BHA: Lord Kinnock among politicians, academics, writers in call for secular Europe
Over 120 distinguished UK politicians, academics, community leaders and writers, including former UK European Commissioner Neil Kinnock have put their names to a declaration of the fundamental values that should shape the development of British society and the European Union. Among them are:-
Lord (Paddy) Ashdown
Professor Michael Atiyah
Sir Alan Budd
Sir Bernard Crick
Professor A C Grayling
Lord (Roy) Hattersley
Professor Steve Jones
Baroness (Helena) Kennedy
Professor Sir Harry Kroto
Lord (Anthony) Lester
Professor Lord Bhikhu Parekh
Sir John Sulston
Baroness (Mary) Warnock
Sir Arnold Wesker
Professor Lewis Wolpert
plus 17 MPs, 19 MEPs and a further 15 members of the House of Lords (see full list attached)
The Brussels Declaration (attached) is also backed in the UK by the British Humanist Association, the National Secular Society, the Christian think-tank Ekklesia, Catholics for a Free Choice, the new group British Muslims for Secular Democracy; and by the International Humanist and Ethical Union, the European Humanist Federation, and the European Parliament’s All Party Working Group on Separation of Religion and Politics.
They join another 500 signatories and over 40 non-governmental organisations from across Europe who have backed the Declaration, a restatement of the fundamental principles on which modern European civilisation is based.
Support comes from conservative, liberal, social democratic and green party politicians, from Catholic, Protestant, Humanist, Muslim, Jewish and Hindu leaders, from academics and scientists including several Nobel laureates, and from writers and journalists from across the whole of Europe.
Drafted collaboratively by a group including representatives of Humanism, Islam and Christianity, the Declaration states that ‘the state must remain neutral in matters of religion and belief, favouring none and discriminating against none’.
Lord (Neil) Kinnock, former UK European Commissioner, commented ‘Modern Europe is a place of freedom, equity, justice and tolerance because it has been built by people who were determined to put those great principles into law and daily practice. That is how the liberty of Europe and the individual Europeans must and will be sustained and strengthened.’
Hanne Stinson, Chief Executive of the British Humanist Association: ‘This clear call for secularism is a repudiation of the UK Government’s current faith agenda. Already the Government is expanding religious schools, giving grants to faith groups, and offering them enhanced consultation. Now it is threatening to hand over large sections of our welfare services to them.’ (See note 1)
Terry Sanderson, President of the National Secular Society, said: ‘Europe must strive to be inclusive and a model of justice for all its diverse citizens. It can only achieve this by embracing a tolerant secularism that neither privileges nor disadvantages any group. The Brussels Declaration is a laudable first step in the long road to fairness for all.’
The Declaration is a warning against the emergence, partly in response to the increasing assertiveness of radical Islam, of a new nexus of religion and politics, with moves by the Roman Catholic and other churches for even greater involvement in European politics and contentious claims that the Christian religion are the foundation of the continent’s democratic and ethical values. (See note 2)
Sophie in’t Veld MEP, chair of the European Parliament All Party Working Group on Separation of Religion and Politics, said: ‘This is not an attack on religion: it is a plea for equal treatment for all, both religious and non-religious alike’. (See note 3)
David Pollock, UK Coordinator for the Declaration and President of the European Humanist Federation, said: ‘We must not regress to a Europe divided by an increased focus on religion. Instead we should reinforce the values which unite us and fight attempts to undermine our freedoms. This demands secularism – the ultimate guarantee of freedom of religion and belief. Privilege for any system of belief, whether religious or non-religious, amounts to discrimination against the rest.’
Roy Brown, coordinator of the Committee for a Vision for Europe, said: ‘The time has come to reaffirm our common values. These are not the values of a single tradition or culture, they are common to all of the cultures and traditions that make up modern Europe. Signatories of the Declaration – who include both past and present European government leaders – warn that unless we stand firm and defend our values now, we risk seeing them being further eroded by a rising tide of fundamentalism and authoritarianism.’
Baroness Helena Kennedy, a signatory, said: ‘I share all your concerns about the road we could be travelling down. I have had serious concerns about the erosion of the secular space and as a human rights lawyer think it is important to assert values which can be shared by all and not claimed as [exclusively] Christian.’
The Brussels Declaration is now open for signature by all European citizens at www.vision4europe.org The Declaration is part of the Vision for Europe campaign, led by a coalition of religious and secular organisations, and its website also contains a more detailed analysis and discussion of these values, A Secular Vision for Europe (to which signatories to the Declaration are not necessarily committed in detail). The website also contains a constantly updated full list of distinguished signatories from all European countries.
Note 1: See for, example, Jim Murphy’s speech at http://www.dwp.gov.uk/aboutus/2007/19-02-07.asp or http://www.jobcentreplus.gov.uk/JCP/Partners/Noticetopartnerorganizations/index.html
Note 2: COMECE and CEC (respectively the conferences of the Roman Catholic and non-Catholic bishops of Europe) are invited to meet every six months with the rotating presidency of the European Union. Article 52 of the draft EU constitution guarantees special consultative arrangements with the EU Commission for churches and other belief groups.
German Chancellor and current EU President Angela Merkel favours including Christianity in the EU constitution. After a visit last August to the Pope she said: ‘We spoke about the role of Europe and I emphasised the need for a constitution and that it should refer to our Christian values. I believe this treaty should be linked to Christianity and God because Christianity was decisive in the formation of Europe.’ – http://www.eupolitix.com/EN/News/200608/49897b90-609f-465b-826b-2f48a5e07ab8.htm
The German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said in January that ‘churches have a specific role in the European integration process. Churches in Europe are closely linked with each other through their numerous ecumenical contacts and European umbrella organisations. This makes them important partners in their national contexts in discussions on common European values and the future of the European integration process.’ (COMECE press release)
The Roman Catholic newspaper The Universe reported on 22 December 2006: ‘European Catholic bishops have urged European Union officials to acknowledge Europe’s Christian heritage in a major declaration marking 50 years of European integration. ‘For many founders, the Christian imprint on the European project has been an indisputable fact,’ said the Commission of the Bishops’ Conferences of the European Community, known by the acronym COMECE, in a Dec.11 statement to EU officials. ‘For a majority of EU citizens, their Christian faith is the living source for their support of our common values and ambitions.’
Munich’s Cardinal Friedrich Wetter has said: ‘We don’t want a God-less state and a God-less Europe’ and Lisbon’s Cardinal Jose Policarpo has said ‘it would be a cultural disgrace and ignorant not to mention Europe’s Judeo-Christian past in the prologue to a future treaty.’
Note 3: Many church leaders including Pope Benedict XVI (even before he became pope) and the Anglican archbishops of Canterbury and York have made statements attacking secularism as anti-religious, clearly failing to distinguish between state neutrality and hostility to religion, and failing to recognise that a secular state, i.e. a state which is neutral in matters of religion and belief, is the only guarantee of religious freedom for all.