No Culture of Dialogue Between the State and Religion – “European Charter for Secularism”

July 3, 2015

On June 30 MEP Marina Albiol Guzmán (GUE/NGL) and Francsico Delgado (President of the Spanish association “”) gave a press conference in the European Parliament in which they presented a “European Charter for Secularism and Freedom of Conscience”. Now they seek to find supporters for an open debate on it within the EP. In its radical vision of secularism, the Charter – which appeals to all “the countries that make up Europe” – endangers a culture of dialogue within society. The paper’s argument attacks the free European societies and reveals a resolute approach against the fundamental pillars of democracies: personal freedom and responsibility, fundamental rights and the family.

Beginning with a claim for a “strict separation between the State and religious or personal beliefs”, the authors of the paper state their absolutist position against a mutual dialogue with religions. In particular they criticise the Lisbon Treaty, which calls European institutions to respect and not prejudice, in virtue of the internal laws of each member state, the internal relations of these with religions or other philosophical entities and non-confessional groups.

The charter defines secularism as being based on the following principles; freedom of conscience, equal rights without privileges or discrimination, and Universal public politics. At first glance the charter seems to call for freedom of conscience, but upon closer inspection, the principle is presented in a distorted way. It is highly contradictory to first demand freedom of conscience and freedom of expression, and then to propose without hesitation a limitation of fundamental rights for confessional entities, saying that “[o]pinions (or prohibitions) of a religious type must not be taken into consideration in European legislation”.

Moreover, since the authors want to “promote secularism as a movement for secularity throughout Europe”, the charter proposes that any private activity related to education be excluded, and a universal European secular educational system be installed:

Civic, social, cultural and educational responsibilities derived from European politics shall be carried out by the corresponding public services and shall not be put in the hands of private entities including those dependent on religious confessions. (§3)

All European countries shall guarantee their citizens a public, democratic and secular education system, directed towards the development of the personality, freedom of conscience, equality and full citizenship through curricular content based on universal, scientific, artistic and humanistic values and excluding the presence of religious indoctrination in the curricula or symbols displayed in schools. (§6)

The authors also demand “rights” to free and legal abortion, euthanasia and assisted suicide, specific women´s rights, including sexual and reproductive health rights, and children´s rights:

The member states should also guarantee freedom of conscience so that no person is subjected to medical treatment against their will or to suffer unnecessary or degrading practices, always respecting the right of each individual to die with dignity by legalizing the right to euthanasia and assisted suicide. (§2)

The freedom of conscience for women to exercise their right to motherhood or the termination of pregnancy, within the framework of their sexual and reproductive rights, must be upheld in all European countries so that these rights may be exercised freely and in the public health sector. (§4)

Freedom of conscience among children and adolescents shall be specifically protected regardless of the ideological convictions of parents and care-takers. European laws shall consider children and adolescents as free citizens and therefore shall ensure their freedom from any coercive doctrinal or dogmatic conditioning, including sexual mutilations based on religious or supposedly cultural pretexts and from the imposition by adults of any religion, rite or ideological conviction. (§5)

To complete their radical vision for European society, the authors of the European Charter for Secularism completely neglect the European principle of subsidiarity (TEU, Art 5) and instead promulgate a universal European law that takes precedence over national laws: European law shall always prevail in terms of rights and freedoms over the national legislations of the countries of origin that limit or infringe such rights.

These highly controversial examples from the proposal for a “European Charter for Secularism” may be enough to consider it to be an anti-European, anti-freedom of religion and anti-freedom of conscience paper. Every MEP and European citizen should reject such a dangerous attempt of secularism that weakens the culture of dialogue that the Lisbon Treaty has motivated between member states and “religions or other philosophical entities and non-confessional groups”. This culture of dialogue is essential for the future wellbeing of the EU, and will help to detect ideological positions that, by a twisted use of ‘freedom of conscience’, or by the demand for “strict separation between the State and religious or personal beliefs” result in depriving citizens of their most fundamental rights.