Turkey (MNN) — Turkey Constitutional Reconciliation Commission (AUK) started writing the draft of a new Constitution on May 1. But since the project has been underway, Forum 18 News Service has noted that it is still unclear as to whether or not the new constitution will effectively protect the right to freedom of thought, religion, or belief at all.
Turkey does not exactly have a history of equality among its people. Although it's certainly much more tolerant of minorities than neighboring countries, Turkey remains 31st on the Open Doors World Watch List for persecuted of Christians.
A quality, neutral Constitution would not necessarily solve problems of persecution, but Forum 18 argues it "could solve at least some of the systemic problems and send a strong signal to government and society of other necessary changes."
In other words, it may encourage change in the daily lives of the Turkish people.
Throughout the Constitution drafting process, representatives from multiple religious groups have presented their views to the AUK. A few smaller minority groups have been left out of the process, but Sunni Muslims, minority Alevis, Christians, and more have been able to express their concerns and ideas.
Forum 18 says, "Some of the key religious freedom manifestations that religious groups–including minorities and groups within the majority Sunni Muslim population–hope to see protected in the new Constitution include: the right to establish schools where religious training can be provided, the right for religious organizations and communities to acquire legal entity status, the right to establish places of worship, the right to appoint leaders in accordance with their respective religious traditions."
These are ideas they have been able to express to the AUK. However, recent government decisions suggest that the AUK may not necessarily take all of these concerns into consideration.
For one thing, there have been odd moves in the education realm. Forum 18 notes that the Turkish government recently allowed the opening of Islamic schools and the creation of distance learning for female students who want to wear headscarves. However, no accomodations have been made for other minority groups.
At the same time, the "Religious Culture and Knowledge of Ethics" class students are required to take has yet to be abolished or even refined. Forum 18 suggests it could be redefined to include education about all religions in Turkey or at least provide optional lessons to learn about Christianity, Judaism, and other religions found in Turkey.
Furthermore, on June 1, legislation was passed introducing tax exemptions for people building places of worship or places of religious instruction. But Forum 18 notes that in order to get the exemption, the places must be approved by the local Governorship. Forum 18 says that seriously limits who can receive the tax exemptions. They say Protestants already face serious obstacles in establishing places of worship.
If the strange goings-on of the government indicated nothing, and the AUK created a truly neutral Constitution, things still might not pan out in favor of religious freedom. Forum 18 reports that although the AUK has to make a unanimous decision, the draft Constitution will be subject to changes by the General Assembly of parliament, the Grand National Assembly.
Clearly there are multiple variables in this Constitution process that could jeopardize religious freedom and tolerance within Turkey. The best thing to do now is pray. Pray for a Turkey's Constitution to provide freedom for believers, but most importantly, pray that the Gospel would move forward regardless of what comes next.