TESTIMONY OF LAUREN B. HOMER, PRESIDENT, LAW AND LIBERTY TRUST PRESENTED TO THE SUBCOMMITTEE ON EUROPE OF THE SENATE FOREIGN RELATIONS COMMITTEE ON MAY 20, 19981
The 1997 Russian Federation Law on Freedom of Conscience and Religious Organizations: Should the Smith Amendment Sanctions Be Implemented?
SUMMARY: Law and Liberty Trust (LLT) believes that the new Russian Federation Law "On Freedom of Conscience and Religious Organizations," effective October 1, 1997 (the RF Law), is a regressive Law, which contains provisions that are actually and potentially violative of international standards on religious freedom. Its enactment is a negative development that has, and will, lead to religious discrimination, intolerance, and confusion in the administration of laws affecting religion in Russia. LLT has championed religious freedom in Russia for eight years and has been actively involved in efforts to combat repressive legislation in 1993 and the years following. LLT was among those leading the campaign to draw attention to the 1997 Law's deficiencies and mobilize international concern prior to its enactment. It has also been in close communication with Russian religious leaders and Russian, European, and American experts, governmental, and religious leaders, from a wide range of faiths and Christian denominations. It has closely reviewed incidents of religious discrimination and harassment reported in the last nine months. This information leaves us with an unsettling mixture of hope and concern. Despite our many deep concerns, LLT believes that implementation of the sanctions in the "Smith Amendment" to the Foreign Appropriations Act of 1997 at this time would be premature, counterproductive, and unjustified. In sum, our reasoning is as follows:
(1) The Russian Federation Government appears to be honestly attempting to conform implementation of the new RF Law to Russia's constitutional and international commitments to religious freedom, based on practice to date. Although we have our own ideas about how implementation could be clarified and improved, we believe that the Ministry of Justice has made major strides toward dealing with objectionable provisions of the Law. Also, we have no information to support the view that the federal Ministry of Justice has taken any steps to implement the Law in a manner that facially discriminates or that has as its primary effect discrimination in violation of Russia's international obligations, which are prerequisites to enforcement of Smith Amendment sanctions.
(2) It is too soon to determine that unclarified provisions and untoward incidents related to the Law suffice to trigger application of the Smith Amendment sanctions. Some provisions--the 15 year rule as applied to currently unregistered religious groups, the new Councils of Experts, and provisions on closing down or banning religious groups-- cannot be fully evaluated as yet, due to a lack of implementing regulations or experience with their application. Although there have been many troubling incidents since the Law was enacted, they are small in number in comparison with the total number of religious groups, organizations, and workers affected by the Law. Also, many of the reported actions are in direct conflict with the Law or the Ministry of Justice's official interpretation of the Law. Some are based on local laws, immigration laws, pure administrative fiat, or crimes of unknown perpetrators. The period leading up to December 1999 will clarify these points.
(3) Challenges to the Law and its implementation can best be carried out by Russian governmental, religious, and non-governmental bodies, citizens, and even noncitizens in Russian forums. Since 1992, Russia has created a new and sometimes bewildering array of new Constitutional and legal standards, at the federal, regional, and local levels, affecting religious belief and practice. The RF Constitution makes international treaties of the Russian Federation part of its "higher law" and contains provisions that mimic international standards. The RF Constitutional Court has not been shy about overturning laws and governmental actions that it views as unconstitutional. Russian NGO's and religious organizations are already getting ready to challenge the Law. We believe that it is too soon to declare either victory or defeat and that it would be premature and detrimental to this process to impose sanctions which imply that Russia has already failed this important test of its new democratic experiment. Our own nation has painfully cobbled out the meaning of the First Amendment to our own Constitution in the course of 200 years, often after profoundly disturbing acts of religious discrimination. Even though it may involve considerable stress and effort, Russia, like other democracies, must exercise the will, energy, and patience to achieve the rule of law in this area of its communal life, developing its own legal standards, processes, and precedents. Its citizens must also decide for themselves that religious freedom is important and worth fighting for. This is a development that is brand new in the Russian experience, and it cannot be short-circuited.
(4) Although the new Law leaves much to be desired, it is far from the worst law on freedom of conscience and religious organizations in the former Soviet republics or in many other nations that receive aid under the 1997 Foreign Appropriations Act. In many respects, the Law gives those engaging in religious work in Russia a much greater degree of freedom than is found in neighboring nations. The new Russian law, even with its many defects, is superior in most respects to current laws in Belarus, Ukraine, and Romania, in the opinion of this writer, and it is generally more fairly applied. It is also superior to laws threatened recently in Israel and to those of several Islamic nations receiving U.S. foreign aid. Making Russia a special subject of U.S. sanctions would be unfair. It also could be very counter-productive, creating the erroneous impression that Russia is taking the lead in repressive laws that others might seek to follow.
(5) We believe that U.S. sanctions related to the Law would be counterproductive at this time. The new Russian Law is truly a matter of genuine concern because of what it may indicate about the future of the Russian democratic experiment, because of Russia's significance to the U.S. in many foreign policy areas, and because the law appears to be an unsettling reversal of trends over the last six years. Nonetheless, Russia's current instability means that democratic forces need our encouragement, not a public whipping. The original adoption of the Smith Amendment triggered vehement reactions from xenophobic and reactionary political elements in Russia that accused America of trying to interfere with domestic Russian issues and foist its ideas about religious freedom, and even its missionaries, on an unwilling Russian people. It strengthened their power base, and this would likely occur again if sanctions are effected. We also believe that implementation of sanctions would unsettle bi-lateral relations in many areas at a time when U.S./Russian cooperation is critical to world peace.
(6)We believe that our Government can best encourage the pursuit of religious freedom by the Russian Government and its people by supporting those committed to religious freedom and their legal, administrative, and educational initiatives rather than by imposing external sanctions. Recent exchanges indicate that Russian governmental leaders are willing, even eager, to have U.S. assistance, at a governmental and NGO level, to train, educate, and equip its bureaucrats to implement the Law in a fair and democratic fashion. This is an opportunity that should be pursued and supported. Proponents of religious freedom are well-placed to make a difference but lack resources to do so. Support of religious freedom will reap benefits in other areas of Russian life. A multitude of free and energetic religious organizations and workers can help in the development of a civil society and encourage individuals to pursue a new national idea based on foundational principles of biblical faith, morality, and justice, which Russia needs in order to surmount its current problems.
LLT recommends continued monitoring of the situation by our Government, Congress, NGO's and religious organizations, clear statements to Russia and other governmental recipients of U.S. aid that compliance with religious human rights will be a factor in the continuation of foreign aid, use of federal funds to encourage and support educational, legal intervention, and monitoring programs within Russia and other nations in the area of religious freedom, and speedy enactment of comprehensive but flexible religious freedom legislation that will enable our Nation to continue its position of leadership in this realm where political and economic power, democratic aspirations, and the spiritual aspirations of millions and the fate of nations intersect.
LLT submits for the use of the Committee, as part of this testimony, the newly released 738 page volume of the Emory International Law Review entitled "Soul Wars: The Problem of Proselytism in Russia", Winter 1998, Vol. 12, No. 1. It contains many marvelous articles that fully describe the complex legal, social, historic, and political factors that affect our views presented here. They include two lengthy articles co-authored by Lauren B. Homer, (1) "Russia's 1997 Law on Freedom of Conscience and Religious Associations: An Analytical Appraisal", with W. Cole Durham, Jr.; and (2) "Federal and Provincial Religious Freedom Laws in Russia: A Struggle for and Against Federalism and the Rule of Law", with Lawrence A. Uzzell. These provide greater detail on the points touched on in the following portions of this testimony. The articles are posted on the Emory University web site at http://www.law.emory.edu/EIRL/volumes/win98.
The remainder of this testimony is organized as follows: (1) Summary of Key Concerns About the 1997 Law; (2) General Observations on the Reasons for the Law's Enactment, its Implementation, and Political Conditions in Russia; (3) The Smith Amendment and Its Impact; (4) Concluding Statements.
1. Summary of Key Concerns About the 1997 Law
The RF Law "On Freedom of Conscience and Religious Organizations" became official with its publication in Russikaya Gazeyetta on October 1, 1997. (RF Law No. 125-F3.) On December 24, 1997, the RF Ministry of Justice circulated Methodological Guidelines about how the RF Law was to be implemented, including its interpretation of certain controversial provisions (the "Methodological Guidelines"), and also a semi-official Commentary on the law prepared by Andrei E. Sebenstov, Vice-President of the Commission for Issues Related to Religious Organizations of the Government of the Russian Federation (the "Commentary"). Implementing regulations affecting branches of foreign religious organizations were officially distributed in January. Regulations affecting all other religious organizations were distributed in early March (the "Implementing Regulations"). Thus, the Law has begun to be implemented. Still to come are implementing regulations on establishment of new state bodies to evaluate religious beliefs. All religious organizations created before October 1, 1997, must re-register under the new law before December 31, 1999. Art. 27.4.
The Law has both good and bad features. These are discussed at length in the first Emory Article cited above and this summary will only highlight the key points for purposes of this Committee.
Strengths of the Law: The Law provides that Russia is a secular state and that there may be no state or compulsory religion. Art. 4.1. 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.” It 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." However, the Preamble has no legal effect. Thus, nothing in the Law gives special rights to the Orthodox Church or other faiths mentioned in the Preamble, contrary to many reports about the Law.
Any group of ten or more believers has the right to worship, teach, and congregate, with or without official registration. They may also apply for legal registration and create religious organizations. Further, three or more local organizations may form "centralized organizations", which may in turn form their own religious institutions and confer full legal rights on unregistered groups. According to the RF Ministry of Justice, religious and religiously motivated organizations may also register under a wide range of other available forms of noncommerical organizations, qualifying them to own property, hire employees, invite foreign workers, and engage in activities of a charitable, educational, mass media, or humanitarian character.
The law provides for equality before the law, regardless of religious belief, for both citizens and legally resident foreigners and persons without citizenship. It confers rights to freedom of belief and expression in a manner that echoes international instruments. It orders the Government to give religious organizations tax privileges, to aid in restoration of religious buildings, and even to pay for instruction on non-religious subjects in religious schools. It also provides for parental or guardian rights to oversee the religious education of children, and for secrecy of the confessional.
The Law states that federal law pre-empts inconsistent or more restrictive local laws. Thus, the Law can be the basis for challenges to the myriad repressive local laws that are causing so many problems in the Russian regions. See the second Emory article mentioned above.
Deficiencies in the Law: In contrast to the 1990 law, the Law grants rights primarily to organizations, not individuals, restricts individual actions, more than it protects them, Arts. 3.4, 4.3, and provides for the creation of state bodies to regulate religious organizations, Councils of Experts, to evaluate the legitimacy of new faiths and doctrines. The latter were banned by the 1990 law.
Foreigners have religious freedom rights only if they are "permanently and legally residing" in Russia. These may participate in religious groups and organizations, and may be able to head them, but only Russian citizens may found religious organizations. Foreign religious organizations may set up branches or "representations" which have very few legal rights, or they may set up Russian organizations upon supplying information about their foreign organization's structure. However, foreign religious workers may come only at the invitation of registered Russian organizations with full legal rights.
Religious Groups and Organizations that cannot prove that they have existed in Russia for 15 years have diminished rights under the Law. Under the sections on registration and re-registration of existing organizations, the Law requires proof of existence in Russia for at least 15 years. Groups without such proof may meet for joint worship and to educate followers but cannot be registered. If already registered, they must re-register annually and suffer reduced rights until they have existed in Russia for 15 years. Articles 9 and 27.3. Although they can own church property, carry out charitable activities, establish international contacts, carry out business undertakings, and hire employees, they are expressly deprived of the rights to: equality before the law, substitute alternative service for military service, clergy deferment from military service, found religious educational institutions, offer extra-curricular religious programs to school children, invite foreign religious organizations to establish branches in Russia, invite foreign citizens to work as professional religious workers, carry out religious rites in medical institutions, children's and old people's homes, prisons or detention centers, produce, acquire, export, or import religious literature, video material, or "other articles of religious significance", produce liturgical literature and other liturgical articles, or create cultural-educational organizations and mass media organs. Id.
These provisions were the major cause of furor when the Law was enacted. However, the Ministry of Justice interprets the "15 year rule" as not applying to "centralized organizations" or to their member organizations. Thus, if three or more existing local organizations form a centralized organization, it can register with full rights without proving 15 years of existence and can then give membership certificates to its member organizations and to new organizations, which also gives them full rights. Further, it has declared Article 27.3 to be an unconstitutional retroactive deprivation of rights for previously registered organizations and says that it should not be applied in the Methodological Guidelines. Thus, all currently registered local organizations are exempt from these restrictions, according to the federal Ministry of Justice. Under these interpretations, the only religious associations adversely affected by the 15 year rule are new religious groups not registered by October 1, 1997, that chose not to, or cannot, affiliate with centralized organizations, and they can register as other types of noncommerical organizations if they want to own property and hire employees, etc.
Implementation of the "15 year rule" is still confusing. The interpretations of the federal Ministry of Justice are not uniformly accepted by Russia's regions. Both the expulsion of the American missionary Pollard who had established an independent Baptist congregation with no claim to 15 years of existence and the harassment of the Lutheran congregation in Khakhassia reflect the view of local bureaucrats that independent local organizations not yet affiliated with centralized organizations have very limited rights. Also, most of the organizations re-registered thus far as centralized organizations have claims that member churches or predecessor organizations existed in Russia more than 15 years ago. Proof needed to satisfy the 15 year rule is to be determined locally, and can include past registration records, records from the former Councils on Religious Affairs, archive material, testimony of witnesses, or other forms of records. Thus, proof that an organization was subjected to persecution, that its members were arrested, or that they met in secret would be admissible. A thorny issue is whether the applicant group must prove a legal or relational tie to a religious group that existed 15 years previously. For example, is it enough for a Baptist congregation to show that at some point there was a Baptist church in the particular village or must it show that some of its current members or their relatives belonged to the congregation? Is it enough for a Lutheran congregation to simply prove that it really is Lutheran in its creed and that there were Lutheran congregations in other parts of Russia more than 15 years ago? It would greatly simplify administration of the Law if this were clarified at the federal level.
"Fifty Year" organizations get special rights, but these may not be terribly significant. Those that can prove that they have been officially registered as centralized organizations for 50 years obtain the right to use the words "Russia" or "Russian" in their official names. In recent practice, as long as some member organizations of centralized organizations can show 50 years of existence, they are being allowed by the Ministry of Justice to use "Russia" or "Russian" in their names.
Inquiry into beliefs is a grounds for refusing registration. Applicants for registration are subject to a new requirement 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. Presumably, the wrong answers could lead to refusals to register organizations.
The law also provides an array of reasons for involuntary liquidating or banning religious associations, whether or not they are registered, in Article 14. Many contain a surprising tone: "frequent and gross infringement of the norms of the Constitution ... federal laws," 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. Also, the Law provides that 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. Also prohibited are forcing a family to disintegrate, infringement of the person, rights, and freedom of a citizen, encouraging the refusal of medical assistance on religious grounds, hindering receipt of compulsory education, forcing alienation of property for use of the religious association, and inciting citizens to refuse to fulfill their civic obligations 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." These provisions are vague and could readily be applied to restrict rights of newer religious groups in an current atmosphere in which giving a person a free Bible is characterized as "coercion" and activities of foreign missionaries are accused of undermining social order.
Creation of New Oversight Bodies: The Law and draft implementing regulations provide for the creation of Councils of Experts to make determinations on the acceptability of religious organizations, based on the information to be supplied with the application for registration. Since these provisions have not been finalized or implemented, it is difficult to assess what they will mean, but they cannot be good news for religious freedom. This is an area that needs to be closely watched.
2. General Observations on the Reasons for the Law's Enactment, its Implementation, and Political Conditions in Russia
The 1997 RF Law replaced a more liberal law enacted in October 1990 that became fully effective in 1992, with the collapse of the Soviet Union. The 1990 law had enabled the number of registered religious organizations in Russia to skyrocket from 2,516 in 1989 to 14,698 in January 1997. It created an atmosphere of religious tolerance, which allowed the Russian Orthodox Church and others that had survived 70 years of communism to re-enter the public square and also enabled an influx (some say "invasion") of foreign religious workers and faiths, including "new" religions and "totalitarian sects"” Enactment of the new RF Law was accompanied by expressions of deep concern here, in Russia, and in other nations due to the sense that it was turning the clock back and might be auguring another period of repression, particularly of religious minorities. An early version was vetoed by President Yeltsin, with a stirring message of adherence to religious freedom, but the version finally adopted was not much improved and was said to be the best compromise available given the enormous pressures to enact even more repressive legislation.
The Law itself was plainly a pragmatic political compromise between forces in Russia that seek full freedoms for believers of all faiths and those who seek a return to state control over religious expression and belief. The result was satisfying to neither side. Those wishing to make the Russian Orthodox Church, Moscow Patriarchate, into a quasi-state institution and ban all "competing" Christian faiths, foreign missionaries, and new religions failed. The Law gives comparable rights to all organizations founded by 10 or more citizens and specifically forbids establishment of a state church, as does the 1993 RF Constitution. Conversely, religious freedom advocates are deeply disappointed that the new Law takes away protections realized only six years earlier and fear a return to the bad old days, due to provisions that greatly increase state control over religious beliefs and that disfavor organizations that did not exist in the communist era.
Incident reports have begun to emerge from Russia, and religious human rights activists state that their phones are constantly ringing with complaints, but that they do not have the resources to investigate and report every problem. It is beyond the scope of this document to try to summarize the vast array of material LLT has received, primarily due to the diligent reporting efforts of Lawrence A. Uzzell, Moscow correspondent for the Keston Institute, Oxford, UK However, we can inform the Committee that the mere passage of the Law created an atmosphere of "open season" on minority religious groups and foreign religious workers by local officials in some areas. Many have sought to harass and impede the work of these groups, using restrictive local laws to limit their religious activities, including denying them the right to use public spaces and even private apartments for their meetings, requiring prior government approval of evangelistic meetings, etc. Some congregations have been aggressively threatened with closure and have suffered from repeated legal challenges despite their apparent compliance with applicable laws. There has also been official harassment of Russian clergy and religious workers, including threats to close their ministries, to take away their apartment, to refuse to allow scheduled evangelism campaigns, etc. Some have been arrested in the presence of their congregation, including a priest in the Free Orthodox Church who was accused of being a "foreign agent" and later found murdered. The principal Moscow Synagogue was bombed within the last few days, narrowly avoiding a loss of life. Many congregations have lost their meeting places due to local laws forbidding their rental to religious organizations. One American missionary has been deported and others have been threatened with expulsion or have had to go through repeated departures and returns from Russia to renew short term visas.
Unfortunately, these incidents are not particularly illuminating for present purposes. Most are identical to events that were occurring in the regions before the new Law was promulgated, inconsistent with its terms, or with its interpretation by the federal Ministry of Justice. Often, they cannot be directly related to official action or to central government implementation of the new Law. In most instances redress will require resort to legal and administrative challenges in the regions of Russia. Also, it is important to note that the expulsion of one missionary, however unpleasant, is inconsequential in light of the enormous number of foreign religious workers currently active in Russia, of at least 4,000, and that the incidents of harassment are also small in number in light of a nation with over 14,000 registered religious organizations.
Nonetheless, we are certain that there are many more incidents that we cannot currently track and that there will be more to come. Also, the reported incidents are quite disturbing to Russian believers because they recall government actions that are all too familiar to those who endured the Soviet period--arbitrary disruption of meetings of legally registered organizations, arrests of priests and pastors in front of their congregations, threats and arbitrary judicial proceedings, and even some deaths and instances of destruction of property--although the latter cannot be proved to involve official actions. Further, statements in the mass media and in private conversations reveal a rising and unhealthy antipathy to newer religious groups that could lead to harassment and even to tragedies, irrespective of the positions of the Russian Government.
On the positive front, Russian religious human rights activists have taken steps to challenge key aspects of the Law in the RF Constitutional Court and in other forums, to closely monitor the implementation of the Law, and to initiate broad programs of education about religious human rights. The Russian Government has indicated that it will not vigorously oppose a Constitutional Court challenge. Even if such a challenge is unsuccessful, which seems doubtful given the Ministry of Justice's public statements about the Law, the challengers can appeal to the European Court as Russia is now a signatory to the European Convention on Human Rights. Key Russian governmental leaders have been very responsive to American and European concerns about the Law. They appear honestly committed to see that it does not undercut the huge strides Russia has taken in the area of religious human rights since 1992, while taking into account Russian realities. They are seeking to implement their own monitoring and "ombudsma"” programs.
The federal offices of the Ministry of Justice have publicly stated that they will implement the Law so as to ensure its conformance with the religious freedom covenants in the RF Constitution (which incorporates Russia's international commitments) and declared one of the Law's most offensive provisions, Article 27.3, unconstitutional and unenforceable. They have also issued interpretations that soften the impact of other provisions. Although the infamous "15 year rule" still applies to currently unregistered groups that cannot prove that they have "existed" in Russia for at least 15 years, it does not now apply to any currently registered organizations, to centralized organizations, or to groups that become members of centralized organizations.
It is too soon to know whether local branches of the Ministry of Justice will comply with these directives. However, the federal Ministry has already allowed several denominations to register in the short period since the implementing regulations made the Law effective in early March, 1998. These include three Pentecostal denominations, the Roman Catholic Church, the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints, and others. Significantly, these groups have been allowed to register as centralized organizations, without the requirement of first re-registering local congregations and many of their constituent local congregations would not meet the 15 year rule, although this writer cannot confirm that any centralized organizations have been allowed to register that had no member organizations that met the 15 year rule. Federal officials intend to have training programs for regional officials and have asked for U.S. assistance in these and other educational and monitoring efforts.
Both the good and bad news requires us to state the obvious--establishing the rule of law in the area of religious freedom for all religious believers and organizations will not be any easier than any of the other great challenges that face the Government of the Russian Federation. Russia's history of intolerance, militant atheism, and unholy repressions during the Soviet period must be overcome. The average Russian is not a true believer and fails to see the need for religious freedom. Certainly, the majority of bureaucrats dealing with the implementation of these laws do not, as they are often holdovers from the Soviet period. Religious freedom laws are only one area of many in which central government authorities must deal with restive, independence-minded provincial governments and non-compliant and arbitrary local officials. Religious freedom is not always the highest priority in light of deteriorating economic, social service, and infrastructure conditions, issues concerning the military, rampant lawlessness and crime, other human rights abuses, and concomitant political pressures. Reactionary and neo-nationalistic political parties find it politically expedient to blame democracy, foreigners, and foreign influences for the nation's difficulties and appeal for an end to religious freedom, among other democratic experiments. Regional courts and religious human rights activists suffer from shortages of funds, staff, and other resources. It will be a long and difficult process.
However, Russia has consistently shown itself to be a place where the unexpected often happens and ideas and opinions change rapidly. In the early 1990's, Russian leaders eagerly embraced faith as an antidote to the problems of communism; in the mid-1990's, they embraced greed and rampant capitalism; in the late 1990's, they began to despair and embrace neo-nationalism and the "strong ar"” as solutions to continuing decline in the nation. It is just possible that there is reason for hope and that the exchanges and ideas shared with Russian leaders in the last nine months will cause them to again look to faith-based ideas as a basis for national renewal and make religious freedom and tolerance important items on the national agenda. It is also possible that strained relations between the Orthodox, Catholic, and Protestant denominations active in Russia will lessen as the contours of the new Law become clear and due to continuing efforts of leaders, individual clergy and believers, and the prayers of believers around the world.
3. The Smith Amendment and Its Impact
The Smith Amendment to the Foreign Appropriations Act of 1997, provides in pertinent part:
"None of the funds appropriated under this Act may be made available for the Government of the Russian Federation unless . . . the President determines and certifies in writing . . . 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."2
The Smith Amendment was introduced after an initial version of the Law had been vetoed by President Yeltsin and before a new version was adopted by the Russian Duma and proposed a cut off of U.S. foreign aid if the Law was enacted. It was later amended to focus on implementation of the Law as a condition of continued assistance. Senator Gordon Smith and other Senators and Congressmen explained to officials from Russia at a meeting hosted by Law and Liberty Trust in October, 1997, and at later meetings here and in Moscow that this legislation was based on the deep commitment of the American people to religious freedom, our belief that religious freedom is the bedrock underlying the success of American democracy, and our expectation that it must exist to permit democratic and economic freedom in Russia as well. Senator Smith also emphasized our nation's great love and commitment to the Russian people and desire to see it become a rule of law state, which can honor its Constitutional and international commitments to religious freedom.
Although the Smith Amendment has been identified as a factor in the overwhelming override of President Yeltsin's initial veto of a new law in August 1997, it has served several extremely useful purposes. It has certainly gotten the attention of the Russian Government and has led to bilateral dialogue at the highest levels, which likely would not have otherwise occurred. Russia has hosted at least three major delegations from the Senate and other Congressional branches, including Senators Robert Bennett in September 1997, Senators Gordon Smith and Orrin Hatch in March 1998, Congressmen Christopher Smith, Frank Wolf, and Librarian of Congress James Billington in January 1998, and many other official visitors from the State Department and the White House. This issue has been raised at the highest levels of both Governments.
Since the enactment of the 1997 Law, representatives of the RF Ministry of Justice and other Governmental departments have traveled to the United States to participate in dialogues about the Law and the manner in which it will be implemented. Specifically, Alexander I. Kudriavstev, Chief of the Department on Religious Organizations of the Ministry, visited the United States in both September, 1997, and January, 1998, meeting with, among others, Senator Gordon Smith and numerous representatives of United States governmental and non-governmental organizations, including religious organizations. Another delegation was sent in January 1998, led by Andrei Loginov, head of Internal Policy Dept. under President of Russia, and also including Mr. Kudriavstev, Vladimir Kartashkin, Chairman, RF Human Rights Commission, Vladimir Parshikov, 1st Deputy Head, Human Rights Department of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Andrei Protopopov, Head Section of Interaction with Religious Organizations, Internal Policy Dept. under the President of Russia, and Vladimir Tomarovsky, Head Dept of Interaction with Voluntary and Religious Organizations of the Ministry of Justice of the RF. At these meetings, Russian officials provided information about the treatment of the 15 year rule in the Methodological Guidelines and Implementing Regulations which we have been able to confirm after reading them, and they appear to have gone out of their way to process registration applications in a way that shows that their intentions are not mere promises.
4. Concluding Statements
The Smith Amendment has already made a major and positive impact on the way both the U.S. and the Russian governments are thinking about religious freedom in Russia and the potential deleterious effect of major regressive steps on a host of bilateral issues, not just funding covered by the Foreign Appropriations Act. It is important also because it has been noticed by the host of other former Soviet republics that have assumed that the new Law is even worse than it is and that have been watching the U.S. reaction before implementing changes in their own laws regulating freedom of conscience and religious organizations. This type of scrutiny appears to us to be salutary for religious organizations and believers in Russia, for foreign religious workers, for the Russian government and those of neighboring states, and even for our own Government, which has learned that it is possible to be tough and not lose international friends that are important to us. Indeed, it could be said that like many arguments, this one has improved the nature of the relationship.
We believe that the Smith Amendment highlights the significance of international religious freedom issues for both U.S. voters and for U.S. foreign policy and the need to have permanent laws and administrative structures in place to keep track of these issues, to promote religious freedom as an international, bilateral, and multilateral issue in international forums. Thus, we urge adoption either of the Wolfe-Specter legislation recently adopted by the House or the bill sponsored by Senator Nickels and others in the Senate at the earliest possible time.
Our organization and others will continue to monitor religious freedom issues in Russia and to report on problems, to solicit grants from our government and private sources to support educational, training, and legal intervention programs in Russia, and to take whatever steps we can to ameliorate any adverse impacts from the law. We will report to this Committee and to the State Department and the White House if we learn that circumstances in Russia warrant sanctions like those contemplated by the Smith Amendment and if our conclusions submitted here were unduly hopeful.