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Religious Denominations Act

Durzhaven vestnik n.120/29.12.2002

The National Assembly of the Republic of Bulgaria,
Confirming the right of each person to freedom of conscience and religion as well as
equality before the law regardless of religious affiliation and conviction,
Emphasizing the special and traditional role of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church in the
history of Bulgaria to establish and develop its spirituality and culture,
Expressing respect towards Christianity, Islam, Judaism, and other religions,
Believing in the importance of supporting mutual understanding, tolerance, and
respect with regards to freedom of conscience and religion,
Adopts this Religious Denominations Act.

Chapter One. General Provisions

Article 1

This Act establishes the right to religious freedom and its protection as guaranteed to all persons under the jurisdiction of
the Republic of Bulgaria as well as the legal status of religious communities and institutions and their relations with the

Article 2

1. The right to religious freedom is fundamental, absolute, subjective, personal, and inviolable.
2. The right to religious freedom shall include the right of every person to freely form his or her religious beliefs and to
choose, change, and worship-respectively practice freely his or her religion-individually or collectively, in public or in
private, through religious worship, education, rites, and rituals.

Article 3

1. No one shall be persecuted and no one’s rights shall be restricted on the grounds of religious beliefs. It shall not be
permitted to restrict rights or grant privileges based on affiliation or nonaffiliation to a religious denomination.
2. Religious beliefs shall not be grounds upon which one may refuse to fulfill one’s obligations established by the
Constitution or by law.

Article 4

1. Religious denominations shall be free and equal. Religious institutions shall be separate from the State.
2. State interference in the internal organization of self-governed religious institutions shall not be permitted.
3. The State shall provide conditions for free and unhindered exercise of freedom of religion by assisting to maintain
tolerance and respect among the believers of different denominations and among believers and nonbelievers.
4. It shall not be permitted to discriminate on religious basis.

Chapter Two. Right to Religious Freedom

Article 5

1. The right to religious freedom shall be exercised by forming and expressing religious beliefs, establishing or
participating in a religious community, organizing community institutions, providing religious education and mentoring
through dissemination of beliefs orally, in print, using electronic media, in the form of lectures, seminars, courses,
programs, etc.
2. Religious beliefs may be expressed by performing rites, rituals, and religious services.
3. Religious beliefs are expressed in private when they are performed by a member or members of the religious
community or only in the presence of persons belonging to that community, and in public—when their expression may
become accessible to people who do not belong to the respective religious community.

Article 6

1. The right to religious freedom shall also include the following rights:
(1) To establish and maintain religious communities and institutions that are structured and represented in a manner that
their members find appropriate according to their free beliefs;
(2) To establish and maintain places of worship or religious assembly;
(3) To establish and maintain appropriate charitable or humanitarian institutions;
(4) To produce, acquire, and use, to the extent appropriate with worship purposes, materials necessary for rites and
rituals of a religion or faith;
(5) To write, publish, and disseminate religious publications;
(6) To provide and receive religious education in any language of free choice;
(7) To preach or teach religion or beliefs in places that the organizations find appropriate for their purposes as well as to
establish and maintain appropriate educational institutions, in compliance with the requirements of law;
(8) To collect and receive voluntary financial or other support and donations from individuals and institutions;
(9) To observe the days of rest and to respect religious holidays;
(10) To establish and maintain, in Bulgaria or abroad, relations with individuals and communities on matters of religion
and faith.
2. Parents and guardians shall have the right to provide religious education to their children according to their own beliefs.

Article 7

1. The freedom of religion shall not be directed against the national security, public order, public health and morals, or
the rights and freedoms of persons under the jurisdiction of the Republic of Bulgaria. Other grounds for restriction of the
right to religious freedom-except for those enumerated above-shall not be established.
2. Religious communities and institutions as well as religious beliefs shall not be used for political purposes.
3. Rights and freedoms of individuals who belong to a religious community shall not be restricted by the internal rules,
rituals, and rites of the community or institution.
4. Religious communities and institutions shall not attract individuals who are not eighteen years of age if their parents or
guardians explicitly disagree.

Article 8

1. If the requirements of Article 7 are violated, the right to religious freedom may be restricted by:
(1) Terminating the dissemination of a particular publication;
(2) Terminating publishing activity;
(3) Restricting public events;
(4) Canceling the registration of an educational, health, or social institution;
(5) Canceling activity for six months;
(6) Canceling the legal entity status of a religious denomination.
2. The restriction procedure shall be commenced upon the request of an interested party or the prosecutor. The case
shall be examined as a general civil matter before the Sofia City Court.
3. The decision of the Sofia City Court shall be subject to appeal under the standard rules and procedures for appeal.

Article 9

Each denomination shall be defined by its name and by the religious beliefs of the individuals comprising its religious

Article 10

1. Eastern Orthodox is the traditional denomination in the Republic of Bulgaria. It has played a historic role in Bulgaria’s
statehood and has current meaning in its political life. Its spokesperson and representative is the autocephalous
Bulgarian Orthodox Church, which, under the name Patriarchy, is the successor of Bulgaria’s Exarchate and is a
member of the United, Holy, Congregational, and Apostolic Church. It is led by the Holy Synod and is represented by the
Bulgarian Patriarch who is a Metropolitan of Sofia.
2. The Bulgarian Orthodox Church is a legal entity. Its structure and management are defined in its bylaws.
3. No Act or secondary legislature shall use Paragraphs 1 and 2 as grounds to grant privileges or any advantages.

Article 11

1. Relations between religious institutions and the State shall be carried out in the official Bulgarian language.
2. A religious community may use another language, according to its traditions, to worship or perform different rituals.

Article 12

1. Religious denominations may establish places for public religious worship and service in buildings or spaces that the
religious institution or its local branch own or lease. Buildings of religious denominations shall be built in compliance with
the Territorial Land Development Act and the secondary legislation for its implementation while taking into account the
specific religious symbolism in the architectural design.
2. Religious denominations may also organize public activities outside of their places of worship.

Article 13

The confidentiality of confession is inviolable. No clergyman shall be forced to testify or disclose information about facts
and circumstances that became known during confession.

Chapter Three. Registration

Article 14

Religious communities may acquire legal entity status in compliance with the conditions and under the procedure of this

Article 15

1. The Sofia City Court shall register religious communities as legal entities in compliance with Chapter Forty-Six of the
Civil Procedure Code.
2. It shall not be permitted to register more than one legal entity for each religious denomination with the same name and

Article 16

In connection with the registration of religious communities, the Sofia City Court may require an expert opinion from the
Directorate on Religious Denominations under the Council of Ministers.

Article 17

The bylaws of a religious denomination must include:
(1) The name and headquarters of the religious denomination;
(2) Exposé of religious beliefs and religious practice;
(3) Structure and governing bodies of the religious denomination;
(4) Manner of selecting governing bodies, scope of their authority, and duration of their term;
(5) Individuals that may represent the religious denomination and methods of their selection;
(6) Methods of decision-making and procedures for convening meetings of the religious denomination’s governing bodies;
(7) Manner of financing and statement of property ownership;
(8) Methods of dissolution and liquidation.

Article 18

The Sofia City Court shall maintain a public register of religious institutions, which shall contain the following information:
(1) Judicial decision for registration;
(2) Name and headquarters;
(3) Governing bodies and representation;
(4) Names of individuals who represent the religious institution.

Article 19

1. Religious denominations may create local branches according to their bylaws.
2. Local branches are recorded in a register maintained by the county mayor over the locality where their branch’s
headquarters is located, under the conditions of a notification regime, within seven days, on the basis of a statement by
the central administration of the religious denomination or a person authorized by it according to its bylaws.
3. The statement under Paragraph 2 shall include:
(1) The judicial decision of the Sofia City Court for registration of the religious denomination and its central administration
or, respectively, power of attorney to the person authorized by the central administration;
(2) A certificate from the central administration indicating the persons who represent it in the respective county as well as
the headquarters and address of the local subsection.
4. The mayor shall notify the Directorate on Religious Denominations of the register entry within three days of registration.
5. The county administration shall maintain a register of the religious denominations’ local branches.

Article 20

In compliance with the bylaws of a respective religious denomination and upon decision of its central administration, local
branches may register themselves as legal entities in the district court where their headquarters are located.

Chapter Four. Property and Finances

Article 21

1. Religious denominations and their local branches that have acquired legal entity status based on this Act shall have
the right to own property.
2. The property of religious organizations may include: right to own real estate and limited real estate property rights;
income from real estate management, including rent, profits, or dividends from participation in commercial entities or
associations of commercial entities; right to own movables, including securities; copyright and related rights; income from
state subsidies, donations, testamentary dispositions, and others.
3. The State and the counties may gratuitously grant to religious institutions and their local branches the right to use state or county real estate as well as to support them with subsidies provided for in the state or county budget.

Article 22

Religious denominations may dispose of their property in compliance with their bylaws.

Article 23

1. To meet their needs, registered religious denominations may produce and sell goods connected with their religious
activities, rituals, and rites.
2. The transactions under Paragraph 1 shall not be consider "commercial" within the meaning of the Commerce Act.
3. Places of worship, temples, monasteries, objects, and individuals related to worship activity may not be used for
advertisement purposes by "merchants", within the meaning of the Commerce Act, without the express consent of the
respective religious denomination.

Article 24

Registered religious denominations shall have the right to own and maintain cemeteries at their own expense.

Article 25

1. The State may support and encourage religious denominations registered under this Act in their religious, social,
educational, and health activities through tax, credit, and interest rate preferences, customs, and other financial and
economic relief under the conditions and procedure established in the respective specialized legislation.
2. When religious denominations use preferences under Paragraph 1, their annual financial statements are subject to an
independent financial audit under the conditions established for legal entities with non-profit status, which perform a
socially beneficial activity.
3. Upon violation of this Act, the Ministry of Finance shall notify the prosecutor’s office and the state financial control
authorities to perform an audit and to take further actions required by law.

Article 26

A religious denomination that has acquired a legal entity status under this Act may establish and participate in
commercial entities.

Article 27

1. After preliminary consent, a religious institution may establish legal entities with non-profit purpose to support and
popularize a particular denomination that has acquired a legal entity status.
2. Legal entities with non-profit purpose under Paragraph 1 shall not be entitled to engage in activities that represent the
public practice of religion.

Article 28

The annual State Budget Act shall determine the amount and distribution of the state subsidy for registered religious

Article 29

Employment rights of clergymen and officers of religious institutions shall be determined by the religious institutions’
bylaws as well as by the employment and social legislation.

Chapter Five. Medical, Social, and Educational Institutions of Religious Denominations

Article 30

1. Religious denominations registered under this Act may establish medical, social, and educational institutions.
2. Medical, social, and educational institutions of religious denominations shall be established and shall act in
compliance with current legal requirements.

Article 31

The Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Employment and Social Policy, and the Ministry of Education and Science shall
oversee the activities of the medical, social, and educational institutions of religious denominations for compliance with
state requirements.

Article 32

Admission to a medical or social institution of a religious denomination shall not depend on affiliation with the respective
religious community.

Article 33

1. Upon permission by the Minister of Education and Science, registered religious denominations may establish
ecclesiastical schools for their own religious needs in compliance with the National Education Act.
2. Degrees obtained in ecclesiastical schools shall be equalized to a secular decree in compliance with the National
Education Act.
3. Registered religious denominations may establish secondary schools in compliance with the requirements and
procedure for private schools under the National Education Act.
4. A written application by a parent or guardian is required for admission to schools under Paragraphs 1, 2, and 3 until
the student is eighteen years old.
5. Educational institutions of registered religious denominations shall not prevent attainment of obligatory state
educational degrees as provided for in the Constitution and the law.
6. Registered religious denominations may establish higher education institutions in compliance with the requirements
and procedure of the Higher Education Act.
7. Higher Schools of ecclesiastical institutions shall be established on proposal of a registered denomination’s
management with the approval of the Council of Ministers.

Chapter Six. Directorate on Religious Denominations

Article 34

The Council of Ministers shall implement the state policy on religious denominations.

Article 35

The Directorate on Religious Denominations is a specialized administration under the Council of Ministers, which shall:
1. Coordinate the relationship between the executive branch and the religious denominations;
2. Assist the Council of Ministers in implementing the state policy to maintain tolerance and respect among different
religious denominations;
3. Organize and manage the activity of the expert consulting committee on religious denominations’ problems;
4. Provide expert conclusions and opinions as required by this Act;
5. Provide opinions on requests for permission to stay in the country submitted by foreign religious ministers who are
invited by the central administration of a registered religious denomination;
6. Upon information or petition by citizens, perform audits for violations of citizens’ rights and freedoms or the rights and
freedoms of their relatives that result from abuse of the right to religious freedom by third persons;
7. Observe the compliance of state officials’ activities pertaining to religious rights and freedoms;
8. Upon information or petition by citizens, perform audits of activities that are a potential violation of Article 7 of this Act,
and, if necessary, notify the prosecutor’s office;
9. Make proposals to the state draft budget for distribution of the state subsidy allocated to registered religious
denominations and ensure its accountability.

Chapter seven. Administrative-penal Provisions

Article 36

1. An individual who, without representative power, performs activity on behalf of a religious denomination without
authorization shall be imposed a fine from BGN 100 to BGN 300.
2. If the act is a repeated offense, the fine imposed shall be from BGN 500 to BGN 1000.

Article 37

Any individual who, other than on the grounds provided for in this Act, hinders the free formation or expression of
religious beliefs, shall be imposed a fine from BGN 100 to BGN 300.

Article 38

1. Upon violation of provisions of this Act, if the act does not constitute a criminal offense, the culpable individual is
imposed a fine from BGN 500 to BGN 1,000. When the act is committed by a legal entity, it is punishable by a property
sanction from BGN 500 to BGN 5,000.
2. When insignificant cases under Paragraph 1 are committed, the offense is punishable by a fine from BGN 100 to BGN

Article 39

1. Violations of this Act are established by public citation issued by officials of the Directorate on Religious
Denominations under the Council of Ministers.
2. Penal orders that impose sanctions under this Act are issued by the Director of the Directorate on Religious
Denominations under the Council of Ministers.

Article 40

Public citations and penal orders under this Act are issued and appealed under the procedure of the Administrative
Violations and Penalties Act.

Transitional and final provisions

§ 1
Under this Act:
1. "Religious denomination" is a set of religious beliefs upon which religious rites and rituals are performed and upon
which religious communities and religious institutions are formed.
2. "Religious community" is a voluntary union of individuals to profess a particular religion, perform religious worship,
religious rites, and service.
3. "Religious institution" is a religious community registered under the Religious Denominations Act, which has a legal
entity status, its own governing bodies, and bylaws.

§ 2
1. Registered religious denominations under Article 6 of the Religious Denominations Act (repealed by § 8 of this Act)
shall preserve their legal entity status.
2. Within one month from this Act’s entry into force, the Directorate on Religious Denominations shall submit to the Sofia
City Court the register of the registered religious denominations and their bylaws.
3. The Court shall register ex officio and at a closed hearing the religious denominations registered under Paragraph 1
except for religious denominations under Article 10. In this case the Court shall not refuse registration.
4. Local branches of religious denominations that exist prior to this Act’s entry into force, which are legal entities, shall be
registered ex officio by the respective district court located within their headquarters upon application of the religious
denomination’s central administration. The application must contain the registration certificate of the religious
denomination issued by the Sofia City Court and the power of attorney to the person who represents the local branch
issued by the denomination’s central administration. Within one month from this Act’s entry into force, county mayors
shall provide to the district court the register of the religious denominations’ local branches.

§ 3
Individuals, who at the time this Act enters into force have seceded from a registered religious institution in violation of its
properly adopted bylaws, shall not use an identical name or use or dispose of its property.

§ 4
1. Upon request by a registered religious denomination, the Director of the Directorate on Religious Denominations
under the Council of Ministers shall issue a certificate on the privity and successorship of a religious denomination or a
religious, educational, or welfare legal entity that existed before 1949.
2. Representatives of the respective religious denomination shall file civil action before the Sofia City Court to establish
privity and successorship and shall submit the certificate of the Director of the Directorate on Religious Denominations
issued under Paragraph 1.
3. The Court issues a decision, which is registered in the register under Article 18.
4. The decision may be appealed by other registered religious denominations in compliance with the appeal procedure of
the Civil Procedure Code.

§ 5
1. Property rights of religious denominations shall be restated to the extent that the actual property currently exists and is
owned by the State, counties, state organizations, or their companies or sole proprietorships under Article 61 of the
Commerce Act and to the extent the property was nationalized, taken, confiscated, or illegally transferred on grounds
provided for in the Restitution of Ownership Rights to Nationalized Immovable Properties Act; in Article 21 of the
repealed Religious Denominations Act; in the Act on Restitution of Ownership Rights to Some Property Taken under the
Territorial and Municipality Building Act; in the Planned Building of Municipalities Act; in the Development of
Municipalities Act; in the State Property and Ownership Rights Act; in the Ownership Rights and Use of Agricultural
Lands Act; and in the Restitution of Ownership Rights to Forests and Forest Land Act.
2. The restitution of ownership rights shall be exercised following the procedure of the Restitution of Ownership Rights to
Nationalized Immovable Properties Act upon the entry into force of this Act.
3. The provisions of this Act, which may refer to other restitution acts, shall be applied to pending disputes pertaining to
restitution of ownership rights of religious denominations.
4. The property restated under this Act may not be claimed by adverse possession, and a new period for holding under
adverse possession shall begin upon the entry into force of this Act.
5. When the requirements for restitution of ownership rights under Paragraph 1 through 4 are met, religious
denominations shall be compensated under the procedure established in the Compensation of Owners of Nationalized
Property Act. Religious denominations shall file claim for compensation within one year of this Act’s entry into force.

§ 6
Article 133a of the Individuals and Family Act is repealed.

§ 7
Article 2, para. 2 of the Non-Profit Legal Entities Act is amended by replacing the wording "religious activity" with "activity
typical to a religious denomination".
§ 8
This Act repeals the Religious Denominations Act (State Gazette No. 48 of 1949).
This Act was adopted by the XXXIX National Assembly on December 20, 2002 and was sealed with the official stamp of
the National Assembly of the Republic of Bulgaria.

(Translation : Religion and Law Research Consortium)