The law was overwhelmingly approved with a vote of 267-15. A second vote on the bill is necessary before being presented to Zelensky for final approval as a law. For observers, not only would this legislation deny the freedom of worship to millions of Ukrainians, it would also undermine a core pillar of Ukraine's defense against Russian aggression, being on the right side of the law.
The Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UOC) is part of the greater Eastern Orthodox Church and formerly operated under the direct jurisdiction of the Moscow Patriarchate, which is a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin and has offered spiritual support for the invasion of Ukraine. The UOC formally split from the Russian Orthodox Church in May 2022, declaring itself autocephalous and autonomous.
Meanwhile, former Fox News anchor Tucker Carlson released an interview focused on what's being deemed the Zelensky government's "war on Christianity" recently. He had Bob Amsterdam, an international lawyer from Amsterdam & Partners who has been hired by the UOC to defend the country's largest religious body against this blatant persecution in European courts, as a guest. Amsterdam and Carlson decried the "attack on Christianity" and underscored Orthodoxy has had a home in Ukraine for at least a thousand years. The lawyer agreed with the political commentator's assessment that of all of President Joe Biden's crimes, "backing the Ukrainian government as it throws priests in jail may be the most revealing."
Ep. 34 Of all of Biden’s crimes, backing the Ukrainian government as it throws priests in jail may be the most revealing. pic.twitter.com/ZCVV4uPzs9
— Tucker Carlson (@TuckerCarlson) October 26, 2023
According to reports, Kyiv sought to smear the UOC as but a willing sphere of influence for the Kremlin, infiltrated and used by Russian intelligence. Also, Zelensky officials have alleged, and without evidence, that throughout the war, UOC priests and bishops are facilitators for Russian intelligence and harbor pro-Putin views. The UOC has formally responded this week by stating, "Undoubtedly, the adoption of this draft law will indicate that human rights and freedoms, for which our state is also fighting, are losing their meaning."
But Amsterdam rejected Kyiv's Orwellian label and smear of the UOC being somehow a "Russian asset," and instead said: "This has nothing but a Tamine Hall local political logic." He went on to explain the law is fundamentally an unprecedented assault on religious freedom. "Even as the church finds itself at the center of a geopolitical storm, international Christian leaders maintain a concerning silence. The ban isn't just a local matter, it violates the Ukrainian Constitution, international laws, and perhaps even EU principles." Yet, the world seems to turn a blind eye, leading Amsterdam to proclaim, "It is shameful that not only Christians but all leaders of all denominations have not spoken out against the Ukrainian government," he concluded.
For the Hill's opinion contributor William Burke-White, the Ukrainian government must rethink this dangerous legislation. He said that the governments that are supporting Ukraine's sovereignty must ensure that their people's human rights do not become a further victim of this war.
"If Ukraine is truly committed to human rights, it must uphold its freedom of religion," the author pointed out, saying the international human rights system has held the freedom of religion as sacrosanct and this is guaranteed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Art. 18), the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (Art. 18) and the European Convention on Human Rights (Art. 9), among others. "As history has made all too clear when the right to freedom of religion is undercut, all other human rights are in peril," he emphasized.
However, many parliamentarians supported the move with a vote on the legislation that has been on the Verkhovna Rada's docket since January. Rada is the nation's supreme council. The bill will amend existing law guaranteeing freedom of religion by stipulating that "Activities of religious organizations that are affiliated with the centers of influence of a religious organization, the governing center of which is located outside of Ukraine in a state that carries out armed aggression against Ukraine, are not allowed." And so, the law will ban the operation of UOC, which is followed by at least 16 percent of the Ukrainian people.
Despite its historic ties to Russian Orthodoxy, the UOC has stood firmly in support of Ukraine's rightful self-defense against Russia's aggression. In fact, the day after the invasion, UOC's leader Metropolitan Onufry declared the church's opposition to the war and repeatedly appealed to Putin to reverse course, stating, "To our great regret, Russia has started military actions against Ukraine. … In this tragic time, we express special love and support for our soldiers, who stand guard to defend our land and our people." In May 2022, the UOC officially amended its constitution, severing its ties with the Moscow Patriarchate.
Moreover, the U.S. State Department's "2022 Religious Freedom Report" listed that the Security Service of Ukraine carried out 41,000 investigations against the UOC for allegedly collaborating with Russia, searching 350 of its church buildings. In December 2022, sanctions were announced against seven more senior members of the UOC. In March 2023, authorities attempted to expel UOC clergy from the Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra monastery. Criminal charges have been brought against church leaders and parishioners, despite not bearing enough foundation. (Related: Israel BOMBS historic Greek Orthodox Church of Saint Porphyrius in Gaza – world's third oldest church.)
Bookmark UkraineWitness.com to be updated on stories related to this.