Podgorica, December 21, 2020
Representatives of the Serbian Orthodox Church in Montenegro have expressed their satisfaction with the upcoming amendments to the Law on Religious Freedom, which was previously intended to persecute the majority Serbian Orthodox Church and seize its churches and monasteries. However, with the new amendments, the law will not discriminate against any religious group in the country, the hierarchs believe.
Speaking with the Montenegrin outlet dan.co.me, His Grace Bishop Joanikije of Budimlja and Nikšić, the administrator of the Metropolis of Montenegro since the recent repose of His Eminence Metropolitan Amfilohije, confirmed that he had personally read the text of the amendments. If the law is adopted with the amendments, it will be acceptable to the Church, he said.
“This will definitely be a more progressive and modern law than the one adopted earlier,” His Grace said, noting that he “personally absolutely agrees” with the law with its proposed amendments.
The property rights of all citizens are already regulated by a law on property and legal relations, he said, and thus it is appropriate that the amended law on religion will not include its own property regulations. The new version of the law removes references to issues of Church property and confirms that there is no need to register existing Churches and religious associations.
Finally, all religious groups will have equal rights in Montenegro, His Grace commented. “This law does not mention any religious association, and it applies to all equally and without discrimination,” he stressed.
The draft amendments have already been approved by the Montenegrin government and have been passed on to Parliament for official adoption under an accelerated procedure.
The law on religious freedom, initially adopted last year under the government of President Milo Đukanović and Prime Minister Duško Marković, gave the state the authority to confiscate important properties from the Serbian Orthodox Church. The President openly supported the miniscule “Montenegrin Orthodox Church,” a schismatic group that rejects the canonical Serbian Orthodox Church.
The law proved to be quite scandalous and unpopular, and citizens of Montenegro began to take to the streets by the hundreds of thousands to protest the persecution of their Church. In the elections in August, the Đukanović government finally lost power after 30 years, as an opposition coalition took a majority of parliamentary seats.
The new government, which came into power on December 4, declared that amending the law to end the persecution of the Serbian Church would be its top priority.