices, often in contravention of the Constitution and international law, it does not appear that these have been strictly enforced. There were no reported incidents of street-level harassment of religious groups by the authorities during the period covered by this report.

A number of religious groups have complained that foreign missionaries and religious leaders experience difficulties in obtaining and renewing residence visas in the country; the issuance of residence visas appears to be subject to the whim of individual authorities. New amendments to the Law on Foreign Persons, which went into effect on May 1, 2001, have created problems for foreign national missionaries and religious workers. The revised law has no visa category that explicitly applies to missionaries or religious workers, and rules for other categories of temporary residence visa (such as self-employed or business-owner) have been tightened in ways that seem to make it more difficult for religious workers to qualify. This problem has been exacerbated by the fact that key government institutions have not yet developed implementing regulations or procedures to handle their new responsibilities under the law, despite the fact that the new law is in force. American evangelical missionaries in Stara Zagora reported confusion and delays in their visa application process from October 2001 through June 2002, including bureaucrats demanding unexpected fees or bribes. Missionaries therefore may have to limit the time and purpose of their visits to the 30 days accorded to tourists. Human rights groups also have protested the cancellation of residence status of several persons on undisclosed national security grounds, alleging that the action was a pretext for religious discrimination. In one case involving Ahmed Musa, a human rights attorney asserted that the expulsion was motivated by the desire of the police to seize the assets of a religious foundation; however, this allegation has not been confirmed.

The high school curriculum includes a course on religion initiated by the Ministry of Education. The original plan called for a world religion course that avoided endorsing any particular faith; however, members of other religions, especially ethnic Turkish Muslims, maintain that the Bulgarian Orthodox Church receives privileged coverage in the textbooks. The religion course is optional and is not available at all schools.

Following the successful introduction of optional Islamic education courses in 2002, and the expected development of additional courses in 2004, there has been some discussion of requiring all students to enroll in a course on religion, and students would be given the option of which course they wish to take.

The Department of Theology of Sofia University changed its rules requiring all students to present an Orthodox Church baptismal certificate and married students to present an Orthodox marriage certificate in order to enroll in the Department’s classes. This change has made it possible for non-Orthodox students to enroll in the Department.

The Government has abolished the construction and transportation battalions, to which ethnic and religious minorities previously were assigned in order to segregate them from the regular military forces. While the conscript troops of the military are integrated, the professional officer corps contains few members of ethnic or religious minority groups.

The failure of the Government to restitute certain confiscated properties remains a sore point in relations between various denominations and the State, and prevents these denominations from raising more revenue through the use or rental of such properties. There were no indications that the Government discriminated against members of any religious group in making restitution to previous owners of properties that were nationalized during the Communist period. However, NGOs and certain denominations claimed that a number of their properties confiscated under the Communist years have not been returned. For example, the Muslim community claims at least 17 properties around the country that have not been returned. The Orthodox Church, Catholic Church, Methodists, Adventists, and other groups also claim land or buildings in Sofia and other towns. Former Jewish properties mostly have been recovered over the last 10 years, with one exception in downtown Sofia that is pending before the court. A central problem facing all claimants is the need to demonstrate that the organization seeking restitution is the organization–or the legitimate successor of the organization–that owned the property prior to September 9, 1944. This is difficult because communist hostility to religion led some groups to hide assets or ownership, and because documents have been destroyed or lost over the years.

The law provides for alternative service for a 2-year period, more than twice as long as regular military service; universal conscripted military service is 9 months for most recruits, while university graduates serve just 6 months. Reportedly, several individuals are serving in an alternative civilian capacity in lieu of military service. Nonetheless, human rights observers complain that procedures for invoking this alternative as a conscientious objector are unclear. There were no new reports of incarcerations on religious grounds during the period covered by this report.

The Constitution prohibits the formation of political parties along religious lines.

There were no reports of religious prisoners or detainees.

Forced Religious Conversion

The Constitution prohibits forced religious conversion, and there were no reports of forced religious conversion or attempts at forced conversions, including of minor U.S. citizens who had been abducted or illegally removed from the United States, or of the refusal to allow such citizens to be returned to the United States.

Improvements and Positive Developments in Respect for Religious Freedom

In October 2002, the Government decided to transfer ownership of the property at 9 Suborna Street to the Jewish organization “Shalom,” thus resolving one of two significant outstanding cases of Jewish community property restitution. Following the successful introduction of a program to provide optional Islamic education classes in primary schools in 2002, the Ministry of Education has agreed to assist with funding for such courses in 2004. The Chief Mufti’s office reports that in 2002 it funded more than 1,000 students participation in the pilot program and expect other denominations to develop similar programs in 200all students to enroll in a course on religion, and students would be given the option of which course they wish to take.

The Department of Theology of Sofia University changed its rules requiring all students to present an Orthodox Church baptismal certificate and married students to present an Orthodox marriage certificate in order to enroll in the Department’s classes. This change has made it possible for non-Orthodox students to enroll in the Department.

The Government has abolished the construction and transportation battalions, to which ethnic and religious minorities previously were assigned in order to segregate them from the regular military forces. While the conscript troops of the military are integrated, the professional officer corps contains few members of ethnic or religious minority groups.

The failure of the Government to restitute certain confiscated properties remains a sore point in relations between various denominations and the State, and prevents these denominations from raising more revenue through the use or rental of such properties. There were no indications that the Government discriminated against members of any religious group in making restitution to previous owners of properties that were nationalized during the Communist period. However, NGOs and certain denominations claimed that a number of their properties confiscated under the Communist years have not been returned. For example, the Muslim community claims at least 17 properties around the country that have not been returned. The Orthodox Church, Catholic Church, Methodists, Adventists, and other groups also claim land or buildings in Sofia and other towns. Former Jewish properties mostly have been recovered over the last 10 years, with one exception in downtown Sofia that is pending before the court. A central problem facing all claimants is the need to demonstrate that the organization seeking restitution is the organization–or the legitimate successor of the organization–that owned the property prior to September 9, 1944. This is difficult because communist hostility to religion led some groups to hide assets or ownership, and because documents have been destroyed or lost over the years.

The law provides for alternative service for a 2-year period, more than twice as long as regular military service; universal conscripted military service is 9 months for most recruits, while university graduates serve just 6 months. Reportedly, several individuals are serving in an alternative civilian capacity in lieu of military service. Nonetheless, human rights observers complain that procedures for invoking this alternative as a conscientious objector are unclear. There were n4.

It appears that some local ordinances that restricted religious freedom have not been enforced, and in some cases were suspended, due to pressure from the central Government.

Section III. Societal Attitudes

Relations between the major religious communities generally were amicable; however, discrimination, harassment, and general public intolerance of non-traditional religious groups (primarily newer evangelical Protestant groups) remained an intermittent problem. The number of reported incidents decreased during the period covered by this report. Strongly held suspicion of evangelical denominations among the populace is widespread and pervasive across the political spectrum and has resulted in discrimination. Often cloaked in a veneer of “patriotism,” mistrust of the religious beliefs of others is common. Such mainstream public pressure for the containment of “foreign religious sects” inevitably influences policymakers. Nevertheless, human rights observers agreed that such discrimination has gradually lessened over the last 5 years as society has appeared to become more accepting of at least some previously unfamiliar non-traditional religions.

There are disputes within the country’s Muslim community, in part along ethnic lines. Most Bulgarian Muslims, the majority of whom are ethnic Turks, practice a moderate form of Sunni Islam. Some are concerned that Muslims of Bulgarian ethnicity (“Pomaks”) and Roma Muslims, particularly those living in remote areas, are susceptible to “fundamentalist” (often referred to locally as “Arab” or “Wahabi”) influences associated with foreign funding of mosque construction and the training of imams in Arab countries. Opponents of the Chief Mufti within the Muslim community have accused him of failing to counteract or even fomenting the spread of Islamic extremism; however, these charges have not been confirmed.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy

The U.S. Embassy regularly monitors religious freedom in ongoing contacts with government officials, clergy, lay leaders of minority communities, and NGOs. Embassy officers met with Orthodox clergy members (from both sides of the schism), the Chief Mufti and other senior Muslim leaders, with religious and lay leaders of the Jewish community, as well as with the leaders of numerous Protestant denominations. During the period covered by this report, the Embassy remained closely engaged with government and religious officials concerning the new law on religion, with various denominations regarding the restitution of properties, and with Muslim leaders regarding the war on terrorism. The Embassy maintaio new reports of incarcerations on religious grounds during the period covered by this report.

The Constitution prohibits the formation of political parties along religious lines.

There were no reports of religious prisoners or detainees.

Forced Religious Conversion

The Constitution prohibits forced religious conversion, and there were no reports of forced religious conversion or attempts at forced conversions, including of minor U.S. citizens who had been abducted or illegally removed from the United States, or of the refusal to allow such citizens to be returned to the United States.

Improvements and Positive Developments in Respect for Religious Freedom

In October 2002, the Government decided to transfer ownership of the property at 9 Suborna Street to the Jewish organization “Shalom,” thus resolving one of two significant outstanding cases of Jewish community property restitution. Following the successful introduction of a program to provide optional Islamic education classes in primary schools in 2002, the Ministry of Education has agreed to assist with funding for such courses in 2004. The Chief Mufti’s office reports that in 2002 it funded more than 1,000 students participation in the pilot program and expect other denominations to develop similar programs in 2004.

It appears that some local ordinances that restricted religious freedom have not been enforced, and in some cases were suspended, due to pressure from the central Government.

Section III. Societal Attitudes

Relations between the major religious communities generally were amicable; however, discrimination, harassment, and general public intolerance of non-traditional religious groups (primarily newer evangelical Protestant groups) remained an intermittent problem. The number of reported incidents decreased during the period covered by this report. Strongly held suspicion of evangelical denominations among the populace is widespread and pervasive across the political spectrum and has resulted in discrimination. Often cloaked in a veneer of “patriotism,” mistrust of the religious beliefs of others is common. Such mainstream public pressure for the containment of “foreign religious sects” inevitably influences policymakers. Nevertheless, human rights observers agreed that such discrimination has gradually lessened over the last 5 years as society has appeared to become more accepting of at least some previously unfamiliar non-traditional religions.

There are disputes within the country’s Muslim community, in part along ethnic lines. Most Bulgarian Muslims, the majority of whom are ethnic Turks, practice a moderate form of Sunni Islam. Some are concerned that Muslims of Bulgarian ethnicity (“Pomaks”) and Roma Muslims, particularly those living in remote areas, are susceptible to “fundamentalist” (often referred to locally as “Arab” or “Wahabi”) influences associated with foreign funding of mosque construction and the training of imams in Arab countries. Opponents of the Chief Mufti within the Muslim community have accused him of failing to counteract or even fomenting the spread of Islamic extremism; however, these charges have not been confirmed.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy

The U.S. Embassy regularly monitors religious freedom in ongoing contacts with government officials, clergy, lay leaders of minority communities, and NGOs. Embassy officers met with Orthodox clergy members (from both sides of the schism), the Chief Mufti and other senior Muslim leaders, with religious and lay leaders of the Jewish community, as well as with the leaders of numerous Protestant denominations. During the period covered by this report, the Embassy remained closely engaged with government and religious officials concerning the new law on religion, with various denominations regarding the restitution of properties, and with Muslim leaders regarding the war on terrorism. The Embassy maintained close contact with the Council of Europe and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe regarding their views on the Confessions Act and a mutual goal of ensuring that international religious freedom standards are met.

ned close contact with the Council of Europe and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe regarding their views on the Confessions Act and a mutual goal of ensuring that international religious freedom standards are met.

Religious Awareness 101

May 30, 2004 by  
Filed under News

For several years now, our team in Bulgaria has led an extensive Sunday School program using the Sunday School program that Cup & Cross developed in 2001 for the purposes of the Bulgarian Church of God. Although the program’s primary emphasis has been among adults in the area of Christian education and discipleship, its has proven very effective among children and teenagers.

Taking under consideration of the above, several of the churches we work with have opened a special Sunday School outreach for the children and young adults in the villages. Through this endeavor, the Sunday School program has flourished.

Three weeks ago a new implementation of the program was allowed by a local secular school in the village of Kamenetz. The faculty has extended an invitation to our team to hold a Religion Awareness class on Tuesdays. The class has been well attended since its start and will continue through the school year. This week, our team received a letter from the school principal expressing her appreciation of the efforts and the work.

Since Bulgaria is officially an Eastern Orthodox country, all offered religious classes in state schools have been Eastern Orthodox oriented. This is one of the first times that theology with a Protestant orientation is being taught in a Bulgarian state school. It is our prayer that as Bulgaria continues to develop its policy on religious tolerance, more classes like this are offered.

Bulgarian Law on Religions (Law on the Religious Confessions)

April 25, 2004 by  
Filed under News

Chapter One: General Provisions

Art. 1 This law provides for the right of religion of all persons under the jurisdiction of the Republic of Bulgaria and its protection, and the legal status of the religious communities and institutions as well, and their relations with the state.

Art. 2 (1) The right of religion is fundamental, absolute, subjective, personal and inviolable.
(2) The right of religion shall include everybody’s right freely to form his/her religious persuasions and to choose, change and worship (practice) freely his/her religion – individually or in collective, in public or in private, by worship, teaching, rites and rituals.

Art. 3 (1) Nobody shall be persecuted or limited in his rights because of his religious beliefs. No limitations or privileges based on affiliation or rejection of affiliation to a religion are allowed.
(2) Religious convictions shall not be basis for a refusal to fulfill obligations established by the Constitution.

Art. 4 (1) The religions are free and equal in rights. Religious institutions are separate from the state.
(2)No state interference in the internal organization of the self-administered religious institutions shall be allowed.
(3) The state shall provide conditions for free and unhindered exercise of the rights of religion assisting with maintenance of tolerance and respect between the believers from the different religions and between believers and non-believers.
(4) No religiously based discrimination shall be allowed.

Chapter Two: Right of Religion

Art. 5 (1) The right of religion shall be exercised through forming and manifestation of religious belief, establishment or participation in a religious community, organization of a community’s institutions, accomplishment of religious training and education through dissemination of the respective belief orally, in print, by the use of electronic media, in the form of lectures, seminars, courses, programs, etc.
(2) Religious belief may be manifested through carrying out of the respective religious beliefs through worship, rituals, and customs.
(3) The religious belief is expressed in private when it is accomplished from a specified member of the religious community or in the presence of persons belonging to the community, and in public, when its expression can as well become accessible for people not belonging to the respective religious community.

Art. 6 (1) The right of religion shall include the following rights as well:
a) establishment and maintenance of religious organizations with structure and ways of representation which are suitable according to the free understanding of its members;
b) establishment and maintenance of places of worship or religious meetings;
c) establishment and maintenance of proper charitable or humanitarian institutions;
d) production, acquisition and use to the extent necessary for the rites and the customs of a religion or belief according to a related with the worship aims;
e) writing, publishing and dissemination of religious publications;
f) delivery and reception of religious training in a language according to one’s own choice;
g) preaching and training of religion or belief in places proper for this purpose according to the community’s and institutions, and creation and maintenance of educational establishments that are appropriate according to the communities and institutions, following the requirements of the law;
h) collection and reception of voluntary financial and other support and donations from persons and institutions;
i) observance of the days of rest and respecting religious holidays;
j) establishment and maintenance of relations in the country and abroad with persons and communities on religion and belief issues.
(2) Parents and guardians shall have the right to ensure religious training to their children according to their own convictions.

Art. 7 (1) Freedom of religions shall not be directed against national security, public order, people’s health and the morals or the rights and freedoms of persons under the jurisdiction of the republic of Bulgaria or other states. Other grounds for limitations of the right of religion, different from the enumerated, shall not be introduced.
(2) Religious communities and institutions and religious beliefs cannot be used for political purposes.
(3) Rights and freedoms of persons who are members of a religious community shall not be limited by the internal rules, rituals and rites of this community or institution.
(4) Religious communities and institutions shall not attract children and minors under 18 years of age when there is an express refusal of their parents or guardians.

Art. 8 (1) The right of religion shall be limited only with a court decision under the terms of adversary proceedings, if the requirements of Art. 7 are being abused.
(2) The competent court of the first instance in this case shall be Sofia City Court.

Art. 9 Limitation of the right of religion may include:
(1) Prohibition of dissemination of a certain printed publications;
(2) Prohibition of the total publishing activity;
(3) Restriction on public manifestations;
(4) deprivation of registration of educational, health or social enterprises
(5) Cancellation of activities for a period of up to six months;
(6) nullifying of the registration of the legal entity of the religion.

Art. 10 The specific religions are characterized among themselves with their name, religious beliefs and the natural persons composing their religious communities.

Art. 11, paragraph 1. The traditional religion in the Republic of Bulgaria is the Eastern Orthodox. It plays a historic role in Bulgarian statehood and has actual meaning in the state’s life. Its voice and representative is the autocephalous Bulgarian Orthodox Church, which under the name Patriarchy, is the successor of the Bulgarian Exarchate and is a member of the United, Holy, Congregational and Apostolic Church. It is led by the Holy Synod and is represented by the Bulgarian Patriarch who is Metropolitan of Sofia.
Paragraph 2. The Bulgarian Orthodox Church is a legal person. Its structure and management are established by its bylaws.
Paragraph 3. Paragraph 1 and 2 cannot be the basis to grant privileges or any advantages [to the Bulgarian Orthodox Church] over other denominations by a law or sub-law [normative administrative act].

Art. 12. (1) The relations of the religious institutions with the government and the connected documentation are carried out in the official Bulgarian language.
(2) During performance of religious rituals and during worship another language can be used according to the choice of the religious community and according to the tradition of its practice.

Art. 13 (1) Religions can establish for their needs ritual, houses of prayer or worship for public religious rites and services in facilities owned or rented by the religious institution or local branch. Buildings of the religions are built observing the Law on Land Use of the Territory and the respective sub-laws [administrative normative acts, taking account [religious needs].
(2) Religions may organize public activities outside of houses of worship as well.

Art. 14. The secret of confession is inviolable. No cleric shall be forced to testify or to deliver information about facts and circumstances which he came to know during confession.

Chapter Three

Art. 15. Religious communities shall acquire status of a legal person on the conditions and according to the procedures of this law.

Art. 16. Registration of religious communities as a legal person shall be accomplished by the Sofia City Court.

Art. 17. Legal procedures for registration shall be carried out following the procedures of Chapter 46 of Civil Procedure Code.

Art. 18. The Sofia City Court may require expert opinion in relation to the registration of religious communities from the Directorate of Religions.

Art. 19. The statute of a religion must include:
(1) name and headquarters of the religion;
(2) short statement of the religious beliefs;
(3) structure and bodies of the religion;
(4) the manner of specifying of ruling authorities and the period of their mandate;
(5) persons who have the right to represent the religion, the manner of their appointment, their change or replacement and the period of their mandate;
(6) manners of taking decisions and procedures for summoning of sittings of the [supervisory] bodies of the religion;
(7) internal property relations [within the religion];
(8) manners of termination and liquidation.

Art. 20. The Sofia City Court shall manage a public register of religions with the status of legal persons, in which are listed :
1. legal resolution for registration by the Court ;
2. name and headquarters;
3. ruling bodies and representation;
4. names of the persons, which are representatives of the religious institution.

Art. 21. (1) Religions can have local branches according to their statute.
(2) Local branches shall be registered by the mayors of the municipalities, according to the place of the [mayor’s] headquarters, under the conditions of notification regime, within a 7-days term, on the basis of an application by the central leadership of the religion or authorised by it person according to the statute.
(3) The application, according to paragraph. 2, shall include:
1. The court decision of the Sofia City Court for the registration of the religion and its central leadership, together with the respective power of attorney to the [local] person authorized by the central leadership.
2. A certificate from the central leadership for persons, who shall represent the central leadership in the respective Municipality, the seat and the address of the local subsection.
(4) The mayor shall inform the Directorate of Religions of the performed entry within 3 days after the entry in the [local] register is completed.
(5) The Municipality administration shall maintain a register of local branches of religions.

Art. 23. If it is possible according to the statute of a respective religion, local branches shall register as legal persons in a regional court, within the jurisdiction of the municipality where its headquarters are located.

Chapter Four: Property and Finances

Art. 24.(1) Religions and their branches, which have acquired status of a legal person, according to the procedures of this law shall have right to their own property.
(2) Property of the religious organizations shall include: right of ownership over a property; limited property rights on real estate; fruits from managing of real estate, including rents; profits or dividends from participation in commercial companies or associations of commercial companies; right of ownership of movable property, including securities; Copyright Law rights; income from state subsidies, donations, testaments and others.
(3) The state and municipalities may lease to religious institutions and their local branches free of charge the right to use state or municipal real estate, as well as to support them with subsidies provided in the governmental or municipal budget.

Art. 24. Disposal of the properties of the religions shall be as provided in their statute.

Art. 25. (1) To meet their needs registered religions shall have a right to produce and sell things, connected to their religious activities, rituals, rites..
(2) Activities covered by paragraph 1 shall not be consider as commercial activity under the terms of the Law on Commerce.
(3) Prayer houses, temples, monasteries, objects and persons, connected to worship activity, shall not be used for the purpose of advertising by merchants according to the meaning of the Law on Commerce, without the express agreement of the respective religion.

Art. 26. Registered religions shall have the right to possess and maintain cemeteries at their own expense.

Art. 27. (1) The state shall support and encourage religions registered under this law for their religious, social, educational and health activity through tax, credit and interest rates, customs and other financial and economical relief under the terms and conditions specified in the respective special laws.
(2) When religions use preferences according to paragraph 1, their yearly accounting reports shall go through an obligatory independent financial audit by registered auditors. In these cases the parts of the verified annual accounting reports referring to the use preferences shall be presented at the Ministry of Finance.
(3) When infringement of the law is detected Ministry of finance informs the prosecutor’s offices and of the governmental finance control for execution of checks and activities provided in the law.

Art. 28. A religion, which has acquired of legal personality according to this law, shall be able to establish commercial law entities.

Art. 29. (1) Legal persons with a not-for-profit purpose to support the popularizing of a specific religion, which has acquired status of legal person, can be established after a preliminary consent of the referring religious institution.
(2) Legal entities with ideal purpose according to paragraph 1 have not the right to accomplish activities which represent practice of religion in public.

Art. 30. Distribution of the state subsidy for the registered religions is done under the auspices of the law on the state budget.

Art. 31. Labor relations of the clergy and the officers of the religious institution are arranged according the statute of the religious institutions [in conformity with] the labor and social laws.

Chapter Five: Hospitals, Social and Educational Establishments of Different Religions.

Art. 32. (1) Those religions registered in accordance with this law, can open up hospitals, social and educational establishments.
(2) The hospitals, social and educational establishments of these religions are established and work according to the decree of the common law and a special arrangement of the law found herein.

Art. 33. The Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Labor and Social Care, and the Ministry of Education and Science oversee the observance of the governmental requirements and fulfillment of the activities of the said hospitals, social and educational establishments of different religions.

Art. 34. Religions are not allowed to condition admission into health or social establishments on affiliation with the respective religious community.

Art. 35. (1) Religious institutions, with the approval of the Minister of Education and Science, can open ecclesiastical schools with their own ritual needs in accordance with the law of national education.
(2) The education obtained in these ecclesiastical schools must be equal to the education received in a regular school in accordance with the law of national education.
(3) High schools can be opened by the order and conditions stated in the law for national education for private schools.
(4) The prerequisites for a person younger than 18 years of age to attend an establishment of religious education, according to Art. 1., should be a written agreement of allowance from the parents or legal guardian.
(5) Establishments of religious education cannot hinder the right of receiving obligatory degrees of governmental education stated in the constitution and the law.
(6) The establishments of religious education can open universities in accordance with the order of the law of higher education.
(7) Schools of higher ecclesiastical education can be opened by a proposition from the leadership of the establishment of religious education with an approval from the Ministry Council.

Chapter Six: The Department of Ecclesiastical Matters

Art. 36 The Ministry Council must carry into effect the governmental policy in the area of the rights of religion.

Art. 37. The Directorate of Religion is a specialized administration in the Council of Ministers which:
1. coordinates the relations between the executive power and the establishments of religious education;
2. helps the Ministry Council fulfill the governmental policy of sustaining tolerance and respect between the different establishments of religious education;
3. organizes and leads the work of the expert consultative committee of the establishments of religious education;
4. gives expert conclusions and point of view according to that which is contained in this law;
5. gives a point of view concerning the request of permission for foreign ministers to stay in the country who have been invited by the central leadership of the registered establishments of religious education;
6. checks on calls or complaints from citizens for disturbing their rights or the rights and freedom of their relatives by violating the establishments of religious education from the third party.
7. observes that officials do not violate the order of religious rights and freedom;
8. checks on calls or complaints of religious activity not permitted by the law in accordance with Art. 7. of this law, and when needed , informs the agency of the public prosecutor;
9. makes proposals on distribution of the governmental subsidy directed to the registered establishments of religious education;

Chapter Seven: ADMINISTRATIVE AND PENAL PROVISIONS

Art.38. (1) Any person carrying out religious activity in the name of a religion without representational authority is penalized with a fine from BGN 100 to BGN 300.
(2) When the above mentioned act is repeated, the fee is BGN 500 to BGN 1000.

Art. 39. Any person who violates a situation not included in the written law but is a stumbling block to the free organization or inhibits the expression of religious convictions will be fined BGN 100 to BGN 300.

Art. 40. (1) If the articles of this law are violated but the act is not a criminal offense, the person will be penalized with a fee of BGN 500 to BGN 1,000. If a person holding a juridical position performs the act, sanctions will be levied from BGN 500 to BGN 1,000.
(2) For the least important cases, according to /1/, there will be a fine of BGN 100 to BGN 300.

Art. 41. (1) Violation of this law will be noted with public warrants issued by the officials of the establishments of religious education.
(2) The penal orders of applying a sanction by this law will be issued by the director of the establishment of religious education.

Art. 42. Public Acts and Penal Orders, by this law, will be constituted, issued, and appealed according to the order circumspect in the law of Administrative Violations and Sanctions Act.

TRANSITIONAL AND FINAL PROVISIONS

§1. In the sense of this law:
1. Religion is a set of faith principles and convictions upon the basis of which worship rites and rituals are performed, and a religious community and religious institutions are formed.
2. A religious community is a voluntary union of natural persons for the manifestation of a certain religion, performance of worship, religious rituals and ceremonies.
3. A religious institution is a religious community registered in accordance with the Law on Religions which has the capacity of legal personality, ruling bodies, and a statute.

§ 2. (1) Registered establishments of religious education according to Act 6 from the law of the establishment of religious education (State Official Newspaper…) preserve their status of legal entities.
(2) Within a month after the execution, of the law the Directorate of Religion grants to the Sofia City Court the list of registration of the registered establishments of religious education and their regulations and also their standing orders.
(3) The court officially incorporates in the closed-door meetings registered establishments of religious education according to /1/. In this case the court could not refuse an incorporation of the entry of the registration.
(4) The registered local units of the establishments of religious education, existing prior to the validity of the law, which are legal entities are being incorporated officially by the respected district court within their headquarters in a closed-door meeting and by the request of the central leadership of establishments of religious education accompanied with a certificate of this registration of Sofia City Court. Mayors of the Municipalities, within a month of the incorporation of the law, deliver to the district court the registration of the local units of establishments of religious education.

§ 3. Persons who have seceded from the registered religious institution in violation of its By-laws, cannot use an identical name and use or operate its property.

§ 4. (1) According to the request of the registered establishments of religious education the director of the department of Ecclesiastical Matters under the ministry council issues a certificate for the right of ownership between establishments of religious education and pre-existing religious, educational religious, and social welfare legal entities before 1949.
(2) The representatives of the respective establishments of religious education introduce the claim before the Sofia City Court for establishing right of ownership by submitting the certificate to the director of the Department of Ecclesiastical Matters according to /1/.
(3) The Court states its decision, which is being incorporated in the registration according to Act 20.
(4) The decision may be appealed by other registered establishments of religious education, according to the order GPK.

§ 5. Art. 133a of the Law on the Persons and the Family is repealed.

§ 6. § 2, para. 2 of the Law on Legal Persons with Not-for-Profit Purpose is amended by replacing the wording “religious activity” with “activity, pertaining to a religion.”

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