WASHINGTON —The Helsinki Commission hosted a briefing in Washington, D.C. on “The State-Sanctioned Marginalization of Christians in Western Europe” in order to look more closely at recent reports and studies showing an alarming rise in social and governmental hostility toward religion in general—and Christianity in particular—in Western Europe. This briefing follows seminars on the same topic held in the European Parliament and by the OSCE in Vienna and Rome. The Helsinki Commission was briefed by Professor Tom Farr, Dr. Roger Trigg, and Roger Kiska.
Professor Tom Farr, Director of the Religious Freedom Project Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs at Georgetown University, noted a three-year Pew Forum study that shows “of all the regions of the world, social hostilities toward religion are rising most rapidly, not in the Middle East, Africa, or Asia, but in Europe.” The study ranks the United Kingdom 17th out of 200 countries in social hostilities toward religion. Germany was ranked 23rd and France 25th. Professor Farr explained that these countries also showed significant increases in government restrictions on religion: “Between 2007 and 2010 government restrictions in the UK increased by 63%, in France by 20%, and in Germany by 23%.” Professor Farr underscored how the current state of affairs is in tension with Europe’s history as the intellectual birthplace of religious freedom, as well as with its commitment to democracy.
Dr. Roger Trigg, Academic Director, Kellogg Centre for the Study of Religion in Public Life at Oxford University and Associate Scholar of Religious Freedom Project at Georgetown University noted with concern the growing European trend to pit human rights against religious freedom. He observed that the English courts are now, through the Human Rights Act of 1998 and the Equality Act of 2010, placing “more importance on ‘equality,’ and tend to enforce non-discrimination on grounds of race, sex, and sexual orientation, rather than because of religion.” Dr. Trigg emphasized that, historically, Britain and the United States did not “see religion on the one hand, human rights on the other,” but rather “rights as growing out of religion”—particularly the right to equality. “We are equal because we are equal in the sight of God. We are free because God has given us free will,” Dr. Trigg explained.
Roger Kiska, Senior Counsel for the Alliance Defending Freedom, which has intervened in four religious freedom cases from the UK currently pending before the European Court of Human Rights, noted that in all four cases, “the applicants…were fired or pushed out of their jobs because they sought reasonable accommodations for their religious beliefs where such accommodations were fairly de minimus and absolutely no business hardship would have occurred.” Kiska also noted the censorship of the cross and other religious symbols from the public square, growing restrictions on parental rights in the area of the education of their children, and limitation on free expression—including religious expression—through “hate speech” laws.
The full transcript of the briefing can be found on the Helsinki Commission Web site.