Yeltsin signs controversial religion bill
September 26, 1997
Web posted at: 10:57 a.m. EDT (1457 GMT)
MOSCOW (CNN) -- Russian President Boris Yeltsin on Friday
signed into law a highly controversial religion bill that
enshrines the Russian Orthodox Church as the country's
preeminent religion and limits the activities of other
Yeltsin vetoed the original bill in July in response to sharp
criticism at home and abroad, including that from the Vatican
and the U.S. Congress.
Russia's Orthodox Church and hard-liners and nationalists in
parliament fought hard for the revised bill, arguing that the
country was flooded by dangerous alien religious groups
following the fall of communism.
But opponents contend the bill violates Russia's post-Soviet
constitution and discriminates unfairly against minority
religious groups, including Protestant and Roman Catholic
groups that have become increasingly active in Russia since
the 1991 Soviet collapse.
There was no immediate comment from Yeltsin on the signing,
only a brief Kremlin statement that said the president had
signed the bill into law.
The new version includes several changes but keeps the most
controversial clauses largely intact. U.S. Vice President Al
Gore, during a Moscow visit this week, said he believed the
revised version discriminated against many religions.
The bill pledges respect for Islam, Judaism, Buddhism and
Christianity in general, but many opponents fear that the
Orthodox Church wants to prevent Catholic and Protestant
groups from operating freely in Russia.
One clause in the bill says religious groups must be present
in Russia for 15 years before they can publish or distribute
religious literature, or invite missionaries to the former
Such groups would not be able to hold worship services in
hospitals, senior citizens' homes, schools, orphanages or
prisons. They would not be able to form educational
establishments, found newspapers or magazines and their
clergy would not be exempt from military service.
Only a few religious groups were allowed to operate during
the officially atheist Soviet era, and most do not meet the
Parliament's upper chamber, the Federation Council, voted
unanimously to approve the measure on Wednesday, and the
lower house approved it overwhelmingly last week.
A commission of representatives from the presidency,
parliament and Russia's main religions drew up the revised