The current Russian government under President Vladimir Putin amended the Religion Law on April 5, introducing more troubling changes for ministries throughout Russia, particularly for ministers coming from abroad or have received training in other countries.
This new provision requires all foreign missionaries, clergy, and religious instructors to undergo "additional professional education in the field of the basics of state-confessional relations in the Russian Federation," reports Forum 18.
The International Christian Concern found that the amendment, bound to be implemented on October 2021, hides a broad variety of religious concerns, all while seemingly being on the side of "protecting the spiritual sovereignty of Russia."
Additional modifications include, among other things, making it illegal for organizations or NGOs to include "religious identifiers in their name without sanctioned by the government-approved Centralized Religious Organization." A number of new names have been added to the list of those prohibited from being in leadership roles in any religious organization.
The persecution watchdog noted that while the new rule does not apply to individuals who are currently involved in ministry, it will apply to any new pastor or missionary who is joining the profession coming ahead, whether they are foreign or Russian residents. Details of the content and requirements of the courses are presently being kept under wraps and anticipated to be made available when the legislation takes effect in October.
Furthermore, the ICC raises concern about what the law "does not say."
"The main problem is that the wording of the amendments is very imprecise and leaves room for interpretation. Therefore, much will depend on how the new rules will be interpreted in the course of law enforcement practice," says Olga Sibireva, head of the Moscow-based Religion in Secular Society Project.
Most religious groups in the nation reacted unfavorably to the bill, with the exception of the Russian Orthodox Church.
"Representatives of other religious organizations consider the draft law a threat to freedom of religion and its norms as an attempt of the state to strengthen its ability to interfere with the internal activities of religious organizations," said Sibireva.
Gradual adjustments to restrict freedom?
Back in 2016, Putin gave the green light to a set of anti-terrorism regulations that lead to further limitations on missionary activities and evangelism, reports Christianity Today.
Even after efforts by religious leaders and human rights groups, the Kremlin made the announcement that Putin approved the law. The amendment that time included regulations to limit discussing one's beliefs in homes, on the internet, or in public spaces, but they made an exception for places of worship.
The ICC states that following the fall of the Soviet Union, many churches and ministries in Russia have seen more religious freedom, and they are able to practice their religion publicly.
Nevertheless, since using the rationale of fighting the "war on terror," Vladimir Putin's government has made modifications to the rights of religious minorities, whether by increasing the number of regulatory barriers put in place for ministries or outright banning specific organizations.
The U.S. Commission for International Religious Freedom reaffirmed Russia's status as a CPC (country of particular concern) in its 2021 report, after which they recommended that Russia be included as such on the U.N. Committee's annual list of such countries.