Proposed law would make Jehovah's Witnesses' evangelism illegal


The concept of "missionary activity" will appear in federal legislation

Russkaia Planeta, 22 June 2016


The State Duma will consider amendments to the law pertaining to missionary activity. It is proposed that the activity itself will be clearly regulated, and citizens will be fined in the event of violation. In addition, it will be forbidden to evangelize in living quarters. Experts questioned by Russkaia Planeta expressed concern that in its present form the law may complicate the work of traditional religious organizations in Russia, including the Russian Orthodox Church.


The Committee on Security considered and proposed the adoption on 22 June of a large package of amendments, which in the intentions of the authors should aid in the struggle with terrorism and extremism. Among the innovations—such as annulment of Russian citizenship for terrorist activity or access by investigative agencies to personal data—there is a set of amendments that regulate missionary activity, which have provoked many questions.


"I suppose that these amendments will raise a number of substantive questions on the part of religious organizations, including even the Russian Orthodox Church. Because if they are adopted in the present form, simply to invite to one's home a priest in order, say, to bless an apartment will be considered a violation," Russkaia Planeta was told by Yaroslav Nilov, the deputy director of the LDPR fraction and chairman of the State Duma Committee on Affairs of Public Associations and Religious Organizations. The deputy thinks that the authors of the amendments being introduced were guided in the first place by the problem of the spread of radical forms of Islam and this is certainly a good goal. But in his opinion, such delicate issues should be discussed first of all with representatives of religious organizations.


At present in Russia there is no legislation regulating the work of missionaries at the federal level. But in individual regions—at the present time there are nine of them—such laws exist, for example in Smolensk, Kostroma, Novgorod, and Voronezh provinces. The need for adopting a law on the federal level has been talked about for several years now. The logic of the authors of the draft law is clear: DAISH (an extremist organization prohibited in the Russian federation) spreads its network throughout the world and for Islamists Russia has always been a tasty morsel. And indeed all sorts of sects whose unbridled flourishing was barely restrained in the 1990s have certainly made themselves known.


What is proposed


The basic amendments proposed by the Committee on Security pertain to the law on freedom of conscience and religious associations. It is proposed to add to it a separate chapter, "Missionary activity," where it will be clearly prescribed in just which way it is expressed and who will have the right to engage in it and under what conditions.


In order to conduct missionary activity, a citizen must have in his possession permit documents--the decision of a meeting of a religious group—"with an indication of the details of the written confirmation and registration of the notification about the creation and beginning of the activity of said group." Foreigners may preach only in that constituent entity of the Russian federation where they were given permission in the name of the religious organization that invited them.


In addition, missionary activity is understood to be preaching activity on the Internet and also the collection of contributions. To conduct religious activity and to distribute religious materials—leaflets, audio, and video—without an indication of the official denomination of the organization is prohibited: violators are threatened with a fine of from 30 to 50 thousand rubles with confiscation of the evangelistic materials.


It is also proposed to introduce two terms—"worship service" and "missionary activity." According to the intent of the authors of the bill, it will be prohibited to conduct missionary activity—as distinct from worship service—in living spaces. That is, Jehovah's Witnesses, who so love to go about apartments and propose conversing about the Bible will be placed outside the legal field. However it is not entirely clear how these terms differ, inasmuch as missionary activity according to the new amendments will include also public performance of worship services. Russkaia Planeta has not managed to contact the authors of the draft law and clarify details of the proposed initiatives. Members of the Duma Committee on Security who were questioned by Russkaia Planeta also refused to comment on the amendments, since they say that they did not deal specifically with this problem and they are only superficially acquainted with the bill.


"Our group did not participate in the discussion of these amendments," Yaroslav Nilov explained. "In our standing committee (on affairs of public associations and religious organizations—RP) work with representatives of religious organizations is conducted. Any changes that pertain to the law on freedom of conscience are discussed with representatives of the confessions. In addition, there is a Commission of Religious Affairs in the presidential administration. The state-church dialogue is effective and fruitful and it is developing."


In Nilov's opinion, the subsequent fate of the law will depend on the results of voting tomorrow in the State Duma. Any work on this bill will be possible in the next convocation of the Duma.


What already is


It is interesting that the already existing regional laws are recognized to be effective and fully in accordance with the constitution of the Russian federation and existing legislation and they have been adopted on the initiative of society.


"In the Arkhangelsk diocese, numerous appeals have been received from residents who complain about the vigorous spread of destructive cults and sects. There have been cases identified in the region where the activity of sects has led to the destruction of families, disappearance of children, loss of citizens' property, suicide attempts, and invalids. Often in the guise of religious preaching, activity is conducted that is extremely far from a religious orientation," Metropolitan of Arkhangelsk and Kholmogory Daniel noted at a session of the Arkhangelsk provincial assembly during the adoption of the local law on missionary activity in December of last year. Before the adoption of the law, public discussions were held involving all of the traditional confessions and also representatives of the regional government and law enforcement agencies. One would wish that the federal law would undergo discussion, if not with all conscientious people at least with representatives of pertinent committees and religious organizations. (tr. by PDS, posted 22 June 2016)

Related article:
Russian parliament prepares to pass law regulating evangelism
June 20, 2016

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