European Parliament’s Recommendation on EU Guidelines on Freedom of religion and belief : mixed feelings

14 June 2013

The European Parliament adopted on Thursday 13 June 2013 a Recommendation on the draft EU Guidelines on the Promotion and Protection of Freedom of Religion or Belief prepared by the European External Action Service.

The European Humanist Federation welcomes the explicit mention of need to protect the rights of non-believers and the recommendation to oppose any attempt to criminalise freedom of expression on religious grounds.

EHF further welcomes the amendments adopted during the plenary which made the Recommendation more balanced than the initial proposal : the reference to a right to conscientious objection in relation to “morally sensitive matters” (i.e. health services like contraception and abortion) was eventually removed so as to restrict it to military service. Other attempts to give this report a religious tone were defeated on several points and a reference to secularism defined as the strict separation between religion and political authorities was eventually included in the Recommendation.

However, the EHF is very concerned to see that the right of parents to educate their children according to their religious or non-religious convictions cannot be restricted and includes their right to deny any interference from state or non-state actors in this education if it goes against their beliefs. This part completely ignores the emerging autonomy of the child (Art. 14 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child) and his/her right to receive pluralistic ideas and information (Art. 13 CRC). If confirmed by the Council, this could also allow some parents to refuse science, sport or sexuality classes for their children in the name of their religious beliefs. It could also be used to bar any objective, fact-based education about religion.

The EU Guidelines must now be adopted by the Council. EHF calls on Member States to maintain a balanced and secular approach for these Guidelines.

The Recommendation is available here.

You can check the results of the votes (by groups, member states or MEPs) here.