US commission voices concerns about freedom for and discrimination of religious minorities in the EU
In its July 2023 report, titled “Religious Freedom Concerns in the European Union”, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), established by the US Congress, expresses its concern for religious freedom in countries within the European Union and discrimination of religious minorities.
Many EU nations are actively promoting religious freedom abroad, but some of them have according to the report “maintained or implemented laws and policies that restrict the rights of religious minority groups or impact them in a discriminatory manner. These unduly restrictive policies have the secondary effect of encouraging discrimination at the societal level.”
The July report points out some striking instances of such restrictive and discriminatory policies in the EU, including restrictions on so-called “sects”, religious clothing and ritual slaughter.
France is particularly mentioned,
“Several governments in the EU have supported or facilitated the propagation of harmful information about certain religious groups. For example, the French government has funded the European Federation of Centres of Research and Information on Cults and Sects (FECRIS), a French non-profit created in 1994 that has pejoratively labeled some religious associations as ‘sects’ or ‘cults’.
Similarly, an official body under the French Ministry of the Interior and a member association of FECRIS – the Inter-Ministerial Mission in the Vigilance and Combat against Sectarian Derivatives (MIVILUDES) – releases an annual report that regularly disparages groups including Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Church of Scientology. The organization has partnered with government agencies, religious organizations, and civil society to inform them about so-called ‘cults’.”
The American report describes the French media as being supportive of the government-funded anti-cult groups and willingly spread their harmful information. This results in a negative impact on societal respect for anyone connected to religious organizations that MIVILUDES slanders as sects or cults.
The anti-religious activism of the French Ministry of the Interior through MIVILUDES does not stop there,
“MIVILUDES has also funded various NGOs that target religious organizations considered harmful ‘sects’, including the National Union of Associations in Defense of Families and Individual Victims of Sects (UNADFI) and the Centre Against Mental Manipulation (CCMM). In January 2023, France passed a law, which, under Article 29, section 3.1.2., empowers authorities to use special techniques outlined in the criminal code to investigate “sects,” including through the impersonation of a delivery person, remote access to electronic communications, and the installation of recording devices in private or public places or vehicles.
Under the law, those found guilty of exploiting or seeking to exploit people through “sectarian” activities may face up to $1,068,130 (€1,000,000) in fines and seven years in prison.”
Also Germany has its anti-sect policies,
“In some regions of Germany, potential employees or the recipients of government grants must sign statements commonly referred to as ‘sect filters’ to prove they have no connection to the Church of Scientology. In one case, a man was fired from a long-held official position for his affiliation with the Church of Scientology. By April 2021, an administrative court ruled that he had been unfairly fired.”
The concerns about the religious freedom and discrimination of religious minorities in the EU also extends to hate speech legislation,
“Many EU countries have legislation that penalizes hate speech, typically subject to fines or imprisonment, including France, Germany, Poland, Italy, Belgium, Germany, Austria, Latvia, and Bulgaria. A 2008 EU Framework Decision on combating certain forms and expressions of racism and xenophobia by means of criminal law calls upon member states to criminalize hate speech, defining it as the ‘public incit[ement] to violence or hatred directed against a group of persons or a member of such a group defined by reference to race colour, religion, descent, or national or ethnic origin.’”
The report emphasizes that hate speech legislation often is too broad and criminalizes words that “does not amount to incitement to violence and thereby encompassing expression protected under international human rights standards, including the rights to freedom of religion or belief and freedom of expression.”
When it comes to religious freedom, sweeping hate speech laws are of particular concern if utilized against persons “for peacefully sharing religious beliefs that others find offensive or controversial.”
The July report mentions one particular instance of this,
“In one such case, in Finland, state prosecutors are appealing a case against Finnish Member of Parliament Päivi Räsänen and Evangelical Lutheran Bishop Juhana Pohjola, who were acquitted of hate speech charges for tweets that expressed religious beliefs about LGBTQ+ issues.”
In general, EU countries have laws and policies that protect freedom of religion or belief. However, some countries have enacted laws and policies that violate religious freedom and disproportionately affect religious minorities. If states continue to give their support to such policies, there will most likely be an increase of social discrimination, which may well contribute to an environment of violence against minority religions.
“Discrimination of Religious Minorities in EU” – text: Knut Holdhus
For more about discrimination of religious minorities: France Bedfellow with Chinese Communists