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DO "GOD" AND "CHRISTIANITY" HAVE A PLACE IN THE EUROPEAN UNION CONSTITUTION?

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Overview:

The European Union is preparing its first constitution. Terrence Murray of the Christian Science Monitor wrote: "How the question of religion is handled could have serious legal implications once the EU's constitutional text comes into force, officials say, possibly influencing the outcome of future court rulings on such issues as euthanasia, abortion rights, and human cloning. 'This debate is not just an academic one,' says EU spokesman Jonathan Faull. 'In 10 years', 15 or 100 years' time, it could have important implications in interpreting the text'." 6

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The debate:

The Convention on the Future of Europe, led by Giscard d'Estaing, a former French president, is drafting the first constitution for The European Union (EU). One reason for the creation of a constitution at this time is that the present union of 15 countries is expected to expand to as many as 25 countries by the end of 2004. 1 A constitution might contribute to the cohesion of the Union.

The first 15 draft articles of the constitution were released on 2003-FEB-6. They contained references to member countries' national identity and for human rights, as well as commitments to social justice and the environment. 2 But they contained no mention to any deity or religion. German, Italian, Polish and Slovakian delegates favor adding mention of "God" and Europe's Christian heritage. More secular nations, like France, Spain and the Netherlands are in opposition. 3

The Italian news agency ANSA reports that there has been strong pressure from religious conservatives and the Vatican to recognize God and Christianity. They speculated that these references were left out because of sensitivity to the wishes of Islamic immigrant populations.

All current members of the EU have either a majority of its citizens, or a significant minority, who identify themselves with a Christian denomination. Most have implemented the principle of separation of church and state. Most do not refer to their Christian heritage in their own constitutions. However, many of the countries which are expected to join in 2004 want "Christian values" to appear somewhere in the EU constitution. This is particularly true of Poland, which has a large Roman Catholic majority. That country will hold a referendum on 2003-JUN-7/8 on whether to join the EU.

Other countries with a growing secularist tradition, led by France, assert that pluralist modern Europe is beyond the need to reference religion in the EU constitution. Some political leaders feel that a reference to "Christian values" would make it more difficult to expand the EU in the future to include mostly Muslim countries such as Turkey.

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Some comments favoring the inclusion of God and Christianity:

bulletAccording to Agence France-Presse, the Polish primate, Cardinal Jozef Glemp, has said he supports EU entry "but only with God."
bulletThe same news source quotes the Roman Catholic primate in Hungary, Monsignor Peter Erdoe, as saying "Without Christianity, the heart of Europe would be missing."
bulletBishop Joseph Duffy of Clogher, Ireland represented the Irish Catholic Church. Referring to a meeting with the European Commission president, Romano Prodi, he is quoted as saying: "Religion is part of our identity. You can't understand the history of Europe without acknowledging the impact of religion, which has made an enormous contribution to the identity of Europe. Prodi was trying to impress on us that we are at a very, very significant juncture, which means a new Europe. He is sympathetic to the Churches and sees that they have a contribution to make on the question of EU identity. The question of God would be a matter for the preamble, rather than the text of the constitution. We would be looking for an invocatio Dei, but we would not be looking for a reference to Christ because we respect those who are not Christians." 5
bulletPope John Paul II has also lobbied European leaders for "a clear reference to God and the Christian faith to be formulated in the European constitution."
bulletA former Irish Prime Minister, John Bruton, formally proposed including a mention of the role of religion. He is quoted as believing that "a greater reference should be made to the fact that many Europeans derive something beyond humanity - this would apply to those who believe in all the major religions."
bulletThe Catholic Bishops’ Conference in England and some Jewish, Muslim and Protestant faith groups have also advocated inclusion of Christianity and God.
bulletElmar Brok, a European deputy from Germany, chairs the caucus of the conservative European People's Party (PPE) at the convention He believes that reference to a Christian God would strengthen European identity. He said: "Europe as a whole is based on a Christian heritage." 6
bulletKen Connor, President of the Family Research Council, asked, "But if not God, where or from whom, do they believe those rights are derived? The truth is, Europe is rooted in religious heritage — from official state celebrations to government holidays and historic references. If they plan on admitting anyone to the EU, God would be a perfect choice." 4
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Gianfranco Fini, Italy's deputy Prime Minister, suggested that the EU be described as a "community that shares a Judeo-Christian heritage as its fundamental values...We must make more explicit the roots of European identity, which we see as part of the value of the Christian religion." 7

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Some comments opposing the inclusion of God and Christianity:

bulletAccording to WorldNetDaily: "In an editorial, Scandinavia's largest daily newspaper, the Swedish Aftonbladet, said referring to Christian values in the constitution and placing them above other values would be a 'huge mistake' because it would 'exclude groups and raise new walls'."
bulletTerry Sanderson, vice president of the UK's National Secular Society, told EUobserver "We are very glad a reference to God has been left out, it would have created unnecessary barriers in Europe...Europe has to be secular for it to be really unified."
bulletThe European Humanist Federation suggested changing reference to Europe's " '...spiritual and moral heritage' into '...the cultural heritage of Europe's history,' since our cultural heritage is a pluralistic one and hence defeats the idea of a single European identity." They suggest that Article 1 of the Constitution read: "The Union is founded on the principles of secular rule of law: freedom, equality, democracy and pluralism. It guarantees the respect and promotion of human rights and fundamental freedoms." 5
bulletA British gay-positive group, the Gay and Lesbian Humanist Association (GALHA) stated that because of "increased secularization of morality and public life," they consider it pointless to include God in the new charter. Spokesperson Terry Sanderson said: "We are not opposed to a clause that would establish the freedom to practice religion. "What we don’t want to see is religion moving out of the area of freedom and becoming predominant right there in the beginning." He alleges that: "religion is dying throughout Europe." He blamed "the church" for the suffering of gays and lesbians "over the last millennium." GALHA wrote: "To include references to God or 'our Christian heritage' would be to start turning back on our 500-year journey from the Enlightenment. Instead, we should be proud of our progress, and growing humanity." 3
bulletSocialist French deputy Olivier Duhamel suggested that mention of Christianity and God is "absurd," because it would exclude Muslims and others of non-Christian faiths, as well as citizens who do not believe in God. 7
bullet

Linda McAvan, a British Labour MEP, argued that a specific mention of Christianity "would offend those many millions of people of different faiths or no faith at all."

bulletAn Humanist Convention member from Ireland, Dublin MEP Proinsias De Rossa, suggested that the inclusion of God would be divisive: "It would be a mistake; it's a serious mistake."

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Some suggest an inclusive approach:

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Louis Michel, the Belgian Foreign Minister, said the EU should be inclusive. He said. "Europe is not mono-religious" 7

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Jean-Luc Dehaene, vice-president of the Convention and a former Belgium prime minister, said the any religious reference would have to be general and pluralist, like that of the EU's Charter of Fundamental Rights which states that "the Union shall respect cultural, religious, and linguistic diversity". 7

bulletLes Semaines Sociales de France, a French Christian policy group, and some Christian lay groups from Germany and Poland suggested an inclusive statement based on Poland's post-communist constitution, which had to accommodate communists as well as Catholics. The proposal says: "The [European] Union values include the values of those who believe in God as the source of truth, justice, good, and beauty, as well as those who do not share such a belief but respect these universal values arising from other sources." 6

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The path forward:

Giscard d'Estaing suggested a compromise wording by having the preamble mention "religion" without mentioning a specific faith by name. As of 2003-MAY-29, the draft version of the preamble uses the terms: "spiritual", "religious" and "humanistic" to describe Europe's multiple heritages. It refers to traditions in Europe having been "nourished by the Greek and Roman civilizations." But it makes no direct reference to any specific deity or religion.

Starting 2003-MAY-30, 105 Convention delegates drawn from 28 member states and applicant countries will debate the latest draft. According oto the EU's web site: "The meeting of the Convention will be web-streamed on the European Parliament website. It will also be broadcast live on Europe by Satellite." They are aiming at having a final draft written by 2003-JUN. 6 The individual EU governments will then make the final decision on the constitution's wording.

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EU Web sites:

bulletThe European Convention's official web site is at: http://european-convention.eu.int/
bullet"Europa: The European Union On-line" is at: http://europa.eu.int/index-en.htm

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References used:

  1. "God kept out of EU constitution: France leads charge to pander to Islamic immigrant populations," WorldNetDaily, 2003-MAY-29, at: http://www.worldnetdaily.com/
  2. "God missing from EU constitution," BBC News, World Edition, 2003-FEB-6, at: http://news.bbc.co.uk/
  3. "EU Urged to Leave God Out Of Constitution," National Liberty Journal, 2003-MAR, at: http://www.nljonline.com/
  4. Ken Connor, Washington Update, 2003-FEB-5.
  5. "Bishops & John Bruton want God in EU constitution," Association of Irish Humanists, 2002-DEC & 2003-JAN, at: http://www.irish-humanists.org/
  6. Terrence Murray, "Europe debates God's place in new constitution: A divine reference is among the most contentious issues as delegates reconvene this month," The Christian Science Monitor, 2003-APR-10, at: http://www.csmonitor.com/
  7. Stephen Castle, "Tussle over God threatens to delay EU constitution," The Independent, 2003-FEB-28, at: http://www.obv.org.uk/

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Copyright © 2003 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2003-MAY-29
Latest update: 2003-MAY-31
Author: B.A. Robinson

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