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Registration of churches to become stricter

The parliament overrode the president’s veto, with some opposition support.

Illustrative stock photo(Source: Sme - Peter Žákovič)

The conditions for the registration of churches and religious societies will be stricter, as parliament overrode President Andrej Kiska’s veto and approved the change to the respective law on January 31.

A total of 103 lawmakers voted in favour of an amendment to the act on freedom of religion and the status of churches and religious societies. Apart from the MPs for the ruling coalition, the legislation was supported also by the deputies of We Are Family of Boris Kollár, far-right People’s Party – Our Slovakia (ĽSNS), and non-affiliated MPs Martina Šimovičová, Peter Marček and Rastislav Halúbek, the TASR newswire reported.

In his veto, Kiska argued back in December 2016 that it impinges on fundamental rights and freedoms guaranteed by the Slovak constitution.

Under the law sponsored by the Slovak National Party (SNS), churches and religious societies seeking to establish themselves in Slovakia will be required to back their application up with at least 50,000 members who are adult Slovak citizens with permanent residence in Slovakia. Currently, only 20,000 such members are necessary.

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The initiative is aimed at preventing alleged religious entities from registering themselves in a speculative manner with the sole aim of acquiring financial contributions from the state, SNS claimed.

The president, however, argued that the submitters of the bill did not prove that the risk of such fraudulent registrations has increased. At the same time they did not explain why current legislation concerning the matter is not sufficient for detecting such fraud. He pointed out that since the law on this matter was tightened in 2007, the Ministry of Culture has recorded only one attempt at fraudulent registration by means of submitting false signatures.

“Furthermore, no new church or religious society has been registered over this period,” said Kiska, as quoted by TASR.

Moreover, the president considers interference in the fundamental rights and freedoms guaranteed by the constitution to be inappropriate because, according to the latest census carried out in Slovakia in 2011, only four of the 18 churches and religious societies currently registered meet the condition of having at least 50,000 members.

“This requirement is also inappropriate when compared to legal provisions in other EU countries,” stated Kiska, as quoted by TASR.

SNS continued the argument against Kiska’s position.

“Slovakia has the right to lay down conditions for churches and religious societies operating in the country and to institute these conditions in its registration requirements,” said SNS caucus head Tibor Bernaťák, as quoted by TASR, referring to a ruling by the Slovak Constitutional Court.

The fact that a church or religious society is not registered does not preclude its followers from expressing their convictions, he added.

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