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National Secular Society

Challenging Religious Privilege

Letter to the Ambassador Republic of Turkey

4th September2003

Dear Mr Ambassador,

Importance of the EU Constitution Being Secular

The National Secular Society is an organisation whose purpose is to work for the secularisation of the UK and the EU so that people of all faiths and none are treated equally.

We would be grateful if you could pass on to your Prime Minister our congratulations on his insistence that no religious references be inserted into the EU constitution. Recep Tayyip Erdogan is quoted as saying: "If the concept of religion is included in the constitution, it would contradict those principles and centuries of progress on the continent."

This issue is generally regarded as being confined to attempts to introduce references to God or Christianity into the preamble. We respectfully seek to make sure that your Prime Minister's attention has been drawn to religious references already contained in the draft constitution, in Article 51: Article 51: Status of churches and non-confessional organisations

1. The Union respects and does not prejudice the status under national law of churches and religious associations or communities in the Member States.

2. The Union equally respects the status of philosophical and non-confessional organisations.

3. Recognising their identity and their specific contribution, the Union shall maintain an open, transparent and regular dialogue with these churches and organisations.

On first reading, this Article may appear to be even-handed, but the wording of 2. is much less fulsome than that of 1., which will be able to be used to obstruct moves toward secularity. An example might be the disestablishment of the Church of England, a number of whose bishops are entitled to sit in the UK parliament as of right. Similarly, 3. effectively obliges the EU to listen to religious demands (especially those of the Vatican with whom it has signed a treaty recognising its ambassador). Non-Christians generally do not have similar hierarchical structures so are unable to make representations with remotely the same degree of force.

We urge that your Prime Minister seeks to have Article 51 deleted or materially diluted.

Yours sincerely,

Keith Porteous Wood Executive Director
Natioanal Secular Society