The Moscow corps of the Salvation Army might be a military organization and a threat to national security—so said a Moscow city court, agreeing with a district court. That reasoning led the city court on November 28 to uphold the lower court's rejection of the organization's application to be registered as a religious organization.

No evidence was offered to support the claim that the Salvation Army is a military threat, and the city court did not request any evidence from the district court.

However, the federal Committee of Religious Expertise recommended unanimously on December 26 to approve the Salvation Army's application for federal registration as a centralized religious organization. The Religious Expertise Committee makes recommendations to the Ministry of Justice, which must respond by early March.

Col. Kenneth Baillie, the officer commanding Salvation Army Russia/CIS, says the Salvation Army maintains positive relations at the federal level, and he expects no problems with gaining the federal registration. Then the Salvation Army's Moscow corps can go back to the city to appeal the court decision, using the precedent of the federal charter.

The Moscow Salvation Army is caught up in the controversial 1997 religion law, which required all religious groups in Russia to reregister by December 31, 1999. (Russian President Vladimir Putin decided in March 2000 to extend the reregistration deadline by a year.)

The Moscow court decision appeared to be arbitrary, Baillie says, and he doesn't know why the Salvation Army was singled out. The Salvation Army has been properly registered in Moscow since 1992.

The city court decision offered the Salvation Army an option of opening a Moscow "representative office" of its London headquarters. ...

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March 5, 2001

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