Yeltsin Faces Religion Quandary

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MOSCOW: Boris Yeltsin has two choices when a bill curbing religious freedom lands on his desk, and neither of them are good. To veto the bill passed Friday by the Duma — and effectively make Russian Orthodoxy the dominant religion — would anger the powerful church and a large section of the Russian public who support the bill as a defense of Russian culture. But to pass the measure would draw huge protest from Western churches such as the Mormons, whose large missionary programs in the country would be outlawed.

In July Yeltsin vetoed an earlier version of the bill, which ostensibly curbs foreign cults but actually restricts any faith that arrived in Russia after the communist era. But he'll sign this time, according to TIME Moscow correspondent Andrew Meier — even though it is exactly the same bill as before. “Yeltsin will probably say to the West, ‘Listen, guys, I did my best, this is as good as it’s going to get.’ There is strong support for the bill, and he can’t afford to be seen to be too pro-Western.”

TIME State Department correspondent Dean Fischer adds that while the U.S. will likely press Yeltsin to respect religious freedom, “it’s unlikely that the issue would be allowed to derail the relationship between the two countries.” Expect loud condemnation of religious intolerance from the White House, followed by a resumption of business as usual.