Twisted report claims discrimination against Christians in Europe

21 February 2014

In January, Mr Valeriu Ghiletchi of the Committee on Equality and Non-discrimination of the Council of Europe presented a worrying draft report called “Tackling intolerance and discrimination in Europe with a special focus on Christianity”.

Although deeply committed to the fight against all kinds of discrimination, the European Humanist Federation would like to emphasize that this report does not provide evidence of a specific discrimination toward Christians. Instead, it uses discrimination as an excuse and is a potential threat to democracy and secularism in Europe.

Confusing freedom of religion and respect of the law

The first example of discrimination against Christians given is the case of nurses working in gynecological services and refusing to provide contraception or to participate to abortion services (page 2). Obviously, the rights and health of patients coming to public hospitals must prevail over religious freedom of nurses and this is not a case of discrimination.

Worse, another case advocated by the report is the case of B&B owners who refused to accommodate same-sex couples (page 3). Shockingly, instead of denouncing the discrimination towards homosexuals, the report sees it as discrimination against the owners (page 3: “owners experience discrimination if they refuse to accommodate same-sex couples”) who were not allowed to discriminate people because of their beliefs. This is a very dangerous way of thinking that could allow any kind of discrimination on the ground of freedom of belief.  

Challenging secularism and respect of belief of others

Freedom of religion and belief is a fundamental right in the European Union and shall be as such be respected and protected. Yet, this freedom is not absolute and can be the subject of restrictions if prescribed by the law and if necessary for the protection of the rights of other (article 9.2 ECHR). In the cases evoked, rights (and health!) of others would be endangered if the expression of religion were to be absolute, which is why the ECHR offers such a possibility for restriction. The report questions these restrictions to freedom of religion on the ground of reports and speeches by the City of Vatican and its representatives (page 2). By putting religion above the law, this report is also an attack against secularism.

Challenging the right of every child to have a good education

On page 4, the report states that the limitation of the rights of parents to opt out their children of schools or of certain classes is a violation of their “educational rights”. It also states that the “State should respect the choices that parents make for their children”. This can only be true to a certain extent as reminded by the European Court of Human Rights in the case Folgero and others v. Norway (2007). This right is subsidiary to the right of children to an education. This restriction, seen as discriminatory by the writers of the report, is necessary to the protection of children.

Unreliable sources

Some cases reported in the report can truly be qualified as discrimination such as physical attacks or vandalism. The sources used by the report are unfortunately not reliable enough to be used to prove those facts. Those sources go from undocumented quotes from politicians or by Pope Benedict XVI to “news” media such as Gloria TV (“the more catholic the better”). The European Humanist Federation regrets the lack of objectivity of the media used to prove discrimination against Christians.

A new European trend

This twisted way of using anti-discrimination rhetoric as a way to justify attacks on the rights of others or on secularism is increasing in Europe. Examples of it can be found in the attacks led by religious extremists against the Lunacek report (a non-binding roadmap against homophobia) or by Civitas against Arte for showing the movie “Tomboy”.

The European Humanist Federation is deeply committed to the freedom of thought, conscience, religion or belief. But this freedom cannot be used to the detriment of others or as a way to justify discrimination and obscurantism as it is the case in this report. We therefore truly hope that the report will not be approved by the Committee on 5 March.