Press Release of August 6, 1998

The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (also known as the Helsinki Commission) and the House International Relations Committee scheduled a joint hearing on "Continuing Religious Intolerance in Europe" for July 30, 1998 at the Rayburn House Office Building in Washington DC. CESNUR's managing director, Dr Massimo Introvigne, received an unsolicited and unexpected invitation to testify. Because of the concomitant funerals of officer John Mihael Gibson, one of the agents killed in the Capitol terrorist attack, the hearing was converted into a briefing. A briefing is part of the Commission's official record (and its proceedings will be duly published) but is conducted without the presence of the politicians (although their aides and staff participate). Dr Introvigne delivered his testimony in a fully packed room at the Rayburn Building. In attendance were several officers of U.S. departments and institutions interested in international relations and human rights, House and Senate staff, officers of religious denominations and movements, reporters, lawyers, and a couple of anti-cultists. Dr Introvigne summarized in twenty minutes a consolidated report he had sent to the Commission including all CESNUR Web postings on the Western European situation. He added further comments on why anti-cultism is taken seriously by some governments in Europe. He mentioned a secular humanist reaction against the postmodern return to religious interests. He also suggested the existence of a political demand (mostly by socialist but occasionally also by conservative parties) for more State control of the private sector. This happens in an era when State control is threatened both from above (by globalization) and from below (by low-cost publishing and the new technologies making it difficult to control the international flow of ideas). He denied that the anti-cult campaign in Western Europe is organized by the mainline churches (a theory often offered by some minority religions), although individual priests and pastors have certainly occasionally co-operated with anti-cult associations and supported governmental measures. In fact, while including counter-cult Christian activists, the anti-cult coalitions are more often influenced by secular humanists, and have also targeted Catholic and Protestant groups as "cults". Although Dr Introvigne discussed mostly France, Belgium and the Canton of Geneva, questions included many references to Germany. The interest focused on the role of apostates (a technical, not a derogatory term, used by social scientists to indicate those ex members who become militant critics of their former religion) and of private anti-cult vigilante groups. Dr Introvigne also warned against misinformation about the U.S. scholarly literature on brainwashing spread by European anti-cultists (including via the Internet), and personal attacks against well-known scholars of new religious movements by a small but vocal clique. At the same time he suggested that U.S. agencies should not give the impression of being willing to impose the American model to countries with a very different history and culture. Nor should international agencies (and scholars) give the impression of protecting religious groups when common law is breached. The briefing evidenced a spirit of co-operation between major U.S. institutions and the community of scholars studying new religious movements.

In the following days Dr Introvigne held a closed doors private briefing with some top-level U.S. law enforcement officers specialized in religious crises. Again, the discussion focused on the reliability of information law enforcement agencies receive from apostates and from anti-cult associations, information that in the past has been proven as misleading and has caused serious problems. Dr Introvigne also suggested the existence of violence not only by, but also against new religious movements, and the need of monitoring the anti-cult movements for possible breaches of law at the national and international level. Finally on August 5 Dr Introvigne held a general briefing to the church officiary at the World Headquarters of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists in Silver Spring, Maryland. Dr Introvigne commended the efforts of the denomination on behalf of religious liberty, and argued that there are two ways for minority religions to answer the current religious liberty crisis in Europe. One is to accept the general status quo and to negotiate a label of "non-cult" with private anti-cult groups, mainline churches and governmental agencies. This may grant some short-term benefits but is extremely dangerous in the long run, since continues to place religious liberty at the mercy of groups ultimately hostile to religious pluralism and to an increased presence of religion in the public place. The second, and most appropriate, reply is to fight for the religious liberty of any law-abiding group, including those with the most bizarre and controversial doctrines, exposing the anti-cult worldview as faulty and generally hostile to the basic himan rights. Co-operation with CESNUR and the appropriate agencies responsible for monitoring international religious liberty within the above institutions will continue, with more contacts planned for the near future.



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