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Jehovah’s Witnesses fail to get state recognition in Lithuania

Lithuanian lawmakers on Thursday the 6th June denied state recognition to the Lithuanian Jehovah’s Witnesses Religious Community.

In total, 88 MPs voted against granting Jehovah’s Witnesses state recognition, two were in favour, and three abstained.

According to the Seimas, this community does not comply with the Lithuanian constitution and its requirement that religious teachings and rituals be in accordance with the law and integrity.

The resolution says that the religious teaching of Jehovah’s Witnesses prohibiting blood transfusions is incompatible with the constitutional right to life of a human being and the right to state-guaranteed medical aid.

It also says that the community’s teaching prohibiting participation in the defence of the state with weapons or contribution to the defence of the state by non-military means encourages non-compliance with the constitution and its requirements to defend the state against a foreign armed attack.

The resolution was drafted based on the conclusions of the Justice Ministry and experts.

The religious community, for its part, believes that it meets the requirements for state recognition.

Before the vote, Jean-Benoit Smolarek, a representative of the community, told BNS that amendments to the Law on National Conscription are already being discussed in the Lithuanian parliament, which would provide for alternative civilian service.

“This measure, which stems from an obligation imposed on Lithuania by the European Court of Human Rights, essentially refutes the Justice Ministry’s argument that refusal to perform military service on the grounds of religious beliefs is unconstitutional,” he said.

In his words, the European Court of Human Rights has repeatedly declared that the religious beliefs of Jehovah’s Witnesses, including those relating to the choice of medical treatment, are protected by the fundamental right to freedom of religion guaranteed by the constitution and the European Convention.

The community submitted its application for the status of a state-recognised religion to the parliament back in 2017.

Under the Law on Religious Communities and Associations, non-traditional religious associations can be recognised by the state as part of Lithuania’s historical, spiritual, and social heritage if they have public support and their teachings and rites do not contradict the law and morality.

State recognition means that the state supports the spiritual, cultural, and social heritage of the religious associations.

The activities of Jehovah’s Witnesses in the territory of present-day Lithuania started in the Klaipėda Region, or Memel Territory, back in 1912.

According to the 2021 census, 2,118 individuals in Lithuania identified as Jehovah’s Witnesses.

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