Committee: 3rd Committee of the General Assembly (SOCHUM)
Topic Area A: The right to religion and religious manifestation
Religion is an important ingredient of personal and social identity. This indisputably significant and, at the same time, fragile right enhances faith-based service and help people define, among others, their role in society and the meaning of their existence. It is linked to economical development and prosperity and, as the International Religious Freedom Report for 2011 states, countries whose constitution protects religious freedom are the most stable. Unfortunately, as the 2012 International Religious Freedom Report documents, the provisions of these legal instruments are far from being implemented in many countries. Recent statistics of the Pew research Centre?s Forum of Religion and Public Life indicate that a substantial portion of the world?s population lives in countries with restrictions of free practice of faith.
The 1991 Constitution of Bulgaria proclaims religious freedom as in Article 13, part 1 of its constitution is explicitly underlined that the practicing of any religion is free. It provides for the separation of the religious institutions from the state (Article 13, part 2) and obliges the state to encourage the maintenance of tolerance and respect between the churches, as well as between believers and non-believers. (Article 37, part 1). It also provides for restrictions of freedom of conscience and religion. Thus, it prohibits ?the use of religion for political purposes? (Article 13.4) and formation of political parties along religious lines (Article 11.4) ensuring that there will not be any exploitation of religious problems for political purposes. ?There shall be no political parties on ethnic, racial or religious lines, nor parties which seek the violent seizure of state power?.
It also provides for restrictions of manifestations of the freedom of religion. Most of these restrictions are the same as in international law, i.e. public order, health and morals, rights and freedoms of others, with the notable exception of ?national security? (Article 37.2) In the article it is stated that ?the freedom of conscience and religion shall not be practiced to the detriment of national security, public order, public health and morals, or of the rights and freedoms of others.?
In addition to the above provisions the Constitution designates that ?the eastern Orthodox Christianity shall be considered the traditional religion in the Republic of Bulgaria? (Article 13.3) and according to the 2002 Denominations Act it is established as a legal entity and is exempted from court registration which is mandatory for all other religious groups that wish to acquire national legal recognition. It should be mentioned at this point that 85% of the population identifies itself as Orthodox Christians and that Muslims comprise the largest minority, estimated at 13%. Groups that in total constitute less than 5% of the population include Catholics, Armenian Christians, Jews, Evangelical Protestants, and others. In order to receive national legal recognition, denominations must apply for official court registration, which is generally granted. The State budget allocates money for registered religious groups.
With reference to education, public schools at all levels offer an optional religious education course that covers Christianity and Islam. The course examines the historical, philosophical, and cultural aspects of religion and introduces students to the moral values of different religious groups. All officially registered groups can request that their religious beliefs be included in the course?s curriculum. In March 2009 the government approved amendments to the law on education introducing a ban on wearing religious symbols (the Muslim headdress and other religious symbols in schools).
The government also does not permit religious headdresses in official photos for national identity documents.
Since the right to religion is so fundamental to people and their societies, its restriction or prohibition has led to innumerable conflicts with tragic results. To avoid this, Bulgaria strongly believes that all state members of the United Nations should cooperate towards ensuring that principles which protect and promote religious liberty are accepted and adopted by all countries around the world. We should make sure that all people can enjoy free practice of their faith without discrimination.