Bulgaria will have to reform its Ecclesiastical Bill before it becomes a full-right member of the European Union (EU) in 2007, a local news agency reported
According to Bulgaria-based Sofia News Agency, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) adopted a new resolution with some recommendations to Bulgaria. One part of the resolution says that Bulgaria should not interfere with the religious societies in the country. In addition PACE recommends that all religious conflicts be solved according to the canon, reports Sofia News.
The news agency says Bulgaria will have to implement the new reforms by 2005 if willing to become an EU member in 2007.
Currently in Bulgaria, the constitution designates Eastern Orthodoxy as the "traditional religion." It provides for the freedom of belief, but according to International Christian Concern (ICC), this right is not always extended to non-Orthodox groups.
Non-Orthodox groups are seen as foreign "sects," said Lachezar Popov, founder of the Bulgarian Christian Legal Society. "If you are a Bulgarian and a Baptist, you are half a traitor."
On December 20, 2002, the Bulgarian Parliament passed a controversial religion bill which requires all non-Orthodox churches to register with the court and allows for fines up to 5,000 leva ($2,620 USD) for "unauthorized religious activity." However, ICC reports that this process can be selective and slow, with some groups being refused registration, seemingly for no legitimate reason.
Under the law, courts can also punish religious organizations by halting their activities for up to six months or even canceling their registration. The law also imposes new restrictions on religious publications. Lastly, it appears to force a resolution between two factions of the Orthodox Church by declaring that there can only be one Orthodox Church in Bulgaria.
In addition the law, recent amendments to the Law of Foreign Persons had made it more difficult for religious workers to obtain visas, as there is no category for religious visas.
Also, local governments and authorities have been known to impose their own laws regarding religious groups, which sometimes are in contradiction to the national constitution. One such law passed in the Sofia municipality in 1999 forbids the mention of miracles or healing during religious services. Other laws add registration requirements beyond those of the national government.
ICC also reports that several members of non-Orthodox groups have claimed they have been attacked or harassed. Foreign missionaries have also claimed to be attacked in the streets.
Currently, 69.1% of the country's people are Christian with the Orthodox Church constituting the vast majority of that group. ICC reports that all Christian groups are showing substantial growth. There is also a sizeable Muslim population (13.9%) in the country.