UC Not Dangerous

Through the annals of time there has existed an inseparable link between religion and liberty. Those who have claimed liberty in the name of their God have, of course, used religion to legitimate their struggle to be free.
The alliance between religion and liberty, however, runs deeper than a powerful source of legitimacy for overturning the status quo in human relationships. Social contracts, whether they be based on egalitarian principles or tyranny, are arrangements between human beings. Covenants are sacred arrangements between God and God's people. Covenants transcend social contracts, and they endure for all time. Tyrants, or man-made institutions, may deny the promise of a covenant, but that does not alter the Truth of believers' arrangement with God.
Freedoms attained by social contract are always precarious because not only may contracts be breached, they may be torn up and rewritten to the advantage of one group over another. Martin Luther King Jr's brilliant Letter From a Birmingham Jail acknowledges the legality of unjust laws which imprisoned him for civil disobedience. While accepting the consequences of his violation of the law, he appeals to a higher law and authority for deliverance from unjust laws and social milieu that continued to suppress Blacks a century after the Civil War that was fought to emancipate them.
This appeal to the authority of the Almighty has been invoked repeated throughout the ages. Moses appeal to Pharaoh to free the Israelites was in the name of God. The Truths identified as self-evident by the North American colonists who sought to loose themselves from England are found anchored in "unalienable Rights" endowed by their Creator. Thomas Jefferson's celebrated Bill for Establishing Religious Freedom concludes by acknowledging that the General Assembly of Virginia that passed the legislated could not bind future legislators. But he then went on to counsel future legislators that if they did elect to repeal or narrow its operation, "such an act would be an infringement of natural right."
However conceived, as the God of the Israelites, or the Enlightenment concept of Nature's God, religion is a powerful motivator. To be sure, through the ages people have also been motivated, in the name of God, to commit heinous acts beyond imagination. And, regrettably, this remains among the most troubling of human activities today. But this fact cannot take away the inextricable link that binds religion to the human quest for freedom.
In the twenty-some years I have taught courses in religious movements, I have argued that we should "tolerate" deviant, and often troublesome, new religions because how we respond to them is the real test of our commitment religious freedom. Further, I tried to argue that even if one does not believe in, or like any religion, it is essential that we understand that religion is the final line of defense against every form of tyranny.
I have long felt that there was never adequate time in the context of a sociology course to adequately explore the importance and implications of these two propositions. This Religious Freedom Page is a step toward making good on my long time objective of providing a broader spectrum of information for students to consider my argument.
Most explicit objectives will be identified in the Mission Statement of this page. Let me conclude this introduction with a brief comment about the relationship between religious freedom, the broader spectrum of human rights, religious tolerance, and religious pluralism.
Democracy has emerged as the dominant form of government in the twentieth century. This, with the parallel expansion of individual liberty, is among the greatest of human achievements in any century.
It has now been a half-a-century since the United Nations set forth a resolution declaring a broad array of "universal human rights." If we have made some gigantic strides toward the achievement of democracy, freedom, and universal human rights during this century, the goals are yet far from being universal in fact. And, there is no certainty that the twenty-first century will see the achievement of these lofty goals.
The creator of this page views religious freedom as the first liberty, and as a safeguard against the world regressing toward restricted freedom. The focus of the page is on the dual objectives of (1) analyzing the roots and (2) assessing the status of religious freedom. The goal of the page is to develop a genuine global perspective for understanding religious freedom. We will develop significant resources for the United States, but serious attention will also be devoted to broadening understanding of religious freedom around the globe. To this end, we will be grateful to those who call our attention to resources that will help achieve this goal.
Our personal hope is see a world in which human rights become de facto real, a world that sees an expansion of religious tolerance and the acceptance of religious pluralism as not only natural, but a desirable condition for human communities. During the initial development of this page, we will focus on religious freedom, but as the page begins to mature, we will vigorously address broader issues of human rights, religious tolerance, and religious pluralism.
This page is being developed as a companion to the Religious Movements Page, which was initiated in 1996, and the Religious Broadcasting Page, now being developed in tandem with this page. We invite you to visit all three sites. We welcome feedback, especially constructive criticism and suggestions for additional resources. Like the Religious Movement page, these two new pages would not be possible without the volunteer efforts of students. A word of special thanks is extended to Young Woo and Jonathan Kwon respectively, for their dedication and creative talents in creating the infrastructure of the Religious Freedom and Religious Broadcasting pages. Grateful acknowledgement also to Craig Hirsh, my webmaster from the onset of the Religious Movements Page. His creative hand is also present on these new pages.
Jeffrey K. Hadden 06/12/98
The Williamsburg Charter, 1988 A Reaffirmation of the First Amendment
Keenly aware of the high national purpose of commemorating the bicentennial of the United States Constitution, we who sign this Charter seek to celebrate the Constitution's greatness, and to call for a bold reaffirmation and reappraisal of its vision and guiding principles. In particular, we call for a fresh consideration of religious liberty in our time, and of the place of the First Amendment Religious Liberty clauses in our national life.
We gratefully acknowledge that the Constitution has been hailed as America's "chief export" and "the most wonderful work ever struck off at a given time by the brain and purpose of man." Today, two hundred years after its signing, the Constitution is not only the world's oldest, still-effective written constitution, but the admired pattern of ordered liberty for countless people in many lands.
In spite of its enduring and universal qualities, however, some provisions of the Constitution are now the subject of widespread controversy in the United States. One area of intense controversy concerns the First Amendment Religious Liberty clauses, whose mutually reinforcing provisions act as a double guarantee of religious liberty, one part barring the making of any law "respecting an establishment of religion" and the other barring any law "prohibiting the free exercise thereof."
The First Amendment Religious Liberty provisions epitomize the Constitution's visionary realism. They were, as James Madison said, the "true remedy" to the predicament of religious conflict they originally addressed, and they well express the responsibilities and limits of the state with respect to liberty and justice.
Our commemoration of the Constitution's bicentennial must therefore go beyond celebration to rededication. Unless this is done, an irreplaceable part of national life will be endangered, and a remarkable opportunity for the expansion of liberty will be lost.
For we judge that the present controversies over religion in public life pose both a danger and an opportunity. There is evident danger in the fact that certain forms of politically reassertive religion in parts of the world are, in principle, enemies of democratic freedom and a source of deep social antagonism. There is also evident opportunity in the growing philosophical and cultural awareness that all people live by commitments and ideals, that value-neutrality is impossible in the ordering of society, and that we are on the edge of a promising moment for a fresh assessment of pluralism and liberty. It is with an eye to both the promise and the peril that we publish this Charter and pledge ourselves to its principles.
We readily acknowledge our continuing differences. Signing this Charter implies no pretense that we believe the same things or that our differences over policy proposals, legal interpretations and philosophical groundings do not ultimately matter. The truth is not even that what unites us is deeper than what divides us, for differences over belief are the deepest and least easily negotiated of all.
The Charter sets forth a renewed national compact, in the sense of a solemn mutual agreement between parties, on how we view the place of religion in American life and how we should contend with each other's deepest differences in the public sphere. It is a call to a vision of public life that will allow conflict to lead to consensus, religious commitment to reinforce political civility. In this way, diversity is not a point of weakness but a source of strength.
A Time for Reaffirmation
We believe, in the first place, that the nature of the Religious Liberty clauses must be understood before the problems surrounding them can be resolved. We therefore affirm both their cardinal assumptions and the reasons for their crucial national importance.
With regard to the assumptions of the First Amendment Religious Liberty clauses, we hold three to be chief:
The Inalienable Right:
Nothing is more characteristic of humankind than the natural and inescapable drive toward meaning and belonging, toward making sense of life and finding community in the world. As fundamental and precious as life itself, this "will to meaning" finds expression in ultimate beliefs, whether theistic or non-theistic, transcendent or naturalistic, and these beliefs are most our own when a matter of conviction rather than coercion. They are most our own when, in the words of George Mason, the principal author of the Virginia Declaration of Rights, they are "directed only by reason and conviction, not by force or violence."
As James Madison expressed it in his Memorial and Remonstrance, "The Religion then of every man must be left to the conviction and conscience of every man; and it is the right of every man to exercise it as these may dictate. This right is in its nature an unalienable right."
Two hundred years later, despite dramatic changes in life and a marked increase of naturalistic philosophies in some parts of the world and in certain sectors of our society, this right to religious liberty based upon freedom of conscience remains fundamental and inalienable. While particular beliefs may be true or false, better or worse, the right to reach, hold, exercise them freely, or change them, is basic and non-negotiable.
Religious liberty finally depends on neither the favors of the state and its officials nor the vagaries of tyrants or majorities. Religious liberty in a democracy is a right that may not be submitted to vote and depends on the outcome of no election. A society is only as just and free as it is respectful of this right, especially toward the beliefs of its smallest minorities and least popular communities.
The right to freedom of conscience is premised not upon science, nor upon social utility, nor upon pride of species. Rather, it is premised upon the inviolable dignity of the human person. It is the foundation of, and is integrally related to, all other rights and freedoms secured by the Constitution. This basic civil liberty is clearly acknowledged in the Declaration of Independence and is ineradicable from the long tradition of rights and liberties from which the Revolution sprang.
The Ever Present Danger
No threat to freedom of conscience and religious liberty has historically been greater than the coercions of both Church and State. These two institutions--the one religious, the other political--have through the centuries succumbed to the temptation of coercion in their claims over minds and souls. When these institutions and their claims have been combined, it has too often resulted in terrible violations of human liberty and dignity. They are so combined when the sword and purse of the State are in the hands of the Church, or when the State usurps the mantle of the Church so as to coerce the conscience and compel belief. These and other such confusions of religion and state authority represent the misordering of religion and government which it is the purpose of the Religious Liberty provisions to prevent.
Authorities and orthodoxies have changed, kingdoms and empires have come and gone, yet as John Milton once warned, "new Presbyter is but old priest writ large." Similarly, the modern persecutor of religion is but ancient tyrant with more refined instruments of control. Moreover, many of the greatest crimes against conscience of this century have been committed, not by religious authorities, but by ideologues virulently opposed to traditional religion.
Yet whether ancient or modern, issuing from religion or ideology, the result is the same: religious and ideological orthodoxies, when politically established, lead only too naturally toward what Roger Williams called a "spiritual rape" that coerces the conscience and produces "rivers of civil blood" that stain the record of human history.
Less dramatic but also lethal to freedom and the chief menace to religious liberty today is the expanding power of government control over personal behavior and the institutions of society, when the government acts not so much in deliberate hostility to, but in reckless disregard of, communal belief and personal conscience.
Thanks principally to the wisdom of the First Amendment, the American experience is different. But even in America where state-established orthodoxies are unlawful and the state is constitutionally limited, religious liberty can never be taken for granted. It is a rare achievement that requires constant protection.
The Most Nearly Perfect Solution
Knowing well that "nothing human can be perfect" (James Madison) and that the Constitution was not "a faultless work" (Gouverneur Morris), the Framers nevertheless saw the First Amendment as a "true remedy" and the most nearly perfect solution yet devised for properly ordering the relationship of religion and the state in a free society.
There have been occasions when the protections of the First Amendment have been overridden or imperfectly applied. Nonetheless, the First Amendment is a momentous decision for religious liberty, the most important political decision for religious liberty and public justice in the history of humankind. Limitation upon religious liberty is allowable only where the State has borne a heavy burden of proof that the limitation is justified--not by any ordinary public interest, but by a supreme public necessity--and that no less restrictive alternative to limitation exists.
The Religious Liberty clauses are a brilliant construct in which both No establishment and Free exercise serve the ends of religious liberty and freedom of conscience. No longer can sword, purse and sacred mantle be equated. Now, the government is barred from using religion's mantle to become a confessional State, and from allowing religion to use the government's sword and purse to become a coercing Church. In this new order, the freedom of the government from religious control and the freedom of religion from government control are a double guarantee of the protection of rights. No faith is preferred or prohibited, for where there is no state-definable orthodoxy, there can be no state-punishable heresy.
With regard to the reasons why the First Amendment Religious Liberty clauses are important for the nation today, we hold five to be pre-eminent:
The First Amendment Religious Liberty provisions have both a logical and historical priority in the Bill of Rights. They have logical priority because the security of all rights rests upon the recognition that they are neither given by the state, nor can they be taken away by the state. Such rights are inherent in the inviolability of the human person. History demonstrates that unless these rights are protected our society's slow, painful progress toward freedom would not have been possible.
The First Amendment Religious Liberty provisions lie close to the heart of the distinctiveness of the American experiment. The uniqueness of the American way of disestablishment and its consequences have often been more obvious to foreign observers such as Alexis de Tocqueville and Lord James Bryce, who wrote that "of all the differences between the Old world and the New, this is perhaps the most salient." In particular, the Religious Liberty clauses are vital to harnessing otherwise centrifugal forces such as personal liberty and social diversity, thus sustaining republican vitality while making possible a necessary measure of national concord.
The First Amendment Religious Liberty provisions are the democratic world's most salient alternative to the totalitarian repression of human rights and provide a corrective to unbridled nationalism and religious warfare around the world.
The First Amendment Religious Liberty provisions provide the United States' most distinctive answer to one of the world's most pressing questions in the late-twentieth century. They address the problem: How do we live with each other's deepest differences? How do religious convictions and political freedom complement rather than threaten each other on a small planet in a pluralistic age? In a world in which bigotry, fanaticism, terrorism and the state control of religion are all too common responses to these questions, sustaining the justice and liberty of the American arrangement is an urgent moral task.
The First Amendment Religious Liberty provisions give American society a unique position in relation to both the First and Third worlds. Highly modernized like the rest of the First World, yet not so secularized, this society--largely because of religious freedom--remains, like most of the Third World, deeply religious. This fact, which is critical for possibilities of better human understanding, has not been sufficiently appreciated in American self-understanding, or drawn upon in American diplomacy and communication throughout the world.
In sum, as much if not more than any other single provision in the entire Constitution, the Religious Liberty provisions hold the key to American distinctiveness and American destiny. Far from being settled by the interpretations of judges and historians, the last word on the First Amendment likely rests in a chapter yet to be written, documenting the unfolding drama of America. If religious liberty is neglected, all civil liberties will suffer. If it is guarded and sustained, the American experiment will be the more secure.
A Time for Reappraisal
Much of the current controversy about religion and politics neither reflects the highest wisdom of the First Amendment nor serves the best interests of the disputants or the nation. We therefore call for a critical reappraisal of the course and consequences of such controversy. Four widespread errors have exacerbated the controversy needlessly.
The Issue Is Not Only What We Debate, but How
The debate about religion in public life is too often misconstrued as a clash of ideologies alone, pitting "secularists" against the "sectarians" or vice versa. Though competing and even contrary worldviews are involved, the controversy is not solely ideological. It also flows from a breakdown in understanding of how personal and communal beliefs should be related to public life.
The American republic depends upon the answers to two questions. By what ultimate truths ought we to live? And how should these be related to public life? The first question is personal, but has a public dimension because of the connection between beliefs and public virtue. The American answer to the first question is that the government is excluded from giving an answer. The second question, however, is thoroughly public in character, and a public answer is appropriate and necessary to the well-being of this society.
This second question was central to the idea of the First Amendment. The Religious Liberty provisions are not "articles of faith" concerned with the substance of particular doctrines or of policy issues. They are "articles of peace" concerned with the constitutional constraints and the shared prior understanding within which the American people can engage their differences in a civil manner and thus provide for both religious liberty and stable public government.
Conflicts over the relationship between deeply held beliefs and public policy will remain a continuing feature of democratic life. They do not discredit the First Amendment, but confirm its wisdom and point to the need to distinguish the Religious Liberty clauses from the particular controversies they address. The clauses can never be divorced from the controversies they address, but should always be held distinct. In the public discussion, an open commitment to the constraints and standards of the clauses should precede and accompany debate over the controversies.
The Issue Is Not Sectarian, But National
The role of religion in American public life is too often devalued or dismissed in public debate, as though the American people's historically vital religious traditions were at best a purely private matter and at worst essentially sectarian and divisive.
Such a position betrays a failure of civil respect for the convictions of others. It also underestimates the degree to which the Framers relied on the American people's religious convictions to be what Tocqueville described as "the first of their political institutions." In America, this crucial public role has been played by diverse beliefs, not so much despite disestablishment as because of disestablishment.
The Founders knew well that the republic they established represented an audacious gamble against long historical odds. This form of government depends upon ultimate beliefs, for otherwise we have no right to the rights by which it thrives, yet rejects any official formulation of them. The republic will therefore always remain an "undecided experiment" that stands or falls by the dynamism of its non-established faiths.
The Issue Is Larger Than the Disputants
Recent controversies over religion and public life have too often become a form of warfare in which individuals, motives and reputations have been impugned. The intensity of the debate is commensurate with the importance of the issues debated, but to those engaged in this warfare we present two arguments for reappraisal and restraint.
The lesser argument is one of expediency and is based on the ironic fact that each side has become the best argument for the other. One side's excesses have become the other side's arguments; one side's extremists the other side's recruiters. The danger is that, as the ideological warfare becomes self-perpetuating, more serious issues and broader national interests will be forgotten and the bitterness deepened.
The more important argument is one of principle and is based on the fact that the several sides have pursued their objectives in ways which contradict their own best ideals. Too often, for example, religious believers have been uncharitable, liberals have been illiberal, conservatives have been insensitive to tradition, champions of tolerance have been intolerant, defenders of free speech have been censorious, and citizens of a republic based on democratic accommodation have succumbed to a habit of relentless confrontation.
The Issue Is Understandably Threatening
The First Amendment's meaning is too often debated in ways that ignore the genuine grievances or justifiable fears of opposing points of view. This happens when the logic of opposing arguments favors either an unwarranted intrusion of religion into public life or an unwarranted exclusion of religion from it. History plainly shows that with religious control over government, political freedom dies; with political control over religion, religious freedom dies.
The First Amendment has contributed to avoiding both these perils, but this happy experience is no cause for complacency. Though the United States has escaped the worst excesses experienced elsewhere in the world, the republic has shown two distinct tendencies of its own, one in the past and one today.
In earlier times, though lasting well into the twentieth century, there was a de facto semi-establishment of one religion in the United States: a generalized Protestantism given dominant status in national institutions, especially in the public schools. This development was largely approved by Protestants, but widely opposed by non-Protestants, including Catholics and Jews.
In more recent times, and partly in reaction, constitutional jurisprudence has tended, in the view of many, to move toward the de facto semi-establishment of a wholly secular understanding of the origin, nature and destiny of humankind and of the American nation. During this period, the exclusion of teaching about the role of religion in society, based partly upon a misunderstanding of First Amendment decisions, has ironically resulted in giving a dominant status to such wholly secular understandings in many national institutions. Many secularists appear as unconcerned over the consequences of this development as were Protestants unconcerned about their de facto establishment earlier.
Such de facto establishments, though seldom extreme, usually benign and often unwitting, are the source of grievances and fears among the several parties in current controversies. Together with the encroachments of the expanding modern state, such de facto establishments, as much as any official establishment, are likely to remain a threat to freedom and justice for all.
Justifiable fears are raised by those who advocate theocracy or the coercive power of law to establish a "Christian America." While this advocacy is and should be legally protected, such proposals contradict freedom of conscience and the genius of the Religious Liberty provisions.
At the same time there are others who raise justifiable fears of an unwarranted exclusion of religion from public life. The assertion of moral judgments as though they were morally neutral, and interpretations of the "wall of separation" that would exclude religious expression and argument from public life, also contradict freedom of conscience and the genius of the provisions.
Civility obliges citizens in a pluralistic society to take great care in using words and casting issues. The communications media have a primary role, and thus a special responsibility, in shaping public opinion and debate. Words such as public, secular and religious should be free from discriminatory bias. "Secular purpose," for example, should not mean "non-religious purpose" but "general public purpose." Otherwise, the impression is gained that "public is equivalent to secular; religion is equivalent to private." Such equations are neither accurate nor just. Similarly, it is false to equate "public" and "governmental." In a society that sets store by the necessary limits on government, there are many spheres of life that are public but non-governmental.
Two important conclusions follow from a reappraisal of the present controversies over religion in public life. First, the process of adjustment and readjustment to the constraints and standards of the Religious Liberty provisions is an ongoing requirement of American democracy. The Constitution is not a self-interpreting, self-executing document; and the prescriptions of the Religious Liberty provisions cannot by themselves resolve the myriad confusions and ambiguities surrounding the right ordering of the relationship between religion and government in a free society. The Framers clearly understood that the Religious Liberty provisions provide the legal construct for what must be an ongoing process of adjustment and mutual give-and-take in a democracy.
We are keenly aware that, especially over state-supported education, we as a people must continue to wrestle with the complex connections between religion and the transmission of moral values in a pluralistic society. Thus, we cannot have, and should not seek, a definitive, once for all solution to the questions that will continue to surround the Religious Liberty provisions.
Second, the need for such a readjustment today can best be addressed by remembering that the two clauses are essentially one provision for preserving religious liberty. Both parts, No establishment and Free exercise, are to be comprehensively understood as being in the service of religious liberty as a positive good. At the heart of the Establishment clause is the prohibition of state sponsorship of religion and at the heart of Free Exercise clause is the prohibition of state interference with religious liberty.
No sponsorship means that the state must leave to the free citizenry the public expression of ultimate beliefs, religious or otherwise, providing only that no expression is excluded from, and none governmentally favored, in the continuing democratic discourse.
No interference means the assurance of voluntary religious expression free from governmental intervention. This includes placing religious expression on an equal footing with all other forms of expression in genuinely public forums.
No sponsorship and no interference together mean fair opportunity. That is to say, all faiths are free to enter vigorously into public life and to exercise such influence as their followers and ideas engender. Such democratic exercise of influence is in the best tradition of American voluntarism and is not an unwarranted "imposition" or "establishment."
A Time for Reconstitution
We believe, finally, that the time is ripe for a genuine expansion of democratic liberty, and that this goal may be attained through a new engagement of citizens in a debate that is reordered in accord with constitutional first principles and considerations of the common good. This amounts to no less than the reconstitution of a free republican people in our day. Careful consideration of three precepts would advance this possibility:
The Criteria Must Be Multiple
Reconstitution requires the recognition that the great dangers in interpreting the Constitution today are either to release interpretation from any demanding criteria or to narrow the criteria excessively. The first relaxes the necessary restraining force of the Constitution, while the second overlooks the insights that have arisen from the Constitution in two centuries of national experience.
Religious liberty is the only freedom in the First Amendment to be given two provisions. Together the clauses form a strong bulwark against suppression of religious liberty, yet they emerge from a series of dynamic tensions which cannot ultimately be relaxed. The Religious Liberty provisions grow out of an understanding not only of rights and a due recognition of faiths but of realism and a due recognition of factions. They themselves reflect both faith and skepticism. They raise questions of equality and liberty, majority rule and minority rights, individual convictions and communal tradition.
The Religious Liberty provisions must be understood both in terms of the Framers' intentions and history's sometimes surprising results. Interpreting and applying them today requires not only historical research but moral and political reflection.
The intention of the Framers is therefore a necessary but insufficient criterion for interpreting and applying the Constitution. But applied by itself, without any consideration of immutable principles of justice, the intention can easily be wielded as a weapon for governmental or sectarian causes, some quoting Jefferson and brandishing No establishment and others citing Madison and brandishing Free exercise. Rather, we must take the purpose and text of the Constitution seriously, sustain the principles behind the words and add an appreciation of the many-sided genius of the First Amendment and its complex development over time.
The Consensus Must Be Dynamic
Reconstitution requires a shared understanding of the relationship between the Constitution and the society it is to serve. The Framers understood that the Constitution is more than parchment and ink. The principles embodied in the document must be affirmed in practice by a free people since these principles reflect everything that constitutes the essential forms and substance of their society--the institutions, customs and ideals as well as the laws. Civic vitality and the effectiveness of law can be undermined when they overlook this broader cultural context of the Constitution.
Notable, in this connection is the striking absence today of any national consensus about religious liberty as a positive good. Yet religious liberty is indisputably what the Framers intended and what the First Amendment has preserved. Far from being a matter of exemption, exception or even toleration, religious liberty is an inalienable right. Far from being a sub-category of free speech or a constitutional redundancy, religious liberty is distinct and foundational. Far from being simply an individual right, religious liberty is a positive social good. Far from denigrating religion as a social or political "problem," the separation of Church and State is both the saving of religion from the temptation of political power and an achievement inspired in large part by religion itself. Far from weakening religion, disestablishment has, as an historical fact, enabled it to flourish.
In light of the First Amendment, the government should stand in relation to the churches, synagogues and other communities of faith as the guarantor of freedom. In light of the First Amendment, the churches, synagogues and other communities of faith stand in relation to the government as generators of faith, and therefore contribute to the spiritual and moral foundations of democracy. Thus, the government acts as a safeguard, but not the source, of freedom for faiths, whereas the churches and synagogues act as a source, but not the safeguard, of faiths for freedom.
The Religious Liberty provisions work for each other and for the federal idea as a whole. Neither established nor excluded, neither preferred nor proscribed, each faith (whether transcendent or naturalistic) is brought into a relationship with the government so that each is separated from the state in terms of its institutions, but democratically related to the state in terms of individuals and its ideas.
The result is neither a naked public square where all religion is excluded, nor a sacred public square with any religion established or semi-established. The result, rather, is a civil public square in which citizens of all religious faiths, or none, engage one another in the continuing democratic discourse.
The Compact Must Be Mutual
Reconstitution of a free republican people requires the recognition that religious liberty is a universal right joined to a universal duty to respect that right.
In the turns and twists of history, victims of religious discrimination have often later become perpetrators. In the famous image of Roger Williams, those at the helm of the Ship of State forget they were once under the hatches. They have, he said, "One weight for themselves when they are under the hatches, and another for others when they come to the helm." They show themselves, said James Madison, "as ready to set up an establishment which is to take them in as they were to pull down that which shut them out." Thus, benignly or otherwise, Protestants have treated Catholics as they were once treated, and secularists have done likewise with both.
Such inconsistencies are the natural seedbed for the growth of a de facto establishment. Against such inconsistencies we affirm that a right for one is a right for another and a responsibility for all. A right for a Protestant is a right for an Orthodox is a right for a Catholic is a right for a Jew is a right for a Humanist is a right for a Mormon is a right for a Muslim is a right for a Buddhist--and for the followers of any other faith within the wide bounds of the republic.
That rights are universal and responsibilities mutual is both the premise and the promise of democratic pluralism. The First Amendment, in this sense, is the epitome of public justice and serves as the Golden Rule for civic life. Rights are best guarded and responsibilities best exercised when each person and group guards for all others those rights they wish guarded for themselves. Whereas the wearer of the English crown is officially the Defender of the Faith, all who uphold the American Constitution are defenders of the rights of all faiths.
From this axiom, that rights are universal and responsibilities mutual, derives guidelines for conducting public debates involving religion in a manner that is democratic and civil. These guidelines are not, and must not be, mandated by law. But they are, we believe, necessary to reconstitute and revitalize the American understanding of the role of religion in a free society.
First, those who claim the right to dissent should assume the responsibility to debate: Commitment to democratic pluralism assumes the coexistence within one political community of groups whose ultimate faith commitments may be incompatible, yet whose common commitment to social unity and diversity does justice to both the requirements of individual conscience and the wider community. A general consent to the obligations of citizenship is therefore inherent in the American experiment, both as a founding principle ("We the people") and as a matter of daily practice.
There must always be room for those who do not wish to participate in the public ordering of our common life, who desire to pursue their own religious witness separately as conscience dictates. But at the same time, for those who do wish to participate, it should be understood that those claiming the right to dissent should assume the responsibility to debate. As this responsibility is exercised, the characteristic American formula of individual liberty complemented by respect for the opinions of others permits differences to be asserted, yet a broad, active community of understanding to be sustained.
Second, those who claim the right to criticize should assume the responsibility to comprehend: One of the ironies of democratic life is that freedom of conscience is jeopardized by false tolerance as well as by outright intolerance. Genuine tolerance considers contrary views fairly and judges them on merit. Debased tolerance so refrains from making any judgment that it refuses to listen at all. Genuine tolerance honestly weighs honest differences and promotes both impartiality and pluralism. Debased tolerance results in indifference to the differences that vitalize a pluralistic democracy.
Central to the difference between genuine and debased tolerance is the recognition that peace and truth must be held in tension. Pluralism must not be confused with, and is in fact endangered by, philosophical and ethical indifference. Commitment to strong, clear philosophical and ethical ideas need not imply either intolerance or opposition to democratic pluralism. On the contrary, democratic pluralism requires an agreement to be locked in public argument over disagreements of consequence within the bonds of civility.
The right to argue for any public policy is a fundamental right for every citizen; respecting that right is a fundamental responsibility for all other citizens. When any view is expressed, all must uphold as constitutionally protected its advocate's right to express it. But others are free to challenge that view as politically pernicious, philosophically false, ethically evil, theologically idolatrous, or simply absurd, as the case may be seen to be.
Unless this tension between peace and truth is respected, civility cannot be sustained. In that event, tolerance degenerates into either apathetic relativism or a dogmatism as uncritical of itself as it is uncomprehending of others. The result is a general corruption of principled public debate.
Third, those who claim the right to influence should accept the responsibility not to inflame: Too often in recent disputes over religion and public affairs, some have insisted that any evidence of religious influence on public policy represents an establishment of religion and is therefore precluded as an improper "imposition." Such exclusion of religion from public life is historically unwarranted, philosophically inconsistent and profoundly undemocratic. The Framers' intention is indisputably ignored when public policy debates can appeal to the theses of Adam Smith and Karl Marx, or Charles Darwin and Sigmund Freud but not to the Western religious tradition in general and the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures in particular. Many of the most dynamic social movements in American history, including that of civil rights, were legitimately inspired and shaped by religious motivation.
Freedom of conscience and the right to influence public policy on the basis of religiously informed ideas are inseverably linked. In short, a key to democratic renewal is the fullest possible participation in the most open possible debate.
Religious liberty and democratic civility are also threatened, however, from another quarter. Overreacting to an improper veto on religion in public life, many have used religious language and images not for the legitimate influencing of policies but to inflame politics. Politics is indeed an extension of ethics and therefore engages religious principles; but some err by refusing to recognize that there is a distinction, though not a separation, between religion and politics. As a result, they bring to politics a misplaced absoluteness that idolizes politics, "Satanizes" their enemies and politicizes their own faith.
Even the most morally informed policy positions involve prudential judgments as well as pure principle. Therefore, to make an absolute equation of principles and policies inflates politics and does violence to reason, civil life and faith itself. Politics has recently been inflamed by a number of confusions: the confusion of personal religious affiliation with qualification or disqualification for public office; the confusion of claims to divine guidance with claims to divine endorsement; and the confusion of government neutrality among faiths with government indifference or hostility to religion.
Fourth, those who claim the right to participate should accept the responsibility to persuade: Central to the American experience is the power of political persuasion. Growing partly from principle and partly from the pressures of democratic pluralism, commitment to persuasion is the corollary of the belief that conscience is inviolable, coercion of conscience is evil, and the public interest is best served by consent hard won from vigorous debate. Those who believe themselves privy to the will of history brook no argument and need never tarry for consent. But to those who subscribe to the idea of government by the consent of the governed, compelled beliefs are a violation of first principles. The natural logic of the Religious Liberty provisions is to foster a political culture of persuasion which admits the challenge of opinions from all sources.
Arguments for public policy should be more than private convictions shouted out loud. For persuasion to be principled, private convictions should be translated into publicly accessible claims. Such public claims should be made publicly accessible for two reasons: first, because they must engage those who do not share the same private convictions, and second, because they should be directed toward the common good.
Renewal of First Principles
We who live in the third century of the American republic can learn well from the past as we look to the future. Our Founders were both idealists and realists. Their confidence in human abilities was tempered by their skepticism about human nature. Aware of what was new in their times, they also knew the need for renewal in times after theirs. "No free government, or the blessings of liberty," wrote George Mason in 1776, "can be preserved to any people, but by a firm adherence to justice, moderation, temperance, frugality, and virtue, and by frequent recurrence to fundamental principles."
True to the ideals and realism of that vision, we who sign this Charter, people of many and various beliefs, pledge ourselves to the enduring precepts of the First Amendment as the cornerstone of the American experiment in liberty under law.
We address ourselves to our fellow citizens, daring to hope that the strongest desire of the greatest number is for the common good. We are firmly persuaded that the principles asserted here require a fresh consideration, and that the renewal of religious liberty is crucial to sustain a free people that would remain free. We therefore commit ourselves to speak, write and act according to this vision and these principles. We urge our fellow citizens to do the same.
To agree on such guiding principles and to achieve such a compact will not be easy. Whereas a law is a command directed to us, a compact is a promise that must proceed freely from us. To achieve it demands a measure of the vision, sacrifice and perseverance shown by our Founders. Their task was to defy the past, seeing and securing religious liberty against the terrible precedents of history. Ours is to challenge the future, sustaining vigilance and broadening protections against every new menace, including that of our own complacency. Knowing the unquenchable desire for freedom, they lit a beacon. It is for us who know its blessings to keep it burning brightly.
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ICRF Conference
"Religious Freedom and the New Millennium"
April 17-19, 1999, Washington DC
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Friday April 17
Welcoming Remarks Dr. Joseph P. Paige Shaw Divinity School
Religious Freedom: An Ecumenical Perspective Dr. Leonard Swidler
Saturday, April 18
Opening Session: Introduction of Committee Chairmen
The Importance of Religious Freedom Mr. Dong Moon Joo President, The Washington Times Foundation
Religious Freedom: History & Crisis Franklin Littell, Temple University
The Present State of Religious Freedom
Europe: Christian Brunner, University of Graz, Austria CIS: Peter Juviler, Barnard College North America and the Caribbean: Brad Dacus, Pacific Justice Institute Middle East: Nina Shea, Freedom House Africa: Mark Sigmon, Christian Mission Network Asia: Michael Young, Columbia University Latin America: Rev. Julio Millan, Interdenominational Evangelical Federation, Venezuela
Guest Speaker: The Present State of Religious Freedom In China Rev. Don Argue, National Association of Evangelicals
Session I: Religious Freedom, Past, Present and Future
Committee A: The History of Religious Freedom
The Historical Development of Religious Freedom: Ben P. Vermeulen, Catholic University Nijmegen, The Netherlands
Modern Traditions in Religious Freedom: Antonio Stango, Italian Helsinki Committee for Human Rights
Contemporary Trends in Religious Freedom: Lee Boothby, International Academy for Freedom of Religion and Belief
Committee B: The Future of Religious Freedom
Religion and the State in the New Millennium: Jonathan Gallagher, International Religious Liberty Association
Religious Freedom and International Law: Michael Horowitz, Hudson Institute
Religious Wars and World Peace: Frank Kaufman, Inter-Religious Federation for World Peace
Session II: The Character of Religious Freedom
Committee A: Constitutions and International Accords
Constitutional Guarantees and Practical Realities: Bruce Casino, International Coalition for Religious Freedom
The Role of International Accords in Securing Religious Freedom: Jurgen Warnke, International Academy of Religious Freedom and Belief, Germany
Legislative Challenges to Constitutions: Galina Krylova, Russia
Committee B: Religious Freedom and Human Nature
Religious Freedom a Fundamental Human Right: Dr. Victor Kagan, Independent Psychiatric Association, Russia
How Liberals Stifle Religious Expression By Opposing School Choice Don Feder, The Boston Herald
Tolerating Religious Untruth: Winston L. Frost, Trinity Law School
Committee C: The Benefits of Religious Freedom
Religious Freedom and the Moral Society: Thomas Walsh, Intl. Religious Foundation
Religious Freedom and Democracy: Adrian Karanycky, Freedom House
Religious Freedom and Civic Education: J. Paul Martin, Center for the Study of Human Rights
Religious Freedom and World Unity: Fr. Vikenty Mis'kov, Ukrainian Orthodox Church
Forum on Religious Freedom Concerns
Tibet Rinshan Darlow
Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints Timothy Flannagan
ISKCON Anuttama Dasa
Seventh Day Adventist Church Jonathan Gallagher
Freedom for Religions in Germany Matt Bratschi
Unification Church Jesus Gonzales Lesorda
Persecution of Churches and Believers under the Communist Regime in Slovakia Zuzana Kusá
Sunday, April 19
Session III: The Battle for Religious Freedom
Committee A: Who Opposes Religious Freedom and Why
Forces of Oppression in Europe and the CIS: Tim Jensen, Odense Universitet, Denmark
Catholics, Protestants and Others: Brigido Barrios, Committee for the Defense of Religious Freedom,Venezuela
The Cult Threat: Real or Imagined?: Gordon Melton, Institute For Study of American Religion
Committee B: The Methodology of Religious Intolerance
Manipulating the Media Against Small Religions: Larry Witham, The Washington Times
The Rise of Irreligious Thought in Europe: Dr. Jaques Hostetter, Free University of Belgium
Government Committees, Reports, Lists, Oversight Committees: Massimo Introvigne, "guest speaker," CESNUR, Italy
Committee C: Practical Means to Promote Religious Freedom
Using and Changing the Law to Fight for Religious Freedom: David E. Birenbaum, Former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations for Reform and Management
Media as a Religious Freedom Resource: Ira Rifkin, Religious News Service
The Internet as a Religious Freedom Resource: Jeffrey Hadden, University of Virginia
Cooperative Efforts for Religious Freedom: Chris Gersten, Institute for Religious Values
Closing Plenary
Closing Remarks Bruce Casino, ICRF Unificationists
Mark Brann, Unification Movement of Europe
delivered at the International Coalition for Religious Freedom Conference on "Religious Freedom and the New Millenium" Berlin, Germany, May 29-31, 1998
I will attempt to summarize what is quite a large subject. I have to say, from the beginning, that my focus will be mainly in the areas in which I have been involved, North America and Europe, with passing references only, to places further afield such as Japan and the Philippines.
For ease of presentation, I am going to divide the worldwide Unification experience, in relationship to religious freedom, into the following categories: 1) the violation of religious freedom by governmental action or inaction; 2) the attitude or actions of dominant or majority religious groups; 3) media coverage; 4) the activities of pressure focus groups, collectively known as the anti-cult movement, and 5) the prevailing cultural and social trends, prejudices, and attitudes.
The first category, the violation of religious freedom by governmental action or inaction, has taken diverse forms. The first concerns those countries where religious activity is made impossible, or forced to be done at the risk of severe sanctions. This is the case in most of the Muslim countries, where severe penalties are applied for activities such as proselytizing. A number of Unificationist missionaries have expelled from, or imprisoned, in Muslim countries.
Second, there are countries in which the Unification movement is explicitly banned, as in the case of Singapore, where this occurred as a result of newspaper reports emanating from the United Kingdom. In the 1980s, tabloids in the United Kingdom published some sensational accounts about the Unification Church. On the basis of these articles alone, the Singapore government actually banned, or proscribed, the Unification movement.
Third, in some situations there has been an outright refusal to register the Unification movement as a religious organization and, in some cases, as any kind of legal organization, thereby denying legal personality all together, or at least appropriate legal personality. This often means that the movement in those countries can have no bank account, own no property and, if it is slandered in the media, cannot respond because it has no legal personality. In Austria in the 1970s, for example, Unificationists applied for status as a religion, or religious organization, and were denied. They then appealed to the European Court of Human Rights, where they were denied on procedural grounds. Although they have been very active since, in terms of missionary and other activities, they have had to bear the disadvantages of a legal disembodiment, such as not being able to own property or answer media attacks. Other examples are Bulgaria, Romania, and Albania. All three countries have thus far denied the Unification movement’s application for registration as a religious organization.
Fourth, there are countries where there has been no outright refusal to register, but laws have been framed in such a way as to make it virtually impossible for registration of a relatively small organization like the Unification movement. For example, in the Czech Republic and Slovakia, thresholds have been imposed whereby religions can only register if they have 10,000 members or, in the case of Slovakia, 20,000. This, of course, is not something that can easily be done, certainly not overnight.
Fifth, there are countries where the Unification movement’s status as a religious organization has not been challenged, but the normal benefits, such as charitable status or tax-exempt status, which would normally flow from that status, have been denied. In Britain, in a case that I was responsible for as a lawyer in 1984, the attorney general of the United Kingdom moved to remove charitable status—in other words tax-exempt status—from trusts supporting the Unification movement. A judge later described that proceeding as having many of the hallmarks of a Middle Ages heresy trial. The case was withdrawn for lack of evidence in 1988, and the government was charged to pay the Unification movement the equivalent, in today’s prices, of $7.5 million for costs.
In Ireland, charitable status was at one time withdrawn by administrative action. It was restored some years later, but the reasons why it was withdrawn, or restored, have never been clear. In Germany, charitable status has been denied on a technicality, resulting in a heavy annual tax burden for the German Unification movement.
Furthermore, there is the whole area of immigration. Governments around the world have consistently used immigration laws to try to block the Unification movement from developing. The founder, Rev. Moon, is unable to enter Japan at this moment. In France, Germany, Belgium, Portugal, Spain and Luxembourg, a misapplication of the Schengen Treaty prevents Rev. Moon, or Mrs. Moon, from entering those countries.
In Britain, judicial or quasi-judicial bodies have, on four separate occasions over the last 18 years, overturned attempts by the British Home Office, the interior ministry, to bar Rev. Moon’s entry. Most recently, in 1995 the British High Court overturned a decision by then Conservative government Home Secretary Michael Howard, which denied Rev. Moon entry on the basis that it was illegal by procedural reasons, and not facts. In other words, it was a denial of natural justice. It is interesting to note that, in his evidence to the court, the home secretary explicitly stated that his purpose in seeking to bar Rev. Moon from entering Britain was to stop the development of the Unification movement in the country.
There is also the whole area of government use of tax investigations as a form of harassment. In France, in the early 1980s over 20...	(tape ends) ... raided by French police. All documents, including financial records, were confiscated on the basis that there had been financial impropriety or tax evasion. Very serious charges were leveled against the leadership. A few years later, these were quietly dropped, and no further action was taken. In the meantime, of course, an enormous expenditure had been incurred by the movement, and a lot of time and energy had been bound up with defending against these kinds of allegations.
Similarly, in the United Kingdom, in an action I was involved in, the British Inland Revenue alleged that there had been a failure to pay over a quarter of a million dollars in taxes. Enormous pressure was applied to get various documents and records, and to answer a great variety of questions, thus consuming a lot of time and legal costs. Once again, the case was quietly dropped after a number of years, and no further action was taken.
Then, there is the whole area of government connivance, and actions by groups hostile to Unification movement. This includes the turning of a blind eye by police forces in various countries to the practice of forcibly kidnapping and deprogramming of members of Unification movement.
Next, I will quickly comment on the generally arrogant attitude of dominant, or majority religious groups. I have to say, especially in the presence of Rev. Fenton Bennett, that in this area, our experience has been very mixed. On the one hand, we have had some very good experiences, notably when Rev. Bennett was responsible for a certain committee of the British Council of Churches, and the attitude of mainstream Christianity in Britain was to protect and defend the religious freedom of minorities like the Unification movement. Rev. Bennett himself did a lot in that direction.
On the other hand unfortunately, in many other countries, the attitude of the main or dominant religions—Christian churches for the main—has led governments to feel that they can take punitive action against the Unification movement. Often there is some degree of tacit approval, or connivance, by mainstream denominations. The most obvious examples in recent times is the action by the Orthodox Church in Russia to implement the law on recognition of religions, which excludes not only very small groups in Russia like the Unification movement, but also the Catholic Church and various other mainstream denominations.
In the third area, the media has perhaps played the major role in fomenting hostility to new religions like the Unification movement. They’ve created a climate of fear, mistrust, prejudice, and intolerance through the use of pejorative buzzwords like "cult" and "Moonie." They have failed to cover, in most cases, the Unification side of a story, either adequately or at all. They have relied on unrepresentative and unqualified spokesman from pressure groups, like the anti-cult movement, for their information rather than objective academic sources. They have failed to mention objective scientific studies by leading academics, governments, parliamentarian inquiries, or court decisions, that show that pervasive stereotypes such as "brainwashing" and "family break-up" are false. Finally, one can say that they have been helped by inadequate right of reply laws, inadequate libel laws, and inadequate provisions for maintaining journalistic ethics and standards in many western countries.
In the fourth category, individuals and groups known collectively as the anti-cult movement, have been very instrumental in lobbying governments to take actions such as losing charitable status, initiating hostile parliamentary inquiries, and approaching parents to turn them against the movements that their children have joined.
Finally, in the area of prevailing cultural trends and attitudes, Unificationists are always battling against the secularization process, and the use of pervasive stereotypes such as the word "cult," whereby there is a lumping together of all religious groups. I believe that this latter issue is, perhaps, now being tackled in Germany. The irresponsible grouping of all new religious movements as "cults" results in the Unification movement—which abhors things like murder, suicide, and prostitution—being tarred with the same brush as other groups, which are likewise small, and have the name of religions, but have nothing else in common with the Unification movement. This is a prevailing prejudicial trend in society that we struggle against.
ICRF Conference Proceedings
The Role of the Anti-Cult Movement
Irving Hexham, University of Calgary, Canada
delivered at the International Coalition for Religious Freedom Conference on "Religious Freedom and the New Millenium" Berlin, Germany, May 29-31, 1998
In the first part of my paper, I deal with the formation of the anticult movement in the English-speaking world, and the way in which it is supported by private organizations and institutions, which attempt to influence the media in creating pressure on the public, and in turn create pressure on legislatures for action against cults or new religions. The way that this pressure is created, is largely through the use of atrocity stories about the dangers of cults and things like Jonestown, and through claims that members of new religious movements are in fact brainwashed.
This has been well recorded by people like David Bromley and Anson Schupe, in their books on new religious movements, and particularly in their book The New Vigilantes. What is not understood very well in the English-speaking world, is the difference between the German situation and the situation in the English-speaking world.
In Germany, there are really a number of anticult groups. The main anticult movement is strongly supported by the Protestant Church. Within the Protestant Church grouping, there is the Archiev für Religion und Weltanschaungsfragen and the Evangelische Zentrostowar für Weltanschaungsfragen, two different groups, which are now both based in Berlin. One was formerly in Stuttgart, but it has moved to Berlin recently. The other has been in Berlin all along.
In addition, there are over 190 Sektenbeauftragter, or cult experts, scattered throughout the various federal states of Germany. These are Catholic and Protestant, but I think it is significant to note that, on the whole, Catholic cult experts deal with theology, and simply point out the dangers, or the differences between Catholic Theology and Protestant Theology, whereas the Protestants point out the dangers of the cults. The Catholics talk about the theological differences, the Protestants talk about the dangers of the cults in terms of their being thessassiansfindlik. This term is a key one, that comes up again and again in the German situation, and I will discuss its meaning in a few moments.
In addition to the church cult experts, there is a whole network of people working in various government organizations, from the local council right up to the federal government, and the sogenannte or the Enquette Kommission über sogenannte Sekten, which is the inquiry into cults at the federal government level. Most of these deal with family issues: questions of family law, and questions of divorce. When there is a divorce case on, of course, the accusation is made that one of the parents is involved in a dangerous cult. Therefore, the other parent ought to get custody of that child. This type of argument goes on, and it works itself through the system.
So, while you have official church cult experts, they work very closely with people who are supposed to be civil servants, but in actual fact are involved with religious issues all the time, and draw their information from the religious cult experts.
All of these groups produce publications. In fact, many of the federal states, plus the federal government itself, produce booklets on new religious movements, or Sektentum, in Germany, and these booklets are distributed for free. If you go to the Berlin Senate, you can get a fairly substantial book about the dangerous cults which are in existence in Berlin, including Scientology, the Unification Church, and various charismatic churches and other groups. All of these are given away freely by the government, but when you look through the bibliographies of these publications, the experts that they rely on are almost exclusively theologians.
So, there is this very close interweaving between the church and the state, which is very hard to describe, because the German churches are not state churches in the sense that the Church of England is a state church. Yet, they have a far closer working relationship with various levels of government than the English state church does, so it is tricky. Also, church taxes and such come into this.
At the center of the storm about church and sect, or cult, in Germany, is the Church of Scientology. Scientology has been put under considerable pressure by different agencies of government at different levels. This is important to emphasize because very often people outside of Germany do not recognize the decentralized nature of German society.
As a result of the Second World War, the allies imposed various constitutional constraints on Germany, which were supposed to prevent the rise of a fascist-type movement that could take over the country again. They did this through decentralization. Therefore, you have level upon level of government that can do all sorts of things, which somehow work together, and yet are all somehow separate. Even in areas other than religious freedom, it becomes very difficult to take action.
To give an example, the University of Heidelberg discovered a number of years ago, that they had a lot of perpetual students, who signed up for courses each year without any intention of taking them. People signed up because you can get cheap travel passes, and various other benefits by being a student. One particular student had been there for 32 years, and they couldn’t get rid of the guy. As a result of this dilemma, the university senate passed a law saying that you’ve got to take your exam, and cease to be a student within so many years. A group of students took them to court and the case went up to the highest court in Germany, which found in favor of the students. The university couldn’t get rid of all their perpetual students. Because they have these perpetual students, there are places in lecture halls that are empty, which other people would like to take, but they can’t solve the problem. It is quite a mess in many respects. This decentralization influences the whole dealings of the state with the churches, or the sects and the cults in Germany, confusing the situation very considerably.
In response to much of what goes on in Germany, people, particularly the Church of Scientology, have responded by saying that it is a deep-seated fascist ideology in government leaders—people like Helmut Kohl and Norbert Blum—which causes all of their problems. In support of this, they have produced some very interesting booklets, such as one which compares cartoons from "Der Sturm," a Nazi magazine that had cartoons about Jews, with cartoons about Scientologists.
These are very telling images, and there is no doubt that the German press does draw upon this historic usage of symbolism—which the Nazis also used—to characterize Scientology. However, when ordinary Germans see this sort of thing, they become outraged. Chancellor Kohl and Norbert Blum are not Nazis, and they have put in a lot of effort into opposing anything that appears to be Nazi. Therefore, Germans see these attacks upon them as very tasteless attacks upon respected politicians, who have proven their worth over the years.
Even members of other minority religious groups dislike this sort of approach taken by Scientology, because they see this as simply a slur upon the German character. They look back on the last 50 years of democracy and say, "Has it been for nothing? Everyone jumps on us and pulls out this image of the Nazi. We don’t like it!" They object to it.
This comes about, I think, in the Scientologist’s point of view, from an inability to really understand the inner dynamics of German society, and an imposition of American views on a foreign society. So, they get into all sorts of confusion.
There is no doubt that there are a few politicians, like Renate Rennebach, who do make a career out of attacking new religious movements, but the majority of German politicians, like politicians everywhere, simply respond to pressure from the media, and try to keep their constituents happy. Most of them are not out to get new religions, and aren’t particularly bothered with new religions.
There are, however, a few vocal ones and, from time to time attacks on new religions occur, as for example when the German academic journal, Spiriter, published an article about Scientology which was extremely critical, but nevertheless said that Scientology was a religion. Some politicians in Hessen tried to get the journal banned, or at least to get the state funding to it withdrawn.
The other thing which one sees—this has been very noticeable over the last seven years—is an incredible growth of books in bookstores saying how bad the cults are. There are lots of anticult books appearing. Seven years ago, it was hard to find a single book on new religions or cults in German. Nevertheless, today, if you go into a bookstore—a major academic bookstore say—you will find a couple of shelves of books, all dealing with cults. Some are written by ex-members and others by the Sektenbeauftragte.
When you turn to the academics, and talk to them about what is going on in Germany, one would expect there would be a great deal of academic research into new religions. In fact, there is virtually no empirical research being done in Germany, and many academics that I’ve talked to openly admit that they wouldn’t touch the sekten issue with a barge pole, because they fear the response of people within the established churches. At the same time, having said this, they rely in a very uncritical way on things written by theologians.
People, who in North America would be given no credence because they are clearly playing a theological tune and have vested interests in attacking new religions, are seen as good academics by German academics, even though they are clergymen. These people take an approach which mixes—or which confuses—theology and theological attacks upon new religions, which in some ways may be legitimate, with sociological comment. This is where a lot of the problem comes in.
Another problem, which makes the situation in Germany particular difficult, is the problem of the Nazis. German politicians react to many things in light of the German past. In fact, I think it is true to say that all Germans react to history, and to the history of Germany, and to the present situation, because of the Nazis and through the Nazis. I want us to realize that, beginning in the late 19th century, one had a number of new religious movements which prepared the way for the Nazi dictatorship.
These were precursors of the Nazis; some of them were even persecuted by the Nazis; but what they did was play a key role in destroying the Weimar Republic. I am thinking of things like the Ludendorf Bowedon, the Bowedon der Frei Religiosen and the Deutch Christian. Now, some of these were very small, and some of them were very large. Their numbers ranged from about 600 to 600,000 members. They were very active in the 1920s and 1930s in tearing down democracy in Germany. Therefore, since the new federal government—West Germany originally, but now incorporated into the greater Germany, new Germany—was established, the preservation of the constitution has been a key issue.
As we have seen from the recent elections in Saxony-Anhalt, there is a real danger from a new right. What one has to recognize in the German situation is that some of these new right political parties have close ties with new religious movements. If you go to the web pages of these parties, you will find that there are articles about the Neues Heidentum, the New Heathendom or New Pagans. These parties and these groups merge with—or some of the people associated with them are associated with—some religious groups.
The churches try to act as a watchdog against these dangerous groups. The government listens to the churches, because there are dangerous groups that are playing to the political right, attempting to revive fascism, and using religion to revive fascism quite explicitly. They say this in their own literature. They say that they are using religion, and the rebirth of paganism, to revive a political system that has been discredited for 50 years. This is there. The government sees this, and then applies it to all new religious movements in Germany.
What I would like to say is that, in pointing out that the Germans are very heavy-handed in their treatment of groups like the Unification Church, Scientology and many other groups, one has also to be very careful, because, if the German government were not interested at all in new religions, we would also be blaming them for not looking at these fascist groups. Therefore, they tread a thin line.
They are far too reactive; they see all new religions as bad; but, there is good reason, in Germany, for seeing some new religions as bad. This needs to be remembered, and taken into account, when we try to assess what is happening in Germany. Anyone who wants to persuade the Germans that they ought to treat Scientology, the Unification Church, or any other group better than they do, has got to remember the past. In pleading for tolerance, it is important to make very clear that the groups for which one is pleading are not genuine enemies of the constitution, who are trying to destroy the constitution, because these people do exist.
ICRF Conference Proceedings
Presentations by Author
Books by Irving Hexham:
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New Religions As Global Cultures : The Sacralization of the Human (Explorations. Contemporary Perspectives on Religion) by Irving Hexham, Karla O. Poewe Buy it today!
Afro-Christian Religion at the Grassroots in Southern Africa (African Studies, Vol 19) by G.C. Oosthuizen, Irving Hexham (Editor) Buy it today!
Empirical Studies of African Independent/Indigenous Churches by G.C. Oosthuizen, Irving Hexham (Editor) Buy it today!
Irony of Apartheid : The Struggle for National Independence of Afrikaner Calvinism Against British Imperialism (Texts and Studies in Religion, Vol 8) by Irving Hexham Buy it today!
The Story of Isaiah Shembe (Volume Two : Early Regional Traditions of the Acts of the Nazarites (Sacred History and Traditions of the Amanazoretha Vol by Irving Hexham (Editor), G.C. Oosthuizen (Editor), Hans-Jurgen Becken Buy it today!
Texts on Zulu Religion : Traditional Zulu Ideas About God (African Studies, Vol 6) by Irving Hexham Buy it today!
The Scriptures of the Amanazaretha of Ekuphakameni : Selected Writings of the Zulu Prophets Isaiah and Londa Shembe by Irving Hexham (Editor), Londa Shembe (Translator), Hans-Jurgen Becken (Translator) Buy it today!
Understanding Cults and New Religions by Irving Hexham, Karla O. Poewe Buy it today!