More resources

EU constitution Articles I-51

IBKA demands philosophical and religious neutrality of states and their institutions, and warns of continuance of discriminations and of violations of Human Rights by churches and church institutions.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

the Internationaler Bund der Konfessionslosen und Atheisten (International League of of Non-Religious and Atheists) is deeply concerned that article I-51 - if it will be part of the EU constitution, as it is suggested in the draft - might lead to continuance and increase of existing abuses in countries of the EU: to violations of individual Human Rights and to violations of principles which are derived from the Human Rights: the principle of non-discrimination and the principle of philosophical and religious neutrality of states and their institutions.

Article I-51 paragraph 3 even gives the impression that violations of philosophical and religious neutrality are meant to be implemented on the level of the EU too. This special article is unnecessary if the dialogue with churches and religious and philosophical organisations is meant to be maintained only in the degree which is provided by article I-46 paragraph 2. But thus the impression is arisen that churches and religious and philosophical organisations are meant to be privileged in comparison with other NGOs, privileged by an especially intense dialogue and thereby by special possibilities of exerting influence. These are privileges without any justification.

Usually the members of those organisations are concerned by decisions of the EU in just the same degree as any other EU citizens, and not in a higher degree. As far as expertise is wanted, there is no reason to think that churches and religious and philosophical organisations should be supposed to have more expertise about many different questions than other organisations that concentrate upon particular fields. Especially there is no reason that the hierarchical and not very democratic institutions of churches and religious and philosophical organisations should be supposed to have more expertise about ethics. Some of them haven't even reached the ethical level of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights 1948; for instance the most important churches in Germany opposed a law of antidiscrimination which would have forbidden discriminations on the basis of religion.

As far as the social importance of an organisation is seen as a reason for a dialogue, this can hold for religious and philosophical organisations as well as for any other NGO. Article I-46 is sufficient. Is Article I-51 paragraph 3 supposed to mean that the dwindling social importance of the churches is meant to be compensated by an increase of privileged possibilities of exerting influence? Such a privilege would violate the imperative philosophical and religious neutrality.

The fact that philosophical organisations participate in such a privilege is not sufficient for restoring this neutrality. It is also necessary that persons are not discriminated if they are no members of any religious or philosophical organisation, or if they put most of their activities into organisations in which persons of different philosophical conceptions are pursuing common goals. These persons must have equal chances of participation in processes of decision-making - so philosophically neutral organisations must have equal chances of participation in processes of decision-making.

Philosophical and religious neutrality, Human Rights and non-discrimination must hold anywhere, not only on the level of the EU: They must be enforced in the EU's member states too. For that, it is not absolutely necessary to have common regulations concerning churches and religious and philosophical organisations. But the EU must have the possibility to check the regulations of its member states and, as far as necessary, to instruct its member states to modify their regulations in order to bring them into accord with Human Rights, with the principle of non-discrimination and with philosophical and religious neutrality.

IBKA is concerned that the enforcement of these goals might be seriously prejudiced if "the status under national law of churches and religious associations or communities in the Member States" gets fixed in Article I-51 paragraph 1 of the EU constitution.

In some member states of the EU modifications are really necessary; Germany is one of them. Here there are judicial privileges that should be checked: among others the possibility to get the status of a "Körperschaft des öffentlichen Rechts", if some conditions are fulfilled, and then to make the tax offices of the state collect the organisation's membership fees, called "church taxes". There are also some financial privileges of Churches in Germany which should be checked - there are even payments of the salaries of some bishops out of common taxes, that is, out of the taxes of atheists, muslims and jews too.

An especially questionable aspect of the status of churches in Germany is their so-called "Right to self-determination". It is often interpreted in a way that churches and their social institutions are said to have a right to violate important individual Human Rights, such as the right to work and to free choice of employment, the right to freedom of religion and the right to marry and to found a family. So recently a German court decided that it was legal that a ward sister in charge in a protestant hospital was sacked just because she had left the catholic church. Although she had always done her work to the satisfaction of her employer, and although she is severely disabled. Employees of ecclesiastical or religious social institutions must reckon on similar measures if they do not submit their private life to the ideas of the church in question: for instance, if they marry a divorced partner, of if they marry after a divorce of their own, or if they begin a registrated partnership with a partner of their own sex. So many people feel forced to conceal their belief or their partnership. This is humiliating.

We ask you cordially: Please give your support that such discriminations shall not be fixed in the EU constitution for a long time. That Human Rights and human dignity shall be respected in every state of the EU. Please give your support that article I-51 shall removed from the draft text of the EU constitution.

Yours sincerely

Rudolf Ladwig (IBKA, second chairman)