State Duma changes evangelism law before adoption


RIA Novosti, 24 June 2016


The version of the draft law on missionary activity adopted today, which was in the high profile package of antiterrorism laws, has undergone substantial changes, which permit speaking about its acceptability, the head of the legal service of the Moscow patriarchate, Abbess Kseniia Chernega, told RIA Novosti.


Today the State Duma adopted the high profile package of antiterrorism laws, which in particular introduced into the law "On freedom of conscience and religious associations" the concept of missionary activity. From now on, missionaries acting in the name of a religious group are required to have in their possession permission of a general meeting of that group granting them authorization. At the same time, foreigners who are missionaries have the right to work only in the name of a specific religious group that invited them. Violators are threatened with a fine of from 5 to 50 thousand rubles, and legal entities, of from 100 thousand to a million rubles. Before the adoption of the bill, representatives of the largest religious organizations in the Russian federation expressed concern that the changes impose restrictions on their activity also.


"We consider that this is a much better version of legal regulation of missionary activity. However we emphasize that if this law were to create obstacles for conducting missionary activity of religious organizations of the Russian Orthodox Church, then certainly we will initiate amendments. Although the current version is, in our view, fully acceptable," Chernega said.


She reported that "substantial changes" were introduced into the original version of the draft law, which, in her view, "improve its text." The point is that "the concept of missionary activity was completely changed." In the original version, it was defined as "dissemination of faith" among not only nonbelieving people but also believing people. In the adopted version, this concept was interpreted as "dissemination of information about faith but only among those citizens who are not participants, members, or adherents of a religious association." In addition, she said, the important point is that missionary activity, after the changes introduced into the text, has been separated from other forms of religious activity, for example, worship services.


In addition, she said, the adopted version expanded the range of persons who may preach without special documents. Originally this could be done "by members of the administrative body of a religious organization," but now it is "any cleric, director of a religious organization, and member of any collegial body, not just an administrative one." "If one takes the level of a parish of the Russian Orthodox Church, then the right to conduct missionary activity without a special document is possessed by members of parish councils and parish meetings. Other persons must have a document confirming their authorization. This document is issued by the director of a religious organization," the lawyer explained.


A prohibition on conducting missionary activity "in houses of worship, places of pilgrimage, in cemeteries and crematoria, and all other places designed for conducting worship services" was not included in the text of the bill adopted by the State Duma. There also was included "a substantial addition" that a religious organization will be held responsible for preaching activity by persons, in its name, only in the event that it is illegal. "In other words, now a religious association will be held accountable not for just any acts of missionaries but only for those that are especially dangerous and even may serve in essence as an occasion for holding the missionary criminally liable," Chernega said.


To the question whether the Russian church had been consulted about the amendments introduced into the draft law, she responded that "there was not widespread discussion." "The Russian Orthodox Church agreed with these changes," the chief lawyer of the Moscow patriarchate concluded. (tr. by PDS, posted 24 June 2016)

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