In July and August  Parliament adopted amendments to the law on the freedom of religion and conscience. The amendments aimed to restrict the activity mainly of Protestant religious groups. Those who drafted the law started their work quietly at the end of last year so no one knew the work they were doing. Few Protestant representatives were invited to help write the draft, so the law expressed only the interests of the Orthodox Church.
The Minister of Justice held up the registration of Protestants at this time and the Orthodox Church received favorable status. Article 10 of the existing law on the freedom of religion states that all religions are equal. But in the rewrite, that part disappeared. In the final draft adopted by the Parliament at the end of August, missionary activity of foreign groups was strictly prohibited.
Many religious groups and organizations worked against passage of the law. Fr. Gleb Yakunin did much to see that the law was vetoed and vetoed [voted against] it himself. (He was the only Parliamentarian who did veto [vote against] it.) The Law was overwhelmingly passed by Parliament. President Yeltsin vetoed the Law when it came to him. He made some new amendments to it, and then dismissed Parliament itself. Now foreign religious groups have no restrictions.
Freedom of conscience is the mother of all freedoms. According to the present Russian Constitution, you can express your faith, but there is always the possibility of having religious freedoms restricted in this country.
Anatoly Pchelintsev, formerly a participant in the Constitutional Council for the Russian Parliament, is a founding member of the Christian Legal Center and director of the CLC Institute for Religious Law.
Written permission is required for reprinting or electronic distribution of any portion of the East-West Church & Ministry Report.
© 1993 East-West Church and Ministry Report