The Religious Right Remains Fascinated With Russian Totalitarianism

The National Organization for Marriage (NOM) is a Religious Right group founded to oppose marriage equality. The Supreme Court upheld that concept in 2015, so NOM has closed up shop, right?

Well, no. Since that defeat, NOM has kept busy doing other things – like trying to make the United States more like Russia.

The Washington Post reported recently on U.S. conservatives who are enamored with Vladimir Putin’s autocratic rule. Chief among them is Brian Brown, president of NOM, who has traveled to Russia four times. He’s very impressed with what he has seen. 

“What I realized was that there was a great change happening in the former Soviet Union,” Brown told The Post. “There was a real push to re-instill Christian values in the public square.”

It is true that the Russian Orthodox Church has seen a resurgence since the fall of the Soviet Union. The Soviets were aggressively anti-religion and worked to suppress faith. Under Putin, the church’s fortunes have improved dramatically, and it enjoys semi-official status as Russia’s traditional church.

But the country is hardly a beacon of religious freedom. Some Orthodox leaders seem to yearn for the position of official establishment they enjoyed under the czars. They aren’t interested in competition. Putin’s government is doing their bidding. Many religious groups in Russia are required to register with the state, and their ability to spread their views is curtailed.

“Inciting religious hatred” is a crime in Russia, a term so broad it covers a variety of actions, some of which are harmless. (A blogger in Yekaterinburg is facing three-and-a-half years in prison after he made a video of himself playing Pokémon Go in a church and posted it to his blog.)

Russia is not a beacon of religious freedom.

The U.S. State Department recently declared Russia a “country of particular concern” for the way that it treats religious minorities. Most recently, the government has been taking steps to ban the Jehovah’s Witness faith.

And much of the “re-installation” of Christian values comes at the expense of Russia’s LGBTQ community. The country’s notorious “gay propaganda” law, which bans the distribution of material promoting “non-traditional sexual relations” to minors, has been used to harass members of the LGBTQ community and their supporters.

Gay rights activists are frequently assaulted, and police rarely investigate. One LGBTQ rights activist summed up the situation this way: “We are treated as subhuman, with no civil or human rights. We are social non-entities, and we are even considered diseased and dangerous to society.”

In a decent and just society, an independent judiciary would protect the rights of the people. Not so in Russia. Courts there are hardly independent. In 2005, The Post published a story about a state body called the Qualification Collegium. It sounds like something out of a Kafka novel and it kind of is: It’s a government entity that essentially gets rid of judges who dare to rule in ways Putin doesn’t like.

The fact is, Russia remains an autocratic state with a well-developed security apparatus that closely monitors its citizens. As Human Rights Watch has noted, the country seeks to control internet access, squelch dissent and promote one-man rule.

Although it’s no longer communist, Russia remains a totalitarian state. Religious Right activists, who have long yearned for a theocratic nation run by a strongman who will protect “traditional” (read: regressive) values, may find this attractive, but any American with a lick of sense knows better than to be rootin’ for Putin.