Defenders of religious freedom gained a small but significant victory in a court case challenging the '15-year' clause included Russia's country's controversial 1997 religion law.The clause limits the rights of religious organizations that fail to show proof of their existence in the local area for at least 15 years.Challenging the rule were the Christian Church of Glorification in the Khakasiia Republic and the Jehovah's Witnesses in Yaroslavl. Both had previously been denied reregistration by local authorities who cited the 15-year requirement.The court ruled that an organization already registered before the September 1997 adoption of the new law or as part of a centralized religious structure would not be bound by the 15-year requirement. The ruling leaves thousands of local independent groups—those founded after adoption of the law—restricted to worshiping in small private groups.By the time the cases were tried together in Russia's Constitutional Court last November, both organizations had already secured reregistration as part of centralized religious organizations.According to Anatoly Krasikov, president of the Russian chapter of the International Religious Liberty Association, there should not have been a case because the original reregistration problem no longer existed. But to reject the cases would have resulted in a scandal, he says. Krasikov called the Constitutional Court decision "not just legal, but political."

Two Steps Backward

Meanwhile, the court backed off from declaring the 15-year clause unconstitutional.The court's statement stressed: "The state has the right to provide for definite safeguards in order not to grant the status of a religious organization automatically, and not to permit the legalization ...

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