Soteria International in collaboration with
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- Coordination des Associations et des Particuliers pour la Liberté de Conscience (CAP)
- European Interreligious Forum for Religious Freedom (EIFRF)
- European Muslim Initiative for Social Cohesion (EMISCO)
- Dansk Interreligiøst Forum (DIF)
- Youth for Human Rights (UFMR)
Spiritual Human Rights 2013 Conference
Copenhagen, 10th December 2013
Freedom of conscience and belief at a crossroads in Europe - self-determination and spiritual teachings
Governments are implementing new laws across Europe, claiming to protect citizens from “mind manipulation”. The criminalization targets particularly minority religions and spiritual movements.
Our democracy is based on self-determination - the individual’s ability and right to decide for himself. The new laws suggest that this ability is threatened today. But are spiritual teachings the threat? Is criminalization the answer?
If the individuals’ ability of self-determination is threatened, should it not be secured by strengthening the freedom of conscience, rather than by criminalizing certain thoughts or beliefs?
Welcome to the 6th Spiritual Human Rights conference with international experts, politicians, human rights activists and spiritual leaders discussing different perspectives on self-determination and spiritual teachings.
Program, Tuesday 10th December 2013
11.30 – 12.00: Registration and tea
12.00 – 14.30: Morning session: Minority religions and spiritual movements are specifically targeted by “mind manipulation” laws. What is the background and consequences of this disproportionate attention?
14.30 – 15.30: Lunch
15.30 – 18.00: Afternoon session: If the individuals’ ability of self-determination is threatened by mind manipulation, this should be countered by a strengthened freedom of thought, conscience and belief. What is the role of authorities and what is the role of spiritual teachings in cultivating this inner freedom?
18.00 – 18.15: Tea break and mini-concert
18.15 – 19.00: Conclusions
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When it comes to freedom of religion and belief, diversity and pluralism still appear to be challenging concepts in modern societies. Paradoxically, the situation is difficult also in countries with an established democratic tradition and strong commitments to respect fundamental liberties. Strong historical imprints of the traditional religions in a society, coupled with lack of education and understanding of various religious and spiritual systems, lead to increasing misunderstandings and polarization among populations.
Societies continue to struggle with acceptance of alternative and unconventional currents, particularly within the established religious and spiritual frameworks, and state authorities attempt to preserve a dominant control of the field. Otherwise, how to explain that many countries discuss the legislation against so-called “mental manipulation” at a parliamentary level? Several countries, including some EU member states, have already adopted such laws. In most of these legislative acts the formulations are general. However, their application particularly targets new and alternative religious and spiritual groups, wrongfully and abusively labelled by authorities and mass media as “cults” or “sects”.
Examples of such legislative acts are the About-Picard law in France, the “plagio” law in Italy, dropped in 1981, but currently attempted to be re-introduced, the “Abuse of weakness” law in Belgium, the “Alteration or control of the personality” law in Spain, and many others.
As basis of them all is the presumption that the “victim” has not had the ability to properly exercise his self-determination. To determine some choices of belief as derived from “mental manipulation” risks to corrupt the right of self-determination at a fundamental level. As the application of the legislation may go, basically anyone who joins an unconventional religious or spiritual group can be labelled as “brainwashed” and this argument can be used, as it is often so, to criminalize and dismantle the groups.
Such legislation may eventually enforce a dangerous construct of discrimination, dividing citizens into those who adhere to common religious traditions or to none, and those who adhere to non-conventional traditions, basically labelling them as mentally dysfunctional as a result of alleged manipulations.
Discrimination of minority religions is nowadays recognised as a new form of “racism”. Many countries have officially published and disseminated lists with so-called “sects and cults” (such lists were officially endorsed in governmental reports in Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, China, France, Germany, Russia and United States). Some of these lists are very extensive and even include groups that do not position themselves as religious or spiritual, but rather as dealing with wellness and alternative medicine. Thus, what was presented by state authorities as an attempt to protect citizens, actually threatens their safety, since such measures fuel intolerance and public hatred towards the groups mentioned in those lists, leading to severe marginalization of their followers and imposing on them a condition of fear and hesitation or assumed risk to profess and practice their beliefs.
However, among human rights defenders there is an apparent controversy between human rights groups who accuse minority religions of ”mental manipulation” and promote legislation, and human rights groups who defend and protect minority religions and spiritual movements against abuses by investigations and accusations of “mind manipulation”. Both those who attack and those who defend the religious and spiritual groups do it in protection of self-determination; each individual’s ability and right to decide for himself. Both groups seemingly work to secure the individual’s ability and right to follow his heart. Both sides aim at strengthening the freedom of thought, conscience and belief.
The “mind manipulation laws” seem to take reduced ability of self-determination as a reason to restrict the right of self-determination. It is clear that criminalization in the area of thought and belief threatens the open society. Democracy is founded on the axiom of self-determination. Should society not rather aim to increase the ability of self-determination in order to truly strengthen the right of self-determination?
The conference “Freedom of conscience and belief at a crossroads in Europe - self-determination and spiritual teachings” wants to highlight the fundamental human rights problems with the current trend of legislation and draw lines for a new inclusive discourse on mind manipulation, self-determination and spiritual teachings.
The first part of the conference will bring light on the background and consequences of minority religions being particularly targeted by the current legislation. The conference offers specific examples from Italy and France and an exposure of general trends on legislation in Europe today.
The first session will conclude with a discussion on how to shed proper light on the on-going undemocratic situation. Could the precautionary principle possibly be used to hinder further legislation within the EU until the consequences are fully known? Could the implementation of the precautionary principle bring this fundamental democratic question from policymakers back to civil society? Could this question be included in a general request to authorities to take discrimination of minority religions serious and take action against it?
The second part will be a roundtable discussion regarding self-determination, mind manipulation and religious teachings. As criminalization is not an option in an open society, self-determination must be secured in society by a strong individual freedom of thought, conscience and belief. What is the role of authorities in strengthening the freedom of thought, conscience and belief? What is the role of spiritual teachings? Are there any best practices to relate to?