Saturday, August 4, 2012

I don't remember church being like this

Okay, so "storming" a church wearing garish clothing, wearing masks and playing a punk song urging the populace to say no to the front-runner in the presidential race might not be the best thing one could do. Although I am not religious, I understand how some folks might get a bit upset if a punk band was playing at the altar.

But threatening to put young people in prison for seven years because they did something the old guard found distasteful is more than a bit too much.

And that's where the young women who make up Russia's most popular punk band, Pussy Riot, find themselves these days. They are sitting in the dock in a Russian courtroom charged with hooliganism. If convicted, they could face up to seven years in prison.

But that's the danger you face if you want to stand up and challenge the established order around the world. Not everyone appreciates the need for free speech as much as we do in the United States.

Denying the holocaust will get you arrested in Germany. Denying the Turks committed genocide against the Armenians can get you in trouble in France.  Making "malicious" remarks on Twitter can get you arrested in England. Speaking out against authoritarian regimes in other parts of the world can get you arrested, disappeared or killed.

The orthodox Christians in Russia are all up in arms because the Christ the Savior Cathedral in Moscow is a sacred place. Really? It's a building in which members of a cult get together a few times a week and chant and sing and listen to a message based on superstition and oppression. In other words, it's just like every other church on any street corner anywhere around the world.

Even the target of their vitriol, Russian President Vladimir Putin, thinks things have gone a mite too far. He doesn't think the three should be treated too harshly if convicted. Of course he has to put out that message to the masses after the ways in which he, and his party, conspired to steal the presidential election. He knows there could be hell to pay if the women are sentenced to long stretches in jail. Such a scenario would bring back the mass protests the sprang up across Moscow after the election.

In this country we have folks who are mad because someone was mean to them on the internet. We have politicians who think that writing vague anti-bullying statutes that penalize those who criticize. We enhance sentences for people who might have had unkind thoughts at the time they committed a crime.

To all those folks I say - grow up.

The right to free speech is an amazing right and it's one that we don't appreciate as much as we should. While I might not like what someone says, I will defend their right to say it, no matter how crude, boorish or hateful it might be. That's the speech that needs defending.

The Founding Fathers were worried about democracy run amok. That's why the Constitution and the Bill of Rights are full of provisions guaranteeing minority rights - such as the right to free speech and the protections of the Fourth, Fifth and Sixty amendments.

Free Pussy Riot!

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