Committee advocates freedom of religion “without impediment and without discrimination”

The Committee on Culture, Science, Education and Media expressed its concern over the tensions, suspicion and xenophobic attitudes aroused in Europe by the development of many churches and religious organisations and by certain religious practices. In adopting the report by Rafael Huseynov (Azerbaijan, ALDE) today, the committee stressed that religious communities should be able to exercise the right to freedom of religion “without impediment and without discrimination” and to practise their faith publicly and freely in accordance with their own rites.

Where circumcision is concerned, the committee observed that “the child’s interest shall be considered predominant” and recommended that it must be practiced by “a person with the requisite training and skills, in appropriate medical and health conditions”. The parents must be informed of any potential medical risk or possible contraindications and take these into account, the report states.

Concerning the full-face veil, the committee invites states not to lay down general prohibitions, liable to consolidate stereotypes affecting certain groups of people and to encourage intolerance. It recommends that they prefer targeted policies designed to make Muslim women aware of their rights and offer them the possibility of achieving social and economic independence.

Moreover, the committee considers legislation prohibiting ritual slaughter not really necessary, or the most effective way of ensuring the protection of animals, The report mentions the example of France and Germany, where legislation which imposes strict requirements achieves reconciliation of concern to protect animals from unjustified suffering and respect for the right to freedom of religion.

While realising that standards cannot be imposed, the committee advocates an open secularity securing the possibility for the various religious and non-religious beliefs to coexist peacefully with respect for shared values. It also proposes that states seek “reasonable accommodation” with a view to guaranteeing effective enjoyment, without discrimination, of the right to freedom of religion.

Education is the key to combating ignorance, breaking down stereotypes, building mutual respect and promoting support for the shared values of living together, the parliamentarians declared, asking that opportunities for encounter and dialogue be fostered at school, co-operating for this purpose with religious communities.

The committee proposed setting up a platform for dialogue between the Council of Europe and senior representatives of religions and non-denominational organisations to promote the values which underpin “living together”.