Uzzell fearlessly reported on infringements of religious freedom in Russia in the nineties. A decade later, Larry Uzzell headed up International Religious Freedom Watch. He penned a prophetic 2004 column for World Magazine in which he noted dangerous signs:
The Sept. 14 torching of the Baptist house church in Lyubuchany was more directly linked to state harassment. Yelena Kareyeva, a member of the congregation, told International Religious Freedom Watch when we visited last month that just three days before the fire her son had seen two suspicious-looking men loitering in the adjacent forest. Her son recognized one of them: In August he had taken part in a massive police operation against a gathering hosted by the congregation for several thousand Baptists from all over central Russia.
Those “suspicious looking men” were, of course, FSB agents, operating under the gaze of Vladimir Putin. The former KGB agent had pushed aside the bibulous Yeltsin on New Year’s Eve, 1999, and was now the President of the Russian Federation. It was in his firm grip that the menacing powers of the 1993 Russian constitution would be wielded.
Putin had quietly replaced a bust of Iron Felix in FSB headquarters. Few Americans were concerned in 1993, or even in 2004, when Larry Uzzell was a voice crying in the wilderness. If only Russia would honor contracts and provide a good place for American entrepreneurs to function, its leaders would be people with whom, in Margaret Thatcher’s telling phrase, “we can do business.”
Let us be bold to disagree: Religious Freedom is the First Freedom. It is, we will concede, not part of the American Founders’ inspired plan that “the free exercise of religion” is listed first in the First Amendment. They actually proposed other amendments firster. What we know as the First Amendment is simply the first one ratified.
Nonetheless, the Founders really did view religious freedom as fundamental. And it is the great error of recent administrations—of both parties—not to see it as fundamental.
Our own State Department abandoned the principle of religious freedom when it insisted on so-called “repugnancy clauses” in the newly written constitutions of Iraq and Afghanistan. These clauses say nothing can be done by the new governments that is “repugnant” to Islam. As we have seen, merely to say “Jesus is Lord” is regarded as blasphemy in these lands and governments that protect people’s right to say it are soon overthrown. A Pakistani judge, a devout Muslim who defended a Christian woman, saying she had a right to her beliefs, was himself assassinated. And his murder was widely approved in Pakistan.
Because 84% of Egyptians tell the Pew poll, year after year, that their neighbors should be killed if they convert to Christianity, the Egyptians will not have democracy. Nor should they vote if they continue to act on such beliefs.
Religious freedom is not for Christians alone. Winston Churchill had a chance to meet Adolf Hitler when both men were out of power. In a Munich hotel in 1932, Churchill was on tour, researching a book on his famous ancestor, the Duke of Marlborough. Churchill told Hitler’s lapdog, Ernst “Putzi” Hanfstaengel: “You can tell your boss for me that anti-Semitism may be a good starter, but it’s a bad sticker.” Hitler refused to meet Churchill.
Churchill rarely attended church, but he sensed that Hitler’s persecution of the Jews was just the start. Many a quaint little Anglican church would be smashed by the bombs dropped by that hateful Fürer.
We are already back in the USSR. We have been there for some time. If anyone wants to know why Russian democracy failed to flower, we can answer: They burn churches, don’t they?