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Pussy Riot and Stifling ‘Offensive’ Speech in the West



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Daniel is certainly right to oppose the oppressive imprisoning of Pussy Riot protestors. It is unjustifiable by any measure. But attacking Representative Steve King for failing to come to the group’s defense while in Russia hardly justified wielding the “un-American:” cudgel. And surely King is thick-skinned enough to take it without requiring Representative Rohrabacher’s over-heated defense.  Drink some iced tea, fellows.

That said, I don’t think the same demonstration would be legal here. During the protest against Putin and the Russian Orthodox patriarch, the group mocked Orthodox worship with faux bows and prostrations, and used crude and sacrilegious language — God’s a “s***,” for one. (Here’s a link to the lyrics.) It was in very bad taste, but that would be protected speech in the proper context — say on the street in front of the church.

But the context is what would make the protest illegal here. PR entered private property and interrupted a church service to make their point. That is not protected speech, it is trespassing. Such a ”crime” would justify a proportionate punishment, say a fine or a day behind bars. It would also be grounds for a permanent restraining order against further inside-the-church protests, the violation of which would justify more serious punishment. But years in jail? No. It was an act of blatant oppression. 

On the other hand, Russia isn’t alone in punishing speech that is offensive to the power elite. For example, pro-life speech is stifled in the USA — such as the unreasonable bubble zones placed around abortion clinics and harsh punishments for their violation. Recall the  30-day jail sentence handed to Pastor Walter Hoye in Oakland, Calif., for daring to tell a woman, “Jesus loves you, baby” while inside an 8-foot bubble zone Oakland placed around every woman entering an abortion clinic. (The conviction was declared unconstitutional as applied because the authorities permitted pro-abortion advocates to enter the bubble, but not anti-abortion believers.)  

In Western Europe, you can be jailed merely for expressing offensive sentiments against religious minorities and other protected classes. Russia is becoming increasingly intolerant of “offensive” speech. But so in its own way is the secular West.

 



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