Russian parliament will consider changes in religion law tomorrow


Is criticism of amendments to law on religious organizations fair?

Nezavisimaia Gazeta, 20 September 2020


On 22 September, the State Duma will consider on first reading amendments to the law "On freedom of conscience and religious association," submitted by the government. The document has received contradictory reviews already in the stage of discussion. Some in the State Duma consider that the new rules will permit shielding citizens from extremism and improve the effectiveness of monitoring religious life. But there also is criticism. There are many comments on the requirement for persons who receive religious education abroad to undergo recertification in domestic educational institutions. The rule applies not only to teachers, but also to those who "conduct religious activity." That is, for ministry in churches, mosques, datsans, and synagogues, a Russian certificate is required.


Andrei Klishas turned his attention to the problems that this rule creates: "It should be noted that a number of religions and religious denominations existing in Russia, including ones belonging to traditional religions, do not have religious educational organizations." The senator pointed to Kalmykia, where there are no Buddhist educational institutions. The vice-chairman of the Ecclesiastical Board of Muslims of the R.F., Damir Mukhutdinov, cited the example of the Bolgar Islamic Academy, which was conceived as the largest religious educational center of Islam in Russia, but still has not attained that level that would allow it to compete with foreign Islamic higher educational institutions. In Bolgar (Tatarstan), invited specialists teach and Mukhutdinov thinks it absurd that venerable foreign lecturers will sit at their desks next to their own students.


A similar opinion was expressed by representatives of almost all religious denominations, except for the Moscow patriarchate. Perhaps only in the RPTs and partially among Catholics are there in the country educational institutions that train clergy for ministry at a sufficient level. When the law is adopted, many communities will find themselves facing the prospect of losing their leaders. Practically all of them received education abroad that establishes their status. Many of them were involved in the founding of seminaries, madrassas, a Buddhist university (the only one in the country) and yeshivas that are functioning in the country.


However, one can also understand the government's not wishing for religions in Russia to exist as "appendages" of foreign centers. The contents and form of study in foreign religious schools sometimes is so different from Russian notions about education that it is impossible to permit the recognition of these practices in the R.F. Besides concern about the importing of extremism, officials justify their initiatives as the attempt to ensure a full-scale spiritual life within Russia. Sometimes this is simply impossible because there are too few devotees of one confession or another. But in other cases, the state has the right to ask religious organizations why, in circumstances of various privileges in three decades the communities have still not been able to ensure the necessary level of religious schools and to train new generations of "well established" ministers of God. Some of these organizations and foundations have been given a lot of material assistance by the state. How much can the current deficiencies be justified as consequences of the persecutions in the U.S.S.R.?


Improvement of the legislation in this area has been going on for many years, and more innovations only engender additional contradictions. Perhaps the principles of the cooperation of the state and religions should be reconsidered. Privileges and benefits should be clearly linked with the accounting by organization of the results of assistance. If believers need genuine freedom from the tutelage of bureaucrats, then it can be achieved only by grassroots initiatives. In the ideal, the state should have only one function in the regulating of religious life: combating extremism. And citizens themselves will do an excellent job of adapting to realities. If they cannot live without faith, then they will cease expecting religious knowledge to be presented to them on a silver platter by emissaries from abroad. (tr. by PDS, posted 21 September 2020)
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