By Milena Faustova
The Russian Orthodox Church and the Council of Muftis of Russia have both slammed the US State Department’s annual report on international religious freedoms where Russia is listed among countries where those freedoms are not properly observed.
The report reviews the status of religious freedoms in 199 countries and territories.
The top eight chronic violators of religious freedoms, according to the State Department’s report, are Iran, China, North Korea, Myanmar, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Uzbekistan and Eritrea.
As for Russia, it says that although religious freedoms there are on the whole respected, some religious minorities still experience serious problems. These include scientologists and various religious sects banned in many countries as extremists.
The report evoked little surprise in Moscow. Chairman of the State Duma Committee on Public and Religious Organizations Sergei Popov, in an interview with the Voice of Russia, called it a pretentious and superficial document that does not reflect the real situation with the freedom of religion in Russia.
“That survey is nothing more than the United States’ own position based on its own approaches, views and principles. On the one hand, the American experts’ conclusions reveal their poor knowledge of Russian realities and that they are not well-versed in matters related to the freedom of conscience. On the other hand, the report bows to Russia by acknowledging slight progress. But as Americans do not understand all our problems, they mix up the religious and ethnic factors, and they also appear to have a vague understanding of sects.”
The report alleges that while there is no state religion in Russia, the Russian Orthodox Church and selected other “traditional” religious communities receive preferential considerations.
The Russian Orthodox Church has refuted the allegation and questioned the objectivity of the survey. Deputy head of the Moscow Patriarchate’s External Church Relations Department, Archdeacon Georgy Roshchin, said that the Church had repeatedly called on the US Administration for a more comprehensive coverage of the religious situation in Russia. It is no secret that the US State Department gets information from always the same organizations, often fairly unknown, that take a dissident stance towards Russia and religious communities in Russia. There has been no official reaction from Washington.
The report mentions such pseudo-religious organizations as the Church of Scientology and the Jehova’s Witnesses among those that allegedly suffer politically-motivated persecution in Russia. As to the above movements, both of them have been receiving financial support from the United States, being actually foreign agents propagating American political ideas.
Inside the US, some religious laws verge on absurdity. Thus, in some parts of the United States, the law prohibits Christmas trees in public areas because, being a symbol of Christianity, they may hurt the religious feelings of Jews, Muslims or atheists. As a result, Americans who champion religious freedoms and the equality of religions throughout the world are making it impossible for representatives of traditional religions to openly profess their faith.