Report Raises Criticism of Georgian State-Church Relation

A report from the Oslo Coalition finds that the Constitutional Agreement between the Georgian State and the Orthodox Church was in conflict with human rights. 

Voices criticism: The authors of the report analyses the Constitutional Agreement (2002) between the Georgian state and the Orthodox church. 

The report Georgian Constitutional Values versus Political and Financial Interest is now available online.

Professor T. Jeremy Gunn, from Université International de Rabat in Morocco, drafted the report in cooperation with Special Adviser Dag Nygaard from the Christian Council of Norway.

Through an analysis of the text of the Constitutional Agreement from 2002 between the Georgian State and the Georgian Apostolic (Orthodox) Church, the authors find that the Agreement was in conflict with Georgia's own deep-rooted constitutional values as well as international human rights standards articulated in treaties ratified by Georgia. 

Analyses the Constitutional Agreement

The purpose of the report is to analyze the Constitutional Agreement in the context of Georgia’s constitutional and domestic law as well as its international commitments regarding equality, human rights and the freedom of religion. ​

Highlights Human Rights Impact of State-Church Relation

The authours additionally hightlight that the decision to amend the Constitution in 2001 and to adopt the Constitutional Agreement in 2002 in favor of the Georgian Orthodox Church, took place at exactly the same time that numerous violent attacks were being perpetrated against religious minorities in the country, typically with the active collaboration of state and church officials. The Georgian state largely failed to bring the perpetrators to justice – most of whom committed their violent acts in what they saw as support for Georgian Orthodoxy – prompting some of the more courageous victims to bring cases to the European Court of Human Rights.

In the years following the adoption of the Constitutional Agreement in 2002, many distinguished outside observers of Georgia also have seen increasing evidence of discrimination and even intolerance directed toward religious minorities in the state.

Read an excerpt from the Report's concluding observations here:

Concluding Observations

In a clear contrast to the fundamental Georgian values of equality, tolerance, and fairness, the Constitutional Agreement of 2002 overtly discriminates in favor of the largest, richest, most influential, and most politically powerful religious institution in the country.

The privileged treatment provided by the Constitutional Agreement is inconsistent with these Georgian values, as well as human rights standards and the basic precepts of the Golden Rule.

The Georgian Orthodox Church can correctly claim that the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics and the Georgian Soviet Socialist Republic unconscionably and wrongly abused the church, illegitimately seized its property, deprived it of its religious freedom, and used its state power in attempts to manipulate societal attitudes against the church and religious believers. But the attempt to seek justice for its own favored cause does not justify denying to others their own claims to property and religious freedom.

Unfortunately, with only a few exceptions, the Georgian state is consciously aiding the most powerful religious institution in this country and discriminating against all others. This, of course, turns on its head Georgia’s human rights commitments, but also the teachings of the founder of Christianity.

Thus there is no focus on the teachings of Jesus, but on using religious nationalism to strengthen its position against others. The fact that the Georgian Orthodox Church used its political influence to prevent the adoption of the Concordat between the state and the Roman Catholic Church and that it (unsuccessfully) sought to prevent the adoption of the amendment to article 1509 of the Civil Code suggests that the Georgian Orthodox Church did not feel itself to be bound by Jesus’s Golden Rule and instead followed the same path of religious nationalism that can be seen in many places of the world, where religious nationalists seek to limit the political and civil rights of those who have different religious beliefs. 

Unfortunately, the official legal discrimination by the state that is reflected in the Constitutional Agreement of 2002 is repeated and reinforced in less transparent but equally troubling instances of official bias and troubling indifference to suppressing discrimination or promoting tolerance.

The Constitutional Agreement thus stands out not as an unfortunate exception to a general pattern, but rather exemplifies a concerted if unstated policy of active discrimination against religious and ethnic minorities in Georgia.

About the Report

This report was prepared under the auspices of the Oslo Coalition on Freedom of Religion or Belief, an international program based at the Norwegian Center for Human Rights, Faculty of Law, University of Oslo. It relies on an international network of representatives from religious and other life-stance communities, researchers, academic institutes, and concerned NGOs.

The Oslo Coalition has been engaged in activities promoting Freedom of Religion or Belief and equality in Georgia since 2004. Both international legal standards and the “Golden Rule” as ethical norm have been discussed in roundtable meetings with participants from the Georgian Orthodox Church as well as minority churches and religions in the country. This is the reason why the concluding chapter of the report also comprises a brief elaboration on the principle of “The Golden Rule.”

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By Tone Magni F. Vestheim
Published Mar. 10, 2016 5:54 PM - Last modified Dec. 8, 2016 5:29 PM