Media and religious minorities: when persecution is 'between the lines'

We share an important contribution by Willy Fautré, director of Human Rights Without Frontiers, published in Bitter Winter on the issue of how the media demonise religious minorities. Already in the past, Fautré had denounced the Belgian media's campaigns against the Christian congregation of Jehovah's Witnesses, giving misleading when not outright false information, which was punctually refused in court. But so be it, the damage was done and the aim achieved.

Scientology religion again in the cross hairs of repression in Russia

Although Russia is already engaged in a war that threatens to escalate into an apocalyptic nuclear conflict, the war on religious minorities also continues undaunted. Using questionable, if not downright illiberal, motives, they are pointed at as extremist organisations dangerous to the Russian population and culture. All this despite repeated condemnations by the ECHR.

European Court of Human Rights Again Upholds Religious Freedom, Handing Down Victory for the Church of Scientology

by STAND League — In a unanimous December 14, 2021 decision, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR)[1] again ruled that the Russian government has violated the right to freedom of religion and freedom of expression of Scientologists as guaranteed in the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms.

Freedom of Religion or Belief of Russian Scientologist affirmed by European Court of Human Rights

By Tabitha Berg — The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has once again affirmed the rights of Scientologists in Russia to practice their religion based on Article 9 of the ECHR Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, announced the Church of Scientology International.

Gnosticism, “Dark Legends” on Scientology Founder Discussed by Scholars

The session "Gnosticism and New Religions: The Case of L. Ron Hubbard" held on August 30th during the first day of the annual meeting of the European Academy of Religions at the University of Münster (Germany), was chaired and moderated by a member of our Scientific Committee: Rosita Šorytė; one of the speakers, Professor Aldo Natale Terrin, is also part of the same Committee. It is therefore necessary to give space to this article written for Bitter Winter by FOB's President Alessandro Amicarelli. But this is not the only reason for publishing this paper.

The Bavarian State Administrative Court of Appeal Rules that Applying the “Sect Filter” is Illegal

by Massimo Introvigne — A historical decision was rendered by the 4th Senate of the State Administrative Court of Appeal of Bavaria, with reasons communicated on August 3, 2021, overturning a first instance judgment by the Administrative Court of Munich dated August 28, 2019, on the controversial issue of a “sect filter” used by the City of Munich. ”Sect filters” are documents required by local governments, businesses and political parties in some areas of Germany. Anybody looking for a job, or for doing business with these institutions and companies, should sign a statement that s/he is not a Scientologist nor does s/he “use the technology of L. Ron Hubbard” (the founder of Scientology).

Munich condemned by Bavarian Admin Court for discriminating a member of Scientology

by Juan Sanchez Gil — The written judgment of the Bavarian State Administrative Court of Appeal (file no. 4 B 20.3008) in the case of a Munich Scientologist against the city of Munich is now available. The case dealt with the city E-Mobile Funding Directive, issued for the purpose of environmental protection, and the city´s refusal to provide a grant for the purchase of an E-Bike to the plaintiff, solely by reason of her adherence to Scientology. The Bavarian State Admin Court condemned the city practice with unmistakable words as an unjustified interference in the religious freedom guarantee of Art. 4 of the German Constitution and as a violation of Art. 3 of the Constitution which prohibits unequal treatment before the law.

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.

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.

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.

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.”

“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.”

State of Baden-Württemberg loses in court against a Scientologist

For thirty years anti-cult groups and individuals such as Ursula Caberta, Executive of the Task Force on Scientology at the Hamburg Internal Affairs Authority, have generated a climate of persecution against Scientology and various other religious groups by wasting public funds. That task force ceased its activity in 2010, but Ursula Caberta continued to work as a government consultant until 2013, and even afterwards she persisted in spreading intolerance and prejudice far beyond the territory of Hamburg, thanks also to the disinformation campaigns spread by its anti-cult associates, such as the French state funded FECRIS (European Federation of Centres of Research and Information on Cults) which still hosts Caberta's theories on its website.

Scientology, Anti-Cultists, and Scholars: An Interview with Bernadette Rigal-Cellard

by Rosita Šorytė — Bernadette Rigal-Cellard is the most well-known specialist of new religious movements in the French academia. She is Professor of North-American Studies and Religious Studies at the Université Bordeaux Montaigne, where in 2005 she founded the multidisciplinary Master Program “Religions and Societies.” She has also studied the relations between religions and literatures, the religious landscape in the United States and Canada, and the transatlantic religious relations between North America and France. In a recent article in Implicit Religion, she tells, not without humor, the story of how, when she entered the “forbidden” domain of the study of Scientology, she started being attacked by anti-cultists.

A Campaign to Discriminate Religious Charities in Australia

by Massimo Introvigne — It is customary in Australia to publish stories about religion for Easter, and The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, both owned by Nine Publishing (the company that resulted from the merger between Nine and Fairfax) obliged by publishing aggressive articles against the Church of Scientology. The articles are a digest of anti-Scientology rhetoric, insisting on what has recently became a curious fad among anti-cultists, the idea that Scientology is “shrinking fast,” what one of the best Australian scholars of new religious movements, Bernard Doherty, has recently called the “historically naïve predictions of its demise.”

The timeless "vice" of the German government to discriminate and persecute minorities

Speech by CAP LC (Coordination des Associations et des Partiuliers pur la Liberté the Conscience) at the 46th Meeting of the Human Right Council on religious discrimination perpetrated by the German government.

Dear Madame Présidente, In Germany, the State continues to discriminate minority religions by condoning the use of the infamous « sect filters » since decades. German government bodies and officials continue with practices which are far reaching and wide-spread with no professionals in Bavaria able to participate in a government bid, without signing a sect filter.

Russian Repression of Religious Minorities Promoted in Paris

by Massimo Introvigne — Imagine if Cheng Quanguo, the CCP Secretary in Xinjiang who is under sanctions in the United States for his crimes against humanity, appeared in the West claiming he is persecuted by the Uyghurs and their friends in the democratic world, and hailing his concentration camps as model practices other countries should imitate. Or, in the 1930s, if Heinrich Himmler and Joseph Goebbels had lectured at a conference in Paris introducing themselves as victims of a persecution by the Jews, their American supporters, and the scholars who had written against Nazi anti-Semitism. Comedians who would propose this as a satirical show would be accused of bad taste.

How Scientology Changed the Legal Definition of Religion

by Alessandro Amicarelli — In a previous article, I mentioned the exceptional importance of the new book Reactions to the Law by Minority Religions (London and New York: Routledge, 2021), edited by Eileen Barker and James T. Richardson, well-known as two of the most senior scholars of new religious movements internationally. In this article, I would like to focus on another crucial theme discussed in that book, the legal notion of religion, and the role the Church of Scientology had in promoting case law evolution in this field in several countries.