Galina Starovoitova, State Duma deputy, vice president of the Chamber on Human Rights

The text of law that has been changed by several amendments has not removed the imperfections in principle of the preceding version of this law. As before, there are points which provide for the interference of the state in the affairs of religion and which contradict the Russian constitution. As before the point is the interference in private live of citizens and as before the inequality of various religions and confessions before the law and state is confirmed. At least the extremely clumsy preamble of the law has been eliminated. But this does not change the principles of the provisions as we, and expert attorneys, and principally the president had hoped.

The president gave an exhaustive explanation of his reasons for vetoing this law. Besides the fact that the given draft of the law violated the domestic legislation of Russia and is fundamental law, the constitution, it also violated international legal acts. Some of these have already been ratified by the Russian federation: the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Pact on Civil and Political Rights. Another document still has not been ratified, but soon will be delivered to the duma for ratification. I have in mind the Convention on Defense of Rights and Basic Freedoms of the Council of Europe. The ratification of this document is the prerequisite for Russia's membership in the Council of Europe. This law violates many provisions of this convention.

The president of Russia was placed in a very difficult political situation after the lower and upper chambers of the Federation Assembly of the Russian federation ratifies this illegal law. Because pressure was exerted on him, on the one hand, by the leadership of the Moscow patriarchate, and on the other, by the leadership of the Roman Catholic church and even the Senate of the USA. The opposition very easily now says that the president gave in to this pressure and he dances to the tune of foreigners who wish us ill. But actually the president primarily listened to the voice of Russian rights' defenders and he did not commit a violation of the Russian constitution. He found within himself the courage, despite the tactless pressure from abroad, to reject this law and to veto it and to state the arguments for his position.

We have supported the president in this decision, but we express our great concern that evidently there are in the president's administration people who are lobbying, as before, for this anticonstitutional law and a trying to deceive the president. We hope that the president will separate himself from those members of his administration.

Mikhail Dziubenko, aide to Metropolitan Alimpy of Moscow and all-Rus (Russian Orthodox Old Ritualist church)

First, the new preamble is still more meaningless than the former one. "Recognizing the special contribution of Orthodox in the establishment of Russia's statehood" is followed by the paragraph: "Respecting Christianity, Islam, etc. . . ." What, is Orthodoxy not Christianity? It turns out that Orthodoxy is excluded from Orthodoxy. I wish you all well, but we do not agree with this.

At the same time I want to note that Orthodoxy--and this is a new myth of our consciousness--meant the belief system of the so-called "Russian Orthodox Church," which is headed by the Moscow patriarchate. But this belief system has been on our land for only 350 years. Ancient Orthodoxy--Old Ritualism--has existed here for more than 1000 years. But this cliche of Orthodoxy will always be interpreted in this way by officials and by all people who have not studied this question, as referring to the RPTs. In light of the current popular consciousness and its attachment to this myth about such an Orthodoxy, this point in its current form is unacceptable to us. Generally, the preamble perhaps is not needed. Perhaps what is needed is a simple preamble of enumeration as was made, say, in the similar law of Lithuania.

Further, in article 3, point 5 there is a stipulation that no one has paid attention to: "No one . . . may be compelled . . . to participate or not participate in religious services. . .." Of course we know many examples of compulsion, when people are prohibited from participation in services. But let's imagine that some people come to the church, wishing to worship there in their own way. They are told: "Here such and such is practiced," but they don't want to. Then they are politely asked to go outdoors or into the lobby. They say: "But please, you are forcing us not to participate in the service." We consider that this point has been worded poorly. What "nonparticipation in religious service" should be clarified.

The next case, article 11, point 4. I wish to put in a word for the Priestless Old Believers who do not have a hierarchy and who are excluded by this law from its effect. Because, what is the meaning of certifying the existence of a certain religious group for at least fifteen years or its membership in a centralized religious organization? There are Priestless Old Believers who have no central organization. And if a group of people accepts some Priestless Old Believer doctrine and if this group has not existed for at least fifteen years, who should they be registered here and which official will decide whether this is correct or not? We opposed those articles which dictate a harsh hierarchical structure.

Also in articles 21 and 22, despite our request, there was not included the requirement for a obligatory expert examination of property that is being transferred to confession to determine which confession it belongs to. The point is that the Moscow patriarchate is plundering the Old Belief, because it is taking to itself the property, icons, bells, and other liturgical vessels. This is happening on a regular basis. Let's say that customs seizes some stolen icons and they turn them over to the patriarchate. Nobody asks us, although we see on television that these are Old Believer icons. The story about bells is well known. The best known case is the bell of Boiarina Morozova at Kazan cathedral. The bell has been donated to the unfortunate boiarina in memory of the soul of her son and it was seized from the Old Believer belfry and then transferred by the Moscow state to the patriarchate. The patriarchate knows this. And its simply robbery. Unfortunately, all of this has been done with the blessing of the most holy patriarch.

In conclusion, several words about the law in general. We consider that the new law is not needed. The current law is good if it only would be enforced. There's nothing here about sects--that's a pretense. In order to fight against the sects it is necessary, first of all, the apply existing law. If the agencies of law enforcement do not work or if the existing legislation is inadequate to deal with corruption, drugs, and armed units, that this law will not help.

We consider that this law was completely unequivocally developed by the Moscow patriarchate. Because the entire structure of the patriarchal church has been definitively prescribed in the law as obligatory for all religious associations and organizations.

We also consider that this law cannot be accepted because it was developed and adopted in a way that crudely violated procedures. First, the Old Believer metropolia did not see a single copy of this law. With difficulty we acquired a copy in July after this law was adopted, which was rejected by the president. No one consulted with us and no one was invited. Moreover, we know that for some reason the external relations department of the patriarchate was asked how Old Believers feel about this law. What's the Moscow patriarchate going to do? Naturally they said: "Fine." We do not have any relations with the Moscow patriarchate and it does not reflect our opinion. But it does not even reflect the opinion of those who are members of RPTS.

I wish to note that never, in no charter, has it ever been stated that the hierarchy must or even has the right to express the political opinion of its believers. On what basis can the most holy patriarch and the hierarchy, assembled at Saint Sergius Holy Trinity lavra, declare that this law is supported by the overwhelming majority of Russian citizens? Who told them? By what right do they assume for themselves the voice of the overwhelming majority of citizens of Russia/ Who conducted this referendum? Even if a majority of citizens--and there still is a question whether it is a majority or not--are spiritually nourished by them, this does not mean that they have the right to testify regarding the political views of these people. This is an incorrect understanding of their pastoral duty. We know that the patriarchal church is heterogeneous and it includes people who understand that this law is not needed for anything.

Yury Sipko, vice president of the Union of Evangelical Christians-Baptists of the Russian federation

I wish that all supporters of the majority would stop it! It is not argument to suppress the minority. Supporters of the new law have another illusion. You take a new religious organization and from the first day you give it the right of legal entity, with all privileges, including tax privileges. I dare to assure you that there is no single religious organization that has tax privileges, with the exception of the Russian Orthodox church, which sells grace and would wish to keep all the profit for itself. And besides it engages in the vodka trade and the tobacco grade, and it has privileges for the export of petroleum. This is reality; I am not revealing it to you; everyone knows this from the press.

Now as to the substance of the law. The preamble contains a problem that has already been noted about which, it seems to me, the patriarchate ought to think. I addressed a question to one of the people here which now I address to all. Our Russian state, our beloved motherland, what does it represent today? The answer way, I confess to you in a whisper, a bad word: "whorehouse." And I had to agree. With the blessing of the patriarchate, the words have been written into the law: "recognizing the special contribution of Orthodoxy to the creation. . . ." We may disagree, but I am for leaving it that way.

There are other places which bother me. The law is, really, not a law. It is a collection of contradictory paragraphs in which the aspirations of various forces can be identified. What depresses me most of all is that in our state organ, in the duma, there are 450 people, the flower of society, who are ready to surrender their own authority and to vote for a law which our children will ridicule. What is most horrible for me today is that the duma is filled with deception, there is deception in the government, it gushes out of all gates in the Kremlin walls. And deception thrives in the church.

When they consecrated the chapel of Boris and Gleb, the president said that the law contains contradictions with the constitution and thus he was forced to reject it. The patriarch said: yes, of course, it must be brought up to standard. This left the impression that they had found on the square of the new ecclesiastical institution, built with our money, concord.

but yesterday on the program Vesti there was a statement of the patriarch, which said the following: "The law adopted by the duma and approved by the Federation Council is exceptionally good and in conformity with all international standards and it does not need any correction." And this means, as I understand it, that the patriarch is dishonest. He said to the president: "Yes, Boris Nikolaevich, we shall create a commission and there Metropolitan Kirill will express our opinion." At the same time this patriarch turns from the president and says to all of us: "Let them convene in the Kremlin and let them write, so that there will be no full, but we all know that the law is good and it will be adopted. Because we are the majority, Russia is seventy percent Orthodox."

That's the illusion that they feed us in Russia in which quite recently, seven years ago, ninety-nine percent were atheists.

Nafigulla Ashirov, president of the Supreme Coordination Center of the Ecclesiastical Board of Muslims of Russia

I consider that the adoption of this law is a great evil which today is being pushed, perhaps, first on believers but later it will catch the others also. If today the Russian federation aspired to be recognized as a democratic state, it does not have the right to declare the priority of one religious confession or even some religious organizations over others. The law itself is permeated by the idea that those religious organizations which have been left to us from the communist inheritance, be they Islamic or Christian, that these religious organization are unable in the current democratic conditions to compete with newly created organizations because of their own weakness and because of the dependence on the state structure. Today that very state structure which once rejected the Council on Religious Affairs is again trying to force upon Islamic organizations (and I think this applies to other organizations as well) our subservience, our homage to those organizations whose capability is not questioned, probably, only by, excuse me, a sick person.

The law provides that upon registration of religious organizations they are required to provide confirmation of a fifteen-year existence. The issue is not the confession but the religious organization which must go through the specified period as a religious group and cannot have the rights of legal entity which gives full capacity to operate. Thus an insurmountable obstacle is created for the registration of religious societies of any religious profession. In light of the ability of our bureaucrats to interpret the law in their own favor, there is no hope for the registration of new religious societies. Or they will be forced, again according to the legislated procedure, to seek the approval of some centralized organization. And this, in its turn, will contradict the principle of free choice by a society of its own status and makes its existence depend upon another already existing organization.

As far as Orthodoxy is concerned perhaps it is legitimate to take into account its hierarchical system, but as far as Islam is concerned, when a Muslim society simply receives the blessing of Almighty Allah it has the right to exist and it does not need the blessing of any Islamic patriarchs. I consider that in the preparation of the law this is a direct insult to the principles of the Muslim religion which is falsely identified as equal in rights with other religious confessions.

The Supreme Coordinating Center has stated its categorical opposition to such a law that tramples on the rights of religious organizations of long standing, tramples on the rights of organizations territorially, and tramples on the rights of religious organizations with a registration system requiring a fifteen-year existence. If they are faced with the alternative of placing themselves under the communist mullas and muftis who still exist today successfully thanks to state support, I think that it is better for Islamic religious organizations to go underground. It is better than returning to the communist times when one mufti, bought off by the Council on Religious Affairs, named by the government of the Russian federation, spoke out in the name of Muslims against Afghanistan and condemned everything they required him to condemn and approved everything they required him to approve.

Such an approach does not conform with democratic principles first in Russia and it does not accord with democratic principles of the Islamic religion, which has developed equally with Christianity and has the full right to demand respect for its principles. (tr. by PDS)