If all goes as planned, the 27 member states of the European Union will soon have a common hate crime legislation, which will turn disapproval for Islamic practices or homosexual lifestyles into crimes. Europe’s Christian churches are trying to stop the plan of the European political establishment, but it is not clear if they will be successful.
Last April, the European Parliament approved the European Union’s Equal Treatment Directive. A directive is the name given to an EU law. As directives overrule national legislation, they need the approval of the European Council of Ministers before coming into effect. Next month, the Council will decide on the directive, which places the 27 EU member states under a common anti-discrimination legislation. The directive’s definition of discriminatory harassment is so broad that every objection to Muslim or homosexual practices will be considered unlawful.
On April 2, the European Parliament passed the “directive on implementing the principle of equal treatment between persons irrespective of religion or belief, disability, age or sexual orientation,” 363 votes to 226. The directive applies to social protection and health care, social benefits, education and access to goods and services, including housing. American citizens and companies doing business in Europe are also required to adhere to it.
Originally intended to serve as an equal treatment directive for the disabled by prohibiting discrimination when accessing “goods and services, including housing,” activist European politicians and governments had the directive’s scope expanded to include discrimination on the basis of religion, age and sexual orientation.
Under the directive, harassment - defined as conduct “with the purpose or effect of violating the dignity of a person and of creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment” - is deemed a form of discrimination.
Harassment, as vaguely defined in the directive, allows an individual to accuse someone of discrimination merely for expressing something the individual allegedly perceives as creating an “offensive environment.” The definition is so broad that anyone who feels intimidated or offended can easily bring legal action against those whom he feels are responsible. Moreover, the directive shifts the burden of proof onto the accused, who has to prove the negative, i.e. demonstrate that he or she did not create an environment which intimidated or offended the complainant. If the accused fails to do so, he or she can be sentenced to paying an unlimited amount of compensation for “harassment.”
The European press has mostly remained silent on the topic so far, but Christian congregations are extremely worried. Last August, Mgr. Andrew Summersgill issued a statement on behalf of the Catholic bishops of England, Wales and Scotland, rejecting the directive because it would require people and organizations to act against their beliefs. “Homosexual groups campaigning for same-sex marriage may declare themselves to be offended by the presentation of the Catholic Church’s moral teaching on marriage, an atheist may be offended by religious pictures in an art gallery, or a Muslim may be offended by any picture representing the human form,” said Mgr. Summersgill.
“When providing a service (such as a hotel room) or selling goods (such as books) in the EU, businesses and their employees will have to provide them or risk being sued, irrespective of whether they find themselves facilitating sexual ethics contrary to their religious beliefs or helping promote another religion,” say the legal experts of the British organizations Christian Concern for Our Nation (CCFON) and Christian Legal Centre. Organizers of a Christian conference, for instance, will be legally obliged to make double rooms available to homosexual and unmarried couples as well as to normally married couples.
The directive is currently being amended by Sweden, the president of the European Council in the second half of 2009, with a view to the final vote which will be taken by the Council next month. Activist politicians are attempting to extend discrimination and harassment in the directive to cover assumptions as well. Countries where the Catholic Church still has a large influence, such as Malta and Poland, however, are raising objections to these attempts. As the directive needs a unanimous approval by all 27 EU member states, it is not yet certain how far-reaching the final version of the directive is going to be.
Nevertheless, the almost complete silence of the European media and of public opinion on the important issues which are at stake, is worrying. Europe risks losing important fundamental freedoms, such as the freedom of speech and the freedom of opinion, but does not seem prepared to fight and preserve these freedoms. Perhaps the lack of interest of the inhabitants of Europe for legislation concocted at a supranational level explains the lack of interest in this matter.
The same phenomenon, a lack of interest on the part of European and also American public opinion, is apparent with regard to the semi-legal initiatives taken at the level of the United Nations. On October 2nd, the UN Human Rights Council approved a free speech resolution, co-sponsored by the US and Egypt, which criticizes “negative racial and religious stereotyping.” American diplomats said the decision to co-sponsor the resolution was part of America’s effort to “reach out to Muslim countries.” The resolution passed unanimously, with the support of all Western nations. Though the resolution has no immediate effect in law, it provides Muslim extremists with moral ammunition the next time they feel that central tenets of Islam are being treated disrespectfully through the creation of what they perceive to be an ‘offensive environment.’