A former Soviet republic which declared its independence in 1991, Georgia is today a  representative democratic semi-presidential republic, lying at the intersection of Europe and Asia.

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Constitution and government

The constitution and other laws and policies protect freedom of thought, conscience and religion, as well as freedom of expression, assembly and association. However, the constitution, and government policy, does confer special status and privileges to the Georgian Orthodox Church (GOC).

The constitution recognizes the role of the GOC in the country’s history, but stipulates the independence of church from state. The law provides for freedom of religious belief, denomination, and conscience, including the right to choose and change religious affiliation.

A concordat between the government and the GOC confers unique status upon the GOC; the government does not have a concordat with any other religious group. The concordat grants rights not given to other religious groups, including legal immunity for the GOC patriarch, the exclusive right to staff the military chaplaincy, exemption of GOC clergy from military service, and a consultative role in government, especially in the sphere of education. Some of the concordat’s provisions, including the GOC’s consultative role in education, require implementing legislation yet to be adopted by parliament.

The GOC is the only religious group with a line item in the government budget, receiving 22.8 million lari ($13.75 million) during 2012. The tax code grants religious groups partial tax exemptions, and applies them unequally. Taxes paid by all religious groups except the GOC include a profit tax on the sale of religious products, value added taxes on the provision or importation of religious products, and taxes on all activities related to the construction, restoration, and painting of religious buildings.

Education and children’s rights

By law, religious education may take place only after school hours and cannot be controlled by the school or teachers. Outside instructors, including clergy, cannot regularly attend or direct student extracurricular activities or student clubs and their meetings. GOC lay theologians, rather than priests, lead such activities.