Another Russian province votes to hinder evangelism


SakhalinInfo, 21 January 2016


Probably few people like missionaries who with their pushy questions and preaching knock at an apartment or stop us on the streets.


And so deputies of the provincial duma decided to protect their fellow citizens from such religious folk and work out a draft law "On missionary activity on the territory of Sakhalin province."


Deputy Alexander Bolotnikov explained in his report that our population is not protected from the effects of a multitude of new religious movements and trends. In the province there already are 72 different religious organizations registered, including 34 organizations of Christians of Evangelical Faith, 15 of Christians of the Presbyterian Church, 6 of Seventh-Day Adventist Christians, 6 of Jehovah's Witnesses, 3 of Muslim religious organizations, 3 of Christians-Baptists, and one organization each of the St. James Roman Catholic Church, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, New Apostolic Church, Bahai Faith, the Rissyo Kosei-Kai Buddhist religious organization, and so forth.


The popularization of beliefs and active distribution of religious literature are conducted by followers of various religious associations, who are not really their members and are not authorized by them to do so. These persons deliberately distort the fundamentals of the belief system they are disseminating and they deceive persons of another faith, which in turns leads to violations of the rights of citizens to profess the religion of their choice. The followers insistently offer religious literature that does not have publication information, they go about apartments, and they stop people on the street. Their illegal activity often leads to the violation of rights and liberties of citizens and creates the preconditions for the appearance in the province of breeding grounds for interconfessional tension.


At the same time, federal legislation insufficiently regulates relations in the sphere of performance of missionary activity by religious associations. The very concept of "missionary activity of religious associations" does not exist and the consequence of this is that there are no sufficient legal grounds for exercising control over missionary activity of religious associations.


So Sakhalin deputies have decided to eliminate these legislative gaps.


In particular, to define that "by missionary activity is understood the informational and organizational activity of representatives of religious associations whose aim is the dissemination of their beliefs and religious practice on the territory of the province among persons of another faith and unbelievers." And this activity should be restricted. For example, a list of documents has been established, which must be submitted to an authorized agency of the executive authority of the province by missionaries coming into the province, and it is decreed that "representatives of foreign religious organizations may conduct missionary activity on the territory of the province only upon invitation of religious organizations that are registered on the territory of the province in accordance with the procedure established by law and within the context of events conducted by these organizations."


However the legal department of the duma issued a sharply negative conclusion regarding this draft law. Lawyers noted that in accordance with article 28 of the Russian constitution, every person in Russia is guaranteed freedom of conscience and freedom of religious confession, including the right to profess individually and jointly with others any religion or to confess none and to freely select, possess, and disseminate religious and other convictions and to act in accordance with them. It turns out that for both citizens of the country and foreign citizens the right to disseminate religious convictions is their constitutional right which may be limited only by federal law.


A dispute has arisen. The developers of the draft law appealed to the fact that similar laws already are in effect in a number of regions of the country. For the foundation of our draft law they took the one that has been adopted in Novgorod province. Missionaries tried to challenge the Novgorod law, but the Supreme Court left it in force.


"Nevertheless in our country there is nonprecedential law," the lawyers rejoin. "And thus other courts may even give a different interpretation of the law."


Nevertheless the deputies decided that citizens of Sakhalin need protection from harassment by missionaries and they voted unanimously in favor of the draft law on first reading. (tr. by PDS, posted 25 January 2016)

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