In a landmark victory for Greek evangelicals, the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, France, has upheld the right of Protestants to evangelize freely. While allowing current Greek antiproselytism laws to stand, the court affirmed the necessity of "the freedom everyone must have to manifest his religion."

The high-profile case, involving three Greek Air Force officers, Dimitrios Larissis, Savvas Mandalaridis, and Ioannis Sarandis, concluded a four-year court battle over the fairness of a Greek antiproselytism statute. It marked the first time a democratic country defended antiproselytism laws in an international court.

Beginning with their 1992 conviction in military court for unlawful proselytism, the officers lost two successive appeals to higher Greek courts. They then turned to the European Commission on Human Rights for help.

John Warwick Montgomery, who is currently a barrister and law professor in England, argued the officers' appeal before the European Court (CT, Oct. 6, 1997, p. 89). In its February decision, the court drew a distinction between the officers' military and civilian evangelism. The court found the Greek government guilty of violating the European Convention on Human Rights and awarded the officers one million drachmas ($30,000).

Greece is overwhelmingly dominated by the Greek Orthodox Church. The Greek constitution has historically protected that church's interests. The law in question prohibits any form of proselytism.

In recent years, Greek evangelicals have seen a marked increase in incidents of persecution. Three years ago, rioters in central Greece beat and stoned an evangelistic team from Athens-based Hellenic Ministries. Last summer, authorities forcibly evicted the athletic ministry More Than Gold from an international track-and-field competition after discovering its Protestant identity (CT, Nov. 17, 1997, p. 76).

In a display of unity, the Greek Evangelical Alliance in January passed a resolution denouncing government attempts to close the largest Protestant church in Thessaloniki. Despite government opposition, however, Protestants are making great strides in Greece. The officers' denomination, the Free Apostolic Church of Pentecost, has planted churches in virtually every Greek city and operates the largest radio network in the country.

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