On October 18, in a TV Obieqtivi night studio, David Tarkhan-Mouravi, the leader of political party Alliance of Patriots of Georgia, stated that a number of religious groups in Georgia demand privileges similar to the Georgian Orthodox Church.
David Tarkhan-Mouravi’s statement is not true because the constitutional claim of religious organizations addresses the issue of tax inequality and does not intend the revision of the legal status of the Georgian Orthodox Church, which in fact can’t be done by the Constitutional Court.
The constitutional claims of religious organizations for the revision of the Georgian Tax Code and Law of Georgian on State Property in accordance to the Constitution were filed in the legal proceeding in 2015-2016. On 23 March, 2017, the court discussed the admissibility of the claim and on July 3, 2018, two decisions were adopted related to the Georgian Orthodox Church, none of which concerns the legal status of the Church:
- The first decision (N 1/2/671) oncerned the exemption of the OCG’s construction activities of cathedrals and churches, as well as restoration and painting activities from the Value Added Tax (VAT).
- The second decision (N 1/1/811)- concerned the act of assigning the OCG with the right to receive state property free of charge. None of the aforementioned decisions concern the legal status of OCG.
The Constitutional Court decided that both norms contradict the Article 14 of the Constitution of Georgia, which emphasizes the right of equality before the law. The Constitutional Court mentioned that in these specific legal relations (building churches, painting, restoration and the possibility of the state handing over the property free of charge) all religious organizations are substantially equal subjects. Disputed norms differentiate between substantially equal subjects, due to which, the Court deemed the given norms discriminative and, hence, decided that they contradicted the Constitution of Georgia N 1/2/671, Paragraph 16 N 1/1/811, Paragraph 10);
The Constitutional Court is not authorized to change the status of the OCG. It obeys the constitution and acts in the framework, defined by the Constitution, which says that the OCG has a special role due to its historical contribution.
The given decisions of the Constitutional Court are not associated with changing the status of the OCG. Moreover, the Constitutional Court considers the entry in the Constitution of Georgia regarding the special role of the OCG in the process of decision-making and argues, to what extent are these norms connected to the special role of the OCG. Taking into account that the Constitutional Court did not consider the appealed norms to have any kind of connection to the special role of the OCG and noted that the entry on the special role does not require a different treatment envisaged by the appealed norm, the Constitutional Court decided to amend the existing entries in the Law of Georgia on the State Property and the Tax Code of Georgia, due to the discriminatory nature of the appealed norms.
The Constitutional Court is not authorized to rule on and define the status of the OCG. The Parliament of Georgia has to decide whether to take away the existing privileges from the OCG or expand them in order to cover all religious organizations, thereby resolving the hitherto existing discrimination.
See the previous publication of Myth Detector for further details.