On the subject of our latest conference, the 9th Annual Spiritual Human Rights Conference “How Universal is the Universal Declaration of Human Rights?” and as a revitalization and continuation of a previous series of articles published on our website, “Witch Hunt Effects in Society”, we present an obvious violation of human rights in the trend towards the unjustified use of militarized raids of non-traditional religious movements.
With globalization comes the spread of diverse new knowledge, practices, and beliefs, a consequence of which is a social condition, which can be favorable to conflict due to the heterogeneous nature of populations. This is the current case, where partisan misunderstanding of the practices of non-traditional religious movements, or simply the resistance towards a non-conventional religious group, has led to a biased overreaction through government means, which violates the basic rights of practitioners.
Research conducted by our organization, as well as, by a number of other academic researchers abroad, namely Stuart A. Wright and Susan J. Palmer, has found that the freedom of conscience, thought, and belief is not being respected universally; and that these violations are being carried out by government institutions (Wright & Palmer, 2016). This is seen in a European-wide phenomenon of militarized raids of non-traditional religious communities, and shows the exertion of institutionalized social control where it is not warranted and unlawful. Wright and Palmer found that 116 raids had taken place in the past 50-60 years only in Europe and North America (Wright & Palmer, 2016). Such raids have been observed in Germany, France, Italy, and Romania in communities such as the Twelve Tribes, Ananda Assisi, Damanhur, and the OKC Tibetan Buddhists. More details of certain cases will follow in our “Witch Hunt Effects in Society” series.
These militarized, and government sanctioned, raids are typically based on unconfirmed allegations by former members, and individuals with partisan interests, or by what has been deemed a “single European wide movement” of anti-cult organizations and parliamentary commissions with ‘blacklists’ of sects and ‘psychogroups’ accused of, amongst other allegations, using ‘mental manipulation’ and ‘brainwashing,’ human trafficking, kidnapping, and child abuse (Wright & Palmer, 2016). These serious and harsh allegations are advocated to the government, deemed convincing, and lead to exaggerated institutional action in the form of militarized raids, even where there are no facts to substantiate claims of criminal activity. However, because these groups are minorities, labelled as ‘dangerous cults,’ this label alone seems to condone drastic action. So, still, in the absence of evidence these groups and their members are treated as “enemies of the state.”
This seems absurd and there must be a reasonable purpose behind the use of such force. However, in the large majority of these raids, religious movements, and individuals, were acquitted or, later, the charges dismissed for a lack of evidence.
The consequence of this drastic reactionary action, however, amongst the many abuses of human rights incurred in the raids themselves, is an often complete destabilization and threat to the existence of the group, due to the huge legal fees resulting in a diversion of attention from daily affairs to legal action; and the social opposition and humiliation resulting from the defamation of the movement.
In contrast to the militarized raids and subsequent abuses incurred by these individuals and groups based on very few complaints and a lack of proper grounds to do so, tens of thousands of complaints have been filed against Catholic priests for sexual abuse of young children, which in fact were found to be systematically covered up through denial and concealment by the Church itself. A raid of a Catholic Church has never taken place in Europe, and likely never will. They are not considered part of a cult or sect, even though such a huge number of complaints exist and the threat to children is more real than in the religious communities that have experienced raids. As Susan Palmer and Stuart Wright express in their book Storming Zion: Government Raids on Religious Communities, “a more vivid illustration of religious discrimination and unequal treatment is hardly imaginable” (Wright & Palmer, 2016).
The unsubstantiated and exaggerated reaction by democratic governments to allegations of criminal acts, whether truly or supposedly, committed my non-traditional and minority religious groups is not applied objectively, but with a subjective bias. It is inevitable that we will see the world and the actions of others through our own subjective lens, however, when this leads to violations of human rights, and at an institutional level, this is a very serious problem. Sadly, this is the present reality, and we must find a solution in order to uphold the human rights that have been agreed upon and eliminate the suffering caused by the violation of these.
As Wright and Palmer suggest in their recent book, “non-traditional religious movements will likely provide important standards of measurement to gauge a nation’s level of cultural assimilation, tolerance, respect for religious liberty, and equal protection” (Wright & Palmer, 2016). Although it seems that many nations are buckling under misunderstanding and directly abusing the rights of citizens, each one of us, individually, as groups, and the whole, must ensure that every human being feels welcome and safe to peacefully practice their beliefs in our democratic countries. We must ensure that allegations of criminal conduct are investigated and dealt with in a decent and lawful manner that respects the universal human rights that our countries have ratified.
Wright, Stuart A. & Palmer, Susan J. (2016). Storming Zion: Government Raids on Religious Communities. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.