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1112. Refusal to Proclaim ''Churches and Congregations Act''

I refuse to proclaim ''Churches and Congregations Act'', passed in the Riigikogu on June 13, 2001. Subsection 3 of Section 14 of the above Act is contrary to Sections 9, 11, 19, 40, and 48 of the Constitution.

The purpose of the passed law is to provide the procedures for joining churches, congregations, unions of congregations, convents and religious societies and the regulation of their activities for exercising freedom of religion guaranteed to everybody by the Constitution (Section 1). Sections 2 and 4 of the Act provide that all religious unions are to be entered into the register of non-profit organisations and foundations.

Subsection 3 of Section 14 of the passed law constitutes an intrusion to the sphere of autonomy of religious unions. Subsection 3 of Section 14 establishes that ''The registrar shall not enter to the registry a church or a union of congregations whose permanent or temporary administrative or economic management is performed or whose decisions are approved by a leader or a higher institution of that church or union of congregations, which is situated outside Estonia.'' The autonomy of religious unions belongs to the category of collective freedom of religion, which is mainly protected by Sections 40 and 48, Subsection 1 of Section 19, and Subsection 2 of Section 9 of the Constitution.

The restriction of the autonomy of religious unions, like the restriction of all basic rights and freedoms shall according to Section 11 of the Constitution be in accordance with the Constitution, be necessary in a democratic society and not distort the nature of the rights and freedoms restricted. According to the position of the Council of Churches, the respective provision of the Churches and Congregations Act affects several religious unions that have tradition of activity in Estonia, and may also prevent their legal entry into register. Nor was the respective restriction included in the ''Churches and Congregations Act'' (Riigi Teataja I 1993, 30, 510), which was passed in 1993. No reasons for including the restriction provided in Subsection 3 of Section 14 in the new law are apparent.

Among other things, the autonomy of religious unions means also the right of self-administration in accordance with religious precepts and religious law. As a rule, churches have a strictly hierarchical structure and to violate this structure would mean to considerably change the nature of religious unions, and thus it can be said that it would also distort the nature of collective freedom of religion.

According to Section 48 of the Constitution, everyone has the right to form non-profit undertakings and unions. This right also covers the right to assemble into religious unions. The freedom of association, also for the purpose of Articles 9 and 11 of the ''Convention on Human Rights and Basic Freedoms'' (Riigi Teataja II 2000, 11,57) is directly connected with the registration of religious unions and their right to acquire the status of a legal entity. Restrictions of the freedom of association must not just be prescribed by law, but also necessary in a democratic society, i.e. any restrictions must be subjected to the principle of proportionality.

Proceeding from the above, I consider it necessary to return the ''Churches and Congregations Act'', passed in the Riigikogu on June 13, 2001, to the Riigikogu for a new debate and decision to bring it into conformity with the Constitution of the Republic of Estonia.

Basis: Section 107 of the Constitution of the Republic of Estonia.

Lennart Meri


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