Religious Freedom in Greece

The Issues

GREECE TODAY - the Orthodox Church scandal
11 Feb. 2005 - Orthodox Church crisis deepens
The Issues
How others see us!
How to Get Involved
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Our letter to the Council of Europe, December 2004
The BBC interviews
The Athens Olympic's Mascots protest and legal action
The 2004 U.S. Department's of State Report for Greece
A U.S. Newspaper about religious persecution in Greece
How others sketch the Right in Greece
Legal Archive

<<The Greek Law of Necessity no. 1363/1938 is per se incompatible with Article 9 of the European Convention of Human Rights>>
EUROPEAN COURT OF HUMAN RIGHTS (Manoussakis and Others v. Greece)

Article 9. 2

Freedom to manifest one's religion or beliefs shall be subject only to such limitations as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society in the interests of public safety, for the protection of public order, health or morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.

The Greek Government follows a policy of religious oppression....

....the result of which is that the Eastern Orthodox Church has essentially become a 'State-Enforced religion'; and the other faiths or denominations are barely, if at all, tolerated. The following certainly point in that direction:

-- The obligatory, brainwashing quality catechesis in schools and the brainwashing of members of the armed forces, the illegal association of public schools with catechetical schools of the Eastern Orthodox Church.

-- The special and favorable treatment of members of the armed forces who follow the 'predominant' faith of Orthodoxy. Even the ability of the military to perform their duties and the loyalty of public employees is some how dependent or related to their association with the Christian Orthodox Creed!!!

-- The illegal maintaining of extensive files with records of the religious preferences and beliefs of the citizens who serve as public employees, of students in schools and generally, of the totality of citizens, by the security related agencies of the state.

-- There is an infinite number of laws in favor of the Eastern Orthodox Church, including being exempted from taxation and being government supported; the clergy, for example, the priests are paid by the government as they are considered employees of the state. Naturally with funds obtained from our taxation in order to support a religion, that we do not espouse!!

-- There is the constant, indispensable and authoritative presence of the Eastern Orthodox Church officials, ie priests, bishops etc, in every public or state activity ie the non-religious celebration of national holidays, the religious oath of members of Parliament and of the ministers of the Government etc. This certainly re-enforces the idea of a 'State Religion'.

-- Generally and for some strange reason the State attributes compliance with the law to having connection with the Eastern Orthodox Church. It also makes it amply clear to every citizen that if one is not a Christian Orthodox, he is not in compliance with the law and could be therefore subject to consequences!! An example of this is a letter sent by an Eastern Orthodox Church bishop to Greek citizens who had left Orthodoxy and had espoused another denomination, whom he threatened with deportation, all this in 1970, no less!!!

-- A former Minister of Justice of the present Greek Government admits: «The Church wishes a state that guides its citizens towards a 'State Church' in essence. As a consequence, the state is in violation of fundamental human rights. Today's influence of the Church is not due to its own strength based on its teachings, spiritual work etc. alone, but also on the influence which the Church derives from its 'state status'. As such, the strength of the Church is not dependent on its own merits alone, but on borrowed strength from the state. The Church's influence acquires therefore an exogenous, artificial and unreal dimension to a great extent». [Michael Stathopoulos, The Constitutional Guarantee of Religious Freedom, published in Law Matters Regarding Religious Variants in Greece, Athens 1999, p. 208]

-- In addition, the Greek Government does not react to the various illegal and terrorizing acts of the Eastern Orthodox Church against other religions.

Regarding us, especially, the Greek State leaves us without lawful protection, as such we are subject to all kinds of pressure and without pretence, it grants the Eastern Orthodox Church of Greece, the right to exert pressure for our extinction; to hurl insults against us incessantly (officially, by its bishops giving sermons from the pulpit); to have established offices in every bishopric in order to monitor and record our activities, this of course against all civil liberties laws [The Greek Church Holy Synod, officially admitted the latter, as it announced it on Nov 6, 2001]. We have officially denounced this fact to the official and independent 'PERSONAL DATA PROTECTION AUTHORITY' on June 6, 2000, but without any action taken, to date, to protect us, however. Lastly, the Church attempts to hinder our religious activities with any method possible, thus violating systematically articles no. 196 and 199 of the Penal Code; and propagates enmity among us and our fellow citizens!! Our activities are concurrently monitored by the police and other state security agencies. Regarding this, we made our protests known to the Ministry of Public Order and the Ministry of Internal Affairs as the superior agency of the National Intelligence Service; thus far we have had no response.

In Greece the Social Right to Religious Freedom does not exist....

that is a certain religion or creed does not have the self-evident right to exist as a legal entity within the State's legal order of things. As far as the Greek State is concerned religions are non-existent and unsubstantial, with the exception of the three "Byzantine" religions (Judaism, Eastern Orthodoxy and Islam). The State has granted those religions, special rights and privileges, such as the right to be a «legal person of Public Law», through specific laws.
 The European courts have ruled, however, that such special treatment of certain religions has to be 'sufficiently justified'. The Greek State has never provided such justification, thus far.

As far as  the right of the  individual to religious freedom is concerned...
The Greek Government has reduced it to the right of establishing a Place of Worship....

The right of the individual to religious freedom has many aspects and only members of the three aforementioned religions enjoy all of them fully.
As far as the other religions or denominations are concerned, the Greek State arbitrarily and by special legislation, grants to certain of them some but not all aspects of the many that are part of the right of  Religious Freedom of the individual.
For example, the Greek State recognizes and arbitrarily directs the official recording in the National bureau of Public Records of weddings, baptisms, funerals and naming ceremonies of certain religions or denominations, only. In order to remedy this injustice against us we submitted two petitions in 1998, requesting to be recognized as a religion «known» and «acceptable». We had attached a list of 2.500 signatures requesting this. We had wished to be included in the «Registry of the 'known' religions» in order to enable us to record sacraments and ceremonies conducted by our religion in the Registry of  Public Records, as mentioned above, just as the other recognized religions do. Our petitions were not answered properly.
Additional aspects of the individual's right of Religious Freedom that we do not enjoy and especially protest against are
(a) the right to dispose the bodies of our dead by cremation which is the traditional Greek way of disposing the body, since Homeric Age, and
(b) the right to enter and have a Holy Service in our Holy Places. The Greek Sacred Sites of Antiquity are today the property of Ministry of Culture as Archaeological sites. We have submitted a lot of petitions requesting to be allowed to enter in one or two Sacred Sites' just once a year for a half an hour's Holy Service, but the Ministry of Culture did not answer our petitions completely, as such disregarding the right, that we are guaranteed, not only by the Constitution but also by the «UN declaration concerning the rights of indigenous people to their sacred places», as well.
For all the other religions or denominations that are not favored by special legislature, the law of the Greek State recognizes the individual right of Freedom of Worship, only.
We cannot understand the State's justification for granting certain religions rights and priviledges denied to others. The Greek Govermnment categorizes religions without proper justification!!!

-- As far as the Individual Right of Freedom of Worship is concerned...
it is, the ONLY part of the total number of rights which constitute the Human Right to Religious Freedom that the Greek State permits to be exercised by adherrents of '3d category' religions and consists of establishing a Place of Worship (this has a weaker legal status -IT IS NOT A LEGAL PERSON-, than a Church or Temple -WHICH ARE LEGAL PERSONS - According to law only the Eastern Orthodox Church has the right to have Churches or Temples). This right is based on two Compulsory Laws passed in 1938-1939, a turbulent period of dictatorship, and another law passed in 1942, during the German occupation of Greece. The purpose of these laws was to hinder the granting of even the minimal of human rights. These laws are unconstitutional from many aspects, and certain of their provisions insult the citizens' dignity since they humiliate them by permitting the Orthodox Church to interfere with their right of Freedom of Worship, as the Orthodox Bishop examines their petition!!!!!!!

Our petition for permission for a Place of Worship.

Despite of all the above, we DID apply for permission to establish a Place of Worship according to the aforementioned laws, on June 28, 2001. The petition was accompanied by a list of significant number of signatures.

After the petition was received by the proper department of the Ministry of Education and Religious Affairs, civil employees there informed us that our file was complete, ie we had supplied all the documents necessary and it was a FIRST, for a file to be so complete and to be accompanied by many more signatures than were required by law. They also related to us that since, there were so many convictions of Greece by the European Human Rights Court, exactly, for stalling to issue permissions for a Place of Worship, this time such a permission would have been promptly issued.

Despite of such assurances, our petition has not been approved, even three years have passed!!!

The former Minister of Education and Religious Affairs, Mr. Petros Euthimiou, has not responded to our requests for a hearing with him! From our several contacts with the civil employees in the appropriate department we have been left with the impression that our petition may never be answered, most likely!!

The official and independent authority 'CITIZEN'S ADVOCATE' (Obdursman) that we appealed to, has informed, rather in vain, the Ministry of Education and Religious Affairs that the Minister can not exercise, in this case, 'discretion', and that he has the obligation to reply to our petition within a reasonable length of time and to give a final reply or to explain the reasons for the delay, for not doing so at all. Just the same was the opinion of the official and independent authority « Human Rights National committee».

We have by now applied for permission to establish three other Places of Worship outside the Capital. But thw silence still persists and the New Greek Government has a CLEARLY hostile attitude towards us!

The Greek State tells us that even these humiliating long outdated laws, actually referred as 'fossils' and characterized as such in a scientific article written by the general secretary of the department of Religions of the Ministry, do not pertain to us, and that they exist only, to be presented to the UN inspectors, upon request!

In our case, the Ministry of Education and Religious Affairs violates the constitution and laws of the Greek State. It strengthens the obstacles set in our way by the aforementioned laws and reckons that these laws are indeed very liberal and it would probably be a good idea, if we were to return to the Justinian Code which as mentioned above demanded that every citizen either be Christian Orthodox or not exist at all!!


The Ministry of Education and Religious Affairs conceals the truth, in this case, from international organizations. According to the official position of the authorized director of the ministry, who stated during the Conference for the Religious Freedom on March 8, 2002, that «Now, there is a speedy approval of all requests for Places of Worship and that there is none pending for approval»! Similar assurances and explanations were also given to the European Council.

The insult of the Olympic's Mascots
(see the appropriate page)

"When the power, prestige and financial support of government is placed behind a particular religious belief, the indirect, coercive pressure upon religious minorities to conform to the prevailing officially approved religion is plain".
U. S. SUPREME COURT, Abington School District v. Schempp, 374 U.S. 203 (1963)

1. The prevailing religion in Greece is that of the Eastern Orthodox Church of Christ. The Orthodox Church of Greece, acknowledging our Lord Jesus Christ as its head, is inseparably united in doctrine with the Great Church of Christ in Constantinople and with every other Church of Christ of the same doctrine, observing unwaveringly, as they do, the holy apostolic and syn- odal canons and sacred traditions. It is autocephalous and is administered by the Holy Synod of serving Bishops and the Permanent Holy Synod originating thereof and assembled as specified by the Statutory Charter of the Church in compliance with the provisions of the Patriarchal Tome of June 29, 1850 and the Synodal Act of September 4, 1928. 2... 3. The text of the Holy Scripture shall be maintained unaltered. Official translation of the text into any other form of language, without prior sanction by the Autocephalous Church of Greece and the Great Church of Christ in Constantinople, is prohibited.

Constitution of Greece, Article 3