Delays Continue With Serbia’s Proposed Religion Law

The long delay in completing the text of a new religion law occured when Serbian government waited for comments from the Serbian Orthodox Church, sources with government-ties reported to a Norway-based persecution watchdog group.

The new proposed religion law, which has aroused strong opposition from Serbia's religious minorities, disappeared from public view in mid-March after the religion ministry suddenly cancelled the participation of invited guests from various religious communities at a roundtable forum organized jointly with the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and Council of Europe missions in Serbia. However, Norway-based Forum 18 reported that the roundtable went ahead on Mar. 17 behind closed doors.

"The OSCE invited us to attend the roundtable, but the meeting was postponed," said Dr Zdravko Sordjan, general secretary of the Belgrade-based Centre for Tolerance and Inter-religious Relations.

Sordjan told Forum 18 that his group had intended to contribute to improving the text of the draft bill on Religious Freedoms, Churches, Religious Communities and Religious Associations.

"Later we learned that the meeting was held after all - but without us. It is still not clear what happened," the general secretary stated.

Forum 18, which monitors religious persecution in Communist and former Soviet states, reported in February that many of Serbia's religious minorities and human-rights activists have condemned as "discriminatory" the draft law that would give full rights only to seven "traditional" religious communities -leaving other religious communities with lesser rights.

Currently, only seven churches and religious organizations are recognized as "traditional" in Article 7 of the current draft including the Serbian Orthodox Church, the Catholic Church, the Islamic Faith Community, the Jewish Religious community, the Slovak Lutheran Church and the Lutheran Church of Serbia, and the Hungarian Reformed Church.

Members of “non-traditional” religious communities, such as Rev. Tony Peck of the European Baptist Federation, have pressed Serbia’s religion minister to include a greater range of faiths. In a Feb. 24 letter to Religion Minister Milan Radulovic, Peck asked on behalf of European Baptists that the Government reconsider the situation and include Baptist churches in Article 7, as well as the Methodist Church in Serbia.

Forum 18 reports that since the canceling of the religious roundtable slated for March, the religion ministry has refused to say what has happened to the draft.

Radulovic told Forum 18 on May 12 that there were no statements for the press, and that information will be openly available “when the time comes."