The constitution and other laws and policies protect religious freedom.
There is no formal state religion; however, in certain regions of the country, smaller religious groups reported they experienced unequal treatment by local authorities. In some areas of the center and south, Roman Catholics, UGCC members, and Muslims reported similar experiences. Conversely, in some western regions, UOC-MP representatives stated that local authorities at times were reluctant to address their concerns.
According to the Law on the Fundamentals of Domestic and Foreign Policy, domestic religious policy is based on the restoration of full-fledged dialogue between representatives of various social, ethnic, cultural, and religious groups to foster the creation of a tolerant society and provide for freedom of conscience and worship.
The law requires a religious group to register either as a local or a national organization and to have at least 10 adult members to obtain the status of a “juridical entity.” Registration is necessary to conduct many business activities, including publishing, banking, and property transactions. By law, the registration process should take one month and registration denials may be appealed in court.
The law contains contradictory provisions complicating the registration of religious organizations. For example, the law provides no possibility for granting “legal entity” status to national religious associations. The UOC-MP, UGCC, and other religious groups expressed concern that this greatly complicates property ownership for religious organizations, forcing churches to rely on third parties.
The law requires religious groups to apply to local government authorities for permission to hold religious services and ceremonies in public spaces, but not for those held on religious or burial sites. The application must be submitted no later than 10 days before scheduled events, but exceptions are allowed.
According to the law, registered religious organizations maintain privileged status as the only organizations permitted to seek restitution of communal property confiscated by the Soviet regime. Religious communities must apply to regional authorities for property restitution. While the law states that consideration of a restitution claim should be completed within a month, it frequently took much longer.
A December 2010 presidential decree dissolved the State Committee on Nationalities and Religions (SCNR) and transferred most of its functions to the Ministry of Culture. Registration responsibilities were transferred to the newly created State Registration Service (SRS). The All-Ukraine Council of Churches and Religious Organizations (AUCCRO) met on February 11 with the Minister of Culture and the chairman of the SRS to discuss issues pertaining to the transition.
The law restricts the activities of foreign-based religious organizations and narrowly defines the permissible activities of members of the clergy, preachers, teachers, and other noncitizen representatives of foreign-based religious organizations. However, there were no reports that the government used the law to limit the activity of these religious organizations.
On June 1, the Cabinet of Ministers adopted a resolution eliminating the different categories of visas, including the religious worker visa category. Short-term and long-term visas were introduced instead. Foreign religious workers were able to obtain visas for the sole purpose of employment in religious organizations that invited them. The resolution, however, created difficulties for foreign religious workers who did not have invitations from established religious organizations to obtain long-term visas. The resolution also created greater difficulties for foreign students seeking long-term visas to attend religious schools in the country.
Under the previous law, those applying for religious worker visas were required to obtain invitations from registered religious organizations in the country and government approval. Foreign religious workers were allowed to preach, administer religious ordinances, or practice other religious activities “only in those religious organizations that invited them to the country and with official approval of the governmental body that registered the statutes and the articles of the pertinent religious organization.” According to the government, no visa applications by foreign religious workers were rejected under the previous law.
Responding to pressure from religious organizations, on September 22 the parliament adopted a law on legal status of foreign citizens and persons without citizenship. This law relaxed the restrictions on independent foreign religious workers created by the June 1 resolution. Under this law, foreign religious workers are now permitted to “preach, administer religious ordinances, or practice other canonical activities” without the need to be associated with a local church. Pursuant to this law, the Cabinet of Ministers amended visa regulations in December.
While the law restricts the teaching of religion as part of the public school curriculum, a 2005 presidential decree introduced “Ethics of Faith” courses into the curriculum. There have been yearly increases in the number of secondary schools offering courses in “Fundamentals of Christian Ethics,” “Fundamentals of Religious Ethics,” and “Fundamentals of the Islamic Culture of the Crimea.”
The law allows alternative nonmilitary service for conscientious objectors and bans the creation of religious organizations in military institutions and military units. There is no chaplaincy corps in the armed forces; however, the Ministry of Defense and major religious groups maintain interaction within the ministry’s Council for Pastoral Support for service members.
The government observes the following religious holidays as national holidays: Christmas, Easter Monday, and Holy Trinity Day, all according to the Julian calendar shared by the Orthodox and Greek Catholic churches.