ANATOLY PCHELINTSEV: MISSIONARY ACTIVITY IS NOT PROHIBITED IN RUSSIA
Alive Faith Media, 12 August 2016
Distinguished attorney of Russia and co-chairman of the Slavic Legal Center Anatoly Pchelintsev explained for correspondents of TBN-Russia the essence of the "Yarovaya Law" and how one acts in completely new realities.
--Because of the adoption of the new law, is it necessary for churches and clergy to officially register something or receive documents for conducting their activity?
--I recall that on 20 July of this year a new law took legal effect. It introduced changes in the federal law "On combating terrorism." This package contained changes in the existing federal law "On freedom of conscience and religious associations" with regard to conducting missionary activity. There has now appeared in the law a chapter that is titled thus, "Missionary activity."
Many people have panicked because of the adoption of this law. I want to calm them down. The new law on missionary activity, first, contains the concept of missionary activity, and second, now the procedure for conducting missionary activity is regulated and administrative accountability for violation of the procedure for conducting missionary activity has been established.
According to the law on missionary activity, missionary activity is understood specifically to be activity of a religious association and not of an individual person.
According to the law, religious association includes religious groups, religious organizations, and ecclesiastical educational institutions.
Second, this activity must be aimed at dissemination of information about its beliefs among persons who are not participants, members, or followers of said religious association. And this activity is conducted for the purpose of attracting said persons into the ranks of participants of the religious confession being disseminated. Such activity must be conducted immediately by the religious association or its authorized persons publically, with the help of social networks, the Internet network, or other legal means. Thus we see that the concept of religious activity has been formalized in the law and contains several indicators. And in the absence of any of these indicators, it will not be considered to be missionary activity.
--What is the procedure for the conduct of this missionary activity?
--The procedure for conducting this missionary activity also is regulated in the chapter of the federal law "On freedom of conscience and religious associations" that I just mentioned. It says that missionary activity can be conducted unhindered. It indicates there just where it is possible. This is, first of all, houses of worship, lands that belong to houses of worship, premises and other facilities that belong to religious associations, places of pilgrimage, cemeteries and crematoria, and premises of ecclesiastical educational institutions. Here missionary activity may be conducted without hindrance.
If a worship service is going on in a residence, and if the priest there urges repentance or someone gives a testimony, then in my point of view, this is not missionary activity.
If a person has decided to preach the Gospel, then it is not necessary to register anything. However the law further describes who may preach the Gospel. Citizens who conduct missionary activity in the name of a religious group must have in their possession a relevant document from a general meeting of that group. It provides details and there are indications that this religious group has submitted notification to agencies of justice about its activity and, thus, with this document they are able to act, proclaim belief, and be engaged in missionary activity in the name of this group. But I want to encourage everybody again. If this law is used properly, then it will not infringe the rights of believers and the right to missionary activity. The main thing is not to abuse our rights.
If a worship service is going on or any other religious ritual is being conducted in a residence and it is not obligatory that this be performed by a clergyman, if somebody attending this worship service acts with a sermon, a testimony, or a call to repentance, this is not missionary activity. But if someone were to urge joining this specific religious organization, this would be missionary activity.
--Will any problems appear in the conduct of religious conferences or seminars?
--Of course, problems will appear. The law is worded imprecisely. And it will be difficult to implement several provisions. But missionary activity is not prohibited if it is conducted by legal means. If persons conducting this missionary activity have appropriate authorization. But in the event of violation of the law, very strict administrative accountability is provided.
Religious organizations have the right to hold conferences, seminars, and congresses. The law does not prohibit this. As regards street evangelistic activities, including children's playgrounds, gathering places for people in parks and citizens' recreation, as individual persons, it is possible to do this. They may witness personally in their own name, but if they were to act in the name of a religious organization and attract into its ranks, they must have appropriate authorization for this, a corresponding document.
I admit that believers' rights will be infringed, but don't get lost here. You just have to have this law in your possession. It is on the Internet. Print it out for yourself and show that it should be immediately clear that you have not violated anything. If believers' rights are violated, then it is necessary to turn to the prosecutor, first in the district or city, because he conducts monitoring for precise, uniform implementation of the law. This is his purview: to put an end to violation. But if the prosecutor's office does not respond in the proper way, then turn to lawyers, to attorneys. And it is better to turn to those lawyers who know the details of these relations. You may turn to the Slavic Legal Center. We will always help and are ready to come to the defense of both religious organizations and citizens, in the event that their rights are violated. (tr. by PDS, posted 12 August 2016)
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