Bulgarian Parliament votes new religion law - most articles restricting freedoms expected to be dropped
Christians in Sofia expressed relief after very important changes were introduced in the proposed law after a key meeting of the Parliament's Committee for Religion and Human Rights with evangelicals and other religious groups. Parlamentarians will vote the rest of the law on Friday 21.
SOFIA · 20 DECEMBER 2018 · 17:42 CET
Bulgaria will have a new Religious Denominations Act on Friday December 21, but the threat of severe restrictions of the basic freedoms of evangelical Christians and other faith minorities in the countries could be over.
On Wednesday 19 December, only 24 hours before the start of the vote, a long meeting of the Parliament's Committee for Religion and Human Rights with representatives of the country's faith groups made major changes to the text that responded to the objections of evangelical Christians and other religious groups such as Muslims and Roman Catholics.
The evangelical community of Bulgaria was represented by pastor Rumen Bordjiev (BEA president), Greta Ganeva (Bulgarian Evangelical Alliance secretary), Vlady Raichinov (BEA vice president), as well as Viktor Kostov and Nevena Stefanova ("Freedom for All" legal rights group). They had voice but only lawmakers had a vote in the proposed changes of the provisions.
The open discussion on the law amendments led to what seem to be very important changes. "In a nutshell, almost all of the troublesome issues were dropped off by the lawmakers in this committee. Apparently, all the international pressure gave results", an evangelical representative told Evangelical Focus.
These last minute concessions came after seven weeks of protests and prayer of evangelical Christians across Bulgaria.
Members of the European Parliament, Members of the Council of Europe, non-profit religious freedom organisations, and organisations such as the World Evangelical Alliance and the World Baptist Alliance, among others, had sent letters to the Bulgarian government asking to stop a new religion law that would have severely restricted the freedoms of faith groups representing less than 1% of the population.
LAW EXPECTED TO BE PASSED ON DEEMBER 21
On Thursday 20 December, the national Parliament in Sofia started to vote the Religious Denominations Act.
Vlady Raichinov, Vice-President of the Bulgarian Evangelical Alliance told Evangelical Focus: "A small part of the law has already been voted. Parlamentarians stopped working today and went home for the evening. Tomorrow [Friday 21 December] morning the lawmakers plan to discuss the rest of the provisions. So far, they have been following exactly what the Religious Denominations Committee reached as agreements yesterday. This means that most of the aspects that are troublesome are being dropped one by one during their plenary session. Hopefully the same tendency will continue tomorrow".
"At 8 AM tomorrow morning, Evangelical Christians will gather in front of the Parliament building with flags and posters and Christmas music. They will pray for God’s hand to be on the lawmakers. Parliamentary deliberations start at 9 AM, and will probably be pushed rather quickly. God is in control".
Bulgarian evangelical Christians also expressed gratitude towards all those around the world who "stand in prayer with us".