UOC Legal Department: New anti-church bill grossly violates Constitution

26 January 2023 12:01
The Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine. Photo: law.church.ua The Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine. Photo: law.church.ua

The Synodal Legal Department of the UOC has published a commentary on the government bill banning religious organizations affiliated with the Russian Federation.

Bill No 8371 "On amendments to some laws of Ukraine concerning the activity of religious organizations in Ukraine" registered in the Verkhovna Rada by the Cabinet of Ministers on 19 January 2023 contradicts the Constitution, the Rules of laws drafting, national legislation and international law. This is said in the commentary of the Legal Department of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church.

According to the Legal Department, the draft law, in particular, envisions a ban on the activity of religious organizations "affiliated with the centres of influence of a religious organization (association) whose governing centre (management) is located in a state which is carrying out armed aggression against Ukraine”.

The document allows the court – at the suit of the prosecutor or the State Service for Ethnopolitics and Freedom of Conscience – to terminate the activity of religious organizations in case of any violations of the law.

The bill also significantly expands the list of powers of the State Ethnopolitics Service, namely giving it the right to conduct religious examinations of activities of religious organizations to determine the subordination in canonical and organizational issues to governing centres based in the aggressor state, as well as to issue instructions to eliminate violations identified during the examination and file an administrative lawsuit to stop activities of a religious organization in case it does not comply with such instructions.

Furthermore, the draft law proposes to amend the law "On state registration of legal entities, private entrepreneurs and public organizations" which "will directly affect the activity of all the religious denominations in Ukraine".

The UOC Legal Department stressed that draft law No 8371 grossly violated key provisions of the Constitution: the commentary lists 10 articles of the fundamental law which are contradicted by the document prepared by the Cabinet of Ministers.

The lawyers point out that the bill was drawn up as part of the implementation of the resolution of the National Security and Defence Council of 1 December 2022 "on certain aspects of the activity of religious organizations in Ukraine and on the application of special economic and other restrictive measures (sanctions)" but it contradicts the NSDC resolution itself "as regards the subject of changes to the current legislation and as regards its compliance with international law".

According to specialists of the Legal Department, the implementation of the right of citizens to freedom of religion may indeed be restricted by law, but the protection of national security is not included in the existing list of grounds for restrictions, so the adoption of the government bill "is unlawful, illegal in relation to every person who professes one religion or another".

The authors of the commentary also highlight that the term "affiliation" is borrowed from the sphere of economic and financial law, which regulates the activities of enterprises and organisations engaged in business and receiving profit, which is radically different from the non-profit model of activity of religious organisations.

According to the Legal Department, the bill has been drafted with numerous violations of the existing Rules of law drafting and the basic requirements of legislative technique.

"Despite the political context and artificial public demand, which is formed by manipulative opinion polls and media reports, as well as [legally] null and void decisions of local authorities, we believe that this draft law is dangerous for Ukrainian society and all religious communities in Ukraine, as it introduces a mechanism for unjustified interference in the internal affairs of a religious organisation," the commentary reads.

"Since the bill contradicts the norms of international law and the Constitution of Ukraine, does not correspond to the legal technique, and will also significantly complicate the process of European integration for our country, we urge the Parliament to remove Bill 8371 from the agenda and not to put it to a vote," the UOC Legal Department resumed.

As reported, an MP of the People's Servant party, Fedir Venislavsky, earlier said that bill No 8371 would be passed at least in the first reading by the end of winter.

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