Greece's Churches Divided over ID Cards

Article excerpt

Leaders of minority churches in Greece have expressed support for a government proposal to scrap the obligatory indication of religious affiliation on citizens' identity cards. However, the proposed reform is vigorously opposed by the (Orthodox) Church of Greece and by many politicians, and may well prove unpopular with many Greeks. A spokeswoman for the Church of Greece in Athens maintained that belonging to that church is "part of being Greek."

Disagreement over this bureaucratic matter is symbolic of the poor state of ecumenical relations in Greece. Said Antoni Koulouris, secretary-general of the Greek Reformed Church, a small Protestant denomination that wants religious affiliation removed from the cards: "This old-fashioned provision has caused serious problems, and should be discontinued. Our state may be liberal in certain senses. But there's always a danger that an official who sees that you are not Greek Orthodox will react unfairly against you and raise questions about your nationality."

Koulouris was commenting on recent calls for the reform by the center-left government of Costas Simitis, whose Socialist Party (PASOK) was returned to power in elections in June. After the election, Greece's justice minister, Michalis Stathopoulos, criticized what he described as the "exaggerated protection" enjoyed by the Orthodox Church. Article 3 of the Greek constitution declares that Orthodoxy is the "dominant religion" and prohibits Bible translations into Greek without prior consent from the Orthodox Church. …