Fact Check

Did Zelenskyy Call for Sanctions on 'Any Christian Caught Worshiping in Unapproved Ways'?

This strain of misinformation was bolstered by an incorrectly placed quotation mark in a Tucker Carson segment.

Published Jan 4, 2023

Article 1 of 13 in Collection
Claim:
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy's administration advocated "personal economic and restrictive sanctions" be "applied to any Christian caught worshiping in unapproved ways."
Context

Zelenskyy has advocated banning the "Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate" as part of sanctions on religious organizations affiliated with "centers of influence" in the Russian Federation, but the quote about "any Christian caught worshiping in unapproved ways" is an apparent invention of a Tucker Carlson monologue.

On Dec. 1, 2021, Ukrainian President Volodymr Zelenskyy signed a decree titled "On certain aspects of the activities of religious organizations in Ukraine and the application of personal special economic and other restrictive measures (sanctions)." That order recommended several actions specifically against the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, which is historically associated with, but now technically independent of, Moscow: The Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate.

Prior to that announcement, Ukraine's Security Services, the SBU, raided the headquarters of that organization in Kyiv — National Kyiv-Pechersk Historical and Cultural Reserve — amid concerns, among other things, "about the use of the premises … for sheltering sabotage and reconnaissance groups, foreign citizens, [and] weapons storage." 

On a Dec. 7, 2022, broadcast of Tucker Carlson Tonight, Carlson criticized the move in his opening monologue, injecting what he described as a direct quote from Zelenskyy about "worshiping in unapproved ways":

TUCKER CARLSON: A free country does not ban a major religion just because it's not fully on board with the political program of the people running the country. But Zelenskyy is doing that and his cabinet is now devising ways to punish Christians for practicing their banned ancient religion in Ukraine. Quote, "Personal economic and restrictive sanctions will be applied to any Christian caught worshiping in unapproved ways." 

In a Dec. 21, 2022, exchange that added further virality to the claim, however, Fox News personality Tulsi Gabbard repeated that quote back to the very person who appears to have invented it:

TULSI GABBARD: As you mentioned he shut down the biggest Ukrainian church in the country and I found this quote today. He has actually threatened to punish, quote, "any Christian caught worshiping in unapproved ways."

TUCKER CARLSON: Come on!

Only the words "personal economic" and "restrictive sanctions" can be attributed to Zelenskyy or the government of Ukraine. The rest  — statements about approved forms of worship — are a deceptively imprecise paraphrase of the Zelenskyy decree. 

Virtually all citations regarding the existence of this quote in other media sources are attributed to the Tucker Carlson monologue. For example, a Dec. 15 opinion piece on Christian Post claimed this while linking to the Tucker segment as its evidence:

Zelensky is quoted as saying, "Personal economic and restrictive sanctions will be applied to any Christian caught worshiping in unapproved ways." Based on these midnight raids of convents, his government intends to punish Christians for practicing their religious beliefs.

But neither the speech Zelenskyy made announcing the decree, the decree itself, nor any document or speech cited by Carlson, said anything close to that statement. Here is that decree in full:

Having considered the activities of religious organizations on the territory of Ukraine in the conditions of the military aggression of the Russian Federation against Ukraine, with the aim of ensuring spiritual independence, preventing a split in society on religious grounds, promoting the consolidation of Ukrainian society and protecting national interests, the National Security and Defense Council of Ukraine decided:

1. Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine:

submit to the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine for consideration within a two-month period a draft law on making it impossible to operate in Ukraine religious organizations affiliated with centers of influence in the Russian Federation in accordance with the norms of international law in the field of freedom of conscience and Ukraine's obligations in connection with joining the Council of Europe;

urgently resolve the issue of assigning the State Service of Ukraine for Ethnopolitics and Freedom of Conscience to the central bodies of executive power, whose activities are directed and coordinated directly by the Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine;

to resolve the issue of functional subordination of structural divisions of local state administrations to the State Service of Ukraine for Ethnopolitics and Freedom of Conscience, the powers of which include the implementation of the right to freedom of conscience and religion, activities of religious organizations;

ensure within a two-month period of verification of the existence of legal grounds and compliance with the conditions of use by religious organizations of the property located on the territory of the National Kyiv-Pechersk Historical and Cultural Reserve.

2. The State Service of Ukraine for Ethnopolitics and Freedom of Conscience to ensure within a two-month period, in accordance with the Law of Ukraine "On Freedom of Conscience and Religious Organizations", to carry out a religious examination of the Statute on the Administration of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church for the presence of an ecclesiastical-canonical connection with the Moscow Patriarchate, if necessary to take legal measures.

3. The Security Service of Ukraine, together with the National Police of Ukraine and other state bodies, whose competence includes issues in the field of ensuring national security, to intensify measures to detect and counter the subversive activities of Russian special services in the religious environment of Ukraine.

4. To support proposals made by the Security Service of Ukraine regarding the application of personal special economic and other restrictive measures (sanctions).

5. Apply personal special economic and other restrictive measures (sanctions) to natural persons in accordance with the appendix.

6. The Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine, together with the Security Service of Ukraine and the National Bank of Ukraine, shall ensure the implementation and monitoring of the effectiveness of personal special economic and other restrictive measures (sanctions) provided for in clause 5 of this decision.

In a speech that was also cited by Carlson announcing the move, Zelenskyy echoed the same basic elements of the law using roughly the same language:

All bodies responsible for ensuring national security must intensify measures to identify and counter the subversive activities of Russian special services in the religious environment of Ukraine and apply personal sanctions - the surnames will be made public soon.

Based on this, Carlson appears to have been referencing the portion of the decree that authorizes the government to pursue "personal special economic and other restrictive measures (sanctions) to natural persons" while falsely insinuating that the term applied to "any Christian caught worshiping in unapproved ways" was part of the original quote. Because this clause was not part of the original quote, the claim is "False."

 

Sources: 

Carlson, Tucker. "TUCKER CARLSON: This Is the Reality about Ukraine's Zelenskyy." Fox News, 7 Dec. 2022, https://www.foxnews.com/opinion/tucker-carlson-this-reality-about-ukraines-zelenskyy.

"Tulsi Gabbard: Zelenskyy Shut down the Biggest Ukrainian Church in the Country | Fox News Video." Fox News, 22 Dec. 2022, https://www.foxnews.com/video/6317618025112.

Ukraine Raids 1,000 Year Old Russia-Backed Kyiv Monastery. https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2022/11/23/ukraine-raids-1000-year-old-russia-backed-kyiv-monastery. Accessed 3 Jan. 2023.

We Will Guarantee Spiritual Independence to Ukraine - Address by President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. https://www.president.gov.ua/en/news/mi-garantuyemo-ukrayini-duhovnu-nezalezhnist-zvernennya-prez-79577.

"Про окремі аспекти діяльності релігійних організацій в Україні і застосування персональних спеціальних економічних та інших обмежувальних заходів (санкцій)." Офіційний вебпортал парламенту України, https://zakon.rada.gov.ua/go/n0021525-22. Accessed 3 Jan. 2023.

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Alex Kasprak is an investigative journalist and science writer reporting on scientific misinformation, online fraud, and financial crime.

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