The Concept of Spiritual Security and The Rights of Religious Minorities

Patricia Duval

In line with the ongoing project “Right to Truth” announced last 4 February in Florence at the end of presentation event for the book of proceedings of the FOB convention, Paris Human Right Attorney Patricia Duval, member of FOB Scientific Committee, wrote the following article for the prestigious magazine Coscienza e Libertà. In such article she stigmatizes the work of some organizations, existing throughout Europe, in manufacturing fake news that instigate campaigns of hatred and religious intolerance.

Patricia Duval has been one of the spealers at the 18-19 January 2018 convention “Law and Freedom of Belief in Europe, an Arduous Journey”, during she did a speech titled “State neutrality and anti-sect movements: the France case”. The related video can be seen at this link.


Human Rights Attorney, Paris
FOB Scientific Committee member
(written for Coscienza e Libertà n. 56, page 40 –

Although religions are totally legitimate in ensuring the orthodoxy of beliefs and practices of their followers, the intervention of States in this matter is illegitimate under international human rights standards and the principle of State neutrality in religious matters under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the European Convention on Human Rights and other international human rights instruments.

However, States and totalitarian regimes have endeavored, from time to time throughouthistory, to suppress freedom of religion or belief when they considered that the religion was jeopardizing their control of the population or threatening their political power. To this end, they would justify their actions by the need to protect the “spiritual health” of citizens, or when relying on predominant Churches tostrengthen their political power, the “spiritual security” of their people.

It is interesting to note that religious minorities consideredas a threat to the spiritual security or health or wellbeing of citizenscontinue to be systematically labeled as “cults” and repressed.

This paper will review the perpetuation of this type of ideology in modern times, with the typical cases of Nazi Germanyin the 1930s,and more recently Serbia and Russia.

“Spiritual Health” in Nazi Germany

In a Directive signed in 1937, Reinhard Heydrich, head of Internal Security for Nazi Germany, established the pattern for suppression of certain religious societies and “cults” and the arrest and internment in concentration camp of all persons connected therewith (translation of Nuremberg Document D-59).

In the present struggle for the fate of the German people, it is necessary to maintain not merely the physical but also the spiritualhealth of our people, both individually and collectively. The German people can no longer be exposed to occultist teachings which pretend that the actions and missions of the human being are subject to mysterious magic forces.

Immediate measures were taken against the following groups, amongst others: astrologers, occultists, spiritualists, fortune tellers, faith healers, followers of Christian Science, followers of Anthroposophy, followers of Theosophy.

Based on the same concept of “spiritual health” of the German people, the Gestapo issued as early as 1933a list of prohibited cults amongst which were: Jehovah’s Witnesses, Seventh Day Adventists, Pentecostals, etc.

Even though today it does not entail the same deadly consequences for members of religious minorities asin Nazi Germany, the fight against so-called “cults” has since been based on similar spiritual security concerns in some Eastern European countries.

“Spiritual Assassination” in Serbia

In more recent times in Serbia, religious minorities have been labeled as cults and accused of implementing “spiritual assassination” of the Serbian people.

The representative in Serbia of the European Federation of Centers of Research and Information on Cultism (FECRIS), a network of associations fighting against “cults”, has elaborated on this concept.

FECRIS’ representative in Serbia, Colonel BratislavPetrović, a neuropsychiatrist who headed the Institute for Mental Health and Military Psychology of the Yugoslav Army during the Milosevic regime, used to specialize in the selection and psychological preparation of the soldiers of Milosevic’s army before they were sent to war.

In 1993, while ethnic and religious cleansing was underway againstCatholic Croats and Bosnian Muslims in the former Yugoslavia, Petrović condemned religious minorities within Serbia, accusing them of being terrorist organizations and conveniently labelling them “cults.”

Later on, together with Zoran Luković, a police Captain from the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Serbia, Petrović accused religious minorities of being criminals, terrorists, drug dealers and murderers.

Captain Zoran Luković published a book in 2000 entitled "Religious cults and Orthodoxy”. In this book, Luković devoted a chapter to each group he labeled a “cult”.

Under “pseudo Christian cults”, he listed Adventists, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormons, Pentecostals, Christ Church of Evangelist Brothers, the Western Orthodox Church, and others.

Under“syncretistic cults”, he included Rosicrucian, Masons, New Age, Scientology, Church of Unification. Under “pseudo-Hindu cults”, he listed Yoga centers, Transcendental Meditation, Hare Krishna and Falun Gong.

He finished with “occult and magical” cults, such as astrology, theosophy, anthroposophy, and finally “satanic cults”.

The book was endorsed on the back cover by Bishop Porfirije, from the Serbian Orthodox Church, and by Colonel Petrović, the representative of FECRIS. Bishop Profirije wrote that “This book is full of authentic data in exposing cults one by one as groups which are spreading spiritual terror and violence”.

The book was widely promoted by Colonel Petrović, Zoran Luković and representatives of the Serbian Orthodox Church as part of their crusade for a pure Orthodox Serbia.The media they generated as part of their anti-heresy campaign were designed at eliminating those groups’ creeds or philosophiesfrom Serbia.

Petrović was very blunt on this point. His motto was "Spiritual assassination is more terrible than physical assassination", as he stated in the title of his speech at the FECRIS annual conference held in Barcelona in 2002.

As a result of their campaign, hatred against religious minorities was spread in Serbia, with violent incidents taking place against their members and places of worship.

The NGO Youth Initiative for Human Rights in Serbia filed a complaint against Zoran Luković in 2005 stating that the creation of an “atmosphere of recoil and fear among the citizens” and the “stirring up of religious hatred and intolerance” resulted in “300 incidents with a religious basis in Serbia from 2001 to 2005”.

However, Captain Luković, who in his capacity of high-ranking official of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Serbia claimed during conferencesthat "the only true religions have emerged at the time of Christ", apparently had some protection as the Prosecutor in Belgrade dropped the proceedings against him.

“Spiritual Security” in Russia

In contemporary Russia, religious minorities are repressed to protect the “spiritual security” of the Russian people.

In October 1990, a Law on Freedom of Religion was adopted under the Gorbachev regime, which was one of the last and most decisive liberalizing legislative reforms introduced in the old Soviet system. For the first time in Russian history, practicing religion was declared "the unalienable right of Russian citizens".This right also applied to all those residing in Russia, irrespective of their citizenship. The law maintained strict separation between Church and State, provided State ideological neutrality and guaranteed equal rights for all faiths, regardless of their origins and size.

As an immediate consequence of the Law, Russia's religious landscape started to change significantly. There was resurgence of the Russian Orthodox Church and other “traditional”religions, Muslim, Catholic, Jewish and Buddhist and this also brought missionary activities from abroad, as well as proselytizing activities by religions that were new to Russia.

This evolution gave rise to a strong anti-cult movement, focused in the Moscow Patriarchate of the Russian Orthodox Church, which started to push the concept that Russia’s “spiritual security” and traditional values weresomehow at risk.

In November 1996, then Orthodox Bishop Kirill, who was subsequently elected in 2009 as the Patriarch of Moscow and all Russia, publicly spoke about the problem of proselytism facing the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC). He noted that once the 1990 law allowed for freedom of conscience, “hordes of missionaries dashed in, believing the former Soviet Union to be a vast missionary territory.”

According to him, instead of aiding the ROC in its missionary endeavors, these proselytizing groups worked against the Church “like boxers in a ring with their pumped-up muscles, delivering blows.” He added that the blows were against the “people’s national and religious sentiments”, leading to a state where for many Russians, “‘non-Orthodox’ means those who have come to destroy the spiritual unity of the people and the Orthodox faith—spiritual colonizers who by fair means or foul try to tear the people away from their Church.”

In the eyes of the religious leaders of the ROC, Russia was losing its cultural identity as an Orthodox nation. In this atmosphere, where the ROC believed itself, as well as Russian culture, to be under attack, Boris Yeltsin’s government passed a new religion law in September 1997, differentiating traditional and nontraditional religions in Russia

The 1997 Law on Freedom of Conscience and Religious Associations provided serious restrictions on the registration of religious organizations and thus to the activities of religious groups of foreign origin. Religious communities registered under the 1990 law were required to re-register; many were then denied the right to re-registration and consequently challenged the negative decision before domestic courts and then the European Court of Human Rights. In particular the Salvation Army, the Jesuits, Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Church of Scientology brought such cases.

The 1997 law, as well as the ideological stand and policy which were thereafter adopted by Russian authorities, were all inspired by the desire to ensure the “spiritual security” of Russia, a new concept expressing the purported role of the Russian Orthodox Church in safeguarding national values and security.

In the 2000 National Security Concept, the Putin Administration explained this concept:

“Assurance of the Russian Federation’s national security also includes protecting the cultural and spiritual-moral legacy and the historical traditions and standards of public life and preserving the cultural heritage of all Russia’s peoples. There must be a state policy to maintain the population’s spiritual and moral welfare, prohibit the use of airtime to promote violence or base instincts, and counter the adverse impact of foreign religious organizations and missionaries.”

Spiritual security, then, serves as the basis for a campaign based on paranoia of “foreign” enemies and “foreign” ideas, and for measures to unduly restrict freedom of religion or belief of Russian citizens who have decided to follow a non-consensual spiritual path.

Members of the European Federation of Centers of Research and Information on Cultism (FECRIS) in Russia play prominent roles in this campaign and repressive policy.

The Federation of Centers of Research and Information on Cultism (FECRIS)

To a large extent, the responsibility for the increasing religious tensions that culminated in the adoption of the 1997 Law must be borne by the Russian anti-cult movement, and by leading anti-cult crusader Aleksandr Dvorkin in particular. Dvorkin has been the key agitator responsible for popularizing the new term 'totalitarian cults'that he uses against peaceful religious minorities.

Aleksandr Dvorkin is the vice-President of FECRIS and heads the FECRIS member association in Russia, the Saint Irenaeus of Lyons Centre for Religious Studies which was founded in 1993 with the blessing of the Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia Alexey II and is a missionary faculty department of St Tikhon's Orthodox University in Moscow.

Dvorkin has been engaged in hate speech and disparagement against the so-called “cults” for the last twenty years, fueling suspicion and prejudice that lead to repression such as banning and imprisonment, not to mention incitement of hatred that lead to physical violence, threats, vandalism and similar aggression.

Hate Speech

Dvorkin spreads misinformation that religious minorities are actually foreign agents acting as enemies to Russia. For example, he stated that:

“Mormons are a huge international business corporation that operates under the guise of a religious organization. Moreover, we can recall several instances when American Mormon missionaries were spotted on the territory of secret military facilities. For many years, experts speak about a close relationship of this organization with the CIA.”

And about Pentecostals:

“We may also recall the political aspect of this cult’s activity. One of the most famous Neo-Pentecostal preachers on the post-Soviet space - Alexei Ledyaev – openly speaks about the necessity to create a new world order in which Neo-Pentecostals will rule with the U.S. president at the head.”

Regarding the spiritual practitioners ofFalun Gong who were persecuted in China, Dvorkin stated:

“Falun Gong is a strict totalitarian cult, whose members are used by its leader in his vendetta against the government of China and who, in his turn, is instrumentalized by American secret services for their external policy purposes.”

In May 2008, when he was invited to give a lecturein Beijing to support Chinese government repression of Falun Gong practitioners, Alexander Dvorkin stated:

“They would turn individuals into tools of cults and destroy their families. Cults harm individuals, families, societies and countries like "cancerous cells" in a healthy body. Cults make no contribution to the society. But they keep absorbing human resources and wealth from it. Like cancerous cells, they obtain nutrition from the healthy body of society until it collapses.”

This was done at a time when the international community and human rights organizations had issued numerous reports exposing persecution and atrocities committed against Falun Gong by the Chinese authorities, including deportation and torture.

However, Dvorkin, the head of the Russian anti-cult movement, publicly supported China’s repression of Falun Gong and compared Falun Gong members to “cancerous cells”, implicitly advocating their elimination.

This hate speech, extensively quoted in the media, fueled animosity against religious minorities in Russia and induced, or maybe allowed, the government to adopt its current repressive policy.

Incidents of physical violence have also resulted from such stirring-up of hatred, including violence against people, verbal insults, physical threats or attacks; and violence against property, including vandalism and attacks against places of worship, community property, and residences of members of religious groups.

Another application of the concept of “spiritual security”in Russia is the referral of followers of religious minorities to so-called “Rehabilitation Centers”.

“Rehabilitating” followers of non-traditional religions

FECRIS Russian Chapter, Saint Irenaeus of Lyons Centre for Religious Studies, is the leading organisation in the Russian Association of Centers for Religious and Cultic Studies. Alexander Dvorkin is also its President.

This association operates with a network of so-called "parents’ initiatives". They advise families who disagree with one of their relative’s choice of adhering to a non-traditional religionand arrange to take them to a so-called “rehabilitation centre” where they are "enlightened" about the danger of cults and how cults engage in mind-manipulation. The person is then persuaded to accept the Orthodox religion because, according to thesecentres, if one really believes in Christ he is protected from various cults.

Saint Irenaeus of Lyons Centre for Religious Studies, on its website, explains how to deal with people “caught in cults”: “The process of exit through an external influence involves a psychologist, relatives and a cult-specialist, to arouse critical thinking towards the cult and get rid of emotional dependency towards it. Then it involves connecting the person to the Orthodox catechist, preferably a priest offering the true religious and ideological alternatives.”

This approach recalls the much criticized “deprogramming” where followers of religious minorities were put under psychological pressure to recant their faith. This practice has been outlawed in the US and several EU countries.

It violates followers’ right to freedom of religion or belief under Article 18.2 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights:“No one shall be subject to coercion which would impair his freedom to have or to adopt a religion or belief of his choice”. This right is also protected under the European Convention on Human Rights.

International Human Rights Law

The very concept of State “spiritual security” violates international human rights law and standards that countries have committed to.

Security of the State cannot be directed towards a limitation of freedom of religion or belief and its manifestations, unless qualified as below.

Article 9.2 of the European Convention on Human Rights provides for very specific limitations which can be allowed to restrict the right to freedom of religion or belief. Those limitations have to be prescribed by law and 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

Similarly, Article 18.3 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights provides that “Freedom to manifest one's religion or beliefs may be subject only to such limitations as are prescribed by law and are necessary to protect public safety, order, health, or morals or the fundamental rights and freedoms of others.”

“Public safety”, or“sécurité publique” in the French versions of these Treaties, has nothing to do with“spiritual security” and regulation of spiritual beliefs.

The UN Human Rights Committee explained in its General Comment n° 22 on the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion:

“Article 18 protects theistic, non-theistic and atheistic beliefs, as well as the right not to profess any religion or belief. The terms "belief" and "religion" are to be broadly construed. Article 18 is not limited in its application to traditional religions or to religions and beliefs with institutional characteristics or practices analogous to those of traditional religions. The Committee therefore views with concern any tendency to discriminate against any religion or belief for any reason, including the fact that they are newly established, or represent religious minorities that may be the subject of hostility on the part of a predominant religious community.”

In this regard, the successive UN Special Rapporteurs on Freedom of Religion or Belief have affirmed that the use of the derogatory label of “cults” to justify repression of religious minorities should never be used.

States have a duty of neutrality in religious matters under international human rights law. They cannot assess the legitimacy of beliefs and must not take sides or favor a dominant religion to the detriment of others – a duty which has been constantly affirmed by the European Court of Human Rights and the UN Human Rights Institutions.

Patricia Duval