In a nutshell, it makes it illegal to share your beliefs outside of religious registered buildings, such as churches. So for example, handing out religious literature in public spaces, plus many “house church” gatherings would be classified as illegal. The bill also includes ‘informal sharing’ – so chatting with neighbours, having a conversation on a bus, and even within your own home.
Churches who have chosen to apply for state permission should be unaffected.
Fines for individuals will be up to 50,000 roubles (about £600, roughly 6 week’s average wages), and for organisations up to 1m roubles (about £12k).
We will have to watch this space to see how this law gets interpreted and applied, but it would certainly appear that individual Christians, non-registered and house churches are now increasingly vulnerable to fastidious law enforcement officers.
The bill, formally introduced as a “anti-terrorism” measure, has met with widespread protest from many faith and human rights groups. They argue that it violates Russian citizens’ constitutional right “freely to choose, hold, and disseminate religious and other beliefs”. Some are calling for a Constitutional Court challenge.
Please pray for our brothers and sisters in Russia. Pray that churches will be given wisdom, discernment, and courage as they work through how best to respond to this new legislation.