Here’s an interesting comparative law item. In a gesture of solidarity with Pussy Riot, the Russian punk band currently serving a two-year prison term for staging a “punk prayer” in Moscow’s Christ the Savior Cathedral, three masked protesters stormed Cologne Cathedral in Germany last Sunday during Mass. The protesters shouted “Free Pussy Riot” and threw leaflets at the worshipers until church guards escorted them outside. Authorities in Cologne now say they will prosecute the protesters for “disrupting the free practice of religion,” an offense with a three-year prison term under German law. “The right to demonstration cannot be set above the right to religious freedom and above the religious feelings of the congregation,” the dean of Cologne Cathedral remarked.
A couple of observations. First, as this episode demonstrates, one can’t simply dismiss the Pussy Riot trial as a symptom of dictatorship. Even in Western democracies, it is illegal to trespass on religious sites, and potential prison terms can be surprisingly harsh. To be sure, it’s unlikely the German protesters will actually serve three years; in the US, as I’ve explained, they probably wouldn’t serve time at all. And the German case differs from the Russian in that the German protesters actually interrupted a religious service. But the basic point is that trespassing on religious sites is a crime, even if one is trying to send a message about a great wrong.
Which leads to the second observation. What, exactly, was the message the German activists were sending? What was the point of disrupting Mass in Cologne Cathedral? Cologne Cathedral is not Russian Orthodox. It’s not even Orthodox. It’s Catholic. However bad the corruption in the Russian Orthodox Church, the Catholic Church bears no responsibility for the Pussy Riot prosecution. It’s not like the Vatican called for throwing Pussy Riot in prison. So, really, it makes no sense to disrupt Mass in a Catholic cathedral because of what the Russian Church hierarchy allegedly did to Pussy Riot. Unless, perhaps, the message is that traditional Christianity anywhere, in any form, should be attacked.