The contents of this document are the sole responsibility of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of CCADD.

 

CCADD International Conference, 19-23 September 2008

Cathedral College at the Washington National Cathedral

 

 

Strategies and Theologies for Hope: 

Christian Approaches to Defence and Disarmament in the Coming Decade

 

 

Dr. Drago Čepar, Director of the Office for Religious Communities in the
Republic of Slovenia:

"Religious freedom act, agreements with churches and other activities - State's contribution to the interreligious dialogue in Slovenia."

 

Response for Session 11: Inter-Religious Dialogue with Islam

Speaker: Imam Yahya Hendi, Georgetown University

 

 

1. Religious Freedom Act – Slovenia's new law on religious freedom

 

After successful economic transition, Slovenia, as an EU and NATO member, in 2007 brought to a close an important phase in its legislative and social transition with a new Religious Freedom Act (ZVS).

 

In its seven chapters the Act regulates the individual and collective exercise of religious freedom, the legal status of churches and other religious communities, their registration procedure, rights of registered churches and other religious communities and their members, and powers and competences of the body responsible for religious communities.

 

The age of fifteen years is set as the age at which the child has the right to adopt decisions related to religious freedom. <0} To register a new church, at least 100 members and 10 years of previous existence are required. Churches and other religious communities that were registered on the day of bringing into force of this Act shall keep the status of legal personality and shall be entered into the register ex officio by the competent body, and thus need not fulfil the conditions of 100 members and 10 years’ existence.

 

Rights of registered churches: the possibility to conclude agreements, religious spiritual care in the army, police, prisons, hospitals and social welfare institutions; freedom of construction and use of premises for religious purposes; the right to state financial support for the payment of social security contributions for employees of churches and other religious communities; and the financing of registered churches and other religious communities.

<0}

The main solutions in the Act generally reflect a history of concrete long-term unanimity on the part of coalition governments and were reached through dialogue with religious communities. The Office for Religious Communities (hereinafter: the Office) organised three meetings with representatives of religious communities to discuss the content of the Act, plus additional meetings related to it. Consequently, support of the Act by religious communities is strong. At a certain point, three out of forty-two communities opposed the Government's proposal; however, some of them later changed their position. More than 99.6% of those people who declared their religious affiliation in the 2002 national census were members of religious communities which supported the Government's proposal of the Act.

 

The Religious Freedom Act replaces the Legal Status of the Religious Communities Act adopted in 1976. The latter had become obsolete and deficient in so far as it failed to regulate certain fundamental areas such as the register of religious communities, registration procedures, registration criteria and conditions, as well as financing. Furthermore, it had not been brought into conformity with the Constitution, as the last amendments to it were made prior to adoption of the Constitution.

 

This project represents an important part of Government policy to promote cultural diversity and makes a non-discriminatory contribution to the cultural richness of society. 

 

On 21 March 2007 the National Council adopted a decision to bring the law before the Constitutional Court, arguing that it (as a whole and specifically 23 out of its 36 articles) violates several provisions of the Constitution. The National Council also proposed that the Constitutional Court stop the implementation of the law until a final decision on its constitutionality is taken. The main reproach of the opponents was that the law violates the constitutional provisions of separation of state and religious communities and of the legal equality of religious communities. At the end of April 2007 the Constitutional Court rejected the proposition to block the Act, and as a result it is being implemented. However, the final decision on the constitutionality of the Act and its specific articles has not yet been adopted.

 

 

2 Agreements

 

A number of agreements with churches and other religious communities were signed in the period between the adoption of the Constitution in 1991 and August 2008.

 

On 25 January 2000, the Government of the Republic of Slovenia and the Evangelical Church in the Republic of Slovenia[1] signed the Agreement on the Legal Status of the Evangelical Church in the Republic of Slovenia; on 21 September 2000 with the Slovenian Bishops' Conference, the Agreement between the Slovenian Bishops' Conference and the Government of the Republic of Slovenia on Spiritual Care for Military Persons in the Slovenian Army; and on 20 October 2000 with the Evangelical Church in the Republic of Slovenia, the Agreement between the Evangelical Church in the Republic of Slovenia and the Government of the Republic of Slovenia on Spiritual Care for Military Persons in the Slovenian Army.

 

On 14 December 2001, the government signed with the Holy See the Agreement between the Republic of Slovenia and the Holy See on Legal Issues, while the National Assembly on 28 January 2004 passed the Act ratifying the Agreement between the Republic of Slovenia and the Holy See on legal issues[2]. The constitutionality of the agreement was determined by the Constitutional Court between its signing and ratification.

 

On 17 March 2004, the government signed with the Pentecostal Church in the Republic of Slovenia the Agreement on Legal Status of the Pentecostal Church in the Republic of Slovenia; on 9 July 2004 with the Serbian Orthodox Church Metropolitanate of Zagreb and Ljubljana the Agreement on Legal Status of the Serbian Orthodox Church; on 9 July 2007, with the Islamic Community in the Republic of Slovenia the Agreement on the Legal Status of the Islamic Community in the Republic of Slovenia; and on 4 July 2008 with the Buddhist Congregation Dharmaling the Agreement on the Legal Status of the Buddhist Congregation Dharmaling.

 

The Agreement with the Islamic Community in the Republic of Slovenia, according to the Personal Representative of the Chairman-in-Office of the OSCE on Combating Intolerance and Discrimination against Muslims, can serve in Europe as an example of good practice, because Slovenia is among the first EU members to sign such an agreement.

 

 

 

3 Office of the Government of the Republic of Slovenia for Religious Communities

 

 

3.1 Establishment and tasks

 

The Office was established as a government office by the Government of the Republic of Slovenia at the end of 1993 and began its operations in 1994. It primarily performs tasks imposed on the empowered state authority by the Religious Freedom Act, in particular Articles 30 and 32.

  

3.2 Non-discrimination in the area of religion

 

As part of its area of work, the Office strives to exercise the principle of equal treatment, and within its competences creates the terms and conditions for equal treatment of persons regardless of religious belief by raising awareness and monitoring the situation in this field and by regulatory and political measures.[3] The implementation of the constitutional principle of ‘separation of the state and religious communities’, which is the basis for continuous and creative dialogue with churches and other religious communities, is a commitment not only to tolerance, but also to respect. Since intercultural dialogue, a part of which is interfaith dialogue, presents one of the priorities of Slovenia's EU presidency, we list a number of the Office's activities in this area: the drafting of ZVS, consultation panels, meetings and pre-holiday receptions.

 

3.2.1 Drafting of the Religious Freedom Act

 

The act with its clear criteria for the financing and registration of churches and other religious communities enables the implementation of religious freedom as provided by the Constitution. This is why this project is counted among those projects which promote cultural diversity and contribute to non-discrimination and the cultural richness of society.

 

3.2.2 Consultation panels

 

The Office organises consultation panels for representatives of churches and other religious communities on topics of interest for religious communities. Guests of the consultation panels - experts in various fields - present at the panels a topic from their field and answer questions from participants. Records of the panels are published, and media is informed about and invited to the panels.

 

Consultation panels are also an important step towards communication, interfaith and intercultural dialogue, the promotion of cultural diversity and raising awareness of the importance of a person’s religious affiliation and religious dimension.

 

3.2.3 Meetings

 

In the last few years the Office organised four meetings of representatives of churches and other religious communities, which proved to be an important part of the cooperation between the state and religious communities, and among different religious communities. The meetings were dedicated to topics concerning peace and interfaith dialogue, and to a message of history and dialogue between members of religious communities and representatives of the state.

 

Soča 2004. The one-day meeting held on 22 June 2004 was attended by 33 representatives of religious communities.

 

Krn 2005. The two-day trip to Krn took place in the light of the promotion of peace and the conservation of nature and comprehension of European history. The event was attended by representatives of the Buddhist Congregation Dharmaling, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the Evangelical Church in the Republic of Slovenia, the Islamic Community in the Republic of Slovenia, the Jewish Community of Slovenia – Jewish Community of Ljubljana, the Catholic Church, the Seventh-day Adventist Church, the Society for Krishna Consciousness and the Unification Church. The leading thought was to go together along the path (from Koča pri Savici above Bohinj Lake (653 m) to Krn (2224 m)), which during the battles of the Isonzo in the First World War had to be passed in much harder conditions by our grandfathers and great-grandfathers – members of a large number of European nations and religions. All who went on the excursion were persistent on their way up, although the first day was marked by bad weather, and all participants, regardless of their religion, were soaked to the skin. The experience of a shared struggle with the difficulties enriched all the participants, and the second day of the excursion, which was the most beautiful day in the year, rewarded everyone for their effort. Besides raising awareness of the importance of the environment, peace and cultural values, the participants of the meeting also established a high level of mutual respect and trust. On this hard path in unfavourable weather conditions, they managed to go beyond their limits and also to support others.

 

Istra 2007. The meeting held on 18 April 2007 was attended by 32 representatives of 14 churches and other religious communities. We visited in Koper the Adventist, Serbian Orthodox and Islamic communities, where we got an important message of good coexistence and constructive interfaith cooperation to the well-being of all believers: The Catholic Church has given one of its churches for permanent use to the Serbian Orthodox Church; Muslims have their religious education in the premises of a Catholic parish; Muslims have been among the first to bring their contribution for the collection of funds for the Catholic church of St. Mark.

 

Krn Javorca 2008. The two-day meeting – interreligious mountain tour to memory places of First World War  -  on 16 and 17 July 2008 was attended by Buddhists, Catholics, Muslims (also mufti mag. Nedžad Grabus), Jews and representatives of the Reformed Evangelical Church and Unification Church. It was dedicated to 90 anniversary of the end of First World War, to the European year of intercultural dialogue and the International year of the planet Earth and related to messages of history, peace and environment.

 

 

3.2.5 Pre-holiday reception

 

Every December the Office organises a traditional pre-holiday Christmas and New Year reception, which is attended by more than 100 representatives of churches and other religious communities. At the recent receptions (the latest featured 140 representatives of 23 churches and other religious communities) parts of the programme were also prepared by religious communities: a choir of Muslim women sang Islamic spiritual songs – ilahias; a choir of the Macedonian Orthodox Church sang a couple of folk songs; scouts brought and distributed to the participants a message and the light of peace from Bethlehem.

 

4. Conclusion

 

After its independence, the Republic of Slovenia laid the foundations for religious freedom with the adoption of the Constitution at the end of 1991. The adoption and implementation of ZVS presents a great step forward in defining the manner in which the right to religious freedom is exercised. During Slovenia's EU presidency and the European Year of Intercultural Dialogue, the coexistence of different religious communities and their mutual respect has been at a high level. The state remains to be tasked with enhancing the existing situation and seeking new types of dialogue and strengthening mutual trust and respect.

 

 

                                                                        Drago Čepar

 

 

Ljubljana, September 2008                                                

 


 

[1] Names of churches and other religious communities used at the moment of the signing of the agreements.

[2] Official Gazette of the RS, No. 4/04.

[3] See items 16 and 17 of paragraph 1 of Article 30 of ZVS.