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Russia and Religion

October 7, 1997



The lessons of democracy sometimes sink in slowly. Russia, apparently, is not yet ready to absorb the lesson that freedom of worship is integral to the free exchange of ideas within a society. Ultimately, it forms a bulwark for social, moral, and spiritual progress.

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Russia's new law on religion supports one church, or attempts to. The impulse to favor Russian Orthodoxy, long the national church, is layered in history. Since emerging from communism - which persecuted all religions, including Orthodoxy - Russia has seen a burst of religious activity. This has greatly disturbed the country's traditionalists. Hence the resort to state registration procedures that discriminate against religions that can't prove at least 15 years of activity in Russia.

Restrictions on churches that don't meet that standard include a prohibition on literature distribution, teaching, and the employment of foreigners as clergy or preachers. The law depends largely on local enforcement. Many jurisdictions, we hope, will resist the law's narrow nationalism and allow a free marketplace of religious ideas more in keeping with the new Russia.

Russian officials have shown little inclination to listen to outsiders on this issue - including Vice President Gore, who raised objections during his recent visit to Moscow. It's doubtful that US congressional threats to cut aid to Russia if the law persecutes minority religions will do much either.

In the long run, a free Russia, where individuals can prosper, will have to shake off any shackles on religion. We're reminded of a ringing statement from Mary Baker Eddy, this newspaper's founder: "God is everywhere. No crown nor sceptre nor rulers rampant can quench the vital heritage of freedom - man's right to adopt a religion, to employ a physician, to live or to die according to the dictates of his own rational conscience and enlightened understanding."