Church and State
Freedom has also provided in-depth coverage of
church and state and U.S. First Amendment issues over the years.
In 1983, when police and state troopers swooped in on the 200-member
Faith Baptist Church in Louisville, Nebraska, Freedom made
known their plight. The authorities shut down the church’s school,
padlocked the church and jailed its pastor on a charge of contempt. The
pastor had only insisted on the right to teach his religion at the
church’s own school, and to do so with teachers who were not certified
by the state. Authorities allowed the church to be unlocked only for
Sunday morning and Wednesday evening worship services. Other Christians
who attempted to open the church for the Faith Baptist congregation
were physically carried from the premises by police. The church was
padlocked again—with state troopers left behind as guards. In response
to a plea for legal recourse, the Nebraska Supreme Court upheld the
state’s order for the school to remain closed.
Freedom and other media condemned such
intrusion by the state into religious affairs. The media coverage and
the legal battles fought by the Baptists culminated in a change of the
Nebraska law to allow church-run schools throughout the state to
operate without government interference.
Freedom provided a voice to other churches and
clergy in the United States whose stories focused a spotlight on First
In the early 1980s, an alarming trend of civil lawsuits and court
judgments against primarily Christian churches was sweeping the United
States, led by California. The suits—innovative means to line the
pockets of opportunists and their lawyers—were based on frivolous
claims amounting to “clergy malpractice” and sought punitive damages
awards of devastating magnitude.
Freedom examined the litigation and
litigators, making facts available to officials, judges and media, and
adding substantial weight to the voices of reason protesting the trend.
By 1989, legislation was passed in California making it virtually
impossible for frivolous litigation demanding punitive damages to be
filed against churches. The trend of litigation in California and the
country was reversed.
Freedom’s coverage of religious liberty issues
also supported the passage of a national United States Resolution
calling for a week to commemorate the country’s heritage and tradition
of religious freedom. “Religious Freedom Week” was proclaimed in 1988,
1989 and 1990 by Presidential Proclamation. The Week has since been
recognized in the official calendar of national events and is observed
by a multitude of diverse religious groups each year.
Fire on the Cross
In 1996, in an investigation of the burning of churches in the southern
United States, Freedom uncovered evidence of disastrous
negligence on the part of the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and
Firearms (ATF) in its handling of the arsons.
Official probes of the fires dragged on for months, with tight-lipped
federal investigators refusing in some cases to tell the victims
anything. Some pastors and church elders were served with federal grand
jury subpoenas and questioned with the stinging indication that they
had possibly burned their own churches. Evidence of the nature and
extent of insurance coverage made this a virtual impossibility, not to
mention that in virtually all cases, the clergy and congregations were
dedicatedly rebuilding their churches.
In seeking to understand why the arms of justice were crossed, Freedom
found and exposed damning evidence of prejudice among ATF
members—including documented accounts of ATF agents’ involvement in
white racist gatherings.
Through the concerted pressure of media, religions, justice groups and
others, by late 1996, investigations into the fire bombings were
inching forward, prompting Dr. Arthur A. Fletcher, former chairman of
the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, to tell Freedom: “This
seems to be the darkest hour before the sunshine. The church [arsons]
are going to cause religions to join forces. We can expect to see a
giant step in terms of the religious community coming together to
reduce discrimination to insignificance.”
So long as vigilance is continually exercised, it is likely that this
will come to pass, as it has progressively throughout
history—strengthening the First Amendment and making America safer for
Religious Freedom Internationally
In its international editions, Freedom has also championed
causes for religious freedom abroad. The focus of Freedom’s
coverage has been to investigate and inform readers of underlying
motives for discrimination and persecution—with the view that facts and
education are the best weapon against bigotry.
Particularly in Europe, Freedom has sought to assist members of
government, religions, media and the public to exercise principles of
religious equality. In many respects, European nations are still
grappling with the concept. In a democracy, any religion, in theory,
can attain equal standing with other religions—hence equal treatment
from the state—by achieving religious recognition from the government.
In most European countries, however, the procedures for recognition
heavily favor those religions which conform to the doctrines and
structure of the traditional churches—which in many cases are also the
state churches. In other words, religious equality means conformity
with the established churches, and others need not apply.
Freedom has examined the disparate treatment
of religions in countries where the closeness of church and state has
suffocated diversity of religious expression. Comprehensive coverage
was given to the issue of bias in the Danish system, where state
recognition of newer religions was being adjudicated by the state
(Lutheran) church. Daily news media reported on Freedom’s
stories, furthering public discussion of the issue. When a Hindu
congregation was denied recognition, Freedom’s voice was heard
contesting the approval process. In 1997, the Danish government changed
their procedure, and today, minority religions seeking recognition are
reviewed by an independent panel of religious experts.
In similar circumstances, Freedom examined a debate in the
United Kingdom over the denial of religious recognition to the Pagans—a
religion older than Britain itself—and has helped to bring about more
contemporary views on matters of religious equality.
Religious Freedom and Human Rights
Religious freedom adopts a more fundamental meaning when placed in the
context of iniquities afforded minority religions in some European
countries—treatment condemned by the European Court of Human Rights and
by individuals and groups in the international human rights community.
provides in-depth coverage of religious
freedom issues in its European editions.
Oppression of the Jehovah’s Witnesses in
Greece, for example, led to two decisions by the European Court which
denounced the Greek government’s blatant violations of international
human rights treaties. Freedom explored the motivations for the
Greek persecution of Jehovah’s Witnesses and other groups, and pried
into the work of a self-proclaimed “sect expert” who led a propaganda
drive against various minority religions in the country. Freedom’s
report documented the sect expert’s ignoble past with the Greek fascist
junta of the 1970s—including his involvement in torturing Jehovah’s
Witness conscientious objectors.
Freedom has also examined the persecution of
religious minorities in its even more insidious forms, especially in
countries where God-negating dogma has ruled for the greater part of
recent history. In this regard, the influence of psychiatry in the 20th
century has left indelible marks on religious freedom. This is perhaps
best illustrated in Russia, where Freedom reported on adherents
of minority religions occupying the beds of psychiatric asylums that
were believed to have held only political dissidents.
In countries with a more enlightened history vis-à-vis religion,
insecurity yet exists over the growth—sometimes very rapid—of minority
and newer religious groups. In recent years, this insecurity has been
met by parliamentary “commissions” which inquire into the beliefs and
practices of such groups and frequently recommend restrictions be
placed on them. Further, the sources from whom these commissions draw
their reports are often the same ill-intentioned individuals whose
unfounded propaganda about minority religions incited the insecurity in
the first place.
Freedom has been an outspoken voice in
condemning the establishment and outcomes of such inquiry commissions.
Since a federal “observatory on sects” was established in France in
1996 as a result of one such parliamentary inquiry, Freedom’s
coverage has been instrumental in fostering understanding that the
parliamentary commission report which led to the observatory was based
on disinformation. Groups targeted in the report not only pose no
danger to society, but include the religion of the U.S.
President—Baptist—and Catholic organizations whose founders were
recently canonized by the Pope.
Other European editions of Freedom have similarly brought the
facts behind modern-day religious inquisitions to the attention of the
public. Freedom has exposed unlawful activity by “sect experts”
and anti-sect groups which, in some countries, are an arm of the
government or the state church. When a member of a peripheral Catholic
group in Spain was kidnapped, forced into a psychiatric hospital and
force-fed psychiatric drugs because of his religious affiliation, Freedom
investigated the persecutors—members of the “anti-sect” group Pro
Juventud, which was funded by the Spanish government. After Freedom’s
coverage, government funding of the group was abruptly cut.
In an overview of religion in Europe, however, no country better
defines a struggle with democratic concepts of religious
freedom than Germany. In light of their past violations of human
rights and their current ascent to leadership in European and world
affairs, Germany’s standing in the religious freedom arena is of no
Dr. Stephen Feinstein of the University of Wisconsin articulated the
problem when he wrote, in relation to the modern-day disposition of
human rights in Germany, “What all of this suggests is that modern
Germany, while professing to be a democratic republic with a clean
human rights record, has, in fact, one of great contradiction. Nowhere
is this more evident than in cases involving many newer religions.”
Freedom has repeatedly documented, in its U.S. and international editions,
actions of certain German officials that have squarely placed Germany
in non-compliance with European and international conventions on human
rights. In-depth coverage of religious discrimination, focusing on the
treatment of Scientologists, has helped to educate government, media,
human rights leaders and the public on the issue. Freedom has
likewise provided a forum for the cause of religious minorities in
Germany who are experiencing discrimination and who have been denied a
means of speaking out.
Freedom has published boldly on the state of
religious freedom in Germany and has never minced words on the issues.
As nationally syndicated columnist Alexander Cockburn wrote in The
Los Angeles Times following Freedom’s publication of a
1997 edition featuring human rights abuses in Germany: “[T]he
Scientologists have just put out an issue of their publication, Freedom,
revealing criminal conspiracies—misuse of money, etc., etc.—inside the
two major German political parties. The special issue is being put out
in a run of 500,000 in English and German.” Cockburn concluded of Freedom
and Scientologists: “They don’t give up.”
As part of its in-depth coverage of this issue, in 1995 Freedom
published The Rise of Hatred & Violence in Germany, a
documented account of the treatment of religious minorities in Germany
today. Freedom in particular raised a strong voice against the
rise of right-wing extremist activity and propaganda against
minorities, and warned leaders to heed the signs of a repetition of
Germany’s darker chapters in history. While it was perhaps unpopular at
first to speak out on the topic, there is little chance now of the
message being reviled or ignored. The results of a 1998 state election
in former East Germany, demonstrating the rise and power of right-wing
extremist politics, shocked even Germany’s leaders and media.
Freedom has continued to be at the forefront
of enlightening governments, media and the public on the status of
human rights and religious freedom in Germany. Annual human rights
reports by the United Nations and the U.S. Department of State
censuring the German government’s human rights record; reports by
independent human rights watchdog groups; a fact-finding trip by the
United Nations Special Rapporteur on Human Rights; and hearings by the
Office for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) held in Fall 1997
in Washington, D.C. in which Scientologists and Christians testified,
have resulted in part from Freedom’s efforts.
Freedom will continue to perform its role in
documenting and publishing the truth about treatment of religious
minorities and human rights in Germany and other European countries.
Though Freedom has often moved against the grain of certain
government and private interests, the continued wide and international
public response has proven unequivocally that Freedom is far
from alone in its views on religious liberty.