Tonchev v. Bulgaria
Date of most recent action: 25 Jan 2016
What's at stake
- The right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion
Evangelical Christians do not make up a large proportion of the Bulgarian population. But when it comes to religious freedom under the European Convention on Human Rights, there is rightly no numerical requirement. Religious groups are protected under the Convention, but Bulgarian authorities took it upon themselves to decide on the legitimacy of evangelical churches.
Employees in the municipality of Bourgas sent a letter to local schools in an attempt to create fear and concern among parents, teachers, and students. They falsely characterized the motives of Christian churches in the area and put together a catalogue of wrong statements about evangelical Christianity in Bulgaria. Bourgas authorities accused the churches of 'duping' people to convert, calling them 'dangerous sects' that are violating the 'social order.' The letter also instructed school management to warn students about these 'proselytising' churches.
The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has already issued clear statements in the past for Bulgaria to remain neutral in dealing with various religious groups, which ought to be allowed to co-exist in a pluralist democracy. With Bulgaria’s apparent failure to heed the Court’s instructions, ADF International and allied attorney Viktor Kostov filed an application to the ECHR in November 2015. The application requested that the Court hear the case of evangelical Christians in Bourgas who are facing illegal discrimination.
On 25 January 2016 the ECHR accepted the application and will consider the case in due course. In the past, the court has consistently ruled that state authorities may not seek to determine which religious beliefs are legitimate and which are not. ‘A state has no right to reach into religion and decide its legitimacy,’ said ADF International Legal Counsel Lorcán Price. ‘However, this was undoubtedly the intention of the Bourgas authorities in this instance. The letter disseminated to schools in the municipality was calculated to interfere with the ability of evangelical Christians to manifest their faith in public.’
Our role in this case
ADF International and allied attorney Viktor Kostov filed an application with the European Court of Human Rights, asking the Court to hear the case of evangelical Christians in Bourgas, Bulgaria, after authorities infringed their right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion.