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Venice Commission gives positive opinion on Draft Law on Freedom of Religion

Venice Commission gives positive opinion on Draft Law on Freedom of Religion
Published date: 21.06.2019 17:43 | Author: PR Service

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PR ServiceThe Venice Commission adopted, at today's plenary session in Venice, a positive opinion on the Draft Law on Freedom of Religion or Belief and Legal Status of Religious Communities, finding that the proposed legal text “brings important positive changes to the existing, out-dated legislation”.

In its opinion, the Venice Commission welcomes “the genuine efforts of the Montenegrin authorities” to replace the out-dated 1977 Law on Legal Position of Religious Communities. Furthermore, the Venice Commission welcomes the approach of the draft law to guarantee not only the freedom of religion, but also the freedom of non-religious beliefs, while commending the liberal approach taken in the provisions that prescribe the registration procedure for religious communities, safeguard their autonomy and guarantee the rights to religious teaching and establishment of religious schools. 

The Opinion also welcomes the legal approach not to prescribe the registration of religious communities as compulsory. “The approach taken by the draft law and the authorities is welcome. In addition, the Venice Commission stresses that the voluntary character of registration does not mean that religious communities may operate outside the legal system. In modern democracies, the constitutional limits to the state power over religious communities cannot be considered as a barrier to the assertion of the authority of the democratic state. Religious communities are not situated above or outside the national legal order: they have their place – although a special one, safeguarded and protected by specific fundamental rights - within that order,” the document reads.

Referring to the issue of property of religious communities, the Venice Commission notes: “Concerning the important issue of the properties of religious communities, the Venice Commission understands the concern of the Montenegrin authorities with regard to bringing legal certainty and addressing the issue of possible illegal/abusive registration in the name of religious communities in 1990s of a number of religious immovable properties which may be part of the cultural heritage of Montenegro. This is all the more so, because the state – according to Article 78 of the Constitution - has the duty to protect natural and cultural heritage of the country. The Venice Commission welcomes in this respect that the solutions proposed in this draft law rely on long-standing legal principles of the Montenegrin legal order, and are not based on ad hoc rules, specific for this situation.”

In the Opinion, the Venice Commission has supported the Government's key objective for the Draft Law to guarantee to every citizen of Montenegro the freedom to be, or not to be, a believer of any religion, on their own free will, while affirming the right of the state to protect the property and cultural heritage that belongs to all citizens and to ensure that the laws of Montenegro apply equally to all, on the entire territory of the country.

The Montenegrin Government delegation, which participated in the work of the plenary session of the Venice Commission, headed by Minister of Human and Minority Rights Mehmed Zenka, thanked the Venice Commission for their expert opinion, while stating that all the suggestions and recommendations for further improvement and clarification of certain legal provisions will be carefully considered and incorporated in the final text of the Draft Law which will be sent to the Parliament for consideration and adoption.