Unification News for June 1998

Berlin ICRF Conference

by Nina Makarova-Frankfurt am Main, Germany

From May 29 until 31 Berlin was host of the conference "Religious Freedom in Europe towards the New Millennium", co-sponsored by the International Coalition for Religious Freedom and the Washington Times Foundation. Although the time for preparation was extremely short, this third conference (after Washington and Tokyo) was very successful. It brought together 150 distinguished politicians, academics, religious leaders, human rights activists, lawyers and journalists from 52 nations. Among the speakers were member of the Russian Duma Galina Staravoitova, former Prime Minister of Ireland Albert Reynolds (one of the main initiators of the present Northern Irish Peace Accord), Congressman Charles Canady, chairman of the Subcommittee on the Constitution at the U.S. House of Representatives and one of the main architects of a proposed law on religious freedom.

Former Free Democrat politician Dr. Achim Rohde called the attitude of the German government towards religious minorities incomprehensible. He cited the example of Reverend Moon, who substantially contributed towards the victory of democratic values over communism, but is banned from entering the country. On the same theme, Prof. Cheryl Lau (Harvard University) expressed her astonishment over the German banning of Reverend Moon and viewed Germany's placing of Reverend Moon on the Shengen immigration "black list" as a misuse of the Shengen Treaty.

At the close of the conference a resolution was developed which is to be presented to leading figures in the political, scientific and religious worlds. ICRF President Bruce Casino, Executive Director Dan Fefferman, European Coordinator Mark Bramwell, Ms. Vicki Barros and Ms. Mary Rand of the ICRF, as well as all other staff members--many of them volunteers of the European Unification Church--worked very hard to make the conference function and served the guests, who were impressed by the excellent organization and the pleasant environment of the Maritim proArte Hotel, where the event took place.

Just the day before the conference (independently from it) six prominent professors sent the press a very interesting document, proclaiming that "an open society needs no ideological control." The government, they say, should give people the freedom of a spiritual search, even if it is connected with some risks for them. Only concrete criminal actions of the "sects", where there are such, should be punished by law. One of those professors is involved in the work of an Enquete (Inquiry) Commission, set up by the German Government to investigate so-called "sects and psycho-groups". He wasn't satisfied with the politicians, not taking scientists' opinion seriously enough.

Originally creating such a Commission was a response to a growing controversy about new religious groups. It came to its pick in the case of Scientology, when the "sects" issue became a political one, affecting German-American relationship.

The Chairman of the Enquete Commission Mrs. Ortrun Schaetzle (Christian Democratic Party) was very much displeased by the "provocative" letter of the professors, which, she thinks, was given to the public before the proper time, because the final report of the commission is about to be presented to the Bundestag. Their letter, sent to the media, caused a series of articles in German newspapers, bringing a new revelation into the country that "no danger comes from sects".

The Enquete Commission, namely Mrs. Schaetzle, had to immediately respond to this press attack. Its press-release from May 29 recognizes that "new religions and ideological groups and psychogroups are a response to the consequences of social changes". The work of the commission has revealed that only certain of these groups are laden with conflict and that no generalized statements on the whole spectrum of new religious ... and psychogroups can be made". Particularly, Bonn politicians are still not happy with the Scientology Church, which they consider not a religious group, but a "political extremist organization."

As a consequence, the Enquete Commission has decided to no longer use the term "sect". An essential result of the work of the Commission is to emphasize that the individual is not a "passive victim", but rather actively structures the course of his membership. This aspect has not been taken into account enough in public discussion until now, says the press-release.

The whole story is much longer and has many interesting details, but summarizing, one can say the following. Honesty is still a big part of politics in Germany. The government had to tell the public the truth: "sects", new religious movements and psycho-groups are not really dangerous for the public order. It had to recognize that fact, though there are many people in Germany, who have been profiting from an opposite point of view, which had been dominating the public opinion until now. Among those are journalists who made "sects" issue their "specialization", "professional sects-experts" and "sect- watchers", paid by the government and the politicians, who often try to use "hot" topics to influence the electorate.

An interesting coincidence: the last issue of the German magazine Spiegel (Nr.23) has a cover story, titled "The Inquisition: Tortures in the name of God. The Vatican opens its secret archives".

The rumors say that the Social Democrats wouldn't mind to use the sects issue for their election campaign. Their candidate for the Chancellor, Mr. Schroeder, presently Prime Minister of Niedersachsen, is seen by many as German Clinton (the big difference is that Schroeder got recently married, but for the forth time). His popularity is constantly growing.

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