BRUSSELS – ADF International co-hosted an event Wednesday at the European Parliament in Brussels that considered current restrictions on freedom of conscience in Europe and beyond.
Freedom of conscience is not only a fundamental right but is also essential for the development and preservation of an open, pluralistic, and inclusive society
“Freedom of conscience is not only a fundamental right but is also essential for the development and preservation of an open, pluralistic, and inclusive society,” said Adina Portaru, legal counsel at ADF International. “The example of South Asia teaches us the importance of fostering an environment in which it is possible to hold different views without losing respect for the opposing opinion or the person formulating it. This is a cornerstone of a well-functioning democracy.”
To illustrate current restrictions on freedom of conscience, the panel at the event highlighted South Asia and its growing problem of anti-conversion laws, Finland’s position as one of four European Union countries that currently does not safeguard the right to conscientious objection for medical personnel, and clashes in various places between anti-discrimination measures and conscience rights.
Drawing on the discussions during this event, ADF International will soon be publishing a white paper on freedom of conscience that will offer a detailed analysis of this important topic.
Freedom of conscience needs protection
“If we limit the right to conscientious objection, we are closing the space for freedom and opening the space for discrimination,” said Marijana Petir, a member of the European Parliament from Croatia who co-hosted the event.
Sari Tanus, a member of the Finnish Parliament, gynaecologist, and prominent advocate for freedom of conscience for the medical profession, addressed the importance of conscientious objection for physicians and hospital staff.
“In Finland, we see increasing restrictions on freedom of conscience for midwives, nurses, and doctors who refuse to perform abortions,” Tanus explained. “In 2014, we collected 70,000 signatures of citizens calling for a legal right to conscientiously object to life-ending procedures for health care professionals. Despite exceeding the threshold of 50,000 signatures, Parliament refused to discuss it. There should be equal rights to study, to work, and to pursue a career without being discriminated against based on deeply held moral convictions.”
Lessons from South Asia
Fr. Dominic Emmanuel SVD, a renowned expert on South Asian anti-conversion laws and author of numerous articles and a book on the topic, shared his experience on the dialogue between different communities in India and the status of freedom of religion and belief in the region.
“The atmosphere of intolerance in most South Asian countries is growing,” he said. “Besides Sri Lanka, Nepal, and Pakistan, India is also seeing an increasing hostility towards Christian and Muslim minorities. The Indian laws are called ‘Freedom of Religion Acts,’ a name purposely chosen to mislead both the wider public at home and the international community. Their actual effect prevents people from enjoying the freedom to live according to their conscience. Perpetrators face heavy punishment, including imprisonment of up to two years; however, such freedom is guaranteed not only in the country’s constitution but is also protected by article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, to which India is a signatory, as well.”
The three co-hosting MEPs—Petir, Kazimierz Michal Ujazdowski, and Hannu Takkula—made clear their long-term commitment to achieve better protection for freedom of conscience in Europe and beyond.
“This event is a starting point. Let’s start acting,” Petir said.
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