Protestant law center plans approach to implementation of restrictive law


Alive Faith Media, 4 August 2016


Konstantin Andreev, an attorney of the Slavic Legal Center, begins a series of methodological recommendations in connection with the adopting of the "law of Yarovaya-Ozerov."


First of all it is necessary to unpack the terms of the "Yarovaya Law." In general the precision of the phrasing is not the strongest aspect of Russian legislation, and in the case of the "Ozerov-Yarovaya Law" there has occurred a confluence of factors of incompetence and haste in the adoption of a normative legal act. However, this is the law, and we should proceed from the contents of its text and letter in order to understand its requirements and to work out acceptable legal behavior.


Point 1 of article 6. Religious associations of the federal law of 26 September 1997 "On freedom of conscience and religious associations." The law defines a religious association in the Russian federation as a voluntary association of citizens of the Russian federation and other persons who are permanently and on legal bases residing on the territory of the Russian federation, formed for the purposes of joint confession and dissemination of faith and having indicators corresponding to this goal: confession of faith; conduct of worship services and other religious rituals and ceremonies; and religious teaching and religious education of its followers.


The new law, despite the groundless panic that has arisen, does not "prohibit missionary activity," but opens its concept within the framework of a substantive definition of "dissemination of faith." That is, in effect it introduces yet another indicator of a religious association—the existence of missionary activity as an exercise of the right of dissemination of faith. And in this regard the law certainly does not "prohibit missionary activity," since that would mean effectively to prohibit the activity of a religious association, one of whose goals is precisely the dissemination of its faith. The new law merely regulates the right of missionary activity.


In this regard the first thing that must be done is to work out just what missionary activity is.


There exist various levels of meaning and understanding of this phrase, among which it is possible to distinguish the meaning and understanding within the framework of the culture of protestantism and within the framework of juridical terminology. And on various levels, these are not synonymous concepts. For protestants, such concepts are preaching the Gospel, evangelism, mission (church and personal), witnessing about one's faith (about Christ, truth, etc), and they are practically synonymous and central aspects of their faith. To believe in Christ and to witness concerning him are inseparable concepts. It is impossible to believe and not to witness. Not doing the latter is evidence precisely of the absence of faith. You know, the gospel text clearly warns the believer: "For whoever is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels" (Mark 8:38). In the ordinary understanding of a typical protestant, missionary activity is everything that he does when individually or in a group of fellow believers he spreads the Gospel of Jesus Christ.


However, we are not interested in the ordinary but in the juridical meaning of the phrase "missionary activity," which is different from the former and consists of a literal reading of the standard proposed by the parliament.


Immediately after the signing of the law by the president of the Russian federation, at a working conference jointly with the heads of the legal departments of the protestant unions on 11 July 2016, V.V. Riakhovsky outlined the main principle according to which citizens will be able to unmistakably determine whether any event or any activity is missionary. If something is not missionary activity then that means that accountability for it as a violation of law does not arise.


The wording "missionary activity" propounded by the parliament involves a convergence of 5 elements, in the absence of which (or of even one of them) an activity cannot be considered missionary, and consequently there would not exist the substance of an administrative violation of law:

--it is activity of religious associations;

--it is activity of persons authorized by a religious association;

--during this activity there occurs public dissemination of information about the beliefs of a religious association;

--the information is disseminated among persons who are not members of the religious association;

--the information is disseminated for the purpose of involving outsiders in the activity of the religious association.


Among themselves, lawyers have already named these five points the "Riakhovsky line," by which one can measure any form of the exercise of freedom of religious confession for determining the presence or absence of missionary activity for purposes of the law that was adopted. The "Riakhovsky line" was immediately replicated by news media and social networks. Thus, Bishop K.V. Bendas stated it in his appeals to religious associations, thereby facilitating public awareness of the activity of the Slavic Legal Center and removing the original tension and diminishing moods of panic.


The legal position expressed by the Slavic Legal Center found its own response and confirmation in the interpretation of the provisions of the law by the Presidential Administration of the RF, expressed in mass replies to appeals from citizens, which states in particular: " We report that the federal law of 6 July 2016, No. 374-FZ 'On introducing changes into the federal law 'On combating terrorism' and individual legislative acts of the Russian federation, with regard to establishing additional measures for combating terrorism and assuring public security" (hereinafter Federal Law) strengthens the definition of missionary activity which is understood as activity of a religious association, first, intended to disseminate information about its belief system among people who are not participants (members, adherents) of the particular religious association; second, conducted for the purpose of involving said persons among the participants (members, adherents) of the religious association; and third, conducted publicly with the aid of mass media, the Internet telecommunications network, or other legal means.


"Thus the totality of the aforementioned indicators is characteristic of missionary activity. Activity of religious associations that does not contain them cannot be regarded as missionary, and consequently the restrictions established by the federal law with respect to missionary activity do not extend to it."


In the following analysis of provisions of the new law there are also answers to questions sent in the course of a webinar in which we also try to predict possible variants of implementation of the law. We will use the method of applying the "Riakhovsky line" to legal situations arising in the course of exercise of the freedom of religious confession and for determination of the degree of risks and for developing models of legal behavior.


Will religious associations and believing citizens have difficulties in the process of the implementation of the new law? Most likely they will and this is because of both the imperfection of the law itself and the fact that the ordinary implementer of the law will not have sufficient competence in the proper interpretation of the will of the parliament in the light of the constitutional rights and the liberty of citizens.


It is for this that the Slavic Legal Center has worked out a general position through whose guidance religious associations and believing citizens will be able to effectively defend their position.


Yet another form of protection of rights will be the court, in which lawyers of the Slavic Legal Center will defend the interests and constitutional rights and liberties of citizens and religious associations. (tr. by PDS, posted 10 August 2016)

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July 15, 2016

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