News
TDI
Jul/1805

Constitutional Court Granted Two Complaints of Religious Organizations

Constitutional Court of Georgia granted two complaints of religious associations on July 3, 2018. According to the position of the plaintiffs, certain provisions of the Tax Code and the law on State Property of Georgia violates Article 14 of the Constitution and creates the discriminatory environment for religious organizations.

In both cases, the interests of the plaintiffs are represented by the Tolerance and Diversity Institute (TDI) and the Tbilisi Free University Constitutional Law Clinic.

The Complaint of Religious Organizations on Unequal Tax Regime

The Court declared unconstitutional  Article 168 (paragraph 2, subsection “b”)  according to which building, restoration and painting of temples and churches ordered by the Patriarchate of Georgian Orthodox Church (GOC) is exempted from the value-added tax (VAT). The disputed article placed the GOC in favorable condition in terms of purchasing the services.

Therefore, 8 religious organizations[1]  applied to the Court with the constitutional complaint (#671) in October 2015.

Complaint of Religious Organizations on discriminatory Provisions of the Law on State Property

The Constitutional Court of Georgia declared unconstitutional the legal provision of Georgian Law on State Property that provides privilege exclusively for GOC to receive the state property free of charge (Article 6 (3) paragraph 1).

Five Religious Entities[2] applied to the Court with the constitutional complaint (#811) on 21 July 2016.

According to the explanation of the respondent party - the parliament of Georgia, the legitimate aim of the disputed articles (privileges for GOC) is recognition of the special role of the GOC in the history of Georgia.  

In its decision the Court noted: “recognition of the special role of the church is related to its historical contribution and does not serve the purpose to create privileged legal conditions for the GOC at present time. The historical role should not be considered as the source of privileged legitimacy. Differentiation and creation of a legally predominant condition is not and should not be the goal of the constitution[...] Granting certain rights to the GOC does not imply creation of obstacles for other religious organizations to enjoy the same rights “.

In both decisions, the Constitutional Court outlined that discrimination could be eliminated by a complete abolition of the reviewed privileges, as well as by its equal application for all religious organizations. According to the Court, the unconstitutional articles will be declared invalid after December 31, 2018.

Religious organizations have been demanding the elimination of inequality in Georgian legislation and the change of the discriminatory environment for many years. The problem have been systematically reflected in the reports of the Public Defender of Georgia and international and local organizations.

Both decisions of the Constitutional Court represent an important step forward in creating equal environment for religious communities.

TDI and Tbilisi Free University Law Clinic will further defend the interests of religious organizations and will apply to the Constitutional Courts of Georgia again regarding other legislative provisions, that create unequal conditions for religious organizations.

 

TDI provides legal aid and strategic litigation in the frame of the project “Combatting Religious, Ethnic and Racial Discrimination in Georgia” with the support of East-West Management Institute’s (EWMI) project Promoting Rule of Law in Georgia (PROLoG) funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).

 

[1] Caucasus Apostolic Administration of Latin Rite Catholics, Evangelical-Baptist Church of Georgia, Georgian Muslims Union, Pentecostal Church of Georgia, Trans-Caucasian Union of Seventh-Day Adventist Church, Word of Life Church of Georgia, Holy Trinity Church, Church of Christ 

[2] Highest Administration of all Muslims in Georgia, Evangelical-Baptist Church of Georgia, Pentecostal Church of Georgia, Evangelical-Lutheran Church of Georgia, The Redeemed Christian Church of God in Georgia