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Unificationists PDF Print E-mail

Mark Brann
Unification Movement of Europe

delivered at the
International Coalition for Religious Freedom Conference on 
"Religious Freedom and the New Millenium"
Berlin, Germany, May 29-31, 1998

I will attempt to summarize what is quite a large subject. I have to say, from the beginning, that my focus will be mainly in the areas in which I have been involved, North America and Europe, with passing references only, to places further afield such as Japan and the Philippines.

For ease of presentation, I am going to divide the worldwide Unification experience, in relationship to religious freedom, into the following categories: 1) the violation of religious freedom by governmental action or inaction; 2) the attitude or actions of dominant or majority religious groups; 3) media coverage; 4) the activities of pressure focus groups, collectively known as the anti-cult movement, and 5) the prevailing cultural and social trends, prejudices, and attitudes.

The first category, the violation of religious freedom by governmental action or inaction, has taken diverse forms. The first concerns those countries where religious activity is made impossible, or forced to be done at the risk of severe sanctions. This is the case in most of the Muslim countries, where severe penalties are applied for activities such as proselytizing. A number of Unificationist missionaries have been expelled from, or imprisoned, in Muslim countries.

Second, there are countries in which the Unification movement is explicitly banned, as in the case of Singapore, where this occurred as a result of newspaper reports emanating from the United Kingdom. In the 1980s, tabloids in the United Kingdom published some sensational accounts about the Unification Church. On the basis of these articles alone, the Singapore government actually banned, or proscribed, the Unification movement.

Third, in some situations there has been an outright refusal to register the Unification movement as a religious organization and, in some cases, as any kind of legal organization, thereby denying legal personality all together, or at least appropriate legal personality. This often means that the movement in those countries can have no bank account, own no property and, if it is slandered in the media, cannot respond because it has no legal personality. In Austria in the 1970s, for example, Unificationists applied for status as a religion, or religious organization, and were denied. They then appealed to the European Court of Human Rights, where they were denied on procedural grounds. Although they have been very active since, in terms of missionary and other activities, they have had to bear the disadvantages of a legal disembodiment, such as not being able to own property or answer media attacks. Other examples are Bulgaria, Romania, and Albania. All three countries have thus far denied the Unification movement’s application for registration as a religious organization.

Fourth, there are countries where there has been no outright refusal to register, but laws have been framed in such a way as to make it virtually impossible for registration of a relatively small organization like the Unification movement. For example, in the Czech Republic and Slovakia, thresholds have been imposed whereby religions can only register if they have 10,000 members or, in the case of Slovakia, 20,000. This, of course, is not something that can easily be done, certainly not overnight.

Fifth, there are countries where the Unification movement’s status as a religious organization has not been challenged, but the normal benefits, such as charitable status or tax-exempt status, which would normally flow from that status, have been denied. In Britain, in a case that I was responsible for as a lawyer in 1984, the attorney general of the United Kingdom moved to remove charitable status—in other words tax-exempt status—from trusts supporting the Unification movement. A judge later described that proceeding as having many of the hallmarks of a Middle Ages heresy trial. The case was withdrawn for lack of evidence in 1988, and the government was charged to pay the Unification movement the equivalent, in today’s prices, of $7.5 million for costs.

In Ireland, charitable status was at one time withdrawn by administrative action. It was restored some years later, but the reasons why it was withdrawn, or restored, have never been clear. In Germany, charitable status has been denied on a technicality, resulting in a heavy annual tax burden for the German Unification movement.

Furthermore, there is the whole area of immigration. Governments around the world have consistently used immigration laws to try to block the Unification movement from developing. The founder, Rev. Moon, is unable to enter Japan at this moment. In France, Germany, Belgium, Portugal, Spain and Luxembourg, a misapplication of the Schengen Treaty prevents Rev. Moon, or Mrs. Moon, from entering those countries.

In Britain, judicial or quasi-judicial bodies have, on four separate occasions over the last 18 years, overturned attempts by the British Home Office, the interior ministry, to bar Rev. Moon’s entry. Most recently, in 1995 the British High Court overturned a decision by then Conservative government Home Secretary Michael Howard, which denied Rev. Moon entry on the basis that it was illegal by procedural reasons, and not facts. In other words, it was a denial of natural justice. It is interesting to note that, in his evidence to the court, the home secretary explicitly stated that his purpose in seeking to bar Rev. Moon from entering Britain was to stop the development of the Unification movement in the country.

There is also the whole area of government use of tax investigations as a form of harassment. In France, in the early 1980s over 20... (tape ends) ... raided by French police. All documents, including financial records, were confiscated on the basis that there had been financial impropriety or tax evasion. Very serious charges were leveled against the leadership. A few years later, these were quietly dropped, and no further action was taken. In the meantime, of course, an enormous expenditure had been incurred by the movement, and a lot of time and energy had been bound up with defending against these kinds of allegations.

Similarly, in the United Kingdom, in an action I was involved in, the British Inland Revenue alleged that there had been a failure to pay over a quarter of a million dollars in taxes. Enormous pressure was applied to get various documents and records, and to answer a great variety of questions, thus consuming a lot of time and legal costs. Once again, the case was quietly dropped after a number of years, and no further action was taken.

Then, there is the whole area of government connivance, and actions by groups hostile to the Unification movement. This includes the turning of a blind eye by police forces in various countries to the practice of forcibly kidnapping and deprogramming of members of Unification movement.

Next, I will quickly comment on the generally arrogant attitude of dominant, or majority religious groups. I have to say, especially in the presence of Rev. Fenton Bennett, that in this area, our experience has been very mixed. On the one hand, we have had some very good experiences, notably when Rev. Bennett was responsible for a certain committee of the British Council of Churches, and the attitude of mainstream Christianity in Britain was to protect and defend the religious freedom of minorities like the Unification movement. Rev. Bennett himself did a lot in that direction.

On the other hand unfortunately, in many other countries, the attitude of the main or dominant religions—Christian churches for the main—has led governments to feel that they can take punitive action against the Unification movement. Often there is some degree of tacit approval, or connivance, by mainstream denominations. The most obvious examples in recent times is the action by the Orthodox Church in Russia to implement the law on recognition of religions, which excludes not only very small groups in Russia like the Unification movement, but also the Catholic Church and various other mainstream denominations.

In the third area, the media has perhaps played the major role in fomenting hostility to new religions like the Unification movement. They’ve created a climate of fear, mistrust, prejudice, and intolerance through the use of pejorative buzzwords like “cult” and “Moonie.” They have failed to cover, in most cases, the Unification side of a story, either adequately or at all. They have relied on unrepresentative and unqualified spokesman from pressure groups, like the anti-cult movement, for their information rather than objective academic sources. They have failed to mention objective scientific studies by leading academics, governments, parliamentarian inquiries, or court decisions, that show that pervasive stereotypes such as “brainwashing” and “family break-up” are false. Finally, one can say that they have been helped by inadequate right of reply laws, inadequate libel laws, and inadequate provisions for maintaining journalistic ethics and standards in many western countries.

In the fourth category, individuals and groups known collectively as the anti-cult movement, have been very instrumental in lobbying governments to take actions such as losing charitable status, initiating hostile parliamentary inquiries, and approaching parents to turn them against the movements that their children have joined.

Finally, in the area of prevailing cultural trends and attitudes, Unificationists are always battling against the secularization process, and the use of pervasive stereotypes such as the word “cult,” whereby there is a lumping together of all religious groups. I believe that this latter issue is, perhaps, now being tackled in Germany. The irresponsible grouping of all new religious movements as “cults” results in the Unification movement—which abhors things like murder, suicide, and prostitution—being tarred with the same brush as other groups, which are likewise small, and have the name of religions, but have nothing else in common with the Unification movement. This is a prevailing prejudicial trend in society that we struggle against.