Religious minorities and missionaries feeling effect of Russian religious restrictions

New restrictions against “extremist” religions in Russia are causing considerable struggle among missionaries and other groups involved in preaching and disseminating religious materials, reports the Washington Post (September 20). The recent law, passed by President Vladimir Putin, prohibits proselytizing among all religious groups except in officially registered buildings and sites. The restrictions extend to private homes and online communications. Mormon church officials have reassigned 65 missionaries and have renamed others as “volunteers” who will not engage in recruiting for the LDS church. The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association has canceled a World Summit on Persecuted Christians scheduled to meet in Russia, and other religious minorities, such as the Hare Krishnas, claim the law has created a climate of fear among these groups.

The law, originally designed as an anti-terrorist measure, passed in July, and so far only seven people have been charged under it. But the law is the latest in a series of restrictions since 2007 aimed at “religious extremism” but turned against religious minorities. Part of the Russian move against often American-based minority religions has been aggravated by the U.S. support of anti-Russian protests in its conflict with Ukraine. The law has particularly affected the Jehovah’s Witnesses since every member is considered a missionary who is required to recruit new members. Regional governments have been stringent in their supervision of the law, using visa infractions to control the movement of some religions, such as Mormons.