Brussels authorities ban event due to “ethically conservative” beliefs on abortion, marriage, and the EU

Country: Belgium

Date of incident: April 16, 2024

On April 16, Brussels officials issued a police order to ban the entrance to the NatCon conference. The official order to shut down the conference included the reason that its "vision is not only ethically conservative (e.g. hostility to the legalisation of abortion, same-sex unions, etc.) but also focused on the defence of “national sovereignty”, which implies, amongst other things, a “Eurosceptic” attitude”. In an emergency ruling, Belgium highest court has lifted the ban and declared it unconstitutional.

The program of the conference on National Conservatism featured several elected officials and high-profile public figures, including UK parliamentarian Miriam Cates, former UK Home Secretary Suella Braverman, and German Cardinal Ludwig Müller. Furthermore, a couple of representatives from Christian organisations had been invited to speak about Christian faith and family values. 

The order to shut down the peaceful gathering, issued by the mayor of the Saint-Josse-ten-Noode district in Brussels, cites the reason as including: “that [NatCon’s] vision is not only ethically conservative (e.g. hostility to the legalisation of abortion, same-sex unions, etc.) but also focused on the defense of “national sovereignty”, which implies, amongst other things, a “Eurosceptic” attitude…”.  It also states that some of the speakers “are reputed to be traditionalists” and that the conference must be banned “to avoid foreseeable attacks on public order and peace”. 

Belgium’s Prime Minister Alexander De Croo condemned the actions of the Brussels authorities on “X”, saying: “What happened at the Claridge today is unacceptable. Municipal autonomy is a cornerstone of our democracy but can never overrule the Belgian constitution guaranteeing the freedom of speech and peaceful assembly since 1830. Banning political meetings is unconstitutional. Full stop.” 

The Conseil d’État, Belgium's highest ruled after in an emmergency legal ruling that “Article 26 of the Constitution [of Belgium] grants everyone the right to assemble peacefully,” and although the mayor has the authority to make police ordinances in case of “serious disturbance of the public peace or other unforeseen events,” in this case there was no sufficient threat of violence to justify this. The Court reasoned that “it does not seem possible to infer from the contested decision that a peace-disrupting effect is attributed to the congress itself”. Rather, “the threat to public order seems to be derived purely from the reactions that its organization might provoke among opponents”.

ADF International Director Paul Coleman who was invited to the conference to speak about the Christian faith, commented on the incident: “We are greatly relieved that the Administrative Court rightfully has decided to block the unjust attempt to shut down the National Conservatism Conference. But this should never have happened, especially in Brussels—the political heart of Europe.
The free and peaceful exchange of ideas, and the basic freedom of assembly, are hallmarks of a democratic Europe. That a legal challenge of this kind needed to be mounted simply to be able to gather as a peaceful conference is a disgrace. We must diligently protect our fundamental freedoms lest censorship become the norm in our supposedly free societies.” 

Sources: The Guardian, ADF International, The SpectatorThe Spectator

Image: ADF International