Last week, I shared with you some of the good news of important victories your prayers and support have enabled Alliance Defending Freedom to have a part in across the U.S. But we’ve also been blessed with encouraging wins in courts overseas – wins that have great potential to influence U.S. jurists, protect religious liberty and national sovereignty, and perhaps even favorably impact similar cases in our own country in the years ahead.
In Strasbourg, France, for instance, the Fourth Section of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled earlier this month that Bulgarian authorities violated a Christian woman’s freedom of thought, conscience, and religion when they unjustly arrested her for private worship meetings in her home. The court also found that the government violated her right to an effective remedy of the situation – which has spanned 20 years. ADF attorneys represented the woman, Petya Dimitrova, at the ECHR.
“The government has no business punishing people for their faith and manner of worship,” says ADF Senior Counsel Roger Kiska. “This ruling sends a clear message to European governments that they must respect the religious freedom of their citizens as protected by the European Convention on Human Rights. It is a victory not only for Petya but for all people who value freedom from government coercion and recrimination.”
In 1995, Dimitrova tried to register a church as part of the Swedish Word of Life group. When Bulgarian authorities denied her request, she organized religious meetings at her home. In September of that year, police broke into her home without a warrant, confiscated her religious materials, and arrested her for conducting private worship services.
“The action of the state authorities failed to respect the need for true religious pluralism, which is inherent in the concept of a democratic society,” the ECHR’s judgment in Dimitrova v. Bulgaria states. “At all stages, the State authorities acted on the basis of discriminatory value judgments rather than evidence.”
“The court has protected Petya’s right to freely practice her Christian faith without illegal government harassment,” added Viktor Kostov, one of more than 2,500 private attorneys allied with ADF and Dimitrova’s counsel, together with ADF-allied attorney Nevena Stefanova, in the Bulgarian courts. “Bulgaria’s religious freedom violations have finally been exposed. This victory establishes clear lines against future government intrusion on the fundamental religious freedoms of European Christians.”
The religious freedoms of Canadian Christians have also been recently affirmed. In Nova Scotia, a trial court ruled late last month that the Nova Scotia Barristers’ Society (NSBS) does not have the authority to deny accreditation to Trinity Western University’s law school because of its biblical standards on appropriate sexual behavior. The court concluded that the NSBS violated the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and did not consider “the concerns for religious freedom and liberty of conscience.”
Trinity filed a lawsuit against NSBS last autumn, after the Society refused to recognize TWU graduates as lawyers unless the school changed its policy on sexual activity and marital fidelity. TWU requires its students, faculty, and staff to refrain from having premarital sex or engaging in sex outside of a marriage relationship between one man and one woman.
“Canadians should be free to live and work according to their deeply held convictions,” says Gerald Chipeur, Q.C., of the Canadian firm Miller Thompson, LLP, and an ADF allied attorney. “The same applies to faith-based educational institutions, which should be free to operate according to the faith they teach and espouse.”
We rejoice to see these crucial freedoms affirmed – and ask your continuing prayers for the work of ADF International, as our attorneys and allies work together to secure the legal precedents that will protect not only Christians in other countries, but your own children and grandchildren here in the USA.