Humanists believe that this is the only life we have, so that it is all the more important to us that each individual person has the best chance possible to fulfil his or her potential and live life to the full according to his or her preferences. This means that human rights are of the greatest importance to humanists.
The emergence of the concept of human rights is strongly linked to the Enlightenment when religious concepts of humans as the creatures of God living this life as preparation for another after death were in steep decline, yielding to a growing deism and atheism.
Freedom of religion and belief
Of particular importance to us as secularists and humanists is Article 9 of the European Convention of Human Rights which guarantees freedom of religion or belief – including freedom to reject religion and to adopt non-religious beliefs.
Article 14 of the European Convention of Human Rights concerns the elimination of inappropriate discrimination, including that based on religion or belief, although regrettably it is not a freestanding right but applies only in conjunction with the substantive rights set out in earlier Articles.
- The principle of non-discrimination in employment, occupation and training has been given the force of law in the EU by Council Directive 2000/78/EC of 27 November 2000 establishing a general framework for equal treatment in employment and occupation. This covers discrimination based on religion or belief, but sadly permits states to introduce rather wide exemptions for religious organisations.
- Non-discrimination in other areas, such as the provision of goods, facilities or services, is only now being addressed by the EU, with a draft directive published in July 2008, although a some states (e.g., the United Kingdom) have already legislated. A meeting of the European Parliament Platform for Secularism in Politics on 1 February 2011 heard an up-to-date report on progress with the Directive. The EHF is in favour of strong laws imposing non-discrimination on grounds of religion or belief with closely defined exceptions only where patently justified. We wrote to President Barroso in April 2008 when it seemed the European Commission might renege on its commitment to the new directive beyond the workplace. Subsequently, when the draft directive was published we responded with a warning that the directive risked giving legal support to the widespread discrimination practised by the churches and other religious bodies unless their exemptions were narrowly defined.
Preserving human rights under threat
We are concerned that human rights are often under threat. The EHF has issued statements on several occasions about such threats :
- about the Madrid bombings of (March 2004)
- about the Danish cartoons controversy (January 2006)
- about the need to preserve human rights while combatting terrorism (October 2007)
- about the bombing and shootings in Norway (July 2011)
Another threat comes from the spread – informal but insidious – of the application of sharia law among Muslim communiities in Europe: EHF president David Pollock spoke on 21 November 2009 at a rally organised by One Law for All in London.
Defending economic and social rights
Although most attention is paid to civil and political rights, arguably economic and social rights are of equal or even greater importance. At a lunch with the Presidents of the EU Commission and Parliament in June 2009, EHF Board Member Rob Buitenweg, who has written on the subject, urged greater EU attention to them.
This content last updated 21 March 2013 @ 4:31 pm