Pussy Riot, into court on charges of hooliganism for a protest staged in Moscow's main cathedral against the Orthodox Church's support for Vladimir Putin.
Today Maria Alyokhina, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, and Yekaterina Samutsevich were sentenced to two years in prison.
Now anyone with an ounce of sense knows the real reason why this totally inappropriate sentence for an act of mild disrespect of “sacred space” was handed down; it is entirely political and intended to show that criticism of Putin's new autocracy will not be tolerated. So far, so much real politique. But the true injustice here is the abuse of religious indignation for state purposes.
Pussy Riot have been sentenced (ostensibly) for offending the religious sensibilities of Russia's orthodox believers, which is absolutely not the role of any credible democratic government. But it highlights, vividly, why those countries that still manage to maintain a reasonably healthy distance between church and state should be vigorously encouraged to keep it that way.
As soon as a government has the ability to exploit the ultra – sensitive nerves of the religious community to suppress criticism of its own regime what you have is full blown theocracy.
This is the lesson for those who would accept that “religious freedom” includes the ability to define what is or is not a suitable forum for dissent. Allow the government to support the “rights” of churches, and particularly established ones, to demand penal retribution for acts of “sacrilege” and you open the door to suppression of free speech.
This is the power catholicism craves in America and the Pope must be creaming his vestments at the thought of this verdict. This is the assumption of privilege that the Anglican Church whines endlessly about losing, and desperately longs to regain.
This; this travesty of justice in the name of baseless offences against religious sentiment is what government endorsement of religion leads to. It makes a mockery of any idea of religious tolerance and provides a smokescreen for state suppression of freedom of speech and human rights.
O.K, this is Putin's Russia and why should we expect any better, but it could be here tomorrow and the weak link in our defences is religious privilege and undue respect for the trappings that accompany it; don't grant either if you value free speech.
"Religion is a hypothesis about the world: the hypothesis that things are the way they are, at least in part, because of supernatural entities or forces acting on the natural world. And there's no good reason to treat it any differently from any other hypothesis. Which includes pointing out its flaws and inconsistencies, asking its adherents to back it up with solid evidence, making jokes about it when it's just being silly, offering arguments and evidence for our own competing hypotheses...and trying to persuade people out of it if we think it's mistaken. It's persuasion. It's the marketplace of ideas. Why should religion get a free ride"