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Posted 24 Feb 2001   For week ended November 17, 2000
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News about Mormons, Mormonism,
and the LDS Church
Sent on Mormon-News: 18Nov00

By Kent Larsen

LDS Church One Of Religions Attacked By Russian Education Ministry

MOSCOW, RUSSIA -- A report last week by the Kenton News Service says that Russia's Education Ministry launched an attack in August and September on 700 "foreign" religious groups, apparently including the LDS Church, urging directors of institutions of higher education to "prevent [the] infiltration [of their schools] by such religious groups." A letter from the ministry sent to these directors included an attachment naming the LDS Church, the Jehovah's Witnesses and many others as involved in "military espionage and encouragement of separatist activity."

The letter is just the latest in a long series of attacks and discriminatory acts against small western religions in Russia. And these acts have has some effect on LDS efforts, delaying or frustrating Church activities in some Russian cities. A recent US State Department indicates that in spite of recognition by the Russian government, local authorities in the Russian city of Cheylabinsk (Russia Yekaterinburg Mission) have refused to recognize the LDS Church in their city, keeping missionaries from proselyting there as recently as this past summer.

The LDS Church has also been unable to register in the city of Kazan, Tartarstan because of local opposition. Part of this opposition stems from local regulations, which, like those in 30 of Russia's 89 constituencies, violate the Russian constitution's religious freedom protections. In spite of warnings issued by Russia's federal government, the regulations remain in force, and some local authorities follow them.

The lack of recognition will become much more serious with the approach of the end of the year, since a national law allows unregistered religious bodies to be "liquidated," -- all their assets would be seized and privileges revoked. Technically, the LDS Church has already obtained national registration, which should protect all its "affiliates" throughout Russia. However, as the situations in Kazan and Cheylabinsk demonstrate, local authorities don't always follow national laws.

The approaching deadline led Elliott Abrams, President of the Ethics and Public Policy Center and Chairman of the US Government's Commission on International Religious Freedom to urge President Clinton to get Russia's President Putin to extend the deadline.

Abrams, writing in an editorial in the Washington Post, explained the urgency of the situation. "If a system of due process were in place for religious groups to register, the situation would not be so dangerous. But quite the reverse is true: Local officials in some regions have delayed or denied registration to and sought liquidation of unpopular religious groups, even when they have been recognized and registered in other regions or at the federal level. Sometimes this delay or refusal occurs at the instigation of the local Russian Orthodox bishop or priest." He continued, "Given the slow pace of the registration process so far, it is hard to believe most of the remaining groups will be able to register by Dec. 31. Putin must intervene--both to speed up the process and to postpone the deadline."

Fortunately, the LDS Church may not be as vulnerable as some other "foreign" denominations. The Church has less than 10,000 members in Russia, and those are concentrated in major cities, where laws are often more tolerant of other religions. Many of the meeting houses used by the Church in Russia are rented, and the Church's monetary assets are centralized at a national level, where they are less vulnerable to the whims of local officials.


In Russia, 'Liquidating' Churches
Washington Post pg A43 14Nov00 T1
By Elliot Abrams

Education Ministry Urges Measures Against "Non-Established Religious Associations"
Keston News Service 8Nov00 T1
By Mikhail Zherebyatev

2000 Annual Report on International Religious Freedom:Russia
Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor; U.S. Department of State 5Sep00 T1


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