Legal Aspects of Church-State Relations in Post-Revolutionary Georgia

Article excerpt

I. INTRODUCTION

Since gaining independence,1 Georgia has passed through many radical political and economic changes. Thus, Georgian society is accustomed to various reforms, particularly reforms in the legal field, as a part of ordinary life.2 However, despite this familiarity with reforming political, economic, and legal systems, the universally recognized values promoted by these reforms have not yet become deeply rooted in the mentality of Georgian citizens. Because these values have not been internalized, the actual enforcement of human rights protection remains in a very fragile state.3 A change in the current social attitude toward equality and respect for diversity is critical to the further development of democracy in the country.

Lacking maturity in civic awareness, Georgian society is showing symptoms of the so-called "snail syndrome." When a snail comes into contact with a strange environment, it hides in its shell and tries to protect itself from possible danger. Any unexpected confrontation with reality is necessarily associated with danger and the instinct of self-preservation kicks in.

This "snail syndrome" is a primitive feeling that is also characteristic of human nature-a trait that manifests itself at both the individual and collective level. In a modern society, this primitive instinct presents itself in cautious, guarded behavior and constant preparation to cope with any possible danger. While this reaction is understandable, especially when taking into account a growing feeling of insecurity in Georgia, it is possible, and perhaps even likely, that a society exhibiting "snail syndrome" will realize its self-preservation instinct at the expense of universally recognized human values. In many cases, the right to freedom of expression and the right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion are challenged within such a regime.

As part of the fight for self-preservation, a large portion of Georgian society tries to prevent the establishment of perceived potential dangers, such as Baptism, Catholicism, Lutheranism, and many other religious associations.4 This is an open affront to the right to freedom of religion and belief, but its deeper significance lies in the impact on the development of democracy and other reforms. Such actions of "self-preservation" also present an obstacle to raising civic awareness.

Some Georgians believe that the idea of freedom of religion and belief, together with other universally recognized values, contributes to the degeneration of national values.5 This supposed danger to the nation's values is most often spoken of by the individuals directly or indirectly opposing the right to freedom of religion or belief.6 These people have nothing against democracy unless it implies the recognition of, and respect for, the rights of different people united under a different sign. The classical content of democracy, however, includes a recognition and respect for the rights of others and does not allow for selective adherence to democratic values. A truly democratic society cannot accept physically or verbally aggressive treatment of its people on the basis of religion or belief-which has taken place to a great extent over the years in Georgia.7 From a legal standpoint, these aggressive acts represent a classic case of hate crimes motivated by religious bias,8 and religious extremism. A number of different conditions contribute to the spread of violence, including religious-based violence, such as the misunderstanding of universally recognized principles, the application of double standards to the implements of these values in every day life, the practice of shaping democracy to fit the local context, and the groundless fear of anything different.

This Article addresses the importance of properly understood and properly implemented reforms in the legal field and stresses the importance of filling the gaps in current Georgian church-state relations. …

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