Proposed EU report raises suspicion against religion

30-04-2022

European Union

Lennart Nijenhuis, CNE.news

The European Parliament will vote on a report about religious freedom on Tuesday. Before that, the MEPs will debate the report on Monday evening. Photo EPA, Olivier Hoslet

Defenders of religious freedom in the European Parliament are concerned that religion will be treated with more suspicion. A new report from the Foreign Affairs Committee that will be voted upon coming Tuesday, might lead to a different tone in the EU’s future foreign policy.

The Committee on Foreign Affairs in the EP had been working on a report on the persecution of minorities on the grounds of belief or religion, especially in non-EU countries. The rapporteur is the Conservative Polish MEP, Karol Karski.

His initial draft from May 2021 gave a respectful place to religion as a “human right” and “often a last bastion of liberty” in society. That tone could be seen as a continuation of the EU policy. Before the vote on Tuesday, there will be a debate on Monday evening.

But this text was heavily amended in the Committee afterwards. All but one reference to Christians were deleted. The persecution of Christians in the Middle East and Africa does not receive any attention anymore from the European Parliament.

On the other hand, references to LGBT and abortion rights (under the umbrella of sexual health and reproduction rights) were brought in.

Religion discredited

Supporters of the original text were disappointed to see that the value of religion is somehow discredited in the text. This is especially the case where religion is described as a threat to a free society, since religion is “an important driver of conflict worldwide.” Another point of concern is the “misuse and instrumentalisation of belief or religion to impose discriminatory policies, laws, including criminal laws, or restrictions that contradict and undermine the rights of LGBTIQ people, women and girls and restrict access to basic services, such as education and health, including sexual and reproductive rights, criminalise abortion in all cases, criminalise adultery or facilitate religious practices that violate human rights”.

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The former Special Envoy, Jan Figel, on a visit in Iraq in 2017. Photo AFP, Haidar Hamdani

For the Special Envoy for the Freedom of Religion and Belief, the focus should come on “the rights to non-belief, apostasy and the espousal of atheist views, while also paying attention to the situation of non-believers at risk.” The amended report says that the unbelievers need attention since “atheism and non-religious groups are growing rapidly and should be treated equally under the EU policy framework.” The European Commission should pay extra attention to “non-majority belief”, since these groups are easily discriminated against and even experience “growing persecution, including unprecedented waves of incitement to hatred and killings”.

Furthermore, the Commission is asked to give protection to “peacefully questioning, criticising or satirising religious beliefs”.

Vacancy for Envoy

Coming Tuesday, the European Parliament will vote on the report. If this report is accepted, it might lead to a different tone in the foreign policy of the European block.

The report comes in a vacuum around the Special Envoy for Freedom of Religion and Belief. The present Commission appointed one in May 2021, Christos Stylianides. That appointment came after a vacancy of two years. But he left already after five months in office.

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