Moscow: The Supreme Court of Russia reversed the decision regarding the liquidation of the United Methodist Church of Smolensk
June 10th, 2008
The Supreme Court of Russia reversed the decision of the Smolensk Regional Court regarding the liquidation of the United Methodist Church (UMC) of Smolensk and issued a new decision about the Smolensk regional prosecution's dismissal of the case regarding the liquidation of UMC, reports the press service of the Slavic Center for Law and Justice. The interests of the UMC were represented by the attorneys of SCLJ.
The court hearing of the civil division of the Supreme Court of Russia took place on June 10th. In the course of the hearing, the case of UMC was considered in connection with the casssational claim they filed against the Regional Court of Smolensk's decision of March 24th, 2008. The representative of the General Prosecutor's Office of the Russian Federation, A.V. Fedotova, insisted that the decision of the Smolensk General Prosecutor's Office was legally sound, founding her argument on the grounds that the church conducted educational activity without licensing, which violates the law. The pastor of the Methodist Church of Smolensk, Aleksander Vtorov, was present at the court hearing and remarked that his congregation did, in fact, conduct educational activity, but did so within the confines of the law, as instruction was limited only to the church members' fundamental beliefs. Moreover, similar educational activity that is based on the fundamental beliefs of church members is held in practically every branch of the Russian Orthodox Church; yet, no attempts are made to liquidate these branches.
As attorneys-at-law Vladimir Ryakhovsky and Anatoly Pchelintsev remarked later, the decision of the Supreme Court of Russia was not a victory for the church, but more than anything, a victory of common sense and genuine justice. If, for instance, the Supreme Court would have issued a different decision, then the Russian Federation would receive yet one more lost case in the European Court of Human Rights.
It should be noted, that on the 24th of March, 2008, the religious organization UMC of Smolensk was liquidated in connection with a complaint filed by the Regional Prosecutor's Office of Smolensk. This claim was founded, among other things, upon the appeal of Bishop Vyazemsky Ignaty (Punin) to government authorities regarding the educational activity of the Christian Methodist Church. The Church was accused of organizing a Sunday school called "Our Sweethearts," which was not a legal entity and did not have licensing. As Vladimir Ryakhovsky emphasized, it is necessary to realize what the Sunday school of this Methodist congregation consisted of, in actuality. The congregation meets in a modest wooden home with no more than 30 church members and usually four to five children. During the portion of the church service when a sermon is read for the adult members, activities are held for the youngest children for 45 minutes in an adjacent room. The activities are conducted by an elderly woman or one of the parents. The adult read to the children a chapter from "the Bible in Pictures" and then ask the children questions regarding the reading. The children are encouraged to draw and mold from play dough themes related to the Bible. In follow up, scores are presented to the children for their work in the form of stickers depicting sea creatures: 5 points - a whale or starfish, 4 points - a dolphin or an octopus, 3 points - a fish, 2 points - a shark. According to the words of Vladimir Ryakhovsky, this is namely what the prosecutor interpreted as the educational process, program and educational activity.