Young people with disabilities and new religious movements: with a special regard to hearing impaired young people

Religiousness and new religious movements in the Slovak Republic
In a simplified manner of speaking it is possible to say that Slovakia is a very religious country. Despite crusade of consumer culture the Slovaks show great interest in spiritual matters. Although after 1989 when socialism fell through, we meet with boom of new and non-traditional religious movements and trends establishment and activities in the Slovak society, majority of the Slovaks profess (according to data of census) traditional and registered Churches and religious communities. Comparing two censuses held in democratic environment and with ten-year interval (in years 1991 and 2001) it can be said that degree of religiousness from the point of view of quantitative indicators is increasing (comp. chart). At present it could not be considered common phenomenon in Europe especially in comparison with the neighbouring Czech Republic with which we constituted federation until 1993, or with other post-socialistic countries. However, be that as it may, qualitative issues and differences between declaration of a Church or a religious community affiliation in census and realistically practised religious way of life can be debated.1

Church
Difference
Number in 2001
Number in 1991
Roman Catholic Church
+520 737
+ 8,6 %
3708 120
68,9 %
3187 383
60,3 %
Greek Catholic Church
+ 41 098
+ 0,69 %
219 831
4,1 %
178 733
3,41 %
Evangelic Church of A. c.
+ 46 461
+ 0,7 %
372 858
6,9 %
326 397
6,2 %
Reformed Christian Church
+ 27 190
+ 0,4 %
109 735
2,0 %
82 545
1,6 %
Orthodox Church
+ 15 987
+ 0,3 %
50 363
0,9 %
34 376
0,6 %
Evangelic Church Methodistic
+ 2 988
7 347
4 359
Religious community Jehovah Witnesses
-
20 630
-
Brotherly Unity of Baptists
+ 1 097
3 562
2 465
Brotherly Church
+ 1 356
3 217
1 861
Church of Seventh day Adventists
+ 1 708
3 429
1 721
Apostolic Church
+ 2 789
3 905
1 116
Jewish religious communities
+ 1 398
2 310
912
Old Catholic Church
+ 851
1 733
882
Christian Congregations
+ 5 819
6 519
700
Czechoslovak Hussite Church
+ 1 071
1 696
625
Without confession
+181 797
+ 3,16 %
697 308
12,96 %
515 511
9,8 %
Affiliating to churches and religious communities
+680 600
+ 11,3 %
4521 549
84,1 %
3840 949
72,8 %
Affiliating to other churches and religious communities
+ 2 669
6 294
3 625
Not ascertained
- 757 237
- 14,42 %
160 598
2,98 %
917 835
17,4 %

It is hard to determine exactly how many new and non-traditional religious communities, movements and trends in Slovakia exit and pursue their activities. We can only estimate them at about 200. At the same time new ones are coming, from the West on the one hand, but from the East on the other hand, and some are dying, or remain unheeded.

Those which are relatively stable part of the Slovak spiritual scene can be mentioned:

Communities derived from Christianity and communities continuing Christianity:

International Church of Christ (part of International Churches of Christ (ICC)), Christian Communities, Word of Life, Oasis of Faith, Teen Challenge, Blue Cross, the Nazarenes, Free Peopleґs Mission, Christadelfians, International Church Immanuel, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (the Mormons), the Unification Church, Universal Life, the Family, the Rastafarians.

Communities of oriental origin: Bahaґi Community, several Muslim entities.

Communities derived from Buddhism: Society of Diamond Way (Karma Kagyu), Slovak Zen School Kwan Um, Zazen International Slovakia, Reiki, and Falun Gong.

Communities derived from Hinduism: Community Yoga in Everyday Life, Sri Chinmoy Centre, Sahaja Yoga, the Slovak Centre – Brahma Kumaris, the Slovak Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON), the Slovak Society of Maharishi Vedic University, Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh (Osho), Shree Sathya Sai Baba, Ananda Marga.

Communities derived from esoterics: Anthroposofic Society, the Grail Movement, followers of Natalie de Lemeny-Makedon, Ancient Mystical Order Rosae Crucis (A.M.O.R.C), Lectorium Rosicrucianum, Freemasons, Scientology Church, New Akropolis, new pagan and shaman groups, Satanists, Raelians.

Besides, Ideas of New Age cannot be omitted, they penetrate into almost all spheres of social life, culture, arts, education process, health care..., nor various therapeutic procedures with religious interference (reincarnation therapy, transpersonal therapy and holotrope breathing, rebirthing etc.)

People with disabilities and society
The aim of the project on support of co-ordination and improvement of non-governmental organisations activity conditions in the field of people-with-disabilities integration (Phare programme YY9408-LIEN, ref.95-0835) that has been financed by the European Union, was to extend information to public not only about the need to take active part in creating conditions for integration of the people with disabilities into common life, but also about concrete forms of support and help for life quality improvement. Participant interest in the project, both the Government of the Slovak Republic and non-governmental organisations, which focuses on the people-with-disabilities integration into society, is aiming at the field of upbringing and education, sports, re-qualification, creation of new jobs and conditions for business.1

The project, apart from other things, has reminded the document Standard rules on the Equalization of Opportunities for persons with Disabilities, that passed the UN in December on the basis of experience gained during the UN Decade of people with disabilities (1983-1992). The second part of the document emphasises target areas of equal participation. There are eight such defined target areas.1 In the target area of Family Life and Individuality integrity there is absence of any reference to possibility of the individuality integrity disturbance by means of sectarian actions. The target area of Religion is put within the Second Part as a last one and in connection with the above-mentioned project it seems to be left on the fringes of interests of the states’ governments, NGO and professionals in assisting occupations.

The UN2 recommendation for the target area of Religion
The rule no.12 stipulates that states shall support measures for equal participation of persons with disabilities in municipalities’ religious life:

1. After consulting religious institutions states should take measures to remove discrimination of persons with disabilities, and to open up religious activities to them.

2. States should contribute to informing religious institutions and organization about problems of persons with disabilities. States should also recommend religious institutions to involve information on methods of persons-with-disabilities’ problem solving both in their specialized workers’ instruction and religious upbringing.

3. States should also support availability of religious literature for sense-impaired persons .

4. States and/or religious organizations should consult organizations of persons with disabilities when preparing measures and arranging their active participation in religious activities.

In the Slovak Republic there is a lot of things that are necessary to be started to realize in this connection. Individual governments of the SR solve basic issues in connection with people with disabilities too long, and there is kind of no time left for «superstructural» areas such as e.g. religion.

It seems that Churches and religious societies are more active in this field. Their activities are taking the course in two levels: 1. Practical help to people with physical disabilities is concerned, when Churches carry out their charitable or diaconal mission and substitute the state function; 2. Practical pastoral activities are concerned (kerygma, coinonia, liturgy, martyria) – though Churches would comment on this division that diaconia is also Churches’ own pastoral activity.

New and non-traditional religions turn their attention to people with physical disabilities, too. They are able to prepare suitable evangelistic tools, study materials, or arrange for necessary interpretation of meetings, liturgies, much quicker than «big» traditional Churches, and practically integrate people with physical disabilities into their communities.

With respect for religious faith freedom for everyone, not excepting people with physical disabilities, we must notice that people with physical disabilities, especially sense-impaired, have narrower chances to fully comprehend the content of individual NRM faith teaching because critical literature adapted to their conception, or other suitable critical information sources, are almost fully missing.

Hearing/impaired young people
I consider community of hearing-impaired young people one of the most endangered ones, especially those who are hearing-impaired since their birth or since their babyhood before creation of speech (prelingual deafness). Their sources of information are limited to minimum – only a circle of people are able to communicate information to them by signs or lip reading – they are the closest family members (if they are willing to learn to communicate with them) and professionals who are in charge of their education.

We must consider that people who lost hearing before their speech creation, perceive abstract notions (that are much encompassed in religion) in particular, with much difficulties in comparison with hearing people. Hearing-impaired people communicate in a completely different way than hearing ones. «Lost of hearing is certainly disability that causes most confusion and misunderstanding of all possible types of children’s disabilities». 1 Speech ability is in our mind closely connected to thinking, communication and intelligence. Difficult creation of adequate communication system is the major problem of those who lost hearing in their babyhood. Most hearing-impaired people fall substantially behind their hearing peers in school education. Their average reading abilities reach the level of 9-years to 10-years old child.2 If a layman says about a hearing-impaired person that printed texts are suitable source of information for them, they must revise their view after a brief explanation of problems. Books and print media are often incomprehensible for prelingual hearing-impaired people. That is why mature, ethical and highly expert participation in education of hearing-impaired young people is the key. Any further human responses can be a great enrichment, but at the same time danger or injury.

Case X.Y.
In September 2003 the mother of 29 years old hearing-impaired girl X.Y. visited our office and asked for consultation concerning activities of Religious society of Jehovah’s Witnesses (JW). The reason she gave was long-lasting negative change in her daughter’s behaviour that had been caused by her daughter’s familiarising with JW teaching, accepting it and meeting with JW members.

X.Y. met JW member at her workplace at the end of the year 2001. JW member has a hearing-impaired husband and that is why that were able to communicate well. They started to meet and X.Y. absented herself from work without any reason. Due to a bad work presence she was finally dismissed from work Health and mental problems followed, according to her mother caused by the life style indebted to the influence of JW teaching, psychosomatic illness and later hospitalisation at a psychiatric ward. JW woman registered at the district office as a X.Y.’s assistant. (an assistant of a hearing-impaired person in accordance with the Act on Social Assistance). Another dismissal from the job followed due to bad work presence an intensive «evangelisation» among X.Y.’s colleagues. X.Y. aquatinted her female colleagues with JW teaching despite the warning of her superior that she did not want it. After the warning she responded in a sense: «God Jehovah will protect me». Events were getting tougher, she was getting into trouble with her mother and other family members, and culminated in X.Y.’s lodging a complaint against her mother because she tore her religious literature, and left home for her assistant. The case was accompanied by tense relations among JW members and X.Y.’s family members including physical attacts, following complaints and repeated hospitalisations at the psychiatric ward.

Mother was recommended to co-operate with psychiatrist and instructed to make her daughter to leave JW teaching, which would partly renew former relationship of mother and her daughter and crate calmer environment for possible co-operation with her.

We decided to analyse the initiative in relation to JW member’s activities in co-operation with experts on issues of hearing-impaired persons and in the broader terms focusing on concrete proposals of measures that would eliminate abuse of position as an assistant of persons with physical disabilities.

It seems that the fundamental problem is absence of conditions for action of hearing-impaired persons’ personal assistants in the Act no. 195/1998 Coll. on Social Assistance in the sense of word that a personal assistant makes communication of information from the outside to a hearing-impaired person easier. Theoretically it can happen that as a personal assistant a person can act who does not know sign language. There is no ethical code of a personal assistant nor other control of an assistant’s activities stipulated by an act or other way. Each personal assistant creates their own professional, ethical and other limits. The assistant concludes a contract with a hearing-impaired person for limited amount of hours per year that applies to one hearing-impaired person. The assistant can assist several hearing-impaired persons.

More professionals have informed us that in approach to religious life hearing-impaired persons are very lax, which relates to the fact that their disability leads them to greater sexual liberalism that is not in accord with strict requirements of confessions. They are often socially infantile (on the one hand they can be very trusting because they cannot verify the information, on the other hand they can abuse their disability to get greater amount of privileges). Most hearing-impaired persons as it has been stated before, have difficulties to comprehend complicated written texts and about 40% of hearing-impaired persons has also physical and mental disabilities. Religious society of Jehovah’s Witnesses has established strong position in the community of hearing-impaired persons. It is possible to be explained by the fact that according to JW teaching deaf people will hear when the end of world occurs. For people with hearing disabilities it is a a strong motivation, and vision that once there will a big and positive change happen for them. Hearing-impaired persons manage to achieve the highest positions in the JW structure. They are very well informed who belongs to JW, and who does not belong to their community. Hearing-impaired members of JW shun social events. After joining JW they usually cut off communication with the community of hearing-impaired persons, indeed, they keep away from it. They continue to integrate themselves into a closed community of JW hearing-impaired persons. We consider the fact that JW teaching narrows down once narrow information receiving from the outside environment for hearing-impaired persons by controlled selection of information when they cannot read print media, watch TV due to «unsuitable information» etc., a major problem.

It cannot be excluded that a personal assistant greatly influences a hearing-impaired person – it is conditioned by the fact that hearing parents who does not know sign language are not able to communicate with their hearing-impaired child enough to learn a child’s needs and condition. It can happen that a hearing-impaired person become addicted to their personal assistant and their interpretation of «the outside world». Personal assistant function is a standard in the EU countries and it is, according to the Slovak experts, the best thing that has been done for people with hearing disabilities in Slovakia in recent years. Our legal regulation is based on Scandinavian experience – it has been inspired by the Swedish model. We can state that personal assistant function creates space for abuse due to its philosophy of freedom of choice and co-operation. The case reveals a legislative gap in the Act on Social Assistance whose amendment is supposed to be effective from January 1 2005. We have pointed out to responsible persons that it would be desired to take measures in this respect, and put forward the issue especially when communicating with the Ministry of Labour, Social Affairs and Family of the SR.

Proposal and recommendations
Issues of assistants of people with disabilities is extremely urgent while there is a real possibility to influence clients (physically, mentally) aiming at abusing their health condition to their advantage (to enrich oneself, to win them for potentially harmful activities, membership in a group with signs of a destructive community) when performing personal assistance.

There are several possibilities how the problem can be solved. As persons capable of managing their own affairs, people with hearing disabilities are, if not more vulnerable than other members of out society, certainly more suggestible. It is desired to be taken into account when creating suitable life conditions for this group of population. Since the current model of social assistance for people with hearing disabilities is based on the Swedish model – that is very liberal and in some way far away from the Slovak reality, it would be obviously suitable to be inspired by models of social assistance in countries that are culturally and historically closer to us and that should be the way to try to find solution to the current legislative gap. When drawing up bills for the Act amendment it would be possible to use them as models that contain some restrictions and limits for the Act abuse risk reduction.

Last but not least we must point out that though strict boundaries between «work» and «private» sphere of hearing-impaired people and their personal assistants cannot be defined, personal assistants are employees of the state, or the public sphere, in a certain sense, thus from the professional point of view they should not bring religious elements into their work according to our view.

A special dictionary is necessary to be elaborated because religious problems are very complex, due to the great amount of abstract notions that must be communicated to hearing-impaired persons in a suitable way. It needs committed experts who work with people with hearing disabilities, and with preparing lectures for specialised schools for people with hearing disabilities aimed at critical thinking development and communicating knowledge in the field of religious trends and movements, and existing sectarian activities. Despite all mentioned difficulties prevention seems to be the most effective form.

It is necessary to say that attention must be paid to parents informing. About 90% of parents of hearing-impaired children can hear and that is why common critical materials are suitable for them. Well-informed parents can communicate knowledge to their children then. The same for their relatives and friends who are able to communicate with them. Examples from among parents and relatives are necessary, too, with which a child or young people can identify.

When communicating with hearing-impaired persons it is necessary to verify what they understand from respective notions to prevent wrong explanation from impressing, or misunderstandings. When explaining religious problems it applies in particular.

Those inner abilities and approaches are necessary to be used with hearing-impaired children and young people that help them to live rich and happy life. They should not only exist but we should help them to evaluate things and phenomena, create, express astonishment, and develop the whole personality. Religious feeling is a significant part of personality in this respect. We should not make religion taboo in fear of sectarian activities. We should not deprive hearing-impaired persons of religious values in an effort to protect them form sectarian activities.

According to more experts1 a child spends 92% of their time out of classes that is why perceptions from family, surroundings, TV... are important. Quality religious education can provide hearing-impaired persons with satisfactory explaining image of the world and at the same time not to deprive them of their own freedom. Adequately prepared clergy or teachers of religion who do not impose their teaching but offer, can communicate perception of significant values of life to hearing-impaired persons, can teach them solidarity, self-denial, modesty, altruism, can present ethical requirements and lay the foundation for morals formation with hearing-impaired persons.

If in the past interpreters and assistants worked only with adults, their services become important for both children and teenage people, which relates to gradual spreading of possibilities of making themselves useful in society. With interpreters, emphasis must be laid on accuracy of interpreting, on communicating complete news including communicators’ moods and approaches without impact of interpreters’ own views and feelings. Binding ethical code should be elaborated both for them and assistants. Its observance would prevent abuse of people with disabilities both in the sphere of sectarian activities and other relevant spheres. Within the penal code amendment sanctions for offences in this sphere are necessary to be taken into account because without given sanctions in the valid legislation offenders cannot be punished.

It is beyond dispute that Standard rules for creation of equal opportunities for people with disabilities as the UN General Assembly recommends them, are necessary to be implemented. At the same time it is necessary to realise that they do not consider all possibilities and situations, and higher attention must be paid to protection of an individual integrity in relation to sectarian activities, too, or manipulations in the religious environment. There is a need to find balance between full respect for religious faith freedom and effort to protect an individual, family and society from destructive activities in the religious environment in a sensitive and wise manner. If it is a hard task in general, in relation to people with disabilities, especially sense ones, is much harder. We must remember that each man is highly important and that is why no activity that enables other man valuable life can be neglected.
Michaela Moravchikova
Institute for State-Church Relations
Bratislava, Slovak Republic

Bibliography:
1. Freeman R., Carbin C. F., Boese R. J. Tve dite neslysi? Pruvodce pro vsechny, kteri pecuji o neslysici deti. – Praha: Federace rodicu a pratel sluchove postizenych, 1992.
2. Garretson M. D. The Residential School. Deaf American 29. – 1977.
3. Moravcikova M., Cipar M. Religiozita na Slovensku. In Rocenka Ustavu pre vztahy statu a cirkvi 1998. – Bratislava: Ustav pre vztahy statu a cirkvi, 1998.
4. Orgonasova M. (ed.) Integracia zdravotne postihnutych osob do spolocnosti. – Bratislava: adacia Antona Tunegu, 1997.
5. Standardne pravidla na vytvaranie rovnakych prilezitosti pre osoby so zdravotnym postihnutim. Bratislava: Vladny vybor pre otazky zdravotne postihnutych obcanov Slovenska, 1994.


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