Baptists finally win religious status

  • 2001-07-19
  • Felix Corley
Keston News Service - Lithuania's Baptist Union has expressed surprise and pleasure that the country's Parliament has approved its application for "recognized" status, the second rank under the complex and controversial four-tier system governing state recognition of religious organizations.

"My first reaction was that I couldn't believe it," executive secretary Linas Andronovas said from Klaipeda on July 13. "Everything had been going so slowly."

He said that the day before the vote the Baptist Union had been preparing a letter of complaint to senior officials over foot-dragging in the application, which was lodged in the Parliament exactly a year ago.

The Parliament, or Seimas, had been due to consider the application on June 14, but it was postponed.

At its final plenary session on July 12, the Union's application was approved 45-2 with three abstentions. The Baptist Union becomes the first religious community to be given this status. Andronovas maintains there had been opposition to the approval of the application from the parliamentary education committee.

Recognized status, although originally intended to grant greater rights than those available to groups who simply have registered status, currently confers no significant greater rights.

"It gives only three extra advantages," Andronovas said. "We won't have to pay social and health insurance contributions for clergy and other employees, our clergy and theological students will be exempt from military service, and we will get VAT exemption on services like electricity, telephone and heating. But the major rights are unchanged."

He said that the Baptist Union will still be denied the right to teach religion in schools or buy land to build churches (ownership has to be registered in an individual's name).

Four other Protestant groups - the United Methodist Church, the New Apostolic Church, the Pentecostal Union and the Adventist Church – are seeking recognized status. All have been watching the Baptist Union application closely.

Asked whether the Baptist Union decision would affect the applications of these other groups, Donatas Glodenis of the Justice Ministry believed it would.

"The door is now more open than it was. Once the first group gains recognized status, it makes it easier for others to acquire it."

Despite being present in Lithuania for more than 150 years, the Baptists were refused traditional status last year by the Parliament's human rights committee without a parliamentary vote, yet they continue to desire this status.