Just a bit more information regarding the religious situation in Belgium...
The relationship between the state and religions in Belgium is historically rooted in the principle of recognition and non-recognition of religions. However, recognition criteria were never enshrined in the constitution, in decrees or in laws. Six religions (Catholicism, Protestantism, Anglicanism, Judaism, Islam and Orthodoxy) and secular humanism (laïcité) are currently recognised by the state. They enjoy facilities and advantages that are denied to all other religious groups.
- The state finances only recognised religions. State subsidies are provided by all taxpayers, including those who profess a non-recognised religion or who do not adhere to any religion or belief system. This system is not equitable in so far as taxpayers are unable to prohibit the state from using their income tax to finance religions and secular humanism that are openly opposed to non-recognised minority religions.
- The state has put in place mechanisms and agencies - Parliamentary Enquiry Commission on Sects, Centre for Information and Advice on Harmful Sectarian Organizations and Inter-Ministerial Coordination Agency of Fight against Harmful Sectarian Organizations - to identify so-called ?harmful cults? (bad religions), warn the public and fight against them.
The Centre comprises twelve members and twelve substitutes. The recruiting method of these members is very far from guaranteeing their impartiality. Indeed, half of the members are nominated by the Council of Ministers for approval by the House of Representatives, while the other half is directly appointed by the House of Representatives. Representatives of political parties, the Catholic Church, various anti-sect movements and ideologies are to be found among the members. The independence of the Sect Observatory is also scarcely guaranteed as it is under the authority of the Ministry of Justice. The Observatory keeps silent about religious discrimination committed by public authorities and is careful not to criticise ministers or mayors who deny access to public halls to groups, which act legally, on the grounds that they are on an alleged list of sects suspected of being harmful.[ii]
- The Anthroposophic Society has sued the Belgian state arguing that the law creating the Centre for Information and Advice as well as the Inter-Ministerial Coordination Agency is anti-constitutional. The highest domestic instance, the Court of Arbitration, dismissed the case. The European Court in Strasbourg declared the case non-admissible in September 2002.
· The distribution of printed material, including religious and philosophical writings, is forbidden by municipal decrees in certain parts of Brussels and of other towns: near schools, (Christian) churches (but strangely enough not synagogues, mosques or any other non-Christian places of worship), military barracks, etc. Other regulations provide that any distribution of printed material, even free of charge and on a small scale, may only be carried out with the written approval of the mayor and after the payment of a small fee.
· Some Belgian municipalities have made it a requirement for candidates for positions as civil servants to swear a statement that they do not belong to a harmful sectarian organisation.
· Renting public places for meetings is often denied to religious associations mentioned on the official list of 189 movements suspected of being ?harmful sectarian organizations?.
- The tax department has denied the Japanese religious group Sukyo Mahikari an exemption from property tax on its place of worship on the grounds that it is on the parliamentary of sects suspected of being harmful . A procedure of appeal was started in 1998 and is still pending.
- In divorce cases, courts sometimes deny the child custody to the parent who is affiliated to a non-recognised religion (Pentecostal Church, Jehovah?s Witness, Church of Scientology, Sahaja Yoga, Raelian movement, etc.) on the grounds that it is a harmful cult. A number of courts also grant visitation rights to the non-custodial parent who is a member of a so-called ?cult? on the condition that he or she does not expose his or her children to the teachings or lifestyle of that religious group during visits.
- The Foreign Workers? Act of 1999 requires from non-recognised religions that foreign missionaries obtain work permits before applying for a visa to enter the country for religious work. On many occasions, Belgian consulates have failed to answer such applications and have in this way denied American Mormon, Adventist and Pentecostal missionaries? access to the Belgian territory. In February 2002, US female Pentecostals were arrested, jailed and deported on the grounds that they were working without a work permit, although they were unpaid volunteers. The same act provides that foreign clerics and missionaries are not submitted to that regulation.
· In public schools under the authority of the French community, Jehovah's Witnesses complain that their children have no other choice than to attend religious or (allegedly neutral) ethics classes the contents of which, they say, conflict with their beliefs. In the Flemish community, the children of Jehovah?s Witnesses are exempted from such classes.
- Chaplains of recognised religions and moral advisers of secular humanism have officially access to prisons, detention centres for asylum-seekers, hospitals, the armed forces, etc. Non-recognised religions may not send chaplains to such institutions.
This effects more than just the JW's....
The Belgian Parliamentary Commission on Cults submitted a report to the Belgian Parliament in 1997. It identified 189 churches, sects, other religious groups, and para-church organizations as "cults". The list covered a very wide range of religious groups, including the Amish Mission in Belgium, 2 Buddhist groups, Opus Dei (a lay Roman Catholic group), 21 Evangelical Christian denominations, Quakers, and Satanists.
The Commission appeared to have adopted the fears of many Belgians with regards to small or emerging religious groups. Pastor Jules Lambotte, head of the Amish Mission commented: "In the minds of the population, all the churches which do not belong to the United Protestant Church of Belgium, officially recognized by the state, are cults." Samuel Liberek, head of the Association of Protestant Evangelical Churches in Belgium commented: "We were not very happy to see that our churches, about 50 in all, had been listed as cults. We were never asked to take part in the parliamentary hearing, and didn't know that we had been filed by the police or the intelligence services or that some of our former members might have complained about us at the Commission." Two Buddhist institutes and the Roman Catholic church complained as well.
The Belgian Parliament adopted the report's conclusions and recommendations. However, it neither approved nor disapproved of the list of "cults". Some of the religious groups that were listed were:
Amish Mission in Belgium Assemblies of God Association of Flemish Pentecostal Assemblies Bethel Pentecostal Church Calvary Christian Center Celestian Church of Christ Charismatic Revival Christian Church Christ's Church in Brussels Darbyst Brothers' Assemblies Evangelical Christians Evangelical Free Church Free Evangelical Pentecostal Assemblies Hasidic Judaism International Church of Christ Pentecostal Evangelical Action Reformed Evangelism Center (in Essen) Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) 4 Roman Catholic organizations, including Opus Dei Seventh-Day Adventists Universal Church of God Universal Church of the Kingdom of God YWCA
The Quakers complained to the government at the Deputy Prime Minister level about their inclusion on the list. They pointed out their their humanitarian aid programs in post World War II Europe, and requesting to see the evidence against them which had been presented to the Parliamentary Commission by the federal police in a closed session. They were unsuccessful.
This government panic about cults appears to have their foundation in the anti-cult and counter-cult movements in the US and Canada, which started in the early 1970's, peaked in the 1980's and is now in rapid decline. Like many religious and psychological hoaxes , this movement has been exported to Europe, Russia and a number of English speaking countries. It was given a major boost in credibility by the mass murder and suicide by members of the Solar Temple destructive cult. The counter-cult movement has succeeded in transferring the public's abhorrence of doomsday cults against all small or new religious groups - both destructive cults and benign groups. All countries without a wall of separation between church and state are succeptable to this type of public and governmental panic