By Gerhard Wilts / Nederlands Dagblad
STRASBOURG – More than sixty humanitarian and religious organizations in Europe are protesting heavily against a plan to set up a watchdog against cults. The plan of the French politician Rudy Salles is a profound violation of the freedom of religion.
Sixty-four organizations and spiritual leaders from Europe and the United States are “deeply concerned” about the proposal of Salles which will be submitted next week in the Council of Europe. In a joint statement they asked President Anne Brasseur of the Council of Europe to send the proposal back to the Committee on Legislation and Human Rights.
Salles advocates the establishment of an ‘observation centre that serves to protect minors against sectarian influences’. In the draft report Salles suggests that the extent of “sectarian excesses” increases and more and more young people are at risk. To prove that trend Salles has gotten a questionnaire filled out and did two visits, to Germany and Sweden.
The joint organizations think that Salles’ proposal to monitor religious splinter groups is a threat to fundamental human rights, like the freedom of religions and the right of parents to raise their children to their own judgement. In addition the establishment of an observation centre against sects affects the neutral position of governments towards churches.
The European Evangelical Alliance (EEA), the Forum for Religious Freedom Europe (FOREF) and other agencies turn themselves with strong words against the proposal. “The evidence Salles comes up with is thin slice. The report should be rejected ,” says Christel Ngambi, spokesman for the EEA. The Alliance is a partnership of fifteen million evangelical Christians in 34 European countries.
“Europe has adequate laws and safeguards against illegal practices of sects, “says Ngambi.” Salles wants the Council of Europe to radically change direction. His proposal is at odds with decisions and declarations of the council in the past 22 years.” In addition, the 47 EU member states have sufficient laws to guarantee the rights of children in religious minorities.
Mr. Peter Zöhrer, General Secretary of FOREF adds that Salles has not complied with the required impartiality of rapporteurs. For many years, Salles has been closely associated with the French lobby against sects and a convinced supporter of organizations fighting faiths.” Salles is neutral nor impartial,” says Zöhrer, “and didn’t care for the code of conduct for rapporteurs of the Council of Europe.”
Also the Italian constitutional law professor Pietro Nocita has joined the chorus of opponents. He believes that the establishment of a watchdog against cults is not in line with European principles and fundamental rights. “The European countries have already established legal sanctions against abuses.” He also denounces the superficial definition of “abuse” in the proposal of Salles: “He speaks about a negative influence on young people, that wording is vague and general.”