Council of Europe debate on
Scientology and other cults

Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, 5 Feb 1992

AACR23.43 AS (43) CR 23


(Third part)


Twenty-third sitting

Wednesday 5 February 1992 at 3 pm

In this report:

  1.  Speeches in English are reported in full.
  2.  Speeches in other languages are summarised.
  3.  Speeches in German and Italian are reproduced in full in a separate document.

Corrections should be handed in at Room F 3141 not later than 24 hours after the report has been circulated.

The contents page for this sitting is given at the end of the verbatim report.

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The PRESIDENT - Ladies and gentlemen, we can resume our work according to the established order paper. It is now seven minutes to five o'clock and there are two items with which we have to deal. The first item is "sects and new religious movements". The other is "exodus of Albanian nationals". To enable us to debate those matters and to vote upon them, I propose to limit contributions in each debate as follows:

10 minutes for Rapporteurs,
7 minutes for Rapporteurs for an opinion,
5 minutes for speakers,
7 minutes for replies by committees.
In any event, we shall have to interrupt the first list of speakers for the first debate before 5.30 pm so as to leave time for replies and any necessary voting, which will conclude before 5.50 pm.

The list of speakers for the second debate will have to be arrested at 6.50 pm. Those who are present but unable to speak in the debate may submit their contributions in a clear and legible form at the end of the sitting for inclusion in the official report.

Are there any objections?

It is so decided.

As I have said, the next order of the day is the presentation by Sir John Hunt of the report of the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights on sects and new religious movements (Doc. 6535). That will be followed by debate and a presentation by Mr de Puig on behalf of the Committee on Culture and Education (Doc. 6546).

The list of speakers was closed at 12 noon today. We have six speakers on the list. Two amendments have been tabled.

Sir John HUNT (United Kingdom) (Rapporteur of the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights) - I am pleased to have the opportunity to present my report on behalf of the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights. As members of the committee will know, the report has had an exceptionally long gestation period. I am relieved, therefore, that it has been allotted a place in today's order of business. I am pleased about that because I believe that the Assembly is the forum in which the anxieties and apprehensions of so many people about the activities of cults and sects should be fully aired and debated.

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As we all know, we are about to debate a highly emotive subject. Feelings run high 6n both sides of the argument, but nowhere higher than among the parents of children and young people who have been enticed into various groups and have subsequently become alienated from their families and home environment.

There is no doubt that the proliferation of these sects during the past 25 or 30 years has been a most disturbing phenomenon in Europe and elsewhere. In the introductory section of my report I have tried to analyse the reasons for it. Among those reasons is the waning interest in what one might call the established, traditional churches. As a result, the sects have moved in to fill the vacuum, as it were, by appealing in a subtle and sometimes sinister way to impressionable and idealistic young people. There is clear evidence that many sects set out deliberately to enlist the more vulnerable members of the younger generation. They recruit on campuses among those who are feeling distressed with college life and examinations. They recruit on the streets among those who are homeless or who are facing difficulties in their family relationships.

Initially, the sects offer security and stability to those who are upset in whatever way. Sometimes they are emotionally disturbed; sometimes they are separated from their families. Unfortunately, the initial welcoming period can often be followed by a period of indoctrination, leading to the sort of alienation from families and friends that causes so much unhappiness and distress. It is difficult for us to quantify the extent of this distress, but an organisation known as Family Action Information and Rescue, which operates in the United Kingdom, reports that last year it received 1,700 letters and 1,200 telephone calls in respect of different cults and fringe groups. If we multiply those figures by the number of member countries within the Council of Europe, I think we shall begin to appreciate the size and scale of the problem.

In the second paragraph of my report I have provided some reasonably neutral definitions of a sect. I have tried so far as I can to be fair in these matters. A somewhat less impartial description has come from the Cult Information Centre. It defines cults as organisations that

"use deceptive and psychologically manipulative techniques to recruit unsuspecting people".
Of course, sects vary in their techniques and practices. Some are less dangerous than others, but some are extremely dangerous. A distinguished consultant psychiatrist, Dr. Elizabeth Tyldan, practises in my Bromley constituency in the United Kingdom. She has warned in a letter to one of my constituents of some of the dangers of these cults, I shall read a short part of her letter. She writes:
"In some cults children and even babies are subjected to sexual practices at an early age which are abhorrent to practically every culture. In other cults, the excessively

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rigid moral code can be applied so strictly that the normal development of sexuality is warped and hampered. The literature of several cults prescribes a strict discipline imposed by harsh means, abhorrent to anybody. An example of this is 'rodding', where a rod is given to the mother to punish her baby for crying."
In other groups the dangers come from a different kind of exploitation. The Church of Scientology, for example, has developed its promotional activities with great skill and success. A local vicar in the East Grinstead area where the church has its headquarters is reported to have said:
"It's not a church, it's a front for charging people a lot of money for something it cannot deliver."
When one looks at its magazine, as I did the other day, one sees that the charges are extremely high. An extraordinary array of books and cassettes on the teaching of the new deceased guru Mr L Ron Hubbard is advertised. They range from what is called "the way to happiness extension course" for a mere 25 to "the Philadelphia doctorate course lectures" for no less than 2,500.

Last summer some members of this Assembly were privileged to receive a foretaste of the "way to happiness" teachings of the said Mr Hubbard. They were sent an expensively bound de luxe edition of what was described as

"a very popular non-religious common sense guide".
Unfortunately, one did not come to me, but I have managed to obtain a copy. The sayings of Mr Hubbard are certainly basic. I have extracted just three gems for the debate. The first reads:
"Happiness. True joy and happiness are valuable. If one does not survive, no joy and no happiness are obtainable."
The second reads:
"Eat properly. People who do not eat properly are not of much help to you or themselves. They tend to have a low energy level."
That one really touched my heart. The third one states:
"Preserve your teeth. If one brushed one's teeth after every meal, it has been said that one would not suffer tooth decay."
That is hilarious but, incredibly, people are apparently drawn into that organisation by trite and puerile quotes of that kind. Some will say that if people are naive and foolish enough to be persuaded by that kind of juvenile rubbish, that is their own business. To some extent I go along with that, but at the same time one has always to watch for the motives of these people. Why are they trying to attract young people and others into their ranks? We have a duty to watch and monitor these groups and where necessary - it is not always necessary - to warn parents and young people about the groups' methods and motives.

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I am grateful to Mr de Puig for the opinion that he has presented on behalf of the Committee on Culture and Education and for the helpful amendments that he has tabled. He rightly refers to the need for greater vigilance and also presses the need for education. He says:

"Informing adolescents about sects and new religious movements must be an integral part of the general education system."
I warmly endorse that.

As members of the committee will know, during its preparation and in discussions on the report, I carefully considered the use of legislation to deal with this problem. I came to the conclusion, however, endorsed by the committee, that the introduction of major legislation would conflict with the freedom of conscience and of religion which is guaranteed by Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights. Instead of legislation, I suggest that we require the registration of all sects and new religious movements so that we can monitor their activities. Coupled with that, we should set up independent bodies to circulate objective information, particularly to schools and colleges, so that parents, teachers and young people can be fully and accurately informed. Having done that, it is then up to each individual to make his or her own judgment and decision in the light of the information made available.

It seems to me that any genuine sects will have nothing to fear from this monitoring exercise and the undesirable activities of the more dubious groups should, hopefully, be curbed and restrained by the existence of the monitoring machinery.

In conclusion, I concede that my solutions are not dramatic or radical. I fear that they may disappoint those who were looking for harsher action against cults and sects, but I believe that they are a realistic response to the deep concerns that have been expressed in all our countries by so many parents, teachers and youth workers. On that basis, I commend my report to the Assembly.

Mr de PUIG (Spain) (Rapporteur of the Committee on Culture and Education) presented the opinion of the Committee on Culture and Education on sects and new religious movements (Doc. 6546). He said that many of the activities of these sects were completely unacceptable. His committee had studied the reports from Sir John Hunt's committee very carefully. There was a difficult choice to make between trying to prevent sects having a negative effect on individuals and society and the defence of religious freedom.

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Although it would be extremely difficult and might not be desirable to outlaw sects, many of their activities were simply criminal and could be combatted by the existing forces of law and order. Examples of crimes perpetrated by sects were brainwashing, economic exploitation and enslavement of their members. The Committee on Education and Culture endorsed the report, but proposed amendments to take stock of the cultural, as well as the legal perspective.

Mr WORMS (France) said that he wished to put on record his total support for the report. It was an admirably objective document. The religious and secular aspects of society needed to be kept clearly apart. All religions should advocate respect for human rights.

Mr MULLER (Germany) said that recent decades had witnessed a decline of religious values in the West whilst Islamic fundamentalism had gone from strength to strength. The traditional churches in Europe had failed their congregations by ignoring basic moral issues. Instead, worship in churches more often resembled sociology seminars. Religious houses had allowed themselves to become politicised. Parents had not offered true guidance to their children who were therefore obliged to turn to avant-garde religious sects for spiritual nourishment. Those bodies destroyed individualism and substituted indoctrination for teaching. Young people needed access to factual and unbiased information when dealing with religious groups. Groups which had hitherto promoted Marxist beliefs had moved into the realm of esoteric religious creeds. There were worrying signs of a growth in unorthodox religious practices. In Germany evidence had been found of mutilated animal corpses, the aftermath of Black Masses.

Mr STOFFELEN (Netherlands) congratulated the Rapporteurs for their excellent work. Freedom of religious choice was a basic human right enshrined in Article 9 of the Convention on Human Rights. There was a danger in condemning out of hand emerging religious movements, and labelling them with such pejorative epithets as "sects". Nevertheless, the Church should operate within the law.

Mr ROWE (United Kingdom) - Thank you, Mr President. I am particularly pleased to follow my friend Pieter Stoffelen on this matter. I entirely agree with much of what he said although I wonder whether I would draw the line between what is acceptable and what is not in quite the same place.

The problem with the subject so excellently covered by Sir John's report is that, by definition, it is "my church" and "your sect". We tend to judge others by a different standard from that which we apply to ourselves. One general rule for people considering this matter is to ask whether the founders or gurus of a

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sect are rich. If they are, it is almost certainly unsound. One of the striking features of the religions that have endured is that their founders were poor and had sympathy with the poor.

The problem which the committee was asked to consider is consumer-led. Or perhaps it is even more a problem of the consumer's family. Families become anxious when one of their members gets caught up in some sect of which they disapprove. As the report says:

"While a religion implies free, informed consent on the part of those who join it, people joining certain sects may be free when they join it, but are not informed, and, once they are informed, they are usually no longer free."
That is an important point.

As all the speakers so far have said, the public law must be the principal touchstone. Human rights legislation is meaningless if it does not prevent exploitation, whether of sect members or sect staff. Being a member of a sect cannot of itself be an excuse for lawbreaking without being subject to the consequences of that lawbreaking.

There is always a possible conflict between human rights and the rights of the family and the individual. It is perhaps worth reminding ourselves that Christ himself said:

"I have come to set a man against his father and a daughter against her mother and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law and a man's foes will be those of his own household."
However one interprets that, it is clear that those who find a focus for their loyalty outside the family will not always be particularly popular with the family, and we should be erring if we made it too easy for families to impose their particular form of obligation on family members who have taken on open decision not to conform.

Therefore, another touchstone must be openness rather than stealth. The report is right about that. We should know as much as possible. Those whose deeds are evil love the dark. Sects which are not prepared to come out into the open are judged as highly suspect by their own action. Therefore, I welcome the report's emphasis on information.

I am worried about registration. The report itself said that the committee did not seek evidence from some sects because it was concerned that in so doing it might give the authority of the Council of Europe to those sects. Demanding registration would put the committee into exactly that difficulty again.

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The protection against exploitation or empty sectarianism must be the development of our spiritual dimension. Mr Muller was right. Lech Walesa yesterday, Irma Ratuschinskaya frequently, and many others, have pointed to the spiritual barrenness of our capitalist society. That has particularly struck those whose fate has provided them with the tools to break down the communist empire.

We do not develop our justification for our currently successful ideology. The glacial ice that froze so much in Eastern Europe has frozen the argument in Western Europe and we are in danger of resting our defence and democratic capitalism mainly on its material success. This, which is barren in itself, requires continuing growth and material advance for its credibility and by itself it will fail.

In the coming years, we must address the inequalities inside and outside our continent. We must wrestle with environmental destruction, huge population flows, international water shortage, the rapid increase in the deprived urban under-class and with many other global hazards. If we cannot develop our spiritual philosophy to meet the hunger of the millions who look for a solid foundation on which to stand, we shall be borne away on a tide of racism, nationalism or even religious strife.

Mr ESPERSEN (Denmark).- I see from the report that this question was referred to the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights in 1987. That shows how difficult the problem is and that it is very difficult to solve. Many varied considerations have been made and many wise thoughts have been expressed. Many solutions have also been attempted, but on behalf of the Danish delegation, I must say that we do not believe that legislation can solve the problem. Information and education are good roads on which to embark, but there should not be specific legislation.

The Church of Scientology has been given as an example of a sect. That shows the difficulty of defining a sect. I do not believe that it is a sect because, even if we consider the definitions referred to by Sir John Hunt, the Church of Scientology does not fall within those definitions. It is not based on any kind of religion. It does not work in a spiritual field.

It works in a field, but not a spiritual one. It has no mystical basis. It is a cool, cynical, manipulating business and nothing else.

As the Church of Scientology falls without the definition of a sect, it would not fall within the legislation for which we are asking. Therefore, a dangerous association would not be touched by the legislation. The problem is very big and we believe that, unfortunately, it is impossible to find legislation to cover it.

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Some sects, like the Church of Scientology to which I have referred, abuse young people and use people with various problems such as drug problems or mental problems. They abuse such people, but call themselves sects and act as though they are based on religion. However, they are based simply on the desire to make money. I am afraid that we cannot get rid of such associations with specific legislation on religious sects.

Fraud and sexual abuse are already punishable in all our countries. Gross abuse of weaknesses is also punishable. We believe that we should ensure that our authorities use those laws, which are not used to the extent to which they should be used. The sects that I would like to see disappear should not fall within specific legislation of a religious nature. Most of them already fall under the penal code, which should be used against them. Thank you, Mr President.

Mr MOYA (Spain) welcomed the consensus in the debate. The problems posed by sects were genuine and increasing, but they were also complex. The report was right to discuss social preventive measures as well as legal solutions, and to draw attention to the individual's right to freedom, but also to the undesirable consequences of exercising that freedom. The approach of the report had been balanced and non-sectarian and he welcomed it.

Mr de PUIG (Spain) (Rapporteur of the Committee on Culture and Education) thanked the participants in the debate, all of whom had supported the report. He said that the lesson he had drawn from the debate was that it was very difficult to deal with the problem of sects, as in many cases they were abusing existing freedoms which were guaranteed by law, but were not actually breaking the law. The problem needed to be looked at from the point of view of respect for human rights.

The problems raised by sects could not be solved by intolerance. In that context, it was encouraging to know that a committee of the Assembly was looking at the problem of religious tolerance, arid would be holding a symposium on that subject in Jerusalem the following month.

Sir John HUNT (United Kingdom) (Rapporteur of the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights) - We have had a brief but very useful debate. I am most grateful to all those who have spoken. I thank Mr de Puig for what he has just said, for his personal support, and for the support of his committee. Of course, Spain has set an example to many other countries in Europe on ways in which to tackle the growing problems of sects and cults.

Two speakers, Mr Worms and Mr Moya, said that it was difficult to find the right balance, but I am glad that they feel that we have got it about right in the report. Mr Muller picked up the point in my report about the decline of the traditional churches and classical religion. He said quite rightly that many cults have

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come into being to meet the craving among young people for new dependencies, but he went on also rightly to say that, having met that craving, they then proceed in many cases to abuse it. That led him to the conclusion, which I certainly endorse, that the state must supervise the activities of those groups - hence my recommendation for a register.

Mr Stoffelen spoke about the freedom of religion and tolerance, which I wholly endorse,, and the right to choose. Of course, we all support that. We also have the right to choose our doctor. When we do so, however, we expect the government to ensure that that person is not a bogus practitioner. In that sense, there must be some supervision. I assure Mr Stoffelen that there is absolutely no question of a witch-hunt against those groups. All that we are seeking is to ensure that bad practices are exposed and publicised so that the public in general, and young people and parents in particular, can be warned about them.

My colleague Andrew Rowe proposed a very interesting rule of thumb when judging sects. He said that we should ask, "Are the founders rich?" I certainly commend that test to any young people thinking of enlisting in those cults whose names I shall not mention. There are many whose founders have become very rich indeed as a result of recruiting young people and their subsequent activities. I am sorry that my colleague had doubts about registration. There are precedents for that. I understand that Spain, Finland and Iceland have enacted such legislation, and it is essential if society is to carry out its watchdog role in dealing with those groups.

Mr Espersen made an interesting speech. He recognised that it was a difficult problem. He felt that the Church of Scientology, which he described as a "cool, cynical, manipulating business", might fall outside the scope of registration. That is not my understanding. I should be interested to know the experience of the other European countries to which I have referred and which have brought in a scheme of registration. I should like to know whether they have felt able to deal with the Church of Scientology if it operates in their countries. However, that is a matter that we can look at again.

The main message that has come from the debate is the need for greater openness - the need for more information. The way to get it is the dissemination of information to schools and colleges and by having debates such as this. For that reason, I am very grateful to all those who have participated, and I am most grateful for the almost unanimous support that my report has received.

Lord KIRKHILL (United Kingdom) (Chairman of the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights) . - I rise briefly to make just two or three comments. I pay public tribute to Sir John Hunt, whose task as Rapporteur on this issue was complex and difficult. As Mr Espersen mentioned, the very fact that it has taken a long time for the report to be formulated is proof indeed that, in its early days, there were many conflicting views within the committee.

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The report was produced against the background that it is almost impossible to define a sect and that many people believe that the public law of countries of the Council of Europe is sufficient protection against abuse. Nevertheless there is genuine concern, which many speakers have touched upon and which Sir John has set out most clearly. The Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights considers that in the main Sir John has been able successfully to reconcile what was almost the unreconcilable, given the many Competing views and amendments. The report is consistent and thoughtful and the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights Commends it for the attention of the Assembly.

The PRESIDENT (Translation) - That brings the debate to an end.

The Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights has presented in Doc. 6535 a draft recommendation, to which two amendments have been tabled.

If the Assembly agrees, we will take Amendments Nos. 1 and 2 together.

Amendment No. 1 presented by Mr de Puig on behalf of the Committee on Culture and Education,

In the draft recommendation, paragraph 6, before the words "legislative and other measures" insert the words:

"educational as well as".

Amendment No. 2 presented by Mr de Puig on behalf of the Committee on Culture and Education,
In the draft recommendation, paragraph 7, replace sub-paragraph (ii) with the following two new sub-paragraphs to be inserted before sub-paragraph (i):

"The basic educational curriculum should include objective factual information concerning established religions and their major variants, concerning the principles of comparative religion, and concerning ethics and personal and social rights;

Supplementary information of a similar nature, and in particular on the nature and activities of sects and new religious movements, should also be widely circulated to the general public. Independent bodies should be set up to collect and circulate this information;".

Mr de PUIG (Spain) (Rapporteur of the Committee on Culture and Education) said that the two amendments were linked. They added references to the importance of education, both through the formal educational systems of all countries, and through the wide dissemination of information about the activities of sects.

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Lord KIRKHILL (United Kingdom) (Chairman of the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights) - I can say on behalf of my committee that it accepts the amendments.

The PRESIDENT (Translation) - I shall now put the amendments to the vote by a show of hands.

A vote was then taken by a show of hands.

The amendment was unanimously agreed to.

The PRESIDENT (Translation).- We will now proceed to vote on the draft recommendation contained in Doc. 6535, as amended.

A vote by roll-call is not requested. The Assembly will therefore vote by a show of hands.

A vote was then taken by a show of hands.

The draft recommendation in Doc. 6535, as amended, was adopted.

The PRESIDENT congratulated the Rapporteur and the committee on their work, which would add to the prestige of the Assembly.

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