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EU Bishops: religious freedom is a human right

A big anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights provided an occasion for the Commission of the Bishops’ Conferences of the European Union to highlight the universality and importance of human rights issues, including the right to religious freedom.

By Linda Bordoni

Marking the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) this week, many events shone the light on the urgent need to not take human rights for granted.

Championing the issue Pope Francis and the Catholic Church continue to uphold the core principles of the UDHR that are universal, indivisible, interdependent, interrelated and non-hierarchised.

One event leading up to the anniversary included a Dialogue Seminar at the European Union on Religion and Human Rights within the EU.

Key speaker, Bishop Theodorus Hoogenboom, President of the Legal Affairs Commission of the Bishops Conferences of the EU (COMECE), spoke of the need to promote and protect the right to freedom of religion for all – regardless of affiliation to majority or minority religious denominations:

Listen to the interview with Bishop Theodorus Hoogenboom

Explaining the theme of his intervention, Bishop Hoogenboom said he stressed the need to “get out of the ‘majorities-minorities’ dynamic”.

The right to religious freedom concerns all

In fact, he explained, in the European Union there is the tendency to present issues that regard freedom of religion as a concern that pertains mostly to minorities.

“This is not consistent with human rights standards, and human rights standards and EU policies should not focus on discrimination between one religion and another, but rather on cases in which a person is targeted because of having a religion or belonging to a religion” he said.

Hoogenboom explained the issue regards all people who are discriminated because he or she is a believer or wants to practice his or her religion, including in the workplace.

It is very important, he added, to stress the obligation of EU institutions and also of the national authorities to fully apply the right to freedom of religion “with regard to all citizens” whatever their affiliation.

“Fundamental rights are for all people, also for those who belong to majority religious denominations” he said.

He said that COMECE members think it is alarming that people are able to rule on how people may or may not dress in accordance to their religion, including religious symbols “except when endangering public safety or health”.

Pope Francis

Bishop Hoogenboom said Pope Francis’ stance regarding the right to religious freedom continues to provide a powerful beacon and he recalled his discourse in October 2017 at the conclusion of the International Conference “(Re)thinking Europe. A Christian contribution to the European project” sponsored by COMECE.

He described it as a very important speech in which the Pope stressed that “persons and community are the foundations of Europe and that we as Christians are called to building up Europe.”

“As one of the bricks of this structure” Hoogenboom said, the Pope mentioned dialogue saying we cannot miss the chance in Europe to be the “first and foremost protagonists of dialogue”.

As Christians we are called to promote dialogue

“Saving dialogue is of course a responsibility of politics, and sadly se see a lot of clashes in politics between opposing forces” he said.

So, Hoogenboom reiterated that as Christians we are called to promote dialogue, especially when it is threatened and where there is conflict.

“As Christians we are called to restore dignity to politics” he continued, explaining that one of the things COMECE does is to promote dialogue with and between EU Institutions.

He said dialogue is also the basis of Article 17 which is at the heart of the actions of COMECE, which he said, is striving to improve the relative instruments.

Shared responsibility

Bishop Hoogenboom also underscored the crucial importance of shared responsibility within the realm of human rights because, he said, human rights are universal, inviolable and inalienable and the main trait of human rights is human dignity which is inherent in human people who were created in the image of God.

“From this human dignity flow the fundamental rights, thus shared responsibility in the protection and promotion of human rights is very important” he said.

Need for a change of perspective

Hoogenboom was also adamant that we need to stop considering the right to freedom of religion and freedom of conscience as problematic rights.   

The Church, he said, supports an effective protection on the part of member states of the right to conscientious objection at the basis of democracy and the rule of law.

As we celebrate the 70th Anniversary of the UDHR, bishop Hoogenboom recalled the position and the many teachings of the Church and of Popes in regards to the respect for human rights.

In particular he mentioned Pope Paul VI who said “the Church is an expert in humanity”, and in that respect, he concluded, it is very important that the Church keeps protecting and promoting human rights in the dialogue with political institutions.

12 December 2018, 17:09