29 March 2014 Birthe B. Pedersen writes from France

europe“An attack against the Freedom of Religion”. That’s how the criticism against the proposed Resolution about a strengthen effort against sectarian organizations is voiced – which the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe will treat on the 10th of April.

The resolution and the associated report mainly focuses on the protection of children and minors from what the report describes as sect-like organizations’ “border-transgressing behavior”. One such is defined as the attempt to “create, maintain or abuse a condition of psychological or physical subduing”, that can harm the child physically or mentally.

It is the french member of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, Rudy Salles, who is the rapporteur on the proposal.

He is known for his tough stance when it comes to the new religions, and that is causing the critics to fear that the French hardliner policy against minority religions will spread to other countries.

A complaint has been filed against Rudy Salles for being biased because of his close connections to the French government agency against sects Miviludes. The man behind the complaint Peter Zöhrer, secretary general of the Forum for Religious Freedom in Europe, FOREF, in Vienna, fear a spread of the French standards of religious freedom.

“With this resolution, we run the risk that more countries will introduce legislation such as the French. That is among others a threat to parents’ right to educate children in their faith,” says Peter Zöhrer.

The resolution, which was adopted in the Council of Europe’s Legal and Human Rights Committee prior to the vote in the Parliamentary Assembly, recommends Member States to establish or strengthen laws against cults abuse of mentally or physically weak persons, and among other things, keeping tight control over religious private schools and home schooling.

These measures are necessary, says Rudy Salles, because sects are growing in Europe.

“They take advantage of the crisis, where many people have a tough time and feel vulnerable. Self-development courses, meditation and the like can be a disguise for organizations that initially seem misguided, but the main aim is solely to make money. They abuse the followers vulnerability to pull money out of them, “says Rudy Salles.

Denmark is among the countries Rudy Salles has his eye on because of the very liberal Danish attitude to religious organizations.

But it is important “to hold the liberal banner high,” says pastor Tom Thygesen Daugaard, former secretary general of the now defunct Dialogcentret which dealt with alternative religiosity.

“Exactly when it comes to children who have not chosen to belong to a spiritual community, there may be reason to be extra vigilant. On the one hand, it can be traumatic for example, to know that you let demons loose with certain actions. Conversely, one cannot say for sure that the kids do not get a good upbringing anyway. The area may be underexposed. I do not have the impression that sectarian movements are growing in Denmark, but it may be the case in Eastern Europe, which has become the new mission fields, and where the general religious knowledge is low, “says Tom Thygesen Daugaard.

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