A Cautionary Tale For Those Who Favor Criminalizing ‘Hate Speech’


As a cautionary tale of what happens when the State becomes the arbiter (and arbitrary master) of what’s considered “religious hatred,” liberals should take note of what is happening in Russia. From the Washington Post:

Last summer, Ruslan Sokolovsky entered the imposing Church of All Saints in Yekaterinburg, a city about 1,000 miles east of Moscow. The Russian Orthodox church holds special meaning for some, because it was supposedly built on the site where the last czar of Russia, Nicholas II, was murdered along with his family.

But Sokolovsky wasn’t there to worship or pay tribute to Russian history. Instead, the blogger wandered through the gilded rooms of the church, his eyes and fingers glued to his smartphone. He was playing “Pokémon Go,” the app that allows users to “catch ’em all” using augmented reality.

Sokolovsky is an outspoken atheist, who trolled Jesus in the video he recorded of his Pokémon search. Jesus didn’t care, because God can handle critics. But Russia can’t.

After Russian officials discovered the footage, Sokolovsky was detained last fall and charged with inciting religious hatred. On Friday, the last day of the trial, prosecutors in Russia requested a sentence of 3½ years in prison for Sokolovsky.

Russia has laws on the books that simultaneously restrict church activities (many missionaries and evangelical churches have been forced to leave or shut down), and criminalize speech or activities that “insult the feelings of believers.” Since the only “believers” Russia acknowledges are the ones they’ve hand-picked, this toxic brew of legal caprice gives the government a free hand to imprison whom it pleases.

The charge against Sokolovsky, inciting religious hatred, is the same offense under which two women from the punk-rock collective Pussy Riot were imprisoned for two years, according to the Associated Press. The group had staged a protest against Russian leader Vladimir Putin at an Orthodox cathedral in Moscow in 2012. Shortly afterward, two members were arrested on charges of hooliganism.

Even American atheists need to realize that protecting the religious rights of everyone–Christians included–is paramount in keeping our country from sliding toward despotism. Shenanigans like Houston Mayor Anise Parker’s 2014 subpoena of pastors to provide their sermon notes ultimately harm everyone.

A society without complete religious freedom is headed for the scrapheap. President Trump has so far not taken any concrete steps to relax the chokehold eight years of Obama placed on religious freedom in the federal government. Liberals can’t stand Trump but love to rejoice in all the “protections” for their chosen victim classes.

Although conservatives have reason to be hopeful about Trump’s commitment to religious freedom, it would also be helpful if Trump would distance himself from Vladimir Putin’s horrible record. But that’s not really the message here. Government should properly get its nose out of people’s theology, or lack thereof, and liberals should stop their crusade to make government the thought police.

Liberals should stop fighting reasonable religious protections, lest they find themselves more aligned with Vladimir Putin than our founding fathers.

About the author

Steve Berman

The old Steve cared about money, prestige, and power. Then Christ found me. All at once things changed. But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things!

I spent 30 years in business. Now I write and edit. But mostly I love. I have a wife and 2 kids and a dog and we live in a little house in central Georgia.

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