Articles

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 The first to be mentioned, not necessarily the most important, is the fact that a Parliament and a Government that no longer represent the will of the majority of Italians, is huddling with a Catholic Church that represents only part of Italian believers (not to mention non-believers) for a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.

Italian Parliament Condemns CCP’s Crimes Against Uyghurs

by Marco Respinti — On May 26, 2021 the Italian Parliament voted unanimously to condemn Chinese atrocities against Uyghurs and other Turkic people, most of whom Muslim, in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR), which its non-Han inhabitants call East Turkestan. After a debate which lasted for months, the House of Representatives approved, with no contrary vote, a unified text, condensing different resolutions presented by MPs Paolo Formentini, Andrea Delmastro, Lia Quartapelle, Iolanda Di Stasio, and Valentino Valentini, representing a wide bipartisan consensus.

France: “All the World Envies Us for the MIVILUDES”

by Massimo Introvigne — Considering how the French governmental mission against “cultic deviances” is routinely denounced by leading NGOs specialized in religious liberty and by governments, including the United States’, which publish reports on international freedom of religion or belief, the claim by its former president and member of its new Guidance Council, Georges Fenech, in an interview of May 20, that “all the world envies us [France] for the MIVILUDES” may appear just as an exercise in typical French dark humor.

FECRIS Sentenced in Germany for Defaming Jehovah’s Witnesses

by Massimo Introvigne — FECRIS, the European Federation of Centres of Research and Information on Cults and Sects, is an umbrella organization for anti-cult movements in Europe and beyond. It is significantly funded by the French government, and has been identified by the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) as a main international threat to religious liberty. When FECRIS branches are sued, they often claim that these are futile litigations started by “cults” with the only purpose of harassing them, since anti-cult movements serve a public function, and their exposes of “cults” are protected by free speech laws.

Lithuanian Parliament Condemns “Uyghur Genocide”

by Massimo Introvigne — Lithuania, which suffered itself Communist persecution, is the third country in Europe after the Netherlands and the United Kingdom whose Parliament has officially declared the horrors China is inflicting on the Uyghurs a “genocide.” Outside Europe, similar declarations came from the United States and Canada. The vote of May 20 by the Lithuanian Parliament is important, because Lithuania is the first country that is part of the Belt and Road Initiative to take such a brave stand on the Uyghur genocide.

Ivan Aguéli: The Painter Who Invented the Word “Islamophobia”

by Massimo Introvigne — New religious movements significantly contributed, disproportionately with respect to the number of their members, to the birth and progress of modernist art. Among many artists who were Spiritualists, Theosophists, Rosicrucians, or followers of other spiritual movements—the list includes such luminaries as Piet Mondrian and Giacomo Balla, who were members of different branches of Theosophy—the Swedish painter Ivan Aguéli is a special case. He remained little known outside specialized circles for decades after his death in 1917, but has then been honored in Sweden by a museum in Sala, the town where he was born in 1869, and even stamps by the Swedish Postal Service.

Religiocide: How to Kill a Religion

by Massimo Introvigne — There are countless books on how new religions are born, something that happens almost every week in the world. But how do religions die? A new book The Demise of Religion: How Religions End, Die, or Dissipate (London and New York: Bloomsbury) edited by well-known scholars of new religious movements Michael Stausberg, Stuart A. Wright, and Carole M. Cusack addresses this fascinating question through an introduction and nine chapters presenting case studies. Being myself a scholar specialized in new religious movements, I find all chapters fascinating. The case studies confirm what previous research amply demonstrated. Religions do not die when their charismatic leaders die, nor when their prophecies fail.

European Parliament: Pakistan Blasphemy Law Incompatible with Trade Benefits

by Massimo Introvigne — On April 30, 681 members of the European Parliament voted in favor of a motion censoring Pakistan for its human rights and religious liberty violations. Only three MEPs opposed it. The motion focuses on Pakistan’s law on blasphemy, and on the case of the Christian couple Shagufta Kausar and Shafqat Emmanuel. They were arrested in 2013 and sentenced to death in 2014 for blasphemy. The case originated from messages insulting Prophet Muhammad sent to a Muslim cleric using a SIM card registered in Shagufta’s name. However, the couple denies any knowledge of the messages, and claims that the SIM card was purchased and used by an unknown person who impersonated Shagufta when registering it.

Department of State Religious Freedom Report: China Is Guilty of “Crimes against Humanity”

by Massimo Introvigne — There is a different administration from last year in Washington DC but the yearly survey of religious liberty produced by the U.S. Department of State in 2021 (covering events of 2020) is as strong as last year’s report, or stronger. Secretary Blinken introduced the report on May 12 by singling out China as a country that “criminalizes religious expression” in general. Blinken did not avoid two politically significant definitions: “crimes against humanity” for how China treats religion, and “genocide” for what is being done to “Uyghurs and members of other religious and ethnic minority groups.”

Xinjiang Genocide Deniers: Hyper-Cautious Scholars or Useful Idiots?

by Marco Respinti — On April 29, 2021, the US Embassy to Italy in Rome hosted a webinar of its “Transatlantic Thursdays” series, entitled Human Rights in China: the Uyghur Community. Introduced by Kimberly Krhounek, Minister Counselor for Political Affairs at the US Embassy in Rome, and moderated by Giulia Pompili, Asia-Pacific desk journalist at Il Foglio, two Uyghur panelists took the floor: Rushan Abbas, founder of the Washington-based “Campaign for Uyghurs”, and singer Rahima Mahmut, director of the London, UK, branch of the World Uyghur Congress.

“Sect Filters” in Germany: Institutionalizing the Anti-Cult Narrative

by Massimo Introvigne — In 2020, I published a book about Scientology and the visual arts. I interviewed artists from different countries of the world who are Scientologists. I learned how in Germany artists had their exhibitions cancelled when it was “discovered” that they were Scientologists. For instance, artist Bia Wunderer had an exhibition cancelled in Berg, Bavaria, for the sole reason that she is a Scientologist. Ironically, even Gottfried Helnwein, who will later become a superstar in the art world, with museums all over the world competing for hosting his works, had an art exhibition cancelled in Ingolstadt, Bavaria, in 1997.”

Church of Almighty God Refugees: Why They Should Be Granted Asylum

by Alessandro Amicarelli — The Church of Almighty God (CAG) is the most persecuted religious movement in China. Persecution generates refugees, and more than 5,000 CAG members have sought asylum in democratic countries. Not all their cases have been already examined by the authorities, but there are hundreds of available decisions making the CAG a unique case for studying the response to religion-based refugee claims filed by members of a single movement in several different countries.

Taxes and Religious Minorities in Italy and Taiwan: A Comparison

by Pierluigi Zoccatelli — Reading the articles scholars from different countries have published about the Tai Ji Men case evidences both similarities and differences with the situation in Italy. It seems to me that the Tai Ji Men case has three main features. First, a repression in 1996 of spiritual movements labeled as “cults,” largely dictated by political reasons. In the case of Tai Ji Men, a crucial role was played by a prosecutor who decided to make the case as spectacular as possible, and involved the media from the beginning. Although he had announced that he had uncovered serious crimes, no evidence was found to support his claim, and he even fabricated evidence. In the end, after the courts’ thorough investigations, he lost all his criminal cases against Tai Ji Men, proving his accusations were false.