On June 8, 1999 the U.S. Joint Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe held a new hearing on "Religious Freedom in Western Europe: Religious Minorities and Growing Government Intolerance", hearing as witnesses Willy Fautré of Human Rights Without Frontiers, attorney Alain Garay of Paris, and Pastor Louis Charles DeMeo, leader of an independent Baptist group blacklisted as a cult in France. This was part of an ongoing investigation of continuing religious intolerance in Western Europe, and CESNUR's Executive Director Massimo Introvigne had testified before the same Commission at a previous 1998 briefing. A number of international scholars who had just participated in CESNUR 99 conference in Pennsylvania also attended the June 8 hearing. In turn Karen Lord, Counsel for Freedom of Religion of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, and Jeremy Gunn, of the newly instituted Office of International Religious Freedom at the U.S. Department of State, were guest speakers at the CESNUR 99 conference, and told participants how important CESNUR's role was in first alerting U.S. agencies about religious intolerance prevailing in some Western European countries. Of particular interest at the June 8 hearing was a discussion of discrimination in the workplace of members of both the Jehovah's Witnesses and of the Baptist group pastored by Rev. DeMeo. The discussion then focused on the causes of the peculiar situation prevailing in France and Belgium (while Italy, Scandinavia, the United Kingdom, and the Netherlands were offered as examples of religious tolerance). In a lively discussion with the witnesses and on the basis of data offered by them, Chairman Smith concluded that two influences explain why intolerance of minority religions is particularly widespread in France and French-speaking Belgium. Firstly, the anti-cult and often simply anti-religious lobbying efforts of continental Freemasonry (a secular humanist brand of Freemasonry which is not in communion with mainline U.S. and British Freemasonry). Secondly, the strong residual presence in French-speaking culture of socialist and communist elements, both anti-American and anti-religious. Efforts by an Eastern Europe anti-cult milieu with links to parts of the Eastern Orthodox hierarchy were also cited. Eastern European anti-cultists may thus use developments in France as evidence that democratic countries in the West have an anti-cult policy similar to Russia and other post-Communist countries. Chairman Smith was particularly severe with the French Mission to Fight Cults and ridiculed efforts by its president to attack one of the members of the U.S. delegation that visited France as "part of a dangerous international totalitarian cults", while she is a member of a small U.S. Christian congregation. The French attitude is "intolerable", Smith said, and it would be a serious mistake for France (and Belgium) to think that this is a minor matter for the U.S., while it stands "at the top" of U.S. human rights concerns. The text of the official CSCE press release folows.
CSCE NEWS RELEASE
Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe
234 Ford House Office Building - Washington, D.C. 20515-6460
Rep. Christopher H. Smith, Chairman
Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell, Co-Chairman
Contact: Chadwick R. Gore
Europe's Anti-Religious Trends Focus of Commission Hearing; Chairman Calls for Raising Priority in OSCE
For Immediate Release
June 8, 1999
Contact: Chadwick R. Gore
Washington, DC-"Testimony before this Commission over the last two years has left the clear impression of rising intolerance toward religion-all religions-by many of the governments of Western Europe, most notably France and Belgium. This is often exercised under the guise of anti-sect or anti-cult activity ostensibly to 'protect' the people," said Commission Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) following today's hearing "Religious Freedom in Western Europe: Religious Minorities and Growing Government Intolerance." "I am greatly alarmed-as are many of my fellow Commissioners-at this trend. We must raise religious liberty to the top of the human rights focus in Europe through the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) to prevent their gradual slide into the dark abyss of state-sponsored intolerance."
According to the witnesses' testimony, it became apparent that, while the original target of these efforts was sects or cults, the government policies are evolving into anti-religion policies.
"Recognizing and respecting the individual's right to freedom of thought, conscience or belief is not an abstract ideal." said Co-Chairman Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R-CO). "It is an issue with direct impact on peace and security, because when this human right is violated, people will react and react strongly."
The Commission hearing, the third in recent years on the topic of religious liberty, featured Dr. Willy Fautre of Human Rights Without Frontiers; The Rev. Louis DeMeo of Grace Church, Nimes, France; and Alain Garay, Esq., human rights lawyer and counsel for the Jehovah's Witnesses. Each presented case after case of the evolving picture of religious intolerance throughout Europe. "In the city of Nimes, there stands a monument of a former pastor and mayor from the 18th century whose inscription states that 'all religious freedom is ensured to all people.' This is in total contradiction [to what we] have been able to enjoy in the country of France," said Rev. DeMeo.
Dr. Fautre pointed out, "In France and in the French-speaking part of Belgium, the authorities have chosen to reject any sort of dialogue with minority religions, favoring the confrontational method, more often than not with the support of anti-sect associations. Ever since the beginning of the phenomenon, no dialogue has been entered into and there is no sign of a change in course."
Ranking Member Rep. Steny H. Hoyer commented, "Religious liberty is the most fundamental of all human rights. If it is not being observed and protected, it is most likely that all other human rights are in grave danger as well." The hearing was also attended by Commissioners Sen. Sam Brownback (R-KS) and Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD). The full transcript of the hearing will be available from the Commission, or at the Commission website, in a few weeks.
Chadwick R. Gore
U.S. Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe
234 Ford House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515-6064
Religious Freedom in Western Europe: Religious Minorities and Growing Government Intolerance - Report (released January 2000) of the June 8 1999 Washington hearing of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (download PDF file)
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