Espreso. Global

National security concerns are legitimate basis for banning Russian Orthodox Church

30 October, 2023 Monday

Authors and supporters of government draft law No. 8371 face an uphill battle. The more they tout its advantages over our draft law No. 8221 ("On strengthening national security in religious freedom and the activities of religious organizations"), the less convincing their arguments become

Viktor Yelenskyi, head of the State Service for Ethnic Affairs and Freedom of Conscience (DESS), believes that national security should not restrict religious freedom. He argues that the European Convention on Human Rights allows limitations on religious freedom only in cases where there's a threat to the life and liberty of citizens. As a legislator, he aims to “select tools that minimize the impact on our citizens' freedom.”

In this case, the respected high-ranking official makes a mistake and inadvertently misleads others.

Yelenskyi knows the facts but ignores them

I've written many articles about why Ukraine should stop the Russian Orthodox Church's activities for national security reasons. I discussed this issue extensively in my film "Church without Christ," explaining the arguments supporting draft law No. 8221 and how it differs from the government's proposal.

Mr. Yelenskyi is familiar with these arguments, and he also remembers how we obtained autocephaly for the Orthodox Church of Ukraine. In the last parliamentary convocation, he worked hard to make this happen.

Viktor Yelenskyi understands everything, but for some unknown reason, he repeats the arguments of the previous leadership of DESS (State Service of Ukraine for Ethnic Policy and Freedom of Conscience), which openly supported the Russian Orthodox Church's interests. They believed that banning the Moscow church's activities wasn't in the interest of national security, although this is not true.

Mr. Yelenskyi is aware of the European Court of Human Rights decision in the case "St. Michael Parish v. Ukraine" (application No. 77703/01 of June 14, 2007), where the court reaffirmed the "general principles" it follows for religious freedom based on its previous rulings.

The convention's provisions should be considered together

In the case "St. Michael Parish v. Ukraine," decisions 112 and beyond outline the "General principles established by the practice of the ECHR." The first point emphasizes that "since religious communities are typically organized entities, Article 9 must be interpreted alongside Article 11 of the Convention (995_004)."

Article 9 of the Convention guarantees the right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion, stating that "everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion." This freedom is subject only to restrictions established by law and necessary in a democratic society for reasons such as public safety, protection of public order, health, morals, or the rights and freedoms of others.

Article 11 of the Convention deals with the freedom of assembly and association, which are crucial aspects for legal grounds governing the prohibition of religious associations. The first part states that everyone has the right to associate with other individuals freely. The second part clarifies that the exercise of these rights may be restricted only by laws that are necessary in a democratic society for reasons such as national or public security, prevention of disorder or crime, protection of health or morals, or the rights and freedoms of others.

A key difference between the lists of restrictions in Article 11 compared to Article 9 is the inclusion of the "national security" category. This is logical since the activities of certain religious associations may be prohibited in the interest of national security in democratic societies and states.

The Russian Orthodox Church is a religious association, as is a subordinate religious organization (association) known as the UOC MP.

Russian Orthodox Church is part of the Russian state machine

In a letter dated September 28 addressed to Mykyta Poturayev, the head of the Verkhovna Rada Committee on Humanitarian and Information Policy, Vasyl Malyuk, the head of the SBU (Security Service of Ukraine), reported that the SBU has received information regarding threats to Ukraine's national security. These threats primarily relate to religious freedom and the activities of religious organizations in the course of their official duties.

Based on this information, the SBU has concluded that “the Russian Orthodox Church's activities within Ukraine support Russian Federation's armed aggression, contribute to the Russian Federation's genocidal policies, and facilitate the deportation of Ukrainians. The Russian Orthodox Church is seen as closely aligned with the Russian state, with its leadership collaborating closely with state authorities and special services, effectively acting as government officials within the religious sphere and furthering Russian state policies through their available powers and influence.” 

This conclusion is expressed unambiguously, just as the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has done.

In line with European laws and ECHR judicial precedents, safeguarding national security and the interests of Ukrainian democratic society is grounds for restricting the activities of the Russian Orthodox Church within the country. Denying this reality is tantamount to jeopardizing national security.

About the author. Mykola Knyazhytskyi, journalist, People's Deputy of Ukraine

The editors do not always share the opinions expressed by the blog and column authors.

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