Several of Serbia's Protestant communities have expressed concern over a draft for a new religious freedom law presented by the Serbian ministry of religion.

Although the text of the draft is not yet available, the ministry announced some features of the proposed text. Soon after, Baptists and Pentecostals held press conferences accusing the state of introducing a state religion in a secular state. Concerns have focused on their future status and relations with the government.

"The new commissars are wearing crosses instead of red stars," Alexander Birvis, president of the Baptist Union of Yugoslavia, told a press conference in Novi Sad July 18. "We are still under heavy Byzantine influence, where the state declared what the people should believe or not believe."

However, the ministry is asking for more time and understanding, claiming that the law will follow the best legal tradition of democratic countries in Europe.

"One of the articles explicitly says there is no state religion," Bojan Pajtic, president of the law committee in the Serbian parliament, told the Novi Sad daily Gradjanski List, adding that there is still some time before the law is voted upon. "This is only a draft and it is possible there will be some changes before the parliamentary procedure, which I believe will be before the end of the year."

The Serbian parliament voted to annul the former law on the legal status of religious communities in March 1993 because it "belonged to the Communist times." However, no new law was adopted to replace it. For two years after this, newly founded religious communities were able to register as "citizen's associations," but in the wake of a Supreme Court ruling in 1995, this option was abolished. For the last six years, ...

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