Statut des organisations religieuses
In Russian legislation, there is no definition of the terms "religion", "worship" or "church". The general term used is that of "religious association", the definition of which is given in Article 6 of the 1997 law : "In the Russian Federation, the religious association is a voluntary association of citizens of the Russian Federation and other people who live permanently and legally on the territory of the Russian Federation, created for the purpose of collectively professing their faith and disseminating it, and possessing characteristics that correspond with that goal : confession of faith, practising mass and other religious rites and ceremonies, the teaching of religion and religious education for the faithful".
Russian legislation provides for the "recognition" of an association as a religious association according to the details listed above. In practice, if the authorities are to refuse to recognise an association as a religious one, this will happen while its application for registration as a legal entity is being examined. In addition, an association hiding its religious character and performing illegal activities can be recognised by a court as an unregistered religious association and, as such, be forced to dissolve.
Religious associations are subdivided into religious groups and religious organisations. Religious groups are not subject to the registration process by the state and are not legal entities. The creation and activity of religious groups is a direct implementation by citizens of the principle of freedom of conscience guaranteed by the constitution, without notification to the authorities and without authorisation. Members of religious groups can practise their religious rites in their apartments, acquire land as natural persons and construct places of worship on it.
A religious organisation is a religious association that has been registered as a legal entity. The 1997 law contains three categories of religious organisations : local religious organisation, central religious organisation and religious institution.
The founders of the local religious organisation are natural persons - at least ten adult Russian citizens permanently resident in the same locality.
The central religious organisation has to include at least three local religious associations. Religious institutions are set up by the central religious organisations. Training institutions for ministers of religion, monasteries and governing or coordination bodies (for example, the Department for External Church Relations of the Moscow Patriarchate) belong to this category.