A friend of ours, Matt Duggin, moved to St. Petersburg, Russia earlier this year to work with a small group of Christians there, and, of course, seek to expand their numbers. His plans are to stay five years. We've already known Russia has not been as inviting to those seeking to spread the gospel, but a new decision to ban Jehovah's Witnesses bodes ill:
Jehovah's Witnesses have long been a bellwether for religious freedom, in this country and around the world. Without the Jehovah's Witness court victories here in the U.S., for example, religious organizations might have to seek licenses to solicit aid or even to worship. Evangelists might be forced to pay fees to hand out Bibles and tracts—and might be taxed even for giving them away. And school children would be forced to pledge allegiance to whatever the government wished.
"The Jehovah's Witnesses," Supreme Court Justice Harlan Stone once famously said, "ought to have an endowment in view of the aid which they give in solving the legal problems of civil liberties."
In this country, the Jehovah's Witnesses have been tremendously successful in expanding religious liberties. But in Russia, it's a different story. And as the state cracks down on the JWs, it looks like groups like the Baptists are next.
"Once you get a decision like this, it's open season," John Burns, the Canadian lawyer who represented the group at a Moscow appellate court, told The New York Times. He told the Associated Press, "Religious freedom has just turned back to where it was in Soviet times."
Putin is no friend of liberty, and I'd say the former KGB man is no friend of religion. I hope Matt is able to stay.