Year of the Constitution 2022
Titulinė skaidrė
Teismo sudėtis
Salė
Vytis
Lt Fr

Final acts

Content updated: 16-09-2021 15:59

The provision of the law under which religious associations may apply for state recognition following a period of 25 years from the date of their initial registration is not in conflict with the Constitution

07-09-2021

In its ruling adopted on 7 September 2021, the Constitutional Court held that the impugned provision “Religious associations may request state recognition following a period of not less than 25 years from the date of their initial registration in Lithuania” of Paragraph 2 of Article 6 of the Republic of Lithuania’s Law on Religious Communities and Associations is not in conflict with the Constitution.

The Constitutional Court not only examined the constitutionality of the provision of the above-mentioned law that establishes a time period of not less than 25 years from the date of the initial registration of a religious association in Lithuania, upon the expiry of which the said association acquires the right to apply for state recognition, but it also decided regarding the time period, established in the same paragraph of Article 6 of the above-mentioned law, upon the expiry of which other (non-traditional) religious associations may reapply for state recognition in cases where the Seimas has refused to grant them the status of a religious association recognised by the state. The Constitutional Court held that the provision “If the request is not satisfied, it may be resubmitted following a period of 10 years from the day on which the request was not satisfied” of Paragraph 2 of Article 6 of the above-mentioned law is in conflict with the Constitution.

In the ruling, the Constitutional Court stressed that the right, consolidated in Paragraph 1 of Article 43 of the Constitution, for other churches and religious organisations, which are not traditional in Lithuania, to obtain the status of a state-recognised religious association provided that they meet the criteria set out in the Constitution is a necessary element of pluralistic democracy, an inseparable part of which is religious pluralism, guaranteeing the diversity of religions and beliefs and the coexistence and representation of different religious communities in society.

The Constitutional Court also emphasised that, when deciding on the granting of state recognition to a church or religious organisation, it is necessary to take into account whether, due to, among other things, certain historical or other significant circumstances prevailing in the state during the respective period, there was the possibility for churches and religious organisations to establish themselves and lawfully function, thus ensuring the constitutional right of a person to freely choose any religion or belief. According to the Constitutional Court, under the Constitution, in cases of decision making on granting state recognition to a certain church or religious organisation, it is not allowed to establish, by means of a law, such a legal regulation whereby the preconditions would be created for excessively restricting, unreasonably burdening, or even denying the right, guaranteed under Paragraph 1 of Article 43 of the Constitution, to those churches and religious organisations that, as required by the Constitution, have support in society and whose teaching and practices are not in conflict with the law and morals, to be distinguished from other churches and religious organisations that are not traditional, by granting them a special status – by establishing that they are churches and religious organisations recognised by the state; among other things, it is not allowed to establish an excessively long time period for a religious organisation to acquire the right to apply for state recognition; in addition, it is not allowed to establish an excessively complicated and lengthy procedure for obtaining the status of a state-recognised religious organisation.

The Constitutional Court noted that making the provision, in the impugned Paragraph 2 of Article 6 of the Law on Religious Communities and Associations, for a time period of not less than 25 years from the date of the initial registration of a religious association in Lithuania (considered as having occurred if the religious association had lawfully functioned (had been registered) in Lithuania after 16 February 1918), upon the expiry of which the said association acquires the right to apply for state recognition, does not guarantee that, upon the expiry of the said time period, a religious association that is not traditional and does not have the status of a state-recognised religious association will be recognised by the state. Thus, the Constitutional Court also noted that the above-mentioned time period of not less than 25 years, as established by the impugned legal regulation laid down in Paragraph 2 of Article 6 of the Law on Religious Communities and Associations, is not one of the conditions for granting state recognition to a religious association (namely, to have support in society and to ensure that the teaching and practices of that church or religious association are not in conflict with the law and morals) and may not be identified with them. This time period, as held in the ruling, is only a precondition for instituting the procedure for granting state recognition.

In addition, according to the Constitutional Court, the legal regulation laid down in Paragraph 2 of Article 6 of the Law on Religious Communities and Associations creates the preconditions allowing to seek state recognition also by those religious organisations that, due to historical circumstances resulting in Lithuania from the aggression carried out on 15 June 1940 by the USSR against the Republic of Lithuania and the occupation of the territory of the Republic of Lithuania, when, among others, the constitutional right of a person to freely choose any religion or belief, to perform religious ceremonies, and to practice his/her religious belief was not ensured, could not establish themselves and lawfully function and could do so only after Lithuania restored its Independence. If it were required to establish, by means of a law, a longer time period, such as the one counted in hundreds of years, following the initial registration of a religious association in Lithuania in cases where the said association seeks state recognition, according to the Constitutional Court, some religious associations, among others, those that could function unregistered, would not be able to exercise the right, guaranteed by the Constitution to churches and religious organisations that are not traditional in Lithuania, to be distinguished from other churches and religious organisations that are not traditional, by granting them a special status – by establishing that they are churches and religious organisations recognised by the state, even if they meet the criteria set out in the Constitution, among others, in Article 43 thereof, for obtaining the status of a state-recognised religious organisation, i.e. even if they have support in society and their teaching and practices are not in conflict with the law and morals. Thus, a legal regulation would be introduced whereby the impossible would be required, which is prohibited under the Constitution.

Therefore, the Constitutional Court ruled that there are no constitutional arguments for stating that, in exercising its discretion to decide on granting the status of a state-recognised religious association, the Seimas was not allowed, in Paragraph 2 of Article 6 of the Law on Religious Communities and Associations, to establish such a requirement for instituting the procedure for granting state recognition to a religious association whereby it is required that a certain number of years (i.e. not less than 25 years) would have passed since the initial registration of a religious association in Lithuania in cases where the said association seeks state recognition. Thus, the Constitutional Court concluded that the impugned legal regulation, laid down in Paragraph 2 of Article 6 of the Law on Religious Communities and Associations, did not violate Paragraph 1 of Article 43 of the Constitution, under which it is not allowed to establish an excessively long time period for a religious organisation to acquire the right to apply for state recognition.

The Constitutional Court has held on more than one occasion that, after the Constitutional Court establishes that an impugned legal regulation is unconstitutional from the aspect other than that specified by the petitioner, the Constitutional Court must state that, from the said aspect not specified by the petitioner, such a legal regulation is in conflict with the Constitution. The implementation of constitutional justice implies that a legal act (part thereof) that is in conflict with the Constitution must be removed from the legal system.

Having regard to this and having determined that, the Law on Religious Communities and Associations does not prescribe as to when the Seimas, in the exercise of its discretion to decide on granting state recognition to a certain religious association, must take the respective decision to grant or refuse the status of a state-recognised religious association, as well as having determined that the procedure for granting state recognition to a religious association may take a long time, the Constitutional Court held in the ruling that the legal regulation laid down in Paragraph 2 of Article 6 of the above-mentioned law, according to which, if the request of a religious association to grant it the status of a state-recognised religious association is not satisfied, it may reapply for state recognition only following a period of 10 years from the day on which the request was not satisfied, creates the preconditions for excessively restricting or unreasonably burdening the right, guaranteed under Paragraph 1 of Article 43 of the Constitution, to those churches and religious organisations that, as required by the Constitution, have (or over time acquire) support in society and whose teaching and practices are not in conflict with the law and morals, to be distinguished from other churches and religious organisations that are not traditional, by granting them a special status, as the duration of the procedure for obtaining the status of a state-recognised religious organisation becomes particularly lengthy. Therefore, the Constitutional Court concluded that the provision “If the request is not satisfied, it may be resubmitted following a period of 10 years from the day on which the request was not satisfied” of Paragraph 2 of Article 6 of the Law on Religious Communities and Associations is not constitutionally justifiable and is in conflict with the Constitution.