HOW WILL THE "YAROVAYA PACKAGE" IMPACT BELIEVERS?
B.B.C. Russian Service, 1 July 2016
A new chapter, "Missionary activity," has appeared in the law "On freedom of conscience and religious associations," which imposes additional restrictions on missionaries.
In particular, missionary activity cannot be conducted in residential spaces if the issue is not strictly religious rituals. In addition, evangelists will be required to possess permission documents.
For failure to obey the new requirements it is proposed to introduce fines of up to one million rubles or deportation from the country, if it is a case of foreign missionaries.
Influential Muslim and protestant religious leaders have asked senators not to adopt these amendments. But the law now lies on the desk of President Vladimir Putin.
What should one know about the "antiterrorism package" of the bills?
The "antiterrorism package" in figures, facts, and portraits of Yarovaya
The convocation ended: how has the State Duma changed in the past 4.5 years?
The Russian Service of the B.B.C. asked scholars, politicians, and clergymen how the signing of the "antiterrorism package" will turn out for believers in Russia.
Bishop Konstantin Bendas, chancellor of the Russian Associated Union of Christians of Evangelical Faith:
Let's begin with the fact that we now face either the president's signing of the law or his imposing a veto. Therefore we as believing people believe that the Lord will grant the president wisdom and the correct decision will be made.
To date an enormous number of letters from religious organizations and believers has been sent to him. I am able to speak of a number of more than 40 thousand. They come like a continuous stream through the website of the president of the Russian federation. These are informal, personal letters from people who understand that if the law takes effect, then they will not be able to converse in their own kitchen with people who are not members of a religious organization.
These amendments are not simply unconstitutional in this part, but they also lack reasonability.
And yet another series of restrictions, which are more than critical and dangerous especially for protestant churches: it is a matter of life and death.
Perhaps I do not know something, but in the past twenty years we have not managed to get practically a single permission from the state or municipal bodies of government for the construction of a church building or house of worship. I am not talking about free allocation of a parcel of land, which is permissible from the point of view of the law.
As a consequence, we are forced to buy practically 100% [of immovable property] from the secondary market. And about 80 percent of them are residential buildings, or the land parcels are designated for single-family dwellings.
But the law, first, prohibits engaging in missionary activity there (and any preaching and even our prayers are generally missionary activity). Second, the amendments to the Housing Code prohibit changing the zoning [of immovable property] from residential to a designation for religious activity.
If the law nevertheless takes effect, there is that part that we will not be able to fulfill. Here the biblical principle operates: whom should we heed more—God or men? At that point, when the law of the state enters into conflict with God's commandments, the believing person, the sincere Christian is released from obeying that law. Although in all the rest he is a 100% law-abiding citizen.
Yaroslav Nilov, head of the Duma's Committee on Affairs of Public Associations and Religious Organizations, vice-chairman of the LDPR fraction:
This draft law was subjected to serious improvement in the second reading for consideration by the State Duma.
It was supposed to be considered in the next to the last session of the State Duma. However a definite public response appeared, the concern of public and religious organizations, which forced this matter to be postponed. And on the last day of the State Duma's work it was considered on second and third readings.
Several provisions dealing with loss of citizenship and also some points regarding missionary activity were corrected. As chairman of the committee, I did not see these amendments, although we are the standing committee that relates to religious organizations. And the law on freedom of conscience, that is our fundamental law for which we are responsible. Nobody consulted with us and nobody consulted with the confessions.
On the basis of the final form of the text of the law, one can say that there is sufficiently great imprecision. There are serious fines both for individuals and for legal entities. So it is representatives of many, including traditional religious confessions, who are very upset.
Everything that the committee could do was done. Including those appeals that were sent to us and were redirected to the pertinent committee that initiated these amendments. At various stages in the course of consultations in the process, its position was declared and it was known.
The LDPR fraction is the only one that did not support these amendments and the draft law as a whole. Now our committee finds itself outside the process, because the State Duma has completed its work. One must consider how the law will work in practice.
Roman Lunkin, director of the Center for the Study of Religion and Science of the Institute of Europe of the Russian Academy of Sciences:
This [the vote of the Federation Council] was generally expected. And Valentina Matvienko unambiguously declared that all of this complies with the constitution.
The senators decided to pass this law despite all protests. Of course, the clearest protest was from Mintimer Shaimiev, the state councilor of Tatarstan and one of the elders among governors. But even this counsel of a wise man was not heard.
And also from religious organizations, from public organizations, and from the Council on Human Rights there is a mass of appeals to the president. Practically all Christian churches, except for the Orthodox, and the Muslims spoke out against the law unequivocally. This was a sufficiently broad spectrum of religious organizations.
It is the Muslims and protestant churches that occupy second place after the Orthodox in number of registered communities. There now are in Russia almost 30 thousand religious organizations, and it turns out that almost half of them are against this law, but their opinion will not be taken into consideration.
There is, of course, hope for Putin. That he will be able to send this law back for improvement. There have been such exceptional cases when the head of state placed his veto on laws.
But, in the first place, there was no team at all for the official mass media to cover the discussion of the draft law. Second, during the passage of the bill, there was no reporting of the issue of missionary activity in the official public space. This law was discussed in the secular news media only as a law that pertained to Internet operators and the preservation of information. I think that this also was done deliberately, so that the government—this time in the person of the head of state—could ignore the opinion of religious organizations.
As regards the consequences of the adoption of the law, the most important of them are the fines. In various regions laws already have been adopted regulating missionary activity, but they have not worked.
There has been a statement like: "We do not want foreign missionaries." But there have been few of them. And those who arrived gave notice of their arrival. But here fines have been introduced for all [missionaries who violate the new rules], and the fines are draconian. Such that it can destroy and bankrupt any church. I think that each such fine can quite justly be called an offense to religious feelings.
Archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin, rector of the Moscow church of Saint Theodore the Studite and member of the Public Chamber:
I do not know which form of the bill was adopted. Of course, some improvements were made in it. The issue specifically is that priests and members of collegial bodies of religious societies may conduct missionary activity freely.
But on the whole rather serious problems remain. I am happy that many Orthodox Christians, Jews, Muslims, and protestants have spoken out with rather harsh criticism of this bill. This speaks to the fact that both our religious and our public life are alive. People have not knuckled under to commands coming from governmental bodies and they have spoken out rather vigorously and critically. This is very good. I hope that all controversial questions will either be clarified after the publication of the bill or be removed.
Of course, in principle the country needs to be protected from destructive pseudo-religious phenomena, from dangerous sects, from extremism hiding behind religion, and from external influences that can be destructive, and especially from those influences that are extremist and terroristic. But one should not throw the baby out with the bath water.
It is necessary to do everything so that good-intentioned people, especially those belonging to religious traditions well known in Russia, would be able to speak freely on topics connected with religion, to express their views, and to disseminate them. The same applies to agnostics and atheists. These people also should be able to express everything, in a respectful tone and within the framework of laws, that they consider necessary to say about religion. (tr. by PDS, posted 4 July 2016)
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