Religion and Democracy
April 2009 meeting of Working Group on Separation of Religion and Politics
On Tuesday April 14 the Working Group on Separation of Religion and Politics held its last meeting before the European election. The EHF was represented by its president, David Pollock, acting general secretary Georges Liénard, and treasurer Suzy Mommaerts.
The topic for discussion was a major project on religion and democracy in Europe being run by NEF – the Network of European [grant-giving] Foundations. The guest speakers were Karen Weisblatt of NEF and Dimitrina Petrova of the Equal Rights Trust, which is running the part of the study concerned with religion and healthcare. [Since the meeting, the NEF reports have been published.]
Karen Weisblatt said that NEF aimed to arrange cooperation between funders so that major pan-European projects could be organised that would promote systematic social change. The project had included a conference in January 2007 at which distinguished sociologists had presented papers that were now being published as a book [Religion and Democracy in Contemporary Europe, ed Gabriel Motzkin and Yochi Fischer, 2009, London, Alliance Publishing Trust - ISBN 978 0 9558804 1 4]. Four subjects were being examined in detail: religion and discrimination; the place of religions in European school systems; controversy about the building of mosques and minarets; and religion and healthcare.
Dimitrina Petrova outlined the wide-ranging work on the impact of religion on healthcare. Both policy and practice were being examined, with much attention to the claimed right of religious believers not to deliver care where it conflicted with some religious belief – she said that some Muslim medical students had even refused to attend lectures on alcoholism or on sexually transmitted diseases! The reasons why such demands were rejected were important: if (as often happened) the rejection was because the religious belief concerned was not fundamental to the religion, that could set problematic precedents for the future.
In discussion EHF president David Pollock referred to the papers from the 2007 conference (which had been circulated) and regretted that, despite their generally high quality, they showed no awareness either of the very large non-religious population of Europe or of the extent to which religious leaders were not representative of their communities: many people had at most a very tenuous affiliation to their religion. If the project was concerned to help shape laws and institutions, then it should not rely on weak definition of religious belief.
This point was supported by Hubert Tournès of the liberal Catholic group Church on the Move and from the chair by Sophie in ‘t Veld, who said that humanists suffered a systematic disadvantage from not seeing any need to join their organisations. She was concerned that the draft non-discrimination directive could through extensive exemptions for religion end up by consolidating religious privilege. Dimitrina Petrova said that exemptions should be limited to indirect discrimination and require objective and reasonable justification.
Elizabeth O’Casey of the UK National Secular Society suggested that hospital chapels and chaplains should be funded by the belief organisations and not from public funds. Ms Petrova said that she was personally divided on the matter.
The Working Group – past and future
Sophie in ‘t Veld started the meeting by reviewing the achievements of the working group. It had its origins in the campaign against the candidacy of Dr Rocco Buttiglione as commissioner with responsibility for human rights, and it had brought about the rejection of the proposed concordat between the Vatican and Slovakia, whose government had lost power as a direct result. She looked forward to the group continuing its work in the new Parliament.
At the end of the meeting David Pollock expressed the gratitude of everyone present for the untiring and inspiring work of Sophie in ‘t Veld herself in creating and running the group.
This content last updated 11 February 2013 @ 3:15 pm