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Russia: Unification Church Court Case Finished
Unification Church Vindication
(MOSCOW, RUSSIA) On March 22, 1999, the Moscow City Court rejected the
appeal of seven parents -- members and active participants of the
Interregional 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
Interregional 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
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