Russia’s ban of Jehovah’s Witnesses prompts religious hate crimes
When Russia’s Supreme Court condemned the religion as ‘extremist,’ some took it as permission to attack believers, like a sad page from U.S. history.
The #Supreme Court of the Russian Federation’s ruling on Thursday, April 20 to criminalize and officially ban Jehovah’s Witnesses has already moved supposedly good Russian citizens to commit religious #hate crimes. The very evening of the ruling, a group of men who took the ruling as permission to attack, accosted the largest building used by Jehovah’s Witnesses for worship in Saint Petersburg, located on Kolomyazhsky Prospekt. They blocked vehicles from leaving the premises. One of the men shouted insults and threats of physical harm to Jehovah’s Witnesses.
The group then hurled numerous baseball- and brick-size rocks at the building, shattering and smashing glass doors and windows. And they say Jehovah’s Witnesses are Russia’s ‘extremists.’
Before the April 20 hearing ended, Attorney Maxim Novakov, representing the Administrative Center of Jehovah’s Witnesses, said this would happen. Groundlessly label people as dangerous criminals, and the Court’s ruling could provoke a wave of violence against non-violent Christians. He even specified that such violence would take the forms of property damage and attacks on Witnesses themselves, clearly motivated by religious hatred.
Won’t ever happen here?
Well, sadly, it already has happened in the U.S. After the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor, at the height of World War II, government officials rounded up over 100,000 Japanese-Americans—more than 60,000 U.S. citizens, born and raised in the U.S.; more than 50,000 were children—and herded them off to concentration camps in 10 states.
True, the preferred term is Internment Camps, but the prisoners may not have such kind words for it. Nearly 2,000 died for medical reasons alone, most having contracted illnesses in the camps due to unsanitary or overcrowded conditions.
If the Civil Rights movement has clarified anything, it is this: What white supremacists call simply taking the law into their own hands, many African Americans call “acts of terrorism,” pure and simple. These are ones who survived or who descend from survivors of over 5,000 lynchings of black men, women and even children during the early 20th century, domestic terrorist attacks by Americans. Sure, Hitler’s Nazi Germany was first to attack Jehovah’s Witnesses, in the 1930s, whom they criminalized as enemies of the nation.
Why? For their respectful neutrality in silently refraining from saluting the flag and giving the Nazi salute, Heil Hitler!, which means ‘Salvation by Hitler.’ Yet other nations, including these United States of America, soon followed suit.
On November 4, 1935, Jehovah’s Witness children in Canonsburg, Pennsylvania, who stood respectfully but silently refrained from saluting the flag, received lashings in a school’s boiler room. Two days later, the school of Minersville, Pennsylvania, expelled William and Lillian Gobitas for the same motive, though they too had always respectfully stood during the ceremony. Their parents filed legal action, which by 1940 reached the U.S. Supreme Court. An eight-to-one judgment—no doubt swayed by war hysteria—overruled the trial and appellate courts’ decisions, and ruled instead that respectfully standing without participating was insufficient; flag salute was mandatory in public schools. The result? A wave of violence directed at thousands of Christians swept through the nation. The attacks increased despite First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt’s public appeals denouncing the atrocities.
What sort of hate crimes did patriotic Americans commit against their fellow citizens whose beliefs differed from theirs? Everywhere imaginable—on the streets, at their workplaces, even when showing up for their doorstep visits—people who took the law into their own hands held an American flag before Witnesses and demanded that they salute it “or else.” A partial list of the religiously motivated hate crimes committed and documented in public records follows.
Crimes against humanity
- mob attacks
- threats of lynching
- beatings to the point of unconsciousness
- tarring and feathering
- castration and mutilation
- jailing, often without charges
- solitary confinement
- hundreds of ‘preventive detentions’
- denying contact with friends, family members and attorneys
- night shootings
- looting of homes
- arson attacks to homes, automobiles and places of worship
- driven from towns, counties and even states
- forced to swallow castor oil
- mockery and insults
- public shaming (ripping their clothes off)
- public burning of Bibles and religious publications
- physical assaults against them and their attorneys in courtrooms
The law turns a blind eye
During many attacks, law enforcement officials stood idly by, doing nothing to interfere with the crimes being committed before their very eyes, sometimes contributing to the violence or even instigating mob action themselves. In just five years (1940-1944), so-called upstanding American citizens committed more than 2,500 of such violent hate crimes against their fellow citizens, known worldwide for their peacefulness and respectful neutrality. That’s more than one a day, every day of every week of every month, for five years.
Spent the afternoon reading post-WWII cases where schools argued that this mandatory flag salute was necessary to deter fascism... pic.twitter.com/lE5BILGYGc— Emerson Bursis (@EmersonBursis) 6 February 2017
What's the point of living in America if u don't respect it enough to do the flag salute— kai (@kaiyabonnallie) 13 April 2017
Admirably, the U.S. Supreme Court reversed itself on the flag salute issue on Flag Day (June 14), 1943, declaring it unlawful for officials to dictate what people should believe or confess by action or faith. Mandatory flag salute was forbidden. The Court’s written opinion said that it was the first time the nation’s highest judiciary had rescinded prior decisions so as now to restrict the scope and reach of democratic government. In all, Jehovah’s Witnesses won nearly 50 Supreme Court cases during the 20th century—strengthening the rights of all American citizens—several of them specifically flag salute issues. Despite these landmark rulings, a few very-forgetful Presidential candidates in the 1980s and 1990s successively whipped up patriotic fervor, campaigning to reinstate mandatory flag salute.
Imitate Russia, anyone?
Russia may be thousands of miles away geographically. But the same issues presently arising there have long been close to U.S. citizens’ hearts and part of this nation’s disappointing history. In the thick of war hysteria or even simple xenophobia, which is on the rise everywhere, it takes very little for good, kind people to suddenly turn on other good people, simply because someone points and says: “Enemy!” Russia’s ban of Jehovah’s Witnesses can easily worsen, the government gaining a foothold to outlaw every religion that it doesn’t favor. Other nations could copycat Big Bully’s repressive actions. So citizens of all nations do well to worry lest something similar should happen overnight in their own backyard.
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