Struggles and Challenges for Freedom of Belief in our society

UN - 37th session of the Human Rights Council

As we all know, it is a major obligation of all EU member states to respect and protect the freedom of conscience, thought and religion and to combat discrimination, and substantial resources are invested to diminish the symptoms of discrimination and non-tolerance. Still, discrimination and non-tolerance continue to challenge our societies.

Public fear and ignorance regarding unfamiliar religious traditions has increased. Discrimination and hate speech increasingly target religious minorities or New Religious Movements and the public debate is increasingly harsh on any group that is considered unfamiliar to society. This reaction on unfamiliar thoughts and religions started at the end of the last millennium, with France and Belgium’s arbitrary sect lists.

Instead of discussing ideas and insights, criminal intent was brought into speculation behind the ideas of witchcraft, subversive plans and mind manipulation. Volunteer work in new spiritual communities is called human trafficking, a consensual love affair is called sexual abuse, etc.

The experience demonstrated by humankind so far, indicates that often legality prevails over righteousness, but when things are considered just as an exclusive result of legislative decisions, human rights can miss the ethical and moral dimensions.

Very often, conflicts, discrimination, and non-tolerance stem from diversity and from the dichotomy created by the idea of being right or wrong in our beliefs. However, it is in fact very important to embrace diversity and to understand it in an inclusive and superior nature. We all have the same origin as human beings, and diversity is nothing other than a great opportunity for enrichment.

The violation of freedom of conscience, thought and religion expressed in civil society through government restrictions or through popular hostility against freedom of religion or belief are a significant factor of tensions and conflicts.

In our globalized society, we are witnessing a restriction on the freedom to choose a spiritual path, due to the fact that society understands the actions of individuals in a local paradigm of behaviour that is appropriate to the rules of social life in a respective region.

On the other hand, globalization has resulted in the expansion of the field of human behaviour. Hence, we can speak, for example, of some religions, which prescribe rituals and practices, that may not have an equivalent in Christian worship—predominant in the EU. Some of these rituals and practices may seem unusual or strange in the Eastern Europe paradigm, exceeding the limit of comfort created by traditional norms.

However, regardless of our personal habits and subjective perceptions, these rituals and practices are absolutely legitimate and normal, as long as they remain peaceful and non-abusive. Respecting the freedom of individuals to have and create their own spiritual convictions, and respecting the will of each person to follow the spiritual path suited to their personal system of values is imperative.

However, social order and rules of social coexistence must adjust to the changes taking place at the social level, without abusively restricting fundamental human rights and freedoms.

We have arrived in a time where certain behaviours, rituals, or actions related to a spiritual path can be considered as material elements of criminal behaviour, simply because they do not fall within the behavioural limits known and accepted by society.

To ignore, for example, the practices of a spiritual path, and the way of manifesting and outwardly expressing that spiritual path, and to analyse the behaviour of people without regard for the system of values from which that spiritual path comes, inevitably leads to a violation of the freedom of conscience, thought, and religion.

Let us not forget that the purpose of law is to regulate social relations, and rules of conduct are in constant evolution, bearing the imprint of each individual that is part of society. Analysis of a person’s actions must take into account their spiritual particularities, and ignoring them is a clear violation of their fundamental right to religion, thought and conscience—limiting their freedom to choose a spiritual path consistent with their intrinsic personal values. This is the fault of society as a whole, of the system, and we must work together to resolve this.


Soteria International team has studied cases from different countries, inside Europe, as for example:

  • -  Ananda Assisi - Italy

  • -  Arkeon - Itlay

  • -  OKC - Belgium

  • -  Poetrie Esoteric Institute – Czech Republic

  • -  MISA – Romania ... and others.

Our delegation met with people —professors, doctors, teachers, engineers, architects, etc.—who seemed to suffer social marginalization after a media campaign against their belief system, and due to the fact that they were students or followers of a spiritual community. Some of the individuals interviewed (judge, actors, military, architects, accountants, psychologist, etc.) lost their job or clients due to the influence of the media campaigns and the police investigations on their private lives.

Members of the spiritual groups were rejected by their friends and family, finding themselves questioned at work and, even, losing their jobs. All these are also a direct consequence of the negative media attention, which permeates our society.

We want to raise the attention on the report issued by The European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) in December 2017 “Second European Union Minorities and Discrimination Survey”.

The European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) is the EU’s centre of fundamental rights expertise. It is one of the EU’s decentralised agencies. These agencies are set up to provide expert advice to the institutions of the EU and the Member States on a range of issues. The Agency helps to ensure that the fundamental rights of people living in the EU are protected.

In the report we can notice information regarding discrimination, as follows:

FRA is explaining the Figure 48, concluding that “Similarly, respondents with negative experiences regarding discrimination, harassment or violence show lower levels of trust in the police and the legal system, as shown in Figure 48. “

The report continues with graphics and more explanations about the average levels of trust in the legal system for all EU-MIDIS II countries and target groups: “Respondents with discrimination experiences consistently – though at varying levels – show lower levels of trust in the legal system among almost all target groups and countries. Among some groups, those with discrimination experiences tend not to trust the legal system, while those without such experiences tend to trust the legal system. “

In order to underline the results from FRA report, we just give some examples from our work filed and we analyse briefly 2 situations from the Czech Republic.

“Unlike their Central and Eastern European neighbours, most Czechs don’t believe in God. The vast majority of adults in Central and Eastern Europe identify with a religious group and believe in God, according to a recent Pew Research Center survey of 18 countries in the region. But those in one country are an exception to this pattern: the Czech Republic, where a majority of the population is religiously unaffiliated and does not believe in God. About seven-in-ten Czechs (72%) do not identify with a religious group, while on a separate question, two-thirds (66%) say they do not believe in God.” neighbors-most-czechs-dont-believe-in-god/

On this background of beliefs in the local level, it is easy that any attempt to a spiritual practice can be misinterpreted or misunderstood.

Further the presentation was about the case from 2010 when Police raided, interrogated Poetrie Esoteric Institute students and framed the court case against Jaroslav Dobes and Barbora Plaskova and the situation of the Christians Chinese refugees in the Czech Republic.