New Law Will Restrict Public Religious Displays

June 12, 2013
Muslims worshipping in Moscow

The Russian government has approved and submitted a draft law to the State Duma under which the conducting of religious rituals, ceremonies, prayers and religious meetings in public spaces will require the permission of local authorities. Dmitry Medvedev proposed equating such activities with rallies and processions, although rituals can be conducted inside churches, mosques and cemeteries without approval. If the draft law is passed efficiently, it will inordinately affect the large-scale Muslim holiday Kurban-Bayram (Eid al-Adha), which will take place in October 2013.

As the Russian government has reported, Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev has approved and assigned to be submitted to the State Duma a draft of amendments to Article 16 of the Law on Freedom of Conscience and Religious Associations. The draft law, developed by the Ministry of Justice, defines the list of places where religious organizations have the right to conduct “worship services, other religious rituals and ceremonies” without preliminary notification to executive bodies of government. Such places include “cult or other buildings (facilities) with a religious purpose belonging to religious organizations with the right to property or provided to them through another property right; land parcels belong to religious organizations with the right of ownership or provided to them through another property right; places of pilgrimage; territories of organizations created by religious organizations; cemeteries and crematoria; residential buildings.”

Thus, for example, religious rituals may be conducted on the territory of a church or mosque without permission from the authorities. However, according to the new law, “in other cases” when religious rituals and ceremonies, including prayer and religious meetings, are conducted openly, “in conditions that require the taking of measures aimed at securing public order and safety,” the activities must be conducted in the manner established for rallies, processions and demonstrations.

A similar draft law was submitted to the State Duma in 2011 by the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR) faction (reported by Kommersant on 1 November 2011). At that time, the initiative was related to the particularities of conducting Muslim holidays, or to be more precise, Kurban-Bayram. During the annual celebration of Kurban-Bayram, there is a crush of people in the metro in the capital, tens of thousands of people gather on the squares starting in the morning in order to hold the prayer ritual, and State Inspection for Road Traffic Safety is forced to stop automobile traffic. The great outrage of the deputies was provoked by the tradition of slaughtering lambs right on the streets. Therefore, it was proposed to tighten up the rules for conducting such events. In 2013, Kurban-Bayram is scheduled to take place on 15 October; if the State Duma manages to pass the amendments submitted by Dmitry Medvedev, then the new rules will be applied this fall.