STOP PRESS: Latest news from Bulgaria…
Christians across Bulgaria continue to take to the streets of towns and cities in a series of peaceful protests and united prayer rallies. This follows the Bulgarian government’s draft amendments to the Religious Denominations Act 2002 that threaten the freedom of Christians, local church activities, training of church leaders, funding and support from outside of Bulgaria. The proposed legislative changes were presented to the Bulgarian parliament on 4th October 2018 and are due to be considered again at a Second Reading.
Following two earlier protests organised by evangelical church leaders, thousands of believers marched to the National Assembly in Sofia on Sunday 25th November to pray, sing hymns and voice their united protest. A formal Declaration was publicly signed by 100 church leaders and delivered the following day to the President and Prime Minister on Monday 26th November. Read the Declaration
Bulgarian Church leaders also urged fellow-Christians from across Europe, and beyond, to pray that God would overturn these proposed changes to the law and to raise awareness by writing to their MEPs (see below), Ambassadors and Bulgarian government officials.
“We will continue the protests and prayer meetings in Bulgaria until the suggested changes to religious laws are completely withdrawn or until we see realistic proposals which guard religious freedoms and the right to a belief of The draft law provides for severe restrictions on the life of churches, imposes state control on domestic life and violates both the Constitution and fundamental human freedoms such as the right to religion, the right to speech and the right to association.”
Here’s what we strongly disagree:
1. An unfair one-percent population threshold discriminating against small religions
2. Misuse of Voluntary Census Data 2011
3. Denouncing a terrorist threat from all denominations below one-percent of the population
4. Work by the Directorate of Religions to monitor for terrorism
5. Blocking of theological education in Bulgaria for smaller churches
6. Disregard of academic degrees awarded abroad
7. Control of the content of sermons
8. Prohibition of disseminating spiritual literature
9. Restrictions on clergy from abroad to serve in Bulgaria
10. Required License and Spiritual Employee Certificates
11. Filtering of international donations through the state directorate
12. Granting lands and buildings under the statute of limitations of religious groups
13. Prohibition of worship outside designated religious buildings
14. Imposition of a minimum number of 3,000 people for registration of a denomination
The new law directly affects the work of Transform Europe Network and its partners in Bulgaria and therefore TEN urges UK Christians to write to their regional MEPs, along the lines shown below.
Contact your MEPs – www.mysociety.org/wehelpyou/contact-your-meps/
COPY, PASTE AND FEEL FREE TO PERSONALISE YOUR LETTER
Dear [NAME OF MEP]
I am writing to express my deep concern for fellow Christians in Bulgaria. As you may be aware, on 4th October 2018, the Bulgarian government introduced draft amendments to the Religious Denominations Act. If it becomes law it will have a major impact on all religious denominations, other than Eastern Orthodox Christianity and Islam.
As a Christian and long-term supporter of Christian churches in Bulgaria, I object to the changes being proposed without reasonable consultation with national representatives of Christian denominations. Many of the smaller churches rely on funding from abroad to meet the needs of poor communities, refugees and the Roma people.
Churches across the UK have a long tradition of training and supporting clergy/church leaders in Bulgaria, whether as foreign nationals or indigenous citizens. For many decades, UK Christian denominations and mission agencies have raised vital funds, supported, visited and been invited to preach in Bulgarian churches.
Here is a summary of the main restrictions imposed by the proposed legislation:
- Bulgarian citizens will be able to carry out liturgical activity only if they have had theological training in Bulgaria or their foreign school is approved.
- Only Eastern Orthodox and Muslim believers will be able to train clergy and run schools.
- A foreigner, even from another EU state, will only be able to preach if doing so with a Bulgarian ordained minister.
- Foreign donations will only be allowed for building construction or social aid and will need government approval. No salaries of pastors, for example, could be paid from abroad.
- No religious activities can take place outside of buildings designated for them.
- Only religious groups with more than 3,000 people will have legal status.
This legislation would transfer huge and unnecessary powers to the Bulgarian State resulting in unacceptable control to of all faith communities. No faith community in Bulgaria supports these proposals.
I ask that you use your influence to encourage dialogue between the Bulgarian government and church leader representatives.
I urge that you persuade Bulgaria, as an EU member state, to protect the rights and freedoms of religious communities to carry out their work openly and lawfully.
Thank you for your representations.
Rev. Rumen Bordzhiev, President of the Evangelical Alliance in Bulgaria: “In the context of democratic Europe, based on Christian values, faith is a sacred right that cannot be disputed. No true believers are ever a threat to national security. We love Bulgaria and our people, we believe in God, and we will continue with all legitimate means to uphold the right of religion guaranteed by the Constitution.”