Freedom of Religion or Belief, Anti-Sect Movements and State Neutrality
A case study: FECRIS
A research work of over 200 pages carried out by Human Rights Without Frontiers and published by the Journal for the Study of Beliefs and Worldviews
(Ed. by Gerhard Besier and Hubert Seiwert) – Technical University of Dresden, Germany
HRWF (14.11.2012) – « States and public powers in Europe which finance anti-sect movements fail to abide by their duty of neutrality and impartiality as stated in various judgments of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) and endorsed by the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief, Heiner Bielefeldt, in the « Rapporteur’s Digest on FORB, » concludes the research work which has been carried out by experts of various countries.
In the cases of Hasan and Chaush v. Bulgaria (par. 62), Metropolitan Church of Bessarabia and Others v. Moldova (par. 123), Jehovah’s Witnesses of Moscow v. Russia (par. 99), the ECtHR notes « the Court observes that the State’s duty of neutrality and impartiality, as defined in its case-law, is incompatible with any power on the State’s part to assess the legitimacy of religious beliefs. »
While the « market » of ideas and the « market » of salvation are and must remain open to competition in a democratic society, a number of States and public powers have subsidized and are still subsidizing the European Federation of Research and Information Centers on Sectarianism (FECRIS), an organization uniting 25 anti-sect groups in Europe and founded in Paris in 1994, and several of its member associations. Their purposes and activities pose serious problems regarding freedom of religion or belief. Their writings and positions provide evidence that they lead an ideological crusade with public financing which cannot be reconciled with international human rights instruments.
This study focuses on the member associations of FECRIS in five European countries:
France, the cradle of laïcité and the driving force of the anti-sect fight in Europe promoting the separation between State and religion; the State where FECRIS was created and which finances it nearly entirely with public funds.
Austria and Germany, where public powers and dominant churches lead a common struggle against « sects ».
Serbia and Russia, two Orthodox countries in which the State and public powers give support to FECRIS’ affiliates and their activities, although it is used for the missionary activities of the Orthodox Church or they are meant to defend the position and influence of this specific Church in society, to fight against the erosion of its membership or to expand it. FECRIS member associations’ activities in Russia include « rehabilitation centres » held by Orthodox priests for followers of new or minority religious movements to re-convert to the « true » faith.
The main and common recommendation of the authors of this research work is that the State must make sure that:
· all faith and belief communities are equal before the law and respect the law;
· there is no discrimination on the basis of a hierarchy of religions or beliefs;
· it remains neutral in the competition between faith and belief communities;
· it stops financing the fight of organizations against specific faith and belief communities.
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