Russian Religion Law - a brief analysis *

Legal analysis of the Federal Act "On Freedom of Conscience and religious associations" (passed by State Duma of RF September 19, 1997 and adopted by Federal Council September 24, 1997, signed by the President of RF September 26, 1997, officially published and effective October 1, 1997)
1. Preamble
Federal Assembly of the Russian Federation
Confirming the right of each to freedom of conscience and freedom of creed, and also to equality before the law regardless of his attitudes to religion and his convictions;
Basing itself on the fact that the Russian Federation is a secular state;
Recognizing the special contribution of orthodoxy to the history of Russia and to the establishment and development of Russia's spirituality and culture;
Respecting Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Judaism and other religions which constitute an inseparable part of the historical heritage of Russia's peoples;
Considering it important to promote the achievement of mutual understanding, tolerance and respect in questions of freedom of conscience and freedom of creed;
Hereby adopts this Federal Act .
The Act again points out the "special role" of one religious denomination (orthodoxy) and presents the list of "respected" religions which breaks the Constitutional principle of equity of all religious associations before the law (Article 14 of the Constitution of RF). These statutes of the preamble are contrary to the Act itself, for example Article 3 section 3 prohibits the "establishment of privileges or restrictions, as well as any other form of discrimination on the basis of one's attitude toward religion". The law of RSFSR "On Freedom of Religious Confession" (passed October 25, 1990) contained this concept, stating in Article 10 that "the State is neutral in questions of freedom of religious confession and convictions, meaning that it does not take sides of any religion or world outlook". The new Act not only omitted this position, but has drastically moved from it. The preamble does not have the regulative effect of a statute, it does however determine the "spirit and letter" of the law itself.
Art. 9 The Creation Of A Religious Organization
9.1 No fewer than ten citizens of the Russian Federation may be founders of a local religious organization, joining together as a religious group which must have confirmation from the departments of the local government that it has existed on the given territory for no less than fifteen years, or confirmation from a centralized religious organization of the same creed that it forms part of its structure.
Requirements for religious organizations to present proof of being a part of a centralized structure limits the formation of autonomous (independent from the center) religious organizations, which violates the right of religious organization to be formed and act in accordance with their own hierarchical and institutional structure, as defined in the very same Act (sec. 5 of Article 4).

The requirement of a fifteen year period of existence, after which the founders can register their association as a religious organization, is unlawful. The Civil Code does not contain terms of any kind for the formation of a legal entity; the will of founders and the characteristics of a legal entity (Article 48 of the Civil Code of the RF) is sufficient for state registration. The Act unlawfully limits citizens' capacity in their right to form legal entities (Article 18 of the Civil Code of the RF) and violates Articles 14 and 28 of the RF Constitution by putting religious associations of citizens (religious groups) in a discriminatory position, unequal before the law.

Moreover, section 1 of Article 9 and following articles of the Act that define the procedure of forming religious organizations condition the right of citizens to form a religious organization (with the rights of a legal entity) with the kind of religion they confess (represented by a centralized religious organization or not), which is a gross violation of Article 19 of the RF Constitution that forbids any limitations of citizens' rights on the basis of religion.

Art. 27 Closing Provisions
27.3. The charters and other founding documents of religious organizations established before this Federal Act comes into force must be brought into conformity with this Federal Act. Until the charters and other founding documents of religious organizations have been brought into conformity with this Federal Act, only those parts of the charters and other founding documents of religious organizations remain in force which do not contradict this Federal Act.
A religious organization may not be re-registered if there are grounds for its dissolution or prohibition of its activities as indicated in Section 2 of article 14 of this Federal Act. When re-registration has been denied on these grounds, the registrar shall transmit the materials to a court.
Religious organizations which do not possess a document proving their existence on the corresponding territory over the course of at least 15 years are to enjoy the rights of a legal entity on the condition of re-registration every year until the expiration of the indicated 15-year period. During this period these religious organizations shall not enjoy the rights stipulated in Section 4 of article 3, Sections 3 and 4 of article 5, Section 5 of article 13, Section 3 of article 16, Sections 1 and 2 of article 17, Section 2 of article 18 (as applicable to educational institutions and mass media), article 19 and Section 2 of article 20 of this Federal Act.
27.4 The re-registration with the State of religious organizations created before this Federal Act has come into force must take place no later than 31 December 1999 in accordance with the requirements of this Federal Act. Once this period has expired, religious organizations which have not completed re-registration may be dissolved by court order upon the appeal of the of the body which conducts state registration of religious organizations.
27.5. No longer in force are the law of the RSFSR "On Freedom of Religious Confession" (Gazette of the RSFSR Congress of Peoples' Deputies and of the RSFSR Supreme Soviet, 1990, No. 21, Art. 240; Collection of the Laws of the Russian Federation, 1995, No. 5, Art. 346) and the Resolution of the Supreme Soviet of the RSFSR "On Freedom of Religious Confession" (Gazette of the RSFSR Congress of Peoples' Deputies and of the RSFSR Supreme Soviet, 1990, No. 21, Art. 241) from the day this Federal Act becomes effective.
Requirements of mandatory re-registration of religious organizations having the purpose to conform it with the Act does not formally violate any legislation. However, section 3 of Article 27 of the Act is a major violation of the RF Constitution and broadly accepted statutes of International Law. The deprival or rights of religious organizations comes not by ruling of a Court as a sanction for breaking the law, but as a result of not having a "document proving their existence on corresponding territory over the course of at least 15 years". Furthermore, by requiring religious organizations to have this "document", this Act does not sanction any department to issue such, establishes no procedure of issue and does not reveal it's character, which puts religious organizations in a legally vulnerable position with arbitrary local authorities.

Contrary to Articles 28 and 43 of the RF Constitution the Act deprives the above stated religious organizations of the right to found educational institutions, including the institutions of professional religious education. This statute is also contrary to Article 11 of the RF Act "On Education" that provides that religious organizations (associations) can found educational institutions. Even more blatant violations of Article 28 of the RF Constitution as stated in section 3 of the Article 27 of the Act, is the deprival of religious organizations' right to hold religious ceremonies in health centers and hospitals, orphanages, nursing homes and penitentiaries at the request of the citizens held therein, and the right to produce, acquire, export, import and distribute religious literature, printed, audio, video material and other articles of religious significance.

Section 3 of Article 27 of the Act contradicts one of the most important constitutional principles of equity of religious associations before the law (Article 14 of the RF Constitution). The Act, formally declaring in section 1 of Article 4 the principle of equality of religious organizations, completely abandons this principle in the following articles (Articles 6, 8, 9 and 27), and divides religious associations in three types on the basis of the rights provided by the Act: religious groups (having practically no rights), religious organizations with the rights of a legal entity and religious organizations with limited rights of a legal entity (deprived of rights).

The above stated section 3 of the Article 27 of the Act moreover is contrary to Art. 2, sec.1 of Art. 45, Art. 55 of the RF Constitution, and also the broadly accepted statutes of International Law: Art. 18, 19, 26 and 29 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Art. 18, 19 and 27 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Declaration of UN on elimination of intolerance and discrimination on the basis of religion or belief; Art. 16, 1, 3, 4, 6-11 and 17 of the Final Document of Meeting in Vienna in 1989, Art. 10, 20 and 27 of Convention of the Commonwealth of Independent States on Human Rights and Basic Freedoms.

Article 2.
Man, his rights and freedoms shall be the supreme value. It shall be a duty of the state to recognize, respect and protect the rights and liberties of man and citizen.

Article 14.
1.The Russian Federation shall be a secular state. No religion may be instituted as state-sponsored or mandatory religion.
2.Religious associations shall be separated from the state, and shall be equal before the law.

Article 15.
1.The Constitution of the Russian Federation shall have supreme legal force and direct effect, and shall be applicable throughout the entire territory of the Russian Federation. Laws and other legal acts adopted by the Russian Federation may not contravene the Constitution of the Russian Federation.
2.Organs of state power and local self-government, officials, citizens and their associations must comply with the laws and the Constitution of the Russian Federation.
3.The laws shall be officially published. Unpublished laws shall not be applicable. No regulatory legal act affecting the rights, liberties or duties of the human being and citizen may apply unless it has been published officially for general knowledge.
4.The commonly recognized principles and norms of the international law and the international treaties of the Russian Federation shall be a component part of its legal system. If an international treaty of the Russian Federation stipulates other rules than those stipulated by the law, the rules of the international treaty shall apply.

Article 19.
1.All people shall be equal before the law and in the court of law.
2.The state shall guarantee the equality of rights and liberties regardless of sex, race, nationality, language, origin, property or employment status, residence, attitude to religion, convictions, membership of public associations or any other circumstance. Any restrictions of the rights of citizens on social, racial, national, linguistic or religious grounds shall be forbidden.
3.Man and woman shall have equal rights and liberties and equal opportunities for their pursuit.

Article 28.
Everyone shall be guaranteed the right to freedom of conscience, to freedom of religious worship, including the right to profess, individually or jointly with others, any religion, or to profess no religion, to freely choose, possess and disseminate religious or other beliefs, and to act in conformity with them.

Article 43.
1.Everyone shall have the right to education.
2.The accessibility and gratuity of pre-school, general secondary and vocational secondary education in public and municipal educational institutions and enterprises shall be guaranteed.
3.Everyone shall have the right to receive, free of charge and on a competitive basis, higher education in a state or municipal educational institution or enterprise.
4.Basic general education shall be mandatory. Parents or persons substituting for them shall make provisions for their children to receive basic general education.
5.The Russian Federation shall institute federal state educational standards and support various forms of education and self-education.

Article 45.
1.State protection for human rights and liberties in the Russian Federation shall be guaranteed.

Article 55.
1.The listing of the basic rights and liberties in the Constitution of the Russian Federation shall not be interpreted as the denial or belittlement of the other commonly recognized human and citizens' rights and liberties.
2.No laws denying or belittling human and civil rights and liberties may be issued in the Russian Federation.
3.Human and civil rights and liberties may be restricted by the federal law only to the extent required for the protection of the fundamentals of the constitutional system, morality, health, rights and lawful interests of other persons, for ensuring the defense of the country and the security of the state.

UNIVERSAL DECLARATION OF HUMAN RIGHTS, G.A. res. 217A (1948)  [selections]

Article 18
Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.

Article 19
Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.

Article 26
1. Everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages. Elementary education shall be compulsory. Technical and professional education shall be made generally available and higher education shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of merit.
2. Education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. It shall promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among all nations, racial or religious groups, and shall further the activities of the United Nations for the maintenance of peace.
3. Parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children.

Article 29
1. Everyone has duties to the community in which alone the free and full development of his personality is possible.
2. In the exercise of his rights and freedoms, everyone shall be subject only to such limitations as are determined by law solely for the purpose of securing due recognition and respect for the rights and freedoms of others and of meeting the just requirements of morality, public order and the general welfare in a democratic society.
3. These rights and freedoms may in no case be exercised contrary to the purposes and principles of the United Nations.

(with additions and amendments of February 20, August 12, 1996, October 24, 1997) [selections]
Article 18. The Content of the Citizens' Legal Capacity

      The citizens may possess the property by the right of ownership; may inherit and bequeath the property; may engage in
business and in any other activities, not prohibited by the law; may set up legal entities - on their own or jointly with other
citizens and legal entities; may effect any deals, which are not in contradiction with the law, and take part in obligations; may
select the place of residence; may enjoy the rights of the authors of the works of science, literature and art, of inventions and of
other law-protected results of the intellectual activity; and may also enjoy other property and personal non-property rights.

Article 48. The Concept of the Legal Entity

      1. The legal entity shall be recognized as an organization, which has in its ownership, economic management or operative
management the set-apart property and which is answerable by its obligations with this property and may on its own behalf
acquire and exercise the property and the personal non- property rights, to discharge duties and to come out as a plaintiff and
as a defendant in the court.

      The legal entities shall have an independent balance or an estimate.

      2. In connection with taking part in the formation of the property of the legal entity, its founders (participators) shall be
entitled to the rights of obligation with respect to this legal entity, or the rights of estate to its property.

      To the legal entities, with respect to which their participants have the rights of obligation, shall be referred the economic
partnerships and companies, and the production and consumer cooperatives.

      To the legal entities, with respect to whose property their founders have the right of ownership or another right of estate,
shall be referred the state and the municipal unitary enterprises, including the subsidiaries, as well as the institutions, financed by
the owner.

      3. To the legal entities, with respect to which their founders (participants) shall not have the property rights, shall be referred
the public and religious organizations (the associations), the charity and other funds, and the amalgamations of the legal entities
(the associations and the unions). 

No. 12-FZ of January 13, 1996 (with the Amendments and Additions of November 16, 1997)

Article 11. The Founder (Founders) of an Educational Establishment

      1. The following may be a founder (founders) of an educational establishment (hereinafter referred to as the founder):

      1) bodies of the State power, organs of local self-government;

      2) domestic and foreign organizations of all types of ownership, their associations (unions and alliances);

      3) domestic and foreign public and private foundations;

      4) public and religious organizations (associations) registered in the territory of the Russian Federation;

      5) citizens of the Russian Federation and foreign citizens.

* This page is excerpted and edited (without prior permission) from a legal analysis provided by
the Institute for Religion and Law. For the full text, please visite their web site.