Date01 June 2022
AuthorRaiu, Catalin
  1. Introduction

    In the past decades, Freedom of Religion or Belief (FoRB onwards), as a fundamental and universal right, has gained a new motivation (Ferrari, 2016). Our world is going through a profound process of transformation, of rewriting the principles of operation and relationships while considering major security risks, individual preferences and choices, often divergent, which must adapt to the structure of a diverse society in an accelerated process of globalization. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights established by the United Nations General Assembly on September 10, 1948 guarantees that 'everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association' (UN, 1948, Art. 20). Moreover, Art. 9 of the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR) ensures to all persons, freedom of thought, conscience and religion, as well as the freedom to express, practice and live according to those principles (ECHR, 1950). These fundamental freedoms along with the others form the basis of a democratic regime, therefore being a necessity to guarantee the manifestation of any religious beliefs (Fodorean, 2012, p. 77; Babie, Rochow and Scharffs, 2020, p. 50).

    Romania is one of the most religious countries of Europe and the majoritarian faith, the Romanian Orthodox Church (ROC), is seen as one of the crucial pillars of the nation's founding since the 19th century (Conovici, 2012), which explains why the Romanian state feels culturally connected to Orthodoxy. The position of the ROC as the 'default Church of the nation' (Barbu, 2016, p. 65), pre-existing and accompanying the development of the nation during modernity has created a different church and state relation in Romania then in the West, where the church acts as a cultural and moral guardian of the political body, while the state is not interested in drafting public policies in the field of religious life. As we suggest in our previous research, in Romania the approach of the state towards faith and religious communities is not framed by the European and international practice and policies of FoRB (Raiu and Mina-Raiu, 2019), but as in other realms of government is rather tributary to 'a legal mimetic relationship' (Negoita, 2015) only in terms of legislation with the Western democracy.

  2. Methodology

    This paper does not discuss the nature or the opportunity of health measures during the Covid-19 pandemic, but the way they were upheld and communicated to the general public. Therefore, our main analysis is focused on the way the pandemic restrictions in the field of religious life were taken by the three branches of government--legislative, executive and judicial--and, moreover, on the way the Court of Appeal of Bucharest has overturned the decisions of the executive branch by the end of 2020. We performed a cross-reading of the restrictions imposed by the Romanian authorities and of international standards and commitments on FoRB, together with the ruling of the Court of Appeal of Bucharest from December 14th, 2020. Our analysis is politically contextualized and we constantly make use of the international legislation and guidelines of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) on FoRB as points of reference, as well as the general framework of human rights in a democratic regime.

    In this paper we deal with all three branches of government: legislative, executive and judicial, their approach towards the pandemic rules and the mandate of the state to guarantee the exercise of FoRB during a pandemic. Firstly, we describe the political context of Romania from the start of the pandemic (February-March 2020) and until the political crisis has mostly ended by November 2021. Afterwards, we draw attention to the restrictions imposed by the national authorities and explain from a democratic point of view the nature of each of the principles enshrined in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), Art. 18, the main judicial and legislative tool used to lawfully restrict FoRB during any pandemic.

    The paper is a qualitative case study on FoRB in Romania, during pandemic times, which focuses on the way restrictions regarding the conduct of religious life were implemented and communicated to the general public, having as reference the OSCE report (2020) that signaled Romania among the countries that imposed the most drastic measures impacting FoRB. The data collection technique employed for this case study is mainly based on documents analysis. We used in this respect several categories of documents, such as national legislation (Military Ordinances, 2020; Constitution of Romania, 2003; Law no. 55/2020; Law no. 489/2006), international guidelines (OSCE guidelines, UN, WHO, 2020), newspaper articles (Selaru, 2000; Dancu, 2020; etc.), documents of international organizations (OSCE reports; U.S. Department of State, 2020; ECHR, 1950; etc.), national official documents (SSC, 2020; RPL, 2011; etc.). Moreover, we used a comparative approach in order to benchmark Romania against other democratic states, especially the United Kingdom, Germany, France, USA, which represent a source of good practices on the way religious life was restricted during the pandemic and the way dialogue was conducted.

    In order to provide a comprehensive picture of the Romanian experience with FoRB in turbulent pandemic times we developed a policy analysis, following the timeline of the major events: early stage restrictions of religious life, pilgrimages, decision of the Bucharest Court of Appeal, etc.

    The constant benchmarking of the Romanian context against the provisions of international standards and commitments on FoRB, together with the judicial ruling, eventually enabled us to draft a set of policy recommendations for a more democratic approach towards FoRB.

    The theoretical framework consists of the recent work of different political scientists and human rights experts whose research have shown a clear-cut interlink between the quality of democracy and the guarantee of human rights, FoRB included (Ferrari, 2016; Petito, 2020; Bielefeldt, Ghanea and Wiener, 2016) and the relation between the rule of law and human rights (ven Dicey, 1885; Morlino, 2010; Barbu, 2016). Nevertheless, we have performed a second level of analysis benchmarking the national practices against the official international documents described above. This level of analysis on empirical literature is used as a Weberian ideal-type, as the cited documents are internationally recognized as being the result of the democratic practice in the field of FoRB since the end of the Second World War.

  3. Analysis of the FoRB during the pandemic in Romania

    3.1. Political context: over-regulation of religious activities

    The onset of the Covid-19 global pandemic surprised Romania with a minority government which was lacking Parliament confidence and was planning an electoral strategy aimed at triggering early elections, counting on the popular support at the time the government was in office, as well as on the President of the republic. The pandemic rendered worthless the plans to initiate the early election procedure in March-April 2020, according to a timetable set at the end of 2019, while the insistence of the President to maintain the same political party in power meant that, in a full-blown pandemic, the country was facing a change of government under the same prime minister. A power-eroded governing National Liberal Party (lack of medical infrastructure, restrictions on human rights, press scandals targeting corruption) came in second in the November 2020 parliamentary elections. Under the leadership of Florin Citu, a coalition government was formed which subsequently received a vote of no-confidence in Parliament less than a year later, on October 5th, 2021. Afterwards, the President of the republic asked several candidates to form a new cabinet and by the end of November 2021, Nicolae Ciuca, a former military general lacking political experience, has gained a vote of confidence in Parliament for his cabinet.

    This type of governmental instability has been an underlying issue of the political environment over the past six years, during which the Government of Romania was led by twelve different prime ministers, including four interim prime ministers. Apart for the interims caused by other factors outside the scope of this study, a simple statistical analysis shows that in Romania between November 5th, 2015--November 25th, 2021 (Government of Romania, 2021a), the average term for holding office is 309 days, resulting in great political instability (Profiroiu and Negoita, 2022, p. 121).

    3.2. Restrictions on religious life during the pandemic

    In July 2020, Romania was listed by the OSCE as one of the countries that have taken the toughest measures to restrict FoRB since the early stages of the pandemic. The OSCE report focuses only on the nature, not the manner in which the restrictions were imposed. According to the OSCE and international media, in Romania during the state of emergency (March 16th-May 15th, 2020), the government has imposed 'very high-level restrictions, effectively banning private prayers in public places of worship, as well as public religious gatherings' (OSCE, 2020). This report is the culmination of ODIHR (2020) efforts to respond to human rights challenges caused by the Covid-19 pandemic throughout the OSCE area. However, up to this point, the Romanian Government never issued a statement regarding this document despite public pressure from civil society.

    The OSCE has also reminded what international standards on FoRB are to be considered when public health is threatened. According to international standards (UN, OSCE, EU, Office of International Religious Freedom within the US State Department, etc.), states cannot suspend FoRB neither in a state of war, nor in a state of emergency. However, religious freedom in its external dimension (forum externum) may be...

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