The other day, during my first GetReligion meditation on a nasty protester who invaded a symbolic Russian church while playing Pokemon Go, I asked readers to ponder a hypothetical case under what could be considered parallel circumstances.
I asked what German authorities would do if alt-right Holocaust deniers invaded Berlin's Ryke Street synagogue during worship, approached the Bimah, did some kind of mocking behavior and later posted a nasty, anti-Semitic video that offered an F-bomb version of a Jewish prayer.
Then I argued that, in a news account about this event, journalists would need to let readers know the details of what happened in that sanctuary. Did the protester interact with a rabbi? What service was taking place? What was being said in the prayers? Was the protester asked to leave?
In other words, I was requesting basic, factual questions so readers could picture the scene. These were the same questions I thought journalists should have asked about that Pokemon Go video that a protester filmed during a prayer service at the Church of All Saints in Yekaterinburg, 900 miles east of Moscow. This sanctuary was built on the site where Czar Nicholas II and his family were executed by the Bolsheviks.
At the end of this week's "Crossroads" podcast (click here to tune that in), I thought of another "sacred" setting that might be relevant for U.S. journalists.
Instead of worship services, let's talk about Broadway. What if some Donald Trump supporters invaded a performance of "Hamilton," approached the stage, ignored requests to leave, and later posted a racist video about this act of symbolic speech? Would authorities have taken any kind of action?
To answer that question, wouldn't you need to know some of the actual details of what happened?
I would argue that readers needed to know a few facts about what happened in Russia, in order to understand how many Russians reacted to the Pokemon Go protest.
To be concerned about these kinds of acts, one does not need to agree that Russian authorities were justified in using some kind of near-blasphemy law punishment on Ruslan Sokolovsky. You can argue that a protester can be guilty of something like trespassing or disturbing the peace without agreeing with the need for government laws banning offensive, anti-religious speech and activity. I'm a First Amendment liberal, myself, and not a fan of blasphemy laws, even the sensitive, politically correct kinds.
But back to the journalism questions I asked earlier.
A GetReligion reader in Russia, just by watching a YouTube video about the incident, provided some highly relevant information that I didn't see in any of the media coverage. Matthew Casserly noted:
As a Russian-English translator living in Moscow and a convert to Orthodoxy, I can help with the Church Slavonic: the priest is reading the Trisagion "Свѧты́й Бо́же, Свѧты́й Крѣ́пкый, Свѧты́й Безсме́ртный, поми́луй на́съ" which I'm sure you know in English as "Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal, have mercy on us." After this he proceeds on to "Glory to the Father ..." and then the prayer to the Most Holy Trinity, "O Most Holy Trinity, have mercy on us."
Based on this sequence of prayers, we know that the priest is starting a prayer service, and based on how light it is outside the church before Sokolovsky enters, I would bet he is beginning a typical two-hour evening prayer service, which usually start about 5 or 6 p.m. here in Russia.
What happens next, at 1:38, better reveals the nature of Sokolovsky's antics. When the audio of the priest's prayers are cut off by what sounds like a robot/autotuned church choir, the melody resembles that of a real Orthodox choir's regular response of "Господи, помилуй" (Lord, have mercy). In Sokolovsky's version, however, the response is different: "Ёб твою мать, красотища какая," which literally translates as "F*** you mother, what a beauty." ...
So we can answer one of the key questions I raised, just with the information in the video (and a translator, which would not be hard to find in either New York City or Washington, D.C.): This protest did take place during a worship service.
The Associated Press report on this event leaves all of the same factual holes that existed in the BBC, New York Times and Washington Post reports I discussed in my earlier post. Here is the overture:
A Russian blogger was convicted on Thursday of inciting religious hatred for playing "Pokemon Go" in a church, and given a suspended sentence.
Ruslan Sokolovsky posted a video on his blog last year showing him playing the smartphone game in a church built on the supposed spot where the last Russian czar and his family were killed in the city of Yekaterinburg. He has been in detention since October.
Judge Yekaterina Shoponyak on Thursday found Sokolovsky guilty of inciting religious hatred and gave him a 3 ?-year suspended sentence. It is the same offense that sent two women from the Pussy Riot punk collective to prison for two years in 2012.
So my alt-right Holocaust deniers filmed their video in a synagogue. Period. It was empty a the time?
So my rude Trump fans did their disruptive thing in a New York theater. It was empty at the time? They didn't interrupt a "Hamilton" performance with anti-Barack Obama slogans?
Let me stress again: I oppose the Russian law used in this case because I oppose blasphemy and offense-of-religion laws, in general. This guy deserved some modest punishment simply for disturbing a public event and, perhaps, trespassing. Same as for a synagogue. Same as for interrupting a secular holy rite like "Hamilton."
I am asking if readers needed to know the factual details of what happened in that church, in order to understand people's reactions. Aren't basic facts a good thing?
FIRST IMAGE: Screen shot from the original YouTube video.