Campaigners are fighting a European initiative to protect children from the excesses of “sects,” arguing that it attacks religious freedom.
But not all of them have been clear about who they are — and what stake they have in the issues up for debate.
A small army of pressure groups is campaigning against a report due to go before the 318-strong Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) this week.
French deputy Rudy Salles, who drew up the report, argues that more needs to be done to protect minors from such groups. In his report, “The Protection of minors against excesses of sects,” he suggests measures that could be taken at both the national and the European level.
But his critics say his proposals amount to an attack on religious freedom. They are lobbying hard to persuade PACE members to reject his proposals.
But who are the critics?
One group is the snappily named European Interreligious Forum for Religious Freedom — Articles (EIFRF).
Its steering committee includes a Catholic priest, an evangelical pastor, a member of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church, several academics — and Eric Roux, the main spokesman for Scientology in France.
No surprise here: Scientology has long made common cause with other religious movements where they feel they have a shared interest.
They have in the past teamed up with other controversial movements such as the Unification Church (or Moonies), and with any members of more mainstream religions prepared to share a platform with them.
So no mystery here: Roux’s allegiance to Scientology is clearly stated at the EIFRF website.
Others however are a little more coy.
An organisation calling itself the Central-European Religious Freedom Institute (CERFI) is another group opposing Salles’ initiative.
CERFI, based in the Hungarian capital Budapest, describes itself as a “non-profit organization for inter-religious cooperation and dialogue.”
On its own website, the Institute is clear about the need to be up-front in its conduct, stating:
“Founder, President, Executive director, Honorary Board Members and all Editors and Contributors are obliged to be impartial in their work and are not to use the website and the blog of the Institute for promoting religious communities to which they belong. In their work they will always keep in mind the purposes of the Institute as given above.”
That makes it all the more surprising that while it posts sympathetic coverage of Scientology — among other movements –– it doesn’t actually mention its links with the group.
The Institute’s president and founding member is Jura Nanuk, a Croatian photographer now based in the Hungarian capital Budapest.
At the website he describes himself as a human rights activist, a member of the Croatian Religious Liberty Association (who gave him an award in 2010) and a Vedic Ambassador. And he is happy to promote his book on Hinduism there too.
But what he does not find any space for is any reference to his long association with Scientology.
Jura Nanuk’s Budapest photography business pops up on a 2004 WISE directory at Kristi Wachter’s database collating information from Scientology’s own publications. (WISE of course is the World Institute of Scientology Enterprises.)
And details posted by a researcher, “Scn.hun,” at the Ex-Scientologist Message Board back in February 2012 suggest that Scientology’s connection to the Institute goes even deeper.
Scn.hun was responding to a report at Hungarian news website kuruc.info about the Institute.
The report named Nanuk and Tibor Krebsz as founding members, idenifying Krebsz as the leader of the Unification Church (Moonies) in Hungary. It describes Nanuk as a Hindu — a reasonable conclusion given the contents of the Institute’s website.
Scn.hun pointed out that Nanuk’s name features in the WISE directory for Central Europe.
So it seems reasonable to ask: who exactly does the Institute represent?
Is it just Nanuk and Krebsz, Scientology and the Moonies? Or can ordinary citizens concerned about religious freedom also get involved?
We wrote to Nanuk asking why he wasn’t more open about his background in Scientology — and for more details as to who exactly the Institute represents.
He got back to us within a few hours with this response:
Thank you for expressing interest in Central-European Religious Freedom Institute. CERFI is open to people of all religions as well as to atheists and agnostics as you could have seen on our website.
I’m surprised by your claim that CERFI website “carries plenty of sympathetic coverage of Scientology.” If you check our posts you will find out that out of total of 225 posted articles, there are only three of them concerning the Church of Scientology, and out those three articles, two are about the news from UK which was published by numerous media all over the world.
My religious affiliation is my private thing as well as the data about my sexual or political orientation. For whom did I vote on last elections, with whom did I sleep yesterday and to which God I’m praying, is part of my privacy. In Hungary where I live those things are considered sensitive personal data and nobody has an obligation publishing those data on his website.
As I never had opportunity to meet you, I looked at your website and your Facebook profile trying to find more about you. I didn’t find there any data about your religious or political affiliation, so I don’t understand why you believe I should advertise my personal data on my website.
Regardless of your religious conviction or political affiliation, you have right to express your opinion on any subject, this is your human right. Religious freedom is also one of the fundamental human rights. In my work in promoting religious freedom I cooperate with many people from different religious communities and I have no prejudice towards anybody.
The same Universal Declaration on Human Rights that grants you the right of freely express your opinions, also grants the right to freely practice any religion or belief. Mr. Salles’ proposal works directly against that fundamental right. Numerous individuals and groups protested against his proposal including me and my Institute.
In support of his proposal, Mr Salles doesn’t provide any documented cases of sectarian abuses of minors and it is question if such a cases exist at all. If they do exist, they can be prosecuted according to existing criminal laws and law on family, no additional special legislation is needed. The truth is that real purpose of Mr. Salles proposal has nothing to do with his concern about children, but it is just an attempt of forwarding his destructive anti-religious agenda at the Council of Europe.
I sincerely hope that members of Parliamentary Assembly of Council of Europe will recognize Mr Salles’ real intentions, and will reject his proposal.
Hope this answers your questions.
Well no, not really.
As president of an institute promoting religious freedom Nanuk has chosen to join the campaign against Salles’ proposals. Surely then it is only reasonable for him to be transparent on the question of his religious affiliation.
Scientology after all, is one movement that has been criticised for its treatment of children — not least by some of those who grew up inside it.
And while the institute declares itself open to all, that does not answer the question of who actually runs it and whom it really represents.
This is especially important given that Scientology has in the past been accused of using front groups to promote its own position without being open about the degree of its own involvement.
So the question remains: is the Institute anything more than a front for Scientology?
We have put those points to Nanuk and will keep you posted on any reply.
The Parliamentary Assembly is due to debate Salles’ report this afternoon in Strasbourg, from around 1330 GMT (that’s 9:30 am Eastern). If you’re minded, you can even follow the debate live.
ADDITIONAL: We’ve not heard back from Nanuk since we sent him our second message on Monday — but we did hear from Péter Bonyai, a former Scientologist in Hungary who is now one of its critics there.
“I know him personally,” he told us when we asked about Nanuk.
Bonyai, who posts as “Thalkirst” over at Ex-Scientologist Message Board, confirmed that Nanuk was a Scientologist — and not just any Scientologist: he was able to confirm some of the other allegations that Scn.hun had made about him.
“As far as I know, he is still in the Sea Org. He was the Membership Chief WISE Central Europe in 2012, and as far as I know, he is still on that,” he added, pointing to his entry in that WISE Central Europe weblink.
“Before that, he was working as a volunteer translator for Translations Unit (around 2000), and then he was recruited to be on staff.”
Finally, Bonyai sent over a fascinating screen shot. “Some additional info on our human rights champion,” he explained.
It shows a post from Nanuk ordering a Hungarian Scientologist to shut down a closed Facebook group he had set up to share classified ads among fellow believers. Why? Because the group is using a trademarked word, “Scientologist,” for business purposes. The very idea!
You’ll see that Nanuk signs himself off as Membership Chief WISE, CEE (Central and Eastern Europe, presumably). The attached post, Bonyai added, dates from January 18, 2103.
We asked Bonyai about his current position regarding Scientology. He explained that he had spent 10 years inside the movement (1995-2005) and another couple of years among the independents.
Today, he added: “I am not an independent Scientologist. I am not a rabid antagonist though and I do feel some sympathy for the people trapped in the Church. I respect the beliefs of independent Scientologists.”
Bonyai is busy translating the book he published in Hungary about his time in Scientology into English — and he’s promised us a review copy.
Looking forward to that.
— Jonny Jacobsen
Mike Bennitt’s audio report from yesterday’s appeals hearing
Hear Leslie Hyman and Ray Jeffrey talk about the appeals hearing in Monique Rathbun’s lawsuit that we reported on yesterday.
Posted by Tony Ortega on April 10, 2014 at 07:30
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