Tuesday, October 06, 2015

Europe's Parliamentary Assembly Adopts Resolution on Freedom of Religion

Last week (Sept. 30), the Council of Europe's Parliamentary Assembly  adopted Resolution 2076 titled Freedom of Religion and Living Together in a Democratic Society.  The Resolution sets out the Assembly's primary concerns:
Many beliefs and churches are developing in Europe alongside the religions which have influenced the history of our continent. The Assembly notes with great regret and anxiety that this continues to give rise to tensions, lack of understanding and suspicion, and even to xenophobic attitudes, extremism, hate speech and the most despicable violence. This vicious circle must be broken....
[T]he Assembly considers that the principle of secularity does not require the elimination of religion from social space; quite the contrary, this principle, properly interpreted and implemented, protects the possibility for the different beliefs, religious and non-religious, to coexist peacefully while all parties respect shared principles and values.
The Resolution focuses on the extent to which governments may regulate certain religious practices:
...  Certain religious practices remain controversial within national communities. Albeit in different ways, the wearing of full-face veils, circumcision of young boys and ritual slaughter are divisive issues and the Assembly is aware of the fact that there is no consensus among Council of Europe member States on these matters....
As far as circumcision of young boys is concerned the Assembly ... out of a concern to protect children’s rights which the Jewish and Muslim communities surely share, recommends that member States provide for ritual circumcision of children not to be allowed unless practised by a person with the requisite training and skill, in appropriate medical and health conditions. Furthermore, the parents must be duly informed of any potential medical risk or possible contraindications and take these into account when deciding what is best for their child, bearing in mind that the child’s interest must be considered the first priority.
Where ritual slaughter is concerned, the Assembly is not convinced that legislation prohibiting this practice is really necessary, or that it would be the most effective way of ensuring the protection of animals; legislation which imposes strict requirements, like that of France and Germany, achieves a balanced reconciliation of the legitimate concern to protect animals from unjustified suffering and respect for the right to freedom of religion.
 The Council's resolutions are advisory. A video of the Council's debate on the Resolution is online.