Back in May of 2018, two draconian antireligious bills were introduced to the Bulgarian legislature for the third year in a row. After the bills received critical opinions from all the major religious denominations in the country, on October 4 the leading committee in the Bulgarian parliament held a hearing with the participation of the bills' sponsors and these religious representatives. Freedom for All also took part as a human rights and religious freedom group, as well as represented two evangelical-Protestant denominations. Below is the English translation of our report from the meeting.


Meeting of the Parliamentary Commission on Religious Denominations and Human Rights Regarding the Two Draft Amendments and Supplements to the Religious Denominations Act

Last Thursday, October 4, 2018, the leading Committee on Religions and Human Rights held a meeting in the National Assembly on the two draft amendments to the Religious Denominations Act.


Present at the meeting were nine of the regular members of the commission, as well as representatives of most of the religious communities: the Bulgarian Orthodox Church (BOC), the Roman Catholic Church, the Muslim faith, and the United Evangelical Churches. Freedom for All, our human rights and religious freedom group, attended and represented the Protestant-Evangelical Christian denominations of the National Alliance of United Churches of God (NAUCG) and the National Christian Center (NCC), as well as its own position.


Our general assessment is that the fate of these bills is questionable. The Commission ultimately voted for both bills to enter the plenary session and have their first reading before the Parliament. This means that the possibility of a crisis of a constitutional magnitude in which the freedoms of conscience, faith, speech, and other human rights becoming extremely limited by a new law are very real.


Only Freedom for All held the position that the Commission should not allow the proposed laws to be allowed to enter the plenary discussion of the Assembly because of their extreme anti-democratic and anti-constitutional character.


At the beginning of the meeting, the Vice-President of the Commission, Mr. Vassil Antonov, said that the BSP (Bulgarian Socialists) party will not be supporting the bills in the event of a vote, which includes the bill they co-sponsored along with the MRF (Movement for Rights and Freedoms, the “Turkish Party”) and GERB (the largest party, a compilation of socialists, quasi-right wingers, opportunists). A representative of ATAKA, which is part of the United Patriots party, and a sponsor of the second bill, also expressed his general opposition to the bills. 


A representative of the sponsors from the three big parties, Mr. Tsonev from the Movement for Rights and Freedoms, and representatives of the United Patriots, briefly motivated their bills by offering only cosmetic changes. Both bills continue to overwhelmingly restrict views on freedom of religion.


On the part of the denominations, the opposition and criticism of the bills was almost unified, categorical and on many of the major points, overlapped. Criticisms focused on the fact that national security issues are not resolved by limiting the rights of believers and religions; that donations should not be controlled and limited by the state through extraordinary and/or special laws, but by general laws already in place; that the right to preach cannot be subject to an authorization by the state; that the preparation of preachers and clergymen is absurdly subject to state control agencies that are not competent to grasp the essence of the religious education of a particular religion; and that faith is not a national phenomenon and the state cannot restrict international contacts and communities because of their religious beliefs.


The position of the BOC, considered to be the largest religious denomination in the country, was impressive because it stood against the excessive interference of the "Religions" Directorate in the internal affairs of the church (respectively the denominations), which, even under communism, was not as significant as it is envisaged in these bills. This position is also impressive because to date, in the public discussion of religious (or rather anti-religious) bills, the BOC has not taken a firm position, perhaps because of the state's patronage, which is not the case here. That is, the BOC in its position defended not only its own interests (it relies on state protectionism) but took a stand that is principled and favors Christian religious freedom from excessive state interference.


Of course, it remains unclear to what extent the BOC supports the freedom of religious denominations from having to be registered and the registration of other Orthodox faiths in Bulgaria. The Roman Catholic Church, for example, despite its disagreement with the bills, insisted that the currently registered (179 according to the Committee Chair, Mr. Velchev) denominations are far too many.


The position of Freedom for All and NEAFC and NHS is that bills must not be admitted into the legislation of the country because they are written in a totalitarian and intolerant spirit against all believers, threaten the constitutional order in the country, discriminate based on religion and, if they become law, will be in violation of the Bulgarian Constitution, the European Convention on Human Rights, international law and the principles of a democratic and free society. We advocate that these bills do not reach the Chamber of Deputies at all because of their incompatibility with Bulgarian traditions of religious tolerance and the principles of democracy. We also took the position that the Bulgarian constitutional state is secular and not atheistic, as the spirit of the two laws implies. The secular state is neutral in terms of faith and ideology, the atheist state promotes atheism and attacks religious views.


Our position, on all the other points, largely coincides with the views and criticisms of other denominations, disagreeing with the position expressed by some attendants and the committee chairman that the number of registered denominations should be limited. Such restrictions are neither necessary nor somehow helpful to the quoted reason for the need for these restrictions, "because the denominations are exempt from taxes", so they have been acting in bad faith as such. This argument is unsubstantiated.


The sponsors of the bills agreed that if there is any draft law on religious denominations and amendments, they should be subjected to a careful and thorough public discussion as it is a complex and delicate matter, which is our position on the approach to religious law in general.


The bills were voted to be considered by the Parliament at this first reading by the Commission under Art. 43 (Rules of the National Assembly). In the discussion there were no opinions about the categorical rejection of the bills so that the projects would not make it to the floor discussion (plenary), which we expected and on which we insisted (as mentioned above). Setting up working groups with the participation of the Commission, to generate discussions on the bills before the second reading, with the hope that such extremely restrictive and dangerous bills could be rebuilt into something good, in our opinion, is an impossible task. Despite the vote to proceed head, the fate of the bills remains unclear because of the extremely restrictive and totalitarian approach to their writing by all religious communities, including the BOC and the disagreement with them even by some of the sponsors (BSP in this case).


In his closing remarks, the Vice-President of the Commission stated that the current Religious Denomination Act, although not perfect, is good and effective in contemporary society and should not be re-written with hasty amendments and additions.


We also believe that writing new laws, especially anti-democratic ones, does not solve problems, but rather creates new ones which we reiterated also in private conversation after the meeting with some members of the Commission.


In view of the outcome of the meeting, we believe that there is still uncertainty about the freedom of belief in Bulgaria. This is due to the present possibility of voting in a draft amendment to the Law on Religions which is contrary to the principles of a free and democratic society.


In this regard Freedom for All and the evangelical-Protestant communities NAOBTS (NAUCG) and NHTS (NCC) and the unregistered religious community Christian Mission Center will continue to monitor the process concerning freedom of belief and expression and its legislative treatment in order to protect basic human rights and freedoms for our communities and for churches and believers throughout the country.


Viktor Kostov, Ph.D.
missiologist, lawyer


* Freedom for All is our human rights, missionary, and publishing group of lawyers and missionaries acting in defense of the Christian faith in the public square. 

"But, you say, we destroy the most hallowed of relations, when we replace home education by social. And your education! Is not that also social, and determined by the social conditions under which you educate...? The Communists have not invented the intervention of society in education; they do but seek to alter the character of that intervention."  

Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels
'Communist Manifesto', 1848

When you are promised a right and they turn it into an obligation, obviously something is wrong with the wording or the right itself. It is either that the right is not a right, or it is an obligation that is falsely called a right

That is precisely the situation with the "right" to education in Bulgaria. Using constitutional legal pirouettes, sub-constitutional decrees and resolutions contrary to basic human rights and international law the Bulgarian state has launched a new attack against the people, parents and their children. 

The newspaper 24 hours properly announced in its article title that children will be brought to school by police (Bulgarian)Initially, we thought it was a newspaper sensation. Then it turned out that the ability of government officials to think unlawfully and arbitrarily surpasses the journalistic pursuit of sensationalism. 

The document which prompted this brief essay will be analyzed legally a bit later. Here we present only our reaction based on moral and ethical concerns. We are referring to

Establishing a mechanism for the collaboration of institutions for the tracking and retention in the education system of children and students in compulsory pre-school and school age

The terminology used is more than clear - TRACKING AND RETAINING IN THE EDUCATIONAL SYSTEM OF CHILDREN. Children will be sought out by all agencies of the state - the Regional Education Inspectorate, mayors, social workers to the "Social Assistance," ESGRAON (Unified State population Registration Service)  - and will be tracked and retained, including with the help of the police. Yes, the Interior Ministry will actively engage in realizing the "right" of parents to surrender their children for compulsory education in public schools.

Of course, the proponents of this totalitarian, fascist-communist approach towards the rights of parents and children in the name of the corrupt and failed State 'education' will bring forward important arguments. They will speak about crime among the Roma and how it is the result of lack of education; they will argue about how important it is for the nation to cultivate genuine Bulgarian patriots and how this can be done only through compulsory public school. 

A government that has so little respect for its citizens to treat the family as a producer of fodder for the schools supported by the taxes of these very parents is totalitarian. A totalitarian state that uses its power, intimidation, and coercion and uses the police to realize the right to education is a tyrannical police regime. 

Bulgaria is just such a regime. A tyrannical corrupt police state. A regime for which people are idiots who need to be protected from their own idiocy, who have no right to family life and privacy, are not entitled to family affection, and whose children are not theirs but belong to the state. 
If these qualifications seem too strong to some we present the full text of the Resolution № 373 of July 5, 2017, the Council of MinistersThe resolution also mandates the tracking and retention in the educational system, just as one totalitarian regime would track inmates in a concentration camp. Children not attending will be tracked, pursued, and covered (enrolled). Implementation, of course, is not just like a concentration camp because conditions in schools still are not like those in concentration camps. But the mentality behind such a government thinking that gave birth to such decisions of the Council of Ministers, is just like that of a tyrant who has a complete, unlimited power over his or her slaves and their offspring

What will happen next is that the children of the small homeschooling community will be the first target of state-police squads in the tracking and retention of children into the system. 

Gypsy families who do not value education will continue to not value education. In order to report activity, officials will go to search out those who are exemplary citizens, who care about their children and have opted for another form of education. 

Not surprisingly the true spirit behind Resolution 373 of July 5, 2017, is the spirit of the arrogant, unlimited, unaccountable bureaucracy. This government bureaucracy exists for itself and there is nothing sacred, inviolable and human which it does not want to seize and subdue - including the Bulgarian family and the guaranteed freedom of private and family life. 

Even the Roma case poses the same question regarding Resolution 373. Why, if the culture of an ethnic group does not have an interest in formal education, should the people of that ethnicity be forced to be educated? If what is good and right is being shoved down by force and threats of persecution and sanctions does it continue to be a genuine good and right? If we have an obligation to be educated only in the state model, why not change the Constitution to make it clear that in Bulgaria there is no freedom of education and that state-imposed education is an obligation? Then the law will clearly show that the ideology of public education is totalitarian, fascist and communist. Thus there will be no confusion and no sentimental expectations that a family can escape the iron-clad TRACKING AND RETENTION OF THE SYSTEM. 

But the Bulgarian model "not to catch a cold and not get cheated" [an equivalent to "have the cake and eat it, too"] is visible in this public-legislative hypocrisy of constitutional and governmental proportion. We have a democracy, yet we have tyranny. 

In a case where I defended a parent and his child, in which the parent had decided to educate the student at home because of violence in the compulsory public school, the government official of the Regional Inspectorate of Education literally screamed in response to the father's clearly reasoned argument as to why he would educate his son at home and away from their system: 

"But he is our child!" 

In conclusion, we will ask the most important question in this situation. Will parents react against this administrative arbitrariness of the unlimited power of the Council of Ministers and their power structures? Will democratically-minded people and organizations react to the next extreme, absurd administrative arbitrariness of the executive branch of the government?

Bulgaria is a Police State: Your Children Are Government Property - LINKS 
(Note: Images are public-domain-owned unless noted otherwise. The image on top is reworked for the purpose of this article.)





According to statistics from the European Court of Human Rights Bulgaria holds second place in losing cases based on complaints of violations of Art. 9 of the European Convention. Art. 9 protects freedom of religion and conscience. With an 83% rate of cases lost, Bulgaria ranks behind Turkey and Russia. The conclusion can only be that the state and its officials have no intention of learning and beginning to respect one of the most basic human rights, the one that sustains democracy -- freedom of religion and conscience.

Immediately after the success of GERB (Citizens for the European Development of Bulgaria) and BSP (Bulgarian Socialist Party, former communists) in the early elections, held at the end of March, there was yet another attack by Bulgarians authorities against the fundamental rights and freedoms of believers. The tenacity with which Bulgarian rulers want to eliminate the free functioning of basic human rights in the country is remarkable.

Exactly one year ago we had the ill-fated bills by Kadiev and BSP amending the Law on Religious Confession (LRC), which had the intent to practically eradicate freedom of religion in Bulgaria. About two weeks ago we had a new prosed bill that could have been a copy-pasted version of the bills of 2016! On April 3, 2017, the Ministry of Justice (MJ) published on its website a Draft Law on the Law on Bulgarian Citizenship (formerly downloadable from the website of the Ministry of Justice here, in Bulgarian).

This time, however, to avoid the charge of the political and ideological motivation of the project, the proposed draconian restriction of basic human rights in the sphere of faith, expression, association, and assembly came from the Ministry of Justice rather than a socialist or another political faction. It later became clear that the bill was proposed by the newly elected president of the republic of Bulgaria – Rumen Radev (Fall of 2016). The Bulgarian president is a rather ceremonial position, as the country follows the parliamentary republic model of government. Thus, the president has no legislative initiative under the constitution. However, Mr. Radev had no reservations about circumventing his lack of powers and putting the Ministry of Justice as a front for his project. It comes as no surprise that Mr. Radev, and independent presidential candidate during the campaign was endorsed and supported by the Bulgarian Socialist Party.

The draft for amendments of the LRC was covertly introduced as a part of a Draft Law for Amends on the Law on Bulgarian Citizenship. The public outcry came after the draft law was published on the MJ website. However, the negative reaction came from the Bulgarian voters who live abroad that to whom the bill effectively denies the right to vote. The media picked up the scandal and the bill was hastily pulled from the internet. A mid-level government lawyer was fired for posting the draft law on the web. He spoke to the media and told in detail how the president of Bulgaria had a meeting with MJ officials and insisted that the law would be introduced without delay.

In an article the Wall Street Journal[1] claims that President Radev was the choice of Mr. Vladimir Putin for a Bulgarian president. Radev’s campaign for the presidency was supported by Kornelia Ninova, the chairwoman of the Bulgarian Socialist Party, formerly the communist party. She had met with a former KGB officer to discuss Radev’s candidacy for the position of president, states the WSJ article. When exposed to Bulgarian media she first lied about meeting the Russian negotiator, then when she was faced with the facts, stated that nothing important had been discussed at the meeting. Radev was elected president soon after these events which unfolded in the summer of 2016.

Then we have an attempt of the new president to legislate by introducing a draft law which almost verbatim repeated the anti-religious bills of 2016. One may even argue that under Art. 103 of the Bulgarian Constitution Radev has violated his constitutional duties by acting as a legislative agent.

Posted May 6, 2016

Robert ClarkeAlliance Defending Freedom's Robert E. Clarke serves as legal counsel and director of European advocacy for ADF International at its office in Vienna, Austria. Mr. Clarke has recently posted an article addressing the precarious situation of freedom of religion and the threat to a free and democratic society in Bulgaria. Here is the opening of the piece:

The communist regimes of the twentieth century were renowned for the restrictions they placed on religious freedom. Many churches and religious believers were driven underground as the state tightened its grip on people’s fundamental freedoms. Recent developments in Bulgaria demonstrate that these days are not entirely behind us. Some members of Bulgaria’s Parliament have made moves to exert state control over people’s religious freedom once again. 

The full article can be read here:

Bulgaria dragged back to communist era

A post referring to the commentary and the Bulgaria predicament also appears in the Italian website ACI Prensa.