WASHINGTON – A United States Helsinki Commission staff report released today expressed concern about the excessively burdensome membership requirements mandated under Slovakia’s religion law.
The Commission report describes the framework of the Slovak law and its impact on minority faiths. Under Slovak law, a religious group cannot qualify for government recognition unless it can show that it has at least 20,000 members. The report highlights that this threshold is the highest of any of the 55 OSCE participating States.
“Slovakia’s registration requirements are excessively restrictive,” said Commission Chairman Senator Sam Brownback (R-KS). “It’s not surprising that such a law has drawn international scrutiny.”
“I’m pleased that there has recently been discussion of this important issue in the Slovak press,” added Commission Co-Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ). “I hope this report will intensify the ongoing debate in Slovakia on the need to reform their religious registration laws.”
The report states, “The current registration regime, with its incredibly demanding requirement of 20,000 persons, effectively bars groups from obtaining registered status and is out of step with European norms and Slovakia’s OSCE commitments.” The report urges Slovakia to “amend the registration system and eliminate the numerical threshold.”
Slovak law prevents between 30 and 50 groups from obtaining registration. Currently, sixteen religious groups are officially recognized in Slovakia, but fourteen of those groups were exempted from the registration requirement when it was first enacted in 1991. Reportedly only five of those fourteen would actually be able to meet the 20,000-person threshold if required to do so today.
The report is available through the Helsinki Commission’s web site at www.csce.gov. The report is part of an ongoing series of reports examining laws and draft legislation affecting religious freedom in OSCE participating States.