Arab Today, arab today faith law sparks religious row in georgia
Last Updated : GMT 04:54:47
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Faith law sparks religious row in Georgia

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Arab Today, arab today Faith law sparks religious row in Georgia

Tbilisi - AFP

The powerful Georgian Orthodox Church strongly criticised the country\'s pro-Western government on Wednesday after a new law allowing minority faiths to claim legal status infuriated some believers. The Georgian Patriarch the single most respected person in the ex-Soviet state issued a statement saying that the legislation \"contradicts the interests of the Church and of the country\". \"We believe that there will be negative consequences in the near future and the authorities will bear responsibility for that,\" the statement published on the Patriarch\'s website said. The new law, which was approved by parliament on Tuesday, allows other religious groups to be legally registered in the overwhelmingly Orthodox country which also has Muslim, Armenian Apostolic, Jewish, Greek Orthodox, Roman Catholic and Protestant minorities. \"Georgia is a multi-ethnic and multi-confessional country and every citizen of this country, regardless of what religion he belongs to, must have equal rights,\" senior governing party lawmaker Nugzar Tsiklauri told AFP. But he said that the Georgian Orthodox Church would retain its special status which is guaranteed by a constitutional agreement with the state. The agreement grants tax privileges to the Church, which also receives state funding. Orthodox Christianity has undergone a major revival since Georgia\'s independence from the Soviet Union and the Church has become increasingly influential in everyday life. Some minorities have alleged religious discrimination, although international rights reports have suggested that violations have decreased under the current government. Georgia\'s Evangelical-Baptist Church welcomed the new legislation. \"Different religious groups existing in Georgia have been demanding for many years to have the right to register,\" Bishop Rusudan Gotsiridze told local media. But opposition parties said that such a sensitive issue needed wider public discussion and called on President Mikheil Saakashvili to veto the law. The opposition Christian-Democratic Movement party described it as a \"very dangerous step\", vowing to launch a campaign for the Church\'s status to be upgraded and for Orthodox Christianity to be declared the country\'s official religion. A small group of protesters gathered outside a church near parliament in the centre of Tbilisi to express their anger. \"This law could provoke confrontation on religious grounds in Georgia. We demand a presidential veto,\" one of them, Shota Glurjidze, told AFP. The Patriarchate seen by many people in the country as above any criticism wields political as well as ecumenical power. It has intervened in recent years to end an anti-government hunger strike and to ensure that a television series that displeased it was taken off the air.

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