WASHINGTON – “Testimony before this Commission over the last two years has left the clear impression of rising intolerance toward religion—all religions—by many of the governments of Western Europe, most notably France and Belgium. This is often exercised under the guise of anti-sect or anti-cult activity ostensibly to ‘protect’ the people,” said Commission Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) following today’s hearing “Religious Freedom in Western Europe: Religious Minorities and Growing Government Intolerance.”
“I am greatly alarmed—as are many of my fellow Commissioners—at this trend. We must raise religious liberty to the top of the human rights focus in Europe through the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) to prevent their gradual slide into the dark abyss of state-sponsored intolerance.”
According to the witnesses’ testimony, it became apparent that, while the original target of these efforts was sects or cults, the government policies are evolving into anti-religion policies.
“Recognizing and respecting the individual’s right to freedom of thought, conscience or belief is not an abstract ideal.” said Co-Chairman Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R-CO). “It is an issue with direct impact on peace and security, because when this human right is violated, people will react and react strongly.”
The Commission hearing, the third in recent years on the topic of religious liberty, featured Dr. Willy Fautré of Human Rights Without Frontiers; The Rev. Louis DeMeo of Grace Church, Nimes, France; and Alain Garay, Esq., human rights lawyer and counsel for the Jehovah’s Witnesses. Each presented case after case of the evolving picture of religious intolerance throughout Europe.
“In the city of Nimes, there stands a monument of a former pastor and mayor from the 18th century whose inscription states that ‘all religious freedom is ensured to all people.’ This is in total contradiction [to what we] have been able to enjoy in the country of France,” said Rev. DeMeo.
Dr. Fautré pointed out, “In France and in the French-speaking part of Belgium, the authorities have chosen to reject any sort of dialogue with minority religions, favoring the confrontational method, more often than not with the support of anti-sect associations. Ever since the beginning of the phenomenon, no dialogue has been entered into and there is no sign of a change in course.”
Ranking Member Rep. Steny H. Hoyer commented, “Religious liberty is the most fundamental of all human rights. If it is not being observed and protected, it is most likely that all other human rights are in grave danger as well.”
The hearing was also attended by Commissioners Sen. Sam Brownback (R-KS) and Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD).