| Religious Freedom Ranking:
1.5 out of 5 stars: Serious Violations
The Constitution provides for religious freedom and the separation between church and state; however, in some cases these lines have been crossed. Restrictions on religious freedom usually fall into four classes: registration of religious groups; access to places of worship (land and building permits); visas for foreign religious workers; and government invasions on religious groups and custody of individuals. Authorities continue to restrict the activities of non-violent minority religious organizations considered “extremists.”
There have been numerous reports of abuse and discrimination based on religious belief. Many times the government did not assist with resolving these problems. Russian Orthodox Church (ROC) activists frequently protested against and sometimes harassed religious groups deemed nontraditional. Ethnic Muslims, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Scientologists, Unificationists and various non-Orthodox Christians were the main targets of their persecution. Catholic leaders have complained that in Russia, the Catholic Church is treated as a “sect” or a “foreign new religious movement.” Anti-Semitism was also common.
The country has a population of 142 million. Approximately 100 million residents consider themselves Russian Orthodox. It is estimated that between 10 million and 23 million residents consider themselves Muslims. There are an estimated one million Buddhists. There are more than two million Protestants. The Roman Catholic Church estimated that there are 600,000 Catholics. The Jewish population estimates they have between 250,000 and one million followers. No other percentages of other religious groups have been reported.
The 1997 Law on Freedom of Conscience and Religious Association states that those who infringe on religious freedom will be “punished to the full extent possible.” The Russian Academy of State Service works with religious freedom advocates to train regional and municipal officials in executing the 1997 law. The preamble to the 1997 law recognizes Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Buddhism and other religions as comprising an indivisible part of the country’s historical background, but also acknowledges the “special contribution” of Russian Orthodox Christianity to the country’s history and spiritual culture. The law also gives officials the authority to ban religious organizations it deems as “extremists” and all their activities. The 2002 Law on Countering Extremist Activity has been used to further restrict religious groups, including several with no history of violence. The appointment of Russian Orthodox activist and “anti-cult expert” Aleksandr Dvorkin as chair of the agency in charge of enforcing this law is seen as troubling by many in the human rights community.
The ROC works more closely with the government than do other religious groups. It has special privileges in opening banks, schools, prisons and hospitals more than any other religious group. Non-ROC religious groups complain that the Orthodox influence is responsible for discrimination against them.
In 2010, the European Court of Human Rights ruled unanimously that the Russian government had violated several international human rights in refusing to register the Jehovah’s Witnesses as a lawful religious association. These include the rights to a fair trial, freedom of religion, and freedom of assembly and association. The Court also rejected the government's claims that the Jehovah's Witnesses broke up families, improperly proselytized, deceitfully lured minors into the church, incited members to ignore their civic duties, and damaged the health of citizens. The Court assessed monetary damages against the government. However, the government has not as yet complied with the Court’s ruling.
The current list of banned religious texts comprised in the Federal List of Extremist Materials includes Islamic religious texts that contain material of intolerance towards Christianity, explicitly racist or anti-Semitic texts, Jehovah’s Witnesses publications, and Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf. Several Scientology publications were recently removed from the list, but only after a protracted legal struggle.
Religious associations, but not their members, are prohibited from being active in political parties and movements or offering material to political groups.
Foreign religious minority workers are consistently hindered from obtaining a visa from the government, including some who sought to renew their visas after several years of service with no criminal behavior.
The government does not mandate religious instruction in schools; however, school buildings may allow for ROC teachings after school hours. Religion is taught in Sunday schools, public secondary schools and specialized religious schools. Orthodox Christianity is the preferred religion of such courses but recently the Congress of Religious Associations encouraged the introduction of different religious courses.
Government authorities seldom prosecuted or sentenced individuals arrested for attacks against religious minorities, and repeatedly failed to bring hate-crime charges even when it was clear that religious prejudice was involved.
There have been no recent reports of forced religious conversion.
2010 U.S. State Department International Religious Freedom on Russia