TO: V.V. Putin, President of the RF
CC: S.E. Naryshkin, Chairman of the RF State Duma
Y.Y. Chaika, RF Prosecutor General
S.V. Smirnov, Chief of Staff of the RF Civic Chamber
FROM: the faithful of the Moscow Church of Evangelical Christians-Baptists
Do not shed innocent blood… (Bible, Book of Jeremiah, 22:3)
Dear Mr. President,
The Draft Federal Law № 480736-6 “On the amendments to the Federal Law on the Freedom of Conscience and Religious Associations and on the voidance of the provisions of specific legislative acts of the Russian Federation” is presently under review in the RF State Duma.
The said draft law contains the following wording of p. 2 of Article 7 of the Federal Law on the Freedom of Conscience and Religious Associations:
“Citizens forming a religious group shall notify their local agency of the federal executive body in charge of state registration of religious organizations (hereinafter referred to as the “federal state registration agency”) in writing about the creation of such religious group and the commencement of its activities.
The notification on the creation of a religious group and the commencement of its activities shall specify the date of its creation, its religious affiliation, places of worship services, other rituals and ceremonies, as well as names, middle names and surnames, places of residence of the leader of the religious group and the citizens who have formed it.”
The RF Civic Chamber issued a positive opinion on the results of the public examination of this Draft Law.
The RF Civic Chamber also proposed to establish a common database of religious groups. The local agency which receives the notifications would provide the information about a religious group to the federal executive body in charge of the common database management. The data stored in this common database would be open to the public.
We have more than once forwarded our petitions to you where we expressed our concern over the fact that the draft law violated the right of the citizens to enjoy the freedom of conscience guaranteed by the RF Constitution. We justified our position by the respective Articles of the Constitution and supported it with the opinions of the legal experts who had the requisite competence in these matters.
As stated in the Opinion of the Civic Chamber, “the views of the representatives of various religious associations were taken into consideration in the course of the drafting of this Opinion». But the views of the non-registered Churches of Evangelical Christians-Baptists were obviously not taken into consideration in spite of the fact that these were the Churches that existed in the form of religious groups.
We would like to draw you attention to the very negative consequences for the Russian society that this draft law might have in case of its adoption.
In fact, the draft law abrogates Article 28 of the RF Constitution.
“Everyone shall be guaranteed the freedom of conscience, the freedom of religion, including the right to profess individually or together with other any religion or to profess no religion at all, to freely choose, possess and disseminate religious and other views and act according to them.” (Article 28 of the RF Constitution).
The authors of the draft law propose to make this right contingent and dependent on the notification of the commencement of the activities of a religious group.
It is proposed to enter the data on the religious groups in the common database. This means the state registration of the religious group. Such procedure is contrary to p. 1 of Article 7 of the Federal Law on the Freedom of Conscience and Religious Associations which states that “religious group…shall mean any voluntary association of citizens set up with the objective of joint profession and dissemination of faith, carrying on its activities without the registration with the state authorities…”.
Moreover, the draft law deprives the members of a religious group of the right guaranteed by p. 5 of Article 3 of the Federal Law on the Freedom of Conscience and Religious Associations, under which “no person shall be obliged to declare his or her attitude to religion”.
Although this registration is limited to the notification, in reality it would mean the establishment of state control over religious groups. The state registration agency may refuse to enter a group into the database or remove a group which has already been entered into it. In other words, the ability of the believing citizens to exercise their right to worship together would depend on the will of this agency.
The genuine essence of this draft law is expressed in the following words of the Opinion of the RF Civic Chamber: “…it seems advisable to think over the new legislative measures of restrictive nature aimed at the strengthening of the religious sovereignty of Russia”.
In other words, the legislators openly admit that the objective of the amendments to the laws on the [freedom] of conscience is to abridge the right of the citizens to confess their faith.
In such circumstances a Church which has not passed the state registration would be prevented from serving God in accordance with the gospel-precepts.
Christians who love God would not give their consent to mandatory registration and would thus be outlawed. Are you aware of the persecution against the unregistered Churches of Evangelical Christians-Baptists in Soviet era? There were cases of interruption of religious services, fines, slander published in mass media, arrests, prison sentences, torture and even murders of the faithful. All this may take place again, should the law stipulating the mandatory registration of religious groups be adopted.
Our petition is to allow the Churches that exist in the form of religious groups and do nothing but serve God without engaging themselves in political or other matters that fall within the scope of competence of the state to carry on their activities without mandatory registration by way of notification. We hope that you will heed to the promptings of conscience and endeavor the best efforts so as to avoid this new stage in the persecution of Christians in Russia.
26 April 2015