This year the awaited appointment with the Third Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom was held online due to the well-known situation of Covid-19. We publish the speeches that the president of FOB, lawyer Alessandro Amicarelli, gave on 18 and 19 November 2020, as well as a brief summary of the speeches by professor Massimo Introvigne of CESNUR (Center for Studies on New Religions) and the president of our associated CAPLC (European Coordination of Associations and Individuals for Freedom of Conscience) released on November 18.
"The Proposed Anti-Separatism Law and the International Obligations of France: is it all about so-called Political Islam?"
November 18, 2020 — France is a member of International organisations and indeed a country where the rule of law, democracy and the respect of human rights are fundamental principles of the “République”.
Likewise France is a country with a very diverse population from several backgrounds and belonging to several different linguistic, ethnic and indeed religious or spiritual traditions or none.
President Macron and the Premiere Dame and a number of French politicians have defended the, arguable to say the least, right of Charlie Hebdo to insult the religion of Islam repeatedly by depicting the Prophet of Islam Mohammed, and by insulting the Turkish President Erdogan, and by insulting the religious sentiments of many religious and spiritual groups as such in a number of occasions. All of this in the name of the sacrosanct right to Freedom of Expression.
Freedom of expression is indeed a fundamental freedom enshrined in the European Convention of Human Rights of 1950 and in The Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948, which inspired the ECHR, and in most international human rights instruments and most national Constitutions as well.
Just like the Freedom of Expression is a fundamental human right, also the Freedom of Thought, Conscience and Religion, or in a single expression the Freedom of Belief, is a fundamental human right protected by art. 18 of the UDHR and by art. 9 of the ECHR whose extent can only be limited in compliance with the ECHR provisions not basing on assumed national values or needs in contrast with the spirit of the Human Rights legislation.
Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights – Freedom of thought, conscience and religion “1. Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief, in worship, teaching, practice and observance. 2. Freedom to manifest one’s religion or beliefs shall be subject only to such limitations as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society in the interests of public safety, for the protection of public order, health or morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.”
Art. 9 ECHR should be read in conjunction with art. 2 Protocol 1 to the Convention which reads as follows:
Article 2 of Protocol No. 1 – Right to education “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.”
Arguing that some groups and specifically "Political Islam" tend to isolate within the society and from the society and that a legislation is needed to prevent that from happening, and such legislation causes also to prevent private entities from setting up or to carrying out their activities, or prohibiting home-schooling, is probably not the best answer to problems that may exist from a democratic country like France, considering that France has a set of laws, including also criminal laws, to prevent and tackle extremism, terrorism and any other forms of delinquency whatsoever.
So the wonder is: what is the real agenda behind this proposed legislation? and who is behind such?
Where does it come from? Have we seen anything like this in the past in France?
Well there's an organisation called FECRIS in France which is funded by the French Government and that advocates, all over the world, the fight against minority groups, derogatorily called cults (sectes in French). FECRIS doesn't care about the International Human Rights obligations of France and regularly requests the International Organisations to ban Human Rights Organisations advocating Freedom of Religion and Belief from their premises and to stop interacting with them, e.g. FECRIS at the OSCE Human Dimension Implementation Meeting in Warsaw.
The belief that behind this legislation there may be both the FECRIS and those sharing the same views, may be a legitimate possibility, at least, if we consider that very often the fight against Islam, whether the so-called Political or non Political one, goes hand by hand with the fight against cults.
The proposed legislation may just be a Trojan horse aimed at fighting against extremism but with the real intention to fight against minorities considered as cults - this could be just my own personal opinion and speculation if the Minister Madame Marlène Schiappa had not stated, in an interview she gave to the newspaper Le Parisien, as follows:
“we will use the same measures against the cults and against radical Islam”.
The United States bipartisan organisation USCIRF, US Commission on International Religious Freedom, has warned that FECRIS is an organisation that threats the human rights of minorities and recommended, inter alia, as follows:
"Counter propaganda against new religious movements by the European Federation of Research and Information Centers on Sectarianism (FECRIS) at the annual OSCE Human Dimensions Conference with information about the ongoing involvement of individuals and entities within the anti-cult movement in the suppression of religious freedom."
To me it is clear that the proposed legislation if passed would mean a serious drift from the International legal obligations of France, first and foremost the ECHR and its fundamental freedoms and human rights.
The rule of law requires attention and intervention and indeed the extremist activities of any group must be prevented and fought against with all necessary means - but erasing the International obligations that ensure the respect of human rights and fundamental freedoms belonging to everyone is not the answer but only an excuse for other ends. The present law is the natural consequence of law no. 504 of 2001 on the prevention and suppression of cultic movements and of her sister law no. 228 of 2004 aimed at suppressing the right to show religious symbols in public places, both of which are a serious concern for a European democracy.
We hope that, while we are fighting against two viruses, the Covid-19 and the virus of intolerance, the actions recommended by the USCIRF Report may be implemented very soon and also be only the beginning of a series of further actions to contrast these hate experts, and finally guarantee everyone their right to freedom of thought, conscience, religion and belief.
European Federation for Freedom of Belief
Massimo Introvigne (CESNUR - Center for Studies on New Religions)
We appreciate that France has its own historical traditions in respect of State - Church relationships and trying to impose a foreign model is wrong.
We appreciate that France is the European country mostly affected by Islamic ultra-fundamentalist terrorism.
Adapting the model of laïcité to a society that has changed and preventing terrorism are real issues and some measures are acceptable.
But the solutions cannot endanger religious freedom or infringe the international obligations.
Three issues: One. It seems that only the Islam des Lumières (Enlightened Islam) is well-accepted in France, even though there’s a majority Islam that is conservative as far as theology and style are concerned and that nonetheless is not per se terroristic or violent.
Two. banning home-schooling as a whole where home-schooling for its 90% does not regard Islam at all and whose results are excellent.
Three. Just as occurred in Russia there’s the serious threat to use rapid and administrative means to dissolve “cults” with the pretext to fight radical Islam.
Thierry Valle (CAPLC - European Coordination of Associations and Individuals for Freedom of Conscience)
Since 1995 the French government has made the fight against spiritual minorities, labelled as a sect, a matter of state.
The French state has set up an interministerial mission (MIVILUDES), a special police force dedicated to spiritual minorities (CAIMADES) and spent millions of Euros to finance associations whose sole purpose is to denounce spiritual minorities.
The state has attacked peaceful minorities for more than 25 years.
The fight against terrorism is a necessity, but as already noted by the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Religion and Belief in 2018 national security measures introduced to advance the global war on terrorism have resulted in “countless violations and abuses of fundamental human rights” , including the right to freedom of religion or belief .
This is why, as president of CAP LC, I organized this conference to alert French and international authorities of the danger to religious freedom represented by this bill.
Tai Ji Men and the Fiscal Justice against a spiritual movement in Taiwan
November 19, 2020 — As European Federation for Freedom of Belief (FOB) and myself as a human rights lawyer have witnessed and have been dealing with cases of discrimination against religious and spiritual minorities and their members too.
More than once fiscal and tax issues have been used by governments to the detriment of some groups in order to stop their activities, for instance, when the groups where growing too fast or when they were disliked by the authorities.
At times these groups are denied the tax exempt status, if such a system is implemented in the country, or the status is revoked after being enjoyed for some time.
This has happened also in Western countries, not only outside Europe as someone may think.
Taiwan is now a full democracy whose present status stems from a complicate past; but after all, the times of martial law have gone since long.
Taiwan is a great country that I was glad to visit more than once, and where I had also the pleasure to teach a course on Human Rights, Minority Law and Freedom of Religion and Belief at Soochow University, back in 2012.
I was impressed by the cultural, religious and spiritual diversity of Taiwan where, in the same building, worship places of different religions can be found. One next to the other. Literally.
The tax case involving the Tai Ji Men community has lasted for far too long. In fact even though all the tax claims have been erased in Court, and no claim should exist anymore, however a tax claim for year 1992 is still maintained by the Tax Office despite the Court judgments in favour of Tai Ji Men, and which risks to damage Tai Ji Men, after having cost them millions Taiwanese dollars in trials costs.
The ongoing TJM case is unacceptable generally speaking, and also very difficult to understand from a legal point-of-view.
Basing on the legal principle of "Estoppel", it cannot be argued or asserted that Tai Ji Men have to pay taxes for the disputed year 1992 as there should be no dispute at all, being this a clear contradiction, especially, if we take into account the other principle of "legitimate expectation" (or legal certainty) according to which those who act in good faith on the basis of law as it is or seems to be, should not be frustrated in their expectations.
As European Federation for Freedom of Belief (FOB) and I personally hope and wish that this case can be concluded in the best possible way, honouring Tai Ji Men and also honouring Taiwan's democratic achievements and commitments for the safeguard of human rights and fundamental freedoms.
Our expectation is that Taiwan will honour these principles and by complying with them will finally fully meet all legal expectations of Tai Ji Men in this matter.
European Federation for Freedom of Belief