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ITALY: Giorgia Meloni, “Religious freedom is not a second-class right”

ITALY: Giorgia Meloni, “Religious freedom is not a second-class right”

The video message of Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni on the occasion of the presentation of the 16th edition of the Report on Religious Freedom in the World produced by the Pontifical Foundation Aid to the Church in Need.

By Giorgia Meloni, President of the Council of Ministers of the Italian Republic


The European Times News

The European Times (23.06.2023)

Good morning to all.

I greet and thank “Aid to the Church in Need” for the extraordinary work it has carried out since 1947 and for the great service it offers to institutions, the media and public opinion with the publication of its Report on Religious Freedom.

Religious freedom is a natural right and precedes any legal formulation because it is written in the heart of man.

It is a right proclaimed by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights but, unfortunately, it is still trampled upon in too many nations of the world and, all too often, in almost total indifference.

Thus it happens that so many men, women and children not only have to suffer the pain of being denied the right to profess their faith but also the humiliation of being forgotten. And this is doubly unacceptable because keeping silent about the denial of religious freedom is tantamount to being complicit in it. We do not intend to do this.

It is everyone’s duty to defend religious freedom, but to carry out this commitment it is necessary to know data and numbers, to understand in depth the scenario in which we move, to have in our eyes and in our hearts the stories of those who suffer abuse, persecution, violence.

This is what I saw in the eyes of Maria Joseph and Janada Markus, two very young Nigerian Christian women victims of the ferocity of Boko Haram terrorists. I met them on Women’s Day and was left breathless by their courage, their strength, and their dignity. It was an encounter I will not forget and it left me with great lessons.

This is why the ACN Report is so valuable because it does not make abstract analyses or reasoning but gets to the heart of persecution and discrimination, to the heart of the victims, their history, and their lives.

It is a bit like a guide for drawing a course of action. One of them is very clear: religious freedom is not a second-class right, it is not a freedom that comes after others or can even be forgotten for the benefit of self-styled new freedoms or rights.

Similarly, we cannot forget another phenomenon that affects more developed societies. Pope Francis has warned us of the danger of a polite persecution, disguised as culture, modernity and progress, which in the name of a misunderstood concept of inclusion limits the possibility of believers to express their convictions in the sphere of social life.

It is an analysis that I share because it is profoundly wrong to think that in order to welcome the other one must deny one’s identity, including religious identity. Only if you are aware of who you are can you dialogue with the other, can you respect him, know him in depth, and draw enrichment from that dialogue.

But we must not, of course, forget the first type of persecution, the material persecution that afflicts many nations around the world, a reality on which we must open our eyes and act now, without wasting any more time. This is what the government intends to do and has begun to do, starting with the call for over 10 million euros to finance interventions in favour of persecuted Christian minorities, from Syria to Iraq, from Nigeria to Pakistan. A first step that will be followed by many others.

Pope Benedict XVI reminded us that religious freedom is an essential good that belongs to the core of human rights, to those universal and natural rights that human law can never deny and that requires the u

tmost commitment from everyone, no one excluded.

Italy can and must set an example. Italy intends to set an example, at a European and international level. This is one of our many missions.

Thank you all and good work.

More reading

Italy’s Georgia Meloni: “Religious liberty is not a second-class right”

Religious freedom: too many violations

Meloni: “It’s everyone’s duty to defend religious freedom”

Photo: The European Times

Further reading about FORB in Italy on HRWF website

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ITALY: Bombing targets Jehovah’s Witnesses’ place of worship

ITALY: More violence against Jehovah’s Witnesses: Bombing in front of a Kingdom Hall

See pictures on https://news.italy24.press/local/450079.html

By Raffaella Di Marzio


LIREC (11.04.2023) – A bomb exploded in front of the Kingdom Hall of Jehovah’s Witnesses in San Salvo where, overnight, a person with a covered face cut through a fence and placed the bomb in front of an entrance door. The damage, yet to be precisely quantified, is extensive. According to investigators, this was not a stunt but an actual bombing.

The council groups San Salvo Città Nuova, Lista Popolare, Noi San Salvo, San Salvo è, issued a statement in which they affirm that

“In relation to the attack of which the Kingdom Hall of Jehovah’s Witnesses in San Salvo was the object, we express our solidarity and closeness with them and strongly condemn this inconceivable gesture that undermines the foundations of civil and religious living, which is rooted in concord and respect for every belief and every position aimed at building and developing an integrated and supportive society. In reiterating our rejection of any gesture of affront and disrespect for civil coexistence, we trust the work of the police who will certainly identify those responsible for this unspeakable gesture.”

A similar incident had occurred on July 27, 2017 when another bomb was planted in front of the Kingdom Hall of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Asti.

In this context it is also important to remember what happened on January 18, 2023, on a Saturday morning in Viverona, in the province of Biella, where a man fired into the air at two Jehovah’s Witnesses who had gone to knock on his door.

These are very disturbing incidents because they are alarm bells that should not be underestimated. They do not, in fact, appear to be gestures of deranged people, but rather clear and conscious manifestations of religious hatred against a particular denomination, often labeled as a “sect” by the media.

This same hatred, on March 9, 2023, in Hamburg, claimed the lives of eight Jehovah’s Witnesses and injured eight others, including a seven-month pregnant mother who lost her baby. The gunman, who took his own life, was a former member of the congregation.

The widespread dissemination of hate speech contributes to a climate of hostility in which real hate crimes are generated, and sometimes materialize, from which our country is certainly not immune.

Hate speech used as a useful strategy to stigmatize religious or spiritual minorities is now a rampant and almost unstoppable phenomenon, despite the constant efforts of numerous civil society organizations and institutions themselves to prevent or curb it.

Several times our Study Center, including through dedicated projects, has helped to denounce the phenomenon and indicate useful tools to counter and prevent it, involving the media and institutions.

Despite the recurrence of these episodes of violence, we will not cease to be vigilant and report to the authorities any form of labeling and stigmatization that could easily become incitement to religious hatred.

Our goal remains to prevent hate crimes starting with countering hate speech through correct information and objective knowledge of the phenomenon.

Photo: lirec.net


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ITALY: Disfellowshipping and “ostracism”: Italian Court sides with the Jehovah’s Witnesses

Disfellowshipping and “ostracism”: Italian Court sides with the Jehovah’s Witnesses

The Court of Teramo reconfirmed that secular courts cannot second-guess ecclesiastical judicial committees, nor forbid teachings on “ostracism.”

By Massimo Introvigne


Bitter Winter (08.04.2022) – https://bit.ly/3voTwzF – Recently, the Court of Teramo, in Italy, delivered the ground of a decision rendered on January 26, 2022, in the case of a former Jehovah’s Witness who had sought the annulment of a decision by an ecclesiastical judicial committee to disfellowship him, and damages for the physical and psychological problems allegedly derived from what disgruntled former members and anti-cult groups call “ostracism.”

A local Jehovah’s Witness entered into a conflict with the organization, presumably for doctrinal reasons, as the decision referred to 2 John 1:7, 9, and 10. He rejected the help that elders offered and, after deciding not to appear before an ecclesiastical judicial committee, he was eventually disfellowshipped.

He raised two claims against the Italian body of the Jehovah’s Witnesses. The first was that in the procedure leading to its disfellowshipment his right to the defense, which is also guaranteed by the European Convention on Human Rights, was violated.

The court observed that the Jehovah’s Witnesses in Italy are recognized as a religion by the State, and that the Italian Supreme Court established in 1994, in a case concerning the Seventh-day Adventists, that under Italian law “interfering with a religious organization is totally forbidden to the state.”

It is true, the court said, that the Seventh-day Adventists have signed with Italy one of the concordats called “Intese” (the name “Concordato” is reserved to the agreement with the Roman Catholic Church), while in the case of the Jehovah’s Witnesses an “Intesa” has been signed by the government but “not yet” ratified by the Parliament. However, the protection of religious organizations against any interference by the state in their internal matters derives from the Italian Constitution and exists even without an “Intesa.”

Italian courts have sometimes decided that, notwithstanding this protection, secular judges can, within strict limits, ascertain whether a religious organization did respect its own rules in internal judicial proceedings, and guaranteed to the defendant the fundamental right of being heard. However, the Court of Teramo noted, these decisions also concluded that when the judiciary has to examine a matter pertaining to an ecclesiastical judicial system of a religious organization “it is enough that an essential core, i.e., the defendant’s right to be heard, is respected.”

The procedure of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, the Court of Teramo said, respects this right in its rules, and respected it in the specific case that the court examined. In fact, the defendant was invited to be heard at a hearing before a judicial committee, and it was “his decision only” not to appear and defend himself.

The second claim by the former Jehovah’s Witness is that as a disfellowshipped member he suffered “ostracism” by his former friends, which caused psychological and even physical damages, and his wife not only filed for divorce but started several criminal cases against him. The court answered, based on the same principle of non-interference by the state in religious matters, that secular judges “cannot rule on whether the principles taught by a religious confession are legitimate or otherwise.”

Indeed, the court noted that “notwithstanding the need to strike a balance between the freedom given to the association and the right of the individual member,… the judicial review should be agreed and limited to the protection of fundamental personal rights.”

Therefore, according to the judgment, the plaintiff’s claim must be qualified as a claim for damages for unlawful conduct according to the tortious liability law.

On this point the judgment also referred to the principle set by the Italian Supreme Court of Cassation in its ruling no. 9561, Division 1, April 13, 2017, concerning a similar case. In that landmark decision, the Supreme Court stated that “since the alleged ostracism was a refusal to associate with him [the plaintiff], as there is no law that requires a person to behave in the opposite manner, no discrimination took place.” The Court of Cassation also stated that the fundamental personal rights “are certainly not undermined by the free choice of some individuals, or even of a category of people, to break off or interrupt personal relations, which do not have a legal protection.”

Therefore, according to this legal framework and the general tortious liability law, the judgement concluded that in the case the damages claim for “ostracism” could not be accepted.

In addition, the Court considered in detail the evidence of damages claimed by the plaintiff. Regarding the divorce between the plaintiff and his spouse, religious freedom, the court stated, includes the freedom for a spouse to divorce for religious reasons and because the “spiritual communion” between husband and wife no longer exists. As for the criminal cases filed by his ex-wife against the petitioner, they concern the non-payment of the alimony and physical threats and abuse, which have nothing to do with religion or ostracism. The petitioner also claimed that, because of the ostracism, he experienced physical problems, but the court ascertained that they existed before his disfellowshipping.

The general principle that “ostracism” per se is not justiciable, and teaching “ostracism” is not forbidden has been affirmed by a large number of precedents, including at the European Court of Human Rights and in cases in the United States, the United Kingdom, Italy, and Germany. It was confirmed last year by the Court of Rome.

Against this solid international case law, which also included Belgian cases, on March 16, 2021, the Court of Ghent, in Belgium, fined the Jehovah’s Witnesses for their practice of “ostracism,” and on January 26, 2022, the County Governor for Oslo and Viken, in Norway, issued an administrative decision denying to the Jehovah’s Witnesses the state subsidy for the year 2021 they should have received as they did for thirty years, finding “ostracism” objectionable. Both these decisions have been appealed. It is Bitter Winter’s position that they are dangerous for religious liberty and open a breach in the century-old wall protecting religions from improper state interference. We hope they will be reformed on appeal.

At any rate, they remain the expression of a minority view with respect to a larger corpus of international decisions, which have all confirmed that interfering with the Jehovah’s Witnesses teachings on “ostracism” would violate both their religious liberty and the general principle that secular courts cannot interfere with how religions self-organize themselves. Wisely, the Court of Teramo added its voice to other Italian courts that followed the majority position.

Photo: A view of the Court of Teramo. Source: Italian Ministry of Justice.


Massimo Introvigne (born June 14, 1955 in Rome) is an Italian sociologist of religions. He is the founder and managing director of the Center for Studies on New Religions (CESNUR), an international network of scholars who study new religious movements. Introvigne is the author of some 70 books and more than 100 articles in the field of sociology of religion. He was the main author of the Enciclopedia delle religioni in Italia (Encyclopedia of Religions in Italy). He is a member of the editorial board for the Interdisciplinary Journal of Research on Religion and of the executive board of University of California Press’ Nova Religio.  From January 5 to December 31, 2011, he has served as the “Representative on combating racism, xenophobia and discrimination, with a special focus on discrimination against Christians and members of other religions” of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE). From 2012 to 2015 he served as chairperson of the Observatory of Religious Liberty, instituted by the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs in order to monitor problems of religious liberty on a worldwide scale.

Further reading about FORB in Italy on HRWF website

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ITALY: Italian NGO calls on government to address overcrowded prisons

Italian NGO calls on government to address overcrowded prisons

By Josephine Joly


Euronews (02.08.2021) – https://bit.ly/3C9TON3 – Italy’s prisons face serious overcrowding problems, with 53,637 people occupying space for 47,000, according to the annual report of Associazione Antigone, an Italian NGO working to protect human rights.


Of the 189 jails across Italy, 117 of them exceed a 100% occupancy rate. Some prisons like one in Brescia reached a record 200%.


In June 2021, Italian prisons had a “real crowding rate” of 113%. The government claims there is enough space behind bars for inmates, and some 4,000 cells are constantly being repaired or renovated.


Since the start of 2021, there have been 18 suicides in Italian prisons, in addition to the 62 in 2020 (one for every 10,000 inmates), the highest number in recent years.


Prisoners have been complaining of torture and there have been allegations of beatings. Some claim the conditions behind bars have directly contributed to the suicides.


“The situation is very bad because the prison system is still partially in lockdown mode. The social activities are very limited, access of external staff, volunteers, etc, is still limited in most of the prisons. Contacts with the families are limited, and this has been going on obviously since the start of the pandemic, so the situation is very heavy on the prisoners,” Alessio Scandurra, coordinator of Antigone’s Observatory on prison conditions, told Euronews.


Associazione Antigone is calling on the government to address this overcrowding problem by reducing the length of criminal proceedings, as people in pre-trial detention are over-represented in Italy’s prisons.


“We also have an over-representation of people detained for drug offences and in drug abusers, compared to other European countries. So a different approach to drugs in the legislation and in police practises, but also in social policies, could make a difference in prison overcrowding,” Scandurra added.


Lack of fresh and drinking water, Scandurra said, could be exacerbate problems during the summer months.



Prison guards arrested


A video showing guards brutally beating inmates at a jail near Naples last year was released in June, pushing Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi to seek for the prison’s system to be reformed.


Fifty-two prison guards have since been arrested. But according to Scandurra, some of the guards seen on the video are not under investigation as it was impossible to identify them due to face masks and helmets.


“We need to introduce identification numbers for police officers. That will be very important, for instance, in cases like this one,” he said.


“Other measures, like the quality and the efficiency of the video recording system that proved to be so important at the Santa Maria Capua Vetere prison, are not always there in many other facilities. We have ongoing investigations of similar cases, in the similar period, for the same reason. But there was no video recording. Either the prison was not equipped or the system wasn’t working. And therefore we don’t have this very important evidence.”


Photo credits:  Piero Cruciatti / AFP

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ITALY: Vatican vs Italy on new homophobia bill: why it’s a religious liberty issue

Vatican vs Italy on new homophobia bill: why it’s a religious liberty issue

The Vatican claims the new law would breach the Concordat between Italy and the Holy See, an international treaty. It is not about LGBT rights, it is about freedom of religion or belief.

By Marco Respinti

Bitter Winter (24.06.2021) –  https://bit.ly/3xOKpaN -The Italian Senate is now discussing the so-called “Zan bill,” named after its original drafter, MP Alessandro Zan, of the Democratic Party, which the House of Representatives approved on November 4, 2020. Those favorable to the bill claim that it merely extends to LGBT+ persons (and those with handicaps) the provisions of a 1993 law (known as “Legge Mancino”) against hate speech, and discrimination and violence because of race, ethnicity, religion and national identity, by adding also sexual orientation and handicaps to the categories protected by that law. But critics (among which, by the way, are also some prominent homosexuals, and feminist activists) mention some flaws in the bill, while approving the provisions against all kind of violence and incitement to violence against LGBT+ persons (unnecessary to say, this is also my position). There are two main objections.

The main objection

First, current Italian laws already punish hate, discrimination, and violence against LGBT+ persons. In fact, when identified, perpetrators of hate crimes against anyone, including LGBT+ persons, are arrested, go to court and, if found guilty, serve terms in prison. This would seem to settle the question, but the “Zan bill” introduces a novelty. In addition to sex, gender, and sexual orientation, it also protects “gender identity.” Article 1, paragraph d, of the “Zan bill” defines “gender identity” as “the perceived and manifested self-perception of one’s gender, even if not corresponding to one’s [biological] sex, independently from having concluded a transition path” (“l’identificazione percepita e manifestata di sé in relazione al genere, anche se non corrispondente al sesso, indipendentemente dall’aver concluso un percorso di transizione.) But a “perceived gender identity,” critics of the bill argue, is not unanimously accepted and cannot be clearly defined, thus opening the way to arbitrary interpretations.

The risk, critics say, is that every expression of legitimate criticism of the notion of “gender identity” by anyone can be constructed as hate speech, curtailing freedom of expression. But there is more. Critics argue that in the case of priests and pastors, rabbis and imams, catechists or simple religious believers, every theological, philosophical, and moral criticism of any sexual behavior based on religion and theology could be labeled as “hate speech,” and the supposed trespasser brought to court. It is the case also for agnostics or atheists, who could be sanctioned if they express opposition  to a specific sexual behavior based on their own secular philosophy.

As a matter of fact, article 4 of the “Zan bill,” claims to protect freedom of expression in the field but, only if statements do not create a “danger of discrimination” (or violence). Critics are afraid that a priest, pastor, rabbi, imam, or lay preacher who would, for example, preach that those who have entered into a same-sex union should be censored from the relevant religious community, or lecture his or her flock against same-sex marriage might be accused of creating a situation leading to a “danger of discrimination.” The problem, critics say, is not whether we agree or disagree with such statements. It is whether a law should prevent religious believers from freely expressing them.

An ancillary problem is article 7, instituting May 17 as the National Day Against all Forms of Homophobia, to be celebrated in all schools. Critics of the bill fear that this may compel religious schools, and teachers who have alternative opinions about homosexuality based on their religion, to teach something they do not agree with, and be sanctioned if they don’t.

The Vatican response

Now, in an unprecedent move, the Vatican has asked the Italian government to reconsider some provisions of the “Zan bill,” because they may breach the Concordat between the Italian Republic and the Holy See, and thus religious liberty.

On June 17, Msgr. Paul Richard Gallagher, Vatican Secretary for Relations with the States (in substance, a Vatican Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs) delivered a “verbal note” (this is the technical definition) to the Italian Embassy to the Holy See.

The foremost Italian daily newspaper, Corriere della Serapublished the core sentence of that “verbal note”: “Some current contents of the bill under examination by the Senate reduce the liberty granted to the Catholic Church by Article 2, paragraphs 1 and 3 of the agreement revising the Concordat” (“Alcuni contenuti attuali della proposta legislativa in esame presso il Senato riducono la libertà garantita alla Chiesa Cattolica dall’articolo 2, commi 1 e 3 dell’accordo di revisione del Concordato”.)

The Concordat, also known as the “Lateran Treaty,” was signed by the Kingdom of Italy and the Holy See on February 11, 1929. In 1948, it was received in the Constitution of the Republic of Italy at article 7, and in 1984 it was revised. Article 2, paragraph 2, of the 1984 revision grants the Catholic Church “liberty of organization, liberty of public worship, and liberty of exercising its episcopal teaching and ministry,” while paragraph 3 grants “to Catholics and their associations and organizations full liberty of assembly and manifestation of thought in words, texts, and every other way of sharing.”

It is important to note that, unlike the ‘intese” with other religions (a word also usually translated in English as “concordats”), the 1929/1984 Concordat with the Catholic Church was not stipulated between Italy and the Italian representatives of the Catholic Church. It is an international treaty signed with a foreign state, the Vatican, and as such, again unlike the “intese,” can only be litigated in international fora.

Why did the Vatican intervene, invoking international law? The Holy See is afraid that freedom of teaching their traditional doctrine on homosexuality may expose priests and lay believers to the serious penalties imposed by the law against those who create a “danger of discrimination.” Of course, within the Catholic Church, there are different positions about homosexuality. What the Vatican is trying to do is to protect the expression of all of them, conservative as well as liberal.

Accusations to the Vatican of interfering with Italian politics are growing, but this is a false problem. The Concordat is an international treaty, not a part of Italian domestic law. When Italy signed this treaty, it guaranteed to bishops, priests, and lay Catholics an immunity from prosecution when they teach what the Vatican believes to be part, or within the boundaries, of Catholic doctrine, no matter whether these teachings are unpopular, or not shared by non-Catholics (or even by a portion of the Catholics).

It is not about the Vatican’s power, and it is not even about LGBT rights. It is about religious freedom. The “Zan bill” is about homosexuals, but other bills may prevent religions from creating a “danger of discrimination” against their expelled ex-members, or politicians who may be excommunicated from promoting certain laws, or from criticizing the laws of the state on a variety of matters, from social policies to immigration. While the Concordat is unique in its nature as an international treaty, other religions may have domestic remedies based on their “intese,” or on the general principle of freedom of religion or belief, which is protected by the Italian Constitution and the European Convention on Human Rights. The Vatican’s statement, in this sense, may be beneficial also to non-Catholics.

Photo : Mgr. Paul Richard Gallagher, Vatican Secretary for Relations with the States (credits).

Marco Respinti is the Editor-in-Chief of International Family News. He is an Italian professional journalist, member of the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), essayist, translator, and lecturer. He has contributed and contributes to several journals and magazines both in print and online, both in Italy and abroad. Author of books, he has translated and/or edited works by, among others, Edmund Burke, Charles Dickens, T.S. Eliot, Russell Kirk, J.R.R. Tolkien, Régine Pernoud and Gustave Thibon. A Senior fellow at the Russell Kirk Center for Cultural Renewal, a non-partisan, non-profit U.S. educational organization based in Mecosta, Michigan, he is also a founding member as well as Board member of the Center for European Renewal, a non-profit, non-partisan pan-European educational organization based in The Hague, The Netherlands, and a member of the Advisory Council of the European Federation for Freedom of Belief. He serves as Director-in-Charge of the academic publication The Journal of CESNUR and Bitter Winter: A Magazine on Religious Liberty and Human Rights in China.


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