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The East: U.S. Concerned About Religious Freedom

  • Bogdan Turek

Warsaw, 13 November 1997 (RFE/RL) -- A member of the U.S. delegation to the OSCE conference on human rights said today religious freedom once suppressed in the former communist states is expanding but promotion of the freedom of thought is still being hampered.

David Little, a member of the U.S. delegation to the conference attended by representatives from 55 countries said the U.S. is concerned about the rise of intolerance toward smaller religious groups.

He said the U.S. is concerned not only with the situation in the former communist states but also with Turkey, Austria and Germany.

Little said the governments of Azerbaijan and Bulgaria are denying to recognize legal status to the church called Word of Life and the Jehovah's Witness have not been registered in Armenia, Austria, Greece and Latvia.

He said a situation of the minority Christian community has recently improved in Turkey but it is facing problems to obtain permissions to construct new religious facilities and renovate churches.

Little said Russia's new law "On Freedom of Conscience and on Religious Associations" of September 22 may sanction intolerance for smaller religious groups.

"We devoutly hope it will not occur,' he said.

The law denies rights of property, publication and education and access to public institutions to religious groups who have existed less than 15 years in Russia.

According to Little, signals of religious intolerance are coming from Germany and Austria too.

Little quoted an example of bad treatment of the members of the Church of Scientology in Germany, where some of its members lost their jobs because of their affiliation.

In Austria, he said, the government is attempting to protect citizens from so-called "dangerous cults of sects" not included among the 13 officially recognized religious organizations.

"We raise these criticisms in a constructive spirit," Little said, adding that all participating states should recommit themselves to the 1989 Vienna Concluding Document dealing with a necessity of promoting a mutual tolerance between believes of different communities.