The central government’s constitution and other laws and policies generally protect religious freedom, but some laws and policies restrict religious freedom.
In December Parliament adopted amendments to the 2007 law governing religion to bring it into conformity with European standards. These amendments changed the law's name to the “Law on the freedom of conscience, thought and religion,” banned religious entities from engaging in political activity, changed the procedures for registering religious organizations, expanded the scope of conscientious objection to military service, and repealed the state pensions that were previously provided to church clerics. A number of minority religious groups and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) said that proposals that might have leveled the playing field for all religions, such as requiring greater transparency of religious organizations’ finances, were not included in the final draft of the law. Minority religious groups also complained that legislators did not remove a provision that recognizes “the special importance and leading role of the Christian Orthodox religion and Orthodox Church in the history, life and culture of the Moldovan people.”
The registration process is the same for all groups. A religious organization must present to the Ministry of Justice (MOJ) a declaration of its exact name, fundamental principles of belief, organizational structure, scope of activities, sources of finance, and rights and obligations of membership. The law also requires at least 100 citizen founders to register a religious organization. Under the new amendments, religious organizations also need to present proof of having premises for their religious activity. Some religious group members object to providing personal details in the document, citing an article in the law that “any request to indicate religious affiliation in official documents is illegal.” The MOJ is required by law to register the religious organization within 30 days if the registration request is made according to law. The registrant may request that this term be extended. At the request of the MOJ, a court can suspend the registered status of a religious organization if it “carries out activities that harm the constitution or laws” or “affects state security, public order, [or] the life and security of the people.” A new amendment to the law provides for suspension or revocation of a religious organization’s registration in case of violation of international agreements or for involvement in political activity.
Registration gives religious groups legal status that allows them to own property, open bank accounts, and hire employees. Individual churches or branches of registered religious organizations are not required to register with the MOJ as long as they do not carry out legal transactions and do not receive donations as local legal entities. The parent organization must exercise authority in those domains for unregistered local branches. Unregistered groups may not act as legal entities or obtain space in public cemeteries in their own names.
The law allows religious denominations to establish associations and foundations. The law also permits local religious communities to change their denominational affiliation or dissolve themselves.
All religious groups, whether registered or not, enjoy freedom to worship and report having free access to public places for their activities.
There is no state religion. However, the law on religion describes the “exceptional importance and fundamental role of the Christian Orthodox religion, particularly that of the MOC, in the life, history, and culture of the people of the Republic of Moldova.” The Metropolitan of Chisinau and all Moldova, the highest-ranking cleric in the MOC, reportedly holds a diplomatic passport.
The government allows all religious groups to hold services at state facilities, including orphanages, hospitals, schools, and military and police institutions at the request of individuals in such institutions, provided they obtain the approval of the institution’s administration. In January, the MOJ concluded a cooperation agreement with the MOC. The protocol provides for religious assistance for penitentiaries for a two-year period. The current protocol offers free access to detention facilities for MOC chaplains without prior approval from the prison administration.
Religious communities noted a slight improvement in the bureaucratic procedures for obtaining permission for foreign citizens to live and conduct religious work in the country. Following the passage of the 2010 Law on Volunteerism, missionaries may now submit work contracts or volunteer agreements in order to apply for a temporary residency permit and therefore may work as unpaid volunteers. Only missionaries working with registered religious organizations may apply for temporary residency permits.
Foreign missionaries may remain in the country for 90 days on a tourist visa. Foreign religious workers must register with, and receive documentation from, the National Agency for the Occupation of the Workforce, the Bureau for Migration and Asylum, and the Ministry of Information Technology and Communications.
According to the law on education, “moral and spiritual instruction” is mandatory for primary school students and optional for secondary school and university students. This subject covers a wide range of issues, including moral, spiritual, artistic, aesthetical, and ethical standards, providing students with a broad understanding of the components that make up human values. Within this course, children learn about truth, goodness, peace, patriotism, faith, wisdom, tolerance, justice, team spirit, and trust in virtues. There are three optional courses: Christian-Orthodox Education, Religion, and the History of Religions, which are taught from manuals developed by the Ministry of Education and the MOC and include teaching guidelines developed with the support of the BOC.
The government observes the following religious holidays as national holidays: Orthodox Christmas, Orthodox Easter, Easter Monday, and Memorial Easter (a commemoration of the dead), which falls eight days after Easter.
In separatist Transnistria, authorities generally enforced legal and policy restrictions on religious freedom. The law provides for legal registration of religious organizations. Registration authority in Transnistria resides with the region’s “Ministry of Justice.”
To obtain legal registration in Transnistria, a local religious organization must have at least 20 members (18 years old and above) with permanent residence in the region and Transnistrian “citizenship.” A local religious organization may also register as part of a centralized religious organization, which must consist of at least six local religious organizations. The religious organization must inform the registration authority on a yearly basis about its intentions to extend its activity.
In addition, a religious organization must provide the Transnistrian “Ministry of Justice” with a list of founders with all personal details, the statutes of the religious organization, the minutes from the constituent assembly, basic religious doctrine, contact details of the governing body of the religious organization, and an official tax receipt. If the “ministry” decides to conduct a “religious assessment,” the registration can be postponed for up to six months. The former “president” of Transnistria established these assessment procedures.
Religious organizations can disband upon their own decision or upon a Transnistrian court’s decision. The prosecutor’s office oversees the implementation of the legislation on religious freedom. The prosecutor’s office or the region’s executive, city, or district authorities can request disbandment, suspension, or ban of a religious organization in the courts.
Transnistrian law affirms the role of the Orthodox Church in the region’s history. All religions, whether registered or not, officially enjoy freedom to worship, and foreign citizens share in those rights. However, Transnistrian law also provides for restrictions of the right to freedom of conscience and religion, if necessary to protect the constitutional order, morality, health, citizens’ rights and interests, or state defense and security.
Transnistrian law allows the use of homes and apartments to hold religious services. It does not allow the use of homes and apartments, however, as accommodations or residences for religious organizations. The law also allows religious services and rituals in public places such as hospitals, clinics, orphanages, geriatric homes, and prisons.
With some exceptions, religious organizations in Transnistria may freely produce, publish, import, and export religious printed materials, audio and video recordings, and other religious items.
Transnistrian law also provides for the activity and registration of foreign religious missions. However, it stipulates that foreign religious organizations cannot pursue religious activities and do not enjoy the status of officially registered religious organizations.
In Transnistria, the government does not allow religious organizations to participate in elections, other political party activity, or to support NGOs involved in elections of any kind.
Transnistrian law has no provisions that would permit alternative service for conscientious objection to military duties. According to the Transnistrian criminal code, courts may sentence those who avoid or evade military service to fines from 5,375 to 13,005 Transnistrian rubles ($527 to $1,275) or imprisonment for up to two years.
Transnistria observes the following religious holidays as official holidays: Orthodox Christmas, Orthodox Easter, Easter Monday, and Memorial Easter, a commemoration of the dead eight days after Easter.