THE Geneva-based Conference of European Churches (CEC) has urged the European Union to ensure that religious freedom is fully restored in the wake of the pandemic, and to begin reinforcing it more assertively around the world.
“Freedom of religion or belief needs to be promoted and protected in our European societies — we encourage the EU presidency to look at EU initiatives through this lens,” CEC said in a joint statement with the Commission of the Bishops’ Conferences of the European Union (COMECE).
“Reopening policies should take into account the situation and needs of churches, both as actors that can facilitate recovery through their social actions and as actors in need of recovery support.”
The 11-page statement was published for an online meeting with the EU Council’s new Slovenian presidency, in office since 1 July, under Article 17 of the 2007 Lisbon Treaty, which foresees an “open, transparent and regular dialogue” with churches.
Religious freedom remained, it said, “a matter for national authorities” in the 27 member-states, but was also affected by EU policies, which should now focus on “re-expanding freedom of worship to pre-pandemic standards”.
“Being present at all levels of European societies — from grassroots, local and regional, to national, European and global — churches have a lot to offer and value to add to the discussion about the future of Europe,” the CEC, which groups 114 Anglican, Orthodox, and Protestant denominations, said.
European church leaders have spoken out against permanent limits on religious freedom, protected under EU conventions, in the wake of forced church closures, and in view of fears that new laws in Denmark, France, and Spain could permanently restrict church activities.
The CEC statement said that Christian ideals should contribute to a “more peaceful, prosperous, socially just, inclusive and sustainable” EU, which maintained “strategic autonomy, security and stability” in its own area, while avoiding isolationism and protectionism.
It went on to say that 380 million EU citizens belonged to churches, which should also be actively involved, as “specific and distinct stakeholders”, in the EU’s Conference on the Future of Europe, which opened in May.
A “resilient and healthy Europe” after Covid should show greater concern for mental health, poverty reduction, work-life balance, inclusive education, youth participation, and “hidden vulnerabilities” in EU societies, as well as ensure a just distribution of vaccines, the statement says.
“The Union needs to pay particular attention to protecting and promoting freedom of religion or belief in the world — not only as a human right, but also as a strategic dimension of democratic freedom, conflict prevention, social peace, justice and reconciliation.
“We are committed to dialogue and to ensuring that the respect for human dignity, democracy, solidarity, freedom, equality and the rule of law are at the forefront of EU actions and policies both in the Union and on the global stage.”