In a just-released report on religious freedom in the European Union, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) censured the French and German governments for contributing to the spread of malicious disinformation about minority religions, including the Church of Scientology.
The report highlighted the French government’s funding of the European Federation of Centres of Research and Information on Cults and Sects (FECRIS), a nonprofit that derogatorily brands certain religions as “sects” or “cults.”
Moreover, within the French government itself, the Inter-Ministerial Mission in the Vigilance and Combat against Sectarian Derivatives (MIVILUDES), an official body operating under the Ministry of the Interior and a member association of FECRIS, annually vilifies the Church of Scientology in reports released to government agencies, religious organizations and civil society. These “reports” are then disseminated by French media, with the accompanying negative social reactions to the Church of Scientology and other minority religions like Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Earlier this year, the French government passed a law giving officials the authority to spy on targeted religions through various “special techniques.”
MIVILUDES also supplies financial aid to nongovernmental organizations that attack religions deemed “harmful.” These organizations include the National Union of Associations in Defense of Families and Individual Victims of Sects and the Centre Against Mental Manipulation.
Earlier this year, the French government passed a law giving officials the authority to spy on targeted religions through various “special techniques,” including posing as delivery persons, gaining remote access to a church’s communications and bugging church members’ private or public vehicles or places. Anyone thought to be exploiting people through “sectarian” activities may face over a million U.S. dollars in fines and up to seven years in prison.
Meanwhile, in some parts of Germany, despite its April 2022 high-court ruling expressly forbidding such activities, USCIRF has found that potential employees or government grant recipients must sign affidavits—known as “sect filters”—attesting they have no connection to the Church of Scientology. USCIRF cited a case wherein a long-term government official lost his job over his membership in the Church.
Germany’s Federal Administrative Court—equivalent to the U.S. Supreme Court—emphasized in its 2022 ruling that the use of the “sect filter” to exclude members of specific religious groups was a violation of German citizens’ freedom of religion and freedom of religious practice, rights guaranteed by the nation’s constitution.
STAND applauds USCIRF’s commitment to bringing to light these reprehensible violations of the fundamental human right of religious freedom.