A new religion law in Romania effectively grants government support to majority religions and denies rights to minority faiths, including some Protestants, critics say.

The measure became law days before the country's January admission into the European Union (EU). It creates a tiered government registration system based on a denomination's size. To achieve top-tier or preferential status and be eligible for government subsidies, faith groups must have roughly 22,000 members, or make up 0.1 percent of Romania's population. Groups also must be active in the country 12 years before they can register.

Protestants account for less than 6 percent of Romania's population. The Romanian Orthodox Church claims nearly 80 percent.

"The law punishes minority religions that are not favored by the state," said Angela Wu, international director of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, a Washington-based law firm. "It also makes it extremely difficult for new religious communities to register or obtain any kind of recognition."

According to the U.S. State Department, the Romanian government generally respects a constitutionally protected right to religious freedom. But "some restrictions adversely affected the rights of many religious groups," the State Department said in its 2006 International Religious Freedom Report. The U.S. Embassy "continuously expressed concern about discriminatory components of the draft law on religion" while it was under debate.

Religion laws recently adopted in other majority-Orthodox, Eastern European countries, particularly Belarus and Serbia, have troubled religious-freedom advocates.

Since the law requires all faith groups to re-register, some groups could lose previously enjoyed rights, said Joseph Grieboski, ...

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