Church-State Relations and the Legal Status of Religious Communities in Slovenia

Article excerpt

I. INTRODUCTION

Although religious freedom in the Republic of Slovenia is protected under the Constitution of 1991, the doctrines defining the contours of the church-state relationship are still developing. The legislature and courts have taken various approaches in defining this relationship-at times they apply principles of strict government neutrality, and at other times, they provide more room for church-state cooperation in achieving common social goals. This Article provides a survey of religious freedom in Slovenia and emphasizes the potential for church-state cooperation. Beginning with a brief history of the church-state relationship in Slovenia, this Article focuses on the current constitutional and statutory provisions affecting religious communities and reviews modern trends in church-state cooperation in Slovenia. Since its emergence from the oppressive Communist era, Slovenian law has tended to rely on concepts of strict neutrality in defining the church-state relationship. However, as Slovenia continues to redefine its position in the area of religious freedom, it should adopt the more modern approach of elevating religious freedom over mere toleration by allowing the State to maintain a cooperative relationship with religious communities that recognizes the beneficial social function that religions fulfill.

II. HISTORICAL AND SOCIOLOGICAL OVERVIEW

The Roman Catholic Church has traditionally occupied a special position in Slovenia. Based on its long-standing influence in the region and the number of its adherents, Catholicism may legitimately be termed the national religion of Slovenia.1 As such, the development of the Church's relationship vis-à-vis the State reflects, in many respects, the trends of church-state relations generally in Slovenia.

Under the Habsburg Empire, of which Slovenia was a part, the Roman Catholic Church was the state church for centuries.2 By the end of the eighteenth century, the State had become secularized,3 but the Church retained a special influence over secular politics which continued until World War II4 when, with the emergence of the Socialist Federative Republic of Yugoslavia (SFRY), a Communist regime, the Church was heavily persecuted by the State.5 Ironically, despite the SFRY's declared principle of the separation of church and state, the Catholic Church in Slovenia was actually under strict state control during the period between 1945 and 1990.6 The legal status and actual position of religious communities in the SFRY were not solely determined by generally known and published legal rules. They were primarily determined-especially in the case of the Roman Catholic Church-by strictly confidential legal rules which, together with other confidential regulations, formed a parallel secret legal system.7 These secret internal rules were established with the view that the Catholic Church was a "permanent internal enemy," which has "opened an ideological confrontation with the then sociopolitical conceptions."8 These rules sought to limit the social influence of the Church. For example, between World War II and 1991, religious communities were forbidden to engage in "activities of a general or social significance,"9 including educational activities.10 In 1945, the government prohibited the operation of any kind of private schools, and many private schools that operated before this time were nationalized.11 Religious communities could establish only religious schools to educate priests, and diplomas from these religious schools were not publicly recognized.12 As a result, the atheism prescribed by Marxism was the privileged belief in Slovenia for almost half a century and was encouraged throughout the educational system.13 Relations between the Church and State did not improve until the Holy See and Yugoslavia reestablished diplomatic relations in 1966.14 But even after 1970, although free profession of religion was constitutionally guaranteed, the Catholic Church and other religions were not allowed to appear in public life. …