The July 22 briefing convened in Room HC-5, U.S. Capitol, Washington,
D.C., at 1:10 p.m., Wayne Merry, Helsinki Commission Staff Member and
Senior Advisor to the Commission presiding. Testimony was offered by
Mr. Willie Fauntre, founder and chairman of Human Rights Without
Frontiers, Brussels; and Mr. James McCabe, Assistant General
Counsel of the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society.
I've started a little late on the view that some people might have as
much difficulty finding this room as I did, but I would like to proceed
For people who are not familiar with the Commission and its work, let
me briefly describe the procedure we will use today. The Commission on
Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the Helsinki Commission,
is a small, but independent, U.S. government agency created by law for the
purpose of monitoring implementation of the commitments of the Helsinki
Final Act and of other documents of the Organization of Security and
Cooperation in Europe, the OSCE.
The focus of our activities is very heavily on human rights questions.
We have been in existence for over 20 years, and I think have a laudable
track record over that period.
The work of the Commission is all public; we do no classified work. A
good deal of what we do is conducted in public briefings and public
hearings of this type. This session is being transcribed and will be
published and available both in hard copy and on the Commission's web
site, however, not too soon, it takes a while for the transcriptions to
come back from the printers.
There is information on the Commission available on the table outside,
and if any of you wish to be on our addressee list or find out more about
us members of the Commission staff here will be happy to help you.
Our procedure today will be to hear statements from our two visiting
guest experts, and then we will have an open discussion session, in which
there can be comments and questions from members of the audience on the
very important theme that we are dealing with today.
Let me say that the question of problems of religious liberty is one
which is occupying an increasing priority and attention from the Helsinki
Commission. This is by no means a new theme in our work. During the Cold
War, however, most of the attention that we gave on questions of religious
liberty were focused in the eastern countries, countries with at least
formerly communist and atheist ideologies, and the problem was one of the
situation of religious believers in state political systems which were
either overtly hostile or discriminatory toward those believers and
towards organized religion.
Today, in the aftermath of the Cold War, and regrettably the geographic
scope of our interest has widened, as we are concerned with what we see as
a developing pattern of discrimination against religious minorities and
other belief groups in a number of countries in the OSCE region.
I will note a number of specific cases on which the Commission has been
very active. Most of you are aware of the new law in the Russian
Federation on religious activities. This is one which members of the
Commission and Commission staff have had an active dialogue with Russian
Government officials and legislators, and while there have been some
positive developments on that legislation in recent months it is certainly
one which we follow with concern and which we will be continuing to
monitor very closely.
Recently, Uzbekistan has promulgated a new rule on religious activities
which we find very disturbing, both because of the actual content of the
statute and because in some of the public statements made by senior
government officials at the time that it was introduced, and this is a
case which I think we are going to be following with great
Many of the other former communist countries have similar problems
which are the focus of a good deal of our efforts. However, unlike during
the period of the Cold War, we now must devote a fair amount of our
attention to countries further west. It is not new for the Commission to
express concern about problems with religious minorities in some of the
western countries. For example, we have been concerned about problems with
religious minorities in Greece for many years.
More recently, however, we have had to spend time and attention on
countries where traditionally this had not been much of a subject of
concern for us. There is, however, for example, a new law in Austria,
which members of the Helsinki Commission spoke directly with members of
the Austrian Parliament during a trip in January, which is a subject of
More recently, the Inquiry Commission of the German Federal Bundestag
issued its final report, which we have been examining, and which certainly
has some very disturbing elements.
Also, there have been practices in France and in Belgium, which we
shall hear more about today, which are disturbing to us.
Let me say that the Helsinki Commission proceeds always on the basis of
those principles contained in the Helsinki Final Act and in other OSCE
documents, so this is not the case of a United States organization trying
to apply American standards to European countries. We are very well aware
of the fact that most European countries proceed from a tradition of a
state sanctioned or state sponsored church, but the principles contained
in the Helsinki documents are internationally accepted principles by all
of the states party to the Helsinki Final Act, and they involve, with
great priority, fundamental freedoms of religious belief and other belief
and of practice. And, it is these principles which we seek to monitor and
where we hope to improve compliance.
Let me note that today's briefing is only one in a series of public
sessions sponsored by the Helsinki Commission on this important subject.
The Helsinki Commission will be in collaboration with the House
International Relations Committee sponsoring a joint public hearing next
week, on Thursday, July 30th at 10:00 in the morning, in Room 2172 in the
Rayburn House Office Building, on continuing religious intolerance in
Europe, and you are all certainly invited to attend that session.
Let me also note that the priority and interest which the Helsinki
Commission devotes to this important question is reflected in the recent
creation in the Helsinki Commission's permanent staff of a position,
counsel for religious liberties, occupied by Karen Lord who is with us
today. If any of you have any specific questions concerning the
Commission's work in this area, I suggest you may wish to be in touch with
Today we are honored to have two expert witnesses, who will give us
their views on this subject. These are Mr. Willy Fautré, Director of the
Human Rights Without Frontiers organization in Belgium, and Mr. James
McCabe, who is the Assistant General Counsel of the Watchtower Bible and
Tract Society, and I will ask each of them to speak in turn.
Mr. Fautré, who was born in Belgium in 1944, is both the founder and
the chairman of Human Rights Without Frontiers, which is a secular
organization promoting rule of law, democracy and human rights. The
organization was created in 1989, fortuitously, the year which the Berlin
Wall came down, and it gives priority to the field of religious liberty,
and it has a press service in both English and French.
Mr. Fautré. Thank you for giving me the floor, Mr.
I want to thank the OSCE for giving me this opportunity to brief you
about the deterioration of religious freedom in a number of West European
countries since some parliamentary and European Commission on Cults have
been set up in the last few years.
The European continent is multicultural, multilingual and
multireligious, and it can be said that religious pluralism really exists
within the borders of the Member States of the European Union, 15
countries, and more widely of the Council of Europe. However, most
European countries have a two-tiered system, and even a three-tiered
system, in which religions have different statuses and in which citizens
are not treated in the same way and even suffer from various forms of
institutionalized inequalities and discrimination on the basis of their
religious or philosophical beliefs.
This background, on which recent massacres committed by groups such as
Aoum or the Order of the Solar Temple, have left their mark should allow
one to better understand the sudden emergence and development of
parliamentary commissions on cults in Western Europe. So, I will brief you
very shortly--between 15 and 20 minutes-- about such commissions in
France, in Belgium, in Germany, at the European Parliament, and at the
Council of Europe.
Mr. McCabe will talk extensively about the situation in France and more
precisely about Jehovah's Witnesses. You have certainly read the
advertisement that they have put in an American newspaper, so he will talk
about that; but the situation in France is not only serious for the
Jehovah's Witnesses, but also for a number of other minority
In fact, thousands of religious associations may now or tomorrow be
targeted by the fiscal services, as Jehovah's Witnesses, because they are
not worship associations recognized as such by the Ministry of Interior.
According to statistics published in 1993 by the Ministry of Interior,
only 109 out of 1,138 Protestant associations, 15 out of 147 Jewish
associations, and two out of more than 1,000 Muslim associations are
currently entitled to benefit from legacies and exemption on
Tomorrow, Catholic associations may also fall under the guillotine
blade of the Internal Revenue Services, including the Youth World Days,
through which huge amounts of money were collected to cover the expenses
of the Pope's last visit to France, and a small evangelical pentecostal
church of Besançon, with which I am in contact, is already hit by the
fiscal measures of the IRS and is being pressured to pay about $500,000 on
donations received between 1994 and 1997.
It remains to be seen, if collectors of the Internal Revenue Services
will limit their action to the 172 cults, or so-called cults, listed in
the French Parliamentary reports. Jehovah's Witnesses are on the black
list; that small evangelical, pentecostal community of Besançon is also on
that black list.
If such is the case, then it would be quite discriminatory and contrary
to the constitutional principle of separation between state and church,
which forbids the state to establish a category of good religions and a
category of bad religions.
Moreover, there's no reason for fiscal services to fail to apply the
measures to hundreds of thousands of secular non-profitmaking or
philosophical, cultural, or some other associations which collect
donations to finance their activities, an action that would then
jeopardize, not only the freedom of religious association, but also in a
much wider sense the right to association.
One more attack is now threatening minority religions in France. In the
first days of July, 1998, the French Observatory on Cults publicized its
yearly report. It noted that, according to them, about 50 organizations
were indoctrinating children in 1998, against 28 organizations in 1996. In
this general climate of anti-cult hysteria which started in 1995/1996, the
French Law Commission adopted two draft laws introduced by Mr. Jacques
Guyard of the Socialist Party and Jean-Pierre Brard of the Communist
One asks for an inquiry about the finances of cults, and proposes a
financial control of those who have budgets superior to $80,000.00. The
other is supposed to control if children of cult members abide by the laws
on compulsory education. Mr. Gest, Mr. Brard and Mr. Guyard, who were
respectively chairman, vice chairman and rapporteur of the French
Parliamentary Commission on Cults in 1995/1996, have asked for cults to be
included in the category of combat groups and private militias.
By the end of 1998, the French Parliament will have to vote a
resolution creating two more inquiry commissions, one about the financial
situation of cults and another one about their influence on
On this background, we can see a threefold pattern of real persecution
which is developing in France. First, minority religions have been
marginalized, stigmatized and lynched. Access to public halls for meetings
has been denied to a number of them, has been made 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 neighborhood have been stigmatized as members of cults.
Secondly, we now see an ``unpopular'' minority religion isolated from
all the others and targeted by the fiscal administration: Jehovah's
Witnesses now in France. But before that it was Scientology. The reaction
of public opinion, or the lack of reaction, may be a testing ground for
the treatment to be applied tomorrow to other minority religions.
And, thirdly, it can be feared that plans are being carried out to
crush and kill minority religions one by one.
As the first country to have attacked minority religions, France is
today paving the way to new subtle forms of religious persecution in
Europe. In the '80s, the Hare Krishna movement was killed financially by
the fiscal services for a number of reasons that will not be analyzed
here. Today, Jehovah's Witnesses and the Evangelical Pentecostal Church of
Besançon are targeted by the same service. Tomorrow, other countries may
think of forging new fiscal laws, new fiscal weapons, against minority
The second country that set up a parliamentary commission was Belgium,
the country I'm coming from, and where most of European institutions are
based. The Belgian Commission on Sects--we usually use the word sects in
Europe--started its work in April, 1996 and released its report in April,
1997. In one year's time, it held 58 meetings and heard 136
The most striking recommendation of the Sect Report is certainly the
draft law that the Parliamentary Commission has proposed to introduce into
the Belgian Penal Code and that provides for a sentence of two to five
years in prison and/or a fine for those who use beatings, violence,
threats, psychological manipulation to persuade an individual of the
existence of false undertakings, imaginary powers or imminent fantastical
events. This is the literal translation of that draft law.
Another astonishing fact is that some Catholic organizations are also
targeted by the Belgian Commission, the Charismatic Renewal, Opus Dei, The
Work (which is an association recognized in 20 European dioceses and which
has its headquarters in Rome), the community of San Egidio and the small
Opstal community led by Jesuit fathers mistakenly mentioned in the list of
189 controversial movements, and it is on purpose that I don't use the
word sect or cult. Maybe I will answer some questions about that
terminology later on.
Now, on the Protestant side, more than 20 Protestant movements are also
victimized by the report: the Evangelicals (globally, just the
Evangelicals without any distinction), the Pentecostals (also globally),
the Adventists, the Amish, the Darbyists, Operation Mobilisation, Youth
With A Mission, YWCA, and for some mysterious reasons not YMCA, and so on,
many others. So, attacks must also be deplored against the Soka Gakkai, a
Buddhist movement of about 15 million members, and the Satmar, a Jewish
community which has become the symbol of religious freedom and freedom of
education in the United States.
But, since the publication of that report, that was a bit more than one
year ago, an Information and Advisory Center was created by the
Parliament. That was in April of this year, and it will soon be
operational. On that occasion, a group of Belgian Protestant Satmar and
Baha'i leaders whose movements were labeled as cults by the Belgian
Parliamentary Report, set up a so-called Belgian Citizens' Forum against
religious intolerance, discrimination and inequalities in Belgium in May,
1998, at the initiative of our organization.
It held a press conference about their plight at the European
Parliament in Brussels under the patronage of Mr. David Hallam, who is a
member of the European Parliament, British and a member of the Labor
A conclusion about Belgium: in many societal matters, Belgium is prone
to follow the example of its French neighbor. In the struggle against
so-called ``cults,'' the Belgian Parliamentary Commission had the same
prejudices and made the same methodological errors as their French
counterpart. This can already be noticed from the repressive measures that
are being studied, such as a draft law to penalize mental manipulation,
protection of children of cult members, special control of bookkeeping of
cults, ban on tax exemptions on places of worship, and so on.
The third country chronologically that set up a Parliamentary
Commission was Germany. In June last, after 2 years' work, the Enquiry
Commission, ``So-called Sects and Psychogroups,'' passed its report with a
large majority. The report represented quantitatively and qualitatively
the most intensive analysis to date of the phenomenon of new religious and
In its conclusions, the Commission stated that sects and psychogroups
do not represent any danger to the democratic state, which basically
corresponds to the conclusions drawn out by a Parliamentary Enquiry
Commission in the Netherlands in 1984. However, a special provision
concerned the Scientology organization which the Commission did not
consider a religious denomination, but rather, as they phrased it, a
``political-extremist'' movement. This is why an extension of its
observation, the observation of Scientology, by the Constitutional Defense
Office was requested by the Commission.
The chairman of the Commission, Ortrun Schaetzle (CDU), also stressed
that there is no undermining of economy by religious and ideological
associations. However, the Commission shared the opinion that it is the
duty of the state to protect the individual against exploitation and harm.
According to the report, the extent of state action in relation to new
religious and ideological groups and psychogroups ranges from education
and information on the one hand to concrete measures on the other. This
spectrum reflects the course of action recommended by the Enquiry
Commission. The Commission recommended the establishment of a federal
foundation which would tie together the various aspects associated with
new religious and ideological groups and psychogroups, and the
introduction of a legal arrangement for the state sponsorship of private
advisory and information offices. Moreover, it recommended improving the
protection of consumers, consumers of religious services and psychological
services, by voting a law which should deal with transparency about
psychotherapist qualifications, their methods and financial
The conclusion about Germany: the German report was surprisingly less
negative than it had been feared from the interim report that had been
The German Commission was the first to approach the issue from the
point of view that it is the state's duty to protect consumers against
illegal or unfair practice of cults and psychogroups. It now seems that
consumers protection is originally typical of the German-speaking sphere
of the European Union, as a member of the European Parliament, Maria
Berger, who is Austrian, also took over the idea in a report on cults in
the European Union.
But now this concept is extending its effects to other European
institutions, such as the Council of Europe, which comprises 40 Member
Fourth on the list is the European Parliament. There were quite recent
developments about their work, because about a week ago, exactly on the
13th of July, Mrs. Maria Berger's report on cults in the European Union
was rejected for the second time by plenary session of the European
According to David Hallam (Labour MEP), it seemed that while some MEPs
were still flapping about the cult issue, more took on board arguments
about religious liberty concerns and decided that it was not for them to
make judgments on religious matters.
Others thought that the cult issue was not a problem. As the draft
report was saying, the representatives of national parliaments in most
Member States regard the existence and activity of cults in the Member
States as insignificant or unproblematic and there is no reason to fear
that the firmly established democratic institutions, based on the Rule of
Law in the Member States, are in immediate danger.
So, we could have expected from the report of the European Parliament
that it would at least have gone as far as the German report, which
professed to drop the concept of cults because of its bad connotation and
its stigmatizing effect. It could have also been expected that the word
``cult'' be replaced by religious and philosophical movements.
The European report, unfortunately, failed to sufficiently investigate
the terminology issue and just piled up opposing amendments, which
deprived it of any coherence and led to its rejection. Now it remains to
be seen what lesson the Council of Europe will draw from this failure,
because the Council of Europe is preparing a report on cults which should
be released, if everything is all right, this year at fall.
Just some extracts from the recommendation of the draft report. It's
written in the recommendations that the Assembly calls on the governments
of the Member States to set up independent national information centers on
cults; also to penalize systematically illegal practice of medicine; to
encourage the setting up of nongovernmental organizations for the victims
or families of victims of sects, particularly, in Eastern and Central
European countries, and other things like that that I can quote if there
are any questions about the work of the Council of Europe.
So, with regard to the terminology issue, the Council of Europe
solution is to refer not to cults, but to groups of religious, spiritual
and esoteric nature, because according to them the word ``cult'' has a
negative effect. We could also add of philosophical nature of such
Now, general conclusions about all those reports and the basic issue
that is behind those reports. In fact, as I told you at the beginning,
there is a two-tiered system in most European countries, with recognized
and non-recognized churches, and the cult issue is inseparable from the
recognition issue and the financing of religions by the state.
In the current two-tiered system, state recognition implies access to
state financial support. This explains why most religions, whatever their
historicity or their size, apply for state recognition. However, state
subsidies are provided by all the taxpayers, including those that profess
a non-recognized religion, or do not profess any religion. Such a system
of state recognition is quite unfair and we think that it should be
It's simply not fair that members of minority religions, atheists,
agnostics and so on, pay for religions which do not tolerate them or are
openly opposed to them. As Europe has a long history of welfare state in
most sectors of society, including the religious sphere, it is more
pragmatic to plead for a reform of the system which can awaken synergies
between various segments of society than for a radical change such as
putting an end to state financing of religions, which would trigger much
opposition from the religious establishment and would not find any
Germany, Italy and Spain have introduced a system that partially allows
taxpayers to allocate a part of their income taxes to the religion of
their choice. However, there are big disparities between the systems of
these countries. I will not analyze them here, but the philosophy behind
those systems is that the taxpayer should be allowed to finance the
religion or the philosophical movement of his or her choice and should not
have to contribute to the financing of religions they do not profess or
they do not like.
So, we have a proposal to make, a solution to recommend, with this
regard. First point: replacing the two-tiered system with recognized and
unrecognized religions by a system in which all religions, whatever their
historicity or their size, should apply for juridical status of their
choice. Religions with small memberships, maybe some hundreds of
adherents, could be requested to provide a number of signatures of people
supporting their application.
Second point: allowing taxpayers to allocate a part of their income
taxes to one of the religions or philosophical movements enjoying a
juridical status (this proposal follows the Italian model but goes beyond
And third point: granting tax exemption to citizens making donations to
religions enjoying a juridical status.
Such a fundamental reform would put an end to the two-tiered system
with two or sometimes more categories of religions and citizens and the
cult issue as such would then become quite irrelevant.
Mr. Merry. Thank you very much, Mr. Fautré.
I would note the publication of Mr. Fautré's organization, Human Rights
Without Frontiers, for anyone interested we can give you the address where
it may be obtained.
Our next speaker is Mr. James McCabe, who is the Associate General
Counsel of the Watch Tower Bible & Tract Society. Mr. McCabe is an
experienced lawyer who has argued a great many religious liberty cases
before the American courts.
Mr. McCabe. Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and thank you on behalf of
the Jehovah's Witnesses for inviting me to present a picture of the tax
situation of Jehovah's Witnesses in France.
It's interesting that the 21st chapter of the Bible book of Luke
describes a very poignant scene where a needy widow drops two little coins
of small value into the contribution box at the temple in Jerusalem. The
Lord commended this woman's generous spirit. Today, in the nation of
France, if this woman is a member of a small pentecostal congregation or a
member of Jehovah's Witnesses, the Ministry of Finance wants to impose a
60 percent tax on those two coins of little value. How was this
determination made? Why are Jehovah's Witnesses and other religious
minority groups under this fiscal attack?
Well, it should be noted at the outset that Jehovah's Witnesses are not
a new religious movement in the country of France. As far back as 1891,
the first president of the Watch Tower Bible & Tract Society, a legal
corporation, used worldwide by Jehovah's witnesses, visited France. By
1913, there were religious assemblies of Jehovah's Witnesses being held in
many different cities and departments of France. By 1928, there were 400
active members of the faith and participating with others in some 45
congregations in France. And, in 1939, six weeks after the beginning of
World War II, Jehovah's Witnesses were banned as a religion in
During the next several years, the Witnesses faced extreme persecution,
and many were deported to concentration camps. Today there is a group of
them known as ``the deportees'' of France that survived that ordeal.
Oppression that was heaped upon the witnesses during this time period was
because of their Bible-based conscientious stand on neutrality and their
refusal to cooperate with the Nazi Regime. Some of the Witnesses were even
executed during this time period.
But, despite the extreme difficulty emerging after the war, the group
had grown from 1,004 in 1939 to over 2,000 in 1945. And, the religion has
continued to grow steadily over the past few decades and is now the third
largest Christian religion in the country of France.
In November of 1997, a special one-day religious assembly of Jehovah's
Witnesses was held in a facility called Villepinte in Paris, where a total
of 95,000 Witnesses and their associates attended. The latest yearly
report for France indicates that the number of Witnesses and their
associates is now well over 220,000 with some 1,685 congregation in the
villages, towns, and cities throughout France. Now, in addition to their
Bible-educational community service, Jehovah's Witnesses in France have
been active in the organization of humanitarian aid to several African
countries over the last ten years.
Despite the clear religious nature of their activities, Jehovah's
Witnesses along with other so-called ``sects'' that are mentioned in the
report that Mr. Fautré has described for us, have been the subject of
widespread media attacks. In a climate that stems no doubt from growing
concern about so-called ``dangerous cults'' following mass suicides of the
adherents of the order of the Solar Temple in the forest of France, the
subway gassing in Tokyo, events that took place in Waco, Texas, and even
more recently the suicides of the Heaven's Gate group in San Diego,
cult-watch groups in France urged official inquiries be made by the
government into the activities of the so-called ``sects'' or ``new
religions.'' As Mr. Fautré has indicated, the National Assembly formed a
Parliamentary Commission on Cults.
After a year-long study, they issued their report in January of 1996,
which I believe interestingly enough did not list the Order of the Solar
Temple as being one of the cults under investigation. The report is
largely based upon hearsay and has no legal characteristics in France, yet
it is frequently cited as an official determination that the list of
groups, the 172, are dangerous cults. The religious groups that are
singled out and classified by some individuals in governmental agencies
are then described as not being religious at all, they come under the
nomenclature of dangerous cults.
So, the report concluded, among other things, that the laws on taxation
should be used to control, suppress and eliminate these dangerous cults in
Not surprisingly, in January of 1996, the tax authorities in France
began an official audit of ``Association les Témoins de Jéhovah'' (ATJ),
the principal legal corporation used by Jehovah's Witnesses in France. The
audit was extended beyond the normal one year statutory period to a period
of 18 months, and during this time period no irregularities were found in
the Witness books of accounts, and it was determined that there was no
commercial activity being engaged in by the group.
Nevertheless, a ruling was issued that a transfer tax applies to the
religious offerings received from the faithful. A similar determination
was made by the local tax officials in both June and then in November, and
ATJ was held to be liable to pay the ``transfer tax'' of 60 percent of the
donations it has received.
So, the scope of this decision eventually covered all offerings
received from the contribution boxes from the Kingdom Halls, which is what
Jehovah's Witnesses call their houses of worship, during the period from
January 1, 1993 to August 31, 1996. After adding the penalties and
interest, the total figure sought by the Ministry of Finance was in excess
of 303 million francs or in excess of $50 million.
Now, the law on manual donations, or this transfer tax, is normally
applied only to estates or is comparable to what we have in the United
States known as a gift tax. Now, the law simply provides that any deeds
containing either a declaration by the donee or his representatives, or a
judicial acknowledgement of a manual donation, are liable to the donation
tax. Article 795 of the same law provides an exemption from the tax for
donations and bequests made to religious corporations, unions or religious
corporations and recognized congregations, and that's where the problem
comes in because the Ministry of Interior refuses to recognize the
Jehovah's Witnesses and many of the other 172 listed organizations as
religious, so the Ministry of Finance has determined the tax
Well, despite the clear exemption that religious organizations have
from the tax, an additional measure was taken on May the 14th of 1998, the
tax official sent a bailiff to the headquarters of the Witnesses in France
located near the coast of Normandy in Louviers and presented them with a
lien on all of their real property and moveables. This lien means that
they cannot move their moveables or sell or encumber their property in any
It's interesting, in obtaining the judicial approval for the lien, the
Ministry of Finance lawyer alleged that the Jehovah's Witnesses were
arranging their insolvency, somehow trying to dispose of their assets to
avoid paying the tax. No facts were supported or supplied to support the
allegations, and yet the judge granted the lien.
The imposition of such a tax is clearly unconstitutional on its face
and it has technical problems even within its own framework. To date, the
Ministry of Finance has not presented the religion with an official bill
to pay the tax. French lawyers inform me that until this event takes
place, an actual court case challenging the constitutionality of the tax
cannot take place. That such a tax has been imposed on just one religion,
while a vast majority of other religions and religious organizations are
not similarly taxed on the contributions provided by the faithful, reveals
its discriminatory nature. Surely, such an inequality cannot survive the
scrutiny of the French Constitution, let alone the European Convention of
Human Rights or other international treaties to which France is a
It's the intention of the Witnesses to challenge this infringement on
their religious activities through the courts of France and in the
European Court of Human Rights should that become necessary.
It's also interesting to note from a recent historical perspective,
though, that already in the courts of France Jehovah's Witnesses have had
their places of worship recognized as such by nine different
administrative courts. These numerous rulings have meant that in the
various courts view, Jehovah's Witnesses are a religion and their
buildings are thus exempted from the habitation and property taxes imposed
on non-religious buildings. Additionally, the European Court of Human
Rights has ruled as far back as 1992 in the Kokkinakis case and several
times since then discussing the situation of Jehovah's Witnesses in
Greece, that they are a well-known religion.
On the face of this jurisprudence internally and externally, it's hard
to fathom how the Ministry of France can continue the attack under the
guise that Jehovah's Witnesses are not a religion of France.
In the words of former Chief Justice Marshall of the United States
Supreme Court, ``The power to tax involves the power to destroy,'' and he
also went on to say, ``... (and) to carry it to the excess of destruction
would be an abuse.'' Certainly, that's the way we view the Ministry of
Finance attempt to impose a tax on the ``widow's mite'' in the
congregations of Jehovah's Witnesses in France. It is surely an attempt to
destroy the religious activities of this group. It is also an attempt to
destroy the congregations' generous spirit that in the past ten years has
risen to meet the dire needs in the face of disaster and trouble in
Burundi, Rwanda and some eight other African nations. Surely, it is a
serious violation of the fundamental human right of freedom of
While I have attempted to, in these brief remarks, to focus on the very
recent activities of the tax authorities in France, I think it's also of
note to point out the disturbing results directly attributable to the
climate of intolerance growing in France. Virtually every week over the
past three years, a segment of the French Government has caused to be
published information in the popular media in which Jehovah's Witnesses
are presented as a religion that breaks up families, that there's somehow
a higher incidence of mental health problems among Jehovah's Witnesses
than in the general population, and an old baseless lie that comes from a
faulted study from the United States by a former member of the Jehovah's
Witnesses, that they have a higher rate of suicide than the general
population in France.
Results of all of this media campaign and this misinformation has had a
tremendous impact on the lives of a number of Jehovah's Witnesses, and
it's noteworthy, I think, that numerous teachers who are Jehovah's
Witnesses lost their employment specifically due to their adherence to
their religious faith.
One example involves Mrs. Maryline Bouchenez who, after teaching at one
school for 18 years was forced to undergo severe scrutiny from the school
authorities simply because she is one of Jehovah's Witnesses. In their
findings, the authorities found that ``Mrs. Bouchenez carries on her work
in a satisfactory manner. The children are happy in her class. When
observing the professional action of Mrs. Bouchenez, it is impossible to
say that the neutrality of the public teaching is at stake here.'' Yet, in
spite of this favorable official report, she was forced to transfer to
another school and told that she should not let those working there know
of her religious affiliation.
A second example involves Mrs. Catherine Guyard, who, incidentally, had
been a teacher for 18 years. A meeting was organized by the parent-teacher
association in 1996. The purpose was worded thusly, ``Your children will
be entrusted to a school teacher who is a member of Jehovah's Witnesses,
who are a sect organization. We invite you to discuss this matter on
September 2, 1996, at 8:30 p.m. at the school.'' The academy forced Mrs.
Guyard to teach at another school, and when she was to return to the
school she taught at for 18 years she learned that a tract was being
distributed to the parents and posted on information boards outside the
school. According to the judge who examined the case, he said, ``The tract
was written to harm the reputation of Mrs. Guyard and to provoke
Weekly, the central offices of Jehovah's Witnesses of France received
reports from Witnesses living in six different French departments that
they had lost their employment as day care specialists.
With increasing frequency, we are finding that French authorities are
refusing to allow Jehovah's Witnesses to rent facilities for use of
religious services. For example, in Lyons, where the Witnesses have rented
the same facility for over 20 years, they were recently denied access to
Mayors of numerous French towns have also refused to extend building
permits to local congregations to construct houses of worship. In nine
cases, ``Kingdom Halls,'' as the centers for religious worship of
Jehovah's Witnesses are called, could not be built. The congregations
affected either continued meeting in private homes or in other facilities
other than municipal facilities.
Also, it's interesting to note, too, that in at least 11 cases that we
are aware of mothers going through painful divorce proceedings were denied
custody to their children, on the simple basis that they were members of
In conclusion, I think we can say that today religious liberty is
definitely under attack in France. Added to the personal toll of living in
an environment of religious intolerance as mentioned, the Ministry of
Finance in France is attempting to control and destroy the religion of
Jehovah's Witnesses in that country by the imposition of a 60 percent tax
on its contributions. These contributions have been voluntarily donated by
members of the faith to support their places of worship and carry out
their religious charitable activities in France and in French-speaking
Africa. Jehovah's Witnesses see this as a direct result of the Enquete
Equally disturbing is the fact that as Mr. Fautré has brought out,
Belgium and Germany have commissioned similar reports in their respective
lands, and we are awaiting the other shoe to drop shortly in those
If similar fiscal restraints result from the Enquete Commission reports
in Germany and Belgium, ominous restraints and protracted legal battles to
ensure basic freedoms and fundamental human rights among the member states
of the European Union are sure to follow.
In a speech last month at the inaugural luncheon of the French-American
Business Council here in Washington, Madeleine Albright noted that, ``Both
France and the United States must stand together for peace and human
rights.'' No doubt our distinguished Secretary of State had in mind
helping less developed nations adhere to the lofty principles of
fundamental human rights embodied in international treaties such as the
Universal Declaration of Rights, the Helsinki Final Act, the European
convention on Human rights, but today, we see the need and we see support
of all lovers of religious liberty and freedom to demand that France
itself respect the human rights of more than 200,000 French citizens
associated with Jehovah's Witnesses within its borders.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. Merry. Thank you very much, Mr. McCabe.
The floor is now open to members of the audience to address comments
and questions to our two expert witnesses. I would ask people please to
stand and use one of the two available microphones in the aisles, and
please to identify yourself for the--as a courtesy to our guests.
Mr. Fautré. Yes, yes. There is a whole debate about the
terminology issue, because members of Parliamentary Commissions try to
give legal contents to the word ``sect.'' They haven't managed to do it,
and so they propose various alternatives.
For example, in Germany survey talked about groups having
philosophical--esoteric, religious and philosophical contents. In Belgium,
they have transformed the denomination of the observatory--the so-called
``Observatory on Cults,'' into an advisory and information center on
illegal and harmful sectarian organizations. So, these examples show that
they don't feel at ease with the word ``cult.'' But, in France, they keep
the word ``cult.'' So there should be an alternative to that word, which
has a very negative connotation. The European Parliament says, for
example, ``we keep on using the word cult but we don't give a pejorative
connotation to that word,'' but never do they say that they give a
positive connotation to the word religion.
The tendency in most Western European countries is to make a
distinction, it's not openly said, between religions and cults; and those
who are members of a religion should be entitled to enjoy the benefits of
international instruments on religious freedom, religious rights and so
on, and those who would be in the category of cults or sects wouldn't
enjoy the same rights in that field.
So, in these reports about these religions, these sects or cults that
are being referred to as minority religions, have been found in underlying
areas in the continent, that they should be so concerned about these
people, if they obey the laws and so on? What has been your exposure to
that? Is there some type of theory of that, or is there some type of
Mr. Fautré: I think that general anti-cult climate started after the
massacres committed by Aoum, the gas attempt of Aoum in Tokyo's subway,
and also after the homicide/suicides of the Order of the Solar
Before that happened, there were already forces, ideological forces or
political forces, which did not sympathize with all that was connected to
religious groups or religiosity in general, and which were sometimes
hostile to what was religious.
But, they hadn't got an audience in the media. When those massacres
were on the front pages of the press, journalists were looking for people
who had some experience about those groups, and so they tried to find
former members of those groups, or families who had members in those
groups, and who didn't agree with such a situation or who had to complain
So, it's the way it started in the media in public opinion, but
according to the country, those ideological, political forces present some
variety. If we take the example of France, which has a tradition of
separation between church and state, churches are not openly, at least,
supported financially by the state, so there seems to be a stricter
separation. The state is secular, public schools are secular, there have
been a number of issues that have been taken to court, such as wearing a
veil as a Muslim and so on. So they are very sensitive on that
Behind the issue of what they call in French ``läcité,'' I would say
secular humanism, it's impossible to translate that concept into English,
behind that concept we have political forces, such as the Communist Party,
which is still rather strong in France. Its anti-religious position is
been known; it was like that all over the world, where Communists were in
power. Then, you have the Socialist Party. Socialist Party is rather much
divided, you have all sorts of opinions, but also inside it you have
people who are anti-clerical, anti-Catholic Church and things like that,
but you also have Protestants. Prime Minister Jospin is Protestant, for
example, and also Michel Rocard.
The second force consists in all those movements, anti-cult movements,
where you find members, former members of religious groups who at a time
of their own personal history started to disagree with the movement of
which they were adherents, and so they probably wanted to take revenge.
That's for France.
Also, a third group in France is the extreme right. Being from the
extreme right means that you are nationalistic. If you are nationalistic,
you don't like immigrants, you don't like asylum seekers, you keep the
faith of your ancestors, and you don't want new religious movements to
come into the country because they threaten your national identity.
And all those forces are working in France. There's no objective
visible alliance between all of them but there's an exchange of
information in one way or another, through internet, through the
publications and so on.
In Belgium, you also also have such forces, but the historical content,
the historical perspective is different. In Belgium, you have Catholic
parties, political parties, that have been in power since the independence
of the country in 1830. So if you didn't want to be in that Catholic
political party you joined the Socialist Party. Being in the Socialist
Party meant to be anti-clerical, anti-Catholic, anti-religious,
anti-Christian in general. Also, joining the liberal party put you in that
category of anti-clericalism, grossly said.
Now, as there have always been alliances between those parties, so the
anti-religious positions, or sentiments, feelings of some of the
politicians were down played, but on a number of occasions you see them
come to the forefront.
For example, the members of the Parliamentary Commission on Cults in
Belgium were, number one, President Serge Morout, who is Socialist, and is
atheist. One of his rapporteurs, Mr. Duchenes, is from the liberal party
and he is a free mason.
If you look at the composition of the French Parliamentary Commission,
you also find such people who have anti-religious sentiments, such as the
Socialist Guyard, who is the head of that commission, then you have Brard,
the Communist who is really anti-religious, and he made statements in the
media which were really insulting to believers in general.
And so, according to the Cantry, because European Continent is a
very--there is much diversity, every country, every nation state has its
own history, but in every country you have that secularism and those
And so, those forces existed and the sect issue was a wonderful
opportunity for those people to come to the forefront in the media and to
take care of their publicity as politicians, as they ask to chair such
commissions or to be rapporteurs and so on and so on.
I don't know if I answered your question, but those issues are so much
complicated that you have to put them in historical, and political and
even sociological perspective.
Listening to you, Mr. Chairman, and Mr. Fautré, and Mr. McCabe, I have
some notes and I'd like to make a statement and an appeal to what this
portends, what I think it portends.
Four hundred years ago, I witnessed an important document of religious
liberty being born, it was the Edict of Nantes, the place was in France.
The first time I was shoved aside when there were severe persecutions of
the Hugenots, the French Protestants, and 200,000 French Protestants had
to flee the country in order to save their lives. Many went to England.
So, today, will France give due honor to the Edict of Nantes on its 400th
Apparently, the stark answer is a no. The religious freedom of
Jehovah's Witnesses are seriously threatened, but not only the religious
activity of Jehovah's Witnesses, not only this religious group, but
the--for religious intolerance to reign over other religious groups and
charity organizations in France, and if this intolerance is not stopped in
France it threatens all of Europe, East and West.
So, I call on all responsible people to appeal to the Government of
France to protect and promote the human rights and fundamental freedoms of
all its citizens, including Jehovah's Witnesses, which according to the
Charter of Paris is the first responsibility of government.
Mr. Fautré. Can I comment on this?
Mr. Merry. Oh, yes.
Mr. Fautré. Just a short comment.
The example of France, or what's happening currently in France with
Jehovah's Witnesses, and as I told the Pentecostal Evangelical
Congregation of Berzonsol, has got worldwide coverage in the media and has
attracted the attention of some former Communist countries, which see
there maybe an opportunity to keep repressive legislation against their
minority religions, we call them minority religions, they call those cults
Just a concrete example, a few months ago the Latvian Government held a
hearing about the cult issue and invited some people from France, who were
involved in the Observatory on Cults, then a few weeks ago a delegation
was sent by Latvia to France to study how they coped with that issue. So,
that means that the fiscal weapon that France is currently using against
Jehovah's Witnesses and against the Protestant denomination, and used
before in the '80s against Harry Krushna, might give some thoughts to more
repressive regimes in Central and Eastern Europe. And, those countries are
applying for integration into the European Union, and one of the
conditions that have been set is that they respect human rights and
the--rights of religious liberty.
Now, they will say, well, how do you want to treat us differently from
France, or from Greece, or from any other country where they make a
distinction between religions and cults or sects, and where they give
different rights to cults and religions, and where you have two-tiered or
I had a question for Mr. Fautré and also a question for Mr. McCabe. Let
me do the--point out a part of your report, it's under the heading of the
``Divided Academic World.``
Mr. Fautré. Yes.
Now, that's the question for Mr. Fautré. I thought I would ask a quick
question for Mr. McCabe too, and then let you address them seriatim.
The question with respect to foreigners, and the view of at least the
French and some of the other governments in Europe appears to be that
these new or, actually, not new, but apparently foreign religious groups
is inconsistent with their national identity, and I was wondering what you
thought in terms of tying the two questions together with the idea of the
emergence of the concept of the Common European Home and whether or not a
concept of European citizenship might embody a principle of religious
liberty that really looks at people as individuals with human rights,
rather than as Frenchmen who have to be Catholic or Germans who have to be
Protestant, or whatever.
Mr. Fautré. So, about the academic world, very interesting
So, when France, when the French authorities decided to set up a
Parliamentary Commission, they invited a lot of people to be heard, and
nobody from the academic world was invited. It may be very amazing for you
here in America, but that meant that they were disqualified in one way or
another for such a debate.
Now, why were they kept outside the debates? I think there are two
reasons for that. Before that Commission was set up, as Mr. McCabe
stressed, the media had played a role in influencing the minds of civil
society and the minds of those who are involved, including those who are
involved in sect issues in one way or another. So, there are a lot of
reports against cults, illegal activities, so-called ``illegal
activities'' of cults, so-called ``harmful'' cults and so on, and the
media did not go to the academic world, they didn't invite academics to
such debates. So, it is as if they didn't exist, and so they were not
Second reason is that there was much lobbying by the anti-cult
movements and groups of victims, or former victims, or so-called victims,
or families of victims and so on, and it's more spectacular, of course,
for TV or radio to get an interview of someone who has left such groups
and who says, well, I was inside the group, I know what's happening, and
those people from the academic world, they are in the ivory tower and they
don't know what's happening in those groups.
So, that's the basic argument used by the media and in the
Parliamentary Commissions to say we don't invite those people, they are
just theoreticians and they don't know the situation in the field.
In Belgium, they tried to do better than France, and they said we will
invite some university professors who are known to have some knowledge
about that issue, so they invited some from Catholic universities and from
the ULB, some free-thinking university I would say, and after they were
heard they listened to the testimonies of former victims of so-called
former victims, who were probably, very probably presented by anti-cult
movements, also by representative of anti-cult movements, and after
hearing both sides Belgian Commission decided that the testimonies of the
academics were not relevant and they under-assessed the dangerousity of
such groups and they gave the priority to the testimonies of those who had
been victims. So, that was quite bluntly said by the Parliamentary
Commission in Belgium, that the testimonies of the academics were not
reliable, really insulting the way it is phrased in the report.
When we look at the level of the Council of Europe, there was a meeting
last year, I think it was in May, and again when we look at the list of
the people that were heard by the preparatory hearing for the report on
cults, we only see members of the anti-cult family or those who in the
academic world are presented as experts by the anti-cult movements, but
nobody was invited from the academic world that had different opinions,
such as Professor Bolbero, which is well known, who is well known, and
many others. So, there's really an ideological choice in the fact that
such people are thrown out of the debate.
Now, is there a division in the academic world about that issue? In the
special issue of our magazine about the work of the Parliamentary report
in Belgium, we published a contribution of Professor Massimo Intravenio,
who will be present here next week at their hearing, and it was stating
with utmost energy that there was no such division, and that it was an
argument that was used by the anti-cult movements. And so, to be credible
in the eyes of those in Parliamentary Commissions who had some time to
decide between which part of the academic world they should choose and
take a standing point.
Mr. McCabe. I forgot the question now.
Historically, Europe has been troubled by religious intolerance. We can
go back to the inquisition, the Crusades, the persecution of the Hugenots.
Today, with the infusion of many ``foreigners'' into the European
Community there has been numerous instances of racial and xenophobic
intolerance going on, and I think that religion has been lumped into it
and fueled by the attacks of the anti-cult groups that have been so well
It's amazing how misinformation gets into the news media, and even when
the persons are called to account, such as happened in France when the
governing body of Jehovah's Witnesses, who are 11 men who are mostly 80
years and older, were accused by one anti-cult leader of being drug
traffickers and money launderers. The case was won in court against that
individual on slander, but there was no publicity about it. Yet, the
charge, when originally made, was widely publicized.
So, I think that what we have in Western Europe primarily is the strong
propaganda activities of the anti-cult movement, which as we see very
favorable press coverage, both, not only in the print, but in electronic
media, simply because of its sensational claims that they make and usually
are very baseless or extremely anecdotal when you consider the numbers of
However, I think in Eastern Europe the concept of national identity is
so often tied up with the national religion that new religious movements,
or unfamiliar to majority religious movements, constitute a threat to the
national identity. I think that was the situation in Bulgaria when they
moved in 1994 to deregister 24 religions, very strong, the feeling was
that we have to support the church, and the church is the Bulgarian
Orthodox Church, and that supports the national identity of Bulgaria, and
it's going to help us against the invading Muslim hordes that they
perceived were diluting their national identity.
But, I think in Western Europe it's more the anti-cult movement not
tied up with patriotism and state.
I don't know if that answers your question, but it's what I thought of
when you asked it.
Now that I've been sitting on this side of the ocean and watching the
development of the Euro, for example, my concern is that as this idea of
the Common European Home develops, where is religious liberty going to be
in that mindset? Is it just going to be ``Well, we are all secular, and
you can be a Catholic or you can be a Jehovah's Witness, just don't act
like one.'' Or is religious liberty going to be looked at as a value to be
protected, as much, for example, as the value of being able to make sexual
orientation choices, because that's a very big concern of the European
And so, what I'm looking at is the differential ways in which religious
liberty is looked at, both here in the United States and other places, and
that's why I really asked the question, what are European academics saying
about this kind of thing. It might be too theoretical, but at least if you
can get them talking they might be influential.
Mr. Fautré. And, I think that in French-speaking countries in
Europe, so France and the southern part of Belgium, that the role that's
given to the academics is much less important than in the Germanic
countries. I think of more than part of Belgium, so the Flemish, on the
Flemish side, you see interviews of academics in the press, and not in the
French-speaking part of Belgium, which is more socialist minded and
socialist means in Belgium to be anti-clerical, anti-religious and so on
and so on.
Also in Germany, you had that paper that was published by some
university professors about the work of the German Commission that was
relayed by the German press, and in a positive way.
Also in Holland, the academics are also welcome, but not in Latin or at
least French-speaking--the French-speaking sphere of the European
Mr. McCabe. I think you may have hit the nail on the head with
your characterization that you can be anything you want, just don't
Recently, during the French Tennis Open, they interviewed the American
tennis star, Venus Williams, and in the English she was asked why she
appeared to be different from other tennis stars, and she mentioned
because of her religion as being one of Jehovah's Witnesses. But, in
French subtitles it didn't identify her as a Jehovah's Witness, it just
said it's because of her religious thinking.
Now, let me see if I have this straight. For Mr. McCabe, you cannot now
fight this in court because you don't have juridical standing, did I get
Mr. McCabe. That's my understanding, it's held that government
actually presents a bill, here's the amount, pay it, we cannot attack the
constitutionality, it's just not right for judicial review. We can attack
the lien that's been imposed, but the lien is, from my understanding, like
a temporary restraining order, you give the government 30 days to present
the bill, today is the 30th day. So, if we haven't received the bill by
tomorrow, postmarked today, that the lien should resolve.
Mr. McCabe. Yes, so we haven't received that bill, nobody is
standing at the door saying, here, pay this amount, that's the amount
alleged that's owed under this lien and under the audits that it conducted
through the last 18 months.
Mr. McCabe. We smile.
Mr. McCabe. We don't have to go to court and fight it.
And, I think there might be an indication that that may be the case,
because the first publicity of this lien that was placed on the property
in Louviers was in Le Monde, and the article was very neutral, it was not
something put in the media by the anti-cult group, it didn't characterize
Jehovah's Witnesses as being a criminal organization that needed this
fiscal control, but it was a very factual report which raised a question,
can this be constitutional, can this be legal?
And, since then the media has approached the Ministry of Finance, made
inquiries as to what is going on, what's the situation here, and their
response has been, this is a private matter, we have no comment, again an
indication that they might be embarrassed by the steps that they've taken,
they might have gone too far.
Mr. McCabe. No, not for the present time, because there are no
contributions going into that organization presently, with that particular
Mr. McCabe. We have other religious organizations that have not
yet been attacked.
For both of you, specifically, for Mr. McCabe relating to the
Witnesses, but in general for Mr. Fautré, in this current situation how
are the principal confessions responding, we've talked about the academics
and we've talked about government, but what are the principal confessions,
the big churches, religious organizations, saying about this?
Mr. Fautré. The big churches as such, so if you mean for the
Catholic Church, the hierarchy of the church, as far as I know, as I've
read in the French press, there's no reaction about that, but the Catholic
press has written about that issue because they feel there might be
concern by the interpretation of the legislation.
That's why I mentioned in my brief report the fact that that or
Catholic organization that had collected a lot of donations to count for
the expense of the last visit of the Pope in France might fall under the
guillotine blade, and so there was much interest from La Croix, sort of
the daily Catholic newspaper in France, in the press conference that we
held early in July in Paris on that issue, and also from other Catholic
media, but I think it's because they feel the danger might reach them too,
and you must put that in the context of separation of church and state,
and the fact that there are anti-Catholic feelings in a number of segments
of French society. So, the press, Catholic press, and the Catholic
Now, on the Protestant side, I didn't hear any open reaction from the
top leaders of the Protestant churches, the Protestant churches only
represent three or four percent, less than three percent I think, one
percent in Belgium, but I read an article in Reformation, a French
Protestant magazine, saying we might be targeted by the IRS, and, for
example, I think I have got the article here if you want a copy of it I
can give it to you, if you use your places of worship for concerts, for,
well, anything else that has nothing to do with worship, and you ask what
you are doing, in fact, it was written in the article, and you charge and
the access to that concert then you might be removed your status of
So, be careful, and let's be careful, Jehovah's Witnesses are hit by
that measure now, but maybe tomorrow it will be our case.
Mr. McCabe. I have not heard any official comment, but we have
noted comments like I think at the press conference Mr. Fautré was
referring to, a lawyer, a prominent Parisian lawyer who was a Catholic,
said he was very concerned, but I don't think we've heard anything
official from any other groups.
Mr. Fautré. Yes, and some rejoice about the situation in which
Jehovah's Witnesses are in.
Mr. Fautré, you mentioned the press conference that David Hallam held
with a number of different religious groups.
Mr. Fautré. Yes.
Mr. Fautré. Thank you for your question.
It was at the end of May that we held the press conference in Brussels,
with representatives of various Protestant denominations, Baha'is and
Satmars. I could explain if you want why it was limited to such groups,
but I will not analyze it here.
So, those people were isolated from each other, they don't have any
contacts with each other, and I managed to reach them and say please come
to the same table and let's talk about your situation. And, I suddenly
discovered that I had experienced the same sort of problems after the
publication of the Belgian report on the cults, a number of problems, such
as slander in the media, but also difficulty of access to public halls
because they were asked, are you not a member of a sect? I saw the
Adventists were on the sect list. I cannot take the decision, I am just an
official and I have to refer to the Mayor, and I referred to the Mayor and
I cannot decide on my own.
Although until that period, they had always rent such a hall to the
Adventists or to the Baha'i, I have to refer to the Municipality Council,
and then the was a meeting of the Municipality Council and the Adventists,
they knew some people on the Municipality Council, they called them, and
that's the way things changed. We had a very simple situation until the
Belgian report, after the Belgian report the situation got complicated,
not just the Adventists. We had same sort of experience, the Baha'i said
we wanted to meet, the Minister of Justice or the Department of the
Ministry of Justice, because they deal with religious affairs,
relationships between state and church, and here is the letter that I got,
and the letter is, we cannot receive you because we only have
relationships with recognized religions, and you haven't got--you are not
a recognized religion. So, that means that the state refuses any dialogue
with those religions which are not recognized or with those citizens who
are members of non-recognized religions.
So, everything gets very complicated after such reports, and so all
those people coming from those various groups told about their situation,
the difficulties they had, about the numerous errors, rumors, hearsay, as
here Mr. McCabe said, that were found in the report about their own
religious movement, these were--that were taken over very probably from
the popular press, from anti-cult movements and so on, and so we decided
to hold a press conference.
Then we had to choose where shall we hold the press conference. We know
the press very well in Belgium. If you hold a press conference, you say we
have minority religions, we invited a scientology of the old camp to shut
So, scientology was not inside, Moon was not inside, so we thought if
we held a press conference in a press hall in Brussels they will not come
because there's nothing to write about, Scientology is not there, they
cannot criticize that initiative, so let's do that at the European
Parliament. So, we considered that the European Parliament was not Belgian
territory, that it was European territory, and we addressed our
invitations to almost exclusively, exclusively to members of foreign
countries, foreign corespondents in Brussels. So, we purposely--we didn't
invite on purpose those Belgium journalists, because we knew in advance
what they would write about if they come, and they have nothing to
criticize, they don't write anything. That's the way it's going in
Belgium, and it is also the way it is going in France.
So, we held the press conference, I just invited two or three Belgium
journalists who know me, I know them, I can rely on them, and there was
the Catholic Press Agency, they made a very good report about our press
conference, and then some from abroad, too. So, it had no impact on the
Belgian press itself, but the purpose of the press conference was not to
inform the media of our initiative and public opinion of our initiative in
Belgium, but to draw the attention of foreign countries of what was
happening in Belgium.
And, after the press conference, we wrote to the president of the
Parliamentary Commission on the cults, and also the rapporteurs, we told
them that we had held a press conference and we joined a petition that had
been drafted by the members of the Belgium Citizens Forum, and insisted on
Belgian citizens not to give the impression that it was monitored by
American sects and things like that. That was very important.
And, we wrote to the king, we got an answer saying, okay, we've got
your letter, your petition, thank you, something like that. We wrote to
the president of the Commission, no answer. We wrote to both rapporteurs,
we got an answer of one of them, the one who was a freemason, very violent
answer saying that he disagreed with the contents of the petition, and the
fact that we had mentioned that people such as Massimo--Professor Massimo
Intravenio or Aileen Barker in England were reliable sources of
information about cults in general. They had published books, they were
really recognized of the highest scientific level, I was answered in this
letter, I got a confirmation of what was in the Belgian report, those
people are not reliable in our eyes, we have made a choice, and we don't
want to use their information.
So, so far, we are so far in the discussion and the difficult dialogue
that we want to open with the Belgian authorities on that issue.
Mr. Fautré pointed out that in France the Jehovah's Witnesses are named
in court cases. The same is true for our church in Germany, the
Scientologists, many cases have been won, in fact, an awful lot of them
recognizing Scientology as a religion and allowing us to practice the
words of--in public, yet the administrations in both countries would not
adhere to these particular court case decisions. And, my question to you
is, what do you think can be done about that, to resolve this particular
conflict? And, how can we here in the United States assist in that?
Mr. Fautré. Conflict, what sort of conflict do you mean
Mr. Fautré. Well, I think that the first question is, the first
problem is that the state has the right or has not the right to recognize
a religion, and it's the basic problem that we have in the whole
of--almost the whole of Europe, people think that the state is entitled to
recognize their own religion or not, and so they all apply for recognition
by the state.
But, I think that we should go into another direction and say the state
hasn't got the right to recognize religions. That would solve the problem,
of course, that's why I explained that system at the end of my report, say
of moving to another system which wouldn't imply a recognition by the
state, and so a form of interference, in fact, into the religious
Then if you address courts in Italy, or in Australia, or in Spain, or
in France, you may have different decisions about the fact that
Scientology or another group is or is not a religion, and judges might say
at some time, well, it's not our role to decide what the state hasn't been
able to decide.
Mr. McCabe. We've seen the European Court of Human Rights able
to identify a known religion, and the court sits, of course, in
Strasbourg, and it's very interesting that we have this problem today in
France. The country of Greece has been embarrassed, I think several times
now, at least five times ordered to pay monetary fines to their own
citizens over the issue of religious discrimination.
And, unfortunately, I don't see any other way that we're going to move
governments like France. I mean, it's kind of like it's just too big, who
is in charge, or, it's they that are imposing this tax, and we've been to
the highest levels of Government in France asking for some assistance and
they say, oh, yes, this is a very serious problem, this is embarrassing
for us, but we can't stop it.
So, fortunately, the Rule of Law is alive and well in Europe, and we
have to apply to the European Commission when serious human fundamental
rights are violated, and if this matter, this current taxation problem
cannot be resolved internally within France, certainly we'll be applying
to the European Commission.
Mr. Fautré mentioned that at least in Belgium he wanted to avoid the
impression with the press conference that a bunch of American sects were
breathing down the neck of the Belgian Government. I suspect that exactly
the same reaction would be in France probably even more so, that we don't
want a bunch of Americans telling us what to do.
Now, certainly in this country we have been through the experience in
the early '80s and mid-'80s of a big awakening and controversy about
cults, and thankfully that's behind us, but, being up here on Capitol
Hill, what do you suggest in terms of an approach taken from this side of
the ocean that would minimize that notion that these were a bunch of ugly
Americans coming over trying to just tell you what to do and to kind of
foster a cooperative relationship among the people who are
Mr. Fautré. Yes, about the press conference, we didn't want to
give the impression that the Americans were behind that, because they were
not first, but even if they were not the press could have used that
argument to destroy our initiative, and so we wanted to have an open forum
where everybody could exchange ideas and own experience, because we have
to set up a network of information with correspondents from various
minority religions to know what's happening and to get also copies of the
letters, of the correspondence that they have with the Belgian
authorities, and we found quite amazing things in those letters.
For example, about that list of 189 movements, the word ``sect'' is not
mentioned, that's important, and that's typically Belgian compromise
between one side and the other side of the political game.
So, yes, we have to set up such a network, of course, because otherwise
we wouldn't be aware of the situation, and through a letter that the
Adventists came from the Belgian authorities, said why were you on that
list of sects. Say, okay, you were on that list of sects because you
rented--yes, you rented a hall to another group that was labeled as a
``sect'' in our files, just that, just that.
Now, how did you draw up that was another letter to the Gendarmerie, so
that's the police depending from the Minister of Interior in Belgium,
there was another letter to the Gendermerie, and say, well, it was said
that the list of sects was coming from your services, is that true? And,
the big boss of the Gendermerie wrote the Commission, the Parliamentary
Commission on Cults asked us to get a list of cults, so we haven't got a
list of cults, what are the criteria for drawing up such a list? Just give
us a list of complaints that you have in which cults are mentioned, and so
they made such a list, but the Gendarmerie didn't want to give that list
because they said, it's not reliable, it must be checked. But, the
Parliamentary Commission insisted, say, okay, we will cross examine and
check and so on and so on.
And so, under pressure that police, depending from the Minister of
Interior, had to give the list to the Parliamentary Commission. It's
written in the letter.
And, that list was not changed, there were errors inside that was
recognized afterwards, that was not changed, not checked, not examined,
and just put bluntly like that in the report in the Annex.
Now, the Belgian members of the Parliament, the Belgian president of,
not the Parliament, but the Parliamentary Commission, had a long forward
before putting the list in the report, in which it was saying, so we have
got a list of 189 movements, but it doesn't mean that they are sects, or
that they are dangerous, or they have committed illegal activities and so
on and so on, but they were mentioned during the hearings. So, really, you
go to hearing, you say I was a member of that group and I tell you it is a
sect, it was listed as a sect like that.
So, when we came to the vote about the report, the Belgian report,
there are 660 pages, I think about 660 pages, and there was so much
debate, such discussions inside the Parliament about the vote, that only
19 pages were adopted by the Parliament, so 19 pages out of 660 were
approved by a vote of the Parliament, and those 19 pages were the
conclusions and the recommendations.
But, but, the list was still in the report, and all the rumors and
hearsay remained in the report, but they were not approved by the
Parliament, but they were published as such. So, it means that the
Parliament didn't think that it was irrelevant not to publish that report,
although it had only approved 19 pages of it.
And, when the President of the Parliamentary Commission was interviewed
on the fact that only 19 pages of your work have been approved by the
Parliament, said, ah, but that does not mean that they disapprove of the
And, when they say, you are talking about 189 sects, we have never said
that they were sects, and that they were dangerous, and that they were
illegal, and when they are told by us, but you knew that the media would
say it would be, it is a list of sects, they say we didn't say that, we
didn't write that. Look at our four words, so how ambiguous it was
Mr. McCabe. Two things come to mind, in view of your
I think there is a perception that there is a great exportation of
religion from America to Europe, particularly, Eastern Europe, but I think
it also is an idea that's popular and common in Western Europe. We always
try to emphasize that we are not talking about the 200,000 American
citizens practicing a religion in France, it's 200,000 French citizens, or
150,000 Russian citizens who are being denied the basic fundamental human
rights because of a brand.
But, it's kind of like the Mayor of Louviers commented on the occasion
of Jehovah's Witnesses establishing their headquarters operation there in
France, and proceeded to say in the free marketplace of ideas, have been
ideas--people will accept, and if it isn't they'll reject it, and that's
the way she viewed religion. People will take and choose what they want,
and those that do not satisfy basic needs of people will be rejected by
So, I think what we have to communicate to the European Community is
not our religious experience so much as just that, people do what they
want to do, punish criminals, tax commercial operations, but certainly you
don't want to tax the widow's mite.
Mr. Merry. If there are no other questions from the audience,
let me, as chairman, draw attention to one point which Mr. Fautré, and
that is the very unfortunate impact which some of the practices in Western
European countries are having as an example for some of the newly
independent states of the Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union. This
is a subject which the Commission, in some of its discussions with
representatives from other governments has drawn attention, that at a time
when the former Communist countries and the newly independent states are
drawing up their laws and their regulatory practices for the 21st Century,
after having emerged from decades of formerly atheistic practices, this
should be a time when West European countries should be presenting the
best possible examples for them to follow, and not be providing them with
excuses for why they should not themselves be adhering to their
international and domestic commitments on religious liberties.
On that note, let me thank both of our guests for traveling to
Washington to be with us and to share the information they have given us,
which has been very valuable to us. I would like to remind people in the
audience that we have another similar session next week, which will be a
joint public hearing of the House International Relations Committee and of
the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe on the theme,
Continuing Religious Intolerance in Europe. This will be on Thursday, July
30th, at 10:00 a.m., in Room 2172 in the Rayburn House Office
Mr. Fautré. Thank you.
The first Belgian constitution was issued soon after the independence
on February 7, 1831. It was a model and a source of inspiration for other
states in Europe in the nineteenth century: Spain, Greece, the
Netherlands, Luxemburg, Romania.... It guaranteed the basic freedoms of
press, education, association and religion. In more than a century and a
half it was regularly adapted to the evolution of society.
The last fundamental revision took place in 1994, making of Belgium a
federal state with three communities--the French, Flemish and
German-speaking communities, three regions--the Wallonian, Flemish and
Brussels regions, and four linguistic regions--the French-speaking,
Flemish-speaking, German-speaking regions and the bilingual region of
Brussels Capital City. The new constitution comprises 198 articles and
transitory provisions. The current constitution which can be called the
second constitution of Belgium was signed and released by King Albert II
on February 17, 1994. Very few articles deal with religious freedom,
directly or indirectly. They are mainly concentrated under Title II
``About the Belgians and their rights'' (See the text of the next articles
in the original language in Annex I).
Some comments on these articles are all the more so necessary since a
number of specific words and concepts are difficult and even impossible to
translate into English and need to be clarified.
Article 11 which provides for the rights of ``ideological and
philosophical minorities'' could be interpreted as a safeguard of the
rights of religious minorities.
Article 19 does not explicitly guarantee ``religious freedom'' or
``freedom of religion'' in the broad sense of the expression but ``freedom
of religious practices'' or ``freedom of worship'' (liberté des cultes).
This approach shows that in 1830 the Constitutional Assembly was more
interested in the external facets of religious life than in the contents
of the faith or its inspiration. The Belgian juridical system has no
common opinion about the concept of ``culte'' and a clear definition of it
fails. However, constitutionalists currently agree on a wide
interpretation of the word ``culte'' which is supposed to comprise all
religious and philosophical beliefs.(1)
This freedom includes the right to have a belief and to change it. (2)
This is all the more important since a ``culte'' can enjoy exemption from
taxes on land and property.
The expression ``religious freedom'' is never used in the Belgian
Constitution. The wording that is recurrently used to express this idea is
``liberté de(s) culte(s),'' which is a source of misunderstanding.
``Culte'' has nothing to do with the English word ``cult'' as synonym of
``sect.'' It is untranslatable in English and according to the context,
several approximate formulations must be used, such as ``religious
practices,'' ``worship'' or ``religion.''
The second part of article 19 somewhat limits the use of religious
freedom inasmuch as it is no longer guaranteed when offences are
committed. In this regard, article 268 of the Penal Code (3)
says that ``An imprisonment of eight days to three months and a fine will
be imposed on the religious ministers who in the practice of their
pastoral duties will have directly attacked the governement, a law, a
royal decree or any other act from the public authorities through speeches
held before public assemblies.'' There is no legal definition of the
concept of ``religious minister'' or ``minister of religion'' (ministre du
culte) which comprises priests, pastors allowed to conduct a
The separation between State and religions and the ban on any State's
interference in the internal matters of a religion are a basic principle
which is clearly enshrined in article 21. However, the latter forbids the
performance of a marriage blessing by a religious minister'' before the
After the abolition of this principle in 1814, at the end of the
occupation, abuses were committed, mainly in the countryside where
religious marriages failed to be registered as civil marriages. The
Napoleonic law was restored in 1817 under the Dutch occupation.
Article 24 which deals with school education counts 5 paragraphs. This
is not astonishing for those who know how sensitive this issue has always
been throughout the whole history of the country. Belgium has a network of
Catholic schools subsidized by the State which has always been more
extensive than public schools. Catholic religious classes are organized in
Catholic schools, There are also some Jewish and Protestant schools which
have their own religious classes in their curriculum. In public schools
under the authority of one of the three communities (French-speaking,
Flemish-speaking and German-speaking) of the provinces and of the
municipalities, a free choice of religious classes is offered to the
pupils insofar as it is related to a recognized religion.
Article 181 provides that the wages and retirement pensions of the
clergy of the six religious denominations (``culte'' ) recognized by the
State and and of the moral advisers appointed by a non-religious
philosophical movement (Conseil Central Laeque Secular Central Council)
are chargeable to the State.
Apart from these constitutional guarantees, it is also worth mentioning
the Belgian Cultural Pact which states in article 1 that ``the decrees
voted by any of the cultural councils cannot contain discrimination of an
ideological or philosophical character and cannot restrain rights and
freedoms of ideological and philosophical minorities.''
Morevover, Belgium has ratified the Universal Declaration, the European
Convention on Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and
Political Rights and other international instruments which guarantee
freedom of religion and belief.
When Belgium became an independent state in 1830, the laws, decrees,
orders and regulations preceding the Belgian Constitution remained in
force inasmuch as these provisions were not replaced or abolished by the
said Constitution. Therefore, Catholicism (since 1802 under French rule),
Protestantism (since 1802) and Judaism (since March 17, 1808) enjoyed de
facto the status of State recognition and the financial advantages
deriving from it.
After the promulgation of the Constitution, other religions (``cultes''
) were recognized by a law or by a royal decree. Anglicanism was
recognized by two royal decrees (18 and 24 April 1835). Catholicism,
Protestantism, Judaism and Anglicanism were again explicitly recognized by
a law on the temporal needs of the religion (``culte'' ) released on March
4, 1870. More than a century later, they were followed by Islam (law of 19
July 1974 amending the said law of 1870) and finally Orthodoxy (law of 17
April 1985 amending the same law of 1870).
Moreover, secular humanism (``läcité'' ) has indirectly enjoyed State
recognition since the last revision of the Constitution as article 181
Section 2 states that the payment of the wages and the retirement pensions
of its moral secular advisers providing moral assistance are to be paid by
the State. However, such an extension of article 181 was not legally
as the State budget already allotted an annual subsidy to the organisation
officially representing secular humanism and as the salaries and the
pensions of the moral secular advisers in the army were already paid (Law
of February 18, 1991). However, it cannot denied that the extension of
article 181 grants a certain constitutional recognition to secularism and
is not without psychological importance even outside Belgium. It is indeed
striking that through the Declaration to the Final Act of Amsterdam Treaty
in June 1997, the Statesmen of the European Union have also decided to
stress the importance of non-religious thinking.
As can be seen from this short historical overview, very few
recognitions have been granted since 1870 although a number of minority
religions have applied for such a status. Except ``social utility for
society,'' no official criteria justify the State recognition. In 1985,
Jean Gol, the then Minister of Justice (member of the Liberal Party PRL
and of the Jewish community) tried to clarify some criteria for the
recognition of a religion (culte): its membership (several tens of
thousands), its historicity and its interest in society. Though, he
stressed that the worldwide dimension of a religion was not a sufficient
criterion. However, his considerations were never enshrined in a law.
However, the basic problem of defining a ``culte'' is still failing.
The Belgian recognition system has always been based de facto on the
monolithic structure and the functioning of the dominant Roman Catholic
Church: an ecclesiastical structure with a clear hierarchy and clear
territorial divisions. However, it is exceptional for a religion to be
monolithic. There is a wide range of Protestant denominations, of Orthodox
Churches, of subdivisions in Islam (Shiites, Sunnis, Wahabites), in
Buddhism, in Hinduism. Some religions have no hierarchy or no clergy. In
an increasingly multireligious society, this is a challenge to the Belgian
system which now seems outdated and quite inappropriate.
Orthodoxy is only recognized through the Greek and Russian Orthodox
Churches. The United Protestant Church of Belgium
(2) (EPUB) which is the legal heir of Protestantism recognized by the
State in the 19th century (3)
now represents less than half of the Protestant population (4)
while about 50% of the Belgian Protestants adhere to unrecognized
Evangelical, Pentecostal, Adventist Churches united in an umbrella
organization called ``Federal Synod of Protestant and Evangelical Churches
in Belgium.'' Islam is recognized but has failed until now to fulfill a
number of conditions such as an administrative umbrella organization
reflecting its various components in Belgium (5)
Secular humanism (``la läcité'' ), the symbol of which is the torch is as
less monolithic as the aforementioned religions. Only a part of secular
humanists, free thinkers, agnostics, atheists identify themselves with the
Central Secular Council (``Conseil central läque'' ) which the State
considers as the administrative body representing secular humanism. For
some time, the civil authorities did not know who was entitled to
represent Protestantism (as it has now been the case in the last decades
with the Muslim community) but fortunately for the state, in 1839, the
subsidized Protestant churches managed to find a common representative.
However, the question was raised if a Protestant congregation which was
not under the authority of the Synod of the Union of Evangelical
Protestant Churches could be recognized by a Royal Decree. On April 20,
1888, the Liberal Protestant Church was recognized by a Royal Decree. The
Lutheran Church which left the Synod is still recognized and subsidized:
it is based on the law of 18 germinal, year X, which also concerns the
Churches of Augsburg Confession.
Recognition entails several material benefits that are described
extensively under the heading ``State Financing of Recognized Religions''
but here are already a few briefly presented. Clerics get (modest) wages
from the State and appropriate housing from the municipalities or the
provinces which have to cover any expenditure for this purpose. Legal
personality is attributed to the ecclesiastical administrations
responsible for the temporal needs of the recognized religion (culte).
Free public radio and TV broadcasting time is put at their disposal. They
can appoint army and prison chaplains whose salaries are paid by the
State. They are entitled to provide religious instruction in public
This general overview clearly highlights two categories of minority
religions. A number of them are recognized by the State and enjoy
financial and material advantages described briefly here above: Islam
(about 350,000 members), Judaism (about 40,000), United Protestant Church
of Belgium (about 40,000), Orthodox (about 50,000), Anglicanism (about
Non-recognized minority religions do not enjoy any of the advantages
linked to the status of State recognition. They include: Protestantism
represented by the ``Federal Synod of Protestant and Evangelical Churches
in Belgium'' (about 50,000 members), Jehovah's Witnesses (about 25,000
members and 50,000 church-goers), the Church of Scientology (claiming
about 5,000), Mormons (about 3,000-4,000), Buddhists (about 3,000). Other
smaller groups number some hundreds of members (Baha'is, Hare Krishna,
Sahaja Yoga, Sukyo Mahikari and the Raeblian movement) or less than 150
believers (The Family, Soka Gakkai, Unification Church, Nouvelle Acropole,
Fraternité Blanche Universelle, Human and Universe Energy, Ingreja
Universal do Reino de Deus, Church of Christ of Brussels, Ogyen Kunzang
Chölling, Le Mouvement, Institut Gnostique d'Anthropolgie, Ecoovie,
Antoinism, etc.). Up to now, the ``Federal Synod of Protestant and
Evangelical Churches in Belgium'' has asked for State recognition
independently from the EPUB but to avail. Jehovah's Witnesses, which have
a monolithic structure and a clear leadership like the Roman Catholic
Church have also unsuccessfully applied for State recognition without any
financial advantages in order to have access to their members in
hospitals, detention places for asylum-seekers. Other smaller religious
groups have also asked for State recognition but with the same negative
This quest for recognition manifests a need of State legitimacy which
is not the role of the State. Such a trend is not to be encouraged since
it is in contradiction with the basic and constitutional principles of
separation between State and Church and it might in the long term trigger
a dangerous process of State interference in the religious sphere.
ENQUIRY COMMISSIONS ON CULTS IN WESTERN EUROPE
The European continent is multicultural, multilingual and
multireligious. It can be said that religious pluralism really exists
within the borders of the Member States of the European Union and more
widely of the Council of Europe. However, the variety of their national
histories, which is a richness in itself, raises some problems. In many
cases, a specific religion has been closely linked to the edification of
modern Nation States and pretends to enjoy or effectively enjoys some
privileged status legally, politically and socially. Consequently, most
European countries have a two-tiered and even a three-tiered system in
which religions have different statuses and in which citizens are not
treated in the same way and even suffer from various forms of
institutionalized inequalities and discrimination on the basis of their
religious or philosophical beliefs.
The most obvious separation is indeniably between on the one hand
religions which the State recognizes and therefore legitimizes with some
sort of quality label and on the other hand second-rank religions which
are not recognized, exclusively minority religions, also called ``sects''
or ``cults,'' which do not enjoy the state quality label. However, even in
the predominant category you have a second separation between the
prevailing religion(s), so-called historical or traditional, and minority
religions which are considered as honorable.
This historical background on which recent massacres committed by
groups such as Aoum or the Order of the Solar Temple have left their mark
should allow one to better understand the sudden emergence and development
of parliamentary commissions on cults in Western Europe.
France is the first country of the European Union to have set up a
parliamentary enquiry commission on cults. On January 10, 1996, the
National Assembly published the so-called ``Guyard report'' which listed
172 cults supposed to be harmful or dangerous and in which cults were
compared with ``associations of criminals.''
It was preceded first by an ``information mission on cults'' within the
law commission in 1981 and then by the Vivien report drafted in 1982-1983
and published in 1985. The suicide-homicide of 53 members of the Order of
the Solar Temple in Canada and Switzerland in 1994 and the gas attempt by
Aoum in Tokyo's underground in 1995 incited the French government to
reopen this issue. On June 29, 1995, the National Assembly approved the
proposal to set up a parliamentary enquiry commission. The appointment of
its members was ratified on July 11 and the commission started its work on
July 18. Strangely enough, no ethnologists or sociologists or historians
of religions were included in the commission which decided to hold 20
hearings of witnesses during 21 hours behind closed doors. The secrecy of
the procedure was quite unusual as such a step is only taken when it
concerns national defence issues. Before the official publication of the
report, the media circulated excerpts from it, especially a ``black list''
of harmful or dangerous sects, and this had a disastrous effect on
minority religions and their members.
Since 1996, a number of cases of intolerance and discrimination
produced by the ``Guyard report'' can already be listed. For two years, a
number of media have been libelling minority religions, circulating
rumours and false information, inciting religious intolerance with
impunity. On this background, a threefold pattern of real persecution is
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 as members of cults.
Secondly, we now see an ``unpopular'' minority religion isolated from
all the others and targeted by the fiscal administration: Jehovah's
Witnesses. 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
Thirdly, it can be fered that plans are being carried out to crush and
kill minority religions one by one.
A concrete example will highlight this destructive strategy. The French
tax administration has now launched a serious attack on the freedom of
religious association and worship by enforcing a 60% tax on ``hand
donations'' made by more than 200,000 Jehovah's Witnesses in the last four
years. The amount involved is about 50 million dollars (!) and every
donation made to cover it will be taxed again on a 60% basis. After
several years of legal battles, a court has just ordered the seizure and
the provisional mortgage of their patrimony.
This is the first time the tax law on ``hand donations'' (in French:
dons manuels) reformed on May 19, 1992 is applied to a religious group or
association thus depriving it of vital means for practising its worship
and Jehovah's Witnesses think this might be the end of the world for them
The financial contributions of Jehovah's Witnesses to their
organization are used for religious and missionary activities, for worship
expenses and for humanitarian relief help in the Third World. Their
commercial activities such as printing and selling magazines and books are
carried out in the framework of another organization which is submitted to
In 1996, in the climate generated by the parliamentary report on cults,
public authorities adopted specific measures on so-called cults such as
the publication of ministerial decrees and the creation of a national
observatory on cults. In the aftermath of these events, the tax
administration audited the Jehovah's Witnesses over a period of a year and
a half and the non-profit character of the ``Association Les Témoins de
Jehovah'' was recognized. However, in the framework of a procedure aimed
at tax exemption on places of worship it was put forward that they are not
a ``worship association'' (in French: association cultuelle) but a sect
listed by the parliamentary commission and that as such they cannot
benefit from the requested exemption. Consequently, a number of
congregations of Jehovah's Witnesses took the French state to court. For
two of them, it was acknowledged that they were entitled to obtain tax
exemption while others were nonsuited and will go to the Appeal
These events are clearly linked to the parliamentary report on cults.
Fiscal services say that ``the association of Jehovah's Witnesses forbids
its members to defend the nation, to take part in public life, to give
blood transfusions to their minor children and that the parliamentary
commission on cults has listed them as a cult which can disturb public
order». Therefore, they consider that tax exemption cannot be granted to
their local congregations.
This arm-wrestling between the state and Jehovah's Witnesses started in
1985 when the Council of State confirmed a verdict denying the association
the right to accept a legacy on the ground that it was not a ``worship
association.'' The second act of the play resulted in a truce: the Council
of State recognized the right to tax exemption on buildings or parts of
buildings used by two local congregations for worship. With the fiscal
attack we are now in the third act.
In the fourth act, thousands of religious associations may be targeted
by the fiscal services because they are not ``worship associations''
recognized as such by the Ministry of Interior: according to statistics
published in 1993 by the Ministry of Interior, only 109 out of 1,138
Protestant associations, 15 out of 147 Jewish associations and 2 out of
1,050 Muslim associations are currently entitled to benefit from legacies
and exemption on donations. Tomorrow, Catholic associations may fall under
the guillotine blade of the internal revenue, including the Youth World
Days through which huge amounts of money were collected to cover the
expenses of the Pope's visit to France. The small Evangelical Pentecostal
Church of Besançon is already hit by the fiscal measure and is being
pressured to pay about 500,000 dollars on ``hand donations'' received
between 1994 and 1997. It now remains to be seen if collectors of the
internal revenue will ``limit'' their action to the 172 cults listed in
the French parliamentary report--Jehovah's Witnesses and the Evangelical
Pentecostal Church of Besançon are on that black list. If such is the
case, this would then be quite discriminatory and contrary to the
constitutional principle of separation between State and Church which
forbids the state to establish a category of ``good'' religions and a
category of ``bad'' religions. Moreover, there is no reason for fiscal
services to fail to apply their measures to hundreds of thousands of
secular non-profit making philosophical, cultural, sports associations
which collect donations to finance their activities, an action that would
jeopardize not only the freedom of religious association but also in a
much wider sense the right to association.
One more attack is now threatening minority religions in France. In the
first days of July 1998, the French Observatory on Cults publicized its
yearly report. It noted that about 50 organizations were indoctrinating
children in 1998 against 28 in 1996. In this general climate of anticult
hysteria which started in 1995-1996, the French law commission adopted two
draft laws introduced by Mr Jacques Guyard (Socialist Party) and
Jean-Pierre Brard (Communist). One asks for an enquiry about the finances
of cults and proposes a financial control of those which have a budget
superior to about 80,000 dollars. The other is supposed to control if
children of cult members abide by the laws on compulsory education. Gest,
Brard and Guyard who were respectively chairman, vice-chairman and
rapporteur of the parliamentary commission on cults in 1995-1996 have
asked for cults to be included in the category of ``combat groups'' and
``private militias.'' By the end of 1998, the French parliament will have
to vote a resolution creating two enquiry commissions: one about the
financial situation of sects and another one about their influence on
France is now the only European country where donations to churches and
religious associations are taxed by the State. This fiscal aggression
against minority religions which has been largely publicized abroad might
very soon inspire the same sort of policy in former communist countries of
Central and Eastern Europe where there is no real separation between the
state and a historical majority religion.
As the first country to have attacked minority religions, France is
today paving the way to new subtle forms of religious persecution in
Europe. In the 1980s, the Hare Krishna movement was killed financially by
the fiscal services for a number of reasons that will not be analyzed
here. Today, Jehovah's Witnesses and the Evangelical Pentecostal Church of
Besançon are targeted by the same services. Tomorrow, other countries may
think of forging fiscal weapons against their minority religions.
The Belgian Parliamentary Commission on Sects started its work on April
25, 1996 and released its report on April 28, 1997. In one year's time, it
held 58 meetings and heard 136 witnesses.
The most striking recommendation of the Sect Report is certainly the
draft law that the Parliamentary Commission has proposed to introduce into
the Belgian Penal Code and that provides 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, imaginary powers or imminent fantastical events.
Another astonishing fact is that some Catholic organizations are also
targeted by the Belgian Commission: the Charismatic Renewal, Opus Dei, The
Work (recognized in 20 European dioceses and with its headquarters in
Rome), the community of San Egidio and the small Opstal community led by
Jesuit fathers mistakenly mentioned in the list of 189 controversial
More than twenty Protestant movements are also victimized by the
report: the Evangelicals, the Pentecostals, the Adventists, the Amish, the
Darbyists, Operation Mobilisation, Youth With A Mission (YWAM), the Young
Women's Christian Association (YWCA) but not, for some mysterious reasons,
the Young Men's Christian Association (YMCA), and so on. Attacks must also
be deplored against the Soka Gakkai, a Buddhist movement of about 15
million members, and the Satmar, a Jewish community which has become the
symbol for religious freedom and freedom of education in the U.S.
This report will focus on the methodological errors committed by the
BEHAVIOR AND BELIEF
First of all, the Commission took the stand--which is typical of the
anti-sect approach--that it is possible to rigorously separate the
``deed'' from the ``creed.'' According to this methodology, the harmful
deeds of ``sects'' could be analyzed without making a global analysis
taking into account the problems of a doctrinal character. Some observers
studying religious movements occasionally qualify them as
``pseudo-religious'' and thereby eliminate from the analysis the religious
elements which constitute the crux of the problem. Moreover, the rigid
separation between doctrine and behavior is, in fact, impossible: the
behavior of a religious movement cannot be interpreted or reconstructed
nor understood, if the doctrines from which it proceeds are deliberately
This problem of methodology is highlighted by the sort of dialogue the
Belgian Commission has opened up with witnesses defending some religious
movements (none of them had been invited, but all were heard ``on their
request,'' contrary to the representatives of anticult associations who
had been duly invited), and with academic specialists. The Commission
seemed to be insufficiently interested in knowing the specific
characteristics of each group or movement. On the contrary, it accused the
witnesses of violations of specific laws or of debatable affirmations
based on newspaper articles or (very often) on publications of anticult
CONFLICTS BETWEEN THE ACCOUNTS
With regards to new religious movements, different and even opposing
accounts are provided by current members, ex-members--hostile, indifferent
or even still favorable towards the group that they have left--anticult
associations, academic specialists, major churches and the media. It is
difficult--especially for a non-specialist--to determine which account is
closest to the reality.
The method used by a Parliamentary Commission should be at least that
of a ``par condicio'' (condition of parity) between the different sources.
Following the example of the French Commission, the Belgian Commission
opted for another method.
First of all, a rationalistic prejudice which has profound roots in the
history of secularism and anticlericalism in Belgium often emerges from
the interventions of the president of the Commission in his dialogue with
the witnesses. For this reason, a source of information about the
movements put under examination was ignored, namely the official
representatives of the majority churches. Unfortunately, they were
deliberately ignored. However, it would have been very interesting to know
what the Catholic Church thinks of the indictment of The Work, the
Charismatic Renewal or Opus Dei. As a compensation, the views of a
marginal Catholic priest, such as Rick Devillé, were given extensive
coverage. This priest is the author of a diffamatory publication about The
Work, in which he even wonders whether the entire Catholic Church has not
become a ``sect'' under the pontificate of Pope Jean-Paul II.
In the category ``authors,'' six witnesses were given a hearing--the
author of a study work on Internet, and five virulent authors of anti-sect
books. The choice of such writers is questionable as literature about new
religious movements is extremely abundant. As non-Belgian authors were
invited to the hearing, it could have been easy to find dozens of authors
with diverse and more balanced opinions amongst journalists, psychiatrists
and clinical psychologists.
Amongst the representatives of associations that were invited, four
belonged to Belgian anticult associations: one was the chairperson of the
UNADFI (National Union of the Associations for the Defence of the Families
and the Individual), the most important anticult movement in France, and
another was the director of a Luxemburg-based anticult association. The
fact that the minutes of their hearings have been publicized is a positive
aspect of these hearings. They show the inconsistency and the cultural
poorness of the anti-sect associations' speech, which totally ignores the
scientific literature on new religious movements, being exclusively based
on their own texts and on newspaper cuttings.
However, it is surprising that the Belgian Commission did not invite
representatives of organisations having another approach to the problem,
such as INFORM--Information Network Focus on Religious Movements--based in
the London School of Economics in Great Britain, which is consulted by the
government and supported by major churches.
It is also surprising that important associations of sociology and
history of religion, which often deal with these problems were ignored.
For example, the current chairperson of the SISR (The International
Society of Sociology of Religion), Professor Liliane Voyé, who is
And last but not least, ex-members of 49 movements got a hearing
following the request of the Commission and obviously on the proposition
of anticult movements.
Ten of the attacked movements got a hearing on their request (an
eleventh, the Sahaya Yoga, explained by letter the reasons why it
preferred not to be present). All these elements show a preferential
option for the anticult accounts rather than for a mediation procedure
between opposed or even contradictory accounts. The principle of ``par
condicio'' (condition of parity) was obviously not respected.
A Divided Academic World?
The Commission also fell into a fundamental error with regard to the
current international scientific debate concerning new religious
movements. It affirmed that ``the academic world is strangely divided
about the way of assessing sects. There are very few fields of
investigation where the specialists are so opposed to each other as in
this realm.'' This leads to personal settlings of scores--face to face or
in writing--between certain personalities of the two conflicting parties:
on the one hand, the 'theoreticians'--sociologists and historians of
religion--and on the other hand, the `practitioners'--those who help
victims and their relatives, especially militants of anticult
The conflict also opposes the aforementioned sociologists and a number
of psychologists and psychotherapists who perform clinical (and
scientific) work with ex-members of ``cults.''
In its report, the Commission declared that the first group is mainly
structured within CESNUR. With regards to the second group, Madeleine
Landau Tobias, Janja Lalich, Marc Galanter and Jean-Marie Abgrall are once
again presented as qualified experts. The Commission also stated that it
had ``become aware of this division in the academic world'' and that it
had decided to make a genuine choice between the two conflicting
On the basis of its own work (notably the dozens of hearings of former
victims), the Commission came to the conclusion that it could not side
with the conclusions of the group of sociologists of religion because they
had obviously under-estimated the potential dangers represented by the
sectarian organisations, due to their restrictive and unilateral approach
to the issue. The Commission reproached the sociologists, and CESNUR in
particular, with denying the existence of mental manipulation and stressed
that it had been convinced by opposing testimonies on the subject.
The Commission even sat in judgment on the sociologists, saying that
``... it deplores that the conclusions of such analyses on `new religious
movements' (a) were published without a thorough examination. From the
ethical point of view, it is extremely disputable to consider a sectarian
organisation as a ``new religious movement.'' Analyses of this kind, which
ignore one side of the reality, contribute to the exoneration of harmful
sectarian organizations. As a result, they give them a free hand or, at
least, enable them to run more easily their pernicious practices.''
The Value of the Testimonies
Amongst thousands of ex-members of new religious movements who, in most
cases, do not adopt a militant attitude towards the groups that they have
left--the Commission had chosen to hear about fifty of them. Almost all
have repeated the anticult Vulgate of ``mental manipulation.''
The Commission did not examine any statistical study on the opinions of
ex-members in general. Not one representative of the international
community of academic and non-academic psychiatry which rejects the model
of ``mental manipulation'' was granted a hearing.
Concerning ``scientific sources,'' Professor Johan Goethals confessed
that he exclusively made use of three texts, the ``scientific'' character
of which can be questioned and which are examples of militant anticult
From these texts, the Belgian criminologist went back to the theses on
the reform of thought of Professor Robert Jay Lifton. However, he ignores
the discussions that the application of these theses to new religious
movements has provoked in the United States and he does not say a single
word about the oscillating and ambiguous stands of the same Robert Jay
Lifton with regard to such an application.
Of course, if the Commission ignores the academic psychological and
sociological literature which massively rejects the model of mental
manipulation and if it proposes a simple summary of the texts which
emanate from anticult activists, the results can be none other than
unilateral. They are even presented in a language impregnated by an
The Belgian Sect Report reveals a number of paradoxical and ridiculous
The Bahai'is would be ``first and foremost a group having financial and
political interests which, like Scientology, wants to establish a new
world order, a new nation with only one master.'' Sukyo Mahikari, ``one of
the most dangerous sectarian organisations in our country,'' is allegedly
``an extreme right group, using symbols such as the swastika'' and would
mainly aim at collecting money. If the second statement is purely
grotesque, the first one seems to ignore the fact that the use of the
swastika as a religious symbol in the Orient dates back to at least two
thousand years before the creation of the national-socialist party.
Jehovah's Witnesses seemingly prefer boys as little girls are
systematically depreciated as compared with the male members of the
family; they are beaten and subjected to continuous physical violence.''
This very grave accusation (which is false) is reported in the synthesis
of the testimonies without any verification or any element of evidence.
The Satmar community (for which the Commission prefers the spelling
Szatmar), which is a part of Hassidic Judaism and which is widely known in
Antwerp, is described as being ``close to the centre of the diamond
industry,'' as having ``considerable economic impact.'' It is also
portrayed as having ``rather difficult relations with the judiciary''
because it is said to apply the ``principle according to which a Jew does
not denounce another Jew--even a criminal--to a non-Jew.'' In the United
States, the judges are said to ``close their eyes on certain things for
fear of seeing this electoral block (Satmar) turn against them when their
mandate is again at stake.'' ``Finally, cases of kidnapping of children
and their harboring in international ramifications of the movement would
not be isolated practices.'' Contrary to what the Belgian Commission
thinks, the Satmar community has been extensively studied by specialists,
particularly--but not exclusively--in the United States. This group is
conscious of its difference with regard to civil society and even to other
streams of Judaism: for example, they are opposed to the current State of
Israel and to Zionism. The accusation of ``kidnapping children'' who would
then be ``harbored'' was certainly influenced, in Belgium, by a well-known
case--that of Mrs. Patsy Heymans, whose former Satmar husband took away
their three children, notwithstanding a contrary decision issued by a
Belgian tribunal. But, without specific references to the Heymans case
(which is not mentioned), the accusation seems to come directly from the
ideological headquarters of the worst anti-semitic propaganda.
New Legal Provisions
Concerning the new penal provisions to be introduced into existing
laws, the Commission has made several specific proposals. One of them
makes unlawful the ``active incitement to commit suicide.'' It is also
proposed to adopt the rules concerning ``the abuse of a situation of
weakness'' which already exist in the French penal code. However,
ambiguous commentaries about this ruling suggest extending its field of
application to people who are neither minor of age nor mentally deficient.
The sentences that the draft law has proposed to introduce into the Penal
Code are particularly serious: a prison term of up to five years, and/or a
fine for those who use beatings, violence and threats or psychological
manipulation to persuade an individual about the existence of false
undertakings, imaginary powers or imminent fantastical events.'' Since the
publication of the Belgian report, an information and advisory centre has
been created by the Parliament (30 April 1998) and will soon be
operational. On that occasion, a group of Belgian Protestant, Satmar and
Baha'i leaders whose movements were labelled as ``cults'' by the Belgian
parliamentary report set up a ``Belgian Citizens' Forum Against Religious
Intolerance, Discrimination and Inequalities in Belgium'' in May 1998 at
the initiative of ``Human Rights Without Frontiers'' and held a press
conference about their plight at the European Parliament in Brussels under
the patronage of David Hallam (Labour Party, UK).
In many societal matters, Belgium is prone to follow the example of its
French neighbour. In its struggle against so-called cults, the Belgian
parliamentary commission had the same prejudices and made the same
methodological errors as its French counterpart. This can already be
noticed from the repressive measures that are being studied: a draft law
to penalize mental manipulation, protection of children of cult members,
special control of the bookkeeping of cults, ban on tax exemptions on
places of worship, and so on.
On June 19, 1998, after two years' work, the Enquiry Commission
``So-called Sects and Psychogroups'' passed its report with a large
majority. The report represented quantitatively and qualitatively the most
intensive analysis to date of the phenomenon of new religious and
The basis of the work of the commission was exclusively the problems
and conflicts that arise in relation to this phenomenon. It was not the
duty of the Commission to test individual groups or even their beliefs.
The Commission constantly let itself be guided in its work by the
requirement of state neutrality and tolerance, according to Article 4 of
In its conclusions, the Commission stated that sects and psychogroups
do not represent any danger to the democratic state, which basically
corresponds to the conclusions drawn up by a Parliamentary Enquiry
Commission in the Netherlands in 1984. However, a special provision
concerned the Scientology organisation which the Commission did not
consider a religious denomination but rather a ``political-extremist''
movement. This is why an extension of its observation by the
Constitutional Defence Office was requested by the Commission.
The chairman of the Commission, Ortrun Schetzle (CDU), also stressed
that there is no undermining of economy by religious and ideological
associations. However, the Commission shared the opinion that it is the
duty of the state to protect the individual against exploitation and harm.
According to the report, the extent of state action in relation to new
religious and ideological groups and psychogroups ranges from education
and information on the one hand to concrete measures on the other. This
spectrum reflects the course of action recommended by the Enquiry
Commission. The Commission recommended the establishment of a federal
foundation which would tie together the various aspects associated with
new religious and ideological groups and psychogroups, and the
introduction of a legal arrangement for the state sponsorship of private
advisory and information offices. Moreover, it recommended improving the
protection of consumers by voting a law which should deal with
transparency about the psychotherapists' qualifications, their methods and
their financial obligations.
Furthermore, the commission called for a strengthening of national and
international co-operation which would also help solve the considerable
deficiency of research in this area.
The commission also considered a change in the constitution in order to
deal with new religious and ideological groups and psychogroups, to be
wholly dispensable and stressed that society must learn how to live in
peace and tolerance with religious philosophical pluralism. One of the
major conclusions of the Commission was that it recommended abstaining
from using the concept ``sect'' any more because of its bad connotation
and its stigmatizing effect.
The SPD and the Greens released their own reports. On the one hand, the
Greens did not share the opinion that danger was no longer to be feared
from the 600 sects and spiritual groups which exist in Germany ; on the
other hand, the Socialists found the recommendations too weak and asked
not to grant undemocratical ideologies such as the Jehovah's Witnesses the
status of corporation of public law but their reasoning was not followed
by the other parties. The CDU/CSU Christian Democrats and the Libel FDP
took a middle of the road position between these two extremes.
The commission was praised by the German Bishops' Conference. However,
before the release of the report, a number of legal experts and university
professors reproached the commission with unproved suspicions and with
despise towards small religious groups. These famous academics are:
Hans Apel, Professor of economics at Rostock University and former
Federal Minister of the Federal Republic of Germany;
Gerhard Besier, Professor of contemporary church history at Heidelberg
University, and presently at the College of History in Munich;
Niels Birbaumer, Professor of medical psychology at Universities of
Tubingen, and Padua (Italy);
Martin Kriele, Professor of constitutional law at Cologne
Hermann Lebbe, Professor of philosophy at Zurich University
Erwin K. Scheuch, Professor of sociology at Cologne University.
With regards to the protection of consumers on the psycho-market
proposed by the Commission, the academics stressed that an open society
needs no ideological controls and the state is not a remedial aid
institute which should relieve citizens of all risks in life for the sake
of their freedom. The university professors also mentioned a number of
Among the expert members of the Enquiry Commission, there were
sect-watchers and ideological officers from both dominant churches but
there were no experts in the field of other religious and ideological
communities, and no representatives of heavily criticized free
self-development market and management training. Through that Commission,
the sect watchers of the State Protestant Church had the opportunity to
pronounce judgment over those who are in ideological competition with them
and whom they have been confronting for years in the German courts.
Unfortunately, there appears to be double grounds for suspecting prejudice
on the part of one element of the Enquiry Commission's membership:
firstly, they are agents on behalf of competing religious communities and
secondly, they have for years been involved in legal proceedings and
disputes with the very people on whose activity they had to pronounce
The work of the Enquiry Commission was surrounded by journalists who,
for moral and/or material reasons, had specialised in the persecution of
sects and psychological groups. They claimed in German courts to have been
given reports by members of the Enquiry Commission regarding witnesses'
statements made during in-camera sittings of the Enquiry Commission.
However, the Chairman of the Enquiry Commission did not see any
possibility of punishing indiscretions on the part of the body. Moreover,
the Enquiry Commission did not give the defendants the opportunity of
making a statement to this body. The accused had not even heard that there
was a case against them, let alone in which manner that case was being
When the targeted organizations brought in legal,
psychological/psychiatric, sociological or theological reports compiled by
independent experts, their conclusions were mostly ignored and the experts
marginalized because they were viewed as being prejudiced. In this way,
the affected parties' own attempts at giving an account of their work
methods and practices went unheeded.
The German academics appealed to the German population not to allow
itself to be taken in by these new attempts to gain spiritual monopoly and
control, and equally not to allow themselves to be drawn in by the
hysterical heresies of those hunting down sects. They appealed to them not
to take part in the demonization of minorities or to denounce others just
because they attended the events of a particular group.
The German report was surprisingly less negative that it had been
feared. The German Commission was 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. It now seems that
consumers' protection is originally typical of the German-speaking sphere
of the European Union as MEP Maria Berger, who is Austrian, also took over
that idea in her Report on Cults in the European Union (15 member states).
But now, this concept is extending its effects to other European
institutions such as the Council of Europe which comprises 40 member
On July 13, 1998, Mrs. Maria Berger's report on cults in the European
Union was rejected for the second time by plenary session.
According to MEP David Hallam (Labour/ UK), it seemed that, while some
MEPs were still flapping about the cult issue, more were weary, took on
board arguments about religious liberty concerns and decided that it was
not for them to make judgements on religious matters.
Some thought that the cult issue was not a problem as the draft report
was saying ``the representatives of national parliaments in most member
states regard the existence and activities of cults in their member states
as insignificant or unproblematic'' and ``there is no reason to fear that
the firmly-established democratic institutions based on the rule of law in
all the member states are in immediate danger.'' In the meantime, the
German parliamentary commission had come to the same conclusions after two
years of investigation. At last, Maria Berger's report was also affirming
that ``there was no need or justification to introduce a common European
policy against cults or to set up a special European agency.''
Other members of the European Parliament said that the report was not
hard enough on ``cults.'' They complained that ``penalties only had to be
applied to members of cults in relation to their individual illegal
activities'' as they would have liked to find some arguments for involving
``cults'' as organizations in legal proceedings.
Consequently, the Parliament voted to send it back to the Civil
Liberties Committee for further consideration. The proposal was made by
another member of Maria Berger's political group, the German
social-democrat Martin Schulz.
There are now two main possibilities. The report will either get
dropped because there is not enough time to deal with it before the next
European elections in June 1999--or else it will have to be pushed through
during this time period which is not seen as all that likely as there is a
heavy schedule already planned.
Some more comments can also be made about the report in which its
supporters or its opponents could find anything to substantiate their
Some members of the parliament stressed as a positive point the fact
that it had drawn the lesson from the French and Belgian reports as it was
failing to draw up a black list of suspicious movements.
Another positive point was that the European Parliament also called on
the member states ``to apply existing legal provisions and instruments
effectively and to ascertain whether there are sufficient provisions,
particularly in the areas of the law on associations, corporation law, tax
and social security law and criminal law, to protect the public from
unlawful activities and in particular to ensure that minors whose parents
are members of cults are not cut off from the application of provisions
intended for the protection of young people, such as those on welfare and
education ; it reaffirms, however, that it considers inappropriate any
specific legislation against cults as such.''
The refusal to adopt specific anticult legislation was particularly
important and was reinforced in another part of the report where the
European Parliament called on the member states and the European
institutions ``to take action only on the problematic activities of cults
and in connection with their specific activities if they affect people's
physical and mental integrity or social and financial standing, taking
action also when such behavior occurs in other types of organizations,
whether religious or not, while fully respecting fundamental civil
rights.'' In comparison with former versions of the European report, the
issue of ``brainwashing claims against minority religions'' had been
reduced to a reasonable concern and had been put in a wider context,
probably to the great displeasure of European anticult movements.
Moreover, the recommendations did, on balance, maintain a positive
stand for religious freedom and various statements attempt to take it away
from the hysteria generated on this subject by certain parties. However,
there were still two major problems concerning the report from a human
One point was the call to create and support information centres on
religious movements. This idea was still present in the former reports.
However, it was controversial as it put the government, or certain groups,
in a position of being able to judge on whether various religious groups
are socially correct or acceptable although no government has any right to
intrude into the field of religion in this way. No clear guidelines were
set for the mandate of such information centres. Should they have been
administratively independent from the state and however be subsidized by
the state or, on the contrary, be put under the authority of an existing
ministry ? This vague approach could open the door to national deviations
in the implementation of the European Parliament's advice. The danger was
that with the current anticult hysteria ongoing in some countries, the
ease with which such information centres could have been misused as a
propaganda tool for antireligious elements was quite obvious. In any case,
clear instructions should have been fixed. That was not the case.
A complementary advice was also questionable when the European
Parliament called on the member states ``to provide unbiased information,
education and advice services, particularly for young people and families,
to enable individuals to make a free and informed choice, and to provide
support structures for those wishing to leave cults and for their
families.'' The question was raised whether it is the state's role to
interfere in the individual's religious or philosophical choices.
Another point concerned the concept of applying consumer protection
laws to the psychological services market. In this regard, the European
Parliament called on the Commission, in the context of its competence in
the area of consumer protection, ``to investigate whether consumers need
protection from abuse in connection with the commercial services which
cults may offer on the `psychological services' market.'' This idea
appeared for the first time in the German report but it was a confused
concept mixing religious practice with psychological practices. They are
not the same and cannot fall under the same rules or reasoning. Religion,
by definition, is something that falls outside of the rules that apply to
the normal exchange of goods and services. A priest may promise salvation
in this life or in the next but cannot be subject to consumer protection
laws because he did not `deliver'. Similarly, religious groups which
require members to take courses or instruction in order to attain
spiritual gain cannot be pushed into classifications such as
`psychological services' as this is quite a different category
It could have been hoped that Maria Berger's report would have gone as
far as the German report which proposed to drop the concept of ``cult''
because of its bad connotation and its stigmatizing effect. It could have
at least been expected that the word ``cult'' be replaced by ``religious
and philosophical movements.'' The European Parliament report
unfortunately failed to sufficiently investigate the terminology issue and
just piled up opposing amendments which deprived it of any coherence and
led to its rejection. It now remains to be seen what lesson the Council of
Europe will draw from this failure.
COUNCIL OF EUROPE
In 1992, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe adopted
Recommendation 1178 on sects and new religious movements in which it
considered that major legislation on sects was undesirable on the grounds
that such legislation might well interfere with the freedom of conscience
and religion guaranteed by Article 9 of the European Convention on Human
Rights as well as harm traditional religions. In that text, it was
therefore simply recommended that the Committee of Ministers take measures
to inform and educate young people and the general public and requested
that corporate status be granted to all sects and new religious movements
which had been registered. Since that recommendation was adopted, a number
of serious incidents took place in which AOUM, the Order of the Solar
Temple and other dangerous ``so-called'' religious groups were found to be
at the centre. The publication of sect reports by parliamentary
commissions and the creation of sect oversight organizations in France,
Belgium and Germany are additional events which explain why a report on
Illegal Activities of Sects is being prepared by the Committee on Legal
Affairs and Human Rights of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of
Preliminary Draft Recommendations
In its preliminary draft recommendations dated May 15, 1998, Rapporteur
Adrian Nastase (Romania, Socialist Group) wrote that
``The Assembly calls on the governments of member states:
i. to set up independent national information centres on
ii. to include information on the history and philosophy of
religions, while respecting the state's neutrality, in general school
iii. to ensure that legislation on compulsory schooling is
enforced without exception, and that the social welfare services
responsible for protecting children take action whenever that obligation
is not met;
iv. to penalise systematically the illegal practice of
v. to give thought to the legal consequences of the
indocrination of members of sects;
vi. to ban any group whose members repeatedly carry out illegal
activities and which does not expel those members;
vii. to encourage the setting up of non-governmental
organizations for the victims, or the families of victims, of sects,
particularly in eastern and central European countries;
Furthermore, the Assembly recommends that the Committee of
i. provide for specific action to set up information centres on
sects in the countries of central and eastern Europe in its aid programmes
for those countries
ii. set up a European observatory on sects to make it easier for
national centres to exchange information.''
Sects or Religions
In three of 52 points of a draft explanatory memorandum, Mr Nastase
made some interesting remarks about sects and religions:
``A pitfall which state authorities should avoid is that of making a
distinction between sects and religions. A perfect illustration of this
potential risk, linked to the term ``sect,'' is the attitude of certain
groups who claim religious intolerance or even racism, as soon as a state
plans measures. These groups assert, expert reports at the ready, that
they are not sects but, in fact, religions and that consequently the state
has no right to act against them. Confronted with such allegations, if the
state enters into the debate by trying to demonstrate that the group in
question is not a religion, it fails in its duty to maintain neutrality
and participates directly in a spiritual or religious controversy.''
``Of course, it is clear that it is very tempting for state authorities
to use the term ``sect,'' given that it is easily understood by everyone.
However, state authorities would be well advised to forgo using this term
since there is no legal definition of it and it has an excessively
pejorative connotation. In the public mind today, a sect is extremely evil
or dangerous. There are three possible ways of avoiding use of the term
``sect.'' '' (Point 14)
``Firstly, definition as a sect could be eliminated by classifying all
such groups as religions. Nevertheless, in our opinion, this approach
would be misguided because it would be unduly restrictive, the world of
sects being so diverse. A group based upon an esoteric doctrine is not
necessarily a religion founded, in theory, on the relationship between
individuals and a supreme being or force.'' (Point 15)
``Secondly, the state could agree to adopt the course suggested by
certain groups and distinguish between religions,--by definition good--and
sects--necessarily dangerous--or even between good and bad sects. Once
again, we do not think such an approach is acceptable. Under article 9 of
the ECHR, states are prohibited from distinguishing between different
beliefs and from creating a scale of beliefs, which is, in our view,
unacceptable. Merely making such a distinction would constitute a
disproportionate violation of the freedom guaranteed by article 9 of the
ECHR, because the very basis of this freedom is the absence of distinction
between beliefs, which explains the state's duty to maintain neutrality.''
With regard to the terminology issue, Mr Nastase's solution is to refer
to groups of a ``religious, spiritual or esoteric'' nature because this
general formula which is negative can accommodate the various facets of
This positive approach of the issue could be fully satisfactory if he
added groups of a philosophical nature.
Among the negative points, a number of major factual errors could be
listed. I will only mention two of them. Firstly, the Phare and Tacis
programme for democracy in Central and Eastern Europe has come to an end
and can no longer be referred to in order to cope with the problem of
cults in those countries. Secondly, the information according to which
``The Church of Scientology was found guilty of `criminal association' by
the Milan Court of Appeal in January 1997'' is biased as the Supreme Court
of Appeal quashed the Milanese decision on October 9, 1997.
Another characteristic of Mr Nastase's memorandum must also be
stressed: the reference to the French and Belgian parliamentary reports on
sects to substantiate the upcoming report on sects of the Council of
Europe as if they were holy bibles although their methodology has been
heavily criticized by prominent academics in France, Belgium and other
Moreover, there are numerous ambiguities in a number of fields.
The recommendation of setting up national information centres
independently of the state and to bring them together in a European
Observatory on sects is very unclear and incomplete. The Belgian
observatory will be under the authority of the Minister of Justice while
its French counterpart is under the influence of anticult movements and
its report may enjoy the state label. In Central and Eastern Europe
particularly, Mr Nastase's memorandum says, ``the establishment of
non-governmental organizations which collect and disseminate information
on sects should be encouraged'' but no provisions or limits concerning
their mandate and their ethics are to be found anywhere.
The provision about ``the banning of certain groups which are known to
shelter the perpetrators of criminal activities'' is also ambiguous. What
is clear is that illegal activities committed by persons or organizations
of whatever nature must be prosecuted and penalized.
In brief, it can be said that the contribution of the Council of Europe
brings some positive ideas to the debate, confirmed by the German report,
but some clarifications, corrections and amendments are absolutely
necessary if we want the enactement of upcoming recommendations to abide
by the generous principles of freedom of thought, conscience and religion
proclaimed in the international instruments and in the introduction to Mr
In most European countries, a two-tiered system of recognized and
unrecognized religions (often called cults) is in force and maintains a
situation of religious discrimination and inequality not only between both
categories but also inside the category of recognized religions.
Nobody can snap one's fingers at this reality inherited from the
history of the various European states and ignore it when aiming to
promote the implementation of international instruments regarding
Therefore, UN and NGO bodies and European institutions monitoring and
protecting religious liberty should always keep in mind this historical
contingency which must remain the starting point upon which they can build
up their strategies if they want to transcend them successfully.
Cloning the system of religious liberty in the U.S., its strategies
both inherited from its own history and its own case-law would be a major
pedagogical and cultural error insofar as the image of the American free
market of religions conveyed by European media is rather negative. Europe
has therefore to work out its own forms of religious pluralism from which
inequalities and discrimination will have to be banned. In this regard,
``Human Rights Without Frontiers'' has developed a system and a strategy
of implementation which aims to inspire all those who are opposed to
discrimination and inequalities based on religious beliefs.
Cults, Recognition Issue and State Subsidies
The cult issue is inseparable from the recognition issue and the
financing of religions by the state. In the current two-tiered system,
state recognition implies access to state financial support. This explains
why most religions, whatever their historicity or their size, apply for
state recognition. However, state subsidies are provided by ALL the tax
payers, including those who profess a non-recognized religion or who do
not profess any religion.
Such a system of state recognition is unfair and must be dismantled. It
is indeed not fair that members of minority religions, atheists, agnostics
pay for religions which do not tolerate them or are openly opposed to
As Europe has a long history of welfare state in most sectors of
society, including the religious sphere, it is more pragmatic to plead for
a reform of the system which can awaken synergies between various segments
of civil society than for a radical change such as putting an end to the
state financing of religions which will trigger much opposition from the
religious establishment and will not find any political support.
Income Taxes and Financing of Religions
Germany, Italy and Spain have introduced a system that partially allows
tax payers to allocate a part of their income taxes to the religion of
their choice. However, there are big disparities between the systems of
these countries ; they will not be analyzed here but the philosophy behind
those systems is that tax payers should be allowed to finance the religion
or the philosophical movement of their choice and should not have to
contribute to the financing of religions they do not profess or they do
In this perspective, ``Human Rights Without Frontiers'' has a far more
efficient solution to propose:
1. Abolishing the two-tiered system with recognized and unrecognized
religions and replacing it by a system in which all religions, whatever
their historicity or their size, should apply for the juridical status of
their choice (the same sort of registration possibilities as for
non-religious associations). Religions with very small membership (some
hundreds of adherents) could be requested to provide a number of
signatures of people (1,000 for example) supporting their
2. Allowing tax payers to allocate a part of their income taxes to one
of the religions or philosophical movements enjoying a juridical status
(this proposal follows the Italian model but goes beyond it)
3. Granting tax exemption.to citizens making donations to religions
enjoying a juridical status.
Such a fundamental reform would put an end to the two-tiered system
with two or more categories of religions and citizens and the cult issue
as such would become quite irrelevant.
Chairman of Human Rights Without
July 22, 1998
1. G. VAN HAEGENDOREN and A. ALEN, ``The Constitutional Relationship
between Church and State,'' in A. ALAN (ed.), Treatise on Belgian
Constitutional Law, Deventer/ Boston, Kluwer, 1992, 267.
2. Once called the Union of Evangelical
Protestant Churches and now the United Protestant Church of Belgium. Since
1979, it has been successively integrating the Liberal Protestant Church,
the Methodist Church, the Reformed Church and the ``Gereformeerde
3.The EPUB numbers about 40,000 members and
the unrecognized Churches about 50,000 (MICHEL DANDOY, Le culte
protestant, in L'Islam en Belgique, Bruxelles, Editions Luc Depire, 1998)
4. A solution may be in sight by the end of
1998 as the ``Centre pour l'égalité des chances'' (Center for Equal
Access) has mediated a process between the State and the Belgian Muslim
community through which elections will take place in the Muslim community
in autumn to create a representative platform for negotiations with the
5.PAUL LEMMENS, Professor at the University of
Leuven, New Religious Movements and the Law in Belgium, 1997, Text of an
JEHOVAH'S WITNESSES IN FRANCE
James M. McCabe, Associate General Counsel, Watch Tower Bible &
Tract Society of Pennsylvania
The 21st chapter of the Gospel of Luke describes a poignant scene
observed by the Lord Jesus. He saw a needy widow drop two coins of little
value into the temple contribution box. The Lord commended this woman's
generous spirit. Today, in the nation of France, the Ministry of Finance
wants to impose a 60 percent tax on those two coins of little value if
that widow happens to be one of Jehovah's Witnesses. How was this
determination made? Why are Jehovah's Witnesses and other religious
minority groups under fiscal attack? (1)
Bible literature published by the Watch Tower Society, the legal agency
for Jehovah's Witnesses, began to be translated into French shortly after
the visit to France by the Society's first president, C.T. Russell, in
1891. In the mid-1890's, a young Swiss man, who was one of Jehovah's
Witnesses, returned to Europe from America to preach the Gospel to the
French-speaking population. By 1903, the Watchtower magazine was being
published regularly in the French language and distributed throughout the
country. By 1913, religious assemblies of Jehovah's Witnesses were being
held in many different cities in France. By 1928, there were nearly 400
active members of Jehovah's Witnesses and countless others serving in 45
congregations in France. In 1939, six weeks after the beginning of World
War II, Jehovah's Witnesses were banned in France. During the next several
years, the Witnesses faced extreme persecution, including sentences for
both men and women to the Nazi concentration camps. This oppression was
heaped on them due to their firm adherence to their Bible-based
consciences to maintain complete neutrality, and their staunch refusal to
support the Nazi regime. Some Witnesses were even executed for this stand.
Despite those extremely difficult years for Jehovah's Witnesses, the
number of active members actually doubled from 1,004 in 1939 to 2,003 in
1945. On September 1, 1947, the work of Jehovah's Witnesses was again
legally authorized in France. The religion continued to grow at an
astounding rate over the next several years. In 1973, additional
facilities were acquired in Louviers to support the offices in Paris.
Today, the facilities in Louviers serve as the main offices to direct the
work of Jehovah's Witnesses in France. The Bible literature produced by
the France offices of Jehovah's Witnesses has been distributed to
French-speaking countries around the world without charge. The religion
has continued to grow steadily over the past few decades and is now the
third largest Christian religion in France. In November of 1997, a special
one-day religious assembly of Jehovah's Witnesses was held just outside of
Paris with a total attendance of over 95,000. The latest yearly report for
France indicates that the number of Jehovah's Witnesses and their
associates numbered 220,467, with 1,685 congregations in the villages,
towns, and cities of France. In addition to their Bible-educational
community service activity, Jehovah's Witnesses in France have been active
in the organization of humanitarian aid to several African
Despite the clear religious nature of their activities, Jehovah's
Witnesses along with other so-called "sects" have been the subject of
widespread media attacks. In a climate of growing concern about "dangerous
cults" following the mass suicides of adherents of the Order of the Solar
Temple in the forest of France, the subway gassing in Tokyo, the aftermath
of the events in Waco, Texas, and even more recently the suicides of
members of the Heaven's Gate near my home town of San Diego, cult-watch
groups in France urged official inquiries by the government into the
activities of the so-called sects or new religions. The National Assembly
formed a Parliamentary Commission on Cults (Commission d'Enquête sur les
sectes) in 1995.
After a year-long study, the Commission issued its report in January of
1996, which labeled Jehovah's Witnesses and some 172 groups as "sectes"
[cults]. Although the report is based largely on hearsay and has no legal
character in France, it is frequently cited as an official determination
that the listed groups are "dangerous cults." The religious groups singled
out are classified by some individuals and governmental agencies not to be
religions but dangerous cults. Thus, the report concluded, among other
suggestions, that laws on taxation should be used to control, suppress,
and eliminate "dangerous cults" in France.
Not surprisingly, in January of 1996 tax authorities in France began an
official audit of "Association les Témoins de Jéhovah" (ATJ), the
principal legal corporation used by Jehovah's Witnesses in France. The
audit was extended beyond the normal statutory period of one year to
No irregularities were found in the Witnesses' books of accounts and it
was determined that the religion did not engage in any commercial
activity. Nevertheless, a ruling was issued that the law on "transfer tax"
applies to the religious offerings received from the faithful. A similar
determination was made by the local tax authorities on June 26, 1997 and
November 19, 1997, that the ATJ is liable to pay "transfer taxes" of 60
percent on donations it has received.
The scope of the decision eventually covered all offerings received
from the contribution boxes in the Kingdom Halls, or houses of worship, of
Jehovah's Witnesses during the period from January 1, 1993 to August 31,
1996. After adding penalties and interest, the total figure sought by the
Ministry of Finance is in excess of $50,000,000 (FF 300,000,000).
The law on manual donations ("Loi des finances pour 1992") is normally
applied only to estate matters and personal gifts. This law simply
provides in Article 757 that deeds containing either the declaration by
the donee or his representatives, or the judicial acknowledgement of a
manual donation, are liable to the donation tax. However, Article 795 of
the same law provides exemptions from the tax for donations and bequests
made to religious corporations, unions or religious corporations and
Despite the clear exemption of religious organizations from the tax, on
May 14, 1998, tax authorities officially advised the Association les
Témoins de Jéhovah that it is liable for a 60 percent tax on all the
voluntary offerings and obtained a lien on the association's property near
the Normandy coast in Louviers, France. In obtaining judicial approval for
the lien, the lawyer for the Ministry of Finance alleged that the
association was "arranging its insolvency" and the lien was necessary to
insure that the taxes could be collected. No facts were supplied to
support these allegations.
The imposition of such a tax is unconstitutional on its face and has
technical problems even under the statutes that impose it. To date, the
Ministry of Finance has not presented the religion with a tax bill or a
request to pay the tax. French lawyers inform us that until that event
takes place, the tax itself cannot be challenged in the courts. That such
a tax has not been imposed on the vast majority of other religious
organizations reveals its discriminatory nature. Surely, such an
inequality cannot survive the scrutiny of the French Constitution or the
European Convention of Human Rights. It is the intention of Jehovah's
Witnesses to challenge this infringement on its religious activities
through the courts of France and in the European Court of Human Rights
should that become necessary.
Already in the courts of France, Jehovah's Witnesses have had their
places of worship recognized as such by nine different administrative
courts. These numerous rulings have meant that in the court's view,
Jehovah's Witnesses are a religion and their buildings are exempt from the
habitation and property taxes imposed on non-religious buildings.
Additionally, the European Court of Human Rights has repeatedly declared
that Jehovah's Witnesses are a "well known religion." In the face of this
jurisprudence internally and internationally, it is hard to fathom how the
Ministry of Finance can continue this attack under the guise that
Jehovah's Witnesses are not a religion in France.
In the words of former Chief Justice Marshall of the United States
Supreme Court, The power to tax involves the power to destroy . . . (and)
to carry it to the excess of destruction would be an abuse . . . . (2)
The Ministry of Finance's attempt to impose a tax on the "widow's
mite" in the congregations of Jehovah's Witnesses of France is surely an
attempt to destroy the opportunity of Jehovah's Witnesses in that land to
meet freely, associate together and worship God according to the dictates
of their Bible-trained consciences. It is also an attempt to destroy the
congregations' generous spirit that in the past ten years has risen to
meet the needs in the face of disaster and trouble in Burundi, Rwanda and
some eight other African nations. Surely, it is a serious violation of the
fundamental human right of freedom of religion.
While I have attempted to primarily focus on the very recent egregious
actions of the tax authorities in France, I would be remiss if I did not
mention another disturbing result directly attributable to the climate of
intolerance growing in France. Virtually every week over the past three
years, a segment of the French government has been successful in having
information appear in the media in which Jehovah's Witnesses are labeled
as a religion that breaks up families, that there is a higher incidence of
mental health problems in Jehovah's Witnesses than in the general
population, that Jehovah's Witnesses have a higher rate of suicide than
the general population in France and other baseless lies.
Some of the troubling results this misinformation has had on the lives
of a number of Jehovah's Witnesses is worthy of note. Allow me to relate
just a few examples that have occurred over the past three years:
Numerous teachers who are Jehovah's Witnesses lost their employment
specifically due to their adherence to their religious beliefs.
One example involves Mrs. Maryline Bouchenez who, after teaching at one
school for 18 years was forced to undergo severe scrutiny from the school
authorities simply because she is one of Jehovah's Witnesses. In their
findings, they concluded: "Mrs. Bouchenez carries on her work in a
satisfactory manner. The children are happy in her class. When observing
the professional action of Mrs. Bouchenez, it is impossible to say that
the neutrality of the public teaching is at stake here." In spite of this
favorable official report, she was forced to transfer to another school
and told that she should not let those working there know of her religious
A second example involves Mrs. Catherine Guyard, who has also been a
schoolteacher for 18 years. A meeting was organized by a parent-teacher
association in 1996. The purpose of this meeting was thus worded: "Your
children will be entrusted to a school teacher who is a member of
Jehovah's Witnesses, who are a sect organization. We invite you to discuss
the matter on September 2, 1996, at 8:30 p.m. at the school." The academy
forced Mrs. Guyard to teach at another school. On February 1998, Mrs.
Guyard was supposed to resume her job in the first school. She learned
that a tract was being distributed to the parents and also posted on the
boards outside the pubic school. According to the judge who has been
assigned the case, "the tract was written to harm the reputation of Mrs.
Guyard and to provoke discriminatory attitudes."
The central offices of Jehovah's Witnesses in France received reports
from Jehovah's Witnesses living in six different French states that they
had lost their employment as day care specialists due to being Jehovah's
Often the French Department of Social Welfare receives anonymous
letters of denunciation stipulating that the "childminder" (day care
specialist) is one of Jehovah's Witnesses. Following this, the social
welfare authorities refuse to renew the employment agreement they have
with the worker who is one of Jehovah's Witnesses. The reason given in one
set of cases was that, "their adherence to the faith of Jehovah's
Witnesses does not allow to guarantee the safety, the morality and the
conditions of education of the children in their care."
With increasing frequency, the French authorities are refusing to allow
Jehovah's Witnesses to rent facilities for use in religious services. For
example, the municipal authorities in Lyons refused to allow the Jehovah's
Witnesses to rent facilities in that city although they have been meeting
there for more than 20 years.
The Mayors of numerous French towns have refused to extend building
permits to local congregations of Jehovah's Witnesses. In nine cases,
"Kingdom Halls," as the centers for religious services of Jehovah's
Witnesses are called, could not be built. The congregations affected
either continue meeting in much older facilities or in the homes of
individual Jehovah's Witnesses.
In no less than eleven cases, mothers who are Jehovah's Witnesses and
who were going through divorce proceedings, were denied custody and, in
one case even visitation rights, only because they are Jehovah's
Today, religious liberty is definitely under attack in France. Added to
the personal toll of living in an environment of religious intolerance as
mentioned, the Ministry of Finance in France is attempting to control and
destroy the religion of Jehovah's Witnesses in that country by an
imposition of a 60 percent tax on its contributions. These contributions
have been voluntarily donated by members of the faith to support their
places of worship and carry out their religious charitable activities in
France and French-speaking Africa. Jehovah's Witnesses see this as a
direct result of the Enquête Commission's Report. Equally disturbing is
the fact that Belgium and Germany have commissioned similar reports in
their respective countries.
If similar fiscal restraints result from Enquête Commission reports in
Germany and Belgium, we fear ominous restraints and protracted battles to
insure basic freedoms and fundamental human rights among the member states
of the European Union among whom are some of the staunchest allies of the
In a speech last month at the inaugural luncheon of the French-American
Business Council here in Washington, Madeleine Albright noted that both
France and the United States must stand together for peace and human
rights. No doubt our distinguished Secretary of State had in mind helping
less developed nations adhere to the lofty principles of fundamental human
rights embodied in international treaties such as the Universal
Declaration of Human Rights, The Helsinki Final Act, and the European
Convention on Human Rights. But today, we seek the support of all lovers
of religious liberty and freedom to demand that France itself provide
respect for the human rights of more than 200,000 French
citizens associated with Jehovah's Witnesses within its borders.
1.We have unconfirmed reports that the Evangelical Church of Besançon
has also been assessed a 60 percent tax.
2. McCullough v. Maryland 17 US
Deterioration of Religious Liberty in Europe
Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe
Wednesday July 30, 1998;
The briefing took place in room 2200, Rayburn Office Building,
Washington, D.C., at 2:07 p.m., E. Wayne Merry, Chair, presiding.
Testimony was offered by Mr. Massimo Introvigne,, founder and
director of Center for Studies of New Religions (CESNUR) Turin, Italy; and
Mr. Colby May, Senior Counsel, Office of Governmental Affairs,
American Center for Law and Justice.
Contents of July 30, 1998 Briefing
- Opening Comments
- Mr. Wayne Merry
- Prepared Remarks
- Mr. Massimo Introvigne
- Prepared Remarks
- Mr. Colby May
- Question and Answer Period
- Submissions for the Record by Mr. Introvigne
- "Religious Liberty in Western
Mr. Merry. Good afternoon. I would like
to welcome you to this public briefing of the Commission on Security and
Cooperation in Europe. My name is Wayne Merry, Senior Advisor to the
To begin, I would like to introduce the Staff Director of the
Commission, Mr. Michael Hathaway, who will say some words about
rescheduling the joint hearing with the House International Relations
Committee we had hoped to hold this morning.
Mr. Hathaway. Yes. As many of you may know, we had originally been
scheduled to have a hearing today at 10:00 a.m., captioned, ``Continuing
Religious Intolerance in Europe.'' Because of last Friday's tragedy, and
out of respect for the deceased officers and in consideration of the folks
who wanted to attend the funeral, Chairman D'Amato and the Co-Chairman,
Congressman Smith, decided, in cooperation with Chairman Gilman (because
it was going to be a joint hearing with House International Relations),
that we would cancel this morning's hearing.
However, we are planning to reschedule, presuming that the
International Relations Committee's schedule and the Commission's schedule
can be made to match up, for some time in September. We do not have an
agreed-upon date, and when we do we will issue a notice of the new
Mr. Merry. Today's briefing is one of a series which the Commission on
Security and Cooperation in Europe has been conducting and will conduct on
the subject of religious liberties within the OSCE region.
For those of you unfamiliar with our efforts, let me just say briefly,
the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe is an independent
U.S. Government agency established by the Congress 20 years ago in the
aftermath of the signing of the Helsinki Final Act.
The statutory mandate of the Commission is to monitor the
implementation of the commitments under the Helsinki Final Act, with
emphasis on those affecting human rights.
The Commission is composed of nine members of the Senate, nine members
of the House of Representatives, and three commissioners appointed by the
President. It is supported by a permanent staff.
In recent years, the work of the Commission has increasingly focused on
what we perceive to be a developing problem of restrictions on religious
liberties in several countries who are participating States to the OSCE.
Unlike in the cold war period, where the focus of this attention was
primarily on countries who professed either atheistic or at least
semi-adversarial positions toward religion, today we find increasingly
that we must turn our attention to countries which traditionally had a
much more tolerant view toward religious minorities. We find that today
our attentions are not only concentrated on countries of the former
communist world, though in a number of those countries there are serious
problems which we follow with some care, but also on countries in Western
and Central Europe.
Our procedure today will be to have presentations by our two guest
speakers, followed by an open period of comment, questions and answers.
All activities of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe are
public; therefore, the proceedings today will be transcribed and will
become part of our normal publication series, which is also available on
our web site.
Let me say that if anyone here wishes to know more about the activities
of this Commission in the area of religious liberty, I refer you to our
Counsel on Religious Liberty, Karen Lord, who is in the back corner of the
room near the door, who will be happy to be in touch with you.
One of the most important speakers scheduled for
the joint hearing scheduled for this morning was Doctor Massimo
Introvigne. He had already departed Italy on his way to the United
States before we canceled that session, but we are very much delighted to
be able to have him here this afternoon.
< P> For anyone who follows questions of religious liberty in
Europe, I believe Doctor Introvigne really needs no introduction, but I
will give him a brief one anyway.
He was born in Rome in 1955. He is a lawyer, and he is a member of one
of the largest law firms in Rome, and also teaches part time at the
Athenaeum Regina Apostolorum in Rome.
Most importantly from our point of view, he is Managing Director of
CESNUR, the Center for Studies of New Religions, which is an international
association and research center in the field of new religious
He has authored or edited some 20 books and more than 100 articles in a
variety of languages, and I am delighted to welcome him here today.
Dr. Introvigne. I thank you for your invitation, I am very much
honored to be a part of your thoughts on behalf of religious liberty, and
while I had prepared a text discussing the various parliamentary reports
of Europe, I learned, much to my pleasure, but notwithstanding his
personal health problems, my friend, Willy Fautré, was able to make it
here, and so I am sure he already made an excellent overview of the
parliamentary reports in a number of European countries.
I will organize my remarks in three short parts. First, I will try to
discuss what kinds of ideology or mentality come on the background of
these reports; then give some examples of what is going on in a number of
European countries trying to focus on what, perhaps, Fautré did not
already discuss, and third try to give some conclusion, perhaps, from the
point view of social science and some recommendation for future
Now, the first point is what kind of ideology can be found in most of
these documents, and I would say I am focusing here on Western Europe,
particularly in the French, German and the Canton of Geneva, Switzerland
reports, although the conclusions on the German reports are significantly
The suicides and homicides which occurred in 1994, and again in 1995,
and again in 1997 (but this time third time only in Quebec, Canada), of
the Order of the Solar Temple, the Swiss-based new religious movement,
played the same catalytic role that Jonestown [Peoples Temple of the
Disciples of Christ] played in the United States. They energized a
pre-existing anti-cult movement that because of the Solar Temple was taken
very much seriously by parliaments and politicians from a number of
European countries. Anti-cult activists were very much influential in
these parliamentary commissions that Willy Fautré discussed with you in
the last briefing. I think that the ideology which was elaborated by the
anti-cult activists and penetrated into the parliamentary reports and
official documents may be summarized in four principal premises.
The first premise is that cults are not religions. Now, the operative
word in most European languages is sect, but sect is really a functional
word, having the same function as cult in English. It is a four-letter
word and a derogatory word, so if we use the word ``cult'' and literally
translate it into the French culte or the Italian culto, that is not a
very bad word, the bad word is sect in French, or Italian, or Spanish, or
German. So, I will systematically translate sect into cult for your better
Nobody in Western Europe, or very few marginal people, would say openly
they are against religious liberty. Everybody favors religious liberty.
So, when some groups are discriminated against, the argument is each group
is not really religious. The cover is religious, but the group is, in
fact, something else. That is the first important point, which, of course,
is not new; it was used, for instance, both in Europe and the United
States in the 19th Century against the Mormons.
I quote an article from the 19th century Scribner's Monthly saying we
Americans are considered a very tolerant people, but we are not very
tolerant when it comes to Mormons, so there are only two possible
conclusions: one, we are not really tolerant, and two, Mormonism is not
religion. Of course, the author of this article, a Mr. Beadle, was a very
active anti-Mormon, and his solution was that Mormonism is not a religion,
so we can keep saying that we are in favor of religious liberty and at the
same time discriminate against Mormons.
Now, that is very much what is happening here in these documents. The
authors of the reports say, of course, we are in favor of religious
liberty, but cults or sects are not religions, have nothing to do with
religion, so they are not covered by constitutional guarantees of
Now, coming to the second tenet that answers the obvious question, how
can you tell a cult from a religion? That is not an easy question to
answer. Particularly the Belgian report, the French report, and the Canton
of Geneva report attempt to answer the question by focusing on mind
control. All these documents try not to use the word ``brainwashing.''
They recognize the word ``brainwashing'' has a sort of bad reputation in
the scholarly community, but they use the term ``mental manipulation,'' or
``mind manipulation'' or ``mind control.'' They say that in a secular
state we cannot distinguish religions from cults based on a doctrine,
because we are parliamentary commissions, we do not deal in creeds, we
deal in deeds. So, since we deal in deeds, our main criteria (there are
others, but this is the main one) in order to distinguish between
religions and cults, is that religions by definition are joined out of
free will, and cults are joined because of brainwashing, mind control or
Now, they are largely unaware of the discussion that took place in this
country, both in the scholarly community and courts of laws about mind
control, and typically some of these documents will quote American
literature about the issue, which dates back to the 1970s, and will
largely ignore developments in the 1980s and the 1990s. For instance, the
important Fishman decision of 1990 in California is never quoted, while
pre-Fishman American case law is quoted in the Belgian report.
Now, the Belgian report, for instance, acknowledges that most scholars
are against the classical doctrines of brainwashing or mind control. So,
the third tenet is how do we, as members of parliamentary commissions,
know that mind control is the reason cults are joined? The answer is
because we rely on the account by victims, ex-members and we do not rely
on accounts by scholars. Scholars have only theoretical knowledge of what
is going on, victims have practical knowledge of what is going on inside
cults. So, they rely on testimony by what social scientists would normally
call apostates. Of course, this is a word some ex-members say is a
derogatory word, but in fact it is a technical word, has been used for
almost a century in sociology to indicate not all former members of a
religious group, but this fraction or portion of former members who,
having left the religious group, have converted themselves into militant
opponent of their formed group. Not all ex-members are apostates; only a
fraction of ex-members are apostates.
So, the Belgian Commission quotes me, by the way, in the report and
they quote a book I co-edited with Doctor Melton of California about the
French report, a book published before the Belgian report. The Commission
says yes, but we are told by scholars that there is no mind control, or at
least that traditional ``crude'' theories of brainwashing and mind control
have no empirical support. Nevertheless, we do not believe them, because
we have a choice between believing scholars and believing victims, and we
want to believe victims.
So, the third point is accounts by scholars are not reliable. Accounts
by apostates are very much reliable.
Now, the fourth tenet is why accounts by apostates are so much more
reliable, because, in fact, not all former members are apostates. I would
like to draw your attention to a book recently edited by David Bromley,
``The Politics of Religious Apostasy,'' here in the United States, but
research extends to virtually all the Western World, and considerable
empirical evidence exists that apostates are an important, interesting and
vocal minority, but a minority nevertheless of former members, even of the
most controversial religious organizations.
Empirical studies exist of a number of controversial groups, including
the Unification Church, or the Church of Scientology. I did a study of a
group, philosophical rather than religious, but regarded as a cult by the
French report, the New Acropolis in France, and concluded that apostates
are here between 16 percent of the larger population of ex-members of this
given controversial group. So, apostates are interesting. Nobody would
suggest that apostates are not interesting or are irrelevant, but they are
probably not the majority of former members. They are the most visible
part of the former members, because the other former members do not want
to go public with their feelings, or have very mixed feelings. In surveys
a surprising majority of former members will exhibit very mixed feelings
about their previous affiliation. They would say something was good,
something was bad, it was time more or less well spent, simply an
experience that I now regard as finished, but it was an interesting
experience, part of my life.
Now, these people normally tend to become invisible; they merge into
the existing social networks. They do not write books, they do not go to
the press, they do not appear on television discussing their former
affiliation. In fact, what they want is not to discuss too much their
former religion, so the fraction of apostates becomes the only really
visible part of the ex-members. As a consequence, the fourth tenet is how
do we identify the good ex-members, i.e., how do we identify the
apostates, and tell them from the bad ex-members, i.e., ex-members with
mixed feelings who are not very interesting. The answer, by the authors of
the French and Belgian reports, is that we shall rely on the private
anti-cult movement because these movements again, and I am quoting it
almost literally from the Belgian report, have a practical wisdom, as
opposite theoretical wisdom of academic scholars, and even above the
religious wisdom of mainline churches. These anti-cult groups work at the
grassroots; they really know the victims, so they can tell which
ex-members are telling the truth. So, we shall trust these groups, and we
shall rely on what these groups are telling us.
These four tenets are really the keys of the ideology behind what is
going on in Europe. One, cults are not religions. Two, cults are
distinguished from genuine, bona fide religions on the basis of mind
control. Three, mind control exists because some ex-members, the
apostates, tell us that it exists. Four, we identify what ex-members are
reliable on the basis of the judgment of private anti-cult
Now, turning very quickly to the second part--some examples of the
ideology at work--the results are scary. I do not want to go into details
here. You will find more details in the written text I prepared for what I
supposed to be a hearing. In general, the results are that any of these
groups regarded as cults by a private anti-cult organization are in danger
of being listed as a cult in some official or semi-official list.
I think that there was an interesting question in France concerning a
small non-religious group of mental health professionals called ``L'Arbre
au Milieu,'' or ``Tree in the Middle.'' One day this group read the list
of dangerous cults of the Parliament, and to their surprise they found
themselves included. What do they do? They do what many other groups did,
they go to see a lawyer, and the lawyer says there is nothing to do,
because this is a political document. Political documents cannot be
attacked, so it is not defamation, it is not libel, that is an opinion by
a parliamentary body. But contrary to almost all the other groups they say
we want to sue you anyway, not because we have any chances of winning but
because we want to know why were are listed. Perhaps, in the process of a
legal trial we have a chance to know why we are there. It became a sort of
comedy or tragedy. The trial took months because the judge started into an
inquiry, first of the parliamentary commission, who was asked why they
listed the L'Arbre au Milieu as a dangerous cult. They said, we don't
know. But, we relied on the Secret Service to prepare a list.
Finally, with a lot of trouble, the judge managed to elicit a reply
from the Secret Service, and the Secret Service said we did not know,
because we relied on information supplied by a private anti-cult
organization, which is still more interesting. Even the National president
of the private organization said I do not know because I relied on local
branches in different cities. To make a long story short it came out that
the local correspondent of the anti-cult group in a small town had a girl,
a daughter, who was treated by one of these mental health professionals
for anorexia, and who counseled her to leave home because according to
this doctor her anorexia was family induced. So the mother was not very
happy about it and exposed the group as a dangerous cult, and they ended
up being listed in the parliamentary list as many other groups.
If one goes to the Belgian report, one sees words like mind control or
mental manipulation used as a mantra. For many groups there is only one or
two witnesses. Now, a good question is, who is selecting these witnesses?
Presumably there are hundreds of ex-members of these groups, even in
Belgium alone from the larger groups, and those who are selected are one
or two people. We knew it because the Belgian commissioners published
everything, without keeping secret the hearings as the French commission
So, the question to the witness is how do you know this former group of
yours was a cult? The answer: because they practice mind control. How do
you know? Answer: because I was a victim of mind control, but there is not
a lot of elaboration. A number of groups are dismissed in two pages, three
pages, five pages. So, claiming I was brain washed, I am a victim of mind
control, which is really repeated again and again, results in groups being
listed as cults.
Now, some people say these lists are not really ``official'' or not
dangerous. I personally disagree because there are court cases involving,
for example, cities in France denying rental of public halls to groups
listed as cults. There is even a trans-national effect. Recently a legal
journal in Switzerland published the report of a case where a court in
Geneva--and the French-speaking Canton of Geneva is very much influenced
by France and Belgium--upheld an administrative decision not to renew a
license to operate a private security agency to a Swiss citizen because he
is a member of the Aumist religion of the Mandarom, and this religion is
listed in the French report as a dangerous cult.
So, we see a cross-border or trans-national effect in the French list
becoming a basis of a legal decision in Switzerland. Of course there are
other decisions, even by French courts, saying that this list is not a
legal document. On the other hand, there are constant administrative
discriminatory decisions based on the list, and I believe these lists are
quite dangerous to religious liberty.
Now, I will come to my conclusions, and I will simply raise two
questions. The first question is why all this is happening, because, of
course, the Solar Temple is a catalyst, but is not the real answer. We do
not really want to venture into a lecture on complicated sociological
issues. I think this is a European reaction against what is normally
called post modernity, and post modernity is reaction against modern
values. It may include a return to certain forms of religion, and,
perhaps, as many say, a return to not purely rational, not purely
Now, this reaction takes place at the religious levels. One
particularly scary document is the first yearly report of the French
National Observatory. After the French report, an Observatory was
established in France, and this Observatory is supposed to render a yearly
report. Now, the yearly report for 1997 rendered in 1998 is not yet
regarded as official because it lacks certain signatures, but it has been
published by an anti-cult group on the Internet and it is widely quoted.
It is a scary document, because it is a list of measures to be taken to
fight against cults, rather than an attempt to understand cults, but what
is interesting here is the ideological part, and the strongly secular
humanist flavor of the document. We have to struggle, the document says,
for the values of laïcité or secularism, which is a French value now under
threats from foreign ideologies and mounting irrationalism. They say there
is evidence of mounting irrationalism not only within cults but also in
New Age, for instance, or in the crusade held by American evangelist
Morris Cerullo in Paris. So, they really think part of their mandate is to
fight irrationalism and affirm the ``republican'' values of secular
What is interesting is that this is not only a question about religion,
it is a question about the relationship between the State and the private
sector. Post modernity has been described in the most current sociological
analysis as an extreme explosion of the private sector. The modern state,
by definition, was a state capable of controlling an extreme
diversification. The modern society was very much diversified, but it was
Now, with the explosion of new technologies makes it extremely easy for
two people or one person to do a web page, or to print a newsletter at a
cheap cost. We have a diversification of the ideological market that is so
big that no state is capable of handling or controlling it.
Now, this threat of diversification from below, and the threat of
globalization from above, have caused much stress and many concerns in
many political groups. Post modern states are no longer able to control
private associations, and so it seems that private associations are
running wild and therefore we need more control.
This is the controversial part of the German report, because the German
report is in general more well-written and more moderate, perhaps, apart
from the strange national obsession of Germans against the Church of
Scientology, against whom extreme allegations are made. In the general
picture, however, they say we do not want to make lists, they recognize
that the brainwashing issue is controversial. I was among the scholars
interviewed for many hours by the German commission, and they know that
many scholars claim brainwashing does not exist. But on the other hand in
parts of the German report there is this evident, apparent fear of an
uncontrollable private sector, and the problems for the government to
control the private sector. A prominent legal scholar in Germany that I
met recently summarized the German report, perhaps paradoxically, in two
sentences. He said, one, they found that although exceptions exist, your
average cult is not more dangerous than your average private association,
but two, they concluded--unexpectedly--that as a consequence all private
associations should be watched more closely.
So, I think this is ideologically extremely interesting, because it
shows that there is a trend toward more control. Unlike other analysts, I
will not point my finger at one political group only. Of course, there is
a socialist theory that we need more state control, but some conservative
people may also be of the law-and-order kind, and think that private
associations should not be given too much freedom.
I will also not point my finger, as many people do, at mainline
churches, because the situation is very much diversified in mainline
churches. In some countries some churches do support the anti-cult
measures, but in other countries they are at least partially critical of
these anti-cult measures, particularly because some mainline Catholic and
Protestant groups have also been included in some of these lists. The
Belgian list includes the Catholic Charismatic Renewal, probably the
largest lay Catholic group in Belgium, Opus Dei, and three other Catholic
groups, and the French report has been protested very strongly by a number
of French Catholic bishops because it includes a Catholic cultural and
theatrical group, the Office Cultural de Cluny, and there are no less than
four documents or letters where Catholic bishops have protested this
situation in France.
Finally, what can we suggest? It's probably
not for scholars to recommend specific policy but some general suggestions
seem to be in order. First, it should be clear from what I observed that
you should probably continue to watch, when it comes to religious liberty,
not only Eastern Europe, but also Western Europe. Countries like France,
Belgium, and also Germany, not only with respect to the Church of
Scientology, as well as some cantons in Switzerland who occasionally
target as ``cults'' also non-religious groups like the VPM, a
psychological group. This deserves your attention as well.
Second, the primary cause of concern should be the public sponsorship
and financing of private anti-cult movements. These movements are clearly
responsible for spreading a lot of false information and an intolerant
Third, it should be clarified that disgruntled apostates, no matter who
sponsors their claims, are an interesting group; they deserve to be taken
seriously, but they are not a fountain of truth by definition. They are
not necessarily representative of ex-members in general.
Fourth, words such as brainwashing and mind control are too easy to use
as a simple mantra to discredit any group which is not liked by the
private anti-cult groups, and some concepts being used have been long
debated in scholarly quarters as pseudo-science.
Fifth, words are not neutral. There is a police report published in
1998 in Italy which is perhaps questionable for other reasons, but better
than most foreign texts. At least they say let's not use the word ``cult''
or ``sect'' because these words create problems for the social order, they
create social unrest and discrimination, so let's use new religious
movements. Or, still better, I would speak of religious minorities,
because the so-called new religious movements are often not new. Some
groups which have been around quite for a while.
Sixth, that should be obvious, nothing in my remarks should suggest
those existing laws should not be enforced against wrongdoings or criminal
acts perpetrated within the frame of new, and perhaps also old, religious
movements. The experience shows that there are, in fact, dangerous and
even criminal groups, engaging in common crimes, which are a different
thing from the imaginary crimes of belonging to a cult or using the
elusive mind control. Such persons accused of such common crimes should be
investigated and prosecuted as common criminal suspects and not as members
of religious minorities.
Mr. Merry. Thank you very much, Doctor Introvigne, and we will
be very happy to include in the transcript of this session your longer,
more detailed report, which you have prepared for this morning's scheduled
hearing, and that, again, will be available both in hard copy and on the
Commission's web site.
Our next speaker is Mr. Colby May, who is Senior Counsel in the
Office of Governmental Affairs of the American Center for Law and Justice,
and this is a non-profit public interest law firm and educational
Mr. May is a lawyer of some distinction, having practiced in areas of
communications, equal opportunity, affirmative action and related issues
of civil liberties and religious liberties, and his organization has
argued a number of cases before the Supreme Court of the United States in
this area, and we welcome you here to today's session.
Mr. May.Thank you.
The 1989 Vienna concluding documents provide that in order to ensure
the freedom of the individual to profess and practice religion or belief,
the participating state shall take effective measures to prevent and
eliminate discrimination against individuals or communities on the grounds
of religion, and, among other things, favorably consider the interest of
religious communities to participate in public dialog, including through
the mass media.
Now, Articles 9 and 10 of the European Human Rights Convention also
provide that in the licensing of broadcasting television or cinema
enterprises, anyone has the right to freedom of expression, thought,
conscience, and religion.
Now, I want to tell you a story about what's going on against that
backdrop involving the Trinity Broadcasting Network and its religious
partners in Spain. A little background I think on Trinity would be
The Trinity Broadcasting Network is a nonprofit public charity and
church that is dedicated to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, is rated by the
Chronicle of Philanthropy as the 89th largest public charity in the United
States. It was founded in 1973 by Doctor Paul Crouch, who was ordained in
the ministry by the Assemblies of God Church in the United States in 1955,
and Trinity holds licenses from the Federal Communications Commission for
11 full-power stations and more than 400 low-power television stations. It
is the largest religious broadcaster and provider of religious and
inspirational programs in the world, and the Nielsen company has rated the
Trinity organization as the most popular religious service in the United
States. Since its inception Trinity has received countless commendations
and recommendations for exceptional service to the public, including
having received the National Association of Broadcasters Award for
Broadcaster of the Year and the Foreign Broadcaster of the Year
Trinity does what churches have historically done throughout the world,
it does, indeed, feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and take care of the
widows and children through many religious endeavors all over.
In 1989 Spain passes a law that says, for the first time we are now
going to permit private licensing of broadcast facilities. Previously, the
government had essentially controlled all the frequencies, and they are
the ones who now were opening it up so other private operators could
In response to that, a number of what are known as smaller or local
broadcast operations began all over Spain, both in radio and in
television. My story today involves television.
Now, in 1994, a Christian ministry in Madrid began broadcasting on UHF
television channel 26. The service that it provided was religious,
evangelical, inspirational in nature, and it operated under the name of Tu
Pueblo Television, The People's Television.
Now, in May 1996, Trinity, along with its Latin American partner, a
group called ENLACE, began to work with the local Tu Pueblo organization
and they immediately invested about a quarter of a million dollars to
upgrade it and begin to expand the program offering, to include Catholic,
Baptist, Presbyterian, Lutheran, Methodist, Messianic Jewish religious
programming. They also invested, within a few months after that, about a
million dollars to be able to acquire and upgrade broadcast production and
studio facilities in Madrid.
Now, everything seemed to go along just fine, as it had for about 3 1/2
years before that in the operation of this channel 26, however, in May
1997 the Spanish Ministry of Development, which has jurisdiction over
matters involving broadcasts in Spain, initiated an administrative process
against Tu Pueblo, accusing it of illegally operating on channel 26
because it didn't have a license.
And, as basis for this, it says, well we have a law here called Law
4195, passed, essentially, in December 1995, which says that everybody
from now on should have a broadcast license. It also provided, however,
that all facilities that were on the air before January 1 of 1995, which
was the case for channel 26, would be grandfathered in.
Now, the curious thing is that since December 1995 until this very
moment today, the Spanish authorities have yet to adopt any procedures
under which these now required licenses can be issued. So, nobody in Spain
has a license.
The process continues forward and the Spanish authorities determined
that, in fact, Tu Pueblo did not have a license, and the law says you are
supposed to have a license. Forget the fact that there is no procedure
under which you can get one, and forget the fact that you are already
grandfathered in, in accordance to the provisions of the law. The Spanish
authorities found that Tu Pueblo did not have a license and, therefore,
they ordered them to cease and desist, to get off the air in February of
this year, and fined them for the privilege about 2 million pesetas. It
sounds like a lot; 2 million pesetas in U.S. terms is about $16,000,
which, indeed, is a lot of money to a religious and nonprofit
Now, before Tu Pueblo was ordered off the air, it's curious to also
note that in 1996 one of the largest dominant communications providers in
Spain, a group called Retevision, had been able to acquire from the
Ministry of Development an authorization to begin experimental
broadcasting and experimental transmissions of digital signals on, you'll
never guess what channel, channel 26, no place else in the country, just
Now, Retevision is a little like a Baby Bell, a Bell operating company.
it is a huge player in the market. At the time it was given this
authorization, I emphasize it was an authorization, not a license because,
remember, nobody has licenses in Spain to operate broadcast facilities,
when they were give this authorization, the gentleman that gave them the
authorization was the General Director of the Telecommunications
Department of the Spanish Ministry of Development. Coincidentally, within
a very short time after the authorization was issued to Retevision, this
gentleman left his governmental post and became President of Retevision.
We have since learned that it also turns out that the Spanish Government
owns about 30 percent of Retevision as well.
Now, Tu Pueblo has appealed its cease and desist and final order and it
is now in the Spanish national court. It is asserting that its freedom of
religion and free speech rights have been violated, and that the Ministry
of Development has acted in a discriminatory and arbitrary manner clearly
based upon the fact that this channel is operating religiously, and no
other local broadcast television station in Spain has been so targeted or
otherwise treated in this particular way.
Now, these matters will continue to pend in whatever venues are
available in Spain, but we, the Trinity organization and its partners in
Madrid and throughout Spain, think it is obvious that the only reason we
were selected, with the slimmest of veneers, and the smallest of
rationales: we were treated this way because we provided a religious and
inspirational service. We do not have a license, but remember, nobody has
a license and there are no procedures under which to get it, and forget
the fact that they were already grandfathered in, in accordance with the
Now, for those of us who have interest in the American background, we
look at this and say, well, the government is going to have to do a whole
lot better in giving an explanation than just saying you do not have a
license. We are certainly in the process of trying to get that
explanation. To date, we have been unable to do so.
What I think it demonstrates is that at least in Spain, and I would add
that with regard to Italy the Trinity Broadcasting Network has a small
network of operations within Italy, and has been operating without
interference by the government for several years, but in Spain presently
it appears that the kind of program offering, and the kind of religious
service that is being provided by Trinity and its partner in Madrid is
something that the Spanish Government does not want, and since it does not
want it, it is creating whatever rationale it can to essentially silence
Now, this is Trinity's story in the television arena, but I would note
that in the radio area a number of other smaller broadcasters have
likewise been so targeted. All of this, I think, is a circumstance which
warrants investigation, not only by this Helsinki Commission and the U.S.
Congress, but we have also asked that the Commission help to broker,
through its good offices, a meeting of Trinity and its partners in Madrid
with the new U.S. Ambassador to Spain, Mr. Eduardo Romero, and through
that we hope that the U.S. Embassy in Madrid will take up, through its
Human Rights Department and Division, this cause and begin to investigate
and get a little better answer than we have been able to get so far
through the proceedings we have been involved in.
I do want to say thank you to members of the Commission, particularly
to Chairman D'Amato, because on June 9 of this year he and other members
of the Commission did send a letter to the President of Spain asking for
an explanation about the situation involving Trinity and its channel 26
partner in Madrid, as well as an explanation for what is happening to the
smaller religious broadcasters throughout Spain.
So, for those efforts we are eternally grateful and we are thankful. To
date, however, His Excellency, President Aznar, has not yet responded, and
so we are not sure what that response will be.
When all is said and done, we hope that Spain will confirm its
commitment to the 1990 Copenhagen Concluding Document, which provides that
everyone will have the right to freedom of thought, conscience and
religion. The right includes freedom to change one's religion or belief,
and the freedom to manifest one's religion or belief, either alone or in
community with others, in public or in private, to worship teaching
practice and observance.
I'm happy to answer any questions I can, and thank you again for
hearing me out.
Mr. Merry. Thank you very much, Mr. May.
The session is now open for questions and comments from the floor. I
would ask that people use the central microphone as an aid to our
transcriber, and please identify yourself and give an affiliation if you
Questioner. Good afternoon. My name is Arnoldo Lerma. I am an
apostate of Scientology. I spent 10 years in it, and I wanted to ask
Doctor Massimo Introvigne what his relationship might be with the
organization known as Scientology, because it is my understanding that
Scientology was convicted of the largest domestic spying case in American
history in 1982, that Scientology--in the 10 years I spent in, I actually
thought I was doing some good.
When you stated that people, only a handful were coming forward, I
could offer that we have many bushel baskets full of people now, in spite
of $26 million a year in litigation that has been spent to achieve
And, I would not mind if you would like to comment on that. I would
like to know what his relationship is with Scientology.
Dr. Introvigne. Yes. The answer is quite simple. I have no
relations with Scientology in terms of personal affiliation or in terms of
representing Scientology as a lawyer. My legal activities are an entirely
different field. I am personally a Roman Catholic, so I do not believe in
the religious philosophy of Scientology, and I have, of course, written
about Scientology in two or three books of mine and tried to evaluate
Scientology from a social scientist's point of view. That is more or less
all, I think.
What I have written about Scientology has not been, I may also say,
entirely accepted by Scientologists themselves. I remember when I wrote my
chapter on Scientology in my book, The New Allegiance, in 1989. I even got
a nasty letter from one of Scientology's representatives in Italy because
of a particular incident on the life of the late Ron Hubbard that they
claimed I had not reconstructed exactly.
On the other hand, I have received some criticism by former members, or
more precisely, apostates. I reiterate that for me the term apostate is
not an insult, it is an important category that deserves to be heard, but
my only point, it is not the only category to be considered. I think that
a study of any religious movement, old or new, not considering apostates,
would be not a very scholarly study. On the other hand a study of a
religious group considering only apostates would also not be a very
scholarly study. In other words, if you want to study Roman Catholic
priesthood, if you only ask vocal apostate ex-priests, you end up having a
very partial view of what Roman Catholic priesthood is all about.
On the other hand, if you do a study of Roman Catholic priesthood, and
you only interview happy priests, and you ignore completely ex-priests who
are, perhaps, not so happy, your study is not very complete either.
So, I want to reiterate that I am against any discrimination against
apostates, but I think apostates, by definition, are only part of the
picture concerning sources for the study of the new religious
Questioner. Well, thank you.
I don't have any further questions.
Questioner. Can I stand back here?
Mr. Merry. No, I am sorry that our set-up requires people to
walk to the front, but it does make life much easier for our
Questioner. Just a quick question for Mr. May. I am John
Finerty. I am on the Commission staff.
My experience with Spain is that there is a fairly lively press and
media. What are they saying about this sort of thing that you've
Mr. May. Well, in truth, I do not know that I can answer that
question very well. I have not been sent any of the Spanish clippings, and
I only know that the matter has raised a good deal of questions, or many
questions, and right now there are going to be answers that are
The process in Spain, as near as I understand it, is somewhat Byzantine
in its working out, how it works itself out, and so the matter will simply
pend for a considerable time.
Let me give you some irony here. There is pending in the national
courts what is tantamount in the United States to a civil action. There is
also, related to the interaction between the local channel 26 Tu Pueblo
and Retevision something which is of a criminal nature. Now, that is not
criminal as you and I think of it here, but just simply that it is venued
in a court that has the name criminal to it.
Once the criminal courts realized that there was something civil that
was pending, they said well, we are not going to do anything until the
civil courts make a determination. Then, the civil courts, likewise, got
notice that, in fact, something was pending over on the criminal side, and
they were not going to do anything until the criminal side decided. So,
there you have this wonderful standoff where neither court seems prepared
or willing to otherwise move the matter along. So, there it sits.
Now, that has received press, it has received questions and
controversy, but in terms of how this plays itself out overall in Spain I
honestly could not answer the question other than the way I have done
Questioner. Julia Dean, Washington Times.
Colby, what is the nature of those radio stations? Are they like the
television station, kind of like an evangelical Christian perspective, or
are they, you know, Scientology, or what are they, do you know?
Mr. May. I can only tell you about the television facility, and
it is of an evangelical Christian, more Protestant view, although there is
Catholic programming that is provided now through Trinity's partnership on
The local radio stations I am not as conversant in, and I think it
would just be out of school for me to say much about them, other than that
they are religious in character and they have been singled out and charged
with this, ``You don't have a license'' claim.
Questioner. A couple of points of clarification
Mr. Merry. Identify yourself, please.
Questioner. Sure, my name is Ron McNamara with the Helsinki
A couple of points of clarification regarding the situation in Spain.
When you said that the channel 26 in Madrid was reassigned to another
station, it is not as though there were not other available frequencies
presumably that would have been available to accommodate that other
broadcaster, is that the case?
Mr. May. That is my understanding. The authorization given was
actually for this experimental digital transmission, so that it would
include both broadcast, that is, kind of video and audio together, as well
as other data transmissions and the like.
The problem is, whenever it is operating, why, of course, it creates
interference for the analog operation of Tu Pueblo on channel 26.
Questioner. The other question, a couple of other questions, one
was with respect to the procedures in Spain, such as they are, my
understanding was that there frequently or commonly is given some kind of
a grace period if an order is issued for a station or broadcaster to
terminate their activities for an 8-month period.
Mr. May. Yes, there is.
Questioner. Was that accorded to your partners in Spain?
Mr. May. No.
Questioner. And, the other question is, when I was in Madrid in
May and went to the U.S. Embassy and had some discussions there on a
variety of other matters, it was brought to my attention that this matter
is being handled by the commercial section of the U.S. Embassy, which
would normally handle telecommunications issues. So, it appears as though
the matter is actually being handled strictly as a commercial activity. I
wonder if you would respond to that, particularly, given the religious
elements of this case.
And, one final comment, if you could address as well is, does the Roman
Catholic Church in Spain have some role to play? I understand that there
are some large entities of which the Catholic Church may be a significant
holder of one of those broadcasts. I do not know if conglomerates is the
Mr. May. I will answer the last one first by saying, I will be
glad to do the research for you so I can answer that question accurately,
because as I sit here today I cannot truthfully tell you what ownership
interests the church has in any other broadcast outlet or facility.
With regard to what is going on in the Embassy, our earnest request is
that the meeting would help move it over to the human rights side, because
in our view we are singled out as the only local television broadcast
station treated this way, and charged, and told to be off the air, and
fined, and we are the only ones in that context providing a religious
service. We think that speaks volumes by itself and it is a human rights
problem, not so much a commercial problem.
But, in truth, any assistance the U.S. Embassy can provide for us there
I think is most appreciated, but if the Commission is willing to look at
it from the human rights point of view, we think that is the appropriate
venue for it.
Dr. Introvigne. If I may footnote this very shortly. It would be
strange, even if nothing is impossible, of course, it would be surprising
for the Catholic Church to be particularly critical of TBN, because what
happened in Italy actually is that TBN recently got criticized by the
Italian equivalent of the National Association of Evangelicals for being
too pro Catholic, and that started a number of articles in Italian
evangelical press. That is on one hand.
And, on the other hand, as you know, TBN International recently had its
25th anniversary. The National Catholic Bishops Conference in Italy has a
daily newspaper, and they asked me to write an article for the 25th
anniversary of TBN. Of course, I mentioned some controversy within
evangelical circles here, in the United States, like criticism by the
Christian Research Institute, but the article was generally
So, I think there is no tension in Italy, and I think the Italian
affiliate of TBN would normally report that really the only controversy
they have been involved in recently is criticism by other evangelicals
because as an evangelical TV it may open its programs to Catholics a bit
too much, but otherwise there has been no controversy.
Questioner. Thank you.
Questioner. My name is Sam Erickson, President of Advocates
International. Good to see you, Colby. It has been a while.
I just returned from visits to Albania, Bulgaria, Egypt, Zambia, South
Africa, China, Mongolia and Korea addressing these issues, and we have
been involved for the last 7 years full time in many former communist
countries, as well as in Asia, on these very issues.
Let me respond to a couple of comments made here. The issue of
control--I have been engaged in church/state issues for 30 years. My first
10 years I was an anti-trust lawyer. There are many similarities between
anti-trust law and religious liberty in that those in control, the
dominant groups, do not like competition, and that is why going to a point
you made earlier about words are not neutral, it has been my experience
that it may be wiser to steer away from the term ``freedom of religion''
and talk about freedom of expression, freedom of assembly, freedom of
travel, the basic freedoms.
We did this is 1981 in the United States to address the so-called
school prayer controversy by coining a term ``equal access'' based on the
Free Speech Clause, rather than freedom of religion.
We're doing this in Bulgaria, where there is tremendous tension because
of the dominant religion there, as well as in Mongolia with the Buddhists.
We work very closely with those in the government, in the Parliament, in
the ministries, as well as with those on the ground.
I think freedom of expression, freedom of assembly, freedom of press,
the secular kind of freedoms if you will, are much more palatable and much
more difficult for the dominant faiths to fight, because they all want the
Freedom of religion, by definition, means those who are in power must
tolerate the minority faiths, and that is a very difficult thing for them
to swallow. That is number one.
Two, definition of cult. I agree with you, that is the pejorative. For
years I have used as a definition for cults in the United States any
religion I do not like. When I co-chaired with the Helsinki Commission 2
years ago, the first conference in Bulgaria on the rights of religious
minorities and the same week in Albania, the first conference on the right
to religious minorities, I made that point. Let us steer away from using
the term ``sects'' and ``cults'' and talk about minority faith traditions,
because that is what we are talking about. Cults and sects are pejorative
terms, let us stop using them in the intellectual circles and in these
kinds of sessions and just start talking only about minority faith
Three, in terms of solutions: I have touched on this. Let us focus on
this subject. In a secularized society, you talk about secularism, we live
in a secular world, we live in a post-modern world, the post-modern world
views religion as fairy tales, as superstitious, let us move into the
realm of freedom of expression, freedom of assembly. There is nothing, and
I have been engaged in this, I have been a believer for 54 years, or most
all my life, adult life, and there is nothing I cannot accomplish in my
faith as a Protestant Evangelical, and the freedom of expression, freedom
of assembly, freedom of press and so forth that I could under freedom of
The last point: I have found, and we have found at Advocates
International, that it is much more effective to work relationally with
those in government than confrontationally. I have been five times to
Beijing, three times to Mongolia, 15 times to Bulgaria, 10 times to
Albania and so forth, and I have never accused any person in government or
in a position of authority of doing anything wrong. I always ask how can
we help you do justice.
It takes a while, and it takes repeated visits to do that, but I think
if we take a positive approach, asking how can we help you do justice,
rather than a typical American hired gun confrontational, adversarial
approach, I think we will, in the long run, be effective.
I appreciate all your comments, they have been very effective, and
those are just some responses.
Dr. Introvigne. I think I agree, basically, to everything. There
are, however, two problems I see: one, that at the level of international
treaties, and even within the European Union, there are some special
guarantees for religious liberties which are, perhaps, more emphatic than
guarantees for freedom of expression or freedom of speech. So, it is still
useful for some groups to rely on freedom of religion guarantees, and this
is also true for national constitutions. Some national constitutions have
provisions more broad for freedom of religious bodies than for freedom of
Two, since it is true that human rights watchdog groups have taken your
approach, and I think it is a very sensible approach, the anti-cult
organizations are reacting to this by saying, ``Let us not talk about
religion, or philosophy, or culture, or doctrine or whatever, but the real
distinction is between groups you join of free will and groups you join
because you are brainwashed or manipulated.''
So, you would easily see this in the literature of the anti-cult
groups, which is so influential on a political level in at least two or
three European countries. They will talk about political cults, or
psychocults, and some of them may have nothing to do, and emphatically
claim they have nothing to do with religion. Or, they may talk about
economic cults, or companies structured more or less like cults, so the
key word here is mind control. When she was interviewed by the Belgian
commission, the President of ADFI, the largest French anti-cult group, she
said a cult is simply a group using mind or emotional control, so that can
be a political group, a philosophical group, whatever.
Freemasonry has been counted as a cult in a number of countries, while
ironically the French and Belgian freemasonry is in favor of the reports.
But every group allegedly using mind control may be defined as a
So, it does not really matter whether it is religious, philosophical or
cultural, according to this ideology, the criteria for distinction of
whether a group is dangerous or not is mind control.
Mr. May. I would just like to clarify something as well, Sam. I
never indicated anything other than it was curious as to what happened
here between the issuance of an authorization for channel 26 for the
provisional digital communications that the minister of the department
that issued that curiously left his post and then became president of the
organization that it went to. That is all I am saying. It is simply a
Mr. Merry. In the same context, I would like to actually ask
Doctor Introvigne to comment on the approach taken by the Inquiry
Commission of the German Bundestag toward both Scientology, and also some
other so-called psycho groups, which have sought to eventually deal with
them in terms of consumer protection law, and to regard the issue as
basically one of packaging information and accuracy of advertising and
information given to consumers. This was an issue where members of the
Commission staff had some very interesting discussions with members of the
Inquiry Commission, in which we were told that the issue in some cases was
comparable to that of the protections given to German citizens going into
a market and purchasing a liter of milk.
And, I must say that I have been quite struck in my initial readings of
the final report of the Inquiry Commission, of the effort given to try to
deal with this question of so-called sect psycho groups in Germany, in
terms of business law and consumer protection, and to essentially define
it as having not only nothing to do with religious liberty, but nothing to
do with freedom of association, freedom of speech, and other basic
liberties as well.
Dr. Introvigne. Well, I think it is an extremely interesting
point for social scientists throughout the world to try to understand what
is going on in Germany about Scientology, because I am on the board of a
couple of international journals in the field of sociology of religion,
and we are eagerly awaiting serious papers by German scholars dealing with
this issue. We have had some proposals, but they are quite weak. It seems
that it is difficult even for German sociologists to explain clearly why
Scientology was converted into a national obsession and there are plenty
I have seen press clippings of German businessmen saying that some
recent poor results of the German economy are because of the international
boycott by Scientology. Now, I do not think Scientology is so powerful as
to be able to influence the general overall economic results of Germany,
and I would be very much surprised if this were the case.
And, there are a number of extreme claims, and I think the German
report, first of all, is built on the basis of a very limited scholarly
knowledge about Scientology, and ends up regarding Scientology as
basically a political organization whose aim is dominating the
Now, I'm very much aware of most of the quotes which have been used in
Germany. They are taken from the writings of L. Ron Hubbard and some of
the claims Hubbard made during his lifetime, were, of course, that one day
Scientology will be a very influential or even the dominant force in the
world. But I think we can find similar claims in the writings of many
religious leaders, perhaps, even of leaders of religious groups within
mainline churches, having, perhaps, a big or grandiose vision for the
On the German report on Scientology? I do not think that the so-called
"scholarship" that the German report is based upon is sound. So, the
report's conclusion that Scientology, if my translation is correct, is a
politically extremist organization, in no way captures what Scientology is
So, I think the real problem is why this is happening in Germany. Of
course, I know some answers, and some answers involve the story of certain
real estate problems in Hamburg, the reaction of the city of Hamburg and
the creation of a commission, and a certain anti-cult lady coming to
dominate this commission. This led to some extreme ideas about
Scientology, but this seems to me to be a small history, and I am still
looking for answers in the larger picture of why exactly Scientology is
the scapegoat for many things happening in Germany. I do not think the
issue has been entirely studied to sufficient extent, both by Germans and
On the other hand, I also think that the whole category of psychocult
is an ideological category with very little basis in fact, lumping
together very different organizations, starting from the Church of
Scientology and again going to VPM, a Zurich-based organization of mental
health professionals and other professionals following the disciples of
the well-known psychoanalyst, Adler. They are targeted because of their
political ideas, mostly which may be regarded as arch-conservative by a
number of liberal German politicians. But again it is difficult to see in
what sense they belong to the same category as the Church of Scientology,
which is a religion that claims to be a church, while these people claim
to be a cultural organization, including people of many faiths.
Other groups, which in Germany are normally classified as psychocults,
are part of what you will call here the New Age, or what British
sociologist Paul Heelas called seminar religion, or religion based on
self-help books and techniques, and for some reason some of these groups
offering self-help seminars are also regarded in German anti-cult
literature as psychocults.
So, I do not think there is any true essential definition of what is a
psychocult. I think again, psychocult is a group offering or claiming to
offer some comfort to people having psychological troubles which happens
not to be liked by certain people, and that is like the definition of cult
mentioned by somebody in the audience before.
As for consumer protection, I remember being interviewed myself by the
German Commission on this point, and my reaction is some sort of
protection for the spiritual consumer is in order. I think some sort of
ethical code for religions is appropriate and may promote a sort of open
house or glasnost policy of providing information to potential
On the other hand, the problem is, these kinds of proposals may easily
be constructed as discriminatory, if one targets a particular group, or
one or two particular groups. I think that the proposal that was recently
rejected by the European Parliament, the Berger report, was not completely
unreasonable, although I had myself suggested some amendments. I think
that there is some need for spiritual consumers protection in terms of
asking the religions to abide by certain ethical principles regarding what
prospective converts should be told before they join.
I think, particularly, with respect to the Church of Scientology, based
on my study of the Italian experience of the Church of Scientology, that
when they came into Italy in the years 1979/1980, they made a number of
mistakes, because they did not realize that the Italian consumer laws and
attitudes are quite different from U.S. consumer laws.
The well-known court case in Milan, in October 1997, which has been
partially decided and remanded for further examination for the second time
to the Court of Appeals in Milan by the Italian Supreme Court, is a case
concerning incidents in the years 1979/1981, because in these years
probably they did not realize what the Italian law was all about, and it
is different from the American law.
Now, I think they have changed, they have matured and have significant
experience in Europe, and they have realized that the consumer in Europe
is as stronger as in the United States, but it is also different from
United States, and they have to devote more study to consumer laws in
countries like Italy, and France. I think they did it.
As for other matters, I think the Supreme Court decision of October,
1997 is a very important decision. It is the virtual book about
Scientology, 50 pages, considering all the usual objections against
Scientology not being a religion and answering them one by one. So it is a
very useful document.
But, on the other hand, even this decision--normally considered a
decision very favorable to Scientology--includes the remark that it is
very much possible, and this demands further examination, that individual
Scientologists in the Milan organization violated a number of laws and
regulations in the years considered, again, 1979 to 1981 and, perhaps, the
organization there was not yet entirely familiar with Italian law.
So, the two things are compatible: a group may be a religion and
members of the group may break the law. But, again, I think in reading the
German report, I think just to sum up, there are two very different
questions. One question is whether religious groups (but equally I include
the field of so-called ``seminar'' religion, or human potential movements,
including the Church of Scientology), may be required in accordance to the
consumerist culture of some European countries to make some disclosures
with respect to prospective converts.
Perhaps, these disclosures may be different from what they are
requested to do in the United States, but, two, this has really nothing to
do with an assessment of these groups, whether they are religious, or
non-religious, or whether they are politically dangerous organizations, as
the German report says about Scientology.
I think the two questions are very much different. On the one hand,
consumers shall be protected and, perhaps, some of these groups made a
number of mistakes in the past, but the second point is, to infer from
some of these mistakes, that these groups are not really religious, it is
really a big jump, and I don't think it is logically consistent.
Questioner. James Pellecchia from Public Affairs International
for Jehovah's Witnesses.
Two questions, one first for Mr. May concerning channel 26 with the
free speech issue. Do you see that as a harbinger to go into, let us say,
the press, or the pending page in Spain, and then maybe the rest of
Then also for Doctor Introvigne, concerning the German report or
Germany. There was a minority opinion, a dissenting opinion, concerning
changing or amending Article 140 of the Constitution and putting in a
Rechts Jua, or a legal fidelity, an oath of loyalty to the Constitution
and government before a minority religion could have a corporation of
public law, and if that would result in social ostracism, a two-tier
system of religion? They use the example of Jehovah's Witnesses, who
applied for corporate status under public law because of their refusal to
vote in political elections for religious reason, as an example of the
need for the loyalty.
But, for the big churches, like the Roman Catholic Church, the priests
normally do not, for religious reasons, vote, and they are not seen as
hostile to the government. So, I wondered if you had any thought
concerning the amendment suggested for Article 140 of the German
Mr. May. I will go first, I guess, since you directed your first
question to me.
I think without a doubt the free speech aspect, as we, perhaps, know it
in the United States, is one that has a lot of momentum and is beginning
to take traction in Europe particularly.
I think when you look at the various documents, like the European Human
Rights Convention, any of the concluding documents for the Helsinki
Accords and the like, you will find them rich with language which speaks
about the need for individual liberties, the need for government to behave
in a way that is consistent and in a way that respects the individual
rights regarding free speech, free exercise of religion, due process,
equal protection, selective prosecution, across the board, and free speech
is very much a part of that and, perhaps, the engine that will help drive
it. But yes, it is catching fire and for all good reasons.
Dr. Introvigne. Well, the German report has, in fact, a number
of dissenting opinions. There is an interesting dissenting opinion by the
Green members, Professor Seiwert and Ms. Angelika Kostner, and that is
quite interesting on the side of religious scholarship.
On the other hand, there are other people who feel the German report to
be too mild, so they have stronger proposals, and this is one of many
proposals, the one that you mentioned. I think it is quite dangerous, and
it is also strange that you require some oath to be taken by a special
category of citizens but not by all categories of citizens.
I'm told by German constitutional scholars that such a proposal has
slim chances of being passed because of constitutional problems.
Roman Catholic priests normally vote, by the way. They need the
authorization of their bishops to be candidates for public office, and
this authorization is very often denied. This is different from voting;
they normally do vote.
Concerning Jehovah's Witnesses, I would like to add two comments. The
first comment is they have a very difficult situation in France, and one
comment in the 1997 report of the Observatory I find particularly
disturbing is, without naming them (but everybody understands what group
they are talking about) they criticized the idea that Jehovah's Witnesses
are commemorating victims in Nazi concentration camps, saying this is
I don't think that in light of some complicities by French officers of
that time in what happened during World War II, it is very good taste to
include these kinds of remarks in an official document. On the other hand,
I hope that the process of granting to the Watch Tower Society what we
call an Intesa, or a sort of concordat in Italy, and I think that is part
of the problem of the present government, and I think that can establish
an interesting precedent.
To my understanding, there is no strong opposition in Italy against the
Intesa between the government and the Jehovah's Witnesses, and even in
Catholic quarters there is no official opposition about this.
Of course, there are individual priests who are vocally anti-Jehovah's
Witnesses, but I have been told by people working at this officially on
the government side that there is no particular pressure against this. I
think that this is an important recognition because an Intesa is much more
than being recognized, it is really entering into a cooperative agreement
with the government. I think that can establish an important precedent for
the other European Union countries. So, I think this is a positive
development and should be closely followed.
Really, there are two of these discussions going on right now, and it
is part of a program of the present government to sign two new Intese with
the Italian Buddhist Union and with Jehovah's Witnesses. That will be
extremely important because it will be the first European government on
one hand with a concordat with a non-theistic religion, like the
Buddhists. On the other hand, it will be the first government with a
concordat with Jehovah's Witnesses.
Of course, Jehovah's Witnesses are part and parcel now of the Italian
landscape. Italy has the largest percentage of Jehovah's Witnesses in
Europe, so we see that forces, both in the government and the opposition,
are working in a bi-partisan way to promote these important developments
in Italy. They shall be supported internationally, because that can be
quite helpful at the European level.
Questioner. George Ratz, International Religious Liberty
First, I would like to thank Doctor Introvigne for his work, and
second, I have a question for Mr. May.
What is your relationship with the Federation of Evangelical Religious
Entity in Spain? I ask that question because I received a fax from the
Ministry of Justice, and they said that you should apply for license
first, and second, you should work through the Federation of Evangelical's
Entity in Spain.
Mr. May. Well, when and if the Spanish Government finally
determines what the procedures are for getting a license, then channel 26,
as every other local television broadcaster in Spain, will begin that
process and be accorded whatever the appropriate grandfathered rights are,
given the fact that they have been on the air since 1994.
With regard to working with and coalitioning with other organizations
within Spain, they are certainly endeavoring to do that. The one that you
have just mentioned there, I would have to contact our Spanish
representatives to determine if they are among that group, but my
understanding is that there is a support, a series of support
organizations working with them along this line.
But, let us say, for example, there were not. What difference would it
make? The reality is that channel 26 went on the air, like every other
group and organization in Spain, following the 1989 law. They have been on
the air since 1994, and they have been treated in a manner which I think
signals that they have been singled out solely because they are religious
broadcasters. That ought to be the concern that the Spanish authorities
have. It is certainly the concern that Tu Pueblo Television and its
representatives in Madrid have.
Questioner. Hi, I am Susan Taylor with the Church of Scientology
International, and I just wanted to ask Mr. Introvigne a question.
There's been a lot of attention on the Church of Scientology, but there
are other voices that have not been heard about their being abused in
France and in Germany, and I was wondering if you could elaborate on that,
and then what do you feel that these minority religions can actually do to
help terminate anti-religious bias?
Dr. Introvigne. Well, of course, it is a fact of life that
larger international groups have more international coverage than small
churches, and this is cause of concern. We try to devote more time in our
international conferences when it comes to discussing issues of religious
liberty to small groups, because organizations like Church of Scientology,
or the Watchtower Society are large international organizations. Of
course, if they are discriminated against in France, or Germany, or
Mongolia for that matter, their voice is heard by the media in the United
States and other countries.
But, there is definite risk that the small independent church
discriminated against in France will not be heard abroad, so in the
written document we prepared one example we used is a small pentecostal
church, which is part of a larger pentecostal federation called the
Evangelical Pentecostal Church of Besançon in France, which has been
listed as a dangerous cult and has been the subject of a lot of practical
discrimination in France. This is the typical group which is not very much
discussed in the international press when it comes to discussing
We have used another example, the Aumist religion of the Mandarom,
because in France this is often used in the media as the quintessential
cult, since the founder, Mr. Gilbert Bourdin, who died this year in 1998,
had some quite extreme claim of basically being God, being the Messiah. Of
course, that doesn't make you very popular.
But, I think popular groups are protected by their popularity.
Now, such an unpopular group, with extreme claims, strange doctrines,
perhaps, also bizarre, this is a good example of a good test for
toleration, because it is easy to tolerate a group that is not strange.
This group is strange. So, is it tolerated or not? In fact it is not
tolerated; they have been placed under extreme stress.
There was a very complicated sexual abuse action against the founder
for events allegedly occurred 17 or 18 years before the complaint was
filed. We will never know the truth about this because the founder died as
the proceedings were closed.
After the founder died, there were really some extreme measures against
his body, because a French anti-cult organization and other groups started
saying, we do not want his grave to become another pilgrimage site, so the
body was taken from one cemetery to another, and in all the cities local
anti-cult groups were raising objection against the body being there. It
all started because the group wanted to bury him in their holy city of
Mandarom, and opponents said that this will convert it into a pilgrimage
site. Now, it is already a pilgrimage site anyway, so that would have been
the more sensible solution.
Finally, he has been buried by a sort of police or military action in a
faraway and degraded cemetery, and they have taken a number of measures to
prevent the body to be removed.
Now, for social scientists familiar with theories of amplified
deviance, this is a typical deviant group from an ideological point of
view, because it is so different from what the average French person would
think about religion in general. Sociology predicts that most groups are
not essentially dangerous but may eventually become dangerous if placed
under stress. Many studies are being done about Waco, Texas, in this
proposal. I am part of some cooperative studies of the issue, having
studied the Solar Temple, and essentially, the amplification of deviance
is one explanation of why a group ends up with group suicide, or suicide
and homicide, like the Solar Temple.
These explanations are not the only ones around. Perhaps, for one
group, the explanation is really better captured by an essentialist
explanation. Heaven's Gate may be an example of an inherently possible
suicide because of their doctrine.
But, for other groups like the Branch Davidians or Jonestown or the
Solar Temple, there was few in the group which may have made easy to
predict the suicides or homicides. It was a more dynamic interaction
between the group, its opponents, society at large, the media, law
enforcement and governments.
So, social theory normally predicts that if you place an apocalyptic
group, or even a non-apocalyptic group under extreme stress, it will
I have told a number of French colleagues and occasionally some French
authorities that the Mandarom is a text book example of what you should do
if you want to provoke a small group and induce it to do something
extreme. I am very glad they did not do anything extreme so far. Surely
this group is targeted because it is so visible, they have the ``strange
clothing'' and they build huge statues to the glory of their Messiah when
he was still alive. It is simply too visible. It is regarded as
provocative, and it is discriminated against.
So, again, the small groups suffer. Big groups also suffer, but the
small groups are not heard about abroad. So, this problem surely does
What groups can do is to become more open to investigations by the
media and, particularly, by scholars. I think to give you one example, The
Family, formerly known as Children of God, has scored some very
significant legal victories in Europe, particularly in England and Spain,
and France. They think The Family has really been saved by the fact that
at one stage during their history they decided to become more open to
investigation by social scientists.
So, when the anti-cult movements instigated a number of raids, and
children were taken away from their parents, The Family, at least, had the
possibility of relying on a considerable body of scholarly literature that
could be shown to the magistrates and to the judges. They argued: `yes,
that's what the anti-cult movement is saying, but here we have other
people who have done considerable research about The Family, and they may
tell you that things are not exactly how anti-cultist say they are.'
So, I think opening themselves to investigation by social scientists is
not the universal solution, but it is a good way for small groups to
protect themselves, create a body of independent accounts of what they are
Mr. Merry. Yes, sir.
Questioner. Hi, Matt Baracci, I am with the group Freedom of
Religions in Germany, which is a coalition founded by the Church of
I think every point is valid whenever it comes to freedom of religion
and discrimination against people on the basis of their religion, and I
really think it comes down to the individual factor of people who are
simply against individuals who think differently, or look differently, or
whatever the difference may be, and they just cannot particularly handle
that particular problem.
Then, when you get a group of those people together who exhibit this
particular form of bigotry, they then are able to form their own
coalitions or groups which can then translate that into larger
So thus, then the organizations like mine have to be created to
essentially combat that particular form of bigotry.
The question I really had was, knowing this is a dynamic part of
essentially all societies, and given the fact that the current situation
in Europe is creating a coalescence of all the various different countries
in Europe, with all their different prejudices and what have you, there
will be a situation at some point where a number of these groups will get
together to specifically start targeting, not necessarily Scientology, but
some other organization.
As you said before, there are Catholic groups that are being targeted,
there are other Christian groups that are being targeted, and Jehovah's
Witnesses are being targeted by these different organizations. What is
really seen here is a target against religious belief, and some other form
of religious belief, which means that we all have to take a look at how
can this be excised in the sense of giving people the right to believe
what they wish. In that glossary, which are already in the books if
somebody has committed a crime, they may state it is on the basis of their
religion, but if it is a crime ensuring that individual is then convicted
on that particular point.
Anyway, I do not know if this has come through clearly enough, but,
essentially, what really can be done from both a citizenry level and
governmental level, to help prevent this activity from taking place?
Dr. Introvigne. Well, I think one important point is that the
academia in the field of new religious movements is largely American There
are a few Europeans, most of them British, but I will say 80 percent of
academics studying new religious movements are American, and most of these
academics are vocal critics of the European Parliamentary reports.
Although I am Italian, for instance, we are often accused of trying to
impose the American model, or a U.S. model, of church/state relationship
in Europe, and that is a foreign model. It has nothing to do with European
Now, it is important to state that this is not the case, because I will
say these accusations are particularly common in Eastern Europe. When we
try to say something about the Russian law, we are accused of trying to
compel Russia to adopt an American view toward religion and some Russian
Orthodox theologians, for instance, would say that is totally foreign to
our tradition and would never work here.
So, I think it is important when American scholars, or American
religions, or American diplomats come to Europe, to be aware of this
objection, and I personally normally answer that I think that the American
solution is a great, admirable solution for religious, social and cultural
situations, like the one prevailing in America. When the Constitution was
framed, but, of course, when you have a country like Southern Ireland,
where one religion includes more than 80 percent of the population, that
is an entirely different situation.
So, of course, you cannot easily translate American culture into these
countries. I think that some workable solutions exist. For instance, the
solution adopted in Italy is far from being perfect, and, in fact, Italy
is now amending its law on religion, but I think in the recent years,
particularly, in the last 10 or 15 years, Italy is a workable model of a
country who grants some privileges to one church, saying this church is so
linked to history of nation, and it is also so much larger than all the
other churches that it receives some privileges, particularly, in terms of
financial support. It also grants concordats to some other churches, and
that is interesting.
Some other churches also have concordat, because they are regarded as
an important part of the general cultural landscape, such as Assemblies of
God, Pentecostals, the Seventh Day Adventists, the Waldensian-Methodist
Federation, Jews, Lutherans. They also have their own concordats, and they
receive some advantages.
The Italian model is far from being perfect. I am not chauvinistic. I
wouldn't try to sell the Italian model to anybody. But it is a model of a
country where there is a dominant religion, and there are some large
churches competing with this one. The right to dissent or religious
liberty is granted to everybody, but some groups have something more in
terms of financial and other support. One group, which is regarded, by the
Constitution by the way, as part and parcel of the historical heritage of
the country, receives still more support.
Of course, it is a difficult situation because the balance is difficult
to preserve, but I told some Russian officers that it may be a solution
for Russia. So, let us be open and rather than saying theoretically that
all religions are equal before the law and then making a law whose
practical effect, if it will be forced, will be to kill other religions
other than the Russian Orthodox Church, why don't you say openly that the
Russian Federation recognizes the unique historical contribution of the
Moscow Patriarchy, and so we will give some money to them to restore their
churches and contribute to the national culture. But, as the same time, we
will allow other churches access to state support, and we will grant
minimal religious liberty international guarantee to everybody.
So, I don't think we shall go to every single country from Albania to
Spain saying you should basically copy the U.S. Constitution, because
their history is a bit different, but I think that while recognizing that
in a number of European countries there is a different history and
culture, minimal religious liberty or minimal freedom of speech, or
freedom of association should be guaranteed to everybody, and that could
be, I think, interesting at the level of discussing it with authorities in
these different countries.
Mr. Merry. We have time, I think, just for one more
In this context, I would like to note that the Helsinki Commission
always, in its discussions, proceeds on the basis of those principles
contained in Helsinki documents, precisely because these are not American
principles, but are principles that were arrived at, agreed and committed
to by the participating States. We make it very clear in our discussions
with representatives of other participating States of the OSCE that we
recognize full well that most European countries proceed from a tradition
of a state church or of a recognized and authorized church or churches,
but that we recognize that there are a great many cases in Europe which
today still have authorized or state churches which have dealt with
problems in religious liberty and religious minorities with an approach of
tolerance, and that we are not at all trying to impose the American model
on these countries, but seeking that they with a view toward their own
history and their own cultures, should also be in full compliance with
their OSCE commitments and their commitments under other international and
Questioner. Thank you, Arnoldo Lerma, ex-deluded adherent,
Scientology was criminally convicted in Canada as a corporation for the
breach of the public trust. All appeals were exhausted in 1997. At the
last commission hearings, I did not get an opportunity to ask anything in
person, but asked a few gentlemen on the side when the critics and the
ex-members of Scientology would get a chance to speak.
We have listened to John Travolta, we have listened to Ann Archer, when
are we going to be heard? They told me that this would occur, and that all
sides would be heard. That is my question, on behalf of all the
Mr. Merry. I can only say that it is the practice of the
Commission to seek to have balanced presentations on all topics, but we
are conducting a series of both briefings and hearings on the whole issue
of religious liberty throughout the OSCE region, and that includes the
And, I think my colleagues and I would be happy to entertain proposals
for participation in future Commission conducted public sessions.
Questioner. So, at least some ex-members may be heard?
Mr. Merry. I see no reason not to.
Questioner. Thank you, sir.
Mr. Merry. This will be a very brief question, because we are
almost at the end.
Questioner. I am Dan Pfefferman with the International Coalition
for Religious Freedom, and I am a member of the Unification Church.
I came in late, so I do not know whether Doctor Introvigne already
addressed this, but if not, perhaps, two quick points. One is the use of
the Schengen Treaty to exclude Reverend and Mrs. Moon from European
nations, and also the issue of the program which is rather dead in the
U.S., but I'm informed it is bearing its ugly head certainly in Japan. I'd
like to get your assessment of that phenomenon in Europe.
Dr. Introvigne. Well, very quick answer, since time is running
out. The Reverend and Mrs. Moon case is mentioned in my written
presentation. For the benefit of those not familiar with this, the
Schengen Treaty, which has been signed by a number, but not by all, of the
member states in the European Union, is a treaty allowing freedom of
movement. Accordingly, there is no longer an immigration control between
Italy and France or Italy and Germany. We had this new development this
year of not finding an immigration officer when we go into these
countries. You can go by car between Italy and France without being
stopped by anybody checking your passport.
Now, in connection with this, one provision of the Schengen Treaty
provides for the fact that persons regarded as not desirable by one or
more member states should be stopped by all member states, because once
you have got to Italy you don't find any obstacle for going into France or
Germany. So, the idea is, if France doesn't want somebody in, all the
Schengen countries should stop him or her when they try to come in from
outside the European Union.
Now, I have studied the preliminary work done for the treaty, and it
seems clear to me that this provision for non-convicted felons (for
convicted felons there are other provisions), was really intended for
terrorists, particularly for terrorists who were not convicted because of
some political international circumstances, but European countries don't
want these guys in any way. But, in fact, it has been used to place in the
Schengen list both Reverend and Mrs. Moon.
I think there is possible legal redress against this because I do not
think it is consistent with the aims of the Schengen Treaty, and, in fact,
as you surely know, Holland has already allowed an exception as a
consequence of a legal case started on behalf of these people. I think
legal redress should normally be available in other countries as well
because it seems to me that this is a misuse of the purposes of the
Schengen Treaty for purposes of religious discrimination.
What was the second question?
Dr. Introvigne. Well, deprogramming is not as popular as it used
to be in Europe as well. There have been some legal problems, particularly
in Switzerland. Some years ago in a case involving the International
Society for Krishna Consciousness, the Pastera case, the Swiss authorities
took a clear stand against deprogramming. It is surely still very much
popular in Japan, and there are some cases in Europe, but deprogrammers
are more quiet than they used to be.
Scholars, mainline churches, and even some anti-cult organizations, are
on record as being against deprogramming.
Of course, there are other techniques like exit counseling, which
occasionally is simply a new name for deprogramming, but it purports to be
different, and in other cases it is different. It does not involve
coercion. I think that the real problematic country for deprogramming is
Japan right now.
Mr. Merry. Thank you very much.
We have come to the end of today's session. I, again, want to express
the hope of the Commission staff that we will be able to reschedule the
full hearing which we had scheduled for this morning for September. We had
the agreement from some very interesting witnesses to attend, and I'm sure
that will be a very interesting session.
Nonetheless, we were delighted to be able to conduct this less formal
session this afternoon, and take advantage of the presence of Doctor
Introvigne and Mr. May here in Washington, to be able to present us their
views on this subject as part of our continuing Commission attention to
the problems of religious liberty.
I think this has been extraordinarily informative for me, and I hope it
has been for members of the audience, and I want to thank our two guests
for their time and their very kind participation.
(Whereupon, the meeting was concluded at 4:06 p.m.)
[Written submissions for the record follow].
Religious Liberty in Western Europe
Submitted by Dr. Massimo Introvigne
When, in the United States, it is suggested that religious liberty
should become an issue in foreign relations, immediate references are to
Asian or African countries such as China, North Korea, or Sudan. Former
Soviet bloc countries in Eastern Europe, including Russia, have recently
been added to the list. Scholars of minority religions, however, know that
serious problems also exist in some countries of Western Europe. Some
cases are becoming well-known. There are, among others: the inclusion of
Reverend Sun Myung Moon, the founder of the Unification Church, and his
wife in the so-called Schengen list (preventing persons allegedly
dangerous for public order to enter a number of European countries), and
the extreme measures advocated in Germany against the Church of
These cases, unfortunately, are not simply exceptions to a general rule
of religious tolerance. Pentecostal Churches, Roman Catholic
organizations, Jewish groups and many other religious minorities face
discrimination in a number of Western European countries, including
France, Belgium, Austria, Germany and Switzerland. Greece, meanwhile, by
keeping in its Constitution a provision that outlaws proselytism on behalf
of any religion other than the Greek Orthodox Church, has apparently not
yet decided whether, in religious liberty matters, it really wants to
belong to the West.
It is certainly true that serious crimes have been perpetrated by
certain religious movements in Europe. The suicides and homicides of the
Order of the Solar Temple in Switzerland in 1994 and in France in 1995
have caused widespread social concern. Certainly we do not suggest that
religious movements guilty of common crimes should not be vigorously
prosecuted. However, the Solar Temple incidents have been used as a
catalyst in a number of countries to propose actions against literally
hundreds of groups lumped together under the label of ``cults.'' In the
wake of the Solar Temple a dangerous ideology, hostile to religious
minorities in general, seem to be making inroads in political and
administrative circles. As scholars, we believe that it is important to
understand the main tenets of this ideology (Part I). We then detail some
of the results of the ideology in Western Europe, mostly in the form of
parliamentary commissions and reports (Part II). After the examination of
some examples (Part III), we offer some final suggestions (Part IV). It is
important that--while further action is proposed at different levels in
Europe--an international dialogue on religious minorities may involve all
the interested parties and those who care about religious liberty.
I. The Rise of an Intolerant Worldwiew
1. Redefining ``Religion''
Virtually no one in present-day Western Europe, and certainly not
governments or parliamentary commissions, would admit to being against
religious liberty. The technique used to discriminate against unpopular
groups is to redefine the notion of ``religion.'' While most scholars
favour a broad definition of religion (for example, as a system of answers
to the basic human questions about the origins and destiny of humans),
institutional definitions by political and judicial actors are often
result-oriented. For instance, in ruling to deny to the Church of
Scientology the status of a religion, the Appeals Court of Milan, Italy
(December 2, 1996) defined religion as ``a system of doctrines centered on
the presupposition of the existence of a Supreme Being, who has a relation
with humans, the latter having towards him a duty of obedience and
reverence.'' On October 8, 1997 the Italian Supreme Court annulled this
decision, castigating its theistic definition of religion as
``unacceptable'' and a ``mistake,'' because it is ``based only on the
paradigm of biblical religions'' and would exclude a number of mainline
religions, including Buddhism.
It is true that theologians, sociologists and historians have proposed
different definitions of religion. It is however, difficult to avoid the
impression that in some European countries today the selection of a set of
criteria among many available is governed by a preliminary feeling whether
an organization deserves protection or punishment. Only broad definitions
of religion appear to be consistent with the aims of religious liberty
embodied in a number of national constitutions and international
declarations and conventions.
2. The Myth of Brainwashing and Mind Control
One of the older and most effective rhetorical tools used in order to
claim that a number of groups are not ``genuine'' religions is that they
are not joined willingly. The anti-Mormon writer Maria Ward claimed in
1855 (Female Life Among the Mormons, London: Routledge, 1855: 38, 240)
that Mormon conversions were obtained only through ``a mystical magical
influence (...)--a sort of sorcery that deprived me of the unrestricted
exercise of free will.'' In fact, Ward argued, Mormons used the secret of
``Mesmerism,'' taught to their founder Joseph Smith by ``a German
peddler.'' The reference to ``magical influence,'' ``sorcery'' and a
non-existing German Mesmerist allowed anti-Mormons such as Ward to deny
Mormonism the status of religion. Since religion is, by rhetorical
definition, an exercise of free will, a non-religion may only be joined
under some sort of coercion.
The same hypnotic paradigm has been applied, more recently, in order to
distinguish between ``religions,'' joined voluntarily, and ``cults,''
joined only because of what was once called brainwashing and now--since
the label has been discredited by mental health scholars--has been renamed
as mind control, mental manipulation, or mental destabilization. In the
United States, theories of brainwashing and mind control as applied to
religious minorities have been debunked from at least 10 years. The
American Psychological Association (APA) in 1984 allowed Margaret Singer,
the main proponent of anti-cult mind control theories, to create a working
group called Task Force on Deceptive and Indirect Methods of Persuasion
and Control (DIMPAC). In 1987 the final report of the DIMPAC Committee was
submitted to the Board of Social and Ethical Responsibility for Psychology
of the APA. On May 11, 1987 the Board rejected the report. The results of
this rejection were devastating for mind control theories.
Starting from the Fishman case (1990)--in which a defendant who was
accused of commercial fraud defended himself on the basis that he was not
fully responsible because he was under the mind control of
Scientology--American courts have often rejected testimonies about mind
control and manipulation, stating that they are not part of accepted
mainline science. Anti-cult brainwashing and mind control theories are,
indeed, not part of psychological or social science. They lack empirical
evidence, and are a mere tool used in order to deny the status of religion
to groups perceived as deviant or subversive. (These and other comments in
this text apply to brainwashing and mind control theories as normally
proposed in the ``classic'' anti-cult literature. Recently, a small
minority of social scientists has proposed to use the word
``brainwashing'' in a different sense, in order to indicate certain
techniques allegedly used--rather than in order to persuade non-members to
join--in order to keep members of religious movements within the fold by
maximizing their exit costs. The proponents of these comparatively new
theories--accepted by a tiny minority only of scholars of religion--agree,
at any rate, that they shall not be used in order to distinguish between
``religions'' and ``cults'').
In Western Europe, on the other hand, these American developments are
not well-known. Although with different nuances, and dismissing the word
``brainwashing'' as inadequate and old-fashioned, even official documents
by parliamentary commissions rely on the faulty model distinguishing
between religions and ``cults'' on the basis of manipulation and mind
Mind control theories are part of a rejected knowledge consistently
repudiated by the academia, professional associations, and courts of law.
It is, however, argued that scholarly objections are less relevant than
the ``testimony'' of ``former members'' who claim that ``cults'' are
indeed joined because of manipulation and mind control. It is unclear why
the accounts of one or another ``former member'' should be accepted by
official political bodies, including parliamentary commissions, as more
relevant by definition than scholarly research. Additionally, a
misunderstanding about the very notion of ``former members'' is
perpetuated, and plays a key role in the public stigmatization of minority
religious movements. While parliamentary reports and sensationalized media
accounts claim to rely on the ``testimony of former members,'' we learn
invariably that, for each religious movement, only a very limited number
of ``former members'' have been heard by the parliamentary commissions,
the courts, or the press.
Sociological research suggests that, among thousands of former members
of any large organization (no matter how controversial) only a small
minority become ``apostates'' (a technical, not a derogatory term). Not
all former members are apostates. The apostate is the former member who
reverses loyalties dramatically, and becomes a professional enemy of the
organization he or she has left. Most former members do not become
apostates. They remain--in sociological terms suggested by David Bromley
and others--``defectors'' (members who somewhat regret having left an
organization they still perceive in largely positive terms), or ``ordinary
leavetakers'' with mixed feelings about their former affiliation. However
ordinary leavetakers (and, to some extent, defectors) remain socially
invisible, insofar as they do not like or care to discuss their former
affiliation. Apostates, being more visible, are mistaken for the genuine
representatives of the former members. In fact, quantitative research
shows that even in extremely controversial groups apostates normally
represent less than 15% of former members.
4. Anti-cult Movements
If apostates are only a minority of former members, why often only
apostates are interviewed by parliamentary commissions or the media? The
logical answer is that they either volunteer to be heard, or are directed
to testify by an opposition coalition. This is, in fact, the role of the
so-called anti-cult movement. Modern anti-cult movements (in opposition to
older Christian counter -cult coalitions) are defined as primarily secular
organizations fighting ``cults'' based on the brainwashing or mind control
The recent lack of institutional and academic support for mind control
theories has caused a serious crisis of the American anti-cult movement.
In 1996 the largest American anti-cult organization, the Cult Awareness
Network (CAN), filed for bankruptcy. An anti-cult movement, however, does
continue to exist in the United States, and in fact claims that its
accounts, although rejected by most scholars, are validated by ``former
members'' (i.e. apostates). Currently in Western Europe anti-cult
movements (particularly ADFI in France, whose offices also serve as
European headquarters for FECRIS, a Europe-wide federation of anti-cult
movements) experience a degree of institutional support unknown in the
United States. These well organized anti-cult movements--particularly in
France, Germany and Belgium--have successfully introduced the mind control
model to the press and to political bodies unfamiliar with the fact that
this model has been discredited in the United States. When scholarly
criticism of the mind control model is brought to bear against the
anti-cult movements, it is dismissed on the basis of the testimony of
``former members.'' In some countries, including France, anti-cult
movements have considerable resources and operate with the help of
taxpayers' money. They are responsible for spreading misleading
information about a number of religious minorities.
Not composed of scholars, the anti-cult organization often--perhaps in
good faith--offer information that is simply not updated. The
consequences, however, may be catastrophic. To mention only some examples,
in the early 1990s the international anti-cult coalition instigated in a
number of countries police raids against The Family (formerly known as the
Children of God), based on practices The Family had in fact discontinued
for a number of years. Based on this false information, children were
separated from their mothers, and adults and children were kept in custody
(inter alia in France and Spain) for weeks and even for months. Later,
courts dismissed the charges, recognizing that the information was either
inaccurate or not up to date, and castigated the anti-cultists. In
Barcelona, Spain, Judge Adolfo Fernando Oubina in his decision of May 22,
1992 went so far to compare the actions against The Family to ``the
Inquisition'' and ``the concentration camps.'' These legal decisions,
although important, do not compensate either the adults or the children
for what was an unnecessary nightmare.
Another example of how non-updated information may easily mislead
authorities concerns Tabitha's Place, the French branch of the Messianic
Communities (a communal group originating from the Jesus Movement and
headquartered in Island Pond, Vermont). The mother community in Vermont,
the Northeast Kingdom Community Church, was raided in 1984, based on
rumours of child abuse spread by local anti-cultists. However, no evidence
of child abuse was found and the case was dismissed. By 1994, the Vermont
community, although maintaining a strict Christian fundamentalist
lifestyle, enjoyed a peaceful coexistence with neighbours and
Unaware that similar charges were dismissed in the U.S. 10 years
previously, the anti-cult movement in South-Western France started a
campaign against Tabitha's Place (a community that, in turn, had existed
peacefully near Pau for more than 10 years with no incidents). Charges of
child abuse were carelessly repeated and the community, continuously
harassed by police and tax authorities, struggles for its very existence.
In April 1997 a twelve-month-old infant child died for congenital hearth
problems. Its parents have been arrested for possible abuse, although a
team of twelve doctors who has examined the community's children has
concluded that there is no evidence of any abuse. It is possible that the
infant's parents were not fully aware of the possibilities of a surgery to
remedy their child's condition. However, the criminal case against them is
being prosecuted within the framework of a general climate poisoned by
rumours spread by anti-cultists on the basis of claims raised and
dismissed in the U.S. one decade before the French facts. They also rely
on the testimony of only one apostate, who spent just a few days at
Tabitha's Place (compare the scholarly study of the Messianic Communities
by John M. Bozemanÿ09Susan J. Palmer, ``The Northeast Kingdom Community
Church of Island Pond, Vermont: Raising Up a People for Yahshua's
Return,'' Journal of Contemporary Religion, 12:2, May 1997:
II. The Results
In the United States the Jonestown tragedy of 1978 was the catalyst for
an increase of anti-cult activity. The anti-cult wordview (described in
Part I above) became widespread, but the activities of the anti-cult
movement were ultimately kept in jeopardy by the reactions of the
academia, mainline churches, and some of the religious minorities
themselves. In Europe, as mentioned earlier, the suicides-homicides of the
Order of the Solar Temple, repeated twice in the 1994 and 1995 (and a
third time in 1997--but only in Quebec), played a similar role to that
played by Jonestown in the United States. The anti-cult movements were
energized, and authorities started considering them more seriously.
Discredited theories such as mind control surfaced again. Parliamentary
commissions with a mandate to study the ``danger of cults'' were
established in a number of countries. While not attempting to examine all
the results of this activity, we have selected some relevant
A parliamentary commission, composed of Members of the Parliament only,
issued after a number of secret hearings (not including any scholar as a
witness) a report called Cults in France on January 10, 1996. It included
a laundry list of 172 ``dangerous cults.'' It did not recommend new
legislation, but suggested a number of administrative actions and the
establishment of a national Observatory of Cults (in fact established in
1996, with two extreme anti-cultists as its only ``experts'').
Although not technically a source of law, the report has already been
quoted in court decisions and has led to discrimination against a number
of groups. Teachers have been fired from public schools after years of
honorable service only because they were members of the Jehovah's
Witnesses, one of the most dangerous ``cults'' according to the report. A
Roman Catholic theatrical group, the Office Culturel de Cluny, included in
the report as a ``dangerous cult'' despite letters of protest of a number
of French Catholic bishops, is nearly bankrupted due to the refusal of
public theatres to air its shows. The city of Lyons has decided not to
allow the use of public facilities to any group listed in the report as a
``cult.'' Each French Department has now a ``Mr. Cult'' employed by the
Ministry of Youth and Sport (often well connected with the anti-cult group
ADFI) to tell the cultural and sport organizations about the evil of the
cults. The anti-cult milieu element advocates actions by the Observatory
against groups mentioned in its literature or in the report but not
included in the list (particularly the Mormon Church and the Catholic
Charismatic Renewal). Other groups are defined as ``cults'' by the report
(including the Baptists), but nevertheless called ``benign cults,'' a
contradiction since the report starts by defining a ``cult'' as a
The first yearly report of the Observatory, concerning the year 1997,
has been published in June 1998 in a French anti-cult Web page. Its
substance was known through a number of media articles. CESNUR has
reposted it after correction of a number of typos, and the full text (in
French) is now available on CESNUR's Web page. According to the anti-cult
page this report is not (yet) ``official'' since it was signed only by the
Observatory's president, M. Guerrier de Dumast, and not by the whole
Observatory. A ``truly official'' report should follow shortly.
Be it as it may be, this is a very disturbing document for a number of
1. The report admits that it is impossible to define what a ``cult'' is
(note that in French the derogatory word is ``secte,'' but it serves the
same function of the English ``cult'' and should be translated as
``cult,'' not as ``sect''). In this situation, the report continues to
focus on the list of 172 ``dangerous cults'' included in the 1996 document
``Les Sectes en France.'' The report says that a number of movements have
asked to be removed from this list, but that the Observatory has no
authority to do it because of the principle of the ``separation of
powers'' (the Observatory is an emanation of the administrative power and
cannot interfere with the legislative power that produced the 1996
parliamentary document). The movements who hoped to be removed from the
list by the Observatory have thus be disappointed. The report implies that
a cult is simply a religious group listed as such in the 1996
parliamentary document. While there is no way for a movement to be removed
from the list, it is not excluded that new movements may be added. In
fact, the report claims that there are in France ``more than twenty'' new
cults (although their names are not mentioned). The Observatory is looking
for cults particularly in the Evangelical world and in the New Age. It
reports that its ``full attention'' has been focused on ``the risk of a
development on the national territory of a certain kind of Evangelical
mass meeting, such as the `healing and miracles crusade' that gathered a
crowd of 15,000 at the Bourget in July 1997 to watch the exhibition of
American televangelist Morris Cerullo.''
2. The report has nothing good to say about the cults. If they have
changed something--or have engaged in charitable activities useful to the
community and impossible to deny--the Observatory concludes that it is a
public relation activity or a cosmetic window-dressing in order to
overturn the negative impact of the 1996 parliamentary report. Jehovah's
Witnesses are particularly singled out in this respect. These apparently
``good'' activities only prove that the cults are smart. The authorities
need to be even more careful.
3. On the practical side, the Observatory's aim is to co-ordinate any
and all public and semi-public authorities in order to both ``inform''
about the evil of the cults and try to ``limit'' their activities. The
list is long, and seems a war bulletin. The Ministry of Education should
prevent cults from ``infiltrating'' schools, and be ``careful'' when a
teacher is a member of a cult. The Ministry of Finances should make sure
that cults are watched by the Revenue Service.
The National Order of Medical Doctors should fight cultists who happen
to be doctors. Notaries Public should be careful when they are requested
to enter a deed involving a cult or a cultist. Judges should be educated
about how bad the cults are. Sport and youth groups should organize
lectures about the evil of the cults. So on and on.
4. On the doctrinal side, the report is a hymn to the French idea of
``läcité'' or secular humanism. The only way of fighting cults is to
spread through national education and school an education ``secular
humanist in essence.''
5. Although the press reported that more extreme proposals were
rejected, the Observatory asks the parliament for more support to the
anti-cult movements, including ADFI, CCMM and the European anti-cult
federation FECRIS. This money should not only come from the generous
French taxpayers. It is also suggested that anti-cult movements may become
a party in court cases involving cults and collect damages. This is
regarded as a key step in the fight against cults.
6. The Observatory, although it met (the report says) with four
respected scholars, shows no interest in understanding what the new
religious movements really are and do. The verdict has already been
rendered. They are evil. The Observatory (that includes some extreme
anti-cultists such as the psychiatrist Jean-Marie Abgrall) admits that it
has no operational definition of what a cult is. For all practical
purposes, it regards as cults the 172 movements listed in the 1996
parliamentary report, and any other movement exposed as such by ADFI, CCMM
or FECRIS (particularly in the Evangelical world, whose expansion is seen
as a threat to the secular humanist ideology the Observatory is dedicated
Following an intensive anti-cult campaign in the wake of the Solar
Temple and the French report, in February 1997 the Canton of Geneva
released a report written by four lawyers, after interviewing various
individuals (one scholar only). The report is organized in chapters, each
signed by one of the lawyers. While, at least in some chapters, the report
is written in a more moderate style than the French one, the substantial
proposals are even more dangerous, advocating legislation against ``mind
control'' and against hiring members of ``dangerous cults'' as government
officers. The Canton of Geneva Commission released on May 24, 1997 its
proposals following up the February report. The most significant
- to promote an inter-Canton conference in order to persuade other
Cantons to follow the example of Geneva;
- to enact Canton-level legislation in order to fund the anti-cult
organizations, inter alia, and allow them to become parties in
- to create a Cantonal observatory including among others two
representatives of anti-cult organizations, two scholars, and two
``representatives of cults'' (although it is unclear how the latter will
- to promote Swiss federal legislation making mind control a federal
Further measures were proposed by Geneva in 1998 (with no particular
federal interest, but creating a difficult situation for minorities at the
The Belgian parliamentary commission on cults released its report on
April 28, 1997. This document is even more extreme than the French report,
including as it is bizarre allegations against many groups including five
mainline Catholic groups (among them the Catholic Charismatic Renewal),
Quakers, the YWCA (but, for some reasons, not the YMCA), Hasidic Jews, and
almost all Buddhists. It also proposes legislation making ``mind control''
Reactions by scholars and mainline Churches have determined some
turmoil in the Belgian Parliament and in the end it adopted the report
itself but not the list of 189 groups included as an Appendix. This was a
symbolic victory for the scholars, but most of what is disturbing is not
only in the list, but also in the main body of the report. Following the
report, legal actions have been taken against a Tibetan Buddhist group, a
Catholic religious congregation called The Work (a Belgian group now
headquartered in Rome, not to be confused with Opus Dei, also mentioned in
the report)--notwithstanding vigorous protests by the Vatican and by
Belgian bishops. An action has also be initiated to force the dissolution
of Sukyo Mahikari, a Japanese Shinto-based religious minority whose
branches in countries such as Italy and United States have existed for
decades without any trouble for the public order.
Based on apostates' testimony, extreme allegations have been made
against dozen of groups. Serious concern has been expressed by scholars,
inter alia about the accusation that Satmar Jews (a Hasidic community,
based in New York and regarded as a ``cult'' by the report) ``kidnap
children and hide them within the international network of the movement.''
This seems to be based on the Patsy Heymans case, where a Belgian Catholic
woman, having obtained custody of her three children, had to recover them
from his Satmar ex-husband who was keeping them illegally in the United
States. However, the Heymans case is not specifically mentioned in the
report. The parliamentary document rather states that kidnapping children
``does not seem to be merely occasional'' among this group of Hasidic Jews
(Belgian report, Vol. I: 359). The inclusion of these general remarks in a
parliamentary document may easily add fuel to the fire of anti-semitism,
whose continued presence raises concern in a number of European
An Observatory similar to the French one has now been voted into
existence in Belgium.
A parliamentary commission was established including MPs and experts
appointed by the different political parties. They conducted hearings with
scholars, anti-cultists, and members of a number of religious movements.
An interim report had been released in June 1997. In the meantime, without
consulting the parliamentary commission, the government placed the Church
of Scientology under watching of the local secret service. Even groups
largely critical of Scientology have criticized the decision as a
dangerous precedent, while local anti-cultists have already named the
Jehovah's Witnesses as the second group that should eventually be watched
by the secret service. Police raids instigated by the same anti-cultists
have occurred against small independent Pentecostal churches. A huge
report has been published in 1998. Although moderate on some points
(doubts are raised on the definition of ``cults'' and on brainwashing) it
still advocates strong measures against Scientology (regarded as a
political subversive, rather than a religious, organization) and has been
criticized by legal scholars for a trend towards an increased
administrative and police control of any and all religious
Italy is an interesting example of a more moderate approach, as
confirmed by a 1997 Supreme Court decision on Scientology and a 1998
police report on cults.
a. The Italian Supreme Court Decision on Scientology (October 8, 1997)
On October 8, 1997 the Italian Court of Cassation (the Supreme Court
for jurisdictional purposes in Italy) rendered an important decision on
Scientology. We offer a summary of the decision--extremely important for
the ongoing debate on the nature and definition of religion--without
entering here into the specific discussion about Scientology. One may also
read a full copy (in Italian) of the 48-pages decision on CESNUR's Web
While some Italian courts (including Rome and Turin) have considered
Scientology as a religion, a different conclusion was reached by the Court
of Appeal of Milan. Reforming a first degree decision favourable to
Scientology, on November 5, 1993 the Milan appeal judges found a number of
Scientologists guilty of a variety of crimes, all allegedly committed
before 1981, ignoring the question whether Scientology was a religion. The
Italian Supreme Court, on February 9, 1995, annulled the Milan 1993
decision with remand, asking the Court of Appeal to reconsider whether
Scientology was indeed a religion. On December 2, 1996 the Court of Appeal
of Milan complied, but maintained that Scientology was not a religion. Not
unlike their Turin homologues, the Milan appeal judges noted that ``there
is no legislative definition of religion'' and ``nowhere in the [Italian]
law there is any useful element in order to distinguish a religious
organization from other social groups.'' However, among a number of
possible definitions, the Milan judges selected one defining religion as
``a system of doctrines centered on the presupposition of the existence of
a Supreme Being, who has a relation with humans, the latter having towards
him a duty of obedience and reverence.'' Additional criteria based on the
case law of the Italian Constitutional Court are considered, but these are
clearly ancillary to the main definition. Theoretically, the reference to
a ``Supreme Being'' may be interpreted in a non-theistic sense. This was
the interpretation in the case law of the U.S. Supreme Court interpreting
the Universal Military Training and Service Act of 1948, also including in
its definition of religion a reference to ``a relation to a Supreme
Being.'' The Milan judges, however, interpreted ``Supreme Being'' in a
theistic sense. As a consequence, they could easily exclude the
non-theistic worldview of Scientology from the sphere of religion.
On October 9, 1997 the Supreme Court annulled also the Milan 1996
decision, again with remand (meaning that another section of the Court of
Appeal of Milan shall re-examine the facts of the case). The Supreme Court
regarded the Milan theistic definition of religion as ``unacceptable'' and
``a mistake,'' because it was ``based only on the paradigm of Biblical
religions.'' As such, the definition would exclude Buddhism, whose main
Italian organization, the Italian Buddhist Union, has been recognized in
Italy as a ``religious denomination'' since 1991. Buddhism, according to
the Supreme Court, ``certainly does not affirm the existence of a Supreme
Being and, as a consequence, does not propose a direct relation of the
human being with Him.''
It is true, the Supreme Court observes, that ``the self-definition of a
group as religious is not enough in order to recognize it as a genuine
religion.'' The Milan 1996 decision quoted the case law of the Italian
Constitutional Court and its reference to the ``common opinion'' in order
to decide whether a group is a religion. The relevant ``common opinion,''
however, according to the Supreme Court is rather ``the opinion of the
scholars'' than the ``public opinion.'' The latter is normally hostile to
religious minorities and, additionally, difficult to ascertain: one
wonders, the Supreme Court notes, ``from what source the Milan judges knew
the public opinion of the whole national community.'' On other hand, most
scholars--according to the Supreme Court--seem to prefer a definition of
religion broad enough to include Scientology and, when asked, conclude
that Scientology is in fact a religion, having as its aim ``the liberation
of the human spirit through the knowledge of the divine spirit residing
within each human being.'' The 48-pages decision of the Supreme Court also
examined some of the arguments used by critics (and by the Milan 1996
judges) in order to deny to Scientology the status of religion. Five main
arguments were discussed.
1. First, critics object that Scientology is ``syncretistic'' and does
not propose any really ``original belief.'' This is, the Supreme Court
argues, irrelevant, since syncretism ``is not rare'' among genuine
religions, and many recently established Christian denominations exhibit
very few ``original features'' when compared to older denominations.
2. Second, it is argued that Scientology is presented to perspective
converts as science, not as religion. The Supreme Court replies that, at
least since Thomas Aquinas, Christian theology claims to be a science. On
the other hand, science claiming to lead to non-empirical results such as
``a knowledge of God'' (or ``of human beings as gods'') may be both ``bad
science'' and ``inherently religious.''
3. Third, critics make reference to ex-members (mostly militant
apostates such as ``Atack and Armstrong,'' quoted in the Milan 1996
decision) who claim that Scientology is not a religion but only a facade
to hide criminal activities. The Supreme Court asks how we may know that
the opinion of disgruntled ex-members is representative of the larger
population of ex-members. Other ex-members have in fact appeared as
witnesses for the defense, and at any rate, the number of ex-members of
Scientology appears to be quite large. The opinion of two and even twenty
of them, thus, is hardly representative of what the average ex-member
4. Fourth, texts by L. Ron Hubbard, the founder of Scientology, and by
early Italian leaders seem to imply that Scientology's basic aim is to
make money. Such texts' interest in money is, according to the Supreme
Court, ``excessive'' but ``perhaps appears much less excessive if we
consider how money was raised in the past by the Roman Catholic Church.''
The Supreme Court quotes Ananias and Sapphira in the Acts of the Apostles
(who died because they kept for personal use a part of what they obtained
from the sale of their property and lied to the bishop, rather than giving
everything to him), late Medieval controversies about the sale of
indulgences, and the fact that until very recently Italian Catholic
churches used to affix at the church's door ``a list of services offered
[Masses and similar] with the corresponding costs.'' The latter comments,
according to the Supreme Court, confirm that quid pro quo services are
more widespread among religions that the Milan 1996 judges seemed to
believe. Concerning Scientology, the Supreme Court went on to observe that
the more ``disturbing'' texts on money are but a minimal part of Hubbard's
enormous literary production (including ``about 8,000 works''); and that
they were mostly circular letters or bulletins intended ``for the officers
in charge of finances and the economic structure, not for the average
member.'' Finally, even if one should take at face value the ``crude''
comment included in a technical bulletin of Scientology (not written by
Hubbard) that ``the only reason why LRH [L. Ron Hubbard] established the
Church was in order to sell and deliver Dianetics and Scientology,'' this
would not mean, according to the Supreme Court, that Scientology is not a
religion. What is, in fact, the ultimate aim of ``selling Dianetics and
Scientology''? There is no evidence, the Supreme Court suggests, that such
``sales'' are only organized in order to assure the personal welfare of
the leaders. If they are intended as a proselytization tool, then making
money is only an intermediate aim. The ultimate aim is
``proselytization,'' and this aim ``could hardly be more typical of a
religion,'' even if ``according to the strategy of the founder [Hubbard],
new converts are sought and organized through the sale and delivery of
Dianetics and Scientology'' .
5. A fifth objection discussed by the Supreme Court is that Scientology
is not a religion since there is evidence, in the Milan case itself, that
a number of Scientologists were guilty of ``fraudulent sales techniques''
or abused of particularly weak customers, when ``selling'' Dianetics or
Scientology. These illegal activities, the Supreme Court comments, should
be prosecuted, but there is no evidence that they are more than
``occasional deviant activities'' of a certain number of leaders and
members within the Milan branch, ``with no general significance''
concerning the nature of Scientology in general .
The Italian Supreme Court 1997 decision on Scientology includes one of
the most important discussions--so far and at an international scale--of
how courts may apply existing laws apparently requiring them to decide
whether a specific group is, or is not, a religion. It argues that the
non-existence of a legal definition of religion in Italy (and elsewhere)
``is not coincidental.'' Any definition would rapidly become obsolete and,
in fact, limit religious liberty. It is much better, according to the
Italian Supreme Court, ``not to limit with a definition, always by its
very nature restrictive, the broader field of religious liberty.''
``Religion'' is an ever-evolving concept, and courts may only interpret it
within the frame of a specific historical and geographical context, taking
into account the opinions of the scholars . It remains to be seen whether
this 1997 opinion of the Italian Supreme Court--that it is better not to
have a legal definition in order to allow a broader religious
liberty--will be shared by other courts. The Italian decision is, at any
rate, an interesting addition to an ongoing international
b. The ``Italian Report on Cults''
On April 29, 1998 the Italian Ministry of Internal Affairs sent to the
Commission for Constitutional Affairs of the Camera dei Deputati (the
lower house of the Italian Parliament) a report by the General Direction
of Preventive Police dated February 1998. The report is entitled ``Sette
religiose e nuovi movimenti magici in Italia'' (``Cults and New Magical
Movements in Italy'': in Italian the current derogatory word equivalent to
the English ``cult'' is ``setta''). The General Direction of Preventive
Police co-ordinates, inter alia, the police intelligence activities in
Italy. The Commission for Constitutional Affairs of the lower house
receives this document when a (quite liberal) draft law on religious
minorities and religious liberty, introduced by the government, is being
examined. Since the Italian Report is not well-known outside Italy, a
fuller analysis is offered here.
What Is (and Is Not) the Report
The report is not the Italian equivalent of the reports prepared by
parliamentary commissions in France, Belgium, and Germany. It does not
come after public hearings, and has not been solicited nor examined by the
parliament. It is a police report. Similar reports have been prepared in
the past for internal use of the police and intelligence authorities. The
significant new circumstance is that in this case the report has been sent
to members of the parliament and to the press. But the report remains a
typical police document in its format, style and aims.
The Content of the Report
The report includes (a) an introduction, in four chapters (pp. 1-19);
(b) entries about 34 ``new religious movements'' (pp. 18-63) and 36 ``new
magical movements'' (pp. 64-102). Pages 103-105 include the index.
The introduction's four chapters deal respectively with:
(1) roots of the phenomenon and corresponding social concern;
(2) terminology and typology;
(3) possible dangers and criminal connections;
(4) membership figures.
(1) (pp. 1-3) is a short introduction, mentioning the international
concern after Waco, the Solar Temple and Aum Shinri-kyo, confirming that
police intelligence is monitoring ``Italian cults'' from many years, and
commenting that this is a ``difficult task'' and requires some
clarifications about terminology.
(2) (pp. 3-9) includes a discussion about the use of the word ``cult''
and concludes that ``scholars of this matter today prefers to use `new
religious movements' and `new magical movements''' (p. 4). The report goes
on to discuss what ``religion'' is, noting that theistic definitions of
religion ``are not acceptable'' and ``are against the most recent Italian
case law'' (the reference in a footnote is to the Supreme Court decision
of October 8, 1997 affirming the religious nature of Scientology).
Religion is better defined as ``the relationship between the human being
and the sacred, when the latter is regarded as a transcendent reality
going beyond the material world'' (p. 5). Problems remain, and the report
quotes the (Stark-Bainbridge) distinction between audience cults, client
cults and cult movements. The next question concerns the difference
between new religious movements (or ``cults'') and ``traditional''
religions. The report quotes the opinion that new religious movements are
more aggressive in their proselytization and intolerant, but disagrees
with it, noting that ``these aspects do exist also in some traditional
religions or at least in their splinter or fundamentalist groups'' (p. 5).
Others think that new religious movements create among their members a
stronger link with a leader or guru; but in fact--the report
comments--``in many cases after the founder's death the movement survives
and may even continue to grow'' (p. 5). The report prefers to classify as
new religious movements those that appear to have appeared historically in
the West in more recent times, and to have doctrines and teachings
regarded as quite foreign to mainline (Judeo-Christian) religion. Three
main groups are taken into account:
(a) movements ``with a Christian origin'';
(b) movements ``inspired by the East''; and
(c) movements arising from ``Western religious innovation.''
The first group--movements ``with a Christian origin''--includes those
that ``go beyond'' Protestantism in their refusal of ``Catholic
orthodoxy.'' It may be distinguished into five families or subgroups: 1.
Apocalyptic-Millennialist families, including the Adventist family and the
Restaurationist family. In the Adventist family the report mentions the
Seventh-day Adventists, the Advent Christian Church, the Jehovah's
Witnesses and the Worldwide Church of God. In the Restaurationist family
the Mormon Church, the Apostolic Church and its larger splinter group New
Apostolic Church, and the Church of the Kingdom of God (a splinter group
from what later became the Jehovah's Witnesses) are quoted.
2. Catholic splinter groups, following ``anti-popes'' (Magnificat
Church, Apostles of the Infinite Love) or the schism of Mons. Marcel
Lefebvre (Fraternity of St. Pius X).
3. Prophetic and messianic groups.
4. Syncretic groups.
5. Pseudo-Churches (groups gathered around ``wandering bishops,''
Orthodox non-canonical bishops, or similar, easily mistaken by the Italian
population for Roman Catholic bishops or priests but in fact not
affiliated with the Roman Catholic Church).
Although movements in families under (1) and (2) may profess
``teachings quite original'' (page 8: a footnote mention the Mormons'
baptism of the dead and teachings that God the Father may have ``a body of
flesh and blood'') or be involved in conflicts with mainline churches or
the society at large (pp. 7-8: Jehovah's Witnesses are particularly
mentioned), in fact ``they are not really interesting for the present
report.'' The report will focus on families 3 to 5, where--it claims--some
risks may exist.
The second group--movements ``inspired by the East''--includes three
1. Movements created by Westerners fascinated by Eastern religions
(Theosophical Society, Anthroposophical Society, Alice Bailey Group and
the Urusvati Center, the latter a small group headquartered in
2. Eastern groups with a missionary activity in Italy (the report lists
Ananda Marga, the Baha'is, the Self-Realization Fellowhip, ISKCON,
Transcendental Meditation, Divine Light Mission, Sahaja Yoga, Sant Bani
Ashram, Rajneesh groups, Sri Chinmoy groups, Subud, Sathya Sai Baba
groups, Bal Ashram, Dzog-Chen, Soka Gakkai and Sukyo Mahikari).
3. Eastern-oriented groups recently established by Italian-born gurus.
Although movements under (1) and (2) may be criticized abroad (it is
mentioned that the Dalai Lama does not endorse Soka Gakkai) and even
subject to criminal prosecution, ``they never caused any problem
whatsoever in Italy.'' The report, as a consequence, will only include
entries about family No. 3.
The third group should include the fruits of ``Western religious
innovations.'' In fact the group only includes the ``human potential
movements.'' The report quote ``self-religions'' and ``psycho-cults'' as
synonimous for ``human potential movements.'' It notes that these will be
``the main focus of the report since it is mostly against these `cults'
[the word is written between brackets in the report: p. 6] that
accusations of `mental destructuration' or fraud are heard.'' From the new
religious movements, the report then distinguishes the ``new magical
movements,'' where the sociological structure is similar to the new
religious movements but the central experience is different, being more
(in terms of Eliade) a ``cratophany,'' or experience of power, than a
``hierophany,'' or experience of the sacred. New magical movements are
also divided into families:
1. Esoteric and occult family, sub-divided into (a) ``initiatory
groups, universal brotherhoods and pythagorical orders''; (b) Rosicrucian
movements; (c) neo-gnostic movements; (d) ritual magic groups.
2. Spiritualist/ Spiritist family.
3. UFO family.
4. Neopagan and New Age family.
5. Satanist and Luciferian family.
All the new magical movements have individual entries in the
Chapter 3 of the introduction (pp. 10-15) is written ``from a law
enforcement point of view'' and lists the possible criminal problems
connected with ``some individual movements.'' Five potential problems are
a. Brainwashing and mind control (with a footnote giving the standard
anti-cult reconstruction of the brainwashing process).
c. Covering under the religious facade ``immoral practices or illegal
d. Preaching doctrines so ``irrational'' that they may bring the
members to activities dangerous for the national security.
e. Subversive political plans.
About (a)--brainwashing--the report notes that what is commonly called
brainwashing was included in the Italian criminal code under the name of
``plagio,'' and that the corresponding provision (Section 603 of the
criminal code) was declared non-constitutional by the Italian
Constitutional Court in 1981. About (c)--and more generally--the report
notes that in Italy there is no difference between ``cult crime'' and
``normal crime.'' Accordingly, ``criminal activities within the frame of a
religious activity are considered as common crimes, although religion may
have a role in determining the motivation'' (p. 12). The report also notes
that ``in Italy today no religious or magical movement as such is accused
of criminal activity of any kind'' (p. 12): even notorious Satanists such
as the Children of Satan have been found not guilty in the 1997 Bologna
case where they have been tried. It is true, however--the report
adds--that in a couple of cases of the 1980s involving fringe Catholic
groups regarded as illegitimate by the Roman Catholic Church (the Pia
Unione di Ges Misericordioso of Ebe Giorgini, ``Mamma Ebe,'' in 1984; and
the Rosary Group in 1988) the defendants were found guilty of serious
crimes. The risk considered under (e)--subversive political plans--is not
regarded as a serious danger in Italy. ``Not even the Church of
Scientology,'' ``in Germany (...) regarded as a serious threat to the
democratic institutions,'' meet in Italy the pre-conditions needed to
carry on serious political plans or projects (p. 14). Soka Gakkai and
Ananda Marga, accused of political plans in other countries, are ``quite
different'' in Italy. (The report incorrectly argues, p. 15, that the
Italian Soka Gakkai was ``apparently excommunicated by the Japanese mother
organization.'' In fact both the Italian and the Japanese Soka Gakkai as
lay organizations parted company from the monastic order they used to be
affiliated with, Nichiren Shoshu).
Fraud seems to remain the main risk the Italian police is concerned
about. About (d) many newspapers have quoted the few lines about the year
2,000 and the Catholic Holy Year. The report in fact says that millenarian
groups may be progressive or apocalyptic, and that the latter are more
dangerous for public security than the former. It adds (p. 14): ``It is
true that, particularly in the perspective of the Holy Year, we cannot
exclude as a general hypothesis that some individual, member of one or
another group and conscious that Italy will then become the focus of
considerable international attention, may decide to do something extreme
in order to send a message to the whole world. However risks of this kind
always exist in large international events. Mythomaniacs and disturbed
individuals exist also, and in no lesser percentage, outside religious
movements. Even as far as satanists are concerned it is not probable that
they will do something that will attract the general attention,
considering that their primary interest is mostly to remain invisible and
anonymous (...)'' (p. 14). Finally, the fourth chapter of the introduction
(pp. 15-17) mentions how difficult it is to count members of new religious
movements, since the very concept of ``member'' is controversial, and
tentatively assess the number of new religious movements in Italy as 76,
with 78,500 members. New magical movements may be 61, with 4,600
Is There a ``List'' of the ``Cults''?
In fact, there is no real list of the ``cults'' parallel to the lists
in French or Belgian parliamentary reports. There are individual entries
for 70 movements but the report itself mentions that 137 groups are
monitored as either new religious or new magical movements (p. 17). As
mentioned earlier the report's choice has been to prepare individual
entries for some ``families'' of movements, ignoring altogether other
``families.'' As a consequence, for example, all groups in the
``prophetic-messianic'' subfamily are included and no group at all in the
``adventist'' subfamily has an individual entry. But the fact that a group
has no individual entry does not mean that it is not currently monitored
by the Italian intelligence or police. Conversely, groups are included
because they are part of a certain ``family'' but the entry makes it clear
that they are not accused of any wrongdoing.
What Sources Have Been Used?
Italian readers familiars with Massimo Introvigne's ``Le nuove
Religioni'' (Milan: SugarCo, 1989) and ``Il cappello del mago'' (Milan:
SugarCo, 1990), the two Italian standard encyclopedic textbooks on
religious minorities, would easily recognize that a good portion of the
report is taken from these two books. Particularly, the definition and
typology of new religious movements and the identification of families and
subfamilies follow closely the scheme of ``Le nuove Religioni,'' although
with some differences in terminology (groups called ``micro-churches'' in
``Le nuove Religioni'' are called ``pseudo-churches''; human potential
movements are also called ``psycho-cults'': the latter term is not used in
``Le nuove Religioni''). The very notion and terminology ``new magical
movements'' come from ``Il cappello del mago,'' and the distinction of new
magical movements into families follow strictly the distinction in
sections of ``Il cappello del mago.'' A number of individual entries also
follow largely ``Le nuove Religioni,'' ``Il cappello del mago'' or other
CESNUR sources (on O.T.O. Splinter groups the entries largely and at time
almost verbatim reproduce PierLuigi Zoccatelli's report available on
CESNUR's Web page). There is considerable evidence of the many hours spent
in Turin's CESNUR library. The introduction reproduces entire paragraphs
of works by Massimo Introvigne. No quotes or credits are included. Since
this is a police report, not a book intended for commercial publication,
CESNUR has nothing to complain. In fact, it is quite happy that reliable
information has found its way into the report.
There are, of course, other sources that have been used. On a number of
Italian micro-groups, not included in either ``Le nuove Religioni'' or
``Il cappello del mago,'' anti-cult or counter-cult sources (particularly
files of the Catholic counter-cult organization GRIS) appear to have been
used. On some groups that the report regards as particularly controversial
(and where many different sources were available), it has obviously
considered different sources and elected to follow one or another. This is
particularly true about Scientology (the single largest entry in the
report), where the report largely follows the scheme and the
reconstruction of the decision rendered by the Court of Appeal of Milan in
1996, although it also notes that this decision has been annulled by the
Supreme Court in 1997 (pp. 49-50). Occasionally previous police reports
have been used, such as in the case of the Children of God/The Family (pp.
Is the Report Anti-Cult?
The report per se does not embrace the typical anti-cult positions. In
fact--as opposite to the French and Belgian parliamentary reports--it does
insist on using the terminology ``new religious movements'' and ``new
magical movements'' rather than ``cults.'' It notes that no movement as
such is currently accused of any criminal activity in Italy. It regards a
number of current anti-cult criticism as grossly exaggerated. And, in most
individual entries, it does not mention any wrongdoing. In fact many of
the entries are quite accurate, if short and simple, and a number of
groups may only comply of having been mentioned at all in a document
concerning possible ``dangers''--on the other hand, they come clean out of
it (see, for instance, entries on AMORC, Lectorium Rosicrucianum, New
It is unfortunate that the language of some entries does not always
respect the good intentions of the second chapter of the introduction
(where ``cult''--''setta''--is normally written between brackets, while in
some entries one find ``cult'' and even ``pseudo-cult''--for a UFO group
and whatever it may mean: p. 83--used quite liberally). The report knows
that ``plagio'' (the Italian version of brainwashing) was exposed as a
non-existing crime by the Italian Constitutional Court in 1981. However in
the entries we occasionally read that members are ``submitted to plagio''
in some groups (see p. 89).
Overall, the main parts where the report appears to reproduce anti-cult
stereotypes are one and a half page about brainwashing (pp. 10-11 and
particularly footnote 13)--although, as mentioned earlier, the report does
not fail to note the legal problems in using such a concept in Italy after
the Constitutional Court decision of 1981--and some individual entries. In
the latter the report is either not updated or has elected not to follow
(against its general style) scholarly sources. The worst example of an
entry not updated is the entry on the Children of God/ The Family where
the report fails to note that the sexual wrongdoings of old are no longer
practiced by The Family. It does not mention a 1991 courty decision by the
Justice Court of Rome quite favorable to The Family. It also mentions that
The Family was raided in France in 1993 and accused of child abuse, but
fails to mention that nothing came out of the raid and the members of The
Family involved were finally not prosecuted. The report also does not seem
aware of the Italian schism of a small group that intends to resist the
changes introduced in The Family in the late 1980s and 1990s. This
splinter groups is now completely separate from The Family but may have
created some confusion among law enforcement personnel.The entry on
Scientology, as mentioned earlier, was prepared on the basis of a Milan
court decision later annulled by the Supreme Court. One may wonder whether
in fact it was not prepared before this decision, and some references to
the decision itself subsequently included. Hostile comments also pop up in
the entry about the Unification Church (an entry where recent developments
are also ignored), although it is duly noted that these largerly come from
``campaigns organized by the anti-cult movements'' (p. 28).
A General Evaluation of the Report
If compared with the Belgian and the French parliamentary reports, the
Italian police report is a comparatively moderate and accurate document
(with the exception of a couple of entries, particularly the entry on
Scientology). The Italian intelligence services may teach many of their
European homologues a lesson on how to use scholarly sources and not to
rely exclusively on anti-cult movements. On many issues the Italian
services appear to have done their homework, precisely what their French
and Belgian homologues failed to do before the parliamentary reports. This
does not exclude occasional factual mistakes. Most entries
summarize--obviously in the style of a police report, something different
from a doctoral dissertationÿ09scholarly literature on the group. Others
do not, and unfortunately follow anti-cult stereotypes. In the
introduction, a generally acceptable and moderate paper, a couple of pages
emerge where some legitimacy is granted to anti-cult stereotypes on
brainwashing. Normally, reports of this kind are not the work of two hands
only, and it is not surprising to find some contradictions.
We shall, however, not forget, that this is a police report. It is
written often in a law enforcement jargon. It also summarizes an
intelligence work done following the rules of intelligence services
throughout the world. They collect all rumors and all whispers--some of
them may eventually be true. Typical of the report's style are sentences
introduced by words such as: ``According to rumors we were unable to
confirm...'' (p. 56); ``according to oblique rumors....'' (p. 58);
``according to a source...'' (p. 61); and even ``according to information
we received from an anonymous source...'' (p. 62). It is indeed the work
of police intelligence to collect rumors. Rumors, however, should not be
mistaken for facts, or for confirmed or reliable information. Although
areas of inaccuracy exist in the report, the main problem is not the
report itself. The problem is that a police report has been converted in
headline news overnight by sending it to several politicians and
journalists. When an inventory of rumors reach the media, they tend to
regard the rumors as facts, particularly if rumors appear to have been
granted some legitimacy by having been included in an official report. The
fact that most rumors are dismissed is easily overlooked. A number of
media had headlines on ``the danger of cults on the Holy Year 2,000''
although the report itself regard current ideas about this danger as
grossly exaggerated. A number of media also published the list of the 70
``cults'' that have an individual entry (at times including mistakenly
some that in fact do not have such an entry, such as Soka Gakkai),
although in fact they are called in the report ``new religious and magical
movements'' rather than ``cults.'' The report also mentions for most of
them that they are not accused of any wrongdoing. Their having an entry is
only due to the fact that they have been classified in a ``family'' of
movements regarded as worth watching as a general category. The most
sensational portions of the report about brainwashing, Scientology or the
(old) sexual mores of The Family--in fact the weakest parts of the
report--also became the most quoted. (However, in fact, two of the three
Italian leadig daily newspapers carried on April 30 ,in the same page
where their lead article about the report was published, long interviews
with Dr Massimo Introvigne, director of CESNUR, about the danger of a
witch hunt: see ``Una caccia alle streghe'' [A Witch Hunt] in La Stampa
and ``Ma attenti a non stilare le liste nere degli eretici'' [Beware the
Black List of the Heretics] in La Repubblica--the titles tell it
The real danger is that, because of the media event created around the
report, respectable and law-abiding citizens who happen to be members of
movements mentioned, but explicitly exonerated from any charge, in the
report, may be discriminated or maligned as ``members of a dangerous
cult'' in Italy (just as it happens in France or Belgium). One cannot
blame the authors of the report for this (although they can be blamed for
some inaccurate entries and comments). The interesting question is who
decided to create the media event and why. Conjectures in Italian
political circles mention two possibilities: political conflicts (within
the same majority parties) about the text of the new law on religious
minorities introduced by the government and currently pending before the
parliament, and foreign pressure. It is possible that German and French
intelligence services and anti-cult politicians are not happy about being
accused of bigotry in international forums and contrasted with their more
liberal and tolerant Italian counterparts. The report in fact rather
confirms that Italy, and even Italian intelligence services, have an
approach different from Germany and France (not to mention Belgium, where
the worst of the parliamentary reports was produced in 1997). However the
media results of the publicity given to the reports may undoubtely give
the impression that Italy is following a similar path. Some media will
undoubtely use the report to continue sensational campaigns about
brainwashing, ``psycho-cults,'' Satanism, and crazy cultists threatening
the Catholic celebration of the Holy Year 2,000. On the other hand, Italy
has only a very small anti-cult movement and, even energized by this
incident, it is doubtful that it will become a significant force in the
next few months.
5. European Parliament
The Parliament has entrusted the Committee on Civil Liberties and
Internal Affairs with the task of preparing a report. Following criticism
of the French and Belgian reports by scholars (inter alia in a seminar
organized by CESNUR at the European Parliament in Strasbourg on May 13,
1997), the Committee produced a draft with a number of positive features
(questioning, inter alia, the usefulness of preparing lists of ``cults''),
although not entirely free from anti-cult influence. In July 1998 the
plenary of the Parliament rejected the report lead by a strange coalition
of anti-cultists (regarding it as too soft) and religious liberty
activists (questioning the usefulness of these reports in general). It has
now been sent back to the Committee where it may well rest and die. (The
European Parliament should not be confused with the Council of Europe, an
institution including more European countries but less authoritative and
well-known in Western Europe. Members of the Council of Europe, unlike
those of the European Parliament, are not elected directly by the people.
The Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights of the Parliamentary
Assembly of the Council of Europe is currently preparing a report on
``cults.'' ``Experts'' consulted have included some of the most extreme
French anti-cultists. A number of members of the Assembly are trying to
amend the initial anti-cult text at the time of this writing).
III. Case Studies
There are literally hundreds of religious minorities discriminated
against or persecuted in Western Europe. They belong to all possible
religious and spiritual persuasions. We have selected, as examples, two
cases, concerning comparatively small French groups, certainly not well
known outside France. They could hardly be more different from each
The Evangelical Pentecostal Church of Besançon is an example of how a
group whose theology is clearly mainline (and that will be regarded as
mainline in most Western countries) is marginalized after an encounter
with the anti-cult movement. As mentioned earlier, a number of Catholic,
Protestant and Jewish groups have suffered the same fate. The second
example--the Aumist Religion (not to be confused with the Japanese group
Aum Shinri-kyo), headquartered at the Mandarom, Southern France--could
hardly be less mainline. Its theological ideas are at the very fringe of
the French religious scene. It is not difficult to understand why it has
been easy to make the Mandarom extremely unpopular. However,
constitutional guarantees are aimed, precisely, at protecting unpopular
minorities. Even the most unpopular defendant should be guaranteed due
process and a fair trial.
1. The Evangelical Pentecostal Church of Besançon
The Protestant scenario in Western Europe is slowly becoming as
diversified as the one in the United States. Large liberal denominations,
members of the World Council of Churches (WCC), no longer represent the
majority of Protestants in a number of European countries. Literally
hundreds of Evangelical and Pentecostal churches, often with a
conservative theology, have flourished. The large number of new
churches--and new names--may easily confuse the authorities. As usual,
anti-cultists propose very simple solutions. In France CCMM (Center
Against the Mental Manipulations, the second largest anti-cult group after
ADFI) explicitly claims that all groups not belonging to the WCC, or to
its corresponding French organization, the French Protestant Federation,
are suspicious and may be ``cults.''
Word games are easily played. In fact, the derogatory word in French is
not ``culte'' (the literal translation of ``cult'') but ``secte.'' The
latter word may literally be translated as ``sect'' but rather plays the
same role as the English word ``cult.'' In fact, the French word ``secte''
has today two very different meanings. Books from sociologists of late
19th and early 20th century are still republished, where the word
``secte'' is used, without any derogatory meaning, simply to identify
small denominations or groups that are not (or not yet) regarded as part
of the mainline by the majority churches. On the other hand, for the
general public ``secte'' is rather used, in the sense of the 1996
parliamentary commission, to identify a dangerous religious (or, rather,
``pseudo-religious'') movement using mind control techniques. As the noted
historian and sociologist Emile Poulat remarked precisely about the
Pentecostal Evangelical Church of Besançon, this church ``may be a `secte'
in the sense of Weber [the early German sociologist of religion]; it is
certainly not a `secte' in the popular and parliamentary sense of the
term'' (E. Poulat, ``L'Eglise Evangelique de Pentecoste de Besançon
"Eglise ou secte?,'' Réforme 2733, August 28, 1997). Yet, Evangelical and
Pentecostal Churches are easily labelled as ``sects'' in the popular sense
of the term, i.e.--in plain contemporary English--''cults.''
The Belgian parliamentary report takes quite literally the anti-cult
recommendation to target every Christian group not endorsed by the WCC.
Its list includes Seventh- day Adventists--defined, apparently without
fear of ridicule, as a form of ``Biblical fundamentalism'' founded in
``May 1963'' by ``William Miller'' (Belgian report, Vol. II, p. 228) --,
Amish, the Assemblies of God, Calvary Christian Center, Plymouth Brethren,
the ``Charismatic Renewal'' in general, and a number of small independent
Pentecostal Churches. The French report limits itself, among hundreds of
independent churches, to a dozen of names. Curiously enough, the French
report mentions the Evangelical Pentecostal Church of Besançon (EEPB) and
ignores the Evangelical Missionary Federation, founded on the basis of the
success of the Besançon church, and now including more than 30 churches.
In fact, not unlike other groups, the EEPB seems to have been included in
the report for one simple reason. Based on a family conflict between a
pastor and his father-in-law, the EEPB has been targeted as a ``cult'' by
the anti-cult movement CCMM, particularly after 1994. Due to the peculiar
status of the anti-cult movement in France, the accusations have been
spread by the press (in previous years, quite favorable to EEPB) and up to
the parliamentary commission. Among hundreds of independent churches with
very similar theologies only those specifically targeted (often for very
local or personal reasons) by an anti-cult movement have ended up being
included in the report.
In fact, the EEPB is just another Evangelical Pentecostal church. Its
founder, pastor René Kennel, studied at Nogent-sur-Marne's Institut
Biblique and started his career in 1950 as a Mennonite part-time preacher.
Soon, he welcomed on his family farm the Pentecostal Gipsy Movement of
Pastor Le Cossec (a member of the mainline French Protestant Federation).
Impressed by the gypsies' enthusiasm Kennel started a Pentecostal ministry
and in 1967 became a full time pastor. In 1975 Kennel joined with other
pastors to establish the Evangelical Free Pentecostal Federation (FELP).
In 1977, he became the pastor of a Pentecostal independent church in
Besançon, the present-day EEPB. In 1986, Kennel abandoned his position as
president of FELP in order to oversee the planting of daughter churches of
EEPB in the region. These churches are the basis of the Evangelical
Missionary Federation (FEM), incorporated under French Law in 1989. The
doctrinal statements of the EEPB are quite typical of hundreds of
Evangelical Pentecostal churches.
The accusations raised by the CCMM and the media influenced by
it--literal belief in the existence of the Devil, in miracles, speaking in
tongues--could be easily used against countless Pentecostal or Evangelical
churches. It is possible that church leaders, unfamiliar with legal
matters, made some mistakes when preparing the by-laws and the articles of
incorporation, thus exposing the church to potential problems with French
tax authorities. On the other hand, it is a fact that the French Revenue
Service only took action after the anti-cultists had started targeting
EEPB as a ``cult.'' When, in July 1994, an ex-member visibly drunk damaged
the furniture of the church belonging to the Evangelical Missionary
Federation in Langres, anti-cultists (and a part of the press) quickly
took the side of the apostate, presented as just another ``victim'' of a
``cult.'' Paradoxically, before and after being labeled a ``cult'' by the
parliamentary commission, EEPB has always been able to maintain its
pastors, for health and retirement insurance purposes, in the lists of
CAMAC-CAMAVIC. (This is the social fund for pastors in France that is
largely controlled by the Roman Catholic Church and includes ministers of
all the mainline Christian churches).
In the meantime, however, the fact of being in the parliamentary list
of ``dangerous cults'' threatens the very existence of EEPB and of the
whole FEM. Not only does media pressure against the ``cult'' continue
but--following administrative instructions enacted in the wake of the
parliamentary report--the federation's churches have been denied the use
of public meeting halls by local authorities, and the French Revenue
Service is continuously harassing this struggling minority. The saga of
EEPB confirms that in the present French scenario it is not enough to
preach a mainline Christian theology in order to avoid the label of a
``cult.'' A minor incident is enough to result in being blacklisted by an
anti-cult movement. And, unfortunately, the black lists of the anti-cult
movements easily become the black lists of the media and the
2. The French Aumist Religion (the Mandarom)
The French Aumist Religion, whose legal structure is called Association
of the Triumphant Vajra, headquartered in its holy city of Mandarom (hence
the popular nickname of ``The Mandarom''), is not only regarded by
anti-cultists and by a sizeable part of the French media as a cult. It is
the cult, particularly in Southern France. This is in itself an
interesting phenomenon, taking into account that the Aumist Religion is
not a very large group, with less than one thousand members in France and
a smaller constituency in Italy, Quebec, Belgium, Switzerland and Africa.
The holy city of the Mandarom--described as the very epitome of the
``danger of the cults,'' a base threatening a whole country--does not
include more than fifty residing monks.
The Aumist Religion (the name comes from the sacred Eastern sound AUM,
the only common element with the Japanese Aum Shinri-kyo) was founded by
Mr. Gilbert Bourdin, a native of French Martinique. In 1961 he was
initiated by the Indian master Sivananda in Rishikesh (later, he received
other initiations, inter alia by the 16th Karmapa) and started gathering
followers as an ascetic practising austerities in Southern France. He also
became quite well-known as a Yoga teacher and author of some 22 books
(some of them translated in several languages). In 1967 he established the
Association of the Knights of the Golden Lotus (replaced in 1995 by the
current Association of the Triumphant Vajra) and in 1969 he founded the
holy city of the Mandarom. Gradually, Bourdin revealed himself as the
Messiah: the Lord Hamsah Manarah. In 1990 he was publicly crowned as the
Messiah at the Mandarom; some of the ceremonies were open to the media. At
that time the movement hoped to crown the existing constructions at the
Mandarom (temples representing all the great religions of the world and
huge statues) with a larger Temple-Pyramid, a building of great spiritual
and cosmic significance for the Aumists.
The public ceremonies of 1990 were interpreted as an arrogant challenge
by the anti-cult movement and the media. The Mandarom with its huge
constructions was, simply, too visible. Two TV networks, Antenne 2 and TF
1, started a campaign exposing the Mandarom as a ``cultic concentration
camp.'' Among the anti-cult activists emerged militant psychiatrist
Jean-Marie Abgrall. He went on record on TV commenting, about Aumism, that
``notwithstanding what they claim, cults are not religious movements, but
rather criminal movements organized by gurus who use brainwashing to
manipulate their victims,'' a nice summary of the anti-cult ideology. The
campaign against the Mandarom was largely organized by ADFI, and from 1992
it was joined by an ad hoc ecologist group lead by Mr. Robert Ferrato. The
latter claimed that the Mandarom is an offense to the ecological
equilibrium of the mountain where it is built and called for its
destruction. As mentioned earlier, anti-cult activists are taken more
seriously in France than in other countries, and even an extreme character
such as Dr. Abgrall managed to become one of the two ``experts'' in the
national Observatory of Cults established in 1996.
The Mandarom was raided repeatedly between 1992-1995 by tax and police
officers in a military style. ADFI, Mr. Ferrato, and a reporter for the TV
network TF1, Bernard Nicolas, played a key-role in making an apostate,
Florence Roncaglia (whose mother is still with the Mandarom), ``remember''
that she had been molested and raped by Bourdin in the 1980s. A complaint
was filed in 1994, just before the expiration of the legal delay. Later,
other female apostates also ``remembered.'' Based on Roncaglia's
complaint, the Mandarom was raided again on June 12, 1995 and Bourdin was
arrested. Coincidentially, at the same date the French Council of State
should have rendered its final decision on the question of building
permission of the Temple-Pyramid. The decision was finally unfavourable to
the Aumist Religion. On June 30, 1995, Mr. Bourdin was released but the
proceedings against him were kept pending. For the Aumists, the fact that
the Temple-Pyramid can no longer be built is extremely serious. In 1998
Bourdin died and was denied burial not only at the Mandarom but in all the
main cemeteries around it (he is buried in a disaffected cemetery)--the
authorities cited anti-cult concerns about the Aumists converting the
grave into another pilgrimage site. The case of the Mandarom raises
important questions. There is little doubt that the claims the Aumists
make for their founder are quite extreme. Generally speaking, claiming to
be the Messiah does not make any religious leader particularly popular.
The Aumist literature combines Eastern themes and Western esotericism, and
it is difficult to distinguish between actual and symbolic claims. (For
example, it is argued that the Messiah has destroyed millions of devils
threatening Planet Earth. These and similar claims are routinely quoted by
anti-cultists to ridicule the Mandarom). In short, Mr. Bourdin was an
unpopular religious leader, and Aumism is an unpopular minority. This
circumstance makes Aumism an excellent case to test religious liberty in
France. When a group is protected by its own popularity, there is no need
for constitutional or international guarantees.
The scholars who have taken the time to study the Mandarom (others are
simply scared away by controversy) have raised doubts about the
possibility for Bourdin, had he lived, to obtain a fair trial. They
certainly do not suggest that sexual abuse by pastors or religious leaders
should be condoned. They agree that it should be vigorously investigated
and prosecuted. Some comments about the Mandarom case are, however, in
order. First, the local judges do not seem to be familiar with doubts
raised in the United States and elsewhere about belated memories of sexual
abuses surfacing after many years in therapy or within the frame of
national controversies. In fact, in the last few years, most cases of
so-called ``recovered memories'' have been dismissed by U.S. courts. It is
in fact too easy to accuse public figures of sexual abuses allegedly
taking place 10 or 15 years ago. Second, it is questionable that the Court
of Digne had regarded it as necessary to appoint an expert to investigate
``the doctrines and practices of the Mandarom and their connection, if
any, with the facts of the case against Mr. Bourdin.'' A point confirming
the dubious objectivity of this proceeding is that the Court of Digne has
appointed Dr. Jean-Marie Abgrall as its expert--not only a militant
anti-cultist but an author who had written in a book that Bourdin is ``a
fraud'' and ``a paranoid,'' and that Aumism is a ``clownesque caricature
of a cult'' (Abgrall, La Mécanique des sectes, 1996, pp. 31, 91). The
verdict of a similar ``independent expert'' had been rendered in advance.
Finally, irrespective of the personal problems of the late Mr. Bourdin,
one wonders why, in connection with his prosecution, the Mandarom has been
repeatedly raided, Waco-style, by paratroopers, and a number of members of
the movement other than Mr. Bourdin have been handcuffed and taken into
custody (although no charges were ever filed against any of them).
Scholars are often asked whether there is a risk that groups such as
the Mandarom may become involved in violent confrontations with the
authorities, or commit mass suicides like the Solar Temple. They normally
answer that the Aumist doctrine is firmly against violence and suicides.
This is, however, only part of the story. Writing on the situation at the
Mandarom, Italian scholar Luigi Berzano (a professor of sociology at the
University of Turin and a Roman Catholic priest) mentioned the
sociological theories of amplified deviance (Berzano, ``La déviance
supposée dans le `phénoméne sectaire': l'exemple de la religion aumiste,''
in Pour en finir avec les sectes. Le débat sur le rapport de la commission
parlementaire, Paris: Dervy, 1996: 315-320). According to these theories,
the hostile official responses to a movement regarded as deviant may in
fact amplify its deviance. In a sense--as suggested in the U.S. debate by
Passas and others--the movement is ``deformed'' by official and anti-cult
harassment. Excessive reaction against a movement, thus, becomes a
self-fulfilling prophecy and may cause the very evil it is supposed to
While it is not for scholars to recommend specific policy attitudes,
some general suggestions seem to be in order.
1. It should be clear from our report that Asia, Africa and Eastern
Europe should not be the only areas of concern when religion liberty risks
are evaluated. At least three countries in the European Union (France,
Belgium and Germany) should be considered at risk (with the addition of
Greece, where the problems are, however, more similar to those prevailing
in Eastern Europe).
2. A primary cause of concern is the public sponsorship in these
countries of private anti-cult movements. It is abundantly clear that
these movements are responsible for spreading misleading and often simply
false information about religious minorities, and an intolerant
3. It should be clarified that disgruntled apostates, no matter who
sponsors their claims, are but a minority of the larger population of
ex-members of any given religious minority, and should not, without
further investigation, be considered as representative of ex-members in
4. It is a cause of serious concern that myths at least partially
discredited and debunked in the United States about brainwashing and mind
control, thanks to the promotion by the anti-cult lobby, are still taken
seriously in certain European countries. They need to be exposed as
5. Words are not neutral. Words such as ``cults'' (or ``sectes'' in
French, or equivalent words in other European languages) are easily used
as tools of hate and discrimination, and should be avoided, particularly
in official documents. Scholars often use ``new religious movements.''
Although better than ``cults,'' even this language can cause
misunderstandings about movements which are new only in the West while
they represent a century-old-tradition in the East (such as ISKCON,
popularly known as the Hare Krishna movement, or Soka Gakkai, part of the
mainline tradition of Japanese Nichiren Buddhism). The most neutral term
is ``religious minorities.'' It avoids judgements about whether a group is
acceptable, or is connected to an old tradition.
6. Nothing in this report should suggest that laws should not be
enforced against criminal actions perpetrated within the frame of old (or
not so old) religious movements. The experience shows that there are, in
fact, dangerous and even criminal, religious groups. In case of common
crimes (a different thing from the imaginary crimes of ``belonging to a
cult'' or ``using mind control techniques'') the suspects should be
investigated and prosecuted as criminal suspects, not as members of