Bulgarian evangelicals have asked for prayer in the face of a new religion bill that threatens a draconian clampdown on minority faiths.
The bill has passed its first reading through parliament and they have warned its impact on all faith communities will be serious if it becomes law.
The Bulgarian parliament is set to pass a law severely impacting on freedom of religion.
In a letter to the European Evangelical Alliance, the Bulgarian Evangelical Alliance (BEA) said the new law represents an infringement on religious liberty.
The letter from BEA president Pastor Rumen Bordjiev says: ‘By intending to control donations, to interfere with theological education and to install state regulations on issues of clergy responsibilities, the Bulgarian state is wrongly assuming power into the internal life of religious communities. Almost every single article in the newly proposed bills erroneously and unfairly claims political authority over religious life.’
According to the BEA, the new law means Bulgarian citizens will only be able to carry out ‘liturgical activity’ if they have had theological training in Bulgaria or their foreign school is approved, and that only Eastern Orthodox and Muslim believers will be able to train clergy and run schools.
Foreigners will only be able to preach if doing so with a Bulgarian ordained minister.
Foreign donations will only be allowed for building construction or social aid and will need government approval – so for example no salaries of pastors could be paid from abroad.
No religious activities can take place outside of buildings designated for them and only religious groups with more than 300 people will have legal status.
The letter says the new legislation would give huge power to the state to interfere in religious affairs and is not supported by any of the country’s faith communities.
It says the legislation is so flawed it should be scrapped, and is urging Christians to write to the Bulgarian embassy in their country or, in EU countries, to their MEP. The consultation process ends on November 16.
The World Evangelical Alliance issued a statement supporting the BEA. Should the law pass, it said, ‘existing theological seminaries are at risk of shutting down, evangelical church pastors may no longer be able to conduct worship services, and the acceptance and use of donations will be subject to government approval and limitations’.
It said the draft law ‘puts unjustified and disproportionate restrictions on the right to freedom of religion or belief and is in direct violations of the democratic principles enshrined in Bulgaria’s constitution and in the legislation of the European Union, of which Bulgaria is a member since 2007’.
WEA secretary general Bishop Efraim Tendero said: ‘The proposed law legalizes state interference in the affairs of religious communities, which invariably comes at the expense of religious freedom. At a time when governments worldwide face the challenge of strengthening freedoms while maintaining security, we call on Bulgaria and other democratic countries to lead by example and to strengthen the right to religious freedom rather than to weaken it.’