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. That status would prevent all "religious" work, such as conducting worship services, publicly preaching the gospel, and distributing Christian literature.

The Moscow Ministry of Justice first denied the registration in 1999 based on the 1997 law, which favors traditional Russian religions. The Salvation Army filed suit in a Moscow district court in September 1999. The court ruled in the city's favor last July.

The Salvation Army wanted to appeal to the Supreme Court, but no appeal could have been processed before the December 31 reregistration deadline. So far, court battles have depleted the Salvation Army ministry coffers of more than $20,000.

By law, the Moscow corps of the Salvation Army is still a legal entity (unless the city sues to "liquidate" the ministry, a year-long process). Thus it still has the right to conduct its ministries. But because of the registration denial, the Salvation Army has lost its local base of support and has been forced to vacate two Moscow buildings, and it now is struggling to find places from which to conduct its ministries.

Additionally, a group has ended its administration of a neighborhood Meals-on-Wheels program through which the Salvation Army fed three hot lunches a week to the elderly.

Related Elsewhere

See Christianity Today's earlier coverage, "Salvation Army Closed in Moscow | Moscow court decision turns city into a 'legal never-never land' for Christian charity" (Jan. 11, 2001).

Stetson University's history department has a fantastic Russia Religion News site that not only compiles, but translates news articles related to religion in Russia.

Visit the Salvation Army homepage, where contact information for the SA office in Moscow is available.

Previous Christianity Today stories about religious freedom in Russia include:

Will Putin Protect Religious Liberty? | Freedoms may be in danger in the new Russia. (July 26, 2000)

A Precarious Step Forward | Loosened rules in Russia may mean better times for religious freedom. (Feb. 3, 2000)

Russia's minority churches welcome liberal ruling on religion law | 1997 ruling against 'sects' upheld, but religious groups claim victory. (Dec. 30, 1999)

Stepping Back from Freedom | The new law restricting religion is part of Russia's struggle to redefine itself. (Nov. 17, 1997)

New Religion Law Fraught with Potential for Abuses | (Nov. 17, 1997)

Jehovah's Witness Verdict Stalled | (April 26, 1999 )

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