EU free speech threat
The European Union’s proposed Equal Treatment Directive is posing one of the biggest threats to freedom of religious expression, Christian lobby groups have claimed.
The directive, which was announced last year, has been under consultation among member states’ governments until the end of July this year. All 27 member states are expected to take a vote to ratify it this month (November) and implement it by the end of 2011.
The European Equality and Human Rights Commission web site states that the directive’s aims are: to ‘prohibit direct and indirect discrimination as well as harassment and victimisation’. For people with disabilities, non-discrimination includes general accessibility as well as the principle of reasonable accommodation. But latest revisions now also include protection on the grounds of sexual orientation and religion.
However, the detail of the directive has not gone far enough to protect religious liberty and the freedoms of expression of belief. Christian Concern for Our Nation (CCFON) has warned that, without legal safeguards being written into the directive, it can be used as an ‘instrument of cultural genocide’ and persecution against Christians, churches and religious organisations.
According to CCFON, the directive does not protect freedom of speech or belief in the event that conflicts will arise from differences of opinion expressed by different religious groups.
Christians expressing religious views on sexuality in a discussion with those professing homosexuality can also be at risk, while the directive also strives to eliminate discrimination in terms of providing services to people even if it goes against the service provider’s religious beliefs.
The Christian Legal Centre, which has already taken up several such cases on behalf of Christians, says these EU ‘equality laws’ will ‘silence Christians and suspend or dismiss them from their public sector jobs’ under claims of harassment.
A CLC statement said: ‘For example, once someone decides to perceive that an offer of prayers or words of comfort by a hospital chaplain, based on his faith, is offensive, that person can bring legal action against the chaplain and the hospital, even if the chaplain at the hospital intended no offence’.
It will also limit academic freedom of education and affect religious associations such as student Christian unions, as the directive will allow non-Christians the same access to membership as Christians.
Both the CLC and CCFON are calling for prayer and lobbying support across all European countries for a veto on the directive. If even one country says no, the directive will not be passed.
CCFON has produced a comprehensive information pack to help Christians lobby ministers in the EU to remove certain provisions. Visit www.ccfon.org or http://www.christianlegalcentre.com