Staunton, December 22 – In their drive to suppress the Jehovah’s Witnesses, Russian courts have made Russia’s religion laws meaningless because to end run the legal ban on finding the basic texts of the country’s traditional faiths extremist, the courts have in effect declared that the Bible is the Bible only if the Moscow Patriarchate says it is, Roman Lunkin says.
That has allowed the courts, in a finding confirmed yesterday, to say that the translation of the Bible prepared by the Jehovah’s Witnesses is not the Bible and is thus subject to being declared extremist and thus being banned, the religious legal affairs specialist continues (sclj.ru/news/detail.php?SECTION_ID=487&ELEMENT_ID=7732).
One can only conclude, Lunkin argues, that this case should never have been brought before the courts and that the courts are simply being used as a cover for what the authorities want to do but that the law does not in fact allow. And they have been assisted in this by “experts” who do not know what they are talking about.
One of them, Natalya Kryukova, quite publicly demonstrated that lack of competence by saying that one need not consider the content of a book or article to dealer it extremist but only the need to ban it in “’existing historical circumstances.’” That provides just the kind of argument that the Russian powers that be want.
Russian laws under Putin have been moving in this direction, increasingly suggesting that the civil authorities have the right to decide on religious questions of a variety of kinds, Lunkin says; and by the amendments of 2015, they have created the current situation where the courts get to decide what in fact a holy text is.
The experts in this case, however, went even further: they did not offer any discussion of the text but rather said the legitimacy of a holy text is defined by its general direction and whether or not it has the recognition of recognized religious authorities, in this case, the Russian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate.
The Leningrad oblast court rejected the arguments of the defenders of the Jehovah’s Witnesses that at a minimum the authorities would have to compare the texts to see if something had been introduced in the one that did not exist in the others. But it seems, Lunkin says, that using the word Jehovah in the title was enough for the judges.
What makes this especially comic and tragic at the same time is that until 2007, the Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia were quite ready to use the Patriarchate-approved translation of the Bible. They only began working on their own translation into modern Russian in 1994 and completed it in 2007. Since then, they have distributed some five million copies of it.
And thus it has happened “in Russia that the state for the first time has forced believers to reject one text of the holy writings in favor of another text of the same writings” or find themselves in violation of the law and thus subject to criminal punishments and bans. That is the upshot of the Moscow view that “faith is a source of danger” unless the Kremlin controls it.