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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

On Freedom Of Religion In Russia

The vote by the Russian parliament to restrict the activities of foreign religious groups here is an intolerable violation of the principle of freedom of religion that Russians struggled so long to achieve. How many prisoners of conscience died during the Communist era in prisons and camps where they were taken for daring to worship as they wished? How can the post-Soviet legislature now dare to restrict this right by imposing limits on what foreign religious groups can do here?

Yes, but. It is also true that, as this society emerges from 70 years of communism, the removal of state ideology has left an extremely fertile field for new doctrine. Even as the deputies were wrong to seek to limit what foreign missionaries can do here, it is beholden on religious activists from abroad to exercise restraint in their evangelism out of respect for a society that is still coming of age in matters of freedom of conscience. and likewise, it is up to Russia's government to protect this country's citizenry through the strict separation of church and state.

In its vote Wednesday, the parliament barred foreign religious groups from preaching and missionary, publishing and business activities without accreditation by the state. The measure was immediately denounced as discriminatory by liberal legislators, including such eminent spokesmen for freedom of conscience as Father Gleb Yakunin, a former political prisoner.

The move was evidently an attempt by the Russian Orthodox Church to safeguard its "territory" against an invasion of foreign religious folk, from America's Billy Graham to Christian charities from Europe and the Hare Krishna activists who haunt Moscow's airports. These folk stand out all the more here by virtue of their novelty after decades of state atheism. But in some ways, they have been abusing their freedom to proselytize in the new Russia.

For example, while private schools established by churches have every right to exist, it is inadmissible when religious groups impose their views on children attending public schools. and yet, this is becoming a common practice here. Children are shown films on Jesus, handed biblical reading materials and preached values that many adults here would find objectionable. The religious groups from abroad have also penetrated Russia's orphanages, foisting their beliefs on this country's most disadvantaged children.

This is clearly wrong, and it is an area where the Russian government could take a more active role. By enforcing the separation of church and state and keeping religious groups of all stripes - foreign and local - out of the schools, the government would be doing society a favor.