OSCE: Historic Inclusion of Anti-Discrimination Legislation as Possible Threat to Religious Freedom

December 17, 2010

At a recent Supplementary Human Dimension Meeting concerning Freedom of Religion or Belief, the OSCE specifically included Christians in Europe as part of their concern to safeguard religious freedom in the participating states.

The conference, held on the 9th and 10th of December in Hofburg, Vienna, gathered representatives from 56 participating states of OSCE as well as NGOs from around the world to discuss emerging issues and challenges of religious freedom. Special attention was put on education, religion, belief, religious symbols and expression. The very open culture of OSCE that involved various stakeholders of society, including NGOs and a various churches, allowed for multiple statements made by NGOs specializing in the field of Freedom of Religion or Belief. European Dignity Watch participated at the conference as a registered NGO and raised several issues of religious freedom in EU legislation and at the national level of EU Member States.


While religious freedom certainly remains a serious issue in various non-European participating states, the attention was continuously drawn to the emerging issue of a threat of religious freedom in exuberant anti-discrimination, equal treatment and hate speech legislation in western European countries. Several specialized NGOs repeatedly pointed out during the conference that such legislation is already resulting in a limitation of religious freedom, especially for Christians who hold up moral views that are increasingly deemed discriminatory.


This concern was confirmed by a five-year report released by the Observatory on Intolerance and Discrimination against Christians in Europe in a side-event to the conference. The report is a synopsis of concrete cases in Europe where rights are denied on the basis of Christian faith, where Christians are marginalized because of expressing their faith and cases of hate crimes against Christians in Europe.


Another area of concern were the growing legal constraints on freedom of education of parents, with the most prominent example of the Citizen Education Initiative in Spain, which includes some radical anti-Christian and one-sided sexual education material. The material has become compulsory in any school, both public and private, in Spain and is seen as an infringement of the right of parents being the primary educators of their children.


OSCE/ODIHR Director Janez Lenarcic included in his final remarks that the OSCE has become well aware of emerging issues regarding equality and non-discrimination legislation and the parent’s right to educate their children. Special attention was also given to the positive contribution of religious symbols in society and the special role a certain religion could play due to its historical and cultural role in a certain society, such as Christianity in Europe.