Christians in Bulgaria Continue Public Prayer Meetings and Peaceful Protests as Government Prepares to Vote on Law Restricting Religious Freedom

Bulgarian Parliament House in Sofia (Photo / Dennis Jarvis / CC BY-SA 2.0)

Christians in Bulgaria pledged to continue public prayer meetings and peaceful protests until the nation’s lawmakers either withdraw legislation that would severely restrict religious freedom or make substantive changes to it.

In early October, the Bulgarian Parliament approved on first reading changes to the Religious Denominations Act that would significantly restrict the rights of minority religions, including missionary activity and theological training.

The Nov. 16 deadline for receiving public comment on the amendments passed with the nation’s parliament taking no immediate action.

International pressure
Prior to the deadline, international attention to the situation in Bulgaria grew. Baptist World Alliance General Secretary Elijah Brown and European Baptist Federation General Secretary Anthony Peck sent a Nov. 8 letter to Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov asking the proposed legislation be withdrawn.

“No state, we believe, should be in a position to control the training and activities of ecclesiastic ministers, nor should a state favor one faith expression over another,” they wrote. “The Bulgarian constitution rightly guarantees freedom of religion; we urge that this principle be adhered to as the right of all the Bulgarian people.”

On Nov. 15, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom tweeted: “USCIRF is concerned about proposed changes to be voted on tomorrow that would restrict #ReligiousFreedom in #Bulgaria.” The tweet included a link to the BWA Nov. 8 letter.

Christer Daelander, religious freedom representative of the European Baptist Federation and member of the BWA Religious Liberty Commission, wrote to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, saying the proposed changes in Bulgarian law would violate the United Nations Convention on Freedom of Religion or Belief, as well as similar European Conventions.

Kishan Manocha, senior adviser on freedom of religion or belief at the OSCE, replied in a Nov. 14 email, saying her organization’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights “has submitted a letter to the Bulgarian authorities signaling its readiness to prepare a legal opinion on said draft law.”

“We will also continue to closely follow developments pertaining to freedom of religion or belief in Bulgaria and would be pleased to hear from you again concerning further developments,” Manocha wrote.

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SOURCE: Baptist Standard, Ken Camp