Friday, 5 September 1997

OVERRIDE VOTE STILL POSSIBLE IN DUMA     by Lawrence A. Uzzell, Keston News Service     The main purpose of the 'compromise' legislation on church-state relations officially submitted by President Yeltsin to the parliament on 4 September is to lay the groundwork for creating a new state organ similar to the old Soviet Council for Religious Affairs, a well-placed source told Keston News Service on 5 September.  The source told Keston that the Duma's committee on religion will take up the 'compromise' bill only next week - possibly as late as Thursday - and that it may well decide to recommend that the parliament insist on its own bill, vetoed by Yeltsin in July, rather than accepting the president's 'compromise'.     ANDREI SEBENTSOV, adviser to PRIME MINISTER CHERNOMYRDIN on church-state relations and thought to be one of the leading candidates to head such a new state organ, told Keston on 4 September that the chairman of the Duma's religion committee, VIKTOR ZORKALTSEV, had received the president's new proposal 'without joy'. 'We still don't have a final agreement,' he said.   Keston obtained a copy of the president's proposed 'compromise' late on 4 September.  The key change is a new passage in Article 27, which now reads as follows:     'Religious organisations which do not possess a document proving their existence on the corresponding territory for at least 15 years are to enjoy the rights of a legal person on the condition of reregistration every year until the expiration of the indicated 15-year period.  During this period these religious organisations are not to enjoy the rights stipulated in point 4 of article 3, points 3 and 4 of article 5, point 5 of article 13, point 3 of article 16, points 1 and 2 of article 17, point 2 of article 18 (as applicable to educational institutions and mass media), article 19 and point 2 of article 20 of this federal law.'     In one respect this change is an improvement from the version of 1 September: it requires proof of a church's 'existence', but not explicitly of its 'LEGAL existence' during the pre-glasnost years.  In effect it seems similar to the standard set in the parliament's July bill: both versions leave at least a ray of hope that local officials could interpret the law so as to accept the concrete existence of religious bodies which were active only underground during the Soviet period, whereas the 1 September text left no such hope. But the new text fails to make clear what kind of 'document' would be considered 'proof'.     In two other respects this new language changes the previous text for the worse.  First, it requires that newly formed or new legalised religious organisations must reregister every year, not every three years.   A Duma source told Keston that it takes about six months to get through the registration process, and that this new language would thus serve as a tool for keeping disfavoured churches constantly entangled in bureaucratic procedures.     The long listing of rights which are specifically denied to such religious bodies in effect removes most of the advantages of 'legal person' status.  It is now even clearer than in the July bill that religious entities falling into this category may not obtain military deferment for clergy; receive tax privileges or state subsidies; host representative bodies of foreign religious organisations; conduct religious ceremonies in places such as hospitals, orphanages, nursing homes, or prisons; produce, obtain, import, export or publish religious literature; produce sacramental or other ecclesiastical objects; create educational institutions or mass media; run seminaries; obtain deferment from military conscription for seminarians; or invite foreign guests. Other changes are as follows:   Article 5, Point 4:  The latest version states that 'Upon the request of their parents or guardians, with the agreement of children studying in state or municipal educational institutions, the administration of these institutions by agreement with the corresponding local (municipal) organ of educational administration has the right to grant to a religious organisation the opportunity to teach religion directly to CHILDREN outside the framework of the educational programme.'  (The word 'children' replaces the phrase 'its followers'.  This, of course, is an improvement.)     Article 11, Point 8:  The latest version omits the words in brackets: 'An application for state registration of a religious organisation created by an existing religious organisation or according to a confirmation issued by an existing centralised religious organisation is to be reviewed within a month from the day when all the documents listed in this article have been submitted.  In other cases, the registering organ has the right to extend the period for examination of the documents for a further six months for the carrying out of religious-studies analysis by religious specialists. The procedure for the execution of this study is to be established by the Government of the Russian Federation.' (The words 'state' and 'official' are dropped from the 4 September text.  This could be interpreted to allow clergy or theologians of favoured religious confessions, as well as state employees, to conduct the analysis.)     Article 15: The latest version inserts the CAPITALISED words: '1. Religious organisations act in accordance with their own internal regulations if these do not contradict the laws OF THE RUSSIAN FEDERATION in force.  They possess the legal capabilities stipulated in their charters. 2.  The State respects the internal regulations of religious organisations if these do not contradict the laws OF THE RUSSIAN FEDERATION in force.'  (The effect is to lessen, at least formally, the danger of repressive provincial laws in this area.)     Article 16, Point 3: Latest version: 'Religious rites are permitted in premises at places of detention under guard with the proviso that the laws of criminal procedure OF THE RUSSIAN FEDERATION are observed.'     Article 21, Point 2: Latest version: 'Religious organisations have the right to own property which has been acquired or created by their own means, by the donations of citizens or of organisations or transferred to them by the State, or acquired by other means in conformity with the laws OF THE RUSSIAN FEDERATION.'       Article 24, Point 2, latest version: 'Payment and conditions of work are established according to the laws OF THE RUSSIAN FEDERATION with a working agreement (contract) between the religious organisation (employer) and the employee concluded with the agreement of both sides.'     Article 25, Point 1, latest version: 'Monitoring the implementation of the law OF THE RUSSIAN FEDERATION on freedom of conscience and on religious associations is carried out by the organs of the Procuracy OF THE RUSSIAN FEDERATION.' (END)