2021

Russian Orthodox Church: Internecine Struggle About “Cults”

by Massimo Introvigne — I had never heard of Professor Roman Kon, from the Moscow Theological Academy, until somebody called my attention on the fact that he got in trouble after having been accused of “taking the side of Massimo Introvigne,” apparently a serious crime in Russia. From the answer he posted among the comments to the article attacking him by Vladimir Martinovich, lecturer on “cults” in Belarus’ Minsk Theological Academy, it seems that Kon did indeed his homework in reading what I wrote on the issue of brainwashing, and came to conclusions that are a matter of course among Western scholars of new religious movements.

On July 8, the Court of Kemerovo ruled against the movement in what may become a crucial case

by Massimo Introvigne — Bitter Winter has reported in the past about the maneuvers of Russian anti-cultists such as Alexander Dvorkin and Roman Silantyev to have Falun Gong banned in Russia as an “extremist” organization. Falun Gong has been active in Russia for many years without causing any problems, and the only reason it is labeled as “extremist” is the close cooperation between Russian anti-cultists and their Chinese counterparts. On November 10, 2020, the Fifth General Court of Appeal of Novosibirsk designated Falun Gong as an “extremist organization,” and “liquidated” its branch in the Siberian region of Khakassia. The judges also recommended a nation-wide “liquidation” of Falun Gong in Russia, which they were however not competent to pronounce.

Court of Rome: Jehovah’s Witnesses “Ostracism” Is Not Illegal

by Massimo Introvigne — On May 23, 2021, the Justice Court of Rome issued a decision in the case RGN 76320/2016 whose grounds have now been published, in a case of “ostracism” of a former member by the Jehovah’s Witnesses. “Ostracism” and “shunning” are the terms normally used by the opponents of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, and are also often used by the media, while the Jehovah’s Witnesses themselves do not use them. The plaintiff had sent a letter in 2011 to both his local and the national Italian organization of the Jehovah’s Witnesses resigning as a member of the Association Christian Congregation of the Jehovah’s Witnesses. In the letter, he stated that he still believed in the main doctrines taught by the Jehovah’s Witnesses, although he no longer wanted to be a member of the organization (a contradictory statement, because that a believer should be part of the organization of the Jehovah’s Witnesses is precisely a “main doctrine” for them).

Chinese clumsy attempts to stifle religious freedom in China and its supporters everywhere

The long hand of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) tries, in ways that are as clumsy as they are desperate, to silence any voice of dissent to the single party thought, which is the only true religion allowed in China. In the following article, Professor Massimo Introvigne, director of the online magazine Bitter Winter as well as founder and director of CESNUR (Center for Studies on New Religions), tells with the irony that the case deserves, of the treatment he has been subjected to by some diligent and clumsy Chinese officials, revealing how a "respected" and feared government like the Chinese one is the source of fake news that threaten the fundamental freedoms of every human being.

Recent Studies on Scientology and “Labeling”, Part 2

by Alessandro Amicarelli — In a previous article, I examined Germana Carobene’s recent article on how Scientology is labeled as a “cult” (setta in Italian, secte in French) to deny it the status of a religion. Carobene is a professor of law, and she examines “legal narratives.” Rosita Šorytė has a different background, in politics, having served as a diplomat for 25 years. In an article on the labeling of Scientology published in the July-August 2021 issue of The Journal of CESNUR, she admits that she knew Scientology only from the media until she started working on religious liberty some years ago. She served as a diplomat in France and in the United States, where several media, although with differences between one country and the other, called Scientology a “cult.” They rarely defined what a “cult” was, but conveyed the impression it was something “bad.”

Recent Studies on Scientology and “Labeling”

by Alessandro Amicarelli — Why are some religions and religious movements labeled as “cults” or “extremist”? And what are the legal and political consequences of using such labels? Two recently published studies about how these labels have been applied to the Church of Scientology offer new insights on the matter. One, by a law professor, examines the legal side of labelling; the second, by a former diplomat, its political side. In this first article, I offer some comments on the study by law professor Germana Carobene, published in the Italian journal Stato, Chiese e pluralismo confessionale. In a second article, I will examine a somewhat parallel study by Rosita Šorytė published in The Journal of CESNUR.

Fake News: FECRIS sentenced for slanderous statements in Germany but claiming victory in a press release(!)

HRWF (Human Rights Without Frontiers) has published on its website an article on the condemnation of FECRIS (European Federation of Centers of Research and Information on Cults and Sects) for defamatory statements against the Christian Congregation of Jehovah's Witnesses. Nonetheless, in one of its press releases, FECRIS sang victory (sic!), thus extending the series of artfully crafted fake news to give the inattentive reader – or not accustomed to the language of jurisprudential texts – a distorted idea of the truth.

The Church of Scientology. Religious narrative and legal configuration

Sociological and philosophical investigations, which are prodromal to a juridical reflection, show a difficulty in the conceptual framing of the term 'religion', both by those who claim a knowledge, a behavior - secular, agnostic or atheist - and by those who, questioning the beliefs, symbols, systems of representation of reality, produced by a certain society, want to safeguard the objects of investigation, leading them back to a claim of unquestionable scientificity. This term can, however, be used in its polyvalence, provided that it is not used to discriminate in a positive/negative sense the values and forms in which it is variously presented, since at its basis there must be the need to understand and protect the inmost area of individual freedom.

A roundup of convictions collected by FECRIS in Europe

The report that our French partner CAP Liberté de Conscience presented to the UN Human Rights Council recommending that the state funding of anti-cult associations, in particular the French association FECRIS, be stopped, has triggered a series of articles revealing the excesses of anti-cults. Today we publish FECRIS and affiliates: Defamation is in their DNA, an article by Willy Fautré, director and co-founder of Human Rights Withou Fronties International, which lists a series of convictions collected by FECRIS in various European courts. We do not add anything more and leave it to the reader to get a personal idea of these "champions" of the alleged victims of the equally alleged "cults" (an ambiguous term that lends itself well to the hate campaigns of anti-cults).

Labeling Scientology: “Cult,” “Fringe,” “Extremist,” or Mainstream?

Rosita Šorytė — Like many others, I heard about Scientology from the media long before I met a Scientologist in person. As a diplomat, I worked in France for five years in the 1990s, and I had been a college student there before. French media were systematically depicting Scientology as a dangerous secte. In the early 2000, I worked in New York at the United Nations, and learned that to describe something as “bad” as a secte in French the word “cult” was used in English. As many of us, who take what we hear from the media for granted without questioning or making our own inquiries, I heard repeated so many times that Scientology was a “cult,” meaning something “bad,” that it was something that I thought was true.

Misusing Taxes Against Religious Freedom: A Statement Was Filed at UN Human Rights Council

by Alessandro Amicarelli — When everything else fails, governments that, for whatever reasons, want to discriminate religious or spiritual movements they do not like use a secret weapon: taxes. CAP-LC (Coordination des Associations et des Particuliers pour la Liberté de Conscience), an NGO with special consultative status at United Nations’ ECOSOC (Economic and Social Council) filed a written statement to the 47th Session of the United Nations’ Human Rights Council, which was published on June 21. CAP-LC notes that, “Tax weapons have been often used to discriminate against religious and spiritual minorities. This is becoming a global problem, and one the human rights community should be aware of.”

FECRIS Denounced at the United Nations’ Human Rights Council

On June 1, 2021 we announced that our French partner CAP Liberté de Conscience did submit a report to the United Nations’ Human Rights Council recommending to stop State funding of anti-cult associations, in particular of the French association FECRIS. Today the sociologist Massimo Introvigne has published on Bitter Winter an interesting article about CAP-LC's filing, which we republish hereafter.

Religious freedom and the (almost) secular Italian State

The recent diatribe on the draft law Zan between the republican, democratic and secular Italian State and the theocratic and absolute monarchy Vatican State, brings to light problems that the majority do not see, or do not want to see. The first to be mentioned, not necessarily the most important, is the fact that a Parliament and a Government that no longer represent the will of the majority of Italians, is huddling with a Catholic Church that represents only part of Italian believers (not to mention non-believers) for a bill that will affect all Italians and that has little to do with the huge and far more important health and socio-economic problems that the “Bel Paese” has been going through for a year and a half now.

Vatican vs Italy on New Homophobia Bill: Why It’s a Religious Liberty Issue

by Marco Respinti — The Italian Senate is now discussing the so-called “Zan bill,” named after its original drafter, MP Alessandro Zan, of the Democratic Party, which the House of Representatives approved on November 4, 2020. Those favorable to the bill claim that it merely extends to LGBT+ persons (and those with handicaps) the provisions of a 1993 law (known as “Legge Mancino”) against hate speech, and discrimination and violence because of race, ethnicity, religion and national identity, by adding also sexual orientation and handicaps to the categories protected by that law. But critics (among which, by the way, are also some prominent homosexuals, and feminist activists) mention some flaws in the bill, while approving the provisions against all kind of violence and incitement to violence against LGBT+ persons (unnecessary to say, this is also my position). There are two main objections.

Music, Education, and the Tai Ji Men Case: A New Study by Susan Wang-Selfridge

by Michele Amicarelli — On January 21–22, 2021, the Maria Grzegorzewska University of Warsaw, Poland, with the patronage of UNESCO, organized an international conference on “Education and the Challenges of the Multicultural World.” Due to the COVID-19 restrictions, the conference was held online. Some of the papers presented have been published in the International Journal of Pedagogy, Innovation and New Technologies. One of these papers is an interesting contribution to the growing literature on Tai Ji Men and their corresponding freedom of religion or belief case in Taiwan. The author is Susan Wang-Selfridge, who holds a Ph. D. in Music from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) and has extensive teaching experience in the musical field, including at the same UCLA.

Local Police disguised as civilians desecrate another Ahmadiyya mosque in Faisalabad, Pakistan as part of continued state-sponsored persecution of Ahmadis

By CAPLC — A few months ago, we reported about the demolition of the minarets and domes of the various Ahmadiyya mosques in Pakistan carried out under the supervision of local police authorities. Unfortunately, we again regret to report another destruction and demolition in a rural settlement called 261 R-B, Adhwali district Faisalabad, Pakistan. This profane act was orchestrated by the local police itself disguising themselves as civilians.

Shouters: Persecuted in China and Entitled to Asylum, Court of Rome Says

by Massimo Introvigne — In China, the popular nickname “Shouters” designates a network of different groups claiming to follow the tradition of Chinese Protestant ministers Watchman Nee (1903–1972) and Witness Lee (1905–1997). There are also followers of these preachers who do not accept the label “Shouters” and claim to be different from those so designated. Shouters are banned as a xie jiao by the CCP since 1983, i.e., even before the official list of xie jiao was compiled in 1995.

Austrian government's 'Islamic map' is a new witch-hunt

They said that the installation in Austria, in the cities of Vienna, Leopoldstadt and in Meidling, of some signs with the words: Achtung! Politischer Islam in deiner Naehe (Beware political Islam is near you) was just an innocent provocation. In fact, those signs indicating the presence of an Islamic site nearby was only the logical consequence of the presentation by the Minister for Integration, Susanne Raab (OeVP) of the so-called Map of the Places of Islam (Islamland karte), i.e. of mosques and Islamic cultural centres, present throughout Austria.

To Stop Islamic Terrorism, Discriminate Against Non-Muslim Religious Movements

by Massimo Introvigne — An introductory paper at the Special Meeting of the Freedom of Religion or Belief Roundtable Belgium “The New Flemish Legislation on Religion: A Cause of Concern,” June 2, 2021.

The new Flemish legislation on religion and the statements by politicians surrounding its introduction are yet another example of what is emerging as a fascinating, if paradoxical, social and political phenomenon: the discrimination of some non-Muslim religions under the pretext of combating terrorism based on ultra-fundamentalist Islam.