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EU Constitution Must Protect Human Rights!

For philosophical and religious neutrality of states and their institutions - against any reference to God and against article I-51: IBKA warns about continued discriminations and violations of Human Rights by churches and church institutions.

Dear Sir or Madam, the "Internationaler Bund der Konfessionslosen und Atheisten" (International League of Non-Religious and Atheists) is deeply concerned about attempts to adapt the EU's constitution to the interests of churches and religious communities and to jeopardize the philosophical and religious neutrality in the EU.

1. No reference to God!

IBKA finds it quite disconcerting that again and again one calls for a reference to God in the EU constitution. This should not be a time in which political power would be founded on religion! Modern states and supranational communities do not need any religious foundation. Their foundation is the will of the people, and the foundation of their values is the will of the people that these values should be respected. Modern states and supranational communities should not look for a religious foundation, because that would be incompatible with their philosophical and religious neutrality. IBKA agrees with the Chairman of the European Convention, Mr. Valéry Giscard d'Estaing, who said that a reference to God in the EU constitution would not be appropriate.

There are problems not only in blatant violations of philosophical and religious neutrality, as one can find them in the German Basic Law and in the constitutions of some German Länder (i.e. German federal states): "responsibility before God" and "reverence for God" are phrases which imply the existence of God; otherwise they would not make sense. Such a statement in favour of the existence of God is anything but religiously neutral.

There are problems even in phrases as they are suggested from among the European People's Party (PPE):

"The Union's values include the values of those who believe in God as the source of truth, justice, good and beauty as well as of those who do not share such a belief but respect these universal values arising from other sources."

As far as such a reference to God is neutral, it is unnecessary. The EU may stand up for values like "truth, justice, good and beauty" in its constitution - but there is no need of speculating on the motives of those who have made these values their own.

Why should there be a reason to speculate on motives, religious or other? The answer will be known best by those who demand such a reference to God: Thus their motivation, the religious motivation, is distinguished from any other motivation by being mentioned explicitly. In a subtle way the impression is given that the origin of these values would be in the belief in God. That is not only a pro-religious propaganda for which a constitution is no place - in parts it is factually wrong. Even the well-known theologian professor Hans Küng knows: "The Human Rights were not enforced by Christian churches, but by the Enlightenment." (Hans Küng, "Christ sein" ("Being a Christian"), S. 22) The Human Rights - an important aspect of the values which were mentioned, of "justice" and of "good".

In concurrence a particular and very positive representation of God is taken as a basis in the suggested phrase, just as if that went without saying. As if one could not have a totally different view of God, respectively of the belief in God: a source of dogmatism, of intolerance, of discriminations and of millionfold bloodshed, in crusades, in the Thirty Years' War and other religious wars, on pyres of heretics and "witches", in many a pogrom of Jews committed on the basis of Christian motives. A partially positive representation of God in the text of a constitution would be anything but religiously neutral.

IBKA opposes the idea that a reference to God in the EU constitution might appeal to the identification with the Christian Occidental culture, and thus promote the identification with the unification of Europe. It might rather damage the common identification with the unification of Europe, if in its constitution one belief would be distinguished in a positive manner by a reference to God, a belief which is acknowledged by less and less Europeans. A better contribution to a common identification with a unified Europe can be obtained by values as they are mentioned in article I-2: "respect for human dignity, liberty, democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights" and "pluralism, tolerance, justice, solidarity and non-discrimination". These values show sufficiently that the EU is not only a technocratic economic union, but also a union of values.

These values can achieve an important contribution to identify oneself with the unified Europe, if their practical respect in the EU is enforced actively. That needs active and consequent actions against discriminations of all sort - whoever may be the source of these discriminations; even then, when churches and their social institutions commit these discriminations. Therefore:

2. No acknowledgement of the current status of churches by article I-51!

The "Internationaler Bund der Konfessionslosen und Atheisten" (IBKA) is deeply concerned that article I-51 - if it will become part of the EU constitution, as it is suggested in the draft - might lead to continuance of existing abuses in countries of the EU, like Germany: to violations of individual Human Rights, to discriminations and to violations of the philosophical and religious neutrality of states and their institutions.

Article I-51 paragraph 3 even gives the impression that philosophical and religious neutrality is meant to be violated on the level of the EU, too. This special article would be unnecessary if the dialogue with churches and religious and philosophical organizations is meant to be maintained only in the degree which is provided by article I-46 paragraph 2. But thus one might believe that churches and religious and philosophical organizations are meant to be privileged as compared with other NGOs, privileged by an especially intense dialogue and thereby by special possibilities of exerting influence. There is no justification for these privileges.

Usually the members of those organizations 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 organizations should have more expertise about many different questions than other organizations that concentrate upon particular fields. Especially there is no reason that churches and religious organizations 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 in 1948. One example for this is that the most important churches in Germany opposed a law of anti-discrimination which would have forbidden discriminations on the basis of religion.

As far as the social importance of an organization is seen as a reason for a dialogue, this can apply to religious and philosophical organizations as well as to any other NGO. Article I-46 is sufficient. Is Article I-51 paragraph 3 supposed to achieve that the declining social importance of the churches can 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 organizations participate in such a privilege is not sufficient for restoring this neutrality. It is also necessary that persons are not discriminated if they are not members of any religious or philosophical organization, or if they commit themselves in organizations in which persons of different philosophical conceptions are pursuing common goals. People get together in organizations like amnesty international, groups for environmental conservation, groups for self-help and representation of disabled persons. These people must have equal chances of participation in processes of decision-making - so philosophically neutral organizations must have equal chances of participation in processes of decision-making.

Philosophical and religious neutrality, Human Rights and non-discrimination must apply 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 organizations. 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 respect of "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", (i.e. a corporation under public law) if some conditions are fulfilled. The revenue-office collects the organization's membership fees, called "church taxes". One should also check some financial privileges of the currently existing churches. In Germany even the salaries of some bishops are paid by public authorities, 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 the right 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 ended her membership in the catholic church. Although she had always done her work to the satisfaction of her employer, and although she is severely disabled she was sacked. 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, or if they begin a registered homosexual partnership. Many employees are affected by this, because in Germany a considerable share of hospitals and other social institutions is called "protestant" or "catholic", though they are funded mainly by public authorities, by health insurances and other secular sources (hospitals: 100 %). Therefore many people feel forced to conceal their belief or their partnership. This is humiliating.

We beseech you: 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 support that article I-51 shall be removed from the draft text of the EU constitution.

Yours sincerely,

Rudolf Ladwig (IBKA, first chairman)