Recommendations Of European Council On Sects

Compromise Between Strict French and Liberal U.S. Policies

July 1,1999

STRASBOURG, JUL 1 (ZENIT).- After a debate that lasted almost two years, on June 22 the European Council approved a set of fundamental recommendations regarding the matter of sects. The Council is opposed to special laws and in favor of the application of existing regulations and the protection of victims.

The debate revealed the different ways of handling the problem between countries like Belgium and France, which favor a hard line to stop the establishment of sectarian groups, and Sweden, which waves the banner of tolerance at all costs.

The confrontation involved the other side of the Atlantic, as well. According to the Italian newspaper "Avvenire," in the weeks preceding the approval of the European Council's document, Madeleine Albright, the U.S. Secretary of State, exerted pressure to avoid the text becoming excessively restrictive in tone.

The U.S. administration dislikes the way the French government has controlled the new cults. In the annual report of the U.S. Commission on religious liberty, France appears as an intolerant country. On some days when the debate became especially heated, several U.S. congressmen appealed to the government for direct intervention against the European Council. "Avvenire" points to influence of Scientology over lawmakers in its analysis.

"It would be naive not to think that the U.S. government's decision had no motives of electoral opportunism," Massimo Introvigne said. Introvigne is director of the Research Center on New Religions (CESNUR), with headquarters in Italy. "But it must be kept in mind that defense of religious liberty is part of the cultural tradition of the United States. It should be recognized, moreover, that countries like France and Belgium reflect intolerance toward all 'extremist' religious experiences. This is fomented by politicians and intellectuals who do not hide their Masonic affiliation. The German case is different: the debate there centered almost exclusively on the question of Scientology. Opposition to the sects is led primarily by Protestant pastors."

As a result, the Council of Europe's recommendation is a compromise between two positions. Introvigne commented that "some important requests" were made, from his point of view, such as the "suggestion to create research centers on the phenomenon of 'independent' sects. These are independent not just of the government, but also of anti-sect organizations of an extremist nature. In my opinion, I think the text's reference to the concept of brainwashing, which continues to generate controversy, is debatable. Among the positive aspects, I think the overcoming of the misunderstanding by which criminal behavior is attributed to the sects as sects, deserves mentioning. The United States has itself learned that to resolve problems of this kind, it is not necessary to deploy one's artillery. Using instruments like the European Observatory promoted by the European Council's recommendation, it is very important that each case be studied individually."

Giuseppe Ferrari, secretary of the Italian Information Group on Sects (GRIS), also gave a positive judgment on the document approved by the European Council. "I think it is important that the document does not go into the muddy waters of defining what is, or is not, a sect, and focuses, instead, on deviant behavior."

The European Council is an organism of cooperation created in 1949, independently of the European Union. Its purpose is to foment the economic and social progress of its members, to fulfill the ideals and principles of the European Union, and to safeguard democratic ideals and liberties. The decisions of the Council are not binding on the member states.

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