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Statement by Professor A.L. Dvorkin President of the St. Irenaeus of Lyon Center of Religious Research at the Second International Forum "Dialogue of Civilizations" Rhodes, 29 September - 2 October 2004

US government Lobbying for the Interests of Totalitarian Cults as an Obstacle to Dialogue of Civilizations.

As of late, totalitarian cults were being perceived exclusively as a social phenomenon, although, over the past decade, they have become one of the main problems for international security. The world was stunned by the news of the multiple victims of the "Order of the Solar Temple" in 1994 and 1995, the gas attack by "Aum Shinrikyo" in a Tokyo subway in March 1995 and the mass suicide by members of the "Heaven's Gate" cult in Los Angeles seven years ago. France, Germany, Belgium and Spain have enacted legislation in response to parliamentary reports about the danger of cults that practice mind control and exploit their followers.

All across Europe official organizations have been formed to monitor the spread of totalitarian cults. In 1996, France passed a law to protect people who had been subjected to psychological coercion, and the administration of Lionel Jospen created the Interministerial Mission to combat cults, headed by Alain Vivien. On 31 May 2001, deputies of the French National Assembly nearly unanimously passed a law that allowed a court to disband any movement recognized as a cult whose members were found guilty of crimes like fraud, abuse of trust, illegal medical practice or unscrupulous advertising. Germany has been fighting mainly the Scientology organization. After a police investigation in 1997, the German federal government warned people about the danger associated with this cult, and the state of Bavaria passed a law about the incompatibility of membership in Scientology with working in any government structure.

At the time Europe's position was taking shape, observers were expecting a backlash from international totalitarian cults: assets of several of them consisted of hundreds of millions of euros in France alone. The blow was dealt from the USA (which is not surprising, since 90% of totalitarian cults are either of American origin or are based in the USA.) On 27 January 1997 Washington officially condemned a measure taken by Germany against Scientology. Some days later the US State Department Office for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor published a report about the observance of human rights in 1996, that strongly attacked Germany, putting it into the same category with China, as a country that violated the religious freedom of citizens. When European countries talk about totalitarian cults, they mean groups that claim to be religions, but at the same time are mainly directed towards producing the maximum possible income. The new French law allowed a court to disband these groups. However, the American administration tried to guarantee impunity for these groups around the world, citing religious freedom, and they supported the most diverse totalitarian cults, connected to extreme right wing political circles. For this, there is an entire network of governmental and near-governmental organizations that lobby for the interests of these cults and are involved in the attacks on other countries.

France has answered the American allegations promptly: the investigation into the structure and financial breaches by the Scientology organization conclusively showed that it was a commercial organization that was making an astronomical profit. In these circumstances, penalties and fines were entirely legal and just. It was also explained that the report of the French National Assembly was drawn up with the collaboration of the best lawyers in the country, scholars, special police experts and associations that were recognized for contributing to the public good. Although 180 organizations, which were named in the report in the capacity of totalitarian cults or of groups with significant indicators of such, asserted that they were religious, close examination showed their totalitarian nature and the methods of coercion that they applied to their followers. The overwhelming majority of them at one time or another had already been convicted in court.

The French authorities tried to correct some false concepts. For example, as they explained, the accusation that France refused to recognize the religious status of certain "religious minorities" was absurd: the 1905 law in effect today about separation of church and state did not at all allow the government to recognize the religious or non-religious character of organizations. However, it seemed that the US was not interested in dialogue. A report, published 9 September 1999, contained an even harsher attack on European countries. It's interesting that the staff of the newly created cult protection structure emphasized repeatedly that they had not read the foreign acts of legislation they were criticizing, because they trusted the information they received from the American intelligence agencies, from the American embassies in different countries, as well as from scholars and the non-governmental organizations that were complaining about the intolerance of one or another government.

It is also interesting that the preceding speaker, Mr. Grieboski, who cited the case of "Manussakis vs. Greece," asserted that the European court condemned the provision of the Greek constitution that forbids proselytizing, did not read the legal decision in this case as well. In fact, in the court decision it is clearly said that the Greek constitution's ban on proselytizing DOES NOT CONTRADICT European law. The European court only said that in this specific case not enough evidence had been collected to substantiate a case of proselytism.

What can be said about the interview with US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, who, in appearing on Russian television in 1999 and commenting on the proceedings of the Moscow prosecutor then begun against the "Jehovah's Witnesses" (JWs,) said that the government of the USA was interested in the "JWs" winning these proceedings. In this way she blatantly meddled in the internal affairs of a sovereign state and exerting pressure on its court.

The explanation of why the USA obstinately lobbies for the interests of totalitarian cults is impossible to find either in American history or in that country's constitution. One can explain it as the successful lobbying efforts of these same totalitarian cults, which led to antidemocratic acceptance of clandestine decisions and to secret agreements which they concluded with government agencies in the USA. Specifically I have in mind a secret agreement signed in 1993 by the American Internal Revenue Service and Scientology. This agreement, in contradiction to numerous decisions by American courts, granted Scientology all the rights of a recognized religion, along with general exemption from taxes. The full text of this agreement with all the accompanying memoranda was settled in circumvention of all democratic procedures, in contradiction to all standards of law, and remains secret to this day. Besides that, the signing of this agreement, in a certain way, became a turning point in history, because the USA, which until then had led the fight against totalitarian cults, was transformed into the main proponent for their interests.

I'll say further that this agreement itself is testimony to Scientology's being the sole state religion in the USA and that it is profiting in ways previously unheard of in comparison to the advantages other religions have. This is a blatant violation of the first Amendment to the Constitution of the USA. Here is a sample of the evidence to this fact.

1. Scientology is the only religion in the USA that enjoys the right of tax exemption not only in its own religious activities, but also in religious instruction, and also even for the fees it receives for "spiritual counseling." In the year 2000 the Jews tried to attain the same tax-exempt status for their activities with regard to religious instruction, and referred to the example of Scientology, but their request was denied and they lost the case in court.

2. Every year Scientology takes a prominent place in the US State Department's report on religious freedom.

3. The highest conditions on Scientology's "spiritual" scale, "Power" and "Affluence," coincide with the highest goals of the materialistic American culture of consumerism.

Every year Scientology spends millions of dollars on lobbying for its interests in the US corridors of power and to (directly or indirectly) access key figures and/or organizations. Due to a lack of time I am not able to list many examples here, but one of them I have in hand: here is this brochure from the Moscow Helsinki group published at Scientology's expense.

On the same matter, one can say the same about the Moonies and other notorious cults that have formed a coalition on this issue. The board of directors of the "Institute of Religion and Public Politics," headed by Mr. Grieboski, warmly recommended by the State Department, includes ultraconservative Congressmen and leaders of various cults, Scientologists and Moonies included. Until recently it also included the Sri Chinmoy guru, leader of his own cult. Several years ago the Institute acquired property a couple of blocks away from the White House in Washington and openly conducted a campaign for the rights of Scientologists, the Moon cult and other "religious minorities" in Europe.

In his speech, Mr. Grieboski said that "freedom of religion enables democracy, strengthens internal and regional stability, and encourages economic prosperity." The president of another cult-advocate structure, the "Institute of Religion and Democracy," Diane L. Knippers, in attempting to explain this position, unintentionally revealed the reasons she was defending the freedom of totalitarian cults, and this is a[n] [indirect in this English-language translation] quote: "We exert ourselves today for religious freedom for the same reason we fought against communism. Human society cannot unfold if it is founded on lies. Atheism and communism can only produce lies. Spirituality is a guarantor of civilization, because spirituality and faith produce honesty in people. Without honesty there is no trade, and without trade there is no civilization."

So it is obvious that there is an active connection between a campaign for "spirituality" around the world and the lobbying structures that are trying to tie all the other countries to American values through the process of globalization. As the "Institute for Religion and Democracy" explained several times, globalization is a mission inspired by the Bible. The majority of American fundamentalist evangelical groups support this strange amalgam of mysticism and imperialism. This is exactly what those who maintain they're upholding religious freedom have in mind. Nina Shea, member of the "Commission for Religious Freedom," said, "Our main aim is to establish the new liberal order throughout the world."

It's obvious that such goals and methods do not at all enable the dialogue of civilizations.

The speech of the preceding speaker cited this position in unconcealed candor. In conclusion I will take the liberty of making a very brief commentary on several of its main points:

1. Mr. Grieboski dictates the goals of religions to them: "Good things happen in history when the will of believing people is directed toward the ideal of freedom, justice and equality for all." We thought that the will of believers is directed toward God, but Mr. Grieboski suggests directing them to fulfill the goals of his government. This is not a coincidental slip of the tongue, but a lucid expression of the role of which the government of the United States is availing itself in its viewpoint on religions. Griebosky accomplishes this with the concept he expressed, whereby religious freedom and the human rights should be the basis of the new political ideology that should steer the world into the 21st century. Attention is invited to all these "shoulds." In other words he says: "We will make them to behave our way".

2. Meanwhile, as we have already seen, the government of the USA is actively lobbying not for the interests of traditional religions which have a rich experience of peaceful coexistence with adherents of different beliefs, but for groups that actually deny freedom of religion and human rights to their own members, as well as to the rest of the world. Mr. Grieboski asserts that a government that violates religious freedom is also violating other human rights. How does this sit with the government of the USA letting the "Rehabilitation Project Force," a system of concentration camps that Scientology maintains, operate on its territory? People are forcibly held in these concentration camps for a period of months, if not years, and they are subjected to physical torment and horrible psychological pressure.

3. Mr. Grieboski asserts that religious freedom means freedom from forcible coercion, but meanwhile his Institute is lobbying for the interests of groups that actively use deceit and coercion during recruitment in such a way as to blatantly violate the rights of those being lured. Another double standard?

4. Mr. Grieboski says that without freedom of conscience, freedom of speech and other freedoms cannot exist. But totalitarian cults deny freedom of speech. After all, religious criticism is also an inalienable component of freedom of speech and freedom of religion. We see how totalitarian cults silence criticism of themselves with endless, grueling court proceedings, so that today in the USA it is extremely rare that one can encounter in the open press criticism of totalitarian cults or statements defending their victims. Indicative of this is the well-known case of Gerry Armstrong, who lost eleven years of his life in Scientology, for whom a court judgment of a California court now not only prohibits to speak about his experience in this cult, but even to pronounce in public words like "Scientology," "Hubbard," Dianetics" and so forth. For each violation of this prohibition he is supposed to pay 50,000 dollars. If for a moment one concurs with Scientology's assertion that it is a religion, then such a prohibition could be compared to a court order prohibiting a former Muslim from uttering the word "Mohammed," "Koran" or "Islam." But if we were to say in this case that Scientology is an international intelligence organization that uses criminal methods, then the prohibition is the equivalent of prohibiting the victim of organized crime group from saying the word "Mafia" or "godfather." And this abominable judgment was made by an American court and is upheld by American law enforcement agencies. Is this called freedom of speech?

At the same time, in the annual reports of the US Congress, publications by other countries that are critical of one or another cult are viewed and cited as violations of freedom of conscience.

And here we come to the main problem in the American approach to freedom of conscience versus the European approach. In Europe, freedom of conscience is viewed as the individual freedom of a person to choose his faith and to be protected from the pressure of government or of any organization. In the USA, freedom of conscience is above all a corporate freedom. Freedom of an organization to pursue its interests, including suppressing the interests of its members, its former members and its critics. In other words, a person in the USA who steps out against one or another organization that calls itself a religion will almost certainly lose. And there we see the case of blatant hypocrisy. The US administration is up in arms about "human rights violations" in reference to all the measures the European nations take against cults, but these same measures are devoted primarily to protecting those people whose rights are being blatantly violated by totalitarian organizations.

In conclusion I would like to draw the attention of those present to the highly unambiguous hint that Mr. Grieboski let drop: "I do not know of one regime that simultaneously respects religious freedom and presents a threat to US security..." From this the converse also proceeds: if a regime does not respect religious freedom from the US viewpoint, it presents a threat to US security. As to what the consequences of this could be, we know only too well from recent history.

It's unlikely that the threat of carpet bombing will enable a dialogue of civilizations.

Source: Center for Religious Research 8.10.04


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