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Russians pass tough religion law

A bill that makes it virtually impossible for nontraditional faiths to operate in Russia has been signed into law. Russian President Boris Yeltsin first vetoed the bill, calling it unconstitutional. He later signed a compromise bill.

The head of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Alexi II, supported the bill, calling for a complete ban on proselytizing in Russia by "nontraditional" faiths. He said "North American" religious freedom was out of place in Russia and called proselytizing "an attempt by unworthy means to lure people of another faith from the religions of their ancestors."

The new bill includes only slight changes from the original and retains the tiered system of extending official recognition and rights to religious groups. Under the plan, the Russian Orthodox Church would stand above all others, with Judaism, Islam and Buddhism also receiving official sanction. All other faiths, including Roman Catholic and Protestant churches, would be classified as "groups" that would have to re-register annually with the government for 15 years before they would be eligible for full official recognition.

Lutherans, who have been in Russia for over four centuries, hope to be considered a church recognized for more than 15 years. But since most churches weren't allowed to operate during the Soviet era, it's unclear how they will be classified.

Soon after the bill was signed in late September, the Evangelical Lutheran Mission of Khakassia had its registration revoked under the new law, according to the Keston News Service.


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