European Bishops Urge Action to Protect Religious Freedom as Attacks Increase Globally
European bishops are urging the European Union to ensure religious freedom is protected in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. In a statement released by the Commission of Bishops Conference of the European Union, it can be read that “vulnerable religious communities are experiencing discrimination, intolerance and, in some cases, persecution as victims of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes.” The statement followed a meeting of church representatives held on July 15.
In the joint statement with the non-Catholic Conference of European Churches, the Bishops Committee known as COMECE stated: “The Union needs to pay particular attention to protecting and promoting freedom of religion or belief in the world — not only as a human right, but also as a strategic dimension of democratic freedom, conflict prevention, and a way to foster social peace, justice and reconciliation."
The meeting took place as COMECE's new Slovenian president took office on 1 July. In the past several church leaders asked the Union to enforce the protection of religious rights since reports about vandalism of churches and attacks towards religious communities keep worsening. COMECE is calling on the European Union to strengthen their role as a “global humanitarian, development, economic and peace actor.”
The Brussels-based Commission is requesting the EU to update its Guidelines on Religious Freedom, which were last updated in 2013. In their statement, they ask the law-making body to put "in place a mechanism" to reinforce Religious Freedom on a Global scale, while at the same time creating “a new European strategic culture of peace.”
In their letter, they speak up for around 380 million EU citizens stating: “Together, we represent the membership of around 380 million EU citizens, and we are strongly committed to develop the European project on the basis of the Christian ideals of justice, peace and the integrity of creation”.
“Freedom of religion or belief needs to be promoted and protected in our European societies — we encourage the EU presidency to look at EU initiatives through this lens,” the commission stated, asking the Union to fully restore religious freedom since churches were forced to close despite the current resurgence in coronavirus cases.
The Bishops' Conference also added that religious freedom remained “a matter for national authorities” in all its 27 member-states. They added that the Union should focus on “re-expanding freedom of worship to pre-pandemic standards" since those were mostly affected by EU policies. It states: “Reopening policies should take into account the situation and needs of churches, both as actors that can facilitate recovery through their social actions, and as actors in need of recovery support.”
In their statement, they added a “resilient and healthy Europe” should additionally show concern for "hidden vulnerabilities" in European societies, as well to ensure just distribution of vaccines.