Well I guess now it's official. The Russian Orthodox Church appears to be the final arbiter of Russian law.
This all became clear over the past couple days. Let me explain.
Earlier this week, the popular television host Vladimir Pozner issued a remarkable on-air appeal to Vladimir Putin, Constitutional Court Chairman Valery Zorkin, and Patriarch Kirill, asking them to clarify whether or not atheism now constitutes a crime in Russia.
Pozner was responding to the conviction of Yekaterinburg-based blogger Ruslan Sokolovsky, who had just been handed a three-and-half-year suspended sentence for insulting religious believers by playing Pokemon Go in church.
The verdict against Sokolovsky noted the fact that he "denies the existence of Jesus Christ and the Prophet Muhammad."
In his appeal, Pozner said that, like Sokolovsky, he too was an atheist -- and he asked whether he too could face prosecution.
In response, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov declined to comment, saying such matters were for the courts.
Now, anybody who understands how Russian criminal justice works knows that that is complete nonsense. But fair enough.
But the Constitutional Court also declined to comment, saying it only responds to formal legal appeals.
But guess what? The Russian Orthodox Church did respond. It said that Sokolovsky was convicted not for his atheism, but for showing disrespect toward believers.
So I guess the good news is that no, atheism has not been criminalized in Russia -- at least not yet.
But the bad news is that Russia now looks increasingly like a theocracy.
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