of the worst religion law in Europe," after its president approved it last week.
The Washington DC-based Institute on Religion and Public Policy (IRPP) said Romanian President Traian Basescu approved the notorious new Law on Religion December 27, but that challenges are planned in the Constitutional Court and, potentially, the European Court of Human Rights.
IRPP President Joseph K. Grieboski said that the "promulgation of this law by President Basescu is a blatant attack on religious freedom and fundamental rights and demonstrates little if any move away from the previous communist regimes…" Under the new legislation religious denominations can only receive official registration if they have at least 20,000 members, about 0.1 percent of Romania’s total population.
The news came shortly after Romania joined the European Union, along with Bulgaria, on January 1. In EU-member state the Netherlands, the ChristianUnion party expressed concerns that church groups and alliances, including the Baptist Union of Romania, will soon be banned. "The Baptist Union of Romania has slightly less than 20,000 members," the ChristianUnion said.
"The new regulations could lead to discrimination and persecution, because smaller house churches for instance will become illegal," said ChristianUnion spokesman Joel Voordewind.
The law also creates a tiered system of religious communities, with different rights associated with respective levels, according to rights watchers. In a recent draft a religious group must wait twelve years before qualifying for and being accepted into the most preferential status, provoking disapproval from wide-ranging groups including Adventists, Baptists as well as Baha’is, Greek Catholics and Jehovah’s Witnesses.
"We can not accept [that law] within the European context," Voordewind added. Pressured by the ChristianUnion, a potential partner in a soon to be formed coalition government, incumbent Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende was to brief parliament on his efforts to pressure Romania to back down.
In published comments, the president of the Baptist Union of Romania, Paul Negrut, said he would also "fully support the idea to take further steps to the Constitutional Court and the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg."