Joint Statement of the Council of Religions under the Public Defender of Georgia and Non-governmental organizations about the State Agency of Religious Issues

In February 2014 the government of Georgia established the State Agency of Religious Issues. We consider that the mandate of the newly established Agency is challenging due to the following reasons:

• The government established the Agency and defined its mandate without having any consultations with the Council of Religions under the Public Defender’s auspices and respective non-governmental organizations working on religious freedom issues. Such consultations could contribute to better comprehend goals and authority of the Agency;

• Creation of centralized state institution on religious issues under the prime-minister, that is not a representative body, creates risks of arbitrary interference by the state in the autonomy of religious organizations;

• Goals and the authority of the agency do not fully reflect existing challenges related to the freedom of religion, equality and secularism in Georgia.

In view of the above-mentioned, we consider that questions related to the Agency, including advisability of its existence, also its strategy, goals and mandate require further public discussions and revision. In this regard it is very important to ensure participation of all religious organizations and other interested groups. However, in case the prime-minister decides to appoint the head of the Agency before such discussions, we think that for the legitimacy of the Agency it is of utmost importance to choose the relevant candidacy based on transparent consultations and consensus with religious organizations and other related actors.

The statement is signed by the following members of the Council of Religions under the auspices of the Public Defender of Georgia:
1. Evangelical-Lutheran Church
2. Evangelical-Baptist Church
3. Georgian Muslims Union
4. Evangelical Pentecostal Church
5. Seventh-day Adventist Church
6. Evangelical-Protestant Church
7. Holy Trinity Protestant Church
8. Evangelical Church
9. Word of Life Evangelical Church
10. Evangelical-Baptist Church Madli
11. The Salvation Army International Organization
12. Society for Krishna Consciousness
13. Evangelical Church Firm Foundation
14. Baha’i Community in Georgia
15. Swedenborgian Community
16. Evangelical Church People of God

Non-Governmental Organizations:
1. Human Rights Monitoring and Education Centre
2. Tolerance and Diversity Institute
3. Georgian Young Lawyers’ Association
4. Georgian Democracy Initiative
5. Media Development Foundation
6. Article 42 of the Constitution

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