Secularism and Irreligion in Georgia was most popular in the 20th century when the country was part of the Soviet Union. In the 21st century, secular and non-religious currents have seen a precipitous decline due to the rising popularity of the Georgian Orthodox Church and the fact that religious faith in general “has become fashionable” in Georgian society. Despite an increasing sense of religious affiliation among Georgians, there remains a significant irreligious portion of the public, as well as a large portion of nominally religious individuals who do not actively practice their faith and identify with religion for historical or cultural reasons.
Irreligion and secular lifestyle in Georgia
According to a 2013 statistically sampled opinion research, 11% of Georgia's population was partly or entirely non-religious, while 29% identified themselves as neither religious nor non-religious. Although 83% of the population reported that religion plays an important or very important role in their daily lives, 54% said they never fast even when required by their religion and an additional 20% said they rarely fast when required by religion. 46% of the population reported attending a place of worship only on special occasions or less often, while 11% said they never attend religious services; only 21% of Georgians reported weekly church attendance. On the matter of trust towards religious institutions, 3% of Georgians somewhat or fully distrusted them, 13% were indifferent, and 38% somewhat trusted them, versus 44% of Georgians who fully trusted religious organizations.
Sex and childbearing out of wedlock
According to a 2015 statistically sampled opinion research, 37% of the Georgian population thought that childbearing by women outside of wedlock (a sin for most traditional faiths in Georgia) was sometimes or always justified. Georgian public opinion on the matter of pre-marital sex (also a sin for traditional faiths in Georgia), showed different levels of tolerance for women and men: 23% of the public thought that female pre-marital sex was sometimes or always justified, but a higher 55% thought the same about male pre-marital sex.
Although the Georgian Orthodox Church views abortion as a "terrible sin", and 69% of Georgians say they can never justify abortion, as of 2005 a Georgian woman was estimated to have an average of three abortions in her lifetime. In recent years, the abortion rates have been somewhat reduced, but due to the increase in the use of contraception among Georgians, which the Church also condemns.
Georgian population maintains complicated and often contradictory views on the societal rights of homosexuals, who are deemed a grave deviation from Orthodox Christian values. According to a 2013 statistically sampled survey of Tbilisi on the subject of anti-gay violence, 87% of residents said that violence is "always unacceptable" and 91% agreed that "everyone should be equal before the law - including the clergy". At the same time, 57% thought that clergy who participated in violence against LGBT persons should not face trial. 40% of respondents disagreed with the notion that church should be intolerant towards sexual minorities, 45% agreed with church intolerance of sexual minorities, while 15% were uncertain. 57% stated that the successful organization of a peaceful demonstration marking the annual IDAHOT would endanger Georgia in some way.
Challenges to secular governance
Article 9 of the current Constitution of Georgia guarantees "complete freedom of belief and religion." While recognizing the "special role ... in the history of Georgia" of the Georgian Orthodox Church (GOC), the Church remains separate of the State. A special Concordat (legal agreement) between the Georgian state and the GOC was ratified in 2002, giving the GOC special legal rights not given to other religious groups—including immunity for the Georgian Orthodox Patriarch, exemption from military service for GOC clergy, and a consultative role in education and other aspects of the government.
In December 2015, the head of GOC Ilia II stated that he would like to have the power to grant pardons to individuals convicted of crimes, which is a power afforded by the Georgian Constitution only to the President. The proposal caused a backlash among Georgian civil society groups, who warned against creeping "theocracy". The Speaker of the Parliament David Usupashvili politely dismissed the Patriarch's idea, saying that issuing pardons and forgiving sins are two separate matters and that legal pardons are a prerogative of the Head of State. Following the backlash, GOC backtracked Patriarch's request for pardon powers, saying that it was made after meeting with prison inmates in a "very emotional" atmosphere and that the idea was to be taken as an expression of compassion towards the inmates, and "not as a demand to discuss this proposal at a legislative level".
In 2013, GOC unsuccessfully lobbied the Georgian government to ban abortions, which it described as a "terrible sin" and "heinous murder", while blaming it for the supposed "grave demographic situation" in the country. Georgia's then Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili brushed off the proposal, stating that solving demographic problems "first and foremost needs economic development".