By Andrea Gagliarducci
Despite European Union guidelines and the work of a special envoy for religious freedom and belief, the state of religious freedom inside and outside of Europe at times seems to be worsening, not improving.
The commentator Martin Kugler has said there is a need for a cultural shift.
According to Kugler, who is president of the Vienna-based Observatory
on Religious Intolerance and Discrimination against Christians, a
cultural shift is needed to correct false assumptions about persecution
There is an assumption that “Christians have always been perpetrators
and never victims.” This belief seems to be “a dogma that prevents our
elites from acknowledging the dramatic increase of both persecution
against Christians outside Europe and hate crimes like vandalism against
Churches in European countries.”
That means that “as long we do not address this anti-Christian
narrative, secularist lobbying plays an easy game to marginalize
Christian actors and religious impact in public (life),” he said.
There are worrisome hints that religious freedom is at risk on the continent.
Europe has experienced a surge of terrorist attacks with religious
motivation in Europe, but also an increase in ultra-nationalism, which
chooses a single religion as part of the national heritage and
persecutes all the other minorities, Aid to the Church In Need said in
its 2018 report on global religious freedom.
Since 2015, the France-based Observatoire de la Christianophobie has
monitored incidents of religious intolerance in France. Its recent
reports show that in February alone, France witnessed 47 serious acts
against religious buildings. Of these, 15 were vandalism, 15 were
robberies, ten were acts of desecration, and there was one arson.
The situation is also difficult in Germany, according to recent
reports of the Observatory on Religious Intolerance and Discrimination
against Christians. In June, the Observatory reported, there were 30
attacks against churches in Germany, both Lutheran and Catholic.
Kugler said that concerning religious freedom in Europe, the main
challenge is “a strong anti-Christian bias among the cultural and
“This phenomenon consists of strong personal prejudices and an
understandable fear among journalists and politicians not to present
oneself as to ‘sympathize’ with the Church by defending freedom of
expression or conscientious objection.”
From a global perspective, the situation of religious freedom is not
encouraging. On June 21, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo released
the 2018 Annual Report on Religious Freedom. The report stressed that
religious persecution is globally on the rise. Eighty percent of the
world population suffers from restrictions on religious freedom.
Aid to the Church in Need’s 2018 report on global religious freedom
considered the time period from June 2016 to June 2018. It listed 38
countries that suffer “grave and extreme violations of religious
freedom.” Of these 38 countries, the report emphasized, 21 states are
“places of persecution.” These are Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia,
Bangladesh, Myanmar, China, North Korea, Eritrea, India, Indonesia,
Iraq, Libya, Niger, Nigeria, Pakistan, Palestine, Syria, Somalia, Sudan,
Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Yemen.
In 2016 the European Union announced the creation of the position of
the Special Envoy for the Promotion of Freedom of Religion or Belief
outside the EU.
Jan Figel was appointed the first special envoy for this role. During
his time in office, he gave substantial help to secure the release of
some persecuted persons, like Czech missionary Petr Jašek and his two
collaborators in Sudan, as well as the Sudanese human rights defender
Ibrahim Mudawi Adam.
The special envoy’s office worked behind the scenes to bring Asia
Bibi out of Pakistan. Bibi is the Pakistani Christian woman who was
sentenced to death for blasphemy. Acquitted after eight years of
imprisonment, her life was still in danger and she was forced to leave
her home country.
Figel told CNA that “religious freedom and religious, social
responsibility are much more on the agenda now than any time before and
religious freedom is repeatedly integrated into the European Development
He has also supported the work of the European Academy of Religion, established in December 2016 in Bologna.
Among signs of progress, Figel includes the “Declaration on Human
Dignity for Everyone Everywhere”. For him, this is a very timely
contribution of scholars and international experts to promote “the
universality of human rights stemming from the dignity of each person”
as the foundational principle, defined in the Universal Declaration of
Robert Clarke, director of European Advocacy for ADF International,
was critical of the EU’s approach and its monitoring of its own work on
freedom of religion and belief.
“Despite the EU’s commitment to evaluating progress in implementing
the Guidelines three years after the adoption, we see that six years
have passed and no such report has been released,” Clarke told CNA.
He called on the EU to act “transparently and with integrity” in its
commitments to religious freedom. The EU should also strengthen the
position of its special envoy, he said.
A January 2019 report of the European Parliament noted that there has
been no public report about the implementation of the EU Guidelines on
Freedom of Religion or Belief. It urged that such evaluation should be
made public “without delay,” and with required progress reports.
ADF International has cited a 2018 report from a European Parliament
Intergroup on religion and belief which concluded that the EU “could do
much more to protect religious freedom.”
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