Too Revolutionary for Russia

by Derrick G. Jeter

In a speech delivered right after the end of World War II, Winston Churchill warned that “an iron curtain has descended across the Continent” leaving many of the leading and ancient capitols of Eastern Europe under “the Soviet sphere . . . subject to one form or another, not only to Soviet influence but to a very high and, in many cases, increasing measure of control from Moscow.” [1]


Forty years later President Ronald Reagan stood at the Brandenburg Gate in West Germany and declared to the Soviet leader, “General Secretary Gorbachev, if you seek peace, if you seek prosperity for the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, if you seek liberation: Come here to this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” [2]


Two years later the Berlin Wall was torn down and Eastern Europe was free.


In the sweep of freedom the old Soviet Union collapsed and a new Russian Federation arose, with a new Constitution. In a bold stroke of the pen, the once official atheistic nation now embraced religious freedom: “Everyone shall be guaranteed freedom of conscience, the freedom of religion, including the right to profess individually or together with any other religion or to profess no religion at all, to freely choose, possess and disseminate religious and other views and act according to them.” [3]


For those of us who live in the West, and in America particularly, this is a triumph. We hold freedom of religion—keeping government intrusion out of the lives of religious people and organizations—as protected in the First Amendment, as sacrosanct. This foundational idea was revolutionary in 1791 when it was ratified; it remains revolutionary today.


Apparently, freedom of religion is too revolutionary for Vladimir V. Putin, Russia’s prime minister, and his puppet president, Dmitry A. Medvedev. In a troubling article published on April 24, 2008, by The New York Times (“At Expense of All Others, Putin Picks a Church”) the Russian government, in violation of its Constitution, has lowered the iron curtain again through its suppression of religious freedoms for Protestant churches. Branding Protestants as “sects” and restricting their “right to profess individually [and] together . . . and disseminate religious . . . views,” the Kremlin has decided to make the Russian Orthodox Church the de facto state religion. What is motivating this oppression, according to Clifford Levy’s article, is an anti-American, pro-Nationalistic movement. Vladimir Kotenyov, a Baptist minister, sums up the restrictions well: “‘This is how they [the Russian government and Orthodox Church] think: If you are a Russian person, it means that you have to be Russian Orthodox.’”


There have been many disturbing developments in Russia since Putin came to power—moves back toward Communistic ideology. But the selective oppression of religious freedom, pitting one religion against others, may be the most troubling of all.



[1] Winston Churchill, “The Sinews of Peace,” March 5, 1946, quoted in Churchill Speaks, 1897–1963: Collected Speeches in Peace & War, ed. Robert Rhodes James (New York: Barnes and Nobel, 1998), 881.

[2] Ronald Reagan, “Remarks at the Brandenburg Gate, Berlin, West Germany,” June 12, 1987, (accessed 24 April 2008).

[3] “Constitution of the Russian Federation,” section I, chapter 2, article 28, (accessed 24 April 2008).