Mittwoch, 17.10.2018 17:53 Uhr

Far from freedom: Europe and Religion

Verantwortlicher Autor: Janet Clements Brussels, 03.08.2018, 20:21 Uhr
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steping on freedom of religion
steping on freedom of religion  Bild: Ivan Arjona

Brussels [ENA] While Europe counts with a history of overcoming discriminations based on religion, and has some of the most advanced policies on the subject, people belonging to religious minorities continue to see their rights to be hurt by member states of the EU.

Protected in art. 18 of both the International Covenant on Civil & Political Right (ICCPR) and Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), freedom of religion is vital to every person regardless of their affiliations, age, sex, or race. According to international law, FoRB includes the freedom to have or not, adopt or change religion, and freedom to manifest it with others through worship, teaching, practice and observance in public or private. In 2013, the EU, through the adoption of the EU Guidelines on the promotion and protection of freedom of religion, devoted itself to progress this essential freedom through external action. For this reason, the European Commission, through President Juncker, established the Special Envoy function.

Despite these laws and establishments, freedom of religion in most parts of Europe continues to remain more active in written form than enacted. During the Coptic Solidarity Conference of June 2018 in Washington, David Alton, Lord Alton of Liverpool, emphasized the fact that a significant percentage of the Western Governments remain adamant on unjust actions against believers such as Christians who continue to face persecution. He further added that terror has no respect for boundaries.

Regardless of Christians forming a significant portion of the population in Europe with numerous countries as members of the EU, they continually face persecution. In his speech, Hilarion of Volokolamsk, a Russian-Orthodox Metropolitan, stated that there are multiple instances and reports of desecration, vandalism, and arson of Christian churches alongside attacks of priests and destruction of religious symbols like crosses in Europe. The Observatory on Intolerance and Discrimination against Christians in Europe report of 2016 and 2017 confirms Lord Alton’s claims about injustice against Christians.

In the introductory sentences, the report stated, “Across Europe, Christians have been fired, sued, and even arrested for exercising their freedom of expression or conscience…Christians, including clergy, have been killed or attacked for their faith.” This statement further denotes that the laws protecting religious freedom remain more practical on paper than in an actual world scenario where people continue to suffer because of the held beliefs. The EU court ruling of 2017 awakened a massive threat to the existence and manifestation of various religions in Europe when the Court of Justice of the European Union (ECJ) decreed the banning of religious symbols and outfits at places of work.

This ruling was especially unjust since it would affect Muslims in particular, as well as the Sikh men, nuns, and Orthodox Jewish women, who display their religious affiliations through their donning. The ruling in Belgium and France came after Muslim women sued their employers following a claim of discrimination when the employers asked them to remove their veils at work and were fired upon refusal. Even though the ruling did not allow the employers to ban the headscarves and related religious symbols systematically, it provided an ignition for employers to prohibit the display of these symbols in work premises.

In light of this matter, the court maintained that an employer seeking to serve their customers neutrally has the entitlement to request their staff to avoid the display of obvious religious or political ciphers. However, this judgment remains controversial as it opposes the previous ruling by the European Court of Human Rights that upheld employee rights including displaying religious signifiers at work as part of their freedom of belief. Additionally, the ECJ verdict specified that requests by customers did not warrant employers to ban such apparels as this would be ground for discrimination.

Nevertheless, in the modern age where the customer is always right, the employees may be more inclined to respect such wishes to achieve their organizational or business goals, hence, disregarding this freedom among their employees. In conclusion, freedom of religion or belief in Europe is wanting, and despite it being a right, various christian dominations (one or the other depending of the member state), muslims, hindus, scientologists, buddhists, and others, continue to face discrimination, fatal attacks, and even persecution. Court rulings such as ECJ’s verdict undermine freedom of religion through the display of symbols related to faith despite the various laws established to protect this right.

This, thus, calls for immediate and severe action since the denial of such rights is a breeding ground for religious and political conflicts that could result in erosion of societal values and relations, prejudice, and racism, particularly in the EU member states. Additionally, prioritization of radical initiatives that can improve the actuality of FoRB in EU, as well as Europe at large, is essential in a world in which liberties are diminishing.

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