On 2 October the European People’s Party Group (the largest centre-right grouping in the European Parliament with 271 MEPs), the European Conservatives and Reformists Group (the smaller centre-right grouping with 52 MEPs from 9 countries, including the British Conservatives) and the Commission of the [Roman Catholic] Bishops’ Conferences of the European Community (COMECE) organised a half-day seminar in the European Parliament on the current situation of Christians and freedom of religion in Europe.
Jan Olbrycht MEP (Poland), Vice-Chairman of the EPP Group responsible for Inter-cultural Relations, said that any kind of discrimination was unacceptable:
“There are several worrying discriminatory developments against Christians throughout Europe, against which we shall step up jointly and decisively. Furthermore, we should examine how these cases could help us, as some of these major violations could help increase public awareness and intensify efforts against discrimination of Christians who are feeling more and more like a minority in Europe.”
Konrad Szymański MEP (Poland) , of the ECR Group spoke in a similar vein:
“More and more Christians feel discriminated against. The presence of the Cross and Christianity itself are being undermined. In certain countries, the protection of sexual minorities’ rights causes limitations of criticism and freedom of speech. Freedom of conscience, particularly within the medical professions, is being undermined as well.”
John Deighan, Parliamentary Officer of the Bishops’ Conference of Scotland, said that there had been
“… a transformation in attitudes which has produced an environment that is increasingly hostile to the Catholic position and in a way that is much more dangerous and menacing than most people can imagine. And it has been done by the use of cleverly employed tactics, exemplified in the exploitation of ‘human rights’ concepts”.
He was particularly concerned about the Scottish Government’s recent consultation on same-sex marriage, noting that two-thirds of the 77,000 responses opposed the proposal:
“Allied with the complexities that legal change would mean and the detailed concerns that were pointed out it did look plausible that the government may choose not to pursue the policy. However amidst an intense and passionate demand from homosexual lobby groups and overwhelming support across the political classes it was decided that a bill would be brought forward”.
He concluded that the proposed legislation was probably unstoppable:
“The press and broadcast media are almost entirely hostile to our views. The political parties are uniformly in favour of the change and the civil service and public funded bodies have proven to be a close ally of homosexual lobby groups”.
According to the report on the Talpa brusseliensis christiana blog, Anna Záborská MEP (Slovakia) went even further, saying Christians were being “persecuted for their beliefs”, citing the cases of Nadia Eweida and Shirley Chaplin.
Martin Kugler, of the Observatory on Intolerance and Discrimination against Christians in Europe, told the meeting that a recent opinion poll had shown that 74 per cent of those surveyed felt that Christians faced “negative discrimination” compared with people of other religious faiths. A further 60 per cent of those polled said that such discrimination was on the increase. Kugler, Seán Kelly MEP (Ireland) and Daniel Lipšic (Interior Minister of Slovakia) all linked the perceived religious discrimination with the issue of free speech.
Mgr Florian Kolfhaus, from the Vatican City’s Secretariat of State, stressed the need to protect religiously-motivated decisions of conscience while Mgr Piotr Mazurkiewicz, Secretary General of COMECE, said that there had been positive moves towards protecting equality and religious freedom in the Council of Europe and the Court of Justice.
Comment: One’s general impression from reading the various press reports and those speeches that were made available in full is that the seminar presented a fairly one-sided view of the overall situation. Mgr Kolfhaus was quoted as saying this:
“Needless to say, the Church is against discrimination. But not all discrimination is discrimination: there is also a right to be different”.
To which the obvious response must surely be, “Yes: there is such a right, but only up to a point”. For example, is a refusal by a state to recognise polygamous marriages discriminatory and is contracting a polygamous marriage an exercise of “the right to be different”? Equally, the British Veterinary Association believes that “the practice of slaughtering animals without prior stunning is an unacceptable affront to animal welfare regardless of the circumstances”: so have successive British Governments been right to permit ritual slaughter without pre-stunning?
I would guess that most people in the United Kingdom (though by no means all) would probably be against polygamous marriage but would be reluctant to place restrictions on properly-conducted ritual slaughter even though it is by no means uncontroversial. If my guess is correct, the next question must be “why is that?”. Could it be because in Western liberal democracies polygamy is generally regarded as contrary to current moral norms, while slaughter of animals without pre-stunning is regarded as much less clear-cut in moral terms? And if that indeed be the case, are those moral norms derived from religious teaching or from what simply “feels right” to the majority of people? My suspicion is the latter.