On behalf of the Group of the European People’s Party, I want to speak about religious freedom. In our European society, freedom of thought, conscience and religion are fundamental rights. That high standard of human rights is, for the most part, the product of our society’s deep Christian heritage. Although the main pillars of Christianity are faith, charity, dignity and respect, many who promote such values become the target of discriminatory attacks. An ever increasing number of cases of “Christianophobia” have been recorded in Europe. According to a report published on 19 March 2012 by the Observatory on Intolerance and Discrimination Against Christians in Europe, a non-governmental organisation based in Vienna, 85% of hate crimes committed in Europe during 2011 were aimed at Christians. The report summarised incidents ranging from vandalism and insults to suppression of religious symbols, desecrations, hate crimes and religiously motivated violence.
Regrettably, this is not the only report that shows worrying data about intolerance of and discrimination against Christians in Europe. The same kind of conclusions emerge from a study conducted in Britain by ComRes – one of the leading polling agencies – which found that 74% of those surveyed believed that there was more intolerance and discrimination against Christians than against people of other religions in Europe. That compares with 66% in November 2009. One reason for that trend is that the Christian church stands for traditional values, especially in regard to family, marriage and the sanctity of life.
According to statistics offered by the Scottish Government in 2011, 95% of religiously motivated violence in Scotland is aimed at Christians. In November 2010, the French Minister of the Interior wrote a letter to the High Commissioner for Human Rights at the Council of Europe stating that of 485 acts of vandalism against faith sites, 410 had been directed against Christian sites. That is more than 80%. Other sources indicate that people are marginalised for the simple reason that they are in favour of Christian values.
Although religious freedom in eastern Europe is growing, it is still fragile, and cases of discrimination and intolerance are common. A relevant example is the discrimination against representatives of small Christian denominations, such as Protestant and neo-Protestant. If we look outside Europe to our neighbouring regions, we find that the situation of Christians in countries such as Libya, Egypt and Syria is critical. While clashes between government troops and opposition forces have been blamed for the social and political unrest there, Christians have often been caught in the crossfire and become targets of violent revenge attacks. I am glad that we shall have an opportunity on Thursday to discuss the situation in Egypt, but I regret that the title of the report has been changed. Initially, the proposal was to discuss the situation of Christians in Egypt, which I believe would have been much more appropriate.
European society has always been an example of democracy worthy of being followed by developing countries, but the growing discrimination against Christianity, both inside and outside Europe, is a matter of concern. That is why I believe it is important to bring these issues to your attention, and I hope that the Assembly will take note of them.
Strasbourg, June 25, 2012