Being Christian in Europe

Discrimination and Intolerance Report presented in Vienna

Christians are the victims of discrimination and intolerance also in Europe. The list is long: limitations in the freedom of conscience and expression, media defamation and distortion, removal of religious symbols in public places and even acts of vandalism and violence. The "Observatory on Intolerance and Discrimination against Christians in Europe" presented its 5-year Report on "Facts and Figures about the Recent and Growing Phenomenon of Intolerance and Discrimination against Christians in Europe" during the meeting on Freedom of Religion which the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) held in Vienna December 9-10.The document. The 40-page document is a detailed account of the situation in European countries: France, Italy, Germany, the United Kingdom, Sweden, along with Turkey, Greece and Albania. The Observatory’s director, Dr. Gudrun Kugler, says, "Religious freedom is endangered especially with regard to its public and its institutional dimension". "We also receive many reports on the removal of Christian symbols, misrepresentation and negative stereotyping of Christians in the media, and social disadvantages for Christians, such as being ridiculed or overlooked for promotion in the workplace. We work towards greater awareness of a growing problem in Europe as a first step of a remedy. Our goal are equal rights for all, including Christians". The Report ends with a set of recommendations by the Observatory. "We recommend to the governments of the European Countries – states the document – to ensure freedom of religion and belief, freedom of expression, freedom of assembly, and the right to conscientious objection". Governments are equally asked to "condemn" intolerance and discrimination against Christians and "ensure the right of Christians to participate fully in public life". The European Union and international human rights institutions are urged to "encourage governments to monitor carefully the growing phenomenon of intolerance against Christians and take appropriate soft measures". Freedom of conscience and expression. "Freedom of conscience enables a believer to live according to the demand of his faith, which gives meaning to his own life. Limiting or denying an individual the right to freedom of conscience, even on the basis of other rights, devoids this right of meaning and in turn violates personal autonomy". "Freedom of Expression is one of the fundamental rights of a democratic society. This includes the right to publicly make declarations however unpopular and unpleasant they may be", continues the document. Follow two chapters recalling that past October former British MP Christine McCafferty urged the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe to recommend limitations to conscientious objection when it comes to abortion. Mention is also made of the primate of the Belgian Catholic Church Msgr. Leonard who faces accusations of homophobia for expressing controversial positions on the causes of HIV/Aids past November. The document signals cases of desecration of religious public places like when gay activists planned mass kissing provocation in front of Notre Dame cathedral in Paris past February and when openly homosexual activists disrupted Catholic services for refusing Holy Communion to open homosexuals. Christians are also discriminated in the workplace. In Spain in 2008, a judge was suspended for delaying the adoption of a little girl by the lesbian partner of her mother. According to the Report, European parents find it difficult to raise their children on the basis of their own religious belief. It is especially the case of sexual education in schools across Austria, Germany and the United Kingdom. The media’s responsibility. The Observatory gathers instances of discrimination against Christians from media sources. Indeed, "negative stereotyping is the process of standardizing and simplifying negative conceptions of groups based on some prior assumptions". The Report mentions the film adaptation of Dan Brown’s novel "Angels and Demons" and the popular British soap "Coronation Street" broadcast by the BBC, which describes Christianity as "ridiculous and absurd". A separate section is devoted to Defamation and Insulting statements about individual Christians, Christian institutions or Christianity as whole, on broadcasts or in person, in graffiti, on leaflets or posters, which "are not only hurtful to Christians but create social hostility and professional difficulties". The Report underlines that during a meeting on sexual abuse of minors held at the European Parliament in May 2001 it was stated that the Catholic Church "is protecting criminals and that its behavior is comparable to that of the Sicilian Mafia". In a famous Hungarian talkshow broadcast in January the statement was made that "a child’s life can be destroyed by two things: Christianity and pornography". Under accusation are also the works of art that fail to respect religious identity or belief. Among the cases denounced by the Report figures the Italian TV program "Annozero" (April 2009) that openly insults Christianity by showing satirical vignettes of the Way of the Cross. Religious symbols. A chapter in the Report is devoted to the repression and removal of religious symbols. "The wearing or displaying of religious symbols is a constitutive element of one’s faith", is stated in the Report, exemplified by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruling that the display of crucifixes in public schools restricted religious freedoms, affecting Italy, Germany and Great Britain. In Greece an Orthodox priest was given a suspended 70- day sentence after residents complained he rang his church bell "too loudly and too often". Acts of vandalism and violence. Finally, the Report explores the acts of desecration and vandalism against Churches and religious places. The phenomenon is particularly felt in France, and was denounced also by the daily "Le Figaro". In December 2009, in Albania, violation of the Catholic cemetery and the desecration of graves as well as the demolition of a cross in Bushat, Shkodër were reported. In December 2008 a Greek-Melkite parish was set on fire in Belgium. But violence unfortunately directly strikes against Christians. Cases refer especially to Turkey, with the tragic murder of bishop Luigi Padovese.

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