Humanists challenge European Union’s discrimination against non-religious

  • post Type / Members and partners
  • Date / 19 October 2011

The European Humanist Federation (EHF) has accused the European Commission of discriminating against non-religious organizations. EHF has lodged a complaint with the European Ombudsman, stating that the Commission, which is the executive branch of the European Union (EU), is violating its legal obligation to work with non-religious groups in the same way it works with religious groups.

“Giving special privileges to the religious is a form of discrimination against the non-religious,” said Sonja Eggerickx, president of the International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU). “Humanists and atheists experience this religious discrimination all over the world, but the EU’s discrimination is especially shameful because it flouts the governing principles it so recently embraced.”

The EU’s Lisbon Treaty, which came into force in December 2009, requires the EU to conduct a ‘regular, open and transparent dialogue’ with ‘philosophical and non-confessional organizations’ no less than with the churches and religious organizations (Article 17:3). The Commission has for many years routinely conducted ‘dialogue seminars’ with the two conferences of European bishops.

In March the European Humanist Federation (EHF), which brings together more than 50 secular organizations from twenty one European countries, proposed a dialogue seminar for the first time, seeking to discuss the problems arising from religious exemptions in EU directives against discrimination. The Commission refused to discuss the subject. Attempts over the last four months to obtain a shift in the Commission’s position, culminating in a letter to President Barroso himself, have produced no result.

“The Commission is refusing to let the EHF meet the officials who deal with policy on nondiscrimination,” said David Pollock, President of the EHF. “Yet the official in charge is aware of the difficulties, as was clear when he spoke at a recent meeting in the European Parliament. The Commission’s incomprehensible excuse is that we want to talk about religion or philosophy and that this lies outside the Commission’s area of competence. Of course it does — but (as we have pointed out in vain) what we want to discuss is not religion but human rights, equality and non-discrimination, and these lie squarely within the Commission’s competence. Exactly the same problem arose last year over a conference the Commission proposed to subsidize for us, with the result that it was never held.

“For too long,” said Mr Pollock, “we have suffered disdainful treatment from the Commission that stands in marked contrast to their receptive attitude to the churches. It took years of pressure while the Commission organized annual summit meetings with the churches before they created a parallel meeting for non-confessional organizations.

“We did not want to make a public complaint but we were left with no other recourse. This is either incompetence by the Commission or, we fear, an attempt to protect religious privilege from scrutiny.”

For more information go to the European Humanist Federation website at: http://www.humanistfederation.eu/

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