Recent legislation that limited religious practice in Russia may not be fully enforced because of unresolved constitutional issues. But some local Russian leaders, citing provisions in the new measure, have sought to inhibit minority religious groups.

Official guidelines sent throughout Russia recommend a soft approach in dealing with religious organizations. Some of the clauses of the official advisory stand in sharp contrast to the controversial law passed last fall (CT, Nov. 17, 1997, p. 66).

In the meantime, however, the new law provides a ready means for discrimination against minority religious groups, including most Christian groups that are not Russian Orthodox. According to World Churches Handbook, there are about 23 million Russian Orthodox believers among Russia's 147 million people. However, research by Anatoly Rudenko, head of the Russian Bible Society, projects that at best there are 3.3 million practicing Christians, including Orthodox, Catholics, and Protestants.

CONSTITUTIONAL CONFLICT: The temporary guidelines openly state that the new law contradicts the Russian Constitution by taking away citizens' rights. The new law requires annual re-enrollment of already registered religious entities that have existed in Russia fewer than 15 years. Specifying a time frame violates the federal constitution, which bans retroactive legislation. During the 15-year period, new religious groups operate with limited rights. The temporary guidelines suggest that for reregistration a religious group need only inform local authorities of its intent to continue. But they fail to protect underground churches, most of which have existed for more than 15 years but were never registered during the repressive Soviet era.

It is unclear ...

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