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Seeds of Prejudice Condemned

Prominent artists, professionals testify at D.C. hearing; action urged to restore fundamental liberties in Western Europe

by Emily G. Stewart

Subcommittee on International Operations and Human Rights  T
he crowded room was silent and intent as the congresswoman delivered her opening statement, introducing the hearing on “Religious Discrimination in Western Europe” before the Subcommittee on International Operations and Human Rights.

“There is no—nor can there ever be—excuse for violating or depriving human beings of the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, including the freedom to manifest their religion or belief in teaching practice, worship and observance,” said Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, who chairs the subcommittee.

“These rights are enshrined in Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and cannot—must not—be ignored,” she said.

Rep. Ros-Lehtinen was echoed by six other members of Congress, an official from the U.S. Department of State and the witnesses who testified.

The focus of the July 11 hearing quickly closed in on France, which stands out in Western Europe as the country with the worst reputation in the human rights community since its passage of a law making possible the wholesale dissolution of minority spiritual, ethnic and philosophical groups in the country.

S. Sameera Fazili, Isaac Hayes, Lorne Craner and Catherine Bell
Among those testifying on human rights violations in France (clockwise from top left)
S. Sameera Fazili, executive director of Muslim Women Lawyers for Human Rights; actor and musician Isaac Hayes; Lorne Craner of the U.S. State Department; and actress Catherine Bell.

“The law will have a chilling effect on all religions,” said U.S. Representative Christopher Smith, who recently returned from a meeting of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) in Paris, and heard testimony at the U.S. hearing. “France is leading by bad example,” he observed.

Lorne Craner, Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, said that the law “places religious freedom at risk” and that will have “serious consequences.”

Those consequences had already been realized by all who testified.

“As an African-American, I am very worried by remarks made by the authors of this new legislation,” testified Isaac Hayes, internationally known musician, actor and Scientologist. “Madame Picard, a member of the French National Assembly, has told the media that the law is aimed at groups of a ‘spiritual, ethnic or philosophical nature.’ That just about covers everyone.

“The seeds of prejudice have taken root, and intolerant French officials will now be able to use the new legislation to nourish those seeds, and if they so choose, to dissolve even ethnic minority groups.”

Ileana Ros-Lehtinen
U.S. Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, chair of the House Subcommittee on International Operations and Human Rights, leads hearing on “Religious Discrimination in Western Europe.”

“Crusade against Muslim Women”

S. Sameera Fazili, executive director of Muslim Women Lawyers for Human Rights, told subcommittee members that the “French Revolution ushered in a sea of change in Europe towards liberty, fraternity and equality. Unfortunately, these lofty ideals do not seem to apply to Muslim women in France. Rather, the French republic appears to continue its crusade against Muslim women, which it started centuries earlier in North Africa as a ruthless colonialist power.”

Prominent among the concerns raised about the law is the fact it is being regarded as a model by China for their own repressive, violent and deadly tactics against minority spiritual and religious groups, including the Falun Gong and the “unauthorized” Christian churches, of which some 1,500 have been demolished since late 2000.

Indeed, in November 2000, a French official charged with combatting minority groups in France, Alain Vivien, attended a Chinese-government symposium on “sects” in Beijing. Press reports of Chinese officials seeking support from France in developing their own laws against groups such as the Falun Gong have piqued concerns in the human rights community. Vivien and his staff “have developed working relationships with some of the most egregious violators of religious freedom and human rights,” Joseph K. Grieboski, president of the Institute on Religion and Public Policy, told subcommittee members, referring particularly to China.


“There is no excuse for violating or depriving human beings of the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion...” – Rep. Ros-Lehtinen
“How discouraging must it be to artists whose right to freedom of expression is denied under totalitarian government, when they see a senior French government official visiting Beijing to discuss how to wipe out minority religions?” asked Catherine Bell, actress who stars in the popular U.S. television series “JAG” (Judge Advocate General), in her testimony.

“It is ironic that the official in charge of Paris’s bid to host the 2008 Olympic Games cited China’s human rights record as a reason the Games should not go to Beijing,” she said. “The testimony presented today makes clear that not only the Chinese, but also the French government, are in violation of the non-discrimination clause in the Olympic Charter.”

“Campaign of Defamation and Unfounded Accusations”

France is also in violation of non-discrimination clauses in international trade relations, as detailed in testimony from Patrick Hinojosa, Chief Financial Officer and Vice President of Panda Software U.S. Panda is the fourth largest producer of anti-virus software in the world and recognized as the industry leader in Europe. Hinojosa described how officials in the French Education Ministry and other offices effected a fascist-like boycott on the company’s products simply and only because the company’s founder is a Scientologist.

“The government campaign of defamation and unfounded accusations against Panda has only one cause: The French government does not like the religious choice of Panda’s founder,” Hinojosa testified. He quoted a Ministry of Education official who wrote to a number of schools in the country, urging them to boycott the product “even though this material [Panda software] presents no danger in its present form.”

Several of those who testified remarked on the efforts of the French politicians and officials behind the intolerance to excuse the patent violations of human rights as a “difference in views” on freedom.

“You will hear from French officials trying to explain away the intolerance that, ‘freedom in France is different from freedom in the United States,’ ” said Isaac Hayes.

“But, of course, this argument comes from the perpetrators of intolerance, not its victims,” he said. “Freedom is freedom.”

Those testifying and the Members of Congress present agreed on the need to take stronger action to end the repression and restore fundamental human rights and liberties in France, including legislation to strengthen official measures against intolerance, and sanctions in accordance with the International Religious Freedom Act.

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