Date: Mon, 2 Nov 1998 22:52:35 -0600 (CST)
From: Greek Helsinki Monitor <helsinki@compulink.gr>
Subject: Belgium-France-Germany-Greece Denounced for Religious Intolerance
Article: 46741
To: undisclosed-recipients:;
Message-ID: <bulk.20104.19981104001622@chumbly.math.missouri.edu>

OSCE implementation meeting in Warsaw

Speech delivered by Human Rights Without Frontiers, 26 October 1998

HRWF (26.10.98)—In my capacity as chairman of Human Rights Without Frontiers in Brussels, I would like to talk briefly about a sensitive issue with regard to religious freedom in the European Union: the cult issue. In the last few years, official enquiry commissions have been set up. France was the first country to create a parliamentary enquiry commission on cults. Its methodology was very controversial and was heavily criticized by sociologists and historians of religions. The French parliamentary report led to the creation of an Observatory of Cults and this month to an Interministerial Mission on Cults that will carry out a more aggressive policy. Two laws are now to be voted by the National Assembly. The first one is meant to control the finances of cults more strictly. The second one is dealing with the control of homeschooling practised by the children of members of so-called cults.

On April 28, 1997, the Belgian parlieamentary commission on cults released its report in which you can find a list of 189 controversial movements, including inside the Catholic Church. In the recommendations, it was even proposed to introduce into the Penal Code an article providing for a sentence of 2 to 5 years in prison and/or a fine for those who use beatings, violence, threats or psychological manipulation to persuade an individual of the existence of false undertakings, imaginory powers or imminent fantastical events.

On June 19, 1998, after 2 years' work, the German Enquiry Commission passed its report with a large majority. It was surprisingly less negative than it had been feared after the interim report. The German Commission was also the first to approach the issue from the viewpoint that it is the State's duty to protect consumers against illegal or unfair practices of cults and psychogroups. The Commission also recommended to keep Scientology under observation but in its conclusion, it stated that cults and psychogroups do not represent any danger to the democratic state. Another positive point was that it strongly recommended to drop the terminology cult or sect because of its bad connotation. The European Parliament unsuccessfully tried to draft a report of its own but on two occcasions in six months' time, it was rejected by the plenary session.

The Council of Europe is also preparing a report on cults but in September it was rejected and sent back to the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights for further examination. After the failure of the European Parliament's report, it now seems that the Council of Europe does not know any more what to do and where to go with its report.

Since the creation of parliamentary commissions, the publication of their reports and the setting up of observatories of sects, the mandates of which are ambiguous and open the door to dangerous and harmful deviances, a number of media have been libelling minority religions, circulating rumors and false information, inciting religious intolerance with total impunity.

On this background, a threefold pattern of real persecution is developing.

Firstly, those minority religions have been marginalized, stigmatized and lynched. Access to public halls for meetings has been denied to a number of them, has been more difficult or more expensive than for other organizations. Officials have become pernickety in fulfilling their administrative duties. Children at school and adults in their neighbourhood have been stigmatized.

Secondly, we now see unpopular minority religious isolated from all the others and targeted by the fiscal administration: Jehovah's Witnesses and the Evangelical Pentecostal Church of Besanšon. The reaction of public opinion or its lack of reaction may be a testing ground for the treatment to be applied tomorrow to other minority religions.

Thirdly, it can be feared that plans are being carried out to crush and kill minority religions one by one.

Despite this dark description of the process of deterioration of religious liberty in the European Union, two recent events may encourage all those who are concerned about the future of religious freedom on our continent. This month, two more reports have been published: one in Sweden and one in Tessin, a canton of Switzerland. Both reproach France and other countries to wage war against their minority religions and to make common cause with the anti-cult movement. The Swedish Parliament has chosen to follow the opposite direction, to promote dialogue between the State and society on the one hand and minority religions on the other hand. y The way is now open to a new generation of reports on cults and to new more peaceful strategies. Let us hope France, Belgium, Germany and others will give up their aggressive methods towards cults and will listen to the voice of wisdom coming from Sweden.

IMPLEMENTING MEETING IN WARSAW

STATEMENT OF THE INTERNATIONAL HELSINKI FEDERATION FOR HUMAN RIGHTS: FREEDOM OF RELIGION IN WESTERN EUROPE

HRWF (28.10.98)—The IHF is concerned about clear attempts on the part of EU and national governments in Western Europe to adopt new legal provisions to protect individuals from new religions (or sects) which are deemed harmful, and to support traditional religions.

On 30 April 1998, the Belgian Chamber of Representatives adopted a draft law regarding the establishment of an information and advisory center on harmful sectarian organizations. The center will scrutinize 189 religious organizations listed in the Belgian Parliamentary Sect Report. An inappropriate methodology in preparing the report resulted in making a virtual black list of sects among which are a number of Protestan churches and organizations to which about 50 percent of the Belgian Protestant population belong. The publication of the Parliamentary Sect Report triggered slanderous reporting in some Belgian media, based on erroneous information and resulting in increased religious intolerance.

In France, increasing intolerance and discrimination against new religions is also being observed.

In January 1996, the National Assembly published the Guyard report, which listed 172 cults deemed harmful and dangerous. This resulted in media reports libeling minority religions, the circulation of rumors and false information, and incitement of religious intolerance.

The fact that the Greek constitution gives the Eastern Orthodox church the status of an official religion continues to be a major human rights concern.

In a judgment against Greece for violation of article 9 of the European Convention on human rights, the European Court of Human Rights criticized in 1996 Greek legislation for allowing far-reaching interference by the political, administrative and ecclesiastical authorities with the exercise of religious freedom and for imposing rigid or indeed prohibitive conditions on the practice of religious beliefs by certain non-Orthodox movements, concluding that there is a clear tendency on the part of the administrative and ecclesiastical authorities to use these provisions to restrict activities of faiths outside the Orthodox Church.

The IHF deplores that since this clear judgment, no progress has been made by the Greek legislature to modify legislation that run counter to international human rights law.

The IHF is calling upon OSCE delegations to give due attention to the increasing religious intolerance in the Western part of the continent and propose concrete steps to reverse this dangerous trend.