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By BosNewsLife News Center
SKOPJE/BUDAPEST (BosNewsLife) -- An influential US-based Christian human rights group has expressed concern over the situation of a growing Baptist Church in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia amid reports that Protestant churches are discriminated in the mainly Orthodox nation, BosNewsLife learned Tuesday, July 25.
International Christian Concern (ICC) with website www.persecution.org said the Good News Baptist Church in the Macedonian capital Skopje "is continually being ignored in its requests to expand its current building. For 20 months, church leaders have requested permission to extend their facilities or purchase land to build a new structure."
The extension is needed because the current facility of Good News Church has become too small, only holding 55 seats, while the congregation has grown to an average of 70-100 attendees, Christians said.
"For almost two years, church leaders have exhausted all options in requesting a building permit. More than 170 individuals signed a petition to support the request, but the mayor, Mrs. Violeta Alarova, did not respond," added ICC, which investigates reports of religious persecution and discrimination.
"Requests were made to both the local and central governments, and in both sectors the requests were ignored and not even processed. The church leaders could not even arrange a meeting with government officials to discuss their case."
The ICC established that "all requests [from the Baptists] have been denied or ignored [while] Orthodox churches have experienced no delay in gaining building permits." In addition many other building permits were given in the same street and neighborhood where the Baptists are located, ICC said.
The Pastor of the Good News Baptist Church, Ivan Grozdanov said in published remarks there are three tiers of religious freedom in Macedonia. Protestant churches are at the bottom tier of the hierarchy, and not one of several Protestant groups was apparently able to receive permission to legally build their own worship facility. The favored Orthodox community is routinely given land and permission to construct churches, Grozdanov said.
"The [United States] State Department’s report on International Religious Freedom for Macedonia confirms that their findings show Protestant churches had great difficulty in obtaining building permits," ICC recalled in a statement obtained by BosNewsLife.
However the Macedonian Commission for Faith Communities and Religious Groups denied discrimination. Commission assistant Fejzula Limanoski reportedly said that "all religious groups have the same rights," and "that this case should be finished soon." He said they would try to attain a meeting with the mayor of Skopje.
The latest row comes amid international pressure on Macedonia to improve its human rights record. In March this year the head of the Serbian Orthodox Church in Macedonia, which is seen as competition for the 'official' Macedonian Orthodox Church, was released after 220 days in prison.
Archbishop Jovan Vraniskovski, who has refused to accept the authority of the government backed Macedonian Orthodox Church, was previously sentenced to five days solitary confinement for baptizing his sister's grandchild.
Prosecutors argued that Vraniskovski's activities and refusal to recognize the Macedonian Orthodox Church amounted to "inciting national, racial and religious hatred, schism and intolerance."
Vraniskovski said he is the victim of a campaign by some church leaders and government officials to persecute him. (With BosNewsLife's Stefan J. Bos and BosNewsLife Research).
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