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Moscow's Meshansk District Court Rules in Favor of Armenian Catholic Church Parish Seeking State Registration

June 7, 2010

On June 7, 2010, in Russia's capital, the Meshansk District Court of Moscow announced its decision in favor of the Armenian Catholic Church's right to maintain a parish in Moscow. Specifically, the Court declared as unlawful the decision taken in Moscow by the General Directorate of the Ministry of Justice of the Russian Federation to not review and consider the application for state registration submitted by a local religious organization - the Church of St. Gregory of the Armenian Catholic Church. The District Court also made a ruling whereby the Moscow branch of the Ministry of Justice will be obligated to consider the Church's application for state registration.

Attorneys from the Slavic Center for Law and Justice brought the lawsuit on behalf of the clergy and parishioners of the Church of St. Gregory of the Armenian Catholic Church against representatives of the Moscow branch of the Ministry of Justice, who had essentially refused to recognize the congregation's right to assemble and perform the rites and activities of their religion through its decision to not consider its application for state registration. The Ministry officials' decision to deny the congregation the right to assemble, as well as its freedom of religious expression, was based on three main reasons. First, the Moscow branch of the Ministry of Justice, represented by its responsible officials, claimed that the Church lacked the proper documentation to attest to the fact that it had indeed been in operation for a period of at least fifteen years (according to Russian legislation on religion, religious organizations are required to prove their existence for a term of at least fifteen years before being granted official state registration). The second reason for not considering the application was that, from the Ministry officials' point of view, the Church apparently lacked the proper information to clarify its doctrine and teachings. The third reason for this inaction was that the City claimed that the Church is too obscure to be granted official state recognition through registration.

Vladimir Ryakhovsky, lead attorney for the plaintiff and the directing partner and co-chairman of the Slavic Center for Law and Justice, argued that the Ministry's reasons for restricting the church's activities were not only unfounded, but factually constituted a violation of the Constitution of the Russian Federation with respect to the freedom of conscious and religious expression. He argued that the Ministry of Justice had not properly investigated the legal and historical circumstances of the Armenian Catholic Church. He further argued that, in addition to the fact that the Church of St. Gregory had been operating in Moscow since 1991 (thus exceeding the fifteen year requirement), the Armenian Catholic Church itself was represented in Russia since even before the revolution in 1917. Furthermore, it was argued that the Church is a well-known, respected religion that has a long history and significant worldwide membership. Based on the above-mentioned reasons, Vladimir Ryakhovsky argued that the operations of the Armenian Catholic Church on the whole should be fully exempt from the fifteen-year requirement, which generally applies only to newer, lesser-known religious groups. Mr. Ryakhovsky appealed to the Court to declare the City's actions illegal and to overturn their decision to deny the Church of St. Gregory their right to religious expression.

In support of its case, the plaintiff called upon several witnesses to give testimony that the parish had been in existence for a period of over fifteen years. The first witness was the rector of the Catholic Armenian Church's Cathedral in Moscow, who testified that the Church of St. Gregory had been operating since 1991. Following the rector's testimony, two regular parishioners of St. Gregory's also testified that they had been attending worship services at the Church since 1991, when it was first founded. Each of the witnesses also provided testimony to the fact that the Armenian Catholic Church was also in existence in Moscow prior to 1991.

The Meshansk District Court ultimately made a ruling in favor of the plaintiff, effectively recognizing that the Church of St. Gregory of the Armenian Catholic Church had been operating for a period extending beyond the fifteen-year limit imposed by Russian law. The Court also confirmed that the religion is known well enough to be exempt from detailed explanations to public authorities as to its doctrine and teachings. The Court ordered that the Moscow branch of the Ministry of Justice recognize the Church of St. Gregory of the Armenian Catholic Church by granting it official state registration and, in addition, restore its right to carry out worship services and fully perform the rites and religious practices that are maintained by the Armenian Catholic Church.

 
Slavic Center for Law and Justice
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