Declaration of the Committee for Defense of Freedom of Conscience regarding the Russian State Duma's adoption of the draft of the law "On Freedom of Conscience and Religious Associations"

20-06-97

In the course of several months the State Duma, crudely violating the law it had adopted, did not confirm the commissioner for human rights. And this is not surprising. The overwhelming majority of the deputies demonstrated on 18 June its attitude toward human rights and freedoms by approving on second reading the draft of the law "On Freedom of conscience and religious associations."

The new law draft is actually directed toward the restoration of the soviet religious policy. Only today instead of the communist ideology there is an attempt to establish a clerical state ideology and, as a result, to discriminate against dissenting believers.

A whole series of the provisions of the new draft violate the Russian constitution starting with the violation of the principle of the equality before the law of all religious associations.

According to the draft oft he law (art. 8), organizations which were recognized fifty years ago (when religious questions were determined by L.G. Beria) are given the special status of "all-Russian organizations" by decision of the government. Despite the constitutionally established separation of church and state, organizations which have such a status receive the right to interfere in the activity of agencies of the state and to decide the fate of their religious competitors who have not yet received similar privileges.

On the other hand, religious associations that are called in the draft "groups,' who have existed on a "given territory" less than fifteen years are ineligible for registration and they are denied the rights of juridical person (art. 9) which the constitution guarantees (not only to associations of Russian citizens but also of foreigners). Such legal arbitrariness can victimize even orthodox, Protestant, Muslim, Jewish, and other associations, which were formed after the fall of the totalitarian regime.

Foreign citizens are subject to discrimination, who religious activity is permitted only within registered Russian organizations, despite the constitution.

Moreover, the law draft forbids missionary activity, permitting religious teaching and education only among "followers" of a given religion (art. 5 and 6), which contradicts the very principle of freedom of religious choice that is established by the University Declaration of the Human Rights.

The norms of international law also are violated by the prohibition included in the draft on "attracting" minors (younger than 14 years) into religious associations and teaching them religion without the consent of parents (art. 3). In practice this means that controlling agencies are required to provide written and properly attested parental (both) consent for the participation of children in worship services, Sunday schools, etc., even if this is done on the initiative of a grandmother, grandfather, or one of the parents.

The Committee on Defense of Freedom of Conscience expresses its confidence that the president of Russia, as guarantor of the constitution, cannot sign such a law.

President of the Committee, Gleb Yakunin

(tr. by PDS) Russian text