Law and Liberty Trust Written Testimony Before the U.S. Helsinki Commission Regional Meeting in Philadelphia, PA, December 5, 1997
THE NEW RUSSIAN LAW ON FREEDOM OF CONSCIENCE AND RELIGIOUS ORGANIZATIONS
By Lauren B. Homer, Esq., President, Law and Liberty Trust (Copyright, 1997)
1. Current Status of the New Law
The new RF Law "On Freedom of Conscience and Religious Organizations" was adopted by the RF State Duma on September 19, 1997, and by the Federation Council on September 24, 1997, and was signed into law by President Boris Yeltsin on September 26, 1997. (RF Law No. 125-F3.) It became official with its publication in Russikaya Gazeyetta on October 1, 1997. However, implementing regulations have not yet been finalized or published. It is the official position of the RF Ministry of Justice, according to Alexander I. Kudriavstev, Chief of the Department of Registration of Religious Organizations, that the law cannot be effectuated until the regulations are issued in November or December of this year. The law states that all religious organizations created before October 1, 1997, must re-register before December 31, 1999, or can be liquidated. Art. 27.4.
2. Principal Points in the New Law
The new law greatly restricts religious freedoms of organizations that did not exist during the Communist period, introduces new and vague standards for evaluating the acceptability of religious beliefs, greatly restricts activities of "foreign" religious organizations and persons who do not have Russian citizenship, and generally reduces the level of rights given to all persons in the 1990 RF Law, which it replaces, and in the 1993 RF Constitution and international treaties and agreements of the RF, which are its "higher" law pursuant to the RF Constitution. However, it is encouraging that the RF Ministry of Justice is taking the position that it will implement the law so as to be consistent with the RF Constitution and its international treaties and agreements. The RF Ministry of Justice also has taken the position publicly that unlike the Communist period, where everything that is not permitted is forbidden, now everything that is not forbidden is permitted. Thus, they view the law as allowing many religious activities through other forms of legal organizations or without registration by private citizens. Less encouraging are the numerous initial reports that law enforcement agencies in Russian regions are trying to interpret and enforce the law in ways that are even more restrictive than its terms permit.
2.1 Scope of the Law
The law applies to "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. 1. It is also the "supreme" law in this area in the Russian Federation. If local law conflicts with this federal law, the federal law prevails. Art. 2. The law takes the position that matters of freedom of conscience are within the exclusive jurisdiction of the RF. Id. However, the Constitution in fact gives some concurrent jurisdiction in this area to local governments. As interpreted by the Supreme Court of the Udmurt Republic, in a challenge to an Udmurt law on religious organizations, this means that local laws are constitutional only in so far as they operate to increase rights, not if they restrict them. This is a key point that will have to be worked out in the RF Constitutional Court and likely in case by case challenges to local ordinances and interpretations of them.
Religious associations are defined in the law as those "formed with the goals of joint confession and dissemination of their faith and possessing features corresponding to that goal: a creed, the performance of worship services, religious rituals and ceremonies, and the teaching of religion and the religious upbringing of its followers." In short, religious associations are churches, synagogues, and mosques, and not parachurch organizations, religious publication societies, interfaith organizations, or other groups that engage in conduct motivated by religious belief or a desire to engage in religious instruction but not involving group worship and ceremonies. This definition of religious associations has been used since 1995 to interpret the 1990 law, via Ministry of Justice regulations, despite the fact that the 1990 law included a broader range of organizations within its scope and the fact that a broader range of organizations have been registered under the 1990 law.
2.2 Basic Religious Freedoms Granted by the Law
The first five Articles of the new law list a number of rights possessed both by RF citizens and by "foreign citizens and persons without citizenship who are legally present" in Russia. Art. 3.1. They also detail rights of religious associations. The law specifically provides that Russia is a secular state and that there may be no state or compulsory religion. Art. 4.1. This is the case as well under the RF Constitution, despite the fact that the Preamble to the Law singles out Orthodoxy for its "special contribution ... to the history of Russia and to the establishment and development of Russia's spirituality and culture" and also states its respect for "Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Judaism, and other religions and creeds which constitute an inseparable part of the historical heritage of Russia's people." It is important to note that the Preamble has no legal effect and does not give all Christian faiths, for example, registration rights under the law.
The law provides for equality before the law, regardless of religious belief, that the state is to protect rights in this area, provide for tax privileges, and to provide material and financial aid in the restoration of religious structures that are cultural monuments, and to provide secular instruction on non-religious subjects in religious schools. It also provides for protection from compulsion in religious belief or being forced to disclose one's views, for parental or guardian rights to oversee the religious education of children, and for secrecy of the confessional.
In comparison with the 1990 law, however, most rights are given to registered organizations rather than individuals, and the law contains many more restrictions than permissive provisions for individuals. Arts. 3.4, 4.3. Unlike the 1990 law, this law does not prohibit the creation of state bodies to regulate religious organizations. The rights to religious freedom may be restricted based on "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 defense of the country and the security of the state." Art. 3.2.
3. Rights of Religious Associations
The law characterizes all groups of 10 or more "citizens" or "persons permanently and legally residing" in Russia and engaging in voluntary joint religious activities as religious "associations", which may either exist as unregistered religious "groups" or as registered religious "organizations".
3.1 Unregistered Religious "Groups"
Religious "groups" are limited to joint confession and dissemination of their faith, worship services, religious rituals, and teaching of religion to their own followers, rights typical of all Soviet era religious organizations. Art. 8.1. They may not register and do not possess the rights of a legal person (to own property, employ workers, enter into contracts) or many other rights given exclusively to religious organizations under the law. Id. A provision giving them the right to engage in charitable activities was deleted from an earlier draft of the law. The law states that premises and property for its activities may be provided by "participants" in the group, and that the group should notify local authorities about their commencement of activities if they have the intention of eventually transforming it into a religious organization. Based on information provided by officials of the RF Ministry of Justice, currently unregistered religious groups may not register until they have existed for 15 years, unless they can get an official document stating that they are part of a registered centralized religious organization. However, the Ministry states that they may register as some other type of non-commercial organization, if they wish to acquire property or obtain other legal rights.
3.2 Registered Religious Organizations
Religious organizations are religious groups that have legally registered. Art. 8.1. They may be formed by 10 or more "participants" (Art. 9.1 says by "citizens") who are permanently residing in a particular territory, and three or more local organizations may create a "centralized" organization. Art. 8.2-4. Federal registration is given to centralized organizations with local organizations in two or more "subjects" of the RF--i.e. cities, oblasts, regions, while others must register locally. Art. 11.2, 11.3. Centralized organizations may also give the rights to exist as religious organizations to institutions that they form under their charter (for example, local organizations, governing bodies, educational institutions, publishing houses) and to unregistered groups. Art. 8.6. Rather ambiguously, the law provides that "organs of the State ... are to take into account the territorial sphere of the activities of a religious organization", Art. 8.7, which may mean that even centralized groups may be restricted in the geographical scope of their operations to areas where they have been operating.
Religious organizations may be formed upon submission of an application that includes confirmation of 15 years of existence in Russia or membership in a centralized religious organization, and the application procedure follows current standards of requiring a charter and other documents. A new requirement is the need to state: " information on its basic creed and related practice, including the history of how the religion arose and a history of the said association" and "the forms and methods of its activity, its attitudes toward the family and marriage, toward education, particulars 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." Art. 11.5. If the supreme governing organization of a religious organization is located outside the RF, authenticated copies of its own organizational documents must be provided. Art. 11.6. Currently registered organizations applications are to take one month to process, while new applicants can be reviewed for up to six months and may be referred for state expert analysis. Art. 11.8. Religious organizations must file annual informational reports and must inform authorities within one month of changes in data listed in the state register of legal persons. Art. 8.9, 11.12.
Registered organizations are divided into three categories: (1) "Fifty Year" organizations that have been officially registered as centralized organizations for 50 years and possess full rights, including the right to use the words "Russia" or "Russian" in their official names; (2) "Fifteen Year" organizations that can show that they existed for 15 years in Russia and possess full rights under the law; and (3) "Newer" organizations that are currently registered but cannot prove 15 years of existence in Russia, which face annual reregistration and regulatory burdens and have limited rights under the law.
3.2.1 Fifty Year Organizations
Centralized religious organizations (those with three or more subsidiary religious organizations) that can prove that they were "active on the territory of the Russian Federation on a legal basis for no fewer than 50 years", when they apply to re-register may use the words "Russia" and "Russian" and their derivatives in their names. Art. 8.5 (emphasis added). This right belongs only to the handful of organizations that were able to achieve registered and centralized legal status immediately after the end of World War II following agreements with Stalin to support the interests of the state (in 1947 or earlier). It includes the Russian Orthodox Church, Moscow Patriarchate, which regained its legal right to exist at about that time, and may also include the Union of Evangelical Christians-Baptists and a few other organizations. It means that the Russian Orthodox Free Church, and very a large number of other currently federally registered religious organizations will have to delete the word "Russian" from their names, which is viewed by many as insulting at the very least. It can be expected that fifty year organizations will also receive other unique rights when related tax, property, and mass media legislation is enacted.
3.2.2 Fifteen Year Organizations
The full range of legal rights granted by the new law are available only to registered religious organizations who can provide a document from local government authorities establishing that they their existence in that territory for over 15 years, or who have a document stating that they belong to a centralized organization--itself presumably, but not necessarily (see below), composed of three or more local organizations that satisfy the 15 year rule. (Arts. 11.5, 8.4).
The key question is what sort of documentary evidence will suffice and to which organizations the rule will apply.
The Russian government has publicly stated, in communications to the OSCE among others, that "existence" can be established by showing that adherents of the group were jailed or arrested for their faith as well as by showing that they were registered by 1982 or earlier. The more difficult questions involve groups that existed in the pre-Communist era but were later virtually eradicated, such as Pentecostal denominations, Lutherans, Catholics, Orthodox Jews, and other groups. Does their existence prior to 1917 or 1933 constitute existence for more than 15 years or did they have to exist in 1982? Another issue is whether "existence" in one location gives an organization in a different location the right to re-register. For example, does the fact that there was one Catholic church in Moscow permit reregistration of Catholic churches in St. Petersburg? Does the fact that there were Lutherans or Pentecostals in Russia 15 years ago permit re-registration of all Lutheran and Pentecostal denominations or just those with ties to groups persecuted 15 or more years ago? Similarly, do groups that denominate themselves in terms used by Western Christian groups, such as Presbyterian or Methodist, or newer terms such as inter-denominational, non-denominational, or Charismatic, have the right to claim that since Christianity existed, they can re-register?
Another critical point are public and private statements that the fifteen year rule may be interpreted as not applying to any currently registered centralized organizations. For example, President Yeltsin's current advisor on religious affairs and the law's draftsman, Andrei Loginov, at a meeting at the Dutch Parliament in the Hague on September 28, 1997, stated: "[n]one of the 265 religious organisations already registered will have any problems", as reported by Canon Michael Bourdeaux, head of the Keston Institute in "Religious Freedom Russian Style", The Tablet, Sept. 1997, at 1216. Since there are over 14,000 legally registered Russian religious organizations and 265 or so registered religious "centers", he was clearly referring to the centers. There is no clear language to support this interpretation in the new law, but if it is so specified in the regulations, the situation is considerably less grim for most existing Russian religious organizations. However, 22 of the 55 denominations listed as registered on January 1, 1997, did not have registered religious centers, including many with one to four churches, such as the Anglican Church, the Mennonite Church, the Greek Catholics, the Armenian Orthodox, the Dukbors, Quakers, Tantrists, Zoroastrians, and also 232 non-denominational churches. Religiya E Pravo (Religion and Law), Jan. 1997, at 8-9. It is not possible from available data for this writer to know the extent to which the over 12,000 local religious organizations, monasteries and convents, missions, and other types of organizations are affiliated with currently registered religious centers, but clearly the continuation of 265 registered centers will give groups seeking full legal rights many options if this is how the regulations read.
Fully registered organizations have the rights to engage in a wide array of activities:
3.2.3 Newer Organizations
Religious organizations that cannot prove that they have "existed" for 15 years and that are not affiliated with a currently centralized organization or cannot create their own centralized organization composed of three or more "fifteen year organizations" will lose many significant rights. Art. 27.3. "Newer" currently registered organizations can re-register and have the rights of religious groups to meet for joint worship and to educate followers, and they can also own church property, carry out charitable activities, establish international contacts, carry out business undertakings, and hire employees to own property, and hire employees. Art. 27.3. However, they must continue to reapply for registration on an annual basis until the 15 year time period has elapsed--an exercise guaranteed to exhaust the resources of most organizations. Id.
Also, they are expressly deprived of many significant rights, including:
the rights to equality before the law based on their religious beliefs the right to substitute alternative service for military service based on their religious beliefs the right to clergy deferment from military service in peacetime the right to create professional (seminaries) and other educational institutions the right to offer religious programs to school children outside the regular school day (which must in any event have parental approval) the right to have a representation of a foreign religious organization attached to their organization the right to invite foreign citizens to engage in professional religious activities, including preaching the rights to carry out religious rites in medical institutions, children's and old people's homes, or in prisons or other detention centers the rights to produce, acquire, export, or import religious literature, video material, or "other articles of religious significance" the right to produce liturgical literature and other liturgical articles the rights to create cultural-educational organizations and mass media organs.
Again, the interesting question is how the limitations in Article 27.3 will be interpreted and how cumbersome the re-registration process will be. It is clear that this provision is aimed at new and unknown groups and those that may not really be religious organizations at all but are seeking tax free status. (The latter are repeatedly ridiculed by Russian government and church officials as those who worship foreign computers or bottles of beer, notwithstanding the fact that several Russian religious organizations, including the Russian Orthodox Church, Moscow Patriarchate, receive huge sums from import activity conducted by subsidiary organizations in such items as liquor and tobacco.). It gives authorities at the least a right to learn about their activities during the past year and to evaluate any adverse reports concerning doctrines or practices prior to allowing them to continue to operate.
At meetings in Washington and elsewhere, officials of the Ministry of Justice have stated that, in accordance with the new rule that what is not forbidden is permitted, there is no barrier to organizations engaging in any of the activities forbidden by Article 27.3, if they are carried out by individual members or by related, non-religious organizations. If so, this would mean that a newer organization could set up its own separate publishing house to print and distribute religious literature, its own schools, and its own cultural-educational organizations under other Russian laws related to non-commercial, mass media, or educational organizations. It has also been stated to this writer that individual citizens may invite foreign religious workers to come visit. This interpretation is difficult to square with the obvious intention of the law, including its language in Article 20.2, which states that religious organizations have the "exclusive right to invite foreign citizens for professional purposes, including preaching and religious activity." Also, it will not negate the apparent inability to visit followers in old people's homes, prisons, or hospitals, or to obtain clergy draft exemptions, among other limited rights.
4. Grounds for Liquidating or Banning Religious Organizations and Associations
The law provides an array of reasons for involuntary liquidating or banning religious associations, whether or not they are registered in Article 14. These include "frequent and gross infringement of the norms of the Constitution ... federal laws" and contradicting the goals set forth in the Charter of a registered organization. Art. 14.1 Organizations can also be liquidated for a range of offenses including undermining social order and security, actions aimed at destroying the unity of the Russian Federation, igniting of social, racial, national or religious dissension or hatred between people, forcing a family to disintegrate, infringement of the person, rights, and freedom of a citizen, encouraging ... the refusal on religious grounds of medical help to persons in life-endangering or health-endangering conditions (no reliance on healing prayer or exemptions for those whose faiths forbid blood transfusions or inoculations), hindering the receiving of compulsory education (no home schooling), forcing members and followers ... to alienate property for use of the religious association (mandatory tithes?), and inciting citizens to refuse to fulfill their civic obligations established by law (conscientious objection?) or to perform other disorderly actions. Art. 14.2 The law also prohibits in Article 3.6 "actions entailing coercion of an individual, calculated insults of the feelings of citizens in connection with their attitudes toward religion ... [and] conducting of public activities and distributions of texts and images insulting to the religious feelings of citizens immediately adjacent to objects of religious veneration."
If these provisions were applied only to "hate speech" aimed at religious groups, they could do much good in light of currently virulent anti-Semitic and anti-missionary rhetoric. However, these provisions are vague and could readily be applied to restrict rights of newer religious groups in the current atmosphere of Russian life in which giving a person a free Bible is characterized as "coercion" and activities of foreign missionaries are accused of undermining social order.
5. Limited Rights for Foreign Religious Organizations, Foreigners, and Non-citizens
The new law is somewhat ambiguous about the rights of foreigners and non-citizens. Article 3.1 provides that they have the same rights as citizens as long as they are legally present in Russia (Art. 3.1) and that they may form both religious groups and organizations as long as they are both legally present and permanently resident in Russia (Arts. 6.1, 8.1). However, Article 9.1 states that founders of religious organizations must be 10 or more "citizens." If the law is read so as to make the provisions of the first three articles override the inconsistency in that provision, it essentially means that the rights of non-Russians turn on the legality of their status in Russia and the permanence of their presence. This will need to be clarified in the implementing regulations, but poses questions about the legal rights of refugees (which are numbered in the millions in Russia today) and what constitutes "permanent" residence--citizenship, a propiska (supposedly now outlawed), a multiple entry visa, a refugee card, etc.
Foreign religious organizations are defined as those "created outside the confines of the Russian Federation and according to the laws of a foreign state"--in other words, a legal entity created by law of another sovereign state. Art. 13.1. These organizations are given the right to independently register "representations" of their organizations in Russia and need not rely on the good offices of a Russian religious organization, as was the case in the original draft of the law. Art. 13.2. However, these structures may not engage in "liturgical or other religious activities" or obtain the status of religious "associations" and any related rights to engage in religious activities. Art. 13.2. In short, they lack even the rights of unregistered religious groups. Thus, they have little purpose, except to give foreign organizations the very limited rights of representations, such as renting property, opening a bank account, and hiring a few employees. These organizations may also be attached to fifteen year organizations. Art. 13.5 and 27.3.
Under prior law, foreign religious organizations could only in theory register representations, since there was no implementing regulation. In practice, they could set up divisions of their organizations as fully registered Russian religious organizations, with foreign centers, which is still permitted, or missions, which also were registered. Thus, foreign religious organizations wishing to have a legal presence in Russia must set up Russian organizations, under the rules generally applicable, using legal and permanent residents, or possibly Russian citizens, as founders. Further, most current representations in Russia do not have the rights of legal persons (some registered during the interregnum period between the dissolution of the USSR and passage of new Russian law do so). They ordinarily operate as legal outposts of their foreign parent, which bear full liability for their actions. These provisions are, however, odd to say the least, and are inconsistent with the other provisions in the law that allows unregistered religious groups to engage in liturgical and other religious activities. It will primarily affect, in this writer's experience, churches specifically set up as representations, including at least one outpost of the Orthodox Church in America, which is in turn an outpost of the Russian Orthodox Church, Moscow Patriarchate.
Finally, foreign citizens who wish to come to Russia to engage in "professional" religious work, such as preaching, may come "exclusively" at the invitation of registered religious organizations that satisfy the 15 year rule, unless the law is interpreted differently as mentioned above. Also, whether they can be invited to engage in non-professional religious work, e.g. lay evangelism, charity, translation, etc., remains to be seen. Clearly, if organizations that do not satisfy the 15 year rule need to rely on foreign clergy, they will have serious problems.
6. Incidents and The Broader Problems
While much of the foregoing may seem rather optimistic, in light of potential generous interpretations of the new law, it is important to keep in mind the underlying reality of Russia. The background to this legislation is an extreme position taken by the Moscow Patriarchate that all of Russia is its historical canonical territory and that no other Christian denominations have a legitimate place in Russian life. Further, some elements in the "red-brown" political groups believe that the Patriarchate sold out by allowing legislation this innocuous to be adopted and may press in the near future for more restrictive terms, closer to the "throw all the foreign missionaries and sects out" tone of rhetoric and propaganda on this subject.
This is certainly the tenor of recent incidents, in which extra legal attempts to shut down currently registered churches, such as an Evangelical Lutheran Church in Khakassia, were rebuffed but they were promised that they would be shut down eventually. There are many other examples, which cannot be detailed here, involving disruptions of worship services by "militant" Orthodox clergy and parishioners, extra-legal orders to cease meetings, canceling leases of worship space, etc. (The recent refusals to register several groups appears to this writer to be justified by the lack of implementing regulations, but that has not been the justification given by local authorities). Moreover, the local and regional laws are even more restrictive than the national legislation, and will have to be dealt with via federal governmental action or case by case litigation.
7. Meetings, Unions, and Opportunities
During October, Law and Liberty Trust hosted a round table in the Dirksen Senate Office Building at which Senator Gordon Smith, Senator Sam Brownback, and Congressman Joseph Pitts, leading officers in the area of religious freedom from the State Department, and many Congressional staffers addressed leading officials and churchmen charged with religious organization regulation in the nations of Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, Bulgaria, Romania, Czech, Slovakia, and Greece. They were informed about the text of the resolution offered by Senator Gordon Smith to the Foreign Appropriations Act and adopted in August that would have cut off all U.S. aid to Russia if the new law was adopted. Senator Gordon Smith told them that, based on high level inter-governmental communications, he had offered legislation amending the text of the resolution and making the cutoff contingent on whether or not it is implemented so as to disadvantage minority groups. Similar legislation was introduced by Congressman Asa Hutchinson during the same week. All stressed our nations deep love and commitment to the Russian people and desire to see it become a rule of law state, which honors its Constitutional and international commitments to religious freedom.
The Smith amendment was adopted as part of the Foreign Appropriations Act and provides:
TO PROHIBIT FOREIGN ASSISTANCE TO THE GOVERNMENT OF RUSSIA SHOULD IT IMPLEMENT LAWS WHICH WOULD DISCRIMINATE AGAINST MINORITY RELIGIOUS FAITHS IN THE RUSSIAN FEDERATION
Sec. 577. (a) None of the funds appropriated under this Act may be made available for the Government of the Russian Federation unless within 30 days of the date this section becomes effective the President determines and certifies in writing to the Committees on Appropriations and the Committee on Foreign Relations of the Senate and the Committee on International Relations of the House of Representatives that the Government of the Russian Federation has implemented no statute, executive order, regulation or similar government action that would discriminate, or would have as its principal effect discrimination, against religious groups or religious communities in the Russian Federation in violation of accepted international agreements on human rights and religious freedoms to which the Russian Federation is a party.
(b) This section shall become effective one hundred fifty days after the enactment of this Act.
The reference to "President" in the law is presumably to U.S. President Clinton, although the earlier draft of the text referenced President Yeltsin. It is not yet known what procedures will be implemented to determine whether "as implemented" the law is discriminatory, who will make the determination, and how other foreign policy interests will be taken into account.
LLT hosted a meeting in the Helsinki Commission conference room on December 1, with Ludmilla Selezneva, Chair of the Peace and Democracy Department at the Russian Humanities University in Moscow, who firmly believes that the religion law has become a sort of lightening rod for nationalistic feelings in Russia and that implementation of the law could backfire, encouraging further repressions and possibly harsher legislation by nationalistic and communist deputies in the Duma. We are unable to reach a firm conclusion on this issue but generally believe that continued engagement, support for democratic interests, and involvement in implementation issues will be preferable to implementation of sanctions.
We learned at the October meetings that virtually all of the former Soviet republics and Eastern European countries are considering similar legislation and thus that the United State's government's response to the Russian law will be closely watched. All branches of the U.S. government have been consistent in stating that this is a matter of the utmost significance in U.S.-Russian relations and that if U.S. citizens are mistreated or thrown out in large numbers that there will be inevitable consequences.
This writer has also participated in a small group advising the State Department on these issues and participated in numerous academic meetings in Washington, D.C., and in Atlanta, GA, on issues relating to the new law. The Emory International Law Journal will be doing a special issue on the new law and on religious human rights that will appear in early 1998, including an article by this author and Larry Uzzell of the Keston Institute in Moscow on the Russian regional laws.
In Moscow, a new group has been formed called the All-Russian Movement for Freedom of Conscience and a Secular State. This group includes the Moscow Helsinki Group, which is over 30 years old, and many human rights and religious activists, including Anatoli Pschilenstev of the Institute for Religion and Law, Vladimir Rhyakovsky of the Christian Religious Center, and Fr. Gleb Yakunin. Law and Liberty Trust and other NGO's are seeking funds to help this group set up a nation wide religious liberty monitoring, education, training, and legal intervention program. They are also planning to challenge the new law in the Russian Constitutional Court and are soliciting reports on violations of the new law. They have received many but no constitutional court filing has been made as yet.
8. What to Do?
Our advice to religious organizations already working in Russia is to wait for the implementing regulations before attempting any organizational restructuring or re-registering, to report any untoward incidents to us or to the Christian Legal Center and Institute for Law and Religion in Moscow, to seek to determine whether their organization or related organizations may have currently registered centers with which you can affiliate or whether they can satisfy the 15 year rule in some other way, to re-register as a non-commercial organization, if their work is clearly outside the scope of the new law or if they are plainly unable to register as a religious organization, and to seek in all ways to comply with all aspects of Russian law, in so far as it is in their power.
In sum, the new Russian law is a major setback to religious freedom in Russia. However, if it is implemented so as to be consistent with the RF Constitution and international treaties, as the Russian government has promised, it may not be as draconian as first appeared, and even newer religious organizations may have a variety of legal options for registration. We continue to support international efforts to assist Russia in becoming a law-abiding state, based on the rule of law, and its citizens in achieving their rights through legal mechanisms available to them, including litigation.
Law and Liberty Trust is a U.S. Section 501(c)(3) organization founded in 1990 with the objective of helping the people of Russia and other former Soviet republics obtain religious freedom and of presenting information on how Judeo-Christian principles can assist in re-establishing the rule of law and social stability. Its founder and President, Lauren Homer, is a 1977 graduate of Columbia University Law School, with broad corporate litigation and international experience. LLT engages in monitoring and reporting on legal developments affecting religious organizations, in providing testimony and other information to the U.S. government and other interested NGO's and religious organizations, and in frequent communications with foreign leaders in this field. Its sister organization, International Law Group, provides specific legal services to religious and humanitarian organizations concerning their work overseas. We hope that our work will support "bringing the perfect law that gives liberty to the nations" (James 1:25) and that as a result of the collective efforts of us and many others God's ways will be known in all the earth, his salvation among all nations (Ps. 67:2). Law and Liberty is a Christian organization dedicated to supporting all denominations and faiths, including the Russian Orthodox Church, in this complex transition from control by a totalitarian, atheistic state to self-determination and real liberty.
From: Lauren B. Homer International Law Group, P.C. Law and Liberty Trust 333 Maple Avenue East Suite 1085 Vienna, VA 22180 (703) 319-3646 (TEL) (703) 319-3625 (FAX) e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
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