Thursday, November 21, 2019

Russian Court Decision on Religious Services in Homes May be Vitiated by Restrictions on Missionary Activity, Moscow Lawyers Say

Paul Goble

            Staunton, November 18 – The November 14 decision of Russia’s Constitutional Court that citizens can conduct religious services in their homes, a decision many have welcomed ( could be rendered meaningless by Russian laws restricting missionary activity, lawyers say.

            The decision is extremely important, lawyers say, because many religious groups do not have their own dedicated facilities and thus have been forced to hold services in homes or other places, often being harassed or fined by officials who say they have no right to do so. Now the court has recognized that right.

            But unfortunately this is not the end of this story; and it may turn out to be the case,  that Russians can pray in their homes but that if they involve people the authorities say are not members of their religious group, then lawyers say, it may be possible for the powers that be to punish  them despite the decision of the court.

            That is because, lawyers tell Nezavisimaya gazeta, there are significant “legal inconsistencies” especially regarding membership in a religious community and actions that involve those who may not be in any services. If they participate, then the right the court recognized on November 14 may not apply (

            Other legal specialists with whom the independent newspaper spoke are more optimistic and think the latest decision will block any retreat. But they have no answer for those who say that in Russian law, membership in a religious community is far from unambiguously defined in law; and consequently, the authorities can and have played games. 

            In short, it appears the Constitutional Court gave Russians have a loaf. Whether they get the full one likely depends not on the court itself but rather on the Kremlin and its decisions about how it wants this decision to be applied. 

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