Some religions are now more equal than others
“The first speaker (Mr. Tibor Navracsics) mentioned the Charter of Fundamental Rights and its implementation. He spoke of fundamental rights as though they were unproblematic, consistent and perhaps even complementary. What seems to have been omitted from the debate is the potential and actual conflict between conflicting rights – between competing rights within the (European Union’s) Charter on Fundamental Rights or perhaps between rights in the EU’s Charter and the Council of Europe’s Convention on Human Rights**.
“In particular, freedom of expression seems to have lost ground for the benefit of various rights not to be offended.
“When it comes to the rights of adherents of different religions, it seems that some religions are more equal than others. We have seen, in the United Kingdom, medical practitioners being dismissed for talking about their faith to patients, when it would be considered to be quite improper to take similar action against members of other faiths. We have also seen employees being disciplined for wearing or displaying crosses at work, when symbols of other religions would be beyond criticism.
“It is easy to extend rights, one by one and catalogue them into a comprehensive list often accompanied by emotively favourable and emotively unfavourable lnaguage. However, it is much more difficult to reason and express in objectively precise language how conflicts between one right and another should be resolved.
“In my opinion, the fundamental democratic rights of freedom of expression, freedom of assembly, freedom of elections should take priority over freedom from offence.
“We, who are engaged in politics, are sometimes criticised in less than temperate language but I would rather put up with that, as long as I have the right of reply, rather than restricting the freedom of expression of my critics. We must trust the public to distinguish between reasonable and unreasonable criticism.”
Explanations* The Presidency of the Council (as distinct from the European Council) is not held by a particular individual but by the government of a member state, which changes every six months. Hungary has been President of the Council since the New Year and will give up the Presidency at the end of this month (June 2011).
** The Charter of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms is a European Union document of comparatively recent origin (2000). The European Convention of Human Rights is a document of a completely different and older international organisation (dating from 1949) called the Council of Europe, with a much larger membership (forty-seven countries).
Here it becomes complicated! The Lisbon Treaty implemented in December 2009 stated the intention of the European Union as a whole to sign up to the Council of Europe’s Convention on Human Rights. The twenty-seven individual countries of the European Union had already become members of the Council of Europe and signed up to the Convention. Confused? More confusion is on the way!
The Council of Europe’s Convention on Human Rights is now (or will soon become) a European Union document as well as a Council of Europe document and so both the EU’s Charter and the Council of Europe’s Convention will be able to be interpreted and enforced in the EU’s Court of Justice. However, the question of whether the EU as a whole is respecting the Convention will be decided by the Council of Europe’s Court of Human Rights. Still confused?