The most striking thing about the “EU Guidelines on the promotion and protection of freedom of religion or belief” published June 24 is the lack of any mention of the word secularism. The word needs reclaiming from those that would besmirch it because the document is steeped in the principles of the political theory (see my recent essay on a crucial distinction between secularism and secularisation).
The guidelines include not just domestic policy but foreign policy for a unified approach to how member states respond to for example the criminalisation of apostasy.
The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) mentioned can be read here.
Some choice highlights:
7. In doing so, the EU focuses on the right of individuals, to believe or not to believe, and, alone or in community with others, to freely manifest their beliefs. The EU does not consider the merits of the different religions or beliefs, or the lack thereof, but ensures that the right to believe or not to believe is upheld. The EU is impartial and is not aligned with any specific religion or belief.
Right to have a religion, to hold a belief, or not to believe
11. Theistic, non-theistic and atheistic beliefs, as well as the right not to profess any religion or belief are protected under article 18 ICCPR. The terms “belief” and “religion” are to be broadly
construed and the article’s application should not be limited to traditional religions or to religions and beliefs with institutional characteristics or practices analogous to those of traditional religions. States should not restrict the freedom to hold any religion or belief. Coercion to change, recant or reveal one’s religion or belief is equally prohibited.
12. Holding or not holding a religion or belief is an absolute right and may not be limited under any circumstances
3. Primary role of States in ensuring freedom of religion or belief
21. States must ensure that their legal systems provide adequate and effective guarantees of freedom of thought, conscience, religion or belief to all, which are applicable to their entire territory without exclusion or discrimination, and that these provisions are properly enforced.
22. States have a primary duty to protect all individuals living in their territory and subject to their jurisdiction, including persons holding non-theistic or atheistic beliefs, persons belonging to minorities, and indigenous peoples and to safeguard their rights. States must treat all individuals equally without discrimination on the basis of their religion or belief.
23. States must put in place effective measures in order to prevent or sanction violations of freedom of religion or belief when they occur, and ensure accountability.
24. Moreover, parties to the ICCPR have an obligation to prohibit any public advocacy of religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence. States should condemn all acts of violence and bring perpetrators to justice.
Religious justifications for discrimination
26. Certain practices associated with the manifestation of a religion or belief, or perceived as such, may constitute violations of international human rights standards. The right to freedom of religion or belief is sometimes invoked to justify such violations. The EU firmly opposes such justification, whilst remaining fully committed to the robust protection and promotion of freedom of religion or belief in all parts of the world. Violations often affect women, members of religious minorities, as well as persons on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
Apostasy and Foreign Policy
38. Limitations to the absolute right to change or leave one’s religion or belief are among the most common violations of freedom of religion or belief. These limitations can have a severe impact on converts and individuals leaving their religion or belief and their families, both due to state actions (e.g. imprisonment, loss of child custody, disinheritance, loss of property rights) and due to violent acts by non-state actors, such as “honour killings”.
39. The EU will:
• Call on states to repeal legal provisions penalising or discriminating against individuals for
leaving or changing their religion or belief or for inducing others to change a religion or belief especially when cases of apostasy, heterodoxy, or conversion are punishable by the death penalty or by long prison terms.
• Condemn the use of coercive measures against individuals in their choice or exercise of religion or belief. States must impartially apply measures against coercion in religion or belief.
The guidelines leave it to member states regarding establishment of state religion and exact nature of secularisation in society, leaving France to ban the Hijab and the Church of England to remain the state religion. Blasphemy laws are still allowed by members, though in foreign policy the EU is to encourage other nations to decriminalise.
It also leaves scope to allow restrictions on free speech should disturbance to the public peace be threatened. One hopes this will not be a loop hole to silence critics if opponents can muster enough vim to threaten the peace and thus control the narrative.
A worthwhile document, with some glaring omissions.
One reason I will continue in my support of the National Secular Society.
Article written by John Sargeant on Homo economicus’ Weblog