Salon.com: Life is white. And I am black. Jesus and his lawyer are coming back.
–The Eels, from “Novocaine for the Soul,” 1996
I can’t vouch for Jesus, but his lawyers might want to gear up for a potential flurry of activity in Russia. The representatives of other religions, and even atheists, might want to lawyer up as well. Why?
Let me start with my memory of a Facebook status (the quotation may be slightly inexact) posted by a Russian acquaintance at some point in mid-2012:
Who will protect my feelings as an atheist?
She wrote this in the wake of the Pussy Riot trial. As readers of Religion Dispatches will recall, on August 17, 2012, the trial itself concluded with members of the feminist punk-rock collective sentenced to two years in penal colonies for “hooliganism motivated by religious hatred.” (Samutsevich managed to be freed on probation following an appeal, while Tolokonnikova and Alyokhina remain imprisoned). According to the Levada Center, as of April, 2013, a full 56% of the Russian population agreed with the verdict—which goes some way toward demonstrating why a legislative initiative to increase protections for religious believers’ feelings, introduced in September 2012, could get off the ground.
This immediate cause for my atheist acquaintance’s concern about the equal protection of her own feelings is probably a good deal less familiar to Western readers than the Pussy Riot trial itself, which caused a sensation in the Western media. (In my opinion, the most nuanced coverage of the events associated with Pussy Riot can be found here, in a piece that I readily admit I wish I had written myself.)