Friday, June 20, 2003

Good piece from The Tablet on the EU constitution thing and the whole issue of the role of religion in European life

Those who want the constitution to recognise Europe’s religious past are not asking that the document should include a profession of faith, even less are they nostalgic for a return to some mythical theocracy, they simply wish to correct the text’s incomprehensible amnesia. How can one build the Europe of tomorrow if one ignores the debt owed to Judaism, to Islam and especially to Christianity? These religions have structured European society and provided the building blocks of European culture and civilisation.

....The major fallacy held by those who want to keep religion out of the public sphere (and hence from the European Constitution) is their fear that this will somehow undermine the principle of the separation of Church and State. This was the line taken by Lionel Jospin and Jacques Chirac in December 2000, before the Treaty of Nice, when the French demanded that the word “religion” be removed from the Preamble of the European Charter of Human Rights. Such a fear is groundless, however, since article 51 of the draft of the future constitution states clearly that the laws governing the place of religion in each of the member states will be fully respected. So the separation of Church and State in France will not be threatened, any more than will the status of state Churches such as the Church of England, the Orthodox Church in Greece or the Lutheran Church in the Scandinavian countries. Neither will the concordats with the Holy See in Italy or Ireland be affected.

The rise of sectarianism, fundamentalism and Muslim extremism in many countries explains the legitimate fears of the secularists that religion will be reintroduced into the public domain through the back door. On the other hand, many religious bodies and charitable institutions are tired of being called upon by the State to palliate its own weaknesses (in dealing with delinquents, drug addicts, illegal immigrants, extreme poverty, and the rest), while at the same time being accused of interfering when they ask to be consulted on major ethical problems (bioethics, sexual mores, racial discrimination, refugees). ,p>Whatever one’s opinion on the place of religion in society and the role of the Churches in the body politic, no one can honestly deny the part played by the major religions – for better and for worse – in European history. Those who want Christianity mentioned in the constitution merely wish to state the obvious.