History Repeats Itself: How Secularists Dream Their World at the European Parliament

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November 13, 2014

The European Parliament Platform for Secularism in Politics (EPPSP), whose Advisory Board is composed of 11 different European NGOs, met November 12 to set their objectives for the next five years of the new legislature. Calling for a “right to secularism” was defined as one of its top priorities.

 

In the ideal world of the European secularists – who think liberal democracy is constantly under threat from religion – citizens who are believers would not have the same right as other citizens to engage in public debate. They would be silenced. And European secularists would consider this democratic progress, freedom or even political neutrality. They argue that the political sphere must be ‘protected’ from all religious belief which continues to influence democracy and human rights. Furthermore, according to those who militantly advocate for a Europe free from religion, it is the Vatican – with its “huge powers” – that is the main threat to modern secular society.

What would an ideal secular Europe look like? According to the chairs of the EPPSP meeting, a secular Europe is one in which embryo research, euthanasia, sexual and reproductive rights flourish. Abortion on demand as a central element of ‘humanitarian aid’ would complete that the secular paradise.

We have already asked the European Commission for humanitarian aid to fund abortion for raped women in Syria said EPPSP chair Sophia in ‘t Veld (D66/the Netherlands), MEP. “The only thing they are receiving so far from the EU is the morning-after pill. It is so sad,” she said.

 

Other priorities for the secularists include the full range of what is called LGBT and women’s rights, education “without prejudices” and eliminating the influence of religious organisations on human rights policies. According to their strategy, these are areas in which concrete battles need to be won in the 8th legislature.

 

Another main area of work for the EPPSP will be ensuring the secular nature of the EU institutions. The mere presence of some believers in positions of leadership in the European Parliament seems to have prompted objections from the secularists. In particular, the EPPSP’s chair denounced the acceptance of Antonio Tajani (EPP/Italy) as Vice-President of the European Parliament. “Due to his extremist Catholic background, he cannot represent the people,” said Sophia In’t Veld.

 

Such prejudiced anti-religion rhetoric is not solely directed at current members of the Parliament. Regarding the up-coming visit of Pope Francis to the European Parliament in Strasbourg next week, the EPPSP announced that they are working on an open letter to be sent to the head of the European Parliament in order to denounce what they call a “direct violation of the non-believers right not to believe”. They failed to show in what exactly a speech by a religious leader takes away the right not to believe. In any case, the EPPSP is not exactly a role model for tolerance and openness to dialogue.

 

The third set of priorities for the EPPSP during the 8th legislature is to expand their secular network across Europe and, thus, make their collective secular voice be heard. Operating on the misguided assumption that conservative and religious Europeans have a ‘massive’ capacity to mobilize people, the secularists seek a way to neutralize them. “They know how to mobilize their people,” says EPPSP chair in ‘t Veld.  They have now more funding, and we really have to put them out of the loop.

 

The imagined power of religious groups in Europe to organize serves the secularist agenda well – and even serves as an excuse for their own failure at the polls. “There are many pro-secularism people that are intimidated by these [religious] groups. That is why they are not voting for us. That was what happened with the Estrela report”. The solution, the EPPSP says, is that “[w]e need to learn from them. We need to move as fast as they do”.

 

Supported by different European organizations such as, among others, the Association Européenne de la Pensée Libre and the Centre d’Action Laïque, both in Belgium, and the European Humanist Federation and the National Secular Society, both in the UK, the EPPSP is trying to replace the right of freedom of religion and belief with the right of secularism. Secularism is presented as the only way to truly protect the ‘personal freedom’ of European citizens (understood as the right to live in the way that each individual conceives as good for himself).

 

In the name of democracy – just as different failed ideologies have done in the past – religion is being portrayed as the main threat to freedom and liberty. They argue that true equality and justice can only ever be achieved by eradicating all vestiges of religion from European culture and from the public square.

 

As the members of the EPPSP have surely noticed, millions of citizens in Europe do not agree with such an extreme secularist worldview. And many of them have started to speak out – not because some ‘obscure forces’ are forcing them to do so but because they want to express themselves and exercise the same right that every other citizen has in Europe’s democracy.

 

The secularists of the EPPSP and its associated organizations don’t seem too bothered by the fact that the objectives of their working programme reduce believers to mere second-class citizens.  They don’t seem too concerned with the fact that what they seek would deny the right of European believers to express themselves in the public square. Through this, the EPPSP not only reveals its own arrogance but also its complete disdain for large segments of the European population – and its wilful ignorance of what previous radical secularist movements have tried to do in Europe.

 

It is time to open the history books and take a look at where such anti-religious ideologies have taken us in the past. It doesn’t require much work to see that this kind of ‘imposed secularism’ doesn’t lead to equality, let alone freedom. It leads – inevitably – to the harshest form of inequality, social oppression and violations of human rights. In past regimes where secularism has been aggressively imposed, a citizen with the ‘wrong’ belief (such as in God) may have been silenced by another one with the ‘right’ belief (that there is no God). Of this, we should all, believers and non-believers alike, be careful.