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US criticises religious discrimination in Belgium

Published on September 17, 2004

17 September 2004

BRUSSELS – A major new report by the US State Department says certain religious groups still face discrimination in Belgium.

The State Department’s International Religious Freedom report is published once a year and the 2004 edition had some critical words when it came to Belgium.

Although the report conceded that the Belgian constitution provides for religious freedom and that, “the government generally respects this,” it nevertheless highlighted areas where some religious groups felt they were being unfairly treated.

The report was particularly critical of the fact that Belgium defines the Jehovah’s Witnesses, the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints (the Mormons), the Young Women’s Christian Association and the Church of Scientology as, “harmful sectarian organisations.”

While this definition has no legal weight it has caused problems for some of the groups concerned, the report argues.

It points to the a case where a Belgian prosecutor froze EUR 326, 000 in a bank account belonging to the Church of Scientology as evidence of such discrimination.

The prosecutor froze the funds while investigating suspicions of money laundering.

They were later unfrozen.

Mormon groups meanwhile have complained that their members have often found it difficult to obtain visas to come and preach in Belgium.

The report also says some Jehovah’s Witnesses have complained about child custody rulings by certain Flemish courts.

The judgements in question said visiting rights would only be granted to Jehovah’s Witness parents if they pledged not to expose their children to their religion.

Elsewhere the report expressed concern at the recent rise of anti-Semitic attacks in Belgium.

But the study was quick to stress that the Belgian authorities were equally concerned about the issue and had pledged to tackle the problem.

Belgian Justice Minister Laurette Onkelinkx, who is in charge of religious tolerance questions in Belgium, to La Libre Belgique newspaper that she had taken note of the reports content’s but that she did not necessarily agree with all of its conclusions.

[Copyright Expatica 2004]

Subject: Belgian news