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European Parliamentary Forum:
A Secular Europe

1 October 2015 - Catholics for Choice co-organized a forum at the European Parliament, “Religion, Human Rights and a Secular Europe: Can Faith and Freedom Co-exist?” with Europe’s International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA-Europe) as part of the Global Interfaith and Secular Alliance (GISA). The forum brought together MEPs, journalists and civil society to discuss the rise of intolerant religious groups in European institutions. Panels covered sexual and reproductive health, the rights of LGBTI people, an extreme religious presence in Europe, as well as the freedom of and from religion.

Opening the forum, MEP Sophie in ’t Veld, defined secularism: “Secularism is not atheism. It means that public bodies are there to serve all citizens in a neutral manner, not support one particular dominant view.”

“It’s not people of faith that are the problem; it’s the people that have extreme views and are not representative of the religion,” said Jon O’Brien, president of Catholics for Choice, in his opening keynote address. “If a religious service provider, for instance, is not willing to share contraceptive methods, then maybe, just maybe, the service provider should not work on the topic of HIV using taxpayer money.”

The first panel presented a short history of the extreme religious lobby in Europe. “Women are the victims of the rise of religious extremism,” said Pierrette Pape, policy and campaigns director of the European Women’s Lobby.

During the panel on religion and the human rights of LGBTI people, the panelists discussed how the two concepts can go together. “Anyone’s rights are fundamentally important,” said Florin Buhuceanu, president of the European Forum of LGBT Christian Groups. “Freedom of expression is fundamental for both LGBTI and religious groups.”

The sexual and reproductive health panel looked at how rights are dwindling in Spain (a country that once had the latest time limits on abortion in Europe) and Hungary (the first country to develop the morning-after pill). It also looked at Ireland, a country of endless opposition to abortion “where the religious extremists have been at the center” of governance, but that is now possibly on the precipice of change.

The panel on freedom of religion and belief brought humanists and representatives of different religious traditions to speak together. “What we want is a social world in which all reasonable citizens can survive and flourish regardless of the comprehensive doctrine that they affirm, whether religious or non-religious,” said Dan Dombrowski, professor of philosophy at Seattle University and chair of the board of directors at Catholics for Choice.

The forum wrapped up with a look towards the future. “This is just the beginning….  We didn’t scratch the surface,” said Evelyne Paradis, executive director of ILGA-Europe.

Review the event agenda.

Read a summary of the forum from Social Platform.

A full report on the proceedings as well as video interviews with participants will be available shortly. Email cfc@catholicsforchoice.org for details. Photographs courtesy of Martijn van Beenen.