Belarus - Religions

Since the 1994 elections, the country's first president, Alyaksandr Lukashenka, who claims to be an "Orthodox atheist," has established a policy of favoring the Orthodox Church as the country's chief religion. This policy involves encouraging a greater role for the Orthodox Church as part of a larger strategy to promote Slavic unity and greater political unification between Belarus and Russia. The president grants the Orthodox Church special financial aid that is not given to other denominations and has declared the preservation and development of Orthodox Christianity a "moral necessity." The government's State Committee on Religious and National Affairs (SCRNA), established in 1997, categorizes religions and may deny any faith it designates as "nontraditional" permission to register. In September 1998, President Lukashenka promised state assistance for the construction of Orthodox churches.

As of 2001, the SCRNA estimates that approximately 80% of the population are Russian Orthodox. About 15% to 20% are Roman Catholics. Between 50,0000 and 90,000 people are Jewish. Other minority religions include the Greek Rite Catholic Church, the Belarus Autocephalous Orthodox Church, Seventh-Day Adventist, Calvinism, Lutheranism, Jehovah's Witnesses, the Apostolic Christian Church, and Islam.

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