Dedication to Human Rights &
Freedom of Religion or Belief
Cometan is now 23 and is currently conducting groundbreaking research on the structural issues that government systems for recognising religion and belief pose to the maintenance of high FoRB standards. Cometan's chief contributions to the field include RoRB, recognitionism, facilitationism and a series of new terminology.
Click here to view Cometan's
Doctoral Research Proposal in full.
Brandon Reece Taylorian (a.k.a. Cometan) is a leading scholar and advisor on issues regarding freedom of religion or belief (FoRB) around the world and has been involved in the human rights field since he was nineteen years old. His interest in FoRB emerged after he founded his own philosophy and religious movement called Astronism at 15 years old.
If you involved in Freedom of Religion or Belief advocacy and wish to contact Cometan directly, please email him at the following address: firstname.lastname@example.org
The Doctoral Research Proposal of Cometan that introduces the Cometanic theory that religious recognition is central to freedom of religion impediments was accepted by the University of Central Lancashire's School of Humanities, Language, and Global Studies on Monday 2nd November and one week later, on Monday 9th November, the Astronist Institution published this work of Cometan for public viewing.
In their 2020 International Religious Freedom Report, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) detailed the recognition processes for religious organisations by country. Although the dynamics of religious restriction were acknowledged, the data alone did not explicate the possible link between the abuse of recognition systems and issues such as religious freedom violations, forced migration, discrimination, and terrorism. This project is primarily concerned with how the legal apparatus of religious recognition could be abused by governments and why this may be fundamental to the conditions of religious liberty. Religious recognition denotes the mechanism for the legal registration of religious institutions in a country; government recognition normally permits institutions to conduct commercial operations and religious services legally.
Abuse of such a system may include a deliberate bureaucracy bias against some groups to make legal registration difficult to obtain. This can entail requests for members’ personal details to store in databases for surveillance purposes, or the weaponisation of terms like cult, foreign religion, and extremism against religious groups that the state does not approve of e.g. Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia. Studies of religious restriction divide the topic into government restriction and social hostility; government restriction is the focus for this research as the potential misuse of recognition systems by governments and political parties will be explored. Secondly, this study seeks to determine whether the commercial operations of religious institutions contradict religious principles and how governments may use recognition systems to restrict religious commerce e.g. the selling of religious texts or the collection of donations. Thirdly, determining whether economic freedom is relevant to religious freedom conditions will be important to this project’s study of the intersection between business, religious recognition, and freedom of religion.
Either an expert in the field of human rights or a representative of a religious or philosophical group.
Anonymous individuals who belong to or lead minority or new religions in their respective countries.
General Coordinator of the Iraq Religious Freedom Roundtable
institutionalisation of recognition, steps in the recognition process, and the promotion of FoRB through local mediators in communities wary of this right.
Professor Heiner Bielefeldt
UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief (2010–2016)
RoRB certainly constitutes a separate branch of human rights alongside FoRB, the academic systematisation of recognition issues, recognition issues should be approached through the clarification of human rights as non-negotiable and universal, a focus on uniform terminology especially in national constitutions, the distinction between recognition (an existential act) and registration (a legal act) is paramount, a broad approach to country-specific issues is recommended and a recognitocentric approach to human rights would be valuable to the field.
Professor Russell Sandberg
Lawyer and Specialist on Law and Religion in England and Wales at Cardiff University
recognition and registration systems oftentimes stop at religion to the exclusion of belief, philosophical or otherwise; enactment of law on recognition causes reliance on principles that quickly become out of date and "inherently conservative" and "inherently Judeo-Christian" when considering problems of the near and far future; recognition and registration systems are a "necessary evil"; religions can see wins in some areas of the law in which they may receive recognition but losses in other parts especially in what may be termed "ad hoc registration" systems; the 'religionisation' of non-religious movements (e.g. humanists) so that they fit into religiously-inclined legal frameworks; starting from scratch with a blank sheet of paper would mean firstly, what does the state need to know; less can be more when it comes to RoRB standards; England and Wales marriage law says the place of worship need to be registered and the act of marriage needs to take place inside that building in order for the marriage to be considered legal; facilitation of religion or belief could include a retreat from the state's overbearing role instead opting for religious organisations to work in healthcare and education once more; exclusion is inherent to defining laws on religious recognition and registration; there is the RoRB scale – the fact that all countries sit at different, often unique stages along the path to the highest, most inclusive, most progressive conditions for RoRB; pragmatism when it comes to RoRB; the spectre of establishment of religion; deserving and undeserving claimants for registered and recognised status; issues of recognition pertaining to political beliefs; a very wide definition policy and a very rigorous regulation policy; not to filter out at the definition stage due to such decisions inherently going to be arbitrary; issues involving recognition and registration come down to issues of definition; objective criteria for subjective rights; FoRB can be simplified down to what extent can one reasonably act upon, manifest and express their opinion and assemble based on opinion and why and at what stage should the state be concerned about this; issues of recognition and registration come down to overbearing state involvement; comparative recognition takes place spatially and temporally as criteria for what is justifiable policy such as "how did the country cope before religious activity was regulated in this regard?"; constitutional provisions on religion often do not reflect the legal framework when dealing with matters of religion so a distinction should be made.
Dr. Susan Kerr
Senior Advisor on FoRB at the OSCE's Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights
States have a responsibility in terms of their FoRB commitments to remain even-handed in how they approach the recognition of faith or belief communities. The securitisation of religious activity – including the use of a "national security" narrative on extremism and terrorism - to limit religious activity and, thus, FoRB, is problematic. From an OSCE perspective, the narrative that human rights compliance, including the adherence to commitments on FoRB, is an internal issue for a country and therefore should not be critiqued by other countries or international organizations is inadmissible. Each participating State has agreed in the commitments that the security of one member is of concern to the security of all participating States. Margin of appreciation should be considered in formulating standards for religious recognition and registration. Such standards would be a novel contribution to the field. The greater the level of FoRB, the greater the potential for meaningful interfaith dialogue – they enjoy a symbiotic relationship. The state has a duty to facilitate e.g. the practice of religion or belief without discrimination; this duty is enshrined in international human rights law. Political sensitivities could prevent international organizations from opting to provide country-specific recommendations. (As an aside, I would not reduce political sensitivities to questions of funding or open dialogue- there can be many other reasons too, e.g. timing – elections OR position within a country – maybe better to let another org. issue the recommendations as they have a better standing OR...). Normative pressure is an important tool used by the OSCE to guide countries in terms of their FoRB commitments. There are some umbrella organizations and coalitions composed of religious or belief community actors that advocate for FoRB. Whilst many use human rights as a framework, of course, principles such as human dignity may also be found within their faith or belief traditions. All human rights will always be somewhat aspirational, as the world is dynamic and changing, and, therefore, total freedom of religion or belief will arguably never be fully attained. This does not mean that we should stop striving for it! Registration should never be a requirement for any community to exist. However, if communities decide to register, I think that what information they should offer is somewhat dependent upon the purpose of this registration procedure. For example, if it is about providing the rights of a basic legal entity that can e.g. open a bank account, purchase land or enter into other such types of contracts, then certain information could be expected- at the very least a contact person with contact details, perhaps accompanied by a copy of some form of ID. This said, where countries request significant amounts of information, this is not the State facilitating, but rather obstructing the practice of FoRB in community with others, and as you have pointed out, it can be very dangerous depending upon the context.
Dr. Stanley Carlson-Thies
Founder and Senior Director of the Institutional Religious Freedom Alliance
issues pertaining to recognition and registration primarily come down to issues of definition and that these issues effect both authoritarian and democratic states, namely determining what is or is not 'religious' or providing definitions of religion that effectively exclude non-traditional forms of the manifestation of belief; state facilitation of religion or belief can be enacted through the government's funding of social projects that are purpose-built to encourage interfaith activities as found from the Cardus studies on religious freedom; recognition for new religious movements can be sought from scholarship, promotion of its discussion in the public sphere and rousing a court case to incite the government to recognise the religion in some way; positive rights (the right to do something) need to be applied through an institutional framework; in the United States, a policy of default non-registration for religious organisations remains in place; the important role of bottom-up freedom; the application of a fluid definition of religion in American law; definition of the boundary between different issues such as defining abortion or euthanasia as standard medical practices means opposition to these practices on religious grounds becomes a more difficult case to achieve success in; many of the social issues from lack of recognition for religious belief arise from not having enough plurality or freedom in allowing belief-based institutions to establish their own organisations to deal with matters such as healthcare and education especially in countries in which the state plays the main role which only then perpetuates the state-individual dichotomy but actually it should be a trichotomy between state-institution-individual; if there is not enough freedom granted through recognition to manifest their beliefs then this is certainly a factor in causing greater degrees of extremist views and belief-based violence; what religious freedom principally protects and is especially concerned with changes over time and is subject to shifts in the social, cultural and political spheres; an example of how tax-exemption has been used in the United States as leverage to have religious organisations conform to public policy; its easier for governments not to recognise or register to avoid cumbersome administrative responsibilities; without recognition, it is difficult to "obtain" religious freedom; the facilitative Dutch education system that allows for the development of bottom-up freedom; the American culture is based on default non-registration.
Chief Executive of
promoted the ideal of there being no need for recognition systems; religious recognition is instead the problem and such systems operate from a place of exclusion; OSCE and the international system could establish a convention dedicated to FoRB that could include a section on RoRB issues and standards; recognition and registration law is commonly used to the detriment of the non-religious including those without any belief identity and those who identify with a particular non-religious or atheistic philosophy; how recognition is skewed holds real-world personal impacts for humanists; viewed country-specific RoRB standards as the way forward.
living in Egypt
recognition reduces interfaith tensions, a lack of state recognition leads to complacency and injustices, violations of RoRB bring about an opposite effect by making the faithful more resolute, while recognition fosters a sense of safety and security.
Member of a New
living in Germany
member of a small, unrecognised religion in Germany; government should have no say on which religions are valid and those that are not; validation should not depend on membership or longevity; free zones, even in countries with state religions, where the government does not favour one religion over another yet still respects the national religion; state validity is not a personal requirement but the reality remains that recognition remains a prerequisite to some degree of protection; in Germany, it is a requirement that moving into a new area means that their has to be declared but the choices Catholic, Protestant and Muslim are the only ones provided; lack of sufficient recognition causes a disconnection between members and the state; only in matters of extremism and terrorism should the government be involved in religious matters; recognition systems are inherently discriminatory.
living in China
religious activity should be regulated to ensure harmony and stability for the whole society; opposed to state religions however supported the continuation of a religious recognition system; a lack of religion will leave the effected community feeling insecure and experience a lack of belonging in the society; although the ability for recognition to bring diversity and inclusiveness was affirmed, it was also conceded that balancing resources across different religions is the underlying problem; governments have the responsibility to prevent beliefs from being manipulated or used improperly.
Muslim who lived with a Christian missionary
living in Jordan
Maintaining a state religion is important to upholding the traditional and common values of the Jordanian people; the Christian missionary whom he lived with was not able to proselytise publicly, only in private homes when invited by the homeowner; sometimes it is social pressure and stigma that restricts religious activity even more than the government itself and therefore inhibits the ability for Jordanian society as a whole to extended recognition to different religions; social media is helping to open people's minds, especially of the younger generation, to respect different religious communities which can manifest as positive recognition; conversion from Islam remains socially unacceptable.
living in Israel
the government and society has a duty to facilitate religion and belief; the recognition of the belief identities of citizens is comparable to their recognition as citizens; teaching the history of religion in schools is essential to maintaining of peace for future generations; the restriction of religion has the opposite effect of entrenching one's faith; without some kind of recognition system in place, "sectarian movements" will ultimately undermine religious freedom; restrictions should be placed on what religious buildings are allowed to be named in order to maintain the integrity of other existent religions that already use such titles for their own places of worship.
Dr. Mine Yildirim
Founder of the Freedom of Belief Initiative and Specialist on FoRB conditions in Turkey
(Retentionism but on the basis of that the system isn't found to restrict or discriminate)
Turkey employs a policy of non-registration specifically for religious groups; however, there is a vertical recognition system in which some state-approved forms of the Islamic religion, namely Sunni Islam, are given state privilege, then Greek Orthodox, the Jewish community, the Armenian Apostolic Church and lesser recognition of the Syriac Orthodox community as the government's interpretation of the Treaty of Lausanne; they raised issues with the implementation of proposed RoRB standards such as placing doubt over whether an international organisation like the United Nations or the OSCE could implement or even devise such standards; a form of recognition called "implied recognition" is in effect in which a building may be granted "place of worship status" by the state as a way of recognising the religions or communities affiliated with those places of worship as a whole which in turn reduces the 'fullness of recognition'; recognition can be closely intertwined with the notion of legitimacy; registration procedures have the potential to be facilitate and to hinder religious freedom; recognition is oftentimes spoken about with a focus on collective rights and institutional rights, but upholding some aspects of individual rights (such as the right to conscientious objection) requires the state to extend some often abstract degree of recognition (technically called acknowledgement in RoRB terminology) for one's religion or belief; privileges are granted to Sunni Muslim groups in the area of "public religious services" by the Presidency of Religious Affairs (PRA) which in turn creates a direct line of communication between Sunni Islamic organisations and the government; however, Muslim groups that define themselves outside of traditional Islamic groups and therefore reside outside the PRA structure are in turn restricted in what they may legally do such as the ability to open a building and call it a mosque because the PRA administers all mosques in the country and this also effects leaders of those groups excluded from the PRA structure; hence the provision of structures based on recognition can inhibit communities that do not fit into the definitions made by those structures; there is definitely an inequality when it comes to the distribution of state funds for public religious affairs skewed in favour of Sunni Muslim groups and therefore a demonstration of their state privilege; when it comes to considering religious recognition, we need to orient our approach around existing structures of international human rights, particularly regarding the principles of whether the act in question interferes in the free exercise of religion or belief, its necessity in a democratic society, whether it is discriminatory and what aims are interpretable from its implementation and are these objectives sound or otherwise compatible with FoRB; most recognition systems are in need of reform and a progressive approach due to immigration and changing social attitudes meaning that these systems may not have been discriminatory when they were first created but are in contemporary times as well as the progressions made in international human rights jurisprudence that produce normative demands that in turn mean some systems need to be reformed to correspond with those norms; state recognition exists even if registration procedures are abolished as one of the necessary functions of the state albeit in more implicit forms; adoption of a case by case basis rather than a more systematic approach of tackling the dismantling of restrictive parts of registration and recognition systems; in Turkey, a "glaring inequality" exists regarding how the state distributes funds to religious groups as well as restrictions being imposed on some groups and not others (double discrimination); registration and reregistration is an obstacle to FoRB in the OSCE region; in Turkey, although there are no formal registration procedures specific to religious groups, legal personality status is still required but is not therefore intertwined with registration per se; registration procedures and monitorial requirements (e.g. annual meetings and decision books) are the same for religious and secular associations (except for Islamic religious groups) (an example of indistinction); monitorial requirements in Turkey differ depending on how a religious group has registered itself (whether as a foundation, an association or as an Islamic religious group); the state needs to be clear on what is involved in producing annual reports and what religious groups need to do to satisfy the state's requirements of them and depending on these factors, such aspects of monitorial requirements could be reasonably classified as impermissible; due to the variability of these restrictions, the broader criteria should be applied; there is a gap in international standards and lack of research around keeping registered status once a religious group has achieved this; the 'institutional' aspect of institutional religious freedom may serve to restrict its scope; the issue at the forefront of discourses should be the intersection of gender and FoRB as well as the issue of countries making hierarchies out of different rights and freedoms, essentially making a judgement over which rights hold more value than others especially as seen during the Covid pandemic in which public health superseded religious freedom in some states; although recognition may have the potential to facilitate FoRB, it may also equally inhibit FoRB by increasing state involvement in religious affairs; implementability and implementation are the most important aspects of protecting religious freedom today.
Secretary General of Stefanus Alliance International
(Retentionism but on the basis of recognition being use to facilitate)
registration and recognition issues are widespread because they are capable of controlling the religious activities of citizens; state funding is often the main determiner of the state involving itself in religious affairs meaning the activities of individual religious organisations; different moral standards and worldviews of individuals within governments can sometimes cause issues because the way they are approaching the issue of religious freedom is not always reflective of human rights norms; registration and recognition issues are not necessarily formed by loopholes in the human rights system but instead perhaps the complexity and diversity of contemporary life and the views, religious, philosophical, secular or otherwise that are entangled in how religion and belief are recognised by those in government; more research needs to be conducted on the positive aspects of freedom and the negative aspects of control – the idea that giving more freedom to religious groups from state actually could allow for groups to control and regulate themselves, especially when it is understood that having more freedom is better for security when the "national security" narrative tool is used by states; we need to work on broader FoRB literacy; FoRB Learning Platform are working to improve levels of FoRB literacy through videos for example; proportionality and non-discrimination are the key criteria in determining the permissibility of a state-imposed restriction or administrative measure on religious groups under FoRB guidelines; a prioritisation should be placed on Bielefeldt's principle of the "maximisation of rights" meaning to maximise the protection of all rights much as possible is essential in order to combat ongoing issues with the misuse of narrative tools such as "public order" or "national security" and in instances in which one right is considered to be superior to another as an ongoing issue; equal recognition is essential to the discussion of RoRB; there needs to be a clear understanding on what the purpose of recognition or registration is and do such objectives hold water against the criteria of being necessary in a democratic society; recognition systems are positive if they have the purpose to facilitate or enable religious activities but are negative if they have the intended purpose to control; equal recognition also entails an approach to religious recognition that is devoid of the provision of privileges to religious groups simply based on members of religious communities that hold significant influence in the government and are therefore able to wield this power to benefit the group of which they are part; an importance needs to be place on different religious groups coming together to discuss recognition and minority issues together as part of their interfaith dialogue; there should be a movement away from the "privilege mentality" towards the "human rights and equal treatment mentality" to help minority communities and divergent communities within the majority to stand together to request change from the government; to declare the heterodoxy of a certain belief or practice and thereby any fraction within the community believing or practicing such is a right of a religious organisation or leadership to make; state definition of religion, especially in regards to the state deciding who are and who are not part of a certain community, is impermissible; use mandatory registration and the purpose of registration as control as the main determinants of the restrictivity of a country's approach to religious recognition; the OSCE guidelines help in determining what is and is not determinable as 'control' when it comes to the nature of registration procedures; the human rights project has been a long term cinching in of these rights over time; support for a more general, thematic approach to the dispense of standards on RoRB; standards that are too specific and tight encourage governments to find loopholes; international norms, the situation in the country, and what can be recommended in terms of standards and conditions for countries to progress on matters of registration and recognition of religion or belief; the issue of enforcement is ongoing and how human rights can be implemented and how restrictions on religion are enforced by states; there is an ongoing issue of the creation of a 'hierarchy of rights'; intersectionality of religious freedom with other freedoms and topics is essential to consider in form RoRB standards; studies on state attitudes to proselytism as being precisely indicative of a state's approach to or view of religious freedom and its ability to act as a litmus test for FoRB are lacking; the issue of the misuse of the term "harmony" (there is a majority religion that minorities 'know' how to act and what to say in relation to that majority to maintain "harmony"); Bielefeldt expounds the principle that FoRB is a "non-harmonious peace project"; the state's misuse of "disharmony" as a narrative tool; locked recognition (e.g. Treaty of Lausanne); the issue of legitimate discrimination (e.g. an atheist applies to become a pastor in a church or a moral standing on female leadership); to resolve this problem, there should be sufficient provisions granted to such individuals who wish to diverge from the main group to create their own; is it essential that any RoRB standards put in place are infused with good-intentioned purpose and a dynamic approach and are endowed with predictability based on "fundamental norms" that are slow-changing.
living in Taiwan
"No, I do not agree with the state religion. We can learn from history that politicians use religion to do evil. As a democracy supporter, I think religious freedom should be protected under institutions"; recognition is stated as being important to the individual but not necessarily in the country in which they reside; faith is used by the individual as a means of countering adversity; opposed to the idea that greater recognition would bring about positive change for his community; opposed to the idea of the government having any involvement in religious affairs, even for facilitative purposes; "some of our church members went abroad to carry the mission with their family in Thailand and Nepal, even in Western Africa. They are living a hard life with their willingness. However, our church always supports them for basic living and consultation"; what the interview with this individual demonstrates is that certainly in some countries registration is genuine and does contribute to members of minorities in feeling comfortable to practice their religion freely; this reveals that perhaps part of a comprehensive approach to RoRB standards would be to determine the genuineness of a government in granting the ability for groups to practice freely; finally, there is also the ever-present threat of Chinese influence on the island which could, if it rises to too great a power, lead to the exportation of worst practice by implementing a form of religious policy akin to that imposed on the Chinese Mainland in Taiwan.
Member and leader of a New Religious Movement
living in Hungary
religious and philosophical movements do not attract hostility until they are large enough; witnessed many people discriminated against for their traditional religious convictions due to the widespread nature of militant atheism which was the precursor to the "cancel culture" of today; restricting personal convictions and beliefs is never justified. Restricting actions that can bring harm to others can be justified; it is important that we promote and protect religious freedom; of course this is in conflict with having a state religion; but if people are free to move, they can move to a place where their religion is more welcome; this is hardly an optimal solution, but it is the best solution that I can see at the moment; "I just want to be left in peace" and no interest in receiving greater recognition from the state for their beliefs; "in the Western societies that I’m more familiar with we have laws against religious discrimination, so we should just apply the laws; but in the same Western society it so happens that militant atheists have too much cultural power, so the laws are not applied; even if governments recognise more religious sects, those sects would probably continue to hate each other anyway; actually, more visibility can contribute to more hatred; the right to think with one’s own head, choose the belief one’s happiest with, and practice this belief peacefully, is a basic and fundamental human right.
Professor Marco Ventura
European Consortium for Church and State Research and expert on religious freedom in Vietnam
because the use of registration as a tool is still fairly new relative to religious history, the claim that this is on the increase may not be so concrete; so much has changed in the last thirty years with a new global view, the tools used are different and the agendas are different; the objectivity of the notion that the misuse of registration is on the increase is questionable at the very least; registration is still very new; in the current times, recognition and registration is crucial; during the Soviet times, minorities were not concerned with registration or recognition but purely with survival; we have to consider the registration issue relatively, that although issues of registration and recognition may be widespread, the issues could be a lot worse when we look at just five or sixty years ago; a rising concern of registration but within the relatively short timespan of the last thirty years or so; we are subjectively more sensitive to registration issues because we are more sensitive to recognition itself; more information is now far more freely available which has allowed the world to see conditions, global circulation of information and global strategies to deal with issues raised; recognition is not neutral; recognition is about lobbying and pursing interests and how these interests are obtained; the objectivity of recognition and registration issues needs to be challenged; this research is crucial; recognition issues are fragile, subjective and volatile; in favour of as little state recognition as possible; American colleagues do not consider their system of registration through the tax agency as a form of recognition; recognition should be minimised; presumption that registration and recognition issues are indeed a human rights concern; the state classically has an appetite for control; religious actors are complicit in some repressive recognition systems; some religious leaders have accepted state policy to maintain their recognised status by compromising but continue to present themselves as victims of state repression; the issue of recognition is one in which religious groups are complicit in engaging with state agencies even when the state conducts itself in ways contrary to religious doctrine (e.g. the ROC's continued support of the Kremlin in the Ukraine war despite violence being contrary to contemporary Christian belief); the policy of the Catholic Church is that it exists in all countries regardless of its recognised or legally registered status; "dynamic differentiation is what I observe on the ground"; in Italy, there is a Catholic template for recognition; the idea that recognition of religion or belief (RoRB) is both a branch of freedom of religion or belief (FoRB) as well as an independent body of theory, terms and concerns that are separate from FoRB; categorisation and theoretical developments as well as monitoring are all important to focus for recognition issues; recognition and facilitation as well as recognition and dependency; why was separation of state and religion such an ideal; partnership, cooperation and engagement are other concepts of state-religion relations; the theory jumps from different theories of state-religion relations (from theocracy to separation and now to a variety of other issues such as recognition, facilitation, cooperation, accommodation etc.); recognition is a case of "it takes two to tango"; the entanglement of religion and dependency of the state is the central issue with the presentation of recognition as associated with religious freedom; categorical recognition; minimal and maximal recognition; recognition is "more at the core" of the issue than engagement because it also has the capacity to manifest in legal and social ways; the ideal of separation has failed; capturing "the spirit of the time" and what people desire could be the role of the recognitionist approach to state-religion relations; facilitation has to be for the purpose of sustaining a diverse society as facilitation, if implemented for other reasons, can cause homogeneity; equality as a principle therefore needs to be implemented into the facilitationist approach in order to ensure that facilitation does not itself become misused; facilitating a plurality is the principal challenge of the RoRB Project; facilitation does not need to create dependency but encourages autonomy, responsibility, diversity and dialogue; the implementation of facilitation is a very narrow road and so therefore would need to be carefully managed on an ongoing and progressive basis; the legal personality OSCE document is the most advanced document of its kind in present times that addresses recognition and registration issues; the creation of a traffic light system that is based on a spectrum to orient RoRB standards; an issue raised is the differing opinions from different regions of the world on what is acceptable and what is unacceptable policy when it comes to registration which essentially highlights the problem of cultural relativism; society itself or parts of society at least may not view religious freedom with the same positivity as it is attributed in the human rights framework; sustainable recognition is a system that can ensure that individuals and communities do not feel so alienated that they resort to violent extremism; "sustainable" is what is "compatible" to international human rights standards; more attention needs to be given to the role of the economy and other secular aspects of life as they relate to religious freedom, especially as a consequence of the distance between them and religious freedom caused by the separation of state and religion.
Professor Roger Finke
Co-Director of the Association of Religion Data Archives (ARDA)
mandatory registration may sometimes be justified by the narrative that all groups are required to register, not just religious groups which in turn reduces one's capacity to say that the government is targeting religious organisations; more attention needs to be directed towards understanding the scale of impacts that restrictions on institutional rights have on individual rights and how to resolve this issue; because registration restrictions typically impact minority religions, states are able to get away with imposing such restrictions because they impact groups that are not only smaller in size but are also institutionally weaker; the "tyranny of the majority" concept can be used as a narrative tool by both secular and theocratic states to suppress minorities on the basis that they pose a threat in becoming majority if they are allowed to gain social and political power; in some cases, leaders of the majority religion may in fact be in favour of suppressing minority groups or new religious movements which may be deemed "cults"; local authorities are given significant leeway in how they apply registration laws which means that such laws end up being erratically and arbitrarily imposed; more research needs to be conducted on the impacts of registration requirements from a qualitative perspective at the local, practical, personal level; registration issues could potentially be related to problems such as terrorism and extremism due to the grievances that issues of registration are likely to sow; recognition can be a double-edged sword because even though a lack of recognition evidently causes significant problems for unrecognised groups so too do groups that hold recognition and thereby often hold very close relationship to the state, they are also likely to possess significant difficulties in both maintaining that recognition and compromising on state actions that may not necessarily reflect religious doctrine (e.g. ROC's relations with the Kremlin); a focus in research is placed on outright persecutions on religious groups and for good reason but more attention needs to be placed onto these more subtle but more long-lasting restrictions and how they impact religious freedom; more awareness and understanding needs to be established around registration law, laws which on paper may seem reasonable to most but in practice actually have a largely negative impact on a significant amount of religious minorities; there have been swift, discriminatory responses to events like suicide cults in which many other new religious movements are banned or restricted because the government assumes they have the potential to engage in the same behaviour (restrictions on other groups can be aptly understood as the collateral damage of restrictions imposed on institutional religious freedom); a better understanding needs to be established on the connection between restrictions placed on what institutions can do and how this connects and translates to impacts on individual and collective rights; registration issues often arise from fears surrounding how a religious group will impact and more specifically change the local or national culture; registration and recognition is therefore used to curb social or political change; monitoring and reviewing registration and recognition issues is essential to an approach in eventually solving these issues; the principle of "formally neutral and generally applicable" is problematic; collective and institutional rights are indistinguishable in some senses but registration requirements often have the objective of separating these categories of rights so that they can get away more easily with restricting religious organisations rather than infringing directly onto collective religious activity; it is very difficult to determine a country's intent especially surrounding issues of the ambiguity of registration procedures and their onerousness but in fact intent becomes irrelevant because the fact that these policies hold a negative impact on a religious group supersedes the question of whether this is intended or not; nefarious intent can therefore be determined by the consequences of restrictions which countries should then have the opportunity to deny and then to resolve; even though faith leaders agree with religious doctrines, but may disagree with how their institution is run, they feel they cannot leave to establish their own organisation because they would have no legitimacy; minorities are forced to understand the majority; how states misuse of registration as a means to demonstrate their religious tolerance but it is tolerance based on the fact that the group does as the state prescribes; it is possible that organisations that are not "religious" could sign up with the intention of receiving benefits exclusively bestowed to religious organisations; ways that the RFSRB could have real impact in this area is by galvanising a much deeper understanding of the mechanisms of registration at each stage and how these different stages impact practically the religious group and personally the group members; the Global Religious Recognition Report could be added to ARDA; issues of recognition are closely intertwined with social pressures; what does a country allow to take place in the society regarding inter-religious tension (e.g. India); trying coding the data from the Religious Recognition Report to make it more digestible and reusable for those involved in the field; your country-specific approach is not only appropriate but is essential; thematic reports on registration and recognition issues should still exist but should not be the sole material on this topic; all human rights are symbiotic so when you start denying one right this negatively impacts the others; online and offline options for registration can be a facilitative approach to registration procedures; using ambiguous terms like "onerous" and providing a couple of thematic examples of issues taking place isn't enough to resolve the registration issues which is why a country-specific approach is needed; the issue of cultural relativism is apparent when ambiguous terms are used to describe registration issues and standards and there is a lack of country-specific recommendations; countries that don't have explicit registration procedures tend to impose other forms of restrictions that are underlying (both by the state and by the culture) and implicit than those states that have explicit registration policies; facilitation means to have a level playing field and have the freedom to exist (in the broad sense of what "existing" for a religious group encompasses); registration benefits can in some cases cause a competitive culture between religious groups in which the majority then attempts to deny minorities of the same privileges it receives; registration and recognition issues is the topic that needs to be brought to the forefront of discourses on religious freedom.
Professor Elizabeth Clark
Associate Director for the International Center for Law and Religion Studies; Regional Advisor on Religious Freedom in Eastern Europe and Central Asia
Recognising and registering religions, religious organisations and religious activity is certainly misused by a number of countries to exert control of citizens. This kind of misuse of widespread because 1. a consequence of administrative hassle systemic to bureaucratic states 2. those dealing with religious recognition tend not to be part of the "power ministries" such as the finance ministry, ministry of the interior, or ministry of defense for example 3. a lack of attention has been directed towards the area of recognition and registration issues from international bodies. The diversity of religious belief is seldom reflected in the outcomes of recognition. A tiered model of RoRB variables for the purpose of structuring RoRB standards could be helpful in deciphering which variables are central to registration and recognition procedures and which are more peripheral. It was also suggested during the interview that it could be valuable to consider RoRB restrictions through the lens of their enforceability, namely the consistency, frequency, and severity to which RoRB restrictions are enforced by the state. On the basis that religion is frequently instrumentalised to achieve political goals, so too is recognition undergoing a similar process of instrumentalisation in which it and registration are being misused to achieve the goals of some states to control the religious activities of citizens. The misuse of registration emerges as one of the major practical difficulties for individuals in the everyday practice of their religion. Registration issues can be a harbinger for worse violations of FoRB to come. The 'issue of opportunity' arises when countries seek to disestablish religions but state privilege remains which then begs the question: is it better to rid the privileges of that previous state religion so that its relations with the state restart on an equal footing with all other groups or is it better to provide all other groups or give the opportunity for all other groups to achieve the same privileges as the religion which currently enjoys state privilege; there needs to be a conceptual change that transitions the purpose of registration from serving to protect the state to facilitating religion or belief; determining the permissibility of registration requirements should be based on their necessity and their proportionality and so RoRB standards can be structured accordingly; changes in legislation will either come via court cases or through diplomatic efforts with guidelines dispensed by organisations like the OSCE with the international scope can help to provide the frameworks necessary to guiding positive change; reducing registration systems to their "bare-bones" could be necessary if there are deep, systematic problems with the registration procedures or if problems elsewhere in government are negatively impacting registration law.
Professor Jonathan Fox
Director of the Religion
and State Project
the data and anecdotal evidence to the widespread and increasing use of registration as a tool to control or restrict religious activity; human rights tend to be interconnected; recognition and registration systems are inevitable; there is no issue with the notion that religious organisations require separate procedures of registration from secular organisations; religion thrives when the government is hands-off; how is a government qualified to define whether a religion is legitimate or not; governments that seek to control religion tend to use registration as a tool to do that; registration is a convenient and effective tool to achieve these aims; registration is not the issue, it is the underlying motive of governments to want to control religion that is the problem; the area of religious registration definitely deserves further research; registration becomes an issue for religious freedom when (1) not all religions are allowed to register and (2) there are consequences for remaining unregistered; governments have to decide which religions they are going to fund and who they are not going to fund; recognition and registration are necessary and unavoidable policies; if governments intend to fund religions, they should do it in as equitable a manner as possible; an anecdote about state-religion relations in Norway emerged the notion that some would prefer their religions to be smaller to remain without state funding but retain their autonomy; institutional religious freedom has a lack of protection and attention because it is still a relatively new concept and any protections for it that do exist do so under the rubric of general religious freedom;
governments that have the intention of restricting religious activity are always going to find or invent ways and means of doing so; a specific approach is easier in theory than in practice; there are always "trade-offs" when it comes to recommendations made regarding religious freedom; you have to be a legal entity to own a bank account as a religious organisation which means that registration must logically precede having a bank account or owning property which then places much more onus on the restrictivity of the registration procedures which is such an effective tool to control and also shows how power registration is; broadcasting is necessarily regulated although broadcasting is less of an issue today due to the rise of social media; some countries are more bureaucratic than others due to cultural and historical reasons; you want registration and recognition to mean something, to have genuine worth; state recognition has no existential meaning for me but it does hold practical meaning in the sense that the government will not come to close the place of worship down; UN recommendations have little to no impact; even the most rational or seemingly fair registration standards may end up restricting some religious activity even if this is not intended; registration laws are often created to protect public interest in areas such as public health and sanitation as well as issues such as profanity and nudity; you cannot construct a form of registration that doesn't in some way infringe on religious activity but you also cannot do without registration; standards won't convince governments that have the intention of controlling religious activity via registration but they are also irrelevant to countries that have the intention of using registration for genuine purposes; however, categorising and creating standards for when registration is and isn't being abused is useful; when creating registration laws, you need to be as inclusive as possible; the goal should be to reduce as many cases of discrimination as possible and to create mechanisms for doing with such cases whenever they arise; there are different conceptions of religious freedom that make standards on religious freedom difficult to create; restrictions on religious institutions is of principal concern to me; "reasonable" to take a temporal perspective on registration variables.
Professor Silvio Ferrari
Life Honorary President of the International Consortium for Law and Religion Studies
registration issues are on the increase because a more diverse body of religious organisations are more active and powerful than in previous times when one single religion often dominated the society; a more diverse body of religious organisations are able to mobilise people more than in the past and so the state has established mechanisms of recognition and registration to try to moderate these activities; membership quotas, longevity quotas and screening of tenets of a religious group are of principal concern; screening of religious doctrine is only acceptable when it is implied in regards to the respect of human rights; according to international human rights standards, all religious organisation have a right to obtain legal personality that allows them to perform basic activities; there exists a hierarchy of registered statuses in some countries with each stage ascending in terms of the number and quality of benefits bestowed; the state has the right to establish some limits for the highest level of registered status; these limits need to be "proportionate" and each level should be able to be attained by all groups; the activity of any organisations, whether religious or secular, is liable to some form of regulation or control by the state so as to say that registration restrictions are not necessarily unique to religious organisations but also impact other kinds of organisations; the state has power over organisations operating within its borders; the content of a registration system rather than the need of a registration system should be the topic of consideration; registration is a necessity for all organisations in contemporary states; however, the requirements for being registered need to be adequate to the character of a religious organisation; recognition is based on the distinction between church and state which is the centre-point of both cultural and religious traditions; sympathising to institutional religious freedom as religious organisations require a legal framework of freedom that goes beyond the individual borders and concerns the right of collective religious freedom; however, institutional religious freedoms may come to clash with individual rights especially around the role of men and women; support for individual rights, however, are symbiotic to institutional rights because if a person who does not agree with the religion to which they belong should be free to firstly leave that religion and secondly, to start a religion of their own or alternatively to join a religion that does reflect their values; in some states, institutional rights are stronger than those of the individual; recognition involves state bodies while registration involves an administrative procedure to make the state aware of your existence so recognition is something received while registration is something that is put forth by a group; registration is often connected to procedures found and performed in front of tribunals; to go one step further than perhaps what the current international standards protect, religious groups should have the right to obtain legality personality as religious organisations on the basis that there are different needs that religious organisations have that make them distinct from all other kinds of organisations; recognition and registration procedures must be transparent meaning that there should be systems put in place to remedy potential problems and it is on this issue that international bodies need to step up their attention by setting standards; it is essential that state procedures for recognition or registration does not involve an assessment of the contents or doctrine of the religion or belief group attempting to gain recognised or registered status; an RoRB Report would be helpful if it comes from an independent authority, especially if created by a consortium of universities from different countries that each present an independent report on RoRB conditions in their state to the international consortium that is then able to publish the Global Religious Recognition Report; a weakness of the present system for monitoring religious freedom is that nations monitor religious freedom conditions but outside their own borders; the temporal categorisation of the registration system used in your research is a good framework; foreign missionary work and funding for a religious group from abroad should not be subject to registration and restrictions should only be placed onto such activities of groups found to have engaged in criminal activity and terrorism, a more open attitude should be adopted regarding foreign funding and missionaries of foreign origin; permissible grounds for the denial of registration include the group being involved in if the group is clearly not religious or belief-based or is for-profit or if the group is involved in criminal activities; there is a debate over whether yoga is a religion; a religion is a sect that has managed to survive for long enough which then means that ancient religions like Christianity have had to endure the same if not worse struggles than the new religious movements like Scientology are experiencing today in terms of their struggle for both social and legal recognition; constructing a place of worship should not be subjected to registration, therefore suggesting that it should be classified as a "basic religious activity"; a religious organisation's ability to lease property and to open a bank account should also not be subjected to registration, again suggesting these as "basic religious activities"; the variant cultures and histories of different regions of the world mean that RoRB standards may have to be tailored regionally and cannot necessarily be applied in the same universal sense as fundamental human rights are dispensed; the OSCE has chosen to take a soft approach; opposed to the U.S. approach of sanctioning countries that do not respect human rights; the soft of the OSCE and the hard approach of the U.S. are both unconvincing.
living in Haiti
I have been discriminated against based on my religion and I have been refused employment because I am an Adventist; religious intolerance and discrimination is a stagnation on both our personal lives and for societal progress overall and indeed religious minorities receive the worst consequences of this kind of stagnation; "every time this happens, I feel helpless; sometimes this arouses, among other things, legitimate anger and bitterness"; the continued high levels of religious intolerance in society demonstrates to me that a lot of work still needs to be done; religious freedom should not be an ideal but a fact crucial to the development of a harmonious public space; the level of crime and excesses committed under the guise of religion can contribute significantly to state restrictions imposed on religious activity in legitimate degrees; however, there are measures that can be implemented that do not threaten the fundamental principle of religious freedom; historical and current reality has shown that the state religion is a threat to freedom of thought; one need only cite as an example the St. Bartholomew's Day massacre and the condemnation to death for blasphemy in certain Muslim States; religious freedom is a world heritage to be protected; the recognition of my faith by the Government is important for me and for my community, not only does it allow us to better express our beliefs publicly, but also to live out our faith; also, recognition allows us to have our own religious offices and institutions to serve the community without any fear; once, the government fixed the State University entrance examination on our worship day, it really touched the community. We did what we could, but the government did not reverse its decision. We felt disrespected and weak, but, and we understood the urgency of fighting for the respect of religious freedom; lack of recognition sometimes means we are not considered as a community in the state's decisions and then leads to the exclusion of our opinions; there are always frustrations against the religious communities that do not establish themselves in such a way that they gain recognition and respect; "to be honest, when it happened for the job issue, I was depressed and nervous; however, I understood that God did not want me to put my skills at the service of the institution in question, and my faith had become stronger"; the more your group is recognized, the better you feel, and this well-being will have positive impacts on yourself and your community; the resolution of the problem of religious discrimination is as urgent as that of ecology and world hunger, or any other reality that represents a threat to humanity; the reason is that any violation of freedom leads to other violations of other freedoms, and when freedoms are violated, we must expect the worst; in some countries, the Seventh-day Adventist Church has struggled to gain recognition; the causes for this are numerous, including the reality of the state religion, and intolerance to new beliefs, or even socio-cultural disparities involving questions of faith, for example marriage and the question of gender identity; it would help a lot if greater recognition were bestowed to my religion especially to support wider societal understanding of my community's religious beliefs, develop a sense of belonging to the human community, my belief in the right to life and the recognition of diversity as a value.
Professor Elizabeth Prodromou
Faculty Director of the Fletcher Initiative on Religion, Law,
there has been an under-appreciation of the significance of RoRB impacting FoRB; registration and recognition law is instrumentalised by some states to surveillance, intelligence-gathering and penetration; the key question is how do we understand on a case-by-case basis as well as comparatively and systematically the ways in which RoRB can be used to enrich FoRB as well as to violate FoRB; the distinction between law and culture, between state and society; a societal culture that acknowledges and embraces inclusivity and pluralism; a positive articulation between the state and laws on one hand and the society and pluralisation; horizontal and vertical pluralisation is at work; law is a necessary but is alone not a sufficient component of RoRB as the society has to be one that is inclusive to pluralisation for the laws to work which has been difficult for countries with long histories of religious homogenisation; without recognition, registration has a far less robust capacity to support FoRB; the origin and founding conditions of states are important to consider for RoRB but they help us to consider patterns of heterogeneity and homogeneity; new religious movements have been catalyst for recognition and registration issues; historicising the questions of RoRB will be important for future research which will help in the legislative dimension; operationalisation of the concept of institutional religious freedom; institutional religious freedom is a concept still in its infancy and development; legal personality is the most important expression and mechanism for enabling institutional religious freedom (no legal personality means no ability to engage in the full range of activities); property is essential to the facilitation of religious worship, religious identity and the commercial viability of a religious organisation and so property rights are essential to both RoRB and FoRB; to express, practice and sustain themselves, religious groups require legal personality to perform such activities devoid of state interference; regime-type is most salient to RoRB, especially in terms of comparisons between how authoritarian and democratic governments use registration and recognition laws differently; registration law is the mechanism by which authoritarian regimes encounter the broader question of human rights; religious diversification and pluralisation is central to the reason why registration and recognition law is being discussed today at a moment of conjunction in history; questions of registration pertain to questions of citizenship; the dimension of "humans on the move" is going to be an increasing factor in the intensification of registration issues; the relationship between recognition and registration has yet to be robustly explored; the correlation and causality between RoRB and FoRB; a fuller understanding of the commercial dimension of religious organisations needs to be achieved which will contribute to a better understanding of sustaining and thriving (not merely just to survive) religious communities; states can play a facilitative role by ensuring the equal treatment of religious communities within the economic regime; public education and judicial practice can be used by the state to demonstrate its facilitation of religious pluralism; does the state provide security to faith communities equally; I'm not convinced that the state providing economic resources to faith communities neither feasible nor produces positive outcomes; uniformity is the crucial factor in state facilitation of religion in whether a religious group survives and thrives or whether there are unintended consequences for faith communities; the use of quotas like membership and longevity instantly creates a "stacked system" geared in favour of more established or indigenous religious groups; the material consequences of personal status laws need to be considered; misuse of registration laws, such as delayed registrations, seeks to permanently disenfranchise religious communities; the question needs to be "is there a recourse that the state has establish to combat these issues or even recourses at the international level?"; in whatever standards that are created for RoRB, the onus and the burden should be placed on the state as the initiator of the registration process; the absence of standards and consensus on standards is the point of departure; standardisation, compliance, and enforcement are sequential; a large difference between standardisation and compliance; questions of transparency and burden placed on either faith communities or the state as well as the issue of timeline; the paradox of increasing violation on FoRB and RoRB despite the mainstreaming of FoRB issues and the development of a series of mechanisms to facilitate FoRB.
Reverend Dr. Malcolm Brown
Director of Faith and Public Life at The Church of England
the position of The Church of England is to create a clear distinction – described as a Chinese wall – between the world religions and new religious movements as well as sects within world faiths, a view which has practical implications regarding who are and are not invited to interfaith dialogue such as via the Interfaith Network; this boundary is under pressure from new religious movements which are seeking greater recognition, being tested with the government in terms of state recognition and is being tested with the Church of England itself in the form of correspondence with the Archbishop of Canterbury who, if addresses the new religion in question, they take this to be a form of legitimacy; a loose criteria for distinguish 'great faiths' from 'sects' is that the religion in question has a "historic tradition" and "complex history" and that it has certain marks of being a "tradition" such as longevity, complexity, historicity, and diversity and not just a "sect"; reforms in marriage law could include a membership quota based on and connected to laws regarding places of worship; faith communities have very different aims than secularist groups which causes issues with dialogue because the latter have the aim of ousting the former from public life; there are many strands that attach and entangle The Church of England to the nationhood of England and the UK government; the complexities of disestablishment would cost much in time and money and would constitute an overhaul of the state in many ways; there is significant responsibility that comes with being the state religion; from the Church of England perspective, it sees itself as the religion of all British citizens which means that it has a duty to all citizens regardless of their professed faith; this duty manifests practically (in the form of allowing for any citizen to be married in a Church of England church or to use an Church of England church for their funeral) as well as spiritually (an Anglican vicar's duty to provide spiritual counsel to all whom seek it regardless of whether they are part of the Church of England or not); the scope and resources of the Church of England allow for it to provide a multitude of services to all citizens; there will need to be a much greater recognition of the diversity of religions in the UK at the next coronation; establishment can be eroded by stealth and disestablishment is whether the Church of England wishes to continue to maintain its duty to all citizens; antinomianism accelerated during the 1960s, causing an adolescent phase for humanity; religions are not equal in size, in esteem nor equal in history but procedural equality can be achieved; the Church of England, as a state religion, is extrospective rather than introspective; we are not good at distinguishing authority and power; the authority within the Church stems from the image of Jesus Christ being nailed to a cross without any power at all; there are three assets of the Church of England, first is its status as the state religion but this is a declining asset ("we go nowhere by right but by permission"), second is the nationwide scope of the Church to extend its presence in all communities in England (an asset under strain due to the resources to maintain this commitment), and the third source of the Church's authority is the difference the Church makes in communities as a growing asset (e.g. the Church's charity work); the notion that science has made redundant and as the justification for secularisation is false; resistance to dialogue with religion among scientists is negligible; England has a good balance between maintaining a state religion while holding to religious freedom which is itself an indivisible right.