Slovakia sets tough conditions for new churches

The process of officially registering a church in Slovakia has always been quite complicated, but is about to become even more difficult. The left-wing government of Robert Fico has decided to support a proposal requiring that new churches or regional organizations in Slovakia to gather more than 20 thousands signatures from adult members of the Church if they want to be officially registered. Current legislation requires the same amount of signatures, but only from Church sympathisers.

The amendment to the law on freedom of religion and the church's position were submitted to parliament by MPs Ludmila Muskova from the Movement for Democratic Slovakia and Jan Podmanicky from the Smer-social democracy.

"We have noticed recently increasing number of groups trying to form a religion only from fun. Legislature hasn't been clear enough to prevent such groups from finding a holes in it," said Jan Podmanicky from Smer-social democracy.

The amendment should to some extent prevent the registration of subjects which would abuse the position and rights following the official registration. The Ministry of Culture has supported the legislature change stating that: "the registration process has recently showed some limitations". Major churches in Slovakia do not have any objections to the amendment to the law. Milos Klatik from the Protestant church: "We have basically no objections."

Jozef Kovacik representing the Catholic Church responded similarly.

"The church views it as a fully legitimate action of the government and parliament."

Registered churches can apply for financial support from the state for religious representatives and running costs for the church. They can also ask for exemption from paying local taxes, exemptions from the labor code, to teach their religion at the state schools, create church schools or have some space in the state owned media. Culture Minister Marek Madaric points out that registration is not related to the possibility of acting like a church or religious organization, but it is connected with the advantages the official registration brings.

"This amendment to the law does not limit the freedom of religion or ability to set up religions organizations. It is only about the benefits that are available for any officially registered religious movement."

Since 1992, only two religious organizations have been registered in Slovakia - Jehova Witnesses and Mormons. The EU does not have common rules on the registration of new churches. The Growing Muslim community in Slovakia is concerned because it will probably not be able to collect 20 thousand signatures. The Ministry of foreign affairs, in its 2005 report, stated that criteria for registration in Slovakia are among the strictest in Europe and can be compared to those applied in the countries of central Asia. The current legislation has already been attacked at the Constitutional Court by the Attorney General Dobroslav Trnka who claimed that it limits the constitutional right to assemble.