In a significant challenge to Russia's 1997 Religion Law, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled that Russian officials wrongfully denied legal status to an outpost of the Salvation Army. The October verdict levied a fine of 10,000 euros, payable to the evangelical church's Moscow office.
The Salvation Army initially registered with the state in 1992. After the restrictive Law on Freedom of Conscience and Religious Associations passed in 1997, however, Moscow's city government rejected the church's re-registration application. The government raised several minor objections to the application, all of which the ECHR deemed petty. Officials also accused the Salvation Army of being a "militarized organization."
In early 2002, the Salvation Army's Moscow office was forced to suspend its activities for some months, before being allowed to continue work while still unregistered.
"Russia remains extremely problematic from the point of view of freedom of religion," said Michael Bourdeaux, founder and president emeritus of the Keston Institute, Oxford, which monitors religious freedom in Communist and former Communist countries. "Basically, the 1997 legislation continues to be a disaster. … [It] publicly proclaims that Protestants and Catholics enjoy a lower level of rights than the Russian Orthodox Church."
The ECHR decided unanimously that the government overstepped its bounds when it attempted to determine whether the Salvation Army's "beliefs or the means used to express them were legitimate." Furthermore, the court criticized a key provision of the 1997 law that disallows foreign nationals from founding religious organizations.
Russia signed onto the European Convention on Human Rights in 1998 after joining the Council ...