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Secular Values for Europe: The Brussels Declaration on Dignity, Equality and Freedom

February 27, 2007

Catholics and Secularists Join Together to Argue for the Importance of State Neutrality in Matters of Religion in the Construction of the European Constitution

BRUSSELS, BELGIUM—In an unprecedented alliance, Catholics and secularists have launched a joint initiative advocating for the importance of upholding secular values as the European Union re-embarks on the constitution-writing process. The changing demographics of Europe mean that state neutrality with respect to religion is of ever-greater importance in building a healthy, successful future for the European Union and the continent.

In recognition of the sensitive issues that will accompany the drafting of the European Constitution, Members of the European Parliament, Catholics for a Free Choice, the International Humanist and Ethical Union, the European Humanist Federation and the European Parliament Working Group on Religion and Politics, today launched the Brussels Declaration at a reception in the European Parliament.

Speaking at the reception, Catholics for a Free Choice European Representative Elfriede Harth called on “people of faith, and especially Catholics, to stand up for inclusive values and insure that in the critical coming months the constitution is not hijacked by those who seek to impose unrepresentative religious values on others.” She noted that “the process at the European parliament can seem distant from many people but it is here that we need to make sure our true values are represented. Too often, we have seen intolerance and injustice in the sometimes bloody history of Europe. Now is a perfect opportunity to help ensure that the values we all share—both secularists and people of faith—survive and thrive as the very cornerstone of our approach to the new constitution.”

Jon O’Brien, the president-elect of CFFC, said, “It is great to be part of this unique collaboration between Catholics and secularists to create a declaration for the values we all stand for and against the oppressive expression of religious beliefs in public policy. In the coming months, we will work in partnership with all people of goodwill throughout Europe to foster constructive discussion and awareness of the Brussels Declaration, especially at a grassroots level, so that the people of Europe make sure inclusive values are in the Constitution.”

Roy Brown, a coordinator of the Committee for a Vision for Europe and former president of the International Humanist and Ethical Union, said, “The time has come to reaffirm our common values. They are not the values of a single tradition or culture, they are the core values of modern European civilisation, shared by all.”

The Brussels Declaration is designed to preempt the Berlin Declaration, which will be issued by German Chancellor Angela Merkel to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the founding of the EU. While the exact contents of the Berlin Declaration are yet to be finalized, EU Commission chief Jose Manuel Barroso and Chancellor Merkel have stated their intention to devote a section of the Berlin Declaration to the issue of promoting European values in the world. Without a means to participate in negotiations over how those values will be expressed, the Brussels Declaration acts as an important instrument for registering civil society opinion as to how those values should be articulated.

The Brussels Declaration promotes the unifying principles that strengthen today’s European Union while recognizing that these principles derive from numerous cultures and traditions. The principles included are support for democracy, human rights, rule of law, the fundamental equality of all persons, personal liberty, social responsibility, tolerance, freedom of expression, inquiry and faith or beliefs, and state neutrality in matters of religion.

Catholics for a Free Choice believes that there is a place in public policy for religious views, but that we should be careful not to make them a deciding factor, nor permit them to hold sway over other non-religious views. Including religion in the constitution would do just that, granting them a privileged place in the hierarchy of ideas. Given the justifiable concerns that many have about doing that, the members of the European Union would be well advised to reject the wishes of a vocal few, and instead allow religious ideas to battle it out with all the other ideas in the marketplace of ideas that is a democracy.

The initial signers of the Declaration include more than 50 MEPs and hundreds of other prominent Europeans politicians, community leaders and academics from 26 European states. Endorsing organizations will be campaigning for further support in the coming months using the declaration and publicizing it in forums throughout Europe.
The Brussels Declaration is available in the following languages: English, French, German, Swedish, Dutch, Spanish, Hungarian and Italian, with Polish, Romanian and Greek to follow shortly. It can be downloaded here.

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