On November 14, 2019, the Constitutional Court of the Russian Federation released its ruling on a claim by Olga Glamozdinova, a member of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. Glamodiznova had been fined for using her property for purposes deemed inappropriate, as she had let her home be used as a house of worship. It is not the first time the Constitutional Court has ruled in a case like this one.
In an interview, Vassily Ivanovich Nichik, director of public relations and religious liberty for the West Russian Union Conference of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, recently discussed the case and its implications with the local Russian-language Hidden Treasure Information Service, which then shared the interview with the Euro-Asian Division News Service.
Doctor Ivanovich, the press service of the Constitutional Court delivered its favorable ruling in this case, explaining that on land plots intended for individual housing construction, a citizen has the right to satisfy his or her spiritual as well as physical needs. In particular, to place a residential house on this site and conduct divine services in it, it stated, is fully consistent with the law. Is it possible to say that this court ruling puts an end to the numerous accusations of misuse of land that have recently been brought against believers. What is your take on it?
The court ruling refers to the use of private premises for liturgical purposes, but in principle its decision could be applied to the use of premises for a purpose other than religious activities of worship. Several points can be made here. If we are talking about a residential building in which a church community is going to worship in one of the rooms, this, as the court confirmed, is absolutely legal. If the building was built as a worship place and it does not show signs of being a home, then it conceptually changed its purpose, and the land under this building does not correspond to the residential status for which it is zoned. In this case, the owner may have problems.
Based on the current court ruling, can believers who have been fined for allegedly using their land for illegal purposes challenge these fines?
Yes, if this is really their house in which services are held, then, based on newly discovered circumstances [the court ruling], they can challenge the previously imposed fine. If this is a religious building, which by all indications has the appearance of a religious building and there are practically no signs that it is residential, then this issue will be much more challenging to solve.
However, I want to clarify that the final court ruling has not yet been published [as of November 14]. The constitutional court has announced its ruling orally, but in a few days, we will be able to get this decision published in the official bulletin. Then we will see all the details included in the ruling, and we will be able to provide a reasonable assessment of it.