European Interreligious Forum For Religious Freedom
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Extracts based on the work of Marco Ventura
Professor of Canon Law / Law and Religion, KU Leuven
See full presentation on the Conference of the 23 April 2013 at Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe for more details

1. There is no State discretion in assessing the legitimacy of beliefs. Articles 9 ECHR and 10 EU Charter of Fundamental Rights establish the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. The European Court of Human Rights has established and constantly held that ‘the right to freedom of religion as guaranteed under the Convention excludes any discretion on the part of the State to determine whether religious beliefs or the means used to express such beliefs are legitimate.(1)
2. Respect of religious diversity. European law respects and promotes diversity of religious as well as non religious worldviews (22 EU Charter of Fundamental Rights). Law should be enforceable without requiring anyone to embrace or identify with any ideological or religious worldview. The European Court of Human Rights has condemned Spain in the case of six Spanish who were forcibly transferred to a hotel by Catalan police officers and handed over to others to be ‘deprogrammed’ from their membership of a ‘sect’ of which they were alleged to be members, based on the denunciation by a Spanish anti-sect association.(2)
3. Strict scrutiny of admissible restrictions to the expression of beliefs. A religious or non-religious belief in the forum externum can only be restricted subject to very strict conditions set at article 9.2.(3)
4. State neutrality and impartiality. The State has an obligation of neutrality and impartiality towards all beliefs. The European Court of Human Rights has established that ‘the State’s role as the neutral and impartial organiser of the practising of the various religions, denominations and beliefs is conducive to religious harmony and tolerance in a democratic society.(4)
5. Specialty of religion recognized for the sake of its protection and enhancement only. The law can only single out religions and denominations or categories or religions and denominations for the purpose of enhancing their protection or in order to facilitate them.
6. No religion-based discrimination. European law does not allow for discrimination based on religion (5).The European Court of Human Rights has concluded recently that an applicant had been discriminated against on the basis of his religious convictions (as a member of a small faith community) in the exercise of his right to respect for family life, since he had been denied his access rights based on an expert opinion upheld by a domestic court according to which the applicant’s ‘irrational worldview made him incapable of bringing up his child.(6)
7. Religion-related crimes are better repressed through general criminal law. No exception has been accepted to the principle that crimes or violations committed with an alleged religious motivation or under the cloak of religion are adequately repressed through general criminal law.
8. Religious autonomy. European Law recognizes ‘religious autonomy (7), which can be defined as the ‘competence of religious communities to decide upon and administer their own affairs without governmental interference’.
9. Parental religious rights. Article 2 Protocol 1 to the ECHR stipulates that ‘in the exercise of any functions which it assumes in relation to education and to teaching, the State shall respect the right of parents to ensure such education and teaching in conformity with their own religious and philosophical convictions’. This right can be restricted only if children suffer or are likely to suffer an actual harm. Actual harm has to be strictly defined. The mere transmission within the family of a worldview, which differs from the worldview of the majority does not per se legitimize the State’s interference in the interest of the children. As the European Court of Human Rights has made clear, a distinction between parents ‘based essentially on a difference in religion alone is not acceptable.(8)
10. Objective, critical and pluralistic public school. As established by the ECtHR since 1976 and repeatedly reiterated, ‘the State, in fulfilling the functions assumed by it in regard to education and teaching, must take care that information or knowledge included in the curriculum is conveyed in an objective, critical and pluralistic manner. The State is forbidden to pursue an aim of indoctrination that might be considered as not respecting parents’ religious and philosophical convictions. That is the limit that must not be exceeded.(9)

1 ECtHR, Manoussakis and ors v Greece, 29 August 1996, at para 47
2 ECtHR, Riera Blume and ors v Spain, 14 October 1999
3 ECtHR, Handyside v UK, 7 December 1976, at para 49
4 ECtHR, Refah Partisi v Turkey, 31 July 2001, at para 51
5 Article 14 ECHR, 21 EU Charter of Fundamental Rights and 10 TFEU
6 ECtHR, Vojnity v Hungary, 12 February 2013, at para 14
7 See ECtHR, Fernandez Martinez, 15 May 2012, at para 80
8 ECtHR, Hoffmann v Austria, 23 June 1993, at para 36
9 ECtHR, Kjeldsen, Busk Madsen and Pedersen v Denmark, 7 December 1976, at para 53

Rédigé par EIFRF le Wednesday, May 1st 2013 | Comments (0)

Giovedì 14 febbraio 2013, nella Sala Capitolare del Senato, a Roma, è stato presentato il libro"Credere è reato? Libertà religiosa nello stato laico e nella società aperta", volume curato dal prof. Luigi Berzano che raccoglie 23 saggi scritti da giuristi, filosofi, sociologi e giornalisti italiani.
Il volume, pubblicato lo scorso dicembre dalla "Edizioni Messaggero di Padova", è stato presentato attraverso un mini-convegno dedicato ai temi oggetto del libro, tra cui la paventata intenzione di alcuni politici della precedente legislazione, per altro mal consigliati, di reintrodurre nel nostro ordinamento giuridico il defunto reato di plagio, chiamandolo "reato di manipolazione mentale".
L'avvocato Mauro Mellini e il prof. Pietro Nocita hanno spiegato perché sia da un lato anticostituzionale e, dall’altro, impossibile da verificare tecnicamente la concezione stessa della manipolazione mentale, mentre il prof. Marco Vannini, autore di libri sulla mistica cristiana medievale, ha spiegato come il concetto di “credere” contenga in sé una sorta di “follia” che lo ripara da ogni convenzione e da ogni condizionamento.
Il prof. Luigi Berzano ha spiegato lo spirito che anima l’intero volume: la scelta di un percorso spirituale e religioso non può essere limitata o diventare oggetto di speculazioni estranee alla persona stessa, da parte di terzi.
Occorre tutelare il diritto di ogni forma spirituale a esistere e il diritto di ogni cittadino a orientarsi verso quella che ritiene più adatta a sé; questo può avvenire attraverso l’incontro e il dialogo che non mettano in discussione l’essenza di ogni percorso ma che sottolineino l’atto di libertà sotteso a ogni scelta spirituale.
In pratica, in un tempio della politica – la Biblioteca del Senato – si è affermata l’importanza che la politica stia fuori dall’ambito delle scelte di fede: un segno buono in vista dei tempi che ci attendono.

Rédigé par EIFRF le Saturday, April 27th 2013 | Comments (0)

Press Release - Side event 23 April 2013 – Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe
Freedom of Conscience: Tensions between Church, State and Religious Minorities in Family Issues

Side event 23 April 2013 – Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe

Vital information on human rights standards provided for the Salles report on ‘Sectarian Influence on Minors’
On 23 April 2013, Mr. Pieter Omtzigt (Netherland, member of PACE, EPP) co-sponsored an event with Lord Dundee (UK, member of PACE, EDG). The European Interreligious Forum for Religious Freedom (EIFRF) helped to organise the event during the Plenary Session of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE). The main reason for the meeting was to provide information crucial to the discussion of a report in progress on “Sectarian Influence on Minors”, with Mr. Rudy Salles as rapporteur (France, member of the PACE). Mr. Salles, whilst invited to participate, was not able to attend.

Mr. Omtzigt, as the moderator, introduced the panelists by explaining that religious freedom issues were of significant concern in many countries of Europe. He spoke of the unfortunate developments in Hungary with regards to their recent law on the registration of religious groups and also his own country Netherlands, where there were religious tensions. He pointed out that whilst some approaches enabled religious communities to integrate and work together, others had proven to be unworkable. In this last category he identified the widely criticized French approach of isolating and targeting minority religious and made the point that it would not be advisable to export this to other European countries.
The attendees were told that this meeting was to be an open debate and they were free to discuss any points during the meeting. Mr. Omtzigt then gave the floor to Professor Marco Ventura (K.U. Leuven).

Mr. Ventura highlighted a number of key points that have been established in European jurisprudence and which closely relate to the report of Mr. Salles. These are as follows:

1. There is an obligation of neutrality and impartiality on the part of the state.

2. The State has no competence or legitimacy in assessing religious beliefs or even the way these beliefs are expressed.

3. Religious discrimination is not permissible. Religion cannot be used as grounds to make a decision in abstracto simply on the basis of anothers’ belief system.

4. State distinction between religions and sects; State sponsored “cult prevention” activities through labeling, listing and targeting of individuals and groups based on a supposed ‘sectarian’ membership are incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights.

He underlined that governments cannot legitimately legislate or make any determination as to the ‘validity’ of a religion or classify religions as “good” or “bad”, including using discriminatory concepts such as “cults” or “sects” Any legislation which attempts to discriminate between citizens based solely on their religious beliefs, or between religions based on any criteria would  ultimately be condemned by the ECtHR. He also made it clear that when there are issues with regards to children and the family unit, the right of parents to educate their children in their own faith, whatever that may be, must be respected. The only restriction possible would be in the case where there wasan actual proven harm to the child, but this could not include any theoretical position or a priori determination based on the parent’s belief system. Dr. Petar Gramatikov, a Doctor of Theology of the Universal Orthodox Church, working for the Bulgarian government on religious registration issues, explained the situation in Bulgaria with regards to religious minorities. He explained the attitude of the Soviet regime against religions and the following democratisation of the country, pointing out that the Bulgarian authorities started to attack minority religions as "sects", whether they were Muslim minorities, Christian minorities or new religious movements and that the country regressed in the direction of an authoritarian regime in this regard and did not favour religious diversity. He stressed how harmful this has been for citizens belonging to minority faiths and consequently how it is vital for a spirit of tolerance and diversity to be promoted in order to have a healthy society that would be a vehicle for human development.

The last speaker was Maître Christian Paturel, a French lawyer and also a member of the Jehovah Witnesses. Mr. Paturel, has already won a landmark case against France before the ECtHR after one of his books, critical of the French anti-religious movement, had been banned by the French courts. After eventually taking this to Strasbourg the French court decisions were struck down, the ECtHR judges being quite critical of the national judicial process. The book is now available in France. Maitre Paturel also told the story of his own wife. She was employed by the French Administration and had an exemplary record in the field of Child Care for many years but after an anti-religious group (funded by the French government) informed her State employer that she was a member of the Jehovah Witnesses she was dismissed. On taking the case to court the State was ordered to reinstate her, only for her to be dismissed again on the same grounds. This has happened 3 times and after the fourth dismissal a criminal case was filed against the State. The case is still ongoing.

Participants were able to ask several questions to the panelists in order to clarify various points. Further details of the forum will be available on request.
EIFRF is an unincorporated forum whose board is composed of religious leaders from wide range of different faiths and various countries, united to promote freedom of religion and beliefs, religious tolerance and knowledge of religions throughout Europe. For more information go to

Rédigé par EIFRF le Friday, April 26th 2013 | Comments (0)

On 23 April 2013, Mr. Pieter Omtzigt (Netherland, member of PACE, EPP) co-sponsored an event with Lord Dundee (UK, member of PACE, EDG). The European Interreligious Forum for Religious Forum (EIFRF) helped to organise the event during the Plenary Session of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE). The main reason for the meeting was to provide information crucial to the discussion of a report in progress on “Sectarian Influence on Minors”, with Mr. Rudy Salles as rapporteur (France, member of the PACE). Here is a video of the speech of Dr. Petar Gramatikov, a Doctor of Theology of the Universal Orthodox Church, working for the Bulgarian government on religious registration issues, and member of the board of EIFRF.

Rédigé par EIFRF le Thursday, April 25th 2013 | Comments (0)

New resolution on religious freedom adopted by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe
Safeguarding human rights in relation to religion and belief, and protecting religious communities from violence
Strasbourg, 24.04.2013 – Concerned about increasing physical and psychological violence against religious communities throughout the world, the Assembly today called on member States to take account of the situation of these communities in their bilateral political dialogue and to promote in their foreign relations “a policy which takes into consideration the question of the full respect for the fundamental rights of religious minorities”.
In this context, the resolution adopted on the basis of the report by Luca Volontè (Italy, EPP/CD) says that member States should “ensure that a democracy clause, incorporating religious freedom, is included in agreements between them and third countries”.
The Assembly also urges all States in which violence has occurred against communities and individuals defined by their religion or belief firmly to condemn attacks, the use of violence in general and all forms of discrimination and intolerance based on religion and beliefs.
It also recommends that States “accommodate religious beliefs in the public sphere by guaranteeing freedom of thought in relation to health care, education and the civil service, provided that the rights of others to be free from discrimination are respected and that the access to lawful services is guaranteed”. The Assembly also emphasised that freedom of expression should not be restricted to meet the sensitivities of any group in a democratic society.

Rédigé par EIFRF le Thursday, April 25th 2013 | Comments (0)

On 23 April 2013, Mr. Pieter Omtzigt (Netherland, member of PACE, EPP) co-sponsored an event with Lord Dundee (UK, member of PACE, EDG). The European Interreligious Forum for Religious Forum (EIFRF) helped to organise the event during the Plenary Session of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE). The main reason for the meeting was to provide information crucial to the discussion of a report in progress on “Sectarian Influence on Minors”, with Mr. Rudy Salles as rapporteur (France, member of the PACE). Here is a video of the speech of Professor Marco Ventura, from Catholic University of Leuven.

Rédigé par EIFRF le Thursday, April 25th 2013 | Comments (0)

20 eminent professors and religious leaders from various countries of Europe wrote to Mr Alexander Chope, President of the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights at the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, in a common statement denouncing the willingness of a French deputy to export the French attitude against religious minorities at European level. Here is their letter:

Professors and religious leaders write to Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe

Gerard Noodt Foundation                                                            Eastern European Forum
For Freedom of Religion or Belief                                                For Dialogue - BRIDGES                                                                                                       
Mr Christopher Chope
Chairman of the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights - PACE
House of Commons
SW1A 0AA – London
United Kingdom
                                                                                  Europe, the 3rd April 2013
cc: Members of the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights
Mr. Chairman, Members of the Committee,
We, scholars, religious leaders or representatives of the civil society in Europe, would like to express our serious concern about the evolution of a report in preparation at the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights of the PACE. This report, which is monitored by Mr. Rudy Salles, is entitled “Protection of Minors Against Sectarian Influence”.
While we all agree that children need to be protected against any harmful acts and that this protection should be enforced under national common law of European countries and the Convention on the Rights of the Child, it appears that the formulation of the report in preparation will lead to strong infringements of basic fundamental rights protected by European and other international conventions.
As stated by Mr. Salles himself and other members of the French institutions, the purpose of this report is to convince other European countries to adhere to the French model of fighting against so-called “sects” or “sectarian movements”.
This type of “fight” has been strongly criticized by French and international human rights institutions throughout the years due to the violation of the fundamental right to freedom of religion or belief it implies for religious minorities so derogatorily labeled.
In 1996, in his Annual Report, the UN Special Rapporteur on Religious Freedom noted the inadequacy of labeling certain belief groups as “sects”:
“The term “sect” seems to have a pejorative connotation. A sect is considered to be different from a religion, and thus not entitled to the same protection. This kind of approach is indicative of a propensity to lump things together, to discriminate and to exclude, which is hard to justify and harder still to excuse, so injurious is it to religious freedom.”
Needless to say that the new terminology -- “sectarian movements” -- adopted to try to avoid censure, is tantamount to the derogatory label “sects” and is subject to the same criticism.
In its General Comment No 22 on the interpretation to be given to Article 18 of the ICCPR on the Right to Freedom of Thought, Conscience and Religion, the UN Human Rights Committee stated:
“Article 18 protects theistic, non-theistic and atheistic beliefs, as well as the right not to profess any religion or belief. The terms “belief” and “religion” are to be broadly construed. Article 18 is not limited in its application to traditional religions or to religions and beliefs with institutional characteristics or practices analogous to those of traditional religions. The Committee therefore views with concern any tendency to discriminate against any religion or belief for any reason, including the fact that they are newly established, or represent religious minorities that may be the subject of hostility on the part of a predominant religious community.“
In particular the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief, Asma Jahangir, expressed concern for the devastating consequences on children of these communities by such a classification in her report following her official visit to France on 18-29 September 2005:[[1]]url:#_ftn1
108. However, [the Special Rapporteur] is of the opinion that the policy and measures that have been adopted by the French authorities have provoked situations where the right to freedom of religion or belief of members of these groups has been unduly limited. Moreover, the public condemnation of some of these groups, as well as the stigmatization of their members, has led to certain forms of discrimination, in particular vis-à-vis their children.
The European Court of Human Rights, in its decision of 10 June 2010 Jehovah Witnesses of Moscow v. Russia (Application no. 302/02), has also reaffirmed the right for parents to ensure education of their children in conformity with their religious convictions:
125.  The Court reiterates that Article 2 of Protocol No. 1 requires the State to respect the rights of parents to ensure education and teaching in conformity with their own religious convictions and that Article 5 of Protocol No. 7 establishes that spouses enjoy equality of rights in their relations with their children.
The European Court noted also that confrontational situations might arise when parents have different convictions. This can happen with parents from religious minorities as well as traditional denominations:
111. (…) It is true that friction often exists in marriages where the spouses belong to different religious denominations or one of the spouses is a non-believer. However, this situation is common to all mixed-belief marriages and Jehovah’s Witnesses are no exception.
And the Court confirmed that in cases of conflict both parents have equally the right to raise their children in accordance with their convictions:
125. (…) 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.
Contrary to these international standards, the French authorities have determined that undue influence should be characterized as “sectarian” when “one or more people start to believe in certain ideas which differ from the ideas generally accepted by society”.[[2]]url:#_ftn2
French authorities issued a Circular on 22 March 2012 to primary and high schools entitled “Prevention and Fight against Sectarian Risks” where they defined a “situation of sectarian risk” for a child as “the one in which some views and practices are imposed on him with the exception of any other views or practice”. This situation, which is proper to any religious beliefs that parents are legitimate to educate their children in, is allegedly likely to harm “the possibility for the child to develop and exert a critical mind, an independent judgment”. In the context of family, the Circular considers that “the child is then likely to be under the undue influence of views and practices threatening his education”.[[3]]url:#_ftn3
Per the Circular, National Education personnel (teachers, Principals, etc.) have the duty to report any child suspected of “sectarian risk” to the special units created for the collection of such information or to the Public Prosecutor.
In its 2009 Report, MIVILUDES (the Inter-ministerial Mission of Vigilance and Fight Against Sectarian Drifts) recommended, in case of such “psychological” risk, the solution “to protect the young, and mostly the teenager, from a univocal vision of the world by arranging for him, giving the largest place possible to the non-follower parent, some windows on other realities, and this even if he, in the exclusive sphere of his follower parent, has blossomed, works well at school and does not complain about anything”.[[4]]url:#_ftn4
Therefore MIVILUDES recommends to not give equal rights to parents who are members of targeted religious minorities to allegedly protect children from their parents’ beliefs.
This constitutes discrimination and a direct violation of the right of parents to freedom of religion or belief and to raise their children according to their own beliefs protected by the European Convention on Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. It also represents a violation of Article 14 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child which provides:
1. States Parties shall respect the right of the child to freedom of thought, conscience and religion.
2. States Parties shall respect the rights and duties of the parents and, when applicable, legal guardians, to provide direction to the child in the exercise of his or her right in a manner consistent with the evolving capacities of the child.
We therefore urge you to thoroughly review this matter, and make sure that the report in preparation conforms with international human rights standards that the Council of Europe is dedicated to defend.
The issue of new religious movements has been dealt with successfully with more enlightened approaches based on dialogue in most of European countries.
We are aware and trustful that you, as Chairman and members of the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights, are dedicated to the respect of fundamental rights, including the rights of the child and the right to freedom of religion or belief. We sincerely hope that this matter will be examined thoroughly with all appropriate information and that fundamental rights will be secured for members of religious minorities and their children in the State Members of the Council of Europe.

Sheikh Dr. Muhammad Al-Hussaini
Research Fellow in Islamic Studies

Professor Silvio Calzolari - PhD
Theological Faculty of the Central Italy-Firenze

Professor Régis Dericquebourg
University Charles de Gaulle-Lille III
PhD in Social psychology
Sociologist of religions

Professor Ekaterina Elbakyan,
Doctor of Philosophy
Sociology and Administration of Social Processes Department,
Academy of Labor and Social Relations,
Director of Center for Religious Studies "ReligioPolis"

Dr Mohamed Elsharkawy
Chair Christian-Muslim Council
Vice Chair of the Imams and Rabbis Council of the United Kingdom
Dean of Al-Azhar College
Professor Juan Ferreiro Gualguera
Prof. Ecclesiastical Law of the State
University of Coruna
Petar Grigorov Grammatikoff
Bulgarian Orthodox Church
Vice-President of Eastern European Forum for Dialogue
Bridges NGO
Amir Dr. h.c. Mohamed Herzog
Founder and head of the I.G.d.M.B. e.V
Pastor Dominique Kounkou
Attorney at law
PhD in international public law
Honorary President of the Council of Christian Churches
of an African Approach in Europe
Dr. Trencsenyi Laszlo
PhD - University of Budapest
Secretary General Of Hungarian Pedagogical Association
Reverend Dr. William McComish
Doctor in divinity (Geneva)
B.A., M.A. Trinity College, Dublin
Emeritus Dean St Pierre Cathedral, Geneva
General Treasurer World Alliance of Reformed Churches
Advisor to World Economic Forum, Davos
Hans Noot
Chairman of Gerard Noodt Foundation
Bertil Persson
National Chancellor of International Association of Educators for World Peace (UNESCO)
Scandinavian rep. University of Peace (UNESCO)
Ex-President, Swedish Dyslexia Assn
Bashi Quraishi
Chairman of ENAR Advisory Council                                                                                        
Chair of European Platform for Jewish Muslim Cooperation
Secretary General of EMISCO
Karan Singh, 
President, Sikh Foundation Switzerland

Professor Daniele Spero
Professor at IRC (Teaching of the Catholic Religion) of the Patriarchy of Venice
Coordinator of the Intercultural and Interreligious programs of UNESCO - Club UNESCO of Venice
General coordinator of the Venetian Catholic Studium Section Science and Faith
Coordinator for the Christian-Hebrew dialogue of the Secretariat for the Ecumenical Activities of Venice

Dr. Istvan Szikinger
Prof. Tit. PhD
Attorney at Law
Katalin Szomor
National Drug Expert
Professor Aldo Natale Terrin
Istituto di Liturgia Pastorale di Padova
Catholic University of Milan

Anastasio Theodoris
Attorney at law
President of The Antigoni Human Rights Organization

[[1]]url:#_ftnref1 E/CN.4/2006/5/Add.4, 8 March 2006, Mission to France
[[2]]url:#_ftnref2 MIVILUDES (Inter-ministerial Mission of Vigilance and Fight Against Sectarian Drifts) 2008 Report, page 59.
[[3]]url:#_ftnref3 Circular N° 2012-051.
[[4]]url:#_ftnref4 Report page 214. 

Rédigé par EIFRF le Wednesday, April 17th 2013 | Comments (0)

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