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Loi concernant les organisations religieuses

Draft bill no. 195229-6 (detailed information is available on the official website of the Duma, in Russian), amending Articles 4 and 24 of the law “On freedom of conscience and religious associations”, was aimed at barring persons convicted or “suspected” of extremist or terrorist activities from access to the title of minister of religion or participating as a member of a religious association. In particular, it established the right for religious organisations to determine the requirements (based on their internal rules and regulations) for candidates applying for minister of religion posts (including professional theological education) and for applicants to salaried positions. Although this was not explicitly stated in the text, these restrictions were targeted at Muslim extremists and terrorists. They had been proposed and were supported by some Muslim religious associations, upset by the confrontation between the Islam practised traditionally in Russia and radical religious influences arriving from the Middle East and conveyed mainly by imams trained e.g. in Saudi Arabia or Egypt.

This draft law has been greatly criticised. It was said that if every religious organisation had its own recruiting requirements, the law was unnecessary, but if these requirements were established and imposed by the Russian State, it would contradict the constitutional principle of separation.

The draft had also been criticised by the Russian Orthodox Church, because it proposed a mandatory employment contract for ministers of religion. In principle, the Russian Orthodox Church considers that its ministers are not employees and that it is impossible to impose such a requirement upon them.

The draft law was adopted by the Duma during its first reading (which means in Russian legislative procedure “in theory”, “in general”, “in principle”) on 22 February 2013 and, on 7 June 2013, Vladimir Putin, the Russian President, signed federal law no. 119-FZ. In its final version, this law does not restrict access to the position of minister of religion or to membership of religious associations for those guilty or “suspected” of extremist or terrorist activities. The rejection of this restrictive provision is linked to the legal uncertainty surrounding the concept of “member” or “participant (associate)” of a religious association.

The only legal innovation introduced by this law is the recognition of the right of religious organisations to inform future ministers of worship and candidates for this function of the recruitment requirements detailed in their internal rules and regulations, including those concerning religious affiliation. This right was previously implicit in Russian legislation.

May 2013

D 24 mai 2013    AMikhaïl Chakhov

CNRS Unistra Dres Gsrl

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