Bratislava, Slovakia—UPF marked the 2017 World Interfaith Harmony Week by focusing on a new law that limits the rights of faith groups in Slovakia.
On January 31, 2017, the National Council of the Slovak Republic—the nation’s parliament—amended an existing law about the registration of religious bodies. The new law decrees that a faith needs to have a minimum of 50,000 adult members if it wishes to be recognized by the state. The number is disturbingly high, since Slovakia has only about 5 million inhabitants.
The new legislation is not only restrictive but also discriminatory: Only the Catholic Church and three other churches meet the required standard. New religions, and even established faiths like Islam, are prevented from taking root in the country.
Before the vote took place, UPF-Slovakia Secretary General Milos Klas had written to all members of parliament, appealing to them to protect religious freedom.
Because of the legal restraints, the Slovak branch of UPF decided to make religious discrimination the theme of this year’s World Interfaith Harmony Week. A panel discussion was held on Thursday, February 2, in a public hall in Bratislava, the national capital.
Panelists came from the Central European Interfaith Forum, the Department for Religious Studies, the Evangelical Theological Faculty and the Hare Krishna movement. There was also a member of parliament who had voted against the restrictions.
Among the audience of almost thirty persons there was also a top politician from the Christian Democratic Movement political party.
Part of the program was the appointment as Ambassadors for Peace of the nation’s leading couple of the Hare Krishna movement, who are frequent guests and speakers at UPF’s interfaith events.
The panel discussion lasted three hours—one hour longer than expected. All the guests really enjoyed the free discussion and the spirit of tolerance, despite some heated statements.
This was one of the few public events in the Slovak capital—if not the only one—about the dangers of religious discrimination through the new legislation.