WASHINGTON, D.C. (EP) – Religious freedom is declining in Russia, and government agences are threatening the rights of religious minorities, according to Lawrence Uzzell, a Moscow representative of the Keston Institute of Oxford, England, which studies religious freedom in formerly communist nations.
Freed om of worhsip was widespread after the collapse of the Soviet Union five years ago, but that freedom has been lessened since 1993, Uzzell told the US Commission for Security and Cooperation in Europe, a body charged with monitoring compliance with the 1975 Helsinki Accords.
“In religious freedom as in many other areas of life, Russia is to a large extent a lawless state,” says Uzzell, who urged the US and other Western nations to make it clear to Russian leaders that they cannot expect to gain full partnership with the Western world “while they continue and even intensify violations of fundamental rights, including rights guaranteed by their own constitution.”
Although Russia’s 1993 constitution guarantees religious freedom and makes all religions equal before the law, “this guarantee has turned out to be largely meaningless in practice,” according to Uzzell. Many of Russia’s provincial governments have enacted laws regulating religious activities, and are returning power to bureaucrats who were previously employed by the Soviet government to “control religious life in the interests of the state.”
Russia’s Orthodox Church is free of such restrictions, says Uzzell, and some Orthodox clergy seek to use the power of the state to suppress competition from non-Orthodox faiths. For instance, churches can lose their accreditation if their actions create “religious dissension” – in other words, if they preach against the Orthodox Church.