Commission on Security & Cooperation in Europe: U.S. Helsinki Commission
“The State-Sanctioned Marginalization of Christians in Western Europe”
Roger Kiska, Legal Counsel,
Alliance Defending Freedom (Vienna, Austria)
Professor Tom Farr, Director of the Religious Freedom Project,
Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs, Georgetown University
Dr. Roger Trigg, Academic Director,
Kellogg Centre for the Study of Religion in Public Life, Oxford University and
Associate Scholar, Religious Freedom Project, Georgetown University
The Briefing Was Held From 2:00 p.m. To 3:00 p.m. in Room Number B318, Rayburn
House Office Building, Washington, D.C.
Monday, December 10, 2012
ALLISON HOLLABAUGH (?): Good afternoon and welcome to our Helsinki Commission
briefing on “The State-Sanctioned Marginalization of Christians in Western
I am going to deliver a statement on behalf of Congressman Smith, whom I hope
will join us in about a half an hour or so. The transcript from today as well
as the statements of our guests will be on the Helsinki Commission website and
you can access them from there. We also have materials available on the desk
to your left.
It seems an odd proposition to be discussing religious freedom in Western
Europe other than issues of anti-Semitism. Hearings on religious freedom
usually cover countries that are not democratic and where human rights are
systematically oppressed or countries where the majority faith is protected by
the government and minority faiths or unorthodox strands of the majority faith
However, reports out of Europe have reached a (concentric ?) mass cumulating in
a recent Pew Forum study, the “Rising Tide of Religious Restrictions,” that
ranks the United Kingdom, German, and France alongside Burma in terms of social
hostility toward religion. Even more, the trend line seems to be moving
towards more social hostility rather than less with increased government
restrictions not far behind.
Four British citizens recently took their cases to the European Court of Human
Rights when British courts did not support their request for reasonable
religious accommodations in their places of employment.
Two of the cases regarding the wearing of religious symbols in the workplace
were combined into Eweida and Chaplin vs. the United Kingdom. Both women in
these cases were told by their employers that they must either cover up or
remove cross necklaces. In both cases, the applicants claim that accommodation
was made for some employees of other faiths, but not for them.
The other two cases were combined into Ladele and McFarlane vs. the United
Kingdom, and involved two Christians who were disciplined or lost their jobs
for declining to engage in work assignments contrary to their faith. In both
cases, other employees were available to carry out the assignments. Their
public and private employers made no attempt to make reasonable accommodation
for their religious beliefs.
These refusals of even the simplest religious accommodations seem to fly in the
face of Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights,
as well as the European Convention on Human Rights Article Nine, both of which
protect the right to manifest religion or belief in worship, teaching,
practice, observance, subject only to restrictions that are absolutely
Why this social and governmental hostility towards individuals who practice
Christianity? And are governments supporting efforts to marginalize
Here to answer the questions this afternoon are three eminently qualified
We’ll begin with Dr. Roger Trigg. He is an emeritus professor of philosophy at
the University of Warwick, and the academic director of the Center for the
Study of Religion and Public Life, Kellogg College, Oxford. He’s a senior
research fellow at the Kellogg College as well.
In – excuse me – 2007 to 2011, he was the co-director of a project jointly with
the faculty of anthropology on the cognitive science of religion based in the
Ian Ramsey Center. In 2006 to 2007, he was the interim director of the center.
He is the founding president of the British Society for the Philosophy of
Religion, and more recently president of the European Society for Philosophy of
Religion. He was the first president of the British Philosophical Association,
and chaired its predecessor, the National Committee for Philosophy.
He’s a joint editor with Wentzel van Huyssteen of Princeton of an international
series of monographs on science and religion published by Ashgate. He authored
many books on philosophy. One of his main targets over a long period has been
philosophical relativism and its many forms. He is currently associate scholar
of the Religious Freedom Project at the Berkeley Center at Georgetown
University in Washington, D.C.
And we are very honored that he happened to be here at the same time we were
doing our briefing. And, Dr. Trigg.
ROGER TRIGG: Well, thank you very much indeed. And I’m very grateful to the
commission for the invitation.
Now, the question is whether Christians are being marginalized in Europe.
Actually, I took part in a television program on the BBC a year or so back,
which was entitled “Are Christians Being Persecuted?” Now, the very fact that
that question could be posed on a mainstream television program on Easter day
is itself very interesting.
But I would wary of the word “persecution,” because when you look at what’s
happening in many parts of the world with people being killed and churches
being burnt down, and so on, what’s happening in Europe is still, I would have
thought, not in that category at all. If you’re thinking of a category of
persecution of one to 10, probably Britain’s got to one on that. It’s not very
far, but used not to be even there. And so the tendency is worrying.
And this is I think because Europe as a whole is becoming more aggressively
secular. The Council of Europe, which is important because it’s responsible
for the European Court of Human Rights in Strasburg, which is a key element in
all of this – and the council is to be distinguished from the European Union
and representing the parliaments of all across European, including Turkey and
But this in a recent document saw the separation of church and state as one of
Europe’s shared values. Perhaps that may not seem very shocking to Americans,
but actually it goes against the constitutional background of at least half
European countries, and it suggests that they rather (ride roughshod ?) over
And then it says – and this is what I find particularly worrying – nor may
states allow the dissemination of religious principles, which if put into
practice would violate human rights. If doubts exist in this respect, states
must require – again that word, “require” – religious leaders to take an
unambiguous stand in favor of the precedence of human rights over any religious
Now, I find that very interesting, both the idea of almost compulsion entering
in – I think the Council of Europe has begun to backtrack from that – but also
the idea which comes in quite naturally that human rights are on the one hand
and religious principles are on the other.
Now, to my mind, human rights are based on religious principles. That’s a long
philosophical argument. They also include very strongly freedom of religion
and the freedom to manifest it. And to make the two seem to be at war with
each other seems I think exceptionally worrying. And, as I say later, I think
this is coming in very much from France.
But what’s happening is that so-called equality and non-discrimination are in
court decision after court decision trumping appeals to religious freedom so
that you find that if there’s a suggestion of racial discrimination, that will
always trump everything else, you might say quite properly. But note that one
recent case in the U.K. supreme court was about racial discrimination by Jews
because they wanted to admit only orthodox Jews to their orthodox school and
they were told that was racial discrimination and illegal. It caused a great
deal of upset amongst the Jewish community. And so, again, the law isn’t just
bearing down on Christians. It’s bearing down on other faiths too.
Also, you can see that human rights are pitted against religion, and freedom of
religion is itself being marginalized as a right. I was at a meeting in the
House of Lords in London only last week where people who were saying that,
actually, Article One of Magna Carta, dating from 1215, protects the freedom of
the church. Magna Carta was written by the Archbishop of Canterbury of the day
so perhaps that isn’t surprising. But still, that’s one of the four articles
still in force. So freedom of religious has got a long history and freedom of
religious institutions has to be safeguarded.
That isn’t the view of the atheism and anti-clericalism of traditional France,
of the later French Enlightenment. And you can see France and Spain are very
active nowadays in pursuing, I would have thought, an agenda to eradicate
religion from the public square. And you see this again and again in arguments
in religious institutions.
There was a wish to have a reference to Europe’s Christian heritage written
into the Lisbon Treaty of the European Union. France wouldn’t have that at any
price. The last pope weighed in and supported the idea, and I think that was
death of the idea in many people’s eyes. The anti-clericalism was all too
But the British and the American way is rather different. It doesn’t see
religion on the one hand, human rights on the other. It sees rights as growing
out of religion, and we’re equal because we’re equal in the sight of God. We
are free because God has given us free will.
Now, that was very definitely the view of John Locke, the philosopher in the
17th century, who is in a sense almost the – dare I say patron saint on the
1688, ’89 Glorious Revolution, and nearly a century later, of American
independence because he was much admired in the colonies and much admired by
people like Thomas Jefferson, who thought he was one of the three greatest
thinkers who’d ever lived.
So that religious-based view of equality and freedom is what’s formed Britain
and formed the United States. I’m afraid that if you actually take away the
Christian foundations, it’s not clear how human rights and our belief in
equality and freedom will survive for very long. It isn’t enough to just say,
well, we believe in them because we believe in them.
Now, the Strasbourg Court is much more active in its rulings. It’s got very
unpopular in the United Kingdom for all kinds of reasons, and the English
courts now, through the Human Rights Act of 1998, bringing the European
Convention of Human Rights into British law, and Equality Act of 2010
emphasizing equality, means that equality is what’s governing a lot of court
decisions. Non-discrimination, but non-discrimination on grounds of race, sex,
and sexual orientation but not religion, and that’s rather curious.
One of the four cases that we have mentioned already that are currently before
the European Court of Human Rights was about Lillian Ladele, who was a civil
registrar who refused to register civil partnership ceremonies.
Now, as I always say, the issue here is not whether you agree with her stand or
not. If you disagree with it, it’s all the more important that you should
think that she should have the right to abide by her conscience. It’s easy to
allow freedom to people who agree with us.
But, anyway, she lost her job and she was told by the courts that beliefs about
marriage were not a core part of Christian belief. And I find it very worrying
the courts are so willing to venture into that kind of theological statement,
quite a controversial one in many ways.
In the same range of cases, there’s one about – two about the wearing of
crosses. Again, the court said wearing a cross is not a core part of
Christianity. Well, I suppose the judges think they know what Christianity is
and they haven’t – (inaudible) – to wear crosses.
But it was very interesting that in the beginning of this year, an Anglo-Saxon
princess was dug up near Cambridge in England, and people got very excited
because it was obviously one of the very first Christian burials by
Anglo-Saxons. Why? Because the girl was found to be wearing a cross. So the
cross is the mark of being a Christian. Now, courts say nothing to do with
Christianity. It’s just jewelry.
And that is I think all part of the general idea that you narrow what religion
is. It’s just freedom of worship. Lillian Ladele was actually told, you have
freedom of religion because you’re free to worship as you please.
The tendency, though, built into the European Convention of Human Rights is the
right to manifest religion. Built into that is the idea that we, of course,
can live according to the way our religion tells us, not so according to the
courts because a lot of so-called manifestation isn’t manifestation of
religion. It’s ethical beliefs. It’s something else, again, in narrowing what
counts as manifestation.
I find it particularly worrying when you get to Sunday working, for instance,
which does actually impinge on freedom of worship, just as Saturday or Friday
working might. And people are told by the European courts that they have
freedom of religion because they’ve got the freedom of contract so they can
give up their job if they want to worship on Sundays. But the freedom to be
unemployed is not much of a freedom.
Now, the courts easily sideline religion as subjective and irrational. In one
of the cases, it actually went to the European Court. Lord Justice Laws really
rather dismissed religion. He says that in the eyes of everyone save the
religious believer, religious faith is necessarily subjective, being
incommunicable by any kind of proof or evidence, and to protect a position held
on religious grounds is irrational. Religion is irrational.
Well, I’ve written books on faith and reason so I just find that that kind of
flip remark about a controversial issue which has occupied philosophers for
centuries goes beyond what judges should be doing.
It suggests that courts are unsympathetic to religion, that they’re unwilling
to make a reasonable accommodation for religion. And I think that phrase,
“reasonable accommodation,” is something that’s really quite important.
Secularists actually know what they’re doing. They use the courts to override
public opinion. They can get things through the courts they can’t get through
parliament. And there was a controversial case earlier this year whether
courts said that counselors couldn’t have prayers, even though the counselors,
as a democratic body, wanted prayers. Oh, no. They couldn’t do that. And
they’ve been doing it since the time of Elizabeth the First. So it was quite a
Another example of how things are going against religion is the change in
British charity law recently. Religion and education are no longer seen as a
good in themselves. They have to prove they have a public benefit.
At the time, I thought it was just the labor government getting at independent
schools. But, actually, in retrospect, you can see that the thing was aimed at
religion as well. And even the Church of England has been told by the Charity
Commission as – that unless it can show public benefit, it can’t automatically
be regarded as charitable. Extraordinary view really. Obviously, religion in
itself is not something that’s worth pursuing in itself.
Well, I would argue there’s no hierarchy of rights. So the right to religious
freedom cannot be ignored. It should not be narrowed. We need not just
freedom from religion, as France wants, but freedom for religion, which is an
integral part of human nature.
As was mentioned, I’ve spent a few years in Oxford as part of a team looking at
the comments of science and religion. And the conclusion to that is that
whether religion is true or false, good or bad, it’s there as a part of human
nature. It builds on the very central part. If you want, I could talk for an
hour on that, but I won’t.
Well, I think we can probably exaggerate too much about all of this in one way.
I’m very concerned about the trend. But I think it’s still true to say that
England in origins, heritage and indeed even in fact now can still probably be
called a Christian nation. It still does provide recognition for the places of
religion and public life. Although fast living on its spiritual capital, it’s
still recognizable as a country with a Christian heritage. Christmas is still
Christmas, not just the holidays. And carols and hymns sound around the
So religion is present in the public sphere and establishment is actually
defended most of all by people like the chief rabbi. I find bishops are
embarrassed to defend it, but the chief rabbi speaks passionately about it
because he knows that if the church was disestablished, it would be to get
religion out of the public sphere, that all faiths would lose influence.
There is an alarming growing ignorance within Britain amongst the young
generation of Christianity. Christian understandings can no longer be assumed
to be a normal part of the culture. I sometimes think that may be part of the
trouble with judges. They think they know about Christianity and they don’t
anymore. So that’s providing the dangerous and growing vacuum.
And I think also – and this is another story – multicultural policies, which
have come into disrepute, haven’t helped either. Thank you.
MS. HOLLABAUGH (?): Thank you, Dr. Trigg. I’ll follow-up on the
multi-cultural policies and your study in the question and answer period.
Next we’ll be hearing from Roger Kiska, who flew in from Vienna to join us
today. He serves as legal counsel at the Alliance Defending Freedom based in
Vienna, Austria, where he specializes in international litigation with a focus
on European law.
He has developed the Alliance Defending Freedom Allied Attorney Network in
Europe working with allies to litigate European cases that have a potential for
impacting Alliance Defending Freedom ethics in the United States.
Prior to joining the Alliance Defending Freedom, Kiska served as legal counsel
at the European Center for Law and Justice. After earning his J.D. at Ave
Maria School of Law in Ann Arbor, Michigan, Kiska began his legal career in the
Slovak Republic as an attorney with the firm of former Slovak Prime Minister
Ján ?arnogurský. He is admitted to the State Bar of Michigan and also passed
the Solicitors Bar’s examination for the United Kingdom. Kiska is fluent in
English and Slovak.
ROGER KISKA: Thank you. I’d like to thank the commission for this
I believe there are four major legal trends where cultural and special
interests have made a significant foothold in Western Europe and created a
climate non-politically as intolerance and discrimination against Christians.
These trends include non-discrimination legislation, which has been used in
clash of rights conflicts to marginalize both Christian manifestation of
beliefs and rights of Christian conscience.
There is a censorship of the cross and other religious symbols from the public
square and there’s a use of limitation on freedom of expression through various
manifestations of hate speech laws.
And, finally, I’d like to talk about the attack on the parental rights,
particularly in the sphere of education.
So let’s begin with anti-discrimination. Dr. Trigg spent a great deal of his
time speaking on the dangers of anti-discrimination legislation. It’s enough
to say that the European Union is now in the process of concluding a directive
on anti-discrimination in goods and services. It will need unanimity among the
27 member states of the European Union; there’s a question of whether they’ll
receive that, but if they do, it will be transposed into the national
legislation of all 27 member states, soon to be 28 with Croatia joining.
The United Kingdom has already enacted many of the provisions of this
directive. However, in fact, the U.K. directives are even more conservative
than that proposed by the EU. Despite the fact that it’s more conservative, we
really do – we really can see into the future of what this directive might
cause on the continent if adopted.
Recently, in the United Kingdom, bed and breakfast owners have been sued
successfully for refusing to rent one of the rooms in their own home to
same-sex couples. In another instance, a foster family was denied the right to
take in foster children because they opposed homosexual behavior. Most
Catholic adoption agencies, which have sincerely held on to their Christian
ethos, have also shut down the business because of their refusal to place
infants with same-sex couples.
Now, I believe that the issue here is that the commission, when they were
adopting the sexual orientation provision in the Treaty of Amsterdam, failed to
define the difference between protection based on sexual orientation and
opposition to homosexual behavior. One should be protected, the other
shouldn’t be. Because of that failure, every time there’s been a clash of
rights in the U.K. and elsewhere between protection of sexual orientation and
opposition to homosexual behavior, religious liberty is lost.
But the anti-discrimination phenomenon goes beyond just that issue. In another
case, another bed and breakfast owner got into a friendly debate on religion
with a Muslim guest. The Muslim guest complained and the lawsuit ensued. The
Equalities Commission funded the lawsuit, and despite winning the case after
quite a lengthy period of litigation, the bed and breakfast owners refused to –
they were forced to close down because they were bankrupted by the legal fees
associated with the claim.
The anti-discrimination debate really has taken center stage at the European
Court of Human Rights in the four companion cases that were mentioned here
today. What we’re seeing is that simply by seeking a reasonable accommodation
for sincerely held religious belief, people are being punished, fired, or
pushed out of their job. And really the accommodations in these four cases
were de minimis and there was no undo business hardship.
One of the issues facing Europe and the European Court of Human Rights is that
the Strasbourg Court has not yet adopted a doctrine of reasonable
accommodation. So despite the fact that religious liberty is, you know, part
of the European Convention of Human Rights, Article Nine, and that the
protection should be that any interference must be necessary to democratic
society and proportionate to the legitimate aim, that’s not been the case. The
reality has been that religious liberty has become a second-class right.
The Alliance Defending Freedom has intervened in all of the cases. We’ve
assisted in funding all of the cases. We sat at the lawyers’ table so we’re
very familiar with these cases. We think that they’re taking preeminence
before the court.
And just looking at the statistics, there is backlog currently of 250,000 cases
before the court. There’s only 40 cases that are given oral hearings a year
and these were among those hearings. So we know that there will be an epically
large decision pending within the coming months, and we’re hoping that
reasonable accommodation will now become part of the precedent of the European
Court of Human Rights.
Let me briefly summarize the other areas of which to speak on – the issue of
censorship of religious symbols has come to the fore recently when a lower
chamber of the European Court of Human Rights in Lautsi v. Italy demanded based
on church and state separation that Italy remove all the crosses from its
public school classrooms despite constitutionally protected concordats with the
(Holy See ?) to the contrary, and despite centuries of cultural tradition in
Now, the Grand Chamber of the same court one year later dramatically overturned
that decision. It had been a seven to zero chamber decision. It ended off
with the Grand Chamber going 15 to two declaring there wasn’t a violation of
Protocol One, Article Two, and 17 to zero that the issue of religious liberty
need not be reviewed at all. Nonetheless, copycat claims have sprung out since
the Lautsi case, for example, against Greece and against Romania.
With Lautsi being defined the way it was, radical secularist groups were no
longer going after governments. They were going after individuals. And so now
we see the case of Eweida and Chaplin, and the refusal to wear religious
symbols in the workplace. And that is basically discrimination against the
Christian worldview because in those cases, other religions were being
accommodated under the diversity policy, in one case for British Airways and
the other cases for the hospital in question.
The question of religious expression has also to the prominence as of late.
I’d like to submit to the commission a book published by our office which
compiles all of the hate speech laws of the European Union and in English, and
cites example after example of how Christian speech has been marginalized.
The book, which you see here, it even goes into the fact that the European
Court of Human Rights, over decades of protecting freedom of expression, with a
standard that you were allowed to shock and offend and disturb has now changed
that standard and embraced hate speech saying that it will now criminalize
allegations which are serious and prejudicial.
In essence, the European Court has allowed its judges to embrace hate speech
laws and provided them unfettered discretion in determining what is and what is
not criminal speech. And I believe that’s important here in the United States
because, as it’s often said, when Europe coughs, the United States catches a
And the final issue I wanted to speak about is parental rights. In Salzkotten,
Germany, we represent 14 Christian parents who were imprisoned, some for more
than 40 days and most on multiple occasions, simply for opting their nine and
10-year-old children out of two days of mandatory sexual education.
Another case we’re defending is that a 15 year old Melissa Busekros, who comes
from an Evangelical family who wanted to home school, she was put in a mental
institution simply for wishing to home school, being diagnosed with what one
physician, attending physician called school phobia and she was kept there for
In Sweden, a seven-year-old-boy was taken off an airplane bound for India by
police and social services simply for being home educated. The family was
onboard a place from Stockholm to India where they were going to relocate to do
missionary work. The Child and Family Service came onto the place without a
warrant, with no accusations of abuse whatsoever and took young Domenic
Johansson from his family, and for three years he’s remained in foster care.
And, unfortunately, today I just got word that the appeals court has not
terminated their parental rights altogether and given full custody to the
And the last example I want to share is that of the former Zapatero government
in Spain which initiated mandatory classes known as education for citizenship
which basically indoctrinated young children with a bombardment of material
promoting homosexual behavior, hypersexual behavior, communism, and which
aggressively mocked the Catholic Church. What was perhaps even more shocking
was that the government refused all requests for opt-outs for the classes.
Over 50,000 parents filed complaints with the Ministry of Education. I briefed
3,000 lawsuits domestically took place and one class action lawsuit at the
European Court of Human Rights. Yet, that curriculum remains in place. The
current government has promised that it would rid the country of the curriculum
altogether, but it’s taken no steps to that extent.
My hope is that by providing the short outline on the major issues facing
Christians in Western Europe, you can have a better understanding of the legal
and cultural conditions which have allowed for such a severe deterioration of
religious liberties for Christians in Europe.
Perhaps ironically, the Christians in – it is Christians in Eastern Europe who
are the strongest in exercising their Christian rights and seeking to influence
the West to return to the ideals that acted as a beacon of light to lead the
East out of the shackle of communism. Thank you.
MS. HOLLABAUGH (?): Thank you, Mr. Kiska.
Next, we will hear from Tom Farr, who’s known to many of you. He’s been
working in religious freedom in the United States for well over 15 years, I
believe at this point.
Currently, he’s a visiting associate professor of religion and international
affairs at the Edmund Walsh School of Foreign Service, Georgetown University.
He directs the Religious Freedom Project at Georgetown’s Berkeley Center for
Religion, Peace and World Affairs, where he is a senior fellow. He served in
the U.S. Army and American Foreign Service, and has taught at both of the U.S.
Military Academy and the U.S. Air Force Academy.
Dr. Farr is the first director of the State Department’s Office of
International Religious Freedom, director of the Witherspoon Institute’s Task
Force on International Religious Freedom, and a member of the Chicago World
Affairs Council Task Force on Religion and U.S. Foreign Policy.
He’s currently a senior fellow at the Witherspoon Institute in Princeton, New
Jersey, and serves on the Secretary of State’s Working Group on Religious
Freedom, the boards of advisors of the John Templeton Foundation and the
Alexander Hamilton Society, and the boards of directors of the Institute of
Religion and Democracy and Christian Solidarity Worldwide USA.
He has a number of publications, and he’s a contributing editor for the Review
of Faith and International Affairs. His work has appeared in many edited
volumes in the Harvard Journal of Law and Public Policy, the Houston Journal of
International Law, Drake Law Review, Weekly Standard, National Review, New York
Times, Washington Post first thing, and the list goes on to a book he’s
written, World of Faith and Freedom: Why International Religious Liberty Is
Vital to American National Security, which is published by Oxford University
Professor Farr, we’re honored to have you with us today.
TOM FARR: Thank you, Allison. Thanks to you and Mark Milosch and especially
to Chairman Smith of the Helsinki Commission for holding this briefing.
Before I give my views about the status of Christians in Europe, I want to
acknowledge, as Roger Trigg has done, this terrible state of Christian
minorities outside the West.
Three-quarters of the world’s 2.2 billion Christians live outside the West.
There are more Christians that go to church in China on a given Sunday than all
the Christians in Western Europe put together. Millions of these people, along
with other believers, are subject to violent persecution and even death, either
because of their religious beliefs or those of their tormentors.
When we speak, as we must of the growing travail of religious liberty in
Europe, and, by the way, in the United States, we must never forget those
Christians and non-Christians whose very lives are under constant threat
because of their faith.
Now, having said this, I want to make it clear that I believe we’re witnessing
a worldwide crisis of religious liberty, one that, as you’ve heard from both of
our speakers, increasingly includes Europe, and I would add, again, the United
While Christians and other believers in the West are not subject to violent
persecution, we have growing reason for concern, not only for the well-being of
religious freedom, but for the health of democracy.
So let me begin by placing Europe’s problems into a global context, very
briefly. The Pew Research Center has in recent years conducted three massive
studies that measure two things: government restrictions on religion and social
hostilities toward religion in every country of the world.
What these studies have discovered is staggering: 75 percent of the population
of the world lives in countries in which religious freedom is either highly
restricted or very highly restricted. Those affected are Christians, Muslims,
Jews, Buddhists, Hindus, and others, most of them minorities, but some are
reformers within the majority communities, who cannot speak out without being
attacked under anti-blasphemy and anti-defamation laws and practices.
These people live for the most part in about 73 countries of the world. Most
of those countries are Muslim majority, and many of them are in the broader
Middle East. Others are communist countries, such as China and North Korea,
Cuba, or large non-Muslim countries, such as India and Russia.
It’s an unfortunate sign of the times that Europe has now entered this mix.
The list of 73 countries includes France, Germany, and the United Kingdom. Of
all the religious groups that are subject to harassment worldwide and
persecution, Christians fear the worst. They are harassed in some 139
countries of the world. Muslims are a close second, suffering harassment in
Perhaps the most alarming result of the Pew studies, however, is that the twin
problems of restrictions on religion and religious persecution are getting
worse, not better. Virtually all the indicators have shown a deterioration in
every region in the world. Both the data and the trends, I would submit,
constitute a global crisis in religious liberty.
So let’s turn now to the fate of religious freedom and of Christians in Europe.
Recall that Europe is the continent where the intellectual origins of
religious liberty lie. In our Religious Freedom Project at Georgetown’s
Berkeley Center, we’re conducting a program on Christianity and freedom to take
a fresh look at the contributions of Christians and Christian’s ideas to the
spread of freedom, both historically and in the contemporary world.
Among other things, our research is confirming that the wellsprings of
religious freedom are to be found in the first centuries of Christianity, and
that the concept grew to maturity in what later became European civilization,
including the American colonies and, ultimately, the United States. It’s all
the more alarming then to discover how the roots of religious freedom have
atrophied in the Europe of the 21st century.
One of the Pew studies reported that all of the regions of the world, social
hostilities toward religion are rising most rapidly, not in the Middle East, or
Asia, or in Africa but in Europe. Here are a few indicators of the trend.
As of 2010, the United Kingdom was ranked 17th in the world in social
hostilities toward religion. That’s out of approximately 200 countries.
Germany was ranked 23rd and France 25th. Between 2007 and 2010, there were
significant increases in social hostilities in all three countries. By 2010,
each of these major Western European countries graded worse in the category of
social hostilities than the likes of Burma, Iran, and Sudan.
The three also showed significant increases in the levels of government
restrictions on religion. Between 2007 and 2010, government restrictions in
the U.K. increased, according to these studies, by an astounding 67 percent; in
France, by 20 percent; Germany by 23 percent.
Symptomatic for this problem is that there are, as we’ve heard, currently four
cases of British citizens before the European Court of Human Rights, each
alleging that the state has simply ignored their fundamental rights of
Both British courts and the current British government have taken the position
that they will define what constitutes Orthodox Christianity, not the
individuals concerned or the churches themselves. This I would submit is a
position that endangers, not only religious freedom but democracy itself.
By way of comparison, as of 2010, the United States was ranked 49th in the
world, worse than Syria, Laos, and the Congo in social hostilities toward
religion. This phenomenon is or ought to be shocking to all of us. Like the
three European countries, U.S. scores show significant worsening between 2007
and 2010 in both categories, that is social hostilities and government
So how do we explain all this? Should we be alarmed? And if so, why? The Pew
report suggests that we are witnessing a significant downgrading of religious
liberty in the West, precisely at the time that religious persecution is
spiking elsewhere in the world.
Allowing for the fundamental differences in the symptoms, namely violent
persecution outside the West and growing discrimination inside the West, are
there any similarities? I would argue that there are.
To put the matter succinctly, the belief that religious freedom is necessary
for human flourishing and for the success of democracy is either being rejected
or just simply being lost. Outside the West, the commitment to religious
liberty has never taken root. This deficit helps account for the failures of
Arab Spring in other countries struggling for democracy.
There’s ample evidence in history and contemporary scholarship that democracy
in highly religious societies cannot consolidate without religious freedom in
full. That evidence also suggests, by the way, that religious freedom is
important for the defeat of religion-based terrorism.
The critical role of religious freedom in the consolidation of democracy and in
undermining religion-based terrorism are two reasons why the U.S. policy of
advancing international religious freedom is so important to American national
But the Pew reports also suggest that Western nations, including Europe, as
I’ve said, and the U.S., are themselves abandoning the belief that religious
liberty is necessary to the flourishing of individuals and the success of
democracy. This helps to explain why we have proven so ineffective in
advancing international religious freedom.
Now, there are many reasons for this decline in Europe and the West. I’ll cite
four very briefly. First is the decline of religion itself and the emergence
of what Pope Benedict the 16th has called the dictatorship of relativism, that
is the belief that there are no objective truths and that all rights claims
have equal validity. This helps explain why in Europe, and increasingly in the
U.S., religion is considered a personal preference with no more claim to state
protection than any other preference.
The second reason is the triumph in Europe of the French model of religious
liberty, in which the freedom to practice religion is confined to the private
Third is the related belief that religion – Roger mentioned this, Roger Trigg,
religion is essentially emotive and irrational, and, therefore, inappropriate
as a means of influencing public policy.
And fourth – and I don’t want to underestimate the importance of this – is the
contraction of faith-based organizations in civil society. Private religious
hospitals, colleges, charitable organizations have either been historically
weak, as in France, or are losing their religious motivations and identities,
as in the United Kingdom. And I would note that each of these four trends,
while less advanced than in Europe, is present in the United States as well.
So let me conclude. Why does all this matter? Because religion is more than a
private and personal preference, more than a private matter unrelated to the
health of democracy. Religion is the enterprise of discovering whether there
is a more than human reality to which or to whom I owe my existence, whether
there is a transcendent reality that accounts for my being to which or to whom
I should attune my behavior and who determines my fate in an afterlife, if one
These are powerful questions that every human being naturally seeks to answer.
In the 21st century, the data show the vast majority of the world’s peoples
think they have found answers to at least some if not all of these questions.
Religious freedom is the right to pursue the answers to the religious
questions. It’s the right to join with others of like mind and spirit and
worship in civil society associations and the right to influence the laws and
policies of the nation with religion-based arguments, on the same basis as
non-religious persons and non-religious arguments. It’s the right not to be
coerced by the state to act against one’s religious conscience. To deny
religious freedom in any of these senses is to mount an attack on human dignity
and to undermine civil and political society.
In short, to insist that a person or a religious community must live as the
state mandates, without the right to live privately and publicly in accord with
religious truth, as one has apprehended that truth, constitutes a firm step in
the direction of tyranny. Unfortunately, that is the trend we are witnessing
in Europe today.
Again, thank you for the opportunity to appear today.
MS. HOLLABAUGH (?): Thank you, Professor Farr. I have several questions I’d
like to put the panel and then I’ll open it up to the audience members for
Following up on your statement just a moment ago, that the individuals and the
church – the U.K. courts involved determining what constitutes Orthodox
Christianity rather than individuals in the church, church determining what
constitutes Orthodox Christianity endangers not only religious freedom but
democracy itself, and that highly religious societies cannot consolidate
without religious freedom in full.
Would you elaborate further on the connection between religious freedom and
democracy? And also, clarify whether or not religious freedom is necessary for
cohesion in the society if a society is not highly religious society?
MR. FARR: OK. Very good. There was a lot packed into those two questions.
And I’ll try not to give too extensive an answer but certainly willing to
There’s a lot of evidence in history, not least the history of the United
States, but also the former history of the United Kingdom, if I could put that
way, Roger, that religious freedom is necessary for the consolidation of
democracy. Our own founding fathers saw this as necessary for the health of
For George Washington, John Adams, Alexander Hamilton, even Thomas Jefferson,
and Ben Franklin, the two least religious of our founders, it was quite clear
that they were talking about the religious enterprise in general, not just
Christianity, as necessary for the health of democracy. I suppose the best
example of many is the famous speech of George Washington in the second
farewell address as president in which he said, don’t – I’m paraphrasing here –
don’t fool yourselves, Americans, that we can have a moral citizenry without
religion, because, in his view, religion was the source of morality. Now, we
may have matured a bit beyond that narrow understanding of the sources of
morality, but the American people are still highly religious.
And this goes to the second part of your question, Allison. The vast majority
of the countries of the world are made up of highly religious individuals.
It’s both common sense, it’s historical, but I would argue grounded in the work
of empirical sociologists, such as Brian Grim at the Pew Research Center, that
democracy for highly religious societies is not going to work. It’s not going
to last, not going to root, so that it doesn’t just collapse into tyranny or
theocracy or something else without religious freedom.
Read the work of Brian Grim and Roger Finke. The Price of Freedom Denied is
one very good place to start. And it shows huge correlations between the
absence of religious liberty and the failure of democracy to consolidate. And,
by the way, there are other huge correlations as well that are connected with
this: economic growth, women’s rights, the absence, as I mentioned, of violent
religious persecution and terrorism.
So the point is if you want democracy to work, especially in highly religious
societies, you’re not going to succeed without religious freedom.
So I think this is a terribly important point for our own country, for our own
foreign policy, but also for Europe not to lose this, because if they do, it
suggests that our own democracies are imperiled in a way that neither they nor
we have begun to talk about. I hope that addresses the question.
MS. HOLLABAUGH (?): Thank you, Professor Farr. Yes, it does. Something that
would be helpful on putting the situation in the UK into context would be maybe
a little bit of history on accommodations for religion in the U.K.
And, Mr. Kiska, maybe you’d like to speak to this. Does the U.K. have a
religious history – a legal history that is, of religious accommodation that’s
being turned on its head and ignored, or has it been the case in the past that
such cases haven’t made it to the courts, they haven’t occurred in the society,
or we’re seeing a new phenomenon that’s entering in a case of first instance in
MR. KISKA: I’ll briefly address this because I see that Dr. Trigg had some
comments on it as well.
I think like much of Europe, religious liberty has been dearly won over the
centuries. There’s been a lot of bloodshed over it, and it should be praised
much higher than it is. If you look at all the international treaties that
have come out since World War II, the major treaties, religious liberty is
always on that list.
In the United Kingdom, I mean, this phenomenon has really just taken off in the
past decade or two where they do have a concept – it’s not called reasonable
accommodation, but it’s only in the sphere of disability. It hasn’t been
extended to religious liberty or any other part of society.
So these cases really coming before the courts employment tribunals, the
Supreme Court, they are cases of first instance, and they began to develop once
the so-called sexual orientation regulations of 2007 were legislated. Now,
they’re the consolidated version of the – I think it was 2010 version.
So really this is the first time they’ve gone to Strasburg from the U.K. So
we’re going to have these questions determined within the next year or two as
these four cases at the ECHR on their way to being decided, but there’s other
cases, the Bull case, which is the bed and breakfast owners I mentioned. That
will eventually make its way up to the ECHR as well as several of other of
these cases. So the way that the ECHR interprets those will undoubtedly shape
the way the U.K. courts and the legislature will deal with these issues as well.
MS. HOLLABAUGH (?): Thank you.
MR. TRIGG: Could I just add to that?
MS. HOLLABAUGH (?): Please.
MR. TRIGG: I mean, there is actually a very good tradition of accommodation.
They haven’t called it reasonable accommodation, but, for instance, if I could
just take two examples from what – the 1970s, ’60s, one of Christians
particularly with objections to abortions, and there’s still an opt-out for
that. They’re not for nurses and so on. So that’s clearly a case of
accommodation. And that provides a model for the more recent cases that hasn’t
been taken up.
Another good example of a non-Christian cases is of course, Sikhs are very
reluctant not to wear their turban but to wear – and had to wear a helmet.
Now, this was an issue about riding motorbikes, for instance, because there was
law brought in about having to wear a helmet, what about Sikhs? Well, there
was a specific opt out written into the law so that Sikhs could continue to
wear the turban and not a helmet. And that’s a kind of classic example of
trying to accommodate.
And that’s been the tradition in English law until very recently. I think a
lot of this trouble arises since 1998, since the European Convention was
explicitly imported into British law. And also, now, with the Supreme Court
being separated from parliament, there’s a built-in – as in the United States,
a built-in tension between the legislature and the lawmaking, the judiciary.
And I think there that means that more and more people are going to court to
get their way when they know they can’t get it through parliament. And
sometimes the courts are enforcing things that actually are deeply unpopular,
but it is changing the way people behave in the country.
MS. HOLLABAUGH (?): Is there a general sense in the populous that there might
be impending problems for religious freedom in the U.K.?
MR. TRIGG: Well, I mean, I think it’s a big issue and sufficiently big for
some of the popular press like the Daily Mail to run big headlines about it
week after week. I mean, it’s a campaigning issue. So people feel strongly
about it certainly.
MS. HOLLABAUGH (?): I saw one interview recently regarding the four cases
before the ECHR. And the interviewer was speaking to a bishop, and asked the
bishop, are you advocating for special rights for religious people, Christians
in particular? Why should they have rights that everyone else doesn’t have?
And so this mentality that came across was – seemed concerning that the idea of
religious freedom is becoming a concept of special rights and unequal rights.
Dr. Trigg, you mentioned in your statement the – I believe it’s the equality
law. I may be misquoting it –
MR. TRIGG: Yes. Yes.
MS. HOLLABAUGH (?): – that protects race, sex, and sexual orientation but does
not protect religion. Did I understand you correctly?
MR. TRIGG: And I was particularly talking about the way in which Article 14 of
the European Convention is administered, because there, it outlaws
discrimination on any grounds, such as sex, race, color, language, religion.
But sex – sexual orientation, race, yes, they’re absolute trumps.
I mean, if you – for instance, Lillian Ladele, the registrar, happens to be of
West Indian origin. If she had been able to prove racial discrimination, that
would have been an open and shut case. Because she was a Christian, that isn’t
the problem. And yet, in law, and according to the European Convention of
Human Rights, it seems to me that religion is as much a basis as – (inaudible)
– to her race. And yet that’s not being applied.
So that’s why these cases are particularly important, because I know that some
of the barristers and lawyers representing Lillian Ladele were trying to push
that actually, saying it’s discrimination on grounds of religion, and that is
built into the convention.
MS. HOLLABAUGH (?): Thank you. Do either of you want to comment on that? I
have several more questions but don’t want to miss having a question from the
audience if there are any. Any questions?
Then I’d like to move to, Dr. Trigg, you were participating in a long-term
study on the connections between religion and human nature. I may be
mischaracterizing this, a long-term study. But I’d appreciate going into
detail for the audience.
MR. TRIGG: Right. Well, this is in the cognitive science of religion. I was
looking at the implications of this but we had a lot of scientists looking at
it, biologists, anthropologists, psychologists.
And if I could just summarize, I mean, obviously, in anthropology, you can find
religion has been universal. I mean, you can be pretty sure that in any
society we investigate there was religion, and I’ve heard even atheist
anthropologists say, yes, we’re sure of that. I mean, even if you might regret
it, it’s a fact.
More interestingly perhaps is research into child’s development. And you’ll
find that there’s a lot of research now showing that children find it very easy
to think in religious terms. They find it very easy to think about God or the
god, people surviving death.
They find it very easy to think in terms of purpose. If you say why a rock’s
pointed, they don’t like scientific explanations. They’ll say so, well, so
that the birds can’t sit on them or they think in terms of purpose, that will
give a purpose of explanation, which is incidentally why – I mean, this has
nothing to do with truth and falsity. It’s just about how people think, but
it’s why actually people find it very difficult to accept evolutionary accounts
in the first place rather if they’re meant to replace purposive accounts.
But certainly – deep into human nature is this idea that we’re apart from our
bodies than our bodies, that we can think of us as being apart from our bodies,
that we see purpose, that we can immediately jump to think of disembodies
agency, for instance. I mean, this is all part of all human experience. If
you hear something going bump in the night, you wouldn’t just think what’s
falling of the roof. You’ll think who’s there. And if you’re walking through
a dark forest, there’s a rustle, you think who’s there.
And there’s a very good reason why we’ve developed like that, because if you
don’t think that there’s something or somebody there, you might get eaten. So,
actually, it’s very much part of human nature to think in terms of agents, and
if you can’t see somebody, well, it is a disembodied agent. There’s a spirit
in the tree moving it.
So all of this, I mean, it’s a very complicated and long story really, but it
shows I think deep down in children and in people across cultures and times
religion is the default option, I mean, religion in all its forms; it’s very
much undetermined which religion. Atheism is very sophisticated.
Atheism is like very complicated theology or even like science. Science is
very sophisticated and counterintuitive. Religion isn’t counterintuitive.
That’s what they find.
So, I mean, this does have implications of what we’re talking about here
because it does mean that religion is here, part of us, whether we don’t want
it to be or not, whether we think we should grow out of it or not. It’s still
part of what it is to be human, and you can’t just brush it aside or say it’s a
MR. FARR: I would just add those who are – if there are those who are
interested in more of this topic, we have a standing seminar in our Religious
Freedom Project on this subject in which Roger and others have participated.
And we have a number of videos in which we brought together biological
evolutionists and our evolutionary biologists, I guess that is, and
philosophers of religion, and physicians, doctors, and others to talk about
this very issue, the cognitive science of religion. So if you’re interested,
go to our web page and you’ll find more.
MS. HOLLABAUGH (?): I’d like to ask just one more question. And that is
regarding the Pew Forum study. We’ve mentioned social hostilities several
times in this conversation. How do the Pew Forum study describe social
hostilities that would they deem to be very high in Germany, France, and the
MR. FARR: If you go to the Pew Research on our website, they have a full
description of their methodology. But, basically, what they did was compile a
list of questions having to do with violence against religious people or
religious arguments, coercive policies, not by government but by private
agencies of society, by mobs, by other groups that are non-governmental.
And then they set out to measure these in each country of the world gathering
together some 20 odd reports on religious freedom and religious restrictions
that exist around the world, preeminently the annual report of the American –
of the State Department on International Religious Freedom, but also
cross-checking with a whole series of international reports. They coded all of
this, and they came up with scores – it’s quite transparent, it’s quite
So if you’re interested, I urge you to go and take a look at their methodology.
They’re going to be doing this annually now. They’ve done three of them and
they will continue as far as I know into the future.
MR. TRIGG: Could I just add that just as somebody who lives in the United
Kingdom, I find it’s slightly odd to find the U.K. ranked below places like
Burma and Sudan, where people actually lose their lives because of their
religious beliefs. And we’re not in that kind of situation yet at all. So I
don’t quite know what they’re getting at there.
MR. FARR: It’s quite shocking. There’s no doubt about it. I mean, as I say,
the U.S. is ranked worse than some countries you wouldn’t think that would be
My response to this is less – I mean, people should take of it what they want,
but I’m alarmed by the trends as much as I am – you know, it may be that these
percentages are off and the rankings are not quite properly calibrated, but the
notion that the birthplace of religious freedom, mainly the West, is now
turning against it is what is alarming to me.
MR. TRIGG: And, certainly, I would say that compared with 30 years ago that
there is a problem. And this wasn’t a problem 30 years ago in Britain.
MR. KISKA: Can I add that, you know, we began this discussion by saying it’s a
little unusual to talk about the concept of marginalization of Christians in
the West. Well the European Parliament has had two such seminars, and already
in the OSCE in Rome and Vienna had seminars on this as well. So it is a
We like to say that, you know, it is the difference between east of Vienna and
west of Vienna. East of Vienna, you certainly see real-life persecution,
people losing their lives because of their religious belief. Well, those
countries also have endemic – within them – issues of real rule of law problems
so that it’s not just targeting religion. It’s a general base problem of rule
of law issues, whereas in the West, you see intolerance and discrimination.
That’s different than persecution. It’s intolerance. It’s not persecution.
But it is very targeted, and it is within the rule of law and enshrined
unfortunately by courts and legislatures.
MS. HOLLABAUGH (?): Thank you. And thank all of you for your time today and
The information, the statements and as much as else we can put on the website,
we’ll have available for your use and for our friends in Europe. Also, we’ll
try to link to the conferences that were just mentioned by Mr. Kiska so you can
see the work that’s being done across the pond. Thank you so much for joining