A church in Russia’s Chuvash Republic that was ordered by the state to be dissolved for teaching children and having flower boxes in its facility may get a reprieve with the decision by the European Court of Human Rights to consider whether the case should be reviewed.
Word of the development in the years-long dispute comes from the Slavic Center for Law and Justice, a nongovernmental, nonprofit group focusing on protecting religious rights and freedoms.
The organization, which engages in litigation and provides legal services in the defense of religious activity, said the court now has accepted an application to determine if it will hear the case.
“That’s an important step to what has been a very lengthy process,” the organization said. It was in April 2008 when the organization applied to the court on the grounds that the Russian government violated the rights of the Biblical Centre of Chuvash Republic.
The court now has requested that the Russian government respond to the allegations in the application and several questions regarding the incidents concerning the church, the organization said.
“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 centre.”
The case started developing after the Biblical Centre, which was registered as a religious organization in Russia, in 1996 opened a Bible school to train its leaders. On Sundays, parents taught Bible lessons to children.
In 2007, the local prosecutor began a series of inspections of the church organization’s facility, claiming to be concerned over fire and safety rules.
Eventually, the prosecutor brought a series of complaints that the facilities were “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.”
Further, he claimed violations of the nation’s education laws since the church was not licensed to operate as an education institution. The church brought in the Slavic Center for Law and Justice and argued that as a recognized religious organization it was allowed to teach its own children on Sundays.
“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 Slavic Center reported.
Further, the arguments noted that the government was providing special treatment to the Russian Orthodox Church, since it was not required to “obtain an educational license.”
The courts, however, ultimately ruled against the church and ordered it dissolved.
The Slavic Center said the new hope arrived just days ago with the acceptance by the European Court of Human Rights of an application to determine if it will overturn the decision.
Importantly, the Slavic Center said, it will have an opportunity to argue its case of rights violations.