A truly tolerant society is one where Christians can live in peace
Gudrun Kugler is a young woman and mother who is well known in European institutions. A Catholic theologian and lawyer born in Austria, for three years she led the World Youth Alliance – Europe, which represents more than one million young people from a hundred countries before the European Union and the UN.
After a brief stint in politics, she is currently a member of the Observatory for Intolerance and Discrimination against Christians in Europe, and as such participated in the 2010 summit on intolerance against Christians hosted by the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe.
The Observatory recently released a report that documented 67 anti-Christian hate crimes in Europe in the last twelve months. It also produced a study documenting the legal restrictions impacting Christians in the EU nations today. (The report is available here.)
Aleteia conducted an exclusive interview with Ms. Kugler, in which she discusses the Observatory’s report, as well as the state of Christians’ religious freedom in Europe.
The report speaks of limitations on conscientious objection, but in what fields, specifically? Are we talking only about bioethical issues – abortion, etc. – or are there other areas in which such limitations are taking place?
Society already has a commitment to respect conscientious objection. Although certain procedures may be legal, many are not comfortable with them; many say that they cannot participate in them. An ideological society tries to eradicate objection through repression. Only the brave go forward. This is the process in which we currently find ourselves in various European countries.
It is not just a matter of medical procedures, although this field is the most striking one. Think about abortion: it is not only the doctor who is involved, but also the anesthesiologists, nurses, administrators, etc. Where euthanasia has been legalized, the problem increases. But it also affects pharmacists, who in many countries are forced to sell the morning-after pill, which has an abortifacient effect. It is strange how my own Austrian acquaintances react: “Yes, we have to sell it. We are very sad, but we cannot do anything. It’s the law.” I disagree. I think we should call for civil disobedience.
Another area is that of the civil registry officials. With the legalization of homosexual unions, officials are forced to preside over these ceremonies. A tolerant society should seek a reasonable accommodation – a way to make life agreeable to everyone. But the prevalent ideology in Europe says no: “Although your colleague at the next table would not mind performing the ceremony for you, we want it to be YOU who does it. There is no other option.”
But that's not all: the self-proclaimed equal treatment legislation that requires employers not to “discriminate” based on religion or sexual orientation forces small businesses to go to trial and close. Think of the Bed-and-Breakfasts that do not want to give a double room to a gay couple, or the owner of a restaurant that does not want to rent it out for a gay party (or a Muslim congress). Think of a public relations firm that refuses to campaign on behalf of a Buddhist temple in the city, etc. I think Europe must find its way back to freedom.
Tell us about violations of the right to freedom of association and assembly in Spain. Can you explain what kind of limitations exist in this regard?
We have detected 41 problematic laws in several European countries as we worked with lawyers in each country. The Spanish law governing the National Associations Registry is formulated in a very problematic way, whereby the government refuses support to organizations that allegedly discriminate. Depending on the political convictions of the local, regional, or national governments, this stipulation is potentially very dangerous for Christian associations. In England, public funding was withdrawn from a nursing home because they were not willing to distribute LGBT literature.
In Spain, Royal Decree 1497/2003 establishes the law governing the National Associations Registry. This Registry is supervised by the Spanish Interior Ministry, and it includes national associations and those listed in the records of the Autonomous Communities. Organic Law 1/2002 implements the fundamental right of association, enshrined in Article 22 of the Constitution. Article 2.5 of the Law specifies that “the internal organization and operation of associations should be democratic, with full respect for pluralism.” Article 4.2 states that “the Administration may take preventive or suspensive measures to interfere in the internal life of associations.” However, in Article 4.5, the law states that “public authorities will provide no support to associations if their admission process or operations discriminate on grounds of birth, race, sex, religion, or any other condition or personal or social circumstance.”
Is Europe moving towards greater discrimination against Christians? Are there any objective data to analyze future trends?
Unfortunately, there are no comparative statistics yet. We urgently recommend European countries to provide these data. But we realize that attention has grown; in the European Parliament, there have already been two meetings on this issue. A resolution was also discussed in the Council of Europe. The OSCE has devoted an entire session on how to combat intolerance and discrimination against Christians in the OSCE area, which includes the whole of Europe. They are all worried about a problem that was totally denied just a few years ago.
Ideas trickle down from the universities, the intellectuals, and the think tanks, and slowly become public opinion. It takes years. Most people are still not aware of the problem in many European countries. Even Christians, who have experienced it negatively, are not fully aware of it. But the think tanks have realized it, and so have international institutions. This is already a big step forward, and the first one toward an effective remedy.
We are at a crucial moment. If many Christians remain silent and timid as they have been until now, we face a worsening situation. But I have the feeling that the straw that broke the camel’s back has come for many, and that if they speak out and mobilize, and if Christians return to politics in a committed way, we can turn the tide .
You explain very clearly that there is discrimination against Christians who want to be consistent with their faith. Is there also similar discrimination against members of other religions? That is to say, are religious beliefs in general punished, or is Christianity targeted in particular?
Both phenomena exist. In Europe, there is a general distrust of religion. Secularism tells us faith is for the weak, that faith has nothing to do with reason and that it should only be practiced in private. A faith-inspired opinion should not be allowed in the public square. This applies to all religions, but people in general are more respectful and more fearful about saying this openly against Muslims or Jews.
But there is a specific hostility against Christianity. People think they know what they are talking about. It is chic and trendy to be critical of the traditions of their own grandparents – how brave, how advanced! It’s like a pendulum: before, Christianity enjoyed great influence, but now those who criticize the faith are wrongly perceived to be brave. It’s like an adolescent reaction in intellectuals and artists, and many people buy into it and dive into that atmosphere as if it were a fad.
In addition, there are strong lobbies that oppose Christian beliefs. They try to help their cause by making “Christian opinion” impossible or ridiculous. And these groups do not hesitate to defend intolerant laws that prohibit these other opinions in the public square, such as the laws on incitement to hatred or equality legislation.
(Editor’s note: There is a worthwhile study by the Observatory that shows how European laws on “hate speech” are being used by certain lobbies to suppress freedom of expression.)
The European Parliament is issuing many directives in favor of gay marriage, abortion as a right, etc. that collide head-on with many Christian beliefs, but of which most citizens may are not aware. Is Europe conditioning EU countries’ laws on sensitive topics? Is the European Union engaging in social engineering behind citizens’ backs?
Political institutions are only good if the people that manage them are good. Unfortunately, an entire generation of leaders is pushing an agenda that is problematic for Christians. But it’s not their fault in the first place – it is the fault of their parents, schools, pastors, and priests. European institutions have an additional problem: they are far removed from the concerns of the people. There is no public square in which Europeans can discuss what is happening, and this is partly because of the different languages and cultures involved. The lack of public discussion opens the door to a form of ideological politics that citizens cannot stop.
The biggest problem I currently witness in Brussels is the legislation on equal treatment, which is very dangerous. The European Union has a fifth directive on equal treatment in the hopes that it would – when adopted – force private businesses not to make differences between gay and straight clients, or customers of different faiths.
At face value, it sounds good. But think of a Christian travel agency, or a publisher who is not happy to have to print a gay magazine, as recently happened in Northern Ireland. Think of Catholic online dating, etc. Honest businesses that pay their taxes will be forced to close in the name of equality. And the more one speaks of equal treatment, the more people feel discriminated against. The phrase you quote recalls a recent European statistic stating that out of all Europeans, Swedes are the ones who report the most discriminatory incidents, and the Turks are the ones who report the fewest. Funny, isn’t it? I hope Spain declines to vote for this legislation.
What assessment does Spain deserve as regards the legal restrictions against Christians, in the list of the countries studied?
Sadly, Spain is near the top of the list of intolerances against Christians, due in part to the previous socialist government. By this, I refer to the “Education for Citizenship” for children – which, thank God, is in the process of improvement. I refer to strict “anti-discrimination” legislation. Conscientious objection to abortion is not enough to protect Christians.
But there is also another dimension: the Spanish have strong and combative personalities, and there is a great divide between those who promote Christian values and those who oppose them. There are many more cases of violence against Christians committed by radical leftists in Spain than in other countries. There is also much blasphemous art that that is insulting to Christians, and while we do not want artistic censorship, we do ask for mutual understanding and respect.
Do you think it might be useful to fight for a directive that would condemn Christianophobia in the EU?
Yes; we believe the first step toward a remedy is to realize what is happening. Once those who govern understand that when when they draft a law, they must take into account its impact on Christians and religious freedom as such, certain laws will not be approved. The right policies can improve the situation if there is political will. The OSCE adopted a very useful resolution in 2011 that presents the problem and gives clear indications of how to face it. The Council of Europe is currently working on a similar one. It would be great if the European Parliament would also adopt it.