NEW RELIGIOUS MOVEMENTS (a.k.a. CULTS)
Religiously motivated conflicts, mostly involving Government
oppression of new and/or minority religions in the west
Other essays in the section on cults and new religious
movements (NRMs) deal with the counter-cult movement (CCM), and anti-cult
||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.
||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.
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:
||Jehovah's Witnesses who refused military
service, blood transfusions, or displays of patriotism, like swearing
allegiance to the flag.
||Followers of Santeria who engage in animal
sacrifice similar to that recorded in the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament).
||Non-theists who refused military service on philosophical grounds.
||Amish who refused to install warning reflectors
on their buggies to indicate a slow-speed vehicle.
||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.
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:
||Allowed the enslavement of natives,
||Occasionally exterminated native tribes,
||Relocated native groups against their will,
||Promoted cultural genocide by adsorbing natives into white culture,
||Kidnapped children and forcibly house them in church-led residential
schools where they were often physically and sexually abused,
||Prohibited free religious expression, and
||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:
Christian Scientists and followers of some Fundamentalist Christian
sects as described in the U.S..
||Severe oppression of Jehovah's Witnesses in Quebec during the mid-20th
||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.
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
||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.
||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.
||A conservative Protestant printer who refused to accept an order to
print stationery from a gay-positive group.
||A Roman Catholic separate school who wanted to prohibit a male student
from bringing his male friend to a school prom.
||A school board who wanted to prohibit a Sikh
youth from wearing a kirpan, a ceremonial dagger,
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
European government oppression of minority religions:
A few European governments have persecuted and oppressed new religious groups. Examples of
Austria: This country has had a three-tiered
A few religions are recognized as "state recognized religions;"
they receive free broadcast time, government funding and tax
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.
- 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."
||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.
||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.
||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.
||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.
Copyright © 1997 to 2006 by Ontario
Consultants on Religious Tolerance.
Latest update: 2006-MAY-07
Author: B.A. Robinson