The European Court of Human Rights on Tuesday condemned the government of Bulgaria for violating the right to religious freedom of evangelical Christians in the country.
The court ruled Dec. 13 that a 2008 campaign by government officials to warn children and families away from Protestant churches constituted a violation of human rights.
The case was brought to Europe’s top human rights court on the part of two Bulgarian pastors, Zhivko Tonchev and Radoslav Kiryakov, with the support of ADF International and lawyer Viktor Kostov.
Given the “pejorative and hostile language” used by authorities, the court ruled that the government had “disproportionately infringed” on the religious freedom of the pastors and their churches.
Pastor Tonchev responded to the judgment by stating: “We are thrilled that the European Court of Human Rights has recognized our fundamental right to religious freedom just in time for Christmas. Government officials had no right to malign our Christian faith, just because we are distinct from the majority religious practice in Bulgaria. With this verdict, the court has affirmed that religious freedom belongs to everyone.”
Robert Clarke, ADF International director of advocacy and co-counsel in the case, said: “The court’s ruling offers a pivotal opportunity for Bulgaria, as a post-communist society, to recommit to human rights for all.”
“The European Court of Human Rights has affirmed that the government of Bulgaria was wrong to target these Christians with an alarmist campaign designed to suppress the freedom to live out their beliefs. This ruling sends a clear message that government efforts to stamp out religious freedom are unacceptable and fundamentally incompatible with democracy.”
According to the U.S. State Department, 76% of Bulgarians are Eastern Orthodox, mostly in the Bulgarian Orthodox Church. The second-largest religious group in the country are Muslims, at 10% of the population. Bulgaria’s Catholics make up only 0.8 % of its population.