Minister of Justice Urmas Reinsalu (Isamaa) and bishop emeritus Andres Põder, president of the Estonian Council of Churches, signed a cooperation agreement on Friday, the aim of which is to strengthen cooperation to develop relations between the state and the members of the Estonian Council of Churches.
The main fields of cooperation will include the prison chaplaincy service, national legal acts regulating the activity of religious associations and criminal prevention and rehabilitation work.
Cooperation of the Ministry of Justice with the Council of Churches has been effective in recent years, Mr Reinsalu said.
The signing of an agreement with the churches "is in no way a precedent in the cooperation of our state institutions and the Council of Churches," he insisted. "The Council of Churches has entered into a similar agreement with the Ministry of the Interior as well," Mr Reinsalu added.
He went on to explain that the agreement "provides that the state, with its support obligation, helps to better give meaning to the fundamental right to freedom of religion and conscience as stipulated in the Constitution."
Furthermore, the agreement also includes guidelines for the inclusion of the churches in such measures in the future, as well as a framework for the joint organisation of the 100th anniversary of the freedom of religion in the Republic of Estonia.
In the future, the Ministry of Justice will involve representatives of the Council of Churches in the drawing-up of legal acts that concern religious freedom, the activity of religious associations and other areas of cooperation in the field of public, private and penal law.
In addition, the agreement also specifies cooperation in the mapping-out of possible studies and analyses needed to develop these areas.
The Ministry of Justice and the Council of Churches also agree to jointly organise conferences, seminars, colloquiums and other discussions and training events in the field of religious freedom.
The cooperation agreement was entered into for a period of five years.
Editor: Dario Cavegn