Warning against " sects "

In Germany, various Länder are involved in warning campaigns against sects and work closely with anti-sect advocates of the Catholic Church and the Protestant Church. At the U.N. International Consultative Conference on School Education in Relation with Freedom of Religion and Belief, Tolerance and Non-Discrimination which was held in Madrid on 23-25 November 2001, a German delegation of Jehovah’s Witnesses presented a paper about the intolerance fuelled by such campaigns. Human Rights Without Frontiers presents you a slightly shortened version of their paper.

Jehovah’s Witnesses have been active in Germany for more than 100 years. Many families are fourth or fifth generation Jehovah’s Witnesses. During this time it has become obvious that they are socially integrated and have contributed their share to a positive development in society. In the 20th century they were severely persecuted under two dictatorships - National Socialism and Communism. Although they are able to practice their beliefs in the Federal Republic of Germany relatively unhindered, they, as a minority religion, in recent years have again been confronted with the problem of increased intolerance and discrimination. Children in schools and kindergarten are especially affected. (…)

Intolerance towards religious minorities, such as Jehovah’s Witnesses, is furthered by the following factors:

Government warning about "Sects"

Although no scientific knowledge exists (1) to prove that disadvantages result from membership in one of these minority movements, the German federal government as well as State governments feel obliged to warn against membership in any of these minorities. They do this by producing folders (2), distributing booklets (3), appointing sect-experts in the government in the government, setting up information centers (4), holding press conferences, and making other public announcements (5), this in addition to doing such parliamentary work as answering minor and major inquiries submitted to the respective governments (6), or appointing an Enquete-Commission on so-called sects and psycho-groups, whose report is then published (7). However, it has been observed that government offices wish to expand their right to warn. Thus it has come to a point that "sect experts" (8) now even operate within the police department, commissioned to warning the public about the dangers of such groups. These also lecture to school classes, so that even children are confronted with these warnings (9).

One-sided distribution of prejudiced discriminatory information provided for education in the fields of law, administration, and especially teaching

Intolerance and discrimination are especially furthered when education provided in the fields of law and administration promote prejudice and the rejection of religious minorities such as Jehovah’s Witnesses (10). This is done by means of lectures and by distributing printed information from religious opponents or apostates, without giving the associations concerned any possibility at all of engaging in dialogue or in expressing their opinion. Persons thus educated in the fields of law and administration serve later to spread this information.

The German Judicial Academy has repeatedly held training courses for judges to inform them about the legal approach to new religious associations, sects and cults (11). The efforts of the Religious Association of Jehovah’s Witnesses to be present in order to express their opinion, if necessary, has been rejected. The Sect Information Center of the Ministry of Education, Science and Culture in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern permits a sect expert from the Catholic Church - who, it has been proved, has disseminated untrue allegations about Jehovah’s Witnesses - to conduct advanced training courses for teachers, and under the subject "Sects and Occultism" to expressly discuss the Religious Association of Jehovah’s Witnesses in a discriminatory manner (12). In Nordrhein-Westfalen the Association "Sekten-Info Essen e.V." (Sects-Info Essen) conducted information forums in schools and gave post-graduate seminars for teachers (13), although the association or its representatives had been prosecuted for disseminating untruthful allegations.

Dissemination of One-Sided and Stigmatizing Information in Schools

An alarming tendency towards intolerance and discrimination towards religious minorities has been observed especially in schools. Books approved for religious instruction depict Jehovah’s Witnesses as outsiders and describe "getting out" of the religious association as something desirable (14). One book on ethics directs students to set up information stands against small religious associations. Traffic signs such as "Entry for Sects" forbidden are thereby used (15), and all small religious associations are lumped together without differentiation. Membership in a religious minority is described as being dangerous or even pathological. These factors lead to discrimination and ostracism of children in school and kindergarten, and in part entail not only psychical but also physical violence, which be exemplified in the following paragraph.

Students who participate in religious instruction regularly insult and scoff at children of Jehovah’s Witnesses (16). Sometimes, they even resort to physical violence, without the school taking any action to relieve the situation, despite parental complaints (17). Teachers support the students in their presentation of disparaging comments about Jehovah’s Witnesses during class instruction and thereby further the discrimination and ostracizing of children of Jehovah’s Witnesses (18). Prejudice expressed by the teaching staff counteracts the duty of the school to educate children to be tolerant and to show understanding for one another (19). Films showing how to get out of sects is what most frequently leads to discrimination and attacks on children of Jehovah’s Witnesses (20).

Attempts to Find Solutions

Government Neutrality

The essential basis and prerequisite for tolerance and mutual respect is government neutrality in religious and ideological matters. In accordance with this principle, government organs must make equality of value and comparability of all religions under the governmental law of confessional neutrality as a basic rule, and therefore strictly see to it that the State grants equal treatment to minority religions and established religions. State neutrality stands the test when the citizen has his sphere and the freedom to take decisions in his occupation, child education, family, culture and other areas of life, and that precisely, not for the sake of religious-ideological neutrality, but as defined by his beliefs or convictions. The realization of government neutrality in jurisdiction and administration should, however, be especially strengthened in schools. This will only succeed if government institutions obtain their information about minorities in objective cognitive processes, and bars itself from adopting statements from religious competitors, e.g. such as the established churches. The right of religious minorities to get a hearing by the government must then especially be taken into consideration.

Furtherance of Tolerance by Dialogue

Experience shows that the best possibility of reducing intolerance and discrimination is to further dialogue between the various groups in society. Jehovah’s Witnesses have had positive results in this regard. Wherever they were able to express their standpoint and their beliefs themselves, this contributed to a reduction of prejudice, hostility, ostracism and violence. Heightened mutual understanding often opened the way to beneficial respect for one another. Sad to say, Jehovah’s Witnesses in Germany have in recent years often been refused participation in dialogue. For example, the video Jehovah’s Witnesses Stand Firm Against Nazi Assault, which was produced by Jehovah’s Witnesses for class instruction and which describes the persecution of Jehovah’s Witnesses during the National Socialist period, illustrates this.

Although the video has found recognition by historians, some Länder have refused to permit its showing during class instruction due to an expert opinion arrived at under church influence.

In conclusion, the demand could be made that every minority be given the possibility of expressing its opinion and describing itself, whenever it is a subject of discussion. This is an indispensable duty, especially of the government and all of its institutions.

Enquete-Commission, Final Report (fn. 2), p. 189; Dorothee Osterhagen, Der Abschlussbericht der Enquete-Kommission „Sog. Sekten und Psychogruppen" des Deutschen Bundestages. Eine Ergänzung zu: Kriele, Sektenjagd in: Besier/ Scheuch, (fn. 1), Teil II, p. 439 ff.

e.g. : in Schleswig-Holstein in February 2000 a folder, Apokalypse - No Future?, was published by the Inquiry Office for Information About Sects and Associations Similar to Sects.

e.g. in Nordrhein-Westfalen the booklet Familienrechtliche Konflikte mit "Sekten und Psykokulten" by the Ministry for Women, Youth, Family and Health.

e.g. in Schleswig-Holstein: Documentary Center for Sects and Associations Similar to Sects; in Nordrhein-Westfalen: Workshops for Children and Youths (AJS), supported by the Land Government; for the Federal Government: the professional report "Jugendsekten und Psychogruppen" in the Federal Administrative Office; for further inter-ministerial workshops see Enquete-Commission, Final Report (fn. 2), p. 61

e.g. on October 26, 2000 in Munich (Münchner Merkur of October 27, 2000)

e.g. an inquiry about the government’s position regarding new religions and ideological associations and psycho-groups in the Federal Republic of Germany, October 5, 1999 (Parliamentary Gazette 14/1726) and the answer from the Federal Government October 25, 1999 (Parliamentary Gazette 14/1726)

Enquete-Commission, Final Report (fn. 2)

e.g. the city police department, Leipzig (Leipziger Volkszeitung of August 26, 1999); Commissioner’s Office K 314, city police department Munich (Kriminalistik, 11/1999, p. 722)

e.g. Lectures by a Criminal High Commissioner at the Georg-Weert school 3 in Chemnitz on December 13 and 20, 1999

e.g. a booklet published by the Saxon State Juvenile Office, "New religious and ideological associations and psycho-groups", for the training of teachers. It contains sentences such as: "Yes, when the soul catchers once get someone under their influence, he can in some cases not be sufficiently helped."

e.g. December 12 to 17, 1994, "New Youth Movements and Sects"; June 19 to 26, 1995 "New Ideological Associations and Cult Movements", January 24 to 29, 2000, "The Psychomarket"

e.g. on August 28, 2000 in the Theodor-Körner School in Schwerin

Jahresbericht 1997, p. 7; Jahresbericht 1998, p. 6; Jahresbericht 1999, p. 7; Jahresbericht 2000, p. 8

Kursbuch Religion 9/10 Lehrerband, Calwer Verlag, Stuttgart/ Verlag Moritz Diesterweg, Frankfurt Main 2000

Schoolbook Leben Ethik 7/8 Ernst Klett Schoolbook Publisher, Leipzig 1999: In the illustrations negative and discriminatory arguments are used

Psychological and physical pressure was exercised upon children of Jehovah’s Witnesses by the school management in Dorsten, in order to force them to participate in a memorial service held in a Catholic church for September 11, 2001

e.g. in Ebersbach at a secondary school a girl student suffered a fracture of the upper arm on September 22, 2000, rupture in the elbow joints as well as pinched finger nerves

e.g. In Lindenberg, a teacher, who is supposed to be a go-between in difficulties between teachers and pupils, has for years hung up posters made by students, containing one-sided information about Jehovah’s Witnesses, and which lead to insults and assaults against a daughter of Jehovah’s Witnesses in and out of school. The school principal was not even willing to look at the questionable poster.

e.g. dark-skinned elementary student in Frankfurt, whose adoptive mother is a Jehovah’s Witness, was reproached by his teacher because of unsatisfactory homework, it was apparently all due to these dumb Jehovah’s Witnesses. In Meissen, a student was threatened with the lowest mark because of conscientiously objecting to participate in any form of martial arts

e.g. documented in Filderstadt, Werl, Oberkochen, Wesel, Landshut and Rees-Haldern