European Interreligious Forum For Religious Freedom


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Western Europe has been criticized in the last report 2013 (just released) of the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), an independent federal advisory body created by the International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA) to monitor religious freedom abuses abroad. Extracts of the report:

Western Europe strongly criticized by USCIRF 2013 report
There also have been issues in various European countries concerning the accommodation of religious objections to generally-applicable laws, government policies, or employer requirements. The ECtHR recently addressed two such cases in the combined case of Eweida et al. v United Kingdom. The decision did not establish a uniform approach for all cases, but rather gave great deference—in the court’s terminology “a wide margin of appreciation”—to national authorities to decide how to strike the balance in each particular case.
The cases involved a local registrar of births, deaths and marriages who objected to registering same-sex partnerships and a counselor who objected to providing psycho-sexual therapy to same-sex couples; both were disciplined and ultimately lost their jobs. The court recognized that objecting to homosexuality was a protected manifestation of religious belief under the European Convention, and that these individuals were severely impacted by their employers’ refusal to accommodate their beliefs. The court also rejected the argument that there was no violation of their rights because the individuals could find other jobs; instead, it said national courts should “weigh that possibility [finding another job] in the overall balance when considering whether the restriction was proportionate.” 
In both cases, the court found that the employers were seeking to “to secure the rights of others which also were protected under the Convention” and concluded that it could not say that the lower courts had erred in balancing the competing rights. However, two judges dissented with respect to the registrar, on the grounds that she had held the job since before civil partnerships existed and should have been permitted to opt out of performing them based on her conscientious objections, as other local authorities had allowed. 
Another example of individuals objecting to government policies that limit their ability to practice elements of their faith concerns homeschooling in Germany. Public school attendance is required by law in Germany with very few exceptions that do not include religious objections. This has implications regarding the right of parents to educate their children consistent with their own beliefs, which is protected by ICCPR Article 18. In recent years, German parents who want to home school their children for religious reasons have been fined and at least one family has sought asylum in the United States.
Since the 1990s, the governments of several European countries—particularly France, but also Austria, Belgium, and Germany—have taken measures against religious groups pejoratively characterized as “cults” or “sects.” These efforts have included the publication of official reports or lists identifying certain groups as harmful or dangerous “cults” or “sects;” the use or creation of government agencies to monitor these groups; the application of registration, immigration, tax or other generally-applicable laws in ways that restrict these groups’ rights; and in the case of France, the passage of a specific law “toreinforce the prevention and repression of sects which infringe human rights and fundamental freedoms.”
The most extensive “anti-cult” efforts have been in France. Since 1998, the French government has had a governmental entity specifically tasked with collecting and disseminating official information on groups deemed to be “cults” and coordinating government efforts to oppose such groups. The organization in its current form is called the “Interministerial Mission for Vigilance and to Combat Sectarian Aberrations,” or MIVILUDES (its acronym in French). Various French government reports on and lists of “cult” groups have included Jehovah’s Witnesses, Scientologists, the French Federation of Krishna Consciousness, a Baptist Bible college, several Evangelical Christian churches, and many more small, non-traditional, and/or new religious communities. Groups that are on these lists or that have been addressed in MIVILUDES’ or its predecessor’s work say that this system creates a climate of intolerance and has led to both official and private discrimination against them. 
In December 2012, French President Hollande announced the establishment of a new government agency, the National Observatory of Secularism, about which a number of religious groups have expressed concerns. The observatory’s mandate is to observe and promote secularism in the country, including by recommending how to promote secular values in French schools. According to press reports, the Minister of Education described the effort as seeking to counter religious extremism. When asked to provide examples of religious extremist groups, he cited creationists, radical Islamists, traditionalist Catholics, and ultra-Orthodox Jews, without making any reference to the use or advocacy of violence. 
Governmental restrictions on religious freedom both arise from and encourage a societal atmosphere of intolerance against the targeted religious groups. This increasingly hostile climate, in turn, can result in instances of private discrimination, and sometimes even violence, against members of these groups.

Full report here:

Rédigé par EIFRF le Wednesday, May 1st 2013 | Comments (0)

Extracts based on the work of Marco Ventura
Professor of Canon Law / Law and Religion, KU Leuven
See full presentation on the Conference of the 23 April 2013 at Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe for more details

1. There is no State discretion in assessing the legitimacy of beliefs. Articles 9 ECHR and 10 EU Charter of Fundamental Rights establish the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. The European Court of Human Rights has established and constantly held that ‘the right to freedom of religion as guaranteed under the Convention excludes any discretion on the part of the State to determine whether religious beliefs or the means used to express such beliefs are legitimate.(1)
2. Respect of religious diversity. European law respects and promotes diversity of religious as well as non religious worldviews (22 EU Charter of Fundamental Rights). Law should be enforceable without requiring anyone to embrace or identify with any ideological or religious worldview. The European Court of Human Rights has condemned Spain in the case of six Spanish who were forcibly transferred to a hotel by Catalan police officers and handed over to others to be ‘deprogrammed’ from their membership of a ‘sect’ of which they were alleged to be members, based on the denunciation by a Spanish anti-sect association.(2)
3. Strict scrutiny of admissible restrictions to the expression of beliefs. A religious or non-religious belief in the forum externum can only be restricted subject to very strict conditions set at article 9.2.(3)
4. State neutrality and impartiality. The State has an obligation of neutrality and impartiality towards all beliefs. The European Court of Human Rights has established that ‘the State’s role as the neutral and impartial organiser of the practising of the various religions, denominations and beliefs is conducive to religious harmony and tolerance in a democratic society.(4)
5. Specialty of religion recognized for the sake of its protection and enhancement only. The law can only single out religions and denominations or categories or religions and denominations for the purpose of enhancing their protection or in order to facilitate them.
6. No religion-based discrimination. European law does not allow for discrimination based on religion (5).The European Court of Human Rights has concluded recently that an applicant had been discriminated against on the basis of his religious convictions (as a member of a small faith community) in the exercise of his right to respect for family life, since he had been denied his access rights based on an expert opinion upheld by a domestic court according to which the applicant’s ‘irrational worldview made him incapable of bringing up his child.(6)
7. Religion-related crimes are better repressed through general criminal law. No exception has been accepted to the principle that crimes or violations committed with an alleged religious motivation or under the cloak of religion are adequately repressed through general criminal law.
8. Religious autonomy. European Law recognizes ‘religious autonomy (7), which can be defined as the ‘competence of religious communities to decide upon and administer their own affairs without governmental interference’.
9. Parental religious rights. Article 2 Protocol 1 to the ECHR stipulates that ‘in the exercise of any functions which it assumes in relation to education and to teaching, the State shall respect the right of parents to ensure such education and teaching in conformity with their own religious and philosophical convictions’. This right can be restricted only if children suffer or are likely to suffer an actual harm. Actual harm has to be strictly defined. The mere transmission within the family of a worldview, which differs from the worldview of the majority does not per se legitimize the State’s interference in the interest of the children. As the European Court of Human Rights has made clear, a distinction between parents ‘based essentially on a difference in religion alone is not acceptable.(8)
10. Objective, critical and pluralistic public school. As established by the ECtHR since 1976 and repeatedly reiterated, ‘the State, in fulfilling the functions assumed by it in regard to education and teaching, must take care that information or knowledge included in the curriculum is conveyed in an objective, critical and pluralistic manner. The State is forbidden to pursue an aim of indoctrination that might be considered as not respecting parents’ religious and philosophical convictions. That is the limit that must not be exceeded.(9)

1 ECtHR, Manoussakis and ors v Greece, 29 August 1996, at para 47
2 ECtHR, Riera Blume and ors v Spain, 14 October 1999
3 ECtHR, Handyside v UK, 7 December 1976, at para 49
4 ECtHR, Refah Partisi v Turkey, 31 July 2001, at para 51
5 Article 14 ECHR, 21 EU Charter of Fundamental Rights and 10 TFEU
6 ECtHR, Vojnity v Hungary, 12 February 2013, at para 14
7 See ECtHR, Fernandez Martinez, 15 May 2012, at para 80
8 ECtHR, Hoffmann v Austria, 23 June 1993, at para 36
9 ECtHR, Kjeldsen, Busk Madsen and Pedersen v Denmark, 7 December 1976, at para 53

Rédigé par EIFRF le Wednesday, May 1st 2013 | Comments (0)

Giovedì 14 febbraio 2013, nella Sala Capitolare del Senato, a Roma, è stato presentato il libro"Credere è reato? Libertà religiosa nello stato laico e nella società aperta", volume curato dal prof. Luigi Berzano che raccoglie 23 saggi scritti da giuristi, filosofi, sociologi e giornalisti italiani.
Il volume, pubblicato lo scorso dicembre dalla "Edizioni Messaggero di Padova", è stato presentato attraverso un mini-convegno dedicato ai temi oggetto del libro, tra cui la paventata intenzione di alcuni politici della precedente legislazione, per altro mal consigliati, di reintrodurre nel nostro ordinamento giuridico il defunto reato di plagio, chiamandolo "reato di manipolazione mentale".
L'avvocato Mauro Mellini e il prof. Pietro Nocita hanno spiegato perché sia da un lato anticostituzionale e, dall’altro, impossibile da verificare tecnicamente la concezione stessa della manipolazione mentale, mentre il prof. Marco Vannini, autore di libri sulla mistica cristiana medievale, ha spiegato come il concetto di “credere” contenga in sé una sorta di “follia” che lo ripara da ogni convenzione e da ogni condizionamento.
Il prof. Luigi Berzano ha spiegato lo spirito che anima l’intero volume: la scelta di un percorso spirituale e religioso non può essere limitata o diventare oggetto di speculazioni estranee alla persona stessa, da parte di terzi.
Occorre tutelare il diritto di ogni forma spirituale a esistere e il diritto di ogni cittadino a orientarsi verso quella che ritiene più adatta a sé; questo può avvenire attraverso l’incontro e il dialogo che non mettano in discussione l’essenza di ogni percorso ma che sottolineino l’atto di libertà sotteso a ogni scelta spirituale.
In pratica, in un tempio della politica – la Biblioteca del Senato – si è affermata l’importanza che la politica stia fuori dall’ambito delle scelte di fede: un segno buono in vista dei tempi che ci attendono.

Rédigé par EIFRF le Saturday, April 27th 2013 | Comments (0)

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