27 September 2012, 10:04
Russian Church spokesman: proposed harsher punishment for insults to religious feelings essential
Moscow, September 27, Interfax - A senior Russian Orthodox priest has defended a planned law to introduce stricter punishment for insulting the religious feelings of believers and vandalizing holy sites.
"It's obvious that many in our society have been waiting for such an initiative. Except for several small but hyperactive elitist groups, it has developed a wide-scale consensus that present-day punishments for insulting the feelings of believers, objects, signs and emblems that they revere, and symbols of various world outlooks are patently insufficient," Archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin, head of the Synodal Department for Relations between Church and Society, told the Interfax-Religion.
Today such offenses are punishable with fines from 500 to 1,000 rubles, he mentioned.
Insulting believers' feelings, vandalizing holy sites and items that are venerated by adherents of any religion or supporters of any non-religious world outlook "is an act of utter public danger, which sets large strata of society against each other," Chaplin said.
He mentioned that history records quite many bloody conflicts over symbols.
"When someone topples a symbol that is very dear to and very significant for a religious or world outlook group, it means an attack on this entire group, an attempt to assert one's power over it, subjugate and humiliate it. Therefore a war against symbols always produces a very pained reaction, and one should remember that," he said.
He mentioned that Russian law prescribes harsh penalties for non-religious offense and for vandalizing non-religious items. He cited ethnic and racial insults and vandalizing state symbols and graves.
"But believers have exactly the same right to the defense of something that is infinitely dear to them - after all, we have equality of world outlooks and of world outlook groups," he said.
"By the way, it's not bad that the draft law would offer a court quite a wide freedom of choice between a fairly mild and a pretty harsh penalty. Of course, in enforcing such a rule, a court must carefully investigate the circumstances of the case, study the motives, hear both the prosecution and the defense, take it into account whether this is the first time one has committed such an act. So the range of penalties that is being proposed would provide extensive opportunities both for clemency and for strictness," the priest added.