Pussy Riot: Found guilty in what looks like a 21st century witch hunt.

Pussy Riot Found Guilty, Sentenced to Two Years in Prison

Pussy Riot Found Guilty, Sentenced to Two Years in Prison

The XX Factor
What Women Really Think
Aug. 17 2012 11:27 AM

Pussy Riot Found Guilty

Pussy Riot
Members of the all-girl punk band "Pussy Riot" Yekaterina Samutsevich (L), Maria Alyokhina (C) and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova (R) sit in a glass-walled cage during a court hearing in Moscow.

Natalia Kolesnikova/AFP/Getty Images.

A guilty verdict and a sentence of two years in prison: This is the conclusion of the trial of three members of Pussy Riot, a Russian feminist punk band that drew its inspiration from American Riot Grrrl to conduct a number of protest events around Moscow. The charges stem from a stunt where the band briefly took over the altar in the Cathedral of Christ the Savior to sing a song protesting Putin and the authoritarian, patriarchal bent of the church. Lyrics include: "Patriarch Gundyaev believes in Putin/Bitch, better believe in God instead."

Amanda Marcotte Amanda Marcotte

Amanda Marcotte is writer for Salon.

Central to the case was the question of how blasphemous the young women on trial were. Trying them for "religious hatred" appears to be nothing but a cover for trying them for displaying the insufficient fealty to the religious dogma of the Orthodox Church that their song protests. CBS reports on the sentencing

They stood in a glass cage in the courtroom, sad smiles sometimes flickering on their lips, as the judge read out the testimony of prosecution witnesses accusing them of sacrilege and "devilish dances" in church.

The judge also described the defendants as "openly displaying disrespect" to Christians and said the defendants "deliberately placed themselves against Orthodox believers." In case it wasn't clear that this is just a 21st-century version of the same old witch trials where an unseen God is invoked to control and punish unruly women, one of the accusations flung at the band during trial was the practice of Satanism.

It's tempting to sneer at Russian culture and their obvious disrespect for free speech and freedom of religion after this verdict. After all, in the United States, you're free to express loathing for any faith you wish in any language you wish (outside of threats) without fear of government reprisal, and churches don't enjoy special protections against pranks or other protest events aimed in their direction. But that's in no small part because we're lucky to have an ironclad provision in our Constitution that protects not just speech, but also disallows the government to give favored status to religion. Without that protection, it's easy to imagine the United States backsliding into these kind of religious witch trials pretty quickly, especially if the blasphemers were young women.

That impulse, after all, is what's behind the push to excise contraception from the list of preventive care covered with no co-pay: Fundamentalists are demanding that the government give special consideration to religion in order to attack the rights of young women. Rick Santorum is running around claiming that health care reform is a "sin," and he appears to believe that the First Amendment allows the church to dictate government policy that rules believers and nonbelievers alike. Of course, we shouldn't equate the withholding of earned benefits and throwing someone in prison, but it isn't hard to imagine folks like Santorum and his supporters gunning to put cute young women on trial for blasphemy and congratulating themselves for showing "mercy" by only sentencing them to two years.

This entire debacle should be a reminder to the world why a secular society isn't just a lark or some unbearable burden on religious people who want to nose around in their employees' sex lives. A subset of religious people will always claim that their faith requires them to silence dissent and impose their values on others through government force, but we cannot be afraid to stand up to them, no matter how loudly they squall about having their feelings hurt. The Pussy Riot travesty is the logical end result of giving special legal consideration and privileges to religion.