U.S. Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe
December 10, 2012
The Marginalization of Christian Belief within Western Europe
There are four major legal trends where cultural and special interest forces have made significant footholds in Western Europe and created a climate known politically as intolerance and discrimination against Christians.1 These trends include: (a) non-discrimination legislation (which has been used in clash of rights conflicts to marginalize both Christian manifestation of belief and rights of Christian conscience); (b) the censorship of the Cross and other religious symbols from the public square; (c) the use of limitation on freedom of expression through various manifestations of “hate” speech laws; and (d) an attack on parental rights in the area of education.
Let us be begin with anti-discrimination legislation which all too often is being used as a tool to limit freedom of thought, conscience and religion to merely freedom of worship in favor of prevailing privileges based on “sexual orientation.” Currently the European Union is in the process of concluding a Directive on Goods and Services which would then be transposed into the national legislation of all 27 E.U. Member States.2
The United Kingdom has already enacted many of the provisions of the proposed EU Directive in its Sexual Orientation Regulations of 2007. While the UK legislation is actually more conservative than that proposed by the European Commission, we can see that the early results of the legislation have been that anytime a conflict has arisen between people of faith defending a moral position against homosexual behavior, that religious liberty has lost out.
Recently in the United Kingdom, bed and breakfast owners have been successfully sued for refusing to rent one of the rooms in their home to a same-sex couple because of their religious convictions.3 In another instance, a foster family was denied the right to take in a foster child because they opposed homosexual behaviour.4 Most Catholic adoption agencies which have sincerely held onto their Christian ethos have also shut down to business because of their refusal to have to place infants with same-sex couples.5
The anti-discrimination phenomenon has not been limited only to the arena of protection of “sexual orientation.” In yet another case, another bed and breakfast was forced to close because a Muslim woman complained that the Christian owners engaged her in a theological debate and therefore she was discriminated against because of her religion. Although the bed and breakfast owners eventually won the case, the legal fees bankrupted them and put them out business.6
The anti-discrimination debate has taken centre stage before the European Court of Human Rights in four companion cases against the United Kingdom.7 In all four cases, the applicants to the European Court of Human Rights were fired or pushed out of their jobs because they sought reasonable accommodations of their religious beliefs where such accommodations were fairly de minimus and absolutely no business hardship would have occurred. Interestingly, in none of the cases were actual clients directly discriminated against as the individuals were terminated from their positions for having sought out the accommodations.
Alliance Defending Freedom has intervened in the cases as well as provided direct assistance to the applicants seeking from the European Court recognition of a reasonable accommodations standard which has yet to be formally utilized at the European level.
Let me now briefly summarize the other three areas I wish to speak about. The issue of the censorship of religious symbols has come to the fore recently when a lower chamber of the European Court of Human Rights ruled that Italy would have to remove all of the crosses from its public school classrooms despite constitutionally protected concordats with the Holy See to the contrary and despite centuries of cultural tradition.8 The Grand Chamber of the same Court one year later dramatically overturned the decision by a vote of 15-2 on the issue of parental rights and 17-0 that the religious liberties claim be dismissed outright.9 Copy cat claims sprung up immediately following the lower chamber judgment. However, as the Lautsi case was reversed by the Grand Chamber the battle has now shifted towards the state banning of the wearing of religious symbols in the employment sphere. These cases too are pending before the European Court of Human Rights.
The question of religious expression has also come to prominence as of late. I would like to submit to the Commission a book published by our office which compiles all of the “hate speech” laws of the European Union in English and cites example after example of how religious expression has been punished in Europe. The European Court of Human Rights itself has recently seriously deviated away from its decades long standard of protecting speech which shocks, offends and disturbs.10 It has adopted in recent years a new standard which allows for the criminal punishment of allegations which are serious and prejudicial.11 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. As the book makes clear through its mass of examples, the result has been a strong chilling effect on Christian speech.
Finally there is the issue of parental rights. In Salzkotten, Germany, 14 Christian parents were imprisoned, some for more than 40 days and most on multiple occasions, simply for opting their 9-10 year old children from 2 days of mandatory “sexual education” classes.12 Also in Germany, the 15 year old daughter of an Evangelical family was placed in a mental institution for wishing to be home educated. The reason for her police detention and subsequent committal to the Nuremberg mental facility was the false diagnosis by a single practitioner that the young girl in question had “schoolphobia.”13 In Sweden, a seven year old boy was taken off of an airplane bound for India by police and social services simply for being home educated. The family was relocating to India to do missionary work with orphanages. The police had no warrant and the family was accused of committing no crimes when young Dominc Johansson was taken from his parents nearly three years ago.14 In Spain, the Zapattero government initiated mandatory classes known as “education for citizenship” which 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 parental opt-outs of the classes despite more than 50, 000 complaints from parents, hundreds of law suits and ultimately a class action law suit at the European Court of Human Rights.15
My hope is that by providing this short outline of 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, it are 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 shackles of Communism.
1 This trend was first recognized inter-governmentally by the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe. See: OSCE/ODHIR, Intolerance and Discrimination Against Christians: Focusing on Exclusion, Marginalization, and Denial of Rights, 4 March 2009. http://www.osce.org/odihr/40543. The European Parliament has also actively promoted awareness of the trend. On 2 October 2012, the European People’s Party together with the European Conservatives and Reformists Group jointly adjourned a seminar at the European Parliament focusing exclusively on the issue of intolerance and discrimination against Christians. Last year, the European People’s Party held a similar seminar on 16 March 2011.
2 See: Council Directive 2004/113/EC, Official Journal L 373, 21/12/2004 p. 0037-0043.
3 Hall and Preddy v Bull and Bull, (Case No. 9BS02095), 18 Januray 2011. A similar conviction took place just this year in the case of Black and Morgan v. Wilkinson .
4 Johns & Anor, R (on the application of) v Derby City Council & Anor  EWHC 375 (Admin) (28 February 2011).
5 See e.g.: Catholic Care v The Charity Commission (CA/2010/0007), 26 April 2011. The following adoption agencies have been forced to cut ties with the church and change their name and ethos: Catholic Children’s Society, Nottingham; St Francis Children’s Society, Northampton; The Catholic Children‘s Society; St David’s Children Society, Wales; Catholic Caring Services, Lancaster; St Andrew‘s Children‘s Society, Scotland. See: Adoption Agencies Shut under “Equality” Laws’, The Christian Institute, April 2009.
6 For a detailed analysis of the case, see J. Davies, 'A New Inquisition', Civitas, 2010. Press release available at: http://www.civitas.org.uk/press/prANewINquisitionJuly2010.htm.
7 ECHR, Lillian Ladele and Gary McFarlane against the United Kingdom, Application nos. 51671/10 and 36516/10; ECHR, Nadia Eweida and Shirley Chaplin against the United Kingdom, application nos. 48420/10 and 59842/10.
8 ECHR, Lautsi v. Italy [Second Scetion], Application no. 30814/06, judgment of 03 November 2009.
9 ECHR, Lautsi v. Italy [GC], Application no. 30814/06, judgment of 18 March 2011.
10 ECHR, Handyside v. The United Kingdom, no. 5493/72, § 49, ECHR 1976.
11 ECHR, Vejdeland v. Sweden, (Application no. 1813/07) judgment of 9 February 2012.
12 See: http://www.adfmedia.org/News/PRDetail/4690?AspxAutoDetectCookieSupport=1.
13 See: http://www.wnd.com/2008/03/59947/.
14 See: http://www.adfmedia.org/News/PRDetail/3607.
15 See: http://adfmedia.org/News/PRDetail/5315.