Belgian Police Raid Curch
WASHINGTON, May 30 /Christian Newswire/
Fifteen Belgian police officers stormed into an African Pentecostal Church interrupting the service. Church members present were interrogated and photographed by the officers who entered without permission of church officials, witnesses stated.
Minister of Justice, Laurette Onkelinx, has received harsh criticism from religious institutions, human rights and religious freedom organizations, and foreign governments for the disruption of the church service, which is forbidden under Belgian law. Onkelinx explained the church raid was a necessary step in a penal investigation of a rape in the neighborhood of the church grounds.
The African Pentecostal Church, a member of the Federal Synod of Protestant and Evangelical Churches, is comprised of a predominantly immigrant population. Some witnesses and Belgian Parliamentarians cited this as the cause for the raid. In recent years numerous small African churches have opened across Brussels. The changing demographic has caused racial strife to rise.
This altercation with the African Pentecostal Church is the latest in an all too common pattern of unfortunate and inappropriate treatment of faith groups by the Belgian Government. The Parliament of Belgium in 1996 established a special Commission to examine the potential dangers that “sects” may present to society and to recommend policies to deal with those dangers. The Commission's 1997 report divided “sects” into two broadly defined categories: the first category – defined as "organized groups of individuals espousing the same doctrine with a religion” – were to be considered respectable and to reflect the normal exercise of freedom of religion and assembly provided for by fundamental rights; the second category, "harmful sectarian organizations," are defined as groups having or claiming to have a philosophical or religious purpose whose organization or practice involves illegal or injurious activities, harms individuals or society, or impairs human dignity. Attached to the report was a list of 189 sectarian organizations that were mentioned during testimony before the Commission (including groups such as Jehovah's Witnesses, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, the Church of Scientology, the Young Women's Christian Association, and several Catholic groups). Although the introduction to the list clearly stated that there was no intent to characterize any of the groups as "dangerous," the list quickly became known in the press and to the public as the "dangerous sects" list. The Parliament eventually adopted several of the report's recommendations but never adopted the list itself.
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