The Supreme Court of the Russian Federation has recently defined Jehovah’s Witnesses as an extremist organization and ruled the operation of its churches as illegal.
Russia’s Justice Ministry has ordered the Kingdom Halls of Jehovah’s Witnesses to be closed and the church’s property turned over to the state in the entire area of the Russian Federation.
The resolution has raised widespread discussion on the issue and it can be seen that the openly anti-Russian western mainstream media use the opportunity to create an image of Russia as an enemy of freedom.
From the point of view of freedom of religion, Russia’s decision and the ruling of the Supreme Court might at first impression seem totalitarian, but upon closer inspection of the Jehovah’s Witnesses activities, it becomes apparent that the Supreme Court of Russia has ample reason to believe this group is in violation of Russian law.
Discussion on the activities carried out under the freedom of religion is very timely everywhere. Both moderate and extremist churches, religious factions and sects are found from all religions. The “Muslim-invasion” seen in Europe over the past years has raised justified concerns over the danger extremist Islam poses for the western indigenous population; meanwhile, Christian supranational religious sects have continued to strengthen.
Should Sunni grand-mosques be built in Europe? Should the activities of Leastadians, Mormons, Evangelists and Jehovah’s Witnesses be restricted also in the west — what about the Freemasons and other shady congregations?
How do we define extremist religious denominations and what kind of actions should be taken to restrict the activities which are dangerous to the public interest? As western countries contemplate the threats of the Islamists, Wahhabis and Salafists denominations, Russia is also aware of the threats posed by Western religious groups to its citizens.
The Supreme Court of Russia stated that the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ church organization has systematically and through central governance infringed on human rights and trampled the freedoms of those belonging to the denomination. The sect forbids restricts families, bans many types of education and restricts medical treatments.
So, in principle it is about protecting the rights and freedoms of Russians and on the other hand about breaking the laws governing churches’ activities. The Jehovah’s Witnesses have been given warnings and notices demanding that they reform, but without results. Therefore, do as the Romans do, or get out of Rome.
Russia demonstrates a primary desire to protect the basic necessities of life for its own citizens. If a religious group creates a threat to the people’s livelihood and demonstrably threatens the citizen’s life, rights and freedoms, shouldn’t this kind of activity be banned and convicted of breaking laws governing church activities and elsewhere? Or should we in the name of common religious freedom tolerate anything from religious sects and churches, even violence and terrorism?
Churches as a national threat
Here in the warfaring Donbass, the implementation of laws governing the operation of religious groups has resulted in the closing of several religious denominations and their churches in the Donetsk and Lugansk regions.
It is clear that the rulings on the closure of activities based on national security might seem as arbitrary restrictions of freedom, but using churches and religions for harmful causes to the public interest is essentially part of the toolkit of political influence. In mass psychology, in information- and behavioural influencing, harnessing religious sects to advance political ends is common regardless of the religious group. Churches form, for example, cover organizations and often ‘harmless’ meeting and storage locations are used for carrying out terror and sabotage.
It has to be remembered that churches are strongly political organizations and often regionally very strong operators, whose economical, educational and political influence on the community might be detrimental to the public interest and security.
When countering the spreading of harmful extremism, one must understand specific regional viewpoints, the interest of the national majority and the political situation when specifying religions and their activities. What is dangerous for some, might be beneficial for others, depending on the interests, which are sought after with the activities under examination.
Jehovah's Witnesses is an American religious group
The organ responsible for the supranational decisions of the activities of the Jehovah’s Witnesses is a nine-person governing body in New York, which is responsible for coordinating the operations and actions of the religious group.
It should be mentioned that the operation of any American church organization on the Russian Federation’s territory in the current situation is strictly a political question, which contains multiple geopolitical angles and more and more supranational security threats as well. Western influences are increasingly in opposition to the interests of the majority of Russians. Russia has a critical and strategic needs to protect its national interests against different western organizations, in whose interest it is to operate against Russia’s public interest when promoting the growth of western influences on Russia’s territory.
Western NGOs, media and presumably also religious groups, like here in the Donbass region, create yet more security threats in all the target countries, which do not recognize the western globalist domination (hegemony) on its territory.
Even though the ruling banning the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ operations has so far not been linked to possible national threat based geopolitical conclusions, we can freely view the banning of the operation as a similar defensive measure as the forbidding of, for example, western NGOs.
Religious freedom and controlling extremism
Respecting freedoms cannot mean tolerating irresponsibility. Religious groups that do not respect the public interest or national laws and set their own opinions and activities above the secular laws are irresponsible and should not be tolerated. All such activity needs to be classified as extremism.
Public interest means the good of the majority and the minority cannot in the name of democracy force its opinions on the majority.
If some religious group infringes the nationally defined basic rights and freedoms of the citizens, it is a question of breaking regional laws. Therefore, no religious group operating in time and space should have the right to impose unlawful rules on its members, let alone on the surrounding area in the name of its own religion.
Churches, prayer rooms, mosques and other religious locations’ activities must be monitored and all the churches operating against the national laws must be prosecuted.
It must be remembered that all extremism is always a threat to the good of the majority.
When we examine the banning of the activities of the Jehovah’s Witnesses as a whole, the action of Russia’s judicial system in restricting the extremist church activities appears already in a new light and shows a glimpse of a strong communal moral leadership. The West should take heed when considering their own ever growing threats.
Only by drawing lines does order prevail.
Janus Putkonen is Editor-in-Chief of Donbass International News Agency