Lawmakers in Russia are proposing a bill to restrict foreign-trained pastors from preaching. Commentators warn it could deal a ‘powerful blow’ to religious freedom in the country.
In September, the bill on freedom of conscience and religious association amending federal law was expected to be passed by the State Duma.
The original date of the reading – 22 September – was pushed back, giving some hopes for amendment before it gets put to the parliament again.
Despite its fine-sounding name, the bill will actually ban ‘religious personnel’ who receive education abroad from ministering unless they first undergo ‘re-certification’ by a Russian educational institution.
The bill amending federal law calls for the compulsory recertification in Russian educational institutions of pastors and ‘personnel of religious organisations’ who have received religious education abroad, otherwise they will not be able to engage in teaching and religious activities.
The idea behind the bill is to prevent ‘extremist’ teaching within places of worship inside Russia, and to avoid organisations funding terrorism by allowing people to train abroad.
However, it has been criticised by all faith groups for imposing restrictions on the operations of churches and other religious practices.
Sergei Ryakhovsky of the Russian United Union of Christians of Evangelical Faith, warned the proposed new law would ‘directly impede’ the spread of the gospel.
In an interview with international news agencies, Mr Ryakhovsky said the bill was developed without taking into account the opinion of religious organisations.
He said, ‘It’s not clear how the State will evaluate spiritual educational institutions, while the idea of creating a register of approved foreign religious educational organisations doesn’t stand up to criticism.’
He added, ‘This is interference in church affairs. Religious organisations can and should determine who has the right to preach, not officials.’
According to Barnabas Fund, a contact said the new bill was being introduced at a time when the government is making it increasingly difficult for Christian theological educational institutions to operate.
The contact told Barnabas Fund, ‘Over the past two years there has been an insistent campaign to revoke licences from Christian educational institutions.
‘I don’t know of a single university or seminary where there were no inspections and various judicial instances. They needed to prove that the government was illegally trying to revoke the licences.’