Russian parliament set to adopt delayed changes to religion law


by Anna Vasilieva, Pavel Korobov

Kommersant, 18 March 2021


The State Duma has yielded to religious organizations in a dispute about amendments to the law on freedom of conscience. This refers to a document that obliges clergy members who receive religious education abroad to undergo recertification at home. The draft law could have turned into a massive examination of all trainees, but now only beginning priests will be examined. Representatives of Judaism see in it a stimulus for the development of a theological system of education in universities while Buddhists and protestants think that it "ties the hands" of conscientious members of the clergy. Kommersant was told in the Russian Orthodox Church that the document suits them.


The State Duma Committee on the Development of Civil Society approved amendments to the law "On freedom of conscience and religious associations." The date of their consideration on second reading will be revealed next week.


We recall that the government introduced a document into the State Duma in July 2020. In an explanatory note the authors warned about the threat of "clergy members who received a religious education abroad and then disseminated a religious extremist ideology." One of the provisions proposed an obligatory certification and "supplemental professional education" for clergy who receive religious education abroad and for "personnel of religious organizations." Only after this could they commence "religious or educational activity on the territory of the Russian Federation."


The draft law was adopted on first reading in December, but it evoked serious criticism from a number of confessions. Deputies were forced to postpone the second reading. According to Kommersant's source in the apparatus of the State Duma, the decision to postpone was made by Speaker Viacheslav Volodin, because of the negative reaction to the draft law. Now it is said in the State Duma that the document has been fixed by taking into account the opinion of clergy members. Thus the reservation has appeared that only those who are acting for the first time in conducting worship services, religious rituals, and ceremonies, as well as missionary or educational activity, will be required to receive supplementary education and undergo recertification. The chairman of the pertinent committee of the State Duma, Sergei Gavrilov, points out that "foreign figures" will not have to receive documents concerning Russian education if they intend to deliver a lecture and depart.


Earlier, representatives of a number of confessions indicated to Kommersant that their clergy members simply are forced to get education abroad. The issue is that many religious higher educational institutions do not have a state license in the R.F. Now the amendments permit receiving supplemental professional education in federal institutions, religious or secular; the list is confirmed by the Ministry of Education and Science. After this, clergy will have to undergo certification "in the governing body of a Russian centralized religious organization."


"Lawmakers reached out to religious organizations and corrected the procedure for recertification in order to avoid, first, massive examination of all active clergy and, second, problems of certification of visiting teachers and missionaries," according to Roman Lunkin, the director of the Center for the Study of Problems of Religion and Society of the European institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences. "To examine all priests, pastors, or imams with foreign certification would really be absurd."


"We do not have any complaints," Hegumena Ksenia, the head of the legal department of the Moscow patriarchate of the R.P.Ts., said. The president of the Federation of Jewish Communities of Russia, Alexander Boroda, thinks that the draft law "acts not only as a preventive measure in the struggle with extremism," but also "aims to facilitate the development of systematic religious education in our country."


Other confessions do not share the joy of their colleagues. "The most important thing has been left in the bill—the expansion of the authority of the state aiming at the regulation and control of all spheres of religious life of associations and individual citizens," worries a member of the administration of the Russian Associated Union of Christians of Evangelical Faith (Pentecostals), Bishop Konstantin Bendas. "With such a legislative dynamic, soon the canons, internal regulations, and doctrine will not have any significance in comparison with the all-encompassing requirements of the law."


"It is gratifying that the State Duma listened to religious leaders and experts, and the draft law was reworked, thanks to which if it is adopted it will not affect active clergy members," the vice-chairman of the Council of Muftis of Russia, Rushan Abbiasov, said. However, in his opinion, the intent of this law is still unclear. "First, centralized religious organizations of traditional Russian religions exercise, and always have exercised, strict control over their cadres," the mufti stated. "Second, why is the bill aimed exclusively at religious educational institutions? After all, many Russian students study in foreign secular higher educational institutions and in countries with explicitly aggressive rhetoric and policies against Russia. And if one follows the logic of the authors of the draft law, then for all these students upon their return to the fatherland it is also necessary to conduct recertification within the specialty in Russian institutions."


"The point of these amendments is still unclear to us," says the administrator of the central temple of Kalmykia, the "Golden Abode of Buddha Shakiamuni," Sergei Kirisov. "All clergy of Kalmykia receive education in India. It turns out that upon their return home they will have to get supplementary education, which extends the time of their education. But we have a severe shortage of monks." In his opinion, extremists "will continue to propagate their ideas, while additional complications are being created for conscientious members of the clergy." (tr. by PDS, posted 19 March 2021)

Background articles:
Changes in religion law move forward
November 17, 2020
Russian parliament backs away from controversial change in religion law
October 15, 2020

Russian parliament delays consideration of controversial changes in religion law
September 26, 2020

Russia Religion News Current News Items

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