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article imageRussian church to assist U.S. on freedom of religion report

By Kevin Jess     Jan 29, 2010 in World
The Russian Orthodox Church will help in the preparation of the U.S. Department of State's annual report on freedom of religion across the world. Rights groups warn the church seeks to boost its dominance and threaten those very freedoms.
Archbishop Hilarion, head of the Moscow Patriarchate Department for External Church Relations at the Russian Orthodox Church affirmed in a statement on its website the importance of the work done by the U.S State Department but felt that the church's participation "would make it more objective," reports Interfax.
American Ambassador to Russia John Beyrle has reportedly said that he is ready to interact with the Russian Church.
During a meeting between the two men, Archbishop Hilarion told the ambassador about the current relations between the church and the Russian government and of the public services maintained by the Russian Orthodox Church, reports Interfax.
The Archbishop said that traditional religious communities in the country have made a "decisive contribution to the formation of Russia's statehood, which impacts their status and the exercise of religious freedom in Russia, and that should be taken into account when analyzing the relations between Church and the state."
The independent Moscow-based Liberty of Conscience Institute, a human rights advocacy group, warns that religious freedoms across Russia have deteriorated and point to the Russian Orthodox Church and its apparent desire to dominate religion in the country, reports Associated Press.
The Liberty of Conscience Institute, in its annual report, is concerned that growing government support of the Russian Orthodox Church comes at the expense of minority denominations. The institute says in the report that policies such as President Dmitry Medvedev's decision to assign Orthodox priests to army units and begin religious studies classes in state schools could spell the end of Russia as a secular state.
Russia's post-Soviet constitution officially separates government and religion but the report's authors say the relationship between the two have become "symbiotic."
Sergei Buryanov, a co-chair of the institute, told Associated Press that "Russia is witnessing a large-scale and systematic persecution of religious minorities that mainly targets Muslims."
Last month Digital Journal reported on the Russian Supreme Court ruling that literature circulated by Jehovah's Witnesses was to be banned, halting their activities in the country and causing backlashes against the group.
This action has alarmed the institute and says "the crackdown on religious freedoms has become so fierce that there may soon be no religious minorities in Russia."
The Russian Orthodox Church has over 100 million followers in Russia and millions more around the world.
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