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c. 1998 Religion News Service

Report: 19 European countries violate religious rights

(RNS) A new report by the International Federation for Human Rights says 19 European countries are violating religious rights, and religious minorities in some east European countries now face greater difficulties than they did under communism.

And the group’s 1998 annual report said protection of religious freedom was deteriorating across Europe as governments in both the east and west showed a similar tendency to strengthen traditional faiths at the cost of minorities.

The report included analyses of human rights and religious freedom in 41 countries and found religious violations in some 19 nations. They included: Albania, Armenia, Austria, Azerbaijan, Bosnia, Bulgaria, Georgia, Greece, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Latvia, Macedonia, Moldova, Norway, Romania, Russia, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Yugoslavia.

The Vienna-based group said Russia’s controversial 1997 law on religion”clearly violated constitutional guarantees of freedom of conscience and equality of citizens before the law regardless of creed.” Paula Tscherne-Lempiainen, the report’s editor, told Ecumenical News International, the Geneva-based religious news agency, said that while people now have a chance to organize and to act in Eastern Europe,”the daily tasks of survival and the sense that little progress has been achieved in a decade are diverting energies away from human rights issues.” Among western nations, the report cited the introduction of a compulsory religious education course in Norwegian schools in 1997 as the reason for placing that country on the list, saying the law”failed to take into account Norway’s development into a multi-religious society.” In Austria, it said a 1997 law effectively barred any new”state-recognized religions”beyond the existing 12.

And it noted that several nations in the West were currently drafting laws to strengthen the status of traditional faiths while restricting the rights of smaller groups like Jehovah’s Witnesses.

Tscherne-Lempiainen said that the emphasis of many religious rights advocates to point their finger at developments in East Europe means”we are still failing to see what is going on in the West.”In reality, the tendencies are exactly the same, and we should be taking these problems much more seriously. But western public opinion is becoming increasingly selfish. Most people care about injustices only when they are personally affected.” The Helsinki Federation, named after the 1975 Helsinki Final Act, has 34 national committees and monitors human rights with funding from the European Union and several governments.

Patriarch urges Russians to pray for peace

(RNS) Patriarch Alexii, head of the Russian Orthodox Church, has warned Russians not let the country’s deepening political and economic crisis lead to civil war.”Civil war is the the most terrible thing that the current political crisis could bring to Russia, because (shedding) blood always divides,”the patriarch said in Sept. 8 remarks after prayers before the icon of Our Lady of Vladimir, who is considered a protector of Moscow.

Alexii said the nation was”at a time of new crisis.””We know that many are having a hard time now, and it will perhaps become even more difficult,”the patriarch said of the mounting economic woes that have made tens of thousands of Russians destitute in the years since it began initiating free market reforms.”Nevertheless,”he said,”we believe that the Lord will protect our land from misfortunes, sorrows and internecine war.” Ecumenical News International, the Geneva-based religious news agency, said that the economic crisis affecting the country is having a devastating impact on churches and other nonprofit organizations because donations are losing their purchasing power, big donors cannot transfer promised funds to religious organizations because the banking system is paralyzed, and the Russian state _ the churches’ biggest benefactor _ is completely bankrupt.”We lost all that we had,”said Mufti Ravil Gainutdin, leader of central Russia’s Muslims.”We have had to suspend all of our projects, including the restoration of mosques. It is hard to expect any help from our businessmen any more.” Viktor Petlyuchenko, a deputy chairman of the Orthodox Church’s department of external affairs, told ENI it has lost many of its resources.”We trusted the economic system and banks,”he said.

Pat Boone, Gary Bauer call for flag protection legislation

(RNS) Singer Pat Boone, one of the country’s best known evangelical entertainers, has joined Gary Bauer, a leader of the nation’s religious political conservatives, in calling for legislation to protect the American flag.”Burning and desecrating our flag is wrong,”Boone told a Sept. 8 news conference.”Our flag stands for our future, our hopes and our dreams. Will our children’s nation point to us as the generation that did nothing as this cherished symbol went up in smoke?” The proposed legislation seeks to overturn a 1989 Supreme Court decision which found that physical desecration of the flag was free speech.

At a news conference, other supporters of the flag protection amendment released a poll showing 76 percent of the public favored giving Congress the power to prohibit such acts as burning the flag. The poll had a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.

The proposed legislation would take the form of a Constitutional amendment, requiring support by two thirds of the House and Senate. The House has passed the amendment but the Senate remains about six votes shy of reaching the number necessary to pass the measure.”The issue here is simple,”Sen. Strom Thurmond, R-S.C., said.”Flag burning is intolerable.”

Quote of the day: German President Roman Herzog

(RNS)”It is a monument against oblivion.” _ German President Roman Herzog on U.S. filmmaker Stephen Spielberg’s movie”Schindler’s List.”Herzog made the comments Thursday (Sept. 10) in awarding Spielberg the Knight Commander’s Cross of the Order of Merit.


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