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Russian Orthodox leaders, anxious about growing Protestant churches and the Vatican's plans to strengthen its Russian presence, are pressuring local and national officials to expand privileges for "traditional" religions.

According to Operation World estimates, both Protestants and Catholics in Russia are growing about 3 percent annually. Russian Orthodoxy shows few signs of any demographic growth.

New legislation that may come before the Duma, Russia's lower house of parliament, would expand special treatment of Orthodox leaders, including granting them free time on state television and better access to other state media. The Duma has responded to Orthodox pressure in the past. At the urging of Orthodox leaders, the Duma passed a national law in 1997 that restricted the basic freedoms of religious minorities.

Protestants, Catholics, and other non-Orthodox groups are persistently harassed throughout Russia.

For example, when Baptist Dmitry Mannikov moved late last year to the tiny Siberian settlement of Ugut to evangelize ethnic Khanty inhabitants, the local Russian Orthodox elder threatened to call in the FSB (successor to the KGB). The elder later distributed a leaflet, "Against the Sect." During February and March, local police repeatedly summoned Mannikov and his small band of converts for intense questioning.

"The Orthodox, unfortunately, are seeking state help in maintaining [Orthodoxy's] favored position in Russia," says Mark Elliott of the Institute for East-West Christian Studies at Samford University in Alabama. "The 1997 law on religion illustrates this."

Under existing law, a religious organization is placed on probation for 15 years if it was not registered before 1997, unable to prove 15 years of existence in the ...

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June 10, 2002

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