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Religiously motivated conflicts, mostly involving Government oppression of new and/or minority religions in the west

An overview

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Other essays in the section on cults and new religious movements (NRMs) deal with the counter-cult movement (CCM), and anti-cult movement (ACM).

bullet The CCM is dominated by conservative Protestant individuals and groups. They are motivated by a sincere concern for the eternal destiny of those Christians who have joined new religious movements and accepted their groups' non-traditional theological beliefs. They are genuinely concerned that Christians who deviate from historical Christian beliefs may spend eternity being tortured in Hell.
bullet The ACM is dominated by secular individuals and groups who are motivated by a concern for what they feel are mind control techniques and deceptive recruitment methods used by new religious movements. They are concerned that such groups are manipulating their members, bleeding them dry financially, and destroying their ability to think independently.

In contrast, this essay mainly describes certain governments who have oppressed new and/or minority religious movements. Sometimes, governments have been motivated by the same reasons as the CCM and ACM. Other times, they are concerned over public order, military necessity, and social stability. Others are keen to protect established faith groups from religious competition.

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U.S. government oppression of minority religions:

The most sustained religious oppression was directed at Native American Spirituality. This can hardly be considered a new religious movement, since its roots go back tens of millennia. However, in terms of loss of life through systematic extermination and direct banning of religious practices, government attacks on Native Americans have been by far the most serious.

The guarantees of freedom of religious speech, belief and assembly in the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and the principle of separation of church and state have otherwise preserved a state of relative religious peace in the U.S. However, there have been conflicts between religious minorities and governments at the federal, state and local level. A few examples involved:

bullet Jehovah's Witnesses who refused military service, blood transfusions, or displays of patriotism, like swearing allegiance to the flag.
bullet Followers of Santeria who engage in animal sacrifice similar to that recorded in the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament).
bullet Non-theists who refused military service on philosophical grounds.
bullet Amish who refused to install warning reflectors on their buggies to indicate a slow-speed vehicle.
bullet Christian Scientists and followers of some Fundamentalist Christian sects who refuse medical attention for their children in favor of prayer, or who refused to have their children inoculated against childhood diseases.

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Canadian government oppression of minority religions:

Again, the most serious case of religious oppression has been against Native Canadians. Over the past centuries, the Canadian government has:

bullet Allowed the enslavement of natives,
bullet Occasionally exterminated native tribes,
bullet Relocated native groups against their will,
bullet Promoted cultural genocide by adsorbing natives into white culture,
bullet Kidnapped children and forcibly house them in church-led residential schools where they were often physically and sexually abused,
bullet Prohibited free religious expression, and
bullet Withheld adequate health and other government services.

In addition there have been conflicts between religious minorities and governments at the federal, state and local level. A few examples have involved:

bullet Jehovah's Witnesses, Christian Scientists and followers of some Fundamentalist Christian sects as described in the U.S..
bullet Severe oppression of Jehovah's Witnesses in Quebec during the mid-20th century.
bullet Oppression of the Sons of Freedom sect of the Doukabors, also during the mid-20th century. They are a pacifist group who came to Canada from Russia to escape religious persecution.

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Conflicts between Christians and human rights legislation in Canada:

There have been a few recent conflicts between Canada's human rights legislation and the desire of some conservative Christians to discriminate against homosexuals or religious minorities. These typically involve rulings by provincial human rights tribunals. Some of the more famous of these cases have involved:

bullet A Knights of Columbus chapter in British Columbia who wanted to break a contract they had made with a lesbian covering the rental of their hall for a wedding reception.
bullet A conservative Protestant who ran an ad in a Saskatchewan newspaper opposing same-sex relationships. The ad contained biblical references, one of which calls for the execution of sexually active gays.
bullet A conservative Protestant printer who refused to accept an order to print stationery  from a gay-positive group.
bullet A Roman Catholic separate school who wanted to prohibit a male student from bringing his male friend   to a school prom.
bullet A school board who wanted to prohibit a Sikh youth from wearing a kirpan, a ceremonial dagger, to school.

Some Montreal school boards prohibit Muslim female students from wearing a hijab -- a religious scarf. Following the Sikh decision, many observers expect that a new case will be launched to force these schools to drop their prohibition.

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European government oppression of minority religions:

A few European governments have persecuted and oppressed new religious groups. Examples of oppression are:

bullet Austria: This country has had a three-tiered religious structure:
  1. A few religions are recognized as "state recognized religions;" they receive free broadcast time, government funding and tax exemption.
  2. At a lower status are those religious groups which only have "legal recognition." They can own property, have a bank account in their name etc.
  3. New religious groups have no recognition and essentially no rights. 

To obtain recognition, new groups have to prove that they have at least 300 members and must wait for 6 months after applying. Non-religious groups in Austria are only required to wait a maximum of 6 weeks. "Legal status may be denied to religious communities by the Federal Minister of Education and Cultural Affairs if it deems that youth will be adversely affected by it, that psychological methods are used improperly to disseminate religious beliefs, or in the interest of public security, public order, health, or morality."

bullet France: Their federal government attacked religious minorities via the tax system. Prime victims are the Jehovah's Witnesses and a small Evangelical Pentecostal church. They have prepared a list of what they consider to be suspect religious groups.
bullet Germany: There appears to be a concerted attack on the Church of Scientology by political groups, and by governments at the local, state and federal level. Germany's Interior Minister, Manfred Kanther, announced in early 1997-JUN that "All means available to the state" would be used to monitor Scientology's 30,000 members in that country, because the government believes that the church is a threat to democracy. Counterintelligence agents were be used.
bullet Greece: The constitution of the country forbids proselytizing by followers of any religion other than the Greek Orthodox Church. Other religious groups have to obtain permission from the local bishop before being allowed to build a religious structure. The Greek government is chronically in conflict with the European Commission of Human Rights over religious freedom issues in their country.
bullet Russia: Recent legislation was passed which severely curtails religious expression in Russia. It was motivated largely by the public's fear of dangerous "cults". The Japanese Buddhist/Christian destructive cult, Aum Shinri Kyo, had established a local office in Russia. But otherwise, that fear appears groundless. Anti-cult feeling among the public appears to exist independently of any hard evidence to support it. The largest new religious movements have memberships totaling only a few thousand. Yet, the public perceived them to be much larger than this. No religious group in Russia has ever been convicted of mind control, stealing member's property, kidnapping people, being a threat to the state, etc. More recently, the Russian government has been persecuting Jehovah's Witnesses. They have prevented the Salvation Army from operating freely because the latter is considered to be a military organisaion.

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Copyright 1997 to 2006 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance.
Latest update: 2006-MAY-07
Author: B.A. Robinson

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