Sunday, September 09, 2007

A Secular Vision for Europe

reposted from iheu

A Secular Vision for Europe
Submitted by admin on 23 April, 2007

Following her visit in August to Pope Benedict XVI, Merkel expressed her support for a “God clause” in the European constitution. She said, “We need a European identity in the form of a constitutional treaty and I think it should be connected to Christianity and God, as Christianity has forged Europe in a decisive way.”
Central to Chancellor Merkel’s project was the “Berlin Declaration”, a statement of principles to be fed into the creation of a new European constitution.
Merkel asked all EU heads of government to nominate a “trusted advisor” to contribute to the Berlin Declaration, but members of the European Parliament were warned not to get involved. According to the EU Observer: “Germany’s foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier told the European Parliament’s constitutional affairs committee on 23 January that MEPs will not have any major role in the EU’s constitution revival project. He warned deputies not to pick fights with national governments over who serves Europe better, or try to overshadow Berlin’s efforts to revive the EU charter, saying ‘there is no point if the professionals in Europe are competing with one another for the welfare of Europe’s citizens’. For their part, MEPs were reduced to pleading for representation”.

The Foreign Minister’s remarks however were in sharp contrast to his words of encouragement to Europe’s church leaders. At a meeting with representatives of the European churches in January, he said:
“Churches have a specific role in the European integration process” adding: “Churches [are] important partners in their national contexts in discussions on common European values and the future of the European integration process. In many countries, churches create awareness about European issues and contribute to a European culture.”
According to a news item by COMECE, the Commission of the Bishops’ Conferences of the European Community, “Steinmeier highlighted the churches’ role in the context of the Berlin Declaration to be presented for adoption on 25 March to the EU heads of state and government, and in light of a revitalized discussion around the Constitutional Treaty”.

The danger here is obvious. Any treaty that confuses the undoubted role of the Churches in European history with its frequently negative role in the creation of modern European civilization is likely to be hugely divisive in the context of modern Europe.

Pressure already exists in many states for different laws for minorities, based on their differing values. A sectarian Constitution that highlights Europe’s supposed Judeo- Christian heritage can only serve to exacerbate cultural differences. Demands among Europe’s minorities already range from codifying cultural differences into family law, to an outright acceptance of Sharia law for Muslims.
A recent survey by NOP showed that some 30% of British Muslims would prefer to live under Sharia Law. Among young Muslims the percentage was even higher

Secularism has also been under attack from Pope Benedict XVI. Even before he became pope, he claimed in 2004 that the “forces of secularism” were fostering intolerance in Europe and forcing Christianity underground, saying that the liberal consensus had now evolved into a “worrying and aggressive” ideology.

Senior bishops in England have also attacked secularism, like the pope, seemingly unable to distinguish between state neutrality and hostility to religion, and failing to recognize that a secular state is the only guarantee of religious freedom for all.

Now European Secularists are fighting back

A group under the leadership of IHEU, the European Humanist Federation, Catholics for a Free Choice and the European Parliament All-Party Group on Separation of Religion and Politics, has drafted a new Secular Vision for Europe. The centrepiece of the Vision is the Brussels Declaration, a one-page restatement of our common values: the liberal values of individual freedom, democracy and the rule of law on which modern European civilization is based. These are not the values of a single culture or tradition but are our shared values, common to all of the cultures that make up modern Europe: the values that can enable Europeans from every background to live together in peace and harmony.

The Brussels Declaration is the outcome of an unprecedented Europe-wide collaboration between academics, politicians, writers, community leaders and both secular and religious non-governmental organisations. It has already been endorsed by hundreds of European political and religious leaders, academics, Nobel prize-winners and by over 80 MEPs.
The full text of A Secular Vision for Europe is available on the Vision website at:, together with more background information and copies of the Brussels Declaration in 16 languages.

Formal Launch

The Declaration was formally launched at the European Parliament in Brussels on 27 February 2007, ahead of the 50th Anniversary celebrations of the signing of the Treaty of Rome on 25 March.

At the launch, Roy Brown, coordinator of the Committee for a Vision for Europe, handed a copy of the Brussels Declaration to Dr Max Maldacker, representative of the German presidency who undertook to introduce the declaration to the group drafting the Berlin Declaration. Following the launch, a letter signed by Sophie in’t Veld, Roy Brown and Jon O’Brien, the new President of Catholics for a Free Choice, was sent to all 27 EU heads of state urging them to “take the Brussels Declaration into account when drafting the Berlin Declaration”. For once, it seems, the pleas of Europe’s Humanists and secularists did not fall on deaf ears. The final text of the Berlin Declaration contained no reference to God, religion or Europe’s supposed “Judeo-Christian” heritage. The Pope and other church leaders were swift to react. The Pope spoke of “Europe’s apostasy” and was promptly invited to address the European Parliament by its President Hans-Gerd Poettering. “Why?” demanded Sophie in’t Veld in a letter to Hans-Gerd Poettering on 10th April (see box item, page 25), suggesting that “the leaders of other religions, as well as the European Humanists” be equally invited to address the Parliament.

We are only at the beginning of the new battle over the role of religion in Europe. Humanists and secularists must continue to press at every opportunity for a truly secular Europe.

Roy W Brown is coordinator of the Committee for A Vision for Europe

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