We should applaud the European Union for recognising the right to freedom *from* religion

Amidst all the hoopla in the United Kingdom about 'losing rights to Brussels', a predominantly biased anti-EU media fraternity has ignored a monumental step taken by the European Union towards the protection of secular rights.

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Hari Sri is an Asian secular and religious affairs blogger 

Amidst all the hoopla in the United Kingdom about ‘losing rights to Brussels’, a predominantly biased anti-EU media fraternity has ignored a monumental step taken by the European Union towards the protection of secular rights.

On June 24, the Council of the European Union’s Foreign Affairs Council adopted a set of guidelines in Luxembourg that, along with recognising the age-old ‘right to freedom of religion or belief’ as a fundamental right of every human being (from Articles 18 of both the Universal Declaration of Human Rights & the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights), ushered in a new era of recognising humanist and atheistic rights to speech on religious topics.

The Council, in its reason for action, stated:

“Persons who change or leave their religion or belief, as well as persons holding non-theistic or atheistic beliefs should be equally protected, as well as people who do not profess any religion or belief.”

Furthermore, what is noteworthy is the vast spectrum of irreligious speech that the Council has motioned to protect under these guidelines by strongly stating:

“The EU will recall, when appropriate, that the right to freedom of religion or belief, as enshrined in relevant international standards, does not include the right to have a religion or a belief that is free from criticism or ridicule.”

Along with protecting the rights of atheists and humanists to criticise or even ridicule religion, the EU has also sought to bring the protection of irreligious speech through all forms of media under the umbrella of these guidelines under Clause 32 a (iv).

This includes ridicule and criticism online such as on social media and new media platforms.

An important component of these guidelines was also the inclusion of the protection of human rights of select groups who are particularly vulnerable to theologically-driven discrimination, viz. women and children subject to violence, discriminated minorities and especially people of varied sexual orientations and gender identities (LGBTI).

The Council further expounded on this in a separate set of guidelines passed on the same day.

The International Humanist and Ethical Union welcomed this development and Pierre Galand, president of the European Humanist Federation, added that his organisation would like to urge the EU to take this cause further and “encourage member states to abolish blasphemy laws as recommended by the Venice Commission and the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe”.

Although a strong statement to make in theory, whether individual member states have to enact any constitutional amendments to how they treat ‘atheistic hate speech’ remains to be seen.

Whether it is embraced in practice or not, is yet inconsequential. Considering the dearth of any legal protection meted out to irreligious groups under blasphemy laws or the more covert anti-religious hate speech laws in several European states, this might just be the first of its kind and, thus, a significant step.

For this, and this alone, we must applaud the European Union’s initiative on this matter, especially considering the passing of these guidelines in the face of vociferous opposition from conservative groups within the Council and the constituent member states.

19 Responses to “We should applaud the European Union for recognising the right to freedom *from* religion”

  1. David Thompson

    Congratulations. Please teach your US counterparts how to do this.

  2. Stephen Wigmore

    “protecting the rights of atheists [to] ridicule religion”

    Tells you all you need to know about the immaturity and shallowness at the heart of much ‘organised’ atheist or humanist groups.

  3. Dax

    And theist’s have the right to ridicule atheists. Which they try to do quite often.

  4. SarahAB

    I support the rights of (some) theists to say I am going to Hell because I’m an atheist, to assert that homosexuality is a terrible sin, to forbid the use of contraception, to claim apostates deserve death. Is it really immature and shallow to prefer Jesus and Mo to that kind of crap?

  5. Stephen Wigmore

    And it’s dumb when they do it as well.

  6. Stephen Wigmore

    No. And I never said it was.

    All those would be serious statements about your life and the state of the universe. And disagreeing with those statements is a serious discussion as well. Celebrating a right to ridicule something is not, whether atheists or religious people do it.

  7. MsKTC

    Yeah, but if this provision is not made, then surely it puts at risk comedians, programme makers/script writers, authors etc who may ridicule religious views as part of an act or story line. Trust me, if religious zealots can find a way to exploit ‘being offended’ then they;ll do it.

  8. Overleaf

    I wonder if believing in a sky fairy because of greed to go to this unknown place called paradise is any more shallow?

    Until you resolve this problem, people will be ridiculing you. That is just fair for the intelligence. One thing for sure is that atheist don’t look or act stupid to be ridiculed.

  9. Overleaf

    Ridiculing is an aesthetic form of criticism. So what is wrong with criticism? Scratch below your surface, and we will find that you wish to punish criticism.

  10. Overleaf

    So we should ban the act of ridicule or comedy altogether.

    Why so unsure of yourself and why the lack of confidence in your beliefs that you want ridicule banned?

    Oh I know — it is because of the silly superficial and unsophisticated psycho-theistic rationalizations such as with Karen Armstrong (which you probably call ‘deep’ nevertheless) – is indeed embarrassing, and you “spiritual” folks are too ashamed of yourselves, so you need to ban making fun of you.

  11. Stephen Wigmore

    Nice try dumbass. But they’re not my beliefs. And try looking up ad hominem in a dictionary. You are cheerfully proving my point.

  12. Stephen Wigmore

    You would be a bit more convincing calling other people stupid if you could write in actual sentences Mr Chip-on-your-shoulder.

    And in case you are wondering, no, you are not smarter than Thomas Aquinas, Isaac Newton, Karl Barth, Martin Luther King Jr, etc. But you are considerably more arrogant.

  13. ministerjenjo

    I guess you are unaware of the etiquette that gives you zero points for criticizing a person’s typos on line. It only demonstrates a lack of substance on your part. And no, YOU are not smarter than a legion of atheist thinkers either. Again, you score no points with your shallow trolling.

  14. Overleaf

    So what are “your beliefs”? Too scared to talk about them? Do not feel bad about that – almost without exception, theists that I meet are unable to coherently articulate their silly little spiritual feelings in their guts, and if they do, are unable to defend their beliefs.

    I know you are trying to avoid a debate on your theology here. Not because you know you will lose the argument, but because it will instill DOUBT in your head, and that may endanger that meme firmly planted in your circuits. You are too coward to admit to doubt, and with doubt, you are afraid you will lose that cushy afterlife promised to you up there by supposedly a big fairy in the sky.

    Or maybe I have completely misjudged you and you are one of those reactionary cultural leftists who want to bring religion back, in particular Islam for the “brown people” and consider that “progressive”? Nowadays it is hard to distinguish a leftist from a fascist.

    I need to know this to understand why you want to outlaw the ridicule of the big fairy in the sky and his sidekick paedophile Mohammad.

  15. Overleaf

    Funny. The stupidity I talk about is a group stupidity as in groupthink and not individual that you bring examples. And what kind of shoddy argument is this? Like you want me to cite Einstein and Hitchens?

    I guess saying there is no evidence or proof for the big fairy, is considered arrogance. So yes, that makes me arrogant. My mind says that I will not submit to hogwash, unless there is evidence or proof based on evidence, or logical proof. That’s so arrogant!

    You are just pissed that you can’t refute me, while it is so easy to refute your big fairy in the sky thingy.

  16. Alterity

    What happens when a religion opposes a western viewpoint and supports the hatred of homosexuals, death to apostates, religious as opposed to secular law, etc.

  17. Alterity

    atheists may ridicule religion but many religious people advocate the murder of atheists, apostates, gays and blasphemers. Who is better? Hmmm…

  18. Dan

    The EU will bend over backwards to protect Islam. That is how it’ll play out. Christ will be mocked and all the cowardly atheists will turn a blind eye to Mohammad and Islam.

  19. Dan

    It won’t protect the Danish Cartoon artist. It’s just highfaluting law making. The enforcement of it is predictable.

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