The Institute on Religion and Public Policy stands against discriminatory resolution at Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe

27 03 2014

The Chairman of the Board of the Institute on Religion and Public Policy wrote a letter to the President of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) in order to point out the great danger of a report drafted by Rudy Salles, French member and rapporteur at PACE. Mr.s Salles is instructing PACE to adopt policies which would seriously harm religious freedom in EU. 


Joe Grieboski, The Institute on Religion and Public Policy

Joe Grieboski, The Institute on Religion and Public Policy

Madame Anne Brasseur

President, Parliamentary Assembly Council of Europe
Palais de l’ Europe
67075 Strasbourg Cedex
FranceMarch 26, 2014

Dear Madame President:
The Institute on Religion and Public Policy is a non-partisan, inter-religious international organization dedicated to encourage open dialogue and shape public participation in policy of the global community of faith. The Institute works with government policymakers, religious leaders, community leaders, academics and NGOs in order to protect and promote fundamental rights, especially religious freedom.
We are writing to express our serious concern regarding the Report written by French Rapporteur Rudy Salles, entitled “The Protection of Minors against Excesses of Sects”, and the accompanying Resolution and Recommendations that are going to be voted on at the second part of the plenary session in April 2014.
1. The Report Advocates Policies That Contravene International Human Rights Standards
In our opinion, the Resolution and Recommendations fall far short of meeting international human rights standards regarding religious freedom, tolerance and pluralism that the Council of Europe has long stood for.
Protecting children is, of course, of paramount importance. However, adoption of the Resolution and Recommendations will not protect the rights of children. Instead, it will endanger those rights and the rights of parents to raise their children in accordance with their religious beliefs and association, a right protected by Article 2 of Protocol N° 1 to the European Convention on Human Rights which provides:
No person shall be denied the right to education. In the exercise of any functions which it assumes in relation to education and to teaching, the State shall respect the right of parents to ensure such education and teaching in conformity with their own religious and philosophical convictions.
This right is also protected under Article 18.4 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and Article 14.1 of the international Convention on the Rights of the Child. Yet, the Report ignores this right and adopts the presumption that parents of minority faiths should have not have the right to raise children according to their religious beliefs.
Unfortunately, the Report focuses exclusively on selective and biased information solely from sources supporting repressive actions against minority religions, which in turn infringes on fundamental freedoms and stimulates hostility by stigmatizing targeted groups. As such, the Report does a disservice to the extensive efforts of the Council in other areas to combat intolerance and foster pluralism in Europe.
Sweeping generalizations, vague and unsupported allegations, and one-sided information from biased sources never constitute the “objective and reasonable justification” required for legal restrictions on the manifestation of religion pursuant to Article 9(2) of the ECHR. Moreover, isolated instances never justify general restrictions against a group. Yet, the Report is rife with such allegations and information, rendering its conclusions and recommendations suspect.
For example, the Resolution states that “the phenomenon of excesses of sects affecting minors is ever more present in Europe”. Yet, there is no concrete evidence offered to support this astounding statement. Indeed, the evidence that does exist proves the opposite. Case in point: the 2013 Netherlands Parliament Study finding that minority faiths pose no danger to public order or health.(
The Report represents an attempt by the French Rapporteur to export the controversial and often internationally criticized French policy towards minority faiths derogatorily referred to as “sects”, policies that do not comport with the approach of the vast majority of countries in the Council of Europe.
In spite of the principles of non-discrimination and equal treatment, the French government has determined to arbitrarily classify religious groups into two separate categories: 1) religions viewed as law-abiding and beneficial to society; and 2) “sects” viewed as dangerous to society, which are the targets of oppressive and discriminatory measures, and which the government declares must be “fought” against.
There is no rational justification for such classification. Indeed, classifying religious groups into “religions” and “sects” is itself a violation of religious human rights standards. It is impermissible and arbitrary for the government to confer benefits on groups it classifies as “religions” while denying benefits and enacting oppressive measures against groups it classifies as “sects.” The United Nations, religious experts, and UN treaty-based bodies have consistently found that the expression “religion or belief,” as well as the individual terms “religion” and “belief,” must be construed broadly to include non-traditional religions and all forms of belief.
One other recommendation in direct violation of human rights standards is the call for “awareness sessions” for judges on the issue of “sects” even though the UN Human Rights Committee, in its 1996 Concluding Observations Regarding Germany, recommended that such sessions be discontinued. Likewise, such sessions would violated the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe Recommendation CM/Rec (2010)12 to member states on judges: independence, efficiency and responsibilities, which states in § 57, that judicial training programs must “meet the requirements of openness, competence and impartiality inherent in judicial office”.
2. Mr. Salles is Neither Neutral Nor Impartial as Required By the PACE Code of Conduct for Rapporteurs
Rules 1.1.1. 1.1.2 and 1.1.4 of the PACE Code of Conduct require that Rapporteurs be neutral and impartial on matters they introduce.
Mr Salles is neither neutral nor impartial as detailed in the submissions on this subject filed by the Forum for Religious Freedom Europe (FOREF) and by Coordination of Associations and People for Freedom of Conscience (CAPLC), which the Institute supports.
Mr. Salles is an active advocate and proponent of the policies he promotes in his Report.
• Mr. Salles was appointed to the Board of MIVILUDES in 2012.
• The former President of MIVILUDES, Georges Fenech, has referred to Mr. Salles as a “pioneer of the anti-sect fight in France”.
• When Mr. Salles was appointed as Rapporteur, he made a joint statement to the media with Mr. Fenech, announcing the appointment and noting that one of his goals was to create a European Observatory on “sects”, a European MIVILUDES.
The facts evidence a woeful lack of impartiality and also provide the appearance that the Rapporteur was being instructed in adopting policies and actions by MIVILUDES in violation of the Code.
MIVILUDES has been involved in targeting many religious groups, including Catholic groups in France in the past. A small Catholic community in the East of France, Amour et Miséricorde (Love and Mercy), which used to gather around its founder who had visions of the Virgin Mary every month, announced its dissolution after a “visit” by MIVILUDES. Newspaper Le Progrès reported on 18 December 2008:
Dominique Balestrat, owner of the land on which the community was living, who has been himself a member of the group for ten years, feels incomprehension and sadness. He says: “We welcomed Georges Fenech, he said he was not coming for an investigation but only to meet with us… He used the media to crush us when there is nothing to crush. We were a dozen people here. We are not a sect. We are Catholics who wanted to live in community”.
The inherent bias of the Report is graphically illustrated by the Report’s premise that further measures targeting minority faiths designated as “sects” are necessary at this juncture. This is a remarkable statement because it is not supported by any evidence and it is directly contradicted by a host of human rights reports from highly respected organizations on the subject. In reality, quite the opposite is true. The acclaimed University of Essex Human Rights Centre 1997 study on the subject of freedom of religion finds, after conducting extremely detailed and exhaustive research on the topic, that new religions are a recurring target of discrimination in Europe:
“Freedom of religion therefore is not to be interpreted narrowly by states, for example, to mean traditional world religions only. New religions or religious minorities are entitled to equal protection. This principle is of particular importance in light of the evidence reflected in the Country entries, including those of the European section, revealing that new religious movements are a recurring target for discrimination or repression.”
The Institute is of the opinion that the Report, Resolution and Recommendations contravene accepted human rights standards in the Council of Europe. The Report also contravenes the PACE Code of Conduct for Rapporteurs as it is neither neutral nor impartial. Therefore, we urge that it not be endorsed by PACE and that the rights of parents and their children to religious freedom and religious tolerance be respected.
Joseph Grieboski
Chairman of the Board

HUNGARY: anti-Semitism, addressed at Rabbinical Conference

27 03 2014

Hungarian Rabbi Baruch Oberlander (3-L), Secretary general of Rabbinical Center of Europe (RCE) and establisher of the Hungarian Chabad-Lubavitch, Israel?s Chief Sephardic Rabbi Jichak Joszef (4-L) and Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of Israel David Lau (5-L) march toward the iron shoes, a memorial of Holocaust victims on the bank of River Danube, in Budapest, Hungary, 24 March 2014. Photo by EPA/SZILARD KOSZTICSAK.


More than three hundred rabbis from across Europe, a large number of them Chabad-Lubavitch emissaries, convened in Budapest, Hungary on Monday for the annual conference of the Rabbinical Congress of Europe (RCE).

The conference, hosted by the RCE and the European Jewish Association (EJA), is usually held in Jerusalem, but was strategically moved to the Hungarian capital this year as a public show of solidarity with Hungary’s Jews. As Hungary marks 70 years since its Jews were murdered during the Holocaust, its current Jewish population of 100,000—Europe’s second-largest—is seeing alarming anti-Semitic rhetoric.

“The choice of Hungary as the host country for the event is designed to demonstrate to the Hungarian authorities the common concerns of European Jewry regarding the situation of the Hungarian Jewish community, as well as sending out a message of solidarity with the Hungarian Jewish community, and European Jewry as a whole,” said RCE’s director, Rabbi Menachem Margolin.

70 Years since the Holocaust

The three-day rabbinical conference, which is largely focusing on counteracting European Jews’ high assimilation rates and the widespread growth of anti-Semitism, began Monday morning with a solemn ceremony remembering the 568,000 Hungarian Jews murdered by the Nazis in 1944.

The ceremony took place on the banks of the Danube River at the “Shoes on the Danube Promenade” memorial. The memorial displays 60 pairs of iron shoes, in commemoration of the Jewish victims, who were forced to take off their shoes before being shot into the river. In memory of the murdered, the hundreds of attendees participated in a “March of the Living,” walking along the riverbank linking arms and singing traditional Jewish songs of hope and renewal.

Following the march, participants reconvened in an ancient synagogue to hear words of inspiration from local and visiting Rabbis. The event was opened by Chabad emissary RabbiShlomo Koves, head of the Unified Hungarian Jewish Congregation, or EMIH, which co-organized the conference. A school-boy choir of students from Chabad’s local Talmud Torah sang for the audience, reminding many that despite past horrors, Judaism in Budapest was still alive and well.

The ceremony was attended by both of Israel’s Chief Rabbis, Rabbi Yitzchak Yosef and RabbiDavid Lau, 91-year-old holocaust survivor Rabbi Menachem Mendel Taub, the Kaliver Rebbe, as well as by Israel’s Deputy Minister for Religious Affairs, Rabbi Eli Ben-Dahan. Representatives of the Hungarian government were in attendance as well.

“Simply to have a memorial gathering or a slogan ‘never again’ is not enough,” said RabbiDavid Moshe Liebermann, Chief Rabbi of the Shomre Hadas congregation in Antwerp, Belgium, in a heartfelt message to the participants, “if we are not inspired with the same passion for strengthening the Jewish people as the murderers and the haters are inspired to destroy.”

Rising Anti-Semitism Today 

The message is timely as Hungary’s Jews have faced a veritable storm of ugly attacks over the last few years, some occurring just days before the conference began. The hate crimes include: Nazi graffiti; verbal abuse; desecration of Jewish cemeteries; pig trotters draped over a statue of Raoul Wallenberg, the hero who saved tens of thousands of Jews; public intimidation at national sport games; anti-Jew rallies; sporadic physical attacks; public Menorah displays being kicked over and more.

A new comprehensive survey presented on Monday by the Action and Protection Foundation, a watchdog on anti-Semitism of the Jewish community, revealed that anti-Semitic attitudes in Hungary showed up to 40 percent of respondents accepted some anti-Semitic attitudes. The survey, which was conducted in December polled 1,200 people.

“We can draw the conclusion that 35 to 40 percent of the sample definitely accept some anti-Semitic stereotypes and 7 percent extremely anti-Semitic stereotypes,” said Andras Kovacs of the Central European University, who supervised the research.

Kovacs added that among those who accepted some anti-Semitic stereotypes, the proportion of people who displayed open antipathy toward Jewish individuals increased dramatically in 2010, when the xenophobic far-right Jobbik party entered parliament for the first time. With 43 of the 386 seats in Parliament, Jobbik, an openly anti-Semitic group, is the third largest party in Hungary.

Kovacs asserts, “There is a clear correlation between Jobbik’s entrance and the prevalence of anti-Semitism in polled populations.”

Strengthening Jewish Life 

The conference aims to combat these growing concerns by discussing issues directly related to fighting anti-Semitism, and even more so, fighting assimilation and communal attrition. On Tuesday and Wednesday, hundreds of rabbis, many of them heads of a myriad of European Jewish organizations, will participate in a series of roundtable sessions and presentations in an effort to formulate solutions for European Jewry’s biggest threats.

Rabbi Margolin, a chief organizer of the event said that the conference also intends to “address the issues that most affect Jewish religious life in Europe like banning of the religious practices of shechita and brit mila [circumcision].”

“While many people wish to focus attention principally on how to combat anti-Semitism, as a rabbinical organization we believe that we should also spend energies to assist thriving developing Jewish life.”

Rabbi Koves pointed to examples of expanding Jewish life in Hungary under Chabad’s leadership: new schools, reopened synagogues, and popular cultural festivals. “This conference sends a message that the best way to commemorate the Holocaust is by celebrating Jewish life today.”

Norooz 2014: Persian New Year

21 03 2014

The Persian New Year is called Norooz (also Nowruz, Nawroz, among other spellings) and marks the first day of spring. It’s also the Baha’i New Year, but the holiday is celebrated by Iranians of all religions.

Norooz celebrates renewal and rebirth, symbolized by the coming of spring. It is partly rooted in the Zoroastrian tradition, but is an ancient holiday that was celebrated thousands of years ago. Now, it is also an important Iranian cultural holiday that spans many religious traditions. The word Nowruz is a compound word that blends together the Persian words “now” which means “new,” and “roz” which means “day.”

In 2014, Norooz will begin on March 20 at 8:27 p.m. local time in Tehran,according to Farsinet. The exact moment of the new year is called Tahvil. Norooz lasts 12 days in Iran. It coincides with the vernal equinox, so its date in the Gregorian calendar changes every year.

On the last Wednesday of the old year, the night of Chahar Shanbe Suri is celebrated in order to symbolically get rid of all the misfortunes and bad luck of the past year. People light small bonfires and jump over the flames, shouting “Zardie man az to, sorkhie to az man,” which means, “May my sickly pallor be yours and your red glow be mine.” It is also acceptable to simply light a flame and shout the phrase.

A traditional ceremonial table display is set up called the sofreh-ye haft-sinn(“cloth of seven dishes”). Behrooz Far and his wife Nava explained to interfaith activist Rothwell Polk, “The haft-sinn table is set with the Kitab-i-Aqdas, our Holy Book, flowers, a bowl of goldfish, a mirror, candles and painted eggs and seven traditional foods each starting with the letter ‘s’ in Persian.” This table remains in the family home for thirteen days after the start of the holiday.

The seven traditional foods are:

  • sabzeh: lentil, barley or wheat sprouts growing in a dish, symbolizing renewal
  • samanu: a thick, sweet pudding made from wheat germ, symbolizing affluence
  • senjed: dried fruit of the lotus tree, symbolizing love
  • sir: garlic, symbolizing medicine
  • sib: apples, symbolizing health and beauty
  • somaq: sumac berries, symbolizing sunrise
  • serkeh: vinegar, symbolizing age and patience.

A traditional dinner for Norooz is Sabzi Polo Mahi, a rice dish with whitefish and green herbs like parsley, coriander, chives, dill, and fenugreek, explains Polk.

After thirteen days, Sizdeh Bedar is celebrated, which literally means “getting rid of the thirteenth.” Families throw green sprouts into rivers or lakes to symbolize the plant’s return to nature and conclude the festivities until the next year.

Iranian women shop for Noruz, the Persian New Year, at a market in Tehran on 19 March 2014. Iranians are preparing to celebrate Noruz, an ancient Zoroastrian feast starting 21 March, by buying flowers, green plants and goldfish. Noruz is calculated according to a solar calendar, this year marking 1393. AFP PHOTO/ATTA KENARE (Photo credit should read ATTA KENARE/AFP/Getty Images)

Iranian women shop for Noruz, the Persian New Year, at a market in Tehran on 19 March 2014. Iranians are preparing to celebrate Noruz, an ancient Zoroastrian feast starting 21 March, by buying flowers, green plants and goldfish. Noruz is calculated according to a solar calendar, this year marking 1393. AFP PHOTO/ATTA KENARE (Photo credit should read ATTA KENARE/AFP/Getty Images)

LOS ANGELES, CA - MARCH 14: Ardavan Mofid attends the Midnight Missions annual Nowruz at Midnight Mission on March 14, 2014 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Rich Polk/Getty Images for The Midnight Mission)

LOS ANGELES, CA – MARCH 14: Ardavan Mofid attends the Midnight Missions annual Nowruz at Midnight Mission on March 14, 2014 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Rich Polk/Getty Images for The Midnight Mission)

LOS ANGELES, CA - MARCH 14: General view of the Midnight Missions annual Nowruz at Midnight Mission on March 14, 2014 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Rich Polk/Getty Images for The Midnight Mission)

LOS ANGELES, CA – MARCH 14: General view of the Midnight Missions annual Nowruz at Midnight Mission on March 14, 2014 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Rich Polk/Getty Images for The Midnight Mission)

LOS ANGELES, CA - MARCH 14: General view of the Midnight Missions annual Nowruz at Midnight Mission on March 14, 2014 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Rich Polk/Getty Images for The Midnight Mission)

LOS ANGELES, CA – MARCH 14: General view of the Midnight Missions annual Nowruz at Midnight Mission on March 14, 2014 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Rich Polk/Getty Images for The Midnight Mission)

Iranians shop for Noruz, the Persian New Year, at a market in Tehran on 19 March 2014. Iranians are preparing to celebrate Noruz, an ancient Zoroastrian feast starting 21 March, by buying flowers, green plants and goldfish. Noruz is calculated according to a solar calendar, this year marking 1393. AFP PHOTO/ATTA KENARE (Photo credit should read ATTA KENARE/AFP/Getty Images)

Iranians shop for Noruz, the Persian New Year, at a market in Tehran on 19 March 2014. Iranians are preparing to celebrate Noruz, an ancient Zoroastrian feast starting 21 March, by buying flowers, green plants and goldfish. Noruz is calculated according to a solar calendar, this year marking 1393. AFP PHOTO/ATTA KENARE (Photo credit should read ATTA KENARE/AFP/Getty Images)

Newroz celebration in Istanbul. Photo by Bertil Videt..

Newroz celebration in Istanbul. Photo by Bertil Videt.


Newroz celebration, Istanbul. Photo by Bertil Videt

Newroz celebration, Istanbul. Photo by Bertil Videt

Celebrating Holi, the Hindu Festival of Colors

16 03 2014


Post written by Melissa Stanger

What is the Festival of Colors?

Holi, originally known as “Holika,” is an ancient Indian festival, the significance of which has changed over the years.  In the olden days Holi was believed to be a special rite performed by married women to ensure the happiness and well-being of their families.

Also known as the Festival of Colors, Holi is celebrated in the spring, on the last full moon day of the month Phalguna in the lunar calendar (usually falling between February and March).

More recently, Holi is significant to Indian culture in that it celebrates the beginning of spring, and with spring comes an abundance of color, hence “The Festival of Colors.”  The festival also pays respect to traditional Hindu legends, though from a religious perspective this holiday is known to be one of the most secular in India.

On the eve before Holi, bonfires are lit and the celebrations begin.  On the main day of celebration the color festival takes place.  Days in advance vendors sell brightly colored powders and dyes on the street.  People shower themselves and each other in the rich colors on the streets and outside Hindu temples.  A truly breath-taking sight, Holi seems to produce an Aurora Borealis of people.

Where can I celebrate Holi?

So, as a tourist, where does one go to get the most spectacular Holi experience?

According to BBC news, “the biggest celebrations take place in the temples of Vrindavan, a town in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh” where, it is said, the Hindu god Krishna originated.  In the majority of regions in India, Holi lasts about 1-2 days; in Vrindavan, and much of the Uttar Pradesh region, Holi starts earlier and lasts longer.

For a rowdy, college-type of celebration of Holi and the Festival of Colors, those who have traveled recommend visiting the town of Mathura, at the top of the country.  For a more chill, folksy rendition, trek to the capital of New Delhi where Holi coincides with Holi Cow!, a music festival which, in 2012, featured such artists as Bombay Bassment and Menwhopause.  And for a “bigger” kind of celebration head to the Old City of Jaipur where the Elephant Festival also takes place.  You can join the street parade of intricately decorated elephants with some colors of your own.

When I myself have the privilege of visiting India during the celebration of Holi, I plan to start in Vrindavan a few days out of the main day of Holi at the famous Bakai-Bihari Temple, a spot of immense interest to tourists, where everyone really gets into the spirit of the holiday.  From there I will find myself a spot in the shade at the Chaugan Station in the Old City of Jaipur (they say the area gets crowded fast, and it pays to get there early when shade is still available) to marvel at the enormous, beautiful trunked beasts mimicking the colors on everyone’s skin.

PHOTO ESSAY: Nasir al-Mulk ‘Pink Mosque’ Of Iran

16 03 2014

By  Yasmine Hafiz / The Huffington Post


From the outside, the Nasir al-Mulk Mosque in Shiraz, Iran, seems like a fairly traditional house of worship — but it’s hiding a gorgeously colorful secret.

The multitude of stained glass windows turn the inside of the mosque into a riotous wonderland of color that is absolutely breathtaking.

Japanese photographer Koach was blown away by the mosque’s beauty which is best appreciated in the morning light, explaining:

You can only see the light through the stained glass in the early morning. It was built to catch the morning sun, so that if you visit at noon it will be too late to catch the light. The sight of the morning sunlight shining through the colorful stained glass, then falling over the tightly woven Persion carpet, is so bewitching that it seems to be from another world.Even if you are the world’s least religious person, you might feel your hands coming together in prayer naturally when you see the brilliance of this light. Perhaps the builders of this mosque wanted to show their “faith” through the morning light shining through this stained glass.

Not to mention the gorgeously painted, intricate arches and niches. It’s also known as the “Pink Mosque” for the rose-colored tiles that cover the interior. However, picking out just one color doesn’t do justice to the plethora of hues that decorate it.

Though Masjid al-Aqsa in Jerusalem and Istanbul’s Blue Mosque both feature stained glass windows, on the whole they are fairly uncommon in mosque architecture. The rarity of architecture like this makes Nasir al-Mulk all the more precious.

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Nasir al-Mulk Mosque 4 (6)

Nasīr al-Mulk Mosque aka "Pink Mosque" | Shiraz

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Israel ultra-Orthodox Jews draft law passed by Knesset

13 03 2014

JERUSALEM (Associated Press) — Israeli lawmakers passed a contentious law on Wednesday meant to draft ultra-Orthodox Jews into the military, the culmination of a drive for reforms that has seen mass protests by the religious community in Israel and beyond.

The issue of conscription of the ultra-Orthodox is at the heart of a cultural war in Israel. The matter featured prominently in elections last year that led to the establishment of the center-right government, which has pushed for the new legislation.

Wednesday’s vote passed 67-1 in the 120-member Knesset. Opposition lawmakers — all 52 of them — were absent, boycotting the vote to protest what they say are strong-arm tactics by the ruling coalition meant to push through a series of laws in parliament this week.

“The change begins tomorrow morning and it is expected to transform the face of Israeli society unrecognizably,” said Yaakov Peri, from the Yesh Atid party, which has led the drive for draft reforms.

Since Israel’s founding in 1948, the ultra-Orthodox, who make up about 8 percent of Israel’s 8 million citizens, have largely been allowed to avoid military service in order to pursue religious studies. In contrast, most secular Jewish men perform three years of compulsory service.

The stark difference in the society continues well into adulthood. Older religious men often don’t work and collect welfare stipends while continuing to study full time.

The ultra-Orthodox insist their young men serve the nation through prayer and study, thus preserving Jewish learning and heritage. But the exemptions have enraged secular and modern Orthodox Israelis who say the ultra-Orthodox are not doing their fair share.

Proponents of the law say looping the ultra-Orthodox into the military will lead to their further integration into the workforce.

Israel’s central bank chief and international bodies, such as the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, have warned that high unemployment in the ultra-Orthodox and Arab sectors threatens Israel’s economic future.

Under the law, the army would be required to draft an increasing number of ultra-Orthodox Jews each year, with the goal of enlisting 5,200 ultra-Orthodox soldiers — roughly 60 percent of those of draft age — by mid-2017. Israel would grant financial incentives to religious seminaries that send their students to the army.

If the ultra-Orthodox community does not meet that quota by then, the law calls for mandatory service for ultra-Orthodox Jews and criminal sanctions for draft-dodgers.

The legislation has sparked large demonstrations by the ultra-Orthodox, including a rally last week in Jerusalem that drew hundreds of thousands of people. Early this week, tens of thousands of ultra-Orthodox Jews in New York protested against the legislation.

But some secular groups have also complained, both because it will take three years for the law to fully go into effect and because it falls short of the near-universal conscription required of other Israeli men.

The draft issue is part of a broader debate about the role of religion in Israel. With poverty and unemployment high in the religious sector, voices have emerged criticizing the ultra-Orthodox education system, which minimizes studies of subjects like math and English in favor of religion.

The ultra-Orthodox have also come under fire for attempting at times to impose their conservative values, such as separation of men and women, on the broader population. Ultra-Orthodox rabbinical authorities also hold a monopoly over rituals like weddings and burials.

Coalition members praised the law, but emphasized the need for unity after the vote.

Yitzhak Vaknin, a lawmaker with the opposition Shas, an ultra-Orthodox party, said he opposed the law because of the criminal sanctions.

“We understand there is a need to participate in things, but there is also a great duty of the people of Israel to study Torah,” he said.

An ultra-Orthodox Jewish youth holds a sign during a mass prayer in Jerusalem. Hundreds of thousands of ultra-Orthodox Jews held a mass prayer in Jerusalem on Sunday in protest at the bill that would cut their community's military exemptions and end a tradition upheld since Israel's foundation. Photo: Reuters/Nir Elias

An ultra-Orthodox Jewish youth holds a sign during a mass prayer in Jerusalem. Hundreds of thousands of ultra-Orthodox Jews held a mass prayer in Jerusalem on Sunday in protest at the bill that would cut their community’s military exemptions and end a tradition upheld since Israel’s foundation. Photo: Reuters/Nir Elias

Religious Freedom – Complaint against French MP Rudy Salles, Rapporteur at the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe

9 03 2014


Peter Zoehrer, General Secretary FOREF Europe

Peter Zoehrer, General Secretary FOREF Europe

VIENNA, March 9, 2014 — General Secretary of Austrian based Forum for Religious Freedom Europe (FOREF) filed today a complaint against French MP Rudy Salles, Rapporteur on a motion “The protection of minors against excesses of sects” at the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE). The complaint has been sent to Secretary General of the PACE Wojciech Sawicki, as well as to the Chairman and members of the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights of the PACE. 

Mr Wojciech Sawicki
Secretary General
Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe
Palais de l’Europe
Avenue de l’Europe
67075 Strasbourg

Vienna, the 7st November 2013

Dear Sir,

I would like to draw your attention to the following facts, regarding a report under preparation in the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights, “The Protection of Minors Against Sectarian Influence”, and his rapporteur Mr Rudy Salles. It appears to me that these facts are serious enough to bring to your attention and that  of the members of the Committee.

The code of conduct for rapporteurs of the Parliamentary Assembly (resolution 1799), rules that rapporteurs should respect (1.1) a principle of neutrality, impartiality and objectivity, including in particular:

1.1.1. undertaking not to have any economic, commercial, financial or other interests, on a professional, personal or family level, connected with the subject of the report, and obligation to declare any relevant interests;

1.1.2. undertaking not to seek or accept instructions from any government or governmental or non-governmental organisation, or pressure group or individual;

1.1.3. undertaking not to accept any reward, honorary distinction, decoration, favour, substantial gift or remuneration from a government or governmental or non-governmental organisation, a pressure group or an individual in connection with activities carried out in the exercise of their duties;

1.1.4. undertaking to refrain from any act which may cast doubt on their neutrality;

The following information indicates that Mr. Rudy Salles has breached articles 1.1.1, 1.1.2 and 1.1.4 in the course of his duties as rapporteur for the report on “protection of minors against sectarian influence”. It shows that he has not only been strongly influenced by both a government department and NGOs anti-pathetic towards religions (and in particular minority religions) but that he has himself been a long-term supporter of such a position. This political and personal interest he did not declare, as he should have, according to the established code of a rapporteur.

Mr Salles was appointed as rapporteur to draft a report on “protection of minors against sectarian influence” on 7th September 2011.

This issue has been strongly lobbied for by French “anti-cult” groups for many years. It is also a position that has been strongly criticized internationally by both governments and human rights organisations. Mr. Salles is a long-time associate of Mr. Georges Fenech, member of the French National Assembly and former head of the Miviludes, a French government agency in charge of fighting against what they term “sects”. When his appointment to the position of rapporteur occurred, Mr. Salles made a joint statement with Mr. Fenech in a French newspaper (Nice Matin, November 22, 2011), announcing the appointment and claiming that the purpose of that nomination was to create a European observatory on “sects”, a sort of European Miviludes.

In the article Mr. Salles and Mr. Fenech made it very clear that they considered the nomination was the result of a joint action between Miviludes and Rudy Salles to export the French government model to European level via the PACE.

Here are some excerpts of their statements as reported in the newspaper:

Mr. Salles: “This nomination is a first victory. We will not work as in the French parliament, where the engagement is very strong and reports regarding “sects” are voted unanimously. There, for the Council of Europe, it is a question of degree of appreciation of sects in the various countries. Some of them assimilate sects as religions. So our work will be more difficult, but to register this topic at the Council of Europe is already a lot, and the fact the rapporteur is French is a good thing, also because the French National Assembly, after several commissions since 1995, is at the forefront of this issue.”

Mr. Fenech: “I expect a lot from the report that Rudy Salles will produce in one or two years. With that, we have re-launched a European process which had disappeared for 10 years.” He also stated in the article that one of the purposes of the report would be: “the creation of a European Observatory on sects”.

This shows that right from the beginning, Mr. Salles was in agreement with and was following a political and social agenda worked out in cooperation with the French Miviludes. It also shows that the result of the report was already predetermined by the rapporteur before any actual information collection and observation was done.

In his book “Apocalypse imminente”, published in September 2012, Mr. Fenech, President of the Miviludes at that time, wrote: At first I went to the European Fundamental Rights Agency based in Vienna (Austria) to suggest at least, a European programme of studies on cults and minors, in order to not upset anyone. The welcome was polite, but no action has ever followed my initiative. Undoubtedly, the eternal strife within the Member States on the definition of “sect” was an insurmountable obstacle. So I had to change my tactics and act directly to the Council of Europe, the antechamber of the European Parliament (sic), in the very heart of Strasbourg institutions. To this end, I invited to Paris the president of the Legal Affairs and Human Rights Committee of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, Mr Pourgourides, a Cypriot who promised to engage firmly in that direction. He kept his promise by getting a draft resolution voted upon, whose report was entrusted to a French parliamentarian, Rudy Salles, a pioneer of the anti-cult fight in France. During my meeting with him in Nice, I had no trouble in convincing him to work on this as an emergency.”

The above clearly shows violations of articles 1.1.1, 1.1.2 and 1.1.4 of the rules, as Mr. Salles clearly had prior interests on a professional and personal level as well as accepting  instructions from and/or working in collusion with the President of the Miviludes.

This was later confirmed by Herve Machi, Secretary General of the Miviludes, when he was interviewed by a French Senate Enquiry Commission on “health and sectarian movements”. In this hearing (, 78th minute), Mr. Machi talked of “European harmonization”: “we are trying to instigate such harmonization. We started to do it, not via the issue of “health”, but via the issue of “minors”, by instigating a resolution of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe which has been adopted … It is a French Member of Parliament, Mr Rudy Salles, who is working on the question of the influence of sectarian movements with minors, in order to bring about the creation of a European observatory on sectarian deviances and minors. For us, it was a way to interest our European partners in the issue by reaching them via this common denominator, that of protection of minors. Maybe it will be the beginning of a “ball of wool” which will lead our partners to interest themselves with sectarian deviances, also in the field of health.”

This clearly demonstrates that Miviludes used Mr Salles as a Trojan horse, following Miviludes’ plan to get the Council of Europe to adopt French policy on religious minorities. According to Mr. Machi, it was the Miviludes that “instigated” the resolution of Mr. Pourgourides, and the actions of Mr Salles are clearly viewed as those of the French Miviludes.

That Miviludes was behind this initiative is also confirmed in the Miviludes’ Newsletter of January 2011, written before the resolution on “the protection of minors against sectarian influence” was adopted, where it is written:
“In the frame of the promotion of a European programme on sectarian deviances and minors, Mr Georges Fenech met in December with Mr Jean-Claude Mignon, President of the French Delegation to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, as well as Mr Christos Pourgourides, President of the Committee of Legal Affairs and Human Rights of the Council of Europe. These interviews were very fruitful should lead to new initiatives”.

In fact, this is not a new plan for Miviludes. Mr. Fenech, at a symposium organized in Lyon (France) the 26 November 2009, stated: “There is still one goal not yet reached to which I attach great importance, it is the implementation of a European programme on sectarian deviances which could be located in the Fundamental Rights Agency based in Vienna, which Miviludes has met in July 2009.”

Prior to that, Miviludes had already spoken about their plan to create a European “observatory on sects”, by using the topics of “sects and minors” in order to get agreement from other countries to follow the Miviludes plan. In 2008, at a FECRIS (European “anti-sect” umbrella association, which in should be noted, receives the majority of its funds from the French government) conference at Pisa, Italy, Catherine Katz, at the time Secretary General of Miviludes, explained: For many years, the MILS (ancestor of the Miviludes), then the MIVILUDES really wanted to show other European States in particular, that they were not, what the cultic movements and their friends affirmed, attacking freedom of conscience and beliefs.”(…) “Now, it is useful to explain France’s position, it is also good to inform about the position of FECRIS, it is positive to communicate on the legitimacy of our actions, but can we go further? Can one imagine a common model in Europe and a minimum point of convergence? I tend to think that this could be realised only through technical actions and aspects, like problems of minors for example. Once again I am personally attached to the protection of the weakest and the protection of minors is a subject common to all and which could be a point of entrance. Which country can accept that its minors be crushed, destroyed, violated, misused? Another possible entrance point is health. An evaluation of deviating methods, be they cultic or not, can make it possible to find common ground. Why not a European observatory in the field of sectarian aberrations?”

Mr Rudy Salles, described by former President of Miviludes Mr. Fenech as “a pioneer of the anti-cult fight in France”, is anything but the neutral or impartial rapporteur needed for conducting such a report in the PACE – if indeed this has any place at all considering its origins. On the 22nd June 2000, before the French National Assembly, Mr. Salles went as far as stating:“Unfortunately, there cannot be a ’big night’ of sects that would allow us to settle this once and for all”. In France, the expression “big night” (grand soir), is a revolutionary expression alluding to the overthrow of a government, usually by the use of force and violence. In the sentence quoted above, Mr. Salles expressed his regret that he could not get rid of “sects” overnight.

I am providing this information to you, showing clearly that Mr. Rudy Salles is neither neutral, nor impartial and has significantly breached the rules 1.1.1, 1.1.2 and 1.1.4 of the code of conduct for rapporteurs of the Parliamentary Assembly.

According to Article 3 of the Code, the penalty for breaching the rules, “should a rapporteur fail to honour one or more undertakings”, can be the withdrawal of his or her mandate.

I respectfully ask you to review this information and conduct an impartial investigation into this matter in order to consider withdrawing Mr. Rudy Salles’ mandate on this topic.

Kind regards,

Peter Zoehrer 
FOREF  Europe


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