Europe has a moral and legal duty to protect freedom of religion or belief
Secretary General – EMISCO
After the horrors of World War 2 that resulted in the millions of deaths and a continent left in ruins, few visionary European leaders decided that peace, prosperity and progress would only come if war is replaced by trade and nationalism is controlled by focusing on the protection of individual human rights.
That change in direction brought results that were beyond expectations. EU became a reality and in decades, it not only became a model for personal freedom, accept and respect for an individual’s choice of culture, religion, tradition and life style but also developing countries started looking up to this amazing transformation where Europe turned from ashes to riches.
Today, EU consists of 28 countries with a population of 510 million citizens who enjoy the fruits of a single market, through a standardized system of laws that apply in all member states. EU policies aim to ensure the free movement of people, goods, services, and capital within the internal market, enact legislation in justice and home affairs, and maintain common policies.
Until recently, one of the main achievements of this development has been the freedom of religion or belief and its practice without fear or reprisals. Although Christianity is the main religion of Europeans, many other faiths, religions and traditions did flourish in the continent.
Islam today is the second largest religion in EU, Europe and the world. Muslims have lived in Europe since 8thcentury but many came here during industrial boom of sixties and since eighties many came as asylum seekers. In many European countries, nationalist movements, populist politicians and media played a central part in instigating enmity, hate crimes and hate speech against Islam and Muslims.
There are a number of surveys, reports and documentaries that has proven the accelerating Islamophobia in Europe.
Unfortunately, Islam is not the only religion that is the victim of religious bigotry today. Smaller religions, like Scientology, Hari Krishna, Jehovah’s Witness and many more are being treated unfairly and not given recognition, these deserve. Belgium has an official list of 182 religions that are called sects by the authorities and are kept under strict watch. In short, it is the states that decide what is a religion and who can be accepted as such. The criteria are not the usefulness of a religion or belief but how media and politicians perceive these.
This negative narrative directly flies in the face of European insistence that human rights are practiced in the developing countries. They do it not in a sincere fashion or in a diplomatic manner but by finger pointing and scolding
Human rights are Alpha and Omega for any democratic land to function but if we want to give lessons to countries outside EU on religious freedom, its own record at home needs to be beyond reproach.
In today’s cosmopolitan and interconnected world, Europe cannot and must not have double standards when it comes to religious freedom and rights of those who do not subscribe to majority norms by peacefully practicing their own faiths.
That means that EU must create mechanisms in order to locate and take into account freedom of religion or belief violations inside EU. For this, there is a need to recognize that there are problems of discrimination on the basis of religion not only in employment but in the whole society. That also means that EU stakeholders must take position in favor of Freedom of religion, and pledge to defend it while performing their duty. In practice that means that they must be consistent in preserving freedom of religion or belief for all and to demand the same from the institutions through which they work.They must Defend the right of parents to educate their children in conformity with their religious and philosophical beliefs, as enshrined in the European Convention on Human Rights.They must Ensure legislation and policy does not encroach the fundamental rights of European Citizens to freedom of religion or belief. Whenever possible, we have to subscribe to the principle of reasonable accommodation for religious persons to be able to live their faith with dignity.We definitely must Speak out against intolerance, including advocacy of religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, foster religious freedom and pluralism by promoting the ability of members of all religious faiths to manifest their religion, and to contribute openly and on an equal footing to society, and last but not least, foster initiatives to increase religious literacy, in the sense of knowingness about religions and beliefs, in all public institutions.
We also suggest that in order to achieve the goals, EU should launch a whole campaign « no discrimination for your beliefs » all over European Union Institutions, as well as in member States. It should also create a Parliamentary Intergroup on discrimination based on religion or belief in the EU, at EU Parliament.The FRA (Fundamental Rights Agency of the EU) should appoint a task group to tackle the topic of discrimination based on religion or belief which is part of its Multi-annual framework for 2018–2022. EU should finance a full research project by academics on discrimination based on religion or belief in the EU that would formulate recommendations for EU institutions. EU should create an open platform gathering members of the FRA, members of the EU Parliament, civil society partners, members of the EU Commission, religious stakeholders, which will be in charge of monitoring discrimination based on religion or belief issues in EU members states. The EU Commission should create a task force to put into action the article 17 TFUE, which will focus on dialogue with religious and belief minorities in order to be a force of proposal. And finally, why not creating EU guidelines to protect EU citizens against discrimination based on religion or belief and get them approved by the Council?
These suggestions may sound far-fetched but if EU wants to represent all communities in its borders, it is imperative that it acts now as it has done by establishing offices to tackle anti-Semitism and Islamophobia in 2017. EU has means to do so. All it needs is action. Those who are given much are expected to share it.