Collective list of questions for the public hearing by the German Parliament’s Commission for Human Rights and Humanitarian Aid on October 27, 2010 on the topic of “Freedom of Religion and European Identity” Prof. Dr. phil. Dr. theol. Thomas Schirrmacher, October 22, 2010 (corrected on November 29, 2010) 1) Is the right to religious freedom as it relates to the individual an identifying concept for Europe? How in practice could life be breathed into such a concept? The right to religious freedom is very suitable as an identifying concept for Europe. This is not just the case because it applies to Europe, for what we are dealing with is a universal human right. It is also not the case just because these rights are, on average, better achieved in Europe (see below in this connection). Rather, it is above all due to the fact that the fundamental values that hold Europe together were essentially achieved in the face of what used to be the lack of religious freedom and its devastating consequences. That every person may have his own religion or worldview, and may choose and change it, indeed openly and not secretly, and that such is neither prescribed by the state nor imposed by other societal forces counts as one of the central prerequisites of being free. In the process it should be clearly stated that the German Religions- und Glaubensfreiheit (see question 2) refers to the English wording “freedom of religion and belief,” and that ‘belief’ generally means worldviews as well as non-religious convictions, which with the German word Glauben is not expressed quite so unambiguously. If in what follows I render the English “freedom of religion or belief” as in the questions with a shortened “religious freedom,” what is meant is not solely the freedom of religious individuals, but rather the freedom of people with other worldview systems or of atheists or non-religious people as well. In the notable decision of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) dated May 25, 1993, one reads: “freedom of thought, conscience and religion is one of the foundations of a democratic society” and indeed for religious people as well as for “atheists, agnostics, and skeptics.” It should be briefly pointed out that international studies conducted independently of one another have demonstrated that in most cases the level of protection of human rights, democratic institutions, and religious freedom are approximately equally high (for instance Marshall, p. 8, for 87 of the 101 freest countries). Additionally, Brian J. Grim and Roger Finke statistically demonstrate in a study released in December 2010 that religious freedom contributes to the peace of a society and likewise to its democratization. They doubt the arguments made by states that restrictions on religious minorities or the protection of a majority religion can be justified because that is the only way to maintain social peace. They achieve precisely the opposite result. And when they exclude these minorities, they miss what is globally a relatively large contribution that religious minorities have made everywhere to commerce, culture, and science.1 2) What is the significance of freedom of religion or belief within the European canon of values, and how can this human right bring about a European identity which stands open to all European citizens – independent of the belief convictions they hold? Freedom of religion has historically and actually been of real significance for European identity. There plain and simply would not be the Europe of today if there were no religious freedom. This, however, is an observation measured by the mood of the general population for the larger portion of countries in the Council of Europe. For certain countries it is unfortunately more of an outstanding requirement. A modern democracy without religious freedom is not conceivable. Religious freedom is, namely, profoundly tied to other fundamental rights such as the freedom of conscience, the freedom of opinion, the freedom to assemble, and the freedom of the press. On the other hand, a secular democratic constitutional state which presupposes the separation of ‘church’ and state can only be tied to religious freedom. Failing this, the state either has to be a missionary atheistic state which suppresses religion (e.g., the former Soviet Union), or a religious state in which either the religious dignitaries of a religion possess the power (e.g., Iran), or a state which itself prescribes the religion (e.g., Saudi Arabia or Sri Lanka), or alternatively a state where the national religion is made useful for its own purposes and thus so promoted, although the religious institutions themselves are not granted any freedom by the state (e.g., Turkey or Serbia).
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