Patriarch Aleksy II, head of the Russian Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriarchate), has again condemned foreign missionaries for their activities in Russia. (UPI, June 24) The religious leader was speaking after the Duma’s approval of a bill on religion that, by placing strict limits on who is allowed to conduct missionary work, threatens to exclude many foreign missionaries from operating in Russia. The bill has the patriarch’s enthusiastic support. As adopted in the third reading on June 23, it requires all religious organizations to submit to a mandatory process of re-registration by the end of 1999 [not 1998, as stated in yesterday’s Monitor].
Many religious groups will be unable to meet the bill’s requirements, under which the state authorities are to grant official registration and its accompanying rights and privileges only to those organizations that can prove that they informed the [Soviet] authorities at least 15 years ago of the commencement of their activities. This requirement will penalize not only new religious organizations but also nonconformist groups which were forced underground during the Soviet period. The bill marks a further stage in the institutionalization of the role of the Russian Orthodox Church, which, in defiance of the constitutional declaration that Russia is a secular state, is receiving increasingly privileged treatment from the state. Opponents of the bill hope that President Yeltsin will refuse to sign it into law; they point out that its provisions relating to foreign missionary activity contradict positions that Yeltsin has taken in the past, when he has argued that establishing separate rules for foreign religious groups is constitutionally untenable.
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