On Dec. 25, 2000, nine years to the day since the collapse of the Soviet Union and just six days before the legal deadline for re-registration, the Unification Church of Russia received documents confirming its re-registration from the Russian Ministry of Justice. This was the culmination of an intense legal battle for 2½ years to re-register our church under a new and more restrictive law on religious organizations passed by the Russian government in 1997.
If our church had been denied registration, the Ministry of Justice would have begun the process through the court system to liquidate our church as a legal body. This would have meant that the Unification Church would have no legal rights to witness, fundraise, publish, invite foreign missionaries or hold church services. In other words, the only way to operate would have been as an underground movement reminiscent of the Soviet era.
In 1990, the Soviet government had passed a law on religious freedom which allowed all people to openly practice their faith. The Unification Church was formally registered in the Russian Federation under that law on May 21, 1992. At the time, the Ministry of Justice was so concerned about showing the world that religious freedom had indeed arrived in Russia, that the Vice Minister of Justice held a special ceremony to present us with our church registration documents. A notice was also placed in all the major media announcing the registration of Rev. Moon’s church.
With the new spirit of religious freedom, foreign missionaries from many religious organizations poured into Russia, seeing it as a fertile witnessing ground. In response to this, and with the active support of the Russian Orthodox Church, Communist and nationalist members of Parliament sought to change the 1990 law on religious freedom. In 1997, a new law on freedom of conscience and religious belief was signed by President Yeltsin, requiring religious organizations active in Russia for less than 15 years to re-register by Dec. 31, 1999. (This deadline later was extended for one more year, until Dec. 31, 2000.) It was well understood that the Russian government would use the opportunity to deny registration to those organizations of which they disapproved. Because many leaders in the Orthodox Church and the Russian government opposed the Unification Church, the stage was set for a protracted battle.
Before the new law came into effect, our movement already had a taste of what to expect from the Russian authorities. In July 1995 two anti-cult organizations brought a suit against the local chapter of CARP in the city of St. Petersburg. They accused CARP and the Unification Movement of brainwashing members, causing irreparable psychological harm to their parents, and, through the international Blessings, ‘diluting the Russian gene pool.’ Over the next five years our movement was subjected to the most egregious violations of law by various levels of the Russian justice system. At one time five lawsuits against us were being heard by the same judge simultaneously: two from anti-cult organizations, one from city tax authorities, one from the St. Petersburg city Justice Department, and one from the district prosecutor. However, with the help of our excellent lawyers Galina Krylova and Helen Khudiakova we were able to shake off these lawsuits one by one.
In 1998 the same anti-cultists attempted to liquidate the federally registered Unification Church through the courts in Moscow. However, the plaintiffs failed in both the district and city courts to convince the judges of their claims. In one notable incident, the plaintiffs physically attacked our lawyer Galina Krylova as she left the courthouse. When the Moscow City Court judges announced their decision against the plaintiffs, the anti-cultists screamed at the judges as they left the bench, ‘You have been bought by Moon.’ Unusually, the chief justice stopped and turning toward his accusers asked, ‘If we are bought by Moon, then why did you come to my court?’
In spring 1998, we began the process of re-registering our church with the federal authorities under the new law. Five times our attempts were rejected, often for the most frivolous reasons. On occasions when our staff visited the Justice Ministry, they were practically mocked by lower-level bureaucrats, who assured them, ‘Moon’s church will never be re-registered in Russia.’ However, with the spiritual and material support of our Continental Director, Dr. Joon Ho Seuk, and the earnest prayers of Rev. Hyun Shil Kang (Korean National Messiah to Russia), we kept faith, despite many discouraging episodes.
Several days before receiving the re-registration documents, our lawyer visited the Justice Ministry and was told by the person responsible for offering recommendations to the vice minister of justice, ‘I am tired of fighting you people, and I will recommend that you be registered.’ In the last few days before we received the registration, several of our church centers were raided by the FSB (Federal Security Bureau, the successor to the KGB). On the evening before the registration documents were signed, a very negative program about our movement was broadcast on Russian television Channel One, the main government channel. It seems that until the last moment, there was an intense discussion as to whether the Unification Church should be granted legitimacy. On receiving the re-registration document, we noticed that all parts of the document were typed, except for the date (Dec. 21), which was hand-written.
This victory represents a very important step in the development of Russia as a law-based society. Despite intense pressure from politicians and the Orthodox authorities, the Ministry of Justice had to recognize that the Unification Church had fulfilled all its obligations under the Russian Constitution and law and therefore could not be denied registration.
On a providential level, it represents an acknowledgment of True Parents by a nation which is destined to play an important providential role in the establishment of God’s kingdom on earth.
Jack Corley is the director for public affairs of the Unification Movement in the Northeast Continent. Konstantin Krylov is the chairman of the Unification Church Council of Russia and deputy director for public affairs of the Unification Movement in the Northeast Continent.