France Severely Criticized at Vienna OSCE Meeting

Hysterical Reaction by the Secretary of the French Anti-Cult Mission

OSCE, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, held its meeting on "Freedom of Religion" in Vienna, at the Hofburg, on March 22, 1999, under the presidency of Norwegian ambassador Leif Mevik. In addition to delegations from the OSCE member states (including the Holy See), more than 100 non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and religious groups were represented. Most of the one-day meeting was devoted to the second of the three questions on the agenda, religious pluralism and threats to religious liberty. Three introductory papers were delivered by experts selected by the OSCE: Dr Massimo Introvigne, Managing Director of CESNUR (his paper is available on this Web site); Canon Michael Bourdeaux, Director of The Keston Institute; and Mr. Alain Garay, an attorney from Paris, France. They were followed by more than 70 short statements on behalf of governments, NGOs and religious organizations (including the Jehovah's Witnesses and the Church of Scientology - France had objected to the participation of the latter). Although Belgium, Russia, Uzbekistan, Greece and Belarus were also criticized, most of the international criticism focused on France, its "war" against cults, and the activities of its governmental Mission to Fight Cults (MILS).

An answer on behalf on France was delivered by Mr. Denis Barthélemy, general secretary of the MILS. In an emotional statement - at times verging on the hysterical - Mr. Barthélemy stated that all those who had criticized France had in fact spoken "on behalf of either Scientology or Jehovah's Witnesses" (while, he noted, the statement by the Church of Scientology itself was "surprisingly moderate"). Mr. Barthélemy's statement made no sense, France having been criticized by a number of governments in addition to independent NGOs, and failed to amuse the US and other delegations. Mr. Barthélemy further declared that France respects religious liberty, but within the limits of "public order, civil order, social order and economic order". He also said that religious liberty may be limited by "freedom of conscience" (an argument used in 19th century France in order to limit the liberty of Catholic religious orders, now dangerously resurfacing as noted before by French scholars). France will protect against "sects", Mr. Barthélemy indicated, not only children but also "protectable adults". Speaking to Italian and other media, Dr Massimo Introvigne commented that, more than any possible analysis by scholarly experts, Mr. Barthélemy's somewhat extraordinary speech was the best evidence of the intolerance currently prevailing in France, particularly within the MILS, where not only paranoid conspiracy theories seeing in any critic a "Scientologist" or a "cultist" seems to have replaced any reasonable approach to the issue but a 19th century secular humanist ideology hostile to religion in general is presented in an international forum as the official French position on religious liberty.

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