Richards moderated two panels, which brought together Christians, Sikhs, Scientologists, Mormons, Muslims and more to discuss discrimination against religious minorities in Europe.
The event was originally scheduled to take place at the European Parliament but was recently moved to a hotel across the street. Godfrey Bloom, a member of Britain’s right-wing UK Independence Party and a member of European Parliament, said that several of his colleagues at the European Union encouraged the move because they disapproved of the conference’s organizers and attendees.
“We have intolerance on our own doorstep. The hypocrisy of that place!” Godfrey said of the E.U. in his welcome remarks.
Opening speaker and event organizer Eric Roux arrived several hours late for reasons closely tied to the conference’s focus. On Wednesday, France’s highest court upheld a conviction of “organized fraud” against the Church of Scientology, of which Roux is a minister and spokesperson.
The government of France classified Scientology as a cult in 2000 and has kept a close watch on its activities since the 1970s. Roux heavily criticized France’s anti-sect policies and warned the audience that such policies are being “exported” to the E.U. level.
Most panelists had harsh words for France, which has long followed the principle of laïcité, or church-state separation.