SALT LAKE CITY – Mormon missionaries will remain in Russia despite the country’s new anti-terrorism law, which will put greater restrictions on religious work starting later this month.
In a statement issued Friday, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints said that missionaries will respect a measure that Russian President Vladimir Putin signed into law this week.
“The church will honour, sustain and obey the law,” the church said.
“The church will further study and analyze the law and its impact as it goes into effect.”
Starting July 20, missionary workers will be working under more stringent rules. They include a requirement that missionary work be done by people affiliated with registered organizations. Missionaries and organizations caught praying and disseminating materials in private residences could be subject to fines. They range from $780 per missionary and $15,500 for an organization.
Furthermore, religious work can only be done in houses of worship and other related religious sites. Critics say this aspect is way too restrictive. It would mean no Mormons could share their faith online or in a home to which they have been invited.
Julie Emmons, 20, came back to her Elk Grove, California, home two weeks ago after finishing her mission in the Mormon Church’s Russia Moscow Mission. According to her, Russian Mormons regularly assist missionaries and have them over to their homes to teach people about the faith.
While in Russia, she and other missionaries carried “a testimony” at all times. A testimony is paperwork that includes a copy of a passport and information about what the missionary is doing.
More than 22,700 members of the Mormon church reside in Russia, according to the LDS’ news website. Matt Martinich, an independent LDS researcher and project manager of The Cumorah Foundation, said Russia has historically put up obstacles for missionaries since the church gained recognition in 1991. They include making it difficult to get building permits, bring in missionaries and get visas.
The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom condemned the law Friday, saying it is a way to enact “sweeping powers to curtail civil liberties.” Groups in other religious communities such as Muslims and Jehovah’s Witnesses also must register to do religious work. The law calls for heightened telephone and social media surveillance.