KESTON NEWS SERVICE: 11.00, 12 July 2001.
Reporting on violations of religious liberty and on religion in communist
and post-communist lands.
______________________________________

RUSSIA: THIRD DRAFT RELIGIOUS POLICY? Elements of the Russian
Orthodox Church's social doctrine `could prove a good foundation for �
legal acts supplementing existing legislation on issues concerning freedom
of conscience and religious organisations,' according to the
recommendations of a hearing held at the lower house of the Russian
parliament on 6 July, attended by Keston News Service. The hearing appears
to be the first occasion on which the Church's social doctrine has been
proposed not merely as an internal ecclesiastical document but also as a
possible basis for the Russian state's policy on religion.

RUSSIA: THIRD DRAFT RELIGIOUS POLICY?

by Geraldine Fagan, Keston News Service

Elements of the Russian Orthodox Church's social doctrine `could prove a
good foundation for the drawing-up of normative legal acts supplementing
existing legislation on issues concerning freedom of conscience and religious
organisations,' according to the recommendations of a hearing held at the
lower house of the Russian parliament, the State Duma, on 6 July. The
hearing appears to be the first occasion on which the Church's social doctrine
has been proposed not merely as an internal ecclesiastical document but also
as a possible basis for the Russian state's policy on religion.

Adopted at last August's Bishops� Council, `The Foundations of a Social
Concept for the Russian Orthodox Church' claims the following social areas
as legitimate for Church-state collaboration: peacemaking initiatives,
preservation of social morality, charity, defence of cultural heritage,
dialogue at any level on issues of relevance to Church and society, welfare
of the armed forces, crime prevention, science, health, culture, the media,
economic activity of benefit to Church, state and society, support for the
family and combating the activities of `pseudo-religious groups.'

Hosting the 6 July hearing, Viktor Zorkaltsev, a Communist Party deputy
and chairman of the Duma's religion committee, allowed principal speaker
Metropolitan Kirill of Smolensk and Kaliningrad as long as he wished to
give an exposition of the Church's social doctrine. As well as heading the
Moscow Patriarchate's Department for External Church Relations,
Metropolitan Kirill chairs the committee which compiled the August 2000
document. In addition to explaining the social doctrine's contents,
Metropolitan Kirill criticised what he sees as the current tendency in Russia
for state officials and religious studies experts to `make a radical
interpretation of the constitutional provision of separation of church and
state beyond that of even the US and France.' In his view, however, this
`phase' would pass: `The Church will be present in all social institutions
because people want to see it there.'

Responding to Metropolitan Kirill's address, Zorkaltsev praised the Church's
social doctrine as `a bold step forward into the twenty-first century'. He did
not dwell upon its extensive treatment of moral issues, however, but
emphasised the importance of the Church as a national heritage institution:
`In villages where there are no libraries or amenities the Church is fulfilling
the role of preserving cultural heritage.'

Speaking on behalf of the country's Jews, one of Russia's two chief rabbis,
Adolf Shayevich, was more effusive in his praise of the doctrine: `We are
prepared to support every word of this Concept as it is truly based upon the
word of God.'

By contrast, one of the most senior Russian government officials in the
sphere of state-confessional relations, Andrei Sebentsov, took issue with a
number of the hearing's recommendations. Emphasising that the Russian
Constitution was the sole basis for drawing up legal acts, he argued that the
differing spiritual and social areas of jurisdiction of Church and state as
stipulated in the Church's social doctrine could not form a similar basis since
they emanate from `another sphere'.

Addressing the specific proposal that the State Duma take into account the
basic provisions of the Church's social doctrine and similar documents of
`other traditional confessions of the Russian Federation' both when
formulating proposals for the improvement of the 1997 law on religion and
facilitating the development of legal foundations for institutes of civil
society, Sebentsov suggested that the word `traditional' be omitted, and
commented: `Any Concept in this area is important - we can't refer to just
one narrow confession.'

Chairing a session at a 21-22 June Moscow conference devoted to `Freedom
of Conscience and the Provision of Mutual Religious Understanding',
Sebentsov had reproached Moscow Patriarchate spokesman Fr Vsevolod
Chaplin for speaking against the Russian constitution and law on religion
and distorting historical fact while Fr Chaplin was returning to his seat after
addressing the delegates. (END)

Copyright (c) 2001 Keston Institute. All rights reserved.