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SPECIAL COMMISSION TO REVISE LAW ON FREEDOM OF CONSCIENCE
ITAR-TASS, Segodnia, 31 July 1997
In the near future a reconciliation commission will be created from representatives of the presidential administration, the State Duma, and the Federation Council which will deal with the revision of the law on religious organizations adopted by the parliament but rejected by the head of state. The members of the commission will have to work out a document that is acceptable both to parliament and to the president. An assistant to the president of the State Duma, Mikhail Gutseriev, declared: "Both Boris Yeltsin and the deputies recognize the importance of finding a compromise version of this most important bill. The basic accent of the revision of the text will obviously be placed on the defense of the rights of Russians to freedom of religious confession and on the equality of the basic religious confessions."
Yesterday in the Kremlin the assistant chief of the president's staff, Maxim Boiko, met with the director of affairs of the Moscow patriarchate, Archbishop Sergius. At the meeting they discussed the situation that has arisen following the president's rejectin of the law on freedom of conscience. It is expected that in the near future Maxim Boiko will meet with representatives of other religious associations. (tr. by PDS)
(posted 31 July)
THE SPEAKER ANSWERED THE PRESIDENT
In his opinion, the head of state vetoed the law on freedom of conscience only because of American and Vatican influence
by Ivan Rodin
Nezavisimaia gazeta, 31 July 1997 (partial text translation)
The president of the State Duma, Gennady Seleznev, stated yesterday that he is not bothered by the numerous recent declarations of the president about the bad work of the lower chamber of the Federation Assembly. Mr. Seleznev noted that Boris Yeltsin had no basis for affirming that the State Duma is simply nil.
In defense of his statement the speaker introduced several statistics. For example, in the last week of its work the duma adopted thirty laws, subsequently confirmed by the Federation Council, and the president signed eighteen of them and vetoed only twelve. In Gennady Seleznev's opinion, the president's words were evoked by "Moscow irritants" which were interrupting the head of state's vacation and, like Karelian mosquitos, were buzzing in both of his ears.
Mr. Seleznev went into more detail on the problem of the motives for the president's veto of several laws. It is worth noting that many deputies already have frequently given attention to the "miracles" associated with this matter. For example, the president of the duma's committee on budget, Mikhail Zadornov, expressed quick amazement that the law on the marketing of securities received the presidential veto because the head of state did not like the parts of the law which were contained in the original version that came from the government. Yesterday Gennady Seleznev identified another dozen laws that had been vetoed in a similarly inexplicable manner. In his words, some of them were presented by the ministerial cabinet and some had evoked no comments from the president's representative in the duma. In this regard the president of the lower chamber noted that in the structures of the executive branch the right hand does not know what the left is doing.
Seleznev devoted special attention to the unsigned bill that evoked the most attention recently, the law on freedom of conscience and religious association. "I solemnly declare that the president rejected this law under the influence of the American capital and Roman Vatican," he noted. The speaker said that Boris Yeltsin's decision amazed him because at every stage of the preparation of the rejected draft law none of the offices in the presidency expressed anything against it or those provisions which were identified in the text of the veto. The most important point, Gennady Seleznev suggested, was that Boris Yeltsin had gone beyond the time limit for the veto and thus "he rejected the law without examining the real heart of the matter." The speaker stated that the duma committee responsible for the law has taken careful account of the president's remarks and its recommendation will determine whether or not the duma will consider them or will override the president's veto. As for the latter possible course of events, Mr. Seleznev is sure that two thirds of the votes of this duma will be achieved easily. . . . (tr. by PDS)
Full Russian text: Spiker otvetil prezidentu
(posted 31 July)
LUZHKOV SAYS LAW ON RELIGION MUST PROTECT AGAINST SECTS
MOSCOW, July 24 (Interfax-Moscow) -- The law on freedom of conscience and religious associations must protect society from anti-humanitarian sects, Moscow Mayor Yuriy Luzhkov told Interfax Thursday. However Luzhkov said he saw "nothing tragic" in President Boris Yeltsin's refusal to sign the bill approved by both the Russian State Duma and the Federation Council, the two houses of parliament. The situation with the law is "very, very complicated," Luzhkov said. "On the one hand, our traditional confessions must be protected from various sects. We do need neither sects nor their members as we have heard enough of the 'White Fraternity' and other organizations preaching inhuman goals," he said.
On the other hand, "it makes sense to improve the text of the law and its legal definitions," he said. "In my opinion, the president's refusal to sign the law is an invitation to work more on it to protect society from inhuman sects," he said. The relations between different religious confessions in Moscow are stable, he said. Representatives of 27 religions peacefully coexist in Moscow, Luzhkov said. The Moscow government "treats equally all confessions, though the majority of the city population belongs to the Orthodox Church," he said. "Peace exists among them thanks to the efforts of the Russian Orthodox Church," Luzhkov said. The mayor expressed gratitude to Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia Aleksiy II for "pursuing the wise policy of uniting the churches preaching virtue." "Not only the leaders of religious confessions express the will for accord. Ugly disputes between representatives of different religions have not surfaced in Moscow," he said
YESTSIN APOLOGIZES FOR VETO
The head of state asks the deputies to understand why, despite all, he rejected the law on freedom of conscience
by Ivan Rodin
Nezasvisimaia gazeta, 26 July 1997
Boris Yeltsin was forced yesterday to explain the reasons for refusing the sign the law "On Freedom of Conscience and Religious Associations" despite the solid majority of the Federation Assembly approving it and the support of a substantial part of the Russian religious and public leaders. The president made his explanation in his regular radio broadcast to the citizens of Russia.
"The decision, of course, was a difficult one. I understand how much this law was needed," he noted, emphasizing however that signing the document in the form in which it was adopted was impossible inasmuch as "several provisions of the law violate the consitution rights and freedom of individuals and citizen, the law places religions into unequal positions, and it contradicts international obligations that Russia has undertaken." The president declared that it was his specific responsibility to see that such laws are not implemented in Russia. The guarantor of the constution also made an additional observation to the deputies: "In a democratic state the interests of the minority may not be infringed, no matter how good the ends motivating such actions may seem to be on first glance."
Boris Yeltsin, however, barely mentioned one of the chief matters of this celebrated cause which swirled around the law on freedom of conscience and his personal involvement in this matter. The president only vaguely mentioned some "foreign reactions." Thus he apparently was hinting that the foreign petitioners did not have as strong an influence on him as the letters of Bill Clinton, John Paul II and the congressmen of the USA published in NG could have. Instead of confirming the rumors that good relations with the West are more important for him than the opinions of lawmakers and the traditional confessions, the chief of the Russian state preferred to focus the dicussion on the activity of totalitarian sects which "already have managed to cause enough harm and have crippled spiritually and physically many of our citizens and especially young people." We note, incidentally, that from this point of view the law apparently would have been worth signing if at the same time he had reached an agreement with the duma about making fundamental corrections in the other deficient places.
The president chose to be silent about the problem of the impact of western influence, but nevertheless, as its seems, he indirectly apologized for his unilateral action. "The law needs fundamental reworking and I have sent my suggestions to the duma. I call upon the deputies to deal with the current situation with understanding and to support my position," Boris Yeltsin declared. This kind of thing happens rarely, when following a veto the head of state does not threaten the deputies but begs them to heed the president's opinion. (tr. by PDS)
Russian text: Eltsin izveniaetsiz za veto
(posted 31 July)
My Fellow Russians,
The following two problems cause heated debates in our society, worrying the people of Russia and calling for an explanation.
I'm talking about the bill "On Freedom Of Conscience And Religious Associations" that has been approved by the State Duma.
Acting in line with my constitutional prerogatives, I've declined to sign this bill.
True, this was a hard decision to make because that bill is supported by the majority of State Duma deputies, the Russian Orthodox Church and others. I understand that Russia needs such a law badly. This law is called on to defend our people's moral and spiritual health, to erect reliable barriers in the way of radical sects that have already dealt enough harm, crippling the spiritual and physical health of many our citizens, young people, first and foremost. However, I can't sign the bill's version that was okayed by the State Duma. Some of the document's provisions serve to infringe upon constitutional rights and freedoms of citizens and private individuals. The bill discriminates against various religions, running counter to Russia's international commitments. This has been discussed by members of parliament, public activists and foreigners alike.
As Russia's President, I am duty-bound to ensure that all federal bills don't contradict the Constitution and the Russian Federation's international treaties. Besides, I must see to it that the legitimate rights of citizens and private individuals be defended completely. A democratic state cannot infringe on minorities interests (no matter what seemingly noble interests might dictate such a move).
This bill has to be amended considerably. I have submitted my proposals to the State Duma. I'm calling on the deputies to display their understanding of the current situation and to support my position.
Yeltsin Defends Stand on Religion
by Sergei Shargorodsky
Associated Press Writer
July 25, 1997
MOSCOW (AP) -- A day after he was chastised by Russia's Orthodox Church, President Boris Yeltsin defended his rejection of legislation that would restrict ``nontraditional religions,'' including evangelical Christianity and Roman Catholicism. ``A democratic state cannot encroach upon the interests of minorities for whatever seemingly noble motives,'' Yeltsin said today in a nationwide radio address.
Calling the measure an unconstitutional threat to religious freedom, Yeltsin refused earlier this week to approve the legislation, which would have given special status to the Russian Orthodox Church. He sent it back to Parliament for redrafting.
A church spokesman, Metropolitan Kirill, in turn warned Yeltsin that his rejection of the measure threatened the fabric of Russian society.
In his radio address today, the Russian president reiterated his objections to the bill, saying it violates human rights standards and Russia's international obligations. ``It was a difficult decision. The law was supported by the majority of State Duma deputies, the Russian Orthodox Church and others,'' Yeltsin said. Trying to assuage his critics, Yeltsin praised the overall thrust of the bill, saying he could understand the church's concerns and the need to protect ``the moral and spiritual health of the Russians'' from ``radical sects.''
Controversy over the Russian Orthodox-sponsored bill threatens to open a rift between the president and Patriarch Alexy II, whose church is dominant in Russia and strongly backed Yeltsin's re-election bid last summer. Alexy, meeting today with Lithuanian Orthodox and Catholic church leaders in the Lithuanian capital of Vilnius, voiced regret about Yeltsin's decision and said the bill ``does not trample upon anybody's rights,'' the Interfax news agency reported. ``The bill would have brought to order all the fake missionaries and destructive orders which, unfortunately, have flooded Russia and its closest neighbors,'' said the patriarch, apparently referring to the Protestant evangelical groups that have proliferated in Russia in recent years.
While the Orthodox church and most Russian legislators back the bill, it has drawn strong opposition from Pope John Paul II and the United States, which has threatened to cut aid to Russia if it becomes law. Islam, Buddhism, Judaism and other ``traditional'' religions would be pledged ``respect'' under the proposed law. All other religious groups would be required to register with the government to own property or conduct public worship, and could not do so until they had been in the country for 15 years. Orthodox leaders argued that the Roman Catholic Church would face no restrictions, because it could prove it has been present in Russia for 15 years. But that did not mollify Catholic leaders, who had expressed alarm at the bill and relief at Yeltsin's decision to reject it.
Alexy is head of the world's largest Orthodox church, with an estimated 80 million followers. There are 15 patriarchs in the Orthodox faith. The Christian church split into Orthodox and Roman Catholic branches in 1054.
STATEMENT on the situation that has developed around the Bill on the Freedom of Conscience and Religious Organizations
The President of the Russian Federation B. N. Yeltsin vetoed on 22 July 1997 the Bill on the Freedom of Conscience and Religious Organizations which was adopted by the State Duma and approved by the Council of the Federation.
This decision of the head of the state has caused regret among the faithful of the Russian Orthodox Church. Previously, the Patriarch, the members of Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church and other bishops, who gathered at St. Sergius' Monastery of the Trinity for the Feast of St. Sergius of Radonezh, made a request to the President to put the Bill in force. Similar appeals were made by the faithful of our Church and other traditional religious organizations in Russia.
The Bill on the Freedom of Conscience and Religious Organizations creates pre-conditions for the effective protection of both the individual and society against the arbitrary actions of destructive pseudo-religious cults and foreign false-missionaries. It removes the considerable legal gaps existing in the legislation on the freedom of conscience presently in force, and the need for its radical improvement has been recognized by almost all the society.
The Bill brings order into the legal status of religious organizations as legal entities and creates new conditions for religious education and cooperation between religious organizations and the state in charitable and cultural-educational work and in other spheres of social importance
The text of the Bill, which is a fruit of extensive efforts made by its drafters in consultation with Russian religious organizations, has become an expression of the ultimate compromise between diverse interests really existing in our society.
The differentiation introduced in the Bill between religious organizations according to the time of their formation, the number of their followers and their prevalence is a very fair step. Such differentiation exists in the laws of many countries in Europe and the world, with some of them granting a special legal status to one or several confessions - a provision absent from the Bill.
The reference to Orthodoxy, Islam, Judaism, Buddhism and other religions traditionally present in Russia as commanding respect is made in the Bill's preamble which does not have a direct legal force. This reference by no means infringes on the rights of religious minorities. Neither this reference nor any other norm of the Bill gives advantages to or imposes restrictions on religious organizations on the grounds of confession.
It is surprising to hear the Bill criticized by some foreign state bodies and religious organizations who have given no reaction whatsoever to much less liberal laws on religion existing in some countries and sometimes have given them direct or indirect support. This suggests bias and double standard in their attitude to Russia.
Regrettably, the Bill has been sometimes wrongly interpreted by the Russian and foreign mass media. For instance, one of the publications argued that to obtain registration all the new religious organizations will have to go through a 15 year-long period of probation. Yet nothing has been said that this is not required of organizations included in centralized religious structures. The mass media in many of its materials maintained bluntly that the Bill forbids the activity of specific confessions - which is absolutely untrue.
In this connection, I deemed it necessary to have the Bill distributed among the episcopate, clergy and faithful of our Church so that a broad discussion could take place everywhere and the Orthodox Christians could voice their attitude to it.
At the same time, there is much evidence that the Bill, which has been adopted by the State Duma almost unanimously and approved by the Council of the Federation, has already gained a broad social support. Its ultimate rejection may cause tension between the authorities and most of the people in Russia, thus making it much more difficult for our society to move to that peace and accord which have been proclaimed for this year.
It is my conviction therefore that this Bill needs to be enforced without changing its structure and fundamental provisions.
Patriarch of Moscow and all-Rus
From Web page of Russian Orthodox Church
RUSSIAN ORTHODOX PATRIARCH WARNS OF DISCORD OVER RELIGION LAW
by Anna Dolbov, The Associated Press Writer
Copyright © 1997 The Associated Press
MOSCOW (July 24, 1997 12:15 p.m. EDT) -- The head of the Russian Orthodox Church warned Thursday of civil discord if President Boris Yeltsin continues to oppose a bill designed to curb the influx of religious organizations that proselytize in Russia. The disagreement appears to be the most serious to date between Yeltsin and Patriarch Alexy II, whose church has been a strong supporter of the president. But while the church and most Russian legislators back the bill, it has drawn strong opposition from Pope John Paul II and the United States, which has threatened to cut off aid to Russia if it becomes law. On Tuesday, Yeltsin rejected the legislation, which would place tight restrictions on many religious groups, including evangelical Christians and Roman Catholics. He sent the bill back to parliament, demanding changes, and indicated he might veto the legislation if it returns to him unchanged.
Alexy said Yeltsin's action caused sorrow among the church's faithful and urged him not to insist on significant changes. "A final rejection of the law on the freedom of worship might lead to tension between the authorities and the majority of the people in Russia -- which would seriously complicate the movement of our society toward peace and concord," Alexy said in a statement.
Alexy said the law came to protect the Russian people from "destructive pseudo-religious cults and foreign missionaries," and followed the practice of many other countries. He accused the bill's foreign critics of using a "double standard" when dealing with Russia.
The statement was issued at a news conference Thursday at Moscow's Danilovsky Monastery. The Interfax news agency said Alexy was ill and could not personally take part in the event, which drew together Russian Orthodox clergymen, Muslim and Buddhist religious leaders. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, Christians, Mormons, Roman Catholics and other religious groups have flocked to Russia. Their growing popularity has alarmed the conservative Russian Orthodox Church and communists -- who sparred throughout the Soviet era -- and has driven them into an unlikely partnership. The law would have officially recognized the central role of the Orthodox Church in Russian history and culture. The draft pledged "respect" to Islam, Buddhism, Judaism and other "traditional" religions. But the bill would have required other religions and cults to to register with the government and would have barred them from owning property or conducting public worship for 15 years after registration.
In rejecting the bill, Yeltsin said it violates Russia's constitution, which guarantees freedom of worship. However, he himself has expressed concern over proselytizing by foreign churches and religious sects. He said Tuesday the country needs a law that would "defend the moral and spiritual health of the Russian people and impose reliable barriers against radical sects." But he criticized the communist-dominated parliament and the government for preparing a poor piece of legislation, and urged them to try again.
Even if Yeltsin vetoes the bill, parliament can override him. His only option in that case would be an appeal to Russia's constitutional court.
STATE DUMA DEPUTIES ARE NOT INCLINED TO DRAMATISE THE RUSSIAN PRESIDENT'S DECISION TO TURN DOWN THE LAW ON FREEDOM OF CONSCIENCE
MOSCOW, July 23 (from RIA Novosti correspondents Galina Amelkina), Yulia Panyushkina) -- "One should not overdramatise yesterday's decision of the Russian President to turn down the law "On Freedom of Conscience and on Religious Associations), since this decision will hardly seriously aggravate the situation in Russian society", Valery Tarasov, a member of the State Duma Committee on Culture (Communist faction) told RIA today. According to him, most of the deputies were prepared to such a reaction of the head of state, since they were aware that the adopted law is imperfect. "Possibly, we were not right in ignoring the activity of Catholic organisations in Russia. For Catholicism is a religion, which on a par with the Orthodox Church, is within the system of Christianity", noted the deputy. Tarasov believes that the believers themselves should not feel any discomfort in connection with this: "Let them give their priests a possibility to reach mutual understanding through a search for accord on this complicated issue".
In his turn, Chairman of the Duma Committee on Nationalities' Affairs Vladimir Zorin (NDR faction) called this document "the first serious attempt to establish new real relations between the state and religion". However, regrettably, noted Zorin, due to the fact for many years atheism was official ideology in Russia, the attempt proved to be "not quite successful". Nevertheless, he expressed hope that "by joint efforts and in accordance with the President's remarks the law will be finalised".
Independent deputy Galina Starovoitova of the Duma Committee on the Affairs of Public Associations and Religious Organisations backed the decision of the head of state. She stressed that the law adopted by the Duma is at variance with the Russian Constitution and "does not correspond to its initial version". "The law is different in concept from the draft law adopted in the first reading and the text of the draft prepared last year by the working group including representatives of religious organisations", stressed Starovoitova.
RUSSIA'S CHIEF RABBI DEFENDS RELIGION BILL Agence France-Presse
MOSCOW (July 28, 1997 07:33 a.m. EDT) - Russia's chief rabbi spoke out Monday in favor of a controversial bill on religion which President Boris Yeltsin vetoed last week, the Interfax agency reported. In an interview with the Russian agency, Rabbi Adolf Shayevich said the text of the law was "the best possible, even if it was far from being perfect." "It contains no formula hostile to the world's traditional religions, in particular to Catholicism," he said.
The rabbi's support for the law follows pressure from the heads of the Russian Orthodox, Muslim and Buddhist religions in Russia to have the bill promulgated. The bill is intended to halt the spread of sects, which have flourished in Russia since the demise of the Soviet Union. In its preamble, it declares that Orthodox Christianity is "an inalienable part of all-Russian history." Islam, Buddhism and Judaism, all of which have long-established roots among Russia's ethnic minorities, would be treated as "traditionally existing" religions, to be accorded the state's "respect." But critics -- including Pope John Paul II -- argued that this wording failed to recognize other legitimate religions including Roman Catholicism and Protestantism.
Yeltsin announced Tuesday that he would not sign the bill, which had overwhelming support in the Russian parliament. He said some of the bill's provisions curbed Russians' constitutional rights. Shayevich said he believed the law would "put up a legal barrier" against the proliferation of sects.
The presidential veto could be overturned by a two-thirds majority in each chamber of parliament.
Report of the Press Service of the President of the Russian federation
The President of the Russian federation, Boris Nikolaevich Yeltsin, sent letters to the president of the State Duma, G.N. Seleznev, and president of the Federation Council, E.S. Stroev, in which he informed them of his rejection of the federal law "On Freedom of Conscience and Religious Associations," adopted by the State Duma on 23 June 1997 and approved by the Federation Council on 4 July 1997.
In particular, the letter states that the law "On Freedom of Conscience and Religious Associations" contradicts the bases of the constitutional structure of the Russian federation, other provisions of the constitution of the Russian federation, and generally accepted principles and norms of international law, in particular articles 2, 6, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 28, 29, 30, 54, 55, 59, and 62 of the constitution of the Russian federation, articles 18 and 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, articles 18 and 19 of the International Agreement on Civil and Political Rights, and articles 9 and 10 of the Convention of the Council of Europe on Defense of Rights and Basic Freedoms.
In the president's opinion, it is not by chance that despite part 4 of article 15 of the constition the text of the law eliminated reference to international legal acts as an integral part of the legislation of the Russian federation on freedom of conscience and it contains only a reference to the subsidiary use of provisions of international treaties for purposes of interpreting the legislation of the Russian federation on freedom of conscience.
The president considers that the law conflicts with a number of other Russian laws, creating an additional imbalance in the system of Russian legislation, which already is made precarious by poorly thought out and chaotic legislative acts. On the one hand, the law, following the constitution, characterizes the Russian federation as a secular state, and on the other hand, on the pretext of restricting the activity of pseudoreligious organizations introduces discriminatory rules for registration and reregistration of religious organizations of confessions that have established roots in Russia. There is no question that the state can and must restrict activity of pseudoreligious organizations which causes harm to the morality and health of the population, but this does not mean that the state can, in doing so, trample fundamental human rights.
The president has serious reservations about the provisions of the law that deliberately are intended to restrict the rights of citizens of the Russian federation, primarily those who live outside of Russia, and also of persons who are not citizens. The proposed norms also contradict the articles of the constitution and international legal acts identified above.
The president considers as a serious unconsititional provision the rejection of the principle of the equality of religious associations before the law, which articles of the constitution and corresponding articles of international legal acts stipulate by affirming that each person has the right and freedom to acquire and distribute information (including religious information) without the interference of state agencies and without regard to state boundaries.
Moreover, point 2 of article 13 of the law provides that representation of foreign religious organizations may be opened only under the auspices of Russian religious organizations and with their consent. Such a norm, in the first place, places representation of foreign religious organization in direct dependence upon the attitudes of Russian religious organizations toward them and, in the second place, grants to Russian religious organizations functions of state agencies with respect to foreign religious organizations. Thereby it violates the principle of the separation of religious associations from the state, which is affirmed in article 15 of the constitution.
The president has frequently expressed his position on the necessity of guaranteeing the equality before the law of every person professing a religion as well as of religious associations, in particular by twice refusing to sign in 1993 the law the Supreme Soviet of the Russian Federation adopted "On Amending and Supplementing the Law of the RSFSR 'Concerning Freedom of Religious Profession'" as contradicting the constitution and international legal norms. Besides this, after the State Duma adopted the draft of the present law on first reading the head of state sent to the lower chamber conceptual notes and suggestions which the deputies completely ignored.
The preamble to the law also enforces inequality of religions since only Orthodoxy is mentioned as an integral part of the all-Russian historical, spiritual, and cultural heritage. Islam is recognized as equal with Orthodoxy, but without the reference to its role in the all-Russian heritage, and Buddhism, Judaism and other traditional religions are acknowledged as "respected." It is not indicated which other religious this abstract provision applies to. Besides, point 3 of article 3 of the law contradicts the preamble in that it specifies that the granting of priorities or restrictions or any kind of discrimination on religious bases is not permitted. The president also considers it necessary to note this internal inconsistency in the law itself as well as the unconstitutionality of establishing a hierarchy of religions in the preamble.
Point 3 of article 4 of the law obligates the state to give financial, material, and other aid to religious organizations to provide for the teaching of general educational subjects in educational institutions formed by religious organizations. This norm, the president's letters indicate, violates, first, article 19 of the constitution, since it places citizens who profess and share religious views coorporately in the form of organization in a more privileged position than that of other citizens who also are taxpayers and who profess their beliefs individually or in the form of a religious group or in associations in public organizations for other interests (cultural, athletic, and others). This also contradicts point 7 of article 41 of the Russian federation law "On Education," according to which nongovernmental educational institutions have the right to state and/or municipal financing from the moment of their state accreditation provided that they implement the basic general educational curriculum.
The letters state further: "In order to guarantee the full participation of the Russian federation in the integrative processes not only in Europe but throughout the world, recognizing the multiconfessional nature of the population of the Russian federation, exceptionally great significance attaches to the matter of providing guarantees of human and civil rights and freedoms in the areas of freedom of religious profession, of choosing and disseminating religious convictions, and of equality of religious associations before the law. In order to avoid international isolation of the traditional Russian confessions and prevent conflicts on religious bases within the country and in order to avoid the Russian federation's being accused of persecution of people for their conviction, as head of state and guarantor of the constitution of the Russian federation and of human and civil rights and freedoms, along with the need to bring the law "On Freedom of Conscience and Religious Associations" into conformity with the constitution of the Russian federation, international legal norms, and other laws of the Russian federation, as well as the need to eliminate numerous internal contradictions of the law, I suggest that it is necessary to make substantial revisions. I call the attention of deputies of the State Duma and members of the Federation Council to the direct action of the constitution of the Russian federation and its supreme juridical force. In particular, the norms of part 4 of article 15 of the constitution of the Russian federation include in its legal system the generally recognized principles and norms of international law and international agreements of the Russian federation, including those on matters of freedom of conscience and they guarantee their priority over federal laws. In accordance with the indicated provisions of the constitution of the Russian federation, I warn that if, upon its review in the chambers of the Federation Assembly this federal law is approved in its current form then, as guarantor of the constitution of the Russian federation, at the same time that I sign and publish the federal law I also will publish a letter in which I indicate specifically those of its norms which cannot be enforced because they contradict the constitution of the Russian federation and international agreements of the Russian federation." (tr. by PDS)
Moscow, Kremlin, 23 July 1997
Russian text: Soobshchenie
(posted 24 July)
KREMLIN SEES NO RIFT WITH ORTHODOX CHURCH OVER LAW
By Anatoly Verbin
MOSCOW, July 28 (Reuter) - The rejection by Russian President Boris Yeltsin of a controversial law on religion does not indicate a rift between the Kremlin and the Orthodox church, the president's press secretary said on Monday. ``There can be no talk about a crisis in relations between the president and the Orthodox Church,'' Russian news agencies quoted Sergei Yastrzhembsky as telling reporters at Yeltsin's Volzhsky Utyos holiday retreat in central Russia. Yastrzhembsky said the draft law had to be amended to conform with the constitution. ``If it corresponded to the constitution, the president would surely have signed it regardless of various opinions from abroad,'' Yastrzhembsky said. Patriarch Alexiy, head of the influential Orthodox Church, said in a statement last week that Yeltsin's veto of the draft law ``On Freedom of Conscience and Religious Associations'' risked stirring up religious tensions in Russia.
``The decision of the president has evoked regret among believers of the Russian Orthodox Church,'' said the statement. ``(The veto) could create tensions in Russia between the authorities and a majority of the people.'' Yeltsin threw out the bill last Tuesday, saying it contravened Russia's post-Soviet constitution guaranteeing equality for all confessions and also its international pledges on human rights. The bill, overwhelmingly approved by both chambers of parliament, favoured traditional faiths. Apart from Orthodoxy, which Russians closely associate with their culture and national identity, these include Islam, Buddhism and Judaism. It said only faiths registered at least 15 years ago -- when religion was tightly controlled by the atheistic Communists -- could qualify as ``religious organisations.'' Others would have had to wait 15 years before applying for full legal rights.
Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov, who heads the biggest faction in the State Duma (lower chamber), forecast on Saturday that parliament would overturn Yeltsin's veto. Each of the two chambers needs a two-thirds majority to do so. Communists, who in the Soviet era harassed and persecuted religious believers, have now become strong defenders of Russian traditions including resurgent Orthodoxy.
In separate reports, Russian news agencies quoted Yestrzhembsky as saying Yeltsin had summoned First Deputy Prime Minister Anatoly Chubais to meet him on Wednesday and Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin to visit him on Friday. They would discuss plans for the 1998 budget. By law, the government must present a budget to the Duma before August 26. Yeltsin, 66, has been on holiday since early July. He says his heart works like clockwork after quintuple heart bypass surgery last November and that he has a firm grip on power. Yastrzhembsky also said Yeltsin was pleased with the result of an election of a governor in the the vast Siberian industrial region of Irkutsk where a candidate backed by a pro-government party defeated the local Communist Party chief. ``The crushing defeat of the communist candidate shows once again that the policy of real deeds, small as they are, in implementing reforms...brings success to reformers,'' Interfax news agency quoted Yastrzhembsky as saying.
WRITERS, ARTISTS APPEAL TO YELTSIN OVER RELIGION LAW
MOSCOW, July 25 (Itar-Tass) -- A group of Russian writers, artists and actors from popular-patriotic forces has appealed to Russian President Boris Yeltsin with a collective letter. The letter's text was received by Itar-Tass today from the Union of Russian Writers. They think "the hasty decision" of the president "may have grave consequences and even more complicate the catastrophic condition of the nation's moral health." A priority position of traditional religions and their legal advantages over "non-traditional" religious and pseudo-religious communities and sects comes from the interests of preservation and existence of "the historical Russian state," the letter says. It stresses the "devastating effect" of new religious communities which "are sometimes directly related to subversive activities of Western and overseas secret services and enemies which oppose the idea of Russian indivisibility from the very start."
The letter gives a rather sharp estimation of appeals of "the Pope of Rome, human rights organisations of Europe and America, as well as presidents and politicians of all levels." They say these people "have their political gains" and we have "a common care for the benefit and moral health of Russian people."
The 35 persons who signed the letter include writers Mikhail Alekseyev, Dmitriy Balashov, Leonid Borodin, Vasiliy Belov, Valeriy Ganichev, Vladimir Krupin, Feliks Kuznetsov, Stanislav Kunyayev, Viktor Likhonosov, Valentin Rasputin, Viktor Rozov, artists Ilya Glazunov, Vyacheslav Klykov, Valentin Sidorov, composer Georgiy Sviridov, actresses Tatyana Doronina, Nataliya Varley, actor Nikolay Burlyayev and academician Igor Shafarevich.
YELTSIN REJECTS RELIGION BILL
by Maura Reynolds, Associated Press Writer
Tuesday, July 22, 1997; 4:47 p.m. EDT
MOSCOW (AP) -- President Boris Yeltsin rejected a bill Tuesday that would have placed tight restrictions on many religious groups in Russia, including evangelical Christians and Roman Catholics.
The bill had drawn strong opposition from the Vatican and the U.S. Senate, which threatened to cut off aid to Russia if it became law. Yeltsin's action sends the bill back to parliament, which can overhaul it or let it lapse. ``This was a very difficult decision,'' Yeltsin said in a written statement, noting that the measure was supported by a large majority of Russian lawmakers and the powerful Russian Orthodox Church. ``But many provisions of the law infringe on constitutional rights and freedoms of individuals and citizens, establish inequality between different confessions, and violate Russia's international obligations,'' Yeltsin said.
The law would have officially recognized the central role of the Orthodox Church in Russian history and culture, and pledged ``respect'' to Islam, Buddhism, Judaism and other ``traditional'' religions. But it would have imposed rigid curbs on other religions and cults, forcing them to register with the government and barring them from owning property or conducting public worship for 15 years after registration.
``Thank God,'' said Maria Varzaruk, a spokeswoman for the Union of Christians of Evangelical Faith in Russia. ``Now we can freely serve God.''
In his statement, Yeltsin acknowledged the controversy over the bill, and asked parliament members to support his decision. ``We can't have a democratic society if we violate the constitution and fail to defend the interests of any minority of our citizens,'' Yeltsin said. Russia's 1993 constitution guarantees freedom of worship.
The bill had strong support from the Russian Orthodox Church, which resents an influx into Russia of what it considers ``foreign'' religions. Those include evangelical Christians, Mormons and Roman Catholics as well as less mainstream groups such as Japan's Aum Shinri Kyo cult.
© Copyright 1997 The Associated Press
(posted 22 July)
YELTSIN REJECTS BILL TO CURB RELIGIOUS FREEDOM
by ALESSANDRA STANLEY
New York Times, 23 July 1997
MOSCOW -- Defying Parliament and the powerful Russian Orthodox Church, President Boris Yeltsin on Tuesday rejected a bill that would sharply curtail religious freedom in Russia.
Yeltsin's was a difficult choice between conscience and expedience, and the decision is bound to have painful political repercussions for him. The law was passed overwhelmingly by both houses of Parliament in an effort to protect the Russian Orthodox Church from competition from other religions. Human rights organizations, Pope John Paul II, the U.S. Congress and the State Department denounced the measure as infringing on the rights of minority religions. That criticism from the West shifted the debate in Russia from a dispute about religious tolerance to a heated controversy about nationalism and Russian sovereignty.
Yeltsin, who had vetoed milder versions of the bill in the past, has made his personal commitment to religious freedom clear. But the passions aroused by the bill -- and the opposition to it abroad -- made his decision far more problematic. While Parliament routinely opposes Yeltsin on major initiatives, it is rare for the patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church to speak out on so contentious an issue. Last Sunday, the patriarch, Aleksy II, likened the "eastward expansion of foreign sects and missionaries in Russia" to the expansion of NATO.
The battle is not over. If Parliament overrides Yeltsin's veto by a two-thirds majority, Yeltsin will be obliged to sign the bill. In many regions of Russia, moreover, local legislatures have already passed their own laws restricting the activities of minority religions. The bill was drafted to help the Russian Orthodox Church combat the encroachment of foreign religions like evangelical Christian groups, Scientology and, most particularly, cults like Aum Shinrikyo of Japan, which attracted thousands of followers in Russia. But as written, the law would have severely limited the activities of any religion that was not registered by the Soviet state 15 years ago, when society was officially atheist and religious activists were persecuted.
The law cited the Russian Orthodox Church, Judaism, Buddhism and Islam as traditional religions. All other faiths, including Roman Catholicism and the Baptist movement, could have fallen into the category of foreign, and unwelcome, denominations and be stripped of their property and rights to proselytize. Even favored religions fear that the law would effectively restore the Russian Orthodox Church, with its 60 million believers, to the position as the state religion of Russia that it enjoyed before the 1917 Revolution.
Yeltsin, who is on vacation on the Volga River, coated his veto with conciliatory language. In a statement issued by his Kremlin office Tuesday night, the president said, "There is no doubt that the law is necessary. It must protect moral and spiritual health of Russians and prevent the penetration of radical sects inflicting serious damage to the health and psyche of our citizens." Yeltsin stated, "But signing the law in its present form would have led to religious conflicts inside the country." He added, "There can be no democratic society where the Constitution is not observed, where the interests of any minority is not protected."
The U.S. Senate passed an amendment to a foreign aid bill last week to cut off all aid to Russia if Yeltsin signed the bill into law. Even Russians who opposed the bill expressed deep anger over what they see as U.S. meddling in Russian domestic policy.
Yeltsin's critics are already accusing him of capitulating to the West. "The only reason he didn't sign it was because of foreign influence," said Pavel Chinilin, a director of the department of religious instruction of the Russian Orthodox Church. "There is full consensus in Russian society about this."
Not all Russians agree, obviously. Yuri Rosenbaum, a law professor who drafted the 1990 law on human rights and religious freedom that is still in practice, said the bill "is an attempt to return state control over the religious life in the country."
Human rights and freedom of the press have not fully weathered Russia's stormy shift to democracy, but the collapse of communism did introduce real religious freedom to Russia. That tolerance has gradually been eroded by the rise of nationalism and by the spread of cults.
WASHINGTON PRAISES YELTSIN FOR RELIGION STANCE
New York Times, 23 July 1997
WASHINGTON -- President Clinton's national security adviser, Samuel Berger, praised President Boris Yeltsin on Tuesday for making the difficult decision to veto the religion bill.
"There was a lot of pressure on this one, and it is an act of courage," Berger said in a brief interview. "Yeltsin's done the right thing for freedom of religion in Russia. It reflects the fact that Yeltsin's concept of democracy embraces freedom of religion, and that should be reassuring to other democracies."
Other administration officials, who spoke on condition that they not be identified, expressed relief. Some in Congress viewed Yeltsin's decision as a definitive moment for Russia's moral standing, let alone its future as a secular and liberal state.
Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., had initiated a letter urging Yeltsin to veto the bill signed by 160 members of Congress, including 49 senators and the leadership of both houses. "This is a moment of satisfaction, but not celebration," he said. "We could still face a veto override later this year. I remain grateful for Mr. Yeltsin's courage and resolve."
YELTSIN VETOES BILL TO CURB MANY RELIGIONS
by Daniel Williams
Washington Post Foreign Service
Wednesday, July 23, 1997; Page A18
MOSCOW, July 22 President Boris Yeltsin vetoed a bill today that would have sharply restricted the practice of all but a few specified "traditional" religions in Russia. His action followed weeks of controversy and criticism by human rights activists that Russia was on the verge of returning to its authoritarian past. The measure also drew strong protests from Pope John Paul II and the U.S. Senate.
Yeltsin said in a statement that "numerous provisions of the bill curb constitutional human and civil rights and freedoms, make confessions unequal and are inconsistent with Russia's international commitments." Signing the bill could "trigger religious strife in the country," he added. Yeltsin called his action a "difficult decision to make" and proposed some unspecified changes in the measure to reach a compromise with parliament, the Interfax news agency reported. It also said Yeltsin felt some law was needed to prevent "radical sects" from harming public health and morals. "There can be no democratic society where the interests of any minorities . . . are not protected," Yeltsin said in an appeal to the legislature, which passed the bill by big enough margins in both houses to potentially override the veto.
Alexander Bulekov, a spokesman for the Orthodox Church, said, "It's possible parliament will take into account some of the criticism and amend it, and we expect the representatives will eventually overcome the president's rejection." Church officials were surprised by the veto, he said. "We were counting on the president to note that this law was supported by both the right and left in parliament."
The bill seemed to reflect a revival of feelings and practices from Russia's pre-Communist past: That the country is somehow threatened by the penetration of faiths from outside, that the Russian Orthodox Church (which strongly backed the bill) ought to be favored with a special place in Russia's national life and that the government ought to arbitrate religious affairs. In Soviet times, the Communist-ruled and atheistic state intervened mainly to persecute religion. With that in mind, human rights groups said they found it ironic that Russia might now take steps to limit religious activities. "If the president signs," wrote Human Rights Watch, "it will be the first time since the Soviet era that Russia replaces a federal law which adequately protects the rights and freedoms of citizens with a highly restrictive one."
The bill that Yeltsin vetoed would have restricted religious organizations that were not officially registered at least 15 years ago. Among those qualifying would be the Russian Orthodox Church, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism and the Baptist groups that cooperated with the Soviet state. But for other organized religions, numerous bureaucratic steps would be needed to win permission to preach, proselytize or build and run a place of worship.
The Orthodox Church's most senior official, Patriarch Alexei II, had backed the bill, arguing that Russia needs protection from the kind of cult activity that produced the mass suicides of the Heaven's Gate group in California and the subway terror campaign of the Aum Supreme Truth cult in Japan. In its campaign, the church was joined by Communists and nationalists in parliament.
Religions left unprotected by the bill, including some with long histories in Russia such as independent Baptists and the Roman Catholic Church, avidly opposed the measure. "God heard our prayers," said Pyotr Konovalchik, president of the Union of Evangelical Christian Baptists of Russia.
In June, Pope John Paul sent a letter to Yeltsin protesting the bill. He said it would "be a real threat not only to the usual activities of the Catholic Church in Russia, but also its survival." The parliament's action also spilled over into Russia's foreign relations. The U.S. Senate had amended a foreign aid bill to threaten a cutoff of $200 million in assistance to Russia if Yeltsin signed the measure. That threat poured nationalist oil on the religious fire, and even some opponents of the bill now fear that parliament might override Yeltsin's veto just to show that Russia can stand up to Washington. In Washington, a State Department report released today on religious persecution throughout the world ascribed legislative passage of the law to lobbying by "the Russian Orthodox Church [which] used its political influence to promote official actions that discriminate against religious groups and sects." John Shattuck, assistant secretary of state for human rights, said the Clinton administration had conveyed "serious concern, grave concern" to Yeltsin about the proposed law, staff writer Thomas W. Lippman reported.
Russia's social and economic life has become a cacophony of competing styles in the last six years, and religion is no exception. Scores of missionary groups have poured in from abroad while established religious organizations have sought to rebuild both their houses of worship and their congregations. It is not unusual to see Mormons, Hare Krishnas and evangelical missionaries at work proselytizing on the same street in Moscow. In the immediate aftermath of the Soviet Union's demise, the Russian Orthodox Church experienced a major revival. But recently, church officials have become concerned about defections and apathy, priests say. Nonetheless, the church is not fully united on the wisdom of employing the state to hinder other faiths. "I think the solution is to become better Christians. In the end, the state usually means trouble for us," said Alexander Borisov, a prominent dissenter from the Orthodox hierarchy's policy. © Copyright 1997 The Washington Post Company
(posted 23 July)
GOVERNMENT SPOKESMAN: YELTSIN FORCED TO RESOLVE COMPLEX TASK
MOSCOW (22 July) The situation that has emerged regarding the law "On Freedom of Conscience and Religious Associations," which recently was adopted by the Federation Assembly "forces the president of Russia to resolve an extremely complex task for himself." This was the assessment at a briefing in the House of the Government of the Russian Federation by the head of the department of culture and information of the governmental apparatus, Igor Shabdurasulov. He said that the current draft law is "a delicate topic in the highest degree," which involves various elements of both domestic and foreign policy dimensions. In this regard the official spokesman for the government noted that personally he is much impressed by the view of former president of the Constitutional Court of the Russian Federation, Vladimir Tumanov. Speaking with regard to the circumstances of the law, he noted in particular that this problem could be handled at the level of the church and this is not a topic that lawmakers can afford to handle.
In the next few days the two-week period during which the head of state must sign or reject the law adopoted by parliament will elapse. This law has evoked criticism from abroad. The Senate of the USA threated Moscow with a freeze on distribution of financial aid if the law in question is not rejected. (tr by PDS)
ITAR-TASS, Pravoslavie v Rossii
LAWYER: YELTSIN SHOULD SIGN BILL TO SPITE FOREIGN INTERFERENCE
MOSCOW, July 18 (Interfax) -- Russian President Boris Yeltsin is likely to sign a controversial bill on religious freedom passed by both houses of parliament, an influential lawyer close to Kremlin circles told Interfax Friday. However, "There are some things that could be quickly edited" in the bill, "On Freedom of Conscience and Religious Associations," he said These "editing errors could be easily removed at the final stage of work on the bill."
Yeltsin has until July 21 to decide whether to sign the bill.
He described as absurd the claims by some politicians in Russia and abroad that the law discriminates against a number of religious groups, Catholics in particular. "On the one hand, such claims are the result of delusion, on the other, intentional lies meant to aggravate the political atmosphere in and around Russia," the legal expert said. He said the bill offers "equal rights to all creeds on Russian territory, except inhuman, often quite doubtful movements artificially imposed from abroad." He regretted the letter Pope John Paul II sent to Yeltsin which reportedly voices concern about the future of the Catholic church in Russia if the president signs the bill. "Evidently the pope was misled by the same circles that are now trying to play the religious card for their own purely political purposes," he said.
As for the U.S. Senate, which threatened to cut down on economic aid to Russia in the event of signing the bill, the lawyer said "such steps lie beyond the limits of boorishness." If it had not been "such a delicate and sensitive matter as the freedom of conscience and religion," he would have "recommended the president sign the bill simply to respond to brazen foreign interference in purely Russian affairs," he said.
(posted 22 July)
UNITED STATES POLICIES IN SUPPORT OF RELIGIOUS FREEDOM: FOCUS ON CHRISTIANS
Released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor Affairs, July 22, 1997.
. . .Russia
Current situation: Russia's new constitution and a 1990 Soviet law on religion still in force provide for religious freedom and a strict separation of church and state. Since the breakup of the Soviet Union, the overall climate for religious freedom in Russia has improved dramatically, and made possible a large increase in the activities of foreign missionaries. This has troubled some sectors of Russian society, particularly nationalists and factions of the Russian Orthodox Church. During 1996 and 1997, the Russian Orthodox Church used its political influence to promote official actions that discriminate against religious groups and sects.
Most notably, the Duma and Federation Council recently passed legislation which, if enacted, would replace the 1990 law and introduce significantly more government regulation over religious organizations. While the law is not directed against Russia's established major faiths (Orthodoxy, Judaism, Islam, and Buddhism), it would impose registration requirements on religious groups, provide significant official discretion in decisions on registration, and would restrict the activities of foreign missionaries, as well as confessions, sects or religions, that are relatively new to Russia or that have relatively small numbers of adherents. These groups would have to wait up to 15 years before attaining full legal status, making it impossible for them to own property or have a bank account during this period. The draft legislation enjoys broad public support, but will not become law unless and until President Yeltsin signs it. (President Yeltsin previously rejected a similar proposal as unconstitutional.)
Some regional officials also have sought at times to limit the activities of foreign missionaries, many of whom are Christians. About one-fourth of Russia's 89 regional governments have passed restrictive laws and decrees that violate the 1990 law on religion by limiting or restricting the activities of religious groups, or by requiring registration. Enforcement is uneven, but there are reports that local governments have prevented religious gatherings. As a result, denominations that do not have their own property were denied the opportunity to practice their faith in large groups or to hold prayer meetings. In 1996 the Constitutional Court refused to consider a challenge to the constitutionality of one such law on procedural grounds.
There have been numerous instances in which local authorities have refused to register the passports (a requirement under Russia's visa laws) of foreign missionaries, effectively denying them the ability to function in some regions. Non-Orthodox faiths, including the Catholic Church, have also had difficulties recovering properties that were confiscated during the Soviet era, although some progress was made in 1996.
U.S. Government actions: The United States has acted consistently to encourage Russia to fulfill completely its constitution and pledges of religious tolerance. In June 1997, President Clinton expressed concern to President Boris Yeltsin about the restrictive law on religion then pending in the Duma. Assistant Secretary of State Shattuck also voiced concern about the draft law and local restrictions on religious freedom to his Russian counterpart during bilateral consultations on human rights in May. President Clinton expressed concern about Aleksandr Lebed's inflammatory statements on missionary activities of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints when he met with Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin at the G-7 Summit in Lyon in June 1996. Vice President Gore reiterated those U.S. concerns the following month at a session of the Gore-Chernomyrdin Commission.
The U.S. Embassy in Moscow and U.S. consulates have also been active in emphasizing the importance of freedom of conscience and religion. U.S. officials have voiced concern about initiatives by local and provincial governments to restrict the activities of missionary groups, and urged parliamentary deputies considering the new draft law on religion to uphold the principles of tolerance and separation of church and state embodied in the constitution and in the 1990 law.
The Embassy has frequently objected to attempts by the Russian authorities to administer visa regulations in a manner that restricts the freedom of movement of U.S. citizens, including missionaries, inside Russia.
Complete report is available at: http://www.state.gov/www/global/human_rights/970722_relig_rpt_christian.html
(posted 22 July)
This English translation of the approved version of the religion law, which Yeltsin reportedly has vetoed as of 22 July, was made by Xenia Dennen and Larry Uzzell, and provided by Keston Institute. Keston's email address is: email@example.com, and the institute welcomes inquiries.
Russian Federation, Federal Law
"On Freedom of Conscience and on Religious Associations"
Protecting the inalienable right of citizens of the Russian Federation to freedom in their choice of world-views, including the right to confess any or religion or not to confess any;
Respecting Orthodoxy as an inseparable part of the all-Russian historical, spiritual and cultural heritage, and equally Islam with its millions of members, and also Buddhism, Judaism and other religions traditionally existing in the Russian Federation;
The Federal Assembly of the Russian Federation hereby adopts this federal law.
CHAPTER I. GENERAL PROVISIONS
Article 1 The Subject Regulated by This Federal Law
This federal law regulates the legal relationships in the area of the rights of man and citizen to freedom of conscience and to freedom of creed, and also the legal status of religious associations.
Art. 2 Laws on Freedom Of Conscience and Religious Associations
1. The laws on freedom of conscience and religious associations consist of the corresponding norms of the Constitution of the Russian Federation, the Civic Code of the Russian Federation, and also this federal law, other normative legal acts of federal law adopted in accordance with them and normative legal acts of subjects of the Russian Federation.
2. The rights of man and citizen to freedom of conscience and to freedom of creed are regulated by federal law. Laws and other normative legal acts enacted in the Russian Federation and affecting the realisation of freedom of conscience, freedom of creed and also the activities of religious associations must be consistent with this federal law. If normative legal acts adopted by subjects of the Russian Federation on questions of the protection of the right to freedom of conscience and freedom of creed, or on questions of the activities of religious associations, contradict this federal law, this federal law is to prevail.
3. Nothing in the law on freedom of conscience and religious associations may be interpreted in such a way as to diminish or limit the right of man and citizen to freedom of conscience and freedom of creed, as established by the Constitution of the Russian Federation or stemming from international treaties of the Russian Federation.
Art. 3 The Right to Freedom of Conscience and to Freedom of Creed
1. Freedom of conscience and freedom of creed are guaranteed in the Russian Federation, including the right to confess, individually or jointly with others, any religion or not to confess any, and the freedom to choose, change, possess or disseminate religious or other convictions and to act in accordance with them.
2. The right of man and citizen to freedom of conscience and to freedom of creed may be restricted by federal law only to the extent to which this is necessary for the goals of defending the foundations of the constitutional system, morality, health, or the rights and legal interests of man and citizen, or of securing the defence of the country and the security of the state.
3. The establishment of privileges or restrictions, just as any other form of discrimination on the basis of one's attitude toward religion, is not permitted.
4. Citizens of the Russian Federation are equal before the law in all spheres of civic, political, economic, social and cultural life, independent of their attitudes toward religion or religious affiliations. A citizen of the Russian Federation, in the event that military service contradicts his convictions or creed, has the right to substitute alternative civilian service for it. Upon the request of religious organisations, clergymen may, by a decision of the President of the Russian Federation, be granted deferment from conscription into military service in peacetime. Clergymen who have completed a term of active military service are exempt from military conscription.
5. Nobody may be required to discuss his attitudes toward religion, or be subjected to compulsion in the forming of his attitudtoward religion, toward the confessing or refusing to confess a religion, toward participation or lack of participation in worship services, other religious rituals or ceremonies, the activities of religious associations, or religious training. The attraction of minors to religious associations and also the teaching of religion to them against their will or without the agreement of their parents or guardians is forbidden.
6. Actions hindering the realisation of the right to freedom of conscience and freedom of creed, including actions entailing coercion of an individual, calculated insults of the feelings of citizens in connection with their attitudes toward religion, the destruction or damage of property, and threats of such actions, are forbidden and are to be prosecuted by law. The conducting of public activities and distribution of texts and images insulting the religious feelings of citizens immediately adjacent to objects of religious veneration is forbidden.
7. The secrecy of confession is protected by law. A clergyman may not be held accountable for refusing to provide evidence about circumstances which became known to him through confession.
Art. 4 The State and Religious Associations
1. The Russian Federation is a secular state. No religion may be established as a state or compulsory religion. Religious associations are separate from the state and are equal before the law.
2. In accordance with the constitutional principle of the separation of religious associations from the state, the state:
is not to interfere in questions of the formation by a citizen of his attitudes toward religion or of his religious affiliation, or in the upbringing of children by their parents or guardians in accordance with their own convictions and with the right of the child to freedom of conscience and of creed;
is not to call upon religious associations to carry out the functions of organs of state power, other state organs, state institutions or organs of local government;
is not to interfere in the activities of religious associations if those activities do not contradict this federal law;
is to secure the secular character of education and of state and municipal educational institutions.
3. The state is to secure the observance and protection of the rights of citizens to freedom of conscience and creed and the equality of religious associations before the law; is to regulate by law the granting of tax privileges and other privileges to religious organisations; and is to provide financial, material and other aid to religious organisations in the restoration, maintenance and protection of buildings and objects which are monuments of history and culture, and also in providing instruction in general educational subjects in educational institutions created by religious organisations in accordance with the laws on education.
4. The activities of organs of state power and of organs of local government may not be accompanied by public religious rituals or ceremonies. Functionaries of organs of state power, of other state organs and of local government, and also military personnel do not have the right to use their official positions for the formation of one or another type of attitude toward religion.
5. In accordance with the constitutional principle of the separation of religious associations from the state, religious associations:
are formed and carry out their activities in accordance with their own hierarchal and institutional structure; choose, appoint and replace their personnel in accordance with their own rules;
are not to carry out functions of organs of state power, other state organs, state institutions or organs of local government;
are not to take part in the elections of organs of state power or of local government;
are not to take part in the activities of political parties or political movements, or to provide them with material or other help.
6. The separation of religious associations from the state is not to entail any limitation on the rights of their members to take part equally with others in the managing of state affairs, in the elections of organs of state power and of organs of local government, or in the activities of political parties or movements or of other social associations.
7. By request of religious organisations, the appropriate organs of state power in the Russian Federation have the right to declare religious holidays as non-working days in the appropriate territories.
Art. 5 Religious Education.
1. Everyone may receive religious education according to his choice, individually or jointly with others.
2. The upbringing and education of children is to be carried out by parents or guardians, taking into account the right of the child to freedom of conscience and of creed.
3. Religious associations have the right directly to teach religion to their followers. Religious organisations have the right, in accordance with their charters and with the laws of the Russian Federation, to create educational institutions.
4. Upon the request of their parents or guardians, with the agreement of children studying in state or municipal educational institutions, the administration of these institutions by agreement with the corresponding local (municipal) organ of educational administration has the right to grant students opportunities for the realisation their right to receive religious education outside the framework of the educational programme.
CHAPTER TWO: RELIGIOUS ASSOCIATIONS
Art. 6 Religious Associations
1. As a religious association in the Russian Federation is recognised a voluntary association of citizens of the Russian Federation, formed with the goals of joint confession and dissemination of their faith and possessing features corresponding to that goal:
the performance of worship services, religious rituals and ceremonies;
the teaching of religion and the religious upbringing of its followers.
2. Religious associations may be created in the form of religious groups or religious organisations.
3. The creation of religious associations in organs of state power, other state organs, state institutions, organs of local government, military installations, or in state or municipal organisations is not permitted.
4. The creation and activities of religious associations the goals and actions of which violate the law is forbidden.
Art. 7 A RELIGIOUS GROUP
1. A voluntary association of citizens, formed for the goals of joint confession and dissemination of their faith, carrying out its activities without state registration and without obtaining the legal capabilities of a legal personality, is called a religious group.
2. Citizens forming a religious group are to inform the local authorities about its creation and the beginning of its activities.
3. Religious groups have the right to conduct worship services, to carry out religious rituals and ceremonies.
Art. 8 A RELIGIOUS ORGANIZATION
1. A free association of citizens, formed with the goals of joint confession and dissemination of their faith, and registered as a legal personality in accordance with practice established by law, is recognised as a religious organization.
2. Religious organisations, depending on the territory where they are active, are divided into local and centralized ones. Centralized religious organizations are divided into regional and all-Russian ones.
3. A religious organization consisting of ten or more members or followers who are at least 18 years old and who are permanently residing in one locality or in one urban or rural settlement within the territory of one subject of the Russian Federation is recognised as a local religious organization.
4. A religious organization consisting in accordance with its charter of no fewer than three local religious organisations is recognised as a regional religious organization.
5. A centralized religious organization which has been functioning in the Russian Federation for no fewer than 50 years can be recognized as All-Russian by a decision of the Government of the Russian Federation if the organization has local religious organizations in no fewer than half of the subjects of the Russian Federation, or in no fewer than three subjects of the Russian Federation as ethnic-cultural formations.
6. A centralised religious organization active in the Russian Federation for no fewer than 50 years has the right to use in its names the words 'Russia', 'Russian' and derivatives of these.
7. An institution formed by a central religious organization in accordance with its charter or an organization which has the aim and features specified in Point 1 of Article 6, including a governing or coordinating organ or institution or also an institution of professional religious education is also recognised as a religious organization.
8. The organs of State, in considering matters touching upon the activity of religious organizations within society, are to take into account the territorial sphere of the activities of a religious organization, and are to grant that organizations the chance of participating in considering these questions.
9. A religious organization has a full name which contains information on its confessional adherence, and such an organization must indicate its full name when it carries out its activities.
Art 9. THE CREATION OF A RELIGIOUS ORGANIZATION
1. Local religious organizations are formed on the initiative of adult citizens of the Russian Federation, who join together as a religious group, which must have confirmation from the organs of the local government that it has existed for no less than 15 years on the said territory, or confirmation from a centralized religious organization of the same creed that it forms part of its structure.
2. Centralized religious organizations are formed, when there exist no fewer than three local religious organizations of the same creed, in accordance with the internal procedures of the religious organizations if these do not contradict the law.
Art. 10 THE CHARTER OF A RELIGIOUS ORGANIZATION
1. A religious organization functions on the basis of its charter, which is confirmed by its founders or by a centralised religious organization, and which must conform with the demands of civic law.
2. The charter of a religious organization is to include:
its name, address, type of religious organization, creed, and when it belongs to an already existing centralised religious organization, its name;
its aims, goals and basic forms of activity;
the procedure for its creation and termination of activity;
the structure of the organization, its administrative organs, the procedure for their formation and areas of competence;
the sources of finance and other property of the organization;
the procedure for introducing changes and additions to its charter;
the procedure for disposing of property should it cease its activity;
other information relevant to the peculiarities of the activities of the said religious organization.
Art.11 STATE REGISTRATION OF RELIGIOUS ORGANIZATIONS
1. State registration of religious organizations is performed by the federal organs of justice and by the organs of justice of the subjects of the Russian Federation by rules to be established in accordance with the civic law and with this federal law.
2. State registration of a local or centralized religious organization functioning within the limits of the territory of one subject of the Russian Federation, is performed by the organ of justice of the said subject of the Russian Federation.
3. The federal organ of justice registers centralized religious organizations which have local religious organizations on the territory of two or more subjects of the Russian Federation.
4. For the state registration of a local religious organization, adult citizens of the Russian Federation at least 18 years old and numbering no fewer than 10 people submit the following to the relevant organ of justice:
an application for registration;
a list of those who form the religious organization with an indication of their citizenship, their home address, date of birth;
the charter of the religious organization;
minutes of the meeting which founded it;
confirmation by an organ of the local government that the said religious group has existed for no less than 15 years on the relevant territory, or confirmation of its membership in a centralized religious organization issued by that centralized organization's governing body;
information on its basic creed and related practice, including the history of how the religion arose and a history of the said association, the forms and methods of its activity, its attitudes toward the family and marriage, toward education, peculiarities of its attitude toward the health of its followers, restrictions on the organization's members and clergy as regards their rights and duties as citizens;
a document confirming the whereabouts of the governing body (legal address) of the newly-formed religious organization.
5. In a case in which the governing organ (centre) of the religious organization which is being formed is located outside the Russian Federation, in addition to the documents stipulated in point 4 of the present article, in accordance with established practice, the statutes or other founding document of the foreign religious organization, confirmed by a state organ of the country in which the organization is located, must be submitted.
6. The basis for state registration of centralised religious organizations, and also of religious organisations formed by centralized religious organizations, is:
the charter of the newly-formed religious organization, confirmed by its founder (founders);
a document confirming the location of the governing body (legal address) of the newly-formed religious organization;
a copy, attested by a notary, of the charter and proof of the state registration of the founder (founders);
the appropriate decisions of legally competent organs of the founder (founders).
A centralized religious organization is also to submit information must also be submitted about the religious organizations which are included in its structure.
7. An application for state registration of a religious organization created by an existing religious organization or according to a confirmation issued by an existing centralised religious organization is to be reviewed within a month from the day when all the documents listed in this article have been submitted. In other cases, the registering organ has the right to extend the period for examination of the documents for a further six months for the carrying out of state religious-studies analysis by official religious specialists.
The procedure for the execution of this study is to be established by the Government of the Russian Federation.
8. In cases where an applicant (applicants) does not observe the requirements in points 4,5 and 6 of the current article, the registering organ has the right to disregard the application, informing the applicant (applicants) of this decision.
9. In cases where the decision is positive, a certificate is given to the applicant of the state registration of the religious organization in the established form, and information about the registration is recorded in the single state register of legal persons, available for public scrutiny.
10. Changes and additions to the charters of religious organizations are subject to state registration in the same way as the registration of religious organizations, and come into force for third parties from the moment they are registered with the state.
11. When a religious organization moves to a different location (legal address) it must inform the registering organ within a month from the day of the change.
12. Once every two years a religious organization is obliged to inform the registering body of the continuation of its activities, indicating where it is based (its legal address) and giving data on its leaders within the framework of information included in the single state register of legal personalities. Failure to provide the information indicated over a period of three years is sufficient grounds for the registering body to appeal to a court to recognise the organization as having ceased its activities as a legal personality and to delay it from the single state register of legal persons.
Art. 12 REFUSAL BY THE STATE TO REGISTER A RELIGIOUS ORGANIZATION
1. The state can refuse to register a religious organization in the following cases:
if the aims and activity of a religious organization are linked with the infringement of the Constitution of the Russian Federation and of current laws, with references to specific articles and laws;
the non-recognition of an organization as religious;
when the charter and other representative documents do not conform with the demands of laws or when the information contained therein is inauthentic;
the presence of a previously registered organization of the same name in the single state register of legal personalities;
when a founding member (members) is not legally competent.
2. The refusal of state registration to a religious organization is communicated in writing to the applicant giving the grounds for refusal. Refusal on grounds of the inexpediency of creating an organization is impermissible.
3. The refusal of a registering body to grant state registration to a religious organization as well as the evasion of such registration, can be brought before a court.
Art. 13 REPRESENTATIVE BODIES OF FOREIGN RELIGIOUS ORGANIZATIONS
1. A religious organization is named foreign if it is created outside the confines of the Russian Federation and according to the law of a foreign state.
2. A Russian religious organization can have attached to itself a representative body of a foreign religious organization. To open such a representative body, the Russian religious organization presents an application to the registering body indicating the purposes for the activity of foreign representatives of a religious organization, its statutes or other founding document, and also documents which confirm the legality of the foreign religious organization in the country where resides its governing body, information on its basic beliefs and related religious practices, including a history of the religion and of the said organization, the forms and methods of its activity, its attitude to the family and marriage, to education, the particular views on health of a given religion's adherents, limitations on its members and clergy as regards their civil rights and duties.
3. The procedure for the registration, opening and shutting of the foreign representation of a religious organization is established by the Government of the Russian Federation in accordance with the law of the Russian Federation.
4. In the case of a positive decision, a certificate in a form established by the Government of the Russian Federation is issued to the representative of the foreign religious organization.
Art. 14 THE LIQUIDATION OF A RELIGIOUS ORGANIZATION AND THE BANNING OF A RELIGIOUS ASSOCIATION'S ACTIVITIES IN THE EVENT OF THEIR BREAKING THE LAW.
1. Religious organizations can be liquidated:
by a decision of its founders, or by the organ empowered to do this by the religious organization's charter;
by a court decision in the case of frequent and gross infringement of the norms of the Constitution of the Russian Federation, or infringement of this federal law and other federal laws, or in the case of systematic activities by a religious organization which contradict the goals for which it was created (the goals in its charter).
2. Grounds for liquidating a religious organization or for banning the activities of a religious organization or religious group by judicial order are:
the undermining of social order and security or threats to the security of the State;
actions aimed at forcibly changing the foundations of the Constitutional structure or destroying the unity of the Russian Federation;
the creation of armed units;
propaganda of war, the igniting of social, racial, national or religious dissension or hatred between people;
forcing a family to disintegrate;
the infringement of the person, the rights and freedom of a citizen;
the infliction of damage established in accordance with the law on the morality or health of citizens, including the use in connection with their religious activities of narcotic or psychoactive substances, hypnosis, the performing of depraved or other disorderly actions;
encouraging suicide or the refusal on religious grounds of medical help to persons in life-endangering or health-endangering conditions;
hindering the receiving of compulsory education;
forcing members and followers of the religious association or other persons to alienate property which belongs to them for the use of the religious association;
inciting citizens to refuse to fulfill their civic obligations established by law, or to perform other disorderly actions.
3. The organs of the procuracy and the organ carrying out the registration of religious organizations have the right to bring a case to court on the liquidation of a religious organization or the banning of the activities of a religious organization or a religious group. In such cases the activities of a religious organization can be suspended in accordance with the law.
4. The legal capacity of a religious organization as a legal personality ceases and the property of the liquidated religious organization is distributed in accordance with its charter and with the civic law of the Russian Federation.
CHAPTER III. RIGHTS AND CONDITIONS FOR THE ACTIVITY OF RELIGIOUS ORGANIZATIONS
Art. 15 INTERNAL REGULATIONS OF RELIGIOUS ORGANIZATIONS
1. Religious organizations act in accordance with their own internal regulations if these do not contradict the laws in force. They possess the legal capabilities stipulated in their charters.
2. The State respects the internal regulations of religious organizations if these do not contradict the laws in force.
Art. 16 RELIGIOUS RITES AND CEREMONIES
1. Religious organizations have the right to found and maintain religious buildings and equipment and other places and objects specially designated for worship services, for prayer and religious gatherings, for religious veneration (pilgrimages).
2. Worship services, religious rites and ceremonies take place without hindrance in religious buildings and structures and on their adjoining territory, in other places made available to religious organizations for these purposes, in places of pilgrimage, in institutions and at the enterprises of religious organizations, in cemeteries and crematoria, and also in residential buildings.
3. Religious organizations have the right to carry out religious rites in health centres and hospitals, in children's homes, in old people's homes and institutions for the handicapped, and in institutions applying sentences of imprisonment for criminal offences at the request of the citizens held there in premises specially designated by the administration for these purposes. Religious rites are permitted in premises at places of detention under guard with the proviso that the laws of criminal procedure are observed.
4. Those in command of military units, while observing the requirements of military regulations, are not to hinder military personnel from participating in worship services and in other religious rituals.
5. In other instances, public worship services, religious rites and ceremonies are to be carried out in accordance with the rules established for mass rallies, street processions and demonstrations.
Art. l7 RELIGIOUS LITERATURE AND ARTICLES OF RELIGIOUS SIGNIFICANCE
1. Religious organizations have the right to produce, acquire, export, import and distribute religious literature, printed, audio and video material and other articles of religious significance.
2. Religious organizations have the exclusive right to institute enterprises for producing liturgical literature and articles for religious services.
3. Literature, printed, audio and video material issued by religious organizations, must be marked with the full official name of the said religious organization.
Art.18 CHARITABLE AND CULTURAL-EDUCATIONAL ACTIVITIES OF RELIGIOUS ORGANIZATIONS
1. Religious organizations have the right to carry out charitable activities, either directly or by instituting charitable organizations.
2. In order to enact their charters' aims and goals religious organizations have the right in accordance with the law of the Russian Federation to create cultural-educational organizations, educational and other institutions, and also to found organs of mass media.
3. The state is to cooperate with and support the charitable activities of religious organizations, as well as the implementation of their socially significant cultural and educational progammes and undertakings.
Art. 19 INSTITUTIONS OF PROFESSIONAL RELIGIOUS EDUCATION
1. Religious organizations in accordance with their charters have the exclusive right to create institutions for professional religious education (spiritual educational institutions) for preparing clergy and religious personnel.
2. Institutions of professional religious education are subject to registration as religious organizations and are to receive state licences for the right to carry out educational activity.
3. Citizens who are studying as resident students in departments of professional religious institutions which have state licences have the right to delay their military service and to make use of other privileges granted in accordance with the laws of the Russian Federation.
Art. 20 INTERNATIONAL LINKS AND CONTACTS
1. Religious organizations have the right to establish and maintain international links and contacts, including those for the goals of pilgrimages, participation in meetings and other undertakings, for receiving religious education, and also they have the right to invite foreign citizens for these purposes.
2. Religious organizations have the exclusive right to invite foreign citizens for professional purposes, including preaching and religious activity in the said organizations in accordance with Federal laws.
Art. 21 THE RIGHT TO PROPERTY OF RELIGIOUS ORGANIZATIONS
1. Religious organizations can own buildings, plots of land, objects for the purpose of production and for social, charitable, educational and other purposes, articles of religious significance, financial means and other property which is essential for their activity including that necessary for historical and cultural monuments.
2. Religious organizations have the right to own property which has been acquired or created by their own means, by the donations of citizens or of organizations or transferred to them by the State, or acquired by other means in conformity with the law.
3. The transfer to the ownership of religious organizations of religious buildings and constructions, with the adjoining land and other property of religious significance for their use for functional purposes from state and municipal ownership, is to take place free charge.
4. Religious organizations have the right to own property abroad.
5. Creditors may not institute proceedings against real estate or other property designated for worship purposes.
Art. 22 THE USE OF PROPERTY BELONGING TO THE STATE, TO CITIZENS OR THEIR ASSOCIATIONS
1. Religious organizations have the right to use for their own needs plots of land, buildings and property provided by state, municipal, social and other organizations and citizens in accordance with the laws of the Russian Federation.
2. The transfer to religious organizations, for their use according to their stated functions, of buildings or other structures for worship with the land adjoining them owned by the state or by a municipality, or of other property of religious significance owned by the state or by a municipality, is to take place free of charge.
Art. 23 BUSINESS UNDERTAKINGS OF RELIGIOUS ORGANIZATIONS
Registered religious organizations have the right to carry out business undertakings and to create their own enterprises in accordance with the law established by the civic laws of the Russian Federation.
Art. 24 LABOUR LAWS IN RELIGIOUS ORGANIZATIONS
1. Religious organizations in accordance with their charters have the right to hire employees.
2. Payment and conditions of work are established according to the laws with a working agreement (contract) between the religious organization (employer) and the employee concluded with the agreement of both sides.
3. Citizens who work in religious organizations according to a working agreement (contract) are subject to labour laws.
4. Employees of religious organizations, and also clergy, must have state social and medical insurance as well as provision for pensions.
CHAPTER IV. THE SUPERVISION AND MONITORING OF THE IMPLEMENTATION OF THE LAW ON FREEDOM OF CONSCIENCE AND ON RELIGIOUS ASSOCIATIONS
Art. 25. IMPLEMENTATION OF SUPERVISION AND MONITORING
1. Monitoring the implementation of the law on freedom of conscience and on religious associations is carried out by the organs of the Procuracy.
2. The organ which registers a religious organization monitors that organization's observance of its own charter as regards the aims and rules of its activity.
Art. 26 LIABILITY FOR VIOLATING THE LAW ON FREEDOM OF CONSCIENCE AND ON RELIGIOUS ASSOCIATIONS
Violation of the law on freedom of conscience and on religious associations involves criminal, administrative and other liability in accordance with the laws of the Russian Federation.
Art. 27 ON THE TIMING AND ORDER FOR THE COMING INTO EFFECT OF THIS FEDERAL LAW
1. This Federal law is to take effect from the day of its official publication.
2. The Government of the Russian Federation is to adopt the necessary normative legal acts for the implementation of this Federal law.
3. This Federal law is to apply both to currently operating and to newly formed religious associations.
4. The charters and other founding documents of religious organizations established before this Federal law comes into force must be brought into conformity with this federal law. Until the charters and other founding documents of religious organizations have been brought into conformity with this federal law, only those parts of the charters and other founding documents of religious organizations remain in force which do not contradict this federal law.
5. The re-registration with the State of religious associations created before this federal law has come into force must take place no later than 31 December 1999 in accordance with the requirements of this federal law. Once this period has expired, religious associations which have not completed re-registration are subject to liquidation according to the law upon the demand of the body which conducts state registration of religious organizations.
6. Recognize as no longer in force the Law of the RSFSR "On Freedom of Religious Confession" (GAZETTE OF THE RSFSR CONGRESS OF PEOPLES DEPUTIES AND OF THE RSFSR SUPREME SOVIET, 1990, No.21, Art. 240; COLLECTION OF THE LAWS OF THE RUSSIAN FEDERATION, 1995, No. 5, Art. 346) from the day when this federal law comes into force. (END)
(posted 22 July 1997)
His Excellency, Boris Nikolaevich Yeltsin,
President of the Russian Federation
Your Excellency, Esteemed Boris Nikolaevich
The members of the Holy Synod and bishop of the Russian Orthodox church, assembled at the Saint Sergius Holy Trinity Lavra for the holiday of Saint Sergius of Radonezh, appeal to you in the name of the multimillion Orthodox flock with the urgent request to put into effect the new federal law "On Freedom of Conscience and Religious Associations."
This law, adopted by the State Duma and approved by the Federation Council, received almost unanimous support from the members of both chambers of the Federation Assembly of Russia, which testifies to the high value the parliamentarians place upon the law, even though they are of varied political convictions and represent diverse regions of the country. Public opinion, by overwhelming majority, also has a strongly positive opinion of the new law, which removes some earlier legal problems in the area of the activity of religious associations and their relations with the state and wisely and responsibly regulates the legal position of religious associations.
Our church received with great pleasure the mention in the text of the law of regard for Orthodoxy as an integral part of the all-Russian historical, spiritual, and cultural heritage, along with other traditional religious of the peoples of Russia.
In a completely just manner the law distinguishes among religious associations in terms of their presence in Russia, the number of their followers, and the time of their organization. It takes serious precautions for protecting the individual and society from the destructive, pseudoreligious and pseudomissionary activity that has brought obvious harm to the spiritual and physical health of people, to the national integrity of our people, and to the stability and civic peace in Russia. We are persuaded that rejection of this law will lead to further spiritual and moral destabilization in Russia.
It is precisely peace and concord in our fatherland, for which you, Mister President, have urgently called and for which we pray and which we strive to create, that will be fundamentally strengthened by the aforementioned law, which takes into account regard for the traditional Russian religious associations and attention to the rights of religious minorities by fully guaranteeing them the possibility freely to profess their faith.
Your Excellency. We express our conviction that your decision to put this new law "On Freedom of Conscience and Religious Association" into effect will be received warmly by the overwhelming majority of Russian believers. It will strengthen yet more the feeling of respect for you, as the head of our state, because it will become a most important milestone in the history of building church-state relations on a foundation of mutual understanding and cooperation for the well-being of our great fatherland.
With profound respect and wishes for God's help in your labors.
Patriarch of Moscow and all-Rus
Saint Sergius Holy Trinity Lavra
17 July 1997
(this document also was signed by 49 bishops of the Russian church, including the Holy Synod, who were in Sergiev Posad)
Text of this document was posted on the patriarchate's Web site.
(posted 21 July)
RELIGIOUS FREEDOM IN RUSSIA HANGS ON A SIGNATURE. INTERNATIONAL CONCERN GROWS
from Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society
MOSCOW (July 17) A two-foot high stack of petitions landed on the desk of President Boris Yeltsin yesterday bearing the signatures of 134,248 Russians who are concerned that they are about to lose their freedom of worship. "We, the undersigned, adult citizens of the Russian Federation, express our appreciation for freedom of religion, which is guaranteed by the Russian Constitution," began the appeal. The signatories, associated with the Christian organization of Jehovah's Witnesses, fear that Russia is returning to the days of official suppression of religion.
A proposed law, "On Freedom of Conscience and Religious Associations," awaits Yeltsin's signature. It threatens to strip religious minorities in Russia of their registrations, thus restricting their religious rights. The bill recently received overwhelming support in both houses of the Russian parliament. Russian Orthodoxy, and to a lesser extent Buddhism, Islam, and Judaism, would be granted special status. All other groups would be severely restricted and would be required to go through lengthy and complex processes to obtain legal registration. Proponents of the law cite the need to preserve Russian heritage and protect the country from foreign and missionary religions. Critics describe the law as a "discriminatory" measure that "blatantly tramples on the principle of the freedom of conscience, the Russian Federation Constitution, and the Civil Code."
Milton Henschel, president of the Watch Tower Society, sent a letter to Yeltsin today expressing the deep concern of more than 5 million Jehovah's Witnesses in over 200 lands. "For more than a century, Jehovah's Witnesses have been in Russia and are a part of the Russian religious heritage," wrote Henschel. In the years 1949 and 1951, 5,000 Witness families were exiled to Siberia for their faith. In 1991 the government granted the Witnesses legal recognition. Now they number more than 200,000 members and associates in Russia.
Observers fear that if the bill becomes law, extremist elements will declare open season on religious minorities. According to a letter to Yeltsin from the monitoring group Human Rights Watch/Helsinki, the law "actually exacerbates religious war between traditional religions and nontraditional confessions that are subjected to discrimination." An anti-sect organization in St. Petersburg has already declared its determination to "achieve genuine implementation" of the new law. Some supporters of the law call for the establishment of reeducation camps for so-called victims of totalitarian sects.
The State Duma, the lower house of the Russian parliament, approved the bill on June 23 by a vote of 300 to 8. The July 4 vote of the Federation Council, the upper house, was 112 to 4 in favor of the bill that would impact Catholics, Baptists, Seventh-Day Adventists and others. World leaders, economists, and human rights organizations, along with ordinary Russian citizens, wait to see whether Yeltsin will sign the bill into law or move to uphold the guarantees of the Russian constitution.
(text provided by Office of Public Affairs of Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society, Brooklyn, NY)
(posted 21 July)
NEW LAW "ON FREEDOM OF CONSCIENCE AND RELIGIOUS CONFESSIONS" (sic) HAS BECOME OBJECT OF POLITICAL HAGGLING
THE VATICAN AND US CONGRESS HAVE CAUTIONED BORIS YELTSIN ABOUT HIS SIGNATURE, THOUGH FOR DIFFERENT REASONS
by Maxim Shevchenko, Sergei Startsev
Nezavisimaia gazeta, 19 July 1997 (complete xt)
The new law "On Fredom of Conscience and Religious Associations" which was adopted on third reading and gone through the Federation Council now awaits the president's signature. And while Boris Yeltsin ponders, a serious international scandal has arisen around the law. On Wednesday an amendment to a bill on foreign aid was adopted by a vote of 94 to 4, the sense of which was that the government of the United States should terminate this aid to Russia if the president nevertheless signs the law. To be sure, the congressional document does not specify the amount which Americans do not wish to give to the former superpower, but the likely sum is around 195 million dollars. [See Senate votes to cut off Russian aid]
The blatant interference of the American legislators in the internal affairs of Russia was accompanied by a number of public declarations such as the Republican Mitch McConnell permitted himself: "We should use (foreign aid) for promoting American values and American interests."
Such an approach shows once again that religion is not only a matter of "spirituality" and "culture." Both great sums of money and high politics are stirred into the sphere of religion and in the final analysis religion is a means for controlling the public and social orientation of an enormous number of people and, with a certain approach, even for manipulating them. Despite the attempt of American propagande to represent the USA as some kind of contemporary technocratic religionless space, the life of this state is determined to a great extent by the positions of religious organizations, for example, the Mormons (who are not even Christian)or Jehovah's Witnesses (whose Christinaity is also extremely dubious). All of these organizations are fantastically wealthy and their banks control the circulation of billions of dollars . And today a significant part of these monies is invested in Russia, not so much in manufacturing as in the industry of "capturing human souls." Control over people permits in time a return on the invested funds. And it was just for this, in order to prevent this control and business, that the traditional religious organizations of Russia (Orthodoxy, Islam, Buddhism, and traditional Russian protestants) in the last seven years have been trying to make amendments in the 1990 law, which is superdemocratic but does not correspond to the historical and cultural realities of the country.
Of course, many questions have arisen. The law "On Freedom of Conscience" was adopted with extreme haste. In Russian conditions this always evokes suspicion, and in the context of the extended and seemingly fruitless struggle which the Orthodox church conducted for the law the haste of the legislators seems still more suspicious. This reached absurd lengths. The first reading of the law occurred under a different title and in the subsequent readings of a document that is vitally important for Russia a majority of the deputies saw it only five days before the decisive vote. And the consequences showed up right away. The law has many places that provoke doubt from the point of view of their common sense. The poorly thought out text, which was supposed to protect the population of Russia from totalitarian sects, given a certain turn of events could "protect" it from any religion.
Thus, in one of the points of the law it would seem "enticement of minor children into religious associations and the teaching of religion to minors contrary to their wishes and without the consent of their parents or guardians" is justly forbidden. Everyone remembers the crowds of mindless children from the White Brotherhood, who were ready to commit public suicide. But in essence a prohibition of "enticing minors into religious association . . . contrary to their wishes" etc. could be interpreted as a forbidding baptism of an infant.
But it seems that it is not such infelicities that have so energized the world public. Special dissatisfaction has been evoked by those chapters of the law that prohibit the activity of foreign religious organizations. Here "under a single broom" all foreign religions organizations have fallen together, irrespective of their role and significance in Russia's history. The greatest harm is suffered by Catholics.
Pope John Paul II sent a special letter to Boris Yeltsin in which he expressed profound concern that the text does not mention "traditional religions" which always have included Catholicism, and that the Catholic church is not once mentioned. While adherents of Catholicism have been present in Russia for at least 300 years!
Somehow a common language with the Vatician can be found quickly. It seems quite absurd for there to be any conflict of the Russian state with one of the largest and most ancient of the world's churches which can hardly be suspected of sympathy with "totalitarian sects."
The situation with the Americans will be more difficult. They have no intentions of abandoning the postsoviet religious and cultural space which has been so favorable for spiritual experimentation. And the religious actors of Capitol Hill are not stopped by the fact that in its general provisions the new law fully conforms to European legal norms and its formulations are even much less harsh than the laws of several countries (Greece's constitution declares the right of Orthodoxy as the state religion, Ireland's constitution similarly gives the right to Catholicism, and Denmark's gives it to Lutheranism, etc.).
According to Interfax, an official representative of the Russian ministry of foreign affars yesterday expressed "amazement" about the decision of Congress. "It should have been understood long ago that any kind of conditions and strings are counterproductive," this unnamed official said. He accounted for the adoption of the law by "the pressure of public opinion, especially from the provinces, which opposes the activity of nontraditional confessions that frequently takes abnormal and anticonstitutional forms." (tr by PDS)
Russian text: Novyi zakon.
(posted 19 July 1997)
AMERICAN SENATORS SHOULD RESPECT MOSCOW
Segodnia, 18 July 1997 (complete text)
The reaction of American senators to the law "On Freedom of Conscience and Religious Associations," which has not even gone into effect, "cannot but evoke amazement" in Russia. This is what was said in a communication of an official representative of the ministry of foreign affairs of the Russian federation (MID RF). Several days ago the Senate of USA adopted an amendment to a bill on foreign aid, according to which USA will terminate aid to Russia if the president of RF signs the law on freedom of conscience. MID RF notes that it is in the interests of Russia and the USA "to develop fruitful and mutually beneficial relations of partnership and cooperation, based on equal rights and mutual respect for one another, without an attempt to impose one's own view of the world in the form of a single 'standard.'" A representative of MID RF emphasized especially that the draft that was approved by both houses of the Russian parliament will be signed by Boris Yeltsin "only after careful expert evaluation for the chief of staff of the presidency to determine conformity to the constitution and other legislative acts of Russia, as well as its international obligations in the area of human rights." (tr by PDS)
Clinton administration distances itself from Senate action: U.S. wants to keep Russia aid despite religion bill
ANXIETY OVER THE PURITY OF FAITH
by Valeriia Sycheva
Segodnia, 19 July 1997 (complete text)
The Senate of the USA is patronizing the likes of Aum Shinrikyo and the White Brotherhood
Anxiety over the draft law "On Freedom of Conscience and Religious Associations" has become intense. Recently Boris Yeltsin practically simultaneously received letters from the patriarch of Moscow and all-Rus Alexis II requesting that he sign the law and a petition from the Roman pope John Paul II with the opposite request. At the same time the Senate of the USA threatened to block economic aid to Russia if the law goes into effect. (We mention that the draft law does not hinder the chances of exotic sects and such fadish neoorthodox doctrines to exist. Foreigners can engage in preaching in Russia only upon invitation from registered religious organizations.)
The ministry of foreign affairs responded to the news from the banks of the Potomac with berely concealed irritation. In a declaration disseminated through Interfax there is an unambiguous reference to Washington's attempt to impose its own view of the world "as a single stamdard." The declaration states that the Senate's action "cannot but evoke amazement" in Russia.
Russian legislators expressed their "amazement" in sharp form. The leader of the deputies' group "Russian Regions," Vladimir Medvedev, yesterday circulated a statement calling the Senate's action "unconcealed interference in the internal affairs of the sovereign Russia," and "a blatant attempt to put pressure on the president of the Russian federation." Medvedev expressed the opinion that the Senate's decision is an ordinary attempt of the West "to erode the spiritual core of Russians." Medvedev called on the president not to submit to "transoceanic dictation."
The head of the duma committee on security Viktor Iliukhin, in an interview with Interfax, evaluated the senators' action as blatant interference in the internal affairs of Russia, emphasizing that the inimpeded invasion of foreign religious confessions into Russia has damaged the Russian Orthodox church, undermined Russian traditions, and "messed up minds." "This is a blow to the security of the country," the head of the security committee concluded. Iliukhin cited "certain information" that Yeltsin nevertheless will sign the draft law. Even if he refuses the duma will override the president's veto (more than 60% of deputies in the Federation Council support the law).
Meanwhile the draft law has evoked extremely diverse public reaction. A number of democratic circles have spoken out against it, including even duma deputies (in particular, Sergei Kovalev and Galina Starovoitova). Opponents of the bill are concerned not only about human rights. In the law enforcement agences there is a basic concern that sects and pseudoreligious groups will go "deep underground" and their existence will be learned in the main from criminal sources. We recall that the law was adopted by the State Duma on 26 June and then approved by the Federation Council, and since then has been awaiting the president's signature. Sources in the administration of the president have told Segodnia's correspondent that "the preparation of the signature has been completed." We stress that the document will be signed only after expert analysis for the chief of staff of the presidency has examined it for conformity with the constitution and other legislative acts of Russia, as well as international obligations in the realm of human rights. The action of the USA Senate, which suposedly is concerned for human rights in Russia, seems especially unconvincing in the light of all of this. A number of states, including Israel, have similar laws limiting the existence of religious organizations. And this fact doesn't bother American senators at all. (tr by PDS)
Russian text: Amerkanskim senatoram sleduet yvazhat Moskvu
(posted 19 July 1997)
RUSSIAN ORTHODOX CHURCH BACKS NEW RELIGION DRAFT
by Oleg Shchedrov
MOSCOW, July 17 (Reuter) - The Russian Orthodox Church urged President Boris Yeltsin on Thursday to sign into law a bill that would favour its registration above minority religions and which the Catholic Church has strongly criticised. A statement by the leadership of the Orthodox Church, quoted by Itar-Tass news agency, asked Yeltsin to approve the draft saying: ``We are sure that a rejection of the draft law would lead to a further spiritual destabilisation in Russia.''
Russia's parliament approved earlier this month the bill entitled ``On Freedom of Conscience and Religious Association,'' which would give a few major confessions, such as Orthodoxy, Islam, Judaism and mainstream Buddhism, strong advantages over minority religions. Yeltsin can either sign it now or veto it, but his veto could be overruled by a two-thirds majority in each chamber of parliament. The authors of the draft have said that it was prompted by the need to defend the traditional confessions, undermined by decades of atheistic communist rule, in the face of aggressive sects operating from abroad. Under the new legislation, only religions which have operated in Russia for more than 15 years have the chance to be registered and gives strong advantages for groups which have more than a 50-year history in Russia. Foreign religious activists will only be able to work in Russia if invited by one of the registered religious bodies.
The new legislation has prompted angry reaction in the West as well as among Russian liberal campaigners. Russian liberal groups insist that the draft violates the constitution by curbing human rights and introducing double standards. They vow to challenge it in the Constitutional Court.
Pope John Paul told Yeltsin on Thursday that the bill threatened the survival of the Catholic Church in Russia. In a letter released by the Vatican, the Pontiff said he was ``seriously worried'' by the bill and urged Yeltsin to change it. ``This text...would constitute for the Catholic Church in Russia a real threat to the normal development of its pastoral activities and even its survival,'' he said.
The U.S. Senate voted earlier this week to cut off aid to Russia if Yeltsin signed the measure. The threatened curb on new assistance was approved as an amendment to the $13.2 billion foreign aid bill now moving through the Senate. The bill contains about $200 million in funds for Russia.
But the communists, who dominate the lower chamber of parliament, the State Duma, appeared unimpressed. ``There is a clear attempt to squeeze out the Russian Orthodox Church,'' said on Thursday communist Viktor Ilyukhin, a senior member of the Dumas. ``The presence of Western confessions with enormous funding is a serious threat to Russian confessions.'' ``The West is using religion as a means to influence the minds of the Russian people, in fact as a means to control the people,'' said Ilyukhin, who heads the Duma security committee.
A Kremlin spokesman said he had no comment and added that Yeltsin had not signed the bill yet.
(posted 18 July)
VATICAN CITY, JUL 18, 1997 (VIS) - Following is the letter, made public late yesterday afternoon, which John Paul II wrote to President Boris N. Yeltsin of the Russian Federation. Written in French, it is dated June 24.
"The memory of our cordial meetings inspires me to express to you in all confidence the serious concern which the recent bill, submitted to the Duma on June 15, concerning 'freedom of conscience and religious associations', has caused me.
"This text, very restrictive in relation to the 1990 law on 'religious confessions', if it were to be adopted, would constitute for the Catholic Church which is in Russia a real threat for the normal development of her pastoral activities and even for her survival.
"The Holy See has noted with regret that, in this text, no mention is made of 'traditional religions', among which Catholicism has always been numbered, and that not even once is the Catholic Church cited.
"If the principle of freedom of religion, which can be practiced individually and in community, is clearly affirmed, as well as the equality of religious communities before the law, other especially precise dispositions considerably reduce its scope.
"The dispositions of Chapter II, quite especially, lead one to think that the Russian civil authorities wish to equate the Catholic Church with a foreign community, without any consideration for her presence and centuries of activity in Russia, or for her specific hierarchical organization.
"I am sure, Mr. President, that, as in the past, you will know how to be discerning and, when the time comes, to make opportune decisions so that no legal or administrative obstacle comes to hinder the religious life of a good number of your fellow citizens who profess the Catholic faith and who expect from civil authorities respect and safety.
"Finally, I must recall here the commitments underwritten by Russia after the adoption in Vienna of the Final Document of the meeting of the CSCE (Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe), on January 19, 1989. The section dedicated to 'Principles,' stipulated that 'the participating States, among others, ... will respect the rights (of religious communities) to organize themselves in conformity with their own hierarchical and institutional structure'.
"Your Excellency will certainly understand my concerns as well as my great hope that everything will be done to assure the legitimate rights of believers, and that a new draft of a text can be achieved which, rich in international juridical patrimony in this matter, will be the guarantor of religious peace in the great Russian nation.
"I ask for you, Mr.President, and for all your fellow countrymen, the blessings of God, while I renew my sentiments of the highest esteem."
Pubblichiamo di seguito il testo della Lettera che il Santo Padre Giovanni Paolo II ha indirizzato, in
data 24 giugno scorso, a S.E. il Sig. Boris Eltsin, Presidente della Federazione Russa:
Ë Son Excellence
Monsieur Boris ELTSINE
Prsident de la Fdration de Russie
Le souvenir de nos entretiens cordiaux m'incite vous exprimer en toute confiance la grave proccupation que m'a cause le rcent projet de loi, soumis la Douma le 15 juin, sur Çla libert de conscience et les associations religieusesÈ.
Ce texte, trs restrictif par rapport la loi sur Çles Confessions religieusesÈ de 1990, s'il tait dfinitivement adopt, constituerait pour l'glise catholique qui est en Russie une relle menace pour le droulement normal de ses activits pastorales et mme pour sa survie.
Le Saint-Sige a observ avec regret que, dans ce texte, aucune mention n'est faite des Çreligions traditionnellesÈ, parmi lesquelles a toujours figur le catholicisme, et que pas une fois l'glise catholique n'est cite.
Si le principe de la libert de religion, qui peut tre pratique individuellement et en communaut, est clairement affirm, de mme que l'galit des communauts religieuses devant la loi, d'autres dispositions, particulirement minutieuses, en rduisent considrablement la porte.
Les dispositions du chapitre II, tout spcialement, conduisent penser que les autorits civiles russes dsirent assimiler l'glise catholique une communaut trangre, sans aucune considration pour sa prsence et son action sculaires en Russie ni mme pour son organisation hirarchique spcifique.
Je suis sr, Monsieur le Prsident, que, comme par le pass, vous saurez tre vigilant et, le moment venu, prendre les dcisions opportunes afin qu'aucun obstacle lgal ou administratif ne vienne entraver la vie religieuse d'un bon nombre de vos concitoyens qui professent la foi catholique et attendent des autorits civiles respect et scurit.
Enfin, je ne puis que rappeler ici les engagements souscrits par la Russie lors de l'adoption Vienne du Document Final de la Runion de la C.S.C.E., le 19 janvier 1989. Dans sa section consacre aux ÇPrincipesÈ, il stipule que Çles tats participants, entre autres, ... respecteront les droits (des communauts religieuses) s'organiser conformment leur propre structure hirarchique et institutionnelleÈ (n. 16,4).
Votre Excellence comprendra certainement mes proccupations ainsi que mon vif souhait que tout soit fait pour que les droits lgitimes des croyants soient effectivement assurs et que l'on puisse parvenir une nouvelle rdaction d'un texte qui, riche du patrimoine juridique international en la matire, soit garant de la paix religieuse de la grande nation russe.
J'appelle sur vous-mme, Monsieur le Prsident, et sur tous vos compatriotes, les bndictions de Dieu, tout en vous renouvelant mes sentiments de trs haute estime.
Du Vatican, le 24 juin 1997
IOANNES PAULUS II
(posted 18 July 1997)
PATRIARCH AND MAYOR CELEBRATE CORONATION OF HISTORIC CHAPEL
MOSCOW (16 July). The cupola of the Saints Boris and Gleb chapel on Arbat square was crowned with a cross today, to the accompaniment of a prayer ceremony. In just a bit more than two months the construction of this church was completed on a historic site where the church of Saints Boris and Gleb was destroyed in the 1930s. [tr. note: The church was built in 1483 and destroyed in 1930] Patriarch Alexis II of Moscow and all-Rus and Mayor Yuri Luzhkov of Moscow participated in the ceremony for raising the cross.
In May when the cornerstone was laid it was intended that this building would be a chapel. [tr. note. The May ceremony was attended by Boris Yeltsin, Viktor Chernomyrdin, Egor Stroev, and Gannady Seleznev, representing all branches of the Russian state authority. See Boris Yeltsin at church of St. Boris, 9 May 1997] However the attention paid by Russian President Boris Yeltsin to this construction caused a change in plans. The chapel received an altar , so now it will be possible to celebrate the divine liturgy here and facilities for parish life have been established.
The height of the chapel-church is more than twenty meters and it can accommodate 200 worshippers. The lower storey can accommodate a vestry and a Sunday school. The builders' plans now foresee that the consecratin of the chapel can occur on the memorial day of the Holy Passion-bearers Boris and Gleb on 6 August. The construction was paid for by the Fund of the Unity of Orthodox Peoples.
"Of course it is impossible to restore all the churches of Moscow that were destroyed," Patriarch Alexis II said. "However we have agreed with the mayor of the capital to mark those sites where once stood the significant churches with a memorial cross or plaque or a chapel. This program is underway."
His Holiness personally thanked Yury Luzhkov for introducing into the budget of the city council and Moscow government funds earmarked for restoring churches, whereby the once golden-crowned capital will again become a city of forty-forties [i.e. forty times forty churches]. In the words of the mayor, the work on this plan is enormous. "We already are finishing the restoration of the cathedral of Christ the Savior and we are collecting for the church of the Great Ascension and for other churches, which should be set up," he promised. "We shall restore spirituality not only through material restoration of what once was the pride of our city, but also through bringing people to faith." (tr. by PDS)
(posted 17 July)
WHOM DO RUSSIANS TRUST?
Argumenty i fakty, 29 July 1997
|Hard to be
SUPPORT FOR COMMUNIST PARTY HAS GROWN
The same issue of Argumenty i fakty reports that the survey of Russian opinion asked which political party citizens "likely to vote" would support if elections were held now. 34.73% said "Communist Party of Russia," compared with actual support in 1995 duma elections of 22.3%. The Liberal Democratic party and the government's Russia Our Home lost support (LD from 11.2 to 6 and ROH from 10.1 to 8.7), while the more reformist Yabloko rose from 6.9 to 15.1.
AREN'T YOU BEARING A CROSS?
by Marina Panina
[Note: I have no information about Ms. Panina. PDS]
Nezavisimaia gazeta, July 16, 1997
Pro et contra
Rights organizations think the new edition of the law "On Freedom of Conscience" seriously violates the norms of democracy.
The Federation Assembly of Russia on 4 July adopted the new version of the law "On Freedom of Conscience and Religious Orgniazations." The vice president of the government's commission on questions of religious associations, Andrei Sebentsov, declared while introducing this law to the Russian senators that the current law, adopted in 1990, "created conditions for the unlimited development of nontraditional movements in Russia and for the arrival here of missionaries from abroad which substantially disrupted the religious stability to a certain degree in Russia. The government supports the current draft law and asks you to vote 'yes.""
As should be expected, the reaction from rights organization to this kind of declaration came quickly. This is not surprising since freedom of conscience is the favorite field of activity for defenders of rights.
The editorial staff of NG has learned, for example, that in the past few days the president of Russia, Boris Yeltsin, has received a letter with an appeal not to sign the law "On Freedom of Conscience" in its new version. Among the signatories of the letter were Larisa Bogoraz, a member of the Helsinki Group, and duma deputies Valery Borshchev and Sergei Kovalev, and others. In their opinion "it is easy to foresee the most grevious consequen ces that will follow your signing of this law.
"1. That law actually exacerbates religious war between traditional religions and the nontraditional confessions that are subjected to discrimination, among whom are Catholics, protestants, Krishaites, and various Islamic and Jewish groups.
"2. We have information that the Congress of the USA is discussing the question not only of political but also economic sanctions. [tr. note: the Senate voted to cut off aid to Russia if the law is signed]
"3. It will raise the question about the propriety of Russia's participation in the Council of Europe."
The concern of the rights defenders found support also within the religious organizations themselves. For example, the Christian religious organization of Jehovah's Witnesses expressed its anxiety about the potential adoption of the law. In the near future, evidently, we should expect declarations from other religious associations and confessions as well.
However, the basic dissatisfaction with the law "On Freedom of Conscience" on the part of rights defenders was evoked by the creation of a system of dividing religious associations into "religious groups" and "religions organizations." According to the law, only religious organizations will receive full freedom and support from the state, namely those religious associations which at the time of their creation have confirmation from local authorities of their existence for at least fifteen years within the given territory. Other religious association will received the status of religious groups and their rights will be severely restricted. This means in practice that only those religious associations which had been founded in the soviet period will fall into the category of religious organizations.
"If the president signs this law, this will be the first case in the postsoviet era when a well established federal law that defends the rights and freedoms of citizens is replaced by a more restrictive one," declared Holly Cartner, the executive direction of the rights organization "Human Rights Watch/Helsinki." "The adoption of this law will prove to be a step backward not only in the area of religious freedoms but on the whole with regard to human rights. This sets a dangerous precedent."
Religious organizations clearly have preference over religious groups, inasmuch as they have the rights of legal entity, in contrast with the latter. This means that religious organizations can own property, hire workers, and also enjoy other rights that derive from their juridical status. Religious organizations are granted more rights. For example, they can form educational institutions, receive government aid for the educational institutions they form, invite preachers from abroad, petition the president for exemption of their clergy from the draft, enjoy tax privileges, receive state financial aid for restoration of their buildings, and petition appropriate government agencies for having their religious holidays declared nonworking days.
Whatever may be the case, it also is quite clear that there is another side of the issue. The state has the right and the simple obligation to assure public security from the actions of any groups, including extremist religious organizations and totalitarian sects. Everyone remembers the case of the Aum Shinrikyo religious sect as confirmation of this. No less of a headache for the forces of law and order of Ukraine, for example, is the imminent release from a Ukrainian prison of the so-called Maria Devi Christ, nee Tsvigun, who is the apologist for the "White Brotherhood" religious sect. Incidently, the activity of such sects is forbidden by law in Ukraine.
There is really only one conclusion to all of this. With regard to a topic like freedom of conscience, which is so sensitive a matter for millions of people, especially in a multiconfessional country like Russia, irrespective of all good intentions to insist on equality in principle is the wrong approach. Moreover, it really is not hard to distinguish religious organizations from sects. It simply takes being more closely acquainted with their activity. The law which the president now is considering obliterates this distinction. And therein lies its greatest danger. (tr. by PDS)
c. Nezavisimaia gazeta
Full Russian text (requires KOI-8): Kresta na tebe net
(posted 16 July)
UKRAINIAN ORTHODOX CHURCH LAYS CLAIM TO KHERSON CHRISTIAN SHRINE. SCHISMATICS PROTEST.
SEVASTOPOL (14 July). A Ukrainian-American expedition, led by Professor Joseph Carter of the University of Texas, has set up camp among the ancient ruins of the archeological historical preserve "Tauride Kherson." Under the leadership of the well-known archeologist, American students are studying the remains of Roman fortifications of the second and third centuries. The archeologist declared that American scholars are prepared to help in the construction of an archeological park on the territory of Kherson.
Meanwhile the Ukrainian Orthodox church of the Moscow patriarchate has laid claim to the preserve, whose history is linked with the deeds of many saints who are esteemed throughout the world. At an international conference in Crimea devoted to the second millennium of the birth of Christ an appeal was sent to the government of Ukraine requesting the transfer of Kherson, where in 988 Prince Vladimir was baptized, to the Crimean diocese, which will undertake to restore the shrine and make it a site for pilgrimage for Christians of the whole world. On the place where it is supposed that Saint Prince Vladimir, Equal of the Apostles, was baptized a chapel has been raised, which provoked the anger of the leadership of the Orthodox church of the Kievan patriarchate. The administration of the Crimean diocese of the Kievan patriarchate declared the erection of the chapel to be a "desecration of the cradle of Christianity in Rus." The Ukrainian Orthodox church of the Kievan patriarchate categorically protested against "the transfer of a national shrine and historical archeological monument of world significance to the Moscow patriarchate." (tr. by PDS)
SAINT PETERSBURG INTER-REGIONAL COMMITTEE FOR RESCUE FROM TOTALITARIAN SECTS INTENDS TO ACHIEVE GENUINE IMPLEMENTATION OF LAW ON FREEDOM OF CONSCIENCE
from Blagovest Info
ST. PETERSBURG (14 July). Members of the Interregional Committee for Rescue from Totalitarian Sects in their appeal to duma deputies called the State Duma to facilitate the creation of a complex system of measures for implementing the provisions of the law on freedom of conscience. "The law took a significame step forward in the task of protection the rights of citizens of Russia," declared Ninel Russkikh, president of the committee, "but it is necessary to develop precisely a mechanism for its implementation." In the opinion of the committee, the people responsible for initiating judicial proceedings against sects should not be just citizens and public organization but should include competent state agencies. Legal mechanisms are needed for the rehabilitation and return to society of young people who have been enticed into a sect by deceit. For this it is necessary to create a joint commission that would include attorneys, psychologists, scholars of religion, and "representatives of Orthodoxy and national religions." "We have appealed repeatedly to the city administration requesting that they restrict the activity of totalitarian sects in Petersburg. But the authorities have taken no actions, saying that federal legislation prevents them. After the adoption of the new law on freedom of conscience we will achieve its genuine implementation," Russkikh said. (tr by PDS)
Full Russian text (requires KOI-8): Mezhregionalnyi komitet spaseniia ot sekt
PARLIAMENT'S RELIGION BILL ALARMS OLD BELIEVERS
by Mikhail Roshchin and Lawrence A. Uzzell, Keston News Service
Tuesday, 15 July 1997 (excerpts)
. . . If the Russian parliament's new bill on religion is what its authors claim it to be - a defence of Russia's unique spiritual heritage against new and alien imports - it should give the Old Believers an especially privileged position, and should enjoy especially strong support from them. But according to several well-informed Old Believers, it does not.
In conversations with clerics and lay leaders of the Old Believer metropolia of Moscow and all-Russia headed by Metropolitan Alimpi, Keston News Service learned that these leaders are convinced that the parliament's proposed law would encroach severely on their rights. Keston's sources asked not to be quoted by name, but their core objections may be summarised as follows.
Though the Old Believers regard themselves as the true heirs of the Russian Orthodox tradition, the new bill's preamble reflects the Moscow patriarchate's view that it alone is the bearer of that tradition. By recognising only Islam, Buddhism and Judaism as 'respected' faiths along with the Moscow Patriarchate, the language of the preamble will allow secular officials to consider the Patriarchate as an especially privileged confession and virtually a part of the state apparat. . . .
Keston's sources are especially unhappy about the new bill's Article 8, which they say would have the practical effect of depriving their church of 'all-Russian' status and recognising it only as a "regional" religious organisation. They say that the church currently has parishes in only 43 provinces of the Russian federation, not enough to meet Article 8's requirements. If the bill becomes law, a merely "regional" religious body would not have a clear right to establish new parishes in provinces where it is not already present.
Also offensive to the Old Believers is the parliament's rejection of their appeals to include in the bill a provision requiring that the secular authorities try to establish which specific confessions originally owned specific items of church property before transferring such items to religious organisations. Instead, Articles 21 and 22 of the current bill would allow the Moscow patriarchate to continue what the Old Believers call the "vicious practice" of seizing items such as icons and bells known to be of Old Believer provenance. . . .
(posted 16 July)
APPEAL TO THE PRESIDENT OF THE RUSSIAN FEDERATION, B.N. YELTSIN
from Russkaia mysl
10 July 1997
Esteemed Boris Nikolaevich.
The law "On Freedom of Conscience and Religious Associations" adopted by the State Duma and approved by the Federal Council has evoked varied reactions within Russian and international societies. And this is not surprising. The eroded and disjointed provisions of the document, which is supposed to defend one of the fundamental human rights, actually make religious freedom in Russia dependant upon the arbitrariness of bureaucrats.
On the one hand, the new law, following the constitution, characterizes the Russian federation as a secular state, in which no religion may be establised as a state religion or obligatory and religious associations are separated from the state and equal before the law. The creation of priorities, restrictions, or any other form of discrimination with respect to religion, according to this document, is not permitted in Russia. But at the same time the preamble to the law refers to respect for Orthodoxy on a par with Islam, as well as Buddhism, Judaism, and "other traditionally existing religions in the Russian federation."
On the other hand, the impression is created that someone was pursuing the goal not of unifying but, on the contrary, of dividing Russians as much as possible on the basis of religious affiliation. Under the pretext of restricting the activity of pseudoreligious organizations the lawmakes have introduced discriminatory rules regarding registration and reregistration, directed against religions that are well established in Russia, the majority of which have representation on the Council on Relations with Religious Associations of the Presidency of the Russian Federation.
A serious blow against religious freedom is delivered by the introduction of various categories of legal entities among religious association with corresponding differential rights, in particular with regard to relations with the governmental agencies. The division of religious association into local, regional, and all-Russian (having local organizations in at least half of the subject regions of the Russian federation) is a blatantly discriminatory act with regard to adherents of a number of world religions that have existed much longer than the Russian state, for example, western-style Christianity.
There is no other way than as interference of state structures in believers' affairs to characterize the provision whereby citizens who have decided to form a religious group are required to inform representatives of the local administration of their decision, even if they have no intention of acquiring legal entity rights. This requirement complicates the situation for thos Christian association who on principle refuse to have contact with authorities and who are exercising their rights in accordance with the procedure specified by the constitution.
The provisions of the law regarding religious education of children should be brought into conformity with the constitution, civil code, family code, and the law "On Associations" of the Russia federation
One must also disagree with the law's provision that a religious assiciation has the right to teach religion only to its adherents. This contradicts the constitutional right of each citizen "freedom to choose, hold, and spread religious and other convictions and to act in accordance with them." In reality this will call into question all work for religious education of Russians who were artificially "alienated" from religion in the period of state atheism.
It is hardly possible to consider as democratic the procedure intended for reregistration of existing religious associations. In contradiction of the tradtion that a law should not have retroactive effect, the lawmakers require of all local religious organizations that they submit documentation showing that they have existed "on the corresponding territory" at least fifteen years or that they are a part of a "centralized religious organization." And for these "centralized" religious associations to be registered they must prove that they have structures existing in the provinces. This creates a vicious circle which only the local authorities can break, who themselves are hostile toward religious freedom, as to freedom generally.
Thus there has been created the most extensive possibility for abuse with regard to the distribution of property. It does not take the gift of prophecy to foresee the upcoming confiscation, supposedly on legal bases, from believers who today are members of autonomous religious groups of various, frequently Christian, confessions. The buildings that they are using for religious services and other valuables will be confiscated by other religious organizations and often even by obvious organized crime.
And, finally, one cannot avoid the lawmakers' crudest violation of the rights of believers who are not Russian citizens. This is how one must interpret the "amendment" of the constitutional formula that guarantees for every person within our country freedom of conscience and freedom of religious profession, including the right to profess individually and corporately any religion or no religion. Casting off the word "every" the authors of the law, in violation of the constitution, deprived foreigners and people without citizenship of this right. And thisincludes primarily those millions of involuntary refugees and displaced persons from the "hot spots" in the territory of the former USSR.
For years ago, when the Supreme Soviet adopted a variant of the law that infringed upon the rights of believers and contravened international obligations of Russia, you, as president, disagreed with the text and vetoed it. You said in your 4 August 1993 letter to the deputies, specifically: "It is necessary to develop more precisely in legislative terms the provision that each person, irrespective to Russian citizenship, has equal possibility to enjoy freedom of conscience and religious profession on the territory of the Russian federation, individually and corporately."
Your words could not be more urgent even today.
Obviously, many of the errors of the law could have been avoided if it had been shown to representatives of religious associations. Unfortunately, this was not the case. The text of the law introduced for debate in the State Duma in June 1997 was concealed even from members of the Council for Relations with Religions Associations of the Presidency of the Russian Federation. And this despite the requirement in the resolution of 2 August 1995 creation this council that said that this consultative agency "discusses drafts of normative acts that deal with relations between the state and religions associations."
In light of the above, the Russian division of the Internationa l Association for Religious Freedom, whose membership includes the most influential religious associations of the country (Russian Orthodox Church in represented by observers) and also many scholars and public figures, appeals to you as the head of state and guarantor of the constitution of the Russian federation and the rights and freedoms of person and citizen. We ask you to do everything possible so that the law on freedom of conscience and religious association will be broughts into conformity with the constitution, existing legislation, and international obligations of our country.
Russian division of the International Association of Religious Freedom.
(tr. by PDS)
c. Russkaia mysl
Full Russian text (requires KOI-8): Mezhdunarodnaia assotsiatsiia religioznoi svobody
(posted 15 July)
ORTHODOX RELIGIOUS EDUCATIONAL SOCIETY "RADONEZH" ISSUED DECLARATION ABOUT POPE JOHN PAUL II'S LETTER TO PRESIDENT OF RUSSIA
MOSCOW (11 July). "The Roman pope is exerting direct pressure upon the supreme authority in Russia, interfering in the internal affairs of our nation." In this way the Orthodox society Radonezh characterized the Vatican's 24 June letter from Pope John Paul II to President Yeltsin in which the pontif expressed "serious concern" about the draft law "On Freedom of Conscience and Religious Associations." The appeal from the primate of the Catholic church to the president of the Russian federation evokes from its authors "no other feelings than extreme anxiety." The Radonezh society sees in the letter a summons "to ignore the opinion of our people, expression by the parliament and Federation Council," and also a "desire to increase the tensions in relations among the president, State Duma and Federation Council and aggravate the political situation in our society." It accuses Pope John Paul II of using "demagogic arguments unworthy of a Christian, much less of the head of the Catholic church."
Most disturbing to the authors of the declaration is that the pope calls the president to recognize for Ctholics the status of a traditional confession, "appealing to the centuries-long existence of the Catholic church in Russia and its activity in our country." The authors of the letter consider that the presence of Catholics in Russia was expressed solely in the form of "religious wars of conquest against Orthodoxy and Russia," and its entire cultural and political traditions consist solely in "proselytism and religious genocide with regard to the Ukrainian and Belorussian people and in a tradition of subversive activity against the Russian state."
The society's declaration calls Pope John Paul's letter a testament to demagogic "fraternity," and it calls the concern of the primate of the Catholic church for Russia's legislation "the purest hypocrisy, behind which stands a desire to bind Russia to legislation that serves anti-Russian interests and of which the pope permits himself to be the agent."
(posted 15 July)
ALTERNATIVE SERVICE MAY BECOME MERELY A CONTRACT
by Fedor Gubarev
Segodnia, 11 July 1997 (excerpted)
At present every person who is drafted has the right to object to military service on thoroughly legal bases.
The authors of the 1993 constitution have been accused frequently of equivocation in their formulations and various juridical lapses. But actually Russia's first fundamental law could become the covert cause of the destruction of one of the essential supports of the state, the armed forces, if appropriate legislative actions are not taken.
At issue is article 59 which guarantees each citizen the right to substitute alternative civil service for military service. The basis for such a substitution is extremely vague in the constitution. It is either religious profession or personal convictions. The latter is quite imprecise, which of course is not a problem in the fundamental law . Appropriate federal laws are required to supplement the constitution. However until now such laws have not been adopted and as a result other constitutional provisions have come into force regarding the direct effect of the fundamental law (article 15).
The consequent juridical collision already has had far-reaching consequences. If one strictly follows the principle of what the law specifically requires then it turns out that every person has the right to declare military service impossible for himself. And besides he cannot be required to declare to the appropriate agencies what his antimilitary convictions are because the constitutions says that "no one can be required to reveal his personal opinions or convictions" (part 3, art. 29) (the law adopted on first reading in December 1994 declared that these agencies were the draft commissions and civil courts). . . .
Believers occupy a separate category in the ennumeration of conscientious objectors. In the main this involves representatives of Protestant confessions, although they do not have a single position with regard to military service. The only religious organization which has adopted an official document on the matter is the church of the Seventh-day Adventists, which recomends to their adherents to get medical training prior to military service so that they can avoid combat service in the army and serve in the medical corps. However the absence of a law on alternative service forces even them to appeal to judicial procedures. In May of this year the central court of Tula exempted from military service sixteen Adventists, who were in training to be religious ministers.
Statistics show that believers predominate among those objecting to military service. However, as the deputy commander of Moscow Vladimir Dobrovolsky told Segodnia's correspondent, this is not the real problem. His data show that in Moscow, in the past two years, on average 200-250 people have requested alternative service, and of these around 150 (primarily Protestants) have been drafted into construction units where combat service is not required.
Lieutenant Dobrovolsky also emphasized that he does not see in the present situation any basis for concern. The number of draftees who are conscientious objectors is stable for the time and it does not affect the general situation. Only about seven percent of Muscovites are draft age.
The problem, in Dobrovolsky's opinion, is not the "alternatives" but is entirely different: should the draft be universal or should the army be totally voluntary. And this has nothing to do with a law on alternative service. . . .
In the last century Russia became one of the first countries where substituting civil for military service on the basis of convictions was officially permitted. The military reform of 1874 and the adoption of universal military service granted this right to several protestant confessions. A similar provision was established in law in the first decade of the soviet regime. . . .
The number of genuine conscientious objectors, according to one of the most active composers of the law on alternative service, Maria Ivanian, is not more than 5 to 7 thousand. In connection with the anticipated reduction of the military forces and the transition to a professional army, this is hardly cause for any alarm.
(posted 15 July)
LAW ENDANGERS RUSSIA RELIGIOUS FREEDOM
July 14, 1997
by GREG MYRE Associated Press Writer
MOSCOW (AP) -- Working a few short paces from an old Russian Orthodox Church, its golden crosses glittering in the sun, well-scrubbed American teen-agers pass out invitations to a Sunday morning meeting of the Mormon church in Moscow. Fresh from Utah, the young Americans in white shirts and dark ties are among 500 Mormon missionaries who have helped build a following of 7,000 people across the nation since the church became active in Russia six years ago. ``For religious groups, things have improved dramatically in the past few years,'' said Donald Jarvis, head of the Mormon mission in Russia and a periodic visitor for more than 30 years. ``It's been quite gratifying to see what we have accomplished.'' But the post-Soviet freedom that has allowed the Mormons and other religious groups to flourish may be threatened by pending legislation designed to curb the influx of religious organizations that proselytize in Russia. Their growing popularity has alarmed the conservative Russian Orthodox Church and communists -- who sparred throughout the Soviet era -- and has driven them into an unlikely partnership.
With the church's backing, the communist-led Parliament last month overwhelmingly approved legislation that would give the state the power to revoke the legal status of most religious groups and monitor their services. President Boris Yeltsin's government has shown no intention of banning mainstream religious groups. But under the proposed law, which now is before the president, religious groups would have to work in Russia for 15 years before they could register, own property, set up bank accounts or perform other basic tasks. Churches fear they would be vulnerable to corrupt authorities who wanted to harass them, demand bribes or otherwise make life difficult.
Human rights groups, religious organizations and U.S. congressmen have written to Yeltsin condemning the legislation as a violation of the 1993 Russian constitution, which says all religions should be treated equally. At a time when Russia seeks to integrate with the West on many levels, some critics say the measure is a step backward -- to the Soviet Union's atheist policies, when religious activities were persecuted and many believers held their services secretly.
``This law has a discriminatory character and takes us back to the time of Brezhnev and Khrushchev, when we were harassed by the authorities,'' said Vladimir Murza, who leads the Evangelical churches in the country. Murza is a minister who was jailed from 1960-63 for his religious activities, as was his father, who spent 10 years in prison. Yeltsin has a record of defending religious freedoms, but hasn't said whether he will veto this law. Even if he rejects the measure, Parliament has more than enough votes to override a veto.
The Orthodox Church, by far the largest and most influential religious organization in Russia, says the bill is needed to safeguard against cults. Alexy II, the head of the church, has specifically cited the Japanese group Aum Shinri Kyo, which had a sizable presence in Russia, and the Heaven's Gate cult in the United States, which did not. But critics say the church's real target is foreign-based Christian denominations, which are viewed as well-funded and capable of drawing Russians away from the Orthodox Church. The bill says the Orthodox Church is an ``inalienable part'' of Russian history, and it also pledges ``respect'' for Islam, Buddhism, Judaism and other ``traditional'' religions. But it makes no mention of other Christian groups, which would be subject to the strict limits, including the 15-year wait to register. Since most religious groups were not allowed to register during the Soviet era, they are only a few years old, legally speaking, and could lose their accreditation.
``We don't understand the logic of the bill,'' said Murza. ``Missionary work is as old as the times of Jesus. It was missionaries who brought Christianity to Russia in the first place.'' Evangelicals have had a presence in Russia for about a century, but were not permitted to legally register until 1990. Since then, they've gone from 50 congregations nationwide to 800. They now own dozens of churches, which could theoretically be confiscated under the proposed law. ``Formally, the state could disband us because we don't meet the 15-year requirement,'' Murza said. But he said the church was sure to survive. ``Our organization is based on the gospel -- it's 2,000 years old.''
(posted 15 July)
PROPOSED LAW THREATENS RELIGIOUS FREEDOM IN RUSSIA
from Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society
Moscow (July 9) After a smooth journey through both houses of the Russian parliament, a controversial resolution on religious rights will soon land on the desk of President Boris Yeltsin. The bill effectively slams the door on all but four "traditional" faiths: Russian Orthodoxy occupies the top tier, Islam, Buddhism and, Judaism would receive a lesser status with "state respect."
All other religious groups would be required to prove that they have been in Russia for at least 15 years in order to be legally registered. This creates a dilemma since the open practice of religion was virtually impossible prior to 1990. During the lengthy reregistration process, such groups could not worship publicly, own property, or publish literature.
Supporters cite the need to protect Russia from encroachment by so-called foreign and missionary religious organizations, and even private charities. Critics say the severe restrictions on minority religions clearly violate the Russian constitution. The proposed law, with the ironic title "On Freedom of Conscience and Religious Associations," is the handiwork of the Committee on Religion. Endorsed by the Orthodox patriarchate of Moscow, it grants unique rights to the Orthodox church as an "inalienable part of all-Russian, historical, spiritual, and cultural heritage."
The State Duma, the lower house of the Russian parliament, passed the bill on June 23 by a vote of 300 to 8. On July 4 the bill sailed through the Federation Council, the upper house, with a vote of 112 to 4, with 2 abstaining. It will now be presented for President Yeltsin's signature. Yeltsin vetoed two similar proposals in the past. But it is far from certain that he will do so again, even though he is being urged by western leaders to preserve religious freedom in Russia.
World leaders and economists watch uneasily as Russia shows signs of a return to soviet-style intolerance. If the bill becomes law, some warn that Russia's chances of entry into the European Union may be in jeopardy. Human rights organizations are also keeping a close eye on the bill, concerned about its ramifications for the rest of eastern Europe. [See US lawmakers lobby Yeltsin]
A wide range of religious groups would be impacted by the new measure. It would strip away rights gained under the liberal religious freedom law of 1990. Not only would sweeping restrictions affect new religious groups imported after the fall of communism, but it would also target religions that have been present in Russia for many years, though in the minority. Among them are Catholics, Baptists, Seventy-day Adventists and Jehovah's Witnesses.
Two weeks ago, 8400 Jehovah's Witnesses met together at Petrovsky Stadium in St. Petersburg. With visiting delegates from 42 countries, they celebrated the dedication of a new country office facility that will coordinate the activities of nearly 200,000 Russian supporters of this Christian community of faith. [See Jehovah's Witnesses open headquarters]The gathering was at the same time jubilant and solemn. Longtime Russian Witnesses recalled hard years in Siberian exile for practicing their faith during the communist regime. After nearly 100 years in Russia, the religion was finally granted legal registration in 1991. Since then thousands of Russians have joined the church.
After six years of freedom, however, the Witnesses are well aware that repressive measures may once again mark them as outlaws. While their fellow believers in more than 200 lands worship openly, Russian Witnesses wait, along with countless other Russians, to see what the future will bring.
(text provided by Office of Public Affairs of Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society, Brooklyn, NY)
(posted 14 July 1997)
REVIVAL OF CLERICAL BOLSHEVISM
by Lev Levinson
Russkaia mysl, 11 July 1997
The Federation Council has approved the law "On Freedom of Conscience and Religious Associations."
Only in quotation marks can one give the name "parliament" to the cabal of "bureaucrats" and "big businessmen" that voted (almost unanimously in both houses) for the thoroughly anticonstitutional law that thrusts Russia back into the era of 1947 to 1982 that is so sweet to them. It was precisely this timeframe that the lawmakers selected to be the standard for a religion's being traditional (1947) and for granting general permission for a religion's existence (1982). All believers who exist outside of these decades, no matter what their religion, will not have the right even to meet in catacombs.
However, Jesuits and Scientologists will be able to conduct prayer meetings anywhere in kitchens, provided they give notice to the appropriate authorities, whom the new law shamefully calls "organs of local administration," although it would be more natural for the establishment of complete historical continuity to return the task of surveillance of religious dissidents to the corresponding administration. For example, Uzbek authorities have demonstrated much greater consistency by using the national security service for isolating all Christian churches from society other than those that are approved by the patriarchate and for breaking into congregations, like in the good old times, for strengthening the religious security of their informers.
This newly formed Russian model of legalized illegality even forbids missionary activity by permitting religious associations to conduct religious education and training only among "their own adherents." It is like Uzbekistan where recently the preacher's call in the Tashkent church "Word of Faith" to "bear the Gospel to those who live around us" cost this congregation its registration. If President Yeltsin signs this new law and it comes into effect, Russian Pentecostals, Adventists, Jehovah's Witnesses, and Krishnaites will undergo a new round of ordeals.
Even a brief analysis of the anticonstitutional provisions contained in this law takes up six pages of concise text. "Religious groups," which have existed for less than fifteen years "on a particular territory," will be deprived of the right of legal entity, and therefore of the right to property, of the possibility of renting premises, of having a bank account, or of going to court. While at the same time "all-Russian religious organizations," that have received this honorable status by special "decision of the government," acquire thereby the long-awaited authority of reviewing questions that affect their activity (including, of course, entrepreneurial activity). Foreign citizens and foreign religious organizations (that is, those "formed outside the boundaries of the Russian Federation") will be able to act legally only under Russian organizations in the capacity of representation (thus, the Catholic church falls into a vicious cycle and can rely only upon the mercy of the master of the "canonical territory").
Meetings of believers, which are suspect for bureaucrats, will be scrutinized for the use of hypnosis, psychological techniques, and other forms of causing "harm to morality." Grandmothers and grandfathers "who entice minors into religious associations" will be required to have in their possession written and notarized declarations of the consent of both parents for such criminal activity.
Over all of this antireligious madness hangs the preamble that declares "Orthodoxy is an integral part of the all-Russian historical, spiritual, and cultural heritage."
With such a law, the constitution again, as formerly, will be playing a decorative role. Deputies from the communist, liberal democratic, and nationalist parties simply ignored the fact that Russia is a secular state, that all religious associations are equal before the law (art. 14 of the constitution), that everyone, including foreigners, has the right to disseminate freely their religious convictions (art. 28), that the constitution forbids propaganda of religious preeminence (art. 29), that citizens have the right of assembly (art. 30), and that everyone has the right to own property and to use it in company with others (that is, the right of everyone to form legal entities, art. 30). This is far from a complete listing.
For whom is the "freedom of conscience" declared in the name of the law intended? The answer is all too obvious, like that concrete monster erected by the "Orthodox" mayor at taxpayers' expense. The "integral part" will penetrate more deeply into the school, army, and prisons. Christ's gendarmes will prohibit the showing of seditious films, deal with Old Believers by means of the bludgeons of OMAN security forces, cure dissident believers in psychiatric hospitals, and consecrate submarines and rocket ships. And at the same time they will engage in banditry in Jerusalem and other places (recently they seized a monastery from the Church Abroad).
While the excessively gullible media dutifully spread alarms about "totalitarian sects" (even though, as the procurator's office attested, there is no evidence of any criminal activity on the part of new religious movements in Russia), the new version of freedom of conscience ignores genuine criminals and felons. For seven months already the youth Denis K. has been sitting in prison because he attacked with a knife the man who enticed him into his "office" and drugged him and tried to rape him. The man turned out to be monastic priest Ambrose, a clergyman. While the boy awaits trial in prison, the "integral part" calmly continues to swing his censer in the Moscow church of All Saints. "The private life of a priest does not concern us," patriarchal spokesman Archpriest Nikolai Gostev commented with regard to this incident.
Of course, this is an isolated incident. Just as is the anathema pronounced by Archbishop German of Volgograd on the district procurator Viacheslav Shestopalov, who dared to audit the finances of the diocesan headquarters.
But this is not at all surprising, when the chief legal consultant of the patriarchate, Viktor Kalin, formerly occupied the same post in the Council on Religious Affairs of the USSR nor when the manager of the law, communist deputy Viktor Zorkaltsev, is at the same time the president of the Parliamentary Assembly of Orthodox Peoples. The final version of the atheistic law was prepared by the brotherhood of communism and patriarchate in secret, while copies of it were numbered and kept secret for fear that they would be leaked to the American embassy.
Will Yeltsin sign such a law? In his recent meeting with the Russian president following the adoption of the law on third reading, President Clinton expressed his concern. But how firm will the West's will be when the matter comes to this attack upon the bases of civil society? Who will triumph, big brother Bill or the mates sitting in "parliament"?
Full Russian text (requires KOI-8): Nakat klerikalnogo bolshevisma
(posted 13 July 1997)
FREEDOM OF CONSCIENCE AGAINST PERSONAL FREEDOM
Rejection of the law on freedom of conscience may lead to the establishment
of religious totalitarianism in Russia.
by Vladimir Petrovich Semenko, member of the Policy Council (politsoviet) of the Russian Christian Democratic Movement.
The new draft of the law of the Russian Federation on freedom of conscience, adopted recently by the State Duma on third reading, has attracted intense public attention. While the draft, which was passed by an overwhelming majority of deputies, has not evoked special objections from representatives of the traditional confessions, marginal personalities of a different type similar to Gleb Yakunin, who recently was excommunicated from the church, are inclined to accuse the authors of the draft law, as well as the deputies of the State Duma, of an evil trampling upon the principle of "freedom of conscience." Thus, at a recent press conference in the Duma building that "expert" declared that the draft law in its present form violates international legal norms in this area. (See Final lower house approval of religion law ).
Before dealing directly with this subject we should say generally that the question had never taken the form as if persons of various religious confessions would suffer differing punishments for identical crimes and certainly not that someone would be compelled to adopt or not to adopt one or another belief system or to perform or not to perform one or another religious action. On the contrary, the inalienable right of people to freedom of religious confession, which is recognized in all civilized countries, is acknowledged in the law with complete clarity (chapter 1, article 3, et al.). The question is much more precise.
It is not enough to declare simply that "religion is a private matter." It always has been the case that religion is not merely a private matter, but is a public one as well. Religious associations own various properties, lands, and valuables; they are registered as legal entities; they enter into specific relationships (including legal ones) with their members, among each other, with the state, with nonreligious associations, etc. At times there even are attempts by groups that have quite nonreligious goals and purposes to register as religious organizations, as well as the other way around when a religious organization tries to be registered as a purely secular, "cultural and educational" organization.
How is it possible under such conditions to achieve a genuine (and not merely formal) equality of people with their quite concrete religious and cultural traditions and to facilitate legislatively the strengthening of the spiritual (as well as physical) health of the nation (which concerns all citizens of the country, without exception, and not just the representatives of this or that religion and confession)? In this context it is both logical and natural to have in the draft law article 14, which deals with the reasons for prohibiting the activity of a religious association. These include the disturbance of public order, violation of state security, creation of military formations, compulsory breaking up of families, infringement on the person, rights, and freedoms of citizens, promotion of suicide, prohibition of acquiring required education, compulsory contributions of private property for the use of the religious association, and the like. It is obvious that in a purely formal sense, in the spirit of legal extremism, the concept of "freedom of conscience" can, in a number of cases, not at all promote but, on the contrary, even hinder genuine spiritual, physical, and material personal freedom, and that the state, as the guarantor of rights and freedoms of its citizens, is required to see that nobody will infringe upon them or threaten the lives of people, the society, or the state itself under the guise of phrases about religious freedom.
The draft law as adopted by the State Duma incorporates a policy that is extremely widespread, particularly in European countries, of a differentiated approach to religions and confessions depending upon their being traditional and rooted to a particular territory and nation. For legal registration as a religious organization at the local level a particular religious group must have existed for at least fifteen years and for the analogous situation at the federation level it must be at least fifty years (art. 9, 10). Obviously this requirement is aimed at the plethora of dubious cults and so-called "new religious movements" of foreign origin, which students of religion call "totalitarian sects."
The Russian Orthodox church, which has made the greatest contribution over time to the formation of Russian culture and statehood, suffered to the greatest extent from the repression of the bolshevik regime, inasmuch as it was the only mass confession and its principal centers and material and financial resources were located on Russian territory. Precisely because of this the ROC has been forced at the present time to spend the lion's share of its resources on the restoration of its plundered properties and not on missionary and religious educational activities. At the same time the sects, which have been receiving a substantial amount of aid from abroad, have been playing an extremely active game on the religious and confessional field of Russia and they have taken advantage of the legal defenselessness of Russia's religious and cultural traditions.
Because of all that has been said here, the church, which has not received substantial compensation from the state for the destruction of the properties and valuables that once belonged to it (if there really is a material equivalent to the sacred items that have been destroyed), has the right to demand from secular authorities, to the extent possible, legislative defense against the evil and destruction that have been stirred up by the sects. (This, by the way, has been recognized in the course of judicial proceedings in many countries of the world.)
In the final analysis, the draft law adopted by the State Duma is a substantial step along the road toward the gradual recognition by the government of the indisputable truth: formal "freedom of conscience" does not always conduce to real personal freedom since it does not always facilitate the spiritual and material prosperity of a people, nation, society, and state. Rejection of the law by the Federation Council or the president could lead to a strengthening of the extremely disturbing tendencies of the spiritual (and, it turns out, the all round) degredation of Russian society, whose symptoms are becoming ever more evident. (tr. by PDS)
Full Russian text (requires KOI-8): Svoboda sovesti protiv svobody lichnosti
(posted 12 July 1997)
GREAT DIVERSITY OF PERSPECTIVES ON DISPUTE IN HEBRON
The Moscow Patriarchate issued a press release on 11 July that portrayed the matter in this way:
"THE TRINITY MONASTERY IN HEBRON IS RETURNED TO THE RUSSIAN ORTHODOX CHURCH
"The great Christian shrine, the oak of Mamre in Hebron, where God appeared to Abraham in the image of Three Angels - the subject known to many thanks to the Holy Trinity icon by St.Andrey Rublev - is becoming accessible to numerous pilgrims who now come to the Holy Land to pray and to venerate its shrines. . . .
"On July 5, all keys of the premises were voluntarily given [by representatives of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad]to the authorities to turn them over to the head of the Russian Ecclesiastical Mission in Jerusalem. That same day, the head of the Mission Abroad and his assistants left the monastery being accompanied by the security men who behaved with correctness which was testified by the fact that policewomen were especially invited to accompany nuns from Jerusalem who were on a visit to the monastery at the moment. . . .
"The transfer of the monastery in Hebron to its lawful owner - the Russian Orthodox Church, confirmed the recognition by the leadership of the Palestinian Autonomy of the rights of the Moscow Patriarchate to the property created by the Russian Church, the Russian State and Russian people. Representatives of the Moscow Patriarchate who applied with requests to return the separated churches and monasteries of the Russian Ecclesiastical Mission in Jerusalem were guided in the first place by the care for pilgrims who come now to venerate the holy places in thousands."
For full text of Moscow patriarchate press release.
The New York Times on 11 July reported the event this way:
"NEW CHALLENGE FOR ARAFAT: A RUSSIAN CHURCH
by Serge Schmemann
"Hebron, West Bank -- Intervening in an old dispute between rival Russian Orthodox churches, Palestinian police have forcibly evicted expatriate monks and nuns from Hebron's only Christian church and have given it to representatives of the Russian patriarch in Moscow. . . .
"Clerics of the expatriate [Russian Orthodox Church Abroad] bitterly charged that the Palestinians beat their monks and nuns in expelling them, while the Moscow-based church charged that the expatriates have refused to share access to Russian shrines with the Russian church in whose name they were maintaining them. . . ."
For entire New York Times article.
The head of the monastery reported the event this way:
"At approx. 10:30 A.M. July 5, police in jeeps drove onto the territory of our monastery in Hebron, and began to demand that occupants of the monastery leave within 24 hours. . . .
"Thc 'modus operandi' ofthe Palestinian police were quite simple and sufficiently cruel. At first they broke open the locked doors of the monks' living quarters, the monks were ordered to take their belongings and get out. Then the atmosphere became increasingly more tense; women police arrived to remove the nuns. The police were told in no uncertain terms that we would not abandon the monastery, that we would not leave the property of our Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia.
"With the arrival of one of the highest-ranked policemen, who screamed at our nuns and used foul language events began to take on a cruel character: they started to drag all of us our into the street by our hands, by our feet; and when we attempted to resist by hanging on to something - they began to beat us.
"The Abbess Juliana was dragged along the floor by policewomen, full of hatred. Her head was hit a few times upon stone steps. She is now in a hospital, her body in bruises from pummeling and with pains in her head. . . .
"(signed) ARCHIMANDRITE BARTHOLOMEW
Chief of the Russian Ecclesiastical Mission in Jerusalem
For entire letter from Archimandrite Bartholomew.
CNN reported it this way:
"WHITE CHURCH LOSES MONASTERY TO RED CHURCH
9 July 1997
"HEBRON, West Bank (CNN) -- In a city where violent religious disputes are commonplace, the only Christian property has become the site of one of the more unusual skirmishes.
"The Monastery of Abraham's Oak in Hebron, a 130-year-old Russian church has become the centerpiece in a struggle between two factions of the Russian Orthodox Church. . . .
"The monastery was recently taken from the control of the so-called White Russian Church, which traces its lineage back to the Czars, to monks and nuns loyal to Moscow's so-called Red Patriarchy, which has been the official Russian church since the Bolshevik revolution 80 years ago. 'Absolutely properly, the Palestinian Authority has transferred this land to its legal owners, the Russian church and the Russian people,' said Red Russian monk Alexander. . . ."
For complete CNN report.
And the Israeli government complained about the action of the Palestinian Authority (PA) in this way:
"PA's ASSAULT ON MONASTERY IN HEBRON VIOLATES THE OSLO ACCORDS
Ju1y 9, 1997. . .
"Abraham's Oak Russian Monastery - located in the Palestinan-controlled part of Hebron, the monastery belongs to the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia. On July 5, 1997, Palestinian policemen arrived at the monastery and ordered the monks and nuns to vacate the premises. When they refused, the Palestinian policemen broke down the doors and began to curse and beat them. One nun was assaulted by both male and female Palestinian policemen, who punched her in the stomach and pounded her head against a wall. The Abbess of the monastery was physically dragged along the floor as her head hit the stones, and she had to be hospitalized, One of the monks was handcuffed, thrown to the ground and stomped upon by Palestinian policemen. The PA officers physically removed all of the monks and nuns,and took over the site."
For official ROCA information about Hebron .
On 8 July Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan registered his objection to the event.
WASHINGTON, DC-- Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-NY) called today
on the Palestine Authority to return the historic Abraham's Oak Monastery
in Hebron to the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia and to release
any Church officials being held against their will.
The Senator responded to an urgent call from Church Officials in New York City who reported that armed officers of the Palestinian Authority occupied their monastery on Saturday causing the hospitalization of the Abbess and seizing an elderly cleric who is being held against his will.
Senator Moynihan notes that, "the use of force and the taking of hostages to settlle disputes have no place in a civilized society. The Palestine Authority should act swiftly to bring this painful incident to an appropriate and lawfu1 conclusion."
Archbishop Theodosius of Washington responded to Senator Moynahan.
The visit to this monastery by Patriarch Alexis II twoweeks earlier, foreshadowing the use of violence, was described in a letter from a nun, Martha.
The synod of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad issued an official statement about the incident on 7 July.
The primate of the Orthodox Church of America, Metropolitan Theodosius, made a response to the Moscow patriarchate.
The Associated Press account was sent on 9 July.
On 11 July, Ecumenical News Service summarized the sequence of events to that date.
(posted 11 July 1997)
FEDERATION COUNCIL ADOPTED FEDERAL LAW "ON FREEDOM OF CONSCIENCE AND RELIGIOUS ASSOCIATIONS"
4 July 1997
The Federation Council adopted the law "On Freedom of Conscience and Religious Associations" on July 4. There were 112 senators voting for the law to four opposing it with one abstention. The law confirms the right of citizens of the Russian Federation to freedom of conscience and to the right to profess any religion or none at all. The preamble to the law says: "Orthodoxy is respected as an integral part of the general Russian historical, spiritual, and cultural heritage, and Islam with many millions is equal to it, as well as Buddhism, Judaism and other religions that traditionally have existed in the Russian Federation."
According to the law, freedom of conscience and religious profession is guaranteed in the Russian Federation. No religion may be established as a state or obligatory religion. Religious associations are separated from the state and are equal before the law.
The law provides for the right to alternative service. If a citizen of the Russian Federation is unable to bear arms because of religous convictions, he may substitute for it alternative civil service. Clergy may be granted exemption from the military draft during peacetime, by decision of the president of Russia, upon request from religious organizations.
In characterizing the law, the president of the Federation Council's committee on science, culture, education, health, and ecoloby, Valery Sudarenkov, emphasized that "legal norms of the law guarantee the protection of society from the massive expansion of pseudoreligious cults and organizations which are harmful because of their infringement upon the rights and freedom of the person and health of citizens." According to the law, religious organizations may be liquidated by decision of a court in cases of frequent or crude violations of the norms of the constitution.
Full Russian text (requires KOI-8): Sovet federatsii
MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia's upper house of parliament Friday backed a draft law on religious association and freedom of conscience that curbs new sects and missionary activities but which human rights activists condemn as discriminatory.
The Federation Council voted 112 to four to back the bill passed by the lower chamber, the State Duma, last month. It now goes to President Boris Yeltsin who appears set to sign it into law after an official government representative backed it during the Council session.
The draft, which has been welcomed by the Russian Orthodox Church, says only confessions that have operated in Russia for at least 15 years can set up new religious organizations. It also imposes curbs on religious activity by foreign groups.
Patriarch Alexy, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, has condemned Western missionary activity in Russia, comparing it to the eastward expansion of the NATO defense alliance. He said last month the bill would help halt the division of Russians along religious lines.
Critics say it contravenes Russia's constitution and revives Soviet-style limits on religion. They point out that 15 years ago religious groups were still tightly controlled by the officially atheist Communist state.
Some mainstream Christian denominations like Baptists and Seventh-Day Adventists have expressed concern that the hostility of the Orthodox Church, now a close ally of the Russian state, to foreign sects will also work against them. But the Russian Orthodox Church and other traditional faiths including Islam have welcomed the bill, saying it will protect Russians against destructive cults such as Japan's doomsday sect Aum Shinri Kyo, which had many followers in Russia.
The Orthodox Church has been alarmed by the post-Soviet explosion of religious sects, which have fed on Russians' poverty, spiritual hunger or desire for the new and exotic.
HUMAN RIGHTS LEADERS ASSAIL "LAW AGAINST RELIGION"
by Lawrence A. Uzzell, Keston News Service
July 10, 1997
"This in fact is a law directed against religion," said Duma deputy Valery Borshchev. "It is an illusion to say that it is directed against destructive sects." He and other human-rights leaders used a 9 July press conference at Moscow's Sakharov Centre to challenge the image in which the Communist-dominated Russian parliament has packaged its new bill on church-state relations, now awaiting President Yeltsin's signature. Anatoly Krasikov, head of the Russian Branch of the International Religious Liberty Association, said the proposal was "written by atheists for atheists."
The Sakharov Centre distributed an open letter to President Yeltsin calling the controversy over the parliament's bill 'a turning point for the development of the democratic process in Russia'. The 7 July letter was signed by Borshchev and five other human-rights activists, including the recently hospitalized Duma deputy Sergei Kovalev, who led Russian opponents of the Kremlin's war on Chechnya.
Borshchev said that the parliament's bill contains provisions which ought to concern Orthodox believers as much as Protestants or Catholics. The Orthodox Church traditionally practices both baptism and confirmation for infants, but the new legislation would prohibit religious associations from 'attracting' minors without their parents' agreement. In practice, said Borshchev, "this would mean that an Orthodox priest could not baptize a baby without the written consent of both parents. There was no such law even in Soviet times." He said that he could not understand why the Orthodox Patriarchate of Moscow had been "silent" about this provision.
Borshchov also assailed a provision which would allow religious associations to teach religion only to their own "followers," not to outsiders, and which he said contradicts the missionary and catechetical activities common to all forms of Christianity. "This is directed against all believers," he said. Another section, he said, would threaten Christians by allowing the secular authorities to withdraw the registration of religious groups which are thought to break up families. Borshchov cited Christ's call for his disciples to forsake their parents and follow him.
The Moscow writer Alexander Nezhny, like Borshchev a practicing Orthodox Christian, told the press conference that if the parliament's bill becomes law Russia will become a "pseudo-Orthodox country" in which Christ is truly followed only by people on the "margins" of society.
In recent weeks similar criticisms have come from other Orthodox sources. In an article published on 3 July by the Paris emigre journal "Russian Thought," Moscow priest Georgy Chistiakov wrote that the parliament's bill would create a situation in which "religion must be conditioned by the nationality of the believer. We will now be instructed to confess Orthodoxy not from the strength of our personal choice" but simply by secular law. Joining Borshchev and Kovalev as signers of the appeal to Yeltsin were Larisa Bogoraz, widow of the dissident writer Yury Daniel, Liudmila Alekseeva, chair of the Moscow Helsinki Group; and Lev Ponomarev, head of Moscow's Inter-regional Human-Rights Centre.
Human Rights Watch/Helsinki, the largest U.S.-based international human-rights organization, has released an 8 July letter to President Yeltsin calling on him not to accept the legislation on church-state relations recently passed by the Russian parliament. Diederick Lohman director of the group's Moscow office, told a 9 July press conference that parliament's bill "in no way meets European standards" and that if Yeltsin signs it Russia's membership in the Council of Europe will become "senseless."
The group's appeal to Yeltsin, signed by Human Rights Watch executive director Holly Cartner,called special attention to a crucial amendment which was quietly slipped into the text of the bill between its 18 June "second reading" and 23 June "third reading" in the lower house of parliament, and never debated on the floor of either house. The earlier version would have granted to so-called "religious groups" - the less privileged of the two new categories of religious association created by the bill - the right to engage in charitable activities and "other activities" even though these groups would not have the status of "legal personalities" under Russian law. But the final version omitted that phrase, giving "religious groups" only the right to conduct "worship services, religious ceremonies and rituals." The Human Rights Watch letter said that the specific omission of the phrase "other rights" before final approval "indicates the clearly expressed intent of the State Duma to limit the activities of religious groups to the performance of worship services, religious ceremonies and rituals."
Human Rights Watch suggested that the differences between the rights of 'religious groups' and of 'religious organizations' which would be established by the parliament's bill contradict the European Convention on Human Rights - particularly that document's Article 14 on religious discrimination and Article 9 on limits on the free expression of religious convictions.
The letter to Yeltsin also drew attention to the vagueness of some of the provisions in the parliament's bill, warning that these provisions could be "interpreted by local authorities in such a way as to violate rights and freedom of conscience. Such lack of clarity in a law is especially dangerous in the conditions of Russia, where as is known in general are laws are poorly implemented, and where local authorities are inclined to interpret laws in a much more limited sense than the legislators intended."
Human Rights Watch pointed out that all members of the Council of Europe are obliged to observe the European Convention on Human Rights, and noted that Russia is also bound by the religious-freedom provisions of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
Lohman predicted a 'stormy protest' in Europe if Yeltsin signs the bill.
(posted 11 July)
The Euro-Asiatic Federation of the Unions of Evangelical Christians- Baptists, based in Moscow, has informed the World Council of Churches that it is not a WCC member church. The federation, which is the main Baptist church organisation in the former Soviet Union, replaced the former union of Evangelical Christians-Baptists in the USSR after the break up of the Soviet Union.
Observers do not believe there is any direct connection with the decision of the Georgian Orthodox Church to leave the WCC.
According to the WCC, the new federation decided in 1992 not to continue the membership of its predecessor body in the WCC, but failed to inform the WCC in writing of this decision until last month. The Euro-Asiatic federation had earlier informed the WCC orally of its decision, but the WCC had decided to leave the federation on its membership list in the hope that "with time they might want to clarify their relationship with the WCC".
Ecumenical News International
11 June 1997
Additional information about evangelicals in Russia.
(posted 3 July 1997)
JEHOVAH'S WITNESSES HAVE SETTLED IN THE SUBURBS OF SAINT PETERSBURG
Michael Jackson donated 1.5 million dollars to his Russian brothers
by Oleg Silin
Nezavisimaia gazeta, 2 July 1997
In the suburbs of St. Petersburg in Solnechny village Russia's first administrative center of the Christian religious organization "Jehovah's Witnesses" has opened. The vast scope of this action is demonstrated in the fact that more than 2,000 delegates and guests from 44 countries attended this event.
The Jehovah's Witnesses religious association arose in the second half of the nineteenth century in the USA. At present this organization number more than five million adherents. In our country is received official registration in 1991. Before that its activity was banned "because of its antisoviet tendencies." But as the members of the association emphasize, to this day the Jehovah's Witnesses do not know what the government actually accused them of.
Whatever may be the case, the most widely varying rumors circulated, even including the claim that "members of the sect brutally murder their children, sacrificing them, and they even commit suicide themselves." "In fact," the director of the Russian administrative center, Vasily Kalin, declared at a press conference, "Witnesses do not hold radical views and they do not advocate practices that are different from what society recognizes as normal conduct. This is what principally distinguishes us from cults and sects." In his words, the basic goal of the Jehovah's Witnesses is the study of the Bible. They give chief honor to God the Father, whom the Bible calls Jehovah, and they do not believe in the immortality of the soul.
More than 600 volunteers participated in the construction of the center in Solnechny village over the four and a half years it took. More than half of them were Russians and people from the republics of the former USSR. The rest came from Denmark, USA, Switzerland, Chile, Finland, Australia, and elsewhere. They deserve their due: they worked completely without pay and they center was built to European standards. In place of ruins of the remains of a Pioneer summer camp build in the 1960s they erected a four storey building complex equipped with state of the art technology, including a laundry and dry cleaners, a small furniture factory and clinic, cafeteria with its own bakery and kitchen, and seven residential blocks. At present about 300 Jehovah's Witnesses live and work in the administrative center.
As Vasily Kalin emphasizes, because the construction was done by their own efforts, including their own concrete factory, and much of the equipment and plumbing was a gift from the Scandanavian firm the construction cost extremely little.
However, justice requires that we note that evidently no small part was played by the contributions of well to do Jehovah's Witnesses. One of them alone, Michael Jackson, who came from a family of Witnesses, is said to have donated his Russian brothers and sisters one and a half million dollars.
Full Russian text (requires KOI-8): Svideteli iegovy
Related information: Jehovah's Witnesses build in St. Petersburg,November 1996
(posted 2 July 1997)
EDITORIAL, Voice of America, July 1, 1997.
Anncr: The Voice of America presents differing points of view on a wide variety of issues. Next, an editorial expressing the policies of the United States government.
The U.S. is very concerned about a draft law on freedom of conscience and religious associations approved by the Russian Duma, the lower house of parliament. If signed into law, it would severely limit the activities of foreign missionaries and relatively new confessions or religions. These groups would have to wait up to fifteen years before attaining full legal status. During this period, they would be unable to own property, open bank accounts, publish literature, or bring in foreign speakers. The draft law would allow such religious groups to exist informally, but their activities would be sharply limited.
The Russian Orthodox church supports the bill, claiming it would keep out dangerous sects and cults. But critics say that as the Orthodox church faces growing competition from local Christian denominations and foreign churches, it has looked to restrictive legislation to keep its membership from shrinking.
Passage of a law restricting religious freedom would violate Russia's constitution. The U.S. has raised its concerns with the Russian government and reaffirmed its conviction that freedom of conscience is a vital element of any democratic society. At the recent summit of the eight in Denver, Colorado, President Bill Clinton expressed his concern to President Boris Yeltsin about religious liberty in Russia. The Russian people have waited a long time to enjoy the right to worship freely. It would be a grave mistake to diminish this hard-won freedom in any way.
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