BELGIAN PARLIAMENT CONSIDERS CRIMINALIZING PROSELYTIZING
By Mark Adams
Jul 10, 2006
(NEW YORK — C-FAM) Some members of small religious groups in Belgium are worried that a controversial legislative proposal
could threaten religious freedom. The law in question would punish persons found guilty of "abusing the ignorance or weakness"
of minors and other vulnerable people, but the wording is so vague that some international observers fear that the law would
be used to repress and discriminate against minority faiths.
The bill passed Belgium's Council of Ministers and is awaiting constitutional approval before being
debated by the full Parliament. It would impose a three month to five year jail sentence on "anyone abusing the ignorance
or weakness of a minor or a very vulnerable individual, either due to his/her age, sickness, disability, physical or mental
deficiency, illegal resident status or precarious living condition or pregnancy, so as to get that person to do an act or
refrain from doing an act that would seriously endanger his/her physical or mental integrity or assets."
on Religion and Public Policy has taken a special interest in the legislation and has authored a letter to two key Belgium officials condemning it. The letter, which has been
signed onto by other organizations, states that the law "allows for too broad of an interpretation that will inevitably result
in arbitrary and discriminatory application of the law by permitting almost unfettered discretion by government officials
to use the criminal laws as a weapon to repress minority faiths. Passage of such legislation — based on the widely discredited
notion of 'mental manipulation' — would represent a serious setback for religious freedom in Belgium."
According to the letter the law is based on recommendations made
in a 1997 report from the Belgian Parliamentary Commission that called for a law punishing those who abuse a person's weakness
as a result of an "indoctrination by sects." The letter says the same commission drafted a list that labeled 189 religious
groups as "sects" including, Hasidic Jews, Jehovah's Witnesses, Zen Buddhists, Seventh-day Adventists, Mormons, Pentecostals,
Amish, Quakers, five Catholic groups and others.
The Dutch Catholic news site, RKNieuws.net reported that although
the list was rejected by Parliament "Belgian media consider the 'sect list' still as authoritative." The letter claims that
organizations on the list still face repercussions today. "[I]t received widespread publicity when it was made public by the
Commission . . . stigmatizing all the religions included in the list and effectively operating as a blacklist for these religions
and their adherents to this very day."
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