While early warning signs have been flashing in the United States, across Europe efforts to infringe on the right to freedom of religion are even more advanced. If left unchecked, religious-freedom advocates warn that the controversial plots have the potential to eventually unleash mass abuses and human-rights violations by governments even in formerly free nations.
Transnational European entities, for example, have been seeking to crack down on what are being referred to as “new religious movements.” More than a few national governments in the region have even criminalized certain forms of religious expression — especially criticism of homosexual behavior or Islam, which in some parts of Europe can even be punished with prison sentences. In the United Kingdom, as The New American reported in late 2012, official discrimination against Christianity has also sparked cries of hostility toward religious liberty.
Most recently, in Europe, a transnational outfit known as the Council of Europe produced warnings from across the continent. Last month at the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), pseudo-legislators from every part of Europe were debating a resolution that vilifies “new religious movements” under the guise of countering “cults” and “sects.” If approved in its original form, the measure would have called on European governments to monitor and counteract smaller religions — especially taking aim at their ability to convert younger members to their views.
“We are simply obliged to halt the dangerous, devastating sect parade in our countries, as they very often lead families and minors to a guaranteed destruction, taking advantage of the extreme social conditions people face,” said Parliamentarian Naira Zohrabyan, an Armenian delegate to PACE who strongly supported the measure. “I definitely agree with the rapporteur on the need to reinforce the provisions of the criminal legislation, which envisage punishment for making people, first of all minors, dependent on sects through different physical and psychological mechanisms of influence."
The pseudo-legislation, which was introduced and pushed by French Parliamentarian Rudy Salles, sought to extend France’s widely criticized anti-religious-freedom dogma to 47 separate nations across Europe. If it had been approved, the original measure would have also established “information centers” to monitor minority religions, created a “European observatory,” and more. Especially under fire were private schools and homeschoolers. While the resolution and its supporters gave a few tepid and obligatory nods to “religious freedom,” human rights activists warned that the measure was an all-out assault on fundamental liberties.
In the end, critics from across the political spectrum and from a wide array of religious and non-religious movements joined together to stop the effort. According to news reports, more than 80 human rights organizations and experts in criminal law and religious freedom from around the world joined forces to kill the plot. A petition with more than 10,000 signatories was also delivered to key Council of Europe policymakers demanding that the proposal be rejected.
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