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National Secular Society

Challenging Religious Privilege

Letter to Convention on the Future of Europe

24th February 2003

No need for religious references in EU Constitution

We are writing to ask you, as a delegate to the Convention on the Future of Europe, to oppose the raft of amendments being tabled calling for the constitution to be augmented with references to 'God' and 'religion' and 'religious/Christian heritage'. The greater the religious influence-and this will not always be exclusively Christian-the greater the threat to democracy, and the EU's secular structure. Furthermore, as the EU population becomes more secular and increasingly multi-cultural, so any increase in religious influence, whether Christian or not, will lead to greater division.

The proposers of the amendments regard the 'heritage' of religion in Europe to be a reason for unconditional celebration, but for others it is much more problematical. The centuries over which this heritage has arisen have also been marked by bloodshed, injustice and the routine violation of what we now call Human Rights. We should not be looking back to this time through rose-tinted spectacles. Instead, we should be looking forward to build on Europe's more honourable recent history on Human Rights, in which it can and should take pride.

One of the amendments being pressed most strongly maintains that EU 'values shall include the values of those who believe in God as the source of truth, justice, good and beauty as well as of those who do not share such a belief but respect these universal values arising from other sources'. This tortuous expression can simply be reduced to 'truth, justice, good and beauty are shared values emanating from a variety of sources'; this is so broad so as to be meaningless, and should be opposed. In addition, it is not clear why beauty needs to be mentioned at all in this context, save by those seeking to promote God as the source of all the world's beauty, but not of its ugliness or horror.

The real purpose of these deceptively anodyne amendments is to enable religious bodies to consolidate religious influence and regain political power. Why else has the Pope actively intervened and will shortly be addressing the EU parliament?

Religious belief and adherence has been declining in most parts of Europe for many decades. In contrast, there are millions of EU citizens who are not religious or whose connection with religious bodies is becoming ever more tenuous; their numbers are increasing rapidly. They overwhelmingly subscribe to the above values, but should not have decisions imposed upon them whose prime motive is to enforce religious dogma. Yet if these amendments are passed, the secular voice is in danger of being further marginalised, as the non-religious do not have the organised voice or power that the religious have-and are seeking to strengthen yet further.

The Convention has agreed already to include a statement of universal values in the draft constitution. There is simply no need for any further references to values or their supposed origin.

Yours sincerely

Keith Porteous Wood
Executive Director