Story here from CBS News. (H/T Andrew)
Russia’s highest court on Tuesday upheld a ruling halting the activities of a regional branch of Jehovah’s Witnesses and banning dozens of its publications in what the group deplored as an unfair move.
Russian Supreme Court spokesman Pavel Odintsov said it rejected the group’s appeal of September’s ruling by a regional court in Rostov-on-Don. That ruling outlawed the group’s activities in the region, seized its assets there and labeled 34 of its publications as extremist.
I found a few more details here at a site called Forum 18.
The texts considered extremist by the Rostov court are all published in the United States and Germany. They include the books “What Does the Bible Really Teach?” and “My Book of Bible Stories” as well as issues of the tracts “Watchtower” and “Awake!”. The court’s 56-page ruling, seen by Forum 18, gives three categories of alleged extremism located by expert analysts in the texts: 1) “incitement of religious hatred (undermining respect and hostility towards other religions)”; 2) “refusing blood” and 3) “refusing civil responsibilities”. Thus, from the book “Knowledge That Leads to Everlasting Life”, “true Christians do not celebrate Christmas or other festivals based on false religious ideas” appears in the first category; “out of respect for the sacred nature of life God-fearing people refuse blood transfusions” in the second; and “true Christians avoid false forms of idolatry, such as revering flags and performing anthems” in the third.
So what do I, an arch-evangelical Protestant Christian, think of this?
Well, I am against the Russian government, because I am for religious liberty, and even the religious liberty of groups that I don’t agree with. And I’m going to tell you why. I believe that everyone has a right to believe in anything they want to believe in, and it does not bother me at all that people disagree with my religion,and that they speak out against Christianity, or try to convert people away from Christianity. The state should not interfere with anyone’s free speech or religious liberty, including the right of individuals to say publicly they are right about religion and that others are wrong.
I think that people who reject orthodox Christian beliefs about God and Jesus will go to Hell for eternity. I don’t believe that people go to Heaven because of sincerity and good works. People go to Heaven because they have true beliefs about God’s existence, character and his actions in the world, – e.g. – Jesus death on the cross as atonement for sin. But my thinking that people are wrong doesn’t give me any justification for limiting their human rights, including the right to religious liberty, by using the power of the secular state.
I think we need to take a lesson in tolerance from God. God gives everyone space to try to respond to his revealing of himself to people in nature and in the Bible. He arranges the world in such a way that people who he foreknows will respond to him are placed in a time and place where they can respond to him. He does not force people to convert to Christianity by revealing himself so much that they lose their free will to reject him. And since God is not coercive, Christians should also not use state power to coerce others, either.
The Bible shows Jesus talking to people and being kind to them when they were suffering, as well as giving them evidence for his claims in the form of miracles. And that’s the way Christians should persuade others as well – except that we have to use miracles in nature and history, like the fine-tuning argument and the bodily resurrection instead. At no point does Jesus bring in the power of the state to squash the religious liberty of his opponents.
I am not worried about JWs tricking some Christian into becoming a JW either. If someone is able to trick a person into being a JW, then that person is obviously not concerned about the truth. No one becomes a JW because they think JW doctrine is true. It is extremely easy to disprove the beliefs of JWs factually – just take a look at their failed predictions about the end of the world. And Mormons believe in an eternal universe. That’s how you argue against a rival religion – with arguments and facts.
If the Russian government wants to rein in religions like Islam and Jehovah’s Witnesses, then they should be sponsoring debates between opposing scholars and showing them television. Have the different religion groups vote for the best scholar to represent their religion, and then have the scholars debate different topics. That’s just being fair! The state should not curtail religious liberty by using government power.
I wrote a post about this issue of people being afraid to talk about religion.