Cults and their apologists claim "discrimination" in Europe

CultNews Summary of "Minority faiths come under the microscope across Europe," by Ira Rifkin, Religion News Service, June 19, 1999

One "religious-rights advocate" said that the "McCarthy era" was analogous to the treatment of "minority faiths" in Western European countries such as France, Belgium, Germany and Austria.

Critics of government action regarding cults and sects said that "minority religions" such as Seventh-day Adventists, the Amish, Jehovah's Witnesses, Wicca, Hasidic Jews, Baha'is, Mormons, and the Roman Catholic organization Opus Dei have been targeted.

Notably included amongst the supposedly "targeted" groups are Hare Krishna the Church of Scientology and Rev. Sun Myung Moon's Unification Church,all three have been called "cults."

A government commission in France issued a report that listed more than 170 suspicious groups. In Belgium, a list of 189 groups was released.

Massimo Introvigne, director of the "Center for Studies of New Religions" in Torino, Italy said that such action is "reminiscent of the McCarthy era in the United States."

Introvigne has worked closely with Scientology and has been called a "cult apologist."

Critics say that European governments are overreacting to cult tragedies such as Aum of Japan attacking Tokyo subways, and the mass suicides of the groups Heaven's Gate and the Solar Temple.

Introvigne also denounced recent media reports about cults and related tax and legal investigations.

However, despite such objections the 41-nation Council of Europe's Parliamentary Assembly plans to establish a central European effort to monitor such groups and information centers to help poorer nations with the growing cult problem.

The European nations hope to protect children within cults from "ill treatment, rape, neglect, indoctrination by brainwashing."

The assembly advisory body reaffirmed a "commitment to freedom of conscience and religion," and recognized "religious pluralism as a natural consequence of freedom of religion."

But a U.S. official appeared to be influenced by cults and their apologists. Both Scientology and the Unification Church have considerable clout through Washington lobbying efforts.

"The United States understands that there are some dangerous groups that use religion as a cover for their activities," said Robert Seiple, the State Department's ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom issues.

"Our concern is these governments are framing the issue as one of sects and cults...and include some groups that in no way are dangerous, simply because of religious prejudice."

Cults and their apologists have repeatedly used claims of "religious prejudice" whenever the behavior of groups like Scientology, Hare Krishna and the Unification Church has been scrutinized.

One example of such a "discrimination" claim came in response to a French government report.

The "Institut Theologique Bible college" in Nimes, France is run by Massachusetts-born Louis DeMeo. DeMeo is linked to notorious "cult leader" Carl Stevens and his "Greater Grace World Outreach in Baltimore," which was formerly known as "The Bible Speaks."

The Bible Speaks has a deeply troubled history that includes adverse media reports, complaints and litigation.

One lawsuit resulted in a multi-million dollar judgment against the group, which was upheld by the US Supreme Court. That judgment prompted Stevens and his followers to leave Massachusetts and move to Baltimore. The plaintiff in the suit was awarded damages for injuries due to "brainwashing."

DeMeo claims he moved to France "to help re-establish Christian life in France, which has abandoned its Christian heritage [sic]."

He says being listed in the French report is "incredibly discriminating."

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