Freedom of religion in Georgia
|This article is outdated. (May 2010)|
|Freedom of religion|
The government generally do not interfere with traditional religious groups; however, there is growing suspicion of non-traditional religious groups.
Legal and policy framework 
The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the Government respects this right in practice. The Constitution recognizes the special role of the Georgian Orthodox Church in the country's history, but also stipulates the independence of the Church from the State.
There are no laws regarding the registration of religious organizations. Religious groups that perform Humanitarian service may be registered as charitable organizations, although religious and other organizations may perform Humanitarian service without registration.
During the Soviet era, the Georgian Orthodox Church largely was suppressed, as were many other religious institutions; many churches were destroyed or turned into museums, concert halls, and other secular establishments. As a result of new policies regarding religion implemented by the Soviet Government in the late 1980s, the present Patriarch began reconsecrating churches formerly closed throughout the country. The Church remains very active in the restoration of these religious facilities and lobbies the Government for the return of properties that were held by the Church before the Bolshevik Revolution. (Church authorities have claimed that 20 to 30% of the land at one time belonged to the Church.)
On March 30, 2001, Parliament amended the Constitution to allow for ultimate adoption of a concordat between the Church and the State, supported by the Church, which would define relations between the two. While a final concordat draft had not been completed by mid-2001, earlier versions covered several controversial topics, including transfer to the Church of ownership of church treasures expropriated during the Soviet period and currently held in state museums and repositories; government compensation to the Church for moral and material damage inflicted by the Soviets; and government assistance in establishing after-school Orthodox religious courses in educational institutions and Orthodox chaplaincies in the military and in prisons. The prospect of such a concordat has raised concerns among nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) that believe that it would discriminate against religious minorities. However, parliamentary leaders have indicated that prior to adoption, the final concordat draft will be sent to the Council of Europe, European Parliament, and European Union for informal expert analysis, to ensure that it accords with European norms and the country's international legal obligations. the Georgian government being under pressure from Orthodox Church refused to sign an other agreement between the Vatican and the Georgian government over envisaging guarantees of religious freedom and legal rights for Catholics in Georgia. In September 2003, former Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze made a last minute decision not to sign this agreement with the Vatican after a protest rally took place in Tbilisi, provoked from and backed by the Georgian Orthodox Church. As a result, Archbishop Jean-Louis Tauran, then Secretary for the Holy See's Relations with Foreign States, who arrived in Tbilisi to sign this agreement, had to leave Georgia empty-handed.
Censorship in the media 
A controversy arose in January 2009 over a Georgian Public Broadcaster (GPB) television program, Sakartvelos Didi Ateuli (საქართველოს დიდი ათეული; "Best Georgians" or "Great Ten Georgians") — a show which invited viewers to pick Georgia's top historical personages through polling by telephone, text messaging, and the Internet. Officials of the Georgian Orthodox Church publicly objected to the inclusion of both religious and secular figures in the competition (the January 2009 short list of 50 candidates included 13 saints), as well as to the idea of having viewers put saints in rank order. The issue may have been compounded by the general practice within Orthodox Christianity of recognizing many monarchs and other prominent secular individuals as being saints.
On January 16, the regular airing of Didi Ateuli was replaced by a debate between church representatives, their supporters, and opponents of the church's position. During the show, the chairman of the GPB board of trustees, Levan Gakheladze, announced that a divided board had voted to suspend the show pending further consideration. Comments from trustees and critics revealed deep divisions between supporters and opponents of the church's stance — some decrying church interference, others saying they could not ignore insistences from church leaders, and one board member stating that "The opinion of [Georgian Orthodox Church Patriarch Ilia II] is more important for me than the law."
On January 22, GPB announced that Didi Ateuli would proceed, with both saints and secular figures retained in the competition, but that the final list of ten would not be ranked but would be announced in alphabetical order. The final published list did, however, show the vote totals. A statement released by the Georgian Orthodox Church attempted to downplay the controversy as "artificial", suggesting that "someone wants to portray the Church as a censor" in order to dissuade church officials from speaking out on future issues.
Societal attitudes 
According to a report issued in 2005 by the United States Department of State, the public's attitude towards religion is ambivalent. Although many residents are not particularly observant, the link between Georgian Orthodoxy and Georgian ethnic and national identity is strong. It stated, in addition, that "Despite their tolerance toward minority religious groups traditional to the country—including Catholics, Armenian Apostolic Christians, Jews, and Muslims—citizens remain very apprehensive about Protestants and other nontraditional religions, which they see as taking advantage of the populace's economic hardship by gaining membership through handing out economic assistance to converts."
The Georgian Orthodox Church withdrew its membership from the World Council of Churches in 1997 in order to appease clerics strongly opposed to some of the Council's requirements and methods of operation and thereby avert a schism within the Church. Simultaneously, the Orthodox Church also withdrew from the Conference of European Churches.
Some senior church leaders remain highly exclusionary and profess theirs as the "one true faith". Some Protestant groups—especially evangelical groups—have been criticized by church officials and nationalist politicians as subversive. Eleven leaders of the Georgian Orthodox Church have argued that Christian missionaries should confine their activities to non-Christian areas.
The Muslim and Jewish communities report that they have encountered few societal problems. There is no pattern of anti-Semitism. During his time as president, Eduard Shevardnadze made statements criticizing anti-Semitic acts.
"Father Hemorrhoids" videos 
In the autumn of 2009 there were street demonstrations and other signs of public anger after it was discovered that Tea Tutberidze, a former activist in the Kmara protest group at the time of the Rose Revolution and now a leading figure in the conservative Liberty Institute, had been distributing videos that insulted Patriarch Ilia II. Tutberidze had not made the videos—they were claimed by an unknown "Father Hemorrhoids" (მამა ბუასილი, mama buasili)—but she had promoted them via her Facebook page. The Ministry of Internal Affairs arrested two people over the videos but later admitted there was no crime. Tutberidze remained defiant and later accused the church of co-operation with the KGB under Soviet rule.
See also 
|This section is empty. You can help by adding to it. (February 2013)|
- "Public TV Show in Limbo after Church Meddling", civil.ge, January 17, 2009.
- "Georgia TV show sparks holy row", BBC News, January 22, 2009.
- "Public TV Changes Show Format to Allay Controversy", civil.ge, January 23, 2009.
- International Religious Freedom Report 2005 (Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, State Department, United States of America.) http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/irf/2005/51553.htm
- The WCC and the churches in Georgia: a chronology 1963-2004 (World Council of Churches, Jan. 1,2004) http://www.oikoumene.org/en/resources/documents/wcc-programmes/justice-diakonia-and-responsibility-for-creation/ecumenical-solidarity/country-profile-georgia.html
- "BBC Monitoring report of Kavkasia broadcast"
- "Georgia: Free-Speech Debate Swirls in Tbilisi over Patriarch Parody", Eurasianet.org, November 1, 2009.
- "Tea Tutberidze and allies launch new attack on Catholicos Patriarch"
- "International Religious Freedom Report 2006 - Georgia". U.S. Department of State. Retrieved 2006-10-08.