"It's open season" on minority faiths in Russia
Mr. Putin, tear down this law! For the first time, a religious group has been completely banned under Russia's restrictive 1997 religion law. Since that group is the Jehovah's Witnesses, many American evangelicals may shrug. But they shouldn't.
First, Jehovah's Witnesses have long been a bellwether for religious freedom, in this country and around the world. Without the Jehovah's Witness court victories here in the U.S., for example, religious organizations might have to seek licenses to solicit aid or even to worship. Evangelists might be forced to pay fees to hand out Bibles and tractsand might be taxed even for giving them away. And school children would be forced to pledge allegiance to whatever the government wished.
"The Jehovah's Witnesses," Supreme Court Justice Harlan Stone once famously said, "ought to have an endowment in view of the aid which they give in solving the legal problems of civil liberties."
In this country, the Jehovah's Witnesses have been tremendously successful in expanding religious liberties. But in Russia, it's a different story. And as the state cracks down on the JWs, it looks like groups like the Baptists are next.
"Once you get a decision like this, it's open season," John Burns, the Canadian lawyer who represented the group at a Moscow appellate court, told The New York Times. He told the Associated Press, "Religious freedom has just turned back to where it was in Soviet times."
Forum 18, a Norway-based news agency monitoring religious freedom with a particular eye on the former Soviet Union, says Burns is right in saying the government won't stop with this group.
"It is notable that only unproven allegations and not proven court cases are ...1