Unification News for March 1999

Unification Church Vindication in Russia

Konstantin Krylov -- Moscow, Russia

On March 22, 1999, the Moscow City Court rejected the appeal of seven parents -- members and active participants of the Inter-regional Committee for Salvation From Totalitarian Sects -- in their demand for compensation, claiming moral damage done by the Unification Church of Russia. Each of the seven plaintiffs demanded 2 billion rubles as compensation for the damage allegedly caused to them by the Unification Church, as a result of their children having become members. The suit alleges that the changes to their children’s moral values and family traditions, resulting from their religious orientation, violated their parents’ right to be close to their children as well as Russian national traditions. It is interesting to note that of the seven plaintiffs, only five are parents of Unification Church members.

Summoned to the original hearing in the Kuzminsky District Court in Moscow in May 1998, the children (Unification Church members) confirmed that they had made their religious choice deliberately and of their own free will. This was followed by the plaintiffs assuring the court that the members were "brainwashed" and "encoded." They demanded that the members undergo psychiatric examination at the notorious Serbsky Center for Forensic Psychiatry (this institute was one of the leading practitioners of punitive psychiatry during the Soviet era) -- this despite the fact that the members had already voluntarily undergone examination in St. Petersburg in order to convince their parents and the court of their normal mental health. The psychiatric board, consisting of six members (including top psychiatrists and expert psychologists), came to the conclusion, signed by the leading psychiatrist of St. Petersburg, that all the members are mentally healthy and that the conflicts with their families had begun long before they joined the Unification Church.

In their efforts to convince the court of the validity of their claims, the plaintiffs used a reference book issued by the Missionary Department of the Moscow Patriarchate of the Russian Orthodox Church, "New Religious Organizations of Destructive and Occult Character in Russia," as well as "Informational and Analytical Research" by Vladimir Zhirinovsky and the book of N.V. Krivelskaya, "Pseudo-Christian Religious Organizations in Russia." Despite the strong anti-Unification Church sentiment of those materials, they were rejected as evidence by the court. Demands were also made that all foreign missionaries be summoned to the court to give evidence, together with the leader and founder of the Unification Church, Rev. Sun Myung Moon. Abusing their parental rights, the plaintiffs sought to limit the rights of their adult children to freely choose their religious beliefs. Several of the plaintiffs added that had their children chosen Orthodoxy, they would not have objected.

Evidence was presented in the City Court, which documented the fact that the Inter-regional Committee for the Salvation From Totalitarian Sects was being supported financially by the St. Petersburg city budget. It became clear in the course of the trial that political factors were at work in shaping public opinion. In this respect the media stance misrepresented the reality. In the original hearing at Kuzminsky District Court the media attitude was extremely negative and biased against the Unification Church. Even in the more "neutral" press there were articles with titles such as "Religion of Slaves" and "The Ideas of Moon Are Alive and Threatening," etc. These articles reproduced almost verbatim the plaintiffs’ suit. A series of television reports from the court in the TV program "Criminal" bunched the Unification Church believers together with criminals. Even after the case was won by the Unification Church represented by attorney Galina Krylova, the media continued to misinform the public, showing the plaintiffs posing before the cameras with a call to "save Russia."

What makes this process unique is the fact that for the first time in Russia, notorious for its court decisions against religious freedom, the court delivered a judgment based on the law, rather than on religious or social biases. Both the Kuzminsky District Court and the Moscow City Court pointed out that the plaintiffs lacked evidence to prove any actions of the Unification Church had caused their children to suffer moral damage. The court was also not convinced of any evidence of psychic violence, brainwashing or encoding of the Unification Church’s adult members.

For the first time in legal practice in Russia, a court decision was directly motivated by reference to the Constitution of the Russian Federation and international law guaranteeing freedom of religion and conscience.

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