President Clinton will have occasion to aid the development of human rights and democracy in Russia when he meets next month with Vladimir Putin at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit. He can put religious freedom squarely on the table.
Religious groups in Russia have until the end of the year to register with the government, or be dissolved. Just a little more than half of the 17,000 religious groups in Russia have been able to get through the registration process. A lot of red tape, along with old repressive tendencies, has resurfaced.
At the breakup of the Soviet Union, religious groups benefited from a remarkably progressive law allowing freer expression of religious beliefs. However, 1997 saw a step backward with restrictions of the rights of smaller or newer religious groups. At the same time, special status was given to Russia's more "traditional" religions.
Last week, the US Commission on International Religious Freedom wrote to Mr. Clinton, urging him to intervene to speed up the registration process and postpone the year-end deadline.
When Clinton talked with China's President Jiang Zemin in September, religious freedom in China and Tibet was on the agenda. He now has an opportunity to again show Mr. Putin how important that freedom is for the future of US-Russian relations.
(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society