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Pussy Riot's conduct a sacrilege to some democratic ideals

If the warm reception they’ve received recently in New York and Washington is any indication, the Russian punk musicians/political dissidents of Pussy Riot will be hailed again as heroines of democracy in their first visit to Chicago in September.

Mayor Bill de Blasio and his wife spent a half hour at New York’s City Hall in February with Maria Alyokhina and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova. They’re the Chicago-bound Pussy Riot members and Vladimir Putin foes who became world famous when they spent nearly two years in prison in their homeland.

And Hillary Clinton’s Twitter account sent out a photo of her with the two women last month. “Great to meet the strong & brave women from #Pussy Riot,” the former U.S. secretary of state and first lady tweeted.

Now, the organizers of Riot Fest say the duo will take part in their event at Humboldt Park.

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Please enable Javascript to watch this videoBut if respect for others’ religious beliefs is central to our notion of democracy, the leaders of this diverse city and state should stay away from Pussy Riot.

Go on YouTube and see the behavior that got them in trouble. Pussy Riot’s “Punk Prayer” was recorded when they stormed the altar of a Moscow cathedral in 2012. It’s more blasphemy than political demonstration.

Dressed in balaclavas that hid their faces, the members of Pussy Riot kneeled down and crossed themselves in the Orthodox Christian manner. Others jumped around and played air guitars, as if the front of the church were a concert stage.

The music that accompanies the video alternates punk-style shouting with the calm intonation of an Orthodox chant.

“S—! S—! The Lord’s s—!” the women sang. “Virgin Mary, Mother of God, send Putin away.”

Christ the Savior cathedral where Pussy Riot recorded “Punk Prayer” was built to memorialize the defeat of Napoleon’s invasion, and the Soviet regime tore it down in 1931. It was rebuilt after the fall of the Communist regime, which had suppressed religious freedom.

Maybe I’m particularly sensitive because I’m an Orthodox Christian who did not like seeing his faith mocked. But what if a similar scenario played out in any house of worship here?

What if teachers’ union activists armed with video cameras suddenly ran into Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s temple and chanted for God to prevent the mayor’s re-election or save schools from being closed.

Or imagine someone protesting the local Democrats by raising hell near the altars of Old St. Patrick’s Church, Nativity of Our Lord or other Roman Catholic parishes where elected officials worship.

The perpetrators would not be punished at all as severely as Pussy Riot was. But such “activism” would get them nothing but strong condemnation here. They certainly wouldn’t be praised as freedom fighters.

(Tolokonnikova also would elicit disgust if she again disrobed and had sex in a museum, as she and nine other “performance artists” did during a 2008 orgy/political protest in Moscow.)

So while the women of Pussy Riot have become a cause celebre on the East Coast, they’re not remotely as popular in their homeland, where Orthodoxy is the main religion.

Orthodox Christians long have been a part of Chicago’s religious kaleidoscope, if not a very large voting bloc. Anybody who knows people with roots in Greece, Russia, Romania, Serbia or Bulgaria, among other places, almost certainly knows Orthodox Christians.

A priest who served the Orthodox of Chicago before heading back to his homeland became the first martyr of the communist revolution. He’s now venerated as St. John of Chicago.

Pussy Riot should be as free to express dissent in Gorky Park as they are in Humboldt Park. But democracy as we know it doesn’t work if that right isn’t paired with the responsibility to respect what others hold sacred.

Unless they think it would be fine to defile places of worship to make a political statement, our elected leaders should not rush to have their photos taken with Pussy Riot when they come to town.