Russian patriarch says religion law must not go too far
By Alexei Anishchuk
MOSCOW (Reuters) - Patriarch Kirill, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church and a long-standing ally of President Vladimir Putin, on Sunday urged the Kremlin to be moderate in new legislation seeking stricter punishment for religious offences.
The pro-Kremlin United Russia party proposed a law introducing jail terms for offending religious feelings after a protest against Putin's increasingly close ties with the Church by punk band Pussy Riot in Moscow's main cathedral in February.
Two members of the band are in prison for the protest, which Kirill has called part of a coordinated attack intended to thwart the post-Soviet revival of Russia's dominant church.
In remarks published on the eve of Russian Orthodox Christmas, Kirill, who has likened Putin's long rule to a "miracle of God", told the Interfax news agency that Russia needed stiffer punishments for offences against religion.
"A fine of several hundred roubles (about $10) for blasphemous inscriptions on a church, a mosque or a synagogue signals that society does not fully realize the importance of protecting ... religious feelings of believers," he said.
But in his most extensive comment on the proposed law, he said it should not limit citizens' rights.
"Any regulatory acts regarding the protection of religious symbols and the feelings of believers should be scrupulously worked through so that they are not used for improvised limitation of freedom of speech and creative self-expression."
The remarks were in line with indications that Putin, while wanting to make clear that actions such as the Pussy Riot protest are unacceptable, is wary of undermining the balance between religions in the diverse country. Continued...