What could be wrong with a secular Europe?
It would be a Europe where your right to your religion or belief is respected.
Here is what it says in the European Convention (formally the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms):
“Article 9 – Freedom of thought, conscience and religion
1. Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, and to manifest his religion or belief, in worship, teaching, practice and observance.
2. Freedom to manifest one’s religion or beliefs shall be subject only to such limitations as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society in the interests of public safety, for the protection of public order, health or morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.”
(note: Sorry about the ‘his’ in the first paragraph but this document was drafted a long time ago in the year of my birth, 1950.)
Most European countries are signed up to the Convention. So, you may ask, what am I concerned about?
Well, actually at present 47 Countries have signed up and there are some non-European countries with observer status and one non-country. Guess the non-country? Yes. The Holy See ! see also this article.
Much of Russia is in Europe and it is not a signatory.
Belarus is not a signatory and neither is Kosova or Macedonia.
But point 2 of article 9 does provide something of a get-out-of-jail clause. Who is to decide on these matters? The answer is, that as with any human institution (and I don’t know of any other!), these are political projects always and inevitably in a state of revision. There are political forces in many countries who would like to revise the Convention so as to allow certain sorts of bigotry and prejudice to rule. Others, like some in the UK, are even floating the idea of withdrawing from the convention altogether.
Don’t those who object to secular states have any point at all?
Of course some may do, but as far as I can see, this is invariably because they subvert the meaning of the word. They may be misled by how authoritarian and non-democratic regimes have used the word. As far as I know there have been no brutal regimes which have been ‘secular’ in the sense of making no distinction between the religion or belief of their citizens in their treatment of them.
Others demand the right to discriminate and the right to influence public policy by means of privileged access to the seats of power. They argue that they are the purveyors and guardians of a universal morality, which is mystically truly objective and grounded in the obscure nature of a supreme deity.
It is their manner to often be obtuse and mendacious. For example, they equate secular with material wealth, and with an anything goes mentality. They equate secular with atheist. They equate abortion (and contraception) with murder. They equate sex and relationship education with promiscuity and licentiousness. They equate secular with a particular political system, usually of the so called ‘left’, socialism or communism. They equate secular with a philosophy capable of determining right from wrong, and so on.
Some claim that their religion has provided the foundations of our societies and that they are therefore entitled to protect, for example, Holy Christendom from contamination and expropriation. They, the true believers, are the hosts and the rest of us are the guests. In countries where they think immigrants and those of other religions have been treated well, they see those who pursue a secular agenda as ungrateful and non-patriotic.
So what would a Secular Europe look like?
Countries can have their own political systems. It is difficult though to imagine how an authoritarian dictatorship could provide the checks and balances required to ensure true secularity i.e. the equitable treatment by the state of all people regardless of their religion or belief and ensuring that no religion or belief organisation is given privileged access to the state or to power within it. It takes little imagination to realise that there must be a single legal system with, within its jurisdiction, one law for all. The law must also be subject to some form of constitutional guarantee of the citizen’s rights – this can be achieved, in part, by signing up to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the European Convention. A free press and an an independent judiciary are also clearly necessary. The exact nature of these institutional arrangements are always under development. There is a sort of experiment going on. It is highly unlikely that, in the near future, there is any one system that will suit all. But as has already been said secularity does not dictate the system it just sets certain parameters which must be respected.
If you agree with me, then you need to make your voice heard. Join us in the Secular Europe Campaign There is a focus on human rights because without respect for human rights there can be no Secular Europe in which the rights of all are respected.
On Saturday 14th September the Central London Humanists are organising this year’s March and Rally for a Secular Europe - If you can’t make it then please try and spread the word and indicate your support
If you are a tweeter you could tweet the following – Join the Secular Europe March. Be seen be heard be Secular. 14th Sept 2013. Equal rights for all #SECM2013 http://tinyurl.com/SECM2013
Mention it on your facebook page and in other social media.
Support a Secular Europe and a secular world – you know it makes sense!