CONCERNS ON THE RESOLUTION “THE PROTECTION OF MINORS AGAINST EXCESSES OF SECTS” WHICH WILL BE VOTED ON AT THE BEGINNING OF APRIL 2014 AT THE PARLIAMENTARY ASSEMBLY OF THE COUNCIL OF EUROPE.
Spanish evangelical federation stands up against Rudy Salles’ report at PACE
The Federation of Evangelical Religious Entities of Spain through this letter expresses its concern about the upcoming vote that will take place at the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) regarding the Report adopted by the Committee of Legal Affairs and Human Rights based on a motion presented by the Rapporteur Mr. Rudy Salles entitled: “The Protection of Minors Against Excesses of Sects”.
Our Federation is against and will always condemn any illegal behavior or abuse of a minor or person of legal age, be it perpetrated by a religious group or person or anyone else. However, we fear the possibility that Resolutions like this one that will be voted on in the near future could be used to legitimize abusive and discriminatory interventions by the States in the sphere of religious freedom and freedom of conscience of the citizens. Some Human Rights organizations have reported on the increasing religious intolerance in Europe in the last 10 years. They have also alerted the public that we need to be especially careful regarding regulations and initiatives of some States which incriminate sects and which have become repressive measures for the manifestation of ideas and behaviors that deviate from commonly accepted ones, with the risk of punishing every sort of proselytism or dissemination of the beliefs, negating or restricting the minorities from their autonomy of their personality and from their freedom of belief and conscience.
Hereinafter, we point out in a summarized way, some of the most worrying aspects about the motion intended for approval at the Parliamentarian Assembly:
1. There are doubts about the neutrality, impartiality and objectivity of the Rapporteur of the motion, Mr. Rudy Salles. There are complaints about it, which should be valued and examined, because they warn that the aim and objective of the Rapporteur could be not the protection of minors, but to establish in Europe the same control system of sects that exists in France, a system that has been very controversial and that moreover comes from a very specific reality, the French one, and which has nothing to do with the reality that exists in other European countries. Therefore, it is about a system that it is not easily transportable to the European sphere. We consider that it is needed to examine this matter to avoid that the protection of minors (something on which everybody agrees) is not in reality a mere excuse to, in practice, adopt measures that may unjustifiably restrain and limit religious freedom.
2. The proposed motion uses the word “sect” in a pejorative way, equaling this concept to “destructive sect”. The utilization of this concept is extremely delicate.
In the first place, it is needed to highlight that there is no consensus about the concept of sect and there is no scientific or objective definition of it. In fact, the concept of sect has been frequently used by majorities to fight and combat minorities, and for this reason the position of the European institutions, including the European Court of Human Rights, has been to not give a definition of this concept.
In second place, and even more serious, is the fact that the motion equates sects with “new religious movements” and “minority religions”. The United Nations has clearly declared that religious discrimination based on stigmatization of minority religions as sects is unacceptable. Even the Council of Europe has stated on different occasions that the word “sect” has taken an extremely pejorative connotation, because it stigmatizes in the eyes of the public the groups that are referred to with this word. The labeling of minority religions as sects can result in serious consequences due to stigmatizing them and putting them under the suspicions of criminal behaviors. This could become a step backward in all the work that has been done to date on the subject of religious freedom and the social integration of minorities and in all the efforts that have been done to normalize and visibilize existing religious pluralism in Europe.
3. The existence of people who, under the protection of religious freedom, infringe the law in a very serious way is an indisputable reality, and we understand solutions to these situations must be sought. Notwithstanding this, we consider that there are enough criminal regulations (which could be improved) to punish criminal behavior that affects minors. In Spain for example, there is the possibility that a specific group could be declared an illegal association; our Criminal Code covers crimes against physical and moral integrity, etc. We do not consider that it is neither needed nor advisable to adopt sect control and repression measures, especially when there is no consensus about this concept and when these are being compared, as already said, to new religious movements and religious minorities.
In virtue of the above,
WE REQUEST that after examining the resolution proposed by the Committee of Legal Affairs and Human Rights of the Council of Europe, analyzing the objectives sought with the proposed measures and the consequences that those could have against freedom of religion, the no discrimination for religious reasons and the normalization of the diversity and the religious pluralism of Europe, to vote against the motion “The Protection of children against the excesses of sects” at the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe
In Madrid, March 24th 2014