Georgian Christians rally against 'anti-Church' law

AFP , Monday 11 Jul 2011

Religious protests continue for the third day by Georgian Orthodox Christians after changes approved by parliament a week ago allowed religious minorities to seek legal status

Several hundred Georgian Orthodox Christians rallied for a third consecutive day on Monday against changes in the law allowing other religious faiths to claim legal status.

Religious protesters gathered outside the Georgian Patriarchate's headquarters in the capital to demand that the changes be reversed, after rallies at the weekend attracted several thousand believers.

"These amendments are a threat to Georgia's national identity," local television showed an unnamed priest telling the rally.

The changes approved by parliament last week allow minority religious groups to seek legal registration in the overwhelmingly Georgian Orthodox country which also has Muslim, Armenian Apostolic, Jewish, Roman Catholic and Protestant minorities.

Governing party lawmakers have said that believers of all faiths will now have equal rights, and the changes have been welcomed by the country's main international supporter the United States, and European rights watchdog the Council of Europe.

But the Patriarch -- who is arguably the single most respected person in the ex-Soviet state -- has warned of "negative consequences" for the government.
"The Holy Synod has called on the authorities not to grant other groups the same rights as the Orthodox Church under this amendment," local media reported Bishop Seraphime as saying after the Synod met to discuss the issue on Monday.

The Georgian Orthodox Church will however retain its special status guaranteed by a constitutional agreement with the state, granting it tax privileges.

Orthodox Christianity has undergone a major revival since Georgia's independence from the Soviet Union and the Church has become increasingly influential, wielding political as well as religious power.

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