Editorial, The Wall Street Journal, 13.07.2016
A RUSSIAN LAW RESTRICTS EVANGELIZING OUTSIDE REGISTERED CHURCHES.
Vladimir Putin makes great displays of Christian piety. But when it comes to religious liberty, his regime is fast coming to resemble the Soviet Union. Witness a new antiterrorism law that proscribes missionary activity and private worship. Under the law, which goes into effect next week, all missionaries must be affiliated with “registered” organizations. The law also prohibits evangelizing outside officially recognized religious sites, and violators will be fined up to $780 and their churches $15,500.
All faiths are potentially affected, including the Russian Orthodox Church, but smaller denominations are particularly vulnerable to its chilling effects on freedom of conscience. Evangelical and charismatic Christians often worship in house churches, and a broad interpretation of the legislation would mean such gatherings are banned. Some evangelical denominations reject state registration as a matter of conscience.
As Protestant leaders wrote in an open letter to Mr. Putin, “Soviet history shows how many people of different faiths have been persecuted for spreading the word of God. This law brings us back to a shameful past.”
Another obvious target are Mormons. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints counts some 23,000 Russian adherents, and LDS missionaries are an active and visible presence in many Russian cities. Mormonism has long been a popular bogey among hard-line Russian nationalists, who accuse the LDS Church of being a “totalitarian cult” and an arm of the CIA. “The Church will honor, sustain and obey the law,” the LDS leadership said in a statement, vowing that missionaries would remain in Russia while the Church studies the new legal framework.
The legislation is part of a broader crackdown on independent civil society in Russia that also includes tough new restrictions on foreign think tanks. It’s a reminder of Russia’s tragic failure to develop a free society following the collapse of communism.