Types of religious association. Religious groups
Russian law grants freedom of conscience and religion, including the right to confess, individually or together with others, any religion or none at all, to freely chose and change, have and promote any religious or non-religious convictions, and act according to them. Legal relationships in the area of human and citizen rights to freedom of conscience and religion and also legal standing of religious associations are regulated by Federal law from 26.09.1997 № 125-FL "On Freedom of conscience and religious associations”. According to clause 2. Article 6 of Federal law from 26.09.1997 № 125-FL “On freedom of conscience and religious associations”, religious associations can be established in the form of religious groups and religious organizations. This material covers the notion, characteristics, and notification procedure on commencement of the activity.
- 1. Religious group as a type of religious association
- 2. Notification on commencement of religious group activity
- 3. Specifics of religious group activity
- 4. Missionary activity and religious groups
1. Religious group as a type of religious association
According to clause 1 article 7 FL “On freedom of conscience and religious associations” (henceforth, Law on freedom of conscience), a religious group is considered to be a voluntary association of citizens, formed with the purpose to confess and promotion of faith, which carries out its activity without state registration and acquisition of legal entity status.
A significant sign of religious group is that this religious association carries out its activity without state registration.
The law specifies neither minimal nor maximal number of people in the group, therefore both 2 and 1000 people can be considered a group.
Based on the definition in clause 1 article 7 of the Law on freedom of conscience, a religious group is not obliged to have state registration. State registration is a right and not an obligation of a religious association. According to part 2 of article 30 of the Russian Constitution, nobody can be forced to enter any association or stay in it. Besides, clause 5 article 3 of the Law on freedom of conscience states that nobody can be forced to participate or not participate in worship services, other religious rites and ceremonies, and in religious association activity.
State registration is solely connected to the acquisition of legal status and it cannot be considered as activity authorization. Otherwise, it would contradict article 28 of the Russian Constitution. Because the right to have a common confession, granted by article 28 of the Constitution, is directly applicable and is not connected with registration of some sort.
Besides, according to clause 1 article 3 of the Law on freedom of conscience in the Russian Federation, the right to freedom of conscience and religion can be realized both individually and together with others, also by establishing a religious association. In other words, one can realize one’s right to collective confession without establishing a religious association. Collective Bible reading doesn’t mean that participants of this meeting created a religious association in the form of a religious group. To establish a religious group, one has to use the right recognized in clause 2 article 7, which is to notify of the commencement of religious group activity. Only after group information is received by the organ authorized to make decisions on state registration of a religious organization, located in the place of religious group activity, a territorial organ of Ministry of Justice of the Russian Federation, one can say that a religious group has been formed and it started its activity. Notification is a right and not an obligation of a religious group.
Members of a religious group can be citizens of the Russian Federation and also other persons, legally and constantly residing within the territory of the Russian Federation.
2. Notification on commencement of religious group activity
According to article 7 of the Law on freedom of conscience, the religious group files written notification to the corresponding territorial organ of the Russian Ministry of Justice in the place of its activity on commencement of its activity.
Both a head (representative) of religious group or governing body (center) of a religious organization, in case, if this religious group is a part of its structure, can be an applicant filing the notification on commencement of religious group activity (henceforth – notification).
The notification must be submitted both by newly established religious groups and by those, that earlier have informed the local government on commencement of its activity.
Notification form (№ РГ0001) is approved by the order of the Ministry of Justice of the Russian Federation from 05.10.2015 № 234. The notification must include the following information:
- Principles of confession,
- Places of religious worship and other religious rites and ceremonies,
- Head (representative),
- citizens, being members of this religious group with their full names, surnames, patronymics, and addresses.
Later on, a religious group must notify on the continuation of its activity no less than once in three years since the day of the last notification of territorial organ of the Russian Ministry of Justice. Notification on the continuation of activity has a simple written form.
3. Specifics of religious group activity
According to clause 1 article 7 of the Law on freedom of conscience, members provide the facility and other property, necessary for religious group activity, for the use of group.
Facilities, which can be provided to a religious group, can be both residential and non-residential, being a property or belonging in some other form of property rights to its members.
While a religious group has no legal entity status, it cannot be a party in civil-law relationships. That is, no agreements can be made on behalf of this religious group. Therefore, in this case, an agreement can be made on behalf of one or several members of a religious group. In the same manner, religious group that is not a legal entity, cannot possess property, which is an estate in severally of one or several of its members.
According to clause 3 article 7 of the Law on freedom of conscience, religious group has a right to freely conduct religious service and other ceremonies. Besides, a religious group has a right to teach religion and give religious upbringing to its followers, they don’t need to file any additional notification to realize this right, religious teaching activity is not educational activity and does not require a license.
In comparison to religious organizations, religious groups have rather a narrow circle of rights, while they cannot produce, acquire, export or import religious literature, printed, audio or video materials, and other objects of religious purposes; to establish and conduct international connections and contacts, including those with a purpose of pilgrimage, to participate in gatherings and other events to get religious education, conducting charity work and educational activity, etc. While religious organizations have a vast circle of rights, embodied in articles 15 - 24 of the Law on freedom of conscience.
Moreover, lack of legal entity status doesn’t not allow religious groups even protect their rights in courtroom, while they have no right to be complainants in a lawsuit. Only individual members can do it on their own behalf.
Unlike religious organizations, which according to clause 8 article 8 of the Law on freedom of conscience are obliged to provide their full name when carrying out their activity, religious groups have no such obligation.
Meanwhile, practice shows that religious groups often face the requirements of law-enforcement authorities to state their full confession while carrying their activity. Actually, there is such a requirement in the Law on freedom of conscience in clause 8 article 8, however, this clause applies only to religious organizations activity, not religious associations in general. The law on freedom of conscience places no such demands on religious groups. Therefore, law-enforcement authorities demand must be deemed as unreasonable.
4. Missionary activity and religious groups
While carrying on missionary activity on behalf of a religious group, according to clause 1 article 24.2 of the Law on freedom of conscience, the citizens must have a written decision of joint gathering of religious group granting them such powers. This decision must have the record details of the written letter of confirmation of establishing and commencement of the said religious group activity, authorized by the territorial organ of the federal organ of state registration.
Foreign citizens and stateless persons, legally residing within the territory of the Russian Federation, can carry on missionary activity on behalf of religious group, with some limitations. According to clause 3 article 24.2 of the Law on freedom of conscience, the aforementioned persons have a right to carry on missionary activity only within the territory of the Russian Federation subject, where the territorial organ of state registration federal organ, issuing the written confirmation letter of receiving and registration the notification on establishing and commencement of this religious group activity, is located, provided that these persons have religious group decision to grant them corresponding powers.