"Warn if danger threatens"

Sects: Constitutional legal advocate Mayer warns against improper proceedings

Vienna, Austria
May 31, 2000
Der Standard

Vienna - "Naturally you can issue alerts about sects when real dangers exist." But it would be dangerous to lump all religious groups together, said Viennese Constitutional legal advocate Heinz Mayer. For him, the state should not be acting as attorney for existing religious denominations, but should be active where "a real danger is imminent." He says the decisive factor is whether people's private spheres are being interfered with.

When a minister issues warnings about sects on a television talk show, according to Mayer, he is forwarding information which he should not be allowed to. He said the potentially resulting social disregard as well as the professional disadvantages for sects are a "classic case of interfering with a basic right."

On Monday evening Mayer had a meeting with attorney Alfred Noll on the Viennese "Juridikum" about sects. The focus of the discussion was the issue of what possibilities there were for new religious movements to protect themselves from untrue assertions.

Attorney Noll described the fact that the spread of false facts cannot be prevented as a "deficit in the office liability law." Theoretically, according to Noll, a minister should have to present proof of validity before a court for making a statement about sects. He said "a wound" would be opened in the office liability law: damages could only be made up with in money [in his theoretical case]. Retraction and orders to desist would be eliminated. He believes that people are influenced more "by commerce on radio and television" than by sects. "Whether sects are really an issue, I cannot say. In any case they are being made one," Mayer believes.

The constitutional legal advocate expressed disagreement with the Basic Rights Charter which is being worked out in the EU at this time: he said it was not needed on top of state basic law and the human rights convention. (pm)