Sunday, January 13, 2013

Increasing International concern for Religious Freedoms and the growing intolerance against Christians in Europe: an analysis

Increasing international concern has been voiced throughout the last few years regarding the growing religious discrimination against Christians within EU borders and beyond. A few cases from the UK, however, have become the center of attention as their appeal against the UK government has reached the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR).

Please find below an analysis about the increasing international concern for religious freedoms and the growing intolerance in Europe. This article is made by my colleage Eunice Vatran-Dugulescu

Growing Concerns for Religious Freedoms in Europe

An emerging body of supporting evidence has been gathered to prove that Christian believers are genuinely stigmatized[1] for their moral convictions, to such an extent that they are restricted, de facto, from keeping their jobs.

Presented as endeavors to guard established democratic values, governmental laws and policies that confine religious expression and practice effectively violate human rights. Such proceedings disregard internationally acknowledged religious-freedom principles established in United Nations treaties and guarded by European human rights charters from the European Union, Council of Europe and Helsinki process. Such established international standards guarantee the right not just to believe but to manifest one’s beliefs, individually or in community with others, in public or in private, through worship, observance, practice and teaching. Any restrictions on these liberties must be meticulously analyzed solely on grounds provided by Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

These developments have triggered mounting concerns among OSCE bodies, particularly the ODHIR (Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights) and the Parliamentary Assembly[2], as well as other non-governmental organizations that monitor such cases of discrimination against Christians in Europe. Sound investigative reports in this respect have been issued on a regular basis by the Observatory on Intolerance and Discrimination Against Christians in Europe[3], a non-governmental organization that aims to provide European Union institutions, the OSCE, the Council of Europe, the United Nations and other organizations with objective and reliable data on the phenomenon of intolerance and discrimination against Christians in Europe. The ECPM has also been closely following the developments in such instances and has actively participated in drawing attention to these issues.

In July 2011 The OSCE Parliamentary Assembly passed a Resolution on Combating Intolerance and Discrimination against Christians in the OSCE Area included in the Belgrade Declaration, a document that was adopted at its 20th annual session.  The resolution called for “a public debate on intolerance and discrimination against Christians”[4] and requested the protection of “the right of Christians to participate fully in public life”[5]. It furthermore suggested that “legislation in the participating states, including labour law, equality law, laws on freedom of expression and assembly, and laws related to religious communities and right of conscientious objection be assessed”[6] in an attempt to eliminate any intolerance of practicing Christian lifestyles. Additionally, the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly urged “the media not to spread prejudices against Christians and to combat negative stereotyping”[7].

Moreover, a Motion for a resolution on Tackling intolerance and discrimination in Europe with a special focus on Christianity passed through the concerning committees and got its “Report Status” and is now en route to being assigned a Rapporteur. The signatories of the motion draw attention to “the growing bias against practising Christians”[8] and urge the Parliamentary Assembly to identify “good practices in Council of Europe member States on how to tackle this phenomenon and ensure respect and equality for all, including practising Christians.”[9]

ECHR Expected to Rule on Landmark Cases
A few cases from the UK, however, have become the center of attention as the applicants’ appeal against the UK government has reached the European Court of Human Rights. All four cases relate to the extent of effective protection under the European Convention on Human Rights for the manifestation of Christian faith in the public sphere. Two of the cases (Chaplin and Eweida) relate to the visible wearing of a cross. The other cases (McFarlane and Ladele) relate to protection of Christian conscience in the professional arena.

Judgment in these cases is to be handed down at the ECHR in Strasbourg on Tuesday 15th January 2013 at 09:00 UK time (10:00 Central European Time), as their evolution is closely being followed from across Europe. Of particular interest will be the interpretation of how the very strong provisions for ‘freedom of thought, conscience and religion’ under Article 9 will translate into practical protections in pluralist European societies. The verdict of the European Court will determine not only the rights of Christian employees in the workplace but the general direction of freedom of religion and conscience in Europe in general.

At a hearing in September 2012, the UK government disputed all the cases regardless of top public officials’ statements in support of freedom of public religious manifestation such as the Prime Ministers’ and other government representatives’ declarations. On 11th July 2012, the Prime Minister told the House of Commons: “I fully support the right of individuals to wear religious symbols at work... it is a vital religious freedom.”[10]

Freedom of religion and its public expression have long been enshrined in international law through charters such as the European Convention on Human Rights, which states that: “Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief, in worship, teaching, practice and observance” (article 9 of the ECHR). The four cases submitted at the European Court of Human rights are, in this respect, crucial for the future of freedom of conscience and religion in the EU and beyond.

It is a generally acknowledged standpoint that a democratic culture must primordially be characterized by “tolerance of all religions and strands of opinion and by debate on the diverse concepts of life and the world within a framework governed by the neutrality of state-controlled authorities.”[11]

If the torch of freedom is to remain lit in Europe’s pluralistic societies, policy and lawmakers alike must understand that the responsibility of authorities is not to restrain the source of clashes by eradicating diversity, but to guarantee that different factions tolerate each other in peaceful cohabitation.



[1] E.g.: see: Report of OSCE/ODIHR Roundtable “Intolerance and Discrimination against Christians: Focusing on Exclusion, Marginalization and Denial of Rights”, Vienna, 4 March 2009 - http://www.osce.org/odihr/40543; OSCE meeting on prevention of hate crimes against Christians, 12th September 2011.
[2] OSCE-PA, Resolution on Combating Intolerance and Discrimination against Christians in the OSCE Area, 6-10thJuly 2011.
[3] See Country Reports and general Report 2011 at http://www.intoleranceagainstchristians.eu/.
[4] OSCE Parliamentary Assembly “Resolution on Combating Intolerance and Discrimination against Christians in the OSCE Area”, in the Belgrade Declaration of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly and Resolutions Adopted at the Twentieth Annual Session, Belgrade, 6 to 10 July 2011, p. 51.
[5] Idem, p. 51.
[6] Idem, p. 51.
[7] Idem, p.51.
[8] Motion for a resolution on Tackling intolerance and discrimination in Europe with a special focus on Christianity, submitted by Valeriu Ghiletchi to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, May 2012.
[9] Idem.
[10] http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2172156/David-Cameron-backs-law-giving-right-display-religious-symbols.html
[11] http://eclj.org/PDF/OBSERVATIONS-ECLJ-LADELE-ET-McFARLANE-v-UK-PUPPINCK-ENGLISH.pdf

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