Religious Freedom Association Forming in Mongolia

Supporters Urge Implementation of Constitution’s Religious Freedom Guarantee

18 September 2009, Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia—Religious freedom supporters in Mongolia this month moved to form a national chapter of the International Religious Liberty Association (IRLA), a step they hope will encourage the government to implement greater principles of freedom of belief.

If officially approved, the new Mongolian Religious Liberty Association—comprised of religious, government and academia members—will encourage a more literal interpretation of the nation’s constitutional guarantee of religious freedom. While the government has increasingly adopted democratic principles, some experts say strict control of churches still exists in wake of the country’s recent communist past.

IRLA Mongolia 2009
John Graz, left, IRLA secretary-general, speaks with Titular Bishop Wenceslao Selga Padilla at a religious symposium in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia on September 9. Symposium attendees are seeking approval of a religious freedom association in Mongolia. [photo: Glenn Mitchell]

“We hope Mongolia will follow the United Nations recommendations for religious freedom and that every religion and believer will live at peace and be respected,” said John Graz, IRLA secretary-general.

The possible Mongolia IRLA was suggested at this month’s symposium on religious freedom in Mongolia’s capital, Ulaanbaatar, on September 9. Among the 50 participants were representatives from academic and government institutions and religious faiths, including Baptists, Buddhists, Catholics, Mormons and Seventh-day Adventists.

“This is an important step in the development of religious liberty in Mongolia,” said Paul Kotanko, director of the Adventist Church’s Mongolia Mission and local IRLA representative.

Kotanko says Mongolians have a “deep desire for social harmony,” yet traditional religions of Buddhism and Shamanism are vying for influence. Some are still wary of new religions or faiths not native to Mongolia, he said.

Every church and local congregation is required to register each year with local authorities. If a registration decision is delayed, the church can be temporarily or permanently shut down, Kotanko said.

Local authorities throughout the country have varying attitudes toward religions, according to Kotanko. Some jurisdictions have prohibited outreach activities, he reported.

Mongolia is home to some 3 million people, 50 percent of whom are Buddhist. About 40 percent claim no religion.

Established in 1893, the IRLA is present in some 80 countries and is the world’s oldest non-sectarian forum dedicated to religious freedom.

Ansel Oliver/ANN with Glenn Mitchell