ROME, March 20, 2012 (LifeSiteNews.com) – Discrimination against Christians continues to increase in Europe and some politicians and organizations are starting to acknowledge the phenomenon as a problem, a new report says.

The Observatory on Intolerance and Discrimination Against Christians in Europe (OIDCE) has released its annual report chronicling incidents of anti-Christian discrimination in all member states of the European Union. It samples the “most striking” cases in which Christians have encountered either outright hate crimes or legal restrictions, including arrests and lawsuits, targeting their freedom of expression, belief and conscience.

One example given in the report is the case of Norwegian killer Andres Breivik “who was instantaneously and wrongly” labeled a “Christian fundamentalist” by the world’s media. “Anti-Christian prejudices needed a Christian equivalent to Muslim terrorism to prove true,” one of the report’s authors, Dr. Gudrun Kugler wrote, with the result that a “thoughtlessly” and too-hastily attributed label “was gratefully received by the world’s media.”

The report points out that there is currently no mechanism in Europe for collecting and examining data on anti-Christian discrimination. The OIDCE says that its annual report for 2011 is not intended to be comprehensive, but to offer “impressions of the phenomenon, revealing to the reader its diverse aspects and far-reaching scope.”

It lists over 200 incidents, ranging from Christians who have been arrested and jailed for preaching against homosexual activity to vandalism of churches and cemeteries, particularly in Spain and France, countries with Europe’s largest populations of Islamic immigrants.

The Commission of the [Catholic] Bishops Conferences of the European Community issued a press release welcoming the OIDCE report, calling the phenomenon of anti-Christian discrimination one of increasing “international significance.”

Bishop András Veres said that the report confirms “how some values and fundamental rights proper to Europe, such as freedom of religion and the legal recognition of our Churches, are far from being an established reality in some nations of the continent.”

The head of the Observatory, Dr. Martin Kugler, told Vatican Radio in an interview yesterday that there is a “growing awareness” of the problem among some international organizations like the UN or the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). These organizations are looking at it from a human rights standpoint, he said, “and especially religious freedom.”

“The new and growing phenomenon in the western world in some countries in Europe is a kind of marginalisation of Christians which sometimes spills over in legal limitations as well. Which means that Christians are discriminated against in their labour, in their professional work.”

The OIDCE report quotes a resolution passed by the OSCE, encouraging public debate and acknowledging the problem has become serious. The resolution proposed that “the right of Christians to participate fully in public life be ensured.”

“In view of discrimination and intolerance against Christians, legislation in the participating States, including labor law, equality law, laws on freedom of expression and assembly, and laws related to religious communities and right of conscientious objection [should] be assessed,” it continue.

Martin Kugler cited the cases of British hotel and bed-and-breakfast owners who have been sued and fined for refusing accommodations to homosexual partners, as well as street preachers who have been arrested for preaching against homosexual behavior.

He also pointed to increasing limitations on the legal right of Christians to speak out on issues of concern. “Medical staff in a hospital should be able to refuse collaboration in certain acts which they consider unethical, like abortion, euthanasia, sterilisations. This human right, which is called conscientious objection is not really granted in some of the EU member states,” he said.

The result is that some medical professions, are being “step by step closed up for Christians if they really take their faith seriously.” This affects midwives, doctors, nurses and pharmacists. He gave the example of France where pharmacists are “forced by law” to sell the abortion drug, RU 486.

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The OIDCE report bolsters the conclusion of a similar brief by a committee of the UK’s House of Lords and Members of Parliament, issued in February. It said that the Equality Act, passed under Tony Blair’s Labour government, has set up a “pecking order of competing equalities,” in which in every case the religious rights of Christians come last.

Arrests of street preachers, the UK report said, “demonstrates a lack of understanding of what is a legitimate expression of Christian belief.” Some authorities “place unnecessary barriers to wider Christian contribution.”

“Raising awareness,” Dr. Kugler said, is the first step in countering anti-Christian religious discrimination. Journalists and politicians are not acting out of “bad intentions” but from a lack of knowledge of religious priorities and requirements.

The Observatory attends international conferences on rights, racism, anti-Semitism and xenophobia to talk to delegates, politicians and media about the problems Christians now face in Europe. Kugler said their group avoids the use of the term “persecution” in order not to downplay the seriousness of “real persecution in some countries of the Arab world, Pakistan and North Korea” where Christians can face violence, torture and death for their beliefs. 

“We are conscious that intolerance and discrimination in Europe is more subtle…It’s much easier to face such a problem at the beginning.”