Press Releases 2007

EU Forum on Religion and Politics in the New Europe Breaks New Ground

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BRUSSELS–A forum to be held today, “Religion and Politics in the New Europe” will discuss the relationship between government institutions and religious influences. As tension mounts on many fronts over what is the correct role for religion in politics, MEPs, experts, advocates and public policy professionals come together to debate the issue at a ground-breaking forum.

Bringing together those on both sides of the debate, many for the first time, the forum is part of a continuing and wide-ranging dialogue about the relationship between our government institutions and organized religious influences. It will be hosted by Catholics for Choice, the European Parliament All-Party Working Group on the Separation of Religion and Politics and a number of members of the European Parliament from different political parties and countries (full listing below).  Experts from around the world will present their perspectives on this complex topic.

Sessions will examine: Secularism and the Soul of Europe, and Equality, Religion and Representation in Europewith other sessions including case studies examining the situation in Spain, Sweden and Poland. Among the questions the forum will explore are:  What is the appropriate role for religious beliefs in the secular state?  Can a secular state balance the sometimes competing interests of people with different religious beliefs?  Does the inclusion of even non-sectarian religious language in official government texts represent a bias against atheists?  Can a religious believer feel fully represented by a government that does not reflect his or her religious values?   Do religions such as Catholicism and Islam delineate separate spheres of authority for religion and politics?

Jon O’Brien, President, Catholics for Choice, said, “We are happy to host this forum for members of the European Parliament as there can be great misunderstanding about the views of people of faith in the secular state. It is a fact that many people of faith believe in and support the secular state precisely because it protects all of us– religious or otherwise–and celebrates our unique place in the community. At this time of increasing tension between secular and religious interests, Catholics for Choice believes that creating greater dialogue and understanding, through questioning ourselves and others is critical in bringing more light than heat to these tough questions of how to organize life and government.”

Proinsias De Rossa MEP (PES-IRL), said “The European Union is primarily a global exemplar of conflict resolution. The shared democratic and secular institutions of the Union have, at last, successfully dissolved most of the violent, and often religious, conflicts of European history. Democratic institutions are, by definition, secular institutions. There is simply no other sustainable way. The universal rights incorporated in the European Charter of Human Rights and the Union’s own Charter of Fundamental Rights protect those of all religions and of none. No set of religious beliefs should be accorded a special status in the Union. To remain tolerant of all religious beliefs the Union must remain separate and independent of all faith organisations. In this way, we can continue to build a European democratic space where everyone, of all religious persuasions, can be accommodated in full freedom”

Sophie in’t Veld MEP (ALDE-NL), said, “Secularism is increasingly under pressure. Religion is back in politics. I am particularly worried about the so-called Intercultural Dialogue, euphemism for dialogue between religious leaders, who claim the exclusive right to define moral values of our society.”

The forum takes place on Tuesday, 27 November at the European Parliament in Brussels (Room PH7-C50, 9:00 – 16:00).

Speakers include:

Dr. Alexandra Colen MP (Belgium); Proinsias De Rossa MEP (PES-IRL); Mariame Hélie Lucas, Women Living Under Muslim Laws (Algeria); Sophie in’t Veld MEP (ALDE-NL); Miguel Angel Martínez (PES-ES); Tarik Mira, Rassemblement pour la Culture et la Démocratie (Algeria); W. David Myers, Associate Professor of History at Fordham University (US); Jon O’Brien, President, Catholics for Choice; Keith Porteous Wood, National Secular Society (UK); Åsa Regnér, RFSU—Swedish Association for Sexuality Education; and Hubert Tournès, European Network Church on the Move (France).

In addition to the MEP speakers, co-sponsors of the forum include: Jean-Marie Cavada (ALDE-FR), Véronique De Keyser (PES-BE), Andrew Duff (ALDE-UK), Claire Gibault (ALDE-FR), Magda Kósáné Kovács (PES-HU), Jean Lambert (GREEN-UK), Baroness Sarah Ludford (ALDE-UK), Karin Resetarits (ALDE-AT), Eva-Britt Svensson (GUE/NGL-SE) and Anne Van Lancker (PES-BE).

The forum is hosted by Catholics for Choice and the All-Party Working Group on the Separation of Religion and Politics.

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Catholics for Choice shapes and advances sexual and reproductive ethics that are based on justice, reflect a commitment to women's well-being and respect and affirm the capacity of women and men to make moral decisions about their lives.