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International Association of Free Thought (IAFT)
European Coordination Bureau of Free Thought
Free Thought Received in Brussels
Against Blasphemy Offense
On January 21st 2014 The Free Thought was received by Mr Jean-Bernard Bolvin, head of the European external action service on the issue of blasmhemy offense in Europe in the name of the 55 secular associations which have signed a common statement. The meeting lasted almost 2 hours in a courteous atmosphere.
The Free Thought delegation was composed of Marc Blondel (President of the French Free Thought), of Christian Eyschen (International Association of Free Thought), David Gozlan et Michel Godicheau (European Coordination Bureau of Free Thought).
Free Thought made the following statement
1°)- On September 20th 2012, a common statement delivered by the heads of the European Union, the Islamic Conference Organisation, the Arabic League and the African Union was made public.
It stated that “We share a deep respect for all religions. We are united in our belief that the freedom of religion and tolerance are a keystone. We condemn any call to religious hatred which is a call to hostility and violence. While fully recognizing the freedom of speech we believe all prophets must be respected whatever their religion.”
The European Union clearly meant to promote exclusively the freedom of religion in which tolerance was limited. They prohibited any critique towards religions and imposed the respect of “prophets”. This statement covered blasphemy with Noah’s coat while justifying it.
The freedom of conscience and tolerance were thus outlawed for all the ones who are not in line with a religious understanding (agnostic, atheist, free thinker). They were forbidden to criticize both religions and prophets. The freedom for the ones who believe but not for the ones who don’t.
It goes against the principle of equality of rights among humans.
2°)- As a response to that 55, European secular associations, on the French Free Thought’s initiative, made a statement to stand against this approval of blasphemy by the European union.
“This position cannot but make the violations of the freedom of speech and repression easier. It endangers all the secular regulation which organizes or protects the freedom of conscience, of the press and of creation and not only in Europe. It is a danger for the liberties and the physical security of any of us because it leaves the door open to arbitrariness”.
The undersigned organisations demand that this statement be withdrawn. They require all the proceedings against people charged with blasphemy to be stopped.
This is on the basis of this mandate that a delegation of these associations, of the International Association of Free Thought and its European Bureau is received today in Brussels.
3°)- Then we were informed of the Declaration of the European Union, Council of June 24th 2013 on the EU orientations to promote and protect the freedom of religion and conviction. The least we can say is that this statement is in some respects very far from the September 20th 2012‘s one.
A- We would like to know why the two different terms “religions” and “convictions” are used whereas religion is meant to be a conviction and even a mandatory conviction. Is the distinction made in the ex-project of the European Constitutional Treaty in Articles 37 and 52 back?
During a meeting between the European Commission and a common delegation of the French Free Thought and of the British National Secular Society on March 18th 2005, Dr Michael Weninger, President Barroso’s political advisor had made it clear that: “An additional article has been necessary to make the difference between on the one hand the Churches and the religions and on the other hand the members of the civil society because it is not the same thing. The religions embody transcendency whereas the civil society is immanence. The Churches are above the society, they are not at the same level as the other associations.”
Would there be two categories of opinion acknowledged and graded in the European Union ?
B)- 20 and 21 recommendations of the document specify:
“20. No exclusive right is conferred to the upholders of a religion or of any particular conviction. All the rights whether related to the freedom of belief or of expressing one’s religion or conviction are universal and must be respected on a non discriminatory basis.”
3. The key role of the states to safeguard the freedom of religion or conviction:
21.” The states must make sure their judiciary systems offer everybody the appropriate and effective guarantees when it comes to the freedom of thought, of conscience, of religion or conviction all over their territory without any exclusion or discrimination and that these measures are correctly enforced.”
We believe that the survival of installed, official state religions, of concordats along with their Church taxes and blasphemy make impossible the real enforcement of such recommendations. The current survival of this feudal law goes against the strict respect of the absolute freedom of conscience.
We demand all the penal procedures for blasphemy in Europe to be terminated. There are today at least one procedure in Alsace-Moselle (France) against a theater play, one in Greece against Filippos Loizos, a blogger who is the author of an innocent hoax dealing with a forged miracle attributed to a saint and who has been sentenced to a 10 month imprisonment and there has been recently 99 cases in Cyprus.
C)- The June 24th 2013 Statement is an intention statement. How do the different structures of the European Union intend to implement these orientations?
The European Union representative answered
1°)-According to the European treaties, blasphemy offense doesn’t come with The European Union’s remit. The states are free in the matter according to their national rules.
2°)- The common statement of the European Union (EU), of the Islamic Conference Organisation (ICO), of the Arabic League (AL) and of the African Union (AU) is a political statement not a legal one. It has thus no restrictive value for the member states and was adopted in a very special circumstance when violent uprising occured after a movie entitled “the Muslims’ innocence” was posted on the Internet. This statement aimed at comdemning any message of hatred or intolerance and at claiming an end of violences.
3°)- The main lines adopted by the European Union Council on June 24th,2013 to promote and protect the freedom of religion or conviction have been approved by all the 28 member states. They do have a much different strength and legal status. They may bring about a gradual evolution of this issue in the national rules.
Mrs Catherine Ashton, European Commissionner, High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, approved these main lines before they were adopted by the member states.
4°)- The distinction between “religion” and “conviction” refers to international statements, maong them the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Agreement on civil and political rights. It must be considered as well-intentioned.
Free Thought commented:
If the issue of blasphemy offense doesn’t come with The European Union’s remit, how can a “recommendation” to put an end to it be real? Free Thought reminds you that when it will be completely ratified the mini European constitutional treaty (Article 17) plans to freeze the Religions/States relationships, which will then be integrated just as they are in the European Treaty. In the future it will be necessary to obtain the unanimity of the member states to modify the “national status granted to the Churches”.
Can we reasonably think that concordats, official churches, settled churches, church taxes adn blasphemy offense could be unanimously repealed? Asking the question you give the answer.
If the EU, AU, ICO and AL common statement doesn’t result in aynthing why has it been made? To Free Thought, it is on the reverse a strong sign to clearly state that religions can’t be laughed at. When what’s going on in Europe and in the world is closely examined it can’t be denied that blasphemy offense exists and is even spreading. How many artists, humorists, caricaturists, secular advocates are prosecuted because of that? The examples are numerous.
As a consequence, the European Coordination Bureau of Free Thought has decided after this meeting to launch an international campaign for Filippos Loizos to be cleared of all charges.
The fact that the “religion/conviction” distinction is to be found in international texts doesn’t mean that it can’t be questioned. This difference is too close to Doctor Weninger ’s answer not to alert us. Thus this dintinction introduces a hierarchy in opinions.
This is the same thing for the freedom of conscience. The latter includes the religious freedom but goes beyond that whereas the freedom of religion doesn’t include the freedom of concience of those who don’t believe in any religious system.
To conclude this meeting, the Free Thought raised the question of the religious offensive against the abortion right. This reactionary offensive can be found not only in Spain but also all over the world and especially in Europe. It shows that the Vatican as an institution, is back in the political arena to impose its point of view to the men and women all over the world. It is definitely a clerical offensive. The Free Thought thus questioned the EEAS reprensentative about the European Union’s point of view in this respect.
Mr Jean-Bernard Bolvin answered that this important question didn’t come with his service’s remit but came with at least 3 other European Union’s General Directions’. He suggested we should get in touch with them.
For secularism in Europe!
Against blasphemy offense!
To repeal all the concordats!
For the defense of democratic liberties and rights!
Brussels, January 21st 2014