On June 24th, the new EU guidelines on the promotion and protection of freedom of religion or belief were adopted by the Council of the European Union.
Even within Europe we still have, unfortunately, restrictions and discrimination based on matters of religion or belief. These new guidelines on Freedom of Religion or Belief (FoRB) provide an excellent framework for the promotion of diversity and equality within member states.
Some of the central principles of the FoRB guidelines are –
- That diversity is to be encouraged, not simply tolerated. In order to do this, each state will be encouraged to promote diversity and mutual understanding using all available tools. The aim will be to promote a culture of mutual respect, diversity, tolerance, dialogue and peace.
- That the State has a duty to actively take part in this encouragement and to defend the rights of every citizen to believe – or not – as his or her conscience dictates.
- Each member state must ensure that it has adequate legislation to protect the individuals within its boundaries and ensure that their rights in this regard are upheld.
- This document points out the central importance of freedom of religion and belief not just in terms of legal justice but as a means of engendering a respect for diversity, contributing to democracy, development, rule of law, peace and stability. The EU Guidelines also point out that violations of FoRB not only encourages intolerance but may also be an early warning of potential conflict and violence.
- The guidelines do not offer protection against ridicule or criticism but they do offer protection against hatred, discrimination and violence.
- In dealing with difficult issues such as the sometimes conflicting rights of freedom of expression and the need to defend people against hate speech and incitement to violence, the Guidelines reiterate the fact that at all times these Guidelines, in keeping with international human rights legislation, seek to uphold the rights of the individual as opposed to the rights of any religion or ideology.
- With this in mind, the EU will not support violence, discrimination or restrictions against any citizen and will not find religious tradition an adequate defense to excuse any of these things.
- Every citizen will have the freedom to believe (or indeed not believe), to change their religion or ideological affiliation, to practice their beliefs individually and collectively unless this poses a threat to the human rights of other individuals in the society.
- These Guidelines are intended to be used as a reference point for all state officials within the EU when dealing with issues of Freedom of Religion or Belief both within and outside their own jurisdiction.
- To make sure that each country is in conformity with international standards of FoRB, these new guidelines will encourage Member States to draw attention, as appropriate, to freedom of religion or belief in the Universal Periodic Review that is conducted on each country by the UN Human Rights Council. The implementation of recommendations accepted by the state under review will be monitored and supported as appropriate.
The full text of the guidelines can be found here and they are worth reading.