European Interreligious Forum For Religious Freedom

Western Europe strongly criticized by USCIRF 2013 report

Written the Wednesday, May 1st 2013 à 22:24

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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:

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