RUSSIA: Do Sunday school children need written parental permission?
Fr Sergi Golovanov, who teaches religion to five children in his Eastern-rite Catholic parish in the Siberian city of Omsk with permission from their parents, could be fined up to 66 US dollars for failing to supply such parental permission in writing. The local justice department demanded he present such written permission by 15 August, but Fr Sergi refused, arguing that the country's religion law nowhere declares that parental permission must be in writing. However, local religious affairs official Vasili Tkach insisted to Forum 18 News Service that the authorities were acting in accordance with the law.
At the end of July Fr Sergi received a letter from the Omsk department of justice accusing his parish of the Protection of the Most Holy Mother of God of violating Article 3, Part 5 of Russia's 1997 law on religion, which prohibits "attraction of minors" to a religious association, as well as religious instruction to children "without the agreement of their parents or guardians".
In view of this, continues the letter, which has been viewed by Forum 18, the parish must provide the justice department with written parental permission for the children to attend Sunday school by 15 August. Failure to do so could result in Fr Sergi being charged with "disobeying the lawful demand of a governmental inspectorate representative," which attracts a fine of between 10 and 20 times the minimum wage, currently between 1000 and 2000 roubles (253 to 506 Norwegian kroner, 30 to 60 Euros, or 33 to 66 US dollars).
Fr Sergi emphasised that, while he had previously received the verbal agreement of the parents of the five children who receive religious instruction at the parish, written permission is nowhere specified in the law. Neither does the official commentary to the 1997 religion law make any mention of written parental permission, notes Forum 18.
Believing the local department of justice therefore to have no legal basis in making such a demand, Fr Sergi has not complied with it and has received no further warning, he told Forum 18 from Omsk on 26 August. A visit by justice department officials to the parish prior to the demand was part of a general check-up on religious organisations in the region, in his view, the aim of which was to "try to find some kind of legal violation".
While he was unaware of the particulars of the letter to Fr Sergi, Tkach maintained that written parental permission had probably been requested in order to prove that the parish had not violated the legal provision in question.
The Omsk department of justice is obliged to conduct ongoing check-ups of social and religious organisations, Tkach explained, and is currently asking all professional educational establishments to obtain a licence for their activity. While acknowledging that a Sunday school may well not require such registration, Tkach maintained that a request for written parental permission may be issued in that context.
29 July 2003
In its survey analysis of the religious freedom situation in Russia, Forum 18 News Service reports on the extensive variations of religious freedom policy in Russia, noting that when decisions are made which violate believers' rights, they are largely informed by the political agendas and personal loyalties of local politicians. The particular nature of a religious belief seems to play little role in restrictions – such as visa bars being imposed - groups being far more likely to be targeted if they are dynamic and visible, whatever their beliefs. Centrally, the state is not so much concerned about actual control over the legitimate activity of citizens as in having potential control over activity, so violations of religious freedom may not appear as dramatic as in many other states in the region. The trend of low-level discrimination looks set to continue unchallenged.
28 July 2003
RUSSIA: Allegations against Komi Patriarchate diocese ignored, but breakaway Orthodox allegations investigated
Local state officials in Komi are said to be assisting the local Moscow Patriarchate diocese in its dispute with the local Russian Orthodox Church Abroad community, according to the abbot of the Votcha-based breakaway monastic community, Fr Stefan (Babayev). Forum 18 News Service has confirmed that neither the monastery nor its associated parish have received state registration. Claims have also been made that, in contrast to local state authorities investigation of allegations against both the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad and Baptist (See F18News 22 July 2003) communities, allegations of criminal practices within a local Moscow Patriarchate monastery have not been investigated.
24 July 2003
State interrogations of members of the breakaway Orthodox community at Komi and those associated with them are claimed to have continued, Forum 18 News Service has learnt, including attempts to intimidate teenage school children, as well as municipal employees, who attend services at the monastery. This has taken place even after an apparently conclusive court ruling in the monastery's favour.