CONSTITUTIONAL COURT: CHURCH NEED NOT ADVERTISE ITS ACTIVITY AND MAY GET BY WITHOUT STREET SIGNS
by Mikhail Telekhov
RAPSI, 6 November 2020
The activity of a religious organization does not presuppose assuring free access for citizens to liturgical facilities that are located within residential buildings, and consequently it has no obligation to install external signs with its name. It is sufficient for there to be tablets with pertinent information inside the facilities. This is said by a new ruling of the Russian Constitutional Court [CCRF] that was published on its official website.
The relevant conclusions were drawn by the CCRF after consideration of an appeal of the Word of Life Church of Christians of Evangelical Faith (Pentecostals), located in the city of Dolgoprudny of Moscow oblast. It is a member of the structure of the centralized religious organization of the Word of Life Fellowship of Churches of Christians of Evangelical Faith (Pentecostals). They requested a verification of the constitutionality of part 3 of article 5.26 of the Code of Administrative Violations of Law of the Russian Federation and point 9 of article 8 of the federal law "On freedom of conscience and religious associations." The decision was based on earlier issued legal positions of the court.
Rituals without signs
The contested rules prescribe that conducting activity of a religious organization without an indication of its full official name shall entail the imposition of an administrative fine of 30,000 to 50,000 rubles.
The materials of the case show that at the time of a prosecutorial verification at the address of a private residential building, in which several rooms were provided to the Pentecostals for free use, there was no sign with an indication of its full official name on the outside of the building and at the entrance to the territory of the yard. All informational signs were located inside the residential building at the entrance of each room being used by the religious organization for conducting worship services. By a ruling of a magistrate court, which was left without change by courts of higher instances, the organization was fined 30,000 rubles. The courts indicated that the religious organization had not complied with the requirement to inform an unspecified circle of persons about its activity, and that placing such information only inside the building restricts the rights of citizens.
The Pentecostals then turned to the Russian Constitutional Court.
In the opinion of the CCRF, the requirement that a religious organization indicate its full official name cannot be regarded as excessive, inasmuch as it is intended to let citizens clearly know just what kind of religions organization—of which there is a diversity—they are dealing with.
"At the same time, the nature of the freedom of religious confession does not presuppose that religious organizations, in distinction from several other kinds of legal entities, must ensure free access to an unspecified circle of persons to the places where they conduct their activity. The religious organization itself may determine whether to draw new adherents into its respective religious confession and to act accordingly by means of widespread publicity of its activity or to act more selectively," the CCRF determination says.
The court indicated that informing an unspecified circle of persons directly at the site of the activity of a religious organization about its full official name cannot be regarded as its unconditional obligation, and that it is sufficient that information about such a name be placed inside the residential building at the entrance to a room being used by the church.
The contested rules were found to be consistent with the constitution of the R.F., inasmuch as they do not presuppose holding the religious organization administratively accountable for conducting its activity without a sign on the residential building, whose address is registered in the register of legal entities as that of the religious organization.
The law enforcement decisions applied to the appellant are subject to review. (tr. by PDS, posted 6 November 2020)
CONSTITUTIONAL COURT CLARIFIES REQUIREMENTS OF PROCEDURE FOR POSTING NAME OF RELIGIOUS ORGANIZATION
by Lawyer Sergei Chugunov
Religiia i Pravo, 6 November 2020
The Constitutional Court of the Russian Federation published Order No. 45-P of 3 November 2020 in the case concerning verification of the constitutionality of part 3 of article 5.26 of the Russian Code of Administrative Violations of Law and point 8 of article 8 of the federal law "On freedom of conscience and religious associations," in connection with an appeal by the religious organization Word of Life Church of Christians of Evangelical Faith (Pentecostals) of Dolgoprudny.
Earlier attorneys of the Slavic Legal Center filed in the interests of the church an appeal to the effect that the contested rules of the law in its entirety do not meet the requirements of definiteness, clarity, and nonambiguity of legal norms. Thus point 8 of article 8 of the federal law "On freedom of conscience and religious associations" establish that a religious organization is required to indicate its full name when conducting activity. At the same time, this rule is worded without sufficient clarity and precision, to wit, the rule does not specify in just what place a religious organization must place the information showing its full name. If a religious organization conducts its activity in one of many rooms in a building, must it indicate its full name only in the room being used or must the name be indicated at the entrance to the whole building?
The Russian Constitutional Court accepted the appeal for consideration, on the basis of the results of which it issued its ruling, without conducting an open session. Although the Russian Constitutional Court did not find that the contested rules are inconsistent with the constitution of the R.F., the legal constitutional meaning elucidated by the court will in practice permit the resolution of several problems connected with the implementation of the contested rules. The ruling makes the following clear:
First, informing an unspecified circle of persons directly at the site of the activity of a religious organization about its full official name cannot be regarded as its unconditional obligation.
Second, for a religious organization to fulfill its obligation of indicating its full official name while conducting its activity, it is sufficient to place the information about such a name inside the residential building at the entrance to the room it is using.
Thus, it is unlawful to require a religious
place, as obligatory procedure, tablets or signs with its full
name on gates or
on a fence at the entrance to the yard of a residential building.
The name can
be placed immediately at the room where the activity is being
Also, in practice there occur instances of holding administratively accountable religious organizations because of the lack of a tablet with the name on a building whose address has been recorded in the Uniform State Register of Legal Entities as the location of the organization, while the activity is not conducted there. The Constitutional Court indicated in its ruling that the use of a residential building by a religious organization as the site of its location purely for purposes of establishing or confirming the formal conditions of its legal existence as a legal entity, while its activity is conducted in another place, does not require that it post information about its full official name in the form of signs (tablets, stand, pointer) on such a building or at the entrance to the yard on which it stands, inasmuch as this information is contained in the register, which is open and generally accessible.
In its ruling, the Constitutional Court also indicated that if law enforcement decisions that were issued in the case of the religious organization Word of Life Church of Christians of Evangelical Faith (Pentecostals) of Dolgoprudny, which are based on part 3 of article 5.26 of the Code of Administrative Violations of Law of the Russian Federation and point 8 of article 8 of the federal law "On freedom of conscience and religious associations, were interpreted in a way that diverges from the legal constitutional sense elucidated by the Constitutional Court of the Russian Federation in this ruling, then they are subject to review by established procedure.
Legal decisions with respect to other religious organizations that were held administratively accountable in a similar situation also may be contested on the basis of the ruling adopted by the Constitutional Court. If you need help in restoring your violated rights, attorneys of the Slavic Legal Center are ready to help you. (tr. by PDS, posted 6 November 2020)
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