STRASBOURG, FRANCE – ADF International filed an application Wednesday with the European Court of Human Rights that asks it to hear the case of evangelical Christians facing illegal discrimination in the city of Bourgas, Bulgaria. Municipal employees sent a letter to local schools that falsely characterized the motives of Christian churches in the area with the aim of creating fear and concern among parents, teachers, and students.
A state has no right to reach into religion and decide its legitimacy
“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.”
The letter contained a catalogue of wrong statements regarding evangelical Christianity in Bulgaria and instructed the management of the schools to warn students of the “proselytising” churches. The language that Bourgas authorities employed accused the churches of “duping” people to convert, calling them “dangerous sects” that are violating the “social order.”
“The document is a conscious and deliberate attempt to create a wholly unjustified fear of evangelical Christians and their religious practices,” noted Viktor Kostov, the Bulgarian lawyer and allied attorney of ADF International defending the churches against the Bourgas municipality inTonchev v. Bulgaria.
The European Court of Human Rights has 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. The court has consistently ruled that state authorities may not seek to determine which religious beliefs are legitimate and which are not.