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Religious Freedom, Registration Issues and the Colonial Legacy of State Recognition

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Brandon Reece Taylorian presents to the Lancaster University Law School his doctoral research on religious recognition and registration issues and their impacts on freedom of religion or belief. Brandon details the most concerning religious freedom violations emerging from how states seek to influence the process in which religions become recognised in society. Brandon also outlines his main concerns for how registration is used as a tool of surveillance by states. Brandon considers the international response to these recognition and registration issues from the United Nations, OSCE and European Court of Human Rights. Finally, Brandon reveals some of his postdoctoral research looking at colonialism as a factor influencing recognition and registration issues and how the remnants of colonialist attitude remain today in the recognition systems of various nation states.

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Brandon Reece Taylorian
Associate Lecturer at UCLan and
Lancaster University Law School
b.r.taylorian@lancaster.ac.uk
RELIGIOUS FREEDOM,
REGISTRATION ISSUES AND THE
COLONIAL LEGACY
OF STATE RECOGNITION
Centre for International Law and Human Rights
Free-to-use image by Medhi Sepehri.
CONDITIONS OF
RELIGIOUS
RECOGNITION
R E C O G N I T I O N & R E G I S T R AT I O N
• Former UN Special Rapporteur Heiner
Bielefeldt advised me to disentangle
recognition from registration and to
regard them as two distinct processes.
• Recognition: a sociocultural process in
which a religion or belief gradually
gains validation in society.
• Registration: a legal procedure in
which a religious or belief organisation
gains personality in law.
• The acronym FoRB is used for freedom of
religion or belief and during my study I
coined the acronym RoRB to refer to
recognition of religion or belief to include
recognition and registration issues.
Heiner Bielefeldt, forner
Special Rapporteur on FoRB
R E C O G N I T I O N I S S U E S
Gaining recognition was found to often be crucial to economic and social
mobility. Various ‘agents of recognition’ were found to act as gatekeepers.
State misrecognition is a key concern, namely, when governments actively
distort the character of religious group by accusing them of being a ‘cult’ or
‘extremist’ without due cause. This influences public attitudes and increases
rates of discrimination and persecution.
Groups most impacted are minority communities (e.g. Rohingya Muslims
in Myanmar), new religious movements (e.g. Jehovah’s Witnesses in
Russia) and schismatic groups (e.g. Ahmadi Muslims in Pakistan).
States that withhold recognition or actively misrecognise cause
impediments to citizens in gaining important national identity documents
(e.g. birth or marriage certificate, passport), restrict fundamental human
rights and to justify hegemony of a religion or irreligion.
R E C O G N I T I O N I S S U E S
• Privileges for one or more religions or beliefs
persist in states that claim to be secular (e.g.
many secular governments in South America
privilege the Catholic Church).
• Hostile forms of religious establishment in the
Middle East, North Africa and Southeast Asia.
• Governments continue to weaponise labels
like ‘cult’, ‘extremist’, ‘foreign’, ‘sect’ and
‘untraditional’ to justify their restrictions.
• Hierarchies persist whenever states grant
higher levels of recognition to one religion or
belief and lesser forms to others. For instance,
in Egypt, although Christians and Jews are
recognised as minorities, they are not given
the same recognition as Sunni Muslims.
• State atheism is contained to four former
communist states that adhere to
hypersecularism –– use of secularisation to
undermine religious rights.
La Plata Cathedral,
Argentina. The Catholic
Church receives
sweeping privileges
across most South
American countries
despite claims they are
secular.
Shah Mosque, Isfahan,
Iran. In countries were
Islam is the state
religion, minority
religious groups are
restricted in the public
expression of their
faith and are forbidden
from proselytising.
M A P O F R E L I G I O U S R E C O G N I T I O N
State neutrality: when a government claims to be secular and
this corresponds with their practices.
State privilege: when a government claims to be secular yet
continues to favour one or more religions or over others.
State atheism: when a hypersecular government professes irreligion
and advocates for atheism.
State religion: when a government establishes an official religion.
State denomination: when a government establishes a specific
religious denomination.
State hostility: when a hypersecular government does not
discriminate between the religions it restricts.

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Religious Freedom, Registration Issues and the Colonial Legacy of State Recognition

  • 1. Brandon Reece Taylorian Associate Lecturer at UCLan and Lancaster University Law School b.r.taylorian@lancaster.ac.uk RELIGIOUS FREEDOM, REGISTRATION ISSUES AND THE COLONIAL LEGACY OF STATE RECOGNITION Centre for International Law and Human Rights Free-to-use image by Medhi Sepehri.
  • 3. R E C O G N I T I O N & R E G I S T R AT I O N • Former UN Special Rapporteur Heiner Bielefeldt advised me to disentangle recognition from registration and to regard them as two distinct processes. • Recognition: a sociocultural process in which a religion or belief gradually gains validation in society. • Registration: a legal procedure in which a religious or belief organisation gains personality in law. • The acronym FoRB is used for freedom of religion or belief and during my study I coined the acronym RoRB to refer to recognition of religion or belief to include recognition and registration issues. Heiner Bielefeldt, forner Special Rapporteur on FoRB
  • 4. R E C O G N I T I O N I S S U E S Gaining recognition was found to often be crucial to economic and social mobility. Various ‘agents of recognition’ were found to act as gatekeepers. State misrecognition is a key concern, namely, when governments actively distort the character of religious group by accusing them of being a ‘cult’ or ‘extremist’ without due cause. This influences public attitudes and increases rates of discrimination and persecution. Groups most impacted are minority communities (e.g. Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar), new religious movements (e.g. Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia) and schismatic groups (e.g. Ahmadi Muslims in Pakistan). States that withhold recognition or actively misrecognise cause impediments to citizens in gaining important national identity documents (e.g. birth or marriage certificate, passport), restrict fundamental human rights and to justify hegemony of a religion or irreligion.
  • 5. R E C O G N I T I O N I S S U E S • Privileges for one or more religions or beliefs persist in states that claim to be secular (e.g. many secular governments in South America privilege the Catholic Church). • Hostile forms of religious establishment in the Middle East, North Africa and Southeast Asia. • Governments continue to weaponise labels like ‘cult’, ‘extremist’, ‘foreign’, ‘sect’ and ‘untraditional’ to justify their restrictions. • Hierarchies persist whenever states grant higher levels of recognition to one religion or belief and lesser forms to others. For instance, in Egypt, although Christians and Jews are recognised as minorities, they are not given the same recognition as Sunni Muslims. • State atheism is contained to four former communist states that adhere to hypersecularism –– use of secularisation to undermine religious rights. La Plata Cathedral, Argentina. The Catholic Church receives sweeping privileges across most South American countries despite claims they are secular. Shah Mosque, Isfahan, Iran. In countries were Islam is the state religion, minority religious groups are restricted in the public expression of their faith and are forbidden from proselytising.
  • 6. M A P O F R E L I G I O U S R E C O G N I T I O N State neutrality: when a government claims to be secular and this corresponds with their practices. State privilege: when a government claims to be secular yet continues to favour one or more religions or over others. State atheism: when a hypersecular government professes irreligion and advocates for atheism. State religion: when a government establishes an official religion. State denomination: when a government establishes a specific religious denomination. State hostility: when a hypersecular government does not discriminate between the religions it restricts.
  • 7. F O R O R A G A I N S T FAV O U R I T I S M Arguments against religious favouritism • Inhibits religious freedom. • Causes systemic religious discrimination in government institutions. • Violates the ICCPR and other international human rights conventions. • Leads to the mistreatment of groups that do not conform. Arguments for religious favouritism • Preserves cultural heritage and maintaining traditions. • Preserves national identity and nationhood, safety, security and unity. • Maintains the public order and moral decency. • Embracing pluralism would cause internal conflict and destabilise the society.
  • 8. R E G I S T R AT I O N I S S U E S Registering with the state is often key to religious or belief organisations accessing fi nancial bene fi ts (e.g. tax-exempt status), legal provisions while in other countries, registration is crucial to securing the rights of religious adherents. Registration is used to restrict the rights of religious members by limiting what activities religious or belief organisations may conduct legally which is effective because institutional religious freedom (IRF) receives less international protection. Lack of registration has implications for citizens in exercising their religious rights, conscientious objection and converting from one religion to another or to no religion.
  • 9. R E G I S T R AT I O N I S S U E S • Mandatory registration order (76 countries and territories affected as of 2022). • Limiting access to registration (e.g. instituting membership or longevity quotas). • Onerous registration procedures (e.g. multi- step procedures, several departments involved, delays or non-responses). • Use of registration for surveillance (e.g. misuse of information gathered during registration later on against registered groups, strict monitorial requirements). • Inauthentic registration (e.g. religious activities may be “legal” due to registration but might still not be “free”). Raid on alleged cult activity in Tokyo. Unregistered house church in Beijing.
  • 10. M A P O F R E L I G I O U S R E G I S T R AT I O N Unconditional registration: registration is not required for a group to conduct any activities. Non-registration: no coherent registration system established. Stipulatory registration: registration is not required except to legally conducted certain ‘registrable religious activities’. Pseudo-mandatory: a country claims not to mandate registration yet requires registration for a group to conduct at least one of the ‘basic religious activities’. Broad mandatory: registration is mandatory for all or most religious organisations to legally operate.
  • 11. Thousands Of Faithful Gather As Angolan Church Reopens. C A S E S T U D Y – A N G O L A • Angola is a secular state and upholds this principle in practice. However, the Angolan government mandates that all religious organisations must register with it to operate legally. • Registration is amalgamated with recognition and is known as “legal recognition” which gives more leeway to influence how religions are perceived in civil society. • 60,000 member signatures are needed to register but at least 1,000 of the signatures originate from members residing in each of the country’s 18 provinces. The estimated cost is $7 per signature, creating a de facto registration fee of $420,000. • Religious groups must also submit documents defining their organisational structure, location, methods and schedule of worship, financial resources, and planned construction projects. • The government has the legal ability to forcibly close the premises of unregistered groups. Angolan Muslims have long struggled to receive legal recognition. Cathedral of Our Lady of Remedies in Luanda.
  • 12. C A S E S T U D Y – A U S T R I A • Austria claims to be a secular state and does uphold this principle in practice. • Austria’s registration system is classified ‘mandatory’ because even though the government does not explicitly mandate registration, unregistered religious groups are confined to activities in private residences. • Austria’s registration system is also vertical. It includes three levels for registration which the government judges according to membership size of the group and how long it has existed in the country for. • The secular designation of ‘association’ is the lowest form of registration and is often offered to new religious groups but does not recognise their activities as being of a religious or spiritual nature. Church of the Most Holy Trinity, designed by Fritz Wotruba. Mosque in Telfs, Austria. St. Stephen's Cathedral in Vienna.
  • 13. C A S E S T U D Y – B O L I V I A • Bolivia claims to be a secular state although practises state privilege for Catholicism. The Bolivian registration system is ‘mandatory’. • To register, religious groups must submit copious amounts of notarised legal documents and information: • Including statutes, internal regulations and procedures; rental agreement documents, utility invoices for the place(s) of worship, and a site map; detailed information on board members and legal representatives, including criminal background checks; an INTERPOL certificate for foreigners; proof of fiscal solvency; organisation chart, with names, addresses, identification card numbers, and photographs; a full list of members and identifying information; details on activities and services provided by the organisation, including the location of the services; and information on their financing source(s), domestic and foreign. • The government distinguishes between ‘religious organisations’ and ‘spiritual organisations’. To register, groups must pay either $990 if deemed by the government to be ‘religious organisations’ or $590 if deemed to be ‘spiritual organisations.’ Most ‘spiritual organisations’ are indigenous religious groups. Offering being given as part of a Bolivian indigenous ceremony. Cathedral of San Lorenzo, Bolivia. Women mourn at San Antonio de Asis Church near La Paz, Bolivia.
  • 14. C A S E S T U D Y – I R A N • Iran makes only a partial claim to freedom of religion or belief. State denomination is Twelver Ja’afari Shia Islam. • “Recognised Religious Minorities" are Christians, Jews and Zoroastrians. Iran’s registration system is classified as both ‘mandatory’ and ‘non- registration’. • The Iranian government both mandates that all groups belonging to one of the “Recognised Religious Minorities” must register but also provides no procedures for groups the government considers not to be either Christian, Jew or Zoroastrian. • Registration conveys certain rights such as permission to use alcohol for religious purposes such as sacramental wine. • Iran also practises individual registration. Authorities may close a place of worship and arrest its leaders if congregants do not register or if unregistered individuals attend services. Iranian Christians worship at a house church. House of the Báb being destroyed by Revolutionary Guardsmen in 1979. Zoroastrian Fire Temple of Yazd, Iran
  • 15. I M PA C T S O F R O R B O N F O R B • Apostasy, blasphemy and forced conversion: recognition and registration both work to encourage conversion from religions in disfavour with the government to religions in favour either by threatening consequence for ‘apostasy’ and ‘blasphemy’ or by placing institutional hurdles in the way of those who convert or to prevent conversion being recognised in law. • Censorship: my study found that state recognition plays a significant role in how state media portrays a religion or belief and its community of adherents. • Citizenship and national identity: entrenched notions of what principles a country stands for and what it means to be a citizen of that country I found to greatly inhibit respect for religious freedom. • Discrimination: lack of recognition I found to be the root of increased institutional and social hurdles for members of unrecognised religions and beliefs such as access to services or treatment by government institutions. Discrimination also exists within registration procedures, namely,
  • 16. I M PA C T S O F R O R B O N F O R B • Institutional religious freedom concerns: RoRB issues often work by impacting the activities of religious institutions which has a negative effect on individual religious freedom. Examples include it being illegal to import certain kinds of religious goods, religious texts being examined by state officials, financial restrictions (e.g. receiving donations), restrictions on proselytising and confining where religious institutions may host services. • Religious exclusivism: recognition perpetuates notions of exclusivity and superiority towards minorities and new religious movements while registration plays the role of ensuring that such biases are reflected in the legal system. • Surveillance and control: some states are adept at using registration to collect information about religious or belief groups and to use this later to surveil, intimidate, harass and arrest members. • Violence: my study also found that recognition and to a lesser extent registration were factors contributing to how states justify acts of violence directed towards members of unrecognised or unregistered religious or belief organisations.
  • 17. E M E R G E N T T H E M E S • Cultural relativism vs universality of human rights. • Religious exclusivism vs religious inclusivism – this theme emerged when discussing state definitions of religion. • Collective, individual and institutional rights. • Instrumentalisation of religion – the use of religion to achieve political aims. • State justification of restrictions on religious activity, including narrative tools (e.g. preserving national unity, protecting cultural heritage, public order, safety and security). • Reinterpretation of religious freedom at the national level. • Recognition and registration issues are harbingers of worse violations. Cover of Doctoral Thesis Religious Freedom and State Recognition of Belief.
  • 19. R E S P O N S E S • OSCE Guidelines were published in 2014 but there are several inadequacies. Standards are needed to give the guidelines more precision. • United Nations Special Rapporteur guidance has been too soft on specifying countries using recognition and registration to restrict FoRB. • European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) rulings are reactionary rather than preventative for which standards are needed. • Although some registration issues in Europe have reached the ECtHR, in nations across Africa and Asia, religious groups have little recourse to protect themselves due to corruption in national court systems. Nazila Ghanea, current UN Special Rapporteur on FoRB
  • 20. C O U R T R U L I N G S Church of Scientology of St Petersburg and Others v Russia (ECtHR, 2015). Religionsgemeinschaft Der Zeugen Jehovas and Others v Austria (ECtHR, 2008). Grainger Plc v Nicholson (UK Employment Appeal Tribunal, 2009): set out the protectability of a belief under the UK Human Rights Act 2010. Has led to philosophical beliefs such as ethical veganism being recognised as protected. Independent Orthodox Church and Zahariev v Bulgaria (ECtHR, 2021). The Moscow Branch of the Salvation Army v Russia (ECtHR, 2007).
  • 21. G R A I N G E R C R I T E R I A The belief must be genuinely held. It must be a belief and not an opinion or viewpoint based on the present state of information available. It must be a belief as to a weighty and substantial aspect of human life and behaviour. It must attain a certain level of cogency, seriousness, cohesion and importance. It must be worthy of respect in a democratic society, not be incompatible with human dignity and not conflict with the fundamental rights of others.
  • 22. M A I N C O N C E R N S • Lack of international standards to curb national policies and practices, especially to attend to granular issues that have gone unaddressed by rights conventions and court rulings. • Lack of theoretical development from scholars and human rights organisations (i.e. the concept of IRF remains largely unknown). • Lack of clear guidance from the Strasbourg Court on more ambiguous aspects of religious recognition (i.e. what leeway should states be given to favour some religions over others). Strasbourg Court, France.
  • 23. N E W A P P R O A C H E S • A new approach of recognitionism that places recognition and registration at the centre of FoRB policy. • A new approach called facilitationism that sees the value of recognition and registration to advance FoRB. • More specificity on what recognition and registration policies and practices are permissible and impermissible to FoRB. • More qualitative research and international monitoring specific to recognition and registration issues. Cover of 2023 Global Religious Recognition Report.
  • 24. V O L U N T E E R S N E E D E D ! Cover of 2024 Global Religious Recognition Report.
  • 25. THE LEGACY OF COLONIALISM Miracle of St. Francisco Xavier by André Reinoso.
  • 26. M E N TA L I T Y O F S U P E R I O R I T Y • By 1840, there was a growing movement to stamp out all traces of the slave trade in Africa, a practised which had already been outlawed in the British Empire. • The British aimed to civilise “primitive” peoples through spreading Christian teachings since they believed their religion was superior to all others. • This effort to evangelise aligned with the aims of imperialist expansionism. David Livingstone (1813– 1873), Christian missionary who advocated bringing the three C’s to Africa: Christianity, Commerce and Civilisation. Charles Darwin (1809– 1882), natural historian whose ideas were misused to develop a hierarchy of races biased against civilisations considered ‘primitive.’
  • 27. C O L O N I A L - E R A C A R T O G R A P H Y 1821 map of the world’s religious populations.
  • 28. M I S R E C O G N I T I O N • Colonial cartography reveals warped Western understandings of the non- Christian religions. • Muslims were referred to as Mohammedans while the populations of Africa and South America were called “fetishists” or “pagans.” The terms “heathens” and “idolaters” were also frequently used. • An attitude of dismissiveness prevailed which lead to othering and seeing non-Christian religions as inferior. • Western academic study of the religions of peoples of faraway lands developed Western understanding, one outcome of which was the Orientalist development of Hinduism as a unified Indian religion (King, 1999). • Imposition of the Western concept of ‘religion’ onto cultures that do not necessarily share the same belief systems. A Prayer in the Mosque by Jean Léon Gérôme, 1871.
  • 29. I M P E R I A L I S M • Through studying the mystical East, it was hoped European culture would be restored by rediscovering ancient sources of wisdom. • Conquering culture ‘from the inside’ by reinterpreting, dramatising and exploiting cultural differences. • An enduring sense of entitlement to the culture and knowledge of other civilisations. • Christianity’s role as a civiliser and so Christianity became synonymous with a civilised or enlightened form of religion. • Imperial attempts at botched classifications of religious adherents (i.e. the British classification of Indians as either Hindus or Muslims with no further distinction). A Friendly Power in Egypt by W. C. Horsley, 1906.
  • 30. I M P E R I A L M I S U S E S O F R E L I G I O N State Shinto Imperial Japan used an ideological form of the country’s indigenous nature religion to advance the imperial expansionist agenda. Catholicism and Protestantism Catholic and Protestant evangelism was used by the British, French, Italian, Spanish and Portuguese empires to establish the superior of Western power. Russian Orthodoxy The Russian Empire established close relations with the Orthodox Church which endorsed the Tsar as appointed by God and that to challenge the Tsar was to insult God. Christianity Some Nazi leaders developed a Nazi form of Christianity called Positive Christianity which rejected the Jewish origins of the religion and depicted Jesus as an Aryan. Islam The Ottoman Empire was inspired by and sustained on Islam and Islamic institutions until its collapse in 1922. State atheism The Soviet Union was the first state to actively advocate for atheism and misused irreligion to suppress the rights of citizens.
  • 31. O R I E N TA L I S M In 1978, Edward Said published Orientalism, which argued that colonialists had presented “The East” as exotic, historically frozen in time, sensual, feminine, weak, dangerous, eccentric, irrational, and undeveloped. • Religious communities were represented in a stereotyped way, especially of Hindus, Muslims and those practising African Traditional religion. • The Eurocentric view was that African religions were primitive and hinged on superstition rather than sophisticated theologies (Woolley, 2013). • This resulted in othering non-Christian religions as inferior and forming stereotypical representations of such religions (King, 2005). • The cultural authority of Europeans led to religious appropriation (Bucar, 2022). This authority also gave license to Europeans to define the religions of their colonial subjects. The Women of Algiers by Eugène Delacroix, 1834.
  • 32. R E L I G I O U S E X O T I C I S M • Aestheticising is the precursor to appropriation. • Eastern religions were represented as ancient, authentic, mysterious and vibrant alternatives for a disenchanted Western world. • Said established four dogmas of orientalism: us versus them, modernity versus atavism, subject versus object and humanity versus barbarity (Jacoby, 2023). • Exoticism as the precursor to exploitation. A form of objectification, marginalisation, domination and oppression. The Gate of the Great Umayyad Mosque in Damascus by Gustav Bauernfeind, 1890.
  • 33. P O S T- C O L O N I A L W O R L D • Changing Eastern religions to suit to Western audiences (e.g. yoga, meditation and shamanism). Westsplaining of indigenous religions through the academic study of religions. • Former colonies vigorously advocate for state religions or practising state privilege as a mark of their independence and autonomy from colonial rule (e.g. Arab nations of North Africa) and to establish a sense of nationhood, especially for countries created during decolonisation (e.g. Bangladesh and Pakistan). • Many former Soviet states remain dictatorships and so use religious registration to maintain control over civil society. New Age meditation group at the Snoqualmie Moondance festival, 1992.
  • 34. C O N T E M P O R A RY M A N I F E S TAT I O N S • Discrimination: state and societal prejudicial treatment of those with new or unfamiliar religious beliefs and practices, such as in access to registration or recognition. • Inequality: one religion being superior to others and reflecting this in the degree of recognition it receives in society and its legal benefits and privileges. These inequalities can also be found in contemporary registration systems. • Weaponisation of terms and misrecognition: accusation of new or unfamiliar religions of being cults or extremist. This often accompanies othering such groups and pressuring them to become social outcasts. • Persecution: examples include Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang and Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar. These campaigns were orchestrated over decades of othering, dehumanising and religious discrimination, part of which is denying such groups recognised and registered status. • Inter-religious con fl ict: an example is the ongoing conflict between Hindus and Muslims in India. • Religious hegemony: to maintain the dominant position of a certain religion, governments use authoritarian methods to limit citizens’ religious activities that venture outside the norm.
  • 35. R E F E R E N C E S & R E S O U R C E S • Bucar, L. (2022). Stealing My Religion: Not Just Any Cultural Appropriation. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. pp.1-35. • Jacoby, T. (2023). Islam, violence and the ‘four dogmas of Orientalism’. Race & Class. 65(2), pp.75-97. [Online]. Available at: https://doi.org/ 10.1177/03063968231164586 [Accessed 7 November 2023]. • King, R. (1999). Orientalism and the Modern Myth of "Hinduism". Numen. 46(2), pp.146-185. [Online]. Available at: https://www.jstor.org/stable/3270313 [Accessed 7 November 2023]. • King, R. (2005). Orientalism and the study of religions. In: Hinnells, J. R. (Ed). The Routledge Companion to the Study of Religion. London: Routledge. pp.275-290. • Woolley, M. (2013). Ivy Akumu ’15 Seeks to Demystify African Religion in Emerson Project. [Online]. Hamilton. Last Updated: 2 July 2013. Available at: https://www.hamilton.edu/news/story/ivy-akumu-15-seeks-to-demystify-african- religion-in-emerson-project [Accessed 7 November 2023].
  • 36. L I S T E N I N G T H A N K Y O U F O R Are There Any Questions? Afghan Girl by Isaak Alexandre Karslian. b.r.taylorian@lancaster.ac.uk