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Freedom of Religion or Belief in Brussels

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By the European Evangelical Alliance

Freedom of Religion or Belief is a long-standing priority for the EEA office in Brussels. The EEA was one of the founding members of the European Platform against Religious Intolerance and Discrimination (EPRID). This interfaith platform brings together a diverse group of faith-based organisations, united in their desire to defend and promote Freedom of Religion or Belief.

Freedom of thought, conscience and religion is a precious human right. It protects all our deepest thoughts and convictions, theistic or non-theistic, religious or non-religious. As such, Freedom of Religion or Belief is one of the cornerstones of any democracy.

Our proximity to the European Institutions in Brussels provides unique opportunities to defend and promote Freedom of Religion or Belief. Together with our partners, we were very much involved in the drafting process of the EU Guidelines on Freedom of Religion or Belief. These guidelines provide a framework for the European delegations abroad, confronted with violations or alleged violations of religious freedom. Subsequently, the platform was part of several training sessions for EU diplomats. The practical examples of violations we and others presented were very much appreciated. It helped the diplomats to get a better understanding of the importance of Freedom of Religion or Belief, how violations of this right look like in practice, and how they could respond. Discussing the proposed responses in the cases presented, it turned out that the diplomats were sometimes overly cautious. One superior involved in the organisation of the training did recognise one of the cases presented and the EU response to the situation. The suggested response by the participants was (much) weaker than the actual response by the EEAS. That was quite a lesson for both EPRID and the participants.

In our contacts with the European External Action Service, the diplomatic service of the European Commission, we have addressed various country specific situations. In preparation of a human rights dialogue with Algeria, we briefed them on the closure of churches in this North-African country. In preparation of a visit of the EU Special envoy on the promotion of Freedom of Religion or Belief outside the European Union, we helped organising a meeting of the EU Special Envoy with our colleague of the Evangelical Fellowship of India.

In the European Parliament, we are working with individual Members and their staff, and with the Interparliamentary group on Freedom of Religion or Belief and Religious Tolerance.

But being in Brussels, we also visited the Bulgarian Embassy to express our concerns about the planned deterioration of Freedom of Religion or Belief legislation in Bulgaria. Most recently, we contacted the French embassy on the legislative proposal to counter religious extremism and to protect republican values. Even though these actions don’t immediately solve the issues addressed, they are important signals for the countries involved.

Of course, the severity of the problems within the European Union are no comparison to what our brothers and sisters in China, India, or Nigeria are confronted with. But serious breaches of Freedom of Religion or Belief within the EU, undermine the effectiveness of interventions in violations elsewhere in the world.

We are grateful for the opportunities we have to support Christians worldwide and to defend and promote Freedom of Religion or Belief. What opportunities do you have to support our brothers and sisters who are discriminated against, or even persecuted?