Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The 2009 Report on International Religious Freedom

Just a couple weeks ago on October 26, the U.S. State Department submitted to Congress its annual Report on International Freedom. The USCIRF,which was mentioned in our recent book club reading and which we will discuss more in our class, issued a press release with their reaction to the report.

The report is too long to read in its entirety in one sitting. However, take a look at the entry for France. Click here for the full entry, but here is an expert:
The [French] Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and other laws and policies contributed to the generally free practice of religion; however, discriminatory treatment of Jehovah's Witnesses and Scientologists remained a concern. Some religious groups voiced opposition to legislation passed in 2001 and 2004, which provides for the dissolution of groups under certain circumstances and bans the wearing of conspicuous religious symbols by public school employees and students...

The Government generally respected religious freedom in practice, but there continued to be concerns about the treatment of some minority religious groups. ... A 2004 law prohibiting the wearing of conspicuous religious symbols in public schools by employees and students continued to be implemented during the reporting period. ... Discrimination against Jehovah's Witnesses, Scientologists, and other groups considered dangerous sects or cults remained a concern and may have contributed to acts of vandalism against these groups...

There were reports of societal abuses or discrimination based on religious affiliation, belief, or practice; however, prominent societal leaders took positive steps to promote religious freedom. ... There were 36 violent acts and 99 threats (down from 256 in 2007) directed against individuals of North African origin in 2008. ...


  1. Randy Jurdi 62136464: This seems like a lack of seperation of church and state. why would the government provide for the dissolution of religious groups in their country? and whos to say if a religious group should be deemed as a threat? its not like their teachings portrude on others god given rights like the right to life. The government needs to be more tolerant of groups like this and just as we do in the US allow them to practice their religion within the boundaries of the law

  2. According to an article from TIME magazine back in the end of May, the religion of scientology received similar press in France when the Church of Scientology branch head Alain Rosenberg was charged with organized fraud. Although I am neither supporting nor rejecting France's attitude toward scientology, it is important to keep in mind the possibility that the state is not targeting the religion itself, but rather the economic and entrepreneurial aspects of the religion. Or at least, this can be the subtle method that the government utilizes to oppress the religion, but either way, the lack of separation of church and state is not evident in this particular case.

    During the investigation of the Rosenberg, the investigator Jean-Christophe Hullin stated that scientology was "first and foremost a commercial business" and that there was a "real obsession for financial renumeration" (TIME). Apparently, the church's bookstore, celebrity center, and cleansing spiritual services were priced extravagantly. For example, one plaintiff who made only $1,620 a month received a bill of $27,000 within the span of two months for the auditing of "spiritual imperfections."

    Although this is not to say that France is exactly tolerant of the religion either, it is noted that governments are not necessarily intolerant of groups practicing religion and the religion itself as mentioned in class, but rather the entrepreneurial endeavors that religious organizations take upon themselves that can lead to consumers being taken advantage of or the idea of ecclesiastics free-riding. In this case, it may or may not be that "spiritual advisers" charge a fee and reap monetary gains at the expense of religious consumers.

    However, on a different religious freedom matter that deals specifically with the prohibition of wearing certain religious symbols, I agree that such a law reveals Europe's intolerance toward religious notions such as Islamic fundamentalism.

    The 2004 law received extensive publicity especially in relation to the veil coverings of Muslim women, and whether their religious freedom rights are violated. The spread of Islamic culture across Europe intensifies religious competition; Europeans believed the veil to act as a barrier to communication and increased separation between individuals. On the other hand, it is perfectly rational for women to view the veil as a message of modesty and humility.

    As another writer in TIME justifiably questions, who is to judge the choices that men and women make in relation to fashion preferences? Cosmetic surgeries and body piercings alike are decisions that are up to the rational consumer to calculate the costs and benefits. So, with regard to the high costs and stigmas of the religion, the law merely increases the tension between the Islamic religion and society, and such action would presumably justify the charges against France of religious intolerance.

    -Jessica Wong

  3. Juliano Yi 24349752November 18, 2009 at 8:47 PM

    Though these religions might be under big pressure in some of these countries, I believe that this sort of "persecution" it is somewhat beneficial to the religious capital. Though these religions may not acquire the freedom of choice they deserve, such restrictions and endurance against the governmental power builds a stronger sense of faith. If these groups are even willing to endure threats and violent acts, it just shows how devout they are, almost categorizing them as "strict" religions.

  4. I'm not going to argue that the US government's seperation of church and state stance is the ideal, but as we discussed in class, this is a problem of regulation and I think the US has generally done a pretty good job of facilitating market entry. With the French Constitution, there could be a lack of regulation. What is the ideal level of regulation that supports a market economy for religious groups? Who knows. Seperation of church and state might not be plausible/possible in France but certain steps could be taken to remedy discrimination, vandalism, etc. Personally, I don't like government regulation, but there are some steps the French government could take. Some simple steps would be increasing police protection or overwatch resources over minority groups and increase the punishment levels, fine rates, or number of arrests for those who take demeaning action against minority groups. Of course, this only prevents the crime from happening and does not solve the source of the problem.

  5. Nice comments everyone. Jessica, if you have a link to that Time article, we can post it for anyone who is interested.

  6. Sure, here is the link for the article:


    Jessica Wong

  7. I also read the Time article that Jessica mentioned here and in a way agree with what France’s justification was for the charges, but not the ulterior motive behind the charges. One of the plaintiffs claims to have been fired by her Scientologist boss for refusing to undergo a spiritual auditing that another plaintiff was billed $27,000 for. It seems to me that the E.U. has really embraced the idea of consumer bill of rights, and in many senses it is very hard to guarantee the success of many religious products in all faiths and this could set precedent in future litigations against other religions. Where I agree with France is in the rights of the second plaintiff, it is not legal to fire an employee over religious differences. It is my opinion that France used this isolated incident to try and push its agenda.

    In many ways scientology and its image as a “for profit” religious organization resembles the attitude against organizations of higher learning deemed to be “for profit” as well, in that their motives are profit driven rather than education or salvation driven in this case. The effect of being associated as a “for profit” religious organization is in my opinion a derogatory one. In the article it also states that “In 1997, a Lyon court convicted five Scientology officials of similar charges, which were linked to the suicide of a debt-ridden church member. That verdict came with fines and a suspended prison sentence.” It is these salient incidences that help an already intolerant secular France to label many NRM’s as “cults” and seek to ban them. I am in no way a fan of Scientology; however, if the actions of a select few members of the “clergy” can be used to ban a religious organization then many groups could be banned on the basis of illegal or immoral actions of its clergy such as Catholicism or Protestantism in intolerant nations such as France.

  8. I read an article in the NY Times about Switzerland banning the building of Minarets on Mosques and how a nation that is known for very little religious regulations could follow other Western European Nations such as France into very open religous intolerance.

    It appears that only 10% of Muslims in Switzerland actively practice their faith according to another version from the AP Press and very few dress in traditional Muslim Clothing. Of the 150 Mosques in Switzerland only 4 have Minarets and only two plan on building ones. Yet this referendum passed with a good majority of 57.5% and truly reflects the level of religious restrictions and persecutions being imposed on Muslims in Europe.

    The article further details the publics largely negative view of Islam portrayed by the media, as the references are mostly associated to terrorism. The posters used as propaganda are clearly racist, depicting muslims as terrorists that would errode Swiss Values.


  9. Saw it as well Ramiro. It is a little surprising.


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