Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Russian Constitutional Court Recognizes Russians’ Right to Religious Services in Their Homes

Paul Goble

            Staunton, November 17 – In a decision very much at odds with Moscow’s expanding anti-religious campaign, the Russian Constitutional Court has ruled that a Rostov oblast woman had the right to offer her home to Seventh Day Adventists to hold services, a decision that Aleksandr Soldatov says will affect the lives of “hundreds of thousands” of Russians.

            Following a hearing on October 8 of an appeal brought by the woman who was fined for allowing the Adventists to use her home, the Court three days ago overruled lower courts and said that she had the right to offer her home to religious groups for services, the commentator reports (novayagazeta.ru/articles/2019/11/16/82756-ot-hrama-do-haty).

            This is “quite a sensational” action for Russia today where typically “ever new limitations of the rights of believers are being introduced, if they do not belong to one of the four ‘traditional’ religious organizations,” Soldatov says, adding that the Constitution provides followers of both “traditional” and “non-traditional” faiths the same rights.

            In rejecting actions of local officials and overruling lower courts which supported them, the Constitutional Court employed language that is “almost philosophical” in nature, declaring that “the life of an individual is not only a material but a spiritual phenomenon” and that he or she must have the right to “satisfy” his spiritual needs “including religious ones” at home.

            The court did specify, however, that an individual could not modify his residence by putting up a minaret or cross outside, opening the door to much additional litigation; but its basic finding will certainly be used by many Russian believers to exercise rights that have been under threat.

            “Why does this decision concern hundreds of thousands of believers?” Soldatov asks rhetorically. Because “Russia in the 20th century has passed through the frightening experience of total religious oppression in the name of building an atheistic society. The peaks of this were in the 1920s and 1930s and at the beginning of the 1960s.”

            Each of these periods of oppression led to the formation of underground “catacomb” churches; and the current wave of repression against religion in Russia is having the same effect, Soldatov continues.  In this situation, especially as the reputation of the Moscow Patriarchate falls, “the number of home churches and prayer rooms will only grow.”
            That means in turn both that the nature of religious faith is changing from demonstrative behavior to personal and alternative actions and that the decision of the Constitutional Court represents a move to meet the needs of the believing part of Russian civil society, the commentator concludes.

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