… on the side of religious freedom in Bulgaria. (Should I have warned you to sit down before reading that?)
The ADF press release linked above reads:
STRASBOURG, France — A dissenting synod of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church that had its legal personality stripped and its property seized by the socialist government of Bulgaria has won a decisive victory at the European Court of Human Rights. Alliance Defense Fund allied attorney Latcho Popov argued that the Bulgarian government violated the European Convention of Human Rights in its treatment of the synod.
“The church should remain free of government coercion and control,” said ADF Legal Counsel Roger Kiska, who performed most of the work on the case while serving at the European Centre for Law and Justice before recently joining ADF. “The Bulgarian government vastly overstepped its bounds in stripping the synod of its legal identity, seizing its property, and handing it over to a synod of which the government approves. We are pleased with the ruling of the ECHR, which respects the alternative synod’s freedom and independence.”|
“This victory is crucial for the American church as well,” explained ADF Chief Counsel Benjamin Bull. “Bad precedents set in other parts of the world too often find their way here. A positive decision this significant underscores the vital importance of the church operating independently of state coercion and control. When the church is not free and independent, uncompromised teaching is replaced by whatever ‘politically correct’ messages the government wants.”
Kiska explained that many governments throughout history have used the church to gain power by suppressing the free exercise of denominations that compete with a state-sanctioned church that provides very little, if any, criticism of the government.
More than 80 percent of Bulgarians identify themselves as Bulgarian Orthodox. Fifteen years ago, about 40 percent dissented from the Bulgarian Orthodox Church and its leader Patriarch Maxim, arguing that he was not validly elected under BOC canon law and that he was aligned too closely with the communist regime. They elected there [sic] own leadership and built a number of their own churches.
Five years ago, the new socialist-dominated government passed a law on religions that effectively stripped the dissenting synod of their legal personality and access to the legal system. The Bulgarian chief prosecutor issued a warrant demanding that all the synod’s properties be confiscated. In one evening, more than 100 churches were confiscated. They were kept under police control and eventually given to the state-approved Synod of Maxim.
Popov, director of the Rule of Law Institute, then filed an application to the ECHR on behalf of the dissenting synod, and the court ruled strongly in favor of the church’s religious freedom. Settlement negotiations in light of the court’s ruling are currently in progress.