Created over ten years ago to fight against discrimination of minorities of religion or belief in France, the European Coordination for Freedom of Conscience which I represent wishes to highlight the French policy of stigmatization of parent members of religious minorities and their children.
MIVILUDES, the Inter-Ministerial Mission of Vigilance and Fight Against Sectarian Drifts, has put in place at national level a series of measures that infringe the right of parents to ensure that their children receive education and teaching in conformity with their own religious convictions, protected by the European Convention on Human Rights.
In its 2009 Report, MIVILUDES President explained that the assimilation of the sole beliefs of a movement, the repetition of a credo of allegiance to a superior entity or the substitution of a mythical discourse to rational explanations would create an ideological isolation and be specific to sectarian subjection. However, these elements could apply to any religion, especially Catholic Cathechism, and are stigmatized by MIVILUDES in a discriminatory way based on beliefs it deems “deviant”.
In the same Report, MIVILUDES recommends that in case of family conflicts, the Judge of Family Affairs privilege the parent not follower of a religious minority for the child custody, in order to protect him from the beliefs of his parent follower, and this “even if he, in the exclusive sphere of his follower parent, has blossomed, works well at school and does not complain about anything”.
Based on the same reasoning, a new Circular entitled « Prevention and Fight against Sectarian Risks » has been adopted on 22 March 2012 and sent to the National Education personnel. Contrary to previous Circulars which provided legitimately for control of the acquisition of knowledge and level of education of children receiving education at home, this Circular provides for the identification by National Education personnel of “situations of sectarian risks” for a child which it defines as “the ones in which some views and practices are imposed on him with the exception of any other views or practice”, the risk bearing on “the possibility for the child to develop and exert a critical mind, an independent judgment”.
The issuance of this Circular has led to visits to parents whose children were doing “at-home” correspondence courses with the CNED, a State recognized organism for distance teaching. The National Education agents were checking for any ideological or religious motivation behind the choice of the parents to take their children out of the public school system.
Per the Circular, National Education personnel have the duty to denounce any “worrying information” to the authorities, namely any ideological context deemed to be deviant.
Additionally, MIVILUDES and the Ministry of National Education have launched over the last years an “anti-sect” campaign in schools. The subject is addressed during Civic Education courses and is included in the school manuals with pictures representing certain minority groups. These measures have let to situations where children of certain religious minorities have been under pressure to criticize or recant their parents’ faith.
These policy and measures violate the right of followers of religious minorities to freedom of religion and belief, as well as their right to educate their children in conformity with their own beliefs, guaranteed by the European Convention on Human Rights, the Helsinki Accords, the OSCE standards and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.