Belfast Telegraph

Monday 21 April 2014

Is the European Union becoming more secular?

David Quinn — a commentator on religious and social affairs in the Republic — asks if Europe becoming a cold house for Christians

The decision by the European Court of Human Rights to order Italy to remove crucifixes from the walls of its state schools was an act of hypocrisy.

The court justified its decision on the grounds that parents have a right to educate their children in the ethos of their choice, and that people have a right to freedom of religion. It said that putting crosses on the walls of state classrooms violates both.

The decision might be remotely justifiable if the court really believed in educational choice or in religious freedom, but, in practice, it believes in neither. Instead, the decision was motivated by an anti-religious animus, pure and simple.

If it really respected the right of parents to educate their children in the ethos of their choice, then it would find against countries in Europe that will fund only state-run schools and will give nothing to religious and other privately run ones.

It has never done that, and it never will because it doesn't really believe in educational pluralism.

Nor does it really believe in religious freedom. For example, it found in favour of the Republic’s broadcasting law even though it is so extreme it has led to the banning of ads for the sale of Christmas cribs and rosary beads from the airwaves.

Therefore, this court is using the Convention on Human Rights as a fig-leaf to justify its secularist objection to religion per se.

It believes that the right of parents to educate their children according to their choice is only to be supported when that choice is against religion, and not for it.

It believes that the right to freedom of religion should only be recognised when that right is also exercised against religion rather than in favour of religion.

The European Court of Human Rights was established after World War II. Its job is to enforce, insofar as is possible, the European Convention on Human Rights.

That convention was drafted specifically with the appalling abuses of World War II in mind. Do you really think that putting crucifixes on the walls of state classrooms can in any way, shape or form be compared with what the Nazis and others did in World War II?

In any case, this was certainly a matter for the Italians themselves to decide and not for some court in Strasbourg that is subject to no one and nothing but itself.

What is the point of democracy when a court few have ever even heard of can override the cultural traditions of a given country, especially when those traditions are essentially harmless? The decision is a prime reason why so many people are anxious about the Charter of Fundamental Rights that the Republic just voted on in the Lisbon Treaty referendum.

The European Court of Human Rights is not part of the European Union and it should not be confused with the European Court of Justice, which is. But where the former leads, the latter usually follows and the Charter of Fundamental Rights is heavily based on the Convention on Human Rights.

This decision by the European Court of Human Rights gives a further insight into what can be expected from the European Court of Justice, and the EU generally, now that the Charter of Fundamental Rights is formally part of EU law.

It's obvious that we are now entering an era of state-imposed political correctness.

The Republic is about to pass a law — the Civil Partnership Bill — that will force Christians against their conscience to facilitate same-sex civil unions if asked, and will treat them like racists if they don't.

In Britain, a 67-year-old woman is being investigated by police for a ‘hate crime’ because she wrote a letter to her local council objecting to it promoting a gay pride parade.

Also in Britain, a nurse was suspended for offering to pray for a patient. The European Court of Human Rights has now become — in fact it has been for some time — part of the drive towards a highly aggressive and belligerent form of secularism. This week's ruling against Italy isn't the first of its kind, and it won't be the last.

Europe is indeed becoming a cold house for Christians, and religion generally.

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