WASHINGTON – United States Helsinki Commission Co-Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) and Commissioner Rep. Joseph R. Pitts (R-PA) today welcomed the recent decision of the Russian Constitutional Court that upholds the right of the Salvation Army’s Moscow branch to function in the Russian Capital.
According to the Moscow-based Slavic Center for Law and Justice, the Constitutional Court ruled February 7, 2002 that a previous court decision permitting city authorities to dissolve the Moscow branch of the Salvation Army was based on a misinterpretation of current law.
“This is excellent news,” Smith said, “not only for rule of law in Russia, but for the Russian people themselves. Now the Salvation Army of Moscow will be able to continue with its mission – caring for the poor and underprivileged of the city.”
“I welcome and commend this important step towards upholding and protecting rule of law and human rights in Russia,” said Commissioner Pitts. “The Salvation Army is an internationally-recognized organization that effectively serves those in need in a number of countries around the world.”
An earlier appeals court decision had ruled that Moscow authorities had acted appropriately in ordering the “liquidation” of the Moscow branch after the city government refused to register the Salvation Army as a religious organization under provisions of Russia’s 1997 Law on Freedom of Conscience and Religious Organizations, allegedly due to a minor technicality in the application for registration.
During an October 2001 Helsinki Commission briefing devoted to registration of religious organizations in OSCE member states, the head of the Moscow branch of the Salvation Army, Col. Kenneth Baillie, commended the cooperative relation that the Salvation Army enjoyed with federal authorities, but regretted “the embarrassment and ill will the Moscow situation has brought upon Russia,” and expressed his desire to have good relationships in Moscow.
The Salvation Army currently operates in 80 countries and numerous other cities in the Russian Federation.