ICRF Planning Conference in Germany
By Mark Bramwell
After the success of the major conference of the International Coalition for Religious Freedom last May in Berlin, there was a great interest among some of the 150 participating experts to have a smaller and more focused planning conference in order to prepare for future ICRF activities in Europe.
A one-day conference for this purpose was held at a conference centre in the scenic town of Schmitten, Germany on 17th October 1998. Among the twenty or so participants were European ICRF officers and the following academics, lawyers and religious freedom activists: Prof. Jürgen Redhardt (Germany), Prof. Dr. B. Pfeiffer (Germany), Giulio Murano (International Federation for Human Rights, Italy), Prof. Dr. Josef Frickel (Austria), Prof. Ivan Kaltchev (Bulgaria), Emil Koen (President of Tolerance Foundation, Bulgaria), Prof. Mark Zonis (Germany), Dr. Sarah Potter (U.K.), Prof. Anthony Flew (U.K.), Carlo Tabacchi (Member of O.S.C.E, Italy), Dr. Karel Salajka (lawyer, Czech Republic), and others.
In his speech on the religious freedom situation in Germany, Prof. Redhardt showed very vividly how prejudice started and grew, finally choking many promising ideas and activities of new religions. He explained the false analyses of the "sect experts" and the media. (Prof. Redhardt´s speech is available on request from ICRF Europe.)
Looking at the issue from another angle, Prof. Pfeiffer gave an expert analysis of the recent history of religious minorities in Germany, mentioned that there are many possibilities to expand religious freedom through laws. International agreements are very specific, in contrast to national laws, which are more general and therefore open to interpretation.
Prof. Pfeiffer argued that religious freedom in Germany has to become a value to be promoted by the people themselves and even the churches, and not just a topic for scientists of religion. Prof. Pfeiffer himself had provided much input for the report of the German Parliament Investigatory Commission on "Sects and Psychogroups". He helped persuade the Commission to give up using the term "sect" because it had become discriminatory. He remarked that the Commission became better educated as it researched the groups. Finally it concluded that there is no serious danger for the state or society from "sects".
Discussion on the ICRF Organisation
The session began with a brief explanation of the origin and goals of ICRF. Some important points to emerge from this session were the following:
The essential problem of religious freedom, even more than opposition from the state, is intolerance among religions themselves. Therefore ICRF should not focus on legal issues, but also work to bring together religions in ecumenical dialogue
Because of the increasing religious pluralism in European society (for example the growth of Islam and new religions), there has to be an increase in the acceptance of other faiths, otherwise there will be serious social conflicts.
As an educational organisation ICRF, should also focus on disseminating information on religious freedom, and promoting religious freedom as a value, for example in schools.
Further ICRF Projects in Europe
Among the many ideas at the conference for future ICRF projects in Europe, the following are some of the main ones:
Assisting in the publishing of the proceedings of all four international ICRF conferences, in order to publish a book, which should be presented to the UN.
The connecting of ICRF to the UN.
Special inter-religious conference to analyse the UN Declaration on Religious Freedom.
A subsequent campaign for a UN Convention on Religious Tolerance.
Official establishment of ICRF on the European level