When a Russian court sentenced lyrical outrage mavens Pussy Riot last week to two years in prison for “hooliganism,” American indignation swelled, and not just among punk rockers.
The crime: In protest against Vladimir Putin and the powerful Russian Orthodox Church, the group performed a disrespectful publicity stunt in a Moscow cathedral.
Grounds to show the girls the door? Oh, yeah. But the Russian court said the act was fit for a cellblock, the defendants hearing their fate in a glass cubicle.
Reaction in the land of the free? Bipartisan outrage. The Obama administration denounced the “disproportionate” sentence. Republican U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire tweeted, “Shame on Putin.”
Yes, shame on Putin. Shame on any country — whether Iran, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan or Texas (once a republic unto itself) — that puts religion in such a position that church sensibilities trump human rights.
That’s what Texas did as late as 1998 when it prosecuted two men for consensual sex under its so-called sodomy law, ruled unconstitutional in 2003.
Today it just seems prehistoric: Gay sex a crime. Rest assured, an army of umbrage in the Lone Star State today wishes it remained so, in part because such a law allowed politicians to rationalize broad-based discrimination against “practicing” homosexuals. After all, under the sodomy law they were criminals, and you don’t hire criminals.
Two of the three justices who dissented when the Supreme Court overturned Texas’ abominable law, Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas (joined at the time by Chief Justice William Rehnquist), remain to be venerated by the religious right. They stand ready to do its bidding — for instance, to overturn Roe vs. Wade.
So, Russia isn’t the only land that would allow the church to impose its taboos and mores under the weight of law. Ours does and has.
If one looks at the battles the religious right has lost in the last few decades and those it would willingly fight, generally with Republican lawmakers as proxies, one imagines a far different land than the one we have.
It would be a land where states still banned contraception.
It would be a land where the option of taking someone of a differing race to the movies would depend on the state or town where the outing occurred.
It would be a land where sex education is forbidden.
It would be a land where government monitored the Internet, newsstands and bookstores for obscenity and heresy.
It would be a land where policymakers and judges preened in front of religious symbols and commandments, even as they violated them.
It would be a land where certain marginalized religions — say, Islam — were demonized.
It would be a land where government policy consistently bent to the whims of clerics. Policymakers would ask them, for instance, what health insurance should cover.
It would be a land where the right of privacy is no such thing.
It would be a land where those who exploit religion for political gain go around asserting that the majority religion, the one they wish to be the state religion, is in fact oppressed.
It is fascinating to see theocratically authoritarian policy promoted by those for whom “freedom” is one of the first words out of their mouths. That would include most of the candidates supported by the “freedom”-loving Tea Party, who aggressively seek to prevent women from controlling their own reproductive destinies, either by contraception or by abortion.
Then there’s the matter of homosexuality, of course.
The Defense of Marriage Act, in addition to being political grandstanding, is a grand bow to religious mores and taboos. When it comes to privileges and protections associated with the religious rite of marriage, equal protection of the law is deemed immaterial.
If, as some insist, this is in fact a Christian nation, in no way could it be one of freedom. After all, that’s not the way most churches work, and not how policies work when churches call the shots. Right, Mr. Putin?
Longtime Texas newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.