F.O.B. takes action about the misuse of the term „cult”

Since last summer, Soteria International is one of the members of  the European Federation for Freedom of Belief (FoB) which is a free society of culture and information independent from any party. The association is inspired by the principles of democratic participation, of solidarity and social promotion, of autonomy and responsibility.

Recently, FoB took action regarding the continuous misunderstanding or misuse of some terms, eg “cult”.

Here it is the open letter:

F.O.B. letter sent to the director of the weekly magazine L’Espresso

Dear Director,

FOB (Freedom Of Belief) wishes to express their deep shock at the article “Cults and gurus grow up – the institutions turn a blind eye” by Carmine Gazzanni, published by your magazine on the 8th of January 2015. The word “cult”, whose use was already discouraged as long as fifteen years ago by the Council of Europe, is devoid of any scientific value and is used solely to arbitrarily stigmatize some religious minorities. This kind of propaganda already generated several violations of human rights in our continent as well as in our country: since two years the Italy case is being carried out at the OSCE, due to the persecution of harmless groups labeled as “cults”.

The allegation that such “cults” are supposedly growing, is as well arbitrary. The CESNUR data about the new religious movements reveals a rather minority scene, its slight increase over thirty years definitely not warranting the alarmist attitude of the article, that refers in a non substantiated way to vague “sectarian lobbies in the palaces of the powerful”. The absence of the crime of mental manipulation (a concept with no scientific validity at all) is not due to a “normative void”, but rather to the abolition, in 1981, due to anti-constitutionalism, of the crime of plagiarism— a crime insisted upon, non accidentally, by the fascist regimen to punish dissidents. In our opinion, advocating the reintroduction in our country of fascist-like and anti-constitutional crimes is a dangerous move, since it would imply an obvious threat to the democratic system we all -- believers, non-believers and atheists -- participate to.

On the other hand, the need of establishing new types of crimes is not clear, since the crimes mentioned in the article, allegedly committed by individuals or groups (independently from their religious vocation, ethnic or cultural identity) are all extensively covered by the Code -- from sexual abuses to fraud.

As stressed in regard to this subject by very eminent jurists and legislators, in order to establish a mental manipulation above the habitual deception or circumvention of an incapable, one would need an agreed upon standard that would measure the personality of the mental manipulator and of the mentally manipulated; a totally impossible feat.

The Braibanti case, in fact, led to an outrageous conviction of ideological nature and, afterwards, the padre Grasso’s event unavoidably ended with the abolition of the crime. Therefore, the reintroduction of this law would not provide any additional deterrent against crimes already contemplated as such, and would be but a limitation imposed to the freedom of thought, of opinion and of expression that would only damage the citizen without granting him any benefit.

Furthermore, both the CeSAP and the FAVIS, sole sources of the article, are members of the Anti-cults Forum and of the FECRIS. The Forum has been the subject of parliamentary questions due to serious cases of injustice and to the “moral panic” about the so called “cults”, while the FECRIS, beside several criminal convictions, is in the limelight due to years-long violations of human rights in France; violations reported by the most authoritative sources, from the European Union to the OSCE/ODHIR: despite its NGO status, the FECRIS is 90% financed by the French government -- that also established an Inter-ministerial Mission for fight against sectarian deviations -- since long under discussion due to discriminations and stigmatization of religious minorities.

The Forum collaborates with the Anti-cult Team (Squadra Anti-Sette, SAS) of the State Police, subjected to three parliamentary inquiries that led politicians of various different colours to wonder about the department’s compatibility with the Constitution and with the concept of State secularity -- since its inception in 2006, his contact person is a Catholic priest, don Aldo Buonaiuto from the Giovanni XXIII Community -- aside from wondering about its actual need in proportion to its activities and its costs.

Based on the inspection reports, the cases of “cults” and “psycho-cults” originating by the SAS in collaboration with the Forum, turned out systematically unfounded in the proceedings, exactly like the cases mentioned in the article. To mention but one, in the Arkeon case, originating by a study of the Cesap, the grounds given for the judgment by the Court of Bari on the 16th of July 2012 n. 6445/06 RGNR, stated: “the dismissal of the existence of the main and most serious charge, that is the allegation that Arkeon is a ‘psycho-cult’, led to exclude the existence of a mental incapacity of the participants to any kind of seminar and of techniques of mental manipulation, as well as violence of any kind toward minors”.

The damages suffered by the defendants are yet another instance in a long series of unfounded cases of “cults” and were reported to the OSCE, with Italy receiving three recommendations in November 2013. The report from the Ministry of the Interior in 1998 mentioned in the article, was discredited by all venues. The figures mentioned in the article do not match any reliable census, particularly considering the fact that the arbitrary use of the term “cult” does not allow any common standard enabling to evaluate what groups might be put in that category.

Finally, F.O.B. wishes to stress that, while considering reprehensible the hacking of electronic mail, when stating: “They got in the computers, they got in our mail”, Dr. Tinelli seems to refer to the scandal of the site www.liberocredo.org (link is external) that, by use of public and private correspondence, exposed disturbing links between private citizens and law enforcement, operations to silence political dissidents, altered statistics in order to alarm the public opinion and other worrying actions that led to the request of a parliamentary committee of inquiry, also within the above mentioned recommendations in the OSCE/ODIHR.

For these reasons, F.O.B. cordially invites “L’Espresso” to search a bigger number of sources when covering sensitive subjects, and to recognize the effective dangers of abuses or violence in the religious field that might result in the country due to alarms with obviously political aims, as well as non compatible with our Constitution but attempting to maintain securitarian and emergency approaches not just not decisive but particularly very costly from the human and economical stand point.

Thanking you in advance for the concern you show us, we take the occasion to send you our best regards,

F.O.B. (Freedom of Belief) Management Committee
European Federation for Freedom Of Belief