Parliament Adopts in Principle Amendments to Religious Denominations Act

112 POLITICS-PARLIAMENT-DENOMINATIONS-BILLS

Parliament Adopts in Principle
Amendments
to Religious Denominations Act

Sofia, October 11 (BTA) – Parliament on Thursday adopted in principle amendments to the Religious Denominations Act, sponsored by GERB, the Bulgarian Socialist Party and the Movement for Rights and Freedoms. The vote was 136 in favour with two abstentions.

The changes introduce a new principle of funding whereby only denominations with which at least 1 per cent of the population have been identified in the latest census will be eligible for a state subsidy.

The subsidy will go towards the costs for wages of the clergy and employees of religious institutions as well as educational and social activities and the construction and maintenance of places of worship. The amount of the subsidy will be set according to the model for funding of political parties with the maximum being 15 million leva. The salary of a clergyman will be equal to that of a teacher.

Based on the last census in 2018, only the Christian Orthodox and the Muslim denominations meet the criteria for a state subsidy, according to the bill sponsors.
The other denominations will be funded from the state under the Budget Act through the Denominations Department of the Council of Ministers.

Foreign clergy who officiate in services across the country will have to submit a prior notification.

The provisions which have to be specified between first and second reading are related to national security, foreign funding, foreign clergy, donations, religious schools and funding for the Bulgarian Orthodox Church dioceses abroad.

An important part of the proposals has to do with additional funding for religious education at schools.

The National Front for Salvation of Bulgaria insists that services are officiated in Bulgarian.

MPs proposed that a working group is set up which comprises representatives of various political formations and religious denominations in order to put forward common proposals.

GERB floor leader Tsvetan Tsvetanov suggested that representatives of the Presidency should be invited to participate in the working group. He recalled that
at a meeting with the Bulgarian Orthodox Church the bill sponsors had committed that the expert group should have 21 days in order to achieve the broadest consensus before the bill is voted conclusively.

Although the Bulgarian Socialist Party is among the bill’s sponsors, it said that the state subsidy criteria is restrictive and there will be denominations which will be left without a state subsidy such as the Armenian Apostolic Church. Socialist MP Vassil Antonov said that the bills are not received positively by the religious denominations and especially by the Eastern Orthodox Church.

On behalf of the Movement for Rights and Freedoms, leader Mustafa Karadayi urged that the bill should not be an instrument for division but something that “can unite us”. According to him, the changes will allow for transparent sources and ways of funding, accountability and will give the state more controls.

Also, MPs approved 105-1 on first reading a bill sponsored by the power-sharing United Patriots. There were two abstentions. LI/PP