The European Court sides with Romuva

STRASBOURG — The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has ruled that Lithuania violated Romuva’s human rights by not recognizing the religion. Romuva is the reconstructed and revived indigenous faith of Lithuania. Romuva officially registered in Lithuania in 1992.

Coat of arms of the Seimas of Lithuania

On June 27, 2019, 31 lawmakers from the Seimas, the Lithuanian Parliament, voted against recognizing Romuva. While 40 lawmakers voted in favor of recognition, 31 lawmakers voted against recognizing Romuva, 15 of whom abstained, causing the vote to fall short of the necessary majority.

Initially, reports from Vilnius suggested Romuva would be welcomed as a recognized religion with 46 Seimas members voting in favour. However, just hours before the final and likely positive vote, Catholic Archbishop Gintaras Grušas voiced his opposition to Romuva’s recognition, prompting a conservative backlash.

Recognition of Romuva by the Lithuanian state would grant the group various legal rights, including the ability to receive property tax credits, operate as a charity, provide social insurance coverage to its clergy, and to obtain legal recognition of marriages performed by its clergy. They would also get the right to airtime from national broadcasters to present religious services.

At the time, Inija Trinkūnienė, high priestess of the Romuva community, said: “We regret that this happened because we meet all the conditions required by law to be recognized by the state as a religious community, and we believe that the Seimas violates [our] human rights in this way.

Trinkūnienė added that the Romuva community would reconsider their options and likely appeal to the ECHR.

Romuva Flag – Image Credit: DiegoAma – WikiCommons

Yesterday’s decision of the ECHR puts an end to the appeal procedure.

In a unanimous decision, the panel of seven judges of the ECHR “concluded that the State authorities failed to provide a reasonable and objective explanation as to why the applicant community was treated differently from other communities nuns in a similar situation.

In a 35-page opinion, the ECHR notes that “[T]The Seimas refused to grant the status, saying that “the members of the Seimas had not relied on the conclusions of the competent authorities, but had based their decision on their own religious convictions and political interests: they had invoked the alleged threat of the applicant association against Christianity, cited the arguments presented by the Lithuanian Bishops’ Conference in its letter to the members of the Seimas and made baseless allegations that the applicant association had links with the Kremlin.

The Court also rejected arguments regarding “the majority of Lithuanians being Catholic, the historical importance of Christianity in Lithuania and the impact that granting state recognition to a pagan religious association could have on relations between Lithuania with “the Christian world”… [and] good relations with the Catholic Church.

The Court added:[T]The contested decision could also have been influenced by the desire of certain members of the Seimas to exercise political revenge against one of the leaders of the coalition in power at the time, considered to be favorable to the faith of the applicant association.

The ECHR pointed out that “it has also emphasized that the existence of a majority or of a historically predominant religion cannot justify discrimination against minority religious groups…. the Court cannot accept that the existence of a religion to which the majority of the population adheres, or any alleged tension between the applicant association and the majority religion, or the opposition of an authority of this religion, can constitute an objective and reasonable justification for having refused State recognition to the applicant association.

The ECHR wrote that “State authorities have provided no reasonable and objective justification for treating the applicant association differently from other religious organisations.
associations.” The Court concluded that “the members of the Seimas who voted against the granting of state recognition failed to remain neutral and impartial in the exercise of their regulatory powers”.

The Court has repeatedly stressed that “genuine religious pluralism is vital for the survival of a democratic society”.

The Romuva community did not seek damages before the ECHR. Trinkūnienė said the lawsuit was never intended to obtain material compensation, but rather to encourage politicians to change legislation and treat religions equally before the law.

Andras Corban-Arthen, President of the European Congress of Ethnic Religions (ECER) and Vice President of the Parliament of World Religions, said The Wild Hunt that Romuva is a founding member of ECER.

Corban-Arthen said: “Today’s ruling from the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in support of Romuva’s claim was highly anticipated, and it was very gratifying to see the analysis thoroughness of the brief, the respect and consideration given to Romuva and, above all, the unanimous response of the Court.”

Corban-Arthen found the ECHR’s much-anticipated statement both welcome and unexpected. He also welcomed the Court’s thorough analysis of the situation, the respect it showed to the Romuva community and the way the Court forcefully addressed the obvious intervention of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference. on the vote in the Seimas and noted that the mere presence of a religious majority cannot infringe on the rights of minority faiths.

Singer Vėtra Trinkūnaitė reacted:

A great mark of shame and huge discrimination of human rights and religion from the Lithuanian government – with strong pressure from the Catholic Church, the parliament voted not to recognize Romuva as a ‘non-religion’. recognized tradition” (even if Romuva fulfilled all the conditions to be recognized). Isn’t it ironic that a religion based on ancient Lithuanian traditions is not recognized in its own country? Romuva is growing very quickly, and it is a threat to some individuals and organizations.

I’m proud to be a daughter of the founders of Romuva and I want the people of Romuva (and the people who support Romuva’s work) to be more active in expressing their beliefs and support.

via Vėtra Trinkūnaitė [Facebook]

After consulting the members of the Lithuanian board of directors, the ECER issued a statement this morning which read, inter alia: “The decision of the Seimas, under the strong pressure of the Roman Catholic Church, not only represents a flagrant violation of the Lithuanian Constitution, but also contravenes important treaties and agreements such as the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of the United Nations.

It’s unclear what will happen next and the Saiemas are yet to respond.

Nevertheless, the victory at the ECHR will resonate. “This was the most significant step to date in Romuva’s long-standing efforts to gain official government recognition as a religion,” Corban-Arthen said.

Romuva is still small with less than ten thousand adherents in Lithuania but it is a growing faith. The previous census in 2011 saw it increase fivefold and a new census is planned for this year. Some reports suggest that new data will see ten times more adherents.

Corban-Arthen noted, “This could set a precedent for other European Pagan groups who may want to challenge in court similar oppositional efforts by mainstream churches in their country.”