New Russian laws passed to stop evangelical activities

New Russian laws passed to stop evangelical activities July 12, 2016

Russian President Vladimir Putin, above, has approved a package of anti-terrorism laws that include tighter restrictions on missionary activity and evangelism.
According to this report, despite prayers and protests by religious leaders and human rights advocates, the Kremlin has announced Putin’s approval of amendments, including laws against sharing faith in homes, online, or anywhere but recognised church buildings. They come into effect on July 20.
Though opponents to the new measures hope to eventually appeal in court or elect legislators to amend them, they have begun to prepare their communities for life under the new regime which is apparently designed to give the Russian Orthodox Church greater power over all other denominations.
Protestants and religious minorities small enough to gather in homes fear they will be most affected.
Konstantin Bendas, deputy bishop of the Pentecostal Union, said:

Last month, the local police officer came to a home where a group of Pentecostals meet each Sunday. With a contented expression he told them: ‘Now they’re adopting the law I’ll drive you all out of here.’ I reckon we should now fear such zealous enforcement.

The laws, considered the country’s most restrictive measures in post-Soviet history, place broad limitations on missionary work, including preaching, teaching, and engaging in any activity designed to recruit people into a religious group.
To share their faith, citizens must secure a government permit through a registered religious organisation, and they cannot evangelise anywhere besides churches and other religious locations.
Russia’s Protestant minority – estimated around one percent of the population – prayed, fasted, and sent petitions to Putin … to no avail.
Sergey Rakhuba, President of Mission Eurasia and a former Moscow church-planter, said:

Most evangelicals – leaders from all seven denominations – have expressed concerns. They’re calling on the global Christian community to pray that Putin can intervene and God can miraculously work in this process.

In an open letter, Oleg Goncharov, spokesman for the Seventh-day Adventists’ Euro-Asia division, warned ahead of the laws’ approval:

If this legislation is approved, the religious situation in the country will grow considerably more complicated and many believers will find themselves in exile and subjected to reprisals because of our faith.

Proposed by United Russia party lawmaker Irina Yarovaya, the law appears only to target religious groups outside the Russian Orthodox church.
Because it defines missionary activities as religious practices to spread a faith beyond its members, “if that is interpreted as the Moscow Patriarchate is likely to, it will mean the Orthodox Church can go after ethnic Russians but that no other church will be allowed to,” according to Frank Goble, an expert on religious and ethnic issues in the region.
Sergei Ryakhovsky, head of the Protestant Churches of Russia, and several other evangelical leaders called the law a violation of religious freedom and personal conscience in a letter to Putin posted on the Russian site Portal-Credo. The letter reads, in part:

Soviet history shows us how many people of different faiths have been persecuted for spreading the Word of God. This law brings us back to a shameful past.

Stalin-era religious restrictions – including outlawing religious activity outside of Sunday services in registered churches and banning parents from teaching faith to their kids – remained on the books until the collapse of the Soviet Union, though the government enforced them only selectively.
The so-called “Big Brother” laws also introduce widespread surveillance of online activity, including requiring encrypted apps to give the government the power to decode them, and assigning stronger punishments for extremism and terrorism.
The proposal is an “attack on freedom of expression, freedom of conscience, and the right to privacy that gives law enforcement unreasonably broad powers,” the humanitarian group Human Rights Watch told The Guardian.
The anti-evangelism law carries fines up to US $780 for an individual and $15,500 for an organisation. Foreign visitors who violate the law face deportation.

Russia has already moved to contain foreign missionaries. The “foreign agent” law, adopted in 2012, requires groups from abroad to file detailed paperwork and be subject to government audits and raids. Since then, the NGO sector has shrunk by a third, according to government statistics.

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  • Stuart H.

    Nasty law, but will it finally put a dent in Franklin Graham’s income from Samaritan’s Purse and that of other parasites with similar scams (faith schools, orphanages and ‘health care’)?
    Given FG’s previous statements of support for Putin’s religious bigotry it will be fun watching how he deals with this.
    Give up his private plane for Lent? I doubt it!

  • If the goal is to lessen religious terrorism, it could be more effective and more to ban only those religious groups that have the most clear association with religious terrorism. Now what might that be…
    That’s right, the religion that responds with religious terror when it is pointed out they have the most clear association with religious terror. Islam. And so all religions must suffer equally, to not upset the Muslims.
    I am a critic of all religion and all religious terrorism, but not all religions are equally associated with religious terror.

  • AgentCormac

    So, Russia’s protestans prayed, fasted, and sent petitions to Putin. If that isn’t an exercise in futility I don’t know what is.

  • Michael Glass

    A counterproductive move by Putin. There’s nothing like persecution for sharpening the faith of believers. On the other hand, religious tolerance leads to indifference.Faith tends to wither when it is neither persecuted nor promoted by the state.

  • barriejohn

    Michael Glass: You’re right. They thrive on it, as this weird story, highlighted on the NSS site this morning, shows:
    Trevor Blake: You don’t really think that this is about “religious terrorism” , do you? Sadly, Putin isn’t the first to use “the threat of terrorism” to clamp down on human rights and/or opposition.

  • Cali Ron

    As much as I detest religion this law is just another brick in Putin’s attempt to recreate the wall of the old Russian hierarchy and another restriction on the Russian people’s rights. Putin is a psychopathic megalomaniac bent on ruling the world with an iron hand and no shirt. He reminds me of Trump who has stated his admiration for him. Both very dangerous men. Enforcing this law will only give the evangelicals another reason to cry about persecution and create martyrs.

  • Cali Ron

    barriejohn: …”heralds of king Jesus”. What a joke. He’s praising these clowns as some sort of great martyr preachers when he doesn’t know shit about them or their ministry. I was especially amused by this quote, “My regret: that I was not providing the bass part in harmony with their hymn singing, in their jail cell.” I, too, regret that he isn’t in jail so he can’t continue to proselytize by taking advantage of vulnerable street people.

  • Stuart H.

    Worth saying this only reflects the law in surrounding countries already. It’s not so much anti-religious as drawing up a register of “official” mainstream religions who’d be eligible for tax relief or grants. Anyone else is then handily classed as a “cult”.
    I suspect US evangelicals are more concerned with shovelling money from converts amongst the new rich out of the country without tedious taxation, and regard any interference with this as religious persecution (well, it is if you worship the dollar, I guess).
    In practice, the only religious getting hassled in Russia on Amnesty cases I see are Hare Krishnas, Jehovah’s Witnesses and the like, maybe the odd Mormon but that’s as mainstream as it gets.

  • L.Long

    I like how the evangelibgots prayers where answered by their bigoted gawd! Nice to know his powers are as good as usual.

  • Broga

    ” They’re calling on the global Christian community to pray that Putin can intervene and God can miraculously work in this process.”
    A test of the efficacy of prayer: God versus Putin.

  • Laura Roberts

    @barriejohn: just FYI the preachers were also shouting anti-LGBT slurs, in the middle of Bristol’s Pride Festival week.

  • Lucy

    It is a disgusting law. People should be free to do whatever they want in their own home, as long as they are not hurting or planning to hurt others. However, what do we expect? He went for the LGBT people, and now he is going for the fringe religions…what next?

  • Matthew Carr

    A ‘heaven sent’ action for the religious radicals. They will all end up in Putin’s prisons where they will radicalize others.

  • Gindy51

    Guess the LDS missionaries in Russia will be coming home soon. They sure as heck can’t do their “job” within the frame work of these new laws.

  • Gert

    Putin – a dangerous KGB werewolf dragging Russia back to the Stalin era. Russia is a country so corrupt as to be beyond belief until you realise that Putin is the main beneficiary of the corruption which he allows the Russian oligarchs to run on his behalf. Once again the Russian people are crushed under the jackboot of an evil dictatorship.

  • Lucy

    As Terry Pratchett said , trying to get rid of potatoes by stamping them into the ground.

  • AgentCormac

    @Laura Roberts
    Thanks for the link – great work by the police and good to see the crowd around giving the hate-filled god botherers short shrift. Interesting that the idiots involved were American. No doubt the sanctimonious loud mouth who got arrested will take gratification in having been ‘persecuted’, but just like Abu Qatada he needs deporting and banning from ever coming back to these shores. Inceitement to hatred is inceitement to hatred, despite which brand of religion it comes from.

  • AgentCormac

    Or ‘incitement’ even.

  • John

    Can the organisations involved seek relief at the European Court of Human Rights, of which Russia is a member?
    I think all religionists are crazed but the right to free speech has to be paramount, whether in Russia or anywhere else.

  • gedediah

    Hard though it is to feel sympathy for monority religions in Russia, it’s just a matter of time before new blasphemy laws and other restrictions on non-belief are introduced.