Opening the summit, ACRE Chief Executive, Richard Milsom, spoke of the importance to break the barriers of party politics with such an important issue. “Religious faith is too important and too wide reaching a topic to be tarnished unduly by politics.” Indeed, the Summit speakers are mostly representatives of international organizations, experts, academics, and representatives of civil society.
Milsom spoke of the importance of protecting religious freedom and said that “While [in the EU] these protections are codified, we have unfortunately not realized them in practice yet. Today we, as policymakers and actors seek to remind the EU of standards professed and push to put those ideals more fully into practice.”
Keynote speaker Jan Figel, the EU’s Special Envoy for the promotion of freedom of religion or belief outside the European Union, spoke of the progress that the European Union has made and the resources put in place to fight intolerance but highlighted the very harsh reality around the globe and in the European Union when it comes to intolerance. Freedom of religion “speaks about human dignity, freedom of conscience,” Figel said. “Freedom of Religion … is a litmus test for all human rights,” he continued, explaining that if there is freedom of religion in society, then there is also rule of law and accountability. Speaking of the EU and neighbourhood, Figel sounded the alarm “… National interests are used against some religious communities. For example, we see it in Turkey … also in Russia.”
Looking internally, Figel explained that “We see different phobias in the European Union; Islamophobia, antisemitism. … the best investment against all phobias is education, civic engagement, and courage.” Figel also spoke of the necessity for the European Union to look hard at what is going on in its own member states before exporting ideals. “We can give outside, only what we have inside. For the sake of external credibility, we need to show the same internal and external policy,” Figel said.
ACRE President, Jan Zahradil, writing about the ethos of the summit, stated that, “We need to uphold and defend the freedom of conscience and religion of all individuals by rejecting and speaking out against bigotry, discrimination, harassment, and violence.”
The Summit is touted as a “non-partisan summit, which brings together leaders from the various fields of politics, government, academia, activism and the non-for-profit sector from across Europe and beyond, in order to propose and develop initiatives that will put Freedom of Religion or Belief in Europe back in the spotlights.”
Other speakers in the summit include:
Congressman Bob McEwen, Former Member, American Delegation to the European Parliament
Amjad Bashir MEP, Member of the Foreign Affairs Committee, European Parliament
Ahmed Shaheed, Special Rapporteur on human rights to UN Human Rights Council
Bashy Quraishy, Secretary General of EMISCO
Sam Brownback, U.S. Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom