Modern Book-Burning: Protected Speech?

Jane Wise is an Associate Director, International Center for Law and Religion Studies, J. Reuben Clark Law School, Brigham Young University

Throughout history, book burning has been a tool wielded by both secular and religious authorities in efforts to suppress minority views perceived as threatening to the prevailing order. The Old Testament recounts King Jehoiakim of Judah burning a scroll dictated by the prophet Jeremiah stating that Babylon would destroy the land. Chinese Emperor Qin Shi Huang burned books and buried scholars who he believed were subversive to his reign more than two thousand years ago. In 1244 in the streets of Paris, 24 carriage-loads of Jewish religious manuscripts were burned by French law officers, alleging they contained passages blasphemous to Christians. In encounters between Europeans and indigenous American civilizations, Mayan and Aztec books were destroyed in the 1500s. English Roman Catholic abbeys and monasteries were stripped of their manuscripts and books by citizens loyal to the Church of England in the 1600s and burned or destroyed. During the Nazi regime in Europe starting in 1933, the government decreed broad grounds for burning books that acted subversively or struck at the root of German thought, the German home, or the “driving forces” of German people. (more…)

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More Than a Feeling

Elizaveta Gaufman is Assistant Professor of Russian Discourse and Politics at the University of Groningen, Netherlands

On the morning of May 8, 2018, anti-corruption activist Maria Motuznaya’s doorbell rang in Barnaul, Russia. Several police officers came in, searched her apartment, and confiscated her laptop. Among the images that she saved and posted on her Vkontakte social network page, there were several racist and antireligious memes that faulted Russian Orthodox priests for being businessmen and implied that the Church is one of two main challenges that Russia faces (bad roads was the other). Motuznaya faced accusations based on the infamous “extremist” article 282 of the Russian Criminal Code, as well as charges of “insulting religious feelings” from article 148. Even though the outcry about her case led to a partial decriminalization of article 282, which now limits charges to only those who post offensive content more than once a year, it is still important to take a closer look at the political reasoning behind the prosecution of affronted spirituality. (more…)

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Disproportionality of Anti-Extremist Measures: The Case of Faizrakhamanists in Russia

Maria Kravchenko, of the SOVA Center for Information and Analysis, is the author of Inventing Extremists: The Impact of Russian Anti-Extremism Policies on Freedom of Religion or Belief, a report for the USCIRF

Russian anti-extremist legislation provides multiple instruments for the state to actively intervene in the religious sphere. As a result, there are numerous cases of abuse and overreaction on behalf of the state. Many cases of prosecuting “religious extremism” rely on a broad and vague definition of extremist activity incorporated in the Russian Law on Combating Extremist Activity (2002)[1]). In contrast to numerous international documents (see for example the OSCE/ODIHR Freedom of Religion or Belief and Security Policy Guidance)[2]), the Russian definition of extremism penalizes both violent and non-violent extremist acts as well as mere claims of religious and belief-related superiority. Such claims expressed in religious literature or public speeches could result in banning a religious group and prosecuting leaders and adherents as members of extremist organizations regardless of their actual involvement in extremism. (more…)

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