Home > Uncategorized > European Union Takes Immense Step Forward in Protecting Religious Freedom

European Union Takes Immense Step Forward in Protecting Religious Freedom

On November 16, 2009, the Council of the European Union – which consists of the Heads of State or Government of the Member States and “provides the Union with the necessary impetus for its development and defines the general political directions and priorities thereof” – adopted a statement which received very little if any play in the media.

“The Council reaffirms the strong commitment of the European Union to the promotion and protection of freedom of religion or belief” is the first line. This in and of itself is an incredible statement, given the ridiculous and declining state of religious liberty within the borders of the European Union.

This is the first time the EU Council has taken such a stand on religious liberty, an issue with significantly different interpretations in each member state.

Two paragraphs of particular interest:

The Council recalls that freedom of thought, conscience, religion or belief applies equally to all persons. It is a fundamental freedom which includes all religions or beliefs, including those that have not been traditionally practiced in a particular country, the beliefs of persons belonging religious minorities, as well as non-theistic and atheistic beliefs. The freedom also covers the right to adopt, change or abandon one’s religion or belief, of one’s own free will.

The Council underlines that States have a duty to protect everyone, including persons belonging to minorities, from discrimination, violence and other violations. States must ensure that their legislative systems provide adequate and effective guarantees of freedom of thought, conscience, religion or belief to all without distinction.

In these paragraphs the Council moves away from the historic European understanding of religious liberty belong only to traditional Western-style faiths and acknowledges the inherent rights of non-traditional and contemporary faiths, as well as individuals with no faith or religious or spiritual identity.

This is a groundbreaking shift in understanding of religious liberty for the European Union, and will open new opportunities for groups such as Raelians, Scientologists, Unificationists, Christian Scientists, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormons, and other minority religious and spiritual groups in Europe.

The statement goes on to say that:

The Council underlines the strategic importance of freedom of religion or belief and of countering religious intolerance, and reaffirms its intention to continue to give priority to the issues as part of the European Union’s human rights policy.

It is my sincere hope that this means a more active, positive and engaging role will be played by EU institutions in the protection and promotion of this most basic of fundamental rights.

The full statement can be read here.

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