Religious Freedom Resolution Passes Council of Europe

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The Council of Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly passed a ground-breaking resolution that recognizes the right of religious and conscience rights in the public arena. 

According to the National Catholic Register, the resolution says that “The Assembly therefore calls on member States to … accommodate religious beliefs in the public sphere by guaranteeing freedom of thought in relation to health care, education and the civil service.” 

The resolution passed by a vote of 148-3, with seven abstentions.

Supporters of religious and conscience rights hail the resolution as “an important step.” Gregor Puppinck, general director of the European Centre for Law and Justice said that the resolution is  “… is the first time that … a source of law, saying that there is a right to conscientious objection and freedom of conscience in all ‘morally sensitive matters.” He said that the resolution applies to the fundamental right of parents to educate their children.

I do not understand the the workings of the European Union and the Council of Europe. For instance, I don’t know if this resolution carries the force of law, or is just a statement of intent.

However, since supporters say it is the first legislative recognition of the right to conscience at this level, it is, at the least, an important first step.

From the Catholic Register:

STRASBOURG, France — A resolution passed by the Council of Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly is being lauded as an important — although limited — recognition of religious and conscience rights in the public sphere.

“The important step with this resolution is the mention of the right to conscientious objection and the enlargement of its scope of application,” Grégor Puppinck, general director of the European Centre for Law and Justice, told CNA April 29.

“It is the first time that I see a document, a source of law, saying there is a right to conscientious objection and freedom of conscience in all ‘morally sensitive matters,’” he said, which means it applies to the fundamental right of parents to educate their children.

Resolution 1928, passed by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe on April 24, says, “The Assembly therefore calls on member States to … accommodate religious beliefs in the public sphere by guaranteeing freedom of thought in relation to health care, education and the civil service.”

However, this accommodation is “provided that the rights of others to be free from discrimination are respected and that the access to lawful services is guaranteed.” This has made some critics wary that rights of religious freedom will be viewed as inferior and secondary to abortion and “gay rights.” (Read the rest here.)

  • Bill S

    “provided that the rights of others to be free from discrimination are respected and that the access to lawful services is guaranteed.”

    Guaranteed by whom? Presumably not by those who object. I see this as encouragement for EC countries to amend their laws and policies accordingly but not in itself enforceable.

  • FW Ken

    And our First Amendment says much the thing. The proof lies in what bureaucrats and judges do with it. O! And HHS secretaries.

    In the meantime, here are the thoughts of a lawyer consulting with the Pentagon on issues of religious freedom in the military:

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/mobileweb/michael-l-weinstein/fundamentalist-christian-_b_3072651.html?utm_source=StandFirm&utm_medium=post&utm_campaign=link

  • http://fpb.livejournal.com/ Fabio P.Barbieri

    The Council of Europe is a wholly different body from the EU. It was set up after the Second World War to defend human rights across the continent and includes almost every independent country in Europe. For a long time it counted for nothing – as one would expect, given that the USSR was part of it – but with the passing of time its importance has grown. Its main practical power is that it sets up the European Court of Human Rights – which also has nothing to do with the EU. The ECHR has done mostly good, but its record on religious freedom and conscientious objection is slightly mixed, and this resolution will certainly go to strengthen it. While it leaves some grounds to make exceptions, it strkes down large areas of law that countries had used in the past. And the court has real teeth: countries don’t like to be referred to it and to be condemned, because the treaty setting it up has itself the force of law.

    • Rebecca Hamilton

      Thank you Fabio. This is helpful to those of us who don’t understand these things.

  • http://reluctantliberal.wordpress.com Reluctant Liberal

    This legislation doesn’t have anything to do with the debate over conscience rights in the United States as far as I can tell. Since European countries don’t have a completely ridiculous health care system (at least in this respect), employers don’t get any say in their employee’s healthcare, so the issue of what services have to be provided doesn’t come up.

    On a related note, I’ve never gotten a good response to the question: Is it your position that a Muslim or Mormon employer could deny their employee’s coverage for a blood transfusion? If not, how is that different from employers denying their employees coverage for birth control? I’m genuinely curious to know your position on this.

    • Dale

      ReluctantLiberal, I think your question regarding insurance coverage of blood transfusions points toward larger question which has ignored in the debate over the contraception mandate. That question would be: what is necessary health care?

      Proponents of the mandate view contraception as basic health care for women. Opponents of the mandate consider contraception to be an elective lifestyle choice. I don’t think anyone, not even Jehovah Witnesses, denies the lifesaving role of blood transfusions (the official belief, if I understand correctly, is that dying is better than receiving blood.)

      I wonder if the debate over the mandate would benefit from an exploration of why some consider contraception coverage to be a medical necessity?

  • FW Ken

    I’m not Rebecca, but will offer this:

    Do European countries pay for abortions, contraception, and sterilization? I’ve been told that Canada does not, which leads to the question as to why the United States government is obsessed with it.

    Do people not understand that if the federal government can do this to the Catholic Church over contraception (including abortion inducing drugs), they can do anything to anybody?

    Blood transfusions save lives in most cases. Abortions rarely do. In fact, you could argue that more women die from abortions than would die if no abortions were available. And that’s not counting the dead babies. Moreover, is the JW objection to blood transfusions like the Christian objection to abortion? That would be an interesting to research.

  • Dale

    Ken, it seems Canada’s health care plan does pay for abortion, although there are some differences in coverage depending upon the province.

    “Abortions in Canada are funded by provincial health care programs, and a medical reason for obtaining an abortion is no longer required in Canada, except in Prince Edward Island, since the 1988 changes of
    the Criminal Code by the Supreme Court.

    Though these changes have undoubtedly improved access and availability of abortions for women
    nationwide, drastic inconsistencies exist from province to province. Indeed, in some provinces, the cost of the abortions are covered by Medicare whether the abortions are performed in clinics or in hospitals; in other provinces, women who cannot obtain an abortion at a hospital, must pay the costs of a clinic abortion
    out of their own pockets.
    http://www.med.uottawa.ca/historyofmedicine/hetenyi/Access_abortion_Canada_Shannon_Hargreaves.pdf

    As for contraception, it seems the Canadian Medical Association has advocated that the government pay for it, so it seems to be an issue there as well as in the US.
    http://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/story/2012/08/16/north-birth-control-coverage.html

  • FW Ken

    Dale,

    Thanks for the info. A Canadian on another site said they didn’t have the coverage the HHS is imposing. Maybe he was referring to contraception.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Fabio-Paolo-Barbieri/1326821465 Fabio Paolo Barbieri

    It is enforceable in the European Court of Human Rights. This court is the ultimate court of appeal in matters of human rights for all the signataries to the European Convention establishing the Council of Europe, and its sentences are as binding as, say, those of the US Supreme Court. The defendants are always states, so far as I know, and a state that is condemned by the ECHR has no choice in law but to change its ways and if necessary alter its laws, because court judgments may be enforced as laws by lower courts. Plus, America does not have the system of Administrative Justice that prevails in Code Napoleon countries, which have systems of Administrative Courts judging in conflicts between State and citizen (or private body). These are a much stronger guardian against excesses of state powers than the ordinary courts which judge such matters in Britain and America, and refer to a much more stable jurisprudence. No European administrative court would have passed such a judicial absurdity as Kelso vs New London. (My mother, until her recent retirement, worked as a clerk in the Council of State, Italy’s supreme administrative court, so I know a bit about it.)

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Fabio-Paolo-Barbieri/1326821465 Fabio Paolo Barbieri

    One example I can remember of the positive influence of the ECHR. A few years ago, the Swedish justice (or “justice”) system went berserk at the expense of a certain Pastor Ake Green, who had been guilty of preaching a sermon in which Christian teachings to do with homosexual practice were mentioned. The Pastor appealed all the way to Sweden’s highest court, and the learned judges handed down one of the funniest, most frustrated sentences it has ever been my pleasure to read – practically saying that much though they would love to support the sentence of penal servitude against this monster who had blasphemed against holy homosexuality, there could be no doubt that if the cause went to the European Court of Human Rights, they would find for the defendant. So… ->snarl<-… let the so-and-so go.


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