...On Sochi Winter Olympics -- State-favored religions in Russia

The Russian government’s actions reflect a policy of “state favored religions” that favors the Moscow Patriarchate of the Russian Orthodox Church (MPROC) over other religious communities, including the other traditional faiths. For example, the MPROC has made agreements with some government ministries, such as the Ministry of Education, to only offer the Orthodox culture module in their schools. Outside of MPROC schools, Russian school students may select one of six modules on Secular Ethics, Foundations of World Religious Cultures, and Foundations of Orthodox, Islamic, Jewish or Buddhist Culture. Secular Ethics is the most popular selection throughout Russia.

The MPROC receives the bulk of the state’s support for religious communities including subsidies for construction of churches, although other so-called “traditional” religious communities also sometimes benefit. Yet, government officials have obstructed the construction or rental of buildings for worship of other religious groups, particularly for “non-traditional” groups such as Jehovah's Witnesses, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons), Pentecostal congregations, the Evangelical Christian Missionary Union, Orthodox groups that do not recognize the Moscow Patriarchate, and Old Believer communities. Muslim groups in major urban areas, particularly Moscow, encounter obstacles in gaining official permission to open mosques.

A weak judicial system, inconsistent adherence to the rule of law, and local officials’ arbitrary interpretations of legal requirements combine to further complicate the status of freedom of religion or belief in Russia. In fact, official respect for freedom of religion or belief varies widely from region to region, in the vast country. A religious community’s relationship with individual state officials is often a key factor.