European Interreligious Forum For Religious Freedom


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Speech given the 16 October 2013 in Brussels at the Seminar "Freedom of opinion, religion and belief — Persecution of, and discrimination against, minority-groups" Organized by EIFRF with the partnership of
• The Gerard Noodt Foundation for FoRB
• Pro Europa Christiana
• Soteria International
• CAPLC Europe
• FOREF Europe

Protection of religions - big and small - is state’s duty
By Bashy Quraishy
Secretary General - EMISCO -European Muslim Initiative for Social Cohesion - Strasbourg
Member - Advisory Board - Migration Research Centre - Hacettepe University - Ankara. Turkey
Chair-Advisory Council-ENAR - Brussels

I want to thank the organizers of this important meeting for inviting me to speak on the an issue, which is very close to my heart, namely the right of every human being to have a religion, practice it and not be discriminated, harassed or vilified. 
I am saying that not as a person belonging to Islam, the second largest faith in the world or as a deeply religious person, which I am not but as a co-citizen in this continent of Europe, which claims to be the centre of democracy, equality and the rule of law. 
In short, societal accept and respect of an individual, group or a movement to have a religion, faith, belief system or traditions, to practice it in peace and to propagate it without restrictions and interference.
I am also honored to be among such wonderful and dedicated souls who want to make a difference by bringing people together to discuss in detail the trend in Europe to increase restrictions on freedom of religion and clandestine efforts by some countries through their NGO proxies – by providing them money, support and placing them in very important public institutions like COE, UN, OSCE and other respected organizations.
Many people, with whom I work on daily basis, often warn me to be careful in my contacts with cults or small religions. They are dedicated human beings. Their hearts beat for justice and equality. They fight against racism, want to eliminate discrimination and intolerance. 
But when it comes to religions which are small in their eyes or who are under constant attack in the western media, the same decent people, all of a sudden become prejudiced and intolerant. It is heart breaking. I simply do not understand their logic.
I do not divide people according to their religions. I think there are good people and there are nasty ones in all societies and religions. There is no religion, which has a patent on goodness and nobility. Not even my own religion – Islam and definitely not Christianity. If every thing the western media says about my religion is true, then I must be the most primitive, intolerant, uneducated and fanatical terrorist of all times. 
I think that the holders of this so-called western civilization are afraid to admit that there are other alternatives to their way of living and solving society’s problems.     
In the month of June 2001, something very unusual happened in French history. French President Jacques Chirac signed a bill, which practically prevents small religions and faiths to exercise their right to propagate and recruit new followers. 
The main argument for the law was that it will scare the new age religions and sects to brain wash innocent and weak souls. These sects are in the eyes of the French State, dangerous and oppressive therefore it is clearly the duty of the State to act to protect its citizens. 
It is worth remembering that the same French State does not allow Muslim girls to wear scarf in schools, Sikhs to wear Turban, Christians can not wear a cross and Jewish people, their Kippah. I call it secularism gone wild by attacking all religions.
Of course, it would be difficult to argue against or for such actions since all States are sovereign and have the constitutional right to protect it’s citizens from external and internal threats. Problem arises when the case is prepared not against an individual or an organization but as a warning shot against all religions which the State itself defines dangerous and disapprove of. 
Such visible attacks are being conducted by Miviludes, an official French governmental body created to fight against abuses by sects. In reality, it is nothing more than a group of French right wing establishment Catholics in disguise, trying to monopolize all religious and moral space in France. 
The second worrisome aspect of this particular law has been that it did not remain only the French issue but such laws are also being put in place or are under consideration in other European countries. Germany, Austria, Belgium and Russia are some of the countries where very powerful campaigns have been launched not only against new age religions and sects but also against established religions such as Judaism and Islam. 
There are active anti-sect lobbies that morally, financially and politically inspire, support and back unending propaganda and thus are directly responsible for a political climate, where such discriminatory laws are being passed. These are called “anti-sect movements” in many European countries. We can now ask: Where are the human rights of those individuals who do want to follow scientology, Church of Unification, Hari Krishna, Jehovah’s Witness or hundreds of other religions?
Talking of human rights. Every political or religious leader, member of a parliament, media editor or a business professional agrees that human rights are important. But even in some highly enlightened and respected democracies in European Union, individuals are being discriminated against because of their religious belief.  
What if you went to the bank one day and were told your accounts had been closed because you are a Catholic? You applied for membership in a political party and you were told they do not accept Protestants. Would it not be discrimination?
What if your application for a job was thrown in a dustbin because your name was Hassan or you were demoted on your job with no prospects of advancement, because you have a Jewish background?  
That would be unacceptable and discriminatory in every sense. 
But these are just a few of the examples of the types of discrimination affecting countless citizens of the European Union who have chosen to think differently and join a new religious movement.

These are real human rights abuses and something must be done about it.  
The pages of the newspapers are filled with the problems humanity is facing. Who does not know the problem of illiteracy, drug abuse, lack of education, stress, lack of parental care, wars and the problem of human rights violations? The list goes on.
Did you know that up to 25% of the adult population in twelve of the world's richest countries is so functionally illiterate that they can not write a check or read a prescription? How can they enjoy their rights when they do not have the education to understand them? Something must be done about it. 
We seldom hear about solutions. Very few people offer practical solutions. New religions are trying to come up with solutions. At least we can appreciate their efforts instead of criticizing them all the time. 
I also believe that if an individual is mistreated, abused, taken advantage of or brain washed by a sect, a priest, an organization or for that matter the State itself, he or she should be given all support to redress the situation through the courts. Let the rule of the law be the judge. 
Now, I want to share with you a recent personal experience, which made a non-religious person like me furious, sad and aware of the inner working of such organizations, which are working to spread hate and false rumors against religions-small and even big.
As some of you can remember, EMISCO had a conference about Islamophobia in the European Parliament- Brussels on 9th January 2013. There, a lady participant came to me and said that since I work with religious discrimination, anti-Semitism and Islamophobia, she wanted to give me a book of interest. She handed me a book and told me to read it. I thanked the lady and gave her my visit card. Since I get so many publications in the conferences, I did not take notice at that point.
However when I came home and looked at all the material, I collected in Brussels, the title of the book that kind lady gave me caught my attention. It is called: "Freedom of Religion or Belief  - Anti-Sect Movements and State Neutrality. A Case Study: FECRIS". 
I was rather struck at the professionalism of the authors because it was compiled by various European academics and experts like, Attorney-at-Law of Paris Bar, Patricia Duval and Sociologist/Assistant professor Regis Dericquebourg as well as organization Human Rights Without Frontiers and many more. The book was published in Berlin in 2012. 
Since I have come across the name of this organization in various places like UN in Geneva, OSCE in Warsaw and also in Strasbourg meetings about religions, I became curious to know, if what the book was saying was true or false. 
After few months, the same lady contacted me on the phone and told me that FECRIS is going to have a conference in Copenhagen on 30th May. She also gave me a link to a member organization of FECRIS, from Belgium called AVISO, where I found the news and the description of the conference as well as the program.  
I contacted my journalist friends in Denmark and abroad to find out any contact person for the conference but it appeared that the conference was a very secret affair without any publicity in the press – internationally or Danish. Even later I saw that the Belgian NGO AVISO had removed the mention of the conference on its website.
So on 30th May, I decided to try my luck at the entrance in the hope that my TV Press Card could give the possibility to attend the important conference.
I was just curious as to what FECRIS works with and what it thinks about indoctrination in big religions, such as Islam, Christianity, Hinduism and Judaism.
I was very fortunate that at the gate, I met Mr. Disier Pachoud, whose organization GEMPPI is a prominent member of FICRIS and he is the treasurer too. I showed him by Press Card and he very kindly took me with him and even introduced with the President of FECRIS, Mr. Tom Sackville from UK.
I was given a front seat row, besides Daniele Muller-Tulli and other board members. From that close proximity, I took some pictures of the speakers and made notes of the speeches. Without going in to details of the nature and quality of lectures, I was perturbed by the harsh language against smaller religions and how all of them were exploiting as well as enslaving innocent people. 
But I was also impressed by the emphasize all speakers were putting on human rights, respect for individual freedom, equality before law and FICRIS’s determination to expose those who live in luxury on disciples hard work and naivety.  
All very noble aims, I thought.
In the Coffee break, I went to Mr. Sackville and tapped an interview with him for an article for my Face book and may be for wider distribution in the media.
In my interview, I told him who I was and then asked him the following questions:
·      What are sects or cults in his opinion and how FECRIS advises its member organizations?
·      Do not people have a right to form or belong to a religion, a sect or a cult?
·     If sects/cults or small religions break the law, why does not FECRIS take them to court, instead of campaigning against these?
·      What was FECRIS position with regard to indoctrination going on in large organized religions?
·      Why FECRIS was working closely with organization like CRS from Russia, whose head Mr. Alexander Dvorkin is famous for anti-Islam lectures and is the Vice President of FECRIS?
·      Why a large part of the program was dedicated against Scientology? 
My last two questions, especially about Scientology visibly irritated Mr. Sackville but he kept his cool and we parted amicably. While I was having tea, a very angry Mr. Dvorkin approached me and demanded to know, why I have accused him for giving anti-Islam lectures. Apparently, Mr. Sackvile has told him about my question. 
I explained to him that I have found many articles and You Tube videos on the Internet and even Muslim organizations in Russia have complained to the government about his anti-Islam activities. He first denied and blamed the bad translations from Russian to English but when I asked him to send me a Russian text, he accused me to be a Scientologist spy who has infiltrated the conference.
I quietly took my tea and when I came back to my seat, I was encircled by at least 6 officials of FECRIS, demanding the truth and what I was doing in this private conference and who has invited me and where I would use the photos and notes.
I calmly explained to them the whole situation, pointed out that their treasurer had invited me in and even gave them some names from COE to verify who I was. They demanded to see my Press Card again, which I obliged but one of their officials threatened to throw me out. He even remembered me from a UN Conference from Geneva and accused me of being Muslim fundamentalist.
I can honestly tell you that in my entire political life, where I have discussed with most hardcore racists, Islamophobes and anti-Semites, I had never felt to uneasy.
While this was going on, Mr. Sackville went on the podium and addressed the delegates and said: We have a scientologist among us and his name is Mr. Bashy Quraishy.
I then and there decided to leave the meeting because the atmosphere was getting ugly, threatening and unpleasant. One never knows, what can happen in such tense situations where a single person is confronting an angry mob. One positive note is that the man who invited me in. Didier Pachoud turned out to be a kind and reasonable person who did try to calm the situation. Many members of FECRIS were boasting their strong links and influence with COE and UN and how the French government supports them financially.
I was simply shocked at the rude and threatening behavior of some top officials of FICRIS. After all, it claims to fight against injustice, exploitation and slave like existence of cult disciples. I fail to understand and honestly, I am appalled that an organization, which gets substantial financial support from tax payers money on the name of promoting and protecting the rights of the families who supposedly suffer at the hands of some sects and cults, would act in such a dictatorial manner towards a guest whose only crime was to ask its president some tough questions. 
What happened to that transparency, which FECRIS demands from the spiritually inclined groups and religious organizations? Why FECRIS was so intolerant and secretive towards a journalist who gave them all the information, its top officials asked? Either FECRIS has a hidden agenda or it is no better than those it claims to fight against.
My impression was and still is of anger, sadness and utter disgust.   Since, I am a fighter for justice, I told them before leaving; You have chosen the wrong person to mess with. I am not going to accept such uncivilized and frankly speaking – despicable behavior.  I have complained to COE, written articles and have made a video of the whole affair and the rest is history. 
What can be done?
As a human rights campaigner, I am very worried by the onslaught of the modern secularism, resulting in the fact that it has become the new state sponsored religion of most of the European countries. This new form of secular ideology is uncompromising in its dealing with religious communities. Ironically it also does, what it blames the religions for, namely “oppress the others”. 
Many states, like France, Belgium, Italy and Spain provide substantial funding to so-called secular networks, which enable these to campaign vigorously against religious communities – big and small. These anti-religion movements work on local, national and European level in a very organized manner.  
Unfortunately, networks, NGOs and individuals working against religious discrimination are themselves, not working in union and in a professional as well as co-coordinated fashion. 
This lack of a combined effort is in fact hindering most of the efforts, which goes into rejecting and countering religious discrimination, thus producing very little visible results. 
To establish such missing co-operation, EMISCO proposes the following:
1. Traditional large religions together with smaller faith/religions must support each other against State Discrimination and counter propaganda from anti-religion networks like FECRIS. We do not need to have agreements on each other’s doctrines, dogmas and convictions because our adversary is right in front of our faces, namely discrimination and our common tool is human rights.
2. Building of strong alliances to lobby local/national/EU politicians, parliaments, EU institutions, International organizations like COE, OSCE, FRA and UN. 
3. Establish a Centre, which monitors the media -both mainstream and social- coverage of religious minorities strengthen the contacts with progressive journalists, respond to negative statements quickly and professionally. Media is even more powerful than politicians because they also use it to convey their own secular messages.
4. Strengthen initiatives and organizations, which are already working with inter-faith training, raising awareness and train activists. Brussels based NGO CEJI is a good example of practical work in this area.
5. Seminars and conferences are very good tools but there is a need to have a substantial campaigns to highlight the work of anti-religious movements. It can be done by putting the spotlights on their activities through press releases, videos, Twitters, Face book postings and producing a ”Name and Shame” list of leading members of such movements. 
My great wish is that the world should be based on satisfying the needs of all, instead of some. I want a world where many different cultures and religions live in harmony, where human beings are judged by the strength of their character and kindness of their hearts and not by the color of their skin or by the name of their religion.

Rédigé par Bashy Quraishy le Saturday, October 19th 2013 | Comments (0)

Speech given the 16 October 2013 in Brussels at the Seminar "Freedom of opinion, religion and belief — Persecution of, and discrimination against, minority-groups" Organized by EIFRF with the partnership of
• The Gerard Noodt Foundation for FoRB
• Pro Europa Christiana
• Soteria International
• CAPLC Europe
• FOREF Europe

French Secularism and Europe
By Patricia Duval
Attorney at Law – France
Specialist in European and international Human Rights law
Master in Public Law and European Union Law, La Sorbonne, Paris
Secularism of the French institutions has been achieved through a long process starting with the French Revolution of 1789 and continuing through the enactment of the 1905 law consecrating the separation of Church and State. This transitional and confrontational period eventually resulted in the 1905 law, which has ensured secularity and neutrality of the French institutions and equality of all religions before the law. 
This law, which has guaranteed freedom of conscience and freedom of cult, has been the end of an evolution designed at extracting the Catholic Church from the State institutions. During this evolution, the Republicans, who harbored anti-clerical sentiments based on the Church’s cooperative relationship with the former Monarchy and its abuses, as well as its omnipotence in the French institutions, opposed supporters of the Catholic Church, especially the legitimist Catholics, partisans of the legitimate king. 
This opposition materialized in particular in the conflict concerning education, and the Catholic Church’s omnipresence in the education system. 
Finally, in the 1880s, Minister of Public Education Jules Ferry had laws enacted ensuring free, mandatory and secular education. 
However, this was followed by a period of extreme repression of Catholic communities when the President of Council (equivalent to Prime Minister) was Emile Combes, a former Doctor in Theology and apostate, who was a radical anti-clerical. 
In 1904, a law was enacted to prohibit teaching to all congregations, authorized or not, even those which had existed for over a century. A total of around 15,000 charities of congregations – schools, community clinics or charity homes – had been closed down since 1901, and around 30,000 clerics forced to exile. The Chartreuse Order of cloistered monks (The Carthusians), founded in 1084, was evacuated by the army. In May 1904, diplomatic relationships with the Vatican were broken off. 
Combes was applauded for his extreme measures by the Republican partisans of what they called “Total Secularism” (“Laïcité intégrale”) and who nicknamed him “Little Father Combes” (“Petit père Combes”). 
In December 1905, the bill of separation of Churches and State, initially proposed by Combes in a version that was very severe for all denominations, even minorities, but modified under the influence of the more moderate Member of Parliament, President of the Commission in charge of reviewing the draft bill, Aristide Briand, was enacted. 
The partisans of secularism were themselves divided into two camps: the followers of Emile Combes, who aimed at eradicating Religion and others, like Aristide Briand, who wanted to declare the neutrality of State towards all creeds and to guarantee freedom of conscience pursuant to the Declaration of Human Rights and Rights of the Citizens enacted in 1789. 
Thereafter, after some difficulties of application of the 1905 law due to the refusal of Vatican of some of its provisions, French society started to reconcile and the religious congregations which had been closed down started to form again. In 1920, France restored its diplomatic relationships with the Holy See. 
It should be underlined that during this whole evolution, the excesses committed against religious communities included restrictions to religious expression, including the eradication of religious symbols from public places with the systematic destruction of way-side crosses in the countryside, prohibition of religious processions and prohibition of clerical robes. 
During the vote of the 1905 law, Charles Chabert, Member of Parliament, proposed an amendment to allow Priests to wear a clerical robe only during the exercise of their functions. 
Chabert explained his amendment in the following way: 
“Isn’t the clerical robe essentially a symbol? Isn’t its wearing primarily a confessional manifestation? The Catholics themselves admit that the robe is a lively preaching, a permanent act of proselytizing. Matters of conscience stay in the conscience: this is the spirit of the law we are drawing up. But the robe in public, this is matters of conscience in the street! And this is why it is our duty to prohibit it if we want to be consistent with ourselves.” 
Chabert further explained: 
“Sirs, the robe not only makes the priest a captive of his Bishop: it makes him a captive of his long clerical teachings, a captive of his narrow environment, a captive of his own ignorance, I would nearly say of his own stupidity.” 
Finally, Aristide Briand, Rapporteur for the law, spoke up, stating that the Commission had decided, after thorough deliberations, not to include any provision in the bill concerning clerical robes. He explained that it seemed to the Commission that the law would be exposed to critics of intolerance and even to ridicule by imposing such restrictions on clerical robes while its purpose was to install confessional freedom. Briand also noted that it would  be rash to attribute the prestige of religion in the French countryside to the mere cut of the clerical robe and that the influence of the Church had other reasons, less easy to destroy, otherwise freethinkers would have already won. 
Chabert’s amendment was finally rejected and no provision was included in the 1905 law concerning clerical robes. 
It should be underlined here that nearly a century later, the same kind of arguments have been used to ban wearing of conspicuous religious insignias and attire in public schools. The same specter of proselytizing through the wearing of a garment that was deemed ridiculous by Aristide Briand, has been used with the Muslim veil. Who can reasonably believe that the sight of a Muslim veil would make non-Muslim girls convert to Islam? Like Briand stated, there has to be deeper reasons to conversion. Yet, this argument has been admitted as valid in all the debates and by all the French institutions to a lesser or greater degree. 
And it seems that the partisans of “Total Secularism” are back in power. 
A new Circular was enacted on 22 March 2012 by the French Ministry of National Education addressed to education authorities of primary and high schools entitled “Prevention and Fight against Sectarian Risks”. 
This Circular provides for the identification of “sectarian risks” by the National Education personnel. A “sectarian risk” is so defined in the Circular: 
“A situation of sectarian risk, for a child, is therefore the one in which some views and practices are imposed on him with the exception of any other views or practice. This situation is likely to harm his intellectual development, his social integration and finally his attainment of autonomy. The risk concerns not only the content of the knowledge passed on, the possibility of access to the values and pluralism of democratic societies, but also the possibility for the child to develop and exert a critical mind, an independent judgment. The context can be family, or even community: the child is then likely to be under the undue influence of views and practices threatening his education”. 
Following the Circular definition any views could be said to be imposed on a child by his parents, and could be said to be undue because they are exclusive of any other beliefs. This is precisely what the right to educate a child in conformity with one’s own beliefs is all about. 
However, National Education personnel have the duty to report on any child and family suspected of “sectarian drifts” due to the parents’ adherence to certain religious beliefs or worldviews. 
With the start of the new school year in September 2013, another step has been taken with the introduction of a new subject entitled “secular morals” in the curriculums, and on 9 September 2013, the release of the Charter of Secularism to be posted in all primary and high public schools in France. 
On 2 September, in an interview to the “Journal du Dimanche”, the Minister of Education announced that the mission of the subject on “secular morals” is the emancipation of pupils. He explained that in order to give them freedom of choice, the State has to be able to “snatch them away from any and all determinism”, including family influence. 
This constitutes an outright violation of the pupils’ and their parents’ rights to freedom of religion or belief. 
The Charter of Secularism provides that: 
6. Secularism gives the pupils the conditions to forge their personality, exert their free will and learn about citizenship. It protects them from any proselytizing and pressure which would prevent them from making their own choices. 
12. The teachings are secular. In order to ensure to pupils the most objective openness to the diversity of worldviews as well as to the scope and precision of knowledge, no subject is a priori excluded from scientific and educational questioning. No pupil can give a religious or political conviction as a reason for challenging a teacher’s right to deal with a subject in the curriculum. (underlining as in the original text) 
This infers that teachers can speak about any religion and submit it to scientific questioning, and pupils who belong to the concerned faith are not allowed to counter the teacher’s views and express their beliefs. 
This has actually been done for years now with the inclusion of anti-sect subjects in the school books or in the courses of civic education. Pupils have been put in the situation where their parents’ faith was criminalized and, as they had openly spoken about their religion to their mates, those started to take a distance from them. Some pupils have been summoned by the principal and pressured not to speak about their faith anymore. 
This policy is an extremist interpretation of French secularism. Secularism is supposed to mean separation of State and religion and respect for all religious communities and beliefs per the French Constitution. It implies neutrality of the State and its public agents towards religions, in that the State should not favour or disfavour any religious movement. 
However, the new interpretation of secularism by the French authorities extends it to the private sphere and imposes obligations to private persons, users of public services, unduly restricting their right to express their religious beliefs. This interference by the State cannot be justified and is not allowed under international human rights law. 
All religious beliefs are actually targeted by this extreme and intolerant conception of Secularism. Back in 2008, at the time of the publication of his book “The French Revolution is not completed”, the Minister of Education, Vincent Peillon, stated: “We will never be able to build a country of freedom with the Catholic religion. As we cannot either adapt Protestantism to France like in other democracies, we have to invent a Republican religion. This Republican religion, which must accompany the material revolution, but which is a spiritual revolution, is Secularism.” 
For years the French authorities have tried to export their policy at European level. In his book entitled “Imminent Apocalypse”, Georges Fenech, former President of MIVILUDES, explains: 
“First I went to the Fundamental Rights Agency in Vienna (Austria) to propose them at a minimum, a European Program of Study on Sects and Minors, in order not to upset anybody. I was politely welcome but no action was ever taken to follow up on my initiative. Undoubtedly, the eternal strife between the Member States over the definition of a sect has been an insurmountable obstacle. I therefore had to change tactics and act directly at the Council of Europe, anti-Chamber of the European Parliament, at the very heart of the Strasbourg Institutions. To this end, I invited in Paris the President of the Legal Affairs and Human Rights Committee of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, Mr. Pourgouridès, a Cyprus citizen who committed to definitely move in this direction. He kept his word by having a draft resolution voted, for which the report was entrusted to a French MP Rudy Salles from Alpes-Maritimes (South of France), a pioneer of the anti-sect struggle in France. During my meeting with the latter in Nice, I had no difficulty convincing him to work on it as a matter of emergency.” 
As appears in UNADFI 2011 Activity Report, , MIVILUDES requested from FECRIS and UNADFI in February 2011 an inventory of the cases they heard of during the last 10 years linked to minors in sects. And in September 2011, Rudy Salles was appointed as Rapporteur for a report on this subject at the Council of Europe. 
Hervé Machi, Secretary General of MIVILUDES, explained when he was heard in October 2012 by a Parliamentary Enquiry Commission on Health and Sects: “We are trying to instigate such [European] harmonization. We started to do it not through the issue of health but through the issue of minors by instigating a resolution of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe which has been adopted… It is a French Member of Parliament Mr. Rudy Salles who works on the issue of the influence of sectarian movements on minors, in order to lead to the creation of a European Observatory on sectarian deviances and minors. For us it was a way to interest our European partners to the issue by touching them through a common denominator which is the protection of minors. Maybe this will be the beginning of a “ball of wool” which will lead our partners to show interest in sectarian deviances, also in the area of health.”  
Hence the French authorities openly claim to be at the origin of this initiative and appointment to the Council of Europe in order to export their general policy towards minorities of religion or belief they derogatorily label “sectarian movements”. 
In order to prepare his report, Mr. Salles organized a hearing of three experts in September 2012. Two of them were a representative from MIVILUDES and a representative of FECRIS from Ukraine. 
In December 2012, he conducted a fact-finding mission to Sweden. MIVILUDES, in its 2009 Report, as it was already preparing for this minor issue, did an inventory of the approach of minors in sects in the various European countries. It reported that it was in majority a non issue in these countries and in particular that Sweden was too “liberal”. The Report pointed out its “very liberal view of movements which can carry sectarian risk” and the fact that it applied common law to religious communities. 
In order to oppose this “liberal view”, in December 2012, Rudy Salles went to Sweden for a “fact finding mission” regarding “sects and minors” on behalf of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. He came out in the Swedish media with some strong statements criticizing Sweden for its liberal approach of the treatment of religious minorities alleging that some private schools might instil some harmful ideologies to children. The Swedish State Secretary at the Ministry of Education, Bertil Östberg, had to answer that he was in disagreement with Rudy Salles, that the Swedish system works and that there is an adequate control on the quality of the teachings in schools. He added that they have a government body to control schools and there is no need for a Parliamentary Enquiry Commission as suggested by Mr. Salles. 
Rather than responding to an urging situation of minors in sects, Mr. Salles’ mission appears to be that of creating such a problem where it does not exist by “sensitizing” France’s European partners to the issue. 
In April 2013, Rudy Salles sent a questionnaire to all the member states of the Council of Europe. This questionnaire contained very revealing questions, showing a willingness to get each of the EU countries to adopt a list and classification of new religious movements as “sects”, a stigmatization which has been strongly criticized by human rights institutions for years, to create Parliamentary Enquiry Commissions on these movements and to adopt specific repressive laws against the followers of new or minority religious movements and their children, which is contrary to the very commitment of the Council of Europe towards religious freedom through the European Convention.
Soon after receiving this questionnaire, the Russian Parliament created a “sect commission” inside the Duma. However, Russia should not be encouraged by the French in its repressive policy as it has already been sentenced by the European Court of Human Rights in its decision Jehovah’s Witnesses’ of Moscow v. the Russian Federation of 20 June 2010 for not respecting the rights of religious minorities. In this decision, the European Court reaffirmed the right for parents to ensure education of their children in conformity with their religious convictions by finding:  
Both parents, even in a situation where they adhere to differing doctrines or beliefs, have the same right to raise their children in accordance with their religious or non-religious convictions and any disagreements between them in relation to the necessity and extent of the children’s participation in religious practices and education are private disputes that are to be resolved according to the procedure established in domestic family law. 
In violation of international human rights standards, France is actually inciting countries like Russia to adopt measures to infringe the right to freedom of religion or belief of religious minorities and to overlook the European Court of Human Rights decisions. 
This situation is of utmost concern and should be remedied. 

Rédigé par Patricia Duval le Saturday, October 19th 2013 | Comments (0)

Speech given the 16 October 2013 in Brussels at the Seminar "Freedom of opinion, religion and belief — Persecution of, and discrimination against, minority-groups" Organized by EIFRF with the partnership of
• The Gerard Noodt Foundation for FoRB
• Pro Europa Christiana
• Soteria International
• CAPLC Europe
• FOREF Europe

The Right To Religious Freedom In The European Human Rights Protection System And Some Good Practices to be Followed by States
By Alessandro Amicarelli PhD

Alessandro Amicarelli is a lawyer in private practice and belongs to the BAR of Italy and the Law Society of England. He specializes in human rights having a PhD from the Sapienza University of Rome. His specific field of interest is that of minorities and religious minorities rights. Between 2005 and 2012 has lectured in human rights at the University of Urbino. Being also a graduate in Middle East Studies he follows with particular interest the developments of the Muslim communities in the East as well as in Europe.

The number of complaints filed before the European Court of Human Rights concerning religious freedom has dramatically increased since the first judgment issued in 1993. In this presentation we will have a look at the basics of the right to religious freedom as well as at the most recent cases dealt with by the European Court and at some good practices that should be implemented by states in respect of minority religions rights and informed on the principles of equality and non-discrimination too. 
PAR. 1 Religious Freedom in the European Convention on Human Rights
The right to religious freedom is protected in conjunction with the right to freedom of thought and conscience by article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
1. Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief, in worship, teaching, practice and observance. 
2. Freedom to manifest one’s religion or beliefs shall be subject only to such limitations as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society in the interests of public safety, for the protection of public order, health or morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others. 
Paragraph one enunciates the content of the right to freedom of religion and its extension. Paragraph two sets out the possible limitations to such right(s) and the criteria that must be fulfilled for these limitations to be acceptable. 
This article protects the inner creeds and personal beliefs of people.
Such beliefs and creeds relate to so-called forum internum, meaning the internal representation that everyone has of the most important things they believe in. Such sphere is inviolable and no limitation is allowed to States. Another aspect of religious freedom is so-called forum externum. This is a multifaceted concept and relates to the manifestation of inner convictions, it concerns the right to manifest people’s creeds, religions, beliefs and so on.
Not only beliefs strictly related to mainstream religions are protected by art. 9 ECHR.
The former European Commission on Human Rights stated that “pacifism as a philosophy […] falls within the ambit of the right to freedom of thought and conscience. This attitude of pacifism may be seen as a belief (“conviction”) protected by art. 9(1)”. (Arrowsmith v. UK 1978).
Such a wide approach does not imply that all beliefs fall under the protection accorded by the Convention: e.g. the Court has stated that discriminatory and offensive beliefs “which are incompatible with the values proclaimed and guaranteed by the Convention, notably tolerance, social peace and non-discrimination” cannot benefit of the protection acknowledged by the ECHR (Norwood vs. UK 2004). 
Furthermore to be protected by art. 9 of  ECHR such beliefs have to consist in “views that attain a certain level of cogency, seriousness, cohesion and importance” (Campbell & Cosans vs. UK 1982). Beliefs are more than opinions or ideas protected by art. 10 ECHR (Arrowsmith vs. UK, 1978).
As a general rule, States are allowed to “interfere” with people’s rights placing limitations and restrictions to one or more rights, included the right to religious freedom, when this becomes necessary or opportune.
It is the European Court that evaluates if the restriction was justifiable on the basis of the European Convention by following a test aimed at analysing if the limitation was prescribed by law, had a legitimate aim and was necessary in a democratic society.
PAR. 2 Some recent cases before the European Court of Human Rights
Since 1993 when the European Court issued a first judgment about religious freedom on case Kokkinakis v. Greece the number of applications before the Court has dramatically increased. 
Some cases ended up before the Court and reached a conclusion in 2013.
1. Eviction from property and registration of religious groups: Juma Mosque Congregation and Others v. Azerbaijan (8 Jan 2013). In this case applicants claimed to keep occupying a Mosque that they had been using for some twelve years and complained that they had been discriminated against by the authorities that had failed to be fair in the application of a new piece of legislation about registration of religious communities. The Court declared the case inadmissible as manifestly ill-founded as, inter alia, the applicants had failed to make use of the internal judicial remedies to seek redress at a national level.   
2. Right to wear religious symbols and to refuse some duties on the basis of religious beliefs: Eweida and Chaplin v. UK and Ladele and MacFarlane v. UK (15 Jan 2013). 
Ms Eweida, a British Airways employee, had been fired for wearing a cross at workplace. Unlike France where almost all religious symbols are prohibited in public places, instead the United Kingdom is very much permissive in this respect and prohibiting employees from wearing religious symbols, in the absence of any specific legislation like in this very case, would constitute an illegitimate interference with people’s rights. The Court concluded for the violation of the Convention.
Mrs Chaplin had been fired for wearing a cross in a public hospital but the Court declared that there had been no violation of the Convention, the reason being that the prohibition to wear such necklaces was to avoid the risk of infections in case of contact with patients’ wounds and also for the likely situation that it could be grabbed by a patient and potentially hurt Mrs Chaplin. 
In cases Ladele and McFarlane the applicants had been fired for refusing to provide services to homosexuals. Ms Ladele, a marriage registrar, refused to conduct same-sex partnership ceremonies because as a practising Christian that would be in discordance with her religious beliefs. The European Court found no violation of the Convention in the State’s behaviour to terminate her employment as all people deserve same treatment and because the employer had pursued a non-discrimination policy to protect service-users and their right not to be discriminated against, which is protected through the European Convention. The same decision was taken in the case of Mr McFarlane, a psychologist working with couples on sexual issues, who had refused to work with homosexual couples on the ground of his Christian beliefs. 
3. Taxation of income of religious groups: Eglise Evangelique Missionnaire & Eric Salaûn v. France, Association des Chevaliers du Lotus d’Or v. France, Association Cultuelle du Temple Pyramide v. France (31 Jan 2013). France had adopted a piece of legislation about taxation of incomes of religious groups with a rough rate of 60% that was only implemented for non-mainstream religions. The Court found a clear violation of art. 9 ECHR confirming a previous judgment, i.e. Jehovah’s witnesses association of France v. France (5 Jul 2012).
4. Assisted suicide: Gross v. Switzerland (14 May 2013). The applicant, in the absence of any specific clinical condition, wanted to end her life with a lethal dose that had to be prescribed by a doctor. The doctors feared that if they had prescribed such a lethal dose might have incurred in criminal proceedings. The Court found a violation of art. 8 concerning the protection of private life because, although the legislation enforced in Switzerland did allow doctors to prescribe medical doses to end life, the guidelines to be followed were not sufficiently clear.
5. Disclosure of medical files: Avilkina and Others v. Russia (6 Jun 2013). During an investigation concerning the lawfulness of the activities carried out by the religious organization of Jehovah’s witnesses in Russia it was ordered to disclose medical files of some applicants who had refused blood transfusions while they were hospitalised. The Court found a violation of art. 8 (right to respect of private life) as the information in the medical files was not relevant to the case.  
6. Trade union rights of religious groups: Sindicatul “Păstorul cel Bun” v. Romania (GC 9 Jul 2013). The authorities refused to register a trade union for Orthodox priests. A first judgment of a chamber of the Court found a violation of the Convention because the national authority had not justified the refusal by simply arguing that on the basis of the Church’s statute the trade union needed to be previously authorised by the archbishop. The Grand Chamber instead focussed on the principle of non interference with the life of religious communities in respect of their internal organization; since in this case the Statute did require a permission from the archbishop and since the trade union had not obtained it, the national agency correctly did refuse to register the union. (see also Hasan and Chaush v. Bulgaria – state interference aimed at replacing the mufti that had been appointed from his community; the Court stated that such interference was unacceptable as states are not allowed to intervene in the internal affairs of the life of religious communities).
PAR. 3 Some Good practices that states should implement when dealing with minority religions issues 
For reasons of time only I cannot focus on other important aspects concerning the lives of people belonging to religious groups, such as the right to use certain clothes, e.g. the Islamic headscarf or others too. That’s a very important issue as in my view never should it be allowed to a national authority to prevent people from wearing certain clothes regardless they are religiously relevant or not, but of course more importantly if they also have a religious meaning to people wearing them.
France has tried to ban all forms of veils and now very sadly also England would try to do the same. If that was insane in France, typically not much inclined to respect religious freedom, that would be even more insane in a country like England that instead has a very long-standing tradition of religious tolerance and freedom too. 
Furthermore it would be even less acceptable in England where it is possible to walk completely naked along street.
Then I will now focus on three main aspects concerning the life of religious minorities generally speaking:  
1. Registration of religious groups and acknowledgement of religious status
2. Taxation of religious groups’ incomes
3. State/Confession Agreements
The above mentioned aspects, registration, taxation and agreements with States are of a vital importance for all religious groups as on them depends their own existence and on them depends also the possibility for them to carry out some relevant activities in a given country.
Registration of groups and acknowledgment of religious status
Some states do require religious groups to register with certain national agencies that are charged of dealing with religious issues; most times these agencies have the duty to monitor the activities carried out by religious groups in the country. 
It often happens that the requirement of registration only applies to small groups of non mainstream tradition in that country, e.g. the Church of Scientology, the Jehovah’s witnesses, some Christian groups to name just a few.
The requirement of registration usually has so many sub-requirements that it becomes literally impossible for the groups to fulfil of all them and so they have no way to be registered at all; some of the specific requirements concern for instance the group has operated  in that country for a certain number of years; and/or a certain number of adepts or members is associated to the group and often the authorities have argued about the content of the religious tenets of that particular denomination, as in Russia with the Church of Scientology.
This last point is aberrant to say the least in a democracy. A state cannot intervene to discuss about and to ponder on the religious beliefs of any group!  
Going straight to the point, the European Court of  Human Rights has intervened more than once issuing judgements in cases concerning the registration and re-registration (another aberration) and the acknowledgment of religious status to minority groups.
An important case within this track concerned in fact the Church of Scientology. This case regarded the granting of legal status to the Church of Scientology in Russia. The authorities did not acknowledge such a right to the applicant Church on the basis of a series of excuses such as the number of followers in the country and the length of time the Church had existed and operated in the national territory. 
The European Court found a clear violation of the church’s rights and defined the criteria set up in the legislation for the registration of religious groups as subterfuges aimed at preventing minority groups from existing and operating any longer in that country. 
Very linked to the registration of religious groups issue is the acknowledgement to them of a religious entity status.
In this regard the European Court of Human Rights has intervened in a case concerning the Jehovah’s witnesses in Austria.
In case Religiongeneinschaft v. Austria the Court stated that, while it is acceptable that the government’s investigations to acknowledge the legal status of religious entity to a new group, might last up to 10 years, as occurred in this case, if the group is unknown by authorities and experts, instead such a behaviour is completely unacceptable in respect of the Jehovah’s witnesses as they operate at international level since decades and are well-known by the authorities and among the scholars of religious studies too. 
Good practice:
State should treat all groups equally regardless they belong to a mainstream tradition or not.
States should not use subterfuges and excuses to deny the religious status to religious  groups or to allow them the registration or re-registration with the national agencies.
States should operate quickly and without any prejudices when it comes to the point to allow the religious status to a group; the authorities can actually consult scholars and experts of religious studies renowned for their independence and consequently should allow the status in a reasonable length of time; a longer scrutiny may be acceptable when the request for the religious status acknowledgement comes from a group that is not generally well-known among scholars and experts at national and/or international level. 
Here again some states do require religious groups to pay taxes for the income they receive; either they are from religious or commercial activities.
Some states only require payment for income from commercial activities, acknowledging an exemption for the income from donations.
One state, namely France, required the payment of income from donations and other religious activities, only from minority religions and that piece of legislation did not apply to mainstream religions; a similar situation is registered in Italy where the Roman Catholic Church enjoys a full tax exemption. 
About this point the European Court has made it clear that the taxation field has to be imprinted to the principle of equality and non discrimination.
If a legislation about the taxation of the income of religious group is implemented it has to be applied fairly and equally to all groups, no exception being acceptable.
Of course no special legislation is acceptable to punish a given group, either the Jehovah’s witnesses or anyone else!
As already seen above the European Court in case Association of Jehovah’s witnesses of France v. France stated that a piece of legislation about taxation of income of a religious group cannot be implemented only in respect of a group and be instead completely ignored in which regards other mainstream groups.
The Court found a violation of the Convention and repeated the same statement in 2013 in other similar cases, all of them originated in France from minority religions.
Good practice:
When states decide to adopt a piece of legislation about the taxation of the income of religious group such legislation should be implemented in the same way to traditional mainstream religions and to minority religions too, no exception being acceptable in a democracy.
State/Denomination Agreements
Some states adopt some pieces of legislation about religions generally speaking aimed at regulation the relations between the state and the religious groups and/or aimed at regulating some specific issues such as the right to visit people hospitalised or being incarcerated or even aimed at regulating the religious education or the right to be exempted from the military service and other matters too; other states instead adopt some pieces of legislations only about minority religions often labelled as cults; other states, apart from any specific legislations, also implement a system of agreements between the state and the religious groups. 
These agreements are aimed at regulating all the possible issues between the state and the single religious group, stating duties and rights and privileges. 
A system of so called concordates, a special form of inter-state agreement, is implemented between the State and the Holy See, as representative of the Roman Catholic Church.
As in the case of the registration and religious status acknowledgment, states try to make it difficult to some groups to obtain the agreement with the state.
As seen for the other aspects, the European Court has stated very clearly also about this in a Croatian case that excuses and subterfuges cannot be adopted by States to refuse an agreement to a religious group. In brief when a group meets and fulfil the requirements stated by law, provided they had not discriminatory ends, it has to be acknowledged the religious status or the agreement in the same way like other groups.
Specifically in case Savez Crkava Rijec Zivota and others vs. Croatia, concerning some Reformed Christian Churches that claimed they had been treated unequally, the matter regarded the denial from the state to grant these Christian denominations an agreement with the state.
In Croatia a system of Agreements between State and Religions is enforced and these churches that had been legally registered as churches in 2003, applied for being granted an Agreement on the basis of the relevant legislation in 2004. 
The national authorities refused such an Agreement twice on the basis of the fact that these groups could not meet two basic requirements to enjoy such a right to an Agreement, namely they had not been existent in the country as at 6 April 1941 and the number of their followers was below 6,000 people. 
On the basis of such a denial they claimed they could not teach their precepts in the public schools unlike other religions did, they could not visit people in jails and hospitals, could not consider their weddings as legally recognized and so on. 
Other religious groups such as the Old-Catholics, the Macedonian Orthodox and the Bulgarian Orthodox churches had been granted an agreement even though they did not meet the requirements listed by the national authorities. 
Namely they had less than 6,000 followers and had not been present in the territory as at 6 April 1941. 
The government justified the concession of the Agreements to those religious minorities arguing on the fact that they met an alternative criterion, specifically they could be considered as “historical religious groups” within the European cultural environment. 
The European Court found these statements as unjustifiable excuses and declared a violation of the Convention because every religions must be treated equally and that the governments cannot use subterfuges to justify different treatments or omissions or denial of rights to some groups considered less important than others. 
PAR. 4 Some personal conclusions and observations about the future
What can we say at this point? What can we expect for the right to religious freedom in Europe? What should be the States’ behaviour in respect of religious minorities – often superficially labelled as cults – in their territories? 
Alongside the statements of the European Court in its binding judgements, several times also the Council of Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly invited the national authorities to observe and to apply the rules and laws that apply to the mainstream groups also to minority groups and their members ensuring fairness and equal treatment (Recommendations no. 1412/92, 1178/99 and 1/11). 
Nonetheless in the European human rights protection system, States are granted a certain ‘margin of appreciation’ and art. 9.2 of the European Convention on Human Rights allows some restrictions and limitations to religious freedom too.
In respect of so-called cults the Assembly stated that the national authorities cannot use two different weights with these groups and their members; special rules and special pieces of legislation about or against some groups cannot be adopted by States. The ordinary civil and criminal law provisions should be applied when the authorities have to deal with cases concerning religious minorities.
As above in the case of tax exemption law, its fair application would see such exemption be applied in the same way to the different groups, or to none of them.
We can just conclude auspicating that in the future the States bound by the European Convention on Human Rights apply its contents to all religious groups in the same way, regardless they are mainstream or non-mainstream religions.
This in no way would imply to disregard the relevance of the history of a certain religion in a given country. States can reserve a slightly different treatment to a religious group when the majority of the population share certain values; this has occurred for instance in case Lautsi v. Italy where the European Court has stated that the presence of a crucifix in a public school does not constitute a discrimination against non believers and even people belonging to other beliefs provided the school does not impose the teachings of that denomination to all of the students against their will.
Now I would like to read a sentence from a judgment, actually an order, of a US Court issued in 1970. In my view this statement summarises both the different approaches to the religious phenomenon in the European countries and in the US, and also emphasises the importance and relevance of the principle of non-interference of states with the internal affairs of religious groups.
In case Universal Life Church Inc. vs. United States of America the Court said:
“ (...) Neither this court, nor any branch of this Government, will consider the merits or fallacies of a religion. Nor will the Court compare the beliefs, dogmas, and practices of a newly established religion. Nor will the Court praise or condemn a religion, however excellent or fanatical or preposterous it may seem. Were the Court to do so, it would impinge on the guarantees of the First Amendment”.
(USA, District Court for the Eastern District of California – Universal Life Church vs. United States of America – civil no. S-1964 – order 27 February 1970).
It seems that the European Court shares same views of this US Court, we can just auspicate that the European States follow these views too.
Thanks for your attention!

Rédigé par Alessandro Amicarelli le Friday, October 18th 2013 | Comments (0)

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