Direct physical violence isn’t the only form that the expression of intolerance and discrimination against Christians takes. Increasingly, the violation of the rights of Christians occurs within existing legal systems. In Europe, whose culture has roots in Christian values and traditions, some try to force Christianity out of the public sphere. Ergo, the protection of the Christian identity of Europe becomes a form of combat against Christianophobia.
Religiously motivated hatred is rooted in the fallen nature of man and emerged long before Christianity. Beginning with Cain, who plotted his brother’s death because of Abel’s deep and sincere faith, often, people harass those who believe differently than they do. We can assume that the reason for that is the deep disharmony of their own relationship with God encourages aggression towards others. Therefore, of course, religious hatred shall remain mankind’s faithful companion from the Fall until the end of time. The Church carefully preserves the history of ancient and modern persecutions of Christians, and the Scriptures predict a future persecution that we expect shall happen. However, the inevitability of such harassment doesn’t mean that Christians should abandon the struggle to preserve a civilisation established on the basis of their faith. One aspect of this struggle is activity aimed at protecting the rights of Christians. However, before we can develop this theme, we must first recognise that there’s a threat to rights of Christians.
New York University law professor Joseph Weiler introduced the term “Christianophobia” into social, political, and scientific discussion in 2004, much later than the corresponding terms “Islamophobia” and “Anti-Semitism”. Professor Weiler, who is a practising Jew, introduced the neologism of “Christianophobia” when the European Parliament rejected the candidacy of Rocco Buttiglione, a practising traditional Catholic, for the post of Commissioner of the European Union. During his campaign, Sr Buttiglione was careless enough to declare that he considered homosexuality a sin. It’s worth mentioning that he stipulated that he didn’t advocate a witch-hunt of homosexual people. Yet, it was enough to make him unwelcome in the eyes of politically-correct EU bureaucrats and MEPs, who regularly adopted resolutions supporting gay rights. As a concept, Christianophobia includes both intolerance towards Christians and discrimination against them. The first relates to the negative stereotyping of Christians in society, and the second involves legislative or executive acts infringing on the proper rights of Christians. If one defines the term broadly, one can apply the same methodology as one uses in respect of “Islamophobia” and “Anti-Semitism”. “Christianophobia” has gained some international recognition. Thus, at the highest level, several UN documents reflect this usage, such as the summation document of the Durban Review Conference, which the members adopted in Geneva on 24 April 2009.
Some of the declarations of the conferences under the sponsorship of the Council of Europe have used this concept. For example, it appears in the Kazan Plan of Action adopted at the International Youth Forum, held in Kazan on 30 November to 4 December 2008, in the final document of the Baku Youth initiative, adopted at the conference Moving Beyond Religious Differences, which was held in Baku on 5-8 November 2008, in the Istanbul Declaration, adopted at the symposium Inter-religious and Intercultural Dialogue in Youth Work, held in Istanbul 27 to 31 March 2007, and others. On the other hand, in the White Paper on Intercultural Dialogue, adopted by the Committee of Ministers in 2008, this term is absent. The OSCE established an office of a Representative to combat racism, xenophobia, and discrimination, to deal with the problems of intolerance and discrimination against Christianity and other religions.
Of course, the practise of targeting particularly vulnerable social groups or minorities isn’t innocuous in terms of national and international law. Trusting in the validity of the concept of the prohibition of discrimination, any particular social group of any sort, may, if there’s favourable political circumstances, prove its need for special legal status. The world community has paid special attention to the claims of racial, ethnic, religious, age, sexual, and other minorities. Often, it seems that anyone can relate themselves to some minority, and, then, fight for their rights. As a result, society becomes lost, and it becomes confused in the matter of its legitimate interests. Christian minorities in countries with non-Christian majorities are very often the victims of violence and intolerance. However, this problem has received little public attention. As a rule, the political interests of states influence what protection a minority group in a given situation attains. For instance, the Arab states use all available political venues to struggle with the manifestation of Islamophobia against Muslim minorities in Western countries. Anti-Semitism has a concern with Israel and Jewish communities around the world. Christian communities, such as those in the Middle East, represent no interest for global political factions, primarily, because outside forces can’t use them as part of an application of external pressure on local political régimes. Protection of the rights of Christian minorities doesn’t have any special features in comparison with the defence of other minorities’ civil liberties. However, to be effective, individual states must exert sustained interest to the problem. Most likely, this interest arises when the Christian minority doesn’t wish total absorption into the local community (such as Eastern Christians in the Middle East), and appeal to external forces. This is applicable to the Protestant minority that has appeared in countries with non-Christian majorities in the last decade.
Even though it’s a movement to protect the rights of the majority, the development and shaping of the concept of Christianophobia doesn’t hold much public interest or have an organised movement in Western countries. This is the most basic root of this phenomenon. At first glance, to speak of a problem of Christianophobia in Europe and the USA is like saying that’s there Islamophobia in Saudi Arabia or anti-Semitism in Israel. In fact, the Christian majority doesn’t feel secure in Europe, in the cradle of Christian civilisation. In recent years, a number of public institutions deal with the monitoring of acts of Christianophobia, for example, the Office for the Monitoring of Intolerance and Discrimination against Christians in Europe, and the Alliance Defend Foundation. It’s appropriate to consider a number of recent incidents that demonstrate the relevance of the protection of the rights of Christians. For example, in February and March 2011, the following violations of the rights of Christians occurred. In Spain, at a university in Madrid, some 50 students occupied the Catholic chapel on campus; they chanted anti-clerical slogans, the girls made rude gestures. In the UK, a court decided to prohibit parents who condemned homosexuality to adopt children. In Croatia, a Catholic catechism teacher is on trial for including in their lesson a statement labelling homosexuality a disease. The Office for the Monitoring of Intolerance and Discrimination against Christians in Europe devoted a special report to acts of Christianophobia, entitled Intolerance and Discrimination against Christians in Europe in 2005-2010, published in late 2010. Even the most superficial analysis of this document suggests that the majority of acts of Christianophobia are a result of political and legislative support for minorities, which is receiving increased attention in Europe. It’s symptomatic that even the US State Department Report on the implementation of religious freedom in the world recognised that the arrest of a preacher who called homosexuality a sin in a street sermon in London was an example of the violation of the right of religious freedom. This suggests that the concept of minority rights has absolutely brought us to a reductio ad absurdum.
Another attempt to find a balance between the rights of majorities and minorities was the case Lautsi vs Italy in the European Court of Human Rights. As one can see from the case, the applicant considered the placement of crucifixes in Italian public schools in Italy was a violation of her rights. At first, the ECHR granted the applicant’s request (decision of 3 November 2009), but during proceedings in the Grand Chamber, to which a number of states joined as third-party amici curiae (Armenia, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Russia, Greece, Lithuania, Malta, San Marino, Monaco, and Romania), the court dismissed Ms Lautsi’s claim, revoking the original decision (18 March 2011). Of course, the final decision of the court upheld the rights of the Christian majority. However, the reasoning of the ECHR decision doesn’t give one too much cause for optimism. The Court confirmed the freedom of the state’s discretion in the religious sphere, which is quite broad due to a lack of a European consensus on the issue of church-state relations (e.g., in a number of European states there is still a State Church). In addition, the verdict considered it an insufficiently substantiated conclusion that the presence of a religious symbol (in this case, a crucifix) was an unwarranted act of Christian indoctrination directed towards Ms Lautsi’s children. However, the court refused to use its reasoning for a decision legitimating the concept of majority rights, of its right to defend its traditions and values, which the Government of Italy had asked them for. This is somewhat ambivalent. On the one hand, the court considered itself entitled to assess the degree of subjectivity of Ms Lautsi’s opinion as to whether her children were subjected to religious indoctrination or not, but on the other, it refused to recognise the obvious conflict of the 2009 verdict with the rights of the Christian majority, who greeted that action of the ECHR with mass protests. Thus, it’s necessary to see the reluctance of the court to recognise the legitimate interests of the majority, which, of course, is in full accordance with its other recent decisions.
The logic of protection of minority rights was embodied in the European Parliament Resolution on the Situation of Christians in the Light of the Protection of Religious Freedom, adopted 20 January 2011. The mention of Christians in a document of the Institute of the European Union itself is an unprecedented case that deserves attention. However, one should note that this paper raises several questions. For example, it doesn’t mention the term “Christianophobia”, which indicates an attempt to state that only Christians outside the European continent needed protection of their rights. It didn’t mention the link between the deterioration of the situation of Christians in the Middle East and North Africa in recent years and the growing number of European and American military operations in the region, as well as the flow of the missionaries who ignore the inter-religious status quo. The credibility of this document suffers from its origin in a region where the Christian majority seems deliberately marginalised, as described, for example, in the paper The Marginalisation of Christians of the Christian Institute (UK), published in 2009.
To struggle against Christianophobia in Europe has borne fruit, it has led to a conceptualisation of the idea that we should protect the rights of the majority; we should try to balance its interests with those of any minority. In legal practise, the European Court of Human Rights made some steps in this direction in the case of Otto Preminger vs Austria. By the verdict in this case, the court upheld the position of the Austrian authorities, who confiscated anti-Catholic rental movies. In particular, its reasoning stressed that “the court can not ignore the fact that the Roman Catholic faith is the religion of the overwhelming majority of Tyroleans”. To some extent, the ECHR recognised majority rights in its verdict in the case of Shar Shalom ve Tzadik vs France, which confirmed the right of the authorities to establish an exclusive relationship with the dominant Jewish religious community. However, these actions are too insignificant in-and-of-themselves to talk about a purposeful shaping of an approach to the recognition of the rights of the majority, while it is particularly necessary in a multicultural Europe, where the ceaseless promotion of minority rights is already causing a reaction in the rise of radical rightwing elements. However, ignoring the rights of the majority is just as dangerous to the public welfare as is the violation of minority rights. Coexistence amongst ethnic, religious, and other groups in a single public space is impossible without a common basis. It’s impossible to find such a basis within a legal system that remains closed to the valuable contributions of traditional religious communities, which in Europe, above all, means the Christian churches.
29 April 2011
Expert member of the OSCE/BDIPCh Panel on the Freedom of Religion and Belief
Церковный вестник (Tserkovny Vestnik : Church Herald)
This is, perhaps, one of the most important things that I’ve read lately… that’s why I translated it into English. It needs NO comment from me… pass it on! This is GOOD STUFF.