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AP World Politics

U.S. religious rights delegation arrives in Moscow for fact-finding mission

MOSCOW - A U.S. religious rights delegation arrived in Moscow on Saturday for a weeklong fact-finding mission to formulate policy recommendations for the U.S. government to promote freedom of conscience in Russia.

Delegation leader Felice Gaer, the chairman of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, said the group was interested in discussing "a series of worrisome signs" with Russian religious and government representatives.

She said they include a recent government draft report on religious extremism, which targeted "what you and I would call some mainstream religions in the world," including Islam; visa refusals for foreign religious prelates including a number of Roman Catholic priests; and a religion law "on the cusp of moving in some very negative directions."

The 1997 religion law, championed by the dominant Russian Orthodox Church, requires all religious groups to register with Russian authorities. Several groups, particularly foreign-based ones, have met with legal troubles since its passage and say it limits religious freedoms that were won with the collapse of the Soviet Union.

William Murphy, the Roman Catholic bishop of Rockville Center, New York, and Firuz Kazemzadeh, the senior advisor for the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahais of the United States, are also on the U.S. delegation.

©Copyright 2003, Associated Press

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