Kiev, May 6, 2022
Any decisions by local authorities to ban the Ukrainian Orthodox Church or force its parishes into the schismatic “Orthodox Church of Ukraine” violate the Constitution and laws of Ukraine and have no legal force, says the Church’s Legal Department.
“Forbidding [the Orthodox faithful] to confess and pray in the faith in which their ancestors were born and died is a crime both before God and the law,” the statement reads.
In March, two bills were submitted to the Ukrainian Parliament to ban the Church throughout the entire country. And while Parliament Speaker Ruslan Stefanchuk has said the Verkhovna Rada won’t make any such decision as long as the fratricidal war continues, so as not to split Ukrainian society, that hasn’t stopped provincial, city, and village authorities from going after the Church.
Most recently, the mayor of Konotop, Sumy Province, declared the UOC banned in his city.
The UOC Legal Department’s statement in response to such decisions reads in full:
Since the beginning of Russia’s military invasion of Ukraine, there have been frequent cases of illegal decisions made by local self-government bodies to ban or restrict the activities of religious communities of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church within their administrative-territorial borders, as well as demands to change their subordination in favor of the newly formed religious association the “OCU.”
According to Article 19 of the Constitution of Ukraine, “State and local self-government bodies and their officials are obliged to act only on the basis of and within the limits of their powers and in the manner provided for by the Constitution and laws of Ukraine.”
It should be noted that no law or regulatory legal act of Ukraine gives local self-government bodies the right to prohibit or interfere in the activities of religious organizations, even under martial law. And the demand of officials and local self-government bodies to change the subordination of religious communities of the UOC in favor of the newly formed “OCU” is interference in the internal affairs of the religious community. This is contrary to both the European Convention on Human Rights and the Constitution of Ukraine, since “the Church and religious organizations in Ukraine are separated from the state” (Article 35 of the Constitution of Ukraine).
Given the above, it should be stated that decisions banning the activities of religious communities of the UOC or forcing them to “transfer” to the “OCU” are illegal and have no legal force.
Since the first day of the war, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church has condemned the military aggression of the Russian Federation against Ukraine, supported the territorial integrity and independence of Ukraine, and constantly provided assistance to defenders and displaced persons. At the same time, we would like to draw your attention to the fact that believers belonging to the religious communities of the UOC are citizens of Ukraine who were born and live on this land. Therefore, forbidding them to confess and pray in the faith in which their ancestors were born and died is a crime both before God and the law.
At present, it’s important for us to maintain the unity that we showed in the first days of the war to protect our state. And such decisions of local self-government bodies banning the activities of religious communities of the UOC violate this unity, split it on religious grounds, and show signs of sabotage, for which legal liability is provided.
In this regard, we call upon local self-government bodies not to violate the laws of Ukraine and not to prohibit or restrict the activities of believers and religious communities of the UOC in the right to freedom of religion, and upon law enforcement agencies to respond in a timely and impartial manner to such violations.