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Russian Law Curbs Foreigner Preaching, 
Seeking of Converts

Text and headlines taken from L.A. Times - July 15, 1993
by John-Thor Dahlburg

MOSCOW - Russia's lawmakers, heeding the warnings of alarmed Orthodox clerics and outraged nationalists, passed a law Wednesday restricting independent preaching, the seeking of converts and religious advertising by foreigners on Russian soil.

Under the law, evangelist Billy Graham, a Roman Catholic archbishop sent by Pope John Paul II or a visiting Orthodox clergyman from America will have to seek a license from the Russian government before preaching the Gospel here, the Izvestia newspaper said.

Critics denounced the legislation as one of the most blatant examples yet of reactionary, anti-foreign sentiment in the Supreme Soviet. The law was the national legislature's reply to the anxiety expressed by many Orthodox prelates over the fact that Western churches, wealthier and more experienced in public relations than they, are fast gaining influence in Russia.

"This is terrible; it is a gross violation of the constitution," Lidia I. Semina, press secretary for the liberal chairman of the legislature's committee on human rights, said of the law's passage.

"I hope I'm not expelled before sundown," Father Norman A. Meiklejohn, a Roman Catholic priest from the United States who serves as a chaplain to much of Moscow's Western community, joked grimly.

The new licensing requirement, an amendment to the 1990 Law on Freedom of Profession of Religion that ended decades of tight state controls on public displays of faith, outlaws unsanctioned missionary, printing, advertising and commercial activities by non-citizens.

To act in the spiritual field, Western and other foreigners will now have to solicit and receive government "accreditation," if the leadership of President Boris N. Yeltsin, which is far more liberal than the anti-reform legislature, chooses to apply the new requirements.

A quietly satisfied Patriarch Alexi II of Moscow and All Russia, head of the Russian Orthodox Church, told the Supreme Soviet the law "will allow for a balanced approach to registering non-traditional religious communities." The new requirements, Alexi said, meet "the needs and aspirations of the Orthodox higher clergy and believers."

The Itar-Tass news agency reported that representatives of the Muslim religious hierarchy also backed the law.

In a land where Orthodox doctrine was long the state religion, Jimmy Swaggert's and Robert Schuller's evangelical shows are now regularly aired on Russian television. The Catholic charity organization Caritas, Mother Teresa's Missionaries of Charity and priests from the Jesuit and Dominican orders all function here, as do the Salvation Army, "new age" gurus, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Hare Krishna adherents and proponents of many other religious denominations or faiths.

The new law, passed by nearly a three-quarters majority, was defended by leading hard-line law maker Mikhail G. Astafiev as a necessity to protect Russia's age-old ways from an invasion of foreign creeds.