FOREF-COMMENTARY: Who needs the National Sect-Office?

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FOREF-COMMENTARY:
Who needs the National Sect-Office?
by Werner Mueller


Vienna, 8.12.2010 – The National Office for Sectarian Issues exists in Vienna since 1998. Its central purpose is to collect, document and distribute information about so-called sects. The nature of this information is unknown. Is it publicly available information from the media, reports from so-called drop-outs or information from the so-called sects themselves? We do not know because the national office divulges no information about it and so transparency is non-existent. The taxpayers should actually expect it from a public office funded by taxes with a budget of over 400,000 Euro.
(Photo: Dr. German Müller, leader of the Federal Sect-Office)


The reference of the national office to simply collect, evaluate and distribute information about so-called sects, does not justify the expense of approximately seven employees.
And anyhow, what is meant by collecting information, is the television programme perused for contents relating to the theme or daily newspapers evaluated? And if so, who receives these “threatening medial scenarios” which ultimately contribute to opinion making? The public is not permitted any insight into files relating to persons or financial issues of the National Office for Sectarian Issues.
Should we take a look at the work and results of the National Office for Sectarian Issues over the last ten years then it is sobering to establish that the “observation” of “sects” has not led to any results by this office. Where are the publications, the informational documents or the public presentations which reveal the potential risk of “sects”? And what results has the now more than ten years of observation of these groups brought? The National Office for Sectarian Issues remains silent on this issue. What we can read are individual annual reports of this office which in no way really describe the allegedly potential danger which apparently comes from “sects”.
In the last annual report from 2005 which only appeared in 2007 there is a listing of queries to the national office which do not document the nature of the queries. In this report the quantitative listing of queries suggests a danger of sects which is ultimately not substantiated. There were apparently thousands of queries. That Scientology and Satanists are at the top of the list is no surprise, both are totally different groups and serve perfectly to attract attention and interest. This data needs to be highly scrutinized for very simple reasons. Firstly an organisation which does not advertise nor has any other public activities can’t be in such demand. This is an economic law because the supply determines the demand. Even the website of the National Office for Sectarian Issues is so lacking in content that we ask ourselves what information should such an internet presence provide?
The question is, who actually checks the queries to the National Office for Sectarian Issues? According to information from the National Police Department there were two offences by “sects” in the last ten years. With an estimated 600 “sects”, this seems a rather marginal number. So where are the alleged manipulations, exploitations and world domination tendencies that “sects” are accused of? The national police office is transparent on that issue. The National Office on Sectarian Issues is not. It would be enough if the National Office for Sectarian Issues released the information on how many desertees of so-called sects they took care of. This information is not documented in the annual reports.
Let us take a look behind the scenes of this organisation. Firstly there is the head of the National Office for Sectarian Issues, Dr. German Mueller, a strong catholic and psychologist, a self-confessed mixture of humility before the clergy and psychological Ecumenism. There is no other explanation for his regular information meetings with the catholic and evangelical Sectarian Officers. There are no official meetings with the groups that he observes. Anyone who has ever met this God-fearing person knows why.
Similar to his long-time mentor, Friedrich Griess from the Society Against Sect- and Cult Dangers (Gesellschaft gegen Sekten- und Kultgefahren (GSK)), Mueller is convinced that every form of new religiosity is basically dangerous and Satanists eat small children. It is no coincidence that he set up his office directly at Saint Stephen’s Cathedral where he is close to the arch diocese of Vienna. He has the influence of the clergy to thank for his fear especially of sectarians, esoterics and alternative healers. Mueller was selected in 1998 from 13 candidates due to his experience in fighting sects as the leader of the Vienna Society Against the Dangers of Cults – Wiener Gesellschaft gegen Sekten- und Kultgefahren (FECRIS), an institution of questionable reputation, by the at that time Minister for the Family, Martin Bartenstein. His bias is obvious, primarily catholic and evangelical theologians work in the national office for sectarian issues. Scientific experts, people with professional reason and research to address the myth surrounding the evil “sects” are not to be found there.
According to national sectarian legislation officially recognized churches and religious institutions are to be excluded from the observations of the national office. This clause is a mockery of the smaller religious organisations which are supposed to be so dangerous. They finally ask every honest and even uncomfortable question, while especially the Catholic church doesn’t leave the headlines and hides behind its halo. Groer, Krenn & co, torture punishment in catholic boarding schools, sexual abuse of minors, exploitation of their own employees, megalomania and aggressive missionizing of whole continents, eliminating own critique etc. This list could go on and on.
Why are double standards applied here? Why are completely harmless smaller religious communities spied on by the National Office while the Catholic Church is the obvious organisation in desperate need of monitoring? Even an institution with the discriminating name “Sect”, a term which automatically stirs negative associations raises the question of the responsibility of the government towards religious minorities. They too have a right not to be discriminated against and deserve the protection of the state. Freedom of faith and religion is a basic right for all people in this country. These rights towards small religions are being eroded by one-sided measures of the national government. The state should rather seek dialogue with these minority religions, for it could thus demonstrate that it is interested in religious and cultural diversity. This would be a good and trend-setting path.
The National Office for Sectarian Issues has failed its job where it prefers to “observe” religious minorities instead of dialoguing with them and exchanging information. In this case the target group in criminilized and excluded, it is brandmarked as evil and does not have the possibility to defend itself effectively. Such a procedure represents obvious religious discrimination which is legitimized by the state.
The management team of the National Office for Sectarian Issues being occupied by people who from a religious perspective are close to the catholic and evangelical church is monstrous. This is in total contradiction to religious and world view neutrality which the state has committed itself to. Particularly the enlightening policy of the churches, which Mueller & Co perpetrate has created an atmosphere of religious intolerance. In the National Office for Sectarian Issues the priority is to maintain the system at all costs – the sectarian characteristics of the large churches is made to look harmless by imposing them on the religious minorities. Thus there is no differentiation from the sect-hunters of the large churches. And let’s be honest, an institution funded by taxpayers money which works in secret and refrains from making its results public is anything but serious. I believe that should an auditor really check the internal workings of the National Office for Sectarian Issues, then the fearful ghost of the evil “sects” would leave nothing but hot air.
Due to the urgency of the issue, FOREF requests a body made up of independent experts to accompany and evaluate the National Office for Sectarian Issues both scientifically and technically! Especially the quality and the processing of the queries as well as the consultation in the National Office for Sectarian Issues itself should receive much more attention than before, because from our perspective, they are the source of all quotations about the actual potential danger that apparently “sects” pose. The religious minorities which are being observed should also receive a voice in this body.
The latter could provide expert support for the work of Mueller & Co in every way and should issue recommendations in annual reports to the government.
FOREF Europe – Digital Press folder (APA):  http://www.ots.at/pressemappe/80/foref-forum-fuer-religionsfreiheit
For further infos:

FOREF Europa (Forum for Religious Freedom Europe)
ZVR: 429267353
Tel: +43 (0)664/5238794
E-Mail: manager@foref.info
Blog: http://religiousfreedom-europe.blogspot.com/

____________________________________________________________

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SUPPLEMENTARY HUMAN DIMENSION MEETING
ON FREEDOM OF RELIGION OR BELIEF
9-10 December 2010 Hofburg, Vienna

Statement & Recommendations

AUSTRIA
BACKGROUND:

In Austria, we have over 66 percent Catholics and 2.9 Protestants. Islam, with 450 000 Muslims (4.2percent) constitutes the second largest faith community. Only 14 faith communities enjoy special privileges by the state. Another 10 are so-called “Confessional Communities.” There are approximately 600 religious minority groups, which are regarded as so-called “sects” and are targets of the anti-sect offices.  With a population of 8.2 million, Austria has no less than 33 anti – sect offices operating in the country. Proportionally, this marks an unmatched record in Europe and even on a global scale.
Including the Federal Sect Observatory, there are five (5) state sponsored sect observation offices
Nine (9) Catholic Sect Offices
Seven (7) Protestant Sect Offices
Four (4) Private Sect Offices
and eight (8) Family Counseling Offices with special emphasis on “Sectarian
issues”.
Austria’s constitutionally granted freedom of religion and the neutrality of the state in religious matters are torpedoed by the following facts:

A. The Federal Sect Office
In 1998, the Austrian Parliament passed the Federal Law for the Establishment of a Documentation and Information Office for Matters Concerning Sects. The tasks of this office, whose head was appointed and supervised by the minister for social security and generations, were to collect and distribute information about dangers originating from programs or activities of sects or sect-related activities. The Federal Sect Office received in recent years annually over € 400 000, – funding from the Federal government, which means the taxpayers’ money.

Here are some of the objections by experts and the victims of this state sanctioned discrimination against religious minorities by the Federal Sect Office:

1.     LAW IS UNCONSTITUTIONAL: “Sects” within the mainstream churches are excluded from observation by this office. The law is not applied to state-recognized churches and confessional communities and is therefore discriminatory and therefore violates the Austrian constitution (Expert View by Prof. Dr. Christian Brünner Karl-Franzens-University of Graz, Institute for Austrian, European and Comparative Public Law, Political Sciences and Public Administration, President of FOREF Europe). The law is also incompatible with Austria’s OSCE commitments.

2.     BIASED LEADER: The in 1998 appointed director of the federal sect office Dr. Mueller is known to be strongly biased against religious minority groups. He is the former leader of the controversial, Vienna based private Anti-Cult Organization called “Society against Sect- & Cult Dangers” (GSK).

3.     BIASED STAFF: Two key staff members (of six) in the Federal Sect Office: A Catholic theologian and a pedagogue in Protestant theology.

4.     IGNORING STATE/CHURCH SEPARATION: The Federal Sect Office is holding regularly meetings with leaders of the “Sect-Offices” from the Catholic & Protestant churches for the sake of information exchange on the activities of minority religions.

5.     BIASED ADVERTISING: Advertising the Sect-Offices of the Catholic- & Protestant Churches on the official government Website by the Federal Sect-Office.

6.     DELIBERATE USE OF THE TERM “SECTS”: The federal government is still using the derogatory and stigmatizing term “sects” for minority religions and thus sanctioning the use of this term in the educational system & media. This is clearly violating OSCE standards and the EU standards regarding anti- discrimination.

7.     ACUTE LACK OF TRANSPARENCY:
In spite of its obligation to file an annual report on its activities, the Federal Sect- Office has not been reporting for five years (the 2005 report has been published & presented in parliament in 2007). Furthermore, in those three reports, which are available since 1998, experts trace an artificial inflation of the statistics and criticize the absence of factual content. More seriously, members & leaders of religious minorities are not allowed to view the data/information contained in the files the Federal Sect Office has assembled on them!

8.     STASI-LIKE INTERFERENCE IN PRIVATE LIVES
The most recent caseby no means uniqueis the case of Mag. Harald J., who during the 90s  held a leading position in a small religious group. In 2004 he  disassociated himself from that faith and consequently he left the organization. He  established a successful method (Kido) to teach children self defense, in particular against sexual abuse. In addition he has become a qualified life-coach. However, getting professional engagements has become extremely difficult due to repeated interference of various “sect hunters” who tried discredit him. Early this year, his job prospects received another blow, when the chamber of commerce confronted him with a big file on his affiliation with a so-called “sect”.  The file was authored by the Federal Sect-Office. Mag. Harald J. is gravely concerned about the permanent witch-hunt against him and how he can continue to feed his family under these circumstances.

Besides, in Austria there is no legal protection in cases of defamation of religious organizations. Teachers repeatedly justified their discriminating behavior towards pupils from minority religions with the mere existence of the Federal Sect Office. The use of anti-sect videos, which are being circulated nationwide in schools for religious education, but occasionally also in social and political education, is violating the religious freedom of pupils (see next paragraph).
B. 43 Anti-Sect Videos in Austrian Schools
Most high-school students have to attend lessons on “Sektenaufklärung,” which in reality means biased, anti-cult lessons in religious- and social education.
The information contained in the materials (Videos disseminated by the “Landesbildstellen”) & Pamphlets is not only largely outdated. It is also
discriminatory and biased, since it is often produced by the apologetic quarters of the mainstream churches in order to project their view on small religions or so called ‘sects’. Especially children, whose parents are members of a targeted religious minority, are suffering under these circumstances.

So far the federal government, in particular the Ministry of Education & Cultural Affairs has not done anything to prevent the use of discriminatory & stigmatizing anti-sect teaching materials
C. The “Society against Sects- & Cult-Dangers” (GSK)

GSK is a private, Vienna- based anti-cult association which is also the Austrian branch of FECRIS.

GSK receives funding from the City of Vienna & the State-government of Lower-Austria in spite of its discriminatory activities:

It is still publishing the controversial Anti-Sect brochure called “Wissen Schützt” (Knowledge Protects). The booklet, which is blacklisting over 20 groups was originally published by the Family-Ministry in 1998 and widely distributed. Due to court cases and various complaints by victimized religious minority groups, the government had to stop circulating it in 2003. Amongst many other discriminatory materials GSK is publishing the brochure on its official website for download.

RECOMMENDATIONS

Recommendation 1:
We appeal to the federal government of Austria to propose an independent scientific advisory board to accompany & monitor the activities of the Federal Sect-Office in Austria. Or otherwise to follow the German example: Close the office and thereby set a positive example to promote religious tolerance according to OSCE standards.
Recommendation 2:
We appeal to the Austrian Ministry of Education to propose an independent scientific board i.o. to assess the circulated information materials on religious minority groups with the purpose of eliminating outdated and discriminatory content. Even these materials are used in religious education, the state still holds responsibility to stop the misuse of the educational system for discriminatory purposes.
Recommentation 3:
We ask the OSCE to recommend less discriminatory models of legislation to the Federal government of Austria (using examples from the OSCE region).

This entry was posted in Austria, FOREF Europe, Human Rights, Religious Freedom. Bookmark the permalink.

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