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.

The northern regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia have declared independence from Georgia, though there is little international recognition for their independence, and Georgia considers them part of its sovereign territory, under Russian military occupation following the Russo-Georgian War in August 2008.

 
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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 do confer special status and privileges to the Georgian Orthodox Church (GOC).

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 (US$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.

However, the principle of secularism is reportedly being jeopardized by the dominance of the Georgian Orthodox Church in all spheres of public life, including in schools.

NGO investigations into the school sector have found that cases of religious discrimination do occur including the promotion of GOC theology, GOC prayers conducted in classrooms and the display of religious icons and symbols despite the prohibition of proselytization in the law.
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Indeed, there have been consistent reports of religious indoctrination within the public education system, most notably in the region of Adjara. Collective prayers, the display of religious symbols for non-academic purposes and the conduction of religious rituals by Orthodox Christian clerics on school grounds have become more frequent.
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Family, community, society, religious courts and tribunals

According to the 2014 census, the 83.4 percent of Georgians who identity as Christian Orthodox made up the largest religious group in the country followed by Muslims at 10.7 percent. There is a strong correlation between ethnicity and religious affiliation with the majority of ethnic Georgians associating with the GOC. The regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia follow similar trends.
<state.gov/j/drl/rls/irf/religiousfreedom/index.htm>

Social prejudice against the non-religious

According to Caucasus Research Resource Centers (CRRC), negative attitudes towards atheists are widespread in Georgia, despite most people not having regular contact on a daily basis with anyone who identifies as being irreligious, indifferent or atheist. Because of the importance places on religion in mainstream Georgian identity, especially Christian Orthodoxy, people are likely to perceive religious belief as a desirable quality in spouses or business partners, for example.
<crrc-caucasus.blogspot.co.uk/2013/11/attitudes-towards-atheists-in-their.html>

LGBT rights

In the last several years, Georgia has adopted reforms to protect members of the LGBT community. In 2014, the Parliament approved a law which banned any form of discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation.

However, homophobia remains deeply rooted in the country, in particular due to the influence of the Orthodox Church. Gay people have often been the target of violence and physical abuse.

On the rare occasions that LGBT people and groups have attempted to hold demonstrations (peacefully and lawfully) they have been met with counter-protests and violence, and the Church has organized large-scale events on the same day in order to push out the LGBT activists. On 17 May 2012, Identoba, a Georgian LGBT organization, planned a peaceful march in honor of the International Day against Homophobia and Transphobia (IDAHO). A group of Orthodox Christians insulted and threatened the activists. The following year, on 17 May 2013, the protest was again interrupted by religious counter-demonstrators, including representatives of the Georgian Orthodox Church, who broke through the police cordon and assaulted the participants, leaving up to 28 people injured. The authorities were criticized for failing to effectively protect the march. Two priests of the GOC were amongst those arrested in connection to the attack. Another year on, in 2014 the Orthodox Church announced that May 17 would be “Family Purity Day”, and continues to hold large events to mark this day every year. In 2018 the organizers of the LGBT marches announced they would no longer celebrate IDAHO on May 17 in order to prevent new clashes.
<georgiatoday.ge/news/10306/LGBT-Community-Cancels-Demonstration-on-Day-against-Homophobia>

In 2017, the Vice-Captain of the Georgian national football team, Guram Kashia, wore a rainbow armband during a match on the Dutch National Coming Out Day. Far-right groups rioted in front of the Georgian Football federation demanding Kashia’s expulsion from the national team. This incident led to 8 arrests.
<rferl.org/a/georgia-football-guram-kashia-lgbt-rainbow-homosexuality-discrimination/28806434.html>

Minority rights in general

In January 2016, the Council of Europe published a report assessing the legislative steps taken by Georgia regarding the protection of national minorities since its adoption of the Action Plan for Tolerance and Civic Integration in 2009. The report covers the establishment of the State Agency for Religious Affairs in February 2014. The institution, which is responsible for the protection and promotion of religious diversity in Georgia, is criticized for unequally providing funds (92.2% to the GOC) and thereby fostering a hierarchy among religions.
<rm.coe.int/CoERMPublicCommonSearchServices/DisplayDCTMContent?documentId=0900001680590fb5>

Furthermore,  the report highlights the resistance of certain traditional institutions, such as the Georgian Orthodox Church, against the application of the Anti-Discrimination standards which entered into force in 2014. In 2013 and 2014, in several towns across Georgia, Jehovah’s Witnesses and Muslims were prevented from worshiping in public by Orthodox Christians.<dfwatch.net/council-of-europe-report-highlights-marginalisation-of-national-minorities-and-inter-faith-tensions-39905>
<amnesty.org/download/Documents/EUR5633872016ENGLISH.pdf>

Freedom of expression advocacy of humanist rights

Freedom of the press

The press is rated as “Partly free” by Freedom House, and there is some evidence of improvement in recent years.<freedomhouse.org/report/freedom-press/2017/georgia>
<rsf.org/en/georgia >

In  January 2016, three journalists: Levan Sutidze, Irakli Kiknavelidze and Nino Macharashvili, working for the opposition media channel Tabula, were attacked at a restaurant in Tbilisi. The assault was motivated by the journalists’ coverage of the Georgian Orthodox Church. The journalists reported minor injuries.
<dfwatch.net/three-journalists-attacked-in-tbilisi-39716>

Political attempts to establish a “blasphemy” law

There have been multiple attempts, in at least 2013, 2015 and 2018, to introduce a “blasphemy” law in Georgia.

In December 2015, a draft “blasphemy” law was submitted to the parliament, having been initiated by the Georgian Orthodox Church in January 2015. The Church argued that there was a need to deter people from “directly or indirectly” insulting the Georgian Orthodox Church or other “traditional religions”, and specifically to de-prioritize the right to freedom of expression as a defense against “insulting” religion. Under the draft law “insulting religious feelings” would lead to a fine of GEL 300 (US$ 120) or GEL 600 in case of repeat offenses. In early February 2016, the proposed law was endorsed by the parliamentary Human Rights and Civil Integration Committee, however critics noted that the law was vague, and the bill was withdrawn on 15 February 2016 by the Georgian parliamentary deputy Ioseb Jachvliani.
<amnesty.org/download/Documents/EUR5633872016ENGLISH.pdf>
<forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2152>

In March 2018, the MP Emzar Kvitsiani submitted a bill which would criminalize “public manifestations of hatred” against religious symbols, religious organizations, clerics and believers, and/or “publishing or displaying materials insulting the feelings of believers”. Offences would be punishable with a fine or imprisonment for a term of up to one year.
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