Registration of Religious Organizations as Legal Entities of Public Law

Tbilisi. Old city view
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ძველი თბილისის ხედი

Key speakers:

  • Beka Mindiashvili - Senior Expert, Tolerance Centre, Public Defender’s Office of Georgia;
  • Tamar Chugoshvili - Chairperson, GYLA;
  • Zakaria Kutsnashvili – Lawyer, Representative of The Georgian Patriarchate with Religious organisations;
  • Adam Shantadze – Deputy Mufti, Administration of Muslims of All Georgia;
  • Ilia Osefashvili – Acting Bishop, Evangelical-Baptist Church of Georgia.

Moderation by Marina Elbakidze (CIPDD)

The reaction of the Georgian public to the adoption of "The Rule of Registration of Religious Organizations as Legal Entities of Public Law”, endorsed in July 2011 by the Georgian Parliament, was not homogenous. What positive or negative results could bring the ratification of the new legislation, does its adoption carry any potential threats for the society, what are the threats foreseen by the Georgian Patriarchate with the adoption of the new legislation, how the state had to negotiate the issue with the Patriarchate of the Georgian Orthodox Church, why the public reacted so sharply to the new legislation, will it be enough for religious entities willing to register in Georgia to be registered in the member states to the Council of Europe, why the registration is connected to specific compacts, the documentation necessary for the registration, how members of a religious congregation are being counted – these were the questions raised by the participants of the HBF discussion on the topic of “Registration of Religious Organizations as Legal Entities of Public Law.”

As noted by the speakers, during the hot days of July when the law was elaborated, the majority of the society, who later negatively reacted to the adoption of the new legislation, did not know anything about it. As Zakaria Kutsnashvili pointed out, dissatisfaction of the society was triggered by the fact that the decision by the government was taken without consultations with Georgia’s “Mother-Church” and the Patriarchate. According to him, a wave of negative attitudes expressed by the public was stopped by the modest and balanced decision of the Holy Synod of the Georgian Orthodox Church, made on 11 July 2011.

Beka Mindiashvili, the Senior Expert at the Tolerance Centre under the Public Defender’s Office of Georgia, regards the adoption of the legislation as a positive development. According to Mindiashvili, this was almost the first secular constitutional decision made by state independently from the Georgian Orthodox Church, because the issue related to minority groups living in Georgia was not agreed with the religion of the majority of the population, who is famous for its intolerant attitude towards the minority religions.

Beka Mindiashvili started his speech with reflections on the history of recent developments. As he mentioned, until 2002, none of the religious organizations in Georgia had the right to registration. According to the Concordat signed between the Georgian state and the Patriarchate, the Georgian Orthodox Church was the only recognized religious entity in Georgia. According to the speaker, till present, the legislation still maintains discriminative norms, including for registration. From 2005, religious entities in Georgia could register as the legal entities of private law. At the beginning as a foundation or union, although later this was simplified and they were given a possibility to register as non-profit (non-governmental) legal entities of private law. But religious entities, such as the Catholic Church, the Armenian Apostolic Church, the Evangelic-Baptist and the Evangelic-Lutheran Church, and Muslim and Judaic communities considered this form of registration unacceptable and were unwilling to register as non-profit (non-governmental) organizations. They expressed their readiness to register as legal entities of public law.

Beka Mindiashvili also spoke about the Council of Religions at the Public Defender's Office. Currently, there are 21 religious organizations united in the Council. The Council held constant discussions among its members during the last three years. Today, all religious entities have right to acquire the status of the legal entity of public law, as well as to maintain the status of the legal entity of private law. They can also register as a branch, or continue existence as non-registered unions.

Tamar Chugoshvili, the head of the Georgian Young Lawyers Association agrees that the law was adopted hurriedly; the public was not given a chance to familiarize with the initiative and discuss the draft adequately. However, she considered speaking about tabooed themes was a very important development, even though in practice the law would not change anything for religious organizations. As she said: “The law gave the opportunity to religious entities to name themselves as “Legal Entities of Public Law”, but there is nothing beyond it. The law on “Legal Entities of Public Law” will not be extended to religious entities. Thus, it could be said that they cannot practice the status. In reality, articles of law that are determined for non-profit organizations by Georgian legislation will be extended to them.”

Further, speakers discussed registration criteria. Two concrete requirements were discussed: (1) the right to registration is conferred to religious organizations with historical ties to Georgia; and (2) Religious organizations willing to undergo registration in Georgia have to be regarded as religions in the Council of Europe states. Both Tamar Chugoshvili and Zakaria Kutsnashvili noted that this subscription was vague and required adopting of special normative acts.

Ilia Osefashvili, the Acting Bishop of the Evangelical-Baptist Church of Georgia highlighted that the adopted legislation is a step forward for the country and for promoting the equality principle, as the right enjoyed by one religious organisation in the country should be accessible to other organizations as well. According to him, soon there will be convoked a meeting of the Holy Synod of the Evangelical-Baptist Church of Georgia to make a decision concerning the status of registration.

The Administration of Muslims of All Georgia is the first religious unity that already used the possibilities opened with the adoption of the legislation and registered as the legal entity of public law. As noted by the Deputy Mufti: “It is very important that the Law on Legal Entities of Public Law will not be extended to religious organizations. This excludes the possibility of state interference into the affairs of religious organizations.” The Administration of Muslims of All Georgia assesses the legislation as a further confirmation of the state's commitment to freedom of conscience and the principle of religious tolerance.”

Attendants of the discussion expressed special gratitude to the Heinrich Boell Foundation South Caucasus Regional Office. As they stressed out, for the first time they were given possibility to hear opinions of representatives of different religious organizations.

The public discussion was organized within the framework of the EU-funded project: Addressing Hate Speech in Georgia: A Litmus Test for Human Rights and Social Tolerance.