New religious regulations in Russia on hold?

By December 2, 2009

Russia (MNN) — Many opponents say while proposed amendments to the 1997 religion law in Russia are blatantly unconstitutional, Christians are asking people to pray that they are never introduced.

Forum 18 News reports that the amendments are highly unlikely to succeed. Key federal officials also appear unenthusiastic.

"I'll move to a village and become a beekeeper if they go through!" Moscow-based religious lawyer Anatoli Pchelintsev remarked to Forum 18 on 16 November. Seeing the proposals as "out of all proportion," he doubted they would reach even preliminary discussion stage in the Duma, or parliament, although he was unaware of their current status. "No one knows what's happening; there's some kind of under-the-carpet fight going on."

But a Baptist Union representative warns that the ministry's efforts to restrict mission are ongoing and increasingly in keeping with the general political climate.

The proposed amendments would require every religious community to register with the state, including its members. It would also require people to secure a permit to conduct any missionary activity.  And, it would restrict religious groups from working in public institutions like schools or orphanages.

Vice President of Russian Ministries Sergey Rakhuba says many religious and secular leaders are united. "Russian or national leaders call it a Draconian kind of amendment or change. It's totally out of all proportion. It's even worse than I remember it was under the former Soviet Union. "

Rakhuba says if you were walking down the street and a friend stopped and asked you about your faith, you could be in violation of this proposed amendment if you didn't have a permit to speak about "religion." "[The] Russian Ministry of Justice wants to control all religious activity — to register all believers — to monitor every single activity on behalf of all religious organizations."

Even though it is unconstitutional, many human rights groups believe that some in the Russian government will try to push this through. "It's done right before Christmas, when the western organizations–those who help with religious freedom, especially in the former Soviet Union–are preoccupied with the celebration of this wonderful holiday."

Christianity isn't necessarily under attack in Russia, says Rakhuba. "Extremism is on the rise. They want to control extremism by controlling religion. And under that extremism fear, this will basically control not only Islamists, but all churches and mission organizations."

Rakhuba is asking Christians to contact the Russian Embassy and your national representative to tell them of your opposition to the amendment. Ask them to oppose the proposed amendment to the 1997 Religion Law in Russia. Tell them you believe this would be a human rights violation and it needs be scrapped.

Meanwhile, continue to pray for Russian Ministries "Project Hope, the Great Gift Exchange" which is underway. They hope to deliver 15,000 gift boxes to needy children around the former Soviet Union–a program that would be prohibited under the proposed amendment.

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