Two years ago, after the Lithuanian Parliament (Seimas) had refused to grant Romuva official status as a religion, I wrote a statement on behalf of the ECER which was published on this website, in which I stated:
“In the 21st century, no government should have the right to officially recognize some religions, and not others. Freedom of religion should apply to all religions equally, period. The ECER affirms our support of Romuva, and we will stand in solidarity with our Lithuanian sisters and brothers in any further efforts to bring this matter before such bodies as the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva, and the UN’s Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues in New York. We invite all peoples of good conscience to join us in these efforts.”
On 8 June of this year, the European Court of Human Rights – in a long-awaited decision – did, in fact, agree and ruled that the Seimas was in violation of Articles 9, 13 and 14 of the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. The Court found that the Lithuanian Parliament’s decision was in error as a result of:
• Denial of State recognition to a pagan religious association meeting eligibility criteria, on grounds incompatible with the State’s duty of neutrality and impartiality
• Domestic law lacking safeguards against arbitrariness in decision making performed by a political body (the Parliament)
• Involvement of a Catholic authority in parliamentary procedure
It is worthy of notice that the Seimas’ decision against Romuva appears to have been strongly influenced by a letter from the Lithuanian Bishops’ Conference which was sent to a member of the Seimas, and then distributed widely to other members of the Lithuanian Parliament. In that letter, the bishops suggested that recognizing Romuva could de-stabilize the relationship between the predominantly-Catholic Lithuanian population and the Church. The letter from the bishops also stated that the allegedly surviving fragments of [Romuva] were nothing more than “superstitions and peasants’ customs, with a shade of magic”, and that their importance to Lithuanian identity was exaggerated.
The Court’s ruling appears to pave the way for pagans seeking legitimization in other European countries in which dominant forms of Christianity (such as Catholic or Orthodox) prevail, to mount challenges to any objections from the mainstream religions.
The European Congress of Ethnic Religions continues to stand strong in our support of Romuva’s further efforts to enforce in Lithuania the decision of the European Court of Human Rights, just as we support the implicit and moral rights of other European ethnic religions to assert their viable existence, and to claim the same official recognition that their respective nations may grant to any other religions.
President, European Congress of Ethnic Religions