Equal Rights?: Armenia submits draft law on non-traditional religious organizations to Venice Commission

Equal Rights?: Armenia submits draft law on non-traditional religious organizations to Venice Commission

Photolure

Bishop Mikael Ajapahyan (left), Stepan Danielyan

The RA Justice ministry has submitted a new draft law on Freedom of conscience and religious organizations to the Venice Commission, which has criticized and disapproved of the two previously submitted drafts.

Cooperation for Democracy Center, NGO leader Stepan Danielyan believes that the proselytization article in the new draft might be an issue at the Venice Commission (the European Commission for Democracy through Law).

“The new law provides for punishment for proselytizing. Amendments have been introduced in the Criminal Code, fines have been added,” says Danielyan.

However, he says the article in the draft defining proselytizing as an act of psychological abuse or threats, does not make any sense.

Archbishop Michael Ajapahyan, leader of Shirak diocese of the Armenian Apostolic Church, offers an explanation: “Trying to make someone join my religion without their consent and putting pressure by various psychological, administrative and material means, is proselytizing. If you preach outside of your parish and within others’ parish, within others’ territory, it means proselytizing, no doubt about that.”

The high-ranking clergyman believes that the new law shows tendency to limit the authority of the Armenian Apostolic Church, but that neither terrifies nor scares them. They can function within any law, remaining the majority, he says.

“They are trying to give all religious organizations an equal footing. Say, a 25-member organization will be made equal to the Armenian Apostolic Church. Everybody has to be equal before the law, but they cannot operate in the same field as the Armenian Apostolic Church, because it is the church of the country’s overwhelming majority. Hence, naturally, the majority’s rights have to be respected,” says Archbishop Michael.