US Department of State

US Department of State: Laws and policies Grant the Georgian Orthodox Church Privileges

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აშშ-ის სახელმწიფო დეპარტამენტი

The US Department of State published its International Religious Freedom Report for 2016 that analyzes the status of religious freedom in 199 countries worldwide. The report documents different violations committed by governments, terrorist groups and individuals.

US Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson presented the report. Tylerson's main emphasis was on ISIS’ brutal treatment of religious and ethnic minorities in the Middle East. The Secretary of State believes ISIS’ violent extremism is a root for crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing of minority groups.

Regarding religious freedom in Georgia, the report reads:

“The constitution provides for “complete freedom of religion,” separation of church and state, and equality for all regardless of religion. It prohibits persecution on the basis of religion.

Laws and policies grant the Georgian Orthodox Church (GOC) privileges not accorded to any other religious group, including legal immunity for the GOC Patriarch and a consultative role in education. During the year, the government investigated 19 cases involving alleged crimes committed on the basis of religious intolerance. Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and the Public Defender’s Office (PDO) reported a lack of effective investigations into crimes motivated by religious hatred remained a major problem. The government announced the opening of the first Muslim prayer house for members of the armed forces, but only the GOC continued to have chapels in prisons. Some NGOs and minority religious groups continued to report government resistance, at both the national and local level, to the construction of buildings for religious purposes by minority religious groups…

Religious organizations and NGOs criticized the State Agency on Religious Issues (SARI, also known as State Agency for Religious Affairs), which dispensed the government’s compensation for “the material and moral damages inflicted upon religious groups during the Soviet period” and functioned as its consultative body on religious property issues. NGOs and minority religious groups also expressed continued concern over what they said was favoritism towards the GOC in the restitution of buildings confiscated by the state in the Soviet era, and said the government continued inadequately to address acts of religious intolerance and discrimination in favor of the GOC in public schools...

There were reports of violence against religious minorities. Jehovah’s Witnesses reported 11 physical assaults on its members. Representatives of minority religious groups continued to report what they termed a widespread societal belief about minority religious groups posing a threat to the GOC and to the country’s cultural values. The NGO Media Development Foundation (MDF) documented at least 69 instances of religiously intolerant remarks in national media,” reads the report.

Based on the report, the U.S. Ambassador in Georgia and embassy officers regularly meet with government officials, including with the leadership of the State Agency on Religious Issues, the prime minister’s adviser for human rights and gender equality, and the president’s adviser for minority issues, to further foster dialogue between the government and minority religious groups.

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