EXPERTS DIFFER IN OPINION ABOUT LEGISLATIVE CONTROL OF PREACHERS
RIA Novosti, 17 February 2016
A draft law defining in federal legislation the concept of missionary activity has evoked a mixed reaction among representatives of religious organizations and experts questioned by RIA Novosti. Some see in it a long-needed measure; to the contrary, others declare it to be in contradiction with the constitution of the Russian federation.
The authors of the draft law introduced this week into the State Duma—the Arkhangelsk provincial assembly of deputies—want to supplement the existing law "On freedom of conscience and religious associations" with an article entitled "Missionary activity." The initiators explain that in its current form the legislation does not adequately regulate the legal relations connected with the procedure for conducting missionary activity and it lacks in particular control of the activity of "missionaries, including those who have come from abroad and are preaching on Russian territory."
"I remind you that Russia is a secular state, where all religious organizations have equal status. Their activity is regulated by the law 'On freedom of conscience,' into which it is proposed to introduce changes. I suppose that there already now is a negative conclusion by the government," Yaroslav Nilov, a deputy of the LDPR fraction and head of the duma's Committee on Affairs of Public Associations and Religious Organizations, told RIA Novosti. He said that this may be because when it has successfully gone through state registration a religious organization has the right "to implement the goals of its charter, which are guaranteed by the constitution." He said that such goals include the dissemination of the faith, conduct of educational events, implementation of canons, conduct of ceremonies, and "engagement in such activity as may be called missionary activity."
Therefore, the deputy suggests, the government has considered that to prescribe in addition the concept of "missionary activity" in the law is "excessive."
The news agency's interlocutor assured that the standing committee "has an obligation to discuss and to determine future prospects" of the legislative initiative. He also noted that a number of legislative assemblies have adopted similar regional laws.
Position of Religious Organizations
The Russian Orthodox Church has declared that it does not support the initiative of the Arkhangelsk deputies. The director of the Legal Service of the Moscow patriarchate, Hegumena Kseniia Chernega, reported that a similar draft law was prepared by the cabinet of ministers several years ago. The initiative for regulating missionary activity—which is first of all illegal—belonged, she said, not to the church but to the Ministry of Justice.
"We rejected this idea since there were many subjective concepts," Chernega stated, explaining that at the time there was talk, for example, about problems in determining the affiliation of a person with one or another confession or who is a representative of a religious organization. "We are talking, in such a case, about the persons who act with authorization or who are leaders of religious organizations, clergy," the director of the Legal Service of MP explains.
Chernega thinks that the constituent elements of the country [subjects] cannot be given the right to regulate missionary activity. This violates the constitution and "may seriously infringe the rights of citizens."
The first vice-chairman of the Ecclesiastical Board of Muslims of Russia, Damir Mukhetdinov, told RIA Novosti the performance of missionary activity is nothing other than "the obligation of the true Muslim." He emphasized that this is "a very difficult topic," since, on one hand, one is talking about an attempt to combat preaching activity of "destructive sects and movements," and, on the other hand, this deals with questions of doctrine that require a definite point of view of theologians and religious leaders.
"In such a case, we will have to change the religious imperatives themselves since after all the charters of the ecclesiastical boards of Muslims say that their purpose is to spread their religion, that is, to engage in missionary activity," Mukhetdinov thinks. In his view, legislative limits on missionary activity "will not be accepted by believing people," since they will take away from them one of the primary dogmatic functions: "to bear the word of God."
Opinion of Experts
In his turn, the senior scientific associate of the Institute of State and Law of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Leonid Siukiyainen, suggests that legislative regulating of the activity of missionaries "is possible in principle." "In the past 20 years there have been many situations which evoked the desire and necessity of adopting such legislative acts. They have been adopted in a number of constituent elements of the Russian federation. We know the situation that troubles the Russian Orthodox Church and we know many sensitive issues that are connected with Muslim religious organizations. Therefore I think that it may make sense to regulate this," the legal expert said. At the same time, he emphasized that the regulation should be accomplished without violation of provisions of the chief law of the country and not contradict relevant European documents on this topic that Russia also has signed.
The necessity of adopting a law on the federal level was previously stated by the president of the Russian Association of Centers for the Study of Religions and Sects, Alexander Dvorkin. The religious studies expert explained that such a measure would be aimed, in the first place, not at sectarians but at organizations in whose name they are conducting their mission. He said that imprisonment of individual members of sects is "an extremely undesirable development of things," since sects "dream that their members would receive real prison terms," so that then they can "talk about persecution of religion in Russia." (tr. by PDS, posted 17 February 2016)
TEXT OF AMENDMENT OF RELIGION LAW
Introduced by Arkhangelsk provincial Assembly of Deputies
On introducing changes into federal law "On freedom of conscience and religious associations"
To introduce into chapter II of the federal law of 26 September 1997 "On freedom of conscience and religious associations" a change, adding to it article 5.1 of the following contents:
Article 5.1 Missionary activity
1. Missionary activity means informational and organizational activity of representatives of religious associations, and also of persons distributing religious literature and other items of religious significance, produced by religious associations, directly or indirectly intended for the dissemination of their teaching and religious practice on the territory of the Russian federation among persons of a different faith and/or nonbelievers.
2. A missionary is a person who conducts missionary activity on the territory of the Russian federation.
3. Informational missionary activity is activity of missionaries aimed at announcing, popularizing, and disseminating any religious views, notions, and religious practice by oral, printed, electronic, and other means.
4. Organizational missionary activity is activity of missionaries aimed at the creation of organized religious structures (associations), training of specialists, organizing and conducting religious events, and creation of other conditions for accomplishment of missionary activity.
5. Religious associations have the right to conduct missionary activity.
The procedure for conducting missionary activity by a religious association on the territory of a subject [constituent element] of the Russian federation is established by legislation of a subject of the Russian federation.
The present federal law becomes effective from the day of its official publication.
President of the Russian federation
(tr. by PDS, posted 17 February 2016)
Russian original posted on official site of State Duma, 15 February 2016
RUSSIAN GOVERNMENT EVALUATES DRAFT NEGATIVELY
Pravitelstvo Rossiiskoi Federatsii, 5 February 2016
on draft of federal law “On introducing changes into federal law ‘On freedom of conscience and religious associations,’ introduced into the State Duma by the Arkhangelsk provincial Assembly of Deputies
In accordance with part 3 of article 104 of the constitution of the Russian federation, the government of the Russian federation reviewed the draft of the federal law, taking into account the financial and economic basis presented.
The draft law proposes to establish the concept of missionary activity as informational and organizational activity of religious associations, conducted with the aim of disseminating their teaching and religious practice on the territory of the Russian federation among persons of a different faith and nonbelievers. It is also proposed that the procedure of performing such activity by a religious association on the territory of a subject of the Russian federation is determined by legislation of the subject of the Russian federation.
In accordance with article 28 of the constitution of the Russian federation, each person is guaranteed freedom of conscience and freedom of religious confession, including the right to profess individually or jointly with others any religion or not to profess any, and to choose freely and hold to and disseminate religious and other convictions and to act in accordance with them.
According to article 3 of the federal law “On freedom of conscience and religious associations,” freedom of conscience and freedom of religious confession, including the right to choose freely and change, hold to, and disseminate religious and other convictions and to act in accordance with them, including creating religious associations, are guaranteed in the Russian federation. The right of a person and citizen to freedom of conscience and freedom of religious confession may be limited by federal law only to the extent that is necessary for purposes of protecting the foundations of the constitutional system, morality, health, rights and legal interests of person and citizen, and ensuring the defense of the country and security of the state.
In accordance with article 6 of the federal law “On freedom of conscience and religious associations,” religious associations are formed for purposes of joint confession and dissemination of the faith.
In this way, the legislation of the Russian federation regulates the issue of the activity of religious associations for purposes of disseminating the faith to a sufficient extent.
In addition, the provision of the draft law granting the right to subjects of the Russian federation to determine legislatively the procedure for conducting missionary activity by religious associations is not consistent with article 71 of the constitution of the Russian federation, in accordance with which regulating and protecting the rights and freedoms of person and citizen is within the competence of the Russian federation, which ensures the function of the principle of the equality of citizens throughout the territory of the Russian federation.
On the basis of the foregoing, the government of the Russian federation does not support the draft law that has been presented.
(tr. by PDS, posted
17 February 2016)
ON THE ROAD TO BANNING FAITH?
ReligioPolis, 17 February 2016
The Assembly of Deputies from Arkhangelsk has offered to the State Duma a draft law "On the concept of missionary activity." The source of this strange legislative initiative may be supposed to be last year's wish by the RPTsMP to apply the concept of "foreign agent" to religious organizations.
The suggestion of the Arkhangelsk deputies consists in the necessity of a definition of the concept of "missionary activity" and the granting to constituent elements of the federation the right to establish a procedure for conduct of missionary activity by a religious association, RIA Novosti reports.
According to an explanatory note accompanying the draft, "at the present time there is a lack of a mechanism for control of the activity of missionaries, including those having come from abroad, preaching on the territory of Russia." Therefore, in the opinion of the lawmakers from Arkhangelsk, "protection of citizens of the RF and of religious associations from the actions of persons who are conducting missionary activity, preaching religious views in the name of religious associations while not being authorized by religious associations for said activity is now a priority for agencies of state authority and for representatives of the Russian Orthodox Church and other traditional confessions of the country." The deputies cite the example, apparently, of legislation of Belgorod province, in which there are signs on unconstitutionality, thinking that "adoption of the draft law will permit regulating the activity of religious associations that are conducting missionary activity on the territory of the RF and also will facilitate the protection of the constitutional rights of citizens of the country."
Of course, few people today can be surprised by the already familiar mixture of illiteracy and clerical involvement of a group of "people's deputies." But nevertheless deputies taking up issues connected with religion should know that the concept and the term signifying it of "missionary activity" has long existed in academic religious studies and stands for a quite definite collection of indicators. As an inseparable property of religious communities and people, missionary activity also is guaranteed to religious organizations by pertinent articles of the constitution of the RF and the federal law "On freedom of conscience and religious associations."
The chief indication of the stupidity of the very thought of restricting (and it is this that the draft law is aimed at) of rights of citizens and people on the whole for free confession of one's faith (which also involves missionary activity essentially) appears in the attempt to gradate various religious confessions according to the views of the deputies themselves, or of the clerical lobby supporting the restriction of religious liberty in the Russian federation.
In all likelihood, the appearance of this idea might have been conditioned not by legal but by political and ideological causes, which are dictated by the general trend toward isolation and conflict provoked by attempts to justify unqualified administration in the country. One of the catalysts of the process of introducing into legislation inappropriate rules for the sake of momentary relief of artificially created problems could obviously be the initiative proposed by the RPTsMP in August 2015.
The initiative for introducing the concept of "foreign agent" for religious organizations at that time was voiced during a meeting of the deputy chairman of the synod's evangelism department, Hegumen Serapion, with deputies of the State Duma. Citing the rule that was introduced in 2012 into Russian legislation requiring political non-commercial organizations that are financed from abroad to be registered as foreign agents, the monastic cleric suggested in this vein "to examine the issue with respect to religious organizations also." At the same time, the deputies were not confused by the contradiction between the "evangelism department" he represented, which is intended profess Orthodoxy, and functions not characteristic of such a mission.
It is appropriate to specify that the event at which the church bureaucrat made this declaration was a "round table" in the State Duma on the topic "Sects and destructive cults as challenges to the national security of Russia." And at the same time to recall that the mythology about the "danger" that is represented for Russia by the religious mission that is fulfilled legally by religious organizations that are registered by the Russian Ministry of Justice is carefully inculcated by clerical "missionaries" in the process of infringing the rights of and persecuting Russian Orthodox outside the jurisdiction of the RPTs, protestants, Jehovah's Witnesses, Mormons, adherents of Hinduism, proponents of the revival of traditional paganism, and the rest. (tr. by PDS, posted 24 February 2016)
Number of Russian provinces regulating evangelism by foreigners to grow
October 22, 2015
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