FoRB Issues in Austria, France, Germany and Hungary
On September 30, 2015, from 1 to 3 p.m., FOREF held a well-attended side event on FoRB issues in Austria, France, Germany and Hungary at the OSCE Human Dimension Implementation Meeting in Warsaw, Poland, moderated by the president of FOREF, Dr. Aaron Rhodes. Among the audience were state officials as well as representatives from persecuted minority religions, various NGOs and FECRIS*.
The first speaker of the panel, Prof. David Baer, professor of Theology and Philosophy at the Texas Lutheran University and FOREF board member, discussed persistent difficulties with Hungary’s church law (2011) that stripped 200 religious communities of their legal personality and reduced the number of recognized churches to 31.
Next, Dominic Zoehrer, a human rights activist and student of Religious Studies, spoke about the seizure of 42 children from the Christian community “Twelve Tribes” that occurred in September 2013 in Germany. The radical and disproportionate measures taken by the authorities are highly controversial: Three police raids, which removed the children and took them into state custody without prior communication with the parents, were conducted due to the instigation by so-called cult experts associated with the anti-cult lobby FECRIS.
The third speaker, Peter Zoehrer, co-founder of FOREF, addressed problematic policies on religion by the Austrian government. Those include the structural stigmatization of religious minority groups through the “Federal Agency for Sect Issues” (Bundesstelle für Sektenfragen) and 28 other anti-sect offices as well as the broadly criticized revision of the Law on Islam (Islamgesetz 2015).
The fourth and last panelist, Dr. Willy Fautre, executive director of Human Rights without Frontiers (HRWF) and member of FOREF’s scientific advisory council, talked about the French state ideology of laicité and how it translates into stigmatization of religious minorities labeled as “sects” or criminalization of Muslim women who are forced to dress in accordance with government-defined norms.
The presentations were followed by an engaging Q&A session where several government and NGO representatives commented on the issues raised. In his closing remark, Dr. Rhodes underlined that, as an NGO aimed at the protection of human rights, FOREF stands for the equal treatment of religious communities and criticizes the disturbance of equality through the interference of states through discriminatory legislation and stigmatizing actions. FOREF thus encourages state governments to uphold democracy, fundamental rights and the rule of law.
The statements and recommendations of the panelists have been published by the OSCE HDIM 2015 among the documents of Working Session 14 (on tolerance and non-discrimination):
- Hungary: Amended Church Law Remains at Variance with OSCE Standards and the European Convention on Human Rights
- Austria: Policies on Religion at Variance with OSCE Standards and the European Convention on Human Rights
* Daniele Muller-Tull, president of FECRIS, has published a statement for Working Session 15 (on fundamental freedoms) which contains neither actual cases of HR violations through religious minorities nor concrete recommendations for the governments in the OSCE region. It is a desperate and disarranged piece of self-defense against “cultist lobbies”. She vaguely appeals to the OSCE region to accept that “the cultist project is to change the paradigms of our democratic states on which all the sovereign principles of our societies are based”, thus painting a conspiracy of a destructive, “cultist” agenda without backing up her claims with empirical data.
While FECRIS is financed to over 90% by the French government, Mrs. Muller-Tull’s controversial “declaration” claims that her GONGO is “politically neutral”. (For more information on the ideology, structure, financing and activities of FECRIS see Besier, Gerhard / Seiwert, Hubert: Freedom of Religion or Belief, Anti-Sect Movements and State Neutrality. A Case Study: FECRIS. Religion – Staat – Gesellschaft. 13. Jg. (2012), Heft 2.)
The Forum for Religious Freedom Europe (FOREF Europe) is an independent and secular NGO based in Vienna. FOREF monitors compliance with Freedom of Religion and Belief (FoRB) standards, documents problems, and advocates with the international community, national governments and civil society.