Lithuanian MPs move to allow liquidating religious community on security grounds

  • 2023-08-07
  • BNS/TBT Staff

VILNIUS – A group of Lithuanian MPs have registered draft amendments to allow de-registering or liquidating, by court order, a religious community or association if this is necessary for security reasons or public order or for protecting other persons' rights and freedoms.

The proposed amendments to the Law on Religious Communities and Associations more broadly regulate the registration, reorganization and liquidation of religious communities, making it possible to do so by court order.

The amendments were registered by three members of a special task group: Arunas Valinskas of the Homeland Union-Lithuanian Christian Democrats, Tomas Vytautas Raskevicius of the Freedom Party and Rimante Salaseviciute of the Farmers and Greens Union.

The legislation would allow removing traditional religious communities or associations from the Register of Legal Entities and liquidating other religious communities by court order if their activities violate human rights and freedoms or public order, and their removal from the register or liquidation is necessary for protecting public safety, public order, human health and morals, or other persons' rights and freedoms.

The authorities would also be able to take such a measure if the main activities of a religious community or association are not in line with the objectives stated in its statutes or canons.

Raskevicius, head of the parliamentary Committee on Human Rights, told BNS that the possibility of de-registering or liquidating a religious community on security grounds was introduced after public discussions about the attitude of communities in the context of the war in Ukraine.

Salaseviciute says the amendments were not drafted in response to the situation in the Orthodox Christian community, where several priests were defrocked last year after criticizing the position of the Church's hierarchy on Russia's war against Ukraine.

"There was no specific reference to the Orthodox Christians," Salaseviciute told BNS. 

"It was a very competent task group bringing together representatives from the Justice Ministry and other institutions, and us, members appointed by the parliamentary groups. The provisions of the law were analyzed, and these are the final collegial decisions," the MP said. 

"It was not identified as a threat to Lithuania's security coming specifically from the Orthodox Church," she added.  

Under the draft amendments, the Justice Ministry will be able to ask a religious community or association to provide explanations if it has information suggesting that the community's activities may pose a threat to security, etc.

If the religious community fails to provide explanations or its explanations fail to convince the authorities that there is no threat to security or human rights violations, the ministry will have the right to ask the court to remove the community from the Register of Legal Entities if it is recognized as a traditional religious community in Lithuania or to liquidate it if it is not. 

Other draft amendments clarify the procedures for registering or liquidating religious communities, according to Raskevicius.

Officially, Lithuania currently has one Orthodox Christian community: the Archdiocese of Vilnius and Lithuania, which is subordinate to the Patriarchate of Moscow.

However, a parallel structure under the jurisdiction of the Patriarchate of Constantinople is being created on the basis of five former priests of the Moscow Patriarchate, who were defrocked last year by Metropolitan Innokentiy, but were reinstated by Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople in February.

The Moscow Patriarchate accused the priests of canonical offenses, but Constantinople ruled that they had been defrocked because of their position on Russia's invasion of Ukraine, rather than for breaking the Church rules.

Orthodox Christians are recognized as one of Lithuania nine traditional religious communities.