WITH WHAT ARE LAWS ABOUT RELIGION IN ATHEIST STATES FRAUGHT? Aleksii Ostaev Pravda-5, 29 August 1997 The very attempt of state agencies to create a system of legislation that regulates the activity of religious organizations is brought about by the desire to guard the population of a country from the harmful influence of various pseudoreligious societies and sects that cause substantial damage to the health and property of citizens. However is it possible to give in juridical terms a definition of such concepts as "sect," and in particular "totalitarian sect," "psychological harm," "moral or material damage," and the like? The very word "sect" is a purely religious concept signifying a part of a circle, a sector, that is removed from the whole, where the whole is the church itself, like the circle (Lat. circus). The church always distinctly and definitely views its boundaries in distinction from a sect, which essentially are the product of the blurring of church boundaries. So from a juridical point of view "church" is a rather indistinct concept that is not distinguishable from such concepts as, say, "religious organizatin" or "legal entity." For jurisprudence sects are more indefinable and indistinct from a church. Hence it is inescapable that any state legislation about religion within the state, which is in principle separate from the church, will either infringe upon the rights and freedoms of one or another religious association (if the attempt to give them legal definition is made) or will fail to achieve the goal of the greater good and protect the population from harmful sects (if on principle it refuses to differentiate among faiths, churches, and sects) A clear example of all of this is the situation that has arisen as a result of the duma's adoption of a new law (1997) "On Freedom of Conscience," which was not signed by the president because it violated the freedoms proclaimed by the constitution. In this case, the former alternative was achieved: the law tries to differentiate religions from the outside when it uses the self-designation of religious associations as juridical terms, which leads to the pretentiousness of some (false), and nonrecognition by the state of other (true), religious associations. The earlier version of the law "On Freedom of Religious Confessions" (1990) suffered from the other flaw: it gives complete freedom to all organizations that call themselves religions, without examination (we recall Aum Sinrikyo) which, properly speaking, led to the need for its amendment. Now the law has been handed over for an agreement among interested parties in a search for a compromise version. With what is such a compromise fraught? Just this that none of the sides will be satisfied--not the church, not the state, and not society. The new version will contain the shortcomings of both the first and the second laws and it will not contain any of their virtues. Because the very attempt to make religions that are differentiated objectively equal before the law, without taking into account their self-identification, creates not only a legislative, clerical, and simply common muddle, but also introduces new discords and turmoil into the interconfessional and interjurisdictional relationships. I shall cite a simple, but very damaging for Orthodoxy, example: The Moscow patriarchate (MP) and the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad (RPTsZ) both lay claim to thename "Russian Orthodox church." In addition there are several other jurisdictions that make the same claim: "the Catacombs" and the so-called True Orthodox Church (IPTs), not to mention the countless crowd of blasphemers such as the Ioanites, Lazarites, Valentinites, and other false bishops. So here for the first (1990) law they all are equal and indistinguishable one from the other, beginning from the thousand-year-old Orthodox church to the must superstitious sects (so long as they do not break the state's laws), and for the second version (1997) no other Orthodox churches exist except the MP, nor can they exist. So then the suspicion arises, which has been raised especially by enemies of the Orthodox church: what if MP departs from Orthodoxy (and this is even likely in our time) while for the state it (MP) still remains Orthodox and, moreover, the only Orthodox from the point of view of the 1997 law, and our people will be faced with a dilemma--to depart from Orthodoxy along with MP or to go underground like the "Catacombs," IPTs and RPTsZ. That is, the entire Orthodox Russian people will be persecuted by the state. Thus the legislators, perhaps against their will, penetrated into the most properly internal affairs and a secular agencie, without the least right to do so, made a religious decision in an internal church argument, which has been going on for seventy years. And what is most remarkable is that even the Moscow patriarchate, which is favored by the authorities, is not protected by this law from state restrictions and even from its complete liquidation. For example, it can be imagined that in the case of someone who becomes sick during the time of the Great Fast (Lent), some physician and attorney prove that the cause of the sickness is the seven-week Great Fast or that the institution of monasticism causes damage to the family and familial relationships, so that the religion most respected by the state, the ancient Orthodox church, turns out to be threatened with "removal of registration," which is equivalent to prohibiting its activity, and all attendant consequences. So it has been in vaind that the most holy patriarch of Moscow and all-Rus Alexis II and many bishops, priests, and laity have argued for the current (1997) version of the law on religion. It, this law, still can rebound with persecution on Orthodox. Every sincere believer who recognizes that he has found the correct path and has touched upon the truth naturally tries to help others, if not all than at least a great many people, to find the true path. However in a secular state, where personal "freedom" is higher than the freedom of society as a whole and public organizations in particular, every attempt on the part of the church to force a person onto the true path can be viewed as an infringement on personal freedom. And let them not say that in "free" societies it is necessary to act upon a person not by physicial or material force but by the force of persuasion, for, as the greatest Russian theoretician of state systems, L.A. Tikhomirov (1852-1923) noted: "Moral influence is just as compulsory as physical force. Frequently by itself it suppresses the freedom of another person much more deeply, and dominated him much more strongly, than material compulsion. By material compulsion a person is subordinated only in regard to his acts, but does not lose inner freedom, while under moral influence a person can be completely changed into what another wants." Tikhomirov writes quite relevantly to this question about what all lawmakers, official and reporters and all interested persons must consider: "A person who values his person, of course, prefers to be a victim of force rather than a plaything of an alien "moral influence." From the point of view of public utility, 'moral influence' is not always to be preferred to firce. Moreover, force by itself exerts in come cases 'moral influence,' and in others and very many cases in the spheres of the actions of public authority it remains the only means. In such cases force, being necessary, is thereby legal. In other cases even "moral influence" can be not only harmful but even criminal." It is possible to create a superliberal law that permits everyone and everything (and this will make the advocates of "human rights" happy, only why then would this law be necessary?), and it is possible to regiment everything so much that not only sects and foreign religious organizations would be eliminated but even Old Believers and many Orthodox would not have a place in our country. However it is necessary to remember that the meaning of Orthodoxy consists in placing the will of God and the law of God above human will and law however supreme it may be, even the tsar's, if it, the tsar's law or the tsar's will, contradicts the will and laws of God. In other words in a state that is secularized and separated from the church and faith the church inevitably will be in a situation to one degree or another of persecution by the state and will always find itself in conflict with the latter because both the church and the state declare the primacy of their laws over all others. And only when the church and state are in a condition of genuine symphony with each other, that is all state laws are verified by correspondence with the church's moral principles, then only principled atheists and criminals will be dissatisfied with the state's laws about religion as well as everything else. As the Apostle Peter said: "It is necessary to obey God rather than man" (Acts 5.29). The church acts on this premise and all lawmakers and executives must take this into account in order to achieve peace in society and in their soul. Priest Aleksii Ostaev. Rector of the church of the Dormition, in Shchelkovo, Kimr district of Tver region.