Is it possible to talk about human rights abuses in Russia in the context of the Olympics and not once mention Russia’s anti-gay laws, the rising tide of anti-gay violence, or the controversy over the impact that Russia’s anti-gay “propaganda” law might have on athletes and visitors? Sure, if you’re Sen. Ted Cruz speaking at an event hosted by the Heritage Foundation.
Cruz, darling of the Religious Right and Tea Party, slammed Russia’s “increasingly autocratic” president at the January 28 Heritage event. He portrayed Vladimir Putin as a tyrant systematically working to crush Ukrainian independence and reassemble the old Soviet Union. And of course he took the opportunity to slam the Obama administration, which he said was not standing up forcefully for human rights.
Following Cruz to the microphone was Katrina Lantos Swett, Vice Chair of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom. Swett, a “proud Democrat,” detailed a litany of anti-democratic laws adopted in Putin’s Russia, including “religious freedom” and “extremism” laws that give the government wide latitude to discriminate against minority religions, including Muslims, Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and Pentecostal Christians. She said the Russian government is undermining civil society with severe restrictions on protests and the return of Soviet-era tactics like sentencing dissidents to psychiatric treatment. Swett did mention the anti-gay “propaganda” law in her list of Putin’s anti-democratic actions.
There are a couple remarkable things about this panel, other than finding myself in agreement with Cruz about something (Putin is an anti-democratic strongman).
First, in his 26-minute speech and during the Q&A, at an event about human rights and the Olympics, Cruz did not breathe a word about the raging controversy over Russia’s attacks on the rights and lives of LGBT people. The closest Cruz came was mentioning, as an example of Putin’s efforts to crush dissent, his moves against “a punk rock band.” Cruz joked about his unwillingness to say the band’s name (Pussy Riot).
Second, Cruz is clearly at odds with anti-gay and anti-abortion leaders in the U.S. who have been busily praising Putin as the defender of traditional values and savior of Christianity. Liberty Counsel’s Matt Barber, for example, has said Putin is being allowed to “out-Christian our once-Christian nation.” The American Family Association’s Bryan Fischer has called Putin “the lion of Christianity, the defender of Christian values, the president that’s calling his nation back to embracing its identity as a nation founded on Christian values.”
In fact there is a whole gaggle of Religious Right leaders who have, as Miranda has reported, fallen all over themselves to praise Putin and his anti-free-speech, anti-gay crackdown. And some of them have done more than just praise Putin. Brian Brown of the National Organization for Marriage traveled to Russia to build support for anti-gay legislation. The Illinois-based Howard Center for Family, Religion, and Society is excited about heading to Moscow for its 2014 “World Congress of Families” summit.
Cruz was eager to criticize the Obama administration for not advocating more strongly for human rights in Russia, but what does he have to say about his Religious Right pals who are actively praising and enabling Putin’s anti-democratic moves? And who have attacked the Obama administration’s efforts to promote the human rights of LGBT people abroad? We’re listening.