The European Court of Human Rights has ruled in favour of two evangelical pastors who accused Bulgarian authorities of running a campaign against Christians.
In 2008, the council of the City of Burgas together with the police ordered all schools in the city to warn children and families to stay away from Protestant churches.
In a letter, officials argued evangelicals were “carrying out a massive campaign of agitation”, “tricking new members”, and “disuniting the Bulgarian nation”.
Children were also asked to report if they had been in contact with any member of that branch of Christianity.
But after the letter became widely known in the city, evangelical pastors Zhivko Tonchev and Radoslav Kiryakov decided to legally challenge the campaign.
As national courts rejected the case and the government never retracted the letter, the pastors decided to appeal to the European Court of Human Rights with the support of the Christian advocacy group, ADF International.
Now, the Strasbourg Court has ruled the government of Bulgaria violated the right to religious freedom of Evangelical churches in the country.
Robert Clarke, ADF International director of advocacy and co-counsel in the case, said: “The European Court of Human Rights has affirmed that the government of Bulgaria was wrong to target these Christians with an alarmist campaign designed to suppress the freedom to live out their beliefs.
“This ruling sends a clear message that government efforts to stamp out religious freedom are unacceptable and fundamentally incompatible with democracy”
Reacting to the ruling, pastor Tonchev said: “We are thrilled that the European Court of Human Rights has recognised our fundamental right to religious freedom just in time for Christmas.
“Government officials had no right to malign our Christian faith, just because we are distinct from the majority religious practice in Bulgaria. With this verdict, the Court has affirmed that religious freedom belongs to everyone. As pastors dedicated to the teachings of Jesus Christ, we rejoice that our rights, and the rights of all who believe, have been recognised”.