FRANCE 🇫🇷 – Religious freedom under threat – Open Letter to the Government

FRANCE 🇫🇷
Religious freedom under threat of a new law/ Sign the petition


Letter is still open for signatures


To:

All French Deputies

All French Senators

Re: The current French bill on “Reinforcing the Fight Against Cultic Deviances”

Dear Members of the French Parliament,

We write as an informal coalition of organizations and individuals who are scholars, religious and civil society leaders, and human rights advocates and practitioners to express our deep concerns about the bill, “Reinforcing the Fight Against Cultic Deviances,” which is currently being debated at the French Parliament.

While we hold an extremely broad diversity of theological views and political positions, we all agree on the importance of freedom of religion or belief for everyone. It strengthens cultures and provides the foundation for stable democracies and their components, including social harmony, civil society, and economic growth. As such, it is also an effective counter-terrorism weapon as it pre-emptively undermines religious extremism. From Cyrus’ Cylinder to Roger Williams’ 1663 Colonial Charter, history and modern scholarship make it clear that where people are allowed to practice their faith freely, they are less likely to be alienated from the government, and more likely to be good citizens.

While we know France has a duty to enact legislation to tackle the problems of criminality and prosecute crimes committed by members of spiritual and religious movements, we believe you can achieve this purpose without adding new restrictions on freedom of thought, conscience, and religion or belief in your country.

The bill, “Reinforcing the Fight Against Cultic Deviances,” as it is written, contains several flaws that make it non-compliant with the Constitution of the Fifth Republic and its international commitments, including Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

First, the stigmatization of religious minorities as “cults” or “cultic groups” by states and governments is contrary to the international standards on freedom of religion or belief. That is what is tackled in General Comment 22 of the UN Human Rights Committee:

Article 18 protects theistic, non-theistic and atheistic beliefs, as well as the right not to profess any religion or belief. The terms “belief” and “religion” are to be broadly construed. Article 18 is not limited in its application to traditional religions or to religions and beliefs with institutional characteristics or practices analogous to those of traditional religions. The Committee therefore views with concern any tendency to discriminate against any religion or belief for any reason, including the fact that they are newly established, or represent religious minorities that may be the subject of hostility on the part of a predominant religious community.

The European Court of Human Rights regularly condemns such stigmatization by its member states (see for example “Tonchev and Others v. Bulgaria”, Application no. 56862/15).

Currently, the leading countries that target religious and spiritual minorities they distastefully refer to as “cults” are Russia, China, and Iran. These countries are among the worst violators of freedom of thought, conscience, and religion or belief in the world, and we do not want to see France join this group.

Moreover, Article 1 of the law creates a new crime called “psychological subjection.” Such a concept, to be applied to matters related to religious or spiritual beliefs:

●   Is pseudo-scientific and has never been supported by scientific consensus, while to the opposite some scientific recognized groups as the American Psychological Association and the American Sociological Association rejected utterly such a concept applied to religious movements and/or so called “cults.” As the ECHR stated in “Case of the Jehovah’s Witnesses of Moscow v. Russia” (Application no. 302/02), on June 10, 2010: “there is no generally accepted and scientific definition of what constitutes ‘mind control.’”

●  Is so vague that it opens the door to arbitrary abuses, which can touch any faith, or even non-religious philosophical groups.

●  Will put the burden of proof on psychiatrists who will have to evaluate religious or spiritual practices for which they are not qualified, based on a notion devoid of scientific basis.

●  Will criminalize beliefs based on the degree of popularity or acceptance of the ideas and beliefs of minority spiritual or religious groups.

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We believe this would be unacceptable in a democratic country like France.

We urge you to consider the repercussions of such a law. The social consequences include but are not limited to outraged protests not only from these minority groups but from multi-faith coalitions and increasing scrutiny of the international community.

Further, Article 3 of the bill will allow “anti-cult” associations to be plaintiff in criminal trials against groups they consider as “cults,” even if they have not personally suffered any damage. Considering that these associations are by definition attacking the spiritual and religious minorities they label as “cults,” this article will endanger the right to a fair trial that everyone is entitled to.

We understand that fighting against criminality is a legitimate aim. Unfortunately, the bill in its current form will be counter-productive and will allow for the criminalization of people who are not criminals but sincere believers. We are certain that French criminal law contains all necessary provisions to tackle criminality, and creating a vague and arbitrary new crime based on pseudo-scientific theories is dangerous.

As an informal multi-faith coalition, we strongly and respectfully urge you to refrain from rushing to pass this bill into law and ask you to engage the leading experts in the right to freedom of religion or belief, such as the Office of Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) of the OSCE or the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religions or Belief, to get well-rounded advice and guidance.

This is a critical issue for the future of France, the fate of all French citizens, and the entire world, as the outcome of your work will be watched and evaluated internationally. Will you enact a law that targets and punishes citizens for their faith or beliefs? Will you stigmatize minority beliefs, create an arbitrary crime, and increase restrictions on freedom of religion or belief, or will you uphold freedom in the country of Human Rights? We definitely hope it will be the latter, and we trust you will hear that call.

Thank you for your consideration.

Respectfully,

CALL FOR SIGNATURES

  • Please let us know if your organization would like to sign on or if you will sign as an individual (with title and organization for identification purposes only), or both, by writing to eiforumrf@gmail.com.
  • The deadline for signatures is the close of business on Friday, December 15, 2023.

TO INFORM YOUR DECISION

LINK TO THE ARTICLE ONTHE HRWF WEBSITE:

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