A Secular Europe
As Humanists, we promote the idea of a secular Europe.
This means first that the European institutions should be secular, i.e. neutral regarding religious and philosophical beliefs so as to ensure respect for freedom of all convictions, religious or non-religious ones.
The EHF holds that the EU has no concern with religious matters and should observe a clear separation between religion and governance. There is therefore no justification for offering the churches or organisations based on religions or beliefs (including “philosophical and non-confessional organisations” such as the EHF) a special mechanism for consultation and dialogue. Since the EU adopts decisions which apply to all, these decisions should be based on shared values and in no case on specific dogma.
Common secular European values are those reaffirmed in Article 2 of the Treaty on European Union: “The Union is founded on the values of respect for human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights, including the rights of persons belonging to minorities. These values are common to the Member States in a society in which pluralism, non-discrimination, tolerance, justice, solidarity and equality between women and men prevail”.
In this perspective, the European Humanist Federation strongly opposed the institutionalization of privileged relations between EU institutions and churches and other religious bodies. Long before the adoption of the Lisbon Treaty, churches representatives used to regularly meet EU decision makers at the highest level (at the exclusion of non-confessional organisations) on various topics of common interest. The EHF vigorously opposed these meetings since giving the churches a special status in EU institutions amounts to establishing discrimination between citizens who believe in transcendental divinity and those who do not.
This does not mean that we are opposed in general to dialogue and consultation by governments or the EU with citizens and civil society. In our view, however, there should be no differentiation between such bodies: all should in principle be entitled to put their views to the EU and its institutions under the same arrangements (Article 11 TFEU), and it is quite wrong for churches or any other type of organisation to have a special channel for dialogue.
As a result of a strong lobbying of religious organisations, the EU decided to institutionalize specific relationships between EU institutions and churches under Article 17 of the TFEU. At the end of the negotiations, non-confessional organisations were included in the wording so as to formally respect the principle of non-discrimination.
1. The Union respects and does not prejudice the status under national law of churches and religious associations or communities in the Member States.
2. The Union equally respects the status under national law of philosophical and non-confessional organisations.
3. Recognising their identity and their specific contribution, the Union shall maintain an open, transparent and regular dialogue with these churches and organisations.”
When the EU regrettably agreed these separate consultation arrangements for churches and non-confessional organisations, the EHF had to decide whether to take up the possibility of consultation offered to it as a ‘philosophical and non-confessional organisation’. We decided that it was right to do so, while making our principled objections clear: the alternative was to leave the churches an unopposed channel of influence at the highest level in the EU.
In the meetings we have had with EU institutions since then, non-confessionals have not always been treated as equals with churches representatives. With the European Parliament and the EU Commission, the EHF had to fight hard to make sure that non-believers’ voice was heard and respected in these meetings.
You can read more in details in our reports of these meetings.
No religious dogma in EU secular policies
Since European decisions apply to all of us, they should be based on EU shared values and not on religious dogma. However, on a number of issues – research, women’s reproductive health and rights, freedom of religion and beliefs, conscientious objection – churches and some religious organisations have been trying to impose their conservative agenda.
The EHF therefore works closely with European institutions to make sure that specific dogma do not conduct the adoption of EU policies.
Our values for Europe
The values we promote for Europe are essentially secular, that is neutral in matters of religion and belief. They underpin a society in which all people, whatever their religion, philosophy or beliefs may live in harmony without favour or discrimination.
The European Dream, EHF statement for the fiftieth anniversary of the Treaty of Rome, 2007
The Brussels Declaration, 2007
They are based on an understanding of our common humanity, individual human rights, mutual tolerance, and agreement neither to resort to threats or violence nor to seek to impose our own particular worldview on others. Our values come neither from divine authority nor from a particular tradition or culture but are deeply grounded in human nature and are universal. They entail both rights and responsibilities.
The key values are the autonomy, dignity and worth of every individual; democracy, human rights and the rule of law; gender equality; a spirit of openness and free inquiry; and an understanding that the state must be independent of religion
Finally, we recognise that human rights are individual rights and apply to the individual rather than the group. Every citizen, regardless of their origin or background, must have equal rights and protection, and an equal say through the democratic process.