Soviet authorities today deported an American tourist who said she was detained and strip-searched at Moscow airport for carrying copies of the biblical Sermon on the Mount.
A U.S. Embassy official said Regina Sipple of Salt Lake City was sent to Helsinki, Finland, on an Aeroflot flight this afternoon. Sipple, 32, had arrived in Moscow Sunday night from Helsinki with an American tour group.
Sipple said she was carrying small bound copies in English and Russian of the sermon and Russian-language tapes of children’s music. She said she hoped to give the booklets and tapes to Russians as gifts.
The Sermon on the Mount is recorded in the New Testament of the Bible as a speech by Jesus Christ defending the holiness of the poor and peaceful.
Religious Freedom Claimed
"(The Rev.) Billy Graham said there was freedom of religion here, so I didn’t see why I couldn’t bring these things,” she said in a telephone interview.
Graham, the American evangelist, visited the Soviet Union in 1982 and last year, and caused a stir after his first visit by saying he saw no evidence of religious persecution.
Sipple added, “I wasn’t trying to hide them, I had them in a small bag which I was carrying openly, but the customs officers went crazy when they found those things.”
She said she was taken into a detention room, where she was strip-searched by plainclothes officers and held for three hours before being taken to an airport transit hotel. A uniformed guard was placed at her door, she said.
Sipple said she was told that the material was “anti-Soviet.”
The U.S. Embassy official, who spoke on condition he not be identified, said American officials will take up the deportation with Soviet officials.