Letter from the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights to Minister of Foreign Affairs of Hungary

18 01 2012

Strasbourg, 12/01/12  – “Major legislative changes have been adopted in Hungary after minimal public consultation and without sufficient consideration of crucial human rights principles. Recent decisions affecting the independence of the judiciary, freedom of expression and freedom of religion raise serious concerns”, said the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, Thomas Hammarberg, publishing today a letter addressed to the Hungarian Minister for Foreign Affairs about the new Law on the Right to Freedom of Conscience and Religion, which deprives a great number of religious denominations of their church status.

Full text of the letter is available in pdf format from the website of Council of Europe. For access to the full text please click here.

Photo courtesy of Council of Europe Image Bank

Sikhs win turban case against France at the United Nations

17 01 2012
International Civil and Human Rights Advocacy ( ICHRA)
/ Human Rights Without Frontiers (HRWF)
“The UN Human Rights Committee has asked France to submit a report by March 15th on measures it is taking to remedy the violation of the religious freedom of 76 year old Ranjit Singh,who was asked to remove his turban for his ID photo” said Mejindarpal Kaur, UNITED SIKHS Legal Director, who is in the fore-front of a legal campaign for French Sikhs’ right to wear their turban. 

ICHR (12.01.2012) / HRWF (16.01.2011) – The UN Human Rights Committee (UNHRC) has concluded that France had violated the religious freedom of 76 year old Ranjit Singh when he was asked to remove his turban for his ID photograph. This was disclosed today at a media conference, in Bobigny (near Paris), by the UNITED SIKHS legal team, who had filed a communication on behalf of Ranjit Singh to the UNHRC in December 2008.

The media conference was told that the UNHRC observed that “even if the obligation to remove the turban for the identity photograph might be described as a one-time requirement, it would potentially interfere with the author’s (Ranjit Singh’s) freedom of religion on a continuing basis because he would always appear without his religious head covering in the identity photograph and could therefore be compelled to remove his turban during identity checks.”

The Committee said that France had failed to explain how the Sikh turban hindered identification since the wearer’s face would be visible and he would be wearing the turban it at all times, therefore, the regulation constituted a violation of article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which was entered into force for France on 4 February 1981. You may read the Committees views in full here. The views were adopted at the 102nd session of the Committee’s sitting.

“I had faith that truth and justice would prevail and I patiently waited for this day. I pray that France will now fulfil its obligation and grant me a residence card bearing my photo without baring my head,” said Ranjit Singh, who despite his ill-health has had no access to the public health-care system or to social benefits since 2005 because his residence card was refused due to his refusal to remove his turban.

UNITED SIKHS is heartened by the Committee’s observations that France is under an obligation to provide Ranjit Singh with an effective remedy, including a reconsideration of his application for a renewal of his residence permit and a review of the relevant legislative framework and its application in practice. France, the Committee noted, is also under an obligation to take steps to prevent similar violations in the future,” said Mejindarpal Kaur, UNITED SIKHS Legal Director, who addressed the media conference.

“We now look to France to fulfil its treaty obligations under International law and its moral duty to ensure that the freedom of religion and belief is upheld for everyone who lives within its territory,” she added.
“We are very pleased with the views that the Committee adopted and we welcome France’s compliance with these findings. We also look forward to a similar resolution for Shingara Singh, whose case is still pending before the Committee,” O’Melveny & Myers, a New York law firm engaged by UNITED SIKHS, said in a statement through their attorneys who spoke during a telephone interview. A decision is still awaited for Shingara Singh, whose passport has not been renewed by France because he refused to remove his turban for his ID photograph.

Issued by:
Mejindarpal Kaur
Legal Director
International Civil and Human Rights Advocacy ( ICHRA)

Reintroduced law again jeopardizing status of some churches in Hungary

14 01 2012

Text by Elizabeth Lechleitner/Adventist News Network
Photo by Ansel Oliver 

The saga of securing official church status in Hungary continues, despite what religious liberty advocates called encouraging news late last year when the Constitutional Court struck down the country’s controversial Law of Churches.

John Graz, director of Public Affairs and Religious Liberty for the Adventist world church, monitors the status of church registration in Hungary from the denomination’s headquarters. Church leaders in Europe report that the Seventh-day Adventist Church there will likely regain its official status at the end of February.




Prior to that ruling, more than 300 minority faiths — among them the Seventh-day Adventist Church — were set to lose official legal status in Hungary on January 1, after which they would undergo a reapplication process.

With the New Year, those churches are facing a similar situation.

The country’s Constitutional Courtoverturned the Law of Churches purely on technical grounds, and on December 30 Hungary’s majority conservative party “easily” reintroduced and passed essentially the same law, effective January 1, said Dwayne Leslie, the Adventist world church’s legislative representative in Washington, D.C.

Hungary’s Parliament claims the law is necessary to weed out businesses or individuals posing as churches just to gain the accompanying rights and privileges. Furthermore, the majority government maintains that the law doesn’t infringe on religious liberty. It doesn’t “forbid” worship according to any faith tradition, Hungary’s minister of state for government communication, Zoltan Kovacs, wrote in a recent Wall Street Journal opinion piece.

Kovacs said the law merely outlines how churches can gain official recognition “if they show themselves to be popular enough.” One condition requires a church to prove a decades-long history in the country and count more than 1,000 members.

The Hungarian government is “making efforts to explain to the international community that this is not a human rights issue,” said Ganoune Diop, the Adventist world church’s representative to the United Nations.

“The situation in Hungary is very complex, and there are several issues at play, from economic to judicial and legislative — and in front of these issues, religion. The government sees the de-registration of churches as a response, in part, to the tremendous challenges the country is facing,” Diop said.

Some experts have even predicted a further recession on Hungary’s horizon, he added.

“We must voice our concerns over the de-registration of churches, but whatever we say about the situation in Hungary must be prudent and sensitive to the context and sovereignty of Hungary,” Diop said.

Many members of the international religious liberty community maintain that regardless of the country’s internal struggles, the law poses undue challenges for legitimate religious organizations.

“Now we not only have an objective standard of what constitutes a church, but we also need a two-thirds vote of Parliament just to become an official religion, and we think that’s problematic,” Leslie said.

Currently, 82 of the some 300 minority religions de-registered under the latest law have reapplied for official status, among them the Seventh-day Adventist Church, denomination officials in Hungary said.

Religious liberty analysts said provisions of the new law indicate that those churches that have already applied for status will not experience a gap in official recognition. They’ll maintain previous recognition while a decision regarding their ultimate status is pending in Parliament.

Members of Parliament have indicated that they’ll arrive at a decision by the end of February, analysts said. Church leaders in Hungary report that “communication with the government” suggests that the Seventh-day Adventist Church will regain official church status.

“One positive improvement in the new law is that it does not prohibit denominations to use the term ‘church,’ even if they are not accepted by Parliament,” said Ócsai Tamás, president of the church’s Hungarian Union Conference. Churches to which Parliament does not grant official recognition will receive a “religious association” status, he said.

“Hopefully some churches in Hungary — including the Seventh-day Adventist Church, which has been operating in the country for more than a century — will have a positive answer [next month],” said John Graz, director of Public Affairs and Religious Liberty for the Adventist world church.

“We encourage all believers to pray for religious freedom in Hungary, so our church and others can continue to operate for the good of the nation as in the past,” Graz said.

Top Seventh-day Adventist leadership in Hungary and the church’s Trans-European Division will continue to closely monitor the situation, along with the denomination’s global religious liberty community.

Source: Adventist News Network

Experience Your Neighbor’s Faith to Deepen Your Own

9 01 2012

By Samir Selmanovic and Bowie Snodgrass

We are coming to a realization that religious zealots cannot be fought with indifference. Extremists of all nationalities and religious persuasion feeding on prejudice, legislating exclusion, and resorting to violence cannot be prevailed upon by people with less passion. Telling them to “cool down” and to “be moderate” will not do it. We must allow fires greater than theirs to arise. Our passion for a whole and interdependent word must rise above their passion for a segregated and zero-sum world.

In Faith House Manhattan, a non-profit inter-religious “community of communities,” we believe that the time of isolated faith is over. We believe that to know who I am, I must also know who you are. For three years now we have hosted more than 60 Living Room gatherings where people can experiences the practices of another religion (or path, including atheism). We invite all to join our “co-laboratory” of interdependence: “Experience your neighbor’s faith, deepen your own.”

Our call is to get radical. Very radical. We hold that in today’s world, religious people have to remap their reality to include — in tension and in gratitude — ‘the other.’ While our ancestors may have fought for independence, ours is the great struggle for interdependence. ‘The other’ is not over there, but all around us. While we have been conceiving of the world in vertical terms (whose party is better, whose institution is larger, whose nation is stronger, whose god is bigger), the world is becoming increasingly horizontal, and wonderfully so. Can we learn to be a part of the whole?

This past year, Faith House started a new program with four religious communities in Manhattan, who were part of a “Tour Bus” with reciprocal visits to each of our main religious gatherings. We brought people together to trespass imaginary boundaries while preserving the real ones. From an experience of worship at a Hindu temple, to a Jewish Shabbat service, to a Sufi Zikr, to midweek “Space for Grace” at a major Protestant church — either as “Interfaith 101″ or an opportunity for seasoned pilgrims to be hosts or guests in their own setting — this seven-week adventure was a unique New York City experience.

One of the participants, Bhakti Center monk and teacher, Chris Fici, summarized the experience this way:

Experience Your Neighbor’s Faith, Deepen Your Own. This is a personal revelation a lot of us have shared recently on the Faith House Bus Tour, as the different sounds, colors, tastes and waves of devotion we have experienced together in our different houses of faith have made a deep communal resonance in our souls.

Too often (at least from my own perspective) our own practice can become caught in the mechanical. Living as a monk, in an intense and insulated environment, I often see how my consciousness during our morning meditation is directed towards how tired I am, or how I might be upset with this monk or that monk. The beautiful essence of our prayers and singing and dancing together remains lost to me.

As I was soaking up the whirling sanctity at our wonderful Bus Tour event at the Dergah of the Nur Ashki Jerrahi Sufi Order, the pain of my own disconnection in my own practice became manifest, and that void was quickly filled by the wonderful and mystical people I saw around me, deeply absorbed in the love and vision of the Divine. I came to realize that what they were experiencing was something I had access to every day, if I chose to. I saw very clearly how we were all pearls on the same thread of God’s mercy. I returned to my own community and practice with a sense of renewal that has stayed with me ever since.

The interfaith experience is very important for me, and I think for all of us as a common human family. The turbulence of our age calls for a communication between peoples of faith that transcends our superficial differences and allows us to drink from the immense well of wisdom God has given us, to give solace and take profound action to help cure our shared ills.

This turbulence also calls from us a tremendous maturity from our humility, from a recognition that we cannot possibly have the exclusive answers, that the pieces of the puzzle we need come from our brothers and sisters in faith. In Thomas Merton’s journals of his final and fateful journey to India and Indonesia, where he breathed deeply of the eastern faiths that had always intrigued and inspired him, he related a realization in this regard that has deeply touched me.

He says that those who are mature in their faith are able to enter into the experience, philosophy, and practice of another faith and gain a practical wisdom which they can take back into their own renewed and strengthened spiritual life. This is the essence of my own personal adventure in interfaith. To be able to see of and hear of and speak about and taste of and move within the common thread of our faiths together is one of the most profound experiences I have ever had in my life. It links me to the maturity needed to answer the spiritual call of our time, and I imagine it may do so for you as well.

I am always eager to point out to others that New York City is a deeply spiritual place. I want to encourage others to develop the vision of the great rivers of faith which run through this town, which are not always visible beyond the surface tumult and loosely organized chaos.

When you come to New York City, you can enjoy a Broadway show, walk the Brooklyn Bridge, check out that special night club you found on Google, enjoy this gastronomical paradise with more than 4,000 restaurants, but don’t miss the rich undercurrent of spirituality you can find at every corner. The many religious traditions can help you understand yourself, and perhaps rekindle a passion for your own faith, an encounter that will change you forever. You might even come back to your home and do something radical like taking time to understand the faith of the other, whose life is now inextricably intertwined with yours.

More about Samir Selimovic, author of this text, you can find here

Source: Hufington Post

Japan Fails to Protect Citizens from Abductions and Confinement for Forced Religious De-Conversion

6 01 2012

“One Cannot State that there is Freedom of Religion in Japan”

HRWF Brussels (31.12.2011) –  
Human Rights Without Frontiers International (HRWF Int’l), an independent nongovernmental organization, today released a 62-page report that documents the abduction and confinement of Japanese citizens for the purpose of religious de-conversion, and the failure of Japanese police and judicial authorities to investigate and prosecute those responsible for such cases of domestic violence.

“The failure to provide the victims of such kidnappings with equal protection under the law, and the impunity of those responsible, constitute a serious violation of the Japanese people’s constitutionally guaranteed rights and the international human rights standards to which Japan is legally bound,” stated Willy Fautre, Director of the Brussels-based NGO Human Rights Without Frontiers Int’l.

Fautre and Aaron Rhodes, an international human rights advocate who helped organize the report, interviewed numerous victims, who were mainly members of the Unification Church and the Jehovah’s Witnesses, as well as journalists, lawyers, and experts. They also met with 10 members of the Japanese Diet to discuss the issue.

The kidnapping and often violent forced detention of Japanese who have joined these religious movements, usually by their own families along with “exit counselors,” has occurred for decades but has been ignored by police and judicial authorities despite unequivocal evidence of crimes.

“It is completely unacceptable that all known complaints against parents and exit counselors have been declared ineligible,” Aaron Rhodes said, and added “In the face of such official negligence and impunity, one cannot state that there is freedom of religion in Japan.”

The full report (62 pages pdf) titled Japan: Abduction and Deprivation of Freedom for the Purpose of Religious De-Conversion is available on-line at www.hrwf.net 


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