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November 2020: State-Faith dialogue in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic On 12 November, a working meeting was held at the General Secretariat of the Government, attended by representatives (...)

  • November 2020: State-Faith dialogue in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic

 On 12 November, a working meeting was held at the General Secretariat of the Government, attended by representatives of religious denominations and the central public authorities responsible for fighting the spread of SARS-CoV-2. According to the press release, “the meeting was intended, through dialogue and partnership between religious groups and public authorities, to take decisions in the near future to limit the spread of the SARS-CoV-2 virus that will meet both public health protection needs and the religious needs of the faithful”.
 The State authorities have stressed the importance of dialogue with the representatives of faith-based communities, asking for their support during the coming months, during which the Romanian State will make a major drive to limit the spread of the SARS-CoV-2 virus”;
 The State Secretariat for Religious Affairs published a set of recommendations to outline how the measures ordered by the public authorities to fight the COVID-19 pandemic could be implemented in practice for conducting religious activities.
 The government has decided that religious services during the winter holidays can also take place inside religious buildings, provided that social distancing rules are respected;
 According to the press releases published by the State Secretariat for Religious Affairs and the National Committee for Coordinating the COVID-19 Vaccination (Government of Romania) on 14 December, all religious denominations in Romania will be involved in the vaccination campaign against COVID-19 at national level. Their role will be to ensure that the population is properly informed. Similarly, the press release highlighted the utility of the (online) Dialogue Platform between religious denominations and state representatives. It will also become a communication tool for the COVID-19 vaccination campaign. At the same time, it was agreed that such meetings should be held on a regular basis to strengthen an institutional framework for dialogue.

  • Restrictions on religious pilgrimages due to the coronavirus have been overturned by a court ruling

The Bucharest Court of Appeal annulled the decision to limit participation in religious festivals to those who are resident in the locality where they take place.
The restrictions imposed by the National Emergency Committee’s Decision 47/2020, preventing believers from outside a local area from participating in pilgrimages, were annulled by the Bucharest Court of Appeal.
The court’s decision cannot take effect, however, as the provision is also included in a current governmental decision, which has not been challenged before the court. The decision by the Bucharest Court of Appeal is not final and may be appealed.

  • Barometer of religious life

On 16 December 2020, the Romanian Academy, in partnership with the State Secretariat for Religious Affairs, published the Barometer of religious life in Romania.
According to the study:
 More than 90% of respondents believe in God, regardless of their membership of a religious group. Only 4% said they don’t believe in God;
 63.8% would describe themselves as religious;
 71.2% said they have a high level of confidence in the Church, followed by the Army with 61.8% and the Romanian Academy with 45.6%;
 63.2% think that relations between denominations/religions are good;
 36.1% participate in services at least once a week and 68.2% pray daily;
 88.5 % think that religion has nothing to do with Romania’s membership of the EU or NATO;
 72% said that religious education should be taught in schools;
 46.5% said that churches tend to be presented negatively in the press, with 34.9% taking the view that they tend to be presented positively.

  • Pro-Christian Party enters parliament

Following parliamentary elections, the AUR Party (Alliance for the Union of Romanians), a political group that promotes nationalist and pro-Christian principles, entered the Romanian Parliament with 9.17% of the vote.

  • October 2020: Church-State relations and the COVID pandemic in the run-up to the elections

In order to combat the spread of SARS-COV2, the authorities restricted a number of civil rights. Many of the measures directly or indirectly affected religious freedom, including the two major pilgrimages that take place every year in Romania: St. Parasceva on 14 October and St. Demetrios on 27 October. On these two occasions, the public authorities did decide to allow these pilgrimages to go ahead, but only for the inhabitants of the cities where the celebrations were held, i.e. Iasi and Bucharest. This was enforced by checking identity documents.
These restrictions come in addition to previous measures that affected Easter celebrations, as well as those announced for the Christmas holidays. Representatives of the religious denominations have interpreted these restrictions as acts to deliberately target religious freedom and not as objective measures to combat the pandemic. They condemn, in particular, the lack of transparency and dialogue on the part of the State authorities, who imposed these restrictions without prior consultation with religious leaders.
In the sermon during the St. Demetrios church service, the Patriarch of the Romanian Orthodox Church went as far as to oppose the measures imposed by the State. In his speech, he referred to the atheist communist regime, during which Christians were persecuted:
“In the autumn of 1989, on the feast of St. Demetrios the New on 27 October, the communist authorities forbade people to venerate the holy relics of St. Demetrios, on the grounds that an important meeting was being held on the same day in the adjacent building, where the Grand National Assembly was located. So Patriarch Teoctist was forced to move the reliquary from the cathedral. […] This humiliation of St. Demetrios the New was requited a few months later when the communist regime fell, ... We see here that, in the words of the Holy Apostle Paul (Galatians 6:7), “God cannot be mocked”. He is long-suffering, but He is also just. First of all, His merciful love does not preclude His justice. His justice is revealed when He wants to correct people, sometimes using bitter medicine, not just sweet medicine, to correct people, and so He allows them to be disciplined through various hardships.”

The Patriarch’s message is unprecedented in the recent history of Church-State relations in Romania. The reactions of civil society have been numerous, quick, and extremely acidic. They are mainly divided into two camps: on the one hand, criticism of the Patriarch, the Romanian Orthodox Church and the Orthodox faithful (a well-known journalist has even compared Orthodox believers to cattle), and on the other hand, comments that are clearly favourable. A third type of comment draws attention to the fact that the background to this conflict is not religious, but political, given the approaching parliamentary elections scheduled for 6 December 2020.

Local politicians’ oath of allegiance

As newly elected politicians start their mandate, old controversy has been reignited, relating to the oath of allegiance that all dignitaries have to take when they enter office.
By law (Art. 117 of the Administrative Code), local/county councillors take an oath by placing their left hand on the Constitution or the Bible, and saying: “I swear to uphold the Constitution and the laws of the land and to do, in good faith, what is in my power and competence for the good of the people of the area/city/county/etc. So help me God.” The religious reference will respect the freedom of religious beliefs, or the oath can be taken without using this final sentence.
Several newly elected local or county councillors, in a number of localities, have refused to swear on the Bible, either individually or en bloc. The councillors are representatives of a political party with more than 40 members in the Romanian parliament and 8 members in the European parliament. In the run-up to the December 2020 parliamentary elections, since this political party claims to be progressive and anti-system, the alleged boycott of the Oath of Allegiance has been interpreted as an anti-Christian electoral message, directed against the majority religion.

  • June 2020: National Day of Awareness of Violence against Christians

The Romanian Parliament has proclaimed 16 August “a national day to commemorate the Brancoveanu martyrs* and to raise awareness about violence against Christians.”
The law aims to inform the public, including young people, about the role of Christianity in Romania’s history and the nature and extent of persecution suffered by Christians around the world, even today. At the same time, the law aims to encourage Christians to defend their right to practise their faith without fear or obstruction.
Accordingly, every year on 16 August, from 8p.m. to midnight the following buildings will be lit up in red: the Romanian Parliament, the Government of Romania, central and local public authorities, the Triumphal Arch and the Mogoşoaia Palace. Public events and religious services will be organised in places where commemorative events will take place. The Romanian Broadcasting Corporation, Romanian Television Corporation and national news agency AGERPRES will give priority to broadcasting programmes and information about the persecution of Christians.

*Constantin Brâncoveanu was Prince of Wallachia from 1688 to 1714. He was canonised by the Romanian Orthodox Church on 15 August 1992. His feast day is 16 August. He was beheaded along with his four sons and other boyars of his court for refusing to abandon the Orthodox Christian faith and convert to Islam, on 27 August 1714 (15 August in the Julian calendar) in Constantinople, in the presence of Sultan Ahmet III.

  • June 2020: The Romanian Orthodox Church and the Covid-19 epidemic

The Romanian representative on the OSCE expert panel on freedom of religion has written a new article on the Orthodox Church, the pandemic and the rule of law.

  • May 2020: Polarization and radicalization of religious discourse, effects of the health crisis

The Covid 19 epidemic brought the authorities to suspend certain rights and freedoms, particularly those concerning collective religious life. This has led to a return of the question of religion to public debate, and a sometimes tense exchange between secularisation activists and defenders of religion on different debates. Paradoxically, the image of the religious groups with an ancient presence in the country, and their capital of confidence, has benefited from this. Discussions have been sparked in particular by restrictions on freedom of worship, a poster campaign exploiting traditional holy imagery, false information provided by religious sites, the treatment of a religious figure infected with Covid 19, and various criticisms of religions and religious leaders.
A full article detailing all these debates is available in pdf.

  • April 2020: The position of religious groups regarding the introduction of sex education in schools

On April 3, 2020, the law that introduces compulsory education programs in school units came into force. Law no. 45/3 of April 2020, which amends and supplements Law no. 272/2004 on the protection and promotion of the rights of the child, provides "the systematic organization in school units, at least once a semester, of education programs for life, including sexual education for children, in order to prevent the infection with sexually transmitted diseases and the pregnancy of underage girls".
The usefulness or relevance of such law has been debated several times over the past decade. The adoption of this measure finally took place under the pressure of the civil society, but also due to the proactivity of state authorities regulating this field (see the position of the president of the National Council for Combating Discrimination), amid alarming statistics on the increase of the number of births or abortions among teenage girls. Romania has one of the highest teenage girls abortion rates, but also the highest number of teenage mothers in the entire European Union.
Still, there were voices from civil society, such as those of religious denominations, who opposed the entry into force of such a regulation. Even after the law was passed, the Romanian Orthodox Church issued a press release to argue for the optional nature of these programs. In this sense, based on the interpretation of the Constitution and the Law of Education, it is argued that the State does not have the right to impose an ideological model in the education of children, beyond parental consent and beliefs. It is also affirmed that the main goal of educating children is to train the skills necessary for personal fulfilment and development according to the interests and aspirations of each, and not to connect the minds of students to harmful ideologies. The statement said that, "the compulsory inclusion of children in sex education programs is an attack on their innocence hindering their natural development and marking them for life".
The press release cites studies from other countries that have already introduced sex education in schools, which would have shown that "such an approach to educating children resulted in an earlier start of sex life, with the necessary implications, without any social improvement". It is also emphasized that the education offered to young people in order to better face the challenges of today’s society must at least inform that life has also a spiritual dimension, and that "the identity and the life of the human person are not limited to an exclusively biological or socio-cultural reality".

Addition of May 2020: Legislation adopted in early April 2020, which introduced compulsory sex education in schools, has been amended (Art. I, para. 10). The amendment to this law provides for the replacement of the term "sex education" with the term "health education". In addition, sex education classes will only take place with the "written consent of the parents or legal guardians of the children".
Following the enactment of the first version of this legislation, the Romanian Orthodox Church and the Romanian Catholic Bishops’ Conference issued communiqués expressing their opposition to sex education programmes.

  • April 2020: Religious freedom during the COVID pandemic

In order to prevent the spread of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, Romania declared a state of emergency on 16 March 2020. During this state of emergency, several rights were restricted, including freedom of movement and freedom of assembly. Limiting citizens’ freedom of movement and assembly inevitably led to a deterioration of public religious life.

In this respect, rules for social distancing have been gradually introduced.
All places of worship are currently closed to the public. Church services continue to be held by ministers of religion, but they are held without public participation, and can only be attended online. However, places of worship may open to the public in special situations. Weddings, baptisms and funerals are allowed in places of worship, with the attendance of up to 8 people.

The social activity of most religious groups has also adjusted to the new social and healthcare requirements. Extensive social assistance programmes have been launched to help people who cannot get out and about (such as isolated or quarantined people and isolated elderly people). The healthcare system has also received donations of money and medical supplies and equipment.

Given that over 86% of Romanians are Orthodox, and in the lead-up to Orthodox Easter, which is to be celebrated on 19 April 2020, the Ministry of Internal Affairs reached agreement with the Romanian Orthodox Church to preserve the spirit of Easter traditions and show respect for the Church. This agreement set out the conditions under which Orthodox believers could receive the Holy Light and traditional holy bread of Easter.

The provisions of this agreement were considered a risk to public health, as they could encourage the spread of the virus due to a lack of social distancing. The agreement was modified following a strong intervention by the country’s President. Orthodox believers will not therefore be able to leave their homes to receive the Holy Light, but will do so either on their doorstep or through the window of their home, or through a representative, should they live in collective housing. The Holy Light will be distributed on 18 April from 8p.m. by volunteers appointed by the Orthodox parishes (maximum 5 per parish). The same volunteers, respecting all the current standards of protection and hygiene, will distribute the traditional holy bread (called paști) on 17, 18 and 19 April, on request. In social centres, quarantine centres and hospitals not served by a priest, the Holy Light will be distributed by Ministry of Internal Affairs employees.

Addendum May 2020: Comment on the situation in Russia, the USA and the UK, by the Romanian expert to the OSCE on religious freedom in Romania during and after the pandemic.

  • February 2020: New Statute for the Organisation and Functioning of the Romanian Orthodox Church

On 10 February 2020, the new Statute for the Organisation and Functioning of the Romanian Orthodox Church (the majority church in Romania) was published in the Official Gazette of Romania (first part, No. 97/10.02.2020, p. 12-47). It had been approved by the State Secretariat for Religious Affairs, which is part of the Romanian government. This is the most recent amendment to the statute, which had not been officially modified for 12 years. The most important changes include tightening the criteria for preselection and eligibility of candidates for the office of Patriarch of Romania, strengthening clerical discipline (by creating specialised central bodies for the disciplinary judgement and sanction of bishops), and strengthening centralised control over the church press and religious NGOs.

The first statute of the Romanian Orthodox Church (ROC) dates from 1925, when the Romanian Church became a patriarchate within Greater Romania (1918). This statute was amended in 1949 under the auspices of the communist regime and remained in force for 59 years, until 2008, when a third statute of the ROC was formulated in accordance with the 2006 Law on Religious Denominations, which in turn was drafted in the spirit of the standards of the European Union, which Romania was to join in 2007. Therefore, the latest version of the statute, in 2020, is the fourth amendment of the ROC constitution in 123 years (the ROC obtained the status of autocephalous Church in 1885). It is the Church’s response to the diverse, mobile and increasingly secularised society that has developed over the last twelve years.

Among the most important changes brought about by the new Statute is the tightening of eligibility and pre-selection criteria for candidates for the post of Patriarch (the current patriarch, His Beatitude Daniel, was elected by the ROC Holy Synod in September 2007). The new statute provides that only metropolitans, archbishops and bishops with at least 7 years’ experience as head of a bishopric can apply for the office of patriarch. The old statute did not include this requirement of experience. As a result, vicar bishops, or hierarchs with experience as a vicar bishop, are not eligible for the office of patriarch. Furthermore, the number of candidates selected by the Holy Synod through consultation has been reduced from 3 (or exceptionally 5) to 2 (or 3 at most).

Another substantial change in the new statute is the creation of new central judicial bodies for the clergy. Thus, tribunals for the trial and punishment of hierarchs - metropolitans, archbishops and bishops - are to be set up. Until now, the Holy Synod (composed of all the hierarchs of the ROC) was the only canonical court that could judge its members for any deviation from the teaching and discipline of the Church. The new statute provides for the creation of a First Episcopal Consistory and a Last Episcopal Consistory as substantive and appellate courts for disciplinary matters concerning metropolitans, archbishops, bishops and vicar bishops. The Holy Synod is appointed as the final ecclesiastical judicial authority. Another new element is that the Holy Synod is the canonical disciplinary investigating and sentencing authority of first and last instance for the patriarch (Art. 13.3), a provision that was not in the former statute. Other new central judicial bodies were also created: the Higher Ecclesiastical Consistory, as a court of appeal for members of the “myrrh clergy” (the name for priests and deacons who are not monks), who were sanctioned in the first instance by reduction to the lay state, and the Higher Monastic Ecclesiastical Consistory, as a court of appeal for monks who were sanctioned in the first instance by reduction to the lay state.

A number of changes are aimed at strengthening the ROC Holy Synod’s centralised control of the Church press and religious NGOs. This is motivated by the need for better financial management, better co-ordination of the Church’s mission, and to strengthen the unity of Church life. New written media entities (magazines, newspapers and periodicals) and audio-visual media channels (radio, television and others) can now only be created or closed down with the approval of the Holy Synod. Consequently, local bishops will no longer be able to create local religious media channels on their own initiative (as has been the case until now), as they would risk competing with the patriarchate’s existing central religious media.

Similarly, national or local associations and foundations “with [ROC] religious entities as their sole founder or associate members” must submit a twice-yearly activity report (spring and autumn) and an annual financial report to the Patriarchal administration. In addition, the Romanian Patriarchate’s Financial Control and Audit Authority may carry out an unannounced audit of these associations and foundations’ assets and financial situation.

Another new element is that the new statute regulates the movement of sacred relics, specifying that, within the ROC, only the Patriarch can approve bringing relics of saints from abroad, whether for pilgrimage or as a gift.

If a monk wishes to move to a monastery belonging to another Orthodox Church, a bishop from the sister Orthodox Church must submit a request and obtain written approval from the Romanian Orthodox bishop on whom the monk canonically depends, as well as the agreement of the Romanian patriarch.

The clergy and monks are not allowed to create or join a trade union.

Finally, the last new element introduced is the option for priests, deacons and bishops to voluntarily retire from clerical ministry. Until now, leaving the clergy was only possible by laicisation or death.

Despite these changes strengthening the authority of the Church’s central governing bodies, Romanian society is not expected to react strongly to this latest version of the ROC Statute. The recent changes have mainly focused on two areas: unity of action by the Church and discipline of the clergy. They are only temporary measures aimed at responding to the problems the Church has faced over the last decade.

These types of decision, such as the creation of a tribunal for bishops, were therefore more or less anticipated by civil society and even by followers. Moreover, some of these changes had already been announced by the Church when they were implemented, i.e. when the Church dealt internally with a particular event or problem. Some of these changes had been known to the ROC clergy for several years, but have only now been officially announced (see the changes made by the Holy Synod in 2011). Moreover, according to the Law on Religion 489/2006, “amendments and updates to the Statutes for Organisation and Functioning of the ROC or to Canon Law shall be communicated to the State Secretariat for Religious Affairs for recognition” (Art. 22.1). In this case, it was only in 2020 that the Church considered it appropriate to request state recognition for the changes to its statute, even though these changes had been made in previous years.

  • January 2020: Religions are co-opted by the State for the reintegration of prisoners

The Romanian Ministry of Justice recently opened up the National strategy for the social reintegration of prisoners 2020-2024 for public debate.

According to reports from the Ministry of Justice, prisoners face a number of difficulties during their incarceration, and especially when they return to their community.
At the end of June 2019, approximately 20,500 individuals were being held in the Romanian prison system. Most of these people belong to the Orthodox religion, therefore the Ministry asserts that it is relevant to involve the Romanian Orthodox Church in their reintegration.

The prisoner reintegration strategy for the next 4 years puts forward a series of recommendations that can be applied at community level: the creation of volunteer networks, the involvement of religious organisations and the use of day centres and social centres belonging to the Romanian Orthodox Church.

According to the strategy developed by the Ministry of Justice, “it is also relevant to involve the Romanian Orthodox Church (and representatives of other nationally recognised denominations and religions) in actions aimed at reducing social marginalisation and supporting individuals who have served a custodial sentence, upon their return to their original environment. The prison chaplain’s collaboration with the parishes, socio-philanthropic centres and Orthodox monasteries could use the Romanian Orthodox Church’s socio-philanthropic support network to offer significant support to prisoners who have to return to their community of origin.”

D 18 December 2020    AGabriel Birsan


May 2019: Desecration of graves in Romania
In the past two months, the Romanian media have reported several cases of desecration of cemeteries. The one that attracted the most attention was (...)

  • May 2019: Desecration of graves in Romania

In the past two months, the Romanian media have reported several cases of desecration of cemeteries.
The one that attracted the most attention was the desecration of 73 graves at the Jewish cemetery in the town of Huși, Vaslui County, in north-eastern Romania. Considered anti-Semitic actions, the acts were condemned at the highest level, both nationally and internationally. There were reactions from the Federation of Jewish Communities in Romania (FCER), the Romanian presidential administration, the Romanian government, other religious denominations and several NGOs. After the incident in Huşi, the Romanian government reasserted, through a press release, its determination to fight anti-Semitism and instigation to anti-Semitism, encouraging solidarity as the foundation of a democratic and modern society. The US ambassador to Romania, accompanied by a deputy prime minister of the Romanian government, was also present in Huşi. However, the strongest stance came from the President of Israel and six former US ambassadors to Romania who, in a joint letter, drew attention to the rise of anti-Semitism in Romania.

Investigations run by the Romanian authorities revealed that the vandalism of the Jewish cemetery in Huși was the result of acts of defiance. They were committed by three minors, aged between 15 and 16, who admitted to the crime, explaining that they were performing martial arts demonstrations and in so doing broke the funerary monuments, which had become brittle with age. The investigators also found that most of the funerary stones mentioned had already been damaged when some trees in the cemetery were felled.

According to the latest census in 2011, the Jewish community of the city of Huşi is composed of 12 people.

Another case of desecration of graves, which made the headlines, took place in Valea Uzului at the International Heroes’ Cemetery, Bacău, in eastern Romania, where 52 crosses were covered in black plastic bags. The remains of 1,143 soldiers of different nationalities who fought during the First World War are buried in this cemetery. Two neighbouring communities are fighting over the administration of the cemetery, one belonging to the Hungarian minority. The desecrated crosses were recently put up by the Romanian community in the city of Dărmănești and belong to Romanian heroes. They were covered in plastic bags by three people from a civic initiative group who deem that the crosses were illegally placed.

The leader of the Hungarian minority party in Romania (UDMR) has asked the Romanian prime minister to stop desecrating the memory of Hungarian soldiers and intervene to challenge the decision of the Dărmăneşti authorities to place graves for Romanian soldiers in a cemetery where Hungarian soldiers are buried. According to the UDMR, the military cemetery belongs to the Hungarian community and has been renovated using the town hall’s own resources as well as donations from the Hungarian Ministry of Defence. An appeal to the same effect was even addressed to the Romanian Prime Minister by the Hungarian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
The ceremony inaugurating the Valea Uzului International Cemetery, initially scheduled for 17 May 2019, has been postponed.

There are suspicions that the Hungarian activists’ action at the Valea Uzului military cemetery took place when the UDMR was in danger of failing to reach the required 5% vote threshold in the European Parliament elections, to bring about a massive mobilisation of its own electorate, sensitive to nationalist and identity questions.
In both cases, the motives for the desecration do not seem to be religious: owing to the recklessness of young people in the first case, and of a more political nature, linked to nationalist motives in the second. The first case, however, reveals a sensitive religious context: that of anti-Semitism in Romania, which is weakening its already declining Jewish community (see a BBC article).

  • 24 January 2019: New procedures for enrolling in religious courses

A new method of enrolment in religion courses has been introduced by the order of the Ministry of Education no. 3.218/16 February 2018, see the article in the “Law and Religion” section.

  • 16 January 2019: Animal stunning/Religious slaughter – electoral issues and reasons for anti-EU attitudes

Western Europeans have been debating on the religious slaughter for several centuries already. Currently, the question is reconciling the religious rights of humans and the right of animals to be treated humanely. Animal rights advocates militate for stunning animals before they are sacrificed, a practice which is contrary to the principles of several religions whose dietary laws provide exactly the opposite. Over time, this debate was instrumentalized in religious, economic or political confrontations, but the original dilemma persists even today: to ban or not to ban what is commonly called the “religious slaughter” (the sacrifice of animals without prior stunning). With EU integration, Romania had to comply with the EU Directive that allows the slaughtering of animals only if they is previous stunning. It turned out that this directive was almost impossible to respect fully. In 2007, in Romania, there were about 4.5 million farms and households in which the veterinary authorities predicted that 1.5 million pigs for Christmas and a similar number of lambs for Easter would be sacrificed. Theoretically, the stunning procedure was mandatory, but it was practically absent. Finally, the solution, which persists until today, was that the European institutions closed their eyes on slaughters realised at these occasions.
During the negotiations in Brussels, the Romanians asked for the sacrifice of animals on Christmas and Easter to be exception to the rule, as for the sacrifice practiced by Muslims and Jews. The Commission has rejected this proposal because the directive provides an exception only for religious rituals, while the Romanians practices are considered traditional, not ritual.

This unfortunate event was used in Romania in two directions: electoral and anti-European.
In January 2009, two Romanian euro-parliamentarians declared in the Romanian press that they succeeded to amend the Directive 93/119/EC. They stated that they had introduced a new exception to the stunning rule besides those proposed by rapporteur Janusz Wojciechowski (written question by Janusz Wojciechowski to the Commission, Labelling of meat obtained from animals slaughtered without prior stunning, 8 September 2008). The two brought their case before the Commission for Agriculture and Rural Development of the European Parliament, arguing that the amendments were necessary to preserve Romanian Easter and Christmas traditions. Several TV channels presented them visiting farmers’ households to announce to the owners that they would no longer have to stun their animals. A Romanian NGO started an action against this case, and proved that their statements were inaccurate: the parliamentarians had tried, but with no success to bring changes to the above-mentioned directive; the request of rapporteur Janusz Wojciechowski to amend this same directive was referring to the possibility of labelling the meat obtained from animals slaughtered without prior stunning, and not at all to a possible derogation from the rules imposed by the directive. Considering that the two rapporteurs were members of the same party, along with one of the candidates in the presidential election in 2009, their lobbying action alongside the EU institutions was interpreted as an electoral action.
This kind of approach regarding animal rights provided also an opportunity for anti-European opinions. Several public figures, alleged defenders of Orthodox Christian values, were critical towards the regulations concerning stunning, in the name of Orthodox fidelity. Their main criticism was that the European Union, through such directives, aimed at destroying the religious traditions of the Romanians, which would in turn cause the destruction of the Romanian traditional village, that they considered the main pillars of the Romanian people.
A brief clarification must be made on this matter: the custom of sacrificing a pig for Christmas has no root in Christianity, much less in Orthodoxy; the origin of this tradition is pagan, pre-Christian, and has a more practical, alimentary explanation than a religious one.

For more information see Iordan BĂRBULESCU, Gabriel ANDREESCU, "Animal stunning, the EU, and the Romanian lobby", Romanian Journal of Bioethics, Vol. 8, No. 1, January – March 2010, p. 190-199.

  • 14 January 2019: Pope Francis’s visit to Romania confirmed for 2019

The presidential administration officially announced that Pope Francis would visit Romania this year (see also the May 2017 debate).

Following the invitation of the President of Romania, the Romanian Government and the Romanian Conference of Catholic Bishops, Pope Francis will make an apostolic visit to Romania, from 31 May to 2 June 2019.

The visit was confirmed by the Holy See, but also by the Romanian Patriarchate, who announced that His Holiness would be received by His Beatitude Daniel, the Patriarch of the Romanian Orthodox Church.

The programme of the pope’s visit to Romania will include events in the cities of Bucharest, Iasi, Blaj and the sanctuary of the Virgin of Şumuleu Ciuc (the centre of the largest Catholic pilgrimage in Central and Eastern Europe). In addition, a meeting will be held with the Patriarch of the Romanian Orthodox Church, and the Holy Synod of the Romanian Orthodox Church during a religious ceremony at the newly sanctified National Cathedral.

  • 14 January 2019: Worship in the context of the Romanian Presidency of the Council of the European Union

On 1 January 2019, Romania took over the rotating presidency of the Council of the European Union for the first time.
On 10 January, in Bucharest, the opening ceremony of this presidency took place in the presence of European officials, the Romanian authorities, as well as representatives of certain religious denominations in Romania.
The same day, an interview was published with the management of the Secretariat of State for Religious Affairs. On this occasion, it was announced that the State Secretariat for Religious Affairs would organise, in partnership with the Romanian Patriarchate (Romanian Orthodox Church), an event in the context of the Romanian presidency of the EU Council, to promote at the European level the Romanian model of the relationship between religious denominations and the State. The event will consist of an international conference entitled “The positive dimension of religious freedom: how can governments support religious organisations”, set to take place on 6 and 7 June 2019 at the Romanian patriarchate palace in Bucharest (the event is also listed on the official website of the Romanian EU presidency).

Source : Qmagazine.

  • 8 January 2019: Religions classified as low-risk taxpayers

The representatives of the National Agency for Tax Administration (ANAF) recently stated that, in accordance with Government Emergency Ordinance no. 25/2018 (in Romanian) amending the Tax Code, religions have been classified as entailing low tax risk.
Under the new regulation, effective from 2019, taxpayers will be divided into three risk categories: a) low-risk taxpayers; b) medium-risk taxpayers; and c) high-risk taxpayers. The criteria for determining the risk class are effective tax registration, tax returns, the level of declaration and performance of payment obligations vis-à-vis the consolidated general budget.
Depending on this classification, periodic inspections will be carried out.
Following the risk analysis, representatives of the ANAF stated that no significant tax risk was assessed with respect to the specific activities of religious organisations. Consequently, no inspection action is required. In this context, representatives of the ANAF indicated that no inspection action had been carried out in religious organisations in 2017 and 2018. This decision is motivated by the fact that religions benefit, under certain conditions, from tax exemption and are concurrently exempt from the use of electronic cash registers. These tax facilities granted to religious faiths are owed to their status as legal entities of public utility recognised by the Law 489/2006 on freedom of religion and the general regime of religious faiths, according to which religious faiths carry out economic activities that are not aimed at making a profit for private purposes, but are aimed at a general public interest or that of certain communities.

D 28 May 2019    AGabriel Birsan


November 2018: The national cathedral consecrated
On 25 November 2018, around 40,000 worshippers took part in the service consecrating the national cathedral, or Cathedral of Salvation, of the (...)

  • November 2018: The national cathedral consecrated

On 25 November 2018, around 40,000 worshippers took part in the service consecrating the national cathedral, or Cathedral of Salvation, of the Romanian nation. The service was celebrated by Patriarch Daniel of the Romanian Orthodox Church, and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople, together with a large number of hierarchs from Romania and abroad.

Events around the consecration continued on 30 November, the feast of the Holy Apostle Andrew, the Cathedral’s first patron. For the occasion, the service was celebrated by the patriarch of the Romanian Orthodox Church, Daniel, and Theophile III, patriarch of Jerusalem.

The construction of the cathedral began in 2010 and will continue until 2024. It is at present 95% completed, is 120 m high and is considered the highest Orthodox edifice in Southeastern Europe. It forms part of an architectural complex that includes 8 lifts, 2 multi-purpose rooms equipped with altars that will serve as churches, 4 pavilions that will bear the names of the apostles Saint Andrew, Saint Peter, Saint Paul and Saint Luke, each intended for a specific function (respectively receiving religious pilgrims, receiving lay pilgrims, cultural and missionary action, and social and medical action), a library, a hotel, reception halls and the residence of the Patriarch of the Romanian Orthodox Church. The basements contain 4 anti-atomic bunkers, 42 crypts, a museum of Christianity and various spaces for communication with the media. The cathedral can welcome up to 5,000 worshippers during services. Designed to last more than 500 years, the cathedral is the safest place in Romania in the event of a major earthquake.

The idea of building a cathedral representative of the Romanian space dates back to the days immediately following the War of Independence in 1877-1878. The endeavour was delayed or blocked multiple times for ideological or economic reasons, such as the two World Wars, the advent of the atheist Communist regime, the slow and difficult transition to democracy after 1989 and frequent economic crises. Yet the Church, the kings of Romania, the Romanian intelligentsia and a large part of the population never abandoned the undertaking. The cathedral’s importance comes less from its functionality as from its status as a symbol. First of all, it in effect asserts the identity of the Romanian people as independent and Orthodox Christian. It was, thus, not by coincidence that it was consecrated, despite not yet being entirely finished, around 1 December 2018, Romania’s National Day, but also the date celebrating the centennial of the Great Union, an event of the highest importance in the history of the Romanian people.

The consecration of the national cathedral has the value of a symbolic act with national and political significance, which underlines the sovereignty of the Romanian state and the autocephalous status of the Romanian Orthodox Church, as well as the immense role of the Church in the survival of the Romanians as a nation. In recent times, however, the construction of the cathedral has been widely criticised, in particular for its reliance on sizeable State funding. In November 2018, the costs of the works declared by the Romanian Orthodox Church amounted to €110 million, 75% of which came from public funds.

  • October 2018: Failure of the referendum for the “traditional family”

On 6 and 7 October 2018, a referendum took place in Romania to amend art. 48 (1) of the Constitution by replacing the reference “between spouses” with the more restrictive “between a man and a woman”. The move drew on a citizens’ initiative, the first to be launched in Romania since the fall of Communism in 1989, initiated by the Coalition for the Family at the end of 2015. It was actively supported by representatives of religious faiths.

Human rights NGOs, meanwhile, saw the initiative as a curtailment of the rights of LGBT minorities. The Constitutional Court nevertheless approved the proposed amendment to the Constitution, finding that it does not interfere with any individual rights. The proposed revision was also approved by the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate. Prior to the referendum, the Coalition for the Family concluded a cooperation agreement with the main parties in Parliament, which promised to support the revision of Article 48 (1) of the Constitution.

Despite this support, at least in theory, the referendum failed as the validation threshold (i.e. 30% of the number of people registered on the permanent electoral rolls, see Art. 5(2) of Law No. No. 3/2000 on the organisation and conduct of the referendum) was not reached. According to the Central Electoral Office, 21.1% of Romanians with voting rights (3,731,704 total number of voters) took part in the ballot during the two-day consultation. This meant that the referendum on 6 and 7 October produced the lowest turnout since 1990. The constitutional amendment was supported by 91.56% of voters (see the official website of the Central Electoral Office).

In Romanian legislation, marriage is already governed by Article 277 of the Civil Code, which prohibits other forms of equivalent cohabitation (homosexual marriages and unions). However, it is permissible for spouses who are nationals of European Union Member States and/or third-country nationals, and who have contracted a same-sex marriage in a European Union Member State, to remain on the territory of the Romanian State under the conditions provided for by European law.

Thus, although the referendum was not validated, Romania remains one of the European countries that does not grant legal recognition to same-sex couples. Other Eastern European countries, such as Bulgaria, Latvia, the Republic of Moldova, Montenegro, Poland, Serbia, Ukraine, Croatia, Macedonia, Slovakia and Hungary, limit marriage to persons of the opposite sex in their constitutions. By way of comparison, 13 European states allow same-sex marriages (see Eurel article, “Same-sex marriage”) in Europe.

  • September 2018: The referendum for the redefinition of the family will be held

On 10 September 2018, the Senate, in its capacity as the decision-making body, adopted the bill proposing to amend Article 48 of the Constitution to assert that the family is based on marriage between a man and woman and not between spouses, as currently stipulated (see article on marriage). It should be recalled that the Chamber of Deputies already adopted in May 2017 the citizens’ initiative to revise the Constitution, which defends the traditional family.

This provision, which is meant to be introduced into the Constitution, is already in the Civil Code; however, the Coalition for the Family, the association which, with the support of religious institutions, has garnered more than 3 million signatures for the revision of the fundamental law, claims that the traditional family would thus be better protected.

On 17 September 2018, the Constitutional Court of Romania approved the law on the revision of the Constitution. On the following day, on 18 September, the Romanian Government adopted an Emergency Ordinance that established the organisation of the referendum over two days, on 6 and 7 October 2018, between 7 a.m. and 9 p.m. The question to which voters will answer with “yes” or “no” is “Do you agree with the law revising the Constitution of Romania in the form adopted by Parliament?”

Romanians living abroad will also be able to vote at the polling stations set up in diplomatic missions and consular offices and institutes.

  • July 2018: The Great Mosque of Bucharest will not be built

The Romanian Council of Muslim Worship said it had discarded the idea of raising one of the largest mosques in a Christian country, in Bucharest, as announced three years previously (see Archives of Debates, October 2016). The reason given was lack of funds.

In 2015, the Romanian state gave Romania’s Muslim cult 11,000 square metres of land over a 49-year period for the construction of a mosque and cultural centre. The only condition was that investment began within three years. The idea of raising a mosque in the Romanian capital, considering the project’s gigantic proportions, sent waves of dissatisfaction through Romanian society.
At the time, the Mufti had said the funds needed to build the mosque, amounting to about three million euros, would be paid by the Turkish State. After three years, when the deadline to start the project was reached, the Mufti announced that the plan to raise the mosque was well over budget.

However, informed observers of Romanian public life suggested that the reasons for foregoing the mosque’s construction could be different, the lack of funds being but a pretence.
One reason could be the reluctance of part of Romanian society to build a mosque which, due to its size, could gain the status of a symbol in the capital of a predominantly Christian country. This reluctance is explained to the historical past of conflict between the two States plus the current pervasive fear of Islamic terrorism.
Similarly, the reason for the subject’s politicisation may be plausible. The fact that the Turkish state stopped funding the mosque reflects either real financial difficulties in the Ankara regime or the fact that Ankara realised that the mosque risked upsetting relations with Romania, a strategic partner of the Turkish state both bilaterally and in the NATO alliance.

The Romanian Council of Muslim Worship also announced that it had returned the land to the Romanian State, a sign that the plan for a large mosque in Bucharest has been dropped for the time being.

For more information, see the Adevărul article (in Romanian).

  • March 2018: Good Friday, a public holiday in Romania

Good Friday has officially become a legally-recognised holiday. The law for the implementation of paragraph no. 1 of art. 139 of the Labour Code was adopted by the Chamber of Deputies and promulgated by the President of Romania in March this year. With this, Romania joins the 16 other EU countries where Good Friday is a public holiday.

The Labour Code now designates the following days as statutory public holidays: 1 and 2 January; 24 January (Union Day of the Romanian Principalities); Good Friday; the first and second days of Easter; 1 May (Labour Day); 1 June (Children’s Day); the first and second days of Pentecost; 15 August (assumption of the Virgin Mary); 30 November (Saint Andrew); 1 December (Romania National Day); 25 and 26 December (first and second days of Christmas).

Romania now has 15 statutory public holidays, 9 of which are based on Christian religious holy days.

D 19 September 2018    AGabriel Birsan


October 2017: The Constitutional Court of Romania’s Decision on the Issue of Family Life
This year, public debate in Romania has focused on the definition of the family. The Coalition for (...)

  • October 2017: The Constitutional Court of Romania’s Decision on the Issue of Family Life

This year, public debate in Romania has focused on the definition of the family. The Coalition for Family, an association that seeks to promote the traditional family and is opposed to same-sex marriage and civil partnerships, wants to amend the Constitution by defining the family as the union between a man and a woman and not as the union of spouses, as the Constitution currently provides. The Coalition has been supported by all the recognised religious denominations in Romania in its efforts to collect more than 3 million signatures, which are required to hold a constitutional referendum. Now that all the legal steps to organise the referendum have been completed, all that remains is to set a date. This has been postponed several times.

In the meantime, the Constitutional Court acknowledged in Decision No. 562/19.09.2017 that the provision of the Criminal Procedure Code denying unmarried persons living as a couple the right to refuse to testify as a witness was unconstitutional. There is no relevant difference from the point of view of morality, emotion and the right to form a family, between legally married partners and those involved in a consensual union.

The Constitutional Court also points out that, although the Constitution does not define the concept of family life, the European Court of Human Rights’ case law has held that the concept of family life is not limited to families based on marriage and can include other de facto relationships. It has been argued that the Court’s decision has made it very difficult to justify the need for a referendum to change the definition of family.

On the other hand, claims by supporters of same-sex marriage that a ban on marriage for these couples automatically means a ban on the right to create a family would be equally unhelpful. This outlines the very high probability of introducing civil partnership as an intermediate solution for both parties.

  • May 2017: Turkish religious authorities unveil plans for the Grand Mosque to be built in Bucharest

Model images of the mosque to be built in Bucharest have been published on the website of the Turkiye Diyanet Vakfi [Turkiye Diyanet Foundation], which supports the activity of the Turkish Ministry of Religious Affairs. According to the plans, the building would have a capacity for 1,500 people, a ritual washing area, auditorium, library, kitchens, fountains, sports centre, accommodation rooms, café and restaurant.

The images published by the Diyanet have reignited criticism from some Romanian politicians, who have previously opposed the project, claiming that the country has strong Christian values that must be protected.

It may or may not come as a surprise that the same plans also caused dissatisfaction among the Mufti of the Muslim Cult in Romania who announced the construction of Europe’s largest mosque in Romania in October 2016. The spiritual leader of the Muslim community argued that he had not been consulted by the Turkish authorities regarding the size and architecture of the future mosque. In his vision, a mosque with a single minaret would be preferable, as it would be more in keeping with Romania’s specific Muslim culture and civilisation. Moreover, he claimed that the project would be too ostentatious for the needs and size of the Muslim community in Bucharest. Nevertheless, the mufti stressed the need to build the mosque because, firstly, it is a constitutional right of the Romanian Muslim community to request a proper place of worship and, secondly, it would reduce the number of unauthorised mosques in Bucharest.

According to the Turkish authorities, building work would start at the end of 2017, with the final deadline for starting construction of the mosque being 2018. The government has in fact imposed a 3-year period, starting in 2016, to begin the works, otherwise the whole project will be abandoned by the Romanian State.

Sources: Fondation Diyanet de Turquie, The Romania journal, (in Romanian).

  • May 2017: Pope Francis’s potential visit to Romania in 2018

In a statement issued at the end of their General Assembly (3-5 May 2017), which was also attended by Archbishop Miguel Maury Buendìa (the Apostolic Nuncio to Romania), the Romanian Catholic bishops announced that Pope Francis’ trip to Romania, scheduled for 2018, is almost certain to go ahead. The Catholic bishops hope that this trip will mark the beatification of seven Greek-Catholic bishops, killed under the communist regime.
The Pope was officially invited in 2016 by the Catholic Bishops’ Conference in Romania and by the Romanian President, Klaus Iohannis. Media sources indicate that the Romanian Orthodox Church has also associated itself with this invitation, although for the moment the Romanian Patriarchate has not officially confirmed an invitation.
If the plans go ahead, it will be the second visit by a pope to Romania, a country with a majority of Orthodox Christians, following the visit of John Paul II in May 1999.

Source: Press release of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference.

D 30 October 2017    AGabriel Birsan


29 November 2016: the ECHR confirms its decision regarding the restitution of places of worship based on the wishes of the majority of adherents
On 29 November 2016, the Grand Chamber of the (...)

  • 29 November 2016: the ECHR confirms its decision regarding the restitution of places of worship based on the wishes of the majority of adherents

On 29 November 2016, the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights ruled on the case of the Greek-Catholic Parish of Lupeni and Others v. Romania.

The applicants (the Greek-Catholic Parish of Lupeni, the Greek-Catholic Bishop of Lugoj and the Greek-Catholic Archdiocese of Lupeni) denounced the refusal of the Romanian courts to rule on what they consider to be their right of ownership over a place of worship, on the basis of common law. Invoking Articles 6§1 and 14 of the Convention, the applicants complained of an infringement of their right of access to a court and of compliance with the principle of legal certainty, of the length of the proceedings aimed at recovering the place of worship, of an infringement of their right of ownership and their right to freedom of religion and of a violation of the prohibition of discrimination. The Court held that there had been no violation of Articles 6§1 and 14 relating to the right of access to a court and to difference in treatment. In contrast, the Court recognised that there had been a violation of Articles 6§1 and 14, on the grounds that the principle of legal security had not been upheld and that the applicants’ case had not been heard within a reasonable time.

This case is part of the long list of applications brought before the ECHR concerning the return of the property of the Romanian Church United with Rome (Greek-Catholic) confiscated under the Communist regime by the Romanian State. In 1948, the Greco-Catholic Church was dissolved by Decree no. 358/1948, and its property, except that belonging to parishes, was transferred to the State. Pursuant to Decree No. 177/1948, the property of the Greco-Catholic parishes was transferred to the Romanian Orthodox Church. After the fall of the Communist regime in December 1989, Decree No. 358/1948 was repealed by Legislative Decree No. 9/1989. The Greco-Catholic faith was officially recognised by Legislative Decree No. 126/1990 on certain measures concerning the Romanian Church United with Rome. Article 3 of this Legislative Decree provided that the legal situation of the property belonging to the Greco-Catholic parishes and in the possession of the Orthodox Church was to be determined by joint committees made up of representatives of both Greek Catholic and Orthodox clergy. In reaching their decisions, the committees were to take into account “the wishes of the worshippers in the communities in possession of these properties”.

Article 3 of Legislative Decree No. 126/1990 was amended by Law No. 182/2005. According to this amendment, in the event of disagreement between the members of the clergy representing the two denominations on the joint committee, the party with an interest entitling it to bring judicial proceedings could do so under ordinary law.

The Greco-Catholic parish of Lupeni was legally re-established on 12 August 1996. In the period 2001-2011, it unsuccessfully sought the return of its former assets, a church and land that belonged to it until the dissolution of the Greek-Catholic Church in 1948.
On the basis of Decree 126/1990 – which provides that the legal status of a property that belonged to the Greek-Catholic Church can be determined by commissions composed of representatives of both clergy on the basis of the desires of the worshippers in the communities in possession of these properties – the Greek-Catholic parish of Lupeni was not able to secure this return, and thus turned to the courts in 2001.
In 2009, Greek Catholics won the case on the merits but the decision was overturned in 2010 by the Court of Appeal, and in 2011 by the High Court of Cassation and Justice, which argued that the property should remain in the patrimony of the Romanian Orthodox Church because the majority of the local community, which is Orthodox, wished it to remain so (in 2002, 501 Greek-Catholic and 24,815 Orthodox faithful lived in Lupeni, according to the Romanian National Institute of Statistics).
Having been referred to in 2011, the ECHR concluded in May 2015 that the Romanian State had not breached Article 6§1 of the European Convention on Human Rights on the right to a fair trial, or Article 14 on discrimination, recognising, however, a breach of Article 6§1 with regard to the duration of legal proceedings. The Greek-Catholic parish of Lupeni requested that the case be referred to the Grand Chamber of the ECHR in August 2015, arguing that a trial in which the outcome is predetermined, according to the will of a party involved in the dispute, violates the right of access to justice, and also raises a question of discrimination based on religious affiliation.
In November 2016, the majority of judges of the Grand Chamber of the ECHR (twelve to five) considered that in the case at hand, it had not been established that the criterion of the desires of the faithful created a difference in treatment in the exercise of the right of access to a court. However, five of the seventeen judges of the Grand Chamber expressed a dissenting opinion, deeming that the application of the principle of the desires of the majority of the worshippers in the communities in possession of the church, thus a party involved in the dispute, undermined the very essence of the applicants’ right to access a court.

According to the case law of the ECHR concerning the return of the property of the Romanian Church United with Rome confiscated by the Romanian State during the Communist regime, the decisions of the High Court were favourable or unfavourable for the Greco-Catholic petitioners according to the evolution of Legislative Decree No. 126/1990 (for more information, see Geanina Munteanu, “Problema restituirii proprietăților confiscate Bisericii Catolice…”).

With regard to the disputes between the two Churches over the property belonging to the Greco-Catholics before 1948 and owned since by the Romanian Orthodox Church, the Romanian legislator considered it appropriate to adopt a special law that deviates from common law, namely Legislative Decree No. 126/1990.

The European Court ruled on this matter for the first time in the case of Sâmbata Bihor Greco-Catholic Parish v. Romania, on 12 January 2010. It found that the Legislative Decree in its original form established neither a mandatory procedure for convening a joint committee nor the procedure by which the committee was to reach its decision. There were no mandatory legal provisions obliging the parties to organise or participate in these committees. Moreover, no time limit had been set for the joint committee to reach a decision. Consequently, the Court found a violation of Article 14 of the Convention in conjunction with Article 6 § 1 (enjoyment without discrimination of the right of access to the court).

Law No. 182/2005 amended Legislative Decree No. 126/1990 to regulate the operation of joint committees. Thus, national courts may now be seised to settle disputes concerning the property of religious denominations under ordinary law.

After examining the new legislative framework, the Court gave two inadmissibility decisions (Greek-Catholic Parish Pruniș v. Romania; Greek-Catholic Parish Remeții pe Someș v. Romania) on the grounds of the non-exhaustion of domestic remedies, ruling that the applicants should have brought a new claim action before the domestic courts after the amendments made by Law No. 182/2005 before going to the Court. It also dismissed the complaints under Articles 6 and 14 of the Convention - the right to access a court and right not to be discriminated against - in the case of the Greco-Catholic parish of Lupeni and others v. Romania.

The Court will have to rule on five other applications concerning the return of places of worship, already communicated to the Romanian government: Romanian Parish United with Rome Dej v. Romania, Greek-Catholic Parish Glod and Others v. Romania, Greek-Catholic Parish Comana de Jos v. Romania, Greek-Catholic Parish Sisesti v. Romania and Greek-Catholic Parish Orăștie v. Romania.

  • October 2016: Europe’s largest mosque built in Bucharest

The idea of building a mosque in Bucharest was first raised in 2004, then discussed again in 2011 and 2016, on the occasion of diplomatic contacts between Romania and the Turkish State. Turkey made the proposal deeming that a mosque would represent “the most beautiful expression of dialogue and solidarity between the two countries”. The Romanian State accepted, provided that the principle of reciprocity be respected: an Orthodox church of similar size should be built in Istanbul.

The Turkish authorities responded by granting their authorisation for an Orthodox church to be built. Six possible sites were identified on the edge of Istanbul, but the Romanian authorities did not make a choice. For its part, the Romanian government made available to the Turkish authorities an 11,000 square metre plot, estimated at around four million euros.

According to official information, the cost of the mosque would be 3 million euros, paid by the Turkish government. It would be the largest in Europe and the largest in Romania. The place of worship will be able to accommodate two thousand people, and the building will include a library, a Koranic school and recreational facilities.

The project appears to have the support of the Romanian authorities (Government decision no. 372/2015 to donate a building, protocol for the handover of a plot of land for free use for a period of 49 years between the State Secretariat for Religious denominations and the Office of the Mufti of the Muslim Faith in Romania, issuance of the town planning certificate by the district town hall).

However, the project is currently at a standstill, in particular as a result of the international context. The challenges include Turkey’s current situation, the international migrant crisis, terrorism, and objections raised in Romanian society.
According to the 2011 census, Romania is home to 81 mosques and nearly 65,000 Muslims, 9,000 of whom are based in the capital (Bucharest). The only mosque built in Romania, comparable in terms of size but also of importance in the Romanian collective memory with that which will be built in Bucharest, is in Constanța, where there are more than 40,000 Muslims. This mosque was built in 1913 by the Romanian State at the initiative of King Carol I.

  • October 2016: Resumption of the debate over same-sex marriages

The steps taken by the Coalition for Family before the Constitutional Court of Romania, aimed at amending the Constitution in order to redefine the family as “based on freely-consented marriage between a man and a woman”, is a measure intended to respond to the request made to the Romanian State to recognise a marriage between two people of the same sex, lodged by a couple composed of a Romanian and an American, who married in Belgium in 2010.

The couple’s claims process began in 2013 when the Immigration Inspectorate refused to grant a visa to the U.S. citizen, on the grounds that same-sex marriages were not recognised in Romania, thereby impeding their freedom of movement within the European Union. As a result, the two persons challenged Article 277, paragraphs (2) and (4) of Law no. 287/2009 of the Civil Code before the Constitutional Court: (2) Marriages between persons of the same sex concluded or contracted abroad, either by Romanian citizens or by foreign citizens, are not recognised in Romania; (4) The legal provisions regarding the free movement of citizens of the Member States of the European Union and of the European Economic Area remain applicable. The Constitutional Court will give its final decision on this case on 27 October 2016.

To ensure that the provisions of the Civil Code remain unchanged, part of Romanian society has come together in this Coalition for Family, the objective of which is to secure constitutional status for the provisions of the Civil Code related to the definition of family (the freely-consented marriage between a man and a woman).

In order to have initiative validated, the coalition had to complete several steps. At the current time, the collection of signatures has been finalised, with more than 3,000,000 signatures collected. They were submitted to Parliament and on 20 July 2016, the Constitutional Court gave its preliminary opinion on the bill concerning the referendum. For the bill to be successful, the vote in Parliament on the draft law and the national referendum are still needed. Supporters of the project want the referendum to be held on the same date as the parliamentary elections. The latter will take place on 11 December 2016. However, no decision has been made on the date of the referendum.

The Coalition for Family initiative is supported by the Consultative Council of the Religious Denominations - an ethical, social, independent, apolitical, non-governmental, unincorporated and non-profit organisation, formed by the 18 recognised religious denominations, all of which publicly oppose same-sex marriage and, to the contrary, defend a traditional conception of the family. Nonetheless, the crucial role played by the Romanian Orthodox Church, especially in the campaign to collect signatures, should be emphasised.

The latest developments on this topic came on 19 October 2016, when the President of Romania declared that “it is a mistake to take into account religious fanaticism, and to walk the path of religious fanaticism and ultimatums”, referring to the approach adopted by the Coalition for Family. The Romanian Orthodox Church, along with other recognised religious denominationsdenominations, reacted very promptly, stating that “Romania’s largest civic initiative, in which an unprecedented number of citizens participated, is a natural and necessary democratic exercise”. In a second statement, the Romanian President called for tolerance, reconciliation and social peace. Several public figures endorsed the latter statement, including the US ambassador to Romania.

Concurrent to this initiative to revise the Constitution with the statement that family is formed on the basis of freely-consented marriage between a man and a woman, a European citizens’ initiative called Mum, Dad & Kids was registered with the European Commission on 15 December 2015. The aim of this initiative is to introduce throughout the European Union a regulation defining marriage and the family as follows: marriage is a union between a man and a woman, and family is based on marriage and/or descent. To be debated in the European institutions, this initiative needed to receive at least one million signatures throughout Europe by 15 December 2016. According to the latest data published, as of 13 October 2016, more than 50% of those signatures had already been received.

Gabriel Birsan
  • June 2016: Funding for recognised religious denominations undermined in Romania

For several years now, especially during the preparation of the budget law for the coming financial year, recognised denominations have been under heavy pressure from the media and secular organisations. The demand is always the same: that all financial State support for religious denominations (salaries of clerical and non-clerical staff, salaries of religious teaching staff, construction or maintenance of religious buildings, tax benefits, etc.) be stopped.
The demand is directed at all players in Romanian religious life, but concerns primarily the Romanian Orthodox Church, representative of the declared religious majority. In addition, by mistake (deliberate or unintentional), the funding provided to all recognised denominations is often presented by protesters as “funding given to the Romanian Orthodox Church alone”.
The main argument put forward to substantiate this is the very large number of religious buildings under construction after 1989. The protesters also contrast “the soaring number of Orthodox churches, which popped up like mushrooms after the rain” with the “moribund health system”. Regarding the fragility of the Romanian health system, however, it would appear that it is due not to lack of funding but rather to flawed management, questionable public acquisitions or possible corrupt* activities.
The tragic fire at the Colectiv nightclub in Bucharest on 30 October 2015 left 64 people dead and around 200 injured. Following that event, the Prime Minister of Romania, under pressure from society and the media, announced the abolition of the 2016 budget line for the construction or rehabilitation of places of worship. The process for the possible implementation of this decision is still being debated.

*See for example: Catalin Tolontan, The Hexi Pharma Dossier, in Romanian; as for the educational system “in a pitiful state”, it can be enlightening to compare the respective budgets side-by-side - see George Damian, Comparing Cult-Health-Education Budget, in Romanian.

Petrisor Ghidu
  • January 2016: Funding and tax regime for religious denominations

The end of 2015 brought about a change in the Romanian State’s funding for recognised religious denominations. Law 339/2015 (Law on the State Budget for 2016, published in Official Gazette no. 941/19.12.2015) provided for an increase in the State’s share of the salaries of clerical and lay staff of religious faiths (salaries of clerical staff were increased when the salaries of teachers with which clerics are assimilated were increased), but provided for the cessation of funding by the State budget of the construction of new places of worship or the repair of existing places, support for charitable activities and special events organised by religious faiths.

No legislative changes were introduced; simply, no money was allocated in the budget to religious activities. Thus, public funding for religious activities, with the exception of salaries, was left to the responsibility of municipalities, which were able to provide it in accordance with to their possibilities and/or affinities.

A new Tax Code with its implementing enactments (Law No. 227/2015, D.G. No. 1/2016) replaced the 2003 Code (Law No. 571/2003) and came into force on 1 January 2016. The provisions relating to worship are almost similar in the two codes. However, the 2016 one introduces some important new features:

a) Religious associations benefit from the same tax relief as recognised denominations (18 to date).
b) Recognised denominations and religious associations are exempt from property tax for buildings and land, as was the case before 1 January 2016. From now on, however, they will be exempt only if all profits are used in the current or subsequent years to maintain the unity of religious denominations, for the construction and repair of places of worship and ecclesiastical buildings, for activities in the field of education, to provide, in its own name or in partnership, social services approved in accordance with the law, or for specific actions and other non-profit activities specific to religious denominations.
c) Expansion of the tax base to buildings and land used by recognised denominations and religious associations for economic activities.
d) As regards taxes on buildings, the new Tax Code distinguishes between residential and non-residential buildings, and includes presbyteries in the category of residential buildings. As a result, recognised religious denominations and religious associations are required to pay taxes for the housing of priests. That being, the actual application of this tax is the responsibility of the local community.

The consequences of these measures were felt in particular by the majority denomination, the Romanian Orthodox Church. After the fall of the atheist Communist regime, the Romanian Orthodox Church focused on renovating and building churches and social and cultural establishments. Emblematic of this vast undertaking is the People’s Salvation Cathedral, which some consider a necessity, while others see it as megalomaniac. Most of these projects were funded by the State. In the new financial environment, the Romanian Orthodox Church, despite the financial support of the municipality of Bucharest and other local public institutions, is finding it very difficult to continue to self-finance the projects already started, especially the People’s Salvation Cathedral which was to be completed on 1 December 2018, for the centenary of the Romanian nation.

Some voices criticised the tax exemptions for religious denominations, referring mainly to the majority denomination. The Romanian Orthodox Church voiced its willingness to discuss the taxation of its income and property, but only if the issue of restitution or compensation for all Church property confiscated by the Romanian state during the Communist regime was also addressed, so that the Church could acquire the resources needed to continue its social and philanthropic work.

Gabriel Birsan
  • January 2016: Religion classes in Romania’s public schools

Since the end of 2014 and throughout 2015, Romanian public debate has been extensively occupied by sharp controversies about religion classes. A discipline in pre-university education, compulsory in the teaching curriculum from pre-school to the final year of high school, it has ceased to be a simple academic subject and has become the focus of national debate. This shift came about when the method for enrolling in religion classes was modified, as a direct result of a decision of the Constitutional Court of Romania.

Read the full article of Vasile Cretu in pdf (in French).

Vasile Cretu
  • 20 January 2016: Legislative bill on the Family

On 25 November 2015, a constitutional bill was published in the Official Gazette of Romania (Section One, No. 882), aimed at redefining Article 48(1) of the Romanian Constitution. This bill is the result of a reflection carried out by an “initiative committee” composed of sixteen people, including several public figures. This committee met under the supervision of the “Coalition for Family”, an informal group of 23 non-governmental organisations from all across the country (details in Romanian here).

In its current form, Article 48 of the Constitution provides that “Family is based on the freely-consented marriage between two spouses, on their equality and on their parental rights and obligations of raising, educating and instructing their children”. This bill aims to redefine the family as “based on freely-consented marriage between a man and a woman, on their equality and on the parental rights and obligations of raising, educating and instructing their children”.

Having reviewed the European legal texts concerning the family and the European situation concerning marriage, the initiators of this action – in their written motivations – show that such a reformulation of the constitutional text is in fact the legitimate extension of the legal provisions already provided for by the Civil Code (adopted by law 287/2009 and entered into force on 1 October 2011 (details in Romanian here). They argue their point on the basis of two articles of the Civil Code, Book II – On the family, Heading 1 – General provisions:
 Article 258. 4 which explicitly stipulates that “in the meaning of this code, the word ‘spouses’ is understood to mean a man and a woman, legally bound by marriage”,
 Article 259.1 which defines marriage as a “freely-consented union between a man and a woman”.

In order for this initiative to be validated and for the constitutional text to be officially modified, four other steps are still needed:

1. At least 500,000 people with voting rights, spread over at least half the territory of the country, i.e., 20,000 people per department will have to sign in favour of the referendum, by 24 May 2016 (i.e. 6 months after the publication of the draft law).

2. Once these signatures are secured, the draft law – together with the 500,000 signatures – must be submitted to the Parliament of Romania.

3. The Constitutional Court will then be referred to for an opinion. If it gives its consent, Parliament can vote to amend the text of the constitution.

4. The final step will consist of a national referendum on the amendment of Romania’s Basic Law. If the result of the votes is positive and the referendum is validated, the legislative text will be amended.

The initiative is publicly supported by the Romanian Orthodox Church, other religious denominations and other legal entities wishing to preserve the specificity and traditions of the Romanian people. However, the initiative is opposed by NGOs supporting LGBT rights.

According to information from representatives of the “Coalition for Family”, as of 20 January 2016, 825,000 people had already signed to have the constitutional text modified.

Petrisor Ghidu

D 13 January 2017    AGabriel Birsan APetrisor Ghidu AVasile Cretu


December 2015: rejection of the draft law on civil partnership
In December 2015, the Romanian Parliament definitively rejected the draft law on civil partnership, which aimed to legalise civil (...)

  • December 2015: rejection of the draft law on civil partnership

In December 2015, the Romanian Parliament definitively rejected the draft law on civil partnership, which aimed to legalise civil marriage between people of the same sex.

  • May 2015: passing of draft law on religious education

On 18 May 2015, the Senate (the decision-making chamber) adopted the draft law on enrolment in religious education with 119 votes “for” and 2 “against”. The draft normative law takes into account the proposal and argument made by the Advisory Council on Religions in Romania on 28 February 2015.
Article 18 (paragraph 2) of the Law on National Education no. 1/2011 is modified as follows: “To register participation in lessons on religion, a written request must be made by pupils of adult age or by the parent or legal guardian of pupils who are minors. Changing this option is also possible provided that a written request is made by pupils of adult age or else by the parent or legal guardian of pupils who are minors. If the pupil does not take part in religious education, schooling will be finalised omitting the subject religion. The same applies to pupils for whom, for objective reasons, the conditions for taking part in lessons in this subject were not met”. This law was adopted by the Romanian President on 18 June 2015.
The Romanian Patriarchate drew up a Strategic Plan for Better Quality Religious Education (3-4 June 2015). The document aims at improving the quality of religious education in state schools by ensuring coherence between religious education provided at school, in the family, the Church and other areas of education, as well as by providing useful information on religious education in relation to the entire school offering.

Read the complete article by Vasile Cretu as a pdf.

  • February 2015: reactions to the passing of the Law on Religious Education by the Constitutional Court

In accordance with current legislation, in Romania religion is a school subject that is part of the common core of the educational provision, mandatory for the educational system as a whole. Pupils’ participation in religious education remains optional, but school establishments have an obligation to ensure the presence of religion among the disciplines offered within the curriculum.
On 12 November 2014, the Plenary Assembly of the Constitutional Court wanted to resolve the exception of unconstitutionality of the provisions of the Law on Education no. 84/1995 and of the Law on National Education no. 1/2011. Possessing a majority of votes, it acknowledged the exception of unconstitutionality and confirmed the unconstitutionality of the provisions of Article 9, paragraph (2), first sentence, of the Law on Education no. 84/1995 (the text declared unconstitutional, in force for almost 20 years, was as follows: “On written request by the parents or the legal guardian, the pupil may opt out of religious education”) and of the provisions of Article 18, paragraph (2), first sentence, of the Law on National Education no. 1/2011 (the text declared unconstitutional is as follows: “On written request by the pupil of adult age or by their parents or legal guardian for the pupil who is a minor, the pupil can opt out of religious education”). This decision was perceived by a large part of society as “a blow to religious education”; the reasons for the decision by the Constitutional Court no. 669 of 12 November 2014 on the status of lessons in religion was therefore published on 23 January 2015 in the “Official Gazette”, Part I, no. 59/2015. There the Court lays out in a positive and reasoned manner the importance of courses in religion.
Representatives from the Romanian Orthodox Church considered, however, that the decision by the Constitutional Court was “discriminatory and humiliating, that they were seeking to discourage pupils’ participation in lessons on religion through excessive bureaucratic procedures and that underlying this decision were aspects of a legal nature and implications as regards stances on conscience on a personal and community level”.

Read the complete article by Vasile Cretu as a pdf.

  • February 2015: mobilisation for courses of religion

On 28 February 2015, the Advisory Council of Religions in Romania announced to the Romanian Parliament their draft proposal for adopting the legal provisions aimed at ensuring respect for Decision no. 669/2014 by the Constitutional Court.
Efforts by the Church to defend and promote courses in religion have led to the creation of a “Parents’ Association for Religious Education” (APOR). In two months, APOR became the most important and most active non-governmental organisation of parents in Romania, with 40 branches and more than 7,000 members; it has given rise to many public pronouncements “for religion at school” by personalities from the worlds of culture, entertainment or sport.

Read the complete article by Vasile Cretu as a pdf.

D 30 December 2015    APetrisor Ghidu AVasile Cretu


9 July 2013: ECHR validates refusal of registration of a trade union of Church
Read this article in the Europe heading (in French)

  • 9 July 2013: ECHR validates refusal of registration of a trade union of Church

Read this article in the Europe heading (in French)

D 24 July 2013   


March 2007: Icons in state schools – a brief history and explanation
To understand the significance of these debates in contemporary Romanian society about the presence of icons in Romanian (...)

  • March 2007: Icons in state schools – a brief history and explanation

To understand the significance of these debates in contemporary Romanian society about the presence of icons in Romanian state schools, we must recall some aspects of the recent history of Romania.
In 1989, the last year under the Communist dictatorship, Romanian society was marked by conflict between the official atheist propaganda and an immense spiritual and religious power which was secretly fuelling hopes of freedom. Religious faith was the only form of popular resistance to the oppressive political regime. The fall of the communist regime in December 1989 favoured the presence of religious expression and aspirations in all public events, religious behaviour being more often than not clear evidence of the liberation from Communism and its consequences on human psyche and behaviour. Religion was often used to re-legitimise certain public figures who had belonged to the old political system. No public event (in the sphere of government or politics) began at that time without the presence of at least one priest saying prayers of intercession for the success of the initiative or the activity of the institution being inaugurated. The Orthodox Church was regaining the public prestige that used to characterise it before the Communist regime came to power in 1948 and guaranteed, by virtue of its authority, the formation of democratic institutions of the Romanian state, of parliament, government, political parties or institutions. Under these conditions, as moral reparation for Romanian culture and spirituality, lessons in religion were reintroduced into the school curricula, based on the existing model used during the interwar period before the Communists came to power.
Although, after 1990, religion was an optional subject for pupils in primary and secondary schools, its introduction into the annual school curriculum took place without any opposition from teaching bodies or school administrations.
Without specific legislation, in the absence of specialised teachers and textbooks, religion was often taught by a priest - or by theology students in areas where there was an active faculty of theology. Therefore, a popular form of religious education in schools developed in the form of a weekly catechism for pupils. To respect the religious diversity of the country, in regions where the majority of the population was not Orthodox, the religion taught was that of the religious majority. Gradually, icons were being hung in state schools on the walls of classrooms, laboratories or in open areas. Over-zealous in some cases, a simple photocopy of an icon became a new icon, thereby distorting its spiritual significance and reducing its importance in the Orthodox religion.
Considering that the presence of icons in schools would affect pupils’ freedom in choosing a religion, Emil Moise, teacher of philosophy in a high school in the town of Buzau, asked the Ministry of Education and Research in 2006 to ban Orthodox icons in state schools. His initiative - motivated by the respect for religious freedom for every citizen - sparked unprecedented public debate, inflaming as much the political class as intellectuals and civil society, not to mention the Romanian Orthodox Church. The latter viewed the teacher’s action as an atheist, anti-orthodox approach aimed, according to Church representatives, at weakening the Orthodox faith among pupils. Many discussions were held in late 2006 and early 2007. Even if other issues are at the centre of people’s concerns, the climate of conflict surrounding the removal of icons from state schools persists and still seems to fuel debate for or against with a sufficient number of arguments.

  • February 2007: The Romanian Parliament and some NGOs oppose removing icons from schools

Decision no. 323/21 of December 2006 of the National Council for Combating Discrimination (NCCD), which recommended that the Ministry of Education and Research ban icons in schools, generated further controversy among Romanian public opinion. The Romanian Orthodox Church also reacted with a press release, stating that "the presence of religious symbols in classrooms does not result from a constraint, but from the desire and agreement of parents, teachers and pupils". Recognised faiths in Romania (the Roman Catholic Church, the Armenian Church, the Jewish community of Romania, the Muslim religion etc.) adopted similar positions and officially declared their dissatisfaction with the decision of the NCCD.
The Civic Media Association and over one hundred NGOs held the same attitude. In the circumstances, they created the Coalition for the Respect of Religious Sentiment which thousands of people and public figures joined. The coalition has threatened to take legal action against decision no. 323 of the NCCD.
The Romanian Parliament has itself been implicated in the controversy. In January 2007, following protests by more than 150 NGOs, members of the Romanian Academy, teaching unions, journalists, teachers etc., the Teaching Commission of the Chamber of Deputies recommended that the Ministry of Education and Research - the only institution that could take decisions in this situation - let local communities and parents chose whether religious symbols and icons be present in schools.
In light of this recommendation, the Ministry of Education and Research has so far refused to make binding decision no. 323 of the NCCD and has asked Parliament to pronounce the last word on the matter.
But the conflict of opinion is far from over. Emil Moise and his supporters, in response to the refusal of the Ministry of Education and Research to implement the NCCD’s recommendation, have threatened to complain to the European Court in Strasbourg. In the opposing camp are the Romanian Orthodox Church and other historical, officially recognised religions, many non-governmental organisations, personalities and many intellectuals. Associations such as Civic Media, have launched a wide campaign to collect signatures in favour of keeping icons in schools.
It should be noted that such a debate is not at all alien to Western Europe. One may recall the problem of the presence of crucifixes in schools in Italy, England or Germany where, despite decisions by the courts, religious symbols have been preserved in public spaces by virtue of the continuing European secular tradition.
It is certain that requiring the application of such measures by imposing "top down" legislative decisions prohibiting icons in state schools does not lead to a solution consistent with the religious sentiments of the Romanian population which is predominantly Orthodox.
After 45 years of Communist dictatorship - in which the icons were removed from public spaces as a result of political decisions - attempts to blacklist these religious symbols of such importance to the Romanian Orthodoxy deeply offends the religious sensibilities of the Romanian people and can be interpreted in extremis as an attack against the cultural and religious identity of the Romanian people.

D 9 May 2007    ALaurenţiu Tănase ALucreţia Vasilescu AManuela Gheorghe


December 2006: Triggering public debate on removing icons from state schools
On 12 August 2006, Emil Moise, teacher of philosophy in a high school in Buzau (South-eastern Romania), filed a (...)

  • December 2006: Triggering public debate on removing icons from state schools

On 12 August 2006, Emil Moise, teacher of philosophy in a high school in Buzau (South-eastern Romania), filed a petition for "the removal of religious symbols from state school classrooms" with the National Council for Combating Discrimination (NCCD), a government body.
The teacher’s move sparked debate and controversy within the entire Romanian society. Emil Moise explains in the petition his stance against the presence of icons in state schools, stating that he is not opposed to religious education in schools nor to the presence of icons in the private sphere. In his view, icons on the classroom walls "discriminate against children belonging to other religions and are a threat to the right to freedom of conscience and religious choice". The author of the petition also refers to "the violation of freedom of thought of all Romanian children, the purpose of school being to train autonomous individuals who when reaching the age of majority choose, without being influenced, to keep their religion, become atheists or to adopt another religion" (V. Borza,"Moise nu vrea icoane în scoli"in Cotidianul, 15 November 2006; C. Patrasconiu,"Bunul simt dupa Moise" in Cotidianul, 15 November 2006).
This approach by teacher Emil Moise was backed by several non-governmental organisations which submitted an open letter of support to the NCCD, including further arguments to support the teacher’s action. They invoked Article 4 of the Romanian Constitution on the "equal treatment of pupils and teachers belonging to different faiths" and Article 29 prohibiting the interference of the state in ways of thinking, opinions and religious beliefs. Article 5 of the UN Declaration on eliminating all forms of discrimination was mentioned, as well as Article 14 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Law on the Rights of the Child which specifies that young people have the right to choose their own religion from age 16.
In response to the petition submitted by Emil Moise, on 21 December 2006 the NCCD announced its decision (no. 323), recommending that the Ministry of Education and Research prohibit the icons in schools. This decision states that "unlimited and uncontrolled presence of icons in state educational institutions is a violation of the principle of the religious neutrality of the state".

D 29 December 2006    ALaurenţiu Tănase ALucreţia Vasilescu AManuela Gheorghe

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