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UN Special Rapporteur Criticizes France for Undermining Religious Freedom

April 11, 2006

— Calls on French observatory to set standard of tolerance and non-discrimination —

The United Nations Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief has strongly criticized France over “the different measures that were taken at the governmental and parliamentary level in the second part of the 1990s (that) undermined the right to freedom of religion or belief and raised serious concerns about religious intolerance.”

The Rapporteur, Ms. Asma Jahangir, who visited France last fall and met with government officials and representatives of various religions including the Scientology religion, acknowledges that French authorities have since attempted to “redress the balance.” Nonetheless, she adds, “after she had completed her visit, it was reported to the Special Rapporteur that, following a change in its staff, MIVILUDES, (the French government’s office establish to investigate religious minorities), was allegedly about to return to a more hard-line position...”

“We welcome this report and the Rapporteur’s call for MIVILUDES not to return to the mistakes of the past,” said Rev. Heber Jentzsch, President of the Church of Scientology International. “The abuses described by the Rapporteur are the result of a campaign of intolerance by a tiny clique of anti-religious groups still funded by the French government. These groups are attempting to resuscitate intolerant practices put to rest by the government when it abandoned the blacklist of religious groups in May last year.”

The Rapporteur's findings include strong statements on how freedom of religion and belief has been undermined:

• “Stigmatization of (religious group) members has led to certain forms of discrimination, in particular vis-à-vis their children.”

• “Government policy may have contributed to a climate of general suspicion and intolerance towards those communities.”

• “The policy and measures that have been adopted by the French authorities have provoked situations where the right to freedom of religion or belief of members of these groups has been unduly limited.”

Indicating her intention to “continue to closely monitor the various efforts that are carried out by MIVILUDES”, the Rapporteur urges that future actions of MIVILUDES are in line with the right to freedom of religion and “avoid past mistakes.”

Rev. Jentzsch called on the French government to heed the Rapporteur's recommendations and to ensure that MIVILUDES embraces tolerance and non-discrimination for all.

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