Washington, D.C. — U.S. Senator Ben Sasse (R-NE) condemned current legislative efforts in Russia to criminalize freedom of speech and religious liberty.
Sasse’s remarks from the Senate floor follow the Russian parliament’s approval of so-called anti-terrorism legislation that would make it illegal for Russians to share their faith outside of a church or house of worship.
Sasse’s full remarks, as prepared for delivery, are found below.
Video of the Senator’s speech is available here or by clicking on the image above.
Mr. President, I rise today to express my concern about troubling new developments in Russia.
Russia’s parliament, the Federal Assembly, has just approved so-called anti-terrorism legislation that criminalizes free speech and that attacks religious liberty.
If President Putin signs this into law in the coming weeks, it will be illegal for Christians to share their faith outside of a church building, as if faith is constrained by the four walls of a structure and belief to a single day of the week.
In some ways, this isn’t a surprise.
There’s a lot wrong with Russia. We are witnessing a rising authoritarianism in a declining state. Moscow routinely tramples the rights of press, assembly, speech, dissent, and national sovereignty.
Ask the families of murdered journalists. Ask student groups who face intimidation. Ask the political dissidents who fear imprisonment. Ask the Ukrainian people who fear being fully overrun.
Why is this happening?
Because Putin and his government cronies think they can make Russia great again by hoarding wealth, by abusing power, and by crushing any and all opposition. They strike a strongman pose but this is not real strength.
True strength is rooted in virtue: Selflessness and sacrifice on behalf of the weak. Mr. Putin is driven by cheap imitation and intimidation, more akin to bullying. Vice masked as virtue.
We know that Russia’s offenses are many and egregious. At the same time, Americans well understand that it is not our national calling – nor is it within our power – to attempt to right every wrong in a broken world.
But we should be clear about what is happening – as well as the fact that there is not an easy fix here. It is naive to hope that Russia can be reformed with reset buttons or with promises of future “flexibility.”
Instead we need to begin telling the truth about an increasingly aggressive actor in global affairs. Again let me be explicit: The U.S. does not have a solemn obligation to make the world free but we absolutely do have an obligation to speak on behalf of those who are made speechless in the dark corners of the globe.
This Russian law would be an affront to free people everywhere—at home and abroad—who believe that rights of conscience—the rights to free speech and to freedom of religion—are pre-political. These freedoms do not ebb and flow with history. They do not rise and fall with the political fortunes of a despot. Governments do not give us these rights and governments cannot take them away.
These rights of speech and religion and assembly belong to every man, woman, and child because all of us are image-bearers of our Creator.
I’m speaking tonight because this new Russian legislation is emblematic of a destructive growing nationalism and of a thirst for power that cannot be ignored.
Putin has a desire to squeeze down on civil society, on other venues for discussion and debate, and on other institutions outside of politics where human dignity can and should be expressed.
He has this desire because he is weak, not because he is strong.
We here in this body, without regard to political party, and representing all 50 states, must be sober and clear eyed about Russia.
We must become more sober and clearer-eyed about its hostilities and its dangerous trajectory. We have a duty here to be telling the truth early about where this might be headed.
Thank you Mr. President.