Although the constitution provides for “complete freedom of religion” and separates church and state, laws and policies grant the Georgian Orthodox Church (GOC) privileges not accorded to any other religious group, according to the International Religious Freedom Report released by the U.S. Department of State on August 15.
“The constitution recognizes the special role of the GOC in the country’s history, but stipulates the GOC shall be independent from the state and relations between the GOC and the state shall be governed by a constitutional agreement (also called a concordat). The concordat grants rights not given to other religious groups, including legal immunity for the GOC Patriarch, exemption of GOC clergy from military service, and a consultative role in government, especially in education,” the report reads.
It also says that during the year, the government investigated 19 cases involving alleged crimes committed on the basis of religious intolerance, but non-governmental organizations and the Public Defender’s Office “continued to state the government was ineffective in its investigation of crimes motivated by religious hatred.”
“NGOs and minority religious groups continued to express concern over government actions, at both the national and local level, resisting the construction of places of worship for minority religious groups and showing what they said was favoritism towards the GOC in the restitution of buildings confiscated by the state in the Soviet era,” according to the report.
It also reads that despite the government resistance, “there were some court rulings in favor of the rights of minority religious groups to build places of worship and schools and at least one group, the Jehovah’s Witnesses, opened a new place of worship.”
The report also says that the government announced the opening of the first Muslim prayer house for members of the armed forces, but only the Georgian Orthodox Church continued to have chapels in prisons.
It also reads that restrictions continued on religious activities in Georgia’s regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, which “remained outside the control of the central government.”
“The de facto government authorities in the Gali district of Abkhazia reportedly did not permit GOC clergy to conduct religious services in any of the four GOC churches and ethnic Georgians were unable to attend services in their own language,” according to the report.
It also says that “individuals living outside Abkhazia and South Ossetia reported continued difficulties crossing into these territories, including for the purpose of visiting the gravesites of family members.”
The report also says that there were reports of violence against religious minorities. The Jehovah’s Witnesses reported 11 physical assaults on its members. “Representatives of minority religious groups continued to report what they termed a widespread societal belief about minority religious groups posing a threat to the GOC and to the country’s cultural values. Some NGOs reported GOC clergy continued to contribute to hostile societal attitudes towards minority religious communities,” according to the report.
It also said that the Media Development Foundation (MDF) documented at least 69 instances of religiously intolerant remarks in national media.
The report also says that the U.S. Ambassador and embassy officers continued to meet regularly with senior government officials to encourage dialogue between the government and religious minorities. They also met with leaders from traditional and nontraditional denominations.