The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) held its Human Dimension Implementation Meeting in Warsaw during 29 September – 7 October 2011. Among the topics addressed during the course of the meeting was the registration of religious communities.
W. Cole Durham, Jr. of the International Center for Law and Religion Studies, J. Reuben Clark Law School, Brigham Young University, and Renata Uitz, an expert in the freedom of religion or belief at the Central European University, were among those addressing the the topic of registration of religious communities.
“In many parts of the OSCE region, religious communities face challenges in obtaining registration to operate,” noted Professor Durham, a member of the ODIHR Advisory Council on Freedom of Religion or Belief. “This can lead to significant practical difficulties and, in combination with other restrictions and penalties for operating unregistered associations, can significantly restrict the exercise of the freedom of religion or belief.”
“The registration of religious organizations should not be mandatory,” said Professor Uitz although it might be appropriate to require organizations to register for the purposes of establishing a legal personality and claiming certain benefits, such as tax exemptions. “Individuals and groups should be free to practise their religion without registration if they so desire,” she said.
Participants also urged governments to provide religious groups with clear guidance on the requirements for acquiring legal entity status, adding that bureaucratic delays to registration should be eliminated.
The annual OSCE Human Dimension Implementation Meeting is Europe’s largest human rights conference.