Daily magazine broadcasted on Radio Belgrade 1, Radio Television of Serbia (RTS)

date: 26 November 2021

location: Belgrade

presenters: Dalibor Đukić

moderators: -

themes: protection of freedom of conscience and religion

The daily magazine is a radio show focusing on current events and news from Serbia and the world. It is open for different topics – economy, politics, ecology, law, health, culture, music and sports. The Radio Magazine promotes young scientists, talents, successful business people and features interesting travel stories and reports. Professor Dalibor Đukić from the Faculty of Law at the University of Belgrade was invited to the magazine on the occasion of a conference in Budapest on 26th November 2021.

The host informed the audience about the Hungarian Government’s initiative to establish the Central European Professors’ Network, coordinated by the Ferenc Mádl Institute of Comparative Law. The discussion focused on the research results of the research group responsible for the ‘Freedom of conscience and religion in Europe’. The discussion was based on similarities and differences in the positions of Central European states on religious freedom and the presence of religious symbols in public spaces. Professor Đukic pointed out that there are more similarities than differences between Central European states in their approach to the manifestation of religion and the presence of religious symbols in the public sphere. The Central European states also have a common experience of communist autocracy. Under communism, religious symbols were rapidly and systematically removed from public spaces. After the fall of communism, the revival of religion was followed by the reintroduction of religious symbols into public life. The lack of regulation and prohibitions of the wearing of religious symbols is also an important common feature that distinguishes Central European countries from some Western European countries.

Particular attention was paid to the religious tolerance, deeply rooted in the tradition of the Central European countries. Religious pluralism is a feature of modern Serbian society. Pluralism is a feature of democratic society in general. The origin and survival of a democratic society depends, among other things, on religious pluralism. It is important to note that the Republic of Serbia is an ‘autochthonous multi-religious state’. 

In terms of its religious structure, Serbia is similar to many European countries, however, its multi-religiousness is not due to immigrants from other countries bringing their religions with them.  The diversity of the religions present in the Republic of Serbia is the consequence of the fact that the population is divided into several religions and different denominations. One manifestation of autochthonous religious pluralism is the public presence and public use of the religious symbols of traditional churches and religious communities. This not only protects the right of traditional religious organisations to express religious beliefs but also contributes to the democratisation of society and the formation of a modern framework of state-church relations. As religious and ethnic affiliations are often intertwined, the protection of religious pluralism contributes to the development of harmonious interethnic relations and is especially important for improving the position of religious and national minorities.

The discussion focused on current issues of religious freedom in the Serbian legislation. The Act of the Republic of Serbia on Churches and Religious Communities (2006) introduces three categories of religious organisations: ‘traditional churches and religious communities, ‘confessional communities’, and ‘other religious organisations. Confessional communities comprise those churches and religious communities whose legal position was regulated according to the laws of Yugoslavia and the Socialist Republic of Serbia. Confessional communities obtain ‘legal person’ status by registration, under the same conditions as new religious organisations; traditional churches and religious communities, on the other hand, are registered ex officio and the state recognises the continuity of their legal status. This differentiation is based on the fact that state authorities do not have the information they need to register.

The distinction between different categories of religious organisations is a controversial issue concerning for protection of the freedom of religion. In principle, their distinction need not be contrary to international standards for the protection of freedom of conscience and religion. Religious organisations are equal, but equality does not mean equal legal positions or privileges. Religious communities should have equal rights where communities are the same. Any distinction must be based on objective criteria derived from general legal principles. In judicial review of the justification for such decisions, the proportionality test applied by the European Court of Human Rights in its case law should be applied. The Serbian Law on Churches and Religious Communities bases the distinction between traditional and confessional religious organisations on objective legal differences. On the one hand, the state has the necessary information on traditional churches and religious communities needed to register them, but on the other hand, there is a lack of information on confessional communities, some of which are registered outside the current borders of the state. It is important to emphasize that the law states that the legal personality of (re)registered confessional communities shall be recognised from the moment an application, in accordance with the previous legislation. In this way, the continuity of the legal personality their legal security, and the exercise of their acquired rights are ensured. Professor Đukić pointed out that there is no legislation in the Republic of Serbia that explicitly regulates the use of religious symbols. Unlike in some European countries, there are no regulations restricting the right to wear specific items of clothes or insignia that are related to an individual’s religion. Since in European countries the bans mostly apply to non-Christian religious minorities, one reason for the difference is the pluralism of the autochthonous religions. For centuries, churches and religious communities have existed on the territory of the Republic of Serbia, to which the vast majority of believers belong, and which generally share similar social values and culture.

The radio show also discussed the situation of religious education in public schools in Serbia and the labour disputes involving teachers of religious education. Professor Đukić criticised the recent shift in the status of religious education, from a school subject to a school programme. The major disadvantage of this development is that the state permits religious education on school premises but outside school hours. 

Teachers of religious education in Serbian state schools are paid by the state only for the seven traditional churches and religious communities (the Serbian Orthodox Church, the Roman Catholic Church, the Slovak Evangelical Church (a.c.), the Christian Reformed Church, and the Evangelical Christian Church (a.c.), the Islamic Religious Community and the Jewish Religious Community). They must be on the list of teachers of religious education which has been composed by the Minister on the basis of proposal from traditional churches and religious communities. Formally, a decision of suitability from the religious community (missio canonica) is not required, but if the teacher is not on the list they can’t teach religious education. Religious education teachers are usually employed part-time on the basis of annual contracts with the schools. Although their contracts are usually renewed every year, this discriminates against them compared to other teachers in their schools, as well as in their employment status and social benefits (credit restrictions, maternity leave, etc.). 

Professor Đukić emphasized the positive role of the mixed Commission in the organization and implementation of religious education. The Commission is composed of six state representatives and representatives of all seven traditional churches and religious communities. The Commission is responsible for reviewing and approving all syllabi and textbooks, and for approving the list of religious teachers. In this way, full consensus should be reached on all important aspects of religious education in the country.

At the end of the radio interview, Professor Đukić expressed the hope that the publication of the results of the research conducted in the Central European Professors’ Network will contribute to a better understanding of the importance of religious symbols in the public sphere and bring the scientific communities of Central European countries closer together.

The radio interview was announced on the official website of Radio Television of Serbia: 

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