By Hilary White
LONDON, August 4, 2009 (LifeSiteNews.com) – Left without amendment, an impending EU directive could be used as an “instrument of oppression” aimed at religious believers by homosexualist activists and other anti-Christian groups, say the Catholic Bishops of England, Wales and Scotland. In a 1200-word document that is being presented as part of a public consultation, the bishops are asking for provisions that “differences of treatment” will not be considered discriminatory “where such differences are required to enable a religious body to function in accordance with its ethos.”
The EU's proposed Equal Treatment Directive is ostensibly intended to “harmonize” and enforce existing rules on discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation, age, religious belief and disability that are currently outside the scope of employment law. But the bishops have warned that the rules will accomplish the stated goals by suppressing the more fundamental rights of freedom of expression and religion.
In a media release from the Catholic Communications Network, the English bishops' official news service, Archbishop Peter Smith, chair of the Department of Christian Responsibility and Citizenship, said, “The Catholic Church supports the underlying moral principle of the draft Directive, but has serious concerns about possible unintended consequences which could have the effect of limiting the right of the Church and its members to act in accordance with Catholic belief.”
The rules could lead, the document says, to situations in which churches and religious institutions will have no power to run their own activities in accordance with their religious beliefs. The document was signed by Monsignor Andrew Summersgill, general secretary, Bishops' Conference of England and Wales, who wrote that of particular concern is the definition of “harassment,” which depends upon the subjective experience of a complainant.
Article 2 of the Directive defines “harassment” as “unwanted conduct with the
purpose or effect of violating the dignity of a person and or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment.” This loose definition and subjective requirement, the bishops say, could lead to anyone making a claim of “harassment” based on the mere public display of Christian symbols or worship.
“Homosexual groups campaigning for same-sex marriage may declare themselves to be offended by the presentation of the Catholic Church's moral teaching on marriage. An atheist may be offended by religious pictures in an art gallery, or a Muslim may be offended by any picture representing the human form,” Summersgill wrote.
The Church is not asking for special exemptions, but only the recognition of existing considerations such as the recognition of the validity of “risk assessments based on age or disability in relation to financial services.”
As it is currently worded, the Directive would have the effect, Summersgill said, of dictating to religious bodies which beliefs they may hold. Summersgill wrote, “What the Church is seeking from this Directive is simply the right to maintain its own teaching and activities with integrity, according to its own ethos.”
Article 13 of the Directive requires Member States to ensure that “any internal rules of undertakings, and rules governing profit or non-profit-making associations contrary to the principle of equal treatment are, or may be, declared null and void or are amended.” This, said Summersgill, will have the effect of “requiring Catholic organisations to act against their ethos,” citing the examples of Catholic-sponsored events, such as conferences, that would be obliged to offer rooms to unmarried or homosexual partners.
Despite such warnings, however, the EU presidency, currently held by Sweden, has indicated they will seek to push the directive through Council in November. Such a directive can only become law if all member states agree to it at a meeting of the council of the EU. In April, the European Parliament voted to accept the Directive but it was altered to drop wording that would have protected religious bodies. MEPs also recommended the removal of wording that would have protected marriage and abortion laws in member states.
Similar “anti-discrimination” legislation in other countries has led to the kind of anti-Christian discrimination warned against by the bishops. Despite existing laws recognizing religious rights in the UK, dozens of cases have come to light in recent years of Christian marriage commissioners, adoptive and foster parents, teachers, policemen, judges, and even school children, who have run afoul of homosexualist campaigners using “equality” legislation to silence and suppress the religious viewpoint.
In Canada, the Human Rights Commissions are coming under increasingly public scrutiny and criticism for the numerous cases in which subjective criteria are used by Commissioners with no legal qualifications to force Christians into silence, often regarding their opinions on homosexuality.
In the US last year, Archbishop Charles Chaput of Denver warned against proposed anti-discrimination laws, when they include provisions against discrimination on the grounds of “sexual orientation.” Chaput specifically mentioned Colorado House Bill 1080, which proposed to forbid religious groups from hiring staff based on their religious beliefs, saying it would result in Catholic Charities having to close its doors.
Read related LifeSiteNews.com coverage: