Two watchdog groups said Monday a "dangerous trend of intolerance" is growing in Europe against many small and even mainstream religions, including The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
In fact, the Utah-headquartered LDS Church is labeled a "dangerous cult" by governments in Belgium and Greece. And a recent French government report says the teaching methods of LDS missionaries are typical examples of "brainwashing" by cults.That's according to the Center for Studies on New Religions based in Turin, Italy, and the Institute for the Study of American Religion based in Santa Barbara, Calif.
Presidents of both groups discussed the trend Monday at a National Press Club briefing, where they said they hope to build international pressure to curtail it.
"We want to ring a bell that we are seeing the beginning of a dangerous trend of intolerance (in Europe)," said Massimo Introvigne, president of the Italian group and a Roman Catholic.
J. Gordon Melton, president of the Santa Barbara group and a Methodist, said the U.S. press has focused recently only on German restrictions against Christian Scientists and on Russia passing a law restricting new churches.
"Those are tips of the iceberg. We really have a situation that covers all of Europe," Melton said.
Introvigne said the trend in western Europe began as a backlash to murder-suicides by the Solar Temple cult (which led to government commissions to study cults). And Melton said the trend in Eastern Europe comes mainly from state religions that do not like new challenges from missionary work of others.
As a result, Introvigne said, a Belgian parliamentary commission this year listed 189 groups as "dangerous cults."
Groups among them, he said, were "Quaker, Bahai, Mormon and - believe it or not - the Young Women's Christian Association, (but) for some reason not the Young Men's Christian Association."
In France, the LDS Church was not among 172 groups listed by another parliamentary commission as dangerous cults, but the report still attacked the church.
"In the text of the report is the testimony of a psychiatrist . . . and he identifies the strategies of Mormon missionaries as a typical example of brainwashing and mind control," Introvigne said.
He added that is one of many inconsistencies in that report. Another is describing Quakers and Southern Baptists as cults - but not dangerous ones.
"So that would probably be of some comfort to Bill Clinton (a Southern Baptist). He's a cultist but not a dangerous cultist," Intro-vigne joked.
Introvigne said that French report has led to such things as firing Jehovah's Witnesses as schoolteachers despite long and honorable service.
He said the French Ministry of Youth and Sports has also hired "Mr. Cults" to speak to youth and sports groups about the evil of such "cults."
He said those speakers are often associated with the anti-cult group ADFI, which he said is funded by French taxpayers. He added it "announced that one campaign they want to run next year is to probe more deeply into the Mormons," which he said they feel has too easily escaped closer scrutiny.
Introvigne said other commissions in Germany and by the European Parliament are also looking at "cults" and what restrictions should be placed against them.