The Religious Freedom and Legal Status of Churches, Religious Organizations, and New Religious Movements in the Slovak Republic
Dojcar, Martin, Brigham Young University Law Review
This article addresses the current state of legislation governing the relationship between the state and the churches, religious organizations, and new religious movements in the Slovak Republic. In addition, this article highlights the most common objections to the legal norms relating to the official registration of churches in Slovakia.
I. THE BASIC LEGAL PROTECTIONS OF RELIGIOUS LIBERTIES
Religious freedom in the Slovak Republic is guaranteed by the Constitution of the Slovak Republic,1 the constitutional Bill of Basic Rights and Freedoms,2 and the Law on Religious Freedom and the Legal Status of Churches and Religious Organizations.3 These statutes ensure the respect and protection of basic human rights and freedoms and lay out the fundamental conditions of church-state relations. At the same time, they act as an expression of the acceptance and observation of the international obligations and agreements on human rights and freedoms that the Slovak Republic has ratified, which take legal precedence over the Constitution and other laws or enactments of the Slovak Parliament.
The position of the Slovak Republic toward religious freedom, churches, and religious organizations is articulated in general terms in the Constitution of the Slovak Republic. The first article of the Slovak Constitution declares that Slovakia is an autonomous, democratic state, governed by the rule of law, with no ties to any particular ideology or religion.4 Article 24, section 1 of the Constitution of the Slovak Republic guarantees all citizens freedom of thought, conscience, religious affiliation, and faith, along with the right to change religious affiliations or faiths or to be without any religious affiliation whatsoever. Conscience, thought, religious affiliation, and religious faith are, by their very nature, "forum internum," inviolable, and therefore not subject to any legal restraints. Public expressions of thought, conscience, religious affiliation, or faith ("forum externum"), on the other hand, do not enjoy absolute freedom under the Constitution. Both Article 9, section 2 of the Agreement on the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Liberties and Article 24, section 4 of the Constitution of the Slovak Republic, constitutionally protecting and delineating rights of public expression, are subject to the requirements of our democratic society. In other words, the exercise of these rights may not promote conduct in violation of the Constitution, may not threaten or compromise public order and security, health or basic morals, abridge or limit the rights and freedoms of others, or threaten the independence or territorial integrity of the state.
A democratic state is obligated to prevent any violations of its interests or of the rights and freedoms of its citizens. The Slovak Constitution guarantees all citizens the right to freely associate and to organize themselves into various societies, clubs, or interest groups5 (Article 29), including, of course, religious societies or churches. Nevertheless, in an official resolution dated February 29, 1996, the European Parliament addressed the growing problem of sect activity in Europe and declared that violations of human rights can no longer be cloaked under the guise of religious freedom.6 Any democratic state must reserve the right to limit religious freedoms in the interest of protecting the above-mentioned values.
II. THE STATUS OF STATE-RECOGNIZED CHURCHES OR RELIGIOUS ORGANIZATIONS
The statutory scheme governing the legal status of religious organizations in Slovakia, as in a number of other countries, provides for the designation of state-recognized churches or religious organizations. According to the Slovak Law on Religious Freedom and the Legal Status of Churches and Religious Organizations,7 the state recognizes only those churches and religious organizations registered under this law. Although basic freedoms and liberties are guaranteed and equally granted both to members of registered and nonregistered religious organizations and religious organizations may freely operate regardless of whether or not they are registered, it should be noted that registration offers certain distinct advantages. …