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Draft law on religion examined

by Pavel Korobov
Kommersant-Daily, 6 February 2002

Deputy Chuev developed law on freedom of conscience.

Yesterday in the State Duma the vice chairman of the Committee on Affairs of Public Associations and Religious Organizations, Alexander Chuev, presented to reporters his draft law "On traditional religious organizations in the Russian federation." In the event of its adoption, the Law of God will begin being studied in schools, state television channels will show religious broadcasts at no cost, and traditional churches will not pay taxes.

According to Alexander Chuev, the new draft law is a development of the current law "On freedom of conscience and religious organizations." [sic] Mr. Chuev's draft establishes four kinds of traditional religious organizations. First is the status of a traditional religious organization of the Russian federation which can be received by a church that has operated on the territory of the Russian federation no fewer than 50 years and unites no fewer than one million believers. Second, a church to be called a "traditional religious organization of separate peoples of the Russian federation" must have operated no less than 50 years and have no fewer than 100,000 adherents. Third, a "historic traditional religious organization" should have operated on the territory of the Russian federation no less than 80 years, but the number of its believers is not mentioned in the law. Fourth, the status of representation of a foreign traditional religious organization is received by churches that are recognized in their own states as an integral part of the historic, spiritual, and cultural heritage. This condition of being an integral part must be confirmed by affidavit from the embassy of the corresponding country.

The status will be given to religious organizations by a federal Commission for Support of Traditional Confessions. In the vision of the drafters, it will comprise five persons named by the State Duma, another five persons nominated by the Federation Council, and ten persons named by the president of Russia.

Deputy Chuev thinks that the new law should give the opportunity of including in the school curricula the study of the Law of God in the version of representatives of traditional religions. Besides this, the draft law provides for giving free air time on state television and radio stations and tax privileges. For example, traditional churches and their noncommercial enterprises will not pay tax on income nor the value added tax.

The new law also provides for concluding agreements between the state and traditional religious organizations according to which the church will engage in the struggle against homelessness and in care for the elderly and invalids. The draft law provides for the return of property of traditional religious organizations that was confiscated from them without a court decision.

The drafters did not neglect members of the Commission on Support of Traditional Confessions. With regard to their salary and social and medical security these commissioners will be equal to state employees of category "A," for example federal ministers. According to Alexander Chuev, President Putin supported the law, although orally. (tr. by PDS, posted 7 February 2002)

by Svetlana Popova
Izvestiia, 6 February 2002

Yesterday State Duma Deputy Alexander Chuev announced the birth of a new draft law "On traditional religious organizations in RF." This is another small gesture in the direction of religious confessions. Describing the draft of the controversial law earlier, Chuev often has supported its significance with references to the opinion of the president. After all, Putin liked the idea of such a law, so what about you?

The subject of the relations between religion and the state has become more than urgent. Commissions for working out the religious "tie" have now been created within the government and the procuracy general.  Within the former an alternative to the existing law "On freedom of conscience and religious confessions" [sic] has been worked out, and in the latter a legislative "barrier" to religious extremism has been devised. This is the way relations of the secular state and various religions existing on its territory are supposed to develop; the state is again concerned with this matter apart from its own will. Programmatic documents prescribing these relations have already been written and adopted by the Russian Orthodox and Muslim confessions, each from its own view point.

Chuev's writer's draft proposes the creation of a second filter for religious organizations and associations beyond the Ministry of Justice. Those that pass through it should acquire the status of "traditional religions" and privileges that accord with it. The preliminary list of "traditional religions according to Chuev" includes five denominations: Christianity, Orthodoxy (?), Judaism, Islam, Buddhism.

"Equality of basic rights prescribed by law," Archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin told Izvestiia, "does not mean that the state cannot provide great help to those it thinks need it. For example, it is difficult to imagine that 'Spartacus' would be helped more than 'Dynamo.'"

In order to get on the list of "traditional religions" it is necessary to submit to the commission created especially for this (and it is planned to have standing in the presidency) an application and documents attesting that a religion has existed on this territory no less than fifty years and its pastors have no less than a million parishioners or 100,00, as Chuev puts it "for separate peoples."  As the draft says, a religion can be traditional in various respects; Russian (Orthodoxy), separate peoples (for example, Buddhism), or historic (for example, Old Believers).

The draft also provides for representation in Russia of a foreign traditional religious organization. For foreigners, in order to prove their traditional status it will be sufficient to present an affidavit from the embassy, while the others will need archival photocopies and some kind of proof of numbers (for example, baptismal records). But the main thing is that the members of the commission will have to determine the third point of "admission" into the ranks of traditional religions: whether the religion in question is considered a part of the historic, spiritual, and cultural heritage of Russia.

Along with the status, the religions that pass through the filter will receive patronage of the state and access to substantial parts of its machinery, namely education and the mass media: the right to teaching the fundamentals of its faith in state schools as well, the right to publications and air time paid for by the government, and tax privileges in the commercial sphere of the activity of religious organizations. In Chuev's opinion, this will not lead to a restriction but an expansion of the possibilities of cooperation between religion and the state.

"And that this is not for all, is okay. Once, for example, Christians were killed in Rome, and in our country the young religions will still receive fewer privileges," Chuev explained. (tr. by PDS, posted  7 February 2002)

by Kirill Vasilenko
Vremia novostei, 6 February 2002

The state intends to limit the number of religious organizations with which it is prepared to cooperate or simply to conduct dialogue with. The status of "traditional religion" for the Russian Orthodox church was already prescribed in the final version of the law on "Freedom of conscience and religious associations." Now the deputies of the State Duma have decided to add to the list indigenous Russian and some other confessions, and at the same time to show clearly to representatives of other cults that their presence on the territory of our country is at the least undesirable. It is suggested that to decide which of the religious confessions are traditional for Russia there will be a new state agency. And yesterday the vice chairman of the State Duman committee on affairs of public associations and religious organizations, Alexander Chuev, presented to reporters a draft law on a federal Commission for the Support of Traditional Confessions.

The commission will comprise twenty persons. Five of them will be appointed by decision of the State Duma, another five by the Federation Council, and the rest by the president. According to the document, half of the seats of the presidential ten should be occupied by delegates from the largest religious associations of Russia. These are recognized as Orthodoxy, Christianity, Islam, Judaism, and Buddhism. As Mr. Chuev explained, Orthodoxy is set apart from Christianity "in order to accord it special status." The commission should meet periodically and decide whether there have appeared on the territory of Russia confessions that deserve to be included in the "caste" of the traditional. Russian lawmakers have declared several conditions under which believers can acquire for themselves the status of an indigenous religion. To be traditional at the federal level requires the existence of no less than a million believers and fifty years of ministry in Russia. Local cults of separate nationalities that have existed at least 50 years need to present only 100,000 adherents. For historic cults that have existed more than 80 years and are recognized as religious associations that are an integral part of the historic, spiritual, and cultural heritage of Russia there is no specific number of believers required. Besides this, so-called foreign traditional religious organizations will be recognized, but for this, let's say, Catholics, protestants, or Anglican churches will have to present to the commission affidavits confirming their "traditionality" in one or another country from the respective embassies.

Despite the above-mentioned requirements on the "competitors," the final decision on granting of status still remains with the members of the high commission. Newcomers will also acquire the right to membership in the commission. But they will be able to realize it, under the best conditions, only after six years, when the term of the previous members expires.  As Alexander Chuev explained to the "Vremia novostei" reporter, the law does not prescribe that agencies of the state should be governed by such criteria in nominating their members. The author of the draft law does not deny as well that the Russian Orthodox church will thereby get a "controlling share" in the commission. "This will be done so that there will be created for traditional religious associations new conditions and additional opportunity for cooperation with the state," Mr. Chuev explained. "There also is the opportunity to get free air time on the mass media and the right of including religious subjects in the curricula of educational institutions and exemption from income and value added taxes on products of enterprises intended for use in religious associations." (tr. by PDS, posted 7 February 2002)

Kommersant-Daily, 6 February 2002

The law "On freedom of conscience and religious associations" that was adopted in 1997 and amended in 2000 is much more liberal than the draft law proposed by deputy Chuev. In particular, the notion of priorities in relations of the state with religions are mentioned only in the introductory portion of the law: "The Federal Assembly of the Russian federation adopted the law on freedom of conscience and religious association based on the fact that the Russian federation is a secular state, acknowledging the special role of Orthodoxy in the history of Russia and in the establishment and development of its spirituality and culture, and respecting Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Judaism, and other religions that constitute an integral part of the historic heritage of the peoples of Russia. . . ." The law says nothing about what kinds of tax privileges the state may grant to a religious association: "The state regulates the grant to religious organizations of tax and other privileges, and provides financial, material, and other aid to religious organizations in the restoration, maintenance, and preservation of buildings and objects that are monuments of history and culture, as well as providing teaching of general education subjects in educational institutions created by religious organizations in accordance with legislation of the Russian federation on education." Only one point in the law contains a time restriction for registration of church organizations; "A centralized religious organizations, whose structures have operated on the territory of the Russian federation legally over the course of no less than fifteen years at the time of application of said religious organization to the registering agency for state registration has the right to use the word 'Russia,' 'Russian," and words derived therefrom in its name. . . ." The law does not provide for the creation of a separate agency for registering religious organizations: "State registration of religious organizations is conducted by the federal agency of justice and agencies of justice of the constituent elements of the Russian federation by a procedure establishing in accordance with civil legislation of the Russian federation and the present federal law. . . ." The law does not provide for special requirements for registration of representations of a foreign religious organization: "A foreign religious organization is an organization created within the border of the Russian federation in accordance with the legislation of a foreign state. . . ." (tr. by PDS, posted 7 February 2002)

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Draft of law on traditional religons presented

Mir religii, 6 February 2002

A draft of a federal law "On traditional religious organizations in the Russian federation" was made public on 5 February by Russian State Duma Deputy Alexander Chuev, of the "Edinstvo" fraction, "Blagovest-info" reports.

Chuev maintains that the idea of this draft was supported by Russian President Vladimir Putin during his meeting with the deputy on 12 December.

The law introduces new concepts:  traditional religious organization of the Russian federation, traditional religious organization of peoples of the Russian federation, historic traditional religious organization, and representation of a foreign traditional religious organization. Criteria for "traditionality," according to Alexander Chuev's draft, include the numerical size of the organization (no fewer than a million adherents for "traditional organizations of the Russian federation" and no fewer that 100,000 for "traditional organizations of separate peoples of Russia") and the length of existence (for "historic traditional" organizations, no less than 80 years), as well as recognition of the organization as an "integral part of the historical, spiritual, and cultural heritage of peoples of the corresponding state."

The status of a traditional religious organization will be conferred by a special commission for support of traditional confessions, originally comprising people belonging to the traditional confessions identified in the preamble to the law on freedom of conscience. Subsequently, the commission will include representatives of organizations that that commission recognizes as "traditional." Ten persons of this commission will be named by the president of the Russian federation.

Organizations that receive the status of traditional will receive extended opportunities in the area of education, activity of the mass media, and taxation. Thus, traditional organizations will not be subject to income tax and the production of the enterprises of these organizations will not be subject to value-added tax.

Besides this, organizations that receive the status of traditional will receive priority of rights in the sphere of cooperation with the state, in particular in the social sphere. Relations with the state will be governed by special agreements.

In his speech Alexander Chuev noted also that this law "corresponds beautifully with the secular character of the state," since the concept of secularity provides for the equality of religious organizations and atheist organizations.

The deputy reported also that his work on this draft had nothing to do with the activity of the governmental working group on improvement of the law "On freedom of conscience and religious associations," headed by Andrei Sebentsov. The draft probably will be brought out for State Duma review in March or April of this year. (tr. by PDS, posted 6 February 2002)

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Summary of current Jehovah's Witnesses trial

Jehovah's Witnesses in Russia, January 2002


In this report we provide a summary of the first two weeks of the re-trial where a Moscow prosecutor is trying to ban Jehovah’s Witnesses from practicing their religious beliefs. Also included is background information on the continuing problems Jehovah’s Witnesses are experiencing in Moscow.

After six years of criminal and civil proceedings, in February 2001 the Moscow prosecutor failed to ban and liquidate the community of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Moscow. Nevertheless, on 30 May 2001 the appellate Moscow City Court ordered a re-trial. Since this civil case in Moscow has the aim, not only to liquidate, but also to ban the religious community of Jehovah’s Witnesses, should the prosecution win, Jehovah’s Witnesses will be denied fundamental constitutional rights, including the right to hold religious gatherings (even in private homes) and the right to import religious literature. During both trials the prosecutor even expressed the hope that a ban in Moscow would set a precedent throughout Russia.

One of the consequences of this ongoing civil case in Moscow is that the Department of Justice in Moscow continues to refuse to register or reregister any community of Jehovah’s Witnesses under the 1997 religion law. There are currently three court applications to order the Department of Justice to register. Local judges in Moscow repeatedly postpone the hearing.

On 1 June 2001 the Moscow City Duma held a Round Table entitled "Destructive Cults in Moscow. Denominational Anonymity." organized by Duma deputy L.B. Stebenkova. The participants claimed that Jehovah’s Witnesses supposedly "operate in conditions of denominational anonymity, denying affiliation with any religion and presenting themselves as a secular organization." In fact, the Religious Community of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Moscow was registered on 30 December 1993 by the Moscow Justice Department as a religious organization, and it belongs to the centralized religious organization of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia. The community learned of the Round Table discussion from the media only after it had concluded.

Jehovah’s Witnesses have been present in Russia for more than a century. By 1946, in spite of persecution, more than 8,600 regularly attended their religious services in Russia. From 1949 to 1951, the Soviet government exiled more than 9,000 Witnesses to Siberia. Jehovah’s Witnesses received legal registration in Russia on 27 March 1991. The Ministry of Justice of the Russian Federation reregistered the "Administrative Center of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia" on 29 April 1999.

Under Russia’s 1997 law On Freedom of Conscience and Religious Associations Jehovah’s Witnesses have successfully registered 389 communities in 71 regions of Russia. The question we ask is, Why is Moscow allowed to act independently of the rest of the Russian Federation in its attempts to ban religious minorities?

Background to Moscow Trial

The Religious Community of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Moscow was registered by the Moscow Justice Department on 30 December 1993, and today it is made up of approximately 10,000 practising Jehovah’s Witnesses.

Since 1995 the Prosecutor’s Office of the Northern Administrative Circuit (NAC) of Moscow, acting on the persistent complaints of an anti-cult extremist group entitled The Committee for Salvation of Youth from Totalitarian Sects, has been pursuing a lengthy prosecution of the Religious Community in both criminal and civil proceedings. On page 9 of this document please find a chronological summary showing that investigatory and judicial bodies in Moscow on six separate occasions have established no evidence of any illegal acts on the part of the Community and its members.

The previous trial spanned two years, concluding on February 23, 2001. After 35 days in court, during which time 45 witnesses testified all charges filed by the Moscow Prosecutor’s Office against Jehovah’s Witnesses were dismissed by Judge Yelena Prokhorycheva because of a lack of evidence.

On 30 May 2001, however, the Judicial Chamber for Civil Disputes of the Moscow City Court under Presiding Judge L.B. Sherstnyakova annulled the above decision of the Golovinsky Court and sent the case back for another hearing. The Judicial Chamber also ordered that the lower court at trial appoint a repeat forensic expert study of the religious literature of Jehovah’s Witnesses.

On 17 August 2001 the Community filed a petition addressed to O.A. Yegorova, Chairman of the Moscow City Court, requesting a supervisory protest against the above ruling. The petition raises a serious violation of the fundamental right to a fair trial before an impartial tribunal. The grounds for this originate in another decision issued by Judge Sherstnyakova involving an adherent of the religion of Jehovah’s Witnesses, which was eventually appealed to the European Court of Human Rights in 1998. The Russian Supreme Court subsequently annulled Judge Sherstnyakova’s decision.

Over several years, the Community has undertaken numerous attempts to establish a constructive dialogue with the NAC Prosecutor’s Office in Moscow, but without results. The Community has also consistently exhausted other legal remedies within Russia, in particular, appeals to the Moscow City Prosecutor’s Office, the Office of the Prosecutor General, and the Ombudsman of the Russian Federation.

This protracted prosecution has serious adverse effects on the rights of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Moscow. They have been repeatedly denied reregistration. Applications to lower courts are delayed or dismissed on dubious technical grounds. Moscow officials and courts refer to the yet-to-be-decided Golovinsky trial.

An application is before both the Supreme Court in Russia and the European Court of Human Rights to review the appellate Moscow City Court's ordering of a re-trial.

Summary of re-trial covering the period 30 October ? 9 November 2001

The re-trial commenced on 30 October in the Golovinsky Intermunicipal District Court with Judge Vera Konstantinovna Dubinskaya presiding. Co-incidentally this date marked the tenth anniversary of the passing of a constitutional law in Russia that rehabilitated Jehovah’s Witnesses who were victims of religious oppression under Soviet rule.

The Prosecutor’s Office is again represented by Tatyana Kondratyeva and the Moscow Justice Department is represented by Yelena Fillipchuk. The defence lawyers are Galina Krylova, Artur Leontyev, and John Burns.

The Prosecutor is calling for a ban on the legal entity of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Moscow. Jehovah’s Witnesses are charged under Article 14 of the 1997 Federal Law On Freedom of Conscience and Religious Associations of (a) incitement to religious discord (undermining respect toward other religions and hostility toward them), (b) coercion to destroy the family, (c) infringements on the individual rights, and freedoms of citizens. During her opening statement of 5 November 2001, Kondratyeva also declared that Jehovah’s Witnesses are a threat to national security, referring to the National Security Doctrine amended by Russian President V.V. Putin in 2000.

The prosecution has spent much time examining the doctrine of Jehovah's Witnesses with regard to the charge that they "incite to religious discord." It took several days for Kondratyeva to present her application to the court, during which time she quoted numerous references from Jehovah’s Witnesses’ religious literature. She repeatedly expressed the view that facts are not required. She insisted that what is stated in the literature is sufficient evidence to support a ban. In response to a defence request to cite one example to support her argument she declared: "I am not talking about facts …but a world outlook."  Consequently, the trial has developed into a theological argument. The prosecutor severely criticised Jehovah’s Witnesses for " corrupting the sense of the Bible." She claimed that Jehovah’s Witnesses’ teachings erode the culture and traditions of Russia. Galina Krylova pointed out: "The law does not require compliance with such activities."  The prosecutor believes that the standard for religious truth is the Russian Orthodox Church. Yet, she was quick to admit that the Bible is difficult to understand, and that she herself was incompetent in explaining it. However, she said that her list of 15 witnesses included 5 experts who could answer religious questions. One is Alexander Dvorkin, whom Kondratyeva identified as a representative of the Russian Orthodox Church. In the 31 October 2001 issue of Commersant ? Den’gyhe is quoted as saying about Jehovah’s Witnesses: "The sect members have to spend 48 to 140 hours in preaching activity each month." This statement was repeated in court by Kondratyeva but refuted by Leontyev who quoted from a Witness publication to show that no hour requirement is mandatory.

Since the prosecutor is basing her arguments almost entirely on Jehovah’s Witnesses’ teachings the defence lawyers tried to combat them by recourse to the Bible and by drawing comparisons with religious literature produced by the Russian Orthodox Church. At first, Judge Dubinskaya understandably ruled that the court proceedings were not going to become bogged down in a religious debate. However, she later accepted defence arguments that this was necessary in view of Kondratyeva’s theological attacks. The Judge asked that all religious literature referred to in the case, and any other literature deemed appropriate, be made available for the court’s inspection. So, again the Bible itself is, in fact, on trial, thus indicating another lengthy legal battle.

Lawyer Leontyev presented numerous quotes from approved Russian Orthodox writings to demonstrate that the language and message therein bore striking similarities with the literature of Jehovah’s Witnesses. For example, the prosecutor argued that by teaching about the Bible subject of Armageddon Jehovah’s Witnesses instilled fear. However, Leontyev quoted from an Orthodox reference work that reminded Orthodox believers, "The world is approaching its end!" and now is not the time to "continue living a so-called normal life". Furthermore, believers are urged to adjust their thinking. Another Orthodox writing stated that in the event State law conflicts with God’s law, a Christian must obey God’s law. Kondratyeva’s response to these and similar quotes was either to question whether Alexei II had blessed the literature being quoted, or to say, Orthodox believers do not read this literature.

The prosecutor is claiming that criticism of the clergy and traditional church policy is the equivalent of extremist propaganda of religious hatred. By way of an example, she referred to a Keston News Service report quoted in the April 22, 2001 issue of Awake! that linked the Moscow Patriarchate to the KGB. Such criticism, however, has been part of the public debate for centuries and is nothing new to Russia. For example, Artur Leontyev drew the court’s attention to Russia’s literary giant Lev Nikolayevich Tolstoy, who described the Russian Orthodox Church of his time as a corrupt institution that had falsified true Christianity. According to the Church, Tolstoy was guilty of overthrowing "all the dogmas of the Orthodox Church and of the very essence of the Christian religion." (The Complete Works of Count Tolstoy, Volume 23, "Miscellaneous Letters and Essays," 1905) One can easily see the similarity between that accusation against the writings of Tolstoy and the prosecutor’s present accusation against the literature of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Consequently, if the reasoning of the prosecutor is accurate, then Tolstoy, if he were alive today, would be prosecuted by the State and his writings would be banned. Instead, the State honors him, raises statues for him, and promotes his writings. Clearly, his criticism is not considered as being unlawful, Leontyev explained to the court.

Kondratyeva frequently argues that Jehovah’s Witnesses are under psychological pressure to conform. To support this charge she claimed that pressure to donate money has created hardship for families. When challenged she admitted that she could not produce one example to support her argument. She merely retorted that such consequences must occur because of what is written in the literature. Leontyev contrasted the requirement to purchase Orthodox literature with the voluntary donation arrangement existing in the congregations of Jehovah’s Witnesses.

In an attempt to pre-empt a time consuming trial on theological issues defence lawyers presented a number of motions to halt the trial. Artur Leontyev argued that "under international law of double jeopardy it is not possible to be tried twice for the same offence." The basis for declaring this trial illegal is that the civil charges are the same as the criminal charges that have already been rejected after four criminal investigations, including a final determination there was no basis to the charges. John Burns argued, ‘in the eyes of the European Court of Human Rights this is a criminal case because it carries a severe penalty. Should the prosecution win, Jehovah’s Witnesses will be denied fundamental constitutional rights, including the right to hold religious gatherings and the right to import religious literature." He also said that the prosecutor was asking the court to ban what the European Court has already classified as a "known religion" He was referring to Kokkinakas v Greece, one of several landmark cases won by Jehovah’s Witnesses in the European Court of Human Rights.

An application is before both the Supreme Court in Russia and the European Court of Human Rights, challenging the appellate Moscow City Court's ordering of a re-trial. Judge Dubinskaya refused a motion to suspend the trial pending the outcome of these two court hearings.

Tatyana Kondratyeva again and again tried to evade defining what liquidation of the legal entity of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Moscow meant for individual believers. John Burns persistently questioned her on this point until she finally admitted that her objectives are a) to ensure that Jehovah’s Witnesses are legally unable to erect or lease a building in Moscow, and b) individual Witnesses are not permitted to distribute their literature in Moscow. She also stated that she hoped a victory for the prosecution in the Moscow trial would encourage the Russian Federation to review their registration of Jehovah’s Witnesses. This statement again revealed that her intention is for Moscow to set a precedent whereby Jehovah’s Witnesses will be banned throughout Russia.

Jehovah’s Witnesses in court were astonished to hear the prosecutor say that her application to ban the legal entity was a means to protect the rights and freedoms of all 10,000 Witnesses in Moscow. As a direct result of her declaration Jehovah’s Witnesses are organising a petition asking the Golovinsky Court and all responsible governmental agencies to reject the prosecutor’s false claim to protect their rights.

The case is set to resume on Tuesday, 12 February 2002.


The landmark decision handed down by the Golovinsky court on 23 February 2001 demonstrates that Russia is attempting to abide by its Constitution and international agreements.

However, the ordering of a re-trial shows there are forces in Moscow determined to use the 1997 Law On Freedom of Conscience and Religious Associations as a tool to try and restrict religious freedom. The Prosecutor’s Office, together with the Moscow City Court, may yet use its power and influence to delay the trial further and gain a victory in Moscow.

Jehovah’s Witnesses are prepared to take this case to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg after exhausting all remedies in Russia. Additionally, Jehovah’s Witnesses are concerned as to how a possible ban may affect them while European Court action is being fought.

On 15 March 2001 the Russian newspaper Kommersant quoted the first Russian judge of the European Court of Human Rights, Vladimir Tumanov, as being "severely critical" of the methods employed by the prosecutor’s office in trying to ban Jehovah’s Witnesses in Moscow.

He "warned the chairman of the Supreme Court of Russia that the Court in Strasbourg has ruled in favour of Jehovah’s Witnesses against other European countries in a number of cases."  If successful in Moscow, opposers of religious freedom will have destabilised the rights of religious minorities not only in Russia, but in countries of the former Soviet Union. Central Asian and Caucasian countries are following the trial closely. It is no co-incidence that similar trials have been initiated in Kazakhstan and Armenia. In view of the wide reaching implications for religious freedom riding on the outcome of this Moscow trial Jehovah’s Witness will not give up this legal battle.

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Orthodoxy for pluralistic society

Mir religii, 1 February 2002

The thesis of the real participation of the church in establishing civil society was advanced in his address to the Tenth International Christmas Educational Reading by Professor Andrei Zubov of the Russian Orthodox University, "Blagovest-info" reports.

Andrei Zubov delivered a report of the "Problem of authority: secular and sacred." In the speaker's opinion, the Orthodox church not only can but it must use the current situation for facilitating the formation of civil society in Russia. The professor is convinced that the situation in which Russia has been living since the beginning of perestroika is completely unique for the church:  never before has it had such a degree of freedom from secular authorities. In contrast to the "Constantinian epoch," when the church "needed the prince's sword for a time," today it is the state that needs the church as a moral support.

At the same time, Zubov continued, the church has every opportunity to maintain its freedom with respect to the state; the exception are those of its "separate representatives--bishops and priests," who by their own choice bow down to the powers of this world for the sake of satisfying their own specific interests. The professor thinks that the activity of such representatives of the church causes great harm to it since it places the church in a position of "client" in relation to the secular authorities.

The current situation in Russia, where the population is characterized by a profound interest in religion and Christianity in particular, provides the church a unique opportunity to make its own contribution to the establishment of civil society, Professor Zubov added. In doing so the work of constructing institutions of civil society should begin at the lower level, the level of the parish. The speaking thinks that this work can most effectively be achieved in three basic directions.

First, Andrei Zubov considers, parishes should play a most active role in elections for local government offices. Citing experiences from his travels about Russia, the speaker is convinced that today the population has practically lost all trust in local officials and it does not believe that they cannot be really worthy people capable of providing specific help to voters. In order to keep elections from being turned into "buying votes for two bottles of vodka," the professor continued, parishes should nominate honest, responsible people who when they enter local offices would be able to elevate the state's authority by their actions.

The second problem in whose resolution parishes would be able to play an important role, in Andrei Zubov's opinion, is the struggle with alcoholism and the third is "correction of names," to use the Confucian expression, that is, a consistent struggle for removal from the map of Russia names associated with the ideologues of bolshevik repressions.

We should fight not with "mythological Jewish masonry and world evil," but with the evil that is near us, Andrei Zubov said in the conclusion of his report, expressing confidence that ideals of a genuine civil society do not contradict Orthodoxy and should be incarnated in life. (tr. by PDS, posted 2 February 2002)

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Tax number debate threatens schism


Mir religii, 1 February 2001

The chairman of the department of apologetics of the St. Tikhon's Orthodox Theological Institute (PSTBI), Deacon Andrei Kuraev, described the birth of sects with the church in connection with refusal to accept a taxpayer identification number (INN) at a session of the Tenth International Christmas Educational Readings, "Blagovest-info" reports.

The speaker mentioned monastic deacon Avel Semenov, who claimed in his works that "if the church is drawn into a computer network through INN, it will forfeit grace and cease to be the church," and Fr Gennady Emelianov and his brochure "Do not toy with your salvation."

The lecturer introduced phrases that are characteristic of the new sectarians: "Clergy have gone over to the opposing camp;" "Those who accept INN are not worthy of prayer." In the "Irkutsk kazak" newspaper, in particular, the following expression was published:  "We believe that those who betray Christ will be killed on the streets with cleavers and saucepans."

New doctrines and new liturgies appear in any sect, Deacon Andrei Kuraev continued. Thus, a certain "oprichnik [tsar's guard] Kozlov" writes that "people will enter the kingdom of God by a single rejection of INN." The deacon reported also that there have been instances of denial of the sacrament of confession to people who have accepted INN (Pochaev lavra). Calls to extreme measures lead in the end to the "logic of escapism," Fr. Andrei Kuraev summed up. He said that schism arises where "some Christians condemn other Christians who do not agree with them." In his address Kuraev noted that all temptations in the church are easily recognized because "they are introduced by the left" (for example, ecumenism or the ideas of Kochetkov). The temptation associated with INN is hard to recognize because "it is being introduced by the right." (tr. by PDS, posted 2 February 2002)

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Should Orthodoxy be taught in public schools?

Mir religii, 1 February 2002

Russian State Duma Chairman Gennady Seleznev does not support the recent suggestions by Patriarch Alexis II of Moscow and all-Rus concerning the introduction of the subject of fundamentals of Orthodoxy into Russian schools as an obligatory class.

The duma speaker stated this Thursday evening to reporters in St. Petersbug, answering a question from "Interfax." Gennady Seleznev recalled that, as in the past, the church in Russia is separated from the state. "But in our country there are special Sunday schools that can work and are being developed vigorously," he added. At the same time Gennady Seleznev is convinced that "it is not necessary to introduce religious subjects into secular schools." Such actions, in the opinion of the duma chairman, can "cause quarrels among the existing confessions in Russia." (tr. by PDS, posted 2 February 2002)

 by Artem Mikhailov
Moskovskaia pravda, 30 January 2002

Patriarch Alexis II of Moscow and all-Rus called for the introduction of a required class in "Fundamentals of Orthodox culture" in secondary schools.

In the opinion of the head of the Russian Orthodox church, legislation permits the adoption of this change in the curriculum. Alexis II is confident that "the problematic situation in society that has developed at the present time could not fail to affect the schools and principally on the spiritual and ethical foundation of their existence." Thus the introduction into the required curriculum of the "Law of God" is simply necessary, and without it "Russia will not be reborn."

The RPTs is prepared to teach "Fundamentals of Orthodoxy" tomorrow. "Tens of thousands of teachers have already received the necessary skills in ecclesiastical schools," Alexis II explained.

There has been no reaction from the authorities yet to the patriarch's call. However, it is easy to guess that the Kremlin will ignore the RPTs initiative. That is because 25 percent of voters in Russia are Muslims and sincere Orthodox believers, according to surveys, constitute around ten percent. (tr. by PDS, posted 2 February 2002).

Patriarch Alexis II of Moscow and all-Rus called in his introductory address to the opening of the Tenth International Christmas Readings for expanding the experience of teaching "Fundamentals of Orthodox culture" to all state school in Russia. He said, "the legislation of our country permits the introduction of this subject within the parameters of the national-regional component of the basic curriculum or of its school component." The patriarch noted that tens of thousand of teachers would be needed for expanding the teaching of this subject, who have already been trained in the ecclesiastical schools and in the Russian Orthodox University, and recently in within the advanced theological education of secular undergraduate institutions.

"As in the past, our nation is suffering from moral and philosophical emptiness. Indifference to the spiritual and moral state of society today is truly criminal," the head of RPTs emphasized. (tr. by PDS, posted 2 February 2002)

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