Religious freedom

What’s at stake

Religious freedom is a fundamental human right. It is included in all major human rights instruments, such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Art.18), the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (Art. 18) and the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union (Art. 10). It seeks to protect people from all faiths and those who want to change or abandon their belief.

Religious freedom is under tremendous pressure. It is violated every day in many parts of the world. This can extend from bullying at work to the death sentences for alleged blasphemy. Religious persecution is increasing year on year. According to Pew Forum, in 2018, government restrictions on religions reached the highest levels since the organisation started tracking these developments. 56 countries had high levels of government restrictions, while 53 countries had high levels of social hostilities. Research by Pew and other organisations, such as Open Doors, shows that Christians are persecuted more than any other religious group, followed by Muslim minorities (for example, Shi’a in Sunni-majority countries and vice-versa) and Jewish minorities. Atheists and practitioners of indigenous religions and beliefs are also often persecuted.

In 2013, the Foreign Affairs Council adopted ‘EU Guidelines for promoting and protecting freedom of religion or belief’. During the Juncker Commission, the EU had a Special Envoy to promote freedom of religion or
belief, Mr Jan Figel. The Von der Leyen Commission initially refused to renew this position, but following pressure from ECR and others, appointed Mr Christos Stylianides as new Special Envoy in May 2021.

ECR actions

ECR Members have consistently defended religious freedom.

Some examples of our actions:

  • ECR Members have founded the European Parliament’s Intergroup on Freedom of Religion or Belief;
  • In 2017 and 2018, ECR Members travelled to Pakistan to pressure the government to free Asia Bibi, a Christian mother of five sentenced to death for alleged blasphemy;
  • ECR Members have travelled, publicly and in secret, to countries such as Egypt, Turkey, Syria, Iraq, Pakistan and India, to meet persecuted Christians and to pressure officials to defend religious minorities better;
  • ECR Members have lobbied extensively to renew the mandate of the EU Special Envoy for religious freedom. This was ultimately successful when Mr Stylianides was appointed;
  • Currently, the ECR is in charge of a report in the Parliament’s Subcommittee on Human Rights on the persecution of minorities on the grounds of belief or religion.

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