ECHR to Consider Whether it Will Review Religious Freedom Case From Russia
The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has agreed to consider an
application from the Slavic Centre for Law and Justice to determine if it will
take a crucial religious freedom case in Russia.
It's been a lengthy process. And, now, after two-and-a-half years, the
ECHR will determine if it should take this closely-watched case.
Here's the background about this case:
Almost 20 years ago, the Biblical Centre of the Chuvash Republic was
registered as a religious organization in Russia, but the fate of this religious
organization has been under attack. In 1996, the Centre opened a Bible
school to train leaders for the church. On Sundays, during regular church
services, parents in the church also took turns teaching Bible lessons to
children at Sunday school. But in 2007, a town prosecutor became suspicious of
the religious activity and conducted inspections of the Centre's premises under
the auspices of fire and safety control. After repeated inspections, the
prosecutor listed several alleged violations of sanitary laws. The prosecutor
complained, among many things, that the facilities are not adequate to provide
students with a comfortable working space, the benches are self-made; the walls
are covered with paper and difficult to clean, the windows are decorated with
flower pots; and the doors to the restrooms lack appropriate locks. Moreover,
the prosecutor alleged that the Centre violated the educational laws of Russia
because the Centre was not licensed to operate an educational institution with
its Bible school or Sunday school. The prosecutor brought the Centre up on
charges before a local court.
The Centre enlisted the help of the Slavic Centre for Law and Justice (SCLJ)
and maintained that as a recognized religious organization the Centre had the
right to educate its followers about the faith in any form, be it preaching,
discussions, seminars, or lectures. The SCLJ argued that the Centre is not
subject to educational licensing laws of Russia for its Bible school or Sunday
school. The Religions Act of Russia specifically states that religious education
and religious teaching of its followers are integral parts of the activities of
every religious association. Furthermore, the Centre argued that the
alleged sanitary violations could not be the basis for dissolution of the
organization because the sanitary standards apply only to educational facilities
and the Bible school and Sunday school were not educational facilities but tools
used to teach members of the faith about the faith. The SCLJ argued that the
Government was giving the Russian Orthodox Church preferential treatment because
it never required the Orthodox Church to obtain an educational license for its
After a local court ruled against the Centre, the SCLJ appealed to various
courts in Russia all the way to the Supreme Court of Chuvash Republic.
Ultimately, the Supreme Court of Chuvash Republic held without explanation that
the Center's educational activities without a license amounted to a "gross and
repeated violation" of the educational and religious laws. The court
ordered that the organization be dissolved.
Now, there is new hope in this case.
On 2 September 2010, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has accepted
an application to determine if it will hear this case. That's an important
step to what has been a very lengthy process. In April 2008, the SCLJ applied to
the ECHR on the grounds that the Russian Government violated the Centre's rights
to freedom of religion and association, and discriminated against the Centre
because of its religious domination.
The Court has requested that the Russian Government respond to the
allegations in the application and several questions regarding the incidents
concerning the Centre. Among these questions, the Government will have to answer
whether it granted the Centre a reasonable time to correct the alleged
sanitation violations, which stated that having flower boxes on the premises and
not having locks on the doors violated Russian sanitation laws. The
Government will also have to address whether the forced dissolution of the
Centre furthered, as the law requires, a "pressing social need" along with
explaining what was the factual basis for the conclusion that the Centre had
repeatedly or grossly violated Russian law to justify the dissolution of the
After the Government responds to the application, the SCLJ will have an
opportunity to respond to the Government's submission and plead its case as to
why the Government discriminated against the Centre and violated the Centre's
basic rights to freedom of religion and association.
The case is Biblical Centre of the Chuvash Republic v. Russia.
The Slavic Centre for Law and Justice (SCLJ) is a non-governmental,
non-profit organization with the principal goal of protecting religious rights
and freedoms of individuals and associations in Russia.