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Russia: New Law Would Impact Churches\' Outreach

September 6, 2006

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin - No. 394 - Wed 06 Sep 2006

(By Anneta Vyssotskaia)

Religious organisations in Russia seem likely to be more restricted
soon in their normal activities, especially missionary work and
evangelism. In August this year the Ministry of Justice informed
registered religious bodies of a draft law \'On the amendments to
some federal laws aimed against illegal missionary activities\'. In
the opinion of the Slavic Law Centre (SLC) in Moscow this draft law
contravenes the Russian Constitution as well as international
treaties guaranteeing people the right to share their religious
views and act in accordance with them.

The proposed amendments to the law on the freedom of conscience and
religious groups prohibits ordinary believers from any form of
preaching without special permission supported by suitable
documents from their religious organisation. Moreover any
missionary must register with the local authorities with a whole
dossier of documents. Not only will workers found guilty of an
offence in their missionary activities be penalised but also their
society. Most surprisingly and unusually the law will prohibit any
missionary activities aimed at aiding and rehabilitating people in
needy circumstances. The authors of the draft law explain this
control is needed to prevent missionaries proselytising.

A prominent Christian lawyer and the editor-in-chief of \'Religion
and Law\', Anatolii Pchelintsev, says it is very unlikely this law
would stop religious bodies continuing such activities that are an
essential element of their religious beliefs. They continued
preaching even in the times of Soviet atheism. He thinks that if
this draft law is enacted it may lead to serious civil conflict.

The official lawyer of the Moscow Patriarchate of the Russian
Orthodox Church, Ksenia Chernega, although supporting the project
of the new law as a whole, sees many flaws in it that need
correction. For example, any religious preaching or acts done
outside church premises would now be treated as missionary
activities. Thus a priest even just visiting a sick person or
taking a burial would have to submit a whole file of documents to
the state authorities.

Analysing the draft law, the human rights watch SOVA-Centre in
Moscow states that, although it is obviously inspired by the
popular myth of \'totalitarian sects\' threatening society, it will
affect all religious organisations in Russia. Its director,
Aleksandr Verkhovskii, thinks the law is an attempt to restrict the
missionary activities of believers of any religion. Unregistered
religious groups would face particular difficulties in getting
permission for missionary activities - they will need to provide a
list of all their members in addition to a description of their
religious beliefs. The draft legislation is due to go to the
Russian parliament before the end of this year.

The Protestant churches in Russia are greatly concerned about the
way this new law would impact them. However, believers have
expressed their determination to continue sharing their faith
with others even if it may bring severe persecution - like the
Christian churches which suffered during the Soviet era.

PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY FOR:

* the draft amendments to the law on religion to be changed to not
oppress the Christian churches, and allowing all believers to
freely share their faith with others, including those in needy
circumstances, without being punished for it.

* the churches to be alert to the proposed changes in the law and
for the growth of solidarity and mutual support between Christian
churches in Russia.

* God to guide and strengthen the Christian lawyers in Russia in
protecting the rights of the believers and churches, and for the
growth of peace and religious tolerance in Russia.

* a positive change of attitude towards non-traditional young
Protestant churches often referred to as \'totalitarian sects\' by
Russian Orthodox church and state officials.

\'We gave you strict orders not to teach in this name,\' he said.
\'Yet you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and are
determined to make us guilty of this man\'s blood.\' Peter and the
other apostles replied: \'We must obey God rather than men!\' (Acts
5:28,29 NIV)

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SUMMARY TO USE IN BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE:
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NEW LAW IN RUSSIA WOULD IMPACT CHURCHES\' OUTREACH

Religious bodies in Russia seem likely to be more restricted soon
in their normal activities, especially missionary work and
evangelism. In August the Ministry of Justice informed registered
religious bodies of a draft law \'On the amendments to some federal
laws aimed against illegal missionary activities\'. The proposed law
contravenes the Russian Constitution as well as international
treaties guaranteeing people the right to share their religious
views and act in accordance with them. Even humanitarian work in
the name of Christ would be outlawed. The draft legislation is due
to go to the Russian parliament before the end of this year. If
enacted the law would especially threaten churches for whom
outreach and evangelism is basic in their activities. Please pray
that the advocacy of believers, lawyers and others will succeed in
getting the oppressive nature of the proposed law changed.

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RLP guest writer Anneta Vyssotskaia serves on the WEA Religious
Liberty Commission. Elizabeth Kendal, our regular researcher and
writer, is currently on other RLC assignments.

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The WEA Religious Liberty Commission sponsors this
RL Prayer List to help individuals and groups pray
specifically and regularly for religious liberty
issues, and in particular to uphold the Church
where it is suffering persecution.

RL Prayer is moderated by Ron Clough, a commissioner
of the WEA RLC and convenor of the Australian EA RLC