Non-religious in Europe are disadvantaged, claim secularists

By staff writers
1 Dec 2007

Europeans who have no religion are growing in number but are becoming increasingly disadvantaged in the political process. This was the claim by the National Secular Society at a meeting in the European Parliament on “Religion and Politics in the New Europe” sponsored by politicians wanting a firmer separation of religion and state and the dissenting group Catholics for Choice.

Keith Porteous Wood, Executive Director of the National Secular Society in the UK, declared: “The majority of the EU population are either non-religious or do not actively practise any religion and they are being betrayed because increasingly strident religious influence on moral matters in EU institutions."

He continued: “Despite the continuing reduction in church attendance, religious influence in European institutions is increasing. The new EU treaty requires transparent dialogue with religious institutions and the Pope will soon address, or in reality, lecture, elected EU Parliamentarians and probably also those of the Council of Europe. The influence of the Roman Catholic Church on EU institutions is huge but largely hidden, and its objective is clearly to impose its views on all EU citizens, not just Catholics. The Catholic Bishops’ conference is represented as well as the Holy See as a sovereign state. At the meeting the huge disparity became apparent between the demands of these representatives and the views of Catholics in the pews.

Mr Porteous-Wood said: “There are sixty religious missions to the EU, but only one non-religious one, the European Humanist Association. It has little power and is rarely consulted. This model of representation entirely disenfranchises the majority of the population who are either non-religious, non-practising or whose views differ substantially from their religious representatives – who are almost always male. Civil society and the non-religious and have minimal influence but can be adversely affected by the behind doors decisions made as a result of religious representation.

“The growing number of non-religious and non-practising citizens are being left out of this process, as indeed are many practising Christians who are becoming alarmed at their leaders becoming more and more reactionary.

“Typical areas where this undue religious influence will be directed are start and end of life issues and sexual matters. The religious climate is becoming progressively less tolerant on such matters, partly by the deepening conservatism in the Catholic and Anglican churches. But even more important is the growing influence of Poland and other former Eastern Bloc countries, and the rise in influence of Islam.”

However officials working with the European institutions say that they do regularly consult with non-religious interests, but that some of those groups claiming to speak on behalf of non-adherents have only a few thousand members.

In recent months Christian, Muslim and secular spokespersons in Europe have all claimed that their constituencies are being disadvantaged or discriminated against by each other.

Writing in The Guardian newspaper this week, leading European commentator Timothy Garton-Ash called for bridges rather than bombast in the debate about how to build a free society open to all.

Diversity involving religious and non-religious together cannot work without reasserting the liberal essentials for common existence, he argued, but it also important not to confuse secularism with programmatic atheism.

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